Multiplex's victory over its steelwork contractor on Wembley stadium has left a nasty taste in the mouth.
For all the touchy-feely talk of partnering and teamwork over the past few years, the courtroom drama that has been played out before us has been a sobering reminder of how, in many ways, little has changed. Not that these multimillion-pound legal battles are quite so common as they once were, or so colourful or so vociferous as this case. And that's not to say the industry can't build a stadium without getting into an unedifying mess - compare the success of the new Emirates stadium for Arsenal. Thank goodness.
But that aside, this case underscored what construction contracts are really about - the small print. Unluckily for Cleveland Bridge, they were deemed to have broken the contract because they walked off site over arguments about the valuations of their work. The judge decided that the contract allowed Multiplex to lower its valuations of Cleveland Bridge's work to offset what it considered to be shoddy workmanship. The judge described the contractor's lack of consultation as "deplorable" and its strategy as being "ruthless" but perfectly legal.
Exactly how much Cleveland Bridge will have to pay Multiplex in damages will be settled through negotiation or, if not, thrashed out in court in January, but it is reckoned to be in the order of £13m. For Cleveland Bridge, this will be a body blow. For Multiplex, it means the recovery of some cash on a £455m contract that lost them £180m, and the salvaging of some pride: Multiplex has always blamed the dispute for derailing the project. For other members of the Wembley team, it's a mixed blessing - some subcontractors are more likely to have their disruption claims paid. But it also dispels any notion that Multiplex is contractually naive; we can now expect the writs to fly with a vengeance.
The verdict should prompt everyone on Wembley, and indeed everyone on a project anywhere, to pore over their legal paperwork - and the credentials of their lawyers.
Denise Chevin, editor
Today's the day
And now to a far more important footballing matter for the industry - the 2006 World Cup finals. The magnificent Herzog & de Meuron stadium is ready and waiting in Munich, Peter Crouch is on form, on the pitch and on the dancefloor, and architects, contractors and consultants have ordered in the beers and the widescreen televisions. We might expect the odd delay over the next month, but no doubt hostilities will be put to one side in the spirit of teamwork and co-operation. There's bound to be arguments but these are more likely to be about Sven's tactics, refereeing competence and Beckham's haircut than set-offs and variations. And if those crucial games do go to extra time, let's hope England don't get brought down - as so many in the industry do - on penalties.