By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
There’s nothing quite like the wrath of a disgruntled Leeds United fan. Involuntarily tied to a club that has been perpetually targeted by the media, the rozzers and by any other fan in the country that doesn’t carry the burden of the white rose on their chest, they are the oppressed, persecuted and maltreated victims of a game that has seldom been fair to them. There’s not enough Tetley’s Cask in the world to appease the bereaved heart of a Leodensian, the by-product of a system that is cruel to its core.
Safe to say I don’t hold much compassion for Leeds United, nor do I have much regard for the stream of comments left on a recent TLE article discussing Massimo Cellino, entertaining though they may be.
“Biggin, I work in a Hospital in Leeds in the Neurosurgery department and I’m happy to offer you a free frontal lobotomy. After reading the garbage above I can only draw the conclusion that you are mentally ill / have some physiological disorder in your cerebellum. As drastic as this might sound I think you’ll be a better person after the procedure.”
But in this instance, I do sympathise with the protesters.
That doesn’t mean that I’m going to pick apart the areas in which I disagree with Mr Biggin, because the general theme of ‘shady’ businessmen running football clubs at the expense of the fans is a valid point, but I do wish to bring to light a few areas which I believe may have been overlooked. Of course, we must make concessions for the fact that us south of Watford Gap Services – I was born and bred in south Leeds – know little or nothing about the strife of those ‘up north’, but here’s a go.
First to the state of Leeds United as a business entity. Suffice to say that the club has endured financial hardship since the infamous Ridsdale era which was compounded by Ken Bates who would fail any real means test of a chairman at the first hurdle, i.e, he had no interest in the interests. So Cellino was here to pick up the pieces and poured his own money into the club and crucially into the team, signing more players in one summer than in the previous five years. His commitment has won over the terraces at Elland Road, leading to two petitions signed by more than 15,000 fans calling on the Football League to “act in the best interests of Leeds United Football Club” and allow the club’s Italian owner to remain in post.
The Leeds United Supporters’ Petition released this statement:
“Since purchasing the club six months ago, Massimo Cellino has turned around Leeds United’s precarious financial position. Under his control, the club’s debt and operating expense have reduced. For the first time since the turn of the century, Leeds United’s finances seem to be under control. Massimo Cellino has invested a lot of money in Leeds United – initially through his purchase and then through subsequent investment. In all probability, if you force him out now, Leeds United would, again, be facing administration. Forcing Cellino out of Leeds United is not in the best interests of one of your member football clubs and would in fact, be very damaging indeed.”
Financially, Leeds United has been leaking money. The costs of previous haphazard ownership has left Massimo in the compromising position of having to pay endless streams of bills and costs just to position the club on firm footing, but unlike previous owners, he’s actually here to tackle them and sort them out. As ex-Leeds United legend Peter Lorimer said in the Yorkshire Evening Post, “the sad truth at the moment is that a lot of his cash is being burned on resolving problems he inherited”, which are often the parts of football ownership that go unmentioned. Replacing Cellino puts the club back at square one, and despite the obvious potential of Leeds United as a football club, the financial state it currently finds itself in makes it a hazardous (at best) investment prospect.
But my biggest grievance with the Football Leagues’ move to disqualify Cellino is that the Football League, like FIFA and several other governing bodies around the world, is inept at best and corrupt at worst. The fit and proper test of football ownership isn’t fit and proper in itself. As Fat Lad (brilliant) points out in our previous post, “the real irony is the legislation they are using to attempt to derail and destabilise the club is the very same legislation which is intended to protect clubs.” Surely that should be at least a consideration when the organisation moves to oust a chairman that clearly has so much to offer a club that, let’s be honest, we all miss in the top tier.
Fundamentally, as Guy Mowbray pointed out, a chairman is either fit and proper to run a club or he isn’t. “The steps that the League wishes the club to take – to remove Mr Cellino only to re-appoint him in three months’ time – will be destabilising for the club, its supporters and sponsors and cannot be in the best interests of any party,” a Leeds United statement read, and I wholeheartedly agree. If anyone was to bring some semblance of calm to a stormy situation it should be the Football League, but in this instance they’ve done more to disrupt the fit and proper running of the club as they have enforced it.