FI, FA, FO, FUM… I smell the blood of Leodensian

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.

11 Responses

  1. McGinnis

    A good article full of common sense, I’m a Leeds fan, its clear Cellino has made every effort to stabilize Leeds financially despite clearly trying to avoid taxes (Try finding a rich person who doesn’t do that).

    In my opinion The Football League are simply trying to have the “Last Word” in a petty feud! Why has nothing been done about carsten yeungs ownership of a club despite him being behind bars?!

    I also find it funny how they say they will come back on any appeal by Dec29th?! So basically they are saying we are going all out to ruin your transfer window, they didn’t rush themselves when he first applied fro ownership did they?

    The football league are as much of a joke as FIFA!

    Leave us alone!

  2. stelufc

    its the football league, not the fa.

    the football league is to leeds as fifa is to england, if that helps fans of other clubs understand our “paranoia”

  3. madman

    This week Cellino got GHF to put £5 million into the club as they own 25% yet sinc Cellino took over the club news has come out that they are crooks stole from the club left debts unpaid ect ect in other words a mess ,so why don’t the FL ban GHF and leave Cellino in total control .They wont because it was them that gave GHF the ok to buy the the club so they must have something hide .

  4. PauG

    A good follow-up to your colleague’s earlier piece.

    As a Leeds fan (and Season Ticket holder), for me it comes down to two points.

    First, there has to be a question mark over the standards which have passed Ken Bates and GFH as fit and proper, while ruling out the first man in 20 years to put his money where his mouth is to support the club.

    And second, EITHER the ‘fit and proper persons’ test applies equally to ALL member, clubs, or it shouldn’t apply to any. The FL may choose to disqualify Cellino ….. but if they do, we all look forward to the same stringent rules being applied to the other 71 clubs’ owners and directors.

    Although we won’t hold our breath ……

  5. Rick

    As a Life Long LUFC supporter, I find it rather interesting and amusing that a person who sits on the Board of Directors of the Football league, is the same person who was on the board at LUFC, right up to 2013. He himself was a part of the Leeds United ‘disassembling’ team, that brought the club to its Knees.

    Mr Shaun Harvey, Chief Executive, whilst abstaining from the vote (having declared an interest – only fair!) smugly sits on the board of the Directors of the FL, and has the audacity to lecture other people on the need to be a right and proper person to run a football club.

    Laughable really, and shows just how far up their own backsides these people are.

    Now I’m not saying that Mr Cellino is an angel, probably far from it. BUT, and here’s the thing.. he has singlehandedly saved LUFC from the brink of collapse. GFH capital, along with Mr Bates (now there was a fit and proper person, if ever there was one..), and Mr Harvey, stripped the club to it’s bare bones and left it to rot. The only thing they wanted was to swell there respective bank accounts, at the cost of the club, and more importantly the long suffering fans. I would say that Mr Cellino’s actions amount to being seen as a fit and proper person to run a football club – as that is what you are supposed to do.

    Unfortunately, the Board of Directors of the FL, have unwashed egg on their faces, and cannot – nay will not be seen to be not wiping it away, regardless of the consequences of the clubs that they are there to support and help.

    So, when it all boils down to it, I have to ask myself this simple question.

    Are Mr Harvey and his sidekicks fit and proper to be on the Football League Board of Directors? if the answer is yes, then they really do need to take a closer look at their own qualifying criteria, along with their purpose.

  6. PaulKersey

    GFH were brought in by KB and the transaction was overseen by a certain Mr S Harvey who I think now holds a senior position at the FL. Having originally led the committee to ban MC he has seen it proper to mot be involved this time ( really ). GFH passed the Fit and Proper test after some unusual delays. They have gone on to fleece money from the club and it’s supporters. It is alleged that part of the funds they use to buy the club originated from Iran. GFH now control around 25% of the club but their own shareholding is less than 10%. They would not now pass the Fit and Proper test due to the aforementioned loan. So who would own the club if MC left?
    Interestingly an insider to all the dealings by KB and GFH recently went on a business trip to the Middle East at GFH’s request. He has been in prison, held without charge for over 6 months and nobody is interested in letting him out? There’s a big story in this one, but not a single journalist is prepared to dig and print.

  7. To Add

    After reading many accounts on how Massimo Cellino the owner of 75% stake in Leeds United is constantly made to be the pantomime bad guy, I thought it right to have a second view of him instead of a piece written by someone who has no idea of what he is doing at Leeds or the charges against him.

    At the time of writing the football league have asked LUFC to suspend Massimo in 28 days, due to being found dishonest in a tax avoidance case in Italy. I think it only fair to look at this further. I am not going into any past convictions as they have no bearing on the topic of discussion today. The reason i say that is because of the rehabilitation of offender act says they are spent and I believe every person as the right to move on from past convictions and so does the law.

    If we look at the case against him it is for unpaid tax on a yacht called ‘Nellie’. So how did Massimo find himself in this position? Firstly he was a USA resident from his house in Miami. A Florida-based company, Freetime Miami owns the yacht and Massimo is a manager within this company. The company purchased the yacht and all taxes on the said yacht were paid in full to the USA.(in uk law this is the end of it and no charge could be applied to Massimo) After some time the yacht was sailed into the med and moored in Italy where he was allowed to keep the yacht for a period of time. Cellino said he had intended to have the yacht sailed back to the US but that its transfer had been held up by mechanical damage and as such the judge ordered it’s confiscation due to it being in Italian waters longer than was allowed and charged Massimo with trying to avoid paying VAT which of course was paid in full in the USA.

    He was in due course found guilty of trying to avoid VAT and fined 600k euros. He has appealed this and under Italian law has no conviction against him while the appeal process goes on. Under Italian law you are not guilty until you have exhausted your appeal rights.

    This is the case against Cellino that the football league are perusing to ban him from owning a UK football club under the fit and proper person test as they argue he was dishonest.

    To add to this some more under appeal against the football league the QC Tim Kerr agreed that this in itself was not dishonest and stated that until the full ruling from the court in Italy is seen he should be allowed to own Leeds Utd. The football league say they have now got a copy of the ruling and it implies he was dishonest which is why they have now moved to ban him from LUFC. It is also worth noting that Massimo Cellino could own and run any company within the UK legally, and his tax avoidance in Italy would have no bearing on it.

    Now the football league fit and proper person test is to protect the club from dastardly persons who could damage the club and the football league is there to work in the best interests of the clubs within the league. This is very important as we need to look at those words ‘work in the best interests of the club’ when we look at what Cellino has done for LUFC.

    Before he took over LUFC was loosing over 1 million a month and the parent company at the time GFH was unable or unwilling to service any debts to keep the club from administration. Cellino bank rolled the club to the tune of about 7 million prior to his takeover. If he had not done this the club would have fallen into administration. Upon taking over he went on a cost cutting exercise that was derided in the press and generally made the laughing stock of. He settled numerous winding up orders from HMRC to lawyers left by a previous owner Ken Bates. He then bought 15 new players who were a better standard for the most part then what we had previously. He bought players not on high wages but players who came on reduced wages with the incentive of good results equals more money. That in itself is a breath of fresh air. He sold Ross Mcormack who yes was our leading goal scorer but he sold him for close to 11million which for a Championship player must be some kind of record. He engages the fans, yes he is a little eccentric but who doesn’t love an eccentric? On the 1st of December he announced a new cash injection of 20 million into LUFC using his own money not getting a loan and burdening the club further. He has stated that one of his goals is to by back Elland Road our stadium which was sold in 2006 to pay debts and Shaun Harvey (yes the same Shaun Harvey the football league chief exec) oversaw this sale and the consequent administration of LUFC.

    So taking the football league mandate of working in the best interests of the club many are wondering how given his financial input, stability and investment in Leeds how could banning him for less than 77 days be in any way in the best interest’s of Leeds Utd? His case is considered spent on the 15th of March 2015 and the league agree he will be able to carry on owning LUFC on this date.

    Some background information should go along with this piece and it would be very remiss of me not to mention these.

    When Ken Bates owned LUFC Shaun Harvey became our MD. This was after he had been the MD of Bradford seeing Bradford go into administration twice. When at Leeds he then presided over Leeds going into admin so we are talking about one who does not have the best record of running a football club, indeed he would probably fail the fit and proper person test that he is so using against one who can actually run a football club. The Ken Bates connection is a very interesting one as he stated when owner of Leeds and I quote
    ” I shall not rest until Leeds United are kicked out of the football league. There fans are the scum of the Earth, absolute animals and a disgrace. I will do everything in my power to make this happen”.
    Now we have Ken Bates colleague in a position of power within the football league being the CEO and Leeds seemingly been made an example of again. Previously we were docked an unprecedented 15 points for going into admin in 2007. This has never been given to any club before or since. This brings us fairly up to date with the football league again trying to ban our owner which has never happened before even with one owner of Birmingham being arrested, charged found guilty of money laundering and now resides in prison. Or a number of others with charges, convictions for rape, racism, embezzlement or financial mismanagement at best. Look at Blackpool and the turmoil they are going through but the football league do nothing. Ahh yes of course one of the owners of Blackpool are on the football league board who voted to try and ban Cellino.

    So looking at the above are Leeds supporters paranoid or do we have some justification?

  8. While Jack Peat reports a far more balanced article concerning the failings of the FL and not just Leeds bashing it doesn’t cover up the inept report from one of his journalist which is why it had so many reply’s if this is some sort of half hearted attempt of an apology for the afore said report it doesn’t come close

  9. gary

    mr biggins there is saying in Yorkshire, if you have nowt to say, say nothing. read the article contain very few facts. respect where respect due and you ant got any. mr cellino should sue or better still just laugh or smirk preferably. journilism in the freddy ate my hamster mold. shame you guys should be professinals. mot forever wherever

  10. MegsMum

    Replying to Spence. Mr Kerr said that if the judgement stated Mr Cellino’s actions were deemed dishonest then the FL decision to ban him should stand. The judgement does indeed state this so the FL are right to disqualify him. I acknowledge that under Italian law he is not yet deemed guilty, but the Italian Football League or whatever they are called, would also disqualify him at this stage so why shouldn’t the FL? Instead of wasting more of the club’s money on appealing the decision (just like Bates he also doesn’t pay his own legal fees) he should just walk away for good and let somebody who knows what they’re doing take over (not Red Bull though please). While he is part owner we will be continually go through all this upheaval as one by one his court cases come up. The club needs stability, and it needs an owner who is not a crook, not a megalomaniac, not a control freak, but one who will quietly get on with the business of running the club and then we can concentrate on football without the sideshow.

    1. MegsMum

      i understand your views and acknowledge them however you are incorrect when saying he would not be allowed to own an Italian football club. Check Italian laws before you put pen to paper. As for please let someone else come in not red bull beggars cant be choosers i am afraid.

Leave a Reply