Daily Archives: 03/09/2013

What Does Sheffield Utd’s New Arab Prince Mean for Leeds?

Bramall Lane's Over That Way, Squire

Bramall Lane’s Over That Way, Squire

They seem to have pulled off quite a coup down at Beautiful Downtown Bramall Lane, with the announcement that Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (or “Prinny” for short) has purchased a 50% stake in the League One club, becoming joint owner with Kevin McCabe.  No long and torturous process of due diligence for the Blunts – it’s a done deal, crash bang wallop, just like that.  Quite a difference, it has to be said, from the goings-on at Elland Road last year when it took what seemed like centuries and millions of pages of internet speculation before our own impoverished Middle Eastern takeover was completed.  So far, the main appeal of Leeds’ newish owners would seem to be their prized quality of Not Being Ken Bates.  But it may well be that Sheffield United have got themselves a rich billionaire, and with hardly any fuss, bother or publicity.

Still though, some things about this takeover imply a less than bankrolled future for the humble Blunts.  For a start, it’s been announced – highly conveniently – the day after the summer transfer window slammed shut.  And of course the spectre of the new Financial Fair Play rules will haunt any club with ambitions to buy its way to a higher status, meaning that even if Sheffield United were technically minted due to the bulging coffers of its new co-owner, they will be decidedly hamstrung in terms of exactly how much of that wonga they can spend on team improvements.  Then again, there may be ways around that, if your backroom staff includes a wily enough manipulator of accounts and accounting regulations.  Whatever the case, Blunts fans have every right to be excited about what appears to be a notable development in their club’s profile and ability to plan for a brighter future.

All this is taking place within crowing distance of Elland Road, and many of the Bramall Lane faithful will be having a satisfied chuckle into their greasy chip butties tonight at the thought of how their beloved Blunts have out-done Big Brother up the M1.  So what will this development mean for Leeds United AFC?  This is, after all, a club whose current owners have been talking loud and long about their desire to attract inward investment on a scale to allow United to move forward on and off the pitch.  Rumours were rife not so long back of a mega sponsorship package involving soft-drinks giants Red Bull, and only a day or so ago David Haigh was using his Twitter account to make cryptic references to that company.  Other rumours have referred to nameless Saudi princes who may want to be involved with a club which, although some way from Premier League status, certainly have a historic global profile that puts them in a stratospherically different league to either Sheffield club.  It’s being said that the new Prince of Bramall Lane could easily have afforded himself a Premier League club, but opted for life in Sheffield.  Why would this be?  Were Leeds owners GFH aware of the interest of this apparently mega-wealthy Saudi investor?   Do they still have other irons in the fire? Should we be worried that Salem Patel hasn’t tweeted one of his enigmatic little winks lately?  What IS going on behind the scenes?

One thing is for sure.  We live in an age of instant knowledge and mass-sharing of said knowledge on a variety of social media.  Football fans gossip on a scale undreamed of by the archetypal housewives over the garden fence, and if one consumer group feels that a rival consumer group is getting a better deal, they are liable to get twitchy, bordering on annoyed.  The reaction of Leeds fans is out there already: why can’t WE get ourselves a billionaire investor?  The potential at Elland Road, even under Financial Fair Play is much greater – so why aren’t we being snapped up by someone who doesn’t have to scrape down the back of the sofa every time we need the odd million for a Man U reserve. Why can’t we get lucky, just for once?  Things are undeniably better than they were under Bates – but with a body of support such as Leeds United has, with their memories of glory days and a glittering history, how long are they going to settle for that?

Now that a near neighbour appears to have sorted itself out as a new rich kid on the block, expect rumblings of discontent at Elland Road if things dont start to move on our own investment front.  It wasn’t a barren transfer window for Leeds, not by any means. But the way it fizzled out with inactivity on deadline day and no wingers or strikers arriving – that was uncomfortably reminiscent of the bad old days under Ken.  GFH will need to be aware that Leeds fans will never be happy merely to keep up with the Joneses, and now that those Joneses seem to have won the lottery, we’re going to be mighty reluctant to settle for the role of poverty-stricken neighbours.  With the pressure this development down the M1 has applied, there had better be some results forthcoming in the loan window – or the muffled protests will become a lot louder and the clamour for new signings in the January window is liable to be deafening.

The way the season pans out for both Uniteds, Sheffield and Leeds, should make for very interesting viewing.  Watch this space.

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Hillsborough Disaster Police Sold Their Souls for £14.53

Hillsborough Disaster (Lies Inset)

Hillsborough Disaster (Lies Inset)

It has emerged in a report carried by the i newspaper that the police force charged with ensuring public safety on the occasion of the Hillsborough Disaster kept money found among the dead and dying, choosing to pay the amount found into the police bank account after they’d held it for a period of three years, rather than donating the sum to the disaster fund which had been set up to help victims and the bereaved.  The sum?  £14.53.

It’s perhaps because of the paltry amount involved, rather than in spite of it, that this is such a shocking story.  A full three years passed before the casual decision was made – without objection or reservation – to pay the money into the police account.  The cash was made up of loose change gathered from among the bodies of the dead and dying in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and it appeared as part of an inventory detailed in a memorandum dated January 1992, which also recorded the decision to bank the money.

In the midst of all the other negative findings about the conduct of the police at several levels that day, and in the light of the fact that they appeared complicit in the lies that were spread in the days and weeks after Hillsborough – notably by the Sun newspaper – the amount of £14.53 seems trifling enough.  And yet, understandably, the impact felt by the families of the victims at this unsavoury incident is likely to be out of all proportion to the actual size of the cash amount involved.

Only last month, it was reported that South Yorkshire Police attempted to apply to the disaster fund for a sum running into thousands, earmarked for the provision of microwaves, gym equipment and a holiday home for police use.  In conjunction with this new revelation about the fate of loose change picked up from among the dead, it really does beg the question of exactly what motivates those who make decisions like this, and what level of awareness they have of public opinion in such sensitive matters relating to a disaster that continues to reverberate almost a quarter of a century on.

If there is anybody in a position of authority in the police organisation with the slightest trace of decency, honour and plain good taste, then they will take a look at this latest disgrace, take careful note of the sum of £14.53, multiply it by one thousand – and donate that amount into the Hillsborough Disaster Fund.  That may still be a case of too little, too late – but better late than never and surely – surely – some gesture now needs to be made in the face of what has been nothing more or less than a 24 year public relations disaster for the South Yorkshire Police. 

RIP The 96.

Snouts In The Trough – But It’s Time Those Living High On The Hog Picked Up The Tab

The Three-Party System

The Three-Party System

The thing about politicians is – if they’re not talking, or furiously thinking of a way out of their latest web of deceit, or maybe sleeping (a swift forty winks on the backbenches, the ultimate power nap), then they’re most likely at some or other official function, stuffing their faces with the finest of freebie food and drink.

Now, I’m not making a party political point here. I said “politicians”, and I meant the whole unsavoury crew of them, be they high-powered cabinet members, lobby fodder rank-and-file MP’s, or even your humble Joe Bloggs, Mavis Dogood or Tarquin FitzHerbert-Smythe in the local Council chambers. They all have the same basic bodily need for nourishment as us mere mortals. The difference is, they will quite often fill up to the Plimsoll line at the taxpayer’s expense. Is this fair or appropriate in these straitened times?

At a veritable crisis point of global financial meltdown, when our national debt is so high that even Wayne Rooney would need to ask for an extra week or two to pay it off, I find myself wondering: what’s the accumulated value of all the state and civic banquets, dinners, receptions, working lunches and other freebie jamborees that take place every day, all over the country? It must come to a good few bob. We’re not, after all, talking a few limp ham sandwiches, curling up at the edges and accompanied by motley shreds of anaemic lettuce. No, Sir. These people do not skimp; they do themselves well, very well indeed. There’s proper, grown-up, posh food on heavily-laden and groaning tables – and it must be highly debatable how much productive thinking is left in those bloated plutocrats, after the desserts have been and gone, and the port, nuts and cigars are passed around.

Of course, piling into the snap at the highest levels of power is nothing new. It’s been pretty much de rigueur ever since Henry I wolfed down half-a-dozen too many eels, and expired before he could gasp “surfeit of lampreys”. Kings, Queens, and assorted courtiers and other hangers-on have always been notable for their over-indulgence on rich food and fine wine. It sort of went with the territory in those far-off times, but it strikes a more discordant note these days when essential services – the culmination of the whole process of civilisation and enlightenment since before Henry I – are being cut left, right and centre. And yet still the state and political chomping goes on apace.

It’s only a matter of a few weeks since MP’s of all parties were calling for a 32% pay rise, despite their broad consensus that the rest of us should be grinning bravely and tightening our belts. Just what sort of message does that send out, when so much of their weekly calorific intake is provided and paid for, as part of their remit as legislators of our country? And the same applies at least in some degree to our business leaders – no subsidised canteen serving scrummy beans on toast with a poached egg on top for them – it’s Marco-Pierre White catering at the very least – and waiter, send that bill to Accounts, there’s a good chap.

What if – bear with me here – what if MP’s, ponderous boardroom types, and indeed power-brokers everywhere were to embrace a novel concept, and actually pay for some of the scrumptious fare that comes their way so often, and gratis at that? If this were the general principle, multiplied across all the many thousands of vastly expensive official meals and banquets that take place in this over-stretched nation every week, what would be the saving to the national purse? I’m struggling to work that out on my fingers and in my head, but it’s a big, big number, make no mistake. It’s not as if the people we’re talking about are exactly impoverished – are they now? And what do the rest of us do when it’s time for lunch at work? Not everyone has even the subsidised canteen; many of us are away down to the high street for a cheese roll, which we’re – quite reasonably – expected to fund out of our own pockets.

It’s about time we all woke up to the fact that – on a grand scale – we’re being made right mugs out of, you and me. Every time there’s a new cost-cutting measure, or another idea for a wage freeze, you can bet your life it’s been hatched over the smoked-salmon canapés and the pâté de foie gras. And what’s more, we’re the simple souls paying for it. Could that money not be used much more productively, elsewhere?

Just think about that, the next time you’re counting the pennies at the end of the month, and wondering whether you can delay the big shop till after the weekend. Then again, it might even act as an appetite suppressant. Just thinking of all those banquets, all that luxury food, and above all, where the bill’s heading – might just actually make you sick.