Finally, the silence has been broken – what we have been waiting for in terms of hard information, or at least a statement from one of the main protagonists, has at last come to light. It’s a breaking of the impasse – but not in a good way. What we have heard is an unedifying tale of wrangles over the terms of an agreement apparently struck last November. It seems that the Flowers/Haigh/Un-named Others “Sport Capital” consortium found something, or maybe several things, not to their liking after the initial agreement for the sale of 75% of the GFH holding. Various elements, it is said, were “not as originally described”. Sport Capital therefore made a “revised” (i.e. lower) offer, which GFH have turned down, seemingly preferring to listen to other suitors, with a certain Italian prominent among the names being noised about.
In other words, it’s a mess. In fact “mess” is really far too kind a way of describing the utter shambles, the embarrassing pantomime, that has been this takeover so far. Quite apart from the humiliating spectacle of watching our great club being fought over by a bunch of incompetents, there are a few odd matters arising out of all this. Not the least of these is the Sport Capital statement “We were fully justified in revising our bid because a number of things have come to light which were not as originally described“. Now that does seem bizarre, because – let’s not forget – the Sport Capital Consortium and the existing GFH ownership have David Haigh in common. So if Sport Capital have uncovered something nasty about the club, something that would justify a reduction of the offer which closed the original agreement – then why and how wasn’t Haigh aware of this before? He was, after all, a senior figure in the running of the club this past year. Even Andrew Flowers, big wheel in the club’s main sponsors Enterprise Insurance, should have had some level of knowledge. There’s a rotten smell here, somewhere.
It’s a little odd too that Sport Capital, having (as some might say) reneged on the terms of the original agreement, are now accusing GFH of “breaching their covenant” in talking to other interested parties. GFH are also accused of breaching their covenant with the fans – whatever that means – but it’s unlikely after today’s revelations that those fans will be confining any expressions of displeasure to GFH alone. To the fan in the street, sick to death of being messed around by a series of chancers playing fast and loose with Leeds United – an institution of the English game, by the way – it would appear that all parties concerned are conspiring to make of our club a laughing-stock, an embarrassing soap-opera which does little but heap shame and humiliation on the heads of its loyal and fanatical supporters.
It’s difficult to take sides on the little information available, even since Flowers decided to speak out. But the impression that goal-posts have been moved is not easy to avoid. Flowers also said “This boils down to much more than money but GFH have chosen to ignore that”. But isn’t that slightly disingenuous? To the selling party, it’s always going to be mainly about the money, surely? Even though GFH were intending to retain a 10% stake, they will still have an interest in realising what they can for the chunk of the club they’re selling. For Sport Capital to reduce their offer – and then cry foul and scramble for the moral high ground when the sellers refuse to lower the price – seems, to say the least, a little naïve. And after all – if it boils down to much more than money – why have Sport Capital reduced their financial offer after an agreement had been reached? There is much more here than meets the eye, much that we still don’t know on the basis of Flowers’ statement which – let’s face it – is only going to represent a one-sided point of view. So when he, and Haigh, dismiss rival bids as being bad for the club and the fans – can we really trust their objectivity in a matter where they indisputably have a vested interest?
Meanwhile, hard on the heels of this new storm, Brian McDermott has had the task of trying to field a team that will stop the on-field rot by getting a result at Elland Road against Ipswich. To say that the prevailing circumstances are not conducive to team preparation is a masterly feat of understatement. I will try to raise the enthusiasm to write something about the Ipswich game later, but it’s hardly my prime concern right now and I freely admit that.
McDermott has been looking and sounding distinctly glum this past day or so, and all you can feel for the guy is deep sympathy – the sympathy you’d feel for any professional trying to do his job hamstrung and hindered by the manoeuvres of the crass amateurs in the chain of command above him. Brian wants the matter swiftly concluded and, he emphasises, in the best interests of the club. Give the guy an award for common-sense, a quality notably lacking elsewhere in what’s going on. Reading between the lines, you can tell that Brian is half-expecting to be a casualty of whatever outcome we eventually get. But he’s got his head down, doing his best in a difficult situation and he deserves the support of every true Leeds fan for as long as he’s at the club.
You honestly wonder how much more the fantastic fans of Leeds United are prepared to take. If you got a couple of the more cynical type of satirical sitcom writers together, and asked them to pen a series about a football club setting out its stall to take the mickey out of its large and loyal fan-base, then they wouldn’t even be able to imagine or approach the farcical reality that now confronts us. We deserve a lot better than this; but it’s a situation that has gone on now, with a few changes in the principal cast, for quite a few years. In this time, we have seen clubs that suffered alongside us in the bowels of League One go on to comparatively great things. Southampton, Swansea – even Norwich. For heavens’ sake, Norwich have managed to prosper with three-quarters of our League One midfield and our top-scorer of last season warming the bench. Reality would be funny if it wasn’t so utterly sickening. For many, of course – the sad acts out there whose chief pleasure is to see Leeds United wounded and suffering – it is funny, in fact it’s riotously amusing. And this all adds to the depression and misery for our fans, people who live and breathe Leeds United, people though who seem to be the least significant factor in the thinking of those who are wrangling over a great club.
It has to stop, and stop soon. Clearly, this transfer window – despite the lies we were told last month and for most of this – is not going to be of any real help to us, and therefore this season is yet another write-off. The only realistic aim now is to make sure we stay in this league, hoping that the ownership issue can be sorted out to leave us with a regime that can support the club’s immense potential and the fans’ justifiably sky-high ambitions.
That should be the bottom line, but right now it appears nothing more than a pipe-dream. The clowns fighting over Leeds do not deserve any more of our faith or patience. They don’t deserve to be associated with such magnificent support. So step aside, clowns – and let’s have somebody in who knows their football, loves the club and has the will, imagination and financial muscle to take us forward.
There must be somebody like that out there, surely.