The battle for Leeds United
Probably the most significant recent development in the Leeds United Takeover Slapstick Farce is the winding up petition (WUP) served by Andrew Flowers, alleged fan of the club and disappointed member of the thwarted Sport Capital which failed to buy a controlling interest in United last month. Amid all of the speculation and rumours surrounding the moral probity of Massimo Cellino, it is interesting to examine the possible motivations of Flowers in the extremely drastic action he has taken.
This blog has come to the conclusion that Flowers is lashing out in a manner not dissimilar to a spoiled child’s tantrum. To run further with that analogy, the winding up petition is as much of an over-reaction as that of the wailing child who, denied the biggest share of the sweets, hurls a set of wooden blocks through the dining-room window. It’s an over-the-top reaction, the product of immature arrogance and spite. Somebody should perhaps shut Mr Flowers in his room with no toys, until he’s learned how to behave nicely.
A little research shows that it’s not unknown for a WUP to be issued as a tactical measure, designed to impede an unwelcome rival bid as it nears completion. The website “Company Rescue” states
“In the Leeds United case, it appears Flowers has issued the petition in order to settle the dispute over the bid, which can happen if creditors feel they are ignored.
This kind of action is likely to be dismissed by the Court, however , as a WUP should only be issued if the company is thought to be insolvent. As Flowers seems to be issuing one to settle a dispute, this could be deemed in the court as an abuse of process.”
Naturally, the courts tend to take a dim view of this sort of thing, as Leeds United in its current guise will be hoping happens in this case. Their statement last night referred to “abuse of process” and it has to be said that this will do absolutely nothing but harm to Mr Flowers’ reputation if it is shown to be the case. Another term for less-than-sincere legal action is “frivolous and vexatious”. Courts and judges just hate this sort of thing.
There is the effect on the fans (remember them?? Hang on, it’s US!) to be considered, too. Once the supporters cottoned on to the fact that the actions of Flowers pose a serious threat to the reputation or even continued existence of Leeds United – and that cottoning-on did not take long – then sympathy started to drain away from Mr Flowers and from Enterprise Insurance like pus from an open wound. The idea of being anywhere near the bottom of the league, and then incurring a ten point league penalty, is not a comfortable one for Leeds United fans, not comfortable at all. Minus fifteen is still a vivid memory and still a cause of bitter resentment. Ten points deducted right now would leave us a precarious 5 points clear of the relegation zone.
Neither will the fans appreciate the prospect of this ridiculous pantomime being dragged out for very much longer. And yet Flowers’ WUP is due to be considered by the High Court on March 17th – almost six weeks away. Six more weeks of anguish and uncertainty? No, thank you. Another factor evident today is the high incidence overnight of nocturnal emissions in many a South Yorkshire hovel, as desperate fans of smaller clubs dreamed moistly of the possible disappearance of Leeds United from the football landscape. The tweets today bear witness to this frankly sad level of excitement and anticipation among the inbred, chip-on-the-shoulder tendency. The attitude of other fans will be of little import to the suits as they go about their squabbling – heavens, they can hardly bother to think about the club’s own fans – but it’s a real enough part of the misery being imposed on us – and a particularly irritating one to the loyal Leeds United following out here, unable to do much but watch in horror and wait in apprehensive uncertainty while this humiliating tussle goes on. And on, and on…
Over the past few days, and particularly since the news of Flowers’ WUP gained some currency, the attitude of the Leeds United support has appeared to sway significantly in favour of the Italian Cellino, and away from the dubious methods being employed elsewhere. At first there was much doubt and virtuous rolling of the eyes at the thought of Cellino’s supposed criminality and wickedness – and yet, in the cold light of day, he appears little different to other mega-rich football club owners in this respect. It’s highly unlikely that his convictions – one apparently suspended, one seemingly quashed – will act so as to fail him under the League’s Fit and Proper Person (FAPP) test. He has an embezzlement charge hanging over him, but is rightly regarded as innocent until proved otherwise on that score. And are Cellini’s rivals so squeaky clean? The background of one Liverpool-based member of one of the consortia begs some critical evaluation, what with drive-by shootings and the like and – let’s not forget – Enterprise Insurance itself is unlikely to be based in Gibraltar simply for the lovely scenery afforded on the Rock.
The sad and frustrating fact is that Mr Flowers has taken a sledgehammer here to crack a peanut. He filed his application the day after his consortium’s bid collapsed – on the rebound, as it were. It has all the hallmarks of a fit of pique. Given the statement from Leeds United last night – and even though that was swiftly watered-down, it’s still out there for people to see due to various assiduous bloggers – it seems inconceivable that Flowers and GFH could sit down around a table and discuss amicably any proposed business over the ownership of a football club which in any event actually belongs in a very real sense to the fans out here. So what has Flowers to gain? Read here and here to see what a very serious step a WUP is. Why would he do that to a club he allegedly has close to his heart?
It will be interesting to see how the feelings of the Leeds United support continue to drift as the next few days go by – but already there has been a significant shift away from Flowers & Co and towards the “King of Corn”. If Flowers is planning a long game, he risks completely exhausting the patience of the fans, patience that is already wearing dangerously thin. And he might just find that any support or sympathy he ever had will have completely evaporated long before he ever gets his day in court.