Monthly Archives: March 2014

Twitter in “Happy Ending for Leeds” Rumours: Cellino IN?? – by Rob Atkinson

Shaun Harvey: rumoured to be bearer of glad tidings

Shaun Harvey: rumoured to be bearer of glad tidings

When you’re drowning, you clutch at straws.  So when a Facebook friend mentioned that she’d seen a hopeful-looking tweet from someone who is (apparently) a neighbour of Shaun Harvey and claims to have received his reassurance that all will be well for the takeover – well, I had to see more.

What I saw could be the usual Twitter rubbish, but it could (just) be true as well.  Harvey is reputed to have stated that the Football League has no interest in seeing Leeds United go into administration, and that Cellino’s takeover was always going to be approved as the best way forward for the club.  The Italian court case seems to have muddied the waters rather, and it was felt that a straightforward approval would detract from the credibility of the League’s Owners & Directors test.  So – the rumour runs – the League felt it advisable not simply to approve Cellino, but to wait for the appeal stage in the knowledge that approval would be forthcoming then.

Obviously, the question arises: what is Shaun Harvey doing shooting his mouth off to a neighbour, when the whole matter is effectively sub judice? That’s a good point, and I tend to agree with it.  However, this morsel of rumour seems to me to have enough going for it for me to at least pass on to the Leeds fans out there – who are doubtless chewing their nails down to the elbows worrying over what’s going to happen to our club. Any hint of good news is something I’d certainly want to hear – so I’m going out on a limb to do my bit to share it.

Don’t shoot the messenger, eh?

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Happy Monday? It’s a Pivotal Day in Leeds United’s History – by Rob Atkinson

 

"Historic and Iconic" - Leeds United AFC

“Historic and Iconic” – Leeds United AFC

Forget March 2nd 1968, the day Leeds United won its first ever silverware, beating Arsenal at Wembley to lift the League Cup. Forget May 6th 1972 when, at the same venue, against the same opponents and by the same 1-0 score, United won their sole FA Cup. Forget, even, those three incredible days which saw the Whites hailed as the best in the land as our three Football League Championships were confirmed in 1969, 1974 and 1992.  All of those dates pale in comparison with the epochal significance of the legal fixture being played out in London tomorrow, March 31st 2014.  For tomorrow, it’s likely to be decided which of two well-defined paths Leeds United will be treading into the future.

On the one hand we have a signpost pointing upwards which says: possible fame and success, with a minted owner to put us on a par with those we should be emulating. On the other, there’s the signpost pointing downhill, with the equally unmistakable message: more of the same at best, with a distinct possibility of crisis and dissolution in the near future.  It’s not a choice Leeds United or their amazingly loyal and long-suffering fans are able to make for themselves.  We are all in the hands of the legal eagles as they fight it out over the technicality of whether or not the Football League were correct in saying that Massimo Cellino’s peccadilloes rule him out of fitness and propriety under their own test. Upon this technicality hangs the immediate, or short term – or even the whole future of a famous old club that has never been far from the headlines, for good reasons and bad.

A match-day commentator at Elland Road yesterday summed it up in one well-chosen phrase prior to kick-off against Doncaster Rovers.  Leeds, he said, should be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Man U and Chelsea.  And so, of course, we should.  None of these clubs has more of a right than Leeds – and its magnificent support – to be fighting it out at the top table for the big prizes.  It’s ironic that such telling words should be spoken ahead of a league fixture – and a defeat – against little Donny Rovers.  That sums up the dire straits Leeds have been consigned to by bad leadership, self-interested owners and relentless ill-fortune.  Whatever may have been done wrong, whatever rules may have been broken in the name of Leeds United – it’s no fault of the fans.  And yet, time and again, it’s been the fans who have suffered – whilst the principals in the ongoing pantomime of LS11 have generally waxed fat and walked away happy when their particular final curtain has fallen.  A prime example of this is, of course, Shaun Harvey, CEO of the Football League and a man with a face in each camp, so to speak.  I wonder how he sleeps at night? Blissfully, I expect.

There are two constants in any football club, which transcend players, directors, administrators, League officials and even solicitors, barristers and judges.  One is the entity of the club itself, which in our case is now just five years shy of her 100th birthday.  Where will she be, what state of health will she be in, when that Centenary rolls around in 2019?

The other constant is, needless to say, the supporters.  Come rain, come hail, come snow, the supporters are always there. They were there to cheer on the Greatest Footballer in the World when John Charles plied his mighty trade at Elland Road.  They were there to support Don Revie’s nonpareil team of the sixties and seventies as they witnessed some of the finest football ever seen on the planet. They were there too when Wilko’s Warriors rose, like a Phoenix from the ashes, to swagger back into the big time as if they owned the place and end up, once again, on top of the pile.  And they’re here now, today, watching the dross currently being served up by a team weighed down with larger worries that what happens on the pitch – a team who, with a very few apparent exceptions, are preoccupied with where the next wage packet is coming from, and just how heavy or light will it be?

The supporters will be here in the future as well, whatever happens tomorrow. That is beyond doubt, save only for that nagging worry over the club’s very existence. Only the numbers of that indomitable band will remain open to any variation, depending upon which path we tread.  Any Leeds United fan will tell you what the club deserves – and it’s not more of the same grinding, morale-sapping poverty that we’ve been putting up with now for twelve long and dreary years. Leeds United and their supporters – especially their supporters – deserve some time in the sun.

It’s not United – club or fans – on trial tomorrow.  If anything is on trial, it’s the duty of care owed by the Football League to all of its member clubs – even Leeds. The questions before the appeal panel must include that consideration in the scope of its examination of this whole issue.  The Football League have sat by and they’ve shown every willingness to let their biggest club, their most tangible asset, wither and possibly die for want of sufficient funding to operate on a big club level and compete with their true peers.  And this is the kernel of the matter.

Because, with rapists, con men and porn barons among the current and recent number of their owners and directors, the League has elected to make a stand over an obscure tax question surrounding a yacht.  One little boat, which might be American, and in respect of which some duty allegedly had to be paid in Italy, but was not.  The League have chosen to accept that Cellino, a man of staggering wealth, would court trouble over a matter of what is, to him, small change.  They have leant over backwards to interpret the law and their own regulations such that United are to be denied a saviour and their fans are to continue suffering.  Where is the duty of care amid all of that?

Tomorrow will, in all probability, be the start of a new era at Leeds United. Whether it is an era of further degradation, more doubt, more humiliation, remains to be seen.  There has to be a possibility that things might – for once in a very long while – go in Leeds United’s favour.  And then what? Would we know quite what to do with ourselves in the absence of this millstone of penury and reduced status?  Poverty is not just a matter of not being able to meet the bills, or afford a tank of tropical fish to brighten the place up.  Poverty is much more than that.  It seeps into the very fabric of a place and it poisons the soul.  If we were suddenly to become “Dirty Leeds, Filthy Rich” – how would we cope?

I can tell you this much, especially you lot who occupy the anti-Cellino bandwagon.  I’m heartily sick to death of a penniless existence.  So if the “Filthy Rich” option is there, ripe for the sampling – let me at it.  I’d simply love to try it out.  We lived the dream in the nineties – but there was always that worm of doubt; where’s it all coming from?  With Cellino –  well, it looks as though we’d at last have a man of immense material wealth who is keen to invest it in reviving a fallen giant.  Fingers crossed that he finally gets that chance.

A Summary of GFH Qualifications to Run Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

Those qualifications are as follows (With thanks and acknowledgements to Len Shackleton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks, Len – one of The Greats.

Two Days On, Lorimer Backs This Blog in Leeds’ Need for Cellino – by Rob Atkinson

Justice, or a gun to the head?

Justice, or a gun to the head?

On Monday, the Football League took a decisive step towards killing its biggest, most celebrated and famous member club by refusing to ratify the takeover of Leeds United by Massimo Cellino.  That day I posted a rant, explaining lucidly exactly what I thought of the League – 125 years old last year and exactly as senile as that might lead you to expect.

On Tuesday I wrote a more measured piece, arguing that, even if the League might have been technically, legally within their rights on the evidence before them, any workable set of regulations should incorporate an element of discretion – so that foolish and damaging outcomes would not necessarily be reached in the blinkered cause of absolute rectitude.

Lash

Lorimer – hero?

Today, Peter Lorimer, one-time United hero and man of many faces, has written in the Evening Post, making precisely that last point.  Lorimer is a Leeds Legend and, as such, it’s to be hoped that people will listen to him.  I’m just relieved that I’m not the only one arguing for common-sense over slavish adherence to regulations.

Of course there is now an appeal pending, led by Cellino’s lawyers and – one presumes – arguing that the League’s decision was not even technically correct.  The grounds for such an argument will be couched in legal terms and will deal with esoteric points of law; that’s the way these cookies crumble.  But I would hope that, on the appeal panel, there might be one person of such wisdom as to look above and beyond what is legally right and proper – and examine the pragmatic face of this sorry saga.  In other words, maybe they’ll look at the real-life import of whatever technical irregularity Cellino or his people have permitted to happen.

Maybe they’ll ask themselves why somebody, with over a billion Euros of capital and over two hundred million in annual income, would seek to avoid an amount of duty that represents the merest of small change to a man of such fabulous wealth. Perhaps they will look at the state of Leeds United, with odious creatures from dank and forgotten swamps now slithering around it, helpless without an injection of lifeblood to avoid being consumed by the mire.  Could they even consider the interests of thousands upon thousands of lifetime supporters, for whom Leeds United means almost literally everything outside of family, home and hearth?

You would hope so, you would very much hope so – after all, any appeal panel would be more independently constituted than the League’s own set of self-important, self-interested buffoons, and would even include a legally-qualified member, maybe a QC.

Any pragmatic common-sense approach to this issue could have only one outcome.  Cellino – about whom it has never been shown he has any malign intent towards football clubs he owns – should be welcomed with open arms and just the merest whisper of caution: “We’ll be keeping our eye on you, old son. Don’t screw up.”  This would at least have the effect of dragging Leeds United away from the precipice edge at which they now perilously teeter. It would shine a light into the lives of thousands who are, right now, in actual, genuine despair at the state of the club they love.  It would protect the income streams of many of Leeds’ fellow clubs, who rely to a large degree upon the annual invasion of the best support in the country and the money those fabulous fans spend in following their team.

The alternative route – the League’s own solution of identifying a technical, legal sticking-point, and going blindly with that – would only result in the farcical, self-defeating situation that applies right now.  A suitable parable might be that of a priest, walking beside a lake in which a man is floundering, unable to swim.  There is a lifebelt just out of reach – but instead of throwing it to the doomed man, the priest examines it, and finds it to be of manufacture in a country of a different religion.  “Throw me the lifebelt, Father!” yells the struggling man.  The priest considers him sadly. “I’m sorry, my son,” he says, “this lifebelt has not been blessed and is therefore sinful.  I would be endangering your immortal soul – I’m sorry, but I have to throw it away.” “But Father, I’ll die!” cries the sinking man, not waving but drowning.  “I regret, my son, I regret – but this is how it has to be,” says the priest, throwing the lifebelt away behind him and moving on.  The poor man duly drowns, but the priest is able to reassure himself he did the right thing, by his own lights – and he is sure the dead man’s family will understand.

Will common-sense eventually prevail?  It must rest on a knife-edge.  But, now that a louder voice has taken up the call, perhaps the message will spread more widely and perhaps it will find a sympathetic ear or two, connected to a brain that can actually reason and think for itself – instead of simply seeing things in bald, legally-based black and white.  On this faint hope will depend the question of whether Leeds United might be thrown a lifebelt, or instead be left to drown.

Get ’em told, Lash.  You have a chance to redeem yourself after a few less-than-glorious episodes during the Bates years.  Get out there and spread the message, make us proud of you once again as we were in those ninety miles an hour days of yore.  The way things are now, we need you even more now than we did back in that glory, glory time.

Leeds’ Bournemouth Humiliation Worsened by PR Calamity – by Rob Atkinson

Don't forget the crowd bonus, Gaffer

Don’t forget the crowd bonus, Gaffer

You won’t hear me going on about tactical issues, team shape, diamond formations and all that malarkey. I know my limits. I have played football, mind you – in the distant days of my youth. I was goal-hanger-in-chief for Bradford College 1st XI in 1981/82, scoring in every game I played. I even scored a hat-trick past a keeper who’d played in a World Cup Qualifier. OK, it was for Oman. But still…

And even when my full-scale football days were over, I still played 5-a-side well into porky middle-age, undeterred by a snapped cruciate ligament.  I look back on my playing days very fondly, but I don’t kid myself I know the game on a deep tactical level, so I refuse to pontificate about it.  I know there are plenty who have no such reservations, but I also know that the pros think of these types as a rich source of amusement – not to be taken seriously.  So I’d rather stick to what I know for my scribblings.

For instance, I know enough about Public Relations to sort out the good, the bad and the ugly from the plain disastrous.  It was PR of that latter variety – the really crappy end of that particular stick – that Leeds United now stand guilty of, after yet another dire performance on the field. The team was thrashed out of sight by Bournemouth, a club who had never before beaten the once-mighty United.  Clearly, these are dark days, though Bournemouth are a decent side with a go-ahead young manager in Eddie Howe.  So it’s no real disgrace for this Leeds squad to lose to them – but, as is the case far too often with the modern-day Whites, it was the spineless manner of the defeat which really rankled.

Even that, though – even the appalling defending and general laxity of play – must pale into insignificance by the side of some of the quotes emanating from the United camp in the wake of this defeat.  The players, we are given to understand, are distracted – talking about the club ownership issues and, much more specifically, whether they are going to get paid.  This information is offered almost hopefully, as a sort of mitigating background to the inadequacy of the football Leeds are playing these days.  Bloody hell, guys.  Really?

Trust me – nobody has more sympathy for the working man and his right to get paid than I do (I also extend this courtesy to working women – outside the field of professional football).   I’m one of your actual left-wing reds under the bed, a proper old-fashioned socialist.  I’m deeply suspicious of management and I’m a strong supporter of workers’ rights, including the right to withdraw their labour if necessary.  What I’m not by any means as enthusiastic about is a bunch of extremely well-paid young men seeing fit to grouch – in these parlous times – about the possibility of not being paid on time, when their average bottom line must be forty grand a month at least.

To my mind, this is obscenely disgusting, and it is a PR disaster of the first magnitude that somebody has seen fit to voice such a matter as in any way excusing or making more understandable some of the players’ currently pathetic levels of performance.  When you think of the times we live in – times when we’re thanking God it’s been a mild winter so far, because otherwise pensioners face agonising heat-or-eat choices – it makes the blood boil, surely, to hear even a suggestion that athletes earning up to and beyond half a million quid a year should be grizzling about their lot if force majeure necessitates a temporary reaction to acute cash-flow issues.

There are people out here in the real world actually starving, for heavens’ sake. Yes – quite literally fading away from malnutrition in this first-world country of ours, reduced to subsistence on food-bank parcels and watching, horrified, as their kids become vulnerable to scurvy and rickets.  And yet, in this bleak context, you have the luckiest of young chaps, earning their munificent living in a manner most of us could only dream of, actually having the gall to grumble that this week’s £15k pay-cheque might not turn up on time – and this, apparently, is putting them off their game.  The sheer nerve and bad taste of that makes my head spin.  I don’t want to name names, but the person who has raised this issue of the poor players “worrying” must surely wish that, on that particular subject, he’d kept his gob firmly shut.

These are bad, hard times for Leeds United, there’s no denying that.  But at the end of the day, football is only a game – and the players who are so preoccupied with thoughts of the next fat wage-packet that they’re seemingly incapable of kicking a ball straight, must surely lack even the most remote sense of proportion.  So what if this week’s fifteen grand doesn’t show up?  What did you spend last week’s on, or that of a week before?  Are you down to the last six-figure sum in the bank yet?  Honestly lads, my heart bleeds for you, it really does.

There’s a real world out there, and most of the people living in it would laugh tears of bitter mirth at the very idea of a professional footballer at a club like Leeds United actually whinging about or even worrying about money.  As a breach of good taste and etiquette, that knocks passing port to the right into a cocked hat.  Things may well get a good deal worse at Leeds before they get better – but even if they do, all the sympathy should be reserved for the fans, those long-suffering fans who follow them everywhere, at vast expense, leaving home fans in awe of their sheer gutsiness wherever they visit.  There was the usual raucous army down at Bournemouth, most of whom will have arrived home, cold and dispirited and about £100 lighter in the pocket, sometime in the dawn hours of Wednesday morning.  How will they feel when they hear about the players’ petty worries?  Not too impressed, I’ll be bound.  They might well think – what if nurses, or soldiers, or fire-fighters decided to stick the bottom lip out and sulk when things got a bit stretched financially?  Where would we all be then?  And they might well be tempted to snap at a discontented footballer: “Honestly – grow up”.

Leeds United as a club doesn’t have a lot going for it at the moment.  It doesn’t own its stadium or its training ground.  It’s beset by takeover crises and an ownership and investment situation which seems to worsen by the hour.  But what it does have is undeniably the best support around – it’s the last real asset of the Leeds United “brand” and as such, it’s something the club simply cannot afford to squander.  But really – even a fanatic will run out of enthusiasm at some point – probably about the same point a saint loses the last shreds of his or her patience.  It’s a finite resource, like anything else. And if there’s one thing guaranteed further to sicken a devoted fan who has just made a round trip of hundreds of miles at great expense to see the heroes in white get well and truly stuffed, it’s to be made aware that those so-called heroes can think only about the next wedge of cash due to them – and sadly not about those poor fans, without whom there would be no game of football for them to get overpaid to play.

That’s a terribly sad situation, and I truly hope that all parties to this tasteless leak of unpalatable information get a lot of earache for it, together with a stern reminder of what real life is like out there in the real world. I’m a devoted Leeds United fan, and there’s not much about my beloved club that could ever genuinely nauseate me.

But this thing has – it really, really has.

League: Just Because You CAN Doesn’t Mean You SHOULD – by Rob Atkinson

What is needed, set in stone

What is needed, set in stone

Yesterday’s Football League decision to block Massimo Cellino’s bid for Leeds United still reverberates around the football world – and appears set fair to make a proper old impact in the bewigged legal environment also. An appeal is inevitable and m’learned friends will be getting their fangs into the meat of the matter, dissecting the terminology of the rules in question (the Owners and Directors test) and entering into interminable semantic debates in an effort to prove white is black and “this” actually means “that”.

Therein, to this blog’s mind, lies the real problem. For, in their eagerness to show the technical application of their regulations to the instant case, the League have failed to pay any attention to common sense, practical considerations and real world consequences. In short they have done what they have leant over backwards to convince themselves they technically can – without anything like enough thought given as to whether they should.

This much is absolutely clear from a reading of their judgement, a not particularly accessible document which is redolent of some player in a game of strategy, anticipating the moves from the other side and exclaiming “a-HA!” as they trump that ace with some wily move of their own.  It all looks rather clever, perhaps, but it’s not at all wise – not in the real world.  Out there, real people are stuck with the consequences of these endgame machinations from remote, aloof players whose primary concern seems to be showing that they are technically right and that their view should therefore prevail.

The old saying “Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should” has absolute relevance here.  And before anyone decries old sayings, let’s not forget that they become old sayings because of their simplicity and impact, because of the sheer, concise, logical beauty of their common sense and reason.  Not for them the contortions and convolutions of legalese, the twisting and turning to try and make a default position appear technically unimpeachable.  Cleverness is all about winning in a head-to-head battle of cat and mouse, or in the strategy of chess.  Wisdom, on the other hand, is about finding the right solution for the greater good – meeting the interests of the many, not just showing how one ego or the other has succeeded in “proving their position is legally correct”.  What we have here, in a nutshell, is the distinction between law and justice.  The League have strained every sinew to justify themselves in terms of the former, with scant if any regard for the latter.

In all the acres of print I read yesterday, there was far, far too much about interpretations of law and regulations – and hardly anything about the practical impact on the people who matter – the fans and, by association, Leeds United football club and its employees.  The League, after a farcical delay during which everybody with any interest in the matter suffered pain and humiliation to an uncalled-for degree, appeared to have ended up justifying what must have been their default position from the start.  Where was the recognition that here was a famous old club that had been in financial difficulty for over a decade, and now had the chance of a fresh start?  Where was the consideration of the impact of this decision on thousands upon thousands of people for whom their football club represents a massive emotional and – for the individuals concerned – financial investment?

These real-world issues just weren’t there at all.  It was all dry as dust; here are the legal reasons why the bid fails.  But what do the League imagine Cellino will actually do, if he was accepted as Leeds owner?  Buy another yacht, perhaps, and display it in the West Stand car park with a sign on it saying “No tax paid on this – bollocks to the authorities”.   Or perhaps he’d buy the stadium back, fund the club and get them promoted and competitive in a higher division under separate jurisdiction.  Maybe that’s what they’re scared of.

What is needed here, what was totally absent yesterday, is a measure of wisdom. The Wisdom of Solomon, perhaps – that classical example of the magical compromise solution.  Compromise requires give and take, negotiation, the willingness to apply common sense to a situation too fraught with humanity for the application of mere, prosaic regulations alone.  But the League have neglected any such avenue of common sense or compromise.  In reaching a decision to disbar Cellino because they feel they technically can, without sufficient or any regard for whether they really should, they have ended up throwing that Solomon baby out with the bathwater – and achieving an outcome which threatens to fly in the face of their own duty of care where their member clubs are concerned.  Remember that duty of care, gentlemen??

And what do we actually have here, after all?  Well, we have a man in Cellino who has made a considerable fortune in his working life – somebody who, as with anyone in that position, will have trodden on toes and made enemies as he rose to the top. That’s hardly unusual, as some of those Football League mandarins will be all too well aware.  There are not too many squeaky-clean billionaires out there; omelettes are not made without eggs being broken at some point in the process.  “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”, said a wise man once upon a time.  That was another old saw that went missing yesterday.  So we have this Italian guy, loaded with money, wanting to invest in an ailing football club – and he’s demonstrated his bona fides already to the extent of funding that club to a significant degree – without even being recognised as owner.  The Football League need their member clubs to be financially viable.  It is a vital part of the whole thing working.  They should have been crawling on their hands and knees to thank Signor Cellino.  So what do they actually do?  They reject him, because one interpretation of a complex form of words says they can.  Is that wisdom?  No it’s not, it’s foolhardy, cack-handed incompetence.  Or even worse, it might be prejudice and self-interest. Whatever it is, it’s not common sense.

The fans have admittedly been divided over Cellino, much more so than over certain unsavoury faces from the recent past.  Ken Bates, for instance, was regarded as the Devil incarnate by most Leeds fans – and it’s clear from all sorts of evidence and his own personal demeanour that Mr Bates is a deeply unpleasant, profoundly dodgy individual.  The fans knew that, and they agitated accordingly, to get him out of the club.  The League merely sat on their hands and watched Leeds limp along in poverty and humiliation.  And yet, on the other hand, they rule out of court a man that most Leeds fans do want to see at least given a chance – mainly because he represents the best hope of a properly-funded future for a club of history, pedigree and achievement.  The blind arrogance of the refusal to afford that chance, the sheer self-defeating stubborn illogicality of it – it’s utterly mind-boggling.  The moral is: the fans know best, instinctively, about their own club.

This process still evidently has a way to run – so maybe it’s not too late for the whole rationale behind it to change, and for the better.  So let’s not get caught up in the esoteric interpretations of complex regulations – let’s have a little common sense.  Let’s not end up with an outcome which will leave the Football League open to charges of failure in its duty towards a member of its own “football family” as that smug article Brian Mawhinney put it so unctuously on several occasions – let’s have impartiality and some pragmatism.  The League, though, have form for coshing Leeds United over the head, allegedly in United’s own best interests.  They keep feeding us this nasty medicine, saying it’ll do us good – when in reality the appearance is of a draught of poison that might carry us off.  We’ve seen it all before – and the fact that we survived in 2007 is no fault of the Football League’s.

So please – let’s have some wisdom and common sense now, instead of dry law and rough justice.  There are people out here, gentlemen of the League, people who will genuinely suffer if you carry on in your insistence on disappearing up your own fundament to justify decisions that damage the interests of a struggling football club.  Leeds United matters – it matters far more than any legal principle or set of regulations allegedly drawn up to “protect” League members. If the League can’t see that for themselves, then somebody with a bit of common sense and clout needs to enter the process, even at this advanced stage.

Solomon the Wise is sadly not available – so who will step forward and provide the wisdom and insight this farcical situation so sorely needs?  It’s sincerely to be hoped that the next few weeks will provide an answer to that.

The Football League: Incompetent, Corrupt, Arrogant Hypocrites – by Rob Atkinson

The Football League Panel, yesterday

The Football League Panel, yesterday

The classic defence against a libel suit is “But it’s the truth, m’Lud”. I therefore have no qualms about the title of this blog, which I hope will be read by some of the parties to what was, ultimately, an indefensible decision to block Eleonora Sport’s proposed takeover of Leeds United.  In bending over backwards to apply the letter of their Owners and Directors (OAD) Test, the League have proven themselves unable – or more likely unwilling –  to see the wood for the trees. They are blatantly guilty of pettifogging insistence on the letter, as opposed to the spirit, of the so-called “Fit & Proper” test.  The fact is that any set of regulations must be capable of interpretation so as to allow for the achievement of the greater good.  In other words, rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools.  The League now stand before the football and sporting world as purblind fools. Worse, they are hypocritical fools, fools with selective vision, fools who are self-evidently prey to massive conflicts of interest.

The most obvious problem with today’s decision has nothing whatsoever to do with Massimo Cellino, and everything to do with several people who are happily getting on with the business of running various football clubs whilst at the same time carrying the burden of shady dealings which you might – on today’s evidence – have expected to disqualify them from their football activities.

Step forward, for instance, Carson Yeung of Birmingham City.  Except Carson cannot actually step forward very far, because he’s languishing in a 12′ by 12′ cell somewhere in China, guilty as charged on five counts of money laundering amounting to somewhere in the region of £55m.  Or there’s that nice Mr Owen Oyston, of Blackpool FC.  He’s a convicted rapist who did time for his crime and will be on the Sex Offenders Register for evermore – but the League have cocked a deaf’un to the misdemeanours of both these men.  Oyston’s son Karl, incidentally, was on the League panel which ruled on Cellino today.  His rapist dad remains a director and majority shareholder at Blackpool, a matter which apparently tasks the gentlemen of the League not one jot.  I wonder how Karl kept either of his faces straight?

Add to this little hymn to venal and otherwise dodgy behaviour the less than appetising track records of various other owners around the League; men who veer just the right side of criminality, but whose conduct in office would surely cause raised eyebrows in a responsible governing body. There’s the porn barons Sullivan and Gold at West Ham United.  Assem Allam at Hull City who wants to re-name his club Hull Tigers, and who advised supporters chanting “City Till We Die” to go ahead and die as soon as they liked.  There’s Vincent Tan at Cardiff City, who has ridden roughshod over the history and tradition of the Bluebirds by making them play in red, who wants his ‘keeper to chip in with some goals and who will hopefully suffer a deserved relegation for sacking the manager who gained Premier League status for him and appointing an inexperienced nobody.

It’s not really that impressive wherever you look around the League – and yet the complacent Burghers who serve on panels such as today’s are blind to it all, blind to everything except their overweening need to find some reason – any reason – to disqualify Massimo Cellino.  They eventually got him on a matter of unpaid tax on his yacht, “Nélie”, for which he was heavily fined and had the boat confiscated.  But there’s neither rhyme nor reason, there’s neither logic nor consistency in the League stance, not given the context of the case and the precedents set by the ongoing acceptance of some of the bad boys mentioned above.  A couple of days ago, I wrote that the League’s treatment of the thousands of Leeds fans sweating upon the outcome to this saga was “Cruel and Unusual”, as defined by the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution.  It always did strike me as a blatant flouting of this amendment that the good old US of A had a liking for leaving convicted criminals incarcerated on Death Row, sometimes for decades – and then casually popping them into an electric chair and snuffing them out.  Cruel indeed – but sadly not that unusual in the States. The unconscionable lengths that the Cellino decision process has been dragged out to – only for that ultimate, smug and self-satisfied “No” at the end of weeks of torture for legions of Whites – does rather smack of this kind of cruelty on a more mundane level.

But the Football League mandarins evidently don’t care about that.  They don’t care about the conflict of interests apparent in the constitution of their panel, including as it did men in charge of football clubs with a vested interest in keeping Leeds, profitable, well-supported Leeds, in the same division as their own teams.  And not forgetting, of course, that son of a rapist.  They don’t care that their organisation is headed by a man in Shaun Harvey who, as United CEO, left Leeds under a cloud when his crooked confrère Ken Bates was ousted, the pair having compassed the near demise of United in nigh on a decade of financial dodginess and general mismanagement. They give not one solitary damn about the glaring examples of criminality elsewhere in club hierarchies throughout the League, nor indeed about the fact that Cellino wanted Leeds, Leeds and most of its fans wanted Cellino and the additional fact that the Italian has the personal wealth necessary to spark a revival at a club which has suffered in penury for twelve long and depressing years.  None of that makes one bit of difference to the shortsighted idiots and hypocritical charlatans of the Football League.  They have chosen to snatch the lifebelt away from the palpably struggling Leeds United and they are prepared to see the club suffer financially and risk possible administration, points deductions, relegation – maybe even liquidation – rather than abandon their tenacious quest to confound this potentially transforming takeover.  Is this in the best interests – interests they are duty-bound to protect, by the way – of their most famous and high-profile member club?

You tell me, then.  By its own lights, what is the Football League worth?  Have they shown an ounce of competence or common sense throughout this farcical process?  The dear old Grauniad says they’re finally stepping up to the plate“, the clear implication being that, as I’ve written above, they’ve not been too bothered in the past about much greater misdeeds than Cellino’s alleged Italian tax faux pas.  Strange how it’s always Leeds United that causes the League to get all moralistic and start enforcing draconian sanctions.  How Mr Hardaker would approve.  But nothing about this case inspires the least confidence, I would argue, in the Football League’s worthiness or ability to judge even a village Best Marrow Contest.  The holes, conflicts and inconsistencies in today’s decision conspire to make that all too tragically clear.

So I say again, tell me – given all of the above – are the Football League really fit for purpose?  Are they even remotely “fit and proper”?

Not on your bloody Nélie.

Leeds Forever – but Liverpool for the Title Would be a Feelgood Feast – by Rob Atkinson

Liverpool - climbing back onto their perch

Liverpool – climbing back onto their perch

Liverpool, having thrashed Man U at the Theatre of Hollow Myths last week, had to work a bit harder at Cardiff, going behind twice before emerging impressive 6-3 winners.  It will, however, have been the easy triumph over the Pride of Devon that provided the Real Reds with the most pleasure – these are two clubs who, to say the least, aren’t exactly fond of each other.  The last thing either wants to see is the other winning the league – which means that there are a lot of nervous plastics out there, sweating in their Devon armchairs right now; because Liverpool seem to mean business and they are currently rather handily-placed for a late title push.

For the neutral, things could hardly be better, with the tables so dramatically turned in this long-standing battle of Lancastrian one-upmanship.  Rivalry of that depth and bitterness tends to polarise opinion – there aren’t many fence-sitters when Man U and Liverpool meet.  For me, as a true white rose White, if Liverpool were to be Champions again at the end of this season, it would be an outcome second only to seeing my own beloved Leeds back on top.  OK, so I’m a proud Leeds United fan – so what has this got to do with me?

Well, I’d have to start by declaring an interest – as a die-hard supporter of the One True United from the right (Yorkshire) side of the Pennines, I’m not exactly enamoured of Man U.  I never had much time for them, even before that awful, whisky-nosed Govan Git came down to pour his choleric bile all over what had, until then, been a relatively civilised (give or take Brian Clough and nearly all the fans) English football scene.  There was always that irritating air of spurious arrogance about them, as well as this “you’ve got to love us because of the Busby Babes” thing – which all the media seemed to lap up so eagerly, much to the disgust of real fans everywhere.  So clearly, I don’t like them – never did.  That’s in my Leeds United DNA.  But I’m not just a Leeds fan, I’m a fan of football in its widest sense – and I mourn the game we once knew which seems to be gone forever, swept away by a grotty tide of filthy lucre

Time was when Man U were grudgingly respected, other than by determined haters like me and my fellow Whites.  Since Sir Alex Taggart landed at the Theatre of Hollow Myths though, they’ve gone from “quite easy to dislike” to “impossible to stand the sight of” faster than you could say “Envious of Liverpool”.  The Purple-Conked One made it clear from the off that he was determined to “knock Liverpool off their perch”.  What we didn’t realise when he started his vendetta in 1988, showing no immediate sign of being any more successful than any of the other post-Busby failures, was that the whole face of football would have to change to realise Ferguson’s warped dream.

In 1967, Man U won their last ever proper League Title, making seven in total – quite respectable.  Then – nothing, for 26 years, culminating in a deserved last-ever old-style Football League Championship triumph for Leeds United. But since 1993, when a greedy and ruthless Aussie bought the game and gift-wrapped it for a curmudgeonly and ruthless Scot, the title “race” has been more of a procession.  The honour has ceased to be about virtuosity on the field; now it’s mainly about money and markets, and Man U have had much more of both during the whole Murdoch era.  Result: thirteen plastic titles.

Football is now a tacky, merchandise-driven, unseemly drive for profit over pride, and the dominance by Man U of such a grubby era is undeniably apt.  But we are still close enough in time to the pre-greed days for those of us of a certain age to remember when the game was about glory, not greed; when the aim was winning, not wonga, when the important people were supporters, not shareholders.  In those days, the distribution of wealth was far more even, and the field of possible title-winners was far wider; the competition (over a grueling 42 match course, with un-manicured pitches and un-pampered pros) was far more fierce.  And yet, even in this environment of white-hot combat and intense rivalry, Liverpool reigned supreme, not for months, not years, but for literally two decades.  By 1992, they had compiled an honours list that seemed likely to see them at the top of the game for many years to come – unless someone sneaked in and moved the goalposts.  Cue evil Uncle Rupert.

Man U fans can crow all they want about 20 titles (and, true to their loathsome nature, they will).  But the evidence to confound them is there for all to see, like some geological stratum separating the dinosaurs from the mammoths.  That schism dividing the game as it was up to ’92, from the showbiz shenanigans of ’93 onwards, stands out like a Tory at a Foodbank, exposing Man U as the wealth-backed, monopolising opportunists that they are.  And it has all been done with such bad grace, another indictment of this new and joyless age we’ve been plodding through these last twenty-odd years.  No gentle wisdom of the Bob Paisley variety – instead we had the sour bile of Ferguson and now seemingly a Fergie-Lite clone in the newly growly and grouchy, yet undeniably Gollum-esque David Moyes.  No loveable old-style hard-man Desperate Dan type like Tommy Smith – we just had the manufactured machismo of Roy Keane, a supposed tough-guy with an assumed snarl and trademark glower, whose typical party trick was to sneak up behind wee Jason McAteer and fell that not-exactly-scary individual with a sly elbow.

The comparisons could go on all day, but the bottom line is that Liverpool at their peak – and it was a hell of a peak – typified all the values of football that some of us remember from a pre-Sky, pre-glitz, pre-greed age when it really was all about a ball.  Now, it’s all about money, and contracts, and egos, and snide bitching to the media if you don’t get all your own way – and lo, we have generally had the champions we deserve.

Only now, when Taggart has slithered into retirement, are we seeing anything like a level playing-field – and even then, it’s just among the moneyed elite of the Premier League.  Without Ferguson, we suddenly have a new Big Four, sans Man U, and all the better for that.  For all of this season, it has been the thoroughbreds of Liverpool, City, Arsenal and Chelsea dominating at the top, whilst Man U desperately cling to the coat-tails of Everton and Spurs, desperate even for the dubious compensation of Europa League qualification. Clearly, then, the era of Man U domination has been much more a function of the unique personality – to put it politely – of Ferguson, than any real superiority on the pitch.  In a game of fine margins, that crucial factor made such a difference. Hence, the whole record of the past 21 years would appear to have been slewed in one club’s favour, courtesy of one bile-ridden Glaswegian and a covey of co-operative referees.  The records, as they appear to stand, are grossly misleading.

To apply a conversion rate which takes account of the foregoing and sums up all the anger and disgust I feel for the way our game has been degraded – I’d say each Premier League (or Premiership, or whatever else it’s been marketed as) is worth maybe half – at the very most – of each proper Football League Championship from the days when the game still belonged to us and the world was a happier and more carefree place.

At that rate, Man U are still a good long distance behind Liverpool, which – judging by the paucity of ability and bottle they have displayed under Moyes this season – is precisely where they belong.  Now we’re witnessing a resurgence for the club which – under Shankly, Paisley and the other boot-room boys – dominated English football for most of my youth and early adulthood. A Liverpool title victory this season would be the closest we can now get to a return of those good old days.

Because of the Ferguson Factor, history and the record books are poor teachers for the modern student of football.  So as the Reds look to challenge strongly again at the very top of the English game, while a Fergie-less Man U, shorn of their X-factor, languish in their mighty wake – what better time than now to emphasise the simple truth once and for all? Liverpool are still The Greatest.

Nervous Leeds Struggle to Beat No-Hopers Millwall – by Rob Atkinson

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. Dozy Old Lions

Leeds United 2, Millwall 1

Leeds achieved two unlikely outcomes in this scrappy match at Elland Road. Firstly, they actually contrived to win a game of football. Secondly, in doing so, they still managed to make a team as poor as Millwall look half-decent. The win is a fact, it’s in the record books. Millwall’s appearance of being any better than awful is surely deceptive.

The Londoners, cheered on by literally dozens of loyal followers, started fast and looked to live up to their manager’s claim that they’d be seeking victory in their Cup Final. Leeds, habitually nervous amid the great expectations of the home support, were harried into frantic defence and seemed set to concede yet another defeat to an undeniably inferior side.

Yet it was the Whites who took the lead after 18 minutes, Matt Smith looping a header over and beyond Lions keeper Dunne from a long throw. The goal settled United somewhat and they coped rather better with the pallid threat of the visitors for the remainder of the half – and with only four minutes left to the interval, they pounced on the toothless Lions to score again. This time it was McCormack’s finish from a tight angle which gave the half-time score a slightly flattering look at 2-0.

In the second half, Leeds were back to their bad old ways of making mediocre opposition look much better than they should. The fact that Millwall managed only one goal in a 45 minutes of forgettable football said more about the paucity of their finishing than it did about Leeds’ defending, adequate though it was. A better team – and there are many better teams than Millwall – could easily have taken United to the cleaners today. As it was, Millwall boasted the best moment of a desultory game with sublime volleyed finish after minutes.

Leeds have interrupted a desperately poor run of form and Millwall confirmed their position as likely candidates for relegation – and that about sums up this dismal spectacle. For Leeds, the three points were far more important than the performance, which is fortunate for them. For Millwall, it’s time to look out the League One road maps as they seem destined to wreak their mayhem at a more accustomed, lowly level next year. If they can muster a few more away fans, that is…

Leeds United: Butland, Byram (Wootton 90), Lees, Pearce, Pugh, Mowatt (Tonge 84), Austin, Murphy, Wickham (Hunt 86), McCormack, Smith. Subs (not used): Cairns, Warnock, Stewart, Poleon.

Millwall: Dunne, Robinson, Beevers, Lowry, Upson (Campbell 57), Garvan, Onyedinma (Jackson 59), McDonald, Woolford, Marquis (Maierhofer 57). Subs (not used): Bywater, Fredericks, Abdou, Powell.

League Hope for Leeds Ownership Decision “Before Next Ice Age” – by Rob Atkinson

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Shaun Harvey: no axe to grind, honest guv.

The Football League today moved to quell growing concern at the continued delay in reaching a decision on the proposed takeover of Leeds United by Eleonora Sports.  League spokesman Lee D. Shater confirmed in a brief statement that “it is envisaged a decision can be reached sometime in the present glacial period”.  The prediction, which nails down the potential notification date to sometime in the next 5.7 million years, would seem to fly in the face of letters from Leeds United Football Club to the Football League, requesting that the matter be concluded by last Thursday. Mr Shater was dismissive of this request, stating that it was “unfeasible”. The League would, he said, stick by its 5.7 million year timescale – though he did add that the effects of global warming could potentially stretch this out to as much as 8.9 million years.

The reaction at Elland Road was philosophical.  “We didn’t really expect to hear by last Thursday,” a source advised Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. “We were just hoping to apply a little subtle pressure with a view to hearing some positive news, perhaps by the end of the century”. The proposed timescale of “sometime within this geothermal epoch” has caused some scratching of heads at the club, where officials confirm that all paperwork has been submitted and that everything should be in place for an announcement at any time.

ImageThe latest from the League is that part of the delay has been down to their desire to recruit a new non-executive member of the Football League board, who would be envisaged to have some vital input into the decision-making process. One surprise name in the frame is that of Birmingham City owner Carson Yeung.  The fact that Yeung is currently in jail in China is not seen as an obstacle to his involvement in the Cellino case.  “Carson is still the owner of Birmingham City, and we feel that his particular experience will prove vital in determining the suitability of Massimo Cellino to be the owner of one of the Football League family of clubs,” said Mr Shater, shredding a file marked “Documents requested from Leeds”.  A prominent sports lawyer later confirmed that Yeung’s criminal record could be of positive relevance in the Leeds case. “After all, it takes a thief to catch a thief”, he winked cheekily.

Shaun Harvey is irretrievably bent.