The natural state of any football fan is one of unease, dissatisfaction, maybe even a touch of paranoia. The game is like that; it builds you up, raises your expectations – and then brings you crashing down to earth with an almighty bump. There are exceptions, of course. Some sets of fans have it easy by regular standards. But there are few hiding places, few protected bubbles of success. Even Man U fans, in their Devon armchairs, have experienced the bitter tang of reality this season.
How much more likely is it, then, that we fans of Leeds United will view the world outside of our own beloved club with a jaundiced and suspicious eye, ready at any time for some or other callous institution to do us a bad turn. Look at our history over the past half-century, and there’s never been too long between one grievous injustice and the next.
Now we wait for the Football League to pass judgement on a takeover that might just see us free of the sucking morass of poverty that’s been dragging us down for so long. We are looking at two sharply diverging paths ahead: upwards towards top-flight glory with funding appropriate to the size of the club – or back down among the dead men, without a pot to do the proverbial in, headed for another administration and ruing the day. Which shall it be? Leeds United must await the long, gleefully drawn-out pleasure of the Football League.
And who, pray, sits at the head of the body making this future-defining judgement? Why, it is none other than Shaun Harvey, erstwhile CEO of Leeds United in the unlamented Bates years, complicit in the actions which typified the reign of a man who once swore to bring about the death of our club, if he possibly could. When Bates finally fell, Harvey was finished at Leeds too. The two acted in tandem during a nightmare period for United and, in the minds of Whites fans, there was little to choose between them in the final analysis.
So how has a man with such baggage as this ended up as the ultimate arbiter in a case with such grave implications for a famous old football club to which he contributed no great service during his time there? How could such a possible conflict of interests have been allowed to transpire? Can real justice be done here? Can it be seen to be done??
It’s certainly not an ideal situation, is it – not by any stretch of the imagination. But, lest we forget, the League have prior form for tolerating what would seem to be blatant conflicts of interest regarding Leeds, and in the fairly recent past, too. During United’s first season in League One, the thorny issue of the 15 point deduction – the controversy which eventually denied Leeds an immediate, automatic promotion – was voted on by fellow League clubs, many of whom, our League One rivals, had a vested interest in keeping Leeds at that level, thereby benefiting from our phenomenal away support.
Was justice served? It ended up as a massively complex and technical question. But was it seen to be served? Those vested interests, that undeniable conflict between parochial benefits and the greater good – they say no. Nottingham Forest, the direct beneficiaries of this carve-up, would argue the opposite as they celebrated an unearned promotion. But the whole thing left a nasty taste which persists to this day.
Neither, in the instant case, will justice be seen to have been done if Shaun Harvey should be instrumental in any decision to deny United the lifeline that Cellino appears to represent. Rumours from London cabbies about possible South African consortia aside, the Italian seems to be the only game in town. If he is now compelled to walk away, Leeds will almost certainly be in dire straits, unable to meet running costs, tumbling headlong towards another administration and all that that entails. Is that what the League, under Harvey, actually want? Many United fans of a certain age, able to remember the malice and vindictiveness towards Leeds United of one Alan Hardaker, will nod glumly and say “Aye, most bloody likely they do.”
If Leeds are to be cheated of their saviour, must it really be signalled by a Judas in the reptilian form of Shaun Harvey, poised to betray his former club with the kiss of death? Couldn’t they at least maintain a semblance of judicial disinterest, reaching a decision without the dubious input or decisive vote of Bates’ former henchman – leading as it might to a fulfilment of old Ken’s 30 years-ago vow to kill Leeds United off once and for all?
If things pan out that way, everyone will know that there’s something rotten in the state of our football administration. Anomalies like this should not crop up, not when the fate of a football club – which, let’s not forget, looms so large in so many thousands of lives – is quite probably at stake.
Let’s have the right decision, by the League’s own rules – the standards that permit paragons of virtue like Carson Yeung, Vincent Tan and Assem Allam to run various of our clubs. Cellino would be OK by that reckoning – so let him get in and get on with saving the club which gave English League Football its finest team.
But if it all goes wrong – well. We’ll know at whom to point the accusing finger of blame – won’t we?