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.

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41 responses to “League: Just Because You CAN Doesn’t Mean You SHOULD – by Rob Atkinson

  1. whiterhino

    Best article yet Rob – here here for common sense and rationale. A cowardly decision by the FA!

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  2. Well said but will any one listen!

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  3. Another example of your common sense prevailing over the FL inability to be impartial when it comes to making decisions about leeds United.The only thing that counts as far as this takeover is concerned is that Massimo cellino has the club at heart and wants to invest his money not the FL,s who are they to say he shouldn’t

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  4. Here here. #MOT #LUFC

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  5. Nick Mannion

    Very well put together regarding the ongoing saga. I wish those that have made this decision at the Football League could read this article as it might for just a few seconds make them think about the real life situation with Leeds Utd and what potentially may yet come for our club if this decision isn’t reversed. Let’s hope at some point in the near future common sense prevails and Massimo Cellino is given a chance to make this proud club great again. We live in hope MOT!

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  6. Reality Cheque

    Morning Rob, superb post. Am I the only person to be totally bewildered at the seemingly inept legal advisors of both GFH and Mr Cellino?? There doesn’t appear to have been any understanding, foresight or anticipation of the potential pitfalls the Football League could and WOULD throw at them. Lets not forget that this is Mr Cellino’s third attempt to convince the English football authorities that he is worthy of owning an interest in a football club following on from his failed attempts in relation to West Ham and Crystal Palace. Given the impending potential impact of the outcome of his tax evasion hearing in Italy, it appears that everyone (except their respective legal representatives) were screaming at Cellino/GFH on these sites, pleading with them to; adjourn the hearing, pay outstanding taxes, or to challenge the FL’s guilty until proven innocent stance of 2 months duration etc etc. Consequently, I am not convinced that we have the slightest glimmer of hope if Cellino/GFH were to appeal against the FL’s decision. I think I could represent him better myself. Sorry to add to the gloom Rob but just doing what it says on my tin and giving Mr Cellino & GFH a ‘reality check’ !! Thanks again for voicing the heartfelt views and feelings of our amazing fan base. MOT

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    • That’s the problem! Cellino may have good intentions and money to throw but good intentions take you nowhere if you’re a fool and your collaborators (in his case your legal team) are fools too.
      Cellino himself has said (http://www.theguardian.com/football/2014/mar/24/massimo-cellino-leeds-united-bid-rejected-football-league): “Why did they take two months to wait for the decision of the Italian court? I could have delayed the trial for one or two years if I had wanted.”
      Well, why didn’t he delayed it? He had good intentions when he wanted to build a new stadium for Cagliari and in the meantime they have had to play their home games in Trieste, hundreds of miles away from Cagliari. And because of this “new stadium” thing Cellino was also in jail for a few days and things are still to settled.
      I know we seem to have no other option, but the man is a fool, mates, you only see what you want to see!

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      • That’s all well and good, but wrong. It’s transparently obvious that Cellino is no fool. His bank balance and the lifestyle he’s made for himself are testimony to that. He’ll have his larcenous side, but who doesn’t? Where do you look for squeaky clean people? Not football, not business, certainly not politics or the press and entertainment media. Not even the Church, for Christ’s sake. I like Cellino. I think he’s a perfect fit for Leeds United – two old rogues with an identical glint in their eyes. They would prosper together and make us all happy. What he said to the Guardian was a protestation of innocence – if he’d had anything to hide, he’s saying, he could have delayed the proceedings for ages. He also wonders why he’s being suspected of foul play over what he deems to be loose change. He’s got a point there. I think Cellino is about to embark on a charm offensive that will gather doubting Leeds fans to him and have them rallying to his cause – and then they’ll storm the ramparts of the Football League. I certainly hope so.

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  7. Wise words Rob. Unfortunately they won’t change anything at all. I can just see the corpulent football league membership sitting down to a bacchanalian celebration: carving up a roast hog, filling their fat faces in truffles, spilling wine into their glasses and toasting each other on a stitch up job well done.

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  8. You’re SO right abour the league sitting on their hands during bates, tenure. How on earth could they allow him to carry on running a football club when no-one knew who owned either the club or the ground? Besides, he was proven in court to be an unfit and improper owner,as was harvey. May i once again draw peoples attention to Blackpools owner Owen Oyston the convicted rapist? Yet in the eyes of the football league, a fit and proper person? Have Birmingham city been served with papers from the FL now that their owner is in the slammer? I see also that the vultures are diving in with their worthless opinions. What has our predicament got to do with stan collymore? ” its good for the game and the club that Cellino has been rejected” and “the fans need saving from themselves”. Really stan,? Who was saving Ulrika when you were kicking her head at France 98,you twat? Ian hollaway was at it on saturday too. He needs to pay more much attention to his own team of relegation monkeys.

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    • from what i recall, didn’t a group of scotland fans give him a kicking when they saw him hit ulrika?

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  9. It’s the whole concept thats flawed as reflected by the conflicts of interest of each person in the decision making process. The objective of this ‘committee’ wasn’t to independently assess it’s merit but find a way to legally prevent it. Anyone who thinks the contrary is just incredibly naive I’m afraid. There is absolutely no point in appalling the decision as the FL have not broken any laws. Talk of administration/points deductions and depreciating investments will only fall on deaf ears. In fact this is what the committee including Harvey want to happen.

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  10. Peter Doubt

    From what I understand, the appeal hearing is not conducted again by the Football Leauge; appeals are judged by independant arbitrators from the legal profession. This may help Cellino and the FL. Firstly, you might expect the appeal judges to see common sense (or technically that he is innocent until found guilty on appeal in Italy etc, etc) and look at the damage to the club should Cellino fail. Et – al Rob’s brilliant article. This could allow the appeal to find in Cellino’s favour, while the FL can save face by always then saying they did all they could to rid LUFC of him should MC prove the dasterdly fiend they are trying to portray him.
    Both Cellino and the FL are happy with the outcome, so all is not lost, or is that just too simple?

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  11. scottywhites

    great read again rob, fl have no wisdom/common sense just look who sits on the board all with conflicting interests, im sorry to say leeds utd is there biggest cash cow an the league so why would they want us in the prem with no money worries,they make me sick how can this s..t keep going on with our club ……….MOT

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  12. Belfast White

    Excellent article! In relation to this subject I would like to ask about a particular Mr Carson Yeung. If memory serves is he not now in prison for his own financial misdemeanours? And yet is still the owner of Birmingham City FC? Was he allowed to buy the club with his court case pending? And now he has been found guilty of far worse charges than ‘Don’ Cellino…is he still ‘fit and proper’? Surely if MC is not allowed to buy, then CY should not be allowed to retain. He can’t be doing a lot of good for the rep of the ‘football league family’…unless of course his case is an example of rehabilitation!

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    • Thanks 🙂 Convicted money launderer Carson Yeung was name-checked in my previous blog, along with convicted rapist Owen Oyston of Blackpool FC, whose son Karl was one of the panel who rejected Cellino while sex-pest Daddy carries on regardless. As Greavsie used to say, it’s a funny old game.

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      • Yeah i know. I’ve been name checking the bastards every other week because they’re an effing disgrace. I’m going to go further if this appeal fails though, as this fpp is a lottery.

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  13. Old White Turning Grey

    well, yes and no to whether this is flying in the face of common sense or not. From a Leeds fan’s perspective of course it is, but can you imagine the media backlash, and likely backlash from other clubs + supporters if the FL had approved Cellino after he lost that court case for something which quite clearly falls foul of their rules. Cowardly it may be in terms of the ‘greater good’, certainly from a welfare of Leeds United perspective, but in fact, once the court case ended the way it did, they really couldn’t do anything else. Perhaps it is arguable that they delayed their decision too long, but it seems clear they were waiting until the outcome of the case, most likely because again, if they hadn’t waited, then he’d been found guilty, they’d have been hung out to dry by Fleet Street for that. And if there’s one thing the FL hate more than anything else it’s getting lambasted and ridiculed by the media.

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    • I haven’t heard much media backlash in respect of Oyston, the rapist majority shareholder at Blackpool, or even Yeung, the Birmingham owner currently in jail for massive money laundering. Odd, that – wouldn’t you say? The last thing you should do when served bullshit, mate, is eat it and order some more for pud.

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  14. Their is nothing legally binding about the football leagues decision is there.It is just that the FL would not sanction our league status. Could they prevent us playing in the championship.if this sounds a bit daft it is just me thinking out loud.

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  15. Brilliant article as usual

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  16. “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”.

    Has it escaped your attention that debts to HMRC have been a significant factor in the administration sagas at several different clubs and that HMRC’s refusal to accept the football creditors rule has contributed to many CVA wrangles? This is why tax evasion is now considered a disqualifying condition of directorship, and rightly so.

    Bravo to the Football League. This Leeds United fan salutes them for doing the right thing, again.

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    • I’m sure the Football League will find that of great comfort. Meanwhile, in the real world, I’m afraid people will roll their eyes and mutter “There’s always one”. It’s the inconsistency that kills. Are you saying bravo to the League for accepting a convicted rapist as fit and proper? Or a £55m money launderer, or porn barons, or an owner that tells fans to die as soon as they like? I mean, you wouldn’t want to be a mealy-mouthed hypocrite, would you?

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      • It’s bravo for applying their existing rules properly. I think that’s perfectly clear.

        I personally think that the rules should be even stronger and disqualify on the basis of any unspent conviction.

        Good luck finding some hypocrisy on my part there, mealy mouthed or otherwise. Meanwhile, you’ve entirely failed to acknowledge that the disqualification of people with tax evasion convictions is perfectly reasonable, which was the substance of my comment.

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      • Well clearly they’re not applying their rules properly with the likes of Oyston in the Blackpool boardroom. There’s your hypocrisy identified too. As for substance, I can’t acknowledge what I don’t see – and I don’t see you have a point at all. Under Italian law, Cellino is innocent until the legal process is exhausted and it’s not a matter for the FL to dabble with. They should be looking at his potential for reviving their most famous member club, not judging him improper based on a tax question about a yacht. If their ridiculous test applied generally, how many FL Board members would be in good standing. We’d have no clergy to speak of, Scotland Yard would close down and the Houses of Parliament would comprise of four cleaners, a tea lady and the Commons cat.

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      • Your reading of Italian law is actually inconsistent with the approach taken by Italian sporting bodies: see section 3.1.1 of the League’s judgement. I think you’ll find it’s been dealt with.

        Meanwhile, your hypocrisy charge fails to stick: I never said I thought Oyston ought to pass. Whether the League are guilty of inconsistency is also unclear given that the O&D Test was reformulated relatively recently in light of events at the likes of Portsmouth & co.

        My point is very simple:
        It is perfectly reasonable that the O&D Test should make tax evasion a disqualifying condition given recent history between English football clubs and HMRC. It is prudent of the League to bar directors with a history of evading tax, where possible, so as to minimise the occurrence of tax debts in future.

        You ask for some fuzzy notion of “common sense” to apply without realising that this would compromise the League’s ability to block even more unsavoury characters further down the line. The League went to great lengths to make their test objective for exactly this reason (see the letter from the League to Greg Mullholland).

        If they waive their rules for Cellino, regardless of how unlikely they think it might be that he would run Leeds United into the ground, they open themselves up to legal challenge by others blocked by the same rules. A dangerous precedent would be set that undermined the entire basis of the O&D test. It’s really neither here nor there whether Massimo Cellino has £500m burning a hole in his back pocket or not, the rules are the rules. He has even acknowledged himself that it’s his fault, not the League’s. Really, it’s remarkable that he managed to trip over such a low bar. I personally wouldn’t want him near my club for his sheer incompetence, never mind anything else.

        Cellino and GFH knew the rules before they applied. The League should be applauded for applying them correctly, even though it might make them unpopular.

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      • I’m not going to get into a circular argument with you as you’re clearly the blinkered type. You say the League had to deal with Cellino or risk allowing more unsavoury types. Oyston? Yeung? How much more unsavoury does it get? You’ve had your say and exposed your bias – that’s it from you now.

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      • Rob. Did the FL know that Oyston was a convivcted rapist when he took control of Blackpool? No.

        Could you explain the legal basis for the FL forcing Oyston to sell his shares? Because I think there’s no way to do it, but you obviously know better.

        (And ffs, to say that the Cellino case is a bit dodgy despite his tax evasion habits (since when was tax evasion OK with you?) and that Oyston should somehow be illegally forced out of football is crazy. I mean, have you read up on the Oyston case??? Dodgy doesn’t cover it.)

        And please stop coming out with these ill-informed comments about the Italian conviction of Honest Messimo whose word is his bond so he’s no crook and who won’t be appealing the FL decision. The vedict is guilty. Italy is an EU country. Do you have evidence that the court were corrupt?

        Yes, he can appeal. You can appeal a guilty verdict in the UK too. The only difference is that in Italy the sentence is suspended until the appeal is heard. That’s what the actual, real, qualified lawyers think, anyway.

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      • John, I know you’re always passionately convinced of your own correctness in matters Leeds – I suffer from a degree of this myself – but please try to refrain from constructions like “please stop coming out with…” – it brings out the contrary cuss in me. We’re all ill-informed to a greater or lesser degree, but this is my baby and telling me what not to say is a no no. If that seems autocratic, then I’m afraid it’s just one of the T&C’s around here. Yellow card.

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  17. Rob I have just signed a petition in favour of a cellino takeover.it is on http://www.change.org it is run by Dean grice. He trying to get as many signatures as possible to send to the football league

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  18. I just went on to the site.you need to touch the heading at the top of the page to pick up Dean grice,s site. Because there are other petitions on the first page . MOT

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  19. Great blog again Rob, fantastic read, so glad you can put into words the thoughts of so many of us disgruntled fans, thank god you are on our side. Keep it up Rob.

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  20. Working life? Cellino? It’s his family’s money, he inherited it. He’s a playboy. If he’s so nice, why has he contradicted himself 19 times and why does he want to sell Cagliari but keep their training ground?

    Come on. Wishful thinking. You don’t want to sit through 3 years like Eddie Gray’s tenure in the 80s before we have a team that look like they might go places, you want money spent on transfers.

    We haven’t got the money, Cellino has – but like almost any owner, he doesn’t give money, he lends it. It amazes me, the way people carry on. Haigh lends the club money at a low interest rate, Flowers lends it money at a 7% rate (and arranges sponsorship of 1.5 million a year), Cellino lends it money at 10%, he’s a criminal and they aren’t, but he has more in the bank than them so he’s a saint and they’re scum! That’s what most of this stuff boils down to.

    The bottom line is Cellino has been found guilty of tax evasion, again. So the FL cannot let him buy the club. Oyston and the others are irrelevant to the argument as their convictions came after passing FAPP, just as a Cellino conviction in 1 or 2 years time for the matter still pending would be irrelevant. Yeah, they could have rubber stamped him on day 1, but in the real world, when there are missing documents relating to share transfers you have to see them first, and then when you discover there’s a case pending in 2 weeks, you wait that long.

    Everyone should calm down. The chances are that some other dodgy bloke who’s never been to a Leeds game in his life will come in and buy us.

    As for the fear of administration that underlies much of the complaints – it won’t happen. GFH do have money, and would be insane to allow it to happen. Getting behind with the wages won’t make it happen anyway, not for ages. For all you know Patel and Nooruddin want to pay and Alrayes won’t let them. And/or some or all of those three are counting on Haigh putting his money back in. The worst case scenario here is that we’ll end up with 2 weeks to find a buyer, and GFH will have to take what they’re offered or stump up the cash to protect their investment while they wait for a better offer. It’s them who are stuck, not us, so they’ll sell.

    All we have to do is hope it’s to someone decent.

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    • I sometimes get the vague impression you’re not all that keen on Cellino, John…

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      • Yeah? How come?! I want to like him, it’s just that, you know, there’s that exemption from taxes that he feels he deserves, and his behaviour so far. Why his son is a better manager of LU’s merchandising business than the bloke we had, I don’t understand. Could this be nepotism?

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  21. Pingback: Two Days On, Lorimer Backs This Blog in Leeds’ Need for Cellino – by Rob Atkinson | La Vita, Leeds United, l'Universo e Tutto

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