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.
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.