Throughout history, a tragically large fund of human ingenuity has been squandered on the age-old challenge of how best to inflict the longest, cruellest, most lingering death imaginable on those unfortunates deemed enemies. Whether that death might be brought about by fire, torture, evisceration, dismemberment or a dozen other grisly and barbaric methods, the zeal and enthusiasm of those inflicting the pain has generally known no bounds.
One particularly gruesome option available to Chinese practitioners back in the day was Lingchi – graphically described as “death by a thousand cuts”. This consists of a process whereby small portions of the victim’s anatomy are lopped off over an extended period of time, the art being to keep the subject alive and suffering for as long as possible before what would end up as a gratefully welcomed demise for whichever part remained of him.
With this in mind, and true to their historically malevolent attitude where Yorkshire’s finest is concerned, the Football League have typically creative plans for Leeds United. It is indeed a modern take on the long, drawn-out horror story of Lingchi that these benevolent gentlemen have opted to visit upon the most prominent member of their “football family”.
The League, you see, are on United’s case, and they’re not going to go away. Having temporarily got their man by imposing a ban on Massimo Cellino that will keep him away from Leeds United until his so-called Italian conviction is deemed “spent” under English law, the not-so-honest burghers of the game in this country now have an eye on impending legal cases. What they must now hope for will be more convictions for the Corn King, wide boy, fraudster or saviour, however you wish to term Cellino. And then, they’ll pounce again – not because they must. But because they can.
All of this is quite apart from the question of whether or not Cellino is a positive for Leeds, which really is currently a moot point. On the one hand, you have to ask yourself where United might be had the Italian not breezed in just over a year ago. Up a certain creek without benefit of paddle, quite possibly. On the other hand, it’s been a chaotic twelve months, full of craziness and questionable decisions. Cellino cannot be said to have emerged smelling of roses, not quite. But the argument as to his suitability for the ownership of Leeds United has been obscured by outside events. He simply hasn’t had the chance to prove himself one way or the other.
Wherever you might stand on Cellino’s effect on the club, good, bad or indifferent – the instability and uncertainty imposed by forces from without cannot be underestimated. And it is this uncertainty and instability that the League seem determined to maintain, by constantly pulling the Leeds owner up, banning him when they can, harassing and hunting him. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Championship, money-launderers and rapists carry on regardless, unmolested by Harvey and his cronies. This point is made often, addressed – never. The League complacently cock a deaf’un to any questions about the criminals at various of their clubs, and concentrate on the priority of getting Cellino, destabilising Leeds.
Instability at the top has a trickle-down effect on any organisation. At a professional football club, staff and players have to deal in the very fine margins that exist between success and failure. If a team is just a few percentage points below par, they have very little chance against well-prepared, highly motivated opposition. To ask a professional football club to conduct a league campaign in such a highly competitive environment, blighted by uncertainty and the lack of any continuity or stability, is like asking a marathon runner to complete the twenty-six miles in lead boots. The Football League will be well aware of this. What, then, can we deduce about their “duty of care” towards Leeds United? What does that mean to them? I know what I think.
If Leeds United do survive this season, retaining their Championship status, they will have done extraordinarily well, given the constraints applied from several quarters. But then, it all starts again – and we’ll be at the mercy of what happens in foreign courtrooms with the League determined to apply the letter of their Fit & Proper Test in Cellino’s case if not in any other. Wisdom, common sense even, if properly applied to the situation, would suggest that this test is for the vetting of prospective owners, not the harassment of those in situ. What could Cellino achieve if left to get on with the job, and no outside distractions other than some sort of hands-off monitoring? Isn’t that worth a try? What would Karl Oyston, Football League “Fit and Proper” arbiter and son of rapist and Blackpool FC stakeholder Owen, think of that? You’d have to ask him, and take your chances on which of his two faces might respond to the question.
There would seem to be no calm or peace ahead for Leeds, no period of grace, no chance to sit down and assess where they are with the job in hand. There is just the prospect of more chaos, more insecurity – more of the same, in fact. The Football League are not finished with Leeds yet, not by a long chalk. They have their knife in, deep between the club’s shoulder blades right now and they’re ready to twist it. And if they’re forced to withdraw that blade, they’ll be looking for the next opportunity to stab, and stab again. As often as they need to, for as long as it takes.
Lingchi. Death by a thousand cuts. That’s what Harvey and the Football League have planned for Leeds United. And right now, the smart money must be on those pallid gentlemen in suits finishing off our club for the foreseeable future.