Leeds United fans desirous of owning a small piece of their beloved club are in some danger currently of putting that understandable, emotional desire in the way of seeing the big picture of the club’s best interests. It’s entirely understandable that this should be so. Most fans have already made a significant financial investment into the club over the span of their supporting lives, alongside the unquantifiable emotional input required to support a capricious leviathan such as Leeds. It ain’t easy and it ain’t cheap either; no wonder the average fan in the street becomes all starry-eyed at the prospect of buying for themselves a tiny piece of the action.
Many fans would regard a place in the boardroom at Elland Road as second only to seeing their name on the team sheet and on the back of that world-famous white shirt, or at least a coach’s tracksuit in the dugout. But in more sober moments, when reality lays its cold and bony fingers on the back of your neck, you doubt, deep down, that you have what it takes. You know you don’t have it in you to sniff goals out like Clarkey, or launch howitzers like Yeboah. You suspect that, despite all the tactical acumen you display down the pub or in the internet chat forum of your choice, you might get found out if it were down to you to out-think other Championship managers once a week or so. And when it comes to sitting on that sharp pinnacle of ownership, where the buck truly stops and all the blame ends up – only the über-confident, surely, would back themselves to succeed where so many men and their millions have failed before.
Leeds Fans United (LFU) seem to be haunted by no such doubts and fears. They’re confident of purchasing from our current, crazy owner a majority stake in United for around £30m – and what’s more, they promise a hostile reception to any worldwide corporation or billionaire individual with the temerity to bid against them. So very opposed are they to the whole idea of counter-bidders, that they are demanding exclusivity as they haggle with Massimo Cellino to persuade him to sell on a no-profit basis. This shows admirable confidence and no small degree of chutzpah – but is it really the right thing for Leeds? Is it the best option for us all, going forward?
Leaving aside the strong emotional appeal of a fan-owned club, is this the right model for today’s game and the redemption of a fallen giant that has spent years in penury, existing on crumbs and unable to compete? The fact of the matter is that, if the fans’ group who want to purchase the club gain their exclusivity of negotiation, then we’re likely to miss out on possibly feasible bids from adequately minted, suitably ambitious and possibly, dare I say, honest parties – or maybe even Red Bull – who might now be interested in acquiring a club for whom the only way should be up. Surely, it is open to some doubt that we should be happy to see such possibilities ruled out in this sort of cavalier manner, simply because some Gelderd Enders and South Standers fancy being in control. It’s not really a model that has been tried with success at the higher levels of the English game. Portsmouth FC, the current largest fan-owned club in the country, are not exactly pulling any trees up in their quest to get back to the top from the depths to which they have so precipitously sunk.
I’m simply not clued-up enough on the minutiae of the LFU bid to dissect it and debate its merits and demerits. It’s really just this possibly unhelpful (for the rest of us) desire for exclusivity that bothers me. All I want to be assured of is that we are made aware of and have the chance to consider any other bids for the club that might be in the offing. You never know, we might just happen across someone of integrity and ambition who doesn’t think he knows it all about The Beautiful Game, but is willing to invest heavily in those who do. It’s not an immutable law that we’re always going to be saddled with shysters and con-men. Our luck has to change sometime – especially if we’re a bit careful whose money we take. I’m saying we need an open collective mind and a range of options – not exclusivity and Hobson’s Choice.
Don’t get me wrong – I can quite see how this exclusivity thing is in the interests of the fans who would be kings. And I applaud that natural desire to take supporter passion and commitment into the top levels of the club. But, really, aren’t we running the risk of biting off our noses to spite our face, or – if I may be permitted to mix my metaphors – throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Are the best interests of Leeds United really going to be served by this fans’ process – to the absolute exclusion of all outside interests and possibilities?
Call me faint-hearted, or a fan of little faith – but I’m really not so sure they are.