Tag Archives: common sense

FA Charge Italian Bellusci With Racism…for Speaking in Italian – by Rob Atkinson

Bellusci: "Posso negare il razzismo!"

Bellusci: “Posso negare il razzismo!

The latest news on the latest Cameron Jerome “racial abuse” claims: Leeds defender Giuseppe Bellusci will attend in person to put his version of events to an FA disciplinary commission tomorrow – let’s hope that he gets a fair hearing and doesn’t become a victim of “antipodean marsupial justice”. I won’t hold my breath – although the impartiality of football authorities’ judicial proceedings IS coming on in leaps and bounds…

There was a time when corroborative evidence from a third party was required – or at least highly desirable – in order for a charge as serious as racial abuse to be brought against a football player or other alleged offender. Rumour has it that, in some areas of footballing and other jurisprudence, that may even still be the case. But this is Leeds United, so those troublesome little considerations needn’t apply – or so it increasingly seems. 

Whatever the moral and legal ins and outs, the FA have looked into a complaint by Cameron Jerome of Norwich City FC against Giuseppe Bellusci of Leeds. Jerome alleges racist language. Bellusci hotly denies any such thing. Who is to say which man is telling the truth? It could even be that the whole thing is an unfortunate misunderstanding across the language barrier – see below. But, leaving all of these problems aside, the FA are prepared to make a case of it, despite the hideous difficulty of establishing the truth when Party A alleges something, Party B denies it (Beh, è il vostro diritto di negare questa accusa, Giuseppe, non è vero?)* – and there is no Party C to swear true from false.

* The Italian phrase above means (as nearly as Google translate allows me to render it) “Well, it’s your right to deny this accusation, Giuseppe, isn’t it?” You may notice how I have subtly emphasised the word “negare“, meaning “deny”. Apparently, one plank of Bellusci’s defence is that, after being elbowed by Mr Jerome and then being treated to a volley of ripe abuse by that gentleman, he remarked to him quite calmly, in Italian, whilst pointing at his own neck “You can’t deny the elbow”. 

If this is true, and if Jerome (whose Italian may not be exactly fluent as Serie A clubs have managed somehow to resist signing him thus far) has simply mistaken the word “negare” as something racially sinister – then, in the absence of any corroborative evidence either way, it’s very hard to see how a fair-minded, competent authority could possibly find against Signor Bellusci. That’s not to say, of course, that the FA will have any such difficulty, particularly as this is another golden opportunity for the football powers that be to have another swipe at nasty old Leeds, much to the delight of rival fans, gutter press hacks and other such morons everywhere. But that plank of the Leeds man’s defence appears, on the face of it, to be fairly stout.

It’s a pretty dicey situation, this. These are troubled, even shark-infested waters. The FA may feel that racism is such a topical hot potato that, where an allegation is made, a charge should follow as night follows day, lest they be thought of as sweeping things under the carpet. That, however, doesn’t entitle them to dispense with good old English precepts like “innocent until proven guilty” – nor yet the even older Latin one about prima facie evidence.

In the glaring absence of any corroboration whatsoever, and with the intriguing possibility of a tragic misunderstanding as outlined above, it’s genuinely difficult to see how the charge against Bellusci can be proven – even under the less legally exacting ‘balance of probabilities’ test that applies in non-criminal cases. Or, to put my paranoid hat back on, might the allegedly august governing body hold that, as the player is on the books of the Damned United, he’s more likely than not a wrong’un – and find accordingly against him? Tread carefully, chaps. There will be some pretty sharp lawyers out there watching your every step down the crooked path you might be tempted to follow. Ask Shaun Harvey over at the League about that.

Leeds United AFC, it warms my heart to confirm, are standing four-square behind their man, and for solid and grounded reasons – namely: the player consistently denies the allegation; and there is no independent confirmation of what was, or wasn’t, said. Certain Norwich City supporters have taken to Twitter and hormonally demanded that Leeds United should be summarily liquidated for this stance. I can only clap my face to my palm in despair and recommend that such very un-cerebral people might benefit from an elementary law course, a session watching “Petrocelli” or maybe a somewhat larger gene pool – quite possibly all three. Not, of course, that I would wish to be in any way Wurzellist or yokellist here.

As ever with Leeds United and their frequent brushes with the game’s authorities, it’s not possible to predict any outcome with any degree of confidence. But, given the apparent and hard-to-dispute facts of this case, surely there would have to be an excess of stupidity, malice and vindictiveness for the decision to go against Bellusci. Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time that has happened…

The sad fact is that we are in a mess largely of our own making in that football governing bodies and fans organisations alike have tended over the past few decades to recoil in horror at any manifestation of racial prejudice. This has to be A Good Thing, of course – but it can have unfortunate consequences and there is arguably too much room these days for sledgehammers to be employed in the cracking of walnuts.

I’m not advocating any return to the days when a racial slur was tolerated and complainants were advised to take a “sticks and stones may break my bones” approach. It is tempting to wonder, though, what the likes of Cyrille Regis and Viv Anderson feel about the current squeamishness over name calling by the ignorant, as compared with what they had to go through in their seventies heyday – having bananas thrown at them, and other disgusting manifestations of brainless and moronic behaviour. What of our own late and lamented Albert Johanneson, who was staggered to find that he was allowed in the communal bath with the rest of the players, so used was he to being considered a second-class citizen where he grew up. Would our Albert have had a hissy fit over a name he thought he’d heard someone call him? Of course not. It’s all relative, and Albert had come from something far, far worse.

Surely to goodness, there’s a sane and happy medium somewhere? The experience of the past few years seems to be that it’s far too easy for allegations of racism to be made over hasty and possibly misapprehended words, exchanged in the heat of battle. If racial abuse can be demonstrated and if proof is at hand, then the offender should be dealt with accordingly – and in a manner to leave him (or her) in absolutely no doubt as to the inadvisability of such childish and ignorant carrying-on. But kangaroo courts hearing trumped-up charges based on uncorroborated and very possibly flawed statements – that’s a dangerous path to tread, and not one calculated to lead to increased harmony in our increasingly multi-cultural leagues. Whatever next? Will we see some hapless and brainless defensive midfielder hauled up on charges of being gingerist or stoutist? Just how stupid is the game prepared to make itself look?

Verbal abuse (whether racially-motivated or not) if it’s going to be the basis of disciplinary charges, needs to be at the most deeply offensive end of the scale – and it needs to be witnessed to such a degree as to make denial implausible. Otherwise, we’re going to continue with this spate of “name-calling” charges, and it’ll be open season on any hothead who lets his gob run away with him when tensions rise out there on the park. This would do no person and no cause any good at all – it would serve merely to trivialise something potentially highly damaging to the whole of sport and indeed society at large.

Here’s hoping that this current situation was the product of a misunderstanding, that both parties can be satisfied this is the case – and that the FA can conduct an urgent root and branch review into the standard of evidence and corroboration required before its wheels of justice start to grind. There is a very real danger here that our national sport’s venerable governing body might just end up looking even more stupid and out-of-touch than usual.

£104 for a Standing Season Ticket at Leeds United? Ja, Danke! – by Rob Atkinson

Uli Hoeneß in happier times

Uli Hoeneß in happier times

A stunning quote from a couple of years back drifted randomly across my desktop earlier today – and it fair brought me up sharp. It all had to do with the stark distinction between admission prices in the Premier League as compared with those charged for Bundesliga clubs in Germany. Across the board, the English clubs charged prices well towards the rip-off end of the scale, whereas their German counterparts had a much more enlightened view of match-day revenue – summed-up extremely neatly by this quote, which was not so much food for thought as a veritable banquet for a delegation of philosophers.

Before I go any further into that, I should highlight a couple of salient points. The person being quoted is Uli Hoeness, famously and unforgivably the wearer of the number 10 shirt when Bayern Munich cheated Leeds United out of the European Cup in 1975. Hoeness it was, incidentally, after that match, who described Terry Yorath’s early challenge on Björn Andersson as the “most brutal foul I think I have ever seen” – clearly, he was unaware of the thuggish prowess of one Norbert “Nobby” Peter Stiles. Andersson was so badly injured in fact, that he had to quit football and join Abba – just kidding. Anyway, I digress.

Hoeness made this quote, the one that’s belatedly struck me only today, when he was the Bayern Club President – a role he later had to relinquish on account of a conviction for tax evasion, for which he was sentenced to three and a half years in jail. However, I do not accept that either his recent criminal conviction, or his part in the swindling of Billy’s Boys in 1975, constitute any reason to dispute the fact that Uli Hoeness was responsible for the most earth-shatteringly sensible statement in the entire history of football.

So, without any further ado, let’s just look at that quote. Commenting on Bayern’s advertised price at the time for “safe standing” season tickets, Hoeness said:

‘We could charge more than £104. Let’s say we charged £300. We’d get £2m more in income but what’s £2m to us?

‘In a transfer discussion you argue about that sum for five minutes. But the difference between £104 and £300 is huge for the fan.

‘We do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody.

‘That’s the biggest difference between us and England.’

Just sit back and take that in. Have you ever heard a simpler, more concise statement of good sense and unarguable logic? The man is stating that, in England, the fans are treated as cattle, to be milked for what they can give – and simply herded from pillar to post the rest of the time. He’s utterly right, indisputably and brilliantly spot-on. The fact of his links to Paris in 1975 – something the mere mention of which can still make a Leeds fan’s ears bleed – is neither here nor there. His tax-evasion and subsequent conviction and incarceration are likewise irrelevant. The guy is simply right – and it’s just as undeniably true today, as we face another football season here and in the newly-crowned leading football nation in the world, Germany.

What’s more, although the figures from the time, two years back, are a comparison between Bundesliga and Premier League, that comparison applies with almost equal impact to the English second tier, the Championship – and this is most certainly true of my beloved but obscenely pricey Leeds United. Have a gander:-

Rip-off England v Value Germany

Rip-off England v Value Germany

Remember, all of these figures are from a couple of years ago – but there are no grounds to suspect that the comparison is any less eye-watering today. The central point that Hoeness was making – that the actual benefit to clubs of higher prices is minimal, as compared to the burden it puts upon hard-pressed fans – is just as valid now as it has always been, and it’s unaffected by the sad fall from grace of the man himself.

Just think of it – what would be the effect if, for instance, Leeds United were able and willing to charge a lower rate of maybe £120 per season for a season ticket – said ticket to be for admission to one or more vast safe-standing areas? The first thing you’d get would be a years-long waiting list for those tickets – the demand would be incredible. Secondly, differentials would have to reduce in proportion, making higher-price seating tickets relatively cheaper. Again, demand would rocket; the stadium would in all likelihood be over-subscribed for every home game. A bigger stadium would become necessary. Leeds United would also be pioneers, the club that broke the mould and stopped ripping their fans off. Didn’t Big Mass himself say something along those lines just the other day?

The fact is that, with increased attendances, everything else improves – including profit margins. Incidental match expenditure would be a much bigger revenue item, as souvenirs, food, drinks, programmes – everything – sold in much higher numbers. Safe standing is, of course, a whole separate argument, with uneasy connotations for anyone who remembers Hillsborough ’89 – but it’s a case that is slowly gathering momentum as the policy is seen to work well elsewhere. The atmosphere under such conditions would improve out of all recognition. The “safe standing” areas would give back an area of the stadium to the fans who always used to generate that atmosphere: the singers, the shouters, the passionate and involved people that really got behind the team. 

Football would, at least in part, be returned to the working man and woman, from whom it has been so rudely snatched in the Sky/Murdoch era. It would be returned to the children too, the raw material for the next generation of hard-core fanatics. Football would be regaining its present and its future. The whole thing would be so incredibly better and more entertaining and inclusive, that people would be scratching their heads and wondering – why had nobody thought of this before? But somebody did, or at least they summarised the philosophy behind it. A former German international footballer, currently languishing in Landsberg Prison.

The current situation in English football is ridiculous when looked at in these terms. The seeds of disillusion for many Leeds fans – and I know this for a fact – were sown long before the club’s dramatic fall from grace from 2004 onwards. For many, the last straw came with the ending of the “East Stand Bond” arrangement, whereby bond-holders, who had contributed £500 each to the construction of the Magnificent New East Stand, had their season tickets pegged at early-nineties prices, and adjusted only for inflation. When that deal ended, those bond holders faced a dramatic rise in the cost of their season tickets because, in the real world outside of the “bond bubble”, match-day and seasonal costs had risen so dramatically. Many were sickened by the sharp elevation in their football expenses, and disappeared off the club’s radar.

The reason for the sharp rise can be divined from a glance at the bottom line on a Premier League player’s wageslip – but as Hoeness said, there’s no real logic to it. Look at that quote again – a club can get a few million quid extra with higher prices – which amounts to a haggling point in one major transfer deal, at the cost of inflicting debt and misery on their loyal supporters. Where’s the sense, or indeed the justice, in that?

As in so many things since the end of the Second World War, Germany gets it right where we get it spectacularly wrong. It just keeps happening time and time again, in industry, culture, sport in general and football in particular – on and off the field. The difference in pricing policy between the two countries’ league structures is not down to Hoeness, of course. It’s a function of logic and common sense on the one side, as opposed to greed, short-sightedness and muddled thinking on the other. It’s just that Hoeness came up with that memorable quote, that devastating logic. You’d think that even a complete fool, a purblind ass, a clueless ditherer without the first idea of how to organise inebriation in a brewery, would be made to see sense by the sheer rightness of his summary.

And on that note, gentlemen of the Football League, the FA and the EPL – it’s over to you.



Is Cellino Guilty? Possibly … Dishonest? No Chance – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino: trusting in providence

Cellino: trusting in providence

The Football League – still reeling from the impact of a mere QC having the brass bollocks to overturn their magisterial decision to reject Massimo Cellino as owner of Leeds United – plainly have all their hopes pinned on the “reasoned judgement” of the Italian judge in the “Nélie” case.  This judgement, a fuller statement of the reasons for the judge’s verdict of March 18th, is due within a 90 day period from the initial judgement – i.e. by sometime in June.  The League will be hoping, in their remorseless determination to get rid of Leeds United’s best hope, that there is a clear imputation of “dishonesty” within the judge’s reasoning; this would enable them to revisit the issue of Cellino’s “fit and proper” status, as covered in Tim Kerr’s appeal judgement which was released on Saturday.

Happily for Cellino, Leeds United and long-suffering fans everywhere, there must be a very good chance that the Italian judge – for sound, common sense reasons – will make no imputation of dishonesty.  Firstly, the fine imposed was some way beneath the normal minimum amount for the offence concerned, with a mention of “generic mitigation” about which we shall doubtless hear more in the detailed reasons.  But this may well be an indication that Dr Sandra Lepore has decided that duty was evaded for reasons other than dishonesty. This leads us onto the second point: the important, nay crucial, distinction between “guilt” and “dishonesty”, upon which depends the eventual outcome of this case – together with all the League’s hopes of saving face and getting their man.

The first thing that needs to be understood is that, for Cellino to be disqualified, he must be found to be guilty AND dishonest.  These two do always not go hand in hand, as some might assume.  “Guilt”, simply defined is “the state of having done wrong”.  Cellino would argue that, under the Italian constitution, his guilt is not established until the entire legal process including a couple more stages of appeal, is exhausted.  That argument failed before Kerr, but he somewhat unexpectedly took the view that, on the evidence before him, there was no reason to find that Cellino had acted dishonestly.

Guilt can arise knowingly or unknowingly.  You can be guilty by design, by omission, through ignorance or deception, by being misled or badly advised – many circumstances can lead to guilt, not just sheer badness.  As can be readily understood, guilt through ignorance or misunderstanding is a different thing from guilt with, as they used to call it, malice aforethought. It’s these different categories of guilt that will differ in the presence or absence of dishonesty. Somebody guilty through ignorance or misapprehension is not dishonest, and this is very important in Cellino’s case.

In effect, to avoid any imputation of dishonesty, all Cellino has to show is that he thought he was doing no wrong.  Dishonest guilt implies that the offender knows very well that what he is doing is wrong, but he chooses to do it anyway. It’s possible, of course, that import duty could be avoided in just this way.  But to what end?  You end up paying it anyway, and a fine which can be up to ten times the duty avoided – and, as in Cellino’s case, the item upon which duty should have been paid is confiscated.  That’s not a good result – so why would anybody willingly court such an outcome? Especially somebody of Cellino’s reputed wealth, to whom import duty of €300k or so is almost literally small change.

Cellino also makes the point that he could have spun out this case over the yacht “Nélie” over a maybe a couple of years, by which time he and Leeds United may well have been beyond the Football League’s jurisdiction anyway.  But instead, he opted to get it out of the way – because he thought he was right.  This is vitally important.  If Cellino really thought he was not guilty, then by the logic described above, he may well be guilty – but he can’t be dishonest.  Dishonesty would require a good understanding of his legal position, an acceptance that what he was doing was wrong – and a reckless determination to go ahead and do it anyway.  In those circumstances, the duty-evader could be expected to delay the evil hour of judgement for as long as possible, knowing he was bang to rights.  Not – as Cellino did – to expedite the process, seeking an early resolution – because of his firm belief that he was in the right.

To summarise the position – if we assume that Cellino is guilty, i.e. that he has done something wrong for whatever reason, then all depends upon whether that reason had some dishonesty attached.  But if he genuinely believed that he had a case for non-payment – based on the argument that he is a US resident, the yacht is a US craft and duty had been paid in the US – then he cannot be held to be dishonest.  Ignorant, maybe.  Misguided, possibly, or even badly advised. But not dishonest – and if that’s the case, then the Football League will not be able to apply their disqualification to him.

Given all of the above, if Dr Lepore has had regard to all of these circumstances, it’s difficult to see how she can impute dishonesty against Massimo Cellino in this case – and that may just be what is behind the rather low fine – significantly less than the normal minimum. Looking at it from the outside, it’s difficult to see how a finding of dishonesty can stick, given that all Cellino had to do was convince the judge that, if he has done anything wrong, it was through ignorance, not design. With so little to gain from acting dishonestly in such circumstances, and with the transparency of his actions in seeking to get the case disposed of quickly, there must be a very good chance that Cellino will emerge from this latest kerfuffle undamaged – much to the ongoing grief and rage of the Football League.

In Mishcon de Reya, Cellino has just about the finest legal team he could wish for – and they will certainly be on top of these arguments.  Here’s hoping, then, that justice and common-sense will shortly prevail over the League’s murky and Machiavellian motivations.

Football League Need to be Wary of “Vendetta” Accusations – by Rob Atkinson

The collected intelligentsia of the Football League

The collected intelligentsia of the Football League

So, Massimo Cellino is in.  He has won the right to have ratified his 75% purchase of Leeds United and he is now effectively the owner of the club.  It’s been a long, long road and quite a twisty turny one to boot.  Along the way, matters have descended into low farce on frankly far too many occasions, with certain parties open to ridicule verging on laughing-stock territory.  But now it’s all over – we move on, right?

Well, maybe not.  The gentleman who decided in Cellino’s favour today, Tim Kerr QC, did so strictly on the evidence before him.  He resisted invitations to decide the instant matter against Cellino pending possible imputations of dishonesty when the fuller “reasoned” judgement of the Italian court is handed down within three months or so.  But he did acknowledge that, should such imputations be made, then at that time Cellino would fall within the scope of disqualification.  What we have today is, in effect, a verdict “as is”.  Things might change, and then the Football League would, in theory, have the option of acting anew against Cellino.

There are worrying signs within the judgement handed down by Mr Kerr today that the Football League acted with extraordinary zeal in an effort to preserve their decision to disqualify Cellino.  They went so far as to try and have the evidence of an independent Italian legal expert disregarded, on the grounds that his impartiality was in doubt because – wait for it – he’d ended one incautious social media exchange with “Ciao – Forza Leeds“.  The QC dismissed such prevarication, pointing out that the League were happy to rely on the witness where his evidence – as in part it did – counted in their favour.  Such selective pleading rightly fell on stony ground.  But the point is, this kind of eagerness and opportunism said a lot for how keen the League have been to exclude Cellino.  After that decision was overturned, they expressed their “disappointment”.  Some slight understatement there, we might now suspect.

The thing is, by June things might look different again – if the Italian judge finds in her reasoned judgement that Cellino has been guilty of dishonesty.  But by then, he will probably have the wheels moving of some sort of revolution at Elland Road.  Plans will have been laid, money committed.  Are they really going to disrupt all of that and plunge the club once again into crisis and uncertainty?  The answer to that might be indicated by their apparent readiness to throw Leeds United to the administrators in the process just concluded.  The implied duty of care that binds them to looking after the best interests of their member clubs did not seem to have persuaded them to act otherwise.

Another point is that the League – as I have frequently pointed out – have within several of their clubs owners with much nastier things than unpaid import duty on their shrivelled consciences.  Rape, money laundering – that kind of nasty.  Whatever the ins and outs of spent convictions, or offences committed before the Owners and Directors test was drafted – the de facto situation is that those people remain – and the League have not seemed all that fussed about acting against them.

The trouble with all of these legalistic shenanigans is that – to the humble fan in the street – the machinations behind them all can remain bafflingly obscure.  That’s made worse by the fact that nobody seems inclined to explain to us, in layman’s terms, precisely what is going on.  It is quite reasonable, then, for a fan of Leeds United to point to Blackpool FC and say – hang on.  They have a convicted rapist as majority shareholder.  Where’s the even-handedness, where’s the justice?  But no explanation is forthcoming; perhaps, we might suspect, no reasonable explanation exists.  Whatever the case, if the Football League persist in their arrogant attitude of airily dismissing such concerns whilst pursuing Cellino – who may well be the only feasible saviour of the biggest club outside the Premier League – with such slavering, predatory eagerness, determined, to all appearances to “get their man” – then they might very well end up shooting themselves in the foot.

This sort of thing could, after all, leave the League open to charges of bias, prejudice, vendettas – all sorts of things that a responsible and impartial governing body should be eager to shy away from.  Leeds fans will be quite justified in asking “why always us?”  They can call on plenty of history to illustrate the validity of that plaintive demand.  And at the end of the day, having gone through one high-profile and ultimately fruitless legal process – do they really want to embark on another, so soon?  If they haven’t already made themselves look foolish by the desperation evident in Tim Kerr’s written judgement, they’d certainly do so by launching themselves, pell-mell, back into the courtroom again, with barely a chance for anybody to draw breath.  A high-profile organisation like the Football League cannot afford that kind of all-too-apparent dopiness and pig-headedness.

Human nature being what it is, the gentlemen of the League are probably sulking tonight.  Their showpiece application of the much-vaunted “fit and proper” test has exploded in their faces, casting doubt on the fitness and propriety of those who drafted it.  Concerns have previously been expressed in other quarters about how prescriptive the test is, how little room there is for the application of some common-sense ad hoc judgement.  Now, the test itself has been tested – and found wanting.  The League mandarins are “disappointed”.  Hell hath no fury like an ego thwarted.

It may well be that the initial League reaction is – right; we’ll wait till June and then hit Cellino with whatever we can find in the reasoned judgement.  But, with time to cool off, perhaps that determination might mellow, eventually, into something more approximating pragmatism and common-sense.  It might be best, after all, to see how Cellino goes about his Leeds United revolution, or evolution – whichever it may be.  If he’s doing a good job and being a good lad, perhaps wiser counsel might prevail.  The League have an over-riding duty to act in the best interests of their member clubs.  If Cellino is putting things straight at Elland Road – and it’s an open secret that the place is in a parlous mess right now – then what good purpose would be served by interrupting that work?  It could fairly be argued: none.  Let Massimo have his chance, now that he’s had this disqualification over-turned, to work whatever improvement he can.  Let us see how he does.

Of course, that’s common sense – the kind of thing laymen deal in because they’re not used to manipulating legal niceties.  But – and here’s the thing – it sometimes works better than some of these administrative gentlemen might imagine.

And it may well be, in any event, that the Italian court’s reasoned judgement, when it is available, will not contain anything to harm Cellino’s prospects of remaining in control at Leeds.  That’s one construction to put upon the unusually low fine imposed – around half the prescribed minimum – and the mention of “generic mitigation”.  It may be that our Massimo has been guilty of oversight or ignorance, rather than anything criminal.  After all, as the man himself incredulously asks, why would somebody of his fabulous wealth make a point of dodging import duty of three hundred grand?  It’s chicken feed to the King of Corn.

So there may not be anything to worry about after all.  But nevertheless, some of us will worry.  Those of us who are aware of the fraught relationship between Leeds and the League over the last half-century.  Those of us who remember Hardaker, or Mawhinney and minus fifteen.  Those of us who could sense the frustration and malice in the League’s reaction to this latest decision which, for once in a very long while, has actually favoured Leeds United.

The worry won’t quite go away until finally we can be reassured that there is no stick for the League to beat Cellino and Leeds with.  Because, failing that, we’ll be relying on their capacity for rational thought, common sense and the preservation of a member club’s future.  And, for anyone who knows the Football League of old – that is not a very happy thought at all.

Two Days On, Lorimer Backs This Blog in Leeds’ Need for Cellino – by Rob Atkinson

Justice, or a gun to the head?

Justice, or a gun to the head?

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.


Lorimer – hero?

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.

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.

Silly Red Tape in Leeds Winger Stewart’s “Technicality” Deal Needs Cutting – by Rob Atkinson


Cameron Stewart in training for Leeds United

At last, success in the transfer market for Leeds United – a rare phenomenon for a January transfer window that has normally seen United fans with their noses pressed up against the window, on the outside looking in, as lesser clubs have managed to do deals our erstwhile owner Master Bates refused to sanction.  Those days are receding into the past now as a new atmosphere and a new attitude spreads throughout the club and the support.  Cameron Stewart is described as “highly regarded” and as a wide man with pace and a finish on him, he has to be a welcome addition to Brian’s sluggish squad.  It seems tolerably certain also that a second winger is to be added in the extremely near future, with Palace’s ex-Reading man and McDermott disciple Jimmy Kebe the name on everyone’s lips.  Ross McCormack let the “two signings” cat out of the bag in an incautious tweet which he then removed.  But expect Kebe, another injection of pace and creativity, to sign sometime on Friday.  Clearly, after so many tons of BS from Bates and Warnock, it’s a case of “No Bull Gives You Wingers”.


There is more than a slight annoyance though, over the Cameron Stewart deal.  We’ve signed him, in McDermott’s words, “on a technicality”.  What this means is that the lad has joined on a 93 day emergency loan, which we are told will rule him out of the last four league games of the season – as well as any play-off matches which we may yet just possibly be involved with.  This restriction is due to a rule about how many clubs a player can appear for in one season.  Because Stewart has played half a game for Hull, and has also played (and scored against Leeds) for Charlton this term, he cannot sign permanently for United in this window.  The emergency loan is the only way the deal could be done – and so we have this farcical situation where the winger will be unable to contribute to the very business end of the Leeds’ bid for promotion – if that is what it’s to be.

Now this, to me, is ridiculous.  Sure, you need rules – and this rule is presumably in place to prevent the daft situation of one player appearing in a bewildering variety of different shirts over one league season.  But rules should be our servants, not our masters – in other words they should be there to do a job, and not to cock things up that might otherwise have worked out for the best.  It is clearly Leeds United’s intention that Cameron Stewart will be a Whites player for the foreseeable future – the lad has evidently signed a 3 year deal which will commence in summer.  It’s equally clear that his involvement for Hull Tigers this term has been extremely marginal – one half of one game.  And yet because of this, it may well come about that Leeds will enter a play-offs campaign shorn of someone who could easily have established himself as the main United threat by then.  Not to put too fine a point on it, that sucks.

Common-Sense Dispensation

What this situation is crying out for is the football equivalent of a Papal Dispensation – some ultimate arbitration that can over-rule the sort of silliness created by the rules as they are being applied in this case.  Leeds United have done the right thing in getting the deal done by whatever means possible – if Brian McDermott wants the player, then that is the priority.  But now we need to be looking at either getting the 93 day period extended, citing unusual circumstances and the folly of having an important team member ruled out of the season’s climax – or alternatively, we should strongly request an ad hoc lifting of the “three clubs” rule.  Such a request would be based on the twin arguments that (a) Stewart has appeared for less than one full game for Hull, which is a negligible issue – and (b) a deal is actually in place which will see him become a permanent Leeds player in summer.  This is simply a common-sense argument, and there should always be latitude for the application of common-sense in any set of rules or regulations.

If such a solution could be found – and with the welter of legal eagles and sharp practice merchants surrounding any such deal, it can’t be beyond the wit of man to sort it out – then maybe some of the air of “they’ve always got it in for us”, which hangs permanently over Elland Road, may lift slightly.  I’m as paranoid as the next man, as any reader of this blog will confirm – but there is good reason for that.  Far too often in the past, Leeds have had the crappy end of the stick and have had to watch others being treated with comparative kid gloves.  Should the scenario of Stewart becoming our main man over the coming weeks act itself out, with the new winger firing us to play-off qualification with games to spare, then it would be to say the least controversial that he would have to put his feet up on the strength of half a game for Hull.  And if Leeds then go on to confirm their historical play-off ineptitude, yet another instance of injustice would be added to the club’s long list of grievances against officialdom.

Perhaps, after all, the authorities might look back on situations such as Leeds having to play for the Title only two days after winning the FA Cup in 1972 – and perhaps they may feel that this Stewart anomaly is a good chance to redress the balance a little.  They could even be reminded that rules have been waived in unusual circumstances before, so there is some precedent..  Man U were allowed to sign cup-tied players for their run to the FA Cup Final in 1958 in the wake of the Munich disaster.  Of course, the two situations are hardly comparable; then again, it shouldn’t take a tragedy for common-sense to come into play, and perhaps even the mandarins who rule the game might see this.  Let’s hope so – and let’s keep our fingers crossed for a rare instance whereby that precious commodity of common-sense prevails.