Tag Archives: conflict of interests

Leeds Fans Need to Seriously Consider 4 Month Away Games Boycott – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United's massive away support

Leeds United’s massive away support

This article was originally published on April 8 this year, at a time when Life, Leeds United the Universe & Everything, in common with all other fans and bloggers with the interests of Leeds United at heart, could clearly see that the FL, smarting from defeat in the High Court, remained determined to “get” Massimo Cellino eventually. This was true then and it’s been proven true on Monday, with the League decision once again to disqualify the Italian under its Owners and Directors Rules, the so-called “Fit & Proper Test”.

It remains the case, clearly, that the League see a dubious conviction on some relatively petty import duty transgression as being far more serious and worthy of action than, say, a conviction for rape (Oyston at Blackpool FC), money laundering (Yeung at Birmingham City) or chronic and serial mismanagement of its biggest and most celebrated member club (Ken Bates, Sean Harvey and GFH Capital at Leeds United over the past decade). This incredibly perverse set of priorities serves to characterise an organisation that has unfailingly demonstrated its naked hostility to Leeds United (its premier member club, let’s not forget) and has utterly failed to abide by its implied duty of care to this club and its fans.

The original article, reproduced below, called on various bodies and all fans to consider an away games boycott, effectively hitting other Football League clubs in the pocket and striking at the central financial interests of the League itself. This remains, in my opinion, the best way forward. The idea received a mixed reception at the time and may well do so again; the idea of giving up those beloved away trips is not easy to stomach for some of our hardier fanatics.

But consider: the League has today acted to bar Massimo Cellino, yet this sanction has to be finite, lasting only until March, when the conviction it’s based on will be spent. So now my call is not for an open-ended boycott, but rather a refusal to buy tickets for away games for the duration of this Football League sanction. I believe that this would be feasible and a high-profile way of making a point by a set of fans who normally turn up in their thousands, lining the pockets of the very people who are against us.

The Football League, having lost an appeal against its disqualification of Massimo Cellino in front of an independent QC, are now showing their true colours in the wake of that humiliating defeat.  Rather than personifying dignity and acceptance of the outcome of a judicial process, they hastened to point out that they were “disappointed” and stated they would be considering the judgement. There is no humility, only arrogance.  There is no recognition of the duty of care they have towards their largest member club and its thousands of long-suffering fans – only naked malice and an avowed intent to plunge that club back into the crisis from which it appears to be on the point of emerging.  It amounts to a vendetta.  Two facts above all have emerged from this over-long saga.

  1. The Football League do not have the interests of Leeds United at heart.
  2. Leeds United are too big for the Football League.

Item 1 above is the mildest way of putting what is increasingly obvious – that the League regard the Leeds takeover situation, not as a chance for a famous old club – exercising its own judgement and right to secure a stable future – to get back onto an even keel, but as an opportunity to hammer that club further into the mire. How else to explain the zest with which its lawyers conducted their side of the appeal argument before Tim Kerr QC?  They resorted to trying to discredit the independent Italian legal expert because of a harmless if misguided comment on a social media platform.  Yet, in the same breath, they were relying on the portions of that witness’s evidence which aided their case.  Kerr rightly threw such selective pleading out of the window – but the underlying message was of a determination to deny Leeds United their rich new owner that amounted to vindictiveness and malice.

The background to this attitude is odd, to say the least.  One of the League’s member clubs has as a majority shareholder a convicted rapist.  The son of that unsavoury character sat on the panel which originally decided that Massimo Cellino was not a fit and proper person to act as a football club owner or director.  The irony is immediately apparent, as is the stench of arrogant hypocrisy.  Really, you couldn’t make it up – if you did, it would be dismissed as fanciful.

Any fan of Leeds United, if of long enough standing, will have witnessed examples of the Football League going through back-breaking contortions to make life as difficult as possible for the Whites of Elland Road.  It’s a tradition that dates back to Alan Hardaker and his rabid hatred of Don Revie.  Hardaker is dead now – but the ugly attitude towards Leeds lives on, through the unctuous reptile that is Brian Mawhinney, as he did his worst in 2007, to the present day with Shaun Harvey in charge – the same Harvey who, in cahoots with Ken Bates, did his level best whilst employed at Elland Road to fulfil his master’s 1984 vow to see Leeds and its fans banished, destroyed, erased from existence. Lest we forget: “I shall not rest until Leeds United are kicked out of the football league. Their fans are the scum of the earth, absolute animals and a disgrace. I will do everything in my power to make sure this happens.” So said Ken Bates, and he came pretty close to success – aided by then Leeds CEO and current FL CEO, Shaun Harvey.

A salute to the League

A salute to the League

The fact of the matter is that Leeds United are simply too big and too historically important for an antiquated and inept organisation like the League.  This is, after all,  a body that embraces failure and the presence of also-rans as core values.  The members of the League are, by definition, clubs who have either failed to stay in the Premier League, or who have never been good enough to get there.  It’s a has-been or never-was League for bit-part players, chorus members.  The stars, the principals in the pantheon of English football, ply their trade outside of the jurisdiction of the FL. At the moment, Leeds United form part of the Football League’s brigade of failures.  The events of the past few months have shown us clearly how vital it is for United to shake the dust of this two-bit organisation from their feet, and move on up.

Meantime, we are necessarily subject to the rules and attitudes of an outfit that has shown itself beyond reasonable doubt as “not fit for purpose”.  Until Leeds can drag themselves out of the Football League quicksand, they will have to fight their own corner as best they can.  As things stand, Massimo Cellino is in – he is the new owner of the club.  He has the wherewithal and the experience and determination to bring success in a higher sphere to Elland Road, whilst at the same time restoring that famous old ground to club ownership and bringing it up to 21st century standards – the same applies to the training complex at Thorp Arch.  These are good and necessary steps for Leeds – and they are initiatives that the League would prefer to see nipped in the bud, as they remain openly determined to oust Cellino if at all possible.

The fans are in a unique position here to have their say and to vote with their feet.  Those fans are rightly famous throughout the country as providing a travelling army of away support which brings atmosphere and vast income to every ground they visit over the course of a season.  Home clubs keep all of their gate receipts these days, so that away support – so vital to our competing clubs – benefits Leeds United only in terms of vocal encouragement.  The clubs in the Championship – and, by extension, the Football League – benefit financially to a great degree, from the loyalty and commitment of the Leeds United away fans.  Now those fans should put club interests before their own, and be prepared to make a significant sacrifice in order to make an unanswerable point to the Football League – who they have propped up with their hard-earned cash since 2004.

For, surely, it is now time to consider a boycott of ALL away games by ALL fans of Leeds United FC.  The only way of influencing such blind, uncaring officialdom as we are up against, is to hit it hard, in the pocket, where it really hurts.  I would now like to join those voices calling for the Leeds United support to do just that – by withdrawing attendance at away games and letting the other clubs and the League bear the brunt of greatly reduced income as a result of such a boycott.  I should like to see Leeds United Football Club, if possible, refusing to take allocations of away tickets for the duration of any such action.  If the Football League wish to act against the best interests of Leeds United – and its fans – then let fire be fought with fire.  It wouldn’t take long for impoverished Championship clubs to start squealing and complaining to Shaun Harvey and his corrupt crew, as they see their income plunge without that Leeds United pay-day.

Supporters groups such as LUST could be instrumental in backing and organising an initiative such as this.  It seems drastic, and there will be many who would baulk at the removal of one of their lives’ major preoccupations, even if only temporarily.  But those people should ask themselves: why do we have to settle for such unremittingly harsh and malicious treatment from the Football League and its member clubs – think back to the self-interested clubs vote that confirmed the 15 point deduction before the start of 2007/08 – and yet continue to line the pockets of those club and the tin pot League to which they belong?  Why should Leeds United tolerate this situation any longer?  Drastic situation call for drastic measures.  It’s time to fight back.

I should like to see, initially, at least some wider debate about the merits and demerits of an away games boycott.  I’m sure it’s an argument that would rage hot and heavy.  But I believe, at this stage, that such a boycott is our one good chance of having our say and of the powers that be simply having to listen.  The alternative is that they will smile smugly at any peeps of protest, and carry on regardless in their business of keeping Leeds in crisis – to the approval of their rapist and embezzling cronies in Championship boardrooms who continue to be regarded as fit and proper against all justice and logic.

I’d like to call upon LUST, and the MPs of Leeds constituencies, to take up cudgels against the treatment being meted out to Leeds United by the incompetents at the League.  They should be putting the question – why should a football club, alienated and ostracised by the League of its current membership, continue to contribute so massively to the financial well-being of that League?  I believe it’s time to call a halt.  The gloves are off now; if the League want to batter us, then let’s batter them right back.

That’s my say.  What do the Leeds United fans out there think? 

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The Football League: Incompetent, Corrupt, Arrogant Hypocrites – by Rob Atkinson

The Football League Panel, yesterday

The Football League Panel, yesterday

The classic defence against a libel suit is “But it’s the truth, m’Lud”. I therefore have no qualms about the title of this blog, which I hope will be read by some of the parties to what was, ultimately, an indefensible decision to block Eleonora Sport’s proposed takeover of Leeds United.  In bending over backwards to apply the letter of their Owners and Directors (OAD) Test, the League have proven themselves unable – or more likely unwilling –  to see the wood for the trees. They are blatantly guilty of pettifogging insistence on the letter, as opposed to the spirit, of the so-called “Fit & Proper” test.  The fact is that any set of regulations must be capable of interpretation so as to allow for the achievement of the greater good.  In other words, rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools.  The League now stand before the football and sporting world as purblind fools. Worse, they are hypocritical fools, fools with selective vision, fools who are self-evidently prey to massive conflicts of interest.

The most obvious problem with today’s decision has nothing whatsoever to do with Massimo Cellino, and everything to do with several people who are happily getting on with the business of running various football clubs whilst at the same time carrying the burden of shady dealings which you might – on today’s evidence – have expected to disqualify them from their football activities.

Step forward, for instance, Carson Yeung of Birmingham City.  Except Carson cannot actually step forward very far, because he’s languishing in a 12′ by 12′ cell somewhere in China, guilty as charged on five counts of money laundering amounting to somewhere in the region of £55m.  Or there’s that nice Mr Owen Oyston, of Blackpool FC.  He’s a convicted rapist who did time for his crime and will be on the Sex Offenders Register for evermore – but the League have cocked a deaf’un to the misdemeanours of both these men.  Oyston’s son Karl, incidentally, was on the League panel which ruled on Cellino today.  His rapist dad remains a director and majority shareholder at Blackpool, a matter which apparently tasks the gentlemen of the League not one jot.  I wonder how Karl kept either of his faces straight?

Add to this little hymn to venal and otherwise dodgy behaviour the less than appetising track records of various other owners around the League; men who veer just the right side of criminality, but whose conduct in office would surely cause raised eyebrows in a responsible governing body. There’s the porn barons Sullivan and Gold at West Ham United.  Assem Allam at Hull City who wants to re-name his club Hull Tigers, and who advised supporters chanting “City Till We Die” to go ahead and die as soon as they liked.  There’s Vincent Tan at Cardiff City, who has ridden roughshod over the history and tradition of the Bluebirds by making them play in red, who wants his ‘keeper to chip in with some goals and who will hopefully suffer a deserved relegation for sacking the manager who gained Premier League status for him and appointing an inexperienced nobody.

It’s not really that impressive wherever you look around the League – and yet the complacent Burghers who serve on panels such as today’s are blind to it all, blind to everything except their overweening need to find some reason – any reason – to disqualify Massimo Cellino.  They eventually got him on a matter of unpaid tax on his yacht, “Nélie”, for which he was heavily fined and had the boat confiscated.  But there’s neither rhyme nor reason, there’s neither logic nor consistency in the League stance, not given the context of the case and the precedents set by the ongoing acceptance of some of the bad boys mentioned above.  A couple of days ago, I wrote that the League’s treatment of the thousands of Leeds fans sweating upon the outcome to this saga was “Cruel and Unusual”, as defined by the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution.  It always did strike me as a blatant flouting of this amendment that the good old US of A had a liking for leaving convicted criminals incarcerated on Death Row, sometimes for decades – and then casually popping them into an electric chair and snuffing them out.  Cruel indeed – but sadly not that unusual in the States. The unconscionable lengths that the Cellino decision process has been dragged out to – only for that ultimate, smug and self-satisfied “No” at the end of weeks of torture for legions of Whites – does rather smack of this kind of cruelty on a more mundane level.

But the Football League mandarins evidently don’t care about that.  They don’t care about the conflict of interests apparent in the constitution of their panel, including as it did men in charge of football clubs with a vested interest in keeping Leeds, profitable, well-supported Leeds, in the same division as their own teams.  And not forgetting, of course, that son of a rapist.  They don’t care that their organisation is headed by a man in Shaun Harvey who, as United CEO, left Leeds under a cloud when his crooked confrère Ken Bates was ousted, the pair having compassed the near demise of United in nigh on a decade of financial dodginess and general mismanagement. They give not one solitary damn about the glaring examples of criminality elsewhere in club hierarchies throughout the League, nor indeed about the fact that Cellino wanted Leeds, Leeds and most of its fans wanted Cellino and the additional fact that the Italian has the personal wealth necessary to spark a revival at a club which has suffered in penury for twelve long and depressing years.  None of that makes one bit of difference to the shortsighted idiots and hypocritical charlatans of the Football League.  They have chosen to snatch the lifebelt away from the palpably struggling Leeds United and they are prepared to see the club suffer financially and risk possible administration, points deductions, relegation – maybe even liquidation – rather than abandon their tenacious quest to confound this potentially transforming takeover.  Is this in the best interests – interests they are duty-bound to protect, by the way – of their most famous and high-profile member club?

You tell me, then.  By its own lights, what is the Football League worth?  Have they shown an ounce of competence or common sense throughout this farcical process?  The dear old Grauniad says they’re finally stepping up to the plate“, the clear implication being that, as I’ve written above, they’ve not been too bothered in the past about much greater misdeeds than Cellino’s alleged Italian tax faux pas.  Strange how it’s always Leeds United that causes the League to get all moralistic and start enforcing draconian sanctions.  How Mr Hardaker would approve.  But nothing about this case inspires the least confidence, I would argue, in the Football League’s worthiness or ability to judge even a village Best Marrow Contest.  The holes, conflicts and inconsistencies in today’s decision conspire to make that all too tragically clear.

So I say again, tell me – given all of the above – are the Football League really fit for purpose?  Are they even remotely “fit and proper”?

Not on your bloody Nélie.

Is Shaun Harvey the Right Man to Rule on Leeds Takeover? – by Rob Atkinson

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Shaun Harvey – smile on the face of the jackal?

The natural state of any football fan is one of unease, dissatisfaction, maybe even a touch of paranoia. The game is like that; it builds you up, raises your expectations – and then brings you crashing down to earth with an almighty bump. There are exceptions, of course. Some sets of fans have it easy by regular standards. But there are few hiding places, few protected bubbles of success. Even Man U fans, in their Devon armchairs, have experienced the bitter tang of reality this season.

How much more likely is it, then, that we fans of Leeds United will view the world outside of our own beloved club with a jaundiced and suspicious eye, ready at any time for some or other callous institution to do us a bad turn. Look at our history over the past half-century, and there’s never been too long between one grievous injustice and the next.

Now we wait for the Football League to pass judgement on a takeover that might just see us free of the sucking morass of poverty that’s been dragging us down for so long. We are looking at two sharply diverging paths ahead: upwards towards top-flight glory with funding appropriate to the size of the club – or back down among the dead men, without a pot to do the proverbial in, headed for another administration and ruing the day. Which shall it be? Leeds United must await the long, gleefully drawn-out pleasure of the Football League.

And who, pray, sits at the head of the body making this future-defining judgement? Why, it is none other than Shaun Harvey, erstwhile CEO of Leeds United in the unlamented Bates years, complicit in the actions which typified the reign of a man who once swore to bring about the death of our club, if he possibly could. When Bates finally fell, Harvey was finished at Leeds too. The two acted in tandem during a nightmare period for United and, in the minds of Whites fans, there was little to choose between them in the final analysis.

So how has a man with such baggage as this ended up as the ultimate arbiter in a case with such grave implications for a famous old football club to which he contributed no great service during his time there? How could such a possible conflict of interests have been allowed to transpire? Can real justice be done here? Can it be seen to be done??

It’s certainly not an ideal situation, is it – not by any stretch of the imagination. But, lest we forget, the League have prior form for tolerating what would seem to be blatant conflicts of interest regarding Leeds, and in the fairly recent past, too. During United’s first season in League One, the thorny issue of the 15 point deduction – the controversy which eventually denied Leeds an immediate, automatic promotion – was voted on by fellow League clubs, many of whom, our League One rivals, had a vested interest in keeping Leeds at that level, thereby benefiting from our phenomenal away support.

Was justice served? It ended up as a massively complex and technical question. But was it seen to be served? Those vested interests, that undeniable conflict between parochial benefits and the greater good – they say no. Nottingham Forest, the direct beneficiaries of this carve-up, would argue the opposite as they celebrated an unearned promotion. But the whole thing left a nasty taste which persists to this day.

Neither, in the instant case, will justice be seen to have been done if Shaun Harvey should be instrumental in any decision to deny United the lifeline that Cellino appears to represent. Rumours from London cabbies about possible South African consortia aside, the Italian seems to be the only game in town. If he is now compelled to walk away, Leeds will almost certainly be in dire straits, unable to meet running costs, tumbling headlong towards another administration and all that that entails. Is that what the League, under Harvey, actually want? Many United fans of a certain age, able to remember the malice and vindictiveness towards Leeds United of one Alan Hardaker, will nod glumly and say “Aye, most bloody likely they do.”

If Leeds are to be cheated of their saviour, must it really be signalled by a Judas in the reptilian form of Shaun Harvey, poised to betray his former club with the kiss of death? Couldn’t they at least maintain a semblance of judicial disinterest, reaching a decision without the dubious input or decisive vote of Bates’ former henchman – leading as it might to a fulfilment of old Ken’s 30 years-ago vow to kill Leeds United off once and for all?

If things pan out that way, everyone will know that there’s something rotten in the state of our football administration. Anomalies like this should not crop up, not when the fate of a football club – which, let’s not forget, looms so large in so many thousands of lives – is quite probably at stake.

Let’s have the right decision, by the League’s own rules – the standards that permit paragons of virtue like Carson Yeung, Vincent Tan and Assem Allam to run various of our clubs. Cellino would be OK by that reckoning – so let him get in and get on with saving the club which gave English League Football its finest team.

But if it all goes wrong – well. We’ll know at whom to point the accusing finger of blame – won’t we?