Tag Archives: fan ownership

Leeds Fans Be Careful What You Wish For… You Might Get It   –   by Rob Atkinson

Fan ownership as practiced at the dizzy heights reached by Dulwich Hamlet

Fan ownership as practiced at the dizzy heights reached by Dulwich Hamlet

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. 

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Football’s Best Fans Caught Between Rotten Club and Predatory Media – by Rob Atkinson

The unrivalled support - where Leeds still rule

The unrivalled support – the only area where Leeds still rule

Did you ever play piggy-in-the-middle as a child? It’s a game for three, with one in the middle, trying to intercept a ball that the other two are throwing between them. It’s fun for the two, not so much, after a while, for the one – so every now and then, if the unfortunate “piggy” doesn’t succeed in catching the ball, the players will swap around so as to share the enjoyment. That’s only fair, after all.

If you’re a Leeds fan, you might well identify with that unfortunate player in the middle. For that’s just how it feels, being trapped between the club on the one side and a voracious media on the other – both of them seemingly doing the best that they can to ensure you, as the fan caught between them, have the worst time possible. The difference between the game and this real life situation is that the poor sap trying to break out from the role of victim never actually seems to get that break. Thus, football’s best fans (by a country mile) continue to suffer as club and media pile the agony on, week after week, month after month, season after depressing season. And yet there may be some hope, as we shall see. Perhaps this darkest hour may yet herald a golden dawn.

Leeds fans are the best in the business – but they are currently caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one side, there is the bumbling incompetence and woeful lack of vision of a succession of club owners, ensuring that Leeds United are always seemingly engaged in trying to shoot themselves in the foot. How the fans would like to catch that side out, in order to have a go themselves.

And then, on the other end of the piggy-in-the-middle game, you have the assembled national media, for whom Leeds United have long been the target of choice. The media, in their various repellent forms, have been demonising and attacking Leeds for decades now – always ready to seize on yet more bad news to ram it down the throats of the hapless supporters in the middle, who had had enough way, way back – when I first took an interest as a fan. The fans would like to catch that side out too – and some are trying to make their feelings heard, little by little.

It really has been going on that long for the Fourth Estate in this country. Leeds United have been hated in print and over the airwaves for the whole time since Don Revie‘s boys climbed out of obscurity and grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. The difference back then, of course, was that it was more a siege complex than piggy-in-the-middle. The club – back then – had far more than its share of misfortune. But, in a marked contrast to the current tragic state of affairs, it didn’t appear to be actually complicit in all the bad stuff and the suffering of the fans. The maxim for Leeds in those days was displayed proudly on the dressing-room wall, visible to terrified opposition players as they walked past in the corridor outside. “Keep Fighting”, it said – and did they ever. The press decided that this was just not on – and war was declared. It’s a war they have waged ever since, long after Leeds as a club apparently gave up the fight to resist.

Nowadays, the press are as watchful as ever for any negative news they can publish and trumpet as propaganda. There’s something virtually every day. Only this morning, some online refuge for amateur hacks is gleefully speculating that ‘the “Redfearn controversy” could force talented youngsters to leave Elland Road’ words calculated to ensure that any Leeds fan will feel that bit worse over his or her Bank Holiday cornflakes than he or she might otherwise have done. And this piece of spiteful speculation, propped up by a line from some willing rentaquote ex-player, springs from yet another in a long and depressing series of own-goals by the club, which has foolishly isolated a manager in Neil Redfearn who had been doing just fine, thank you.

So Leeds United – a club currently rotten from the top and teetering under the strain of decades of mismanagement – provides yet again the raw material for a vindictive press to launch still another salvo of propaganda and negativity. And yet again, the fans – the best and most loyal set of supporters anywhere – are caught between the two opposing forces, powerless to do anything but despair and wonder when and where it will all end.

The hope for the future, such as it is, remains vested in those amazing fans. This is a group of supporters who continue to follow the club – that famous though latterly tarnished name – the length and breadth of the country, at any antisocial hour of the day or day of the week, in their vociferous thousands, out-singing and out-shouting home support wherever they go. It’s a modern phenomenon that attracts grudging respect from rival clubs, rival fans – even areas of the press. And maybe – just maybe – those remarkable fans hold somewhere among them the hope that this still determined and pugnacious piggy-in-the-middle might yet break out, and start having a say on either side of the game.

There has long been the facility – afforded by social media and the network of blogging sites – for fans to make their voices heard against the babbling background of the popular press. So now, if this or that gutter rag comes out with something particularly stupid and vindictive, the fans’ voice can be heard, comparatively faintly perhaps, but still there – and still defiantly raised in scorn and protest. The press and other media, though remaining powerfully unaccountable for the most part, no longer have it quite all their own way – and, particularly at local level, journos and broadcasters are having to take account of that steadily more audible fan voice. It’s a vox populi process that will only continue and become more effective over time.

And now, even the club itself  – and its succession of incompetent and unscrupulous owners – may yet be vulnerable in some measure to the effect of the fans. Just this past week, seven days wherein United have managed a couple more spectacular PR own-goals, an initiative has been taking off whereby at some point a group of fans might be able collectively to purchase a stake in the club – something that could lead to supporters having a real and inalienable right to a say in exactly how Leeds United should be run.

Leeds Fans Community Benefit Society (Leeds CBS) has attracted such interest among the support that it has brought forward the date on which the fans can invest in the possibility of buying a stake in Leeds United. Any fan can now become a Leeds Fans CBS shareholder – click here to see how – with the chance of playing their part in a future, supporter-shared, ownership. It’s an initiative that has won the approval and endorsement of respected local journalist Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post – for years a principled local oasis in a national desert of Press derision where Leeds United is concerned.

The fact that Hay – a resounding voice in the Leeds United press world – writes so encouragingly about a supporters’ initiative is highly significant. There is a sense that something serious might be happening here – a possible game-changer. As Hay puts it, during an apt summary of the Leeds CBS mission, serious financial backing can only enhance the fans’ cause – in other words, money talks, and the more of it there is, the louder that voice. The prospect of serious money, contributed by fans in support of a fans’ initiative, could now be the difference between more well-intentioned rhetoric and a real chance of a real say in the future running of the club we all still love – warts and all. And that could put us in on the ground floor of fan ownership in this country if, as some believe, it’s the way forward in a future that sees the corporate bubble finally burst.

For Leeds United and its amazing support, it’s been piggy-in-the-middle now for far too long, and the fans are sick of being trapped between two opposing yet equally malign forces, impotent – up to now – to do anything that might break the cycle. But it may be that this powerlessness – this feeling of just having to sit back and suffer – could finally have an end in sight. If the fans can have their voices raised against an uncaring and vindictive national media on the one hand – and if they can contribute their own hard-earned cash towards improving the running of the club itself on the other – then there might just be some light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. And – you never know – this time it might NOT be an onrushing locomotive bent on dashing all of our hopes and wishes. You never know.

Between us, the sayers and the doers might just have the means whereby that helpless piggy-in-the-middle – represented by the finest supporters anywhere – finally breaks out and has its long-awaited day in the sun.

Time to Do Away With Megabucks Ownership and Let Fans Run Clubs – by Rob Atkinson

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Vincent Tan: clueless

The time is fast approaching when the people who know what the game in this country is all about, are going to have to stand up and be counted.  I mean, of course, the fans – and I write in the full awareness that too much standing up can lead to you being evicted from some of the more authoritarian clubs in the various leagues.  But this type of standing up would be symbolic.  It would send out a signal that we, the fans, have had enough of clueless owners and chairmen manking about with our game.

In the last week or so, it’s been carnage in the Premier League alone.  Steve Clarke of West Bromwich Albion has been sacked, a decision that makes lighting that extra boiler to get a few more leagues of speed out of the “Titanic” seem like a model of sober judgement.  Andre Villas-Boas has gone too, a victim of his club’s failure to hang on to their star performer from last season, Gareth Bale.  Anyone who saw the look on the face of Danial Levy during Spurs’ 5-0 demolition by Liverpool would not have given much for AVB’s chances of avoiding the pre-Christmas axe.  Meanwhile, up in Hull, battle-scarred old warhorse Steve Bruce is having to hide behind a sickly grin and pretend that it’s OK that Hull’s megalomanic owner, Assem Allam, is planning to trample all over the finer feelings of City’s support by forcing through a name change to Hull Tigers whilst inviting those who vociferously object to “die as soon as they like”. Tigers, Tigers, rah, rah, rah!

And now we have the news that Cardiff City’s clueless owner Vincent Tan has told his successful manager Malky Mackay – a hero to the Cardiff fans, and rightly so – to either resign, or be sacked.  Presumably Mr Tan feels that Mackay has been interfering too much in team affairs, and not listening to the vast wisdom of one V. Tan Esquire.  Who does this jumped-up little pro think he is, after all? Doesn’t he know whose toy Cardiff City is??

In truth, it’s beyond a joke already.  Good, honest pros are at the mercy of clueless amateurs whose only qualifications to be where they are in the football hierarchy are a stuffed wallet and a fool’s ego.  It’s way past time that somebody, somewhere, got a few people of common sense and influence together – or failing that, the likes of Bobby Charlton and Trevor Brooking would do – and set to discussing an alternative model for the game in England – before these spoiled, rich-kid charlatans ruin it beyond repair.

You wouldn’t have to look far to find that alternative model.  Go East, young man – cast your eye and focus your thoughts across the North Sea and look how things are run in the Bundesliga of good old Deutschland. Wonderful stadia with safe standing, reasonable ticket prices, a fantastic league nurturing a successful national team – and the fans involved at every level, helping make the decisions that ultimately affect them, for the good of all – not just some bloated plutocrat with a brain full of damp rot and the arrogant belief that wealth justifies autocracy.

Football in this country has a long history of being in thrall to a clutch of well-to-do local businessmen, but at least there was a hint of democracy in the old-style board of directors.  Now it’s CEO’s here and Directors of Football there, and all frantically knuckling their brows to whichever barmy billionaire sits on top of the whole creaky edifice.  They say with power comes responsibility, but not in English football.  No, sir.  These people delegate the responsibility whilst hanging on to the power.  They hire and they fire and then they do it all over again.  As the process goes on, so the credibility of the game diminishes – what’s the reaction of the fan in the street when he hears that an excellent coach like Steve Clarke has been sacked before the season is half-over?  Why, they laugh derisively, clearly unaware of the respect due to some stockbroker and investment banker who happens to own most of West Brom – despite being unburdened by any knowledge of the game.

Sadly, it looks nigh-on impossible to transform our game into anything resembling its efficiently-successful German counterpart.  Too many vested interests, too much money involved – and far too many tender, fat, sleek egos which demand to be stroked and adored whilst being party to amateurish decisions that would shame a Tory minister.  So it looks as though we’ll have to put up with what we’re reluctantly witnessing happen – and resign ourselves to the game here become ever more like the franchise system of American Football.  Yay.

When’s the next home Ashes series, anyone?