Tag Archives: Financial Fair Play

Why Leeds United Should Already be Planning for the Premier League – by Rob Atkinson


Leeds fans – fervent hopes and great expectations

A combination of Leeds United’s positive start to the Championship campaign, along with the fact of some rivals’ struggles when promoted to the Premier League, might give rise to doubts among our number as to how United would cope with our own longed-for elevation to the elite – should it finally happen. It’s a fair question, even at this early stage of the season – counting no chickens and not wanting to sound too arrogant, it still is very definitely something we’ve every right to ponder. After all, we’ve built up such momentum as a club this past year or so, with Elland Road packed every home game and thousands following the lads all over the country. There’s no denying it’s been a blast, we even surpassed some of the expectations and odds provided by the best pundits of the Sports betting and news sites, even given last season’s ultimate disappointment. Do we really relish the idea of trading all of that for the negativity of a long, grim relegation struggle in the Premier League next year? But that train of thought, logical and realistic though it might be, flies in the face of Leeds United’s urgent need for a return to where it truly belongs.

In considering our chances of survival if this season did see us making a successful promotion challenge, we’d do well to take with a pinch of salt the current club response to rumours of a possible takeover somewhere down the line. The Leeds owner’s position is given as being willing to consider more inward investment, while refusing to contemplate an actual sale of the club. But many fans, as well as many seasoned football pundits, feel that Leeds would have to change hands if they were to have a chance of competing towards the higher echelons of the Premier League. Even then, there’d be the strictures of Financial Fair Play to be negotiated; some of the club’s biggest challenges in a higher sphere would, it appears, be off the field of play. But the likes of Wolves have shown it’s possible to operate to a model that permits more than just a struggle to survive, and this is the type of example that United must follow, should they finally escape the clutches of the Football League.

Huddersfield struggled feebly for two seasons and then meekly surrendered. Hull City did well for a while, but now they’re back down. It will be interesting to see how Sheffield United fare in the top flight, after their steady start. But surely Leeds United, given the right type of ownership and structure, should be able to envisage a more secure foothold at a higher level than any of these Yorkshire rivals were able to achieve.

Clearly, we have to focus on promotion first and foremost, but it’s as well to have plans in place a long way in advance of any realisation of our current ambitions. So now really is the time to be wondering how we’d cope – and I firmly believe that those questions are already echoing around the corridors of power inside Elland Road. What the answers will be, who can say? But Leeds fans, who will remember how United set about the top flight on our previous two promotions in 1964 and 1990, are unlikely to settle for a weak approach next time. They will want to see us challenging as of old – and I believe it’s in this club’s DNA to do just that.

Sticks and Stones? Leeds Fans Pay Dearly for Salerno’s Hurt Feelings – by Rob Atkinson

Nicola Salerno - a delicate little flower

Nicola Salerno – a delicate little flower

Without wanting to get over-simplistic about this, the facts are as follows. Steve Thompson, the assistant coach that boss Neil Redfearn so wanted at Leeds, a man he head-hunted from Huddersfield Town, was suspended and told his contract would not be renewed – sacked, in effect – apparently for being heard using a derogatory word or two about United’s then Sporting Director Nicola Salerno. Since then, Leeds – who had been doing reasonably well – have lost four games on the trot, with morale seemingly having plummeted across the whole spectrum of fans, players and staff. Right up to that lonely, newly-isolated, probably doomed figure at the top of the football part of the club, the man who carries the can for mistakes made above even his head, Redders himself.

The main question over Redders’ future now would appear to be: will he jump, or wait to be pushed? To say that there are mixed messages coming out of the United hierarchy, higher up than humble Head Coach level, would be a masterpiece of understatement. Massimo Cellino was going to stay away, then we hear he’s coming back. Salerno, having suspended Thompson for hurting his poor, delicate feelings, seems to have ended his association with Leeds since. Thompson remains suspended, Redfearn remains frustrated, isolated, powerless – so it seems – to do the job he desperately wants to do.

You might say it’s a mess – but, again, you’d be accused of putting an unrealistic gloss on the situation. It’s much worse than a mess. It’s a farce, a pantomime, a badly-written black comedy. Doomed Blackpool, with their rapist part-owner and their long-inevitable relegation, might almost look at Leeds and say to themselves – well, we weren’t the only chaotic club in this league, were we? Cellino now faces further court dates over the immediate future – a time when any proper owner might be looking at his club and wondering how such an abysmally disappointing season could be improved upon next time around.

Cellino has to accept responsibility, even in absentia, for the way the club is being – for want of a more descriptive word – run. The men making the decisions on the ground are presumably there because Cellino wanted them there. Events are not bearing out the wisdom of many of those decisions, and the Thompson fiasco is a case in point. As one glum social media user tweeted, we were rubbish, then Thompson came and we did OK – then he’s sacked and we’re rubbish again. It’s not rocket science.

Leeds United and its fans deserve far better than this. Alright, no-one should be unsackable, and insubordination is not a matter to be taken lightly. But there are degrees of appropriate response – and if a vital member of the back-room staff has been removed simply because one incautious remark caused some offence in one over-sensitive director – then the fallout from that decision is utterly disproportionate to the seriousness of such a relatively innocuous situation. Four games since then, little fight, chaotic organisation on the pitch and off, no points, decimated morale – all because of one man’s hurt feelings. If that’s the way to run a football club, then I’m a bloody Tory.

The sooner this bunch of clowns do the right thing and sell their interest in our club to someone better able to run the place – i.e. almost anyone – the better for everybody, maybe even the clowns themselves, not that I care a slice of pizza for them. There is far too much of a feeling that certain individuals think themselves bigger than the club – and that can never be true. If Salerno has gone, then we have one less of those individuals and that’s a step in the right direction – but then, why not get Thompson back? If he’d be willing to come back, that is.

Now, the rest of them, the rest of those clueless idiots in the boardroom, should get out. Because Leeds United fans – even those of us who were prepared to give this regime a chance at the outset – have had enough. Much more than enough. Yet again, it’s time for change; this time we have to get it right. Leeds United is a global name; when you look at what has been achieved at relatively small and unknown (with all due respect) clubs such as Southampton and Swansea City – surely, then, the potential at Leeds is huge and realisable.

Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany feels that the so-called Financial Fair Play rules will mitigate against the likes of Leeds and Forest ever being successful again. I’m not so sure about that. David Batty on the other hand speaks optimistically, stating that we’ll be back towards the top soon. I’m not too sure about that either. But somewhere in between is a level we can still hit – and yet, the way things are now, we’re a million miles away even from that.

As a wise man once said, a journey of a million miles starts with a single step, but all our steps right now appear to be backward ones – it’s very tempting to talk here about the proverbial Italian tank with no forward and fifteen reverse gears. And yet, really, it would be misleading to talk about cowardice – it’s not even as forgiveable as that. It’s incompetence we’re seeing, indulgence of ego against the interests of the greater good. That’s what’s so hard to forgive.

It hasn’t worked, this Italian experiment. With the League dead set against Cellino, it’s highly unlikely it can ever work. Let’s all just acknowledge that, all of us – the owners too. Cut your losses, sell up, bugger off.

We’re Leeds United – and we’ve got a future to carve for ourselves, somewhere a lot higher up the game than the humiliating rut you’ve got us stuck in right now. Just go. In the name of God – GO.


Man Utd, Financial Fair Play and “The United Brand”: a Leeds United Fan Accuses – by Rob Atkinson

Manchester City - Champions for now

Manchester City – Champions for now

As a Leeds United fan first and a lover of football in the broader sense second, I do find myself watching a great deal of Premier League stuff on TV and, clearly, there’s a lot to admire. And admire it I do; I will yield to no man in my ability to appreciate the quality of the Beautiful Game, so beautifully played – usually. And yet, again with my Leeds United head on, it’s rather like being a deprived and starveling urchin, stood barefoot in rags under a rainy sky, shivering in a cold wind, with my hungry nose pressed up against a bright shop window, displaying in glitzy magnificence a cornucopia of desirable things that I can neither reach nor afford. From that point of view, the over-riding emotion is envy, with shades of desire, contempt, hatred and resentment intermingled.

Since football abandoned any pretence at being a sport, or even a working-class opera, starry-eyed idealists such as myself – ancient enough to remember the olden days and once-fashionable things like glory, passion, pride and identity – have been asking themselves one wistful question.

Will we ever have a truly level playing field again?

On the face of it, you’d have to say it’s unlikely, if not completely out of the question. Even in the olden days, it was something of a relative concept. There were rich and poor back then, just as at any time you could mention in the whole of sporting history. There were big fish and there were also small fry. But now, you’re talking whales and plankton – and we all know what whales do to plankton. The gap has widened and inequality has increased fast enough and far enough to put an ecstatic beam on the face of any bloated, plutocratic Tory. And that’s not simply a situation which applies to the extremes of the game.

Even in the Premier League, that much-vaunted bastion of mega-wealth and world-class quality – the best league in the world, according to Sky TV executives (how they must laugh into their paella over that in the strongholds of la Liga) – even there, in the sparkly EPL, there is a rigid class system. There are leagues within this elite league, glass ceilings it’s almost impossible to break through. And that’s a problem being aggravated, ironically, by a device intended, ostensibly, to promote fairness.

The provisions of the Financial Fair Play rules are too complex to lend themselves to easy summary, but – without wishing to sacrifice the integrity of a sincerely-meant blog on the altar of glib over-simplification – the effect of the measures now in force appears to be the protection of “old money” and, by implication, old power. In other words, those who feathered their nests, by whatever means, at the right time and by pretty much any means, are in an advantageous position now, due to long-established income streams. In some cases, those income streams go back a long way, are not necessarily directly connected to football and are reinforced and supported by the modern day mass-media. Let’s take a case in point. Yes, you’ve guessed it – it’s this blog’s old friends Manchester United FC.

Man U were the very epitome of “old money” when the Premier League came into being, but the differentials back then had not been great enough to permit their dominance of the game over the previous 25 years since they last won the genuine English Champions title in the black & white days of 1967. In the interim, first Leeds United and then Liverpool were the big beasts of English football, with occasional cameo appearances from the likes of Arsenal, Everton, Derby and Nottingham Forest. Liverpool’s vice-like grip on the game for almost two decades was a remarkable achievement on as level a playing field as we could possibly have had at the time. But when that field was tilted towards the already cash-rich, merchandise and marketing-savvy mob at the other end of the East Lancs road, Liverpool was one of the clubs that hurtled into the abyss. They’ve never truly recovered. The astounding fact of the matter is that Leeds United have been Champions more recently than Liverpool FC. So, indeed, have Blackburn Rovers – but that was only one of those nasty, plastic ones designed especially for Man U. If the cap fits…

For the first twenty years or so after the Murdoch putsch, the Man U-friendly environment of the Australian’s Sky League kept Fergie’s humourless and joyless troops at the top, with the rest of football gasping its trophy-winning life out under the big red jackboot. Marketing-wise, this was an extremely desirable state of affairs for the money men who now owned the game. They had a leading brand, it was an almost guaranteed winner, and this opened up still further a lucrative global market with literally millions of non-matchgoing mugs the world over, desperate for more and more Man U tat and the Sky dishes for goggleboxes on which to ogle their remote heroes. One major tool in the maintenance of this near-monopoly was the extension and mass-marketing of the “United Brand“.

The United Brand was and is the media’s slavish adoption of the old Man U “there’s only one United” myth – one of the stock lies in any Pride of Devon follower’s little cupboard of self-delusion, along with “biggest in the world”, “greatest team ever”, “most tragic disaster” etc etc. Most of these big fibs are left to the individual glory-hunters themselves to pass on, whenever a likely victim presents him or herself. Talk to a Man U adherent and you’ll see what I mean. If the topic of the Busby Babes comes up, or the Munich Disaster, the Man U fan – football’s equivalent of the pub bore – will assume a far-off, beatific expression, the eyelids drooping over glazed eyes, the voice becoming a cockney drone of indoctrination. Then we’re treated to an adoring monologue of how those doomed Babes would have dominated football, and you’d never then have heard of Leeds United; how the Munich disaster is unparalleled in the history of football tragedy (conveniently ignoring Superga which destroyed the great Torino team in 1949) – and so on and so forth. It’s even understandable, to a degree; a lot of football fans are blinkered and self-obsessed when it comes to their own team. It’s just that Man U fans, encouraged by the club and their own Dads most likely, have raised it to a sort of dreadful art-form; furthermore, they actually do believe all that crap – and they really expect you to as well. They become really quite distressingly emotional when you don’t.

The role of the media in all of this, though, is far more sinister. In pushing the agenda of the United Brand, they are deliberately seeking to marginalise, not just those other Uniteds – most of whom have a more solid claim to that suffix – but all other football clubs, by their blatant elevation of one club onto a pedestal with recognition demanded by repeated use of that one word. United. All of the media do it, and it’s not simply lazy journalism as some suggest.  It’s brand protection, the Pavlovian training of consumers everywhere to hear the word United, and think of the Pride of Devon. It’s endemic within print and broadcast industries now and for a good few years past. You still get the occasional embarrassed little cough when a commentator at Newcastle United v Man U, for instance, refers lovingly to “United” and then hastily clarifies that he means the team in the Chevrolet shirts of course, not the other lot, whoever they might be. They don’t want to be thought of as biased and unprofessional, after all – even though that’s precisely what they are.

Not everyone is taken in by all of this, of course. It’s a mass-indoctrination tool of the type big marketeers have used down the decades; the target group tending to be the bottom fifty percent of the intelligence scale. Which I know sounds invidious and possibly even condescending – but that doesn’t mean it’s untrue. But there has always been a sector of the public determined to resist such blandishments; so it quite rightly is where the United Brand is concerned. However, this subliminal campaign has been omnipresent and all-pervasive for such a long time now, and sadly the relatively small voice of protest tends to fall on deaf – probably dumb as well – ears.

The truth is, of course, that Newton Heath aren’t a true United, as for instance Newcastle are, or Leeds, or arguably West Ham – or even Oxford and Torquay. “United” in a football context refers to a club with the exclusive occupancy of its catchment area, no direct rivals sharing the same patch. Man U aren’t the only only United – that’s self-evident to anyone who can count. But here’s the thing: it isn’t just that they’re neither the only nor yet the first United. They’re not even a genuine one – because of the spoiling factor of having neighbours and rivals in the same area. So, sadly for the Pride of Devon, current Champions Manchester City ruin this particular myth for them – as they have ruined so much else lately.

Which brings us on to the current peril threatening the United Brand. The clear and present danger of being caught up and overtaken by one or more rivals. And – oops! – it’s already happened. Man City and Chelsea fight over the title, the likes of Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool, even Southampton are scrapping to keep Man U out of the Champions League spot they regard as the very least of their divine rights. What to do?? Extend the Champions League qualification criteria again, to make sure the untouchables stay in the fold? It’s been done before. But beware of diluting the product to the point its taste becomes insipid. Hmmm, we’ll have to find some other way.

OK, how about this. If you can’t beat ’em – nobble ’em. The upstart clubs who have overtaken the Chosen Ones will have to be hamstrung, their income streams restricted and made inaccessible to them. How else to restore the accepted order and have the United Brand back at the top? And it has to be done quickly, before all of those millions of eager tat consumers lose their motivation, become discouraged, cease to be market movers and slavishly obedient commercial fodder.

And, lo and behold, we have Financial Fair Play, which decrees that what are seen as subordinate clubs may not be funded into competitiveness by a *spit* sugar daddy. They may not presume to compete with the clubs who are deemed to have accrued their riches through on-field success, global merchandising, exploiting historical tragedies, whatever. There’s a right way, for those who presume to control the game – the United Brand way – and there’s a wrong way, which encompasses pretty much anything a club which aspires to rise to the top could possibly do. The game’s rulers are pro-competition alright – but they’re not going to get all sentimental and misty-eyed over it, not to the extent that their preferred brand no longer dominates. The Old Guard – Man U, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich et al – must remain the Old Guard, the ruling cartel. Anything else is dangerous, because it diffuses attention, which imperils consumer focus. It’s just bad for business, old boy.

So, we’ll have just enough competition to keep things interesting – to keep the mugs hooked and consuming – but we’ll draw the line when a chosen Brand, deliberately created and carefully, remorselessly hyped, appears to be in danger of slipping from the pinnacle of the game.  FFP is all about maintaining the status quo and keeping inconvenient Johnny-come-latelys down where they belong. And the tragic thing is – it’ll probably work.

But what does the future hold if this does work as presumably intended? Because what we have here is an ever-inflating bubble, increasingly shiny and enormous as it catches all the lime-light, reflecting gaudy and brilliant shimmerings of iridescent glory. It’s huge and it’s pretty – the kind of thing to cause a child, or other similarly naive person, to stop in their tracks and gaze, open-mouthed and round-eyed in innocent wonderment. But any bubble must burst eventually, leaving that child in disappointed tears. The path we are currently set upon, seemingly committed to, can have only one end. Look at the most recent Sky and other media deal, look at the billions involved at a time of austerity in society at large (unless you’re rich…). Who do you think that colossal, obscene cost is going to be passed on to? What will be the consequences when gates start to dip? Nothing is forever.

In a hundred years time, when those with long, long memories look back and reflect on what they have seen in their lives, what their grandfathers have told them, too – when they wonder whatever happened to that grand old game they used to call football – they may wish to search for a guilty party to blame for the death of something that used to give such pleasure to so many. If that comes to pass – as I fear eventually it must – then there will be a few likely candidates to carry the can. One will certainly be the long dead Mr Murdoch of evil memory. Who can say what his eventual legacy will be, not just for football, but for society at large? Another might be a club in Man U that used once upon a time to be legendary, a symbol of fine football and hope for the future. But this club will more likely instead be remembered as a model of arrogance and greed; the club that started the FA Cup off on its slow decline towards death (by being the first to withdraw from it); the club that manipulated the game for twenty years at the start of the Premier League, and perverted a “whole new ball game” into a nightmare of greed, cynicism and conspicuous consumerism.

For my part, I won’t point the finger at an individual or a club. Well, maybe I would a bit – if I were still above ground to do so. But I think it’ll be artificial concepts and restrictive legislation that’ll be the death of the game in the end. And I’ll miss it – but I’ll be glad I was there at the end of the golden era, almost a quarter of a century ago now, when my club Leeds United were the Kings of English Football – just as it entered its terminal phase. And I’ll be certain in my own mind as to exactly where the guilt for that fatal process truly lies.

Financial Fair Play and “The United Brand”: j’accuse.

Irresponsible Man U & Rooney Highlight Need for Salary Cap – by Rob Atkinson

Wazza's Wages

Wazza’s wages, Wazza’s life

At a time when Leeds United are sweating upon the dilatory machinations of the Football League as we all wait for a verdict on Massimo Cellino’s proposed takeover of the club, it is chillingly instructive to look at what’s currently happening with the recently-deposed leaders of English football. Leeds are aiming to leave behind them more than a decade on the breadline, an era when every penny has been counted and investment has been shockingly inadequate to support the ambitions of an ostensibly upward-looking football club.  Man U, meanwhile are operating at the other extreme of the financial and moral spectra, being seemingly eager to throw obscene amounts of money at their own unwelcome dilemma – that of being abruptly overtaken by a pack of rivals who are suddenly displaying far more in terms of pedigree and potential.

The most recent symptom of this new high-water mark of the sickness consuming the game is Mr Wayne Rooney’s newly-inflated wage packet.  A click on that link will take you to a real time clock of exactly how much the past-his-best scouser is earning – for want of a more descriptive word – after his latest reprise of the “holding a gun to your employer’s head” ploy.  Usefully, it’s a per-second measurement – but watch those figures blur round as the synthetically-hirsute one racks up his wealth at an astounding £30 per minute.  Even more usefully, there’s a direct comparison between Wazza’s Wages and the more modest earnings of a real-life hero such as a trained nurse.  Now watch those figures climb for the poor nurse, sooooo sluggishly that it’s pitiful.  You can even compare what Man U are shelling out in salary for the formerly good England striker with what it costs us all (in salary alone, not the disastrous wider economic costs) to have Mr David Camoron as unelected Prime Minister. Basically, by the time our hard-working nurse has clocked up her first 50p, the eejit at the head of the coalition has blagged an undeserved three quid, which just goes to show beyond reasonable doubt that the whole of creation has got things severely arse-about-face.

Wazza's Wages - a scientific comparison

Wazza’s Wages – a scientific comparison

But for an exercise in the truly surreal, just look at Shrek’s Salary by the time Nursey has her opening ten bob.  In that brief period, he’s trousered a jaw-dropping £300.25.  He can probably afford three tenderly conjugal sessions with a high-class Granny-for-rent with that kind of dosh. Meanwhile, our poor Florence Nightingale will not yet be able to get herself so much as a vending-machine coffee – and even everyone’s least-favourite Old Etonian would need to fiddle his expenses extensively in order to get a decent meal at the Kensington branch of McDonald’s.  No change there, then. Many thanks, by the way, to @ampp3d for the graphic illustration.

Now, the foregoing surely provides anyone’s definitive answer to “Name something so gut-wrenchingly obscene it makes your eyes and ears bleed”. But really – is Rooney himself to blame?  Well, yes – he is, a bit, isn’t he?  Certainly from a moral standpoint, anyway.  At a time when so many are being driven to food-banks in order to keep body and soul together, it’s fair to ask how the grasping Rooney can sleep of a night – surely to goodness the thought of all those hungry people out there must trouble him a little, when he thinks of his £15 million-plus a year, merely for kicking a ball around.  You might even think it’d put him off his game and make him a mere shadow of his youthful self. Well, something certainly has.

But there’s a case also for saying: if somebody’s daft enough – if they have the slack-jawed idiocy to lash out those enormous sums to a mere footballer – then it serves them right for being so dribblingly moronic, and who can blame Rooney for accepting their ill-advised largesse.  Discount all the press reports of Rooney saying in the press how glad he was to commit his future to Man U (until the next time he fancies a fifty-grand a week pay rise, that is) – discount those reports, because they might make you sick.  You would also feel quite distinctly naused when, after the first five minutes of Wazza’s first match following his little hike in salary, some fluffy TV reporter assures us all that “he’s clearly utterly committed to the cause”, or some such specious, fawning bollocks designed to make the mugs in Man U favours think they’re getting value for money.  Pay no attention to all that flim-flam – because, at the end of the day, this disgusting, evil new contract for Rooney is to be laid at nobody’s door but that of the Man U Money Men, those pallid, grey little chaps whose job it is somehow to propel a moribund leviathan back to the top of the game – sans Ferguson, the diabolical genius on whom – with his coarse bullying streak, his taste for intimidation on an industrial scale and his deeply dubious “mind game” methods – their entire two decades’ worth of tarnished glory was founded. And if you don’t believe that – just ask Graham Poll, one of the men who helped create and maintain the Evil Empire, and has recently admitted as much.

The fact is, of course that – without the departed S’ralex – it’s going to be nigh-on impossible for Man U to regain their former undeservedly-attained heights, no matter how much money they chuck at the problem.  The top four we have now – Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester’s finest, City, are just too good for the fading Pride of Devon to be able to compete – certainly under their current, cack-handed management.  The big boys are simply superior – better run, better coached and with far better squads. The damage being done by Man U’s willingness to to lash out zillions on wages and – presumably, if they’re able to attract anyone half-decent – on transfer fees, is visited upon the game as a whole, not really on the super-clubs they laughingly call “rivals”.  Because, let’s face it – Man U’s rivals now are Everton and Tottenham, who seem likely to fight it out with the ailing ex-champions for that prized Europa League spot. How are the mighty fallen, eh?  And think of the damage to their so-called prestige. What – the “Biggest Club in the World™ ” – now stop that giggling in Madrid, Milan, London and Barcelona, it’s in very poor taste – scrambling to finish fifth? The club that prides itself on its amazing youth policy, doing what it’s always bitched about City and Chelsea doing, trying to buy their way to another title??  Surely not.  How utterly, degradingly, humiliatingly shameful. But – arf, arf – how funny, too.

The thing is though, once the laughing stops, I have to turn back to my beloved Leeds United and painfully wonder – just how the hell are we ever to fight our way back to the top, where every single true Whites fan knows in his heart of hearts we belong – when the idiots currently competing with today’s elite are allowed to practice such abysmal fiscal lunacy?  £300,000 a week for a faded old relic of a Rooney?  If Leeds could have that as a wages budget for their entire squad, that’d be 20 players commanding an average 15 grand a week.  Properly managed, that’d see us soar to promotion.  But what kind of future would face us then?

As I wrote just the other day, unless we could somehow afford to lavish an extremely unwise amount of cash on a gamble for success – “living the dream”, I seem to recall it’s known as – then we’d have to settle for mediocrity as the absolute upper limit of our potential.  That’s what this mega stretching-out of wage structures is coming to mean for the majority of clubs.  It’s sickening for the supporters who have to struggle along on one fifteenth per year of what Rooney rakes in per week.  It’s in danger of alienating even Man U’s own fans, who surely can’t be plastic suckers right down to the last Cornwall-based, Sky-addicted armchair.  And it’s destroying the possibility of fair competition, upon which is predicated the whole theory of League Football – the increasingly-mythical “level playing field”.

Make no mistake about it, the bulk of “competing” clubs haven’t a hope in hell of getting anywhere near the cartel at the top, and they know it.  And, ironically, this will apply almost equally to the club who, more than most, is bringing about such an unhappy situation by sanctioning such ridiculous amounts in wages to the avaricious young men who kick a football in their name.  Man U are contributing, in large measure, to their own demise as a major force – through sheer, desperate lunacy.

So it comes to pass that, just as Leeds United appear to be on the brink of ceasing to be paupers and becoming what we would until quite recently have thought of as seriously rich – it turns out that we’re not going to be really rich after all.  Not as compared to the top four cartel.  Not even when you put them alongside the rich-but-not-good-enough likes of Man U and Spurs.  For a club like Leeds, with such a proud history, with such loyal, fanatical and long-suffering fans, the prospect of being thwarted by what is, in effect, a glass ceiling is almost too much to bear.

But it’s a dilemma too.  What do we actually want, if our dearest wishes were to be granted?  Do we ask for mega-bucks to be spent on ensuring we win the title, as Man City and Chelski have done?  Do we invest more wisely, improve our infrastructure and act patient, on the Arsenal model? God forbid that we’d just assume we have a divine right to be the biggest and the best, like that scummy lot from the Theatre of Hollow Myths, and start paying over-rated has-beens like Rooney a king’s ransom every week. Surely, anything but that.

This stupid deal, offering a stupid boy a stupid contract, on stupid money, has to act as a shrill alarm-bell for the football authorities in this country and further afield.  Elementary physics will tell you that you can inflate anything by only so much – be it a bubble, a balloon or even an ego – before it bursts and becomes just a futile waste of air.  The time is now ripe to think seriously about a salary cap.  Nothing drastic.  Nothing that will make an obscenely rich group of spoiled young athletes feel any sort of a pinch. Just a measure to ensure more equal competition between participating clubs, and thus retain the possibility that success can perhaps be achieved on merit instead of simply by those with the wherewithal to buy it. Because, ultimately, that is what the game is all about.

Nobody will listen.  Nobody will pay any heed to what is staring them malevolently in the face.  They’re all far too busy riding the gravy train, or at least clinging on tightly to the coat-tails of those in first-class.  Perhaps they think – these pallid little grey men, with their clammy hands and glistening, moist, avaricious lips – that time is still on their side.  That, by the time the gravy train derails – as it surely will – they’ll have made their pile, and it’ll be someone else’s problem.  That’s not any sort of a strategy though – it’s the road to ruin, no error.  Under such benighted, short-sighted leadership, our beautiful game will end up plummeting downhill like a greased pig.

Perhaps the Financial Fair Play rules will mitigate this disaster that’s approaching so remorselessly.  But, sadly, rich, stupid yet sly people, focused on the short term and immense personal gain, tend to pay poorer, cleverer even slyer people to sort out for them inconvenient little problems like FFP. Loopholes will be found when needed, rules will be bent as necessary, palms will be greased with lavish abandon.  The train will continue its headlong flight, until the final calamity occurs.  Rooney won’t be bothered – he’ll have his £100 million or so and all the grannies and artificial follicles his mercenary heart could desire.  It’s us, the fans, who will suffer – along with the littler people in the game, those who will be left trying to pick up the pieces after meltdown.  All of this is so gloomy, I know. But who can put their hand on their heart and tell me that it’s not true?? Please, step forward – I could use the reassurance.

I’m afraid disaster is approaching – the kind of disaster that inevitably occurs when you put incompetent and unscrupulous people in charge of vast oceans of money, and fail to incorporate any fail-safe device.  That, by the evidence of Rooney’s latest wages coup, is exactly what’s happening, exactly what will continue to happen, unless there’s some unforeseeable wising-up at the top, and a wage cap is implemented as a matter of urgency.  Perhaps the football chiefs should have a word with their counterparts at the Rugby Football League?  Do it, chaps – and take a notebook and pencil.  But you know it ain’t gonna happen, so we’re doomed.  And let’s not hark back to Leeds’ own relatively innocent financial peccadilloes at the start of this century.  That was tropical fish feed to what’s occurring now.  Honestly – three hundred grand a week??? No, let’s not cloud the issue here.  I blame Man U, because Man U are to blame.

If I can have just one wish in the face of the dark age that is sooner or later to come – then it’s simply this.  God, in your infinite mercy: please let my cherished and much-loved Leeds United – providers of England’s Last Real Champions before the start of the Murdoch Money Epoch – please let us win at least one more trophy – before it finally all goes tits-up.

The Last Champions

The Last Champions

Financial Fair Play Rules Will Be Anything But Fair – by Rob Atkinson


FFP – In aid of The Cartel

With the news that QPR are in line for a massive fine – reportedly a possible £62 million – for incurring heavy losses in their vain attempt to retain top-flight status, it’s time to pause, scratch our heads and reflect: just who ARE going to be the beneficiaries of the Financial Fair Play rules?

Firstly, what is “Fair Play”?  Doesn’t it imply a leveling of the playing field so that true competition might be a feature of our national game – instead of an all-powerful cartel at the top of the Premier League, carving up the goodies between them?  One of the worrying aspects of the Fair Play rules appears to be their scornful attitude to inward investment. Suddenly, this has become a grubby, slightly indecent concept, the clubs trying to invest their way towards parity with the Big Boys are looked upon as upstarts, unwelcome parvenus  The idea of slapping a massive fine on top of a big operating loss is likewise perplexing – somewhat akin to seeing a dangerous blaze which threatens loss of life and property, then trying to put it out by spraying petrol lavishly all over it.  We are in danger here of applying a cure that is worse than the disease.

As a Leeds fan, I suppose I should be leaning towards rules like this.  Leeds are a big club, and success would multiply their potential to succeed commercially by a factor of many. Presumably, this sort of self-generated wealth would meet with the approval of the minds behind Financial Fair Play – although, given the fact that it’s Leeds, we’re just as likely to get hit with a 15 point deduction.  But the whole thing stinks to me; I am cynical as to the thinking behind it – and even more so, I am cynical as to the interests of those who are behind the thinking.

Financial Fair Play appears to my non-financially-wired mind to want to put more power and financial muscle into the hands of those who already have the most power and financial muscle.  It will benefit, surely, those who have tapped successfully into vast overseas markets, those with massive supporter bases consisting of millions of people, most of whom will not necessarily have even visited the country wherein resides their team of choice.  The more tacky memorabilia and replica merchandise such a club can sell, to the biggest market possible, the more the new regime of Financial Fair Play will approve and enable that club.  Who on earth COULD they be thinking about here?

I’m even more worried, having heard about the bleak situation facing QPR, about the direction in which our game is heading.  It seems to be all about empowering the powerful, and rendering those who want to rise and compete incapable of doing just that. The legends that have been built up in the game over the past century or so are now in a position to benefit enormously from rules that reflect today’s “Devil take the hindmost” philosophy.  That might thrill the capitalist souls of many, but it doesn’t do much for the guy who likes the idea that, every now and again, some hitherto unregarded club will ascend through the levels and leave the Goliaths with a bloody nose. That sort of scenario, to me, is what sport is all about – and if you legislate against clubs trying to better themselves in what is increasingly a money-dominated game, then you’re cutting off a hell of a lot of the appeal of the game.

Or am I just being hopelessly naive?