Tag Archives: GFH Capital

32 Years Since Bates’ Vow: Has Leeds Utd Finally Been Destroyed?   –   by Rob Atkinson

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Remember this quote from then Chelsea chairman Ken Bates in 1984, after Leeds United fans had damaged a scoreboard at Stamford Bridge? “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 this happen”. 

These were unequivocal words and, we may now reflect, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, that Bates was not perhaps the wisest choice to make when a vacancy arose for “Saviour of ailing West Yorkshire football club”. In the event, when Uncle Ken finally got his mitts on the club, he oversaw a historic plunge into the third tier, with the sideshows of various legal disputes involving the game’s authorities and others. When United, under Simon Grayson, finally hauled themselves back into the Championship and started to look like feasible contenders for the top flight again, the sales started; the club’s finest players were flogged off and inadequately replaced, most of the proceeds disappearing into a financial black hole, or going to fund vanity projects such as the East Stand refurbishment. Tellingly, the gleaming edifice is known by many Leeds fans to this day as “the Delph Shelf“.

When Ken found the heat in the kitchen too hot, he did not trouble himself overmuch with the need to secure ambitious, committed buyers who would take the club upwards towards its proper place among football’s elite. Instead, we got saddled with GFH, the poorest Middle East finance house in creation, and the unedifying spectacle ensued of more in-fighting, more egomaniac games, even less team investment, with criminal goings-on and jailbird revelations to follow. How glad we all were when they were marginalised and pushed into the background by the arrival of our very own King of Corn, il Duce Massimo Cellino himself. And how disastrously wrong we were to afford him any kind of welcome; we should have chased his taxi southwards out of the city and not stopped until it drove into the English Channel. If things were bad under Bates and worse under GFH, they have become positively farcical under Cellino.

There is no need to go into all the ins and outs of the Cellino regime so far, the broken promises, the lies, the false declarations of intent to sell up. We all know the sorry story all too miserably well. Suffice to say that we have now reached a situation where figures of no great stature in the game are being approached to take nominal charge of team affairs – and are saying “thanks, but no thanks”. And who can blame them? It would take a ridiculously self-confident man, one capable of the most exquisite degree of self-delusion, to willingly give himself up on the sacrificial altar of working for Cellino. The lessons of the last couple of years are starkly clear – taking the hot-seat at Elland Road is a shortcut to professional suicide. It’s a no-win situation that has left a trail of shattered reputations in its wake.

Meanwhile, the man who can accurately boast the best Leeds United managerial record since the heady days of Simon Grayson is being treated scandalously, with zero respect. Steve Evans has been left disgracefully unenlightened about his future, despite vague promises and inconclusive meetings, to watch the position he still currently occupies being hawked around any Tom, Dick or Harry who might yet be daft enough to be seduced by the name of Leeds United. Nobody of any common sense or professional pride will touch this job, though, surely. Nobody with his head screwed on properly wants to work with a lunatic.

The only real candidate is the man currently in possession, the man who knows the score, who is already committed to the task, who has done well and has won over many doubters, all while losing a medically worrying amount of weight. You couldn’t blame him for giving in to the hurt, salvaging his dignity and walking away. But Steve Evans wants to keep his job, he “gets” Leeds United and he has a burning desire to succeed, as he has undeniably done elsewhere. Yet the idiot in charge seems to have turned away from this man who has won the grudging respect of some of the most cynical of the fans – Cellino just lacks the guts, class and decency to come out and say so.

The football club’s dirty linen is being washed in public while the sporting world looks on and laughs. The manager of MK Dons turned us down. The Bristol Rovers manager is being courted, but Leeds United have not met that club’s conditions for talking to their employee, who has an improved three year contract on the table, waiting for him to show good sense and sign. It’s all going on, dreadfully humiliating and utterly cringeworthy, in the full glare of media and rival fan attention, while the long-suffering fans of Leeds United bow their heads, wondering how much worse things can get.

In 1984, Leeds United had good times ahead of them, they had chances even to establish a dynastic power at the top of the game – and they certainly put silverware on the table that we could never have imagined in that Orwellian, second division year of ill omen, when some freelance demolition contractors from West Yorkshire did a number on Ken’s scoreboard. But the Curse of Bates had been pronounced and, all this time later, you really do have to ask yourself: will he end up with his spiteful wish fulfilled? He paved the way towards the slippery slope we’re now descending like a greased pig. Rudderless, with no clear plan, with little if any communication between club and fans, miles behind other clubs already planning for next season – and with professional football men seemingly unwilling to touch us with a bargepole – we may well be about to plunge yet again into the abyss.

If that happens, we might despairingly look back to Bates’ words in 1984, we might ponder on his potless and clueless successors in the Elland Road boardroom since his own departure – and we might say to ourselves: well, he warned us, did Ken. And it looks as though he’s got his way after all. And what would Ken Bates say to that?

Perhaps: “Revenge is a dish best served cold”.

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Getting Promoted the Leeds United Way – by Rob Atkinson

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Leeds United have achieved promotion to the top League of English football (Football League Division One of blessed memory) on two occasions within my lifetime – 1963/64 and 1989/90.  Both promotions followed significant lower status periods – we don’t really do “bounce-back” promotions – and here we are again, a decade away from the game’s shop window, and this time we actually plumbed the depths of the third tier for the first time in our illustrious history. So – talking about history – do those last two promotion successes have anything to teach us today?  The answer seems to be: yes, quite a bit.  But sadly, there’s not necessarily all that much encouragement to be derived from the lessons of yesteryear.

The fact appears to be that the last two Leeds United sides to have achieved promotion to the top flight both did it with quality to spare.  Both finished as Division Two Champions, and both squads included a number of players who would go on to help add to the Club’s Honours Board.  In 1990, the team that pipped Sheffield United for the Second Division title included as mainstays Gordon Strachan, Gary Speed, Lee Chapman, Chris Fairclough, Mel Sterland and David Batty.  That’s over half a team, and all of those players figured heavily in the squad that won the last Football League Championship title in 1992.  Also appearing in that “Last Real Champions” line-up were four more survivors of the 1990 promotion side: Carl Shutt, Imre Varadi, John McClelland and Mike Whitlow.  So TEN members of the promotion squad were good enough to figure in the season that brought the ultimate League honour back to Elland Road.  All but Batty and Speed were incoming transfers, some costing what was significant money for the late eighties.

In 1964, the picture was similar, though with more of a bias towards home-grown talent – unsurprisingly given the quality of the youngsters coming through from an outstanding youth policy. The names trip off the tongue:  Gary Sprake, Paul Reaney, Billy Bremner, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter, Paul Madeley, Terry Cooper and Peter Lorimer.  The ultimate success took longer to achieve for Revie’s boys, but all eight of these players, plus the genius of Johnny Giles – purchased for a song from Man U in a transfer Revie described as “robbery with violence” – were major contributors to the side which proved itself the best-ever in 1969. The later transfers in of Mick Jones and Allan Clarke, with the emergence of Eddie Gray from that legendary youth setup, simply applied the final coat of gloss to what was a very fine side indeed. The makings of Champions were there in the 1964 promotion team, just as they were for that of 1990.

So what does all this tell us about the here and now?  Nothing very happy, to be sure.  The squad we have today might – with a few judiciously-selected additions – have some sort of chance of achieving promotion, though you’d have to say the lottery of the play-offs would be the likeliest route.  And as a club, we’re famously poor at play-offs.  But if we DID scramble promotion – what sort of foundation would there be for becoming a successful Premier League side? Hardly any, in truth.  Look through the playing staff we have, and name players who might figure in a Premier League winning side in the next few years.  Sam Byram, maybe – and probably, almost certainly – NOT in a Leeds United shirt. So we’re in danger of becoming the Leeds United side least well-equipped in living memory to go up, and stay up to do well. Much more likely though is that – with the element of quality currently so sadly lacking – we’d just bob around in mid-table in the Championship, and listen to a load of excuses every week or so.

History shows that, on both the occasions we’ve won promotion in my lifetime, there has been relatively major investment in the team to make that possible.  It was more the case in 1990 than in ’64, but the whole game was much more about money by the 90’s – and of course vastly more so today.  But even in 1964, players had been added to the squad to see us over that promotion-winning line – Alan Peacock was an England-capped forward, bought for decent money from Middlesbrough.  Bobby Collins commanded a fee even as a “veteran” when he moved to Leeds from Everton.  In the 1990 side, Strachan, Fairclough, Chapman and Sterland all cost well into the six figures, as did John Hendrie and Vinnie Jones. This was proper investment, speculating to accumulate.

There is as yet no real indication of the path that might be trodden by the Leeds of today, under the guidance of new owner Massimo Cellino.  We are given to understand that he has inherited an almighty mess from a list of previous owners, who can only be distinguished one from the other by the slightly varying degrees of their wretched crookedness.  Some will say, serves you right Massimo for foolishly dispensing with the need for due diligence – others will simply be glad that the Italian’s on board – despite the vicious attempts by the senile and dithering old fools of the Football League to block him – and looking to sort things out.

Cellino appears determined to be faithful to his own methods and philosophy – and it’s fairly clear that we won’t find out very much about on-field recruitment until he’s laid the foundations for a properly-run club.  The Head Coach appointment seems likely to be the next significant step, and from that will flow the rest of the preparations for next season.  By now, Cellino must be aware of the fans’ voracious appetite for success – a term to be defined by the Leeds United history of the past fifty years, as opposed to the yardstick of just any old club.

The fans’ expectations are extravagant but understandable, having their roots in a proud and glorious tradition, from eras past when this club did things properly.  Where expectations such as these are dashed, sooner or later there will be rebellion – even in what might still be, relatively speaking, a honeymoon period for the new owner. Whether such rebellion would come in the form of apathy over match-day attendance, or some more incendiary form whereby dissatisfaction might be expressed by marches and sit-ins, or by the owner being barricaded inside Elland Road (Massimo has had some experience of this already) – this would depend upon the depth of supporter anger or unhappiness.

Cellino’s staff would be well-advised to do plenty of rooting about in Leeds United Football Club’s history, both to see how things were managed when the people in charge knew what they were doing, and also to advise themselves of what happens with the support – and indeed the staff and management – when they feel they’re having the urine taken out of them.  That feeling has been abroad too often for comfort in the past few years, and what is needed right now is a campaign of relative harmony.  From that point of view as much as any other, there may well be advantages in the appointment of a head coach with an intimate working knowledge of the club and its traditions and character – and of the fan-base.  This is not just any club – and we need someone at a high level in the organisation, who is acutely aware of that fact.

Former skipper and manager Gary MacAllister’s name is evidently on Cellino’s very short short-list – and if anyone can pick up the reins effectively at Elland Road right now, then maybe Macca can. He should not, in my view, be judged too harshly in the light of his previous stint in charge – he was not working under the most favourable circumstances, or indeed the most favourable owner. Even so, some of his signings turned out to be legends of their time; his eye for a player, certainly an attacking player, seems reliable – as witness Becchio and Snodgrass.

But it is Gary MacAllister’s Leeds United DNA that we probably need as much as anything else right now, when one major priority should be the re-establishment of a definite Leeds United identity, now that Bates has gone, and now that GFH have been reduced to the role of mere parasites.  The club needs to hold its collective head up high, and march on saying We Are Leeds.  That was the spirit in which those previous two promotions were earned, and it is that spirit which needs to be rekindled over this summer, so that we come out fighting – and Keep Fighting – for the season ahead.

I would say – get MacAllister in, let him surround himself with people he can work with (including, please God, a defensive coach and someone with a Plan B) – and let him put his stamp back on the club.  To me, this would also add to Cellino’s credibility. Anybody who has read McAllister’s book, or who has seen how he has conducted himself throughout his career, will know that here is a real football man.  This would not be a Massimo’s yes-man type of appointment.  That would be a very important message to send out, bearing in mind the lessons of Cardiff City under Vincent Tan. One thing we could do with is the reassurance that Cellino is not cut from that cloth.

Next week might just be the start of a positive summer for Leeds – if the right appointment is made and some sort of recruitment programme can then commence.  Let’s sincerely hope so – it’s been too long since we had any really good news at Elland Road.  A feel-good factor would be a long-forgotten but welcome visitor to the club – and who knows?  If we can achieve that, then surely anything is possible.  A promotion charge next season?  England winning the World Cup with a 30 yard volley by Leeds lad Jamie Milner?  Why not?

If we’re going to dare to dream – then let’s make it a good one.  MOT – We Are Leeds.

That unquenchable Leeds United spirit

That unquenchable Leeds United spirit

Fear and Loathing in Monaco and Dubai as Cellino Goes Forensic? – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United finances under intense scrutiny

Leeds United finances under intense scrutiny

The first thing you think when somebody reputed to be a billionaire – with annual income well into seven figures – takes over your beloved football club, is: brilliant; now we shall have the best of everything. No more poverty, no more crushingly-disappointing transfer windows.  We are back.

This being Leeds United, of course, it looks like it might not actually work out that way – at least, not at first.  The first order of business for Massimo Cellino is evidently to sort out the mess off the field.  And, from all accounts, what a hell of a mess it looks like it is.  Apparently, Massimo’s advisers have described the financial situation at Leeds United as ‘the worst mess they’ve ever seen at a football club’.  So, who says we’re not still the leaders in at least one field??

Still, that’s some going for a club that, over the past few years, has enjoyed some of the biggest commercial revenues of any outfit at this level, charged the highest ticket prices and still attracted among the highest attendances, appearing with monotonous regularity on TV. Yet this same club has paid out wages at somewhat under the top rate for the Championship, as well as displaying very little ambition in the transfer market – whilst selling some of its top talent on a depressingly regular basis.

So how has a club run along these lines managed to embroil itself in such utter fiscal chaos?  Where, exactly, is the gaping hole through which so much money every month is haemorrhaging away? You can point to certain peccadilloes of past regimes – the lavish re-upholstery of the East Stand, for instance, improving part of a stadium that the club doesn’t even own. There may be a certain reckless foolhardiness detectable there, especially if, as is rumoured, future season ticket revenues were mortgaged against the cost of what seems to have been a vanity project, to titivate a ground costing megabucks in annual rent.  The ultimate beneficiary of that has never been satisfactorily identified – but may not be entirely unrelated to certain craftily-advantageous financial arrangements centred around the Cayman Islands part of the world.

Even so, it’s difficult to see how the sums add up to such a distressingly appalling bottom line as has been hinted at by Cellino’s horror-struck people.  Small wonder, then, that the King of Corn is taking the step of recruiting “forensic accountants” to conduct a root and branch investigation.  The image thus conjured up of intense and focused, pale and determined men, poring over every scrap of paper and every byte of data remotely connected to Leeds United over the past decade or so, is actually rather a pleasing one.  Let’s face it, we all want answers – and they’ve been conspicuous by their absence at Elland Road this century.  Excuses we’ve had aplenty, together with some hollow boasts about how things are moving forward.  And yet here we are, in this parlous mess.  Something needs to be done, and Cellino is taking the forensic approach to doing it.

‘Forensic’ might loosely and unscientifically be interpreted as “leaving no stone unturned – and no rat untrapped”.  There are a few rats that immediately spring to mind who may very well be quivering in their lairs right now.  One such lair might better be described as a tax lair – the bolt-hole of a venerable old gentleman whose financial affairs mean that he must perforce spend the better part of every year – better for us, that is – in the sunny climes of southern France.  Does Master Bates have skeletons concealed in his closet?  Are they about to be yanked out and made to perform a Danse Macabre?  These ‘forensic’ types tend to wind up knowing exactly where the bodies are buried, and with a fair old clue as to how they got into that sadly moribund state. What revelations might they have to make concerning Uncle Ken and his Monaco closet?

Those “ten percent parasites” GFH might also be wriggling uneasily, wondering just what salient facts, which they would prefer to remain concealed, are about to be brought, glistening nastily, out into the cold and pitiless light of day.  What will be the story concerning the GFH input into Leeds United during their term as majority owners – as opposed to any financial benefit they may have extracted during that period?  As that excellent investigative organ Private Eye is always saying, we think we should be told – and it seems to be on the agenda that we might be.  And there is a lot of fascination, on the part of the fan in the street, regarding the nitty-gritty of just exactly how these preceding two sets of owners have conducted themselves – and at what cost to the football club and the football fans whose interests they supposedly had in safe-keeping.

Whatever the controversy of some of the measures currently being implemented by Cellino – and whatever the likelihood in the short term of more hard times ahead – it does appear that he is set on cleansing and re-inventing a club that, from all appearances, has been rotten from the top downwards for far too long now.  The Italian seems to have availed himself of pretty much the best legal team Euros can buy in his ultimately successful fight with the Football League to gain control of Leeds United.

Now, it appears that no expense will be spared in securing the services of the most effective accountants to wade through the murk of the financial situation at Elland Road.  Perhaps one day, this “only the best will do” approach might yet be applied to the recruitment of playing staff.  That’s the dream, after all, when you get a billionaire owner.

First things first, though.  From the revelations accumulating day on day, it would appear that the Leeds United edifice is not so much crumbling as dissolving away before our very eyes.  Cellino looks to be dealing with a structure that is on the edge of total collapse – and it’s understandable that this situation has to be addressed before any on-field luxuries can be contemplated – so it may well be a ticking-over season next time around.

That, of course, would be down to the competence and application of whatever players we end up with in the squad, as well as the motivational and coaching abilities of whatever manager is in charge next time around. Comparisons are usually invidious – but look what Sean Dyche and an unheralded Burnley squad did last season.  They had been tipped for relegation.

Things at Elland Road are looking so very unhealthy though, that the on-field issues might well take second place in the minds of United fans, to the even more burning issue of who has done this to us.  Who, when and how – not to mention why.  There are some glaringly-obvious suspects.  Maybe – just maybe – Massimo’s Meticulous Money Men will have them bang to rights before too long?

High Time That Profiteer Parasites GFH Took Some Responsibility – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino - silent and unimpressed

Cellino – silent and unimpressed

The fact that Leeds United have missed a 21 day deadline imposed by a Statutory Demand – for payment of just under £1m allegedly owed to David Haigh’s Sport Capital outfit – is capable of interpretation in a number of ways.

One is to take the gloomy view that new United owner Massimo Cellino is not quite as minted as we have been led to believe; that he is starting to struggle under the weight of outstanding bills left behind by previous owners notable mainly for their incompetence and lack of experience, along with sundry other negative attributes.  And yet Cellino has acted swiftly to clear debts up to this point; when HMRC were owed £500,000 in unpaid tax, the bill was settled in the first flush of the Corn King’s reign.  Likewise, former suitor for the club Andrew Flowers was paid off quickly and the players’ deferred wages were restored to them, saving them from inevitable penury and the soup kitchen, I shouldn’t wonder.

Cellino has remained silent on this latest financial demand.  The form-book, though, suggests that if he was both willing and able to pay up, he would have done so promptly, perhaps with a few typically acerbic Latin observations on the craziness of running a Championship club along the lines of one in the latter stages of the Champions League.

But nothing has yet happened – and obviously this has persuaded some that the scenario above – of Cellino being not exactly skint, but cash-strapped enough to prevaricate – is being proved true.

Another possible version of reality, though, is that Cellino, a downy bird if ever there was one, is determined not to be taken for a mug; determined not to pay up meekly when others might be liable for at least some of the burden.  The money that Haigh is demanding was put into the club at a time when GFH – as they loudly and repeatedly trumpeted – were still Leeds United owners, for as long as Cellino’s purchase of a controlling stake was still held up by Football League red tape.  As has since become clear, however, GFH throughout this time were resolved to avoid meeting the club’s running costs and relied instead on what they claimed were contractual provisions supposedly obliging Cellino to meet those costs – even though the success of his purchase was in extreme doubt. Cellino differed on that matter; although he had been funding the club, he cut that off when the League initially ruled against him, a ruling that made his chances of ultimately owning Leeds United seem remote indeed.

At this time, Leeds were therefore grubbing about for money wherever and however it might be obtained, in order to keep the ship afloat.  Can Cellino, who must have seen his prospects of becoming owner receding by the hour, really be held totally responsible for the debts incurred in running the club and paying the bills during this awkward limbo period when nobody really knew what was going to happen?  His verdict on that is likely to have been: Not on your Nélie.

Another relevant consideration is of just how well GFH did for themselves during the time they were in charge of Leeds.  The bald fact of the matter is that Gulf Finance House has reported a net gain of $6.46m (£3.8m) from the investment bank’s time as majority owner.  This will, of course, include those last few weeks of uncertainty when they basically backed away from any financial responsibility, pointing fingers at just about anybody else, but refusing to meet business costs from their own purse.  Elementary arithmetic shows that the money they avoided paying not only had to be provided from elsewhere – but also that the cash thus saved by GFH will appear as a significant part of that £3.8m GFH net gain.

Profiting from an abdication of responsibility?  You can bet that Signor Cellino is not too impressed by that – especially when he is now faced with a bill from one or more of the people who did pay up when Cellino was hamstrung by the Owners and Directors test – and when GFH were pouting and sulking and claiming that, despite being owners, it wasn’t their responsibility.

It is also a fact that, as part of the deal whereby Cellino’s Eleonora Sport bought a 75% stake in Leeds United, GFH have retained a 10% stake “in order to take advantage of future revenues” – in other words, because they wanted to make damned sure that they would get a fat slice of the cake as and when Leeds United return to the Premier League.  This will be seen by some as just good business practice – but it means also that GFH are still a part of the entity which now faces a winding-up petition – and yet they are apparently showing absolutely no sign of wishing to contribute towards the settling of that matter, even though the debt was incurred on their watch, due to their unwillingness to meet owners’ responsibilities at that time – and despite the fact that they were telling anyone who would listen that they were still in charge.

So now we have a situation whereby Cellino, having already stumped up millions during his brief time as owner, to settle legacy debts and repel winding-up orders, is faced with yet another bill – one incurred while he was not yet owner and one arguably attributable to the fact that the nominal owners GFH had put their wallets away and abandoned their financial responsibilities.  The same GFH who recorded a fat profit from a time in which they managed the club in a cack-handed way, the results of which are now at Cellino’s door.  And the same GFH that remains one-tenth owners of Leeds, ready to profit in that proportion from any future success, but seemingly unwilling to take anything like 10% of the responsibility for the currently pending litigation.  Does that seem remotely fair to you?

Football is business – big business.  But it’s not simply that.  It’s also an emotional matter, with complex questions of loyalty and commitment very much to the fore.  GFH remain on board at Leeds United – but it appears that they are here simply as parasites, unwilling to help or assist their host in any way, intent merely on sucking away greedily when the good times come around again.  That’s a deeply unattractive position to adopt, and the better it is recognised and understood by the fans, the worse it will reflect on GFH who, presumably, still have some interest in retaining a good name in the business world if not in the more parochial football sphere.

Cellino’s silence and inactivity in respect of David Haigh’s winding-up petition should really be seen in the light of the GFH stance – and not as any sign of poverty or lack of commitment on the Italian’s part. Massimo is no mug and it could well be the case that he is preparing to fight over this, even if the amount of money involved is small beer to him.  If GFH really are prepared to “lie low and do nuffink” until such time as there are dividends to be reaped on their 10% holding, then it’s laudable on Cellino’s part to stand up to them and make them pay up on their responsibilities, if possible – instead of simply allowing them to sit tight and reap a fat reward at some future date.  Surely fighting such unfairness has to be the right and proper thing to do.

The bill is due; it was incurred under GFH while they were cocking a deaf’un to the club creditors – including the playing and general staff.  Now it’s landed on Cellino’s doormat, and when he looks around, he sees only parasites – not partners.  That’s a tawdry and disgusting state of affairs.

If Massimo Cellino is prepared to contest this current matter on that basis, then this blog is of the opinion that he deserves the support of all Leeds United fans in bringing GFH to account.  Good luck to him in this – and also in the greater battles ahead as he looks to restore Leeds United to the game’s top table.

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Leeds United MD David Haigh on Transfers and Stadium Development

Click here:  Leeds United MD David Haigh on Transfers and Stadium Development

An upbeat interview from the charming and urbane Mr Haigh, who promises an exciting time ahead and commits to supporting manager Brian McDermott in the January transfer window.  Well worth listening to – and even an unabashed cynic such as myself couldn’t fail to be impressed by the enthusiasm in the man’s voice when he talks about the club which he has, apparently, supported since boyhood.  Developments in both the stadium and the transfer situation will be awaited with bated breath – and a certain amount of that very unfamiliar commodity as far as Leeds United fans are concerned – optimism.

Daily Mirror’s Leeds United Red Bull Link is Just Their Usual “Bull” – by Rob Atkinson

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Answer: The Mirror, Sun, Mail etc etc

The ecologically-fanatical Green movement have occasionally waxed lyrical about the possibility of generating energy from methane – using the flatulent output of millions of fields full of peacefully-chewing bovine powerhouses to provide light and warmth for our homes. It’s a nice if slightly smelly idea.  The Mirror newspaper appear to have adopted their own version of this cattle exploitation concept, basing their sports journalism service, for want of a more appropriate phrase, on the more solid waste output of those noble beasts. How else to explain their continual fabrication of outlandish stories concerning Leeds United?

This morning, in a transparent attempt to up the ante after yesterday’s news of additional investment for the Elland Road club, the powers that be at the Mirror have evidently set some hacks to work to find something – anything – to muddy what seem to be unusually clear and sparkling waters for Leeds United.  It’s not difficult to take an old and tired story, polish it up a little and then serve it up as something new and tasty for the kind of undemanding and uncritical readership catered for by the trashier Redtops. Not difficult – but not particularly clever either.  It makes you wonder – don’t the writers on the Mirror have any ambitions to work for proper newspapers?  If they do, then surely their current tenuous relationship with the truth of what’s actually happening will hardly help them on their way.

For the avoidance of doubt, Red Bull are a franchise that have added several sports outfits around the world to their portfolio, but without any real attendant record of success. Their involvement tends to be characterised by getting in there, ripping up most of the traditions surrounding their purchase in favour of the appalling measure known as “re-branding” and then watching a previously independent club or team go swirling down the plughole.  This is not an approach that would be tolerated at Leeds United, a club notorious for the militancy and truculence of its support.  What seems as certain as these things ever can be, is that GFH Capital, the owners of United, are well aware of the limits imposed by that support on their latitude for instituting radical change.  But the likes of the Mirror have never let inconvenient facts get in the way of making up fairy stories as a simple alternative to reporting actual news.

A mere two months ago, this blog was relieved to hear that the Mirror was reporting as fact Leeds manager Brian McDermott’s readiness to quit Elland Road and take over the Ireland job.  Relieved, because of the reliable principle that – when the Mirror reports something as fact – it’s invariably just more of those bovine solids that they seem to find so palatable it’s positively their staple diet. Again, there was a wisp of credibility about the tale – Ireland were looking for a man of ability and integrity (in the event, they got Roy Keane instead), and the Mirror had simply followed their usual policy of adding two plus two, to arrive at thirteen-and-a-half.  You won’t ever go far wrong just by reading the Mirror and disbelieving all of it.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, it does seem that Leeds United may at last be on an identifiable and navigable path back towards the top.  A promising league position – despite yesterday’s blip – and a good manager with a decent squad and some potential to add to it in January – these are as close to good times as we’ve seen at Elland Road for many a moon.  None of which will be good news for the Mirror, the Sun and the other examples of toilet paper at the lavatorial end of the print media.  But frankly – who cares?  The truth is still out there, you just have to know where to look – and be determined at all costs to avoid the pungent Bull you’ll see in the gutter press…

Major Leeds Investment – But it May Be Jam Tomorrow for “Under-capitalised” United – by Rob Atkinson

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Haigh: investment negotiator extraordinary

After the initial flurry of excitement this morning – when first Twitter went into one of its periodic #LUFC meltdowns after David Haigh promised “great news” today and then the reliable Phil Hay confirmed it was a major investment that was being talked about – things have developed further.  First, Leeds United themselves confirmed that they had granted a period of exclusivity to an English consortium who would be making a significant investment, to be in place in time for the January window.  This in itself hardly came as a surprise to those of us who had thought Lucas Radebe’s earlier expression of interest would get things moving.  But the Leeds United statement made it expressly clear that the consortium does not involve ex-players (no Lucas) or ex-owners (no Smurf).  Phil Hay then tweeted that the United board are keen to have Lucas Radebe involved with the club, in an ambassadorial role.  Good move, though apparently it’s news to The Chief. Phew.  Busy morning.

Now though, we have an interesting expert opinion from sports lawyer Richard Cramer of Front Row Legal.  He feels that today’s news is clearly positive, but will not necessarily translate into giving United the freedom of the transfer market as early as January. Leeds United, thinks Mr Cramer, seem to be under-capitalised and need money to keep going. This view might well be supported by David Haigh’s own recent injection of a “seven figure sum” in the last week.  On the face of it, that would seem to be a superfluous move if Haigh had reason to expect that major investment would be coming into the club.  But if, as Cramer says, Leeds are still relatively strapped for cash to meet running costs – then maybe Haigh’s million or so was intended to bridge the gap between now and the completion of the consortium’s injection of further capital.

This is not to say that a bucket of cold water has to be poured all over this morning’s excited speculation about “daring to dream”.  While we may not be looking at blowing the rest of the league out of the water in this coming transfer window, it is still probably the case that Brian McDermott will have options in January, and will be able to flex a little financial muscle.

Mr Cramer feels that it is when the Financial Fair Play rules kick in and start to bite that Leeds will truly come into their own.  At that point, clubs will perforce be looking to shed players and reduce expenditure in order to comply with the regulations.  It will be a time when the “naturally big clubs” – including Leeds, naturally, because there are none bigger outside the Premier League – will have a distinct advantage because of their superior income streams.  So Leeds would benefit from operating in a buyers’ market; the cream would rise naturally to the top.

Whether and to what degree this somewhat more favourable scenario would still be warped by the parachute payments of relegated Premier League clubs remains to be seen. I’ve said before that, in any event, I’m not all that convinced about the motivations behind Financial Fair Play – but let’s face it, if in the short term it helped get Leeds back up to the top flight, I’d drop principled reservations of that nature like a hot brick – as I suspect others would also.

It’s going to be an interesting several weeks between now and the end of the January 2014 transfer window.  Will the identity of those involved in this English consortium be revealed?  Will Lucas hop aboard as Ambassador-in-Chief?  Will we be able to chuck our weight around in the transfer market?  My request has already gone up the chimney to Santa – delayed presents this year, please.  Tom Ince from Blackpool and Kevin Doyle from Wolves.  That would do nicely I think, though there will be many, many opinions and we won’t know the thoughts of the only man who counts until Mr McDermott has completed any deals he manages to get done.

Today’s news though is an overall positive, even if it isn’t going to be such a massive boost in the short term.  “Jam tomorrow” is still better than “Pie in the sky, by and by”. The signs are good for the continued revival of our club over the next couple of years or so, with a realistic chance of being back where we all know we belong, back at the top, somewhere in that time frame.  Now that is a dream worth daring to dream.

Breaking: “Major Investment” Imminent for Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

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Twitter has hit fever pitch for Leeds fans yet again with strong rumours that a big investment deal will be announced later today. This rumour appears to have a genuine stamp of truth about it, and it follows weeks if not months of on-off speculation with names like Red Bull being mentioned as well as – seemingly – most of the minor royals in several middle-eastern ruling dynasties.

There is hardly any firm information out there right now, but that situation. Could well change soon with developments expected today and rumours growing stronger by the minute that this is a major deal for the future of Leeds United. Early indications are that stadium naming rights – a notoriously thorny issue with fans – will not be assigned.

All eyes and ears will be on Elland Road, though there is the small matter of a match to be played at 90s moneybags Blackburn Rovers. It is to be hoped that the match day squad remain insulated from what will be intense speculation as to the identity of the probable investors.

I will hope to have more on this as the situation becomes clearer.

Update: Leeds United FC have now confirmed this story, stating that a period of exclusivity has been granted to “an English consortium”. They have added that no former players are involved, ruling out for the moment the rumoured participation of Lucas Radebe. Major investment though IS expected to be in place for the January transfer window.

Dare to dream! Leeds United might just be going places again. Now – about those three points at Blackburn…

Life, Leeds United and Universal Armageddon – by Rob Atkinson

One year on from Armageddon and the GFH Takeover

It seems daft now but, one year ago come the 21st December, we were all going to be abruptly vaporised.  Or at least, we were going to wake up with mild hangovers, and fail to enjoy the rest of the day.  The Mayan Calendar, source of these distressing rumours that so preoccupied us twelve short months ago, was a little lax on detail.

If the worst had come to the worst, and it’d been Armageddon time, then just think of all that Christmas shopping gone to waste, in a time of austerity too.  And all we’d had on TV to cheer us up was Big Brother and The X-Factor.  It would have been so easy to get depressed, even though as Leeds fans we’d had the enticing possibility of Middle-eastern Knights riding in on white camels, to save us from a fate worse than the mere end of civilisation as we knew it.  GFH Capital, had we but been aware of it, were the means by which we would eventually be rid of Kenneth William Bates Esquire.  Little wonder that we were a little distracted from the possible End of Days.

It was a perilously uncertain time, therefore, from two sharply differing points of view. In the mundane real world, ancient rumours were disturbingly current that everything was about to end in a most summary fashion, and people rightly or wrongly got into quite a tizz about this. On Planet Leeds United, however, such airy-fairy considerations were as water unto wine against the appalling possibility that Uncle Ken might continue to have us clutched firmly by the unmentionables in his cold and merciless talons.  It was a real worry at that time – just a year ago – and along with that nagging background concern about the planet suddenly vanishing into the awful void of space, it caused a few nails to be bitten even among normally phlegmatic Leeds fans.  Yet consider.  Let’s, as they say, look at the big picture.  Life could seem awfully bleak – until you consider the alternative.  And really, it was and is worthwhile stopping a moment to draw breath and ponder just how unimaginably fortunate we are simply to be here at all.   So – bear with me here – let’s wax philosophical a while – and see if that affects our world view, or even our appreciation of the New Order that eventually did take over, after all that stress and worry, at Elland Road.

Leave aside for the moment then the incredible miracle of having a habitable planet to live on – which as far as we know exists nowhere else in the whole of creation (as I write, and subject to any revelations NASA may be about to make from their current Mars Rover, or about the increasing number of newly-discovered but vastly distant exoplanets).  It’s long odds against us even having a suitable rock to live on – but given that we do, that’s hardly even the start of the battle.

The thing is, even given our temperate and nurturing planet Earth, it’s still vanishingly improbable that you should be alive today and able to read this.  Anyone who knows enough about the birds and the bees will be aware of the myriad possible ways genes can combine to create a living organism, from the simplest virus or amoeba right up to the most complex and beautiful form of life we know, i.e. Ross McCormack.  And if that earliest amoeba hadn’t, in the face of awesome odds, somehow come into being on a hot, wet rock somewhere, then ultimately – no Rossco.

Each of us, then, has to be thankful for his or her own unique existence; in the first place that their parents met when they did, and that they then followed a course of actions leading up to just the right place, time, and romantic ambience for our life’s journey to begin.  This is how we all came about, after all – even Mr Bates – and any departure from that chain of events would have seen us never existing.

Further, behind those parents, on both sides and stretching back generations without number, the same miraculous combination of fortuitous circumstances had to occur, and it had to keep on occurring.  Any stumble off that chance-studded path of destiny, at any time over thousands, millions of years, and we just wouldn’t be around, any of us.  No you, no me, no David Haigh, no Salah Nooruddin.  It’s that serious, this business of genetic chance.

So this is the massive lottery we have all won – in fact if you calculated the odds of a lottery win next Saturday, with one to follow it the Wednesday after, going right up to, say, Easter of the year 2084 and maybe a pools win and a tax rebate each week after that till Leeds United buy back Thorp Arch – you’d still be way, way short of the odds you’ve had to beat, just to be alive right now.  It’s true.

And not only are you here, you lucky sod – you’re a human being instead of, say, a fruit fly (I exclude our Norfolk-based readers from this statement).  What are the odds against that?  Have you any idea of the factor by which insects out-number humans?  You could so easily have been a wasp, or even Ken the Anti-Christ himself.  It’s difficult to say which is the less desirable.

What’s more, not only are you a human being, you also live in a time of relative peace and prosperity and one, moreover, in which Leeds have been Champions three times in living memory, and remain the Last Real Champions.  How many of the hundred billion people who have ever existed wouldn’t give their eye-teeth to swap places with us, with our mains water and services, our electric light and labour-saving devices, our Billy’s Bar and our information super-highway?  Or, alternatively, how many Newcastle fans, who would have to be in their mid-nineties now to remember a Title-winning Toon Army, would opt instead to be Leeds, with all our glorious memories?

We might, instead of our fortunate and cossetted existences, have emerged in the 12th century, digging privies for the feudal Lord, or for a brief and consumptive existence in the typhoid slums of 19th century London.  Or we could have been born at a time when Leeds United were a mere appendix to a footnote in football history, meriting hardly a passing mention anywhere the game was discussed. Are you cheering up yet?

On the whole, we don’t have it so bad, and as we’ve seen, there is good cause for all of us to be extremely grateful we’re here at all.  And that makes even Big Brother seem a little easier to live with, though naturally we’d draw the line at the former Chelsea owner Papa Smurf still being in charge down Beeston way.  A little philosophical rumination along these lines might have been therapeutic for traumatised Leeds fans a year back, unsure as we were whether to be more worried about TOMA or the End of the World.

And just think – if those ancient predictions had been right and we’d all been plunged into oblivion two shopping days short of last Christmas, well then – at least we’d have been spared the January sales and the heart-wrenching loss of Luciano Becchio.  Every cloud…..

Can Leeds Banish the Blues? – by Rob Atkinson

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League football resumes this weekend after the latest international break and for Leeds it’s a chance to return to winning ways on Sunday lunchtime at home to Birmingham City, who are four points and five places worse off than our heroes.  United sit 14th, 7 points behind the play-off places and, perhaps more relevantly, 8 points clear of the bottom three.

Suggestions that this is a “must-win” game for Leeds have more or less merit, depending on your expectations for this season.  Anyone who feels that there is any reasonable chance of a tilt at promotion will know that nothing less than three points will do.  The rest of us, more likely resigned to a mediocre campaign with the occasional fearful glance over our shoulders at the relegation battle, have longer-term problems in mind.  The bigger picture, we would argue, is of more importance right now than individual results; the direction of the club is being questioned after bleak failures to augment the squad by the additions of much needed talent up front and on the wings.  Nevertheless, a win is always welcome and Elland Road certainly needs to brush up its reputation as a fortress.

The Birmingham game also sees the welcome return as a special guest of Lucas Radebe, The Chief himself, one of the true heroes for Leeds fans everywhere and a man with a proud and deserved global profile.  The recent tendency of the owners GFH to look back at a glorious past strikes quite a contrast with earlier in the season when it was all “Forget about the past, the future is bright”.  Clearly, circumstances alter cases.  This visit of The Chief may well be seen as another distraction from the complaints of those whose concerns are more urgently current – and yet Leeds United icons such as Radebe should always be assured of a warm welcome home.

Whatever gloom might surround Elland Road, Birmingham under their lugubriously Geordie manager Lee Clark, have had a poorer time of it so far.  Two wins in their last 9 league games and no goals in their last three is not the stuff to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition, even opposition such as Leeds who have been sadly easy meat for Blues in the last few season with seven out of the last eight meetings going their way.  Leeds’ own current form is dodgy enough for us to take little comfort from Brum’s woes, so the match will kick off with head-to-head history perhaps the best guide – not a pleasant thought for the Whites.

For Leeds, Sam Byram is pressing for a start, seemingly now recovered from his chronic hip problems.  Midfielder Luke Murphy and striker Luke Varney are two more who will be hoping for recalls, with the make-up of the team, as ever, dependent upon the shape and formation manager McDermott deems best-fitted to deal with our opponents.  Birmingham have had injury worries over midfielder Wade Elliott and left-back David Murphy, both of whom will be assessed prior to kick off.

Both teams have a lot to prove and amends to make to long-suffering fans.  Leeds were awful at Derby, losing 3-1 – a scoreline that flattered them if anything.  Birmingham arguably fared even worse, losing at home to a Bolton side who have keeled over to almost all other opposition this term – even Leeds.  This Elland Road clash is a battle of the demoralised, and much will depend on who can deal the better with their currently reduced condition.  Leeds have apparently had a Big Meeting to thrash things out, and it’s to be hoped that the air has been sufficiently cleared for them to overcome a team that have been problematic lately.

I will put my most optimistic head on and, based on absolutely nothing but blind faith and wishful thinking, go for a 2-0 win to Leeds – which would at least buy GFH a few more days of grace and allow them perhaps to mollify a grumpy fan base with some success in the loan market.