Tag Archives: incompetence

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

The unrivalled support - where Leeds still rule

The unrivalled support – the only area where Leeds still rule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Angry Leeds Fans in Protest at F.L. HQ, Preston TOMORROW – by Rob Atkinson

The Football League: rubber-stamped as corrupt

The Football League: rubber-stamped as corrupt (and incompetent)

The Football League Operations Centre at Edward VII Quay, Navigation Way, Preston PR2 2YF will be the scene of peaceful protest tomorrow, as Leeds United fans turn up in force to hold the League to account for their callous and ignorant treatment of its biggest and most famous member club. The local police are fully aware of the planned protest and have liaised with the organisers to ensure a smooth and peaceful event, between 10:00 and noon on the day.

There is no need to go over the fine details of the League’s mistreatment of Leeds United here. It’s all been well-documented enough – and the League in its complacency has taken not a blind bit of notice despite all the articles, arguments and logic placed before it. Serenely ignorant, they have blundered on, determined to act in the worst interests of United, flying in the face of their own guiding principles. It is time, therefore, to turn up in numbers and to make some noise. We must devoutly hope that the media will take an interest so that, perhaps, a few ripples may spread further afield. This blog understands that BBC Look North are interested in the event – again, let us hope so.

The other purpose of the protest event is officially to present to the FL a printout of the Change.org petition (publicised on this blog a number of times in the past few weeks). This petition has now broken the 20,000 barrier. That’s not so far off an average home attendance for Leeds in these parlous days; pretty good going for a campaign that is largely confined to online media and will therefore not have reached the ears of many less tech-minded Leeds fans.

The protest in Preston is the culmination of months, years, decades of shoddy treatment of our club Leeds United at the hands of the League. Finally, we have the opportunity to be heard.

Support the petition. Support the protest. Make your voice heard. We may never get another chance as good as this.

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.