Leeds fans pay price of rightful penalty

August 7, 2007
By Norman Hubbard
(Archive)

At Premier League clubs, there is often talk about the 38- or 40-point barrier to secure survival.

GettyImagesNumber crunching: Dennis Wise needs 65 points for safety and 105 to win the League 1 championship.

Drop down a division or two and 50 is the requirement. For Leeds United, however, 65 will be necessary to avert relegation; for other clubs, that could almost produce a play-off place.

For Leeds, however, that is a consequence of the 15-point penalty imposed upon them, while the Football League formally and finally permitted them to take their 'golden share' and thus their place in League One.

An appeal appears inevitable after the latest development in a tale that has tested credibility. If their supporters imagine, however, that Leeds, rarely a popular club outside West Yorkshire, are being victimised, it is worth a reminder that these are exceptional circumstances.

Of the 42 clubs who have gone into administration, 41 have arranged a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA). The odd one out is Leeds, and the Football League's punishment reflects that they are the only club who did not comply to their insolvency policy.

It is a right and just penalty. Not for Leeds' beleaguered fans, but for those at the upper echelons of the club who may have assumed United were exempt from the rules that applied to every other club and whose conduct throughout the summer could, and should, be questioned.

Because the heroes of the last three months are not, admirable though they may be, the loyal, long-suffering fans or even the rival consortia whose credible bids for control of the club surely merited success, but, in reversal of the norm, the Inland Revenue and the Football League.

As Al Capone discovered, whoever else you can cheat and defeat, you can't beat the taxman. Ken Bates may be aware of that now, too; despite initially regaining Leeds with an offer to creditors of 1p in the pound that was derisory, the Inland Revenue forced a second contest for ownership.

That, too, was concluded in Bates' favour, but without a CVA. Under the Leeds chairman's original proposals, the Inland Revenue, owed almost £8 million, would have received less than £80,000.

As businesses in Yorkshire, not to mention the St John's Ambulance Brigade, would have been compensated at the same, insulting rate, plenty would have suffered without the intervention of the Revenue (seemingly, the faceless offshore company Astor did not mind, however, asking for no return on the monies owed to them on the proviso the club went to Bates).

Under the former Chelsea owner's revised offer, creditors should at least get an 11 percent return. It is thought that the Inland Revenue, refusing to let it lie, are pushing for a return of up to 53 percent, depending upon the club's success on the field.

Yet when, with apparent haste, administrators KMPG oversaw the initial return of Leeds to Bates, it does not require a particularly active imagination to suggest he would have relished the prospect of seeing sacked manager Kevin Blackwell or his rival, former director Melvyn Levy, deprived of the money they claimed.

It has still not been established definitively whether, after two years of publicly trumpeting supposed improvements, Leeds' finances were in so dire a situation or whether this was an opportunistic attempt to rid themselves of debt.

Moreover, the timing of Leeds' descent into administration, thus rendering a 10-point penalty at the end of last season irrelevant to an already-relegated club, indicated a feeling that both the system and enemies had been beaten.

The Football League, emboldened by the Inland Revenue, have ensured otherwise. Moreover, Leeds' traumatic summer, a direct result of their disputed takeover, has hampered manager Dennis Wise. He now estimates 105 points will be needed for promotion but, unable to strengthen until the golden share was granted, began the week with a mere 14 players. They do not include a senior goalkeeper, while Wise has barely half a defence.

Leeds' pre-season contained a solitary win and they go to Tranmere on Saturday with two of their contracted midfielders, Jonathan Douglas and Robert Bayly, plus trialist David Prutton, who Wise can now sign, all suspended. Wise's is an unenviable task, and it could yet culminate in League Two.

While he can hardly be faulted for the events of the summer, a better manager than Bates' old Chelsea crony would have preserved Leeds' Championship status. Simon Davey and Phil Brown inherited still tougher situations at Barnsley and Hull respectively, and both clubs survived.

GettyImagesKen Bates: Not the most popular person in the city.

It is inevitable, therefore, that chants of 'get the Chelsea out of Leeds' have been a feature of pre-season friendlies, though one also featured a bizarre shoeless protest. While Wise hardly represents the supporters' ideal manager, they were directed mainly at Bates.

By presenting himself as Leeds' sole saviour, he has personalised the club to, in the eyes of many, an unacceptable degree. Hence the 'love Leeds, hate Bates' faction. Yet, under the auspices of KPMG, the club has twice been awarded to him. It is a reason why the administrators' reputation has taken a dent and why the entire bidding procedure, particularly the involvement of offshore companies who refuse to divulge details about their membership or motives, requires investigation.

But while the authorities have been criticised for not implementing the 'fit and proper person' policy to bar anyone from owning clubs, the Football League have, in the case of Leeds, operated a 'fit and proper procedure' plan.

Football clubs cannot operate outside the laws of the land, or ignore their responsibilities to debtors and society as a whole. Given their significance in the community - in Leeds' case, in one of Britain's leading cities - it is vital they operate with transparency and honesty.

It is hard to say that has happened at Elland Road this summer and so, while the 15-point penalty is unfair on their unfortunate supporters, it, and by extension the Football League and the Inland Revenue, should be applauded for their stringency.


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