Everyone believes that their football club is the best in the land, for one reason or another, and it’s true that every club has its own individual quirks. There are some truly great football clubs in this country, who in their own special way have put their mark upon the national game. One of those clubs is Leeds United.
I appreciate that I am probably in the minority in wishing Leeds well despite not being a fan myself. I made two trips to Elland Road as an away supporter with Stockport County for two League One fixtures in April and September 2009. It is a cracking day out and from the Billy Bremner statue to the ‘cheese circle’ away stand, there is an air of greatness that still lingers around that particular part of West Yorkshire. From hearing their unique chants to revelling in the atmosphere, Elland Road is one of those stadiums that can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
Leeds have suffered a very well-documented collapse in recent years as they became the victims of mismanagement and financial implosion. Relegation from the Premier League ten years ago was followed by a further relegation to League One in 2007 and a dangerous period of administration. Having sold their assets, including the stadium, things didn’t look good for United and there was a danger that one of this country’s most iconic sporting institutions would become just another footnote in the history books of footballing recklessness.
Three years in the wilderness allowed The Whites to gradually rebuild and they returned to the Championship in 2010. A club of such size should never have been allowed to drop as far as the third tier, and the 40,000-seater stadium and widespread fanbase is a legacy of their former glory days. However, under the guidance of Brian McDermott, Leeds have made steady progress and look a decent bet to return to the Premier League soon. I guess you could say, as the chant goes, they’ve been ‘Marching On Together’.
Some bizarre events at Elland Road recently could see all of that unravel, though. In late 2012, Leeds were bought by Middle-Eastern equity group GFH Capital. Although they briefly flirted with relegation at the end of last season, McDermott has steadied the ship and things have been going okay – until this year, that is.
On 31st January, it was reported that Italian investor Massimo Cellino, who owns Serie A side Cagliari, had agreed to buy a 75% share in the Beeston-based outfit.
I was sat a friend’s house, watching Jim White’s head look like it was going to explode whilst wearing that bloody awful yellow tie on transfer deadline day, and all the talk from Leeds was about whether or not someone would come in for danger-man Ross McCormack. And then, out of nowhere, it flashed up that popular United manager McDermott had been sacked. Cellino was blocked from leaving the stadium by angry supporters, who demanded answers from their prospective new owner, until the taxi company he was travelling with pleaded with them to let them go because they were low on fuel.
No-one sacks their manager on transfer deadline day, and especially not the evening before a game. It’s madness. Two of the club’s main sponsors even pledged to pull out in protest at the treatment which McDermott received. The next morning, it turned out that Cellino’s takeover had not been completed and the lawyer that had sacked McDermott on his behalf didn’t have the authority to do so. McDermott didn’t attend their game the next day, as Leeds smashed local rivals Huddersfield 5-1 to record their first win in nine.
The following Monday, it turned out that McDermott had been reinstated; one newspaper ran a brilliant headline along the lines of ‘Leeds un-sack manager’. However, McDermott may be on borrowed time if Cellino’s takeover goes through. He’s currently awaiting clearance from the Football League, but given some of the takeovers that they have ratified in the past, it seems that Bashar-Al Assad probably wouldn’t have too many problems passing the ‘Fit and Proper Persons Test.’
It has since emerged that a second British consortium has now put in a rival bid to buy the club, and the situation remains unclear. In the space of 48 hours then, Leeds had been taken over but not been taken over, sacked and then un-sacked a manager, with their ownership up in the air – and they now also have a winding-up order against them, due to be heard in March. Who knows what’s going on? In short, Leeds United have once again become a basket case.
With the club seemingly plunged into another crisis, no doubt some fans of other clubs will take delight in their struggles and the usual references to ‘Bellend Road’ etc. will be strung out. I’ll give Leeds fans something; they have a cracking sense of humour and take a lot on the chin, but they understandably want answers.
Why should anyone else care? Well, put simply, your club could be next. The list is endless of clubs that have fallen foul of mismanagement and financial collapse, and speaking from experience, it’s not a nice experience at all when the walls of the city are burning down around you. The absolute farce going on at Hull and Cardiff at the moment demonstrates that Football Clubs are vulnerable. Leeds United, love them or loathe them, is one of this country’s greatest clubs; they were a huge European giant in their heyday, and are a massive part of the English footballing landscape. We should protect that.
Whatever happens, hopefully Leeds will find a way through the mind-boggling circumstances that they’ve been plunged into because, if they don’t, they could soon find themselves back in League One or worse very quickly indeed.
One thing is for certain, however. At present, if there’s one thing that Leeds United are definitely not doing, it’s Marching On Together.