Daily Telegraph

THE recent history of Leeds United has been an extraordinary tale of false dawns each leading to even blacker nights. Relegation from the Premiership could become all but certain this weekend, a defeat at Bolton tomorrow and a win for Manchester City at home to Newcastle today would mean that Leeds would have to win their last two matches, the last away to Chelsea, by astronomic goal margins to overhaul City’s advantage.

Even if Leeds manage to stay up, it is almost certain that the turmoil at Elland Road will continue. In the summer transfer market they are set to sell their best remaining players such as Alan Smith, Mark Viduka and Paul Robinson.

It is also likely that the consortium that took charge of Elland Road only two months ago will leave. In fact, this summer could see Leeds with a new manager, new players, and the club’s fourth chairman and third owner in little over six months.

Gerald Krasner posed as a blunt, straight-talking Yorkshireman when he took over as chairman two months ago but has since shown his vocabulary rarely extends beyond “No comment”. He refused to discuss questions about the future of his consortium but did confirm that there would be player sales. “I said from Day One that whether we stay up or not player sales will have to take place.”

Krasner would not comment on reports that Leeds are believed to have instructed agent Phillip Morrison to hawk players round the clubs, but added: “There is a lot of interest in our players.”

What makes all this galling for Leeds fans is that this time last year they had every reason to feel the worst was over. Peter Reid had kept Leeds up and John Mackenzie, the then chairman, held out the promise that the roller coaster ride of the Peter Ridsdale regime was over.

This had seen Leeds in the semi-finals of the Champions League in May 2001 then top the Premiership on Jan 1, 2002, when they beat West Ham 3-0 at Elland Road. However, they suffered such a fall that by March 2003, David O’Leary, his replacement Terry Venables and Ridsdale had gone.

Although Mackenzie had left behind debts of more than £80 million, he had ended the extravaganza of the Ridsdale era. The much talked about goldfish in Ridsale’s office cost little — £20 a month — but Mackenzie managed more serious cuts by sacking staff, pruning the car fleet of more than 100, abandoning executive jets and booking players in four star not five star hotels. The savings amounted to £20 million.

Although the Leeds board had planned to appoint a new manager for this season, Mackenzie, impressed by Reid, kept him on. There was hope that he might repeat what he achieved in his early years at Sunderland. He failed and, after a temporary reprieve, Reid’s fate was sealed when Leeds went to Portsmouth and lost 6-0.

On Nov 10 Mackenzie appointed Eddie Gray as caretaker manager and fans welcomed him with rapture. At around the same time I went to Leeds to take part in a television debate about the club and it was remarkable that while fans did not have much faith in Mackenzie and his board they touchingly believed that Eddie, “one of our own”, would make sure Leeds would be all right.

The spectre of finding £5 million to keep the club going until the end of the season hung over the boardroom. By mid-November it seemed it had been found. Allan Leighton, the then vice chairman and chairman of the Royal Mail, agreed to put in £2.2 million and Sheikh Mubarak Al-Khalifa another £2.2 million.

But the Sheikh’s money never appeared. Over the next few months he was often pictured as riding to the rescue but it all proved an Arabian night’s tale. John Mackenzie certainly believes it was an opportunity missed. “If the refinancing had come off on November 24 it would have made a material difference and we could have survived,” he said.

There might have been another window of survival in mid-January when Leighton, backed by entrepreneur Philip Green, came up with a rescue package but this failed because the creditors decided the loss of around £65 million proposed by the deal was too big and they would not agree to it.

By this time Trevor Birch, who had successfully managed an even larger debt at Chelsea before Roman Abramovich rode in, had taken over from Mackenzie and persuaded players to defer their wages to allow Leeds to survive until the end of the season.

Any number of would-be rescuers rang him but for all of them the problem was what were they buying: a Premiership club or a First Division one? If Leeds did not stay up, that meant an immediate loss of £20 million and with Leeds never out of the bottom three the money men could never be sure.

It is interesting that while Leeds is one of the country’s fastest growing cities, and has many rich supporters, there was no rush to help. Instead a consortium led by Krasner and including David Richmond, son of former Bradford chairman Geoffrey Richmond, emerged as the only money player in town.

Geoffrey senior helped draw up the business plan and for a time acted as principal adviser claiming he was doing this for free. But when this week Geoffrey Richmond went bankrupt with debts of £3.3 million his lawyer said he had a claim on Leeds. Krasner emphatically denied this.

Of the £20 million Krasner’s consortium put in £15 million has come from Jack Petchey with the rest also likely to have been borrowed. A £1.5 million interest on Petchey’s loan is said to be due in June and is probably secured on the stadium.

Leeds may still have debts of around £40 million and there have been reports of the consortium trying to sell Leeds to Steve Parkin, another businessman. But on all such questions Krasner refused to comment, saying: “I do not do financials.”

Although Krasner says that the consortium took into account that Leeds could go down, my impression is that this is a consortium that cobbled together a deal hoping Leeds would stay up. Now that this is unlikely, they do not know where to go. If Leeds fans deserve a better team on the field they also deserve more transparency in the boardroom. They are not getting either.

© Mihir Bose


Share |
Categories: Football | No Comments »



Latest Tweets

Follow me on twitter

Home | About | Books | History | BroadcastingJournalismPublic Speaking | Contact | Website development by Pedalo