Sunday, April 20, 2008

Another Fine Mess

Recent season have not been kind to Leeds United, they have almost successfully turned themselves into a footballing equivalent of British Leyland. I suppose I should own up from the beginning and admit that Leeds is not a club for which I have much sympathy with or for. Following the red United from Manchester, having bricks thrown at me whilst trying to gain entry to Elland Road once and having a parent who was a Leeds fanatic, meant their every setback was cheerful footnote to my match day.

Indeed their subsequent relegation from the Premiership in 2004 was the only saving grace from a woeful season for my own United. So their continued spiral towards the outer regions of the English league, economic downturn, farcical boardroom shenanigans and dodgy ownership you would have thought would have been an endless rainbow.

As inevitable relegation form the Championship became a certainty at the back end of last season, their club owner voluntarily placed them in administration, “to save the club” and they were docked 10 points and sent to League One. A strange thing then happened, the other league clubs got the hump with Leeds for their legal, if morally unpalatable, decision to enter administration. Committees were called, men with large stomachs eyed up lunch expenses, eccentric persons with blazers huffed and puffed and Leeds were docked a further 15 points, so they began the current season on -15.

Now I really don’t know the rights and wrongs of the case. I freely admit that I chuckled when the announcement was made, but here is the thing, Leeds then appealed (as was their wont). So what then happened? Yes you perceptive mind has probably nailed the rivet to the steel, nothing happened. Everything was swept under the carpet, hidden on the top shelf and suspended in time until we reach the end of season with 4 games remaining.

Only in what can be described as a lunatic decision; the appeal is just being heard. Let us put a time scale to this, Leeds were docked their points on August 4th 2007, it is now the middle of April 2008. Does it really take that long to successfully conclude an appeal? More worrisome, is that if it does – why? More troubling still, who in the game’s governing body is allowing this to happen?

There is almost a whiff of the West Ham controversy of last season, when without putting too fine a point on it, West Ham were effectively “fined” an award of twenty-five million pounds for lying and cheating.* The spark to that incident also occurred in August and the final hearing for some unexplained reason waited until April before deciding any points penalty would be unfair on their clubs. Thank god these lawyers weren’t at Nuremburg!

Whether Leeds are guilty for infringing on League rules is not really the issue, but delaying the final decision until just before the conclusion of the season is unfair on Leeds and the other clubs in that division. If Leeds is given any of their points back, then the whole nature of the table changes, in some permutations dramatically so. How can that possibly be right or fair? Common sense alone would seem to suggest that it wouldn’t be the case, but then again as we are dealing with football administration perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised at the shambles that is just around the corner. It is once more a powerful damning of how the game is inadequately run in England.

Leeds’ current plight is somewhat self-inflicted due to their economic ineptitude at the start of the 2000s. They gambled with their futures and it all came horribly unstuck, which led to player fire-sales, relegations and laughter all abound by their rivals. By the end of 2007 season their plight was so perilous they had twice been bought by Ken Bates. Supporters must have thought things could not get any worse!

Yet there must be sympathy with their fans (this really is not a phrase I ever thought I would utter) because they have been tossed around like limp lettuce leaf in salad bowl. As usual when those in power in England involve themselves in the running of the game, the fans are the ones who always suffer. Whatever the results of the appeal are, the decisions should have been made many months before so fans of Leeds and other clubs could get to grips with the outcome long before the season is almost finished. Sadly that would have been too blindingly obvious and easy for English football to understand.

*West Ham were fined five million pounds for their contravening of Premier League rules. Yet because they stayed in the division they are annually awarded thirty million pounds as a basic sum from television revenue. When adding higher income rates from sponsorship, no wonder West Ham thought they had got a result. The only fair outcome would have been to have had points deducted, but then "blindingly obvious" is nothing but an oxymoron to the Premier League.

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