What next for Leeds United?

Leeds United

This week the unlikely pair of Watford and Bournemouth are celebrating their promotion from the Championship to the promised-land that is the Premier League.

Not the most fashionable of clubs, it is nevertheless refreshing to see unfancied teams succeeding and in the case of both newly promoted sides, it is fair to say that, Bournemouth, in particular, have enjoyed a real rags to riches journey over the past few years.

These two Cinderella clubs leave some genuine giants behind them for another season, none bigger than this city’s very own Leeds United.

At the seasons start I, as a glass half full kind of guy, blogged about reasons to be cheerful following the installation of a new owner for the club. However, without going into the unfortunate detail surrounding the various controversies surrounding Massimo Cellino, 2014/15 has been another in a long line of wasted seasons at Elland Road.

Had Leeds picked up half as many points as their new owner has had in column inches they would have been crowned Champions by Christmas. As it is, the farcical nature of the off field antics of owner, injured players and the managerial turnstile that has apparently been installed at Elland Road – and it has been another false dawn; another frustrating nine months of football in a division that Leeds have been stranded in for far too long.

It has, of course, been worse, with the club spending a short time in the English leagues third tier for a period since its dramatic demise since the Premiership relegation of 2007. But that is no consolation for supporters who still hark back to memories of the halcyon days of Revie, Giles and Bremner; and in more recent times the Howard Wilkinson title winning team of 1991-92.

Average attendances are still a relatively healthy 25,000 plus, the away following is as passionate as ever, and the club still has a reputation in the English game that, with the right investment and management, would surely attract a crop of players decent enough to challenge for a place in the top league once again.

But that seems a million miles away, and Leeds fans will spend the summer worrying more about survival than they will dreaming about ‘doing a Bournemouth.’ It is a crying shame for the club, its fans, for football in general – and for the city’s economy too. Because Premier League football is huge business for our hospitality sector, and provides a massive boost to the city’s marketing potential and profile as well.

The sooner Leeds can get back on track and back where they belong, the better. But not even the optimists among us are holding our breath anymore.

What next for Leeds

Earlier this week Councillor Keith Wakefield announce his resignation as the leader of Leeds City Council. I have met Cllr Wakefield on several occasions, interviewed him at the very first Downtown Leeds policy forum, and always considered him to be a steady and thoroughly decent guy.

His introduction of Leeds & Partners, which replace Marketing Leeds and the ‘Love Leeds’ brand was, to put it mildly, hardly an unmitigated success; but the city has continued to enjoy economic growth, regeneration and attract investment during his tenure.

In more recent times, Wakefield has been at the heart of driving the devolution agenda in the Leeds city region. But he seemed reluctant to take the bold step of supporting calls for a city region mayor, and appeared to settle for a watered-down version of Devo Manc for Leeds and its neighbouring local government partners.

It will be interesting to see what change in direction a new leader will bring to the party, particularly in respect of that devolution initiative, which, whatever the result of next week’s election, will continue apace.

Cllr Wakefield plans to remain on the council, and I am sure all those associated with Downtown wish him all the very best for the future.

What is going on at Elland Road?

Elland Road

From Peter Ridsdale through to Ken Bates Leeds United Football Club have endured what can most kindly be described as a rollercoaster ride in recent times. But even by its own incredible standards, this week must go down as one of the most bizarre in the clubs history.

The manager was apparently sacked on Transfer Deadline day, with the club captain going onto the Sky Sports channel to tell viewers of his own personal distress at the news. The following day, with the help of a hat-trick from the skipper, Leeds comprehensively beat Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield by five goals to one. Post match it was announced that Manager Brian McDermott had been re-instated, or perhaps never really, officially, sacked in the first place.

To put the icing on this very messy cake, a winding up petition was issued by one of the clubs sponsors on Wednesday, claiming none payment of fees.

If you are a Leeds fan all of this must be humiliating and extremely concerning. But football supporters across the country should be equally horrified and equally concerned, because it could be your club next.

The number of people who have used the phrase ‘well, it’s only…’ when talking of the decline at the hands of incompetent owners of ‘smaller’ teams like Portsmouth and Wimbledon now need to wake up and smell the coffee.

Blackburn Rovers, West Ham and Coventry City are among a growing list of great clubs who have been grossly mismanaged as the wealth and excitement of the Premier League has disguised some of the more financially questionable activity in and around the game.

It is not only ‘small’ clubs’ who can fall victim to gross mismanagement. Bigger clubs can be hit just as hard, if not harder.  Ask Liverpool, who escaped the clutches of two Yankee cowboys by the skin of their teeth. And Leeds – they don’t come much bigger than Leeds.

In the halcyon days of the 60’s and 70’s under Don Revie they conquered all before them in England, and were a whisker away from becoming the champions of Europe too.

As recently as 1992 Leeds were League champions and they won the League Cup in 1996. They were Champions League semi finalists just over a decade ago.

The attendances at Elland Road average around 30,000 even in the Championship and they are genuinely a big club – but it hasn’t stopped them from becoming a laughing stock at the hands of a series of owners who are clearly not ‘fit and proper’ people to run a football club.

It is time that the ownership of our football clubs became an issue. It is time for the Football Association to actually do something worthwhile. And it is time for our politicians to intervene.

I get that football is a business now. But it is not beyond the wit of the powers that be to come up with a set of official rules and regulations that would prevent the further abuse of football ownership in this country. Maybe it is something Greg Dyke should tackle as part of his commission on English football?

Meanwhile poor old Leeds, once the scourge of English football, and hated by supporters up and down the land, await for the next instalment of what is turning out to be a never ending nightmare for a once mighty club. And the rest of us replace that hatred of Leeds with a far more insulting emotion –pity!