Recently I’ve been asked directly by a few people, and seen other messages on social media, why I and others cannot just forget about last year’s accounts and previous management successes and failures and just “enjoy the ride” since the club is being more successful than in previous years and we are now in 5th place just like in 2006 when Ken Bates guided us there.
My answer is that I am able to enjoy the ride and still keep a weather eye looking around me. I’m sure it is not just me who is blessed with the ability to do more than one thing at a time.
I’ve also interacted recently with people who don’t accept my views on the state of the club and don’t seem to be able to accept that all football clubs have good bits and bad, strengths and weaknesses, areas to improve and areas where improvement is finished, needs to adapt to changing environments and needs to consolidate: in other words they do not seem blessed with the ability to accept a balanced viewpoint that highlights good bits and bad alike and I keep getting pressured to make a pronouncement that hides the bad bits “under the carpet” and only give good news; similarly other people apply pressure to me trying to get me to do the opposite and ensure I give no hint that the club is actually better now than previously in even the smallest degree.
I can’t accede to pressure from any of these people because it is built into my DNA to be fair and balanced: I’ve said in other articles that it is up to the reader to apply their own weights to the facts I highlight and for them to form their own balanced conclusion – theirs may be different to mine and I’m happy to debate this with anyone who refrains from making personal remarks to try to score points for whatever reason.
I’ve made it very plain how much pleasure this season has given me and it has awakened happy memories of Champions’ League football under Peter Ridsdale and other times before that. Thoughts of Peter Ridsdale demonstrate well why I, and others like me, feel it is important to keep a weather eye looking backwards at the financial record while still enjoying this season’s successes.
Doing a little research for this essay brought me to a Guardian article from 2014 written at the time Massimo Cellino was approved by the Football League as able to take-over Leeds United and I’m going to quote from it to explain why history is important (I hope the Guardian are Ok with this as I haven’t asked them!). The article starts with an anecdote that amused me so let me share that first.
I post this not only because it made me laugh but because Lee Bowyer was a divisive player during his time at Leeds: some loved his footballing abilities and were single-minded enough to ignore any other the off-field events that went with him; conversely, others felt his baggage was such that it masked any footballing strengths and wanted him gone at any cost. This single-minded approach is still prevalent today in discussions about Massimo Cellino and the club’s financial and operating record – some people are blinded to the balanced view for whatever reason.
The next clip I’m putting forward shows, to me, the innate folly of being blind to the full facts of what is going on around you: if you spend all your time looking at the stars you’ll walk into a lamp-post.
I acknowledge that there were people back in the early 2000’s who were worried about the club’s spending (I was one of them) and am well aware that social media back then was still too far into its infancy to be effective in changing the club’s stance. I’m also aware that the Supporters’ Trust came into being in 2002 to try to give people like me a platform that the club could benefit from, although I was too busy working at the time to take it up.
The quote above refers to many different people and times long before Massimo Cellino came onto the scene and serves to remind me just what a basket-case this club has been viewed as over the last decade or so.
The quote also strengthens my belief that even when we are doing well on the pitch, as we were around the year 2000, we, as responsible fans, should never go to sleep and let such a financial decline happen to our club again. We must, in my opinion, analyse every scrap of information, however historical it may be, to ensure we guard against any future owner dragging us down into administration and liquidation again.
And so we move into Cellino’s tenure: I’ve made no secret of my belief that GFH dragged the club down to the point of bankruptcy and I’m on record wondering if they traded while technically insolvent. Cellino, in my eyes, took over a club that needed emergency surgery, from immediate blood transfusions (cash) to removal of some body parts (not just unnecessary employees but GFH policies, unaffordable and failed internal structures, revision of transfer policies and wage structure, etc.). That does not mean I support the exact actions Cellino took nor am I saying he took the actions I or others would have taken: I’m saying some action was needed, trimming in some areas, changes to other areas and strengthening of the good bits.
The quote above from the Guardian has some merit but I’d disagree with anyone who believes the club would have gone bankrupt without Cellino: clearly, it would have gone bankrupt if no one had stepped in and Cellino was just one of a few standing ready at that time. There is no denying though that the cash he quickly injected stopped the club going bankrupt and there is no point to arguments over whether other potential owners had the cash to rescue the club – we’ll never know, what we do know is that Cellino had the cash in 2014 that the club needed and he used it.
The above clip quotes “relevant people” without saying who these are and I don’t know either: what does strike me is that there are a number of fans today who believe we can stop worrying about and monitoring the club and its financials because it is their unsubstantiated belief that we could never go back to the cliff edge we did with Ridsdale et al and latterly GFH. To try to ignore the possibility of a repeat in the future I find puerile.
The T-shirts mentioned above may have been replaced since the article was written by other methods of protest but it is clear that Cellino’s reign has been conducted with many people just as worried as people were before he arrived.
There is a maxim that time is a great healer, and in some cases we should “forgive and forget” the past: however, in my mind we should not forget the precipice that GFH almost pushed us over.
And so I come to wind up this short essay: I want to leave the reader in no doubt about some things and I’m well aware that my words have in the past been taken by some on social media and twisted to mean something I didn’t say. So I’ll try and pick my words carefully.
In my mind Leeds United was virtually bust when Cellino arrived: he’s told me that himself and I agree with him.
The club’s finances have moved a long way towards safeguarding the club during Cellino’s tenure: the two most significant reasons perhaps being that GFH have cancelled debts and interest payments due to them without the club paying them a penny and that Cellino (via Eleonora Sport Limited) has added equity money to pay for the club to continue. I applaud Cellino in his success in both these actions.
Cellino has also told me that when fans stay away from the club and starve it of matchday and merchandising monies they hurt the club: this is undoubtedly true just as it hurts the owner who has to provide more of his own cash to keep the club going. I fully agree with him and I am sure that the increased gates we’ve had this season, as fans return to watch the club, will have a positive effect of the club’s finances and require less money from the owners this season than previously.
So to be even more clear of my stance, I believe Cellino has done much good in the club but not all that he has done has been good.
Not everything in the club is rosy though and for this reason I cannot shut my weather eye: as others have said, the club’s cash position is not strong and after buying GFH’s shares ESL’s cash position is not strong either; ESL have already had to borrow almost £5m at 5% interest rate to fund their project and it is little signs like this that can indicate a return to the bad old days.
Any business person will tell you that losses and expenses do not make a company go bust – a lack of cash is what makes a company go bust. Others have agreed with me that Leeds United’s accounts show a worsening cash position and demonstrate a need to ensure a suitable investor is ready and waiting in the wings should this event occur. Whether that investor is ESL with new money added to its funds or a new investor completely is irrelevant to me.
Therefore, I’ll keep a weather eye out for “lamp-posts” while still enjoying the “stars”. I’m sure others will be doing the same as me and I’d like to invite anyone who doesn’t want to hear my views on the path the club is forging to un-follow me on Twitter, stop quoting and misquoting me on Facebook, block me or do whatever they feel best, but please stop trying to make me say things that are untrue or do not form my view.