At five o’clock this evening, Swansea City were finally crowned as the champions of League One. Swansea have spent the whole of this season doing rather well out of getting quietly on with the business of winning matches whilst playing some of the best football to be seen in England outside of the Premier League. Matters at the top of League One, however, had been rather taken out of Swansea’s hands by the behaviour of Leeds United over the course of the season.
When Leeds finally collapsed at the end of last season, the administrators appointed took a somewhat idiosyncratic on the best way forward for the club. Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs were champing at the bit and looking to secure a winding up order against the club. The Football League were so concerned at the state of affairs at Elland Road that they withheld the “Golden Share”, effectively threatening to expel them from the League unless they got their house in order.
What happened next has never been satisfactorily explained. With Ken Bates holding out for as low an offer as possible in the club’s CVA (in the first place, he threatened to close the club unless creditors accepted an insultingly low offer of one penny in the pound against Leeds’ entirely self-inflicted debts), the administrators the put the club up for sale, in a blind auction with just five days before bids had to be submitted. There were rival groups interested in buying Leeds United, but any businessman buying anything would need longer than five days to go through due diligence processes and calculate a reasonable offer for the club. Bates was, effectively, the only person that could win the auction.
The behaviour of the administrators (and of Bates himself) must have caused considerable alarm within the Football League. The League won’t allow clubs to exit administration unless they’re doing it unless “under exceptional circumstances”, and this was what Leeds were doing. The League sanctioned them to keep their place, but with a fifteen point deduction for breaking the rule in the first place. There were rumblings of discontent, but Leeds exited administration and started the season. More details of this are available here. Then, out of the blue, Ken Bates confirmed that he was planning to take the Football League to court. Few people actually believed that he would. There are probably quite a lot of people that would like to ask him a few questions under oath.
In the end, arbitration was the result. Many believe that Leeds were simply trying to get some of the points back. When the legal challenge was raised, they were in a slump that threatened to leave them short of a play-off place. Every little helps. The matter was dragged out until this afternoon, and the timing of the decision was largely forced upon all concerned – it had to be announced before the last day of the League One season, which is on Saturday. In the middle of all of this, the innocent parties – the likes of Swansea City and Doncaster Rovers, who have played the season to the assumption that Leeds’ points deduction was fair, and may have been punished had the arbitration committee made a decision that restored any number of their points to them.
In the end, they decided that the League had not acted unfairly. It would, indeed, be “fair” to say that the arrangement that Leeds have to absolve themselves of their debts (paying their creditors, including – in the form of HMRC – you and I) has allowed them to be big spenders this season by the standards of League One. They haven’t done badly out of it at all, to the extent that it would still leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many supporters of League One clubs if Leeds were to scramble up through the play-offs. For now, though, the congratulations should stay with Swansea City and whichever one of Doncaster Rovers, Nottingham Forest or Carlisle United follows them up. Considering the financial travails that so many of League One’s clubs have had to endure this season, it might be nice to actually concentrate on the football there for once.