It looks like Leeds United’s Ken Bates started legal action against his team’s fifteen point deduction for not following Football League rules on administration just in time because, on the pitch, his team is falling to pieces. They haven’t won a single match in their last seven games, and have collapsed from being being contenders for automatic promotion from League One to being in ninth place in the table and five points off so much as a play-off place. Yesterday, they were reliant on a late Tresor Kandol goal to salvage a 1-1 draw at home to struggling Crewe Alexandra.
Bates’ campaign reeks of his own trademark brand of self preservation, and it runs the risk of dragging the name of Leeds United even further into the mud. The circumstances surrounding Leeds entering into administration and their subsequent sale back to Bates last summer was highly suspect, and the League’s decision to dock them fifteen points would seem to indicate that they felt the same. Bates, you may remember, had initially offered the insulting amount of one penny in the pound to his club’s creditors, and the final offer agreed by the administrators still only offered their creditors a small percentage of what they were owed back. As soon as Leeds were released from what they seemed to think of as being some sort of unfairly applied straitjacket, they started spending again, and pretty heavily by League One standards.
The story took a turn for the strange last week, when the Football League’s Brian Mawhinney announced that Barnsley had decided to publicly to back Leeds in their fight. This was news to the Barnsley chairman Gordon Shepherd, who had been away from his post for a few weeks with health problems. “I have nothing against Leeds United but this is their fight, not ours”, said Shepherd, which leads one to wonder where where this particular piece of information came from. Whatever the situation with Barnsley, other clubs in the Football League have been most conspicuous in not supporting Leeds in their legal action.
What sticks in the craw is that Bates is back-tracking on an arrangement that his club signed in the summer when, desperate to get their “golden share” back in time for the start of the new season (and without this, they wouldn’t have been able to start the season and would almost certainly have closed), they signed an agreement promising that they wouldn’t enter into any legal action against the Football League over this matter. Bates, with his trademark habit of being utterly self-centred in his pursuit of anything whatsoever, is arguing that this should now be voided and rendered unenforceable. They’re trying to spin it that they are somehow the victims of a miscarriage of justice here, to the extent of starting a petition about it, which, with wearying predictability, 8,000 Leeds supporters (all of whom are presumably so desperate for promotion that they are happy to concede any moral misgivings about this) have signed.
Should they lose the legal case (and, without wishing to put a hex on it, I can’t see them losing it), the Football League should seriously consider playing hard-ball with Leeds. They should consider removing the “golden share” from them, and if that means dire consequences, then so be it. Everybody knows the circumstances of what happened at Leeds United last summer, and a fifteen point deduction was, considering what Bates got away with, an exceptionally light punishment in many ways. Football clubs may need to learn the hard way that there should be no easy ways out of financial mismanagement.