the square ball week: friends and familyBack
People always get so het up about nepotism, as if it must be a bad thing. It’s “The showing of special favour or unfair preference to a relative,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and if you could just cross out that one word “unfair” without getting caught by the librarian then it wouldn’t sound like such a bad thing. You’d be left with “Helping out your family,” and who wouldn’t try to help out family if they could?
Leeds United actually has a long tradition of keeping things running in the family. The three Milburn brothers, George, Jack and Jim, had the full back positions on lock for about twenty five years in Leeds’ earliest days. Frank Gray was scoring spectacular goals for Leeds while older brother Eddie was still nicking his lunch money (probably); and one of the joys of Frank’s son Andy’s career at Leeds was hearing Eddie on the commentary talking about how “M’nephew’s done well there.” The uncle-nephew theme was a big one in the nineties, with Gary Kelly and Ian Harte actually playing together in the same team, the presence of a relative perhaps easing Gary’s chronic homesickness after his difficult early years. Rotherham isn’t really the sort of place anyone would pine for, but even so it was hard to separate the Snodin brothers, Ian and Glynn, and Ian’s son Jordan only recently left the Thorp Arch academy; while the struggle to acclimatise in Leeds after Southampton seemed to be the main reason Raymond Wallace signed for Leeds for £100k at the same time that we paid £1.6m for his twin brother Rodney.
It would be a stretch to call any of these relationships ‘nepotism,’ and perhaps with the exception of Ray Wallace, they were all good for the club. Could we really complain if Eddie one day had a word with Don Revie, letting him know that his kid brother was showing some talent and could be worth a trial? The Don, after all, made a virtue out of keeping family and friends tight-knit at Leeds; Frank only added one more to the fifteen or more brothers Eddie already had at Elland Road. Likewise, is it really a problem if Jordan Snodin found his way to our academy partly because his uncle was assistant manager at the time? He clearly has some talent, as he played regularly for the under-18s, but ultimately didn’t make the grade, as so few young players do. It’s a win-win situation; Jordan could cadge a lift in with his uncle, and if things had only been different, we could have enjoyed a third luxurious Snodin mullet in the first team.
So nepotism could have had very different results in the case, that came to light this week, of Idris Tahar. In fact, it could have been a good old fashioned Boy’s Own story, the sort of thing John Motson loves: “Young Idris Tahar there, finishing off another double hat-trick in front of the adoring Elland Road crowd; and to think he only came to Leeds because the vice-chairman owed his friend a favour!” Football history is littered with these kinds of tip-offs, a word in an ear about a player, a shy younger brother plucked from a park pitch. Although the romance doesn’t often stretch to the sons of wealthy Middle Eastern businessmen, whose mates have bought into some football club, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong, at heart, with our vice-chairman Salah Nooruddin trying to make his friend’s lad’s footballing dreams come true.
Unfortunately for young Idris, however, it seems he ain’t no Ray Wallace. Spoughts has a neat summary of what went on, while Phil Hay brings up the potential impact in the boardroom of Tahargate. The staff at Thorp Arch, it seems, were quite happy to take a look at Nooruddin’s mate’s son, but not cock-a-hoop enough to want to keep him, and that’s where, in most cases, the story would end. That the arguments since escalated far enough to require GFHC to intervene (“Remember that club we bought in England? Not the night club, the football club. Yeah, you’ll have to go, I’m not going”) and have thrown Nooruddin’s chances of becoming chairman into doubt, suggest that Salah a) can’t spot a player, b) doesn’t take kindly to criticism, and c) might consequently want to rethink the whole ‘being a football chairman’ thing.
It’s the very definition of a storm in a teacup, all this, but when an Elland Road teacup is cast to the wind it’s often a sign that the whole sideboard of mum’s best china is set to follow. Nobody really has a clue who Salah Nooruddin is – the YEP illustrated his arrival with a photo of Shaun Harvey – or what qualifications he has to be our vice-chairman (and perhaps chairman) other than that he bought 3.33% percent of the club; at current rates, that cost him about £800k. Hisham Al-Rayes of GFHC said, “Salah will be working closely with the club’s executives to achieve our visions and goals,” and spoke of a meeting he had already attended with the council, promising fruits to come in abundance from his “25 years experience in the investment business.” It would be nice to think there are other things on Nooruddin’s to-do list after “Get Mr Tahar’s lad a job,” but if he really has taken his ball home over this (or been told to by GFHC), it’s doubtful that he’ll ever get down the list as far as “Hire cleaner for European Cup.”
Which is perhaps a sign that GFH Capital’s strategy of selling off bits of the club in exchange for bits of power is not destined to succeed. International Investment Bank bought 10% and got a seat on the board. Salah Nooruddin bought 3.33% and became chairman-in-waiting. Someone else looks set to fill that role now, while Nooruddin glowers in the corner of the boardroom, wiping the egg from his face, making sure ‘Sack Neil Redfearn’ is high on every meeting agenda. If Salah’s faith in the Tahar kid’s football abilities was misplaced, what does this episode say about GFHC’s faith in Nooruddin’s ability to run a football club? Did they vet Nooruddin before selling a vice-chairmanship to him, or did they look no further than the figures on his cheque?
And what happens now? In three weeks Ken Bates will finally morph from chairman to president, and we’re no nearer knowing what the plan is once he’s gone. If Tahargate has caused GFHC to rip up the succession blueprint then it seems like the plan is, there is no plan. Are there many more businessmen in the Middle East willing to punt £880k on getting some teenager a trial and something new to put on LinkedIn? If Lassie can work out which abandoned mine Salem Patel has been trapped in since April, maybe they can ask him what to do. Or if Idris Tahar can enrol on a crash business studies course, maybe he could be chairman.