Leeds United Stories, Vol. 1

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yeovil town 1 − 2 leeds united: storms

yeovil town 1 − 2 leeds united: storms


It’s a British cliche to talk about the weather at any opportunity, but it’s not possible to discuss Yeovil v Leeds without it, so we’ll press on into the storm.

Basically, Leeds conceded fewer wind-assisted goals than Yeovil did, and therefore won the game. In fact, to call Stephen Warnock’s goal wind assisted would be a reversal; the assist was Warnock’s, the work the wind’s.

Warnock’s celebration, a straight arm up and a ‘meant that’ strut, was as funny a sight as has been seen with Leeds for a while, beating Ishmael Miller’s penalty, which contained too much defiant Leeds madness to be regarded as funny. As his shot pillocked off the crossbar and out of the ground, the hundreds of Leeds fans behind the goal did a Warnock of their own; meant that. We knew we’d put you off.

The equalising goal had been down to Stech not learning a single thing from watching Paddy Kenny struggle against the wind in the first half, and to Ross McCormack adding another clip to the highlight reel for when he collects his player of the season award. There was a deflection, sure, but there was also opportunism, vision, intelligence and execution that made sure the chance didn’t go to waste. That was McCormack’s sixth equalising goal of the season, and there’s really been nowhere else to look when Leeds have needed to dig deep this season.

Three of those equalisers have come in the last three games, when Leeds United have had to dig deeper than most teams. The wind that threated to blow Kenny’s goal kicks into the net behind him in the first half was a physical manifestation of the storms that have beset United for the last two weeks and more, with the only difference being that, for a change, the wind was on our side in the second half. 

Since negotiations to sell the club were confirmed in late November; since Massimo Cellino first toured the training ground in October; since Gulf Finance House bought the football club in December 2012, Leeds United have been playing into a headwind; but it hasn’t always been as obvious as it was against Yeovil, or as it was during the chaos of last week. There has always been a Ross McCormack to pop up with an equaliser, or a David Haigh to pop up with a platitude or two; there has always been a reason to carry on as if everything is alright. 

Ross McCormack is still here, thankfully; and somehow David Haigh is still here, too. While one has gritted his teeth and pulled the club through the storms, the other has locked his teeth in a grin of “assurance” as if nothing bad was happening. To Haigh, and to GFH, perhaps nothing bad was; David has continued to travel the world as managing-director-on-vacation, while GFH, as Nick Harris confirmed in Sunday’s papers, have been doing very nicely thank you by invoicing Leeds for ‘services rendered.’ 

Also revealed yesterday was the tidy profit GFH stand to make from the sale to Massimo Cellino, despite the millions the club has lost during their ownership; and retaining 25% of the clubs means they should be able to continue offering their services, as long as somebody there – one of Massimo’s sons, by the sounds of it – is willing to pay their invoices. The most recent, according to Nick Harris’ story, was for £2.2m; there’s no mention of how many such invoices there have been.

This business model wasn’t a secret, but GFH hadn’t applied it to football before. The famous report that was distributed when GFH took over, The Rise and Fall of Gulf Finance House, explains how during the property boom the bank profited from its investments whether they increased in value or not, by charging fees to investors for management and advisory services. Leeds United has certainly not increased in value under GFH’s ownership, and Andrew Flowers’ characterisation of the deal with Cellino as a “fire sale” doesn’t seem wide of the mark if the reports of unpaid suppliers, late wages, and losses of several millions per month are true. And yet the invoices for management fees have kept coming from Bahrain; presumably for such sage management advice as “Buy some Brazilians” and “Sack the manager at half time” or “My mate’s lad’s good, give him a game.”

And yet David, Salem and Salah have kept smiling, and Nooruddin even described the sale to Cellino as, “the creation of a long term ownership structure through partnership with sound and strategic investors to build on the foundations we have laid for sustainable success for this great club.” That’s in the Rise and Fall report, too:

“GFH shrewdly made alliances with the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) media, which resulted  in private clients rallying behind GFH projects for several of the boom years, when asset prices were inflating everywhere.  That trust was broken when investors discovered flaws in the GFH business model, and finally the financial media disclosed GFH’s inability to raise new funds or rollover existing debts, not to mention collapsing valuations of their investments.” 

Or to put it another way, GFH continued telling the media and its investors that everything was fine, even as its business model collapsed around it. Sound familiar? Even this week, as Salem Patel falteringly tried to explain to Adam Pope that the club was losing money all the time – like “most other football clubs” – and that no "financial owner, like ourselves, I don’t believe will continue to underwrite losses over the medium to long term” – essentially confirming that GFH were getting out – he still managed to chuck the word sustainable in there, before launching on a lengthy soliloquy about listening to LUTV in Bahrain and how he and David have “really grown to love Leeds United.”

Perhaps they have. Love is a complicated thing, and when Hisham Alrayes phoned David Haigh at half time during the Sheffield Wednesday game, instructing Haigh to sack Brian McDermott then and there, perhaps there was a confluence of competing forces brought to bear on Dave, forces of love, of money, of corporate responsibility, of loyalty to the bank and to the club, of the interests of the investors and the interests of the fans. Perhaps like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, David was caught up in a tornado; but rather than red ruby slippers, he only had a half-and-half scarf to help him: half Leeds United, half GFH.

Well, they can claim to love Leeds all they like. The storm has been of their making, and it’s a storm that will leave GFH with a tidy profit to show its shareholders, and storm that leaves us – assuming the Football League give him the nod – with Massimo Cellino. Who, even if you don’t prejudge him too harshly, looks like being simply another storm; and since the various representatives of GFH, International Investment Bank and Envest Ltd aren’t leaving – even though Cellino has promised “key roles” to his sons – it’s one storm added to another. 

“If I was running a Fiat 500 in Italy,” Cellino told his favoured journalist Simon Austin this weekend, “Now I have the chance to run a Ferrari.” Neither car is particularly well suited for storm conditions, and certainly neither has room for passengers, but Leeds United still retains its capacity for extended motoring and weather metaphors. 

And it still has, in Ross McCormack, one guy I’d trust to take the wheel in a gale. It’s been easy to forget, amid the ownership tug-of-war and the revelations about finances, that there is still a football team doing its best for the supporters at the heart of the club. The shrugs from Ross and Stephen Warnock when they were asked about the boardroom situation at the end of the game said that they have about as much control over the situation as the fans do, which is roughly about as much control as Kenny had over his goal kicks once they left his boot. But even as owners and weather conditions rob them, and us, of our ability to control the situation, so we keep managing to find a way to pull together and pull through. I know too much about GFH, and I don’t know enough about Massimo Cellino, but I know just the right amount about Ross McCormack. And I’ll be sticking with him.


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