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religion, booze bans & gossip: silly season reaches elland road

religion, booze bans & gossip: silly season reaches elland road

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Charles Sale of the Daily Mail is suggesting in his sport gossip column that Leeds United director Salem Patel wants to ban alcohol from the club’s ground.

Fortunately for Elland Road’s drinkers – which includes just about every Leeds fan over 18, especially after the dire football of recent seasons – this has August non-story written all over it.

Indications of a forthcoming ban at the stadium are few. Leeds United took great pride on the eve of the season in announcing a new “pouring rights” deal with Heineken, trumpeting the return of Strongbow with which United have “a strong historical connection,” according to managing director David Haigh. As part of the deal Heineken spent £250k installing new “state of the art fast pour systems” in the concourses. Whether these have actually sped up the buy/pour/drink process is another matter, but to rip them out would seem counter productive.

Apart from anything else, the restricted finances at the club, which is exploring every avenue for investment and income, mean removing a key – and I mean, really key – source of cash would be a crazy move for the business.

Sale’s item suggests Patel brought up the subject at the first home game of the season – after the pouring rights deal was signed and announced – and at board meetings, with the aim that Elland Road should “reflect the Muslim beliefs of owners GFH Capital.” But two lines after describing the club’s owners “Muslim beliefs,” Sale writes that none of the other owners agreed with Patel’s suggestion anyway. 

Patel himself is described as “deeply religious,” and the story follows a summer of controversy at Newcastle where Papiss Cisse was reported to have refused to wear shirts bearing the ‘Wonga’ logo for religious reasons; a story also heavily pushed by the Daily Mail.

The Mail’s recent record with Leeds is not good. Back in December Neil Ashton brought that paper two stories on the same day: one, a powder-puff interview with Ken Bates and his “charming wife Susannah”; two, and on the same page, a story about the private life of Supporters’ Trust chair Gary Cooper’s brother. Charles Sale himself is described by Bates as “my old adversary,” who nonetheless phones Ken “on average … about once a fortnight, digging for dirt or gossip.” 

The reaction on Twitter has been largely mirthful, with alternative Daily Mail shock headlines being tweeted at @TheSquareBall and shared around: 

Daily Mail: "GFH to rotate Elland Rd so Kop faces Mecca."Daily Mail: “some #lufc directors are thought to have visited the Middle East up to TWENTY times last year.”Daily Mail: "Thorp Arch suspected of being front for terrorist training camp"Daily Mail: GFH rumoured to have deliberately re-routed Elland Road sewage system into sanctuary for elderly squirrels 

Meanwhile, Jon Howe put the story into its proper context:

Article says Salem Patel ‘wants’ to ban alcohol. Much like I ‘want’ a house made of smoked cheese. Overruling factors will prevent both.

The months of July and August are known as silly season for the newspapers, with good reason: while everyone’s on holiday and there’s not much news, column inches will be filled with anything going. Unfortunately for football fans, this time of year coincides with the summer transfer window and the start of new campaign, and in an age of new media we’re often subjected to flimsy stories like these.

There are matters of concern around GFH: their links to the Bahrain government, and that country’s recent poor human rights record; the all too familiar confusion about the identities of our true owners; GFH’s track record of failed projects. But the personal religious views of a single club director are not a priority issue.

The story in essence is that a club director said he’d like to ban alcohol, everyone else disagreed, and someone leaked the conversation to the Daily Mail and threw in Lady Harewood’s name to give it some weight, all for a cheap headline grabber over breakfast. I suggest those of us who want to pour wine on our cornflakes as usual and move on. Cheers.

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