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the square ball week: surprise!

the square ball week: surprise!


One week in, two games played and two games won, more than 50,000 people through the turnstiles, and we’ve still not sold Sam Byram: this is going better than we could have possibly hoped. 

I really hope this season works out well, because I really want to be able to look back at the Brighton game as the start of something good, not the prelude to more disappointment. The joy of seeing Elland Road (nearly, darned segregation) full again, and of seeing two new signings combine for a last minute winner, was the first genuine high at Elland Road since Simon Grayson began to lose his grip. 

The Chesterfield match was as important, in its own way. There was an air of drudgery around matches last season, and the League Cup first round feels like an unwelcome interruption, but Brian McDermott’s new Leeds managed to turn what last season would have been a tedious night of imitation football hacked out by the reserves, into a genuinely enjoyable game that Leeds won. Michael Brown scored – “Get in Browneh. He remembered. He was Michael Brown. And he scored a goal,” wrote Rob Mulholland – and it wasn’t just any goal, this was a gazillion yard hyper-rocket from ten billion years BC. (What I said before about ‘preludes to disappointment’ doesn’t apply here. He’s clearly never going to do it again.) While Brown was scoring, Dom Poleon was dancing – dancing! – to celebrate a goal of his own. 

Whether player, manager or fan, you go to Elland Road this season, you come out boppin’. Or cutting a rug. Or doing the dougie, or whatever the kids do these days. Either way, it might only be two games, but it’s been good. Amitai Winehouse at The Square Ball questioned our squad depth, and The Scratching Shed’s report highlighted Noel Hunt’s slightly laboured metaphor for the hard work Leeds made of Chesterfield, but personally I didn’t care: even when Chesterfield hit the post late on, threatening to send the game into extra time, I was grateful because it gave me an opportunity to feel. After the slow, numbing desolation of last season, it was good that football was giving me the feels.

A lot of credit has gone to GFH Capital this week, and they deserve it, for setting the stage; removing Bates from the cast of characters was a great start, and everything they’ve done to get fans into the ground – and in to a good mood – has worked. But Brian McDermott deserves a lot of praise this week too. GFHC have clearly not backed him the way he would like in the transfer market, and while Project: Sign Matt Mills is stalled, he’s kept the grumbling to a low growl and got on with things. Not everything has worked: Noel Hunt didn’t look good against Brighton, we’ve conceded two easy goals that started in wide positions, and things like Aidy White’s new position – and Aidy White in general, I suppose – are still a work in progress. But he has already progressed further than the last manager did, with the same players plus three, and sent big home crowds home happy, twice. He gives every sign that he’ll keep doing it, too, no matter what funds do or don’t come his way.

That’s still GFH Capital’s job – we think. While the football visibly improves, the club invisibly changes – invisibly, at least, until someone has to tell the Bahrain Bourse and, eventually, the fans. GFHC’s parent company, Gulf Finance House, reported on their financial results for the first half of 2013, which has seen profits drop while income from management fees increase; it also showed a change in the value of Leeds United as an ‘asset held for sale’, which George Dyer examined here

With public scrutiny and a lot of fingers tapping on that confusing note 11, the Club Ownership Statement disappeared from the (all new!) offical website on Thursday morning, returning around 2pm to reflect the latest situation. The key is LUFC Holding Ltd, known as LUH, which on the last statement was 90% owned by GFHC, with 10% to IIB (whom Salah Nooruddin represents). That has changed now: 

LUH is managed by GFH Capital (‘GFHC’) on behalf of its investors.The shareholders in LUH that hold over 10% are: -i.    GFHCii.   International Investment Bankiii.  Envest LimitedGFHC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Gulf Finance House, BSC.Envest Limited is owned by Mr and Mrs Salah Nooruddin.

GFHC have gone from 90% owners to “managers” owning more than 10%; George Dyer has calculated their stake from the accounts at around 49%. And a new name has appeared, for a recent friend; we can add Envest Ltd to the long list of companies with a piece of Leeds United over the last decade, although we do at least know that Mr and Mrs Nooruddin are behind it. 

The concensus view is, there’s nothing to worry about here; it’s some restructuring that leaves GFHC still in a “management” position, and as the largest shareholders, and perhaps changes what they have to report to the Bourse. But the change is significant enough to merit an update to the Ownership Statement, which is a Football League requirement; yet while these changes took place sometime in the last three months, the Ownership Statement was only altered after the report to the stock exchange and after fans started asking questions. 

It’s a reminder that openness only goes so far, and while David Haigh and Nooruddin give a lot of interviews these days, they still choose what questions they answer and what news they release. It’s fair to wonder when, or if, we were going to be told about this. Nooruddin let a few things slip to Ben Jacobs in a long interview this week, that we might want to know more about sooner rather than later: Red Bull are not involved in talks, and there are no new investors on the horizon, nor an ‘imminent’ deal to buy back Elland Road. There are talks with “quasi-governmental bodies” about sponsorships, however, and thoughts about, “Getting players in from Algeria, from Egypt,” to make the club more attractive in the Middle East, although Salah says, “I don’t think we’re going to do it this season.”

This morning’s news about Hull City AFC, or Hull Tigers as Assem Allam now wants them to be called, while worth a smirk (rah! rah! rah!), should also be a warning. Hull spent the summer rebranding by stealth, changing the company name and the logos at the training ground, all the time denying anything was going on; now the decision has been made, Allam has promised “any possible further amendments to the club badge will be consulted upon with fans.” They’ve denied it, then changed it, and are now promising to ask before they change it again. In Allam’s world, that’s probably openness.

“Keep surprising me, Leeds,” was the closing line of my Chesterfield report. Yeah. But I’d rather we keep it to birthday-present-I-always-wanted surprises, like beating Leicester City on Sunday. They’ve had a slightly better start than us: two 2-1 wins, the first against a good Championship side, the second a good League Two side, but both were away; we’ll be venturing into the Foxes’ first home game of the season. It won’t be easy, and I’d probably take a draw, but a first away win would be a very welcome surprise. We can leave the your-mum’s-your-dad shockers to Hull.

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