Will Leeds fans soon be march­ing off to­gether?

IF CELLINO SACKS McDER­MOTT AGAIN IT COULD BE GOOD­BYE

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

WE’VE been through it all to­gether. And we’ve had our ups and downs. We’re gonna stay with you for­ever. At least un­til the world stops go­ing round.

So goes the sec­ond verse of March­ing on To­gether, the song belted out by Leeds fans at El­land Road for the last 40 years. And un­til last week­end, they prob­a­bly thought they re­ally had been through it all.

Then came Mas­simo Cellino, his er­rant lawyer, and 24 hours of em­bar­rass­ment all but un­prece­dented in English foot­ball.

We all know the story. Cellino, also the owner of Serie A side Cagliari, be­lieved he’d bought the club and promptly sacked Brian McDer­mott on the eve of a match against Hud­der­s­field. Then it turned out he hadn’t bought the club af­ter all, and by Mon­day morn­ing McDer­mott was back in his Leeds track­suit, bel­liger­ently talk­ing about go­ing nowhere.

This is the short ver­sion. The long one in­cludes far more uned­i­fy­ing de­tails. Like the fact that Gian­luca Festa, Cellino’s choice as the new Leeds man­ager, signed an unknown Ital­ian player and then changed the team on Fri­day night.

Wages

Or that McDer­mott was “sacked” by Chris Far­nell, a lawyer act­ing on be­half of Cellino and sub­se­quently es­corted from El­land Road.

Or that Cellino has ac­tu­ally been pay­ing the Leeds’ play­ers wages for a month, with cur­rent own­ers GFH Cap­i­tal un­will­ing to stump up any more cash.

So it goes, as ever it has, for English foot­ball’s most abused, down­trod­den and dys­func­tional club. Yet again, their mis­ery was played out in pub­lic. And yet again it seems they will be left with an owner who is far from ideal.

Cellino has been de­layed, but he is on his way. Con­tracts have been ex­changed. No other bids are on the ta­ble. None are even in the pipe­line.

And GFH – who have spent some £20m in a sin­gle year – want out now.

The only pos­si­ble im­ped­i­ment is the Foot­ball League’s Own­ers’ and Di­rec­tors’ test, for­merly the fit and proper per­son test and pre­sum­ably re-ti­tled be­cause it failed ut­terly to pre­vent un­fit and im­proper own­ers from get­ting their grubby mits on clubs. Cellino will pass it, like ev­ery­one does.

That is de­spite his cur­rent be­hav­iour. De­spite sack­ing 35 man­agers in 20 years. De­spite mov­ing Cagliari 500 miles from the is­land of Sar­dinia to within spit­ting dis­tance of Slove­nia.

Fraud

De­spite con­vic­tions for fraud in 1996 and false ac­count­ing in 2001. De­spite even be­ing the sub­ject of an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion on mis­use of pub­lic funds. Past con­vic­tions? Un­der the rules of the Own­ers’ Test, they are spent. The on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion? In­no­cent un­til proven guilty.

The rest? Well, there is noth­ing to stop the Foot­ball League in­sert­ing a clause that stops du­bi­ous char­ac­ters buy­ing clubs. They can ban any­one they like.

But they won’t be­cause they don’t want rich men – and some­body at­tempt­ing to buy a foot­ball club is gen­er­ally a rich man – tak­ing them to court. The rules of­fer about as much pro­tec­tion to clubs as a paper wind­screen.

So Leeds are des­tined to get Cellino, and all the mad­ness he will bring. McDer­mott will prob­a­bly last un­til his first de­feat. And a club that had just about found its feet af­ter a decade of mis­ery will be a laugh­ing stock again.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Cellino will bring un­told riches and sta­bil­ity. But first im­pres­sions are ev­ery­thing and his speaks of an ego­tis­ti­cal mav­er­ick happy to ride roughshod over tra­di­tion.

March­ing on to­gether? Un­der McDer­mott, per­haps. With Cellino and the in­evitable cas­cade of 10minute man­agers, the fans are more likely to march away. Even they can take only so much.

Chris Dunlavy A FRESH TAKE ON FOOT­BALL

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