Will Leeds fans soon be marching off together?
IF CELLINO SACKS McDERMOTT AGAIN IT COULD BE GOODBYE
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.
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.
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.