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Will Leeds United Benefit From the Takeover?

Saturday 8th February 2014
Portsmouth fan Alex Dodd has seen some tough times at Fratton Park in recent seasons and he now fears the worst could also happen at Elland Road.

Seeing your favourite football club doom itself into financial ruin might be one of the worst things a fan can experience, this is coming from a Portsmouth fan. As I currently watch the Leeds United takeover spiral, I can unfortunately see similar outcomes for the Yorkshire club.

On the cusp of being taken over by convicted fraudster Massimo Cellino, current owner of Cagliari and also under investigation for embezzlement. With such criminal convictions it's baffling to all supporters that Cellino can be categorised as a fit to own a football club. But I assure you legally speaking he fits the criteria to pass the owners test; his conviction for fraud is now considered ‘spent' in English law due to his convictions being over 10 years old.

Unfit owners are the executioners of football clubs, and will continue to be so until the Football League puts a stop to this farce. Upon approval by the FL, Cellino's takeover of Leeds will be another victory for unfit owner and yet another defeat for English football. Their supporters club don't want him near their club: "Over 75 per cent of members, who have responded so far, have indicated that, given the events of last week and the weekend, they do not feel that Mr Cellino would either understand LUFC supporters or be good for the club.” Leeds fans forums will be going into overdrive this weekend.

Leeds is a classic example of a club crying out for fan ownership, after their financial implosion in 2001 they have yo-yo'd down and up the leagues. They desperately need the stability that fan ownership brings if they are to ever reach the heights of Premier League football again. All that Mr Cellino will do is create further unrest and uncertainty about what the future holds for Leeds United.

Football finance expert and Guardian writer David Conn said: “I believe a football club exists on the emotional loyalty of its supporters and therefore only supporter ownership is true to the character of a club”. Supporters are the heartbeat of every football club in the world; they are the most important aspect of any club and are the reason that teams exist today. They should be the ones at the top of clubs making the decisions, rather than benefactors who make rash decisions and don't truly love the club the way the fans do.

Leeds United could've become the largest supporter controlled club in the country overtaking Portsmouth who went into fan ownership last April. They would also reap the benefits that Portsmouth have seen too; gate receipts have risen as the fans saw the takeover as a new beginning for the club, immediate financial stability as decisions are being made in the interests of the club rather than that of its shareholders. Ultimately its because of the supporters trust that Portsmouth still exist today, I don't think that Leeds are in a crisis of that level yet but Portsmouth is a lesson of what happens when unfit owners are allowed control of a vulnerable club.

There is understandable fear of fan ownership. Could a club of Leeds United's proportions have grown and progressed under this model? People wrongly assume that the model is only ideal at non-league level, but Portsmouth, Exeter City, Wycombe Wanderers and Swansea City (20% fan owned) have shown otherwise.

The Football League has brought in regulations that make fan owned clubs easier to run. In League Two Portsmouth have to abide by the League Two Salary Cost Management Protocol, which says that a club cannot spend anymore that 55% of its revenue on wages. This is a stark contrast to 2009 where the club was spending 108.8% of its revenue on wages .

Financial Fair Play was implemented into the Championship in the 2012/13 and aims to encourage clubs to breakeven by making them set out predefined limits on losses and shareholder investments. Clubs face punishments in the form of fines and transfer embargos if they go beyond these limits. The fines that are collected are then redistributed throughout the league to the teams that have complied with the regulations in the form of a luxury tax. The FL is aiming to “establish a league of financially self-sustaining professional football clubs”.

There is also an argument that fan owned clubs aren't as successful on the field as they are off it. Well tell that to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. All of who are owned by their supporters. Real's President compares the club to Catholicism: “[Football] when you really come down to it, belongs in the sphere of human emotions. Real Madrid is a kind of religion for millions all over the world. You can't have that in the hands of one individual. It's as if the Catholic Church belonged to one person. It wouldn't be right.”

The '50 + 1' ownership regulations imposed in Germany, meaning all but two clubs have to be majority owned by their supporters has seen many enviable eyes fall on the Bundesliga. Bayern and Dortmund are two of the most well run clubs in Europe and displayed that fact last season when they faced off in the Champions League final. Obviously the current flock of supporter run clubs isn't going to reach these heights anytime soon, but those European giants had to start somewhere.

It's sad to think that most of the Premier League's team are far too invested in their benefactors and board of directors for this fan ownership model to ever be replicated in our countries top division. However it remains a possibility for lower divisions where huge TV and sponsorship deal aren't too damning. The Chief Executive of fan owned Wrexham echoes this point: "There's still an opportunity for the rich man's plaything in the Premier League, but anywhere below that, the fan-owned model can work."
Alex Dodd
Second year Sports Journalism student at Staffs Uni, lover of all things football, cycling enthusiast, gadget hoarder, gym goer and terrible cook. Family originate from Manchester but grew up in Portsmouth, somehow got roped into supporting both, best of both worlds I guess.

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