Monday 18 November 2019

Leeds fans appeal to Football League to help avert crisis

Italian businessman Massimo Cellino's failed takeover of Leed United could leave the club in financial turmoil
Italian businessman Massimo Cellino's failed takeover of Leed United could leave the club in financial turmoil

Wayne Gardiner

The Leeds United Supporters' Trust has written to the Football League to encourage it to do "everything in its power to honour the duty of care" of the Championship crisis club.

Leeds' players on Friday morning agreed to defer 50 per cent of their wages for March after the club's owners, Gulf Finance House Capital, failed to pay them the full amount.

That came amid what appears to be another full-on financial meltdown at Elland Road, with GFHC understood to be unwilling to finance the club at all, believing that is the duty of Italian Massimo Cellino, the Italian they agreed a 75 per cent sale to in February. It is understood GFHC believes he agreed to finance the club for six months as part of that deal.

The 57-year-old was this week told by the League, however, that he could not complete the transaction because of a conviction of a tax offence meted out in Italy last week. He has formally appealed to the League and that is set to be heard next week.

In the meantime the club appears to be living hand-to-mouth and the Trust has written to the League in order to ask for care and attention to be shown.

A letter written to Andy Williamson, chief operating officer of the Football League, by Trust chairman Gary Cooper, reads: "We urgently call upon them to ensure that they will do everything within its power to honour the duty of care to Leeds United as one of their member clubs.

"We understand that as part of the process regarding a change in ownership, Leeds United have provided the Football League with detailed financial plans and proof of funds going forward.

"Further to the decision that they have made, we are sure that the Football League will be aware of the financial impact that this will have on Leeds United and therefore we demand that they take every available action open to them in order to ensure that they act in the best interest of their member club and do all that they can to ensure financial stability is maintained. With reports in the press today suggesting that players have not been paid, this action needs to be swift in order to avert a major crisis."

The letter went on to add that, should Leeds end up facing financial penalties, the League has the "power and responsibility to act in order to protect their member club rather than punish them" and that the "Football League should be using their powers to hold the club's owners to account".

Establishing contact with anyone from GHFC has proved virtually impossible this week, with the last comment being one from Leeds managing director David Haigh last week in which he said there was "no chance" of the club going into administration.

It is understood that Haigh and Hisham Alrayes - a GFHC board member and former Leeds director - have been in high-level talks regarding the club's future this week, and that a gulf is starting to appear between GFHC and Cellino, the man whose bid was preferred over one from a local consortium called Together Leeds.

Fresh conjecture followed Friday morning's news about the players' wages.

Non-playing staff received their full salaries as expected, but following a meeting with the club's hierarchy and Professional Footballers' Association officials the players accepted part payment.

The other 50 per cent is due to come after Cellino's appeal, but who pays it remains unconfirmed.

PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor told Press Association Sport: "At the moment the plan is that prospective owner Massimo Cellino will contribute towards the wages for this month, with the players agreeing to wait for the rest until the outcome of the appeal."

The appeal will be heard by an independent QC and is expected to take place within the next two weeks, Football League sources told Press Association Sport.

Following the latest developments, it is understood that hearing could now take place next week.

"The players are being realistic about the situation," Taylor said.

"It's not ideal. It's obviously better for them to have some certainty, but they are holding together and will wait for the outcome of the appeal, which could be next week.

"We've been involved with (Friday's) meeting between the club and the players and all parties are satisfied with this way forward."

Cellino was disqualified from taking control at Elland Road this week under the league's owners' and directors' test after being convicted of a tax offence by an Italian court.

The offence related to the non-payment of import duties on his boat and resulted in a fine of 600,000 euros (£500,800) imposed by a Sardinian court and the confiscation of the boat.

Cellino, the owner of Serie A side Cagliari, has claimed that because he is appealing against the court's verdict in Italy, the League should treat him as innocent until proven guilty.

To add further confusion to the situation, there were suggestions on Friday afternoon that Showsec - the company which supplies some of the club's matchday security - would remove staff from Saturday's game against Doncaster because of non-payment.

There was no comment from Showsec when contacted by the Press Association and GFHC could not be contacted.

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