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Leeds United CEO Angus Kinnear celebrates writing another set of programme notes (© Alamy)

Leeds United CEO compares fan-led review to the death of millions (yes, really)

There you are, going about your day, encouraging football clubs to think a little more about their long-term financial health and ways to increase supporter engagement when – BAM! – a club CEO compares your ideas to the Great Leap Forward (Chairman Mao’s disastrous policy which led to the deaths of at least 15m Chinese citizens).

Even the most obsessive supporter might think that the comparison was more than a touch insensitive to those who perished, but it did get us thinking, maybe we should do a run through of Leeds United chief executive Angus Kinnear’s other claims to see how they stack up against, well, reality on planet Earth. 

Drum roll…

Angus Kinnear (CEO, Leeds United): Of the 47 recommendations contained in the Fan-Led Review of Football Governance there was much to applaud. Increased supporter consultation, heritage shares, renewed focus for the women’s game and improving equality and diversity (among others) will all be met with almost unequivocal support.

FSA response: We’re pleased you agree, Angus! Good start. And let’s not forget the Fan-Led Review’s chair Tracey Crouch has been clear that the report is not a tuckshop pick ‘n’ mix. The recommendations all work in sync and come as a package which the Government should implement. Unfortunately for Angus, he lost his way after that promising start…

Angus: We should remember that the European Super League was so repugnant in its conception and so seditious in its execution that the game and its supporters regulated it out of existence without the need for a third party.

FSA: WOAH THERE! Let’s just rewind a little bit, Angus.

Yes, we all remember the breakaway and fans everywhere kicking off about it. But you seem to have forgotten the bit where the actual Prime Minister said he would drop a “legislative bomb” to stop it. At that point the breakaway clubs seemed to come to their senses but to sell that as the Miracle of Premier League Self-Regulation™ might, just might, be overstating things a touch (again).

It’s like a player receiving a red card for a two-footed tackle and arguing they shouldn’t get a suspension for future games as they’ve learned their lesson and they’re really, really sorry and now all reckless tacklers really, really promise they’re going to self-regulate and they really, really won’t do it all again. Don’t buy it.

Angus: However, the two most significant recommendations are as flawed as they are radical. The first is the demand for independent regulation and the second is an increased transfer levy to redistribute increased funds further down the football pyramid. These proposals have been conflated to address the very separate issues of the demise of Bury, the threat of the European Super League and the takeover of Newcastle United.

FSA: The whole point of an independent regulator is that it CAN intervene in a range of issues. This is just a description of what it should be able to do. It wouldn’t be much of a football-wide regulator if it could only intervene in the financial affairs of a League Two club but wasn’t allowed to do likewise at Premier League level. (Even if Angus would quite like that.)

Angus: When it comes to the takeover of Newcastle it is inconceivable that a retired civil servant in the pocket of Westminster would have made the call that, while it is morally acceptable to trade billions of pounds worth of arms to an oppressive regime, it is morally unacceptable for them to own 11 teenage millionaires who kick around an inflated pig’s bladder.

“11 teenage millionaires who kick around an inflated pig’s bladder,” says Angus Kinnear, chief executive of Leeds United.

FSA: Is this all our club CEOs think football is? Draw your own conclusions. To all of us a football club is far, far more than that and deserves special protections. The Fan-led Review proposals would see increased transparency and an enhanced ethics test from the banking and insurance sector, which is nowadays regarded by industry as being the most stringent. If that industry is expected to submit owners to such tests, then why can’t football?

Angus: Would an increased redistribution of wealth have saved Bury? The answer is: “Probably not.” There is a false narrative that the English game is unsustainable when a glance at the league table of 50 years ago, all, bar less than a handful of teams, shows all the protagonists are still operating professionally today. Which other industry could boast such sustainability? 

FSA: An independent regulator would have pre-emptive powers so it knows what clubs are spending and, when it spots a problem, it can move fast and intervene to correct. That would have saved Bury. 62 of the current 92 clubs have gone into administration since the formation of the Premier League (see FLR report para 1.20). Is that sustainable? No. The supporters, taxpayer and local businesses pick up the pieces with unpaid invoices and tax bills.

While some football CEOs may boast of football’s “sustainability” it’s worth noting that Premier League debt currently stands at circa £4bn, Championship debt £1.3bn while total operation losses of Championship clubs in 2019-20 was £434m, including a £62m loss for Leeds United. We wonder if Mr Kinnear might have been saying something different if Leeds had not been promoted that season?

Coincidentally another CEO who was very happy to talk about football’s sustainability is Aston Villa’s Christian Purslow. Villa lost £69m in 2018-19. Do we really believe Angus and Christian would have held the same viewpoint if their clubs hadn’t been promoted to the Premier League and banked the TV money? 

Here’s a clue to Angus’ old views, from not-so-recent programme notes: “The other hotly debated topic amongst the Championship clubs was the future direction of Financial Fair Play. In a league which is drastically financially distorted by Premier League payments, there are widely differing opinions of the extent to which clubs should be allowed to finance playing squads beyond their natural means. Our belief is that supporters need to be protected from the dangers of short-term speculators and that prudent and responsible long-term financial management of club custodians should be rewarded.”

Angus: However, the most significant political discussions in English football this week did not take place in the corridors of Westminster, but at the home of Eddie and Linda Gray where I was treated to dinner. Eddie passionately regaled us with stories of his lifetime of service and Don Revie, Billy Bremner, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter et al which reinforced our wonderful and uniquely colourful history.

FSA: This is a corker. After spending 1,000 words arguing against the Fan-led Review proposals Mr Kinnear then tries to win over fans by revelling in nostalgia for a time when football’s money was more evenly distributed, fewer clubs went into administration and FA Rule 34 (removed in 1983) essentially meant clubs were not-for-profit businesses and directors could not take payment. That’s something we can all get behind… if only there was a review which recommended suchlike?!

Final whistle

It’s not often we call out a specific individual in this way but there have been a string of Premier League executives pontificating on the Fan-led Review with claims we take huge issue with, so we’re going to push back on them. For the benefit of doubt though, this is in no way a pop at Leeds United supporters, who follow their club in huge numbers, nor our fantastic affiliates and associates at the club. We’re sure many other football executives will come under our spotlight in the months ahead.

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