League One promotion hopefuls Leeds United have not only appeared to have lost their way on the field but are facing building pressure from their supporters around who actually owns the club. Chairman Ken Bates originally took over the club in 2005 before plunging Leeds United into administration in 2007. He regained control of the club and has overseen the beginnings of a prosperous period financially for Leeds United. It seems the ‘sleeping giant’ is finally waking up. Yet Ken Bates is not actually in charge of the club. He fronts a group of shareholders who wish to remain anonymous.
Forward Sports Fund is the name of the company which owns Leeds United football club. It is an investment fund set up in the Cayman Islands and has an issue of 10,000 shares. Who owns these shares is a complete mystery. Supporters groups and even local band the Kaiser Chiefs have come out calling for the owners to be made public. ‘99 per cent of Leeds fans will want to know who owns the club’ bassist Simon Rix told the Guardian.
What is obvious is that football ownership needs to be clearer and more regulated. Not only Portsmouth recent well publicised financial disaster but the big plans promised for Notts County under Punto Finance Group. Nott’s County are struggling to survive and it is the owners who have not exactly helped their position. In the Premier League one of the ‘Fit and Proper’ tests is that a club has to inform the public of who owns 10% of their shares. In the Football League, no such rule exists, giving us no idea whatsoever who has shares in Forward Sports Fund and ultimately Leeds United.
Ken Bates will not move an inch on calls to name some of the biggest shareholders in the group but he claims overall day-to-day running of the company. Ultimately he works for the investors and their interests which may not necessarily be to the benefit of the club. What should be made clear is that Forward Sports Fund has passed the Football League’s ‘fit and proper’ tests. Furthermore Leeds United are no longer a financial mess and on good financial grounding through Ken Bates stewardship.
But with stronger calls arriving, even through government with Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe claiming “fans of any football club have a right to know who the owners are” he suggested further that he would like to see “greater accountability” in the sport.
Leeds United fans need some clarity on this issue; distrust of secret owners is high in the West Yorkshire club following the years of misery former Chairman Peter Risdale put them through. The Football League needs to take a tougher line with these so called ‘invisible’ owners. The tests of ‘fit and proper’ ownership have to be tightened. I thought football had learnt its lesson last time when Leeds United’s world fell apart after failing to qualify for the Champions League. It appears it has had not. Ken Bates should do the right thing and tell us all who actually runs Leeds United.
Do you think Leeds United’s owners should reveal themselves?
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