Don't touch football with a barge-pole, says ex-Leeds boss

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The Independent Online

Allan Leighton, the Royal Mail chairman and former deputy chairman of Leeds United, has warned business leaders that they should not get involved in the running of football clubs.

In an interview carried on the City video news service Cantos, Mr Leighton said his experience at Leeds United had proved to him that sport and business don't go together: "People are right - never mix."

His comments come just as there is a clamour for a business person to sort out the Football Association, following the resignation of FA chief executive Mark Palios. Mr Palios's predecessor, Adam Crozier, was hired by Mr Leighton to be chief executive of Royal Mail.

Mr Leighton joined the board of Leeds Sporting, as it was then called, in the late 1990s, becoming deputy chairman of the company in 1999. He stayed on the board until late last year, when he quit to work with a consortium aiming to rescue the ailing club.

While he was on the board, Leeds United ran up debts of nearly £100m in an attempt to turn itself into a club challenging for top honours. When that failed, it ran into severe financial difficulty and went into administration earlier this year before being relegated from the Premier League.

The administrators have said they are investigating the role of former directors, including Mr Leighton, and will pass a report to the Department of Trade and Industry later this year.

Mr Leighton, who is also chairman of as well as being a director of BSkyB and a number of other companies, said that his time at Leeds United made him "the least qualified person" to talk about developments in football.

"The one thing I have learned from the whole experience is that people are right - never mix," he said. "If you are a businessman, try not to get into sports. You can't control things and you can't influence the execution of things the way that you can do in anything else."

Mr Leighton said he agreed with the assessment of Chris Wright, the media entrepreneur behind Chrysalis, who felt bitter about his expensive involvement in Queens Park Rangers football club. "In the end, your revenue and everything is dependent on 11 players on a Saturday performing on the pitch. There is nothing you can do about it."

Mr Leighton is one of many leading businessmen who have become embroiled in football clubs. Alan Sugar, the Amstrad boss, recently sold out of Tottenham Hotspur after owning it for a decade, while Sir Roy Gardner, chief executive of Centrica, has become chairman of Manchester United.