Football: Leeds counting cost of call-off

LEEDS UNITED were flying home from Russia yesterday afternoon counting the cost of the postponement of their Uefa Cup game against Spartak Moscow.

To accommodate the rearranged third-round first-leg game, which will be played in Sofia, Bulgaria, next Thursday, Leeds' Worthington Cup fourth- round tie at Leicester has also had to be postponed, and the club's chairman, Peter Ridsdale, estimates the combined cost at around pounds 300,000.

Leeds' Premiership game at Derby, originally scheduled for 4 December, has been put back to the following day.

Ridsdale drew a veil over seeking compensation from Spartak after a frozen Dinamo Stadium pitch left the Swedish referee Anders Frisk with no alternative but to call off the game, although the possibility has not been ruled out.

Anfield had been mooted as as an alternative to Sofia, due to Spartak having planned a 10-day training camp at Bisham Abbey before the second leg at Elland Road in two weeks, but the Bulgarian capital proved to be the preferred choice.

It means for the second time this season a visiting team is forced to play an away leg at a neutral venue. United have been down this route before as they travelled to the Netherlands to face Partizan Belgrade in the first round due to the problems in Yugoslavia.

The problem in Moscow was the ineffective undersoil heating losing a battle against temperatures of -20C, and Ridsdale said: "We realise there are a number of people frustrated and financially out of pocket. It will now be up to us to make the right decision to ensure justice is done. I don't know whether we will pursue Spartak for compensation, but we have loads of questions as a result of the last few days."

"You also have to remember we were due to go live on Sky [for the Leicester game] and so there is a great deal of money there - clearly this trip has not been cheap."

Ridsdale and O'Leary were in unison in their praise for referee Frisk, who was apparently under pressure to give the go-ahead from Spartak.

But it took the Swede less than two minutes to deliver a verdict that the bone-hard surface was dangerous, underlined by the fact that Leeds refused to train on it last night.

"I can't believe the weather and the circumstances over the last few days have been a surprise to them (Spartak)," Ridsdale said. "Our weather forecasts for this week confirmed this sort of weather and it is disappointing we got as far as today before somebody decided whether the game was playable."

The Spartak vice-president Grigory Yesaulenko criticised Leeds for their complaints about the pitch.

"The management of Leeds has behaved in the unfairest of manners," he said. "Yesterday they began to create tension, saying they were cold and that the pitch was bad. If they don't like it, let them go to Africa to play."

Yesaulenko said Real Madrid had played in freezing conditions in Kiev on Wednesday. "They were real men, [whereas] these guys got afraid," he said.

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