Leeds case must lead to reform of rules, say chairmen

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The Independent Online

Leeds' 1-0 victory over Yeovil on Friday guaranteed them a play-off place, but they are more anxious about the result of the Football Association's Arbitration Panel decision on Thursday. Victory there could secure Leeds an automatic promotion spot.

Leeds are seeking the restoration of 15 points deducted by the Football League for breaking League rules about insolvency and administration. They have consistently denied any wrongdoing and argue the punishment is disproportionate.

Regardless of the outcome, several club chairmen say reform of the insolvency regulations is overdue and both the League and the FA must act before the rules are challenged in the courts, 'The Independent on Sunday' has learned. Advice given to the FA and a number of clubs has warned the regulations are vulnerable to legal action.

It is understood the FA stepped in to insist on the Leeds matter being settled in the secretive arbitration process rather than in open court after the club issued a High Court writ.

At the heart of the dispute are the football creditors' rules which insist on clubs settling debts to players, managers and fellow clubs before other creditors.The FA justify them, saying it promotes integrity in the game.

One senior League club chairman said: "The Leeds case is messy but there is a strong case for the reform of these regulations. It appears to be a blunt instrument which could be used against any of us regardless of the circumstances each club finds itself in. The punishment is mandatory and fails to distinguish between financial mismanagement and unforeseen circumstances which could happen to any club, even Premier League big boys. Unless we act soon it will end in a courtroom and with tears shed."

Sources familiar with the hearing say the outcome is too close to call. Leeds say the panel must reinstate all or some of the points. The panel could back the League, reinstate all 15 points or return some of the lost points.

Rival promotion hopefuls Carlisle United and Doncaster Rovers will assess their legal positions pending the outcome. Legal representatives of Luton Town and Bournemouth are also watching closely. Both clubs' relegation situations were affected by 10-point deductions for going into administration.

The Doncaster chairman, John Ryan, said: "If Leeds succeed it would be an incredibly sad day for football. It would mean promotion could be decided ina court of law."

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