Leeds fans cling to hope of new life after cash crisis

The bad news for Leeds, for whom administration edged a step closer yesterday, is that the Premier League has the power to expel the club from England's top division for extreme financial mismanagement.

The worse news is that the Football League, which oversees the Nationwide League where Leeds could be resident next season, said it has not ruled out deducting 10 points from clubs in administration who get relegated from the top flight. Previously it had been thought that Leeds might escape such a sanction if they went into administration when outside the auspices of the Football League.

And the good news?

If there is some hope for Leeds fans to cling to, it is a belief that life does exist beyond administration. Experts think that Leeds plc is doomed but that Leeds FC will continue to exist, albeit as a diminished entity to be auctioned off to either speculators or to a fans' group with limitless optimism.

No Premiership club has ever gone into administration while still resident in England's top division. A League spokesman said: "We don't have a hard and fast policy. If a club started insolvency procedures, they'd inform us of their situation. When we knew the extent of the problem and seen an exit strategy, we'd make a decision how to proceed on a case-by-case basis."

At best, for the club, the League would accept assurances of stability and take no further action. If there were doubts about a strategy, the League might set a time limit for remedial action. If the League thought there was no hope of long-term stability or had no faith in a rescue plan, it could simply expel the "offender".

For a while yesterday, it almost seemed as if administration might not be the most dire course of action for the Leeds board. Although the club would endure a period of harsh asset-stripping and risk the wrath of creditors by defaulting, the Nationwide League's incoming sanction of a 10-point penalty would have been avoided if they went down. Football League rules state that relegated clubs can be excused the punishment.

But then a Football League spokesman said: "A points penalty is under consideration regarding clubs that go into administration in the Premier League and are then relegated."

What started as Peter Ridsdale's dream has turned into a Leeds supporters' nightmare. The root cause is the gamble that Ridsdale - and his board - took in funding David O'Leary's Champions' League ambitions. It was a simple case of spending too much money on players' fees and wages and then failing to achieve the success to sustain it. A £60m loan was needed to foot the bill. The debts grew by £21m through a complicated system of buying players on mortgage financing. Results were not good. The dream collapsed.

Instead of being contenders at Europe's top table Leeds' near future could, if the worst happens, be spent penniless, with no major players and a 10-point deduction, in the First Division. Leaving aside the points deduction, it is a scenario already endured by such former Premiership clubs as Bradford, Barnsley, Queen's Park Rangers and Sheffield Wednesday. Except none of that quartet, the last three of whom are now in the Second Division, had problems anywhere near the scale being encountered by Leeds.

While penury is probable, extinction is not. Leeds have a huge fan base and a healthy network of supporters' groups who would rally to save and support them, even in a lowly division.

"My belief, and it's a very strong belief, is that there will always be a Leeds United football club," said Dr Bill Gerrard, a professor at Leeds University Business School and also a fan who has close and long-established links to the club.

"But I don't believe Leeds United plc will survive for very much longer. We will then see Leeds United FC put up for sale by an administrator and, I hope, the next set of owners are able to show a degree of financial astuteness and an understanding of football far superior to the owners in the last few years."

The unavoidable conclusion is it would be hard to show less.

ADMINISTRATION: THE PROS AND CONS

Administration could give Leeds some breathing space to sort out its finances and allow it to play on.

Administrators - accountants who specialise in dealing with distressed companies - take on special powers to run a business, trying to reduce its debts and aiming to return it to health in the long term. A company which goes into administration is also protected from creditors who might want repayment of their money immediately - a scenario which can force businesses into winding-up completely under a liquidation order.

While administration is more flexible than calling in the liquidators, creditors are usually keen to avoid even this - although it can be used as a bargaining tool to reduce debts. However, going down the administration route is particularly controversial for football clubs because it can incur the wrath of rivals as well as creditors.

Brian Callaghan, a partner at accountants Chantrey Vellacott DFK, said: "When Leicester City went into administration, it was able to shake off a lot of debt and meant it could continue to pay the wages of its footballers. But other First Division teams were not able to wipe away their historic debts and they said it gave Leicester a strong financial advantage.

Katherine Griffiths, Banking Correspondent

ELLAND ROAD'S SHORT LIST OF SALEABLE ASSETS

PLAYERS: Alan Smith and Paul Robinson are the major assets and would be first to go, along with Mark Viduka, whose value might be diminished by his perceived attitude problem. Danny Mills' loan to Middlesbrough could become a cut-price sale and James Milner might attract offers for his potential. The likes of Dominic Matteo and Seth Johnson could be sold cheaply but will need to take huge pay cuts to be really attractive.

THORP ARCH: The physical and spiritual hub of David O'Leary's squad of "babes" who reached the European Cup semi-final, the facility is based on prime building land that might be worth tens of millions to a property developer with contacts in the local planning office. Its sale would set likely set back Leeds' development policy 10 years.

ELLAND ROAD: Not the whole street unfortunately, just the stadium. The club also owns the "footprint" on which the stadium stands, but no surrounding land. This would be unattractive to developers, who would also baulk at an estimated extra price of £15m for demolition and site clear-up on top of the purchase price.

THE CLUB'S NAME (and history): Priceless? Hardly. It could cost as little as a few million after administration. With it comes a place in the league (Premier but more likely Nationwide), a loyal fan base of 30,000-40,000 diehards and the potential, some distant day, to be a club of note again.

A FISH TANK: To be confirmed. It's not known whether the former home of Peter Ridsdale's tropical friends is still in Leeds. If it is, it comes empty, and with the sales pitch "one not very careful owner".

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