Lorimer: 'the five games we must win'

Leeds are rescued, but for how long? Steve Tongue talks to an old hero about the new fight
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Jubilant as Leeds United may be this weekend after agreeing a £22m sale to a local consortium, any feeling that they have done the hard part and can now relax should be resisted. Indeed, it can be tested by checking the Premiership table and listening to one of the new board members, Peter Lorimer, who describes tomorrow's fixture at home to Manchester City as "one of the biggest games the club have ever had".

Coming from someone who played for them in a European Cup final, four FA Cup finals and various championship deciders, that assessment alone is a vivid reminder of Leeds' predicament at the bottom of the table.

Even though most of the £100m debt has been cleared by offering creditors something like a fifth of what they are owed, analysts believe it will still be difficult to meet running costs without severe pruning - notably among a squad that supporters learnt on Friday has no fewer than 15 players earning £1m a year or more, with one on £3.5m, or £67,000 a week.

Lorimer's particular responsibilities as a director will be advising on football matters and liaising with the media and fans, two groups who have not wholeheartedly welcomed the consortium because of the presence in the shadows of the former Bradford City chairman Geoffrey Richmond. Having left their local rivals in such a financial mess - administration followed relegation in the same pattern Leeds had feared - Richmond has emerged as an advisory member to the consortium, with his son David taking a place on the board.

"There's been a little bit of a witch-hunt about Geoffrey," Lorimer told Sportsweek yesterday. "His intentions are honourable and they've rescued the club, so what more do people want? There were five so-called syndicates in at the beginning of all this who all dropped out. If it hadn't been for this one, where would we have been? Administration and then goodness knows what happens. They've done a great job staying the course."

He also insists that although relegation would still have serious footballing implications, it has now been catered for: "The new board had to take into consideration a real possibility of going down, and they've budgeted accordingly. There's basically two budgets and it's not as if you've got to start rethinking if we go down. There are five massive home fixtures, all winnable, and obviously if we were to lose this one tomorrow the pressure would be piling up."

Not that tomorrow's visitors, however buoyed up by last weekend's 4-1 win over Manchester United, have much to gloat about either in terms of the Premiership or the Debtors' League table, where the current figure opposite their name is £64m. Ron Atkinson, who as a former United manager knows all about the pressures on City to keep up with the Old Trafford Joneses, first warned a year ago that they could become the next Leeds if careful checks were not applied following the resignation of David Bernstein. The previous chairman was regarded as a restraining influence on Kevin Keegan, whose managerial career has been characterised by indulgence from paymasters such as Sir John Hall and Mohamed al-Fayed.

Accounts up to the end of last season listed debts of £50m, most of it from a 25-year securitisation bond from an American investment bank, such as Leeds took out, to be repaid by future gate income. Since then City have managed to persuade the London firm Schechter and Co to stump up another £13.7m, repayable over 15 years, though the company insisted it must be spent on City's stadium rather than on players. One of Leeds' worst errors was to take on long-term debt and fritter it away on players whose value then dropped dramatically.

Keegan has now spent £50m, and directors and supporters might reasonably have expected more than a squad who had won one Premiership match out of 16 before last Sunday's triumph. He has lament-ed the introduction of transfer windows, claiming they have "killed a lot of the adventure in football". Those who have to finance the adventures at places like Elland Road and the City of Manchester Stadium may take a different view.