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How Leeds splashed out on goldfish and jets

Tim Rich
Wednesday 21 May 2003 00:00 BST

They cost a tiny fraction of the millions spent by Leeds United under Peter Ridsdale, but the chairman's goldfish are likely to become as much a symbol of a failed regime as Imelda Marcos' shoe collection or Marie Antoinette's cakes.

Tucked away among the invoices that astounded Professor John McKenzie, his successor as Leeds chairman, was one for £240 for goldfish to adorn Ridsdale's office. The fish have gone, but the damage inflicted by other items of what McKenzie described as "indulgent spending" will take years to eradicate.

Ridsdale was known by football agents as "Father Christmas" because of the way he would accede to the most outrageous of their demands, but McKenzie, a professor of economics, confessed he was shocked by the way Leeds spent vast sums on frivolities.

A club whose Stock Market value was a little over £12m and who were £79m in debt by the time Ridsdale finally resigned at the end of March, ran a fleet of 70 company cars, which cost £600,000 a year. Directors spent £70,000 in one year on private jet travel, and invested a similar sum on recruitment fees to bring a senior management figure to Elland Road. He quit six months later.

And if Manchester City believe Kevin Keegan has received poor value for Robbie Fowler since his transfer in January, so have Leeds. The Yorkshire club is paying £500,000 a year toward his wages at City.

All this, however, pales compared to the money Ridsdale spent sacking his managers. David O'Leary, fired for failing to take Leeds into the Champions' League, and Terry Venables, dismissed before he could take them into Football League, were paid a total of £5.7m in compensation.

"The club has been guilty of indulgent spending on several fronts," said McKenzie, who has been in his post for barely six weeks. "This is unacceptable at any time, but especially when the club was losing vast amounts of money. It is a simple business but the complexity lies in sorting out the borrowing and the frivolous nature of the expenditure."

McKenzie, who hopes to be meeting with Harry Kewell's agent next week to discuss a new contract for a player who has long interested Manchester United is keen to ensure the negotiations do not ape those over Lee Bowyer, who might have been sold to Liverpool for £9m last summer but eventually went to West Ham for around £100,000 with just six months left on his contract.

The chairman accepted that the club's near-terminal slide under Venables was accelerated by the former board's mismanagement. "I think the malaise running through the business maybe had an effect on the playing side last season. I've no intention of knocking the players," McKenzie said, "but no one has been given strong incentives, including the management, and that rubs off."

Peter Reid, who succeeded Venables in March, earned a £500,000 bonus for keeping Leeds in the Premiership, although the removal of assistant manager, Eddie Gray, head coach, Brian Kidd, finance director, Stephen Harrison, and operations director, David Spencer, will eventually trim £2m a year from the wage bill.

McKenzie described Leeds as "like an oil tanker that was heading straight for the rocks", adding, "the trouble with oil tankers is they're two miles long and they don't turn around in two minutes."

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