Leeds United, one of the great football institutions, have been in the news a lot lately – more through off the field need than on.
I was at their game on Saturday against Birmingham City when they brought their usual healthy and loyal following to a 12.15pm kick off.
I’m glad to know that new owner Massimo Cellino would have had to go through the rigorous ‘fit and proper’ test so we can ensure that nobody takes control of our beloved football institutions without its best interests at heart.
Football clubs were only meant to exist as social focal points for the community. Now they have turned into vehicles for out of town ‘businessmen’ whose sole aim is profit, ego and elevated social status.
Time after time it seems owners with no football background, no affinity whatsoever with the club and indeed a shadowy background where smoke swirls between mirrors come in and take over.
Buying a football club can be a long and protracted affair. Or it should be if done correctly.
But ‘luckily’ we have the fit and proper persons test and below, what I have been informed from a very ‘reliable’ source, is a transcript from an interview of a prospective buyer of a British club for the famed ‘fit and proper persons test’:
‘Ah Sir, we see you have put in a bid for ‘Everchester’ United.
Thats great, just a few formalities and the club is yours to do with what you like until you become bored or are indicted in your homeland for offenses against humanity but I’m sure that wont be for a good few years yet.
So we’ll just whizz through this form and then you’ll be able to wash as much money as you like through the club. After all sir, it’s your club.
First thing we need to ask;
Do you have any criminal convictions? It’s a standard question that obviously won’t apply in your case.
You served four years for involvement in a people smuggling ring but were released after two?
Well that’s hardly worth putting down is it? I’m sure the people who were smuggled were very grateful to you for the opportunity.
I’ll just tick ‘No major criminal offenses’, we can hardly call that a major offense can we?!
Is the money legally verifiable? By that I mean, and I’m really sorry to ask this but it wasn’t procured through criminal methods?
We have to ask these questions, hope you don’t mind sir.
It wasn’t? Nice and simple. That’s good enough for me, I’ll just put a nice tick in that box.
‘Do you consider yourself or the persons you are acting for fit and proper for the running of a football club?
I know that sounds a little official sir but all it really means is do you trust yourself or the people you may be acting for?
Yes? You do? I mean, of course you do, why wouldn’t you? You’re hardly likely to say you don’t trust yourself are you!! What a silly question?!!
Ok, little tick there, that’s fine.
Are there any human rights issues we should be aware of?
We know about the people smuggling charge, don’t need to mention that again, it’s not that we’re really bothered, it’s just administration and all these new regulations, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them come from Brussels and what a mess that is!!!
As far as I’m concerned what you do in your own spare time is up to you. I’ll just tick the NO box to save time and we can get the form sent off.
Right then that’s all sorted oh yes, just one more question on the finances, this is a very direct question so please don’t take offense sir, but you do have the money don’t you?
Now just need to ask about the company structure that will own the club. After all, we can’t have people just registering it in any old place like a small office in an offshore destination to avoid scrutiny can we, sir?
Ok then, So if I am understand it correctly, the Company is registered in a small office above a shoe shop in Larnaca, Cyprus? Nice place Cyprus, been there a couple of times myself.
And this is a subsidiary of a parent company held under the major holding company located in the same office above the shoe shop?
Next question, sir. Is there a guarantor?
Ok he’s the owner of the shoe shop, well you can’t go wrong with that can you?
Even if the economy is struggling people will always need shoes won’t they.
Sounds reasonable enough to me sir. Little tick there.
Well that should be about it. Oh, nearly forgot to ask; I presume the answer is no but you haven’t got any close friends that are brutal dictators have you?
Again like I said before I have no problem if you do. It’s your free time. In fact some of my best friends are brutal dictators. Actually they’re not but if they were it wouldn’t bother me.
No? Good, good, didn’t think so, it’s a stupid question.
We’ll just tick the NO box, soon be done sir, sorry to keep you so long.
Now then, one final question. This is a new section of the fit and proper test, so we can test new owner’s knowledge of the English game. After all we wouldn’t want anybody coming in not knowing anything about it would we?
That would look like they are only here for the money.
So there are several questions on the club your buying – Everchester Utd. Now sir, can you show me where it is on a map of England?
I’ll give you a little clue sir. It’s in the north-west of the country near Manchester and Liverpool.
No sir, that’s London, little further north. No that’s Watford a little further up? No, that’s Luton (between you and me you don’t want to go there).
Actually I’ve just had a thought, I suppose sir, will be commuting by private plane?
Ah, that puts a different light on it, I suppose technically it’s not important then as you’ll always be within commuting distance.
I’ll put a little note here ‘displayed sufficient knowledge of area concerned to confirm local knowledge and honorable intentions’.
Does the applicant have any business history or any previous sports club ownership?
‘Sir used to be a member of the local chamber of commerce and was also on the committee of the Larnaca regional squash association for 25 years’?
Very impressive Sir, 25 years!!
That must have given you a great insight into the running of a sports organization.
Well then that looks like everything is in order. Just one last thing, then we can go for a drink.
With your office being in Cyprus, you wouldn’t be able to sort me out for a nice couple of weeks in the sun would you?
Editor’s note: Mark Burke is an English former footballer who played as a midfielder. A player skilled at retaining the ball, he enjoyed a 15 year professional career in England, the Netherlands, Japan, Romania, and Sweden. He played for clubs including Aston Villa, Rapid Bucharest, Middlesbrough, and Wolves.
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