British Football: corruption in progress

By Tony Attwood

I have, from time to time, let slip that I feel that corruption is rife in football in England – and indeed elsewhere.   The little affair of Lord Triesman and his allegations about bribes in the world cup didn’t come as a surprise, nor did it that it took FIFA just a week or so to prove that it wasn’t true.

This is how it goes in football. Football, as far as I can see, is bent.  Not because players are nobbled for matches (although I have my doubt about a number of referees) but because the whole essence of life in certain clubs leads to corruption.

So here’s a couple of stories of football corruption which takes in Derby, Leeds, Barnsley and Cardiff.  There’s no Arsenal in this – save that it is a warning of just where things can go to if you put crooks in charge, or if you go over to the “winning at all cost” approach.

I’m choosing the Derby story, despite the fact that it is a year or two old, because what the judge said seems to me completely apposite.

In Derby’s case the game was this: these highly professional men (accountants etc) took over the club that was in debt for £3 and put themselves in positions of power (chief exec, finance director etc) and then paid themselves £125,000 plus VAT each. They “forgot” to tell the board that this was what they were being paid.

The money was then channelled around various off shore accounts and companies. When found guilty, the judge, Ian Alexander QC, said of the three, “You, like so many people who commit business and professional crime, somehow give the impression that you do not believe the rules apply to you, and that what you do in your business life is perfectly acceptable.

On 20 July 2009, two of the directors, Messers Mackay and Mackenzie were both sentenced to 3 years in prison by Judge Alexander at Northampton Crown Court.

Peter Ridsdale is not in prison and there is no suggestion that he should be, but from the outside, and I stress with no inside knowledge of his world at all, he looks to me like a man who could be described through Judge Alexander’s words.

Ridsdale has a company that is under investigation, and has just left a club that may be called “in total disarray”, but he is not in prison.  His story however does cover a number of different clubs.

Peter Ridsdale was chairman of Leeds United and took them to the semifinal of the Champs League. As such he was considered a “good thing”.

But the issue of Ridsale is the issue of football.  How much are you willing to pay for that success?  Does it matter if such success as you had is sustainable?

And let’s not make a mistake – what Ridsdale did for Leeds was success.  From nowhere they got to the semis of not just the Champs League but also UEFA Cup.  And from there they went down into the 3rd division.

In order to get success Ridsdale borrowed money the club could never repay unless it was in the Champs League every year.  You may note that  Arsenal, who have had 10 years of Champs League don’t gamble on that.

When it was all revealed Ridsdale said his only mistake had been to allow David O’Leary to spend so much money.  When he went in 2003 Ridsdale Leeds was over £100m in debt – a figure unheard of at the time.  (Incidentally it shows how far we have gone in seven years.  Now we accept £750m debt as the norm for a Champs League semi-finalist.)

Later Ridsdale published United We Fall: Boardroom Truths About the Beautiful Game which said that David O’Leary was involved in “a secret deal with bung agent Rune Hauge to take Rio Ferdinand to Leeds.”

He also said that Pino Pagliari, another agent had offered illicit payments when Robbie Keane went from Leeds to Tottenham.

After Leeds, Ridsdale took Barnsley on a similar ride, helping them at first, and then taking them to the edge.

Then he went to Cardiff City, and left the club at the end of this season just finished.  It is hard to get exact facts on Cardiff’s finances at the moment, as a winding up order is pending, (their fourth this season, which either suggests that they are bankrupt or else exceptionally careless).

Among other things, Ridsdale is reported to have borrowed against the play off finals money, so there is no extra income to come in now, to pay off Revenue and Customs.  (Had Cardiff failed to get to Wembley then they would not have been able to pay that loan back, and that would have been the end, there and then.)

He also raised money from the fans to buy new players by selling advance season tickets, and then when it was collected in, used it to pay off debts that he had previously denied existed.  Because those tickets were so discounted, the amount of money they will get in for the next season in division II will be severely depleted.

In the end your run out of future

We may note a similar tactic in both the case of Leeds and Cardiff – borrowing against the future in order to secure success.  It can be done, but it doesn’t allow for continuity.  In the end you run out of a future to borrow against.

Mr Ridsdale owns WH Sports Group.  WH charged Cardiff £1,359,490 consultancy fees.  Then, despite earlier statements that the firm had assets of £500,000 it went into liquidation with debts of £373,555 to the Revenue, and £26,444 to Barclays, and no assets of note.  After the liquidation Ridsdale paid himself £7500 for preparing a statement of affairs for the Revenue.  The liquidation of the company is work in progress.

Will Cardiff survive? It has a lovely new stadium, but is hopelessly in debt with no chance of paying off its debts.  Unless someone wants to buy it, it is going to go the way of Portsmouth.  For what its worth, I suspect Hull will go that way too.  And then we have the forthcoming court cases of Arry, and the other fellows from Portsmouth – although of course everyone is innocent until proven otherwise.

As I said, you run out of future.  Man U and Liverpool are doing much the same.  Overall it doesn’t look good.


If you want to make a comment for the first time read this


If you are here for the first time you could also read:

Our attempt to read between the lines of the Arsenal statement on Cesc

Our view on the future of football, well part of it

Try to see some funny things in the Arsenal statement on Cesc

Or read more about Tony’s attempt to keep the past alive

And if you liked the link above you could buy this




16 Replies to “British Football: corruption in progress”

  1. As examples of being shockingly bad business and possibly even fraud these ring totally true. However other than gaining temporary advantage by living beyond ones means (like most of the western world) I don’t see how it can be labelled corruption of the sport. Were the outcome of games subverted? As I have yet to see any tangible ( and provable) evidence of that. Lots and lots of incompetance at all levels of the game yes, some of it probably criminal, but we still seem to be short of our Chicago Black socks moment.

    Sorry if I am missing something or being overly pedantic but corruption goes to the heart of the sport, whereas incompetance seems to be more specifc/ local in it’s consequences. I’m not excusing it, as the preseling season tickets supposedly to buy player and using the money for other purposes is absolutely deplorable, but it dies not seem to me to prove the corruption of the sport as much as that of the individuals involved.

    Interested to hear others views.

  2. The problem with this site is that you dont focus on issue at hand, rather you chose to create excuses for failure.

  3. As far as I know, don’t Cardiff now have new owners? Some Malaysian businessmen or something who took over just before the play-off final? However, I do think that Peter Ridsdale should’ve been banned from ever controlling a football club again after what he did at Leeds. Any person who has controlled a football club and ruined it should not be let near another club, ever.

  4. BOOZY – what, pray-tell, IS the issue at hand? The Fabregas non-transfer? The Campbell lack of contract renewal? The stunning lack of brain cells in your pointless brain?

    This site has no problem – it has a a clear and voluble mission statement which it adheres to pretty concisely.

    It has a large readership, who understand the brief and purpose of the site (it’s at the top, dumbass), and admire it’s wider view of the world of football.

    It takes a special breed of self-serving spastic to come on here and criticise a site for doing what it said it would do, when it is them who have the choice of what they read and why.

    The only problem this site has is that dickheads come across to express their anger at their own raging impotence. Except you are NOT impotent: You have your own choice!! READ something you like, SAY something constructive, BE a happier, and better imbecile.

    What’s that you say? You ARE impotent.

    Eh? EH?!


  5. Boozy,
    what failure can there be when there are no football games played?
    I think we focussed on other issues like the Cesc statement (even 2 articles on this). But I think we cannot go one for ever saying Cesc will not go.
    But if you like it : Cesc will not go to Barcelona this summer unless for a holiday.

  6. Ta Dec.

    I’m just glad Boozy is so impotent. Saves the rest of us from the dumbass screwed up kids he can’t father and then drive to misery.

    It’s no wonder he drinks so much.

    So sad.


  7. Tony

    Unless the Press is printing lies, I thought that this new bloke at Cardiff had paid off the stadium debts. He’s supposed to be worth £800m and the debt was, according to media print, £40m.

    I agree with your story, but there is a story in football which says that many clubs buy success with debt, assuming that a rich guy will then want to buy the club and hence wipe the debts out.

    Ashley at Newscastle. Mr A. at Chelsea wiped out Bates’ debts (of course he’s run up a different magnitude of debt now, but still loose change compared to his wealth).

    Do you possess up to date figures on Cardiff’s debt re was the major debt the stadium debt or are they other huge debts as well?

  8. one thing i have repeated again n again is that give the source of ur article or source where one can cross-check…..otherwise ur no good than those mindless newspaper vultures….

  9. Rhys Jaggar – The thing is that rich sugar daddy’s don’t wipe out the debt. Abramovich is owed the money he has put into Chelsea in the form of an interest free loan. I believe the Arabs at Man City have done something similar and the guy at Villa is making a packet out of “propping up” the club.

    If these guy’s came along and gifted the money it would be different but I can’t think of many examples with the exception of Jack Walker at Blackburn.

  10. @Cricket,

    You have access to the internet why don’t you get off of your half pike and do some research and “cross reference” maybe then you will actually add something.

  11. great piece tony, but the comment section is great too.

    i say it’s just not critic.

    and boo to boozy.

  12. “British Football: corruption in progress”


    “How to spend approximately one billion squid on what is a relatively expensive football stadium,that doesn’t have a football pitch.” At random, compared to TNHOF or The Allianze Arena. Bleachers moaning about the extra costs, demolition, the site, don’t count I’m afraid.


    “Why would the FA choose a Design and Build contractual model whilst building a structural form that has never been built before at that scale in human history?
    Anyone who’s put up some shelves or a shed after a time since their last efforts at ‘craft’, and had to stop, and think about what they are doing, would understand the vast folly I am referring to.

    In order to have made such a decision/selection for such a contract with such an ambitious structure,
    the client, the FA must have been:

    a) Bonkers,

    b) Befuddled,

    or c) Bent as a U-Bend

  13. Rotten as it is , I can’t remember football ever being “clean”.
    This has been going on ever since the game turned “pro” back in the early days of the Football league. As we all know , it was only thru Sir Henry Norris’ powers of “persuasion” that WE ended up in the First division. Of course,to all of our Gooner’s glee, we proved him more than right by staying there ever since, with plenty of titles to add.
    The titans at FIfA are all raking in the bucks while we the fans continue to clock in and out of our daily work routine eagerly awaiting our teams next game in the EPL or CL.
    Even our own legend “Stroller” got unstuck taking a bung.
    As long as there are bucks to make,of which there are a few in football, there will always be those who make them and take them.
    Nothing new in what you are telling us ,we’ve all known it all along.
    Will Blatter change it for the better of those millions of “global” fans, or Platini,or Beckenbauer. Boll***s!! they will.
    As the old Chinese saying says “That’s football” .

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