Football fans are passionate creatures. For all their differences, for all their rivalries and contrasting thoughts on certain players and specific moments in time, there is one thing they all have in common: They all have a life-long desire to see their side succeed both on the pitch and off it.
Leeds United have endured mixed fortunes in recent years, but with owner Massimo Cellino slowly correcting the mistakes of his predecessors and manager Neil Redfearn giving some of the club’s sparkling young talent a chance, things appeared to be on the up.
But there was to be another twist in the tale when it was announced that Cellino had been disqualified by the Football League and had been asked to resign from the Championship club.
The League claimed the Italian was in breach of its ‘fit and proper’ ownership test, after reportedly receiving documents from an Italian court which had found the Leeds owner guilty of tax evasion.
When rumours of the ruling began to circulate in October two Twitter accounts for Leeds fans had the idea to start a petition, asking the Football League ‘to act in the best interests of Leeds United Football Club regarding Massimo Cellino’. It reached 5,000 supporters within days but once the ruling was confirmed the numbers increased dramatically.
That petition now has over 19,000 signatures and counting and HITC recently spoke to @ChatLUFC and @LeedsFanz about how the campaign began and what they hope will happen as a result.
What made you decide to start this petition?
A fellow twitter account with similar views on Cellino to mine (@LeedsFanz) actually got in touch with me after writing an initial draft. We made some changes together and both felt very strongly that the football league were being unfair with their treatment of Cellino - especially in light of the fact that, when compared to previous owners of the club, he seems to have Leeds’ best interests at heart and appears to be gradually sorting out the terrible financial predicament previous owners had left behind at Leeds.
Did you have a number in mind in terms of signatures and has it already exceeded your expectations?
At the time of writing we have over 19,000 signatures. It would be great to get it over the 20,000 mark. We both know Cellino has a lot of support even though sometimes those opposing him shout the loudest. We know Leeds has a huge fan base and whilst 20,000 is fantastic we always believed we could get a lot of support if enough fans know the petition exists.
The petition can be found here and we urge all your readers to take a look and, if they agree with the sentiment, sign and share!
What kind of response have you had to it so far from fans and the wider footballing community?
The majority of the responses have been very positive although there is still a minority of Leeds fans that have been against Cellino from the start and criticise everything he does. A number have said ‘what is the point of the petition? – it’s a waste of time and won’t change anything’.
Well, you could say the same about any petition! Just to give an example of a successful petition and show the power that it can have, Caroline Criado-Perez felt that the people on England’s bank notes should not all be men. Had she written to the Bank of England herself they may well have ignored her; instead she got 36,500 signatures. With her and 36,499 other dissenting voices the Bank of England bowed to their demands. Millions of signatures are not necessary to make a difference!
You cite the fact that the Football League calls itself "a listening organisation" in the petition; if they were listening to you now, what would you say to them?
I would ask them to look again at the FPP test and to ask themselves if it is truly fit for purpose, especially for an owner in situ. There are directors and owners of other clubs who have done far worse than Cellino.
The crux is he is now an owner in situ and the rules the FL developed were to assess potential owners prior to purchase. Their sole aim in this matter is to assess if that person is fit and proper to run a football club - nothing else. What better way to assess this than by monitoring how he is running the club rather than looking at old evidence to make a decision. Indeed he would be able to run any club in Italy, or be a director/owner of any other UK company. Are they really acting in the best interests of Leeds United by asking for Cellino to resign only to be able to take his place again in March (when his conviction will be spent)?
There is another extremely important point to make here. Those that vote on the football league are not impartial by any stretch of the imagination. Sean Harvey was 100% correct not to vote - but we feel that none of the voters (chairmen of competing clubs) are impartial. It should all be decided upon by completely independent
For those Leeds fans - or fans of any club for that matter - who wish to sign the petition it can also be found here.