Doing a Leeds
"Doing a Leeds" is an English football phrase which has become synonymous with the potential dire consequences for domestic clubs of financial mismanagement, following the rapid demise in the 2000s of Leeds United F.C., a Premier League club that invested heavily to reach the semi-finals of the lucrative Champions League European competition, but in the process built up large debts. The club suffered a "financial meltdown" after failing to continue to qualify for the competition, and subsequently dropped down two levels of the football pyramid, into the third tier, Football League One, for the first time in their history.
The demise of Leeds United
As champions of the final First Division season, Leeds United were one of the inaugural 22 clubs of the Premier League, the breakaway top division league competition formed in 1992. Leeds had sustained success in the league in late 1990s, and ultimately reached the semi-finals of the 2000–01 Champions League. Their level of spending to do so however had exceeded all other clubs, and the club's debt level rose annually from £9m to £21m, £39m, £82m and peaked at around £119m, much of the money having been spent on transfer fees and players' wages. After the club failed to qualify for the 2002–03 Champions League by only finishing fifth in the Premier League, it had to make drastic savings by selling players as it could no longer sustain the debt repayments, which relied on the ticket sales and television income from the European competition.
At the end of the 2003–04 FA Premier League season, Leeds United were relegated to the Football League Championship. The financial effects continued, and with one game to go in the 2006–07 season, the club voluntarily entered administration, incurring a 10-point league penalty, resulting in relegation to League One, the first time the club had ever been in the third tier of English football. Subsequent breaches of financial rules in the summer nearly resulted in the club being expelled from the Football League altogether (a fate which coincidentally had befallen the club's predecessors, Leeds City), but they were ultimately re-admitted with a 15-point penalty to apply to the 2007–08 season. Despite further appeals, the penalty stood and ultimately cost the club promotion that season. At the end of the 2009–10 season, the club was promoted back to the Championship after a final day victory.
Leeds United's decline was not entirely without historical precedent, as Wolverhampton Wanderers had suffered a similarly high-profile decline in the 1980s, finishing 6th in the old First Division and winning the Football League Cup in 1980, before eventually dropping into the old Fourth Division by 1986. However, the decline of Wolverhampton Wanderers was widely seen as the culmination of decades of financial mismanagement rather than an extreme amount of short-term spending as was the case with Leeds.
Contemporaneous to Leeds, Luton Town, who were relegated from the Championship alongside them in 2007, suffered an even more severe decline and underwent three consecutive relegations, ending up in the Football Conference by 2009; they too had been hit by financial problems.
Swansea City, who climbed from the Fourth Division to the First Division between 1978 and 1981, finished sixth in the 1981-82 season, having led the league several times that season. However, they were relegated a year later and went down again in 1984, suffering a third relegation in four seasons in 1986 after they had almost gone out of business.
Wimbledon, who matched Swansea's record of climbing three divisions in four seasons in 1986, survived in the top flight of English football for 14 years and won the FA Cup in 1988 before being relegated from the Premier League in 2000. They were relegated from Division One four years later, after which they were renamed Milton Keynes Dons following their relocation to Milton Keynes. The renamed club suffered relegation to the league's fourth tier in 2006; and would have gone down a year earlier had it not been for a 10-point deduction imposed on financially-troubled Wrexham.
In 1998, Manchester City's relegation to Division Two made them the second former winners of a European trophy to be relegated to the third tier of their domestic league (after 1974 Cup Winners Cup champions Magdeburg in 1991); they had been European Cup Winners' Cup winners in 1970. Seven years later, Nottingham Forest became the first former winners of the European Cup (which they had won in 1979 and 1980) to be relegated to the third tier of their domestic league.
In 2004, Carlisle United became the first former members of the English top flight to be relegated from the Football League; their solitary season in the top flight was in the Football League First Division in the 1974-75 season. Two years later, 1986 Football League Cup winners Oxford United became the first former winners of a major trophy to be relegated from the Football League.
"Doing a Leeds"
The term "doing a Leeds" or to "do a Leeds" has since become synonymous with financial mismanagement of a football club with potential dire consequences. It can refer specifically to any club that fails to plan adequately for the financial impact of either failure to qualify for the Champions League, or of not adequately restructuring following relegation from the Premier League to avoid a further drop, or more generally, to the rapid demise in the relative standing of any club.
Managers and chairmen, although sometimes obliged to "chase the dream" (the inevitable precursor of "doing a Leeds"), are often forced to deny they are "doing a Leeds" in the wake of a large investment that some analysts predict cannot be afforded by their club and may overstretch their budget. Similarly, fans may fear their club will "do a Leeds" if its expensively acquired and maintained team is unable to qualify for the Champions League or is relegated from the Premier League, thereby failing to "live the dream".
Conversely, the avoidance of "doing a Leeds" has been invoked by managers to justify selling their best players in order to raise funds to stave off going into administration, which might lead to a relegation-inducing penalty. Failure to invest at the expected "normal" rate in order to maintain a particular club's league position can even be labelled as "doing a Leeds".
The phrase was notably used during the relegation of Newcastle United in 2009, one of the largest clubs to be relegated from the Premier League. Having bought the club, new owner Mike Ashley stated that his investment had in fact saved the club from "doing a Leeds". In spite of this Newcastle suffered relegation at the end of the 2008-09 season, sparking fears both before and after that the club could "do a Leeds" and drop further, into League One, without restructuring. However, the club avoided this and bounced back the following season with automatic first place promotion.
The 2010 announcement of Manchester United's need to refinance their large debt as a bond issue following their purchase by Malcolm Glazer led to questions in the media whether even Manchester United, as the most successful Premier League-era club, could be in danger of "doing a Leeds".
Shelbourne were referred to as the "Irish version of Leeds United" after winning the League of Ireland Premier Division in 2006 but being automatically demoted into the League of Ireland First Division for financial reasons.
The term has been applied to Portsmouth, who amassed debts which eventually saw them become the first Premier League club to enter administration in February of the 2009-10 season, leading to relegation in the same season after the subsequent nine-point penalty. Portsmouth were relegated to League One after the 2011-12 season of the Football League Championship, due to a 10-point deduction for entering administration; a near-identical scenario to what occurred to Leeds five years previously. They were again relegated after a 10-point deduction due to failing to pay footballing creditors, this time to League Two, in the 2012-13 season.
Bolton Wanderers are another team guilty of "Doing a Leeds", after the enjoying a successful stint in the Premier League under Sam Allardyce, which culminated in qualifying for both the 2006-2007 and 2007-08 UEFA Cup, reaching the last 16 in the latter, which included a victory against Atlético Madrid, and draws against Bayern Munich, Athletico Madrid, and Sporting Lisbon. After Allardyce's departure, the club began a steady decline, with relegation battles being a regular feature. Owen Coyle lead Bolton on a successful cup campaign of the 2010-2011 FA Cup, reaching the semi-final stage where Stoke City despatched The Trotters 5-0. This began a rapid decline that ultimately lead to relegation on the last day of the 2011-12 season. The club mounted a late charge for the play-off's in 2012-13 season, falling just short after a final day 2-2 draw to Blackpool at home. Since then performances have been poor, and the club look set to struggle for some time, now with £172.9m (2015) of debt.
A similar phrase, "Doing a Bradford" was coined by former Blackburn Rovers player Simon Garner in 2012, a scenario that he was worried could befall his former club. Garner was referring to Leeds's neighbours Bradford City, who were a Premier League club in 2001, but had fallen three divisions to League Two in 2007 and were not promoted back to League One until the end of the 2012-2013 season; the only other former Premier League clubs to have fallen to League Two are Swindon Town (in 2006 and then 2011, and unlike Bradford they immediately gained promotion back to League One on both occasions) and Portsmouth.
- "Road to ruin". The Herald (Newsquest). 17 February 2007. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
The first thing which comes to mind about Leeds United today is...their freefall, the collapse into the state they are in now because of Ridsdale's ruinous decision-making. They have become the biggest victim of all the money which has washed around English football in the Premiership era. Every other board of directors in the land is frightened of "doing a Leeds".
- "Relegated Leeds in administration". BBC Sport. 4 May 2007. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
- Lovejoy, Joe (20 February 2005). "Everton 0 Manchester 2: Irresistible United march on". London: The Times. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
those erstwhile fans turning on him now should ponder the fact that his £28m transfer probably saved their club from “doing a Leeds”, as financial meltdown has come to be known
- Robson, Leo (25 March 2009). "Damned to football". London: The Times. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
This is the fate to which Peter Ridsdale, the chairman from 1997 until 2003, consigned the club with his profligacy and risk-taking; the phrase “doing a Leeds” is now a recognized one to describe a major club that fades away
- Wilson, Paul (23 March 2003). "Catchy Toon could be a classic". London: The Guardian. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
...'doing a Leeds' has entered the language of English football. There is now an understandable worry that any club trying to haul themselves up on the Champions League ladder will crash spectacularly to earth in a couple of seasons.
- "North East’s elite outfits fear a fate as ‘next Leeds’". The Journal (njcMedia). 24 March 2009. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
the "L" word sends them into a cold sweat. What they most fear is "doing a Leeds". Leeds United famously chased the dream and fell flat on their face, a monument to mismanagement lurking in League One as a warning
- "Birmingham City in danger of 'doing a Leeds'". Daily Mirror. 28 May 2008. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
David Gold fears relegated Birmingham could end up dropping another division to League One - like Leeds - unless the club's mutinous mood changes
- "City Diary". London: The Telegraph. 29 April 2004. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
He's trying to raise £450,000 by selling a quarter of the company and as his spokesman put it: "We're doing a Leeds." What, selling all the players and going down? "No, I mean a Wimbledon."
- Dickinson, Matt (16 January 2007). "Bates still focused on grand vision". London: The Times. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
But were Chelsea not hugely in debt and on the brink of “doing a Leeds” when Roman Abramovich made Bates an offer he could not refuse?
- "Pompey pay for chasing the dream", BBC Sport, 11 February 2009. Retrieved 11 February 2010
- "Manchester City making their voice heard as United pushed all the way in Carling Cup">, telegraph.co.uk, 28 January 2010. Retrieved 11 February 2010. "The cocky pretenders always seem to push it too far when they are chasing the dream, but they are not always left eating their words."
- "Sullivan: Bitter manager wouldn't have been good for Birmingham City". Birmingham Mail (Trinity Mirror). 24 November 2007. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
As for a lack of funds, Sullivan said: "We've spent all the money we can afford as a club, without doing a Leeds United.
- Kinsella, Ben (12 January 2005). "Dean is no Messiah". London: The Sun. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
Worthington denied Norwich were mortgaging their future by signing England Under-21 star Ashton. The club plan to use part of their parachute payments if they are relegated to help fund the deal. Worthy added: “We are not doing a Leeds because the board would not put the club in that position.
- "Parry Vows To Keep Top Players". Daily Post (Trinity Mirror). 6 February 2003. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
RICK PARRY has promised Liverpool will not be forced into `doing a Leeds' by selling off their best players - even if they fail to qualify for next season's Champions League.
- "Crunched creditors call time on living the dream", guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 11 February 2010.
- "More Big Footie News". London: The Sun. 6 February 2004. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
Chelsea saved West Ham from doing a Leeds this season according to Hammers boss Alan Pardew...Pardew says the club could have gone into administration, or worse, if Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich had not bankrolled a £12.6m raid for Cole and Johnson.
- "No compensation for Robbie amid a rising tally of missed sitters". Irish Independent. 7 December 2008. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
Liverpool fans may think that if they had not lost Fernando Torres for much of the season they would now be 12 points clear. This would, however, increase the possibility of them "doing a Newcastle" something that cannot be countenanced while their American owners appear intent on "doing a Leeds".
- Stewart, Rob (15 September 2008). "Mike Ashley pledges to do 'what’s best for Newcastle’". London: The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
Ashley insisted that he had saved Newcastle from “doing a Leeds”. “Unless I had come into the club then it might not have survived,”
- "Geordies need another messiah to justify immaculate deception". Irish Independent. 2 August 2009. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
People warn that Newcastle United are in danger of "doing a Leeds" but it can be argued that when it comes to hubris, Newcastle United make Leeds look as modest as Dario Gradi's Crewe Alexandra
- "What the back pages say: The world ponders Alan Shearer's future as he cites a million reasons for Newcastle's relegation while Sbragia quits Sunderland". London: Daily Mail. 25 May 2009. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
Daily Star - Alan Shearer will tell Newcastle's money men to swing the axe and make massive changes to stop the relegated club doing a Leeds.
- "Are Manchester United doing a Leeds?". London: The Guardian. 12 January 2010. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
Scrutiny of the Premier League champions' financial results makes for eerily familiar reading. Will the weight of their debts drag them out of the Premier League in the next five seasons?
- BBC Sport