DCSIMG

HAY: UEFA asked to probe United's final defeat

INTRIGUED by news of an attempt to overturn Leeds United's defeat in the 1973 European Cup Winners' Cup final, one YEP reader got in touch to ask whether he could hear the sound of a political bandwagon in motion.

Richard Corbett, a Labour MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, has instigated the campaign and plans to petition UEFA next month, calling for an investigation into allegations of match-fixing surrounding United's 1-0 loss to AC Milan 26 years ago.

On Tuesday, I received an email questioning Corbett's motives.

"I'm always suspicious when politicians get involved with things like this," the message read. "Is it a coincidence that the European elections are being held in June?"

In fact, Corbett deserves more credit than that. I contacted him this week to ask about the petition and its roots, and it became clear that his interest in the 1973 final is much more than a scheme designed to win votes. It is a long-standing point of principle raised by a politician who has previously turned his hand to examining the administration and regulation of professional football.

Three years ago, Corbett was involved in the Independent European Football Review carried out at UEFA's behest and designed to examine numerous areas of the sport and its business.

Prominent amongst the issues discussed was the threat of corruption and match-fixing to football's integrity, and UEFA's review recommended that European institutions and governing bodies should "co-operate to the maximum extent possible...to detect and fight against criminal activities around football and in particular to deter match-fixing, fraud, money-laundering or any form of corrupt and criminal activity."

Corbett was aware of severe doubts about the impartiality of the referee involved in United's defeat to Milan in Salonika – though not a Leeds supporter, he had watched the match live on television – and asked UEFA whether, in light of their zero-tolerance approach to corruption, it might be appropriate for the organisation to examine past grievances.

Greek official Christos Michas was the man selected to referee the 1973 Cup Winners' Cup final, a match which saw United defender Norman Hunter sent off and Leeds lose to the only goal of a controversial night.

Michas' performance was unanimously slated, and suggestions he might have been bribed by Milan became altogether more credible when he was later convicted of match-fixing by a Greek court. UEFA banned him for life but did not investigate whether his offences might have extended to the 1973 final.

UEFA's response to Corbett's initial request for action seems to have been that an investigation would only be opened if new evidence against Michas was forthcoming. His petition, calling for the European governing body to "show its commitment to fair play by dealing with breaches of (the rules) seriously", wants UEFA to lead the search for information proving beyond doubt whether Michas was bribed to throw the final.

Corbett, who is originally from Merseyside, said: "I'm doing this as an MEP, not because of any tribal loyalty of affiliation.

"It's a matter of integrity in football and the question I'm asking is, if UEFA are committed to eradicating corruption from the game, should they not demonstrate that by investigating a very high-profile match which many people believed was fixed?

"I hope Leeds United's fans will support the petition but I hope fans of other clubs will sign it too because, although this happened 26 years ago, there's a principle involved."

True to form, United's supporters mobilised themselves quickly this week, adding 5,000 signatures to the petition in the space of 24 hours.

Corbett will deliver his petition to UEFA on May 16, the 26th anniversary of the final. It can be found at www.richardcorbett.org.uk/leedsunitedpetition.htm

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The expenditure involved with running an academy as successful as Leeds United's begs the question of how closely that cost was scrutinised while the club were descending towards administration.

Insolvency is a critical threat to a professional club and, against a backdrop of multi-million pound debts, few areas of business remain untouchable.

Gary McAllister made the point in his early days as manager that United's scouting network had been badly damaged by administration, and it is probable that the viability of the club's youth-development project was also discussed as their debts mounted up.

Scaling down or abandoning the academy at Thorp Arch was one obvious way of cutting United's outgoings. Leeds never suggested publicly that such a course of action was an option but the possibility must have occurred when reviews of their precarious finances were carried out.

However, as the club realised, neglecting their production line was a false economy, and the young player of the year award handed to Fabian Delph by the Football League on Sunday more than vindicated their continuing commitment.

Whatever else may have been expendable, the academy at Leeds was too precious to lose.

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The attention surrounding The Damned United – the book and the film – has, among other arguments, inspired worthwhile discussion about the esteem in which Don Revie is held. Is it true that his managerial gift has never been properly appreciated?

A newly-conducted survey listing the "10 greatest football managers" says yes.

Old Trafford boss Alex Ferguson tops the chart, with Brian Clough weighing in at number four and Revie omitted altogether.

In their wisdom, the 3,000 supporters involved in the poll rated Kevin Keegan as a finer manager than Leeds United's former boss.

What is it they say about 99 per cent of surveys?

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On his first appearance at Elland Road for the best part of five years, Alan Smith was happy to maintain a relatively low profile.

Smith joined a crowd of over 27,000 for Saturday's win over MK Dons, the only time he has set foot inside Leeds United's stadium since his contentious transfer to Manchester United in 2004, but he did not ask for or expect special treatment from the club.

Instead, the 28-year-old watched the game from a vantage point in Elland Road's gantry, high above the John Charles Stand.

Smith is persona non grata among a section of United's supporters, on account of his move to Old Trafford, but he did not look at all uncomfortable in familiar surroundings.

And he was happy enough to engage in a live post-match interview with Yorkshire Radio's match-day pundit Eddie Gray, his former coach and manager at Leeds.

Asked if he had enjoyed the experience, Smith said: "It's good to be back. It's been too long."

 
 
 

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