Angus Kinnear on Leeds United crisis response, 'Sunday League' government handling and clubs channelling Stephen Hawking

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Leeds United chief Angus Kinnear has described the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as 'Sunday League' and says football will have to create its own solutions to bring back fans.

The Whites CEO addressed fans in his programme notes for today's Championship game against Fulham and expressed his admiration for the way in which the entire club had shown unity throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Leeds were the first second tier club to confirm pay deferrals for first team players and coaching staff, while the charity wing of the Elland Road outfit continued to meet the needs of local people and many fans opted to donate their season ticket rebate to the academy at Thorp Arch or accepted a bundle of benefits in place of the cash.

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"The crisis has given the club an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how united we now are," said Kinnear.

"From our players stepping up and being the first to take a wage deferral, insisting it was contingent on the backroom and office staff keeping their jobs and being paid in full; to our Foundation team who donned PPE to deliver food parcels to those who most needed it in Beeston and Holbeck; to the majority of supporters committing to keep their Season Ticket money in the club, when it was undoubtedly needed just as much at home.

"This spirit of togetherness has no doubt inspired the players whose professionalism and commitment throughout the period cannot be questioned. The same can be said for the backroom staff who have enthusiastically overcome every obstacle that the Covid-19 protocols have presented. It is hard to imagine many teams will be as well prepared for this unique run-in."

Football has made a return in the top two divisions, allowing Liverpool to clinch the Premier League title this week and presenting Leeds with an opportunity to play for top flight status.

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They lost their first behind closed doors game last weekend at Cardiff City but have eight games remaining to finish off the job of finally escaping the Championship, starting with today's visit of the Cottagers to Elland Road.

TOGETHER - Leeds United have shown unity during the crisis says Angus Kinnear. Pic: GettyTOGETHER - Leeds United have shown unity during the crisis says Angus Kinnear. Pic: Getty
TOGETHER - Leeds United have shown unity during the crisis says Angus Kinnear. Pic: Getty

Kinnear and the Whites - who did lead the Championship when it was suspended - insisted throughout the game's suspension that returning to play was the best and fairest way to settle the season and lauded the sport's authorities for standing firm amid pressure from some quarters to declare the campaign null and void or decide tables by a mathematical equation.

"We have been working hard with the authorities to ensure that football could safely be resumed," he said.

"We have always believed that, for the future of the industry and the integrity of the sport, the right place was to complete the season where we started it – on the pitch. The leadership of the Premier League and the EFL deserve credit for achieving this objective in the face of a number of parties who were, completely understandably, putting the interests of their own club before those of the broader game.

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"From teams not wanting to play matches because they might lose them, to clubs channelling the spirit of Stephen Hawking to come up with league curtailment formula that confounded the basic principles of mathematics, pragmatism has ultimately prevailed.

"There was never going to be an elegant solution, but we believe that the compromises reached to give the nation its game back are as equitable as they can be given the formidable context."

Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa has gone on record with his distaste for the idea of football without fans and Kinnear agrees, calling last weekend's behind closed doors game in Cardiff a 'miserable' experience.

He says the return of spectators to stadiums is vital for the finances of clubs outside the top flight but suggests the sport itself will have to come up with their own answers rather than putting faith in the UK government.

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"The next challenge facing the game is the return of crowds," he said

"The current situation is economically untenable for all but the Premier League and my first miserable crowd-less experience at Cardiff reinforced the axiom that the game is truly nothing without the fans.

"As the government’s handling of the overall pandemic can, at best, be described as “Sunday League”, the initiative, creativity and commitment for delivering safe solutions will need to be taken by the Premier League, EFL and the individual clubs, to which the co-operation of supporters to a new normal will be critical."