Leeds United’s ‘pie tax’ policy is under fresh scrutiny after owner Massimo Cellino appeared to suggest that he imposed the charge as a punishment for supporters who were criticising him.
Cellino told the YEP today that comments made by him in an interview with an Italian journalist before Christmas were “just a joke” and said he introduced the so-called ‘pie tax’ to encourage fans to buy beer inside Elland Road, rather than outside the ground.
The 59-year-old courted controversy in December when he added a £5 surcharge to the price of adult tickets in Elland Road’s South Stand, offering a voucher for refreshments in exchange. The additional sum - on top of tickets costing up to £32 for category A games - was mandatory and implemented solely in that area of the stadium.
Cellino has never spoken publicly about ‘pie tax’ but the charge was introduced a month after he came in for sustained abuse and chants of ‘time to go, Massimo’ during a 2-0 home defeat to Blackburn Rovers in October. Much of the dissent towards him came from the South Stand.
The Italian, who retains control of Leeds despite indicating around that time that he would look to sell his shares in the club, told Sardinian newspaper L’Unione Sarda that he warned a group of fans during the Blackburn match that “to criticise me you need to pay extra” and “I put five pounds more for each ticket.”
Cellino - the former Cagliari owner who bought Leeds in April 2014 - has endured an increasingly fractious relationship with the club’s support during a period of ownership clouded by problems and controversy.
In a video interview conducted by L’Unione Sarda in December, he said: “At some point someone told me ‘Cellino, Cellino’ - 20 supporters of my team - ‘time to go.’ And I said ‘but why don’t you go away?’ And the supporters (said) ‘we pay!’
“So I said ‘No, you pay to see the game. To criticise me you need to pay extra’ and I put five pounds more for each ticket.”
But Cellino went on to say: “I’ll explain what happened. Outside the stadium there is a guy who thinks he’s clever and put up an unauthorised stand. He sells beers. Consider that in England you can’t live only on television rights. Leeds live on tickets and beer that is sold at the stadium, and season tickets.
“We collect about 40 million (euros) per year with season tickets and beers only. So if you put the stand in front of the stadium with a bar to sell the beers, what can I do?
“So I said ‘those that go to this bar, that are the friends of this guy, because they are the supporters that criticise us also, they need to pay 20 pounds plus plus five pounds with beer included.’ They are very angry and criticize me for this.”
Asked to explain his comments by the YEP, Cellino insisted that he had introduced the £5 charge as a way of increasing the club’s matchday revenue. He denied that ‘pie tax’ was a response to criticism of him, saying: “It was just a joke. I never could do anything like that.
“In the bar business we try to make (the fans) buy the beer from our bars and not from everybody who sells them in front of the stadium. It is to help the club.”
Despite criticism of the charge, Leeds have continued to impose it on adult tickets in the South Stand.
The Football League insisted at the time that United’s policy did not break its rules on ticket prices.