When the former prime minister of Belgium chipped into an English football crisis to say he was “convinced fraud has been committed by Manchester City” we asked the veteran Lancashire journo Harold Heys, to recall some of the darkest days in the club’s 128 years of chequered history.
Yves Leterme, has been prime minister of Belgium twice and for three years was deputy secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]. Despite his two French names he is Flemish, but fluent in Dutch, French and English and has negotiated with both Vladimir Putin and Hillary Clinton.
Importantly for Manchester City, he is the former chief investigator for the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).
City’s place in the Premier League under threat
The Football Association now has the power to expel Manchester City from the Premier League, having charged their current champions with breaking financial fair play rules 101 times in nine years and failing to act “in utmost good faith” to produce “accurate financial information that gives a true and fair view of the club’s financial position”.
Yves Leterme conducted an earlier Manchester City investigation for UEFA, but City successfully challenged his findings in an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). No further appeal to CAS is open to them.
Leterme said last week in an interview with Sporza, the Belgian public-service media network: “We had hard evidence against City. I’m convinced they committed fraud. Sponsor money was paid by the owner. They used an army of lawyers to obstruct our staff. The current Premier League investigation is broader than ours was.
“And then there is another element: the scope of the complaint is now broader than that at UEFA. Both in time and in substance. Especially because the Premier League does not have to adhere to the same strict limitation periods as we do. We encountered a period of five years, which meant that we could not use important elements.
“There was a total lack of transparent flow of financial information. With a battery of lawyers, they did everything they could to counter the work of our auditors. In addition, it turned out that money from sponsorship was actually paid by the owner. Finally, there were also ambiguities surrounding contracts. However, thanks to emails and bank statements, we had hard evidence.”
City stated: “Manchester City FC is surprised by the issuing of these alleged breaches of the Premier League rules, particularly given the extensive engagement and vast amount of detailed materials that the EPL has been provided with. The club welcomes the review of this matter by an independent commission, to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence that exists in support of its position. As such we look forward to this matter being put to rest once and for all.”
Recollections and insight from Harold Heys
The complete uncertainty of the present situation reminded Heys of the predicament Manchester City was subject to in 1993 when their chairman was Peter Swales, owner of a chain of TV and hi-fi shops who managed to sack eleven football managers in 20 years.
Swales’s last desperate throw of the dice was a midnight phone call to a notoriously tough journalist. He asked John Maddock, former Northern sports editor of the Sunday People, to run Manchester City and sack yet another manager. ‘Maddo’ was tough enough. He had worked for Robert Maxwell and would soon be hated in the city as much as ‘Captain Bob’ or Peter Swales.
Heys, a sports sub-editor with Maddo at the Sunday People, says things had been going bad at Maine Road since the end of the 1986-87 season. Here he shares some insight from his unique vantage point in the stands:
After a miserable season (and some 13 years of Peter Swales at the helm) they were heading for relegation. Cue a riot. Several riots. The press, by and large, had a field day.
Swales’s problem with the Press had its roots in his close friendship over many years with John Maddock, his neighbour in Sale. They used to meet up for a Friday evening jar in Hale and Swales would unload a few tit-bits which ‘Maddo’ would display two days later in five million copies of the Sunday People. Other hacks on rival papers didn’t take too kindly to the favouritism.
Leaving the office for his jar with Peter Swales, Maddo would say breezily: “Right, I’m off to get Nev his back page lead for tomorrow.” Nev was Neville Holtham, the London sports editor.
The 1980s campaign to oust Swales fizzled out as the club sank into the old Second Division. But the seeds of discontent had been sown. Life in Division Two wasn’t that bad but within a few years, in 1993, the fans were demanding more success from Peter Swales who had been running the wobbly show for nearly two decades.
How not to look after your captain and best midfielder
Swales didn’t have much idea about running a top football club. In August 1990, the new City captain and star midfielder Paul Lake, reckoned by many to be a future England captain, ruptured his anterior cruciate just three games into the new season. The club were desperate to rush him back. “Nothing broken, six weeks at the most,” said the club.
But Paul Lake missed the rest of the season. He made a comeback in the following season but broke down again. Six weeks later he travelled to Los Angeles to see Dr Sisto, an expert on cruciate ligament injuries. Before going, he told reporters that Peter Swales had not handled his injury well. He’d been left feeling like “a piece of meat” as players at other clubs were getting immediate specialist treatment and retaining their appearance and bonus pay when injured.
Lake was alone in America. The club had refused to pay for his girlfriend to fly out to be with him during his recovery from surgery. So the manager Peter Reid and striker Niall Quinn had organised a whip-round to pay for her flight tickets. But lack of leg room on his economy flight back to the UK further damaged Paul Lake’s knee. In a typical stroke of bad management a fully-fit club physio had flown back to England in business class.
Peter Reid was a popular manager with the fans and Swales did not like that. Reid had to go.
In some desperation, Swales looked round for a hard man to come in and sack Peter Reid. A new broom might sweep clean, he thought. His old pal John Maddock was deemed fit to fill the bill. He had been one of the top sports journalists in Manchester before running other sporting and business ventures.
Maddock had arranged the very first football shirt sponsorship in England in 1979, linking Liverpool FC with the tech giants Hitachi. To Peter Swales it did not matter that John Maddock had never even tried to run a football club previously, or a whelk stall for that matter.
Maddo came in. Peter Reid went out. Fans, stirred up by some points-scoring hacks, were livid. It didn’t take long for Maddock, after a turbulent few months, to move out, followed soon afterwards by his old pal Peter Swales. John went back into the world of newspapers and for a time was a special adviser to the chief of Express Newspapers Richard Desmond, running a publishing operation in Broughton, outside Preston.
In the wake of Swales, a new era begins
Francis ‘Franny’ Lee, of Bolton Wanderers, Manchester City, Derby County and England, duly moved into the chair at Maine Road in 1994. He was still bitter about the way Peter Swales had sold him as a player to Derby County in 1974.
My friend Dave Brammer, a lifelong City fan, recalls buying a ‘Forward With Franny’ [Francis Lee] T-shirt outside Maine Road just a few days before a ‘Forward with Franny’ campaign was launched at the Mount Road Social Club in Gorton in October 1993.
Dave used to work with John Maddock at the Sunday People and found himself one day walking towards Maddo, in the middle of St Ann’s Square wearing his new Forward With Franny T-shirt. “Morning, John,” said a cheery Brammer. “Eff off,” said Maddo, marching on without breaking his stride.
The new set-up was not much more successful and City had to wait many years for the winning streak which only came their way after Sheikh Mansour of the Abu Dhabi Group acquired the club in 2008 and delivered six English Premier League titles, six League Cups and two FA Cups.