Friday 18 April ~
Swansea have been promoted from League One, Carlisle are three points clear in second and Doncaster, Nottingham Forest, Southend and Leeds are almost certain to be in the play-offs. Yet this could still all change as the legal challenge that Leeds brought against their 15 point deduction for breaching the Football League's rules on insolvency rumbles on. A three-man panel, ruling on whether Leeds were unfairly penalised has been in session this week. Yet it now appears that the final verdict may not be known until May 19. Ludicrously, this would be over two weeks after the end of the season and three days after the play-off semi-finals. The promotion race is consequently in chaos.
Without a hint of irony, Ken Bates has stated: “The only outstanding issue is openness. We want this thing to be heard in public and there's no valid reason why it shouldn't be.” Openness is not of course the main issue – if the 15 points were returned Leeds would be likely to claim an automatic spot. For most of the season Leeds have been urging the League to act quickly on the unprecedented points deduction. This has not happened and the panel, led by the experienced Sir Philip Otton, now foresees further delays.
Understandably, the fact that promotion places may not be decided until long after the end of the season has outraged the other clubs in the top six. In the event of the points being returned, Swansea manager Robert Martinez predicted “a massive war” and Walsall chairman Jeff Bonser described the situation as “totally unworkable” – “It beggars belief. Have they thought about this? Clubs have memorabilia, special shirts and all kinds of expenses for Wembley. You cannot make a decision like this after the season ends. What about a club that has taken an automatic promotion place and will already, by May 19, be recruiting players on Championship wages, far higher than in this league, only to be told they're not up?”
Carlisle meanwhile, ensconced in second place and with the most to lose, have perhaps been rather naive in stressing their full confidence in the Football League, while manager John Ward expressed understandable dissatisfaction with the timing of appeal: "The goalposts will have been changed with three games to go, which would be strange." A full return of the 15 points would undoubtedly create havoc. But most other outcomes would have minimal effect – Leeds are now four points clear of Walsall in seventh with a far better goal difference so a play-off place is likely whatever happens. If a portion of the points, five for example, were to be returned this would probably not affect the top two.
The equally controversial and drawn-out Tevez case was complicated even further by the length of time taken to rule on West Ham's misdemeanours. Whatever the outcome in this case, it is clear that the ponderous football authorities are, as ever, expert at creating problems for themselves and exacerbating the ones they already have.