The Last Word: Grey

by Moscowhite • Daniel Chapman,

Leeds scored against Crystal Palace, and our owners elect from GFH Capital jumped up from their comfy seats in celebration. From across the pitch, long lense cameras were trained on the scarf-waving young men, anxious to give Leeds fans a look at the new gang who will be running our club. Salem Patel and David Haigh are almost absurdly familiar faces already, and Stuart Andrew, Conservative MP for Pudsey, was soon identified by the internet chorus. To Andrew’s left, however, one grey haired old lady passed under the radar.

Yvonne Stella Allen was known at Chelsea as Yvonne Todd, where she was Ken Bates’s finance director from 1988 until 2003, when the club was rescued from impending finanical collapse by Roman Abramovich’s billions. She then took up the same role at Leeds United, where Bates described her as his “rottweiler.” She told the programme her job was “to look for any fraud – things that were going on that should not have been … You are working and fighting like mad to try and get a business on its feet and if you find that someone is siphoning it off in the corner it’s very annoying.” That was her role from 2005, when Bates arrived, to 2007, when Bates put Leeds into administration. Presumably Bates was pleased with Yvonne’s work, for she came back to join the Leeds board in 2010.

I’ve only read the text of that programme interview, which apparently did include a photograph, but Todd/Allen’s place was always in the shadows. An accountancy website wrote in 2005 that “we were unable to source a single photo of her, and after repeated calls to Leeds, there don’t seem to be any at Elland Road either,” and my imagination ran wild over the years – who was this mysterious rottweiler, the hard-boiled finance director who oversaw the ruination of Chelsea and Leeds’ plunge into admin? All Dallas hair, shoulderpads and champagne, was my guess, with a mean streak that kept her firmly in with the Bates clan. Maybe I would have been right, once.

But Ken’s was – and is – an ageing regime. While the Hillsborough and Yewtree inquiries are uncovering the networks that allowed the powerful to act with impunity throughout the seventies and eighties, the cobwebs are being blown off a few of the background connections at Leeds as the takeover progresses, and revealing our owners for what they were: a grey alliance that wielded power without talent.

Bates has been the wizened face of a grey alliance that has profited handsomely from their spell in Yorkshire: grey hair, grey identities, and grey reputations; they had the greed to prosper under Thatcher but never the ability to make it into the big money, so waited for the likes of Abramovich and GFH Capital to gift them the comfortable retirement they haven’t earned. As a director, Yvonne Allen stands to make a tidy sum from GFHC’s buyout, despite her only contribution to Leeds United being to act as finance director during our financial ruin. Ken? He gets to be president. Nice work if you can get it.

Putting a face to the name has been one of the most difficult tasks at Elland Road since 2005. Leeds fans needed only a ten second video clip and about ten minutes to identify Aaron Cawley after he slapped Chris Kirkland at Hillsborough, but after eight years we still don’t really know who has profited or how handsomely from the cash we’ve forked out to watch our team wither in the lower divisions. Jayne McGuinness? Mark Taylor? Outram Limited? Halton Sports? Looking at Yvonne Todd, I could have seen their Bentleys parked outside a charity shop any day of the week and never known it was them, living large on our money in the wine bar next door.

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From The Square Ball magazine 2012/13 issue five.