The return of Ridsdale
The return of Peter Ridsdale would make many Leeds supporters squirm. FOOTBALLCHANNEL.COM catches up with the much-maligned former chairman of Elland Road and hears his side of the Leeds saga.
ONE would have thought that the Leeds trauma would have edged Peter Ridsdale out of football. But just like your benign Uncle Joe whom you would only want to see around Christmas time, the former Elland Road chairman returns to the game through the Trojan horse of Barnsley.
It was early September when news filtered out that Barnsley owner Peter Doyle was mulling over selling the Second Division outfit to a consortium headed by Ridsdale. Town mayor Doyle bought the Tykes for £2.5mil (RM15.75mil) after they went into administration last October – a culmination of repercussions that stemmed from their fall from Premiership grace.
Doyle faced tremendous pressure in lifting the club from their alarming slump and his final showdown with the Football League which refused to endorse his takeover of Barnsley was the end of the line for Royle. Ridsdale was on the look-out for a quick fix to his withdrawal symptoms and Barnsley were heaven-sent.
For the time being, the man widely reviled for selling-off David O’Leary’s Champions League semi-finalists and sending Leeds to the brink of extinction through extravagant overspending, is now being revered for saving Barnsley from a similar fate.
Ridsdale spent the summer searching for a club and approached Queens Park Rangers before deciding to stay in Yorkshire. Speaking in his modest office at Oakwell, where even the chairman mucks in and makes the tea, Ridsdale explained his rush to return.
“People say it was very quick but I left Leeds in March and it’s taken me until now to get back into football. What else do you do? I have to do something when I wake up in the morning. I can’t stick around at home because the wife would get sick of me,” he said.
“Being a football club chairman is in the blood. I went to a number of games after I left Leeds and when you go back to watch it’s hard not to be involved. A number of clubs approached me and I made a list of clubs I was interested in. I was invited to have a look at Oldham and Luton, while QPR fitted the bill.
“QPR wanted the investment but not my day-to-day involvement and I wasn’t happy with that. They were very honest and I respect that. (Chairman) Nick Blackburn has done a very good job but if I was going to invest I wanted to be heavily involved.”
As well as his love for the game Ridsdale is motivated by a determination to prove his critics wrong. After Leeds’ free-spending adventure turned sour, with debts of £80mil (RM504mil) forcing the sale of several key players, he was lampooned as a feckless fool who spent money he didn’t have and dubbed “Publicity Pete” because of his love of the limelight. Ridsdale rejects such accusations and feels he was made a scapegoat for decisions taken by the entire board.
“I was stunned by the speed with which people turned from friend to foe. For the first five years everyone was saying nice things but as soon as we had a difficult period everyone turned on me,” he said.
“In a public company you have a board of very able people, but you’d think I was the only director. I didn’t choose to be high-profile and was forced into that position. During my time as chairman, George Graham left for Tottenham, there was the plane crash at Stansted, two supporters were murdered in Istanbul and we had two very high-profile players in court.
“I felt those issues required leadership from the board, not the manager, and took a leadership position. I was complimented by the press but as soon as it started going wrong I was accused of seeking publicity.”
Ridsdale’s reputation was hardly helped over the summer when new chairman Professor John McKenzie released details of the club’s lavish spending, including £600,000 (RM3.78mil)-a-year on 76 company cars, £70,000 (RM441,000) on private jets and £20 (RM126)-a-month on goldfish for the boardroom. Ridsdale resists the temptation to criticise his successor, or indeed any aspect of the club’s new regime, but is clearly unhappy such figures were made public.
“I’d question the number of company cars and the jets were used on a small number of occasions, usually for the manager, and on one occasion to sort out the Rio Ferdinand money quickly.
“If you’re about to sell a player for £30mil (RM189mil) then £10,000 (RM63,000) seems a reasonable expense. I didn’t have a company car and drove myself to work everyday. The boardroom is where we entertain visiting teams and £200 (RM1,260)-a-year for a fish tank is not that much for a club with a turnover of £80mil (RM504mil). Mind you, I’ll concentrate on sorting out the football club before I bring some fish to Oakwell.”
After life in the goldfish bowl at Leeds, Ridsdale is happy in the quieter ponds of the Nationwide League. Barnsley may have spent the last 10 months in administration and have only 14 fit outfield players for any night’s game, but have at least one advantage over their Yorkshire rivals.
Ridsdale said: “At the moment our cash-flow is good and we have money in the bank, which makes a pleasant change.”
Ridsdale would also find the situation at Oakwell similar to his last few months at Leeds. The combination of hate mail and the backlash from Tykes supporters – Ridsdale will be able to connect with these harassments – was one of the reasons that drove Doyle out of the club.
It would be interesting to follow the life and times of Ridsdale – one of the more colourful characters in the game – again. He has arrived with a lot of baggage at Barnsley and finds himself in a position to attend to the supporters’ high expectations for which nothing but a move up to the First Division will suffice. From that point onwards, the Premiership would beckon. Sounds familiar?