Interviews

Awards dinner: A chat with Leeds United chairman, Andrew Umbers

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Written by Simon O'Rourke

“Good evening Andrew, I’m glad you’re out here. I’d like to introduce myself,”. I didn’t get to finish, as Mr. Umbers finished for me. “Simon O’Rourke,” he started. “Your top 20 was bullshit”. I saw that as the opening bell, and decided that unlike the fight that would take place six hours later, I wouldn’t be pulling any punches. He described 2900Miles.com as “a silly little blog”, which made me grin right before I pointed out that the “silly little blog” was being recited by Andrew himself. Standing outside Centenary Pavilion, he may have thought he was on his turf. He wasn’t.

I immediately responded to Mr. Umbers, who was enjoying what he likely assumed was going to be a peaceful cigarette. I asked Andrew Umbers if he’d like me to remove the article to which he took such great offense (Top 20: Andrew Umbers’ Greatest Hits). He of course responded with an immediate “yes”, and I said that I’d have no issue in doing so. I made a simple request of him: Convince me that you’re a Leeds fan, and I’ll remove it. He couldn’t, and I won’t.

Mr. Umbers, so I’d heard, has a habit of walking in to a room and assuming 1) he’s the smartest guy there and 2) he can answer questions with counter-questions and nobody will notice. I pushed for an answer on my simple question: “Are you, Andrew Umbers, a Leeds United Football Club fan? Yes or no”. His answer was measured, after a few nervous glances toward the lawyer who was accompanying him, and started with “I’m a businessman”, while glancing over at the cream cladding. I felt like a primary school teacher when I brought to his attention that he should look at people if he’s going to dodge question or answer with misdirection. I repeated the question: “Andrew, are you a Leeds United fan?” His next answer was as bizarre as his grin was smug: “Eleonora Immobilliare have..” I cut him off immediately and noted that he was considerably taller than me, so I’d like him to look me in the eye, and he’d have the pleasure of doing what he does with others; talking down to people. I asked him, yet again, to answer my very basic question. He didn’t.

We quickly turned to the topic of his association with Ken Bates, an association he told BBC Radio Leeds in January began in “2010, 2011, when a friend from the premier league introduced us”. His answer to me was quite different, he claimed he didn’t meet Ken until Shaun Harvey introduced them in 2012. A lie. The first of many that I gladly pointed out to him. I asked him about the discrepancy of up to two years in the timelines, he answered that I know nothing about running a football club. I responded with “No, but neither do you. Now, let’s get back to Ken Bates.”

He gave me a long, winding answer as to why I was wrong about their association, repeating himself multiple times. When I mentioned him allegedly meeting Ken Bates multiple times in the late nineties and early noughties as part of his failed attempt to invest in his actual boyhood club Barnsley FC, he looked like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. I knew I had him, as Altieri (I am told it was Altieri who was with him) stopped chuckling and whispered something to Mr. Umbers. As he tried to wrap up the conversation, I asked him the same question: “Andrew, look me in the eye and tell me you are a fan of this club, and you’re not here to pillage it”. He looked to the ground and mumbled something, I’m not sure what. That annoyed me, and the lawyer knew. That’s about the only time I lost my cool, and I barked “My eyes are up here, tell me you’re a Leeds fan while looking me in the eye”. This was my only opportunity to be forthright with the club hierarchy, and to get my point across, and I do regret losing my cool for that moment, as people were starting to watch.

Instead of answering my question, he asked me if I had ever saved a football club by restructuring the business and putting it on surer footing. I replied by pointing out that we were both in the same boat on this one, “No, but neither have you”. He spoke of Massimo the way my niece speaks of One Direction; doey eyed and in awe. He toed the company line well, though did admit he’s been in constant contact with Cellino since his ban, which seemed to annoy the chuckling lawyer. When I tried to come back to the topic of Ken Bates, he cut me off mid-sentence: “This business, sorry ‘football club’, has had a disease for fifteen years. This man [Cellino] is a surgeon who will save it”. “If Cellino is here to save us, Andrew, what’s your role?” I asked him. He had no reply, as he stubbed out what I believe was his fourth cigarette, and fumbled for another.

As he was lighting his cigarette, I figured I had one more shot at him, so I repeated my question: “Andrew, why can’t you look me in the eye and answer my question?” He responded, finally, with the most half hearted “Yes” I have ever heard. I urged him to consider his role at the club, to please leave the running of Leeds United to the professionals, those who actually work for their pay packet. He went in to robot/puppet mode yet again as he spoke of the wonderful work and tens of millions of pounds Eleonora Sport/Immobiliare had put into the club. I pointed out that a figure of 21 million pounds leveraged over the club as a loan is hardly gigantic investment for a club of Leeds United’s stature. He tried his best to intimidate me by leaning over me and saying “would you have preferred relegation?”, “Would you?” was my response. He had, yet again, avoided a very basic question and point. I asked him aswell why he took the playing squad to one side to address them directly ten days ago without notifying or involving Redfearn. He offered no response, but looked a bit hurt. I was happy.

As I butted my cigarette and told him we were done, a group of fans walked by us, one of which heckled Umbers and told him in no uncertain terms that he was “killing our club”. Andrew shrugged it off, and offered no response to the fan. It was my turn to lean in, and I told him while others watched: “Just ignore that, Andrew, you’ll be gone soon enough anyway”. He scoffed, as I made my way back to my table in a room full of actual Leeds fans and players, while Umbers finished his cigarette outside.

That was my weird, often bizarre conversation with Andrew Umbers, or at least the parts clean enough to be published. It lasted twenty minutes, it could have lasted hours. Midway through our discussion I made him the same offer I made Ken Bates: If you think my article and “silly little blog” are “bullshit”, then feel free to point to which facts presented are inaccurate. Be specific, let’s sit down and actually talk about facts. Facts are not Andrew’s friend, though I’d suggest he didn’t have many friends there with him last night anyway. This is, after all, a man who has facilitated and negotiated deals between Bates, GFH and Cellino that has seen him pocket enough money to keep him in jet black hair dye for a thousand years all while Leeds United scrimps and scrapes for every penny.

This is not Andrew Umbers’ club, despite his protestations that he and Massimo saved it. This is not Massimo’s club, despite Andrew Umbers all-but declaring Cellino as our Lord and Saviour. This isn’t my club. It’s ours, and if you understand what I mean by that statement, then you’re one of us.

Andrew Umbers is not.

About the author

Simon O'Rourke

A lifelong Leeds United fan, Simon moved to Nova Scotia in 2002. Married for seven years with three children, Simon's first love has always been Leeds United. Simon is the owner of 1919 Media, a website design and development company whose name is a homage to Leeds United.

  • Left Hand Luke

    Fantastic stuff. Fans need to do more to hold the f***wits on the board to account.
    Andrew, you’ll be gone soon enough anyway”

    Do you still reckon Cellino’s looking to sell by June 21? Or just get shot of Umbers?

  • sofa head

    Good on you for standing your ground, Simon. We need as bright a light as possible to keep shining on Mr.Umbers and what he is doing at Leeds United. Keep up the good work.

  • Clive

    I don’t think anyone ever trusted Umbers so this is hardly a great expose.

    You just look silly for banging on about him not being a Leeds fan as if that’s the only thing that matters.

    You can’t blame him for trying that line when it’s worked for everyone else, from Ridsdale to Liverpool fans Alan Smith and Simon Grayson.

    It’s interesting the parallels between Umbers and Redfearn.

    They’ve both been hanging around the club like a bad smell for years, and they’ve both survived major culls and ended up in the top job.

    No wonder there’s conflict between them.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if Redfearn was a fake Leeds fan, too. He keeps banging on about watching from the West Stand as an 8 year old, that’s probably the last time he went before focusing on playing.

    Why not put Neil under the same scrutiny?

    • Simon O’Rourke

      At no point in this article is the word Expose used. Check the article title: “Chat”, not “Expose”. If you’re wanting an expose, look at the leaks section or the Top 20 article.

      As for your comments on Redfearn: I laughed. Thank you.

      • Clive

        Why did you laugh?

        • RJ

          Clive, you nonce, Umbers apologist pillock – actually, given that we know Umbers reads this, are you Umbers? If so – Piss off.

          • Clive

            How am I an Umbers apologist?

        • Simon O’Rourke

          Primarily because on Saturday evening someone said “the minute you write this up, people will attack Redfearn”. They were right.

          • Clive

            All valid points, though, yes?

  • RJ

    Simon, given that you’ve demonstrated Umbers (aka the Cancer) reads this blog, I strongly suspect that he will now get idiots (Clive) to post nonsense to try and discredit what is otherwise a fantastic blog, good story. and another example of the cancer at the heart of our club. Umbers. Cellino is a fool. We know this. But to have installed such a idiot as Chairman, and the fall out, just demonstrates that Cellino is not fit to run a club of the magnitude of Leeds United. Good work – keep going. My theory is if they are watching, you are doing and saying the right things.

    • RJ

      and you were absolutely on point to ask if he is a Leeds Fan. ‘Are you a Leeds Fan? I am a business man.’ Made me laugh. Think he’s the cleverest man in the room. The most dangerous thing to think. A tinpot politician, basking in a slither of attention. Don’t worry, Umber Wumbers, the light will be switched out soon enough. Then you can crawl back up Ken’s backside.

      • RJ

        I should probably wait until I cool down before writing, but reading about this Man, and the fact that this Man is a position that Leslie Silver held at our club, boils the blood.

        • Clive

          What’s the difference between appointing Umbers as chairman and Redfearn as manager?

          What about Redfearn holding a position Don Revie and Howard Wilkinson held, even Billy Bremner who was considered a failure as a manager but Redfearn could never get close to what he did as a manager here.

          • RJ

            Terrible comparison.

            Redfearn may not be at the same level as the Leeds United legends to which you refer. However, Redfern does share one consistent trait. He wants Leeds United to Win games of football. As did Leslie Silver.

            The difference is quite simple; one man acts in the interests of Leeds United, distilled to: He wants Leeds United to Win games of football. The other, acts only in his and that of his Boss’ interests. Every other consideration for Dumbers is a side show.

  • Steve Cooke

    Hello Mr Umbers…. Amazing how rats get caught out time and time again…. get out of our club ya muppet and crook… sorry I missed you this weekend Simon … I blame that Cooper bloke!

  • Mick444

    Tis a pity this idiot Clive keeps finding ways to keep his anti- Redfearn soap box going. Redfearn is not the problem as most fully realise. No coach, manager could possibly make any progress whilst the club management is so totally incompetent. Cellino cannot possibly succeed now. The FL do not want him. The fans generally do not want him. But what happens to the club? We are back where we were prior to Cellino “the saviour” arriving. Not only a wasted year just passed by but no guarantee of any changes for the better in the foreseeable future. Like you Simon I think somehow we have to find a group of businessmen that understand what Leeds United represents. For many years I have wondered why this has not happenned. Until that time arrives, and historically that does not look at all promising, we put up with uncertainty we put up with likes of Cellino. Umbers, Bates, GFH and Risdale. We all complain, we have a great number of terrific bloggers, but nothing changes. Simon you should stop smoking, not good for your health, but then again is supporting Leeds United any good for our collective health! MOT

    • Clive

      It’s all very well calling me an idiot and saying Redfearn’s not the problem, but you’ve just identified that we’ve had another wasted season and we don’t know where we go from here.

      Redfearn hasn’t kept his head down and got on with the job, he hasn’t got results, he hasn’t improved players, he hasn’t found a style of play, and he’s split the dressing room and the entire club.

      Of course he didn’t appoint himself, but he’s a very big problem, just like McDermott was.

      We were 7 points off the play-offs and only 3 points off Brentford, which was their win over us, when Darko was sacked.

      Who’s to say Darko could not have got to grips with things and got results and developed the club while keeping everyone together?

      Redfearn had worse results than Darko and managed to go on a good run after that.

      The fans seem to want to take sides with the manager against the board, but they forget that it was the board who appointed the manager in the first place.

      It would be different if Redfearn was already here doing a good job, then Cellino came in and started messing him about, but Redfearn is only in the job because of Cellino.

      It doesn’t matter if he’s got 30,000 in Elland Road chanting against him and for Redfearn, Cellino’s got 30,000 in Elland Road watching rubbish football at the end of a poor season.

      And I’m the idiot?

  • TT

    There is no way that Umbers would not have known about at least some of the mess at Leeds United. His sidekick, Doug Harmer is an accomplished accountant.Not much gets past that guy (he’s a good man) but Umbers is very much the relationship man who will pick and choose very carefully what facts to present (tailored to a particular end he is trying to achieve). He did a good job of making use of Eurofin’s expense accounts whilst not doing much business in his last year there (before their near-collapse and subsequent takeover following the BES scandal). He was trying to get a football fund set up, to invest in players’ rights – I wonder how that’s going?

    It’s also funny how David Haigh was stitched up, by being lured to Dubai and then essentially arrested on the say-so of GFC. He was pretty chummy with Umbers around 2011-2012.

  • Jimidodgya

    Simon, just listened to the bbc interview you did it’s great to have a diligent, tenacious & intelligent like you uncovering information in your way. Do you still believe the club will be sold before June 1st with Pearson as part of MCs exit strategy? Would love to hear your thoughts. Mot.