“Doing a Leeds” is an English football phrase which is synonymous with the potentially dire consequences for domestic clubs in financial mismanagement. The phrase arose after the rapid decline of Premier League club Leeds United F.C., who invested heavily in the 2000s to attain domestic and lucrative European success, which was capped by a sole appearance in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. However, in the process, the club built up large debts, and suffered financial meltdown after failing to continue to qualify for the competition, subsequently dropping down two levels of the football pyramid, into the third tier, Football League One.
Since the creation of the Premier League, a total of 23 of its former clubs have been relegated to League One, of which seven fell down further into the fourth tier (Football League Two). Because they had never previously experienced relegation to League One or its predecessors, Leeds was the object of careful observation by media and derision by rival fans.
The fall of Leeds United
As champions of the final First Division season, Leeds United were one of the inaugural 22 clubs of the Premier League, the breakaway top division league competition formed in 1992. Leeds had sustained success in the league in late 1990s, and ultimately reached the semi-finals of the 2000–01 Champions League. Their level of spending to do so however had exceeded all other clubs, and the club’s debt level rose annually from £9m to £21m, £39m, £82m and peaked at around £119m, much of the money having been spent on transfer fees and players’ wages. After the club failed to qualify for the 2002–03 Champions League by only finishing fifth in the Premier League, it had to make drastic savings by selling players as it could no longer sustain the debt repayments, which relied on the ticket sales and television income from the European competition.
At the end of the 2003–04 FA Premier League season, Leeds United were relegated to the Football League Championship. The financial effects continued, and with one game to go in the 2006–07 season, the club voluntarily entered administration, incurring a 10-point league penalty, resulting in relegation to League One, the first time the club had ever been in the third tier of English football. Subsequent breaches of financial rules in the summer nearly resulted in the club being expelled from the Football League altogether (a fate which coincidentally had befallen the club’s predecessors, Leeds City), but they were ultimately re-admitted with a 15-point penalty to apply to the 2007–08 season. Despite further appeals, the penalty stood and ultimately cost the club promotion that season.
At the end of the 2009–10 season, the club was promoted back to the Championship after a final day victory. They would remain in the Championship for a decade until they finally earned a promotion back to the Premier League for the 2020–21 season, under the management of Marcelo Bielsa, having coming close to earning promotion in the 2018–19 season, where the club, narrowly missed out on a play-off final spot.
Leeds United’s decline was not entirely without historical precedent, as Wolverhampton Wanderers had suffered a similarly high-profile decline in the 1980s, finishing 6th in the First Division and winning the Football League Cup in 1980, before eventually dropping into the Fourth Division by 1986 on the back of three consecutive relegations. Bristol City had become the first league team to suffer three successive relegations when they went down to the Fourth Division in 1982, although their decline was less dramatic than that of Wolves, as they had spent just four seasons in the First Division and not been as successful or spent as much money on players.
However, the decline of Wolverhampton Wanderers was widely seen as the culmination of decades of financial mismanagement rather than an extreme amount of short-term spending as was the case with Leeds. Wolves had paid a national record fee of nearly £1.5million to sign striker Andy Gray from Aston Villa in 1979, while spending an even greater sum of money of rebuilding one side of the ground to create a large all-seater stand, at the same time.
Contemporaneous to Leeds, Luton Town, who were relegated from the Championship alongside them in 2007, suffered an even more severe decline and underwent three consecutive relegations, ending up in the Football Conference by 2009; they too had been hit by financial problems. Luton had been in the top tier of English Football as recently as the 1991-92 season. They did not reclaim their league status for five seasons.
Swansea City, who climbed from the Fourth Division to the First Division between 1978 and 1981, finished sixth in the 1981-82 season, having led the league several times that season. However, they were relegated a year later and went down again in 1984, suffering a third relegation in four seasons in 1986 after they had almost gone out of business.
Wimbledon, who matched Swansea’s record of climbing three divisions in four seasons in 1986, survived in the top flight of English football for 14 years and won the FA Cup in 1988 before being relegated from the Premier League in 2000. They were relegated from Division One four years later, after which they were renamed Milton Keynes Dons following their relocation to Milton Keynes. The renamed club suffered yet another relegation to the league’s fourth tier in 2006. They would have gone down the previous year had it not been for a 10-point deduction imposed on financially troubled Wrexham, whose financial situation nearly saw them expelled from the Football League.
In 1998, Manchester City’s relegation to Division Two made them the second former winners of a European trophy to be relegated to the third tier of their domestic league (after 1974 UEFA Cup Winners Cup winners Magdeburg in 1991, though that had happened because the league system of the former East Germany had contributed with less clubs in proportion to the unified system after 1990; the English system by contrast remained the same); City won the same trophy in 1970. They faced constant struggles in the league since heavy spending on players in the late 1970s and early 1980s had failed to translate into silverware; they were relegated from the First Division twice during the 1980s, returning after two seasons on both occasions. Similar heavy spending on players in the early 1990s again failed to deliver silverware, and City eventually went down from the at the end of its fourth season in 1996, after narrowly avoiding relegation in the previous two seasons. A second relegation took them down to Division Two in 1998.
In 2005, Nottingham Forest became the first former winners of the European Cup (which they had won in 1979 and 1980) to be relegated to the third tier of their domestic league. Having also won a league title and four League Cups between 1978 and 1990, they had been relegated at the end of the first Premier League season in 1993, promoted back at the first attempt, gone down again in 1997 and achieved an instant return to the Premier League in 1998, only to be relegated a year later. They have not returned to the Premier League since their 1999 relegation, although they did climb out of the third tier (League One) after three seasons.
In 2004, Carlisle United became the first former members of the English top flight to be relegated from the Football League; their solitary season in the top flight was in the Football League First Division in the 1974-75 season, and they in fact led the English league after winning their opening three games of that league campaign.
In 2006, the 1986 Football League Cup winners Oxford United became the first former winners of a major trophy to be relegated from the Football League. They returned to the league four years later. Other clubs who have fallen from the old First Division to the National League include the aforementioned Luton Town, Grimsby Town and Leyton Orient.
In 2017 and 2018, Sunderland were relegated twice in successive seasons (from the Premier League to the Championship and then to League One), also as a result of financial mismanagement and poor transfer decisions.
2019 brought about two crucial relegations: Ipswich Town to League One after 17 seasons in the Championship following their last relegation from the Premier League, and Notts County falling down to the National League for the first time in 157 years of history – the first FA Cup winner (1894) to fall to non-League level.
“Doing a Leeds”
The term “doing a Leeds” or to “do a Leeds” has since become synonymous with financial mismanagement of a football club with potential dire consequences. It can refer specifically to any club that fails to plan adequately for the financial impact of either failure to qualify for the Champions League, or of not adequately restructuring following relegation from the Premier League to avoid a further drop, or more generally, to the rapid demise in the relative standing of any club.
Managers and chairmen, although sometimes obliged to “chase the dream” (the inevitable precursor of “doing a Leeds”), are often forced to deny they are “doing a Leeds” in the wake of a large investment that some analysts predict cannot be afforded by their club and may overstretch their budget. Similarly, fans may fear their club will “do a Leeds” if its expensively acquired and maintained team is unable to qualify for the Champions League or is relegated from the Premier League, thereby failing to “live the dream”.
Conversely, the avoidance of “doing a Leeds” has been invoked by managers to justify selling their best players in order to raise funds to stave off going into administration, which might lead to a relegation-inducing penalty. Failure to invest at the expected “normal” rate in order to maintain a club’s league position can be labelled as “doing a Leeds”.
The phrase was notably used during the relegation of Newcastle United in 2009, one of the largest clubs to be relegated from the Premier League. Having bought the club, new owner Mike Ashley stated that his investment had in fact saved the club from “doing a Leeds”. In spite of this Newcastle suffered relegation at the end of the 2008–09 season, sparking fears both before and after that the club could “do a Leeds” and drop further, into League One, without restructuring. However, the club avoided this and bounced back the following season with automatic first place promotion.
The 2010 announcement of Manchester United’s need to refinance their large debt as a bond issue following their purchase by Malcolm Glazer led to questions in the media whether even Manchester United, as the most successful Premier League-era club, could be in danger of “doing a Leeds”.
Shelbourne were referred to as the “Irish version of Leeds United” after winning the League of Ireland Premier Division in 2006 but being automatically demoted into the League of Ireland First Division for financial reasons.
The term has been applied to Portsmouth, who amassed debts which eventually saw them become the first Premier League club to enter administration in the 2009–10 season, leading to relegation in the same season after the subsequent nine-point penalty. Portsmouth were relegated to League One after the 2011–12 season of the Football League Championship, due to a 10-point deduction for entering administration; a near-identical scenario to what occurred to Leeds five years previously. They were again relegated after a 10-point deduction due to failing to pay footballing creditors, this time to League Two, in the 2012–13 season.
Bolton Wanderers are another team guilty of “Doing a Leeds”, after enjoying a successful stint in the Premier League under Sam Allardyce, which culminated in qualifying for the UEFA Cup, reaching the last 16 in the latter, which included a draw and a victory against Atlético Madrid, and draws against Bayern Munich and Sporting Lisbon. After Allardyce’s departure, the club began a steady decline, with relegation battles being a regular feature. The club then began a rapid decline that ultimately led to relegation on the last day of the 2011–12 season, and after languishing in the second tier for a few seasons, the club announced debts of £172.9m in 2015 and then were relegated to League One in 2016. They would be relegated again in 2019 and the club was nearly expelled from the football league a new buyer was found but were deducted 12 for entering administration. because They finished in the bottom three in 2018-19 it was applied in the 2019-20 season. That season Bolton was relegated to the fourth division in 2020 for the first time since 1988. If they do get relegated this season, they will become the first Premier league club to be relegated from The Football League.
A similar phrase, “Doing a Bradford”, was coined by former Blackburn Rovers player Simon Garner in 2012, a scenario that he was worried could befall his former club, Bradford City, following their relegation from the Premier League in 2001. They then fell three divisions to League Two, and were not promoted back to League One until 2013. The only other former Premier League clubs to have fallen to League Two are Swindon Town (in 2006 and then 2011, though they immediately gained promotion to League One on both occasions), Portsmouth, Blackpool, Coventry City, Oldham Athletic and Bolton Wanderers.
Ralf Rangrick, sporting director of German Bundesliga club RB Leipzig, compared the mismanagement of TSV 1860 Munich to that of Leeds United, drawing direct parallels between the ownership and resulting fan dissatisfaction at both clubs. The two clubs in fact met in a Champions League fixture in 2000, before both experiencing relegation from their respective top flight leagues in the following seasons. As of the end of the 2019-20 season, only Leeds have returned to the highest division in their respective countries since.
The commonly-used phrase in Korean “리즈시절”  which literally translates as “Leeds Days” in English shares an origin with the concept of “doing a Leeds”. It is used by Koreans to mean the prime of their lives, usually outside of a football context, and often by women referring to when they were younger and felt more attractive. This saying started to proliferate in online football fans forums centred on ex-Leeds striker Alan Smith as a comeback to Manchester United fans who did not think he was good enough.
- ^ Jump up to:ab “Road to ruin”. The Herald. Newsquest. 17 February 2007. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010. The first thing which comes to mind about Leeds United today is…their freefall, the collapse into the state they are in now because of Ridsdale’s ruinous decision-making. They have become the biggest victim of all the money which has washed around English football in the Premiership era. Every other board of directors in the land is frightened of “doing a Leeds”.
- ^“Relegated Leeds in administration”. BBC Sport. 4 May 2007. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
- ^Lovejoy, Joe (20 February 2005). “Everton 0 Manchester 2: Irresistible United march on”. The Times. London. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January2010. those erstwhile fans turning on him now should ponder the fact that his £28m transfer probably saved their club from “doing a Leeds”, as financial meltdown has come to be known
- ^Robson, Leo (25 March 2009). “Damned to football”. The Times. London. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010. This is the fate to which Peter Ridsdale, the chairman from 1997 until 2003, consigned the club with his profligacy and risk-taking; the phrase “doing a Leeds” is now a recognized one to describe a major club that fades away
- ^Wilson, Paul (23 March 2003). “Catchy Toon could be a classic”. The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010. …’doing a Leeds’ has entered the language of English football. There is now an understandable worry that any club trying to haul themselves up on the Champions League ladder will crash spectacularly to earth in a couple of seasons.
- ^“North East’s elite outfits fear a fate as ‘next Leeds'”. The Journal. njcMedia. 24 March 2009. Archived from the originalon 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010. the “L” word sends them into a cold sweat. What they most fear is “doing a Leeds”. Leeds United famously chased the dream and fell flat on their face, a monument to mismanagement lurking in League One as a warning
- ^“Birmingham City in danger of ‘doing a Leeds'”. Daily Mirror. 28 May 2008. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010. David Gold fears relegated Birmingham could end up dropping another division to League One – like Leeds – unless the club’s mutinous mood changes
- ^“City Diary”. London: The Telegraph. 29 April 2004. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January2010. He’s trying to raise £450,000 by selling a quarter of the company and as his spokesman put it: “We’re doing a Leeds.” What, selling all the players and going down? “No, I mean a Wimbledon.”
- ^Dickinson, Matt (16 January 2007). “Bates still focused on grand vision”. The Times. London. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010. But were Chelsea not hugely in debt and on the brink of “doing a Leeds” when Roman Abramovich made Bates an offer he could not refuse?
- ^“Pompey pay for chasing the dream”, BBC Sport, 11 February 2009. Retrieved 11 February 2010
- ^“Manchester City making their voice heard as United pushed all the way in Carling Cup”>, telegraph.co.uk, 28 January 2010. Retrieved 11 February 2010. “The cocky pretenders always seem to push it too far when they are chasing the dream, but they are not always left eating their words.”
- ^“Sullivan: Bitter manager wouldn’t have been good for Birmingham City”. Birmingham Mail. Trinity Mirror. 24 November 2007. Retrieved 23 January 2010. As for a lack of funds, Sullivan said: “We’ve spent all the money we can afford as a club, without doing a Leeds United.
- ^“Parry Vows To Keep Top Players”. Daily Post. Trinity Mirror. 6 February 2003. Retrieved 23 January 2010. RICK PARRY has promised Liverpool will not be forced into `doing a Leeds’ by selling off their best players – even if they fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
- ^“Crunched creditors call time on living the dream”, guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 11 February 2010.
- ^“No compensation for Robbie amid a rising tally of missed sitters”. Irish Independent. 7 December 2008. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010. Liverpool fans may think that if they had not lost Fernando Torres for much of the season they would now be 12 points clear. This would, however, increase the possibility of them “doing a Newcastle” something that cannot be countenanced while their American owners appear intent on “doing a Leeds”.
- ^Stewart, Rob (15 September 2008). “Mike Ashley pledges to do ‘what’s best for Newcastle'”. London: The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January2010. Ashley insisted that he had saved Newcastle from “doing a Leeds”. “Unless I had come into the club then it might not have survived,”
- ^“Geordies need another messiah to justify immaculate deception”. Irish Independent. 2 August 2009. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010. People warn that Newcastle United are in danger of “doing a Leeds” but it can be argued that when it comes to hubris, Newcastle United make Leeds look as modest as Dario Gradi’s Crewe Alexandra
- ^“Are Manchester United doing a Leeds?”. The Guardian. London. 12 January 2010. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2010. Scrutiny of the Premier League champions’ financial results makes for eerily familiar reading. Will the weight of their debts drag them out of the Premier League in the next five seasons?
- ^“Bolton Wanderers: Debt figure up to £172.9m after losses”. BBC Sport. Retrieved 22 April 2016.
- ^“Derby County 4-1 Bolton Wanderers – BBC Sport”. BBC Sport. Retrieved 22 April 2016.
- ^Johnston, Neil. “Former Blackburn striker Simon Garner raises fresh fears”. BBC Sport. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
- ^Nash, Mathew. “Ralf Rangnick compares 1860 Munich troubles to those at Leeds United”. Here Is The City. Retrieved 21 April2017.
- ^“BBC SPORT | LEEDS UNITED | 1860 Munich v Leeds clockwatch”. news.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 21 April 2017.
- ^“Championship: Leeds United promoted to Premier League after 16-year absence”. BBC Sport. BBC. 17 July 2020. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
- ^“r/soccer – “Leeds Era, Time at Leeds” in Korean”. reddit. Retrieved 19 July 2020.
- ^“Bizarre Reddit thread reveals Leeds United’s legacy has infiltrated Korean language”. www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk. Retrieved 19 July 2020.
- ^“Why people in Korea are talking about Leeds United without even knowing it”. The Irish News. 30 April 2019. Retrieved 19 July 2020.
Ofer Abarbanel is a 25 year securities lending broker and expert who has advised many Israeli regulators, among them the Israel Tax Authority, with respect to stock loans, repurchase agreements and credit derivatives. Founder of TBIL.co STATX Fund.