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Friday, 14 April, 2000, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Peter Ridsdale: Dignified face of football

By Chris Jones of the BBC's News Profiles Unit

When he spent all night in a sleeping bag outside Elland Road to ensure that he got tickets for Leeds United's FA Cup Final appearance in 1965, Peter Ridsdale did not dream he would one day be the chairman of the club he loved.

And when it happened in June 1997, he could not have imagined the troubles that would test his leadership to the limit.

While the invigorating talent of David O'Leary's squad did at times promise to challenge even the supremacy of the other United, across the Pennines, events off the pitch have made it an appalling year.


Ridsdale giving media interview
Ridsdale: the voice of Leeds in difficult times
Irritations over "dirty tricks" campaigns by two of Leeds' earlier UEFA Cup opponents were put into mundane perspective by the tragic death of the two United fans killed in Turkey.

And this while the club was still stunned by the charges of grievous bodily harm against two of its stars arising from an alleged assault on a student outside a Leeds nightclub in January.

But Peter Ridsdale has managed to tiptoe through a diplomatic minefield with dignity and restraint. Then again, he is not your average football chairman.

For a start, says Jeremy Cross of the Yorkshire Post, "he still feels privileged" to have the job, "although he may have had a few sleepless nights lately"

Football fans everywhere are always suspicious when a consortium takes command of their club's fortunes.



I'm not easy to live with if we lose, but it's the same if we have had a bad week in retail sales

Peter Ridsdale
As the chief executive of the clothing chains, Sock Shop and Jumpers, Ridsdale might initially have been seen as "a suit", the puppet of the club's owners, Leeds Sporting plc.

He acknowledges his duty to shareholders and indeed, believes football clubs are run best on business principles.

"Clubs are better for that because it does mean that decisions taken are considered rather than emotional", he says.

And early in his chairmanship, Ridsdale made it clear he would not try to ingratiate himself with fans. He left his seat in the directors' box to curb the abuse hurled at the departing manager, George Graham.

And he vowed to root out the racists and ban them from Elland Road for life, setting up a special website and a hot line to assist in the task.

But he also resolved to make himself accessible to supporters, investigating their complaints about poor treatment or conditions, whether it be at Elland Road or away grounds.


Leeds players in Revie heyday
Ridsdale's boyhood heroes, Revie's team
If anyone asks him whether Leeds should have a supporters' representative on the Board, he responds: "We do: me".

Peter Ridsdale lives near the village of Kirby Lonsdale, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales with his second wife, Sophie, and their two children.

He was a season ticket holder from the age of 10. His four sons by a previous marriage are all Leeds fanatics.

While Elland Road marvelled at the stars of Don Revie's team when Leeds were in their heyday in the '60s and '70s, the adolescent Ridsdale, playing in goal for his county, had a special affection for 'keeper Gary Sprake, who once accidentally threw the ball into his own net.

Juggling his many engagements as usual, Ridsdale the business leader found time to pop into London to finalise plans for the launch of a new shopping channel on cable television, before leaving for Turkey. The tragic events there were to cast him in several roles, including counsellor and ambassador.


Ridsdale at home
Ridsdale has earned the fans' respect
"I had a job to do and I did it to the best of my ability", he said matter-of-factly, although he acknowledged that when he watched the match against Galatasaray, he was "fairly numb". It was, he said: "almost a surreal experience".

Since that ill-fated night, Peter Ridsdale has cemented the special bond he has developed with Leeds fans, earned the respect and admiration of people for whom football is a mystery, and reminded the game's critics that its decent side is not extinct.

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