Beyond the noise of Moyesgate, a vicious case of sexual discrimination at Leeds United goes uninvestigated

Ian Herbert
The Independent

The Football Association - an organisation which generally has all of the sport’s problems to handle and none of its money - responds rapidly when a universal sense of uproar engulfs the game. It has certainly been so in the case of David Moyes, who has been asked to explain his actions.

Yes, there are keyboard warriors who have never been to a Moyes press conference – never been seen at any football manager’s press conference, in fact – who are ready to say it is such fun to tell a journalist that “you might get a slap, even though you’re a woman”. But let’s leave them to their desk space and their theoretical environment. The concern resides in the forgotten episodes, beyond the scrutiny of those which are so transparently grim that they leave the governing body scurrying to do the right thing.

It’s a year next week since one of the most respected women in football, Lucy Ward, went to an industrial tribunal with her case for sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal against Leeds United. The club’s owner Massimo Cellino had seen to it that she was sacked because he was also in the process of kicking out her partner, the then-manager Neil Redfearn, and he viewed the two as “a pair”.

The three-day tribunal revealed Leeds’ almost limitless ineptitude and those reading some of the court testimony might have laughed at the far-fetched excuses the club found to dismiss Ward. Those very few reporters present in the courtroom – from the British nationals, only The Independent and the Daily Mail were there – saw no humour at all. Leeds undertook a vicious and calculated character assassination of Ward, seeking to denigrate her as a 'controlling' woman to justify sacking her. And court reporting being what it is, the headlines she read after each day’s testimony were haunting. 'She ruled the club'; 'People didn't like her.' There was the usual Twitter hate, of course.

It was no surprise that Ward won her case against Cellino, his executive Adam Pearson (the former Hull City and Derby County executive who carried out the Italian’s orders to sack her) and club secretary Stuart Hayton. The tribunal panel found that Leeds behaved in an “oppressive” and “high handed” manner in getting Ward out of the door. It found Pearson to be “evasive” under questioning by Ward's QC.

This was news for a few days before the world moved on, though the consequences were not so fleeting for Ward. She began trying to get a foothold in the game again, hopeful that her experience overseeing the development of around 250 young players in an 11-year career as welfare and education officer at the Leeds’ Academy, including James Milner, Fabian Delph and Sam Byram, would count.

Nothing has come of it. Employers are notoriously suspicious of job applicants who have brought a successful unfair dismissal claim. Ward discovered that when she was rejected by a club last autumn in favour of a candidate with less experience. There is a stigma attached to speaking out and that brings protection to the Cellinos of this world and their henchmen.

Ward is still outside of the game; yet to find work at a football club. This is astonishing, considering the fact that her former Academy players will tell you that having a confident, articulate woman in their ranks affected the way that they view women.

Ward believed that the FA would at least investigate the executives who drummed her out the club, on the basis that someone found to have discriminated at one club might do so at another. And that those executives had brought the game into disrepute just as much as Moyes has now done. The FA seemed to believe there was something to examine because they asked for the tribunal’s judgement 12 months back.

Nothing has happened. A year on, Ward has received no correspondence to suggest that any investigation has taken place. The FA said in an email on Wednesday that there was “nothing new or different from our previous position”.

The three individuals who oversaw the sacking are doing fine inside sport. Hayton was this week appointed Ipswich Town club secretary, Pearson is chairman of Hull FC and Cellino has sold half the club after receiving an 18-month ban from the sport because of tax evasion.

Massimo Cellino still owed Lucy Ward £360,000 after unfairly dismissing her from Leeds United (Getty)
Massimo Cellino still owed Lucy Ward £360,000 after unfairly dismissing her from Leeds United (Getty)

At the turn of the year, Cellino had not even got around to paying Ward’s tribunal lawyers £70,000 legal costs, despite being instructed by the panel to do eight months earlier. That sum has been settled but Cellino is unrepentant. In a letter written to the court two weeks before the costs hearing, he insisted that he would not apologise and that “we are talking about some kind of revenge from an employee who has been fired”.

Leeds are outside of the Premier League and though a highly successful player and now broadcaster, Ward is not a celebrity, so those who mistreated her have walked happily by. ‘Such fun’ as the keyboard warriors, in their theoretical environment, would say.

What to read next