(memo to Doug Garber: you might wanna sell this man an MLS franchise before the Washington Nationals end up on his shopping list. Trust us, he’s good for the money.)
The sun struggled through the clouds over Galway Bay yesterday morning. As foreign students made for the language schools of the west of Ireland city and tourists headed for the Aran Islands, amid the gentle throng a man called Nick Leeson completed his first week’s work for a decade. It is the same Nick Leeson who was, briefly, the most wanted man on the planet. Leeson is now the commercial director of Galway United.
“There was an advert in one of the local papers,” he said, matter of fact. “There are a lot of businesses that wouldn’t touch me. I didn’t think I’d have the precise skills for the job but it combined an interest of mine – football – with a chance to get some structure back into my life.”
Football has had its fair share of reckless speculators down the years but none on Leeson’s scale. Ten years ago last month his rogue trading in Singapore’s stock exchange brought down the oldest merchant bank in the world, Barings of London. Leeson, then 28, had gambled and lost £862m, which is even more than Peter Ridsdale splurged at Leeds United. Barings could not sustain the losses and collapsed.
Leeson ran away. He was eventually caught in Frankfurt. Extradited back to Singapore, he spent four years and four months inside Changi prison. He lost his marriage to Lisa while inside and discovered he had the same form of cancer that had killed his mother, Anne. On release he returned to England, studied for a psychology degree and met an Irishwoman named Leona. He followed her to Galway where, remarried, clear of cancer and with an eight-month baby boy, Leeson has been for the past 2 years. And now he has a job again.
Galway United inhabit the second tier of the League of Ireland, a semi-professional outfit he compared in scale to St Albans or Hayes, clubs with whom the Watford-born Leeson has connections. As of last Monday his role is to find sponsors for things such as the match ball at Galway’s Terryland Park. It is a long way from Raffles Hotel.
“Galway United would admit they are in a transitional period,” he said, sitting in an Asian restaurant by Wolfe Tone Bridge. “But they have a five-year plan: they want to win the Premier League and challenge for Europe. If you look at it, all the board members are successful individually; they want to get the management right. There are a lot of clubs in England who have been successful for a while but have then succumbed to chronic mismanagement. Leeds United are a good example.”