Bill Fotherby, former Leeds United managing director

Bill Fotherby
Bill Fotherby
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Bill Fotherby, who has died at 88, was the former managing director of Leeds United who was instrumental in appointing Howard Wilkinson as manager.

A charismatic showman whose business career began in the clothing industry, Fotherby became synonymous with the rise of Leeds in the late 1980s and 1990s as the right-hand man of its long-time chairman, Leslie Silver.

He joined United’s board in 1978 at a time when the club was financially stretched and about to suffer a run of demoralising seasons in the second division.

But his ideas and engagement with local business figures transformed Leeds’ commercial operations, underpinning the climb to the Division One title in 1992.

Fotherby’s crowning achievement was securing the signature of Wilkinson four years earlier, an appointment which followed the sacking of Leeds’ legendary former captain, Billy Bremner.

United decided that its strategy of employing former players as managers was flawed, and Wilkinson was persuaded to leave Sheffield Wednesday for West Yorkshire in 1988.

His arrival heralded the club’s second golden era, bring the second division title in 1990 and the club’s third Division One crown two years later.

Wilkinson remains the last English manager to win the top-flight trophy and would subsequently oversee the construction of Leeds’ academy and training ground at Thorp Arch.

Fotherby’s ambitious outlook stretched to the playing squad and the revenue generated by his commercial projects, combined with fierce, persuasive negotiating skills, brought signings of the ilk of Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister and Lee Chapman.

In 1987 he famously explored the possibility of buying Diego Maradona from Napoli, an idea which made headlines in England but failed to get off the ground. He was later responsible for sanctioning the controversial sale of Eric Cantona to Manchester United, six months after Leeds’ Division One title success.

One of Fotherby’s final acts in the boardroom was to deliver a sponsorship deal worth almost £20m with Puma and Packard Bell.

He took the role of club chairman in 1996 but held the position for only a brief period before leaving the board, and United, for good. He claimed to have been forced out after the takeover by the London-based Caspian Media group earlier that year and was replaced by Peter Ridsdale.

After his departure, Fotherby went on to the run non-league sides Harrogate Town and Ossett Town.

In an interview with The Square Ball fanzine in 2014, he said Wilkinson had been sceptical of him at first and insisted on dealing only with Mr Silver.

But he and Fotherby became so close over time that after the title triumph in 1992, Wilkinson presented him with a copy of his book Managing to Succeed, inscribed with the message: “To Bill Fotherby. You are the wind beneath my wings.”

Of the many people without whom the Wilkinson’s revolution could have succeeded without, Fotherby was undoubtedly one.