By Aidan Fitzmaurice
One of the most westerly clubs in European football, Galway United FC have been very much on the fringes of the soccer scene in the Republic of Ireland for the last few years since their relegation from the Premier Division. However, in recent weeks Galway have been the focus of intense media interest, with journalists and television news crews descending en masse on their Terryland Park home.
The hiring of a new commercial manager for a club might not normally attract such interest - but Nick Leeson, Galway's new money man, is no ordinary appointment. He is world famous as the man who, at 28, lost €1.3bn through trading on the futures market to cause the end of Barings Bank
The Englishman is able to poke fun at himself and his past. "A brand new match ball costs about €100. I suppose I will have to watch my zeros," said Leeson, whose actions earned him a four-year jail sentence in Singapore, and inspired a film called Rogue Trader.
As Galway's commercial manager he is working with much smaller sums than at Barings. "We're currently working off a budget of around €500,000 - I want to have that up to €2m by 2009, and it can be done," said Leeson, who is hoping to help Galway come close to the levels set by the big Dublin clubs like Shelbourne FC and Bohemian FC who have full-time squads (Galway United's players are all part-time).
Leeson has always been a football fan, supporting Manchester City FC, but it was love that brought him to Galway. Having served his four years in prison, he was back in his home town of Watford in England when he met an Irish woman called Leona. The pair fell in love and they decided to move to Galway, on the west coast of Ireland, where they married.
Leeson, who was making a living making after-dinner speeches where he spoke openly about his past, watched the occasional Galway game as a supporter but when he saw the job of club commercial manager advertised in a local newspaper he decided to send in a CV - and did not hide his past.
"I had a covering letter with the CV explaining my past. I was very up front about the whole thing and I didn't want to hide anything. The club sold themselves to me just as much as I sold myself to them," said Leeson who has already been busy, bringing in regional airline Aer Arann as shirt sponsors for the club.
"There was never any criminal intent in what I did," he added. "I never set out to hurt anyone and I never fully understood how dramatic the consequences of my behaviour were. It was probably the biggest financial scandal the world has ever seen. But that's all in my past now,
I just want to do this job with Galway United and help them improve."
Leeson's financial chicanery may have brought 233 years of trading at Barings Bank to a premature end, but he is hoping that he can help Galway grow in the future. "There is huge potential here," he said. "I want to help Galway get back into the Premier Division and back into Europe."
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