Ken Bates looks likely to sell Leeds United to a Dubai-based firm, but despite the good news there could be a negative lurking somewhere.
Ken Bates arrived at Elland Road in January 2005, alongside murmurs that he was there merely to strip Leeds United of its assets. Such claims were denounced by the man himself with the flippant reply that there wasn’t any ‘f***ing assets to strip’.
These words were accompanied by a sense of foreboding, a feeling that this man might not be the best thing to happen to the club. In hindsight, ‘might’ was the wrong word to use – two words, in particular ‘would definitely’, may have been suitable replacements.
Bates successfully managed to steer the Yorkshire-based club away from the greedy, eager hands of the debt collectors; however, he by doing so to thrust the wheel too hard and instead brought Leeds into the hands of administrators and League One.
To fans of the club, the news was devastating. Bates, meanwhile, could probably have been seen chuckling a little to himself, maybe enjoying a glass or two of champagne, as he purchased the club in full for a pound.
As first impressions go, Bates’ probably ranks somewhere between Leroy Rosenior’s with the (then) new Torquay board and a hypothetical situation in which Harry Styles tries to befriend Roy Keane.
As his tenure progressed, Bates has managed to infuriate fans both inside and out of Elland Road with nonchalant ease. Just as some people are gifted with a silver tongue, Bates’ taste-buds seemingly reside on a plain of black. Furious tirades roam around the room he’s in as freely as a stray dog on the streets of Leeds – a fitting simile.
His column in the matchday programme is effectively used as a platform from which to insult people, ranging from the Leeds’ United Supporters Trust (LUST) to former directors of the club. Bates desire to satisfy his egotistical side was perhaps the reason for this (although it may just be pure ignorance on his part).
Through these fortnightly notes, he successfully managed to isolate the club’s fans by describing LUST as an ‘ignorant, illiterate minority,’ as well as insisting that they were ‘a waste of space, a pain in the arse and achieving nothing.’ Such adjectives served as nothing but fuel for the hatred which ‘The Whites’ fans have for their club’s owner. Bates drove a wedge between himself, a man who thinks he runs Leeds United, and the people who actually who make a difference, the fans. The people who are most important in the running of a football club, who can dictate the direction which their team goes have been frozen out; and this makes Bates’ position at the club inevitably untenable in the long run.
Bates’ use of the programme also landed him in court and with a possible FA charge of bringing the game into disrepute; he was forced to pay £10,000 in damages to ex-director Melvyn Levi after being adjudged to have harassed him via the matchday publication.
Outside of the programme, Bates’ insatiable urge to provoke outrage with ridiculous comments has continued – for example, when a woman complained that ticket prices were so high her son could no longer afford to come to watch his team, Bates simply replied ‘get a bloody job, then.’ This once again demonstrates Bates’ incredible ability to severe any remaining affinity the club’s fans have with him, and his apparent failure to care.
Such comments cause an aura of solipsism to gradually surround Bates; an uneasy smell resonates off him as we try to figure out whether he bought the club in order to simply boost his publicity. It certainly seems that way – indeed, his comments regarding the fans don’t say otherwise.
Another point which grates with Leeds’ supporters is that of our dear friend Ken’s approach to the transfer market. The clubs’ fans feel they belong in the Premier League – from the stadium, the fanbase and the reputation, everything off the field is set so that ‘The Whites’ will slot in perfectly when/if they return to the top tier of English football. However, to do this the most important factor is what’s occurring on the grass which separates Elland Road’s four stands, and to build in this department requires funds being allocated to the manager.
Despite this, in the last two seasons Leeds have spent only £2.8 million pounds on players, a figure which, when compared to the amount received in transfer fees (£9m), will retreat to a corner sucking its thumb. From 2007 up until 2009/10, the total profit made by the club from transfers alone was £8,094,000. Remember, that does not include transfers after that period, so, for example, Robert Snodgrass’ £3m move to Norwhich is not counted in those figures – now, it will be considerably more.
So where has Bates invested that money, I hear you ask? Is he saving it to splurge on a stream of new players, or perhaps just for one game-changer? Perhaps he has injected it into the club’s youth academy in order for bright new products to come through?
Nope; instead, he has renovated Elland Road.. Maybe specific areas of the ground require some work upon them, but the East Stand wasn’t one of them. Despite this, £7m was spent last season on improving this stand, money which could have been invested into the playing aspect of the club. It could be argued that the introduction of more, modern corporate boxes in this stand will eventually pay for itself, yet at the moment they are not being filled. This is a luxury which should be put behind transfers in terms of priority, especially when Bates himself hinted (in a letter to season ticket holders) that he took out a loan in order to fund this renovation.
Fans of the club may well wonder what this loan was secured against. Property? No, as the club doesn’t actually own any. This leads to the conclusion that a risky plan of securing a loan against hypothetical ticket (both season and matchday) sales in the future was employed. What if results don’t go Leeds’ way? What if there is another turn for the worse economically and fans cannot afford to come to see their team? Bates’ loan may be unable to be paid off, and as such the club could find themselves in debt.
The man himself estimated that he has spent around £20m on the stadium since 2005 – a ground which he/the club doesn’t even own. Instead, they must pay rent, play tenant in a stadium which has been the home of Leeds United since the club’s inception in 1919.
So this is where the money raised through the sale of some of Leeds’ prize assets (Snodgrass, Jonny Howson, Max Gradel et al) has gone. And not only have players been sold, some have left thanks to a refusal on Bates’ behalf to meet their increased wage demands – see the cases of Jermain Beckford and Bradley Johnson for evidence. If Leeds want to regain their status as a Premier League club, exceptions must be made for players of this quality, the type of men who will press the right buttons in the lift in order to take Leeds up a footballing level.
Fortunately, this man now seems likely to sell Leeds United Football Club to a Dubai-based company (may I take you back to Bates’ ‘half the foreign owners don’t have a clue comment’?) - supporters of the team could have been forgiven for waking up the next day with a hangover.
However, the group which plans to accept the reins from Bates could cause as many problems as the much maligned Londoner. The potential buyers are Gulf Finance House Capital, a sub-company of Gulf Finance House, who, at the end of June possessed just £3.64m of cash in contrast to the 2008’s behemoth figure (in comparison) of £804m. When assets are added to that figure, £2.17 billion has been turned into £511.3m.
GFH’s cheif executive, David Haigh, assures Leeds fans that things are not as they seem: ‘The property market has slumped and that affects valuations,’ he said. ‘Since  the business has realigned itself and Tunisia and Bahrain are doing well again. The cash position is improving. We have the money to do this [purchase Leeds].’
Haigh also wants to re-purchase Elland Road from its offshore trust, and insists that GFH are ‘long-term investors: there is no two- or three-year exit plan.’
Despite this, Leeds supporters may worry that their club is being placed into more unstable hands – yes, there has been a downturn in the economic market since 2008, but does that account for such a big loss?
Although Ken Bates’ potential sale of Leeds United can only be greeted positively, things may not be as rosy as they seem for Leeds. To invert a timeless adage, Bates’ departure from Elland Road may leave the sky without a cloud in sight; but an ominous tint lines the hopeful blue above.