By George & Tom Chellis
Utter the name Ken Bates to Leeds United fans and most will shudder, hurl a long series of expletives in your direction but finish with a great sigh of relief that he no longer has any connection to the club. The Bates era was undoubtedly the least successful on the field and the most infuriating from the stands – the fans were filled with anger, the team was filled with no-hopers on long contracts and morale was at an all-time low. After months of protracted talks, GFH Capital finally took over. 9 months on however, and once again the team is sitting mid-table and frustration is starting to gain pace among the fans. We decided to analyse the ways in which GFH have managed, and failed, to improve the club from top to bottom, from wins on the field to happiness in the stands.
At the start of this season, GFH made the long overdue decision to reduce ticket prices. 10 years of Championship (and League One) football at Premier League prices was, for some, Bates’ biggest crime against the fans. He creamed money off the top from a fan base that he knew would, for the most part, stay loyal through thick and thin. Attendances did drop drastically however, and Elland Road lost its intimidating atmosphere, a worrying trend made clear by former Leeds player Neil Kilkenny who said that Elland Road was no longer an intimidating place to travel. Ticket prices are lower and we are all grateful for that, but have they really gone down enough? We took a look at season ticket prices and our findings were disappointing. United’s cheapest season ticket would place them 12th in a Premier League table of ticket prices. It is clear GFH need to improve this more as Leeds fans are paying to watch what should be mid-table comfort in the Premier League when, in reality, it is mid-table frustration in the Championship.
Investment in the playing squad
There is one thing that ALL Leeds fans agree on – the standard of players brought in on frees by Bates was laughable. Millions of pounds worth of talent packed their bags and moved south to the Premier League Promised Land, but this money curiously disappeared. Bates brushed off this infuriating lack of investment as a ‘restructuring’ for the future but fans demanded more – they demanded players worthy of the badge. Since GFH have come in, they have in fact given some money to McDermott to spend. We were all proud to read that a seven figure some had been paid for Murphy, someone with his best years of football ahead of him. We are still lacking in key areas however, and for all Salah Nooruddin’s tweeting about potential new signings there just has not been enough unveilings at Thorp Arch. Indeed, we have continued to sign the majority on free transfers (Noel Hunt etc), players who have thus far contributed as much as they cost – nothing.
Restoring pride in the club
At the lowest times in recent years, we were extremely alarmed to see a lack of pride in the team and diminishing connection between the players and the fans. One thing that has always separated the club from others is the mad, unwavering love and support the club received from its following. This more than disappeared under Bates, and fans were actively expressing their disdain for the state the club was in on social media, with protests and by staying at home on match days. GFH have introduced some very clever schemes to correct this issue including ‘Paint It White’ marketing campaigns, increased interaction between players and fans (at the Superstore etc) and, critically for some fans, reintroducing some very important Leeds United traditions such as the Elland Road wave at the start of home games. One can argue that this has as much to do with Brian McDermott as it does the owners, but a huge amount of credit has to be given to GFH for rebuilding faith in the club and reigniting a sense of unity among the fans.
Ultimately, the success of GFH will depend on their ability to get the club back to the Premier League. You will struggle to find a Leeds United fan who is content with the team’s current mid-table obscurity, but we remain confident that GFH will continue to improve the club, from behind the scenes infrastructure to on-field success. As always we’d love to hear your own thoughts and comments on GFH’s first nine months, tweet us at @LUFC_Calypso!