By Mike Courtney
Following yesterday's crushing defeat at Ipswich, thanks in no small way to the sending off of Tom Lees when we were well on top and pressing for the lead goal, Leeds are now closer to the relegation zone then to a Playoff Spot.
This is the reality that we find ourselves in with just seven games to play which makes tomorrow's home game against Derby a must win. Defeat could leave us looking precariously over our shoulders as another season which flattered to deceive comes to a close. Who would have thought at the turn of the year with the takeover finally completed that we would be in this position. Fans genuinely bought into the euphoria of GFH's ownership and looked forward to a transfer window which many hoped would see Leeds acquire the one or two quality signings that would see us push on to a top six spot. But instead all we got was more of the same, empty promises, failure to pay the extra few pounds to get a wide man in and finally the sale of our top scorer to our apparent parent club Norwich.
Granted we got Morison in return but he was injured at the time and has failed to set the world alight, just like Becchio has failed, as many feared he would, to shine at a higher level. Now with a run of one win in six, or two in eleven since the start of February, many of which were winnable games, we are now just seven points ahead of Wolves who fill the final relegation place. Our form is that of a club in freefall and although we do have the luxury of having 10 teams between us and Wolves, a few more defeats could see us in a battle for survival instead of where we should be up battling for promotion.
So where has it all gone wrong and who is to blame? Our supreme leader Mr Warnock would have you believe it is the players, the refs, the crossbars, the missed chances and a litany of other excuses which put the blame squarely on anyone but his own good self. Yesterday it was Tom Lees who received the wrath of Warnock; in the past it has been McCormack, Becchio to mention but two. There may have been some justification in blaming Lees but there is just one moment in a season where the manager himself has not endeared himself to the fans or dare I say it some of the players with his dictatorial attitude and his failure to place any of the blame at his own door.
For me the end of the season can't come enough so that Warnock's reign can come to an end and I hope and pray that we have secured enough points to stay in this division. Then we can get a new young vibrant manager in place to galvanise the club and help us strive for the promotion that all of us fans crave. And when we look back at Neil Warnock's tenure at Leeds United I believe the history books will reveal that it was nothing but complete and utter failure in a Championship season where the teams was mediocre at best and where there was a genuine opportunity for our great club to achieve the dream of promotion. Failure which should not rest with the players, the fans or the board but on the shoulders of a manager who talked the talk but could not walk the walk when it mattered most.
Keep the faith, MOT Leeds Leeds Leeds
By Andrew Butterwick
The bright sunshine that dazzled my eyes belied the bitter cold as I gunned the car southwards towards East Anglia for the clash with Mick McCarthy's Tractor Boys. The Happy Chocker, Quiet One were joined by the Wakey Warriors for the latest Leeds United awayday. The mood was remarkably positive in the car considering we had only sampled the sweet taste of success three times away from Elland Road this term. Could Ipswich be the fourth? Well judging by the atmosphere inside the Station Hotel Ipswich there was nothing that could stop the mighty whites from taking three points back up north as the full back catalogue of the Leeds United songbook was given a healthy airing by the hardy Leeds fans packed into the Suffolk hostelry. Once again that wonderful pre match anticipation drug was working it's magic on the gathered LUFC family and like a boxer who keeps coming back for more we were all drinking it in with naive abandon.
Warnock had made three changes from the last game against Huddersfield with Austin, Habibou and Diouf making way for Norris, Morison and Michael Brown. Ross Mac was left on the bench with Varney partnering Morison up front. Not for the first time this season there were some puzzled faces amongst the away fans as they tried to understand our leader's selection logic? Still Ipswich were teetering on the relegation precipice so they should be there for the taking shouldn't they?
The match kicked of with a Siberian wind whipping through the Cobbold stand and flurries of snow blowing across the pitch. All this on a day when the clocks are adjusted to British Summer Time! The opening exchanges were lively to say the least as both sides came out fighting. Cresswell swung two early crosses into the Leeds box that had Lees and Peltier scrambling to get the ball away whilst at the other end the Ipswich defence were at sixes and sevens as a Warnock corner clattered a post and Green's follow up was gratefully cleared by Stearman. Leeds fed on their early superiority and soon Loach in the Blues goal was called upon to keep out shots from Norris, Green and Varney before punching a Morison header to safety. This was good early pressure from Leeds........................all we needed was somebody to finish one of the chances. Even Michael Brown ghosted onto a cross and fizzed the ball inches over the bar. For once we were creating good chances up front whilst at the back Tom Lees was winning everything in the air despite taking a nasty knock to the face in the opening 5 minutes. This was good and if I'm honest a little too good. there had to be a twist...........this was Leeds playing away. The twist came on 31 minutes.
Tom Lees' mistimed attempt to stub a Tabb attack out resulted in a straight red card for the Leeds youngster much to the rankle of the massed Leeds hordes. It was a harsh decision but not surprising. Lees caught the Ipswich player in the chest with his knee although Tabb is only 4ft 2" high it was still a reckless challenge. So for the third game running a Leeds player had taken an early bath on a visit to Portman Road with Lees following in the footsteps of White and Bruce in the last two years. Mmmm 60 minutes to go with only ten men. Not good.
Byram went to centre half and Green dropped to full back as Leeds reshuffled. Green so nearly compounded a bad situation as he appeared to bring Tabb down from behind in the penalty area just minutes later. The ref waved play on. It's safe to say that Mr Tabb was not the most popular player with
the away fans at this time. Leeds recovered their composure and even opened Ipswich up with a lovely move that Morison wastefully fired high and wide under no pressure from 12 yards. Bollox. Then just when it seemed Leeds would get into half time level they conceded a desperately disappointing goal right on the stroke of half time. Edwards found space on the right and floated a teasing cross into the box where Hyam headed against the bar and McGoldrick snaffled up the rebound to put Ipswich 1.0 up. Half Time.
Warnock changed the team at half time bringing Pearce on for Green. The next goal was now crucial. If Ipswich got it then I feared for Leeds and my fears were well founded as they opened up the Leeds back line with almost their first attack of the half giving McGoldrick the simplest of chances that he accepted with ease. Ipswich 2.0 and game over against the ten men of Leeds. Morison had a chance to pull one back for Leeds but his wayward shot struck Varney instead of the back of the net. Sort of summed Leeds up. The away fans were now resigned to yet another fruitless away trip and gallows humour became the order of the day. Songs advising Mr Warnock to take a trip to Cornwall and ironic cheers when we had a shot or strung more than three passes together spilled down from the frustration of the Cobbold Stand. On the pitch Paddy Kenny was now working overtime to give the scoreline some respectability. Byram had a terrific shot blocked on the line but Ipswich added an inevitable third on 70 minutes as the game drifted away from Leeds accompanied by defiant chants of "We're shite but we still Love Leeds" and "you're not so special we lose every week" from the remaining Leeds fans. With the exception of Byram, Kenny and Warnock there were too many players in Leeds shirts just not showing the passion required when you go down to ten men. The game finished 3.0 but I was already back in the car. Ipswich is a long way to come to watch your team give in without putting up much of a fight.
This was the 5th game without a win for Leeds a statistic that had us nervously scanning the league table as we headed back north. After the bright opening the capitulation after Lees' red card was so annoyingly frustrating and so similar to last year's trip to Portman Road when we failed spectacularly in the 2nd period. If anyone had any doubt that we are nowhere near good enough to get out of this league then this game must have eliminated any last spark of forlorn hope. It's time the players shouldered the blame aswell as the Manager. This season can't end quick enough for me but with uncertainty over who will own and manage the club next season I can't see the summer being anything other than drenched in rumours, speculation and too little action on Planet Leeds.
Derby up next on Easter Monday. Can Leeds resurrect some semblance of form and beat the East Midlanders..................something we've failed to do in the last 87 games against the Rams? I'm not overly optimistic on this one. Life on Planet Leeds gets more difficult as each week goes by.
Difficult to take much more.
By Rob Atkinson
If you should happen to be a footy fan – as I am, and have been these many years, since days of yore with short shorts, middling ability and long sideburns – then you may well be in the habit of switching on the TV occasionally to watch the glitzy offerings of the munificently funded Premier League. With its incomparable array of prima donnas and fabulously wealthy superstars, prancing athletically around a pristine and manicured football pitch in the very latest state-of-the-art stadium (constructed courtesy of Meccano Inc.) - it’s a far cry from the heyday of The Football League, Divisions One to Four.
Back then, men were men, refs were nervous and physios routinely cured ruptured cruciates or shattered thighs with a damp sponge and hoarse exhortations to “gerron with it” – or so it seemed. Full-backs with legs of the type more usually to be found on billiard tables would careen through the mud at Elland Road or Anfield, some flash, quivering, overpaid at £200 a week winger in their merciless sights,
destined to be afflicted with acute gravel-rash. Centre-backs with foreheads like sheer cliffs would head muddy balls clear to the halfway line, get up out of the mire, groggily shake their mighty heads, and then do it all over again - for the full 90 minutes, Brian. The good old days, without a doubt.
There is little that the modern game has in common with those far-off, non-High Definition times when some top-flight games weren’t even covered by a local TV camera for a brief clip on regional news. Now, every kick of ball or opponent is available in super slow-mo for in-depth analysis by a battery of experts, from a dozen different angles. The game today is under the microscope seven days a week, where then it was viewed only from afar, limited to highlights from a select few stadia every Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Even now, the smell of hot ironing and roast beef with Yorkshire Pud will take me back to Sabbath afternoons sat contentedly before “Sunday Soccer” as Billy Bremner and Co dismantled the hapless opposition.
Leeds United was the team, back then. On their day, the lads would toy with their rivals as a particularly cruel cat might do with a half-dead mouse. Many will recall the spectacle of a mortally-wounded Southampton side – already seven goals to nil down near the end of the game – trying all they knew to get a touch of the ball as their tormentors in white passed it effortlessly between themselves, brazenly flaunting their catalogue of flicks, reverse passes and sublime long passing. The game was long since won and all Leeds’ energies were palpably focused on a very public humiliation of their exasperated victims. Some thought it was in poor taste, a shoddy way to treat fellow professionals. Leeds fans remember it 40 years on as the ultimate statement of an undeniably top team, proclaiming to the nation “Look at us. We are the best.”
This was 1972, when Leeds might well have won pretty much everything, but had to settle in the end for their solitary FA Cup triumph, missing out on the Title right at the death in typically controversial circumstances. Leeds won far less than they should have done; a combination of official intransigence, their own inherent self-doubt, Don Revie’s crippling caution and superstitions – together it must be said with some shockingly bad luck – limited their trophy haul to a mere trickle when it should have been a flood. But those flickering images of arrogant dominance and untouchable skill revealed also an unbreakable brotherhood and grisly determination that spoke of a very special team indeed. The resonance even today of that oft-repeated tag “Super Leeds” says far more about the status of Revie’s
side than any mundane tally of trophies possibly could.
In those days, of course, the gulf in ability between Leeds United and Southampton, described by Match of the Day commentator Barry Davies as “an almighty chasm”, was just that. The gap in class was achieved on merit. It wasn’t backed up by any such gulf in the relative earnings of the men in white and the demoralised Saints, or players of any other club. The playing field back then was very much more level than it is now, when the top few clubs - in an apt metaphor for society at large – cream off the bulk of the income, leaving the rest to feed on scraps. The pool of possible Champions was consequently greater – Derby County won it that year of Southampton’s ritual humiliation, as Leeds faltered when required to play their last League game a mere two days after a gruelling Cup Final. Imagine the outcry if one of the major teams had to do that today! And ask yourself if a Derby County or a Nottingham Forest are likely to be Champions again in the near future, blocked off as they are from that status by the oligarchy at the Premier League’s top table.
There aren’t many more hackneyed phrases than “The Good Old Days” – but for those who like their sporting competition to have a wide and varied base, with the possibility of a good proportion of the participants actually having a chance to win in any given season – then the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s take some beating. Leeds United fans like to refer to their team of 1992 as “The Last Real Champions”, and a convincing case can be made for this, looking at the transformation which took place shortly thereafter, the explosion in finances for the chosen few, and the small number of clubs – invariably backed by mega-millions – who have been Champions since. Even the once-mighty Liverpool FC has been affected. Despite Leeds United’s current problems, they have been Champions more recently than the Anfield Reds.
It’s perhaps fitting that Leeds have a claim to the accolade of Last Real Champions. As Super Leeds, they dominated English Football for a decade, without ever winning their due. Now that we can look back to a turning point for the game 21 years ago when the Premier League broke away, and the cash registers started to make more noise than disillusioned fans, we can possibly consider those 1992 Champions, nod to ourselves, and say yes; they were the last of the old guard, the final Champions of the Good Old Days.
As epitaphs go, it’s not a bad one.
By Rob Atkinson
A journey further back in time for this week’s Memory Match, to the golden, hazy days of the late seventies. This was a post-glory era Leeds United, but not too bad a side for all that – especially during the early part of Jimmy Adamson’s Elland Road
managership. These were the days when the famous old stadium was dominated from all four corners by the tallest floodlights in Britain, towering 260 feet into the Yorkshire sky, and illuminating proceedings with their distinctive diamond-shaped arrays of 220 lamps each. Genial Jim Callaghan was Old Labour’s last Prime Minister before Maggie Thatcher took charge for the Tories, we said goodbye to two long-running police drama series in Z-Cars and The Sweeney and songs from the soundtrack of hit musical Grease figured large in the singles charts along with the likes of Kate Bush, the Bee Gees and Boney M.
Leeds at this point were a club still trying to re-establish themselves as a success following a distinct decline from the greatness of Don Revie’s all-conquering United warriors. The previous two seasons had seen progress to both domestic semi-finals, but defeat to Man Utd in the FA Cup, and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in the League Cup had blocked the path to Wembley on each occasion. Billy Bremner had moved on, Norman Hunter had gone – but the home crowd had a new favourite in Tony Currie, one of the few players who could genuinely live up to the sobriquet of “Midfield Maestro”. Currie had been signed from Sheffield United in the summer of 1976, and as the 78/79 season dawned he was surely in the prime of his career, shining for club and country alike, pulling the strings which controlled the team’s performance and frequently doing just as he pleased against helpless opponents.
This season had started with the surprise appointment of former Celtic manager Jock Stein to replace the sacked Jimmy Armfield. I still remember being on holiday in Spain, and my Dad chucking a hard-to-obtain English newspaper across at me with the headline “Stein For Leeds” on the back. I had been delighted, but sadly Big Jock’s stay at Elland Road was a mere 44 days before he left to take up his dream job as Scotland manager. So it was Adamson’s Army which greeted the teams on a bleak November afternoon as newly-promoted Southampton provided the opposition. Leeds’ home form had been reasonable, with a draw against West Brom and a narrow defeat to Arsenal in the previous five games, though Birmingham and Derby had both been convincingly beaten, and there had been a welcome 2-1 victory over Chelsea. Attendance levels though were relatively disappointing other than for the traditionally attractive matches against top teams, and a fairly sparse crowd of 23592 turned up for what was, on the face of it, a mundane fixture.
Leeds started as they preferred, attacking the South Stand end of the ground so as to save the Kop for a second-half assault, and they had the breakthrough after only fourteen minutes. Trevor Cherry, coming out of defence, played a probing ball up field where the burly Ray Hankin rose to head downwards to little Brian Flynn. United’s pocket dynamo was always adept at picking up possession in dangerous areas and making good use of the ball, and he was quick to scurry across the edge of the Saints penalty area towards the right, where he neatly slipped a pass to Arthur Graham. The Scottish winger was well-known for his ability to cut in from either wing, and once he got the ball in space on either foot, he could be quite lethal, as he proved now. Moving back infield, he easily evaded a defender before turning smartly to fire left-footed past former Halifax 'keeper Terry Gennoe into the bottom right-hand corner. It was a clinical finish, giving the Southampton stopper no chance at all.
Eight minutes later, the lead was doubled, and this was a collectors' item of a goal. Not since Boxing Day 1975 had Paul Madeley troubled the scorers, but here he was suddenly in what was nose-bleed territory for him, just outside the opposition area as Graham rolled in a pass from the right. United’s Rolls-Royce, as he had been dubbed, was a Mr Versatile of many years standing, having worn every outfield number for Leeds, but he was never exactly prolific in front of goal. Now though he seized on Graham’s pass and struck a left foot shot which took a cruel deflection, hopelessly wrong-footing Gennoe who could only watch as the ball bobbled into the net. 2-0 to United who were cruising at half-time, having been rather unluckily denied a third when John Hawley’s header thudded against an upright after a flowing move down the left.
The second half was only ten or so minutes old when one of the most famous Leeds United goals in living memory drew rapturous applause from the fans massed behind the goal at the Gelderd End. Tony Currie had been in full-on matador mode all day, taunting opponents with his mastery of possession, effortless control, trademark step-over and change of pace. His range of passing on form like today’s was almost Giles-esque, and there really is no higher praise than that. It had always looked like being Currie's match to dominate, and now he scored the goal that cemented his place in United folklore. Snatching possession midway inside the Saints half, Currie mastered a lively bouncing ball before advancing on a nervously retreating Chris Nicholl. Rather than doing anything so mundane as beating his man, Currie looked up and, using the Saints defender as a shield, he simply bent the ball around him on a beautiful, curving trajectory, past the diving Gennoe to nestle in the far right-hand corner of the goal. “Oh, my goodness!” intoned an awestruck Martin Tyler commentating for Yorkshire TV, “…and Tony Currie milks the applause that is so deserved.”
The rout of the Saints was complete on 65 minutes, when a Trevor Cherry cross from deep on the right caught the visitors’ defence hopelessly square, leaving Hankin in space and onside. Yugoslav defender Ivan Golac, who had never scored in English football until today, now broke his duck in the most undesirable fashion, chasing back nobly to dispossess Hankin who was casually weighing up his options, but tragically succeeding only in lifting the ball over his‘keeper and into his own net for 4-0.
For much of the remaining 25 minutes, Leeds seemed to take their foot off the gas somewhat, and allowed a Southampton side - who had, in truth, battled well throughout - a number of pots at David Harvey’s goal. The Leeds‘keeper though, unaccountably frozen out of a Scottish International side that could well have used his agility and experience, was equal to everything thrown at him, and preserved a clean sheet without being troubled unduly.
It hadn’t been a fantastic match, or indeed an especially memorable one, apart from two superlative goals from Graham and Currie. History shows, too, that Southampton would have the last laugh that season, coming back from trailing 2-0 against Leeds United in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final at Elland Road, to draw that game 2-2. They then completed the job with a 1-0 victory in the second leg at The Dell, going through to lose the Wembley final against Nottingham Forest.
But for United it was the season that saw us back into European competition for the first time since our ill-fated European Cup Final against Bayern four years previously, and the Saints win contributed its fair share to that achievement. Sadly though Tony Currie was soon to depart, his then wife apparently homesick for London. He duly joined QPR and eventually graced Wembley at club level himself as Rangers played Tottenham in the FA Cup Final of 1982, before injury drew a close to a flamboyant and entertaining career. Leeds without Currie were never quite the same force again, and we were now on the downward spiral to eventual relegation in the 1981-82 season.
In many ways then 1978-79 was United’s last hurrah in the top flight, our last decent stab at competing in the top league until Howard Wilkinson restored that status in 1990; and Tony Currie was certainly in my opinion the last real Leeds Legend of the immediate post-Revie era. For me, he was one of the greatest, and I mourned his departure more than most I have witnessed over the years. It felt like the end of an era when he went, and so it ultimately proved to be. But Currie left us with some magical memories, perhaps the greatest of which remains that terrific banana shot at the Kop End, a goal worthy of any superstar, and one fit to grace any occasion.
Next: Memory Match No.6: West Ham Utd 1, Leeds United 5.
Upton Park was frequently a happy hunting ground for Leeds, and the Whites’ cause was aided on this occasion by a couple of Hammers dismissals in a May 1999 game where –
for once – we seemed to get the rub of the green where the ref was concerned.
By Andrew Butterwick
This week I've got a weekend off for good behaviour from watching the excruciating torture of my beloved Leeds United stumble about in mid table championship oblivion. The majority of fans have long since accepted this season will not see a glorious return to the promised land of the Premier League and are conditioned to seeing the season out with a run of "dead rubber" games sprinkled with the odd exciting battle against teams such as Dave Jones' Wendies side. Of course Leeds being Leeds that doesn't mean the end of season will end in a whimper as new investors, or are they buyers, circle the GFH chuck wagons looking for a killing as our new owners look to solve their cash flow black hole. If that wasn't enough the saga of Warnock's potential successor becomes more convoluted than a fire insurance claim on Coronation Street as candidates appear and disappear from the bookies runners and riders list with the same frequency as a Rio Ferdinand physiotherapy appointment.
Gareth Southgate suddenly came out of the back field as a potential Leeds manager to join the hard core of Adkins, Poyet, McDermmot and even mentions of David O'Leary and Gary McAllister. Given that GFH seem to have about as much knowledge of the Football manager market as a giant centipede followers of the mighty whites will be comforted by the fact that Mr Warnock has found time in between trips to Cornwall and praising his "great bunch of lads" to advise his employers on their next appointment. I'd love to be a fly on the wall when they're drafting the job description. It would probably look a bit like this:
- Complete self belief in their own ability and the vision to see their performance as fantastic even when it's decidedly average.
- Reluctance to ask any more from the lads.
- Must live in Cornwall and refer to this in every press conference after a defeat.
- Must understand that referees and ex top goal scorers are the only reason their team fails.
Football knowledge and tactical awareness:
- Must understand the complexities of tactical substitutions. It will be an advantage if they can quote from my book, "The benefits of waiting until the 91st minute before making subs"
- Must understand the skills and types of players required to play with the ball in the air. Any mention of the words passing and on the floor will immediately disqualify the candidate.
- Selection. Any inkling or evidence of understanding of what your best team is and consistently selecting said team will be a disadvantage. Any candidate suggesting this radical approach should be avoided.
- Tactics. Must be one dimensional and based on getting the ball forward quickly and at the expense of control and finesse.
- born in Sheffield.
- Achieved at least 7 previous promotions despite having poor game win ratio in total career.
- Must have managed at least Notts County, Sheff Utd and Scarborough.
- Must be a bloody minded Yorkshireman.
I'm not sure there will be many candidates who fit those stretching criteria?
Back to the ownership issue. I do hope this can be resolved before the end of the season because I don't think I could stand yet another summer of "definite" takeover dates infesting each week of the close season only to get to the first match of next season in exactly the same position. History will look back on the Bates period at Leeds as the Dark Ages. Question is what will the next age be? Will it be Arab inspired riches or a Venky like inspired chaos? Until that is clear Planet Leeds will continue to frustrate, amuse and disappoint their uber loyal residents with the odd sprinkling of unexpected joy.
Ipswich away is next for the hardy band of away followers. The joys of a 97 hour drive and bar maids with Leeds shirts on.............oh and we might just win.
Leeds United require a replacement for Neil Warnock, with Matthew Glazier of www.bettingpro.com looking at the likely lads for the Elland Road hotseat.
Neil Warnock has admitted that he’ll be stepping down as manager of Leeds United at the end of the season, having failed to steer the west Yorkshire side into a top six Championship finish.
Therefore, there will be a new face in charge come the start of next season and we look at those men who could form part of the shortlist to replace Warnock and steer the club towards the Premier League.
Adkins was surprisingly axed by Southampton a couple of months ago although the former Scunthorpe physio is unlikely to be out of work for very long. He has impressive credentials after achieving a recent double promotion with a modest Saints squad, with Leeds surely wanting to interview the 48-year-old about the vacant post.
Paolo Di Canio
Leeds fans might be split on whether they want the 44-year-old in charge of their team, although the Italian helped Swindon Town to achieve promotion from League Two and left them in good shape when
standing down a few weeks ago. He’s a firebrand of a manager but that could be what is required with the current United squad.
He’d potentially be a safer choice for the Elland Road board, with the Scot having done pretty well with Burnley when taking the Clarets into the Premier League before defecting to Bolton. His reign at the Reebok Stadium was a tale of two halves, having done very well before the club were relegated last season.
Young football fans might not remember he was a football manager at Middlesbrough between 2006 and 2009, with the former Palace midfielder now a regular fixture as a pundit on ITV. Quite whether he’s prepared to exchange his media role and FA position to manage Leeds United remains to be seen.
Hasselbaink was a big hit at Elland Road during his playing days, scoring 34 goals in 69 for the Whites before leaving for Atletico Madrid. He’s done his coaching badges since then, with the Dutchman a first-team coach at Nottingham Forest until recently, perhaps he can inject new ideas into a Leeds team as they search for automatic promotion next term.
Written by Matthew Glazier from Bettingpro.com, the number one source for sports betting tips, breaking news and expert views.
By Rob Atkinson
Leeds United are officially up for sale again, just three months after GFH Capital completed their “bargain purchase” of the Club from cuddly Uncle Ken Bates on 21 December last year. This news might be received with joy, despair or indifference, depending on your current attitude to the low-budget kitchen-sink drama that is LUFC these days.
The joyous ones are the optimists, dreaming that – at last – a rich billionaire (as opposed to the sort of impoverished billionaires normally linked to the Club) will come steaming in on his souped-up camel, and purchase for us long-suffering fans the baubles we have craved ever since winning the Last Proper League Championship.
The pessimists meanwhile are withdrawing their heads back under the carapace of their impenetrable gloom, pausing only to remind the rest of us that they knew all this takeover talk was bollocks right from the start last May, that no-one with any dosh would come within a mile of Leeds United, and that we’ll now probably be sold back to Ken Bates for ten bob after a second administration, so that he can fulfill his stated aim of reducing us to the Ryman League, Division Three.
Personally, I’m languishing among the indifferent tendency, somewhere between these first two groups. I’ve quite frankly had enough of Leeds United this last year or so, especially after the battering all our psyches took with the roller-coaster TOMA* saga of last summer, and being roundly laughed at and suffering from chronic urine-extraction by dopey fans of daft little cobble-stone clubs (you know who you are.) It’s just not good for morale, and mine is shot through, thanks very much.
The thing is though, the Club has somehow to carry on its business of playing games of football with some appearance of trying to win them, and maybe in the process attracting what they are nowadays pleased to call “customers” through the computerised turnstiles. And this undertaking is not helped at all, not in the least, by any measure of uncertainty among the fanbase. Last summer was awful, and now – with GFH Capital apparently anticipating completion of a sale withing a window of between six and twelve months – we have more of the same in the offing. So another transfer window will pass without the urgent surgery needed to transform the current squad into a lean, mean winning machine. Another six months to a year during which the creeping disease of apathy will spread further throughout the body of support, once so vibrant and fanatically motivated. The manager is off, the latest boy wonder Super Sam is being tipped for a move to a proper football club and the fans are in the dark – as usual – regarding any long-term vision for our once-great Club.
Surely (you’d have thought) there must be some plan, some concrete strategy, for getting back to the Premier League, which is the only environment where a club like Leeds United – with its history, tradition, remaining infrastructure and global fanbase – can hope to survive and prosper. This has to be the minimum aim, and nobody with any ambitions of running the club should be under any illusions – once the Promised Land is reached, the support will not be content, like any old Wigan or Norwich, with mere survival. The Leeds fans will want to swagger in like they own the place, have a brief look around, and then win it. That’s what we did last time, 21 years ago, and the fact that it’s a totally different world nowadays will not stop that urgent demand for success, that imperious need to take on the game’s elite, and make them eat crow.
This demand, this greed and yearning for past glories to be repeated, can serve either as an inspiration for ambitious and visionary owners, or as a millstone around the neck of people who might want to come in, seek to have the club tick over in the lower reaches of the Premier League, and depart with some sort of profit. Obviously it’s to be hoped we might attract the former type, but they’ve not emerged as yet despite months of speculation about the shape of things to come post-Bates. The time is fast approaching when decisions need to be made for the good of Leeds United, about its strategy for success in the 21st Century, its model for progress in the new high-finance structure at the top end of the game and the picture it can justifiably paint for the fans of the type of club they’re going to have to support going forward. GFH Capital told us that they were here for the long haul, but now they’re jumping ship faster than the scarediest rat, making some of us wonder just how quickly that ship is sinking. What leadership can we expect from them now, what confidence can we have in them when they’re already yesterday’s men? Meanwhile we all remain firmly, blindly in the dark, where we’ve spent the bulk of the last decade, wondering what’s to become of our beloved Leeds.
Now that’s far, far too long a period of unhappiness and uncertainty for a group of people who have – mostly – continued to shell out their hard-earned, buy the tacky merchandise and roar their support from over-priced seats during a period of sustained failure and mostly crap football. The fact is that the Club is bang to rights on accusations of gross complacency and mistreatment of its prime asset – the highly vocal, passionate and still predominantly dedicated support, both immediate and match-going, and more generally in all parts of the globe. Fans want to know what’s going on at their club; quite understandably they want to be involved, they want to feel part of what’s going on. The Club have callously disregarded all of this for ages now, recent cosmetic gestures towards “fan engagement” notwithstanding, and despite welcome moves towards a more realistic pricing structure. There just hasn’t been enough transparency, and now we’re going to enter another disturbing period of uncertainty, to emerge eventually – well who knows in what shape we’ll emerge? Treat any group of “customers” (if we really must so term fans) with such blatant disregard and such arrogant refusal to consult them and address their concerns, and eventually – even with fanatics and people who live their lives through their obsession – you’ll lose them. I’ve been a fanatic, for 38 years, at some cost to my financial and social well-being, and yet they’ve damn nearly lost me. I’m starting to prefer my football wrapped in a film of nostalgia – it’s less painful than the current reality. But whatever defiant noises I might make, and however much I might warn of erosive apathy – I still care. Too deeply for my own good. And there remain thousands like me.
But we can’t carry on like this. It’s got way beyond a joke, and the jibes from opposing fans – all too well aware of our history, and nursing the standard anti-Leeds chip on their shoulders – are far less worrying than the grumbles of discontent from the ranks of the still-faithful. Get your act together, Leeds United, and do it soon, or preferably do it NOW. We’re still with you. But for how much longer?
*TOMA – For the uninitiated, this is an acronym referring to the perceived unlikelihood of Leeds United benefiting from a buyout to its advantage. Take Over My Arse.
By Steve Jennings
So it is official, Leeds United FC is up for sale a few short months after being purchased by GFH Capital (or one of their various associated companies, I get confused). Or maybe it has been up for sale long before the paperwork was signed and the Bahraini Bank officially acquired the West Yorkshire club and it is now only public knowledge because the owning company have to include this in their various financial reports? It is not unreasonable for purchasers to buy only to sell on and this happens in business every day. Only Mr Haigh and Mr Patel will know if that was always the business plan, but no doubt this latest news will prompt much speculation and innuendo on the websites associated with Leeds United and social media outlets. And, sadly, some unwarranted abuse for the two gentlemen involved.
Leeds fans must think back to the recent and very dark past. The Ken Bates years at Elland Road are the darkest in the history of our great club. Even those that previously supported Bates are now having their heads turned from hailing the former Chelsea chairman as some kind of saviour to a man responsible for taking us into administration and our lowest ever league placing, and one who exploited an army of supporters for his own gain. Now I have no problem with any clubs owners making a few quid for their efforts – this is business after all, like it or not – but as an old fashioned supporter who yearns only to see his club field a team that play with passion and commitment every match day, I do demand that an appropriate amount of business acumen and investment is placed in the core product. That is the Football team. That is where Ken Bates failed.
I do not wish to dwell on Ken Bates perceived business and media failings at Leeds United as there have been too many to apply the appropriate detail to and already much debated elsewhere. It now bores me. But I do recall a time when I wondered if Leeds United would ever rid itself of this man without being on the receiving end of some fatal damage. Bates had a stranglehold on Leeds United and was clearly getting something positive out of his ownership. This was clearly not a sense of achievement on the football field as our club were nothing short of a laughing stock in the world of Football. Bates was also subject to some personal abuse with the “Bates Out” chants getting louder and the protests gaining more momentum with every embarrassing result against opposition not previously deemed suitable to play on the same field as Leeds, with every misfiring season or promising youngster sold for an “undisclosed fee” only to be replaced by an aged loanee or free signing. Despite the insistence from Bates and his puppets that the chairman “never took a penny out of the club” I can only assume there was some significant financial gain from the obvious struggles of running the Whites? This income may have come from the various businesses associated to Leeds United that Bates created (so technically money not direct from the club) but clearly he was doing very well for his efforts. Otherwise why the hell would he bother? And Bates insisted many times he was going nowhere, again why?
Radio stations, web media platforms, ownership of the Elland Road stadium, ownership of the Thorpe Arch training facility, catering companies, hospitality suites & pavilions, talk of investment in hotels, casinos and restaurants – it all lead to a complex network surrounding our club and would make the sale of our club much more complex than other football clubs with – maybe – less history or potential. I was convinced even death wouldn’t save the fans of this man because I was certain he would have some clause so his family would gain ownership of the club. Or worst still, there was a younger version of Ken waiting to take on Daddy’s companies? A younger, fitter version with the same poor business sense and subsequent decision making abilities, vile mouth and instant readiness to highlight, target and vilify anyone that stood in their way? And with more energy to drive it all home.
In my mind the only thing that may force Bates to sell would be if the club were spiralling into the abyss as, this time, he could not blame previous chairmen or directors, the YEP, West Yorkshire Police or the bloke who cleans the East Stand toilets. The blame would be his. And only his.
Prior to Bates selling to GFH there were many companies interested in buying the club despite what he and his dwindling number of apologists tell you. Bates admitted in 2009 that a former Everton director offered £34m for the club but was told in Ken’s cuddly way to “go forth and multiply” and only come back if there was £41m in the bag. I am not in the know but have some acquaintances including the MD of one of the biggest and most famous betting institutes in the UK who opened talks with Bates about buying Leeds. Bates was an unwilling seller preferring investment (i.e. someone else puts the money up, he spends it without personal financial risk and accepts any success while blaming the investors for lack of appropriate funding if it all fails badly). Needless to say the conversations came to an abrupt end. On Friday last week I was at a family funeral and was told by my immensely successful brother-in-law that his boss had tried to buy Leeds “many times” but initial advances never progressed because the finances were “all over the place” and the structure of ownership “complex”. This same man purchased another Yorkshire club and lead them to the Premier League aided by a former Leeds employee who was his club chairman.
The fact remains that interested parties were being put off and there were plenty who fall into this category. Anyone seriously interested in buying Leeds would need a large amount of business acumen, money, tenacity, patience, vision and much more. And to be ready, no doubt, to debate the purchase publicly considering Ken’s Peter Ridsdale style infatuation with courting publicity. I doubted anyone would show interest, even a shirt wearing, season-ticket holding Leeds fan with more money than sense.
When the first rumours circulated in May 2012 that Bates may consider selling Leeds I was sceptical because of all of the above. Why would he? When, after a while, names were mentioned and confirmation that talks were being held was printed in the papers I was adamant that these developments were because Leeds, Bates and any other associated businesses must be in financial strife. And, if so, then this would only serve to complicate and ultimately prolong talks that would already be extensive just because Ken Bates was involved. If you bought a second hand car off this man you would get a second opinion. And a third. Fourth. Fifth. In fact about a dozen. Who would to buy a club up a dead end street?
All things considered I applaud GHF for pursuing the complicated purchase of Leeds United and finally acquiring the club. If they achieve nothing else they would have released the stranglehold Ken Bates had on Leeds United Football Club and every supporter that wakes every morning and thinks about the club before much else. They have listened to the fans and this is proven.
Maybe their intention was always buy to sell? Maybe the thought of running a football club long term with such demanding fans was unappealing, hence the almost caretaker ownership? Could you blame them? I will judge GFH on who they sell Leeds United to and whether the incoming purchasers have the financial clout to invest in Leeds United’s core product. Remember that, it is called the team? Those 11 players we cheer or jeer every match day.
Be careful what you text, tweet or say about GFH. When the dust settles and whatever happens has happened we may remember what GFH actually achieved and that was to rid our club of Ken Bates which we know wasn’t easy and was never going to be. I would buy both Mr Haigh and Patel a pint for doing that.