Saturday, February 16, 2013

Leeds United: Pay Off, Sell Off Or Play Offs?

Sabotage Times 15/2/13
by James Brown
The new Leeds United owners seem short of dosh and the manager is short of ideas. Will the coming weeks see Bates back in charge?
I don’t suppose you’ve a spare twelve million you could buy Leeds United with? And another twenty to fund promotion to the richest football league in the world over the next two years?
You don’t? No well, join the club, I don’t think the current owners do either.
If there was a book open on who the next owners of LUFC will be – and right now it could be anyone – I’d be backing Ken Bates. Unlike some doubters I do believe Ken Bates has actually sold Leeds United to GFH Capital but I also think its highly likely he will have a clause allowing him to resume ownership if they don’t make an agreed payment schedule.
Bates certainly thinks he’s in with a chance, he doesn’t appear to think the new owners know how to run a football business and is probably already looking forward to the day he can buy LUFC back for a pound. Something he’s believed to have already said to them.
GFH’s public statement this week inviting more investors certainly sounds as if they are scrabbling around trying to raise cash quickly for something. If it isn’t to make a payment to Bates what the hell is the sale of Becchio at a time when his goals could have fired us into the play offs about?
If this is the case, any new take over by the reported ’Yorkshire Consortium’ wouldn’t be injecting significant and much needed cash into the running of the club so much as just giving money owed by GFH to the former owner Bates.
When it was announced that former Leeds United Commercial Director Adam Pearson was thought be heading up a challenge for the club I was pleased. I worked with Adam in the late 90s and early 00′s at the club when we were building the Leeds United publishing business and he was a voice of reason in the shadow of the publicity crazed figure above him. One time I was on a train on the way to a hospital to be treated for concussion and Adam called me and told me he’d been asked by Publicity Pete to not print any more letters like the one from the Wing Commander in that issue of LLL. At a time when a lot of fans were saying we were buying too many strikers and over-loading the squad – how right they were – The Wing Commander delivered a huge rant saying Ridsdale should be buying MORE! A new striker a week was what he was demanding. From the triple barrel Monty Python style name to the totally stupid tone and theme of the letter it was obvious to everyone it was a joke but Adam had the misfortune to have been told to call me and get us to cut it out. It’s fair to say that even with a cracked head from a dive into the shallow end of a swimming pool I was making more sense of the world than Publicity Pete.
That Pearson chose to leave Leeds when we were flying high in Europe to take over then lowly Hull City spoke volumes of his opinion of what was going on internally at Elland Road.
The day he announced he was buying Hull with long time Leeds United supporter Peter Wilkinson backing him, I called and wished him all the best and thanked him for helping publish Leeds Leeds Leeds magazine.
In the background Ridsdale was cracking jokes about Tony The Tiger and wanting to know why I hadn’t quoted him in a front cover profile of Rio Ferdinand, then Leeds centre back, for The Times magazine two days before. That summed the state of the club up. One sensible management figure was leaving to explore a decent opportunity – take Hull City to the Premiership in a few years – the other was looking for his name in the lifestyle section of a newspaper. The two clubs crossed paths as Hull City climbed and Leeds crashed and burned. Even now they sit above us in the Championship.
I often think of Ridsdale when I see new owner David Haigh’s twitter feed. Open dialogue with fans is one thing but there’s been an awful lot of time spent in the digital spotlight for David given we haven’t done anything yet. Pete was big on talking to the fans too if you remember rightly.
My only hope is that if Adam Pearson is building a take-over for LUFC he is doing so backed by Wilkinson, the successful technology entrepreneur, and not the guys who Bates has been knocking back and mocking for the last few years. Passionate local businessmen with strong regional businesses is one thing, but if they haven’t had enough money for Bates to take advantage of, in the way he got Matthew Harding to help prop up Chelsea, you have to wonder if there’s enough money in the pot to sustain a serious championship promotion challenge. In football cash flow you can go through millions like most of us get through twenties.
Pearsons experience at Leeds, Hull City, Derby and Hull FC is exactly the type needed to steer the club to where the fans want to be but he will only be giving himself half a chance if he hasn’t a good £30mil behind him.
Last summer I suggested to Simon Moran, the successful music promoter (Take That, Stone Roses) and owner of Warrington Wolves that he should buy Leeds and he just shuddered and said ‘No way, I’ve read Simon Jordan’s book’.
Apart from Crystal Palace and Blackpool I don’t think any club have sneaked into the Premiership on a lowly budget and they were both lead by charimastic and hungry managers, not a post-match interview showboating old boy on the verge of retirement. And there are just too many good managers in the top half of the Championship to allow Leeds an easy ride up. Right now many fans want Warnock out but he won’t walk and I can’t see GFH paying him off so close to the end of his contract. Right now he”s their only hope of a last minute scramble into the Play Offs.
If Pearson is fronting for Wilkinson again I would buy two new season tickets for next season instantly. Only they will know whether the money that bought Hull will be the same money that can buy and save Leeds. If its a slight possibility I’d urge Wilkinson to invest and stand well back. At least Pearson will know what he’s doing in running the football club which is more can can be said at the moment. if GFH knew what they were doing they wouldn’t have retained the old board, a move which has failed to impress fans who were sick of the Bates era.
Whether Wilkinson will invest is another matter. He is certainly a Leeds United fan of longstanding. I used to sit near him and wonder who this guy who looked like a cross between Nick Cave and a lecturer was. And whilst it is the dream of many fans who can’t afford it to own the club, the reality for those who can and do is often a terrible experience.
Last summer I suggested to Simon Moran, the successful music promoter (Take That, Stone Roses) and owner of Warrington Wolves that he should buy Leeds and he just shuddered and said ‘No way, I’ve read Simon Jordan’s book’.
And there-in lies the rub. Football is like no other business. Peter Wilkinson is a very private man and wouldn’t want the attention. And Bates doesn’t give a fuck about being liked and leading a club or a community, he just wanted to make money and rub people’s noses in it. Bates could have presided over a successful ten years at Elland Road but instead thousands of fans consider him nothing more than scum.
I’m yet to meet a group of Leeds fans where the majority think GFH either have the money or the understanding to run the club. We just have to hope that a knight in Super White shining armour or a very private technology figure with a genuine lifelong love of Leeds can bring himself to save the club at a time when we appear to be dangerously teetering on the verge of financial disaster again.