Takeover press conference transcript - 21 December

Shaun Harvey: First of all, welcome to Elland Road. I don’t think it needs and major introduction as to the reason why you’re here today, but it gives me particular pleasure to welcome on my left Salem Patel and on my right David Haigh, who are both representatives of GFH Capital, the new owners of Leeds United Football Club. It would be appropriate for me to add at this stage the apologies of Hisham Alrayes, who has also joined the board of Leeds United but is currently on other business in the Middle East and unable to join us today, but he will be seen at Elland Road in the not too distant future.
On behalf of everybody on the top table, I would like to offer our thanks to the professional teams that have worked behind the scenes in making this transaction possible. This required a lot of effort on behalf of a lot of different people and for that we are grateful.
And finally, ladies and gentlemen of the media, if when you’re asking questions you could announce your name and the organisation whom you represent it will make it a little bit easier for us in addressing the questions and the floor is yours. The gentlemen are available for questions. Thank you.
Bryn Law from Sky Sports News: It’s been a long time coming, why, why have you bought Leeds United?
Salem Patel: Leeds United, as you know, is a great football club, its history, it’s got pedigree, it’s got a fantastic base on which we can build the club up. Now, we looked at a number of clubs but for us Leeds United was the most attractive for the reasons I’ve already outlined. What we really hope to achieve with this club is to bring back the type of atmosphere that we all witnessed on Wednesday, when, although the result wasn’t fantastic, the atmosphere, the crowd, it was absolutely fantastic being here on that night and that’s what we want to really re-create, a sustainable, successful future.
Bryn Law: And how are you going to do that? That is going to take some investment, isn’t it?
SP: Obviously, it’s going to take investment and we wouldn’t have bought a club like this if we weren’t prepared to make that type of investment, but what we want to say is that we’re not going to be spending crazy money like some football club owners have, but what we want to do is to make the investment sustainable and make the club successful, simple as that.
David Haigh: But I think there are other things as well. It’s not just always about money, it’s about re-engaging the community, re-engaging the fans, small steps as well as obviously investment can make such a big difference and that’s one of the things that attracted us, Salem, to Leeds United, the fan base is fantastic, not just in Leeds, but around the world, in Norway, in Bahrain, in Dubai, there’s supporters’ groups everywhere, obviously supporters’ groups here in Leeds as well, and that’s what makes it so very special.
Bryn Law: How important is Premier League, the potential to be in the Premier League to what you want to do here in future?
SP: Clearly any new owner, or any existing owner, of a football club that is in the Championship or in the divisions below has the dream to go into the Premier league. Financially it is the best place to be and that is where we hope to take this club to, but our business model is not predicated on the club being in the Premier League.
Bryn Law: You have engaged with fans already, the pair of you, by social media, by Twitter, you’ll be aware of concerns about GFH itself. Can you allay those concerns that some fans have about the level of investment that could even be possible?
DH: Concerns have been… As far as we’re concerned, we’ve bought this club with cash, there’s no doubt. We’re looking forward to the future. As you mention, we’ve interacted with fans already, for a number of months, we have today set up an official Twitter account, we can continue to interact with the fans, so we’re very open to people raising their concerns, raising their issues with us, we’ve had 4,500 messages of support over the last month and there are more coming in today, so I think that’s a good indication that we’re open to the concerns of fans.
Bryn Law: But is GFH the financial model, or is there someone behind GFH?
DH: I think it’s… We’re a very transparent… I’m glad you asked this question, it’s a very good one, because it’s one that we’ve had a lot of comments about. We are a Dubai-based, regulated bank, owned by a Bahrain-based, regulated bank that’s listed on four stock exchanges, including London, so when it comes to transparency as to where the money has come from, who are our investors, who are our shareholders and our directors, it’s very clear and it’s incredibly transparent.
Bryn Law: So, the next question after that is, and the one I’m getting asked a lot to ask is what happens in January?
SP: In January the transfer window opens and, as you will all know, it’s not a great time to do business. Thankfully for us, we’ve already got quite a good squad, and we’ve got a few players coming back from injuries. Neil’s already publicly stated what he wants and we’re going to try and do our best to help him to achieve that, but if you’re going to ask me what amount of money we’re going to spend in January, unfortunately we’re not going to be able to answer that.
Bryn Law: One for you, Shaun. Why isn’t the chairman here?
SH: This press conference is about Leeds United going forward and as everybody knows he will remain the chairman of the club, and it’s going to be a very important transition period for everybody between now and the end of the season. But I think we wanted the focus to be on the future going forward and on GFH’s investment and takeover of Leeds United Football Club, rather than anything else, so that’s the reason, it’s about the future.
Bryn Law: And talking of the future…
SP: Sorry, if I may. We would really like to thank Ken Bates and Suzannah Bates for all of the help and assistance. It’s been a long and hard seven months of negotiations with them, but we’ve grown to know them really well, David more so than most, and we’d like to thank them once again for helping us to complete this transaction.
DH: I think that’s right. As Salem has mentioned, we spent seven months with Suzannah and Ken, seven months with the club, learning all about the club, and it’s probably one of the longest takeovers in history and I think it was Phil Hay that said 206 days. I think that’s quite unusual for a football club, so we’ve had seven months to get to know this business inside out and that puts us in a very good position going forward.
Bryn Law: Last one from me. I’ve been in this position, asking these questions too many times before, it has to be said. Why is it going to be different this time?
SP: Who have you been asking those questions to?
Bryn Law: The previous owners.
SP: Of Leeds United?
Bryn Law: Of Leeds United, yes.
SP: There’s only been three previous owners in the last few years, in the last ten years.
Bryn Law: Well, in the last ten years, but go beyond that…
DH: Well, perhaps you’re older than you look (laughs). It’s the good Yorkshire weather, isn’t it?
SH: I think now that the top table’s played with Bryn’s question, I think the reality and the genuine part is, Bryn, this is the start of the way forward. Yes, you have sat here before, as have many of your colleagues, at many other football clubs. Time is the judge as to how the club goes forward, and that’s got to be what it’s allowed to do. Everybody’s interests are perfectly aligned, everybody wants to see Leeds United Football Club back in the Premier League as quickly as possible for a whole variety of different reasons so at least that’s the one thing that will bring everybody together, and let’s hope this new era is the one that achieves that goal.
John Wray from Gosnay Sports Agency: Can you say whether there’s a plan to buy back the ground, and if so what the timescale might be?
SP: Yes sure. Look, any club would love to own its own stadium, the stadium is the heart of the activities of a football club. Currently, Leeds United do not own the stadium, nor its training facility. It is part of our plans to buy back the stadium, but we’re not at liberty at this moment to put a timescale on it.
SH: And, John, just to clarify, it is the club that has right to exercise the option to buy Elland Road back. No such option exists over Thorp Arch but over Elland Road, which is obviously I believe the key interest of the majority of fans, it is there for a very considerable period of time to come, so it’s not time dependent.
John Wray: Could I also ask what influence, if any, Mr Bates will have between now and say the end of the season on policy, policy making?
DH: To answer your question, it’s clear that as of today, Salem’s joined the board of the football club. I joined the board a couple of weeks ago, our CEO has joined the board, together with Ken and Shaun. We are now very much in control and the buck does stop with us.
Adam Pope from BBC Radio Leeds: What exactly have you bought, because Ken Bates had a controlling share, but not a hundred per cent share?
SP: We’ve actually bought 100% of the holding company that owns Leeds United Football Club… Leeds United Football Club, 100%. So we’ve bought 100% of Leeds City Holdings.
DH: Which is the most fantastic football club in the world… That’s actually what we’ve bought, not just the company.
Adam Pope: How are you going to convince fans that it’s the right thing to keep Mr Bates involved when they, obviously as you’re aware, are not that keen on having him around?
DH: Ken has been a fantastic steward of the football club while he’s been here. He’s taken it from difficult times, and he’s primed it off the pitch for the Premier League, so we’ve got a lot of thanks to give him for that. Now we are in a transitional period where we’ve just taken ownership, we are in the middle of a season, we want to make sure we’ve got the best chance of the Premier League as possible and the way to do that is to strengthen what is already there and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Adam Pope: And how’s Neil Warnock responded to the news that this is finally done, late last night, I believe?
SH: Well, I’ll go first. He did ring me and he said, ‘When can we have the conversation about January?’ I think to answer your question, like all managers Neil will roll with what’s going on and obviously concentrate on the job that he has, which is to actually achieve what all of us want, to try and get promoted.
SP: We’ve been speaking to Neil, on and off, since pretty much the process began, so he knows us fairly well, we know him fairly well. I’m sure he’s delighted, as are we.
DH: He was a very important point of our deal and he was actually a term of our contract, that he remains, so that’s how much we rate Neil, and Salem spoke to him last night. We’re off there after we finish with you guys to see Neil and the team. Adam Pope: And how will you encourage the fans that have been lost, if you like, over the last few years, back into Elland Road?
DH: We start today. Obviously, the easy way to do that is to start winning all the football matches, everybody will come back. But there’s lots of initiatives that we’ll be doing immediately. One of those, obviously, is we now have an official Twitter account, something that, Leeds is the tenth most-mentioned club on Twitter, didn’t have a Twitter account. That’s been resolved. One of Salem’s ideas, which he was working on, is the half-season tickets. That comes into play, I think, very shortly, further details will be on the net tomorrow.
SH: Yes, details are in the match programme and will be available online very quickly.
SP: And it’s also about re-engaging with fans and re-engaging with supporters, both in Leeds and outside of Leeds. This club has tremendous support. In the Middle East, believe it or not, in Norway, in Sweden, in Ireland, so it is about re-engaging with fans, listening to what they have to say. We set up a GFH Capital Leeds account where we received, like David says, thousands of e-mails, 4,500 e-mails. We’re already listening, we’re already trying to take on board as many things as we can really.
Adam Pope: And finally, how much have you paid for the club? Are you able to tell us that?
SP: A lot of money (laughs).
DH: As you all know, we’ve had some fantastic confidentiality agreements in place (laughs) for the last couple of months and parts of them still remain so we can’t discuss that.
Adam Pope: Ever?
DH: Not now.
Michael Morgan from The Sun: Neil’s gone on record as saying he wants to tie up the four loan signings, and maybe bring a couple of new players in. Is he assured of the funds to cover those deals?
DH: The thing is we will support Neil as he requires. Salem, do you want to…
SP: Shaun’s actually conducting these negotiations as we speak, but I think Thomas and Tate are two key players now for Leeds and they were brought in a couple of months ago and we really hope to keep them and Tonge, whose loan contract will expire in a couple of days again, we hope to keep him.
SH: Those conversations are ongoing and will continue to be ongoing. There will be peaks and troughs in terms of how near we get to a solution at which particular time. The key bit is, Neil is pretty clear in relation to what it is that he’s seeking. That always helps. There’s nothing worse than maybe, if, we could… we know what we’ve got to try and deliver to meet the aims. And having just invested in the club, without making radical statements, it should be consistent that we are going to try and help him as far as we can to get the club promoted.
Michael Morgan: Shaun, do you think those negotiations will be concluded in time for you to see these deals go through on 1st January?
SH: The Thomas and Tate deals run on to 2nd January and those conversations are ongoing and need to get to a conclusion but as everybody knows there are many differing factors, not just money at stake as part of these. Obviously Michael Tonge’s loan deal finishes after Saturday’s game. Michael’s enjoyed his time here, but three parties will need to agree if he’s going to be able to stay, the player, Stoke City and Leeds United, in that particular example. So there’s never just one determining factor in all these. We’re keen to be able to, want to carry on what we’re doing. We’ve won four games out of the last five League games, so the formula would appear to be working, and that’s what we want to continue with.
Michael Morgan: Can you tell us how far down the line you are with those negotiations.
SH: It’s actually irrelevant how far we are down the line. It only matters when it’s done or it falls over. Everybody has good days and bad days, and who knows who’s potentially going to get injured in training for another club this morning, and that’s what it all depends on, that’s the peril of having players on loan, if they’re not yours. So we’re working hard and I’d be disappointed if we aren’t successful, but nobody can make any promises.
John Wray: Can you give any assurances to the club’s staff about their futures? SH: Well, I’m still here, so that’s half a chance (laughs). And they don’t know them all yet, so… I don’t think there’s anything to be worried about before Christmas, John. The reality is…
DH (joking): Did you get that memo?
SH: The reality is the football club’s been bought and the business behind the football club has been bought because it’s been successful. At the risk of putting words in people’s mouths, you’re certainly not going to change things on a whim very early, and we’ve already talked about the continuity over the balance of this season that’s massively important, so I think everyone can look forward to a bright future, rather than looking over their shoulder wondering what’s coming next.
SP: Just to reiterate that one of the key things we were looking at was the quality of the staff, the quality of the management, and Neil Warnock’s, that speaks of itself. The people behind the scenes, the people on match day, the people who are running the commercial activities, etc, our experience with them in the games that we’ve been to and behind the scenes has been absolutely fantastic, so we really hope that we can retain everybody and it’s not just a case of us wanting to, they will have to want to stay with us as well. We really hope to continue to build this club into our vision, which is a sustainable and successful football club.
DH: And as Salem says, they really are… we were at the Christmas party last night and they really are a fantastic, dedicated, loyal team of people here, and that’s something that attracted us and we see it more and more every day. Hopefully, in time, as the club grows and becomes part of, the heart of, Leeds again, that’s something we can develop further.
Bryn Law: David, you described yourself as a fan, can you be hard headed on that basis?
DH: I think I can, yes.
Bryn Law: It’s been an issue here before, obviously (laughs).
DH: Why do you say that (laughs)?You do need to keep your business hat on and understand…
SP: That’s why I’m here (laughs).
John Wray: After the end of the season, David, will you become chairman, or has that not yet been decided?
SP: We anticipated this question. We’ve never actually said that David would become the chairman and we really don’t know where that rumour has started from. What we anticipate… we don’t actually know as of today who will become the chairman in six months’ time, but whoever it will be will have experience, will be someone that we can… who can hopefully help us take this club forward.
John Wray: Could that be someone from outside the club?
DH: I think they key thing is to focus on what we have now. That’s something we need to look at next year, at the end of the season, not something we need to focus on now. Now we’ve got a lot to focus on in terms of the football, getting promoted, etc. and deciding who’s going to sit on the top rung of the directors’ box is not necessarily the most important thing at this stage.
SH: John, we’ve talked about this period between now and the end of the season. One of the key things we’re going to do is to review all the different areas and aspects of the business from a governance point of view just to ensure that the club is secure for the long term going forward. And all these types of decisions will actually evolve out of that process. No one over another is actually going to get priority.
Andy Hunter from the Guardian: Is it fair to say that the Ken Bates role come the end of the season will purely be a figurehead role as club president or will he retain an influence on policy on the board?
DH: I think we’ve outlined clearly that Ken will remain chairman to the end of the season and therefore become honorary president of the football board. We very much see that an honorary president is not a day to day executive role by any means.
SH: Have we any more questions, ladies and gentlemen? Well, on that note, thank you all for your attendance. I wish you all a very merry Christmas, a prosperous New Year, and let’s hope the next time masses are assembled like this in this room, we’re talking about successful events on the field. Thank you.

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