Taken from Yorkshire Radio’s interview with Leeds United owner Ken Bates today…
‘Mr Chairman’ speaks to Ben Fry about Portsmouth, Southampton, Danny Webber, Captain Snoddy and our the play-off chances. He then goes into a 625-word, three minutes and 27 seconds long rant about Leeds United Supporters Trust – some of which is lies, some of which breaches the Data Protection Act which the club abides by under its own Customer Charter and most of it is nonsense. He then attacks UEFA, FIFA, local journalists, non-official Leeds United websites and tweeters. Apparently all the media he owns is amazing though, which is good to know…
Ben Fry: Chairman, we’ll start with the new manager and the impact he has had since his arrival week last Saturday. You must be delighted with the effect he’s had on the players and the team?
Ken Bates: Well I’m very pleased about that indeed. He has been a breath of fresh air and all the reports I’m getting back is there’s a new spirit about the place and their buzzing. Mind you, to be fair, this always happens when you appoint a new manager because his first speech is always “what’s past is past, everybody now starts afresh, clean sheet, level playing field, prove to me if you’re not in the team prove to me why you should be in the team, prove to me and show to me you’e good enough to stay in the team”. Obviously people are out of favour or feel they haven’t had a fair chance – this always happens in football unfortunately because there’s always a winner and a loser. It inspires them all. So it now means we’ve now got a very large squad but they’ve all got a chance now to demonstrate to Neil Warnock what they are made of.
BF: Of course he had a hand in the win against Doncaster and took the team down to Portsmouth to get a point. Is it a good point away from home?
KB: It was a very good point. What I think is significant is Shaun Harvey met one of the first-team players after the game in the car park and just said “how do you feel?” and the player said “a month ago we would have lost that game”. Now I thought that was a very significant remark. Long may it continue.
BF: And of course it was the second clean sheet in 14 games. An area that needed some work.
KB: Yes, and of course Neil is still looking to strengthen that part of the team to enhance our chances of getting in the play-offs. But he’s going about it the right way, and the team are responding to him in the right way. So we’re very hopeful, very optimistic.
BF: You mentioned trying to bring in some fresh faces. Is it tough at this time when people are still trying to decide which players they are going to need for the run-in?
KB: Well the problem is, you’re looking for a player who will switch just for two months and at the time when they’re probably still trying to make a point to their existing club that they’re worthy of a new contract or an extended one or whatever. So there aren’t many players about. So there’s no point, as I’ve said many times before, in bringing in players just for the sake of bringing them in. Neil won’t do that anyway. So anybody he does bring in, he feels will make a significant contribution to the rest of the season. After all, it’s still nearly a third to go.
BF: Now after Andros Townsend abruptly returned to Spurs, Neil Warnock has moved quickly to bring Danny Webber in, a player he knows well until the end of the season. Important that if you’ve got these relationships that you can make the most of them?
KB: Oh yes. Obviously the whole thing is contacts isn’t it? And the advantage of bringing in somebody that you’ve known before is you know their character and you know their attitude and you know their fitness and their commitment. So Danny will be a useful contribution in the next 13 games.
BF: One of the chances the new manager has made has been to change the captaincy. He said, obviously nothing against Andy Lonergan, he just doesn’t think goalkeepers are natural captains and he’s gone for Robert Snodgrass. He’s seems a very popular choice.
KB: I agree with you. As Neil said, nothing against Andy Lonergan, who has done a good job in difficult circumstances, but at the end of the day when you’re standing on a goal line sometimes 100 yards from the action, it’s very difficult to captain and to give leadership. You sometimes stand there helplessly at the other end of the pitch. I’ve always believed you need somebody in the midfield who can speak to everybody and lead by example and I think in Snoddy, we’ve got one.
BF: Now with that point at Pompey at the weekend, do you feel the team are very much in the play-off race?
KB: Well we’re four points behind aren’t we? With 13 games to go. And don’t forget when Norwich came through and they got promotion they came from nowhere and surged in the last 13 games. So there’s a lot to play for. And we have to play all the clubs above us. The negative among us will say “oh dear it could be hard”. The positives among us will say they’re all six pointers. Not only are we going to gain three points off club A but club A will also lose three points.
BF: Do you think the next four game could be a crucial part of the season with Southampton, Hull, MIddlesbrough and West Ham all teams, like you mention, in that top six.
KB: Oh yes. They are crucial but then so are the next four games after that. They’ll be crucial as well. It’s a great run-in until the end of the season, after I have to say a stuttering start to the season which was disappointing from the end of November.
BF: Now next up it is a game against Southampton. You must be impressed with the way they have acquitted themselves in the Championship.
KB: A few months ago they were running away with the title, now they’re not. They’re back in the battle and three points on Saturday will very much put us back in contention for the play-offs.
BF: It looks like being a big crowd for Saturday’s tea-time game and also, as well, the junior shirt offer seems to have gone down really well.
KB: Oh yes. Just goes to show the club has got a heart. We’ve had a good response and I’m very pleased for the youngsters. I just hope they can keep their parents under control when they bring them along with them.
BF: Now I know you wanted to touch on LUST. We’ve heard a lot from LUST over the last few weeks and months. What is your thoughts on the impact they are having and the way they are going about their business?
KB: Well first of all, they’re not having any impact at all other than in their own minds. The way they are behaving is the most peculiar because they make no impression on the club at all. The only bad impression they are making is a bad one and unfortunately that’s externally from would-be sponsors and maybe investors because they say “who would want to get involved in a mob like that?”. But the fact of the matter is very short, I thought Martin Samuels put it very well in his Daily Mail column. He pointed out… what do they do? They make these open statements to the world and promptly send them to all newspapers and most of them have a laugh and spike them. But Martin Samuels took their claims and analysed them and according to them, with no justification or substantiation, 120 people voted for a march and 80 per cent didn’t. Well so what. We had observers at the last march and it was mostly kids. When they were asked what they were marching for and what they were there for, they said they were there for a laugh. It just about sums it up. Doesn’t make any impression on the management of the club does it? It doesn’t make an impression on the directors of the club. They just make themselves a nuisance. We’re getting to the state now where we’re getting an eight-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy having written to me saying take no notice of the rudeness. That’s all it is, rudeness. And of course they can hand it out but they can’t take it because all the chanting rude things about me, when I called them morons they were most upset… “how dare he?” … well if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. They have nothing to offer. They make no contribution and they are just a very small bunch of self-appointed, self-important people, who are an irritant to the overwhelming majority of the Leeds fans who want to get on with supporting their club. And it’s very interesting and as you know there are lots of discussions going on at, if you like, government level with he football authorities in the proposed changes in the football governance of the game. They would like to see more supporter involvement. But if we’re going to have governance of football, it includes governance of supporters groups who should be properly regulated, properly supervised and have to be properly and responsibly reported. And at the moment, they’re not, they’re just a bunch of hooray-henrys. No impression, gives the club a bad name, and all that happens is that if the away clubs, when we play them fear that there is going to be demonstrations or shouting and balling, they just cut our ticket allocations. So it’s another way in which the good fans suffer for the idiocy of the few. I should mention, the chairman, a Mr Gary Cooper – I understand he’s an IT technician so he’s never known how to run a business and make a profit and be accountable. Another thing, he didn’t come to a game last season, he bought a season ticket this year and stated he’s not going to renew next year so who does he think he is? Who does he think he represents? Who does he think he speaks for? Nobody except himself. And another member of the board, their so-called board, lives in America and according to our computer records in his own name, he’s only come to two games in the past six years and they were both play-off semi-finals. So there’s loyal supporters for you. Yeah! Forget LUST. Most people are doing that anyway.
BF: People talk about communication between the club and the fans but that’s what the Regional Members Clubs are for. For example, with the Regional Members Clubs conference that was held this season. I mean there is a good network of communication between the club and the fans already isn’t there?
KB: Oh yes. Ermm… we have about 35,000 members who are fully paid up, unlike LUST where I gather you can be a member for free. Well you get what you pay for. But what has been encouraging is the fact that Lorna Tinkler has really stepped up the amount of Reginal Members meetings that we have around the country. At one stage we were doing around two per week. And of course you get one-to-one then with the genuine fans who are speaking directly to the management about their concerns. And the concerns about football supporters are all the same. Ticket prices and new players so nothing has changed there. But of course what we have done, we have started having conferences of the regional leaders, the chairmen and the secretaries. So we had an all-day one a couple of months ago which was very productive and very enlightening because it also means we can explain to them in detail why we make certain decisions and they can go back and explain that more fully to their members at their branch meetings. And we intend to extend that.
BF: And of course, all the details if you would like to be a club member on the website LeedsUnited.com. Before we let you go today, one issue nationally, which I know it’s something we’ve talked about numerous times and it looks like UEFA are finally going to reduce the number of international games and try and scrap these meaningless friendlies. Have they finally started to listen?
KB: Well I think they are only starting to listen under pressure but the real problem of course is FIFA, who are totally divorced from reality and they are the next people to take on. No but the European clubs have done a good job in pointing out to UEFA that as you say meaningless friendlies mean nothing. They annoy the clubs. They disturb their training pattern and they often send players back injured. And I think it’s not altogether coincidental the number of players, just take the players in the Premier League and English football who are calling off with injuries against this week’s spate of friendlies, which as I say are totally meaningless. Before you go, Ben, I think there’s one or a couple of other things I think we need to establish while we’re heading off. First of all, as you know, some of the, I can only describe them as disappointing local journalists have expressed their opinions over matters affecting the club. In many occasions without checking their facts before they rush in to print. You will for example remember all the comparisons made comparing Leeds against Wolverhampton Wanderers and the way they went about appointing a new manager. Wolves were held up by a local paper as a perfect example of their decisive actions and how to do it and compared it with Leeds’ procrastination. Well Wolves didn’t get a manager, having announced through the press who they were interviewing, this that and the other. They all fell away and made themselves look a little bit silly. Compare that with Leeds United who have done absolutely nothing, even though we had hundreds of applications and all of a sudden, we just did it. And for the benefit of all the fans, that’s how we do our business. We don’t talk about it. We don’t do speeches in the press and grab headlines. Just quietly, behind closed doors, get on with the job. And that’s why good managers, over 100 of them applied, want to come to Leeds United because that’s the club they want to work for. Another thing I want to look at is the governance of football and football clubs. Horrified this morning to see that Aston Villa have announced £54million loss and for those who take about investing in the club, I think it’s interesting that Blackpool announced their wage bill is £12million a year when they were in the Premiership, which is exactly what ours is this year in the Championship, which we can’t afford. But we have incurred those liabilities, those obligations. Now that is investment. And something… we’ve only signed loan players. Really? That remark was made by another local newspaper reporter. And I pointed out we signed nine players this year. “Oh no,” he said. “But they are loans.” I said: “Don’t you check your facts before rushing into print.” We’ve signed nine new players this year, plus loans. So I think that Leeds United are in good hands, being responsibly managed and are weathering the current economic storms a lot better than many of our competitors.
BF: Chairman, as always, thanks for taking the time to speak to us on Yorkshire Radio.
KB: Thank you Ben and just to remind your listeners of course that there are one or two little websites about Leeds United but ours, the Leeds United website, gets over five million page impressions a month. Bigger than nearly every other club in the country, except Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. So if you want to read about what’s going on, don’t listen to the clap-trap or the tweets and the twots, watch Leeds United’s websites, listen to Yorkshire Radio and LUTV… and buy the programme. You won’t go far wrong. Good, bad or indifferent.