Taken from Yorkshire Radio’s interview with Leeds United owner Ken Bates today…
‘Mr Chairman’ speaks to Ben Fry about the defeat to Watford on Saturday and our slim chances of making the play-offs. He then looks ahead to the match at Reading and the current injuries and suspensions. There’s also the changes to the ticket office during the week and finally Ken talks about finances… although not about our accounts and the key issues surrounding them.
Ben Fry: Chairman, we’ll start with Saturday and unfortunately disappointment again at home to Watford. Just as it looks like the team are going in the right direction, sadly they slip back.
Ken Bates: Well, I mean, was this the same team that murdered Southampton, deserved to edge it against West Ham and comprehensively beat Middlesbrough? I can’t believe it! It’s obviously not acceptable but you wonder what their problems are. They are so inconsistent. But… I won’t say worryingly because we’ve only got six games to go but worryingly for some of the players, they haven’t got much time left to impress Neil so they can be part of his squad next season.
BF: The gap to the play-offs place is now six points but Neil said it’s the way the team are playing rather than the gap which probably rules the play-off push out this season. Is that probably fair?
KB: I think that’s fair comment, yes. Well, in fairy land we’ll win the next six games, get in the play-offs, walk the play-offs and be playing Manchester United next year. In real life though, it’s of course a bit different. All I know, financially, the whole story at the moment in football is doom and gloom. You’ve got Mr Krasner who’s a partner in Begbies Traynor currently doing the administration of Port Vale, and he’s come out with a statement this week that they’ve done a survey of all the Football League clubs and they reckon one in five are in difficulties. I think they’re being optimistic. I suspect from what I hear that it’s much more than that. I mean there’s one club who are in danger of going out of the Football League who will probably close if they get relegated because the central funds are so small. You’ve still got agents living in cloud cuckoo land and you’ve got players who think they are worth more than they are. It was interesting to hear this week that there’s a club in League One where their left-back was earning £300 a week and he murdered the man he was marking who was earning £10,000 a week. So you don’t always get what you pay for. And as Liverpool have found out with Mr Carroll, spending big money certainly isn’t the answer to all clubs’ problems.
BF: We’ll come back to Leeds United’s finances at the end but I just want to talk about the home form. The away form this season is probably promotion form. You look at the home form, closer to relegation form. It’s difficult to quite put your finger on where it has goon wrong at home this season isn’t it?
KB: Well it is indeed because some of the games we’ve lost have been a joke. I mean Blackpool’s 5-0 win, well that was down to goalkeeper. Simon Grayson said that his back four when we lost to Birmingham, he said his back for were “young and amateurish” – well he signed them and picked them. So when you’re not doing well, most of the problems and most of the faults lie at the door of the players but then you have to look at the players and say who signed them in the first place, why were they signed, why were they deemed such a good purchase at the time. But really, against Watford, some of the players just didn’t turn up other than to collect their wages. That’s not good enough. Not good enough at any club, certainly not good enough at Leeds.
BF: Now Neil Warnock after Saturday said that, as you mentioned at the start, a lot of the players have to convince him of their worth for next season and he’s said that work is already underway for next season and that the club are close sealing their first summer signing.
KB: Well, I don’t know about well underway, it’s the same old story about it all sailing along smoothly on the top but underneath it’s peddling like hell with its webbed feet. Yes, Neil did identify one player soon after he came and we have been stalking him since, well, almost since Neil arrived. I think we’re nearly there with a deal but of course, being Leeds, we’re not going to announce anything until we’ve done it otherwise you’re just alerting other people.
BF: Back to playing matters then and next up it’s a tough task against Reading on Saturday, aided by some suspensions. Going to be a difficult afternoon isn’t it?
KB: Well it is but against that, one man’s disappointment is another man’s opportunity. We’re very disappointed and surprised that Connolly picked up a unnecessary second booking against Watford. I don’t know if he was thinking he could have the Easter weekend off but he won’t be because he’ll be working even if he isn’t on the pitch. We’re down to barebones with injuries and suspensions but that one was totally unnecessary and I think he should apologise to the rest of the team. He let himself down and let the team down. But we always seem to pull rabbits out of the hat away from home. Reading play good football. Apart from being asleep in the first minute when they came here and of course that was Aidy White who let in that goal. We held them but simply couldn’t get an equaliser. So I think it will be a good game. They’ll be up for it but I think we will be as well. We’re on the box so some players who think they are better than they are, well they have got a great opportunity to be in the showcase and the entire nation will be watching them. As we know, the TV doesn’t have anywhere to hide with the action replays and the details analysis by the arm-chair experts.
BF: Neil has sort of said Reading, he thinks, are the best team in the Championship this year. They’ve taken their time and they’ve built a squad and almost tackled the division the right way haven’t they? They haven’t just been a flash in the pan, they’ve built themselves into the position where they are today.
KB: They have, and they haven’t splashed the cash either. They built slowly and surely and have a very good manager in McDermott. Watch him on TV, he’s very quietly spoken and unassuming and obviously he’s getting the best out of his players and John Madjeski is a mate of mine. If we’re not going to go up then I’d like him to go up but that’s after Good Friday.
BF: And then Easter Monday, back to Elland Road, it’s the Generations United game. You’d hope to see as many young fans here as possible to get another taste of what it’s like to see Leeds play.
KB: I think it’s a great idea. I can boast about it because I had nothing to do with it. I think it’s a great idea and it was last time we did it so hopefully it will be a success on Easter Monday. A good way to wrap up the Easter weekend. Hopefully with three points.
BF: And of course, all the details for Generations United on the website LeedsUnited.com or you can call the ticket office on 08713341992. Talking of the ticket office, the club are always trying to improve the fans’ experience and the club are actually now putting some ticket office booths inside the Elland Road store, trying to make everything almost like one place, trying to try make it easier for fans. How did this come about?
KB: Well, Katie Holmes’ idea, it was. A good one it is too. On average during the week, with the exception of exceptional games, there’s very little activity at the box office. It just means people are standing around waiting for customers that don’t come when they could be working on other matters. The other thing of course is that if somebody comes to the ticket office then wants to buy something from the club shop, they’ve got to walk about 130 yards or more, which isn’t fun if you’re infirm or more importantly if it’s chucking down with good old Yorkshire rain. So the idea being, that by closing the ticket office Monday-Thursday, other than for big midweek matches of course, we’re putting a sales point in the store. People who are going to both things can just go to the store and get their ticket and go and if they just want to go to the desk and get the ticket well it’s still there. There’s plenty of parking on non-matchdays and it makes sense. If people come by bus, it’s just by the bus stop.
BF: Now let’s move back to the financial side of football. I know you mentioned it earlier on but the club have announced their financial results last week and in the current climate, you must be please with the results and the support the club is receiving from the fans.
KB: Well, actions speak louder than words. The fact of the matter is we do have a good, strong commercial department. We’ve been fortunate. We’ve been aided by good cup runs over the last couple of years. We’ve had another one this year. But there’s a determination not to waste money and in fact we’re just completing yet another efficiency drive. Every year we go through and examine everything we do and say how can we do it better, more efficiently and cheaper. That’s what we’re just finishing off now for this year. So we’ve got an exceptional management team behind the scenes. If the players were as good as the team at Elland Road are, we’d be in Europe by now. I’m very pleased but you know, it’s cautious, cautious, cautious. And we’ve made those results despite, in my opinion, some very poor signings who haven’t delivered what they were signed for and are hopelessly overpaid. I was reading in the paper this morning about another club that lost £7.7million last year. Every club that’s bringing their results out are experiencing financial difficulties.
BF: And given the, you know, that the home form has been indifferent this year, you must be delighted with the continued support of the regular fans and the corporate community as well.
KB: Well I am. I mean, last year we hit over 26,000 average gate (TSB: 27,299) but more important, I’m conscious of the financial climate outside so when we did our budget we budgeted for 24,000. So there’s always some idiot in the press who will seize on that. The fact of the matter is we budgeted for 24,000 and as of today, we’ve averaged 23,530. So we’re in striking distance of our budget and of course the slight shortfall has been more than amply covered by our game with Arsenal. We mustn’t get complacent about that because there’s no guarantee. We’ve been really very lucky with cup runs and cup draws and we obviously can’ t take that for granted. The thing we have to remember is the new TV deal that the Football League have negotiated isn’t as good as the old one and we’ll be having £600,000 less income from the league. We’ve frozen our season ticket prices but the rent is still going up at three per cent per annum so we have to be careful. On the other hand, we have probably the biggest squad in the league… I don’t know why. Far too many. And some may say that well “why did you let Simon Grayson sign them” and the answer is well you better back your manager until you run out of steam or run out of patience. So we’ll have to cut it. We’ll follow it up by cutting the squad and using more of the kids but hopefully we’ll have a leaner, meaner dressing room with maybe a better sprit in it. One of the problems with a big squad is of course you can’t keep them all happy. The vast majority of players want to play and with a squad of 30 players you can’t keep them happy. Our Finnish midfielder, I think he’s made two starts all season, which makes you ask why did we sign him in the first place?
BF: But chairman, the financial results then. The club’s in a stable position and ready to keep making that push forward?
KB: Yes. But we’re not going to spend money we haven’t got. But we’ve got assets and if we sell any players then Neil will have any money to strengthen any weaknesses he thinks there are. So there’s a lot to be cheerful about. Our season tickets have just passed 10,000 – a number which is the same as last year. So the doom and gloom mongers have been proved wrong again. As you say, the support is fantastic. We have a strong membership club, regional branches are opening all the time. Our strength throughout the country, we’re already growing through the power of the internet and we have a few more plans coming along which will greatly enhance our communications to the fans. Not to the small self-interested groups but to the ordinary fans, including corporate fans who just get on with the job of supporting Leeds United, the club they love.
BF: As always chairman, thanks for taking the time to speak to us on Yorkshire Radio.
KB: Thank you Ben and let’s wish everybody a very happy Easter. Hopefully with some results that make us even happier.