Taken from Yorkshire Radio’s interview with Ken Bates, the chairman and now owner of Leeds United, today…
Ben Fry: Chairman, we’ll start with the issue of ownership. The club released a statement at 5pm yesterday evening, can you explain the changes and the reasoning behind it?
Ken Bates: Well yeah, I mean all this nonsense of MP parliamentary secretary on the governance of football, which has been as trivial a hearing that I have ever heard, all obsessed with the ownership of Leeds United, which of course was stirred up with people who claim to be interested in Leeds United but they are not, they are actually more interested in causing trouble. Frankly, the people administering these trusts are getting a bit fed up of it because all they do is run trusts, they don’t get involved in politics or anything. We started having discussions and it seemed to me particularly when they raised the question of the Premiership, the FA Premiership at the government committee that it might be better all round, so we entered into negotiations and the deal was actually done about a fortnight ago. But then we went down to see the Premiership on Thursday and go through the situation which they ticked all the boxes and said that if, or had we got promotion this season there wouldn’t have been any problems. We have already satisfied the Football League, we comply with the FA anyway as we have already been approved. It neatly solves the problem, it now leaves the trouble-makers with something else to think about and how they can cause trouble. We just ignore them as usual and get on with owning the club. The biggest and most disappointing person was of course David Conn, our international enemy in the media, who never wastes a chance or avoids an opportunity for having a dig at Leeds United and me personally. What actually happened and the timing of it, just hit him between the eyes really because he was only the telephone to Paul Dews and Shaun Harvey last night, very aggressively. So much so that Mr Conn was told to go forth and multiply because we don’t have any interest in him anyway. But there you are, the matter has been resolved. It’s something less for people to write about and we are now getting on with the important business of continuing to make the club bigger and better. I should also confirm that we are continuing to have discussions with interested parties with a view to further investment in the club but the nonsense created by these trouble-makers certainly hasn’t helped with discussions. But of course, people don’t think of that when they want to have a little pop at me. They don’t think of the collateral damage they caused. The other thing is that there an awful lot of chancers out there wanting to get into a football club on the cheap because they think it’s a chance to do this, that and the other. But it turns out that they haven’t got any money anyway and they only represent somebody else. We have two golden rules, the supporters club will like this, we say the identity of a proposed investor, proof of funds in a London bank and that usually gets rid of most of them. There’s one international gentleman who last year represented all the Qataris with all their huge money, now he represents the Nigerians; total waste of space. If you are not careful, you spend most of your time running around after these people instead of running the business. We don’t want to be in a situation where, like Portsmouth who have had five owners in three years, there are of course others. But Leeds, nice and stable, step-by-step, brick-on-brick.
BF: Transparancy is a word which has been used a lot when relating to the ownership issue, chairman. Is this something you’d like to see all round now, seen as though transparency seems to be the hot topic?
KB: Well, I mean, there was a submission made by the Yorkshire Division of the Football Supporters Federation. Well I’ve never heard of them. And it’s interesting that their submission was actually slanted as a thinly-veiled attack on Leeds United. So immediately, all the bells of the usual suspects start ringing. But here’s a thought, I have now been in Leeds since January 21, 2005, who do the Leeds United Supporters Club actually support? They certainly don’t support Leeds United. Do they support the Old Peacock? Oh and by the way, in case they haven’t noticed the ‘E’ has fallen off so it now says the Old Pacock. Perhaps they should get that mended otherwise Green King, the landlord will be upset. All I can say is that, who do these people represent? I have invited them a number of times to show us how many members they have and we have offered to print their accounts in the programme. No avail. I was told it’s none of my business. Well, why not? It seems to be everything else is their business. Meanwhile, the Leeds members club finished at just under 40,000 for this season and already we have just under 20,000 renewals for next season. So the Leeds members club is doing well, of course anybody who has got a query or a problem with the Leeds members club, they get dealt with direct, we don’t need to deal with a self-important committee. So if we are going to have transparency, let’s have it all round. Fat hope of that, I think. But not to worry.
BF: Let’s go back to the game on Saturday. A good performance, a win and also the fans at the end headed the message to stay off the pitch. So it was a good afternoon all round.
KB: Yes, it was nice to finish up with a win, could have been three or four, and a clean sheet. A few more of those this season would have been very welcome. But the fact they stayed off the pitch was great because it did enable the players to go around and say thank you, which they did of course. And so we finish the season on a high and of course it carried on into the night when we had our annual Leeds members club party at the pavilion with just under 1,000 people there. It’s was 980-something so more than twice what we had last year and it was an absolutely superb evening from beginning to end. The staff who made it possible should be complemented on organising such a marvellous evening.
BF: On the night, Max Gradel won Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the Year. Do you feel he was a deserved recipient?
KB: I have always said, I can never really make a judgement like that because, you know, how do you compare a keeper with a striker, or a midfielder with a defender? But it’s up to the fans, they have all got their own favourites and on the night that’s who they chose. They chose Max, Mad Max as I affectionately call him and I’m very pleased for him. My award is always for somebody who is not there in the limelight and the Chairman’s Award this year went to Harvey, our physio who has worked so hard to repair torn and damaged limbs this season. We never hear anything about him but without him, and people like him, we wouldn’t have a first team anyway. So I thought he was worthy and deserved.
BF: Also on the night, Jonny Howson picked up the Young Player of the Season. He has also been announced in Stuart Pearce’s provisional England squad for the Under-21 Championships. Do you feel that’s fair recognition for the efforts he has made this season?
KB: Well it shows that he is making steady progress, doesn’t it, and it’s recognised by the fans. And of course he’s a homegrown boy. Story goes, he could see the ground from outside his bedroom window, hope he doesn’t spend too much time in it. But no, I’m delighted for Jonny. He deserves all the recognition he gets.
BF: Now this week, all eyes are on QPR, wondering what is going to happen over their third-party ownership issues. Talk of a points deduction. We should find out on Friday but what are you expecting the outcome to be?
KB: I have no idea. You can never judge what the FA is going to do. But Suzannah came up with the best idea. She suggested it should be put to the clubs to vote because after all QPR are one of the clubs who voted for our 15-point deduction so maybe all the clubs should be voting on QPR and because they won’t want them particularly to go up, that should guarantee they don’t get promotion. On a more serious note, I have no idea. It could be a £1million fine, a £100,000 fine, 10-point deduction, 20-point deduction, who knows? We’ll just have to wait and see and then there will be the inevitable appeal. Then we’ll have to wait for the lawyers and see if it can be challenged in the courts.
BF: Obviously, QPR s next up for the Whites. Mathematically, the play-offs is still a possibility but what are you hoping to get out of the last game?
KB: Oh a win. Be nice to finish on a high and a win there will give us a double over the champions. Not a bad way to finish the season is it?
BF: And also, the game has been announced that it is going to be live on the BBC. I suppose that’s no surprise, given that most matters at either end are sorted out.
KB: No, but I mean it will be a great game anyway because we play good football and QPR have been outstanding this season, so it will be great entertainment. Let’s hope McCartney turns up on the day. I see he’s rather unwisely been giving an interview in which he says the players are tired, a sense of jadedness among certain players has proved telling. Well, I don’t quite understand what he means by that because when we play QPR we’ll have played 50 games but everybody at the club will have played at least 48; 46 league games and two cup matches. I don’t understand what he means by players being ‘out on their feet’ after playing so much this season. Certainly doesn’t apply to him. As far as I can see, looking at the fixture list, as far as I know, he has only played twice in the last six games. So I don’t think fatigue can contributes to his contribution, which I haven’t been particularly impressed with and it might be better of course if he was (counts) two, three, four, five, six, yes he’s played two games in the last six. As I understand it, he has been fined more than once for turning up late in training. So perhaps if he turned up on time and showed a bit more commitment then he wouldn’t feel quite so tired. I think it’s a rubbish excuse for him and anybody else who wants to swing that one.
BF: Let’s finish with a word on next season. Work behind the scenes starting already. Are you already excited about the new campaign?
KB: Yeah. The next thing is next month when the fixtures come out and you start to plan everything as you want to plan. Decide which games I can get over and tied up with as much work as possible. Of course the work on the East Stand is proceeding at pace now. We’re putting some new toilets in the West Stand. Doesn’t sound very significant but it does for people who want them there. And rehousing the away supporters which will be much better for our own fans in the south stand. And, of course, already looking for who we want to buy, sign, to strengthen the squad next year. Again, we’re going to live within our means and not spend money we haven’t got. We’ll leave Mr David Conn to speculate on that. I must say I was rather surprised and I’ll finish up on Conn that he was described on TV this morning as one of the best football analysts that there is in the game. I thought ‘surely they’re not all that bad?’. Mr Conn has been the PR man for the Yorkshire Consortium for several years now. His articles have always reflected that, so Mr Conn will know a lot about financial transparency and financial responsibility. The Guardian is subsidised by, what for it, a trust. A charitable trust, where there doesn’t appear to be any particular owners. On that happy note, I’ll bid you good day.