Taken from Yorkshire Radio’s interview with Leeds United owner Ken Bates today…
‘Mr Chairman’ speaks to Ben Fry about the Derby match, our current dip in form and upcoming matches against Barnsley and Burnley. He then speaks for five minutes and 13 seconds (1,090 words) about the January transfer window, our (lack-of) finances and the reason for not having outside investment in the club. If you haven’t heard, it’s the fans fault – obviously. Our opinions posted on Facebook, Twitter and other ‘nonsensical sites’ (he must mean waccoe) have meant for seven years we haven’t been able to find anyone to put any money into the club. But we’re still looking though so maybe these investors will take into consideration that fans contributed £17.7m of the £27m turnover made in the most recent accounts (2009-10). That huge number includes gate receipts (£11.732m) and sales of merchandise (£5.5m), which Ken tells us is very high – covering the cost of running Elland Road alone. Maybe Ken would like to tell the potential investors how much he has put into the club during the last seven years…? Oh wait…
Ben Fry: Chairman, not the Boxing Day everybody was hoping for but sadly, Leeds came up against a keeper in inspired form in the shape of Frank Fielding so it wasn’t quiet the day at the office we all hoped for.
Ken Bates: No, I gather that in the first half the two sides cancelled each other out then when we went to town to try get the equaliser, they snatched a winner. This guy just played out of his skin. Unfortunately, these things happen sometimes, which is unfortunate for us but that’s football. Very frustrating. We were poor against Reading and I think everyone knows we were poor against Reading but we have some good players in this team and they have to perform. There’s only 23 games gone. There’s another half a season to go. There’s a lot of lessons to learn and I think we have the ability to take advantage of them. We have Brighton, West Ham, Ipswich, Southampton, Leicester, Derby all to come to us yet and our fate is in our own hands.
BF: When you look at the first 23 games. obviously it was a slow start and some indifferent results of late so a slight improvement over the second half of the season and you’d think that anything is possible?
KB; Oh yes. We are capable of being better than what we have been and there’s no doubt about that. We have a few weaknesses, we know that. Players that we thought would deliver haven’t but on the other hand that is an advantage that there is now no excuse, no hiding and we should go forth and get the points and be in contention at the end of the season.
BF: And of course there’s still a chance for a relatively successful Christmas period with two games to go. Barnsley away – a classic Yorkshire derby – and then a chance to pick up at home against Burnley.
KB: Well Barnsley away of course, they gave us a hard time there last year and they have been doing well of late but they have had one or two hiccups against Blackpool on Boxing Day so we should go there in good tune and in good spirit. Then of course Burnley, first game of the season. We should get a good game against them. What a good way to start the year before we take on Arsenal… before we take our bi-annual trip to Arsenal.
BF: How are ticket sales going for the game against Burnley. It would be great to start 2012 with three points and start a new home record.
KB: I think the tickets are going very well. I haven’t… because it’s being over Christmas I haven’t been in properly but from the way they were going just before Christmas, I think we are going to have a gate in excess of 24-25,000. It depends to a certain extent what the away clubs sell as to what our total sales are but it’s looking very promising. We’ll see.
BF: Now at this time of the year, finances come into thinking as we move into January. Obviously we’re hearing the doom and gloom in the economy. Football isn’t going to be immune from that so would you expect to see a rather subdued January all-round?
KB: Well I think you’re going to get the usual suspects in the Premiership throwing money around but I think apart from that it will be like the January sales with everybody bargain hunting. There is a shortage of money in the game. People will not lend money to football clubs. It depends what kind of profits the clubs themselves are generating and what they can spend. You’ve got your usual chancers who will take a risk in the hope they are going to get promotion. If you read the Sheffield United report by Kevin McCabe at the annual general meeting, he said that when they got relegated they had taken a calculated gamble to get back in the Premiership and it had failed. All kinds of slash and burn economies to keep the club afloat and get it back on its feet but their wage bill is still £18.3million which of course a League One club can’t sustain and they are having to be funded to keep going. We all know that many clubs that are in the papers nearly every day and Brian Guillfoyle who acted as administrator in 2007 and has acted as a number of administrators since then said in the Times earlier this week that unfortunately the times have changed and people are less lenient on football clubs and their finances debilities, particularly the tax man and he expects a few clubs to go this year, which will be tragic and it’s a warning to us all. There is no one rule for football and one rule for the outside world. Fortunately, Leeds are in pretty good shape and we will continue to be so. One of our problems we have at the moment is our squad is very big by Football League standards. We have nearly 28, 29 first team players. That’s far too many. We expect to see some trimming which will release some wages which we can reinvest hopefully in better players. And the other thing of course is agents have to be more realistic as they are beginning to be because I think I told you before about the famous story when the guy came to us last year offering a player. He was reasonably well known and I said ‘what’s he on?’, no, no I said ‘what kind of wages are we talking about?’ he said ‘well he’s on £36,000′ I said ‘hang on, you just told me that he’s a free agent’ he said ‘yes, he hasn’t got a club’ I said ‘so he’s unemployed?’ ‘well, yes’ I said ‘well he’s on £89.80 a week job seekers allowance isn’t he, not £36,000 a week?’. We did try the boy for a short time at about 10% of the wages he quoted but he wasn’t good enough so we let him go. I think he’s out of football now. Players are being released every year as clubs cut down their team sizes. I think you can get a player to look in the mirror and say ‘if I wasn’t playing football, what would do and how much would I earn to support my family?’ and of course then you say at 35 you’re going into the real world with no training for it and you’re competing with people who have been in the real world since they left school. So I think first of all I think it’ll be more realistic this year but I fear that because it might take part of the month for agents to realise the realities of life there will be movement, I think we will get a least some of the players we want… we always have a bigger list of players that we want because you have to alternatives as with this young guy that we have lost because of his hamstring injury but I think we are going into a situation with realism where we are going to be very careful and other clubs are the same. But all recessions end and we’re still looking for more investors, we’re talking to them on a regular basis but the difficulty is the difference between what they say and what they can do and what they ultimately do. Of course, when they see chant and banners in the papers, they often say ‘I don’t want any of that, why should I be bothered, I don’t want to get involved’. And it’s matter of public record that there was a very good investor that was going to go into Everton and said ‘not for me, not having my kids taking the muck that the current directors’ kids take at school’ so they gave in. The fans have to realise that and we are now on a worldwide stage and everything; Facebook, Twitter and all the other nonsensical sites what you say may create consequences which you hadn’t planned. But having said that we’re in good shape. We’ve got a good management team, a good scouting team, the academy is coming through nicely, and now we’ve got one, two, three, four players who have been blooded this year. Aidy White, Charlie Taylor, Zac Thompson and Tom Lees. That’s not a bad crop since we change the design and layout of academy. So the future is in good hands and another interesting thing, as I said in my note to season ticket holders, it might be of interest for them to know that gate receipts; the money we take in season tickets and people who turn up match-by-match, the total money we get from them does not pay the first team squad wages and costs. That’s why we have to generate other income directly away from football to make sure the rest of the club’s expenses are met. Like every household, we struggle to pay our bills and way but we’re doing it and we’re doing it carefully and successfully and we have a big football club and I think another thing I said is that we have tried to live the dream and it finished up with nightmare doing it with other people’s money. Now, we’re building the dream step-by-step, brick-on-brick, working together. We’ll get there, we’re getting there. A lot of clubs would like to be in our position. Even one or two who are above us in the league. So as we go into 2012 we are quietly confident. The results we’ve had at the moment are disappointing but that’s not put us off our ultimate course which is to get back in the Premiership.
BF: Chairman, you touched on revenues from elsewhere. It leads me nicely onto the fact that it is sale season and it’s no different in the retail store. Up to 50 per cent off in the store and online – an important part of the year for the retail department.
KB: Oh it is. It is doing very very well indeed. We’ve got a great squad there and great products which of course. We don’t sell Leeds stuff anywhere other than Elland Road or online, which means we don’t have to give discounts away to third parties and I shudder to think what the manufacturers are getting from some of the shops that are offerings 50, 60, 70 per cent discount. Either that or it’s all overpriced in the first place. But no, merchandising is doing very well and is a valuable contributor and in fact merchandising pays the rent, rates and insurance of all of the Elland Road complex. That’s how important it is to us. So spend your money with the club and make sure it stays with the club. So take advantage of the bargains. I drove past yesterday and noticed that the car park was packed. It was overflowing so a lot of punters were in there. That’s good. Keep coming. You can park at Elland Road. You can’t park in the city centre, which is another thought for the fans and you can always have a pie and pint at Billy’s Bar or afterwards. Go there and go back and do a bit more shopping when you realise there are gaps in the bags.
BF: (laughs) Of course, the retail sale continues at the Elland Road store and online at www.leedsunited.com. Chairman, as always, thanks for taking the time to speak to us for the final time in 2011.
KB: Thank you, Ben. And I know the fans probably didn’t have a very happy Christmas, certainly if they are football motivated but have a very happy and prosperous New Year. You, your loved ones, safety if you’ve got anybody who’s out in Afganistan and that’s all. Get on together, be successful. We wish you a very happy New Year.