Taken from Yorkshire Radio’s interview with Leeds United owner Ken Bates today (although his comments on the Burnley match suggests it was recorded yesterday)…
‘Mr Chairman’ speaks to Ben Fry about the Burnley match and the recent run of three defeats in a row. He talks about the Arsenal match, the injuries to Robert Snodgrass and Jonny Howson as well as the “big crowd” at the Burnley game (which at 27,295 is four fans less than last season’s average). He speaks about the January transfer window, including the arrivals of Andros Townsend and permanent signing of Danny Pugh. He looks forward to the New Year and at our place in the Championship table before reminding us how amazing the food is at Elland Road.
Ben Fry: You’ve said a few times that being a chairman can raise the heart rate. I suppose the Burnley game is the perfect example.
Ken Bates: Well I think it is but I may have had a raised heart rate for the Derby game and the Barnsley game. Perhaps the least said, the soonest mended. Certainly Burnley was going to be a difficult one. They have been coming back. They were unlucky the last time and they have been coming back to their old form, Burnley. So to beat them with two new players in the side, I know Zac’s played once before but he’s a young man coming in and of course Townsend, who we are very appreciative of Spurs lending him to us for the rest of the season, and they needed time to bed down. It was a great result and a great demonstration of the fact that we’r slowly getting our act together with new players.
BF: A backs to the wall performance from Burnley once they had a man sent off. You think that’s going to give you a big advantage but sometimes playing against 10 can be hard work can’t it?
KB: It can. I can remember a number of times when 10 men have won. It’s amazing. Sometimes 11 men start playing about a bit and thinking they’ve got more time on the ball and they’re a bit too casual and over confident. And of course the 10 men play out of their skin. In their case, they thought their right-back had probably been wrongfully dismissed anyway. As Simon said to me this morning, we’ve had those situations elsewhere and so we’re happy to take it when it’s on our favour for a change.
BF: Off the back of the three defeats, how important was that result to start going back in the right direction as far as table was concerned?
KB: Well every result is important. Well every positive result is important. It needed to stop the rot, otherwise players start getting a mindset and as we’ve seen, take Newcastle’s result on Sunday, they had started so well and now they can’t buy a goal. It’s very important that we can now wave goodbye to 2011 and look forward to 2012 in a good frame of mind. We don’t have another league game for a fortnight’s time so this will enable us to sit down and consolidate what we did yesterday. I’m aware we’ve got a game against Arsenal but that’s a cup match, we’re the rank outsiders as we were of course against Manchester United so the players won’t feel under any pressure, they’re just go out basically have a good time and enjoy themselves and hopefully, as a result of that, catch Arsenal on the hop a bit, who of course are being cursed with injuries at the moment.
BF: If you could have a repeat of last year and have a repeat at Elland Road, that would be the best result all-round wouldn’t it?
KB: Well I’m not so sure because OK, the money’s also welcome, but I’d rather us concentrate on the league. Other than that it would give us fixture congestion and it would also put more strain on the players when at the time we are a bit on the weak side because of injuries. So if we only have Arsenal, Palace and Ipswich in January that gives some of our depleted forces some time to recover an recoup.
BF: Talking of injuries, I believe you have spoken to Robert Snodgrass and he’s on the road to recovery.
KB: Yeah, we gave Snoddy a ring yesterday to see how he was. Not very nice being home on your own when you’re a gregarious type of fella in a gregarious type of working situation, you know? So it was nice talking to him. He was saying how well his daughter is settling in at school in Leeds which is nice for him. He had keyhole surgery, which is much easier than when I had it a few years ago. So all he has got to do now is just let the wounds heal so he doesn’t tear them when he starts playing. But he’s as fit as a fiddle and bored out of his mind, not that his wife wants to hear that, of course. He’s looking very much to getting back playing.
BF: Going back to the game against burnley and a big crowd on the day. You must be pleased with the first attendance of 2012?
KB I was delighted. It was bigger than anything else in the Championship (TSB – except West Ham’s 34,936) or quite a few in the Premiership. It just goes to show that we have great support, there is no doubt.
BF: You touched on the impact Andros Townsend made and the fact that you’re grateful to Spurs for loaning him until the end of the season. Do you feel a player like that with some direct running was something that’s been missing for the last couple of weeks?
KB: Well the short answer to that question is yes because nobody has satisfactorily replaced Max Gradel. He said the other day he wants to come back but that’s another story. I don’t suppose his team will let him go now. It’s something different and Snoddy has been providing that of course but he has been a bit flat lately and now we know why. I think that Townsend will give us something that is unexpected that defenders won’t quite know how to handle him and hopefully by the time they have worked out how to mark him, he would have had an impact on the match.
BF: He won’t be the last addition in January but there’s no rush now with that Palace game a couple of weeks away.
KB: Well I think it’s important, and let me get one thing… whoever we sign in January, whether it’s purchase or loan, we’ve got to get it right because it has to take us through until the end of the season and hopefully the play-offs and hopefully win us promotion. There will be a lot of panic buying, if you know what I mean, in the early part January, particularly by clubs that aren’t doing very well and some of the good players who are trying to go, their clubs will not let them out at first because of the possibility of selling them because they’re surplus to requirements. The other problem we have of course is when you’re buying players, particularly from the Premiership, it’s just their wages. We simply can’t afford what they are getting paid in the Premiership so therefore the lending club has to do a compromise and pay part of the wages. We were offered somebody last week, who said he was on £35,000 a week but his club said ‘we’ll make make a contribution to it’. I said ‘yes, how about £30,000?’ which of course we had a good laugh about and left it at that. But that is one of the problems. And what you sometimes find now is that the agents then chip in and then having agreed a deal with the club, the agent then tries to get extra deals for his player outside the club and that can be regarded as dodgy. But the other trouble is there is some players who think they are worth a lot more than they are. The other problem you have is if players aren’t playing regularly, you don’t want to sign them and find out they need a month to get fit because they haven’t been playing any matches. That’s one of the problems we have. It’s what makes a management team’s job difficult. As I said before, there’s no point in signing anybody for the sake of signing anybody. We have already got 29 senior professionals or two less now because we’ve sent Keogh and McCarthy back but it’s still 27. A lot of clubs, even Premiership clubs, play with 23. If you have too many plays you struggle to keep them happy. You can’t. That then starts creating discontent and it gets into the dressing room and it spread like a virus throughout the whole club. So it’s a matter of balance and so as you said, it’s a long answer to a short question you asked, and that is the fact that we’ve got a fortnight before our next league game means we can think carefully and not rush it.
BF: One deal that has gone through is Danny Pugh’s loan deal which has been made permanent. A two-and-a-half-year contract. His versatility could prove vital particularly when the team has got a few injuries.
KB: Yeah well he’s done a good job for us. I still don’t know why Kevin Blackwell let him go. Mind you he let Keogh go as well. He’s good, he’s fast, he’s industrious and of course he’s versatile. He can play left-back or left side of midfield or if necessary central midfield. He’s a good buy. Blackwell sold him for £50,000 and now we’ve paid a lot more to get him back but that’s the deal. That was the deal when we signed him. We’ve done it. Danny is now part of our regular squad which answers the question “Where’s the money gone?”. The answer is it has gone on players. Wages and transfer fees or both.
BF: Now we started 2012 with that win against Burnley. Are you feeling positive as we go into the New Year?
KB: Well I ink that one of the encouraging things is we have been extremely lucky during our bad spell because all the clubs around us have had bad spells. I mean, Southampton, who looked impregnable, we’re only nine points behind them and the same with West Ham, they’ve had a rocky spell. Middlesbough have been sweeping up the table and they’ve had a couple of bad results. I think they have picked up one point from the last six. So, you have got this each club knocking each other out again syndrome. What has happened is the clubs below us have caught up a little bit. The fact of the matter is, as we speak, we’re one point behind sixth place and fifth place for that matter as well. So if we’ve got this lapse out of the way and the players are geared up, the injuries are coming back and getting fitter, pity about Jonny Howson, we still don’t know whether he’ll be back sometime in February or the beginning of March. We’re looking good.
BF: You touched on Christmas period on the pitch but off the pitch it has been another successful year and of course a big part of what the club is trying to do.
KB: Well as I’ve said in my programme notes, some fans are saying why do we bother with off-field activities. The answer is, we can’t make a living by gate receipts alone. Our gate receipts barely pay the players’ wages and first-team costs. So everything else has to come from other solutions. Fortunately, our conference and banqueting have had a tremendous season. I mean it’s very difficult out there as everybody knows. To have done over 10,000 silver-service meals in all the venues that we have over the festive season is quite amazing. Big thing in fact is that the quality of the food is so good. I mean I would say that wouldn’t I. Suzannah and I, if we were on our own, just as we were at Christmas, we would go to a hotel or restaurant. And believe you and me, the food we have had in the last three years at the Pavilion and the old conference and exhibition centre is absolutely fantastic. It’s proved by the number of people who are coming back all the time and all the other bookings. We’re building a very important business there that doesn’t depend on whether Billy Bloggs missed an open goal. And our merchandising is good as well. They had a good season, despite problems on the high street. Leeds United Merchandising is performing incredibly well.