How to sum this up in a few hundred words? Put simply, the proposed takeover of Leeds United has moved from unrequited optimism (briefly) a feeling which slowly dissolved into frustration at the outright farce, before now ending up as something rightly seasonal; a pantomime, of which the joke is very much on the club’s long suffering fans.
Our villain is of course Kenneth W. Bates (Boo, hiss, etc.) the current chairman. Opinions on his efficacy in the role differ, from “Saving” United from extinction in 2007 (His, plus a few hundred deluded hangers on) to delaying the inevitable administration the old set-up faced by a couple of years, time which – allegedly – he used to ensure that his bid would be the only viable option to avoid liquidation.
The five years since then – excluding promotion from League 1 at the third attempt – have been an unmitigated failure by any yardstick. After being forced to sell the club’s best young players, the bright and ambitious Simon Grayson was fired conveniently just after the transfer window had expired in February. Neil Warnock was hired to replace him, hardly a popular figure at Elland Road but probably one of the few coaches willing to take the job and all it’s career destroying paraphernalia. The old warhorse then presided over the club’s worst seasonal home record in history, distancing himself in the media from the leftover players apart from the mercurial Robert Snodgrass, whom he wooed with the captaincy and promises of building a side around him to match the young Scot’s ambition. With an astute nose for bullsh*t, Snodgrass promptly demanded a move to Norwich.
By this point even the thickest skinned executive would realise that his grand design was a white elephant. Leeds had been passed by Southampton, Swansea and Norwich from out of the depths, all well run outfits, but the Premier League continue to build their closed shop via ever increasing financial stimulus, to the extent that the status of being a “Big” club – if that’s what United actually are any more – outside of it’s gold plated corridors guarantees nothing. Had Leeds not suffered a fifteen point penalty due to the manner by which Bates engineered it’s exit from administration it would’ve been back in the second tier after just one season, rather than constantly developing talent only to to have to then sell it off on the cheap. Two more years of playing Yeovil ensued.
Cue “Investors”. At one point takeover fever gripped West Yorkshire. But not for long. First mooted in May, a veil of secrecy had been largely drawn around negotiations due to a confidentiality agreement between the parties, however in June it was revealed that a subsidiary of Gulf Finance House, a Dubai based investment company, was in “Exclusive” talks to relieve Bates of his majority stake in the club. And so we waited. And waited. And waited.
Throughout this period people have thrived in the information black out, some with attention deficit syndrome via social media, some being journalists eager to speak into the enthralled vacuum. Probably the highest profile is Duncan Castles, a reporter generally believed to have a source inside the club (Allegedly this source is technical director and former Chelsea chief scout Gwyn Williams) and an individual that it would seem have a number of agendas, posting a series of stories regarding GFHC’s ability to fund the deal and even ludicrously about whether selling pies and beer at the ground would be against the Sharia principles of the company’s Islamic investors. To the untrained eye it seems like Castles is responding to a successful, confidentiality clause avoiding PR campaign being conducted on social media by GFHC’s David Haigh. But of course these things are so hard to know for certain.
On the field an imbalanced squad (Part Grayson, Part Warnock) has struggled, especially in the league. Big money signings have been absent, and a lack of cover in a paper thin squad, injury to Ross McCormack and some highly unattractive, arseholes and elbows football culminated in a humiliation on Saturday by a competent but unspectacular Watford side. On cue, Castles went to press on Saturday night with a story that an alternative white knight was waiting in the wings, this time in the form of the wealthy (But not, by football standards minted) Preston Haskell, an American real estate magnate whose appetiser was to throw in £10 million for immediate team strengthening should his offer be accepted.
All the while, the clock is ticking; not just until the January transfer window opens, but also to Thursday, when GFHC’s exclusive option expires. They remain “Confident” that the deal will conclude before the deadline, but again we’re now taking a leap of faith, being asked to take their word for it and the corroborating views of some “Sources” purportedly “Close” to proceedings. In the meantime the club was recently discovered taking an unpublicised £1.5 million loan from it’s shirt sponsors, secured against future corporate revenue earnings, at 7% interest. This is on top of the £2 million GFHC have publicly admitted to contributed so far, with rumours saying that the actual figure is closer to six.
It goes almost without saying that none of these arrangements are signs that the existing shareholders are willing to contribute to operational costs. Bates is also allegedly estranged from current Chief Executive Shaun Harvey, with each having seperate legal teams according to the Yorkshire Evening Post. Supporters, sickened by the club’s decline and by many other of Bates actions throughout his tenure – too many to list here – have entered into a Faustian pact with themselves, more than 8,000 of them now regularly boycotting games in comparison to when the side were playing in the third division. The view that without GFHC’s money Leeds United would already be in administration is widely held amongst those with an eye for football finance. The problem for the executive now is that they lack any real saleable assets, with perhaps the exception of the promising Sam Byram, who may fetch enough cash to enable the current regime to limp along to summer before calling in the accountants.
Much as he is trying to position himself as, it appears that David Haigh is no Buttons and GFHC are no beanstalk. The alternative buyers are largely unknown, and in their naivety they may still elect to have Bates involved post any investment, a decision which would be a mistake of cataclysmic proportions, such is the Monaco based tax exile’s standing with the fans. A continued role would more than likely fail to convince the rank and file that true regime change had taken place and coax them back from Saturdays in B&Q.
For me personally the club faces some of the most important days in it’s recent history this week. In my opinion the long term damage of the last five years has been enormous, all but extinguishing any ambitions Leeds United may have had to challenge in the upper reaches of the Premier League this side of the next Olympics. The consequences of the status quo remaining are almost too awful to contemplate (Maybe not for you I acknowledge). Bates cannot or will not sustain the club, the fans won’t sustain Bates, and administration, points deductions and the lower leagues beckon by extension. This time take my word there would be no gates of 30,000, no huge away supports putting a glint in the eye of every League 1 chairman across the country. The impact on the club would be profound.
So we continue to anticipate, stuck in a never ending Christmas Eve, unsure whether we’ve been naughty or nice enough to get our presents. Until Scrooge is finally ousted, it seems the ghost of Christmas past is the only spirit any of us will be celebrating with this festive season.