Ken Bates is the kind of owner that football fans should be terrified of as soon as he even mentions your club in a sentence. He’ll save you from an apparent oblivion, give you a couple of solid years and relative highs, sucking you in all the while. And once he’s got you, it’s either his way or the highway.
There has, for a long time, been opposition to Bates’ ownership of the club. It might not have been as vocal as the Manchester United or Liverpool equivalents but it has been there; in the stadium, on the forums, on the blogs and on Twitter.
And now it is becoming more vocal, to a damaging extent. Leeds season ticket holders were sent a letterrecently as Bates tried to tempt them into renewing their tickets. The letter is as bizarre as it is offensive to Leeds fans.
The general tone of the letter smacks of ‘stop criticising me, just pay your money for the tickets and shut up’. As this postpoints out, it’s an awful attempt at writing a sales letter, the main issue being that Bates mentions the recession and how times are hard and then goes on to say that the squad will be cut down. There’s no strong call to arms, or anything that will make fans want to part with their much-needed money to pay for luxuries such as football matches.
The strange thing is that the letter is not even needed: a simple summary (or list of excuses) of what has gone on in the last year and a reason for fans to really get behind the club (as well as the team) would have sufficed.
Nonetheless, many Leeds fans have had enough and won’t be renewing their season tickets. It’s an incredibly depressing situation but one that is far too prevalent in modern football: people who genuinely hold great affection for their football club – as pitiable as that might seem – not wanting to put money in the owner’s pocket.
Attendance figures at Elland Road have been dropping for some time, with an average gate of 28,000 this season – under 60% of capacity. It has reached the point now where Bates merely assumes that fans will attend games out of irrational loyalty to the club. An assumption which, right now, appears to be misplaced.
Leeds are currently 11th in The Championship, a fair reflection on the squad in Simon Grayson’s possession. Bates, though, said recently that Leeds should be aiming for the top, putting more pressure on the manager while, at the same time, refusing to invest money in way of transfers.
Of course, while Bates is the major problem, there are slight grumblings to be had with Grayson too. The Whites have been poor defensively for the best part of two seasons now, while replacements have not been found for key players who have left for bigger and better things. As much as great sympathy must be had with Grayson for managing with limited resources, three seasons in The Championship is – surely – long enough to consolidate and improve. Bates is the main enemy here but Grayson isn’t perfect either.
If the season ticket letter didn’t dampen the spirits of Leeds fans, the imminent sales of two of the club’s best players certainly will. What do the departures of captain Jonny Howson and top-scorer Ross McCormack say about the state of Leeds now? As many have pointed out, they are (and have been for some time) a selling club, but then isn’t every club below the top tier easy prey for the Premier League? As well as that, though: Howson, a born-and-bred Leeds fan, wants to leave in search of Premier League football because he’s realised he isn’t going to get it with Leeds. The contract negotiations with the club have been going on for 12 months – nothing has happened in that time to change his mind.
A precedent was set with the sale of Jermaine Beckford in 2010 and Kaspar Schmeichel, Max Gradel, Neil Kilkenny and Bradley Johnson since then. The money from those quite substantial departures has not been reinvested in the playing side of the club, and it remains to be seen whether this will be the case with the Howson and McCormack deals.
But who next? What must Tom Lees, the supremely promising young defender, be thinking now? Lees has apparently garnered interest from Bolton, and why wouldn’t he leave when the club are at best rebuilding and at worst looking set to sit contently in The Championship?
Bates continually talks about long-term planning, and in a purely financial sense he maybe is here. But selling your best players over a series of months and bringing in inadequate replacements is hardly the most fortified of plans. Bates will probably still expect Grayson to steer the club to the playoffs, at least, even though it’s his lack of investment that is the ultimate indication of the club’s lack of ambition.
Photo from: FletchtheMonkey