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the square ball week

the square ball week

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Last week in this column I finally relented and stopped pussyfooting around the subject of the never ending takeover wrangles. It looks like I was just in time, as never came sooner than I thought: seven days on and all the wrangles have fallen away, leaving only the takeover, gleaming and complete. In the end £52million and a 10.30pm handshake was all it took for GFH Capital to buy 100% of Leeds United from Ken Bates; what’s more, they got Ken Bates thrown in with the deal as well. That’s either a fantastic bit of negotiation on GFHC’s part, to retain Ken’s years of football experience at no extra cost, or the first symptom of a new disease: Post-Takeover Stress Disorder.

Fittingly, after the six months of internet bickering that will define much of the public face of the takeover, the announcement was preceded by people who should know better messing around on Twitter. “Duncan Castles is correct, another deadline was missed,” tweeted Salem Patel of GFHC, in response to another doubting story from the bank’s bête noire, just forty-five minutes before the announcement. “At least I can take a well deserved holiday,” he added, as news of a State Radio address from Ken Bates fanned the flames. It was all off, we thought. Step forward, Preston Haskell IV. Reveal yourself, mysterious Saudi.

Ha! You guys. Who knew venture capitalists could be so much fun?

Ten minutes later Salem’s partner in please-dear-god-we-hope-it’s-not crime, David Haigh, was off to pick up the keys to Elland Road (which, for now, they’re still only renting) while the rest of us tried to take in the statement on the official site and Ken’s radio ramble and, well, just the whole thing, really. 10.30am, Wednesday 21st November, 2012, the beginning of Post-Takeover Stress Disorder stage one: confusion and disorientation.

The takeover had taken so long it had itself taken over Leeds United to a large extent. There was only a month of respite after last season before ‘Toma-frenzy’ took hold, and apart from adjusting to new owners, it will take some adjustment to get used to life without the perpetual uncertainty, intrigue and rumour. Post-Takeover Stress Disorder stage two: emotional numbing. How do we fill the days now?

Which leads to Post-Takeover Stress Disorder stage three: the part where you stay up late into the night, staring at the walls, wondering if all is as it seems. The statement says the deal has been signed… but not completed? It’s going to take… another month? For definite this time? Have GFHC bought Leeds United – or Leeds City Holdings – or Forward Sports Fund – or Outro – or what? Do they have the money to transform the club? Who is the mysterious “wealthy individual” backing them? What’s with the TV channel bid? Why is the statement on the official site worded differently to the one on the GFH Capital site? Ken Bates is still chairman? Ken Bates is going to be president?!

That’s the major uh-oh in all this. If the takeover was about anything, it was about change: new people with new ideas and a new broom doing new things. Instead Ken will remain chairman until the end of the season – and, to quote him yesterday, “Nothing has changed.” The role may carry minimal powers now GFHC own the club and will soon dominate the boardroom, and the position of president may only be honorary, but I’d as soon any new owner had kicked Ken’s arse all the way back to Monaco and told him never again to shame West Yorkshire with his presence. Instead, he’s going to be president – effectively a promotion for life as a reward for eight years of absolute rubbish. Any pyramid of power that has Ken Bates atop still needs ‘Bates Out’ to be spray painted on its side; that much, I suppose, hasn’t changed.

Nonetheless, life should, in theory, get easier from here on, as we move into stage four of Post-Takeover Stress Disorder: reflection, and counting your blessings. After years of being told off by a gruff pensioner, it is refreshing to see Haigh and Patel engaging in healthy back-and-forth with the fans on Twitter, and setting up an email address for comments is hopefully a sign of more formalised fan involvement ahead. Two loan signings within forty-eight hours are also a big boost to the no longer quite so despondent sounding Neil Warnock’s chances of making a decent team of Leeds this season: Jerome Thomas is not the Jerome we thought we wanted, but should add some pace to midfield, while we’ll ignore the fact that Alan Tate was once Fede Bessone’s understudy at Swansea and just be glad that he’s another hurdle between Danny Pugh and the first team. This is what we all wanted: polite owners, communication, and some decent new players. There are only two ways Leeds can go now, surely: up and forward.

That’ll be Post-Takeover Stress Disorder stage five, and it might be the hardest to attain: recovery. The takeover is finished, but Leeds United is not fixed. As we put it in our editorial on The Square Ball on Wednesday:

This is still the same club it was yesterday, with the same problems, and the same hard work ahead. Ticket prices are still too high, stewards still lack common sense, the off field building projects Bates has left behind are still too draining, and Danny Pugh is still here. Leeds United, the team that Don Revie and Howard Wilkinson made into champions, are still a second division club. Leeds have a lot to do and it’s got to be done right.

Adam Jubb of Fear and Loathing in LS11 made similar points directly to the new owners, pointing out that after the chaos of the last six months, “the extended ‘honeymoon period’ that a new owner could have ordinarily expected, is no longer something that can be afforded to you,” and that while, “the goodwill is undeniably there, and those who have boycotted the club are already buying tickets and planning to purchase merchandise again,” it’s up to GFH Capital to earn our continued support. Adam’s open letter is worth reading in full, as it sums up a lot of the positive and the negative in the mood among the fans right now. As do the comments of Gary Cooper, chairman of Leeds United Supporters’ Trust, who welcomed the deal but sounded a cautionary note about Bates’s continued involvement; so did LUST president Nigel Martyn, in blunter form on Twitter. We may need LUST more than ever in the coming weeks and months; since the mid-nineties Leeds have had a succession of chairmen and owners who we would have done better to have kept a much closer eye on, and with 8,500 members LUST are perfectly placed to keep GFH Capital under – hopefully mutually friendly – scrutiny. We want to make sure we reach Post-Takeover Stress Disorder stage six, here: a cure, not a relapse.

That’s all to come. For now I doff my cap to our new in-a-month owners-not-chairmen friends from Dubai who couldn’t quite get Bates Out but at least dislodged him, and I doff it for one specific thing: because when I ask you all if you want to read anything about the Millwall game today, you’ll all say, ‘Hell no!’ Cheers for saving me that job Haighy, Patelly, and the quieter Alrayesy. Roll on Palace. Come on Leeds.

That image up the top there is also the cover of the new issue of The Square Ball, which you can buy to celebrate on Saturday before the game (and then buy another online when you lose it celebrating after the game). Inside you can read about just about everything but the takeover, because we’d already finished the damn mag when it was announced. That’s one black mark, GFHC. There are 56 pages of wonderment to enjoy, though, including Adam Jubb on the Revelations of El Hadji Diouf; James Thompson pondering an all-Yorkshire Leeds United; Kevin Blackwell interviewing Kevin Blackwell, as transcribed by Eamonn Dalton; The Day of Atonement and the work of art that is Leeds United by Wayne Gamble; the poetry that is Leeds United, in actual poem form, by Jon Howe; and that’s only some of it. We won’t even ask for £52million and six months of hassle if you want to take a copy: £1.50 and a short wait for your change outside Elland Road, or a quid via Paypal if you’re lucky enough to own a computer, is all it takes. President Bates, just fax us a blank cheque, we’ll fax you a copy of the mag straight back.


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