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the square ball week

the square ball week


Trying to sum up the current situation at Leeds United is like trying to photograph a postage stamp fixed to a speeding InterCity 125. So first, let’s deal with what we do know for definite.

Tom Lees has signed a four year contract, with a clause triggering bonus payments should he smile during that period; Ian Harte wears boots that are too small and turned down an offer to come back this summer; ex-Leeds men Tommy Wright and Denis Irwin were still shacking up with John Sheridan when they lined up against us for Oldham in the 1987 play-off semi-final; South Leeds Life have spotted a spelling mistake by Don Revie’s statue – but still agree it looks great anyway; Howson Is Now has done this to The Robbie Rogers; Stuart McCall cried when Leeds won the European Cup in 1975 (an error in the article says Bayern Munich won it); and the 200% blog has done a good re-telling of the Leeds City story as part of their ‘100 Most Controversial Club Owners’ series. On which subject: let’s talk about this takeover, shall we?

With rumours gradually growing louder across the forums and Twitter, we think Spoughts were the first to pull it all together into a blog post, asking on Friday, “Is Ken Bates finally f*ing off?” The Scratching Shed added to the chatter on Sunday, wondering aloud why Ken has stopped his fireside chats for the summer; then on Monday TSS posted The Takeover Rumour: The Origins Story, which, while it sounds like the fourth movie of something that should have stayed a trilogy, is actually your best starting point if you want to see how all this began. That article ended, “I’m leaning more towards ‘there’s something in this’ the longer it goes on” and it only took a few hours for those words to seem prophetic.

Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post was first to come up with something definite: in his three tweets on Monday evening (1, 2, 3) he claimed knowledge of two separate parties interested in “investment/takeovers,” and said that one appeared to be further down the line than the other. This was swiftly followed up by a statement from Leeds United Supporters’ Trust, confirming knowledge of negotiations, and adding that, since Bates’ challenge to L.U.S.T. to ‘put their money where their mouth is’ in February:

“We developed a presentation so interested parties could see how working with L.U.S.T. could help them, and have been in contact with a number of people to explore ways of bringing about change for the better at Elland Road. As part of this ongoing work, we have spoken to two groups who are interested in buying Leeds United.”

L.U.S.T. added that, “At this stage it is not possible for us to go into details about our conversations with these groups, as with a firm offer on the table we would not want to jeopardise any current negotiations.” It will be interesting to see what role the Trust plays in a post-takeover Leeds United, but by having what sound like useful conversations with some of the groups involved, they’ve already made more progress than has been possible while pushing against Ken Bates’ big locked door.

On Tuesday morning, Leeds United issued ‘A Club Statement’, confirming “that talks are taking place regarding investment for the long-term future”; but by that time, the speculation was already well underway. Right In The Gary Kelly’s have referred back to the long summer of 1996, when Caspian’s takeover bid dragged on for weeks, but it feels like the last three days have already exceeded those three months for sheer frenticism. It’s probably easiest if we take the take the strongest rumours geographically:

Canada: fingers first pointed to Toronto, and Maple Leafs Sports Entertainment. The sports company, who can’t spell ‘leaves’, own two of Toronto’s ice hockey clubs, a basketball team, and Toronto FC of the MLS. Rumours first connected MLSE with Leeds back in May 2008, as we prepared for the play-off final against Doncaster, and were sternly rubbished by our official site; this time around, it was the Maple Leafs Twitter account that had to appease Leeds fans desperate for news: “We love the enthusiasm of #LUFC Fans! However to repeat our response from last week – there is no truth to the rumours.” The Leafs billionaire chairman has also been linked with Nottingham Forest this month, but – wait, is that guy on the MLSE site wearing a Leeds scarf?!

Chicago: Anyone from Chicago. If this does come off, we’d like to lay early claim to the headline ‘St Valentine’s Day Massacre’ next time Leeds get beaten in mid-February. The Chicago talk started with Phil Hay again, who tweeted on Tuesday that it’s “the YEP’s understanding that US bid for Leeds is Chicago-based. Group were shown round Elland Road and Thorp Arch last Thursday.” Within hours Andrew Hauptman, owner of MLS club Chicago Fire, was bemusedly telling the Chicago Tribune: ‘Nothing ceases to amaze me. No truth whatsoever’ in a report which we’re told originally suggested we’re a Scottish club. Phil Hay has since reported an announcemount from Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf that he is not involved, and Club 9 Sports have also ruled themselves out, while the owner of Chicago Cubs has yet to say anything. No word yet either from Andrew Mason, the billionaire entrepeneur behind Groupon (pictured here with a cat on his head), Oprah Winfrey, who just put her Chicago mansion on the market, or from any of the other 2,500,000 residents of Chicago. That said, the news of a tour around the facilities does suggest that something could yet come of this link.

The Middle East: On Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, ‘Leeds might get taken over,’ became ‘Leeds are going to do a Man City!’ as intense speculation linked Kuwati ‘refrigerator magnate and electro-mechanical contracting tycoon’ (don’t worry: we hear he really is exceedingly rich) Fawaz al-Hasawi to a takeover bid for Leeds. There’s a sedate run-through of the story here, but that doesn’t in any way describe the overnight mayhem on the Waccoe forum, where painstaking efforts with a video interview, Google Translate, and some Gulf-based Leeds fans with proficency in Arabic put together what, by breakfast, seemed a very plausible takeover bid that would see us all sitting in seats of pure gold at Elland Road next season. The Scratching Shed have a good summary of how the pieces were put together. It seems Al-Hasawi, in resigning from his position as chairman of Kuwaiti football team Qadsia, seems to have mentioned strong interest in an English second-level team, who weren’t close to promotion this season but have a great history, and he mentioned Neil Warnock a lot. That sounds like us, doesn’t it? Except that by lunchtime Dubai based Leeds fan Eddie Taylor (a TSB stalwart: I suggest you take a break from this takeover stuff and read his report of the 1993 Youth Cup Final and see just how right he was about our opponents’ “blonde-bobbed centre forward” that night, one Robbie Savage) had rung around all the Kuwaiti journos in his rolodex and got an earful of ‘it’s probably Nottingham Forest.’ Pah, billionaires are overrated anyway. The Middle East links don’t end there though – Phil Hay’s other men most likely on Tuesday were a group with “connections to both England and Dubai but they’re adamant they’re not ready to bid yet.” There could still be more to come from the Middle East.

But then there could still be more to come from anywhere, to tell the truth. We’re almost fearful to file this, lest another group of international bidders appears on the horizon, ready to wrest control from Ken Bates. Which reminds us, we still haven’t seen The Avengers yet – is it any good? Whatever happens, the outright enthusiasm Leeds fans are showing at the mere possibility of a new owner says a lot about the feelings towards the current board. While the club statement stuck with “investment,” the Supporters’ Trust on Twitter maintain that “The groups that we have spoken to wish to acquire the club,” and it’s already hard to imagine how it could be possible to start next season with Ken Bates still in charge. But it’s worth taking a deep breath at this point and remembering that nothing ever goes smoothly with these kinds of negotiations, especially when football is involved, and especially especially when Kenneth William Bates is involved, so we could yet have a long way to go. Which also means there’s going to be a lot of speculation to get through. We suggest you get yourself an atlas and an International Who’s Who, and as you turn refreshing Twitter into a religious rite and work through your ‘Teach Yourself Arabic’ mp3s, remember these words of the late, legendary historian Studs Terkel: “Curiosity did not kill this cat.” Studs Terkel was from Chicago, by the way.