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the square ball week: revolution

the square ball week: revolution


I can’t quite shake the feeling that Ken Bates got what he wanted. As the Bates Out countdowns ticked by on Twitter, and the celebration bells of 1st July rang out, I was still nagged by what it really meant. Sure, not chairman anymore. But president. Not my president, but president nonetheless. He’ll like that, and I don’t like that he’ll like that.

Five days have passed since then, though. If the champagne has been flowing freely to toast the new title in President Bates’s Monaco flat, perhaps it won’t be until next week that he realises just what has happened since he was finally ejected from the Leeds United boardroom. Ken is the arch meddler, unable to resist putting his stamp on things, but even as president he is powerless to stop the pick axes being taken to the edifice of despair he spent eight years building at Elland Road. There’s some satisfaction in the mental image of Ken furiously phoning to Leeds to get Gwyn Williams his job back, and the line ringing and ringing and eventually going dead. Actually, ‘some satisfaction’? It’s a bloody wonderful thought.

What can happen with Ken out of the chair is that a better Leeds United can be built. Admittedly, as president, Bates can try and take the credit, much as he liked to claim he laid the foundations for Abramovich at Chelsea, when it was billions of petro-dollars that underpinned Roman and nothing more. But if success does come to Leeds – and, dear Don and Billy, we’ve waited a long, long time – the only praise for Ken will be from Susannah, and probably only because she has to.

The departure of Gwyn Williams, Ken’s “eyes and ears” from back in the day at Chelsea, was like extra dessert when we’d already filled up on ice cream. We’d already been extra spoiled on Bates Out day, with the news that Shaun Harvey was going too; swiftly followed by a one million pound midfielder and, while we were all still dizzy, a striker dropping (technically!) from the Premier League. Tell me next that the coming new away kit isn’t a total mess and I might come over all unnecessary.

Perhaps Ken was heading for a late in life Damascus moment, and all these things would have happened this summer anyway, but, well, no. Anyone can see that we’ve just had a week that was remarkably un-Batesonomic in its style and execution. This is what can happen when you rid yourself of a tyrant builder, and build yourself.

We have an example to follow in the story of Tortola, Anegada, and a man named Noel Lloyd. The Caribbean islands were the venue for an early experiment in Bates’s practise of building what he wants and damning the rest. After breaking a United Nations embargo to forge an unhealthy relationship with the illegal racist state of Rhodesia in the mid–1960s, Ken picked up the lease on the larger part of two Caribbean islands: a lease that would last for 199 years and cost Bates next to nothing, while the vast majority of the islands would become inaccessible to the local people once Bates’s company built hotels, airports, leisure developments and a tax-haven on their land. The Caribbean Research Institute blasted the plans as “Feudal Development in the Twentieth Century.”

It took the heroic and chaotic intervention of Tortolan Noel Lloyd to disrupt Bates’s plans. Leading the Positive Action Movement, Noel took Tortola to brink of revolution at a time – 1968 – when the British Commonwealth was especially sensitive to the prospects of riots in its remaining colonies. Ken Bates plans didn’t just have terrible implications for the islands themselves; questions were asked in the House of Lords about the problems he was causing for the British government.

Getting him out wasn’t easy; it took two years for the Foreign Office to find a way of buying off the agreements, although in the end Ken panicked and settled for $1m less than the FO had decided to offer. But once Bates was gone, the islands prospered, development coming to Tortola and Anegada but with the crucial difference that, as Noel Lloyd said with satisfaction, “That land, most of it, is owned by local people.” Bates had to settle for retreating and grumbling about being ripped off in letters to the Financial Times; while in Tortola, they built a statue to Noel Lloyd.

With Ken gone, we can do what they did in Tortola and Anegada: build something we want, something we can enjoy, something like a football club. What we lack, for now, is a hero: new managing director David Haigh might adopt heroic poses for his P.R. company to post on Twitter, but despite this week’s positive steps it can’t really be argued that Luke Murphy was signed out of pure joyful altruism. The sudden injection of cash, after Brian McDermott’s worries about “wheeling and dealing” at the Crowne Plaza last week, have had people guessing where the money came from; Andrew Haigh did some back of the envelope maths to suggest wheels and deals were exactly the source. Take Steve Morison’s annual wage of circa £700k and add a £300k loan fee from Millwall and you have a million to give Crewe for Murphy; add together circa £20k in wages no longer being paid to Connolly, Bromby, Somma, Kisnorba and Rachubka as of June 30th and that’s Smith, Hunt and Murphy’s wages paid.

There’s guesswork there, but it’s easier to process some educated guesses at wages than guessing at the implications of restructuring loans with David Haigh’s other company, Brendale Holdings. Brendale’s involvement is a marker of why GFH and co can’t enjoy hero status just yet. Thursday saw a story in the weird venue of Sports Direct News that implied Brendale now control Leeds’ Football League Share; the article has been updated overnight – the reference to telling “porkies” has been removed from the headline, and a quote has been added from “the club’s official spokesman,” Paul Dews, pointing out that claims the owners aren’t committed to Leeds are “defamatory.” It was enough to make sure this week didn’t go by without a pause and a quiver, though. The disappearance of the ‘golden share’ was a key point in the downfall of Coventry City, and while the Companies House documents relating to the deal show nothing untoward, none of them match the description of the “35 page document” that, despite the club’s comments about defamation, is still referred to in the article. Haigh, Patel, Chairman Nooruddin (whoever he might be) and the rest haven’t been here long enough to stop eyebrows being raised by these kinds of stories. That’s before we even consider the David Haigh loves Red Bull/Red Bull are buying Leeds rumours, which can stop right here.

Trust isn’t earned in a week. Yesterday I likened Leeds fans to happy puppies rushing from one new friend to another, tongues out and tails wagging; another apt comparison might be to rescue dogs, surrounded by well-meaning animal lovers, but still distrustful in case the biscuit – or the frozen and possibly dynamic match ticket prices, announced this morning – is followed by a kick. Going in to the first pre-season game at Farsley tomorrow, Leeds United have new people in the boardroom, new players in the squad, and a new attitude that seems to be of Brian McDermott’s making. Perhaps we still need a hero to match Noel Lloyd, and while we’re owned by offshore banks, we’re still a long way from having our club back. But we’ve got something we never had while Ken Bates was in charge, and maybe could only come by making him president: we’ve got hope.

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