Leeds United Supporters Trust welcome yesterdays comments from Ken Bates, in which he indicated that negotiations with the bidders are progressing positively, and that all involved are working to bring the situation to a conclusion as soon as possible. We are optimistic that this is a sign that the good news for which Leeds fans have been waiting patiently for four months will soon be forthcoming.
We were not impressed, however, by a number of other points Mr Bates made in his statement.
After a long summer during which little has been heard from the club or Ken Bates, an update on the takeover negotiations from the chairman himself was bound to attract a lot of attention from Leeds fans. Indeed, the statement was hyped up in advance by Yorkshire Radio through its various Twitter accounts, leading to a lot of speculation on Twitter and internet forums about what Mr Bates would say, at a time when most fans were looking forward to our game with Nottingham Forest.
While Mr Bates’s comments did include news about the takeover, we think it was unfortunate that fans anxious to hear this update were first forced to listen while Ken aimed disconnected and inaccurate criticism at ourselves, our members, local journalists and supporters on the Elland Road Kop.
Having been accused of directing personal abuse at Ken Bates, which, as anyone who has read our statements and comments during the takeover process knows, we have not done, we find it amazing for the L.U.S.T. board to be described in the next breath as “idiots,” “illiterate,” and “a waste of space.” While our board members are well used by now to this wearying treatment, we are not willing to allow Mr Bates to widen his ad hominem attacks to include our more than 8,000 members - branded by Ken as “silly people that follow” L.U.S.T. All Leeds fans are entitled to an opinion, and entitled to express that opinion, whether or not Ken Bates likes what they say.
We are also extremely disappointed by his comments regarding the Kop’s support for Neil Warnock’s team. Neil himself has had nothing but praise for the fans since joining Leeds, and indeed has said that our support has been a key factor keeping him at the club, when he has at times been tempted to walk away due to events behind the scenes. Last Tuesday night against Hull, the plummeting attendances - and income - which have characterised Ken Bates’s tenure at Leeds resulted in a sub-20,000 crowd, but the Kop was still full: those 7,000 loyal fans made up almost half of the overall attendance. We do not think that the lifelong fans who have stuck by this club through thick and thin need or deserve lectures from Ken Bates on how to support their team.
In our Vision Statement, one of the changes we call for is that the club should change the way it communicates with fans, to create an inclusive atmosphere at Elland Road which will bring supporters flocking back to the ground. We do not see that branding thousands of our fans as “idiots” who do not back the team helps this in any way.
Another one of our ambitions is for the club to enjoy good relations with local media, something which Ken Bates’s comments about Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post will not have helped. Mr Bates referred to Phil’s articles about the financial situation at Leeds United, suggesting he should not try to be a financial expert. Of course, Phil has not tried to be any such thing, but instead reported the opinions of sport finance expert Rob Wilson of Hallam University - who Ken Bates himself has previously cited as providing intelligent commentary on the club’s finances, and who has also helped L.U.S.T. to analyse the accounts. Phil Hay has been as proactive as possible this summer about bringing takeover news to the fans, and we are sure that Leeds fans have appreciated his efforts.
This is a role that L.U.S.T. have also tried to play, in the absence of any news from the club about what could be the most important events Leeds United have seen for many years. Contrary to Mr Bates’s claims that our statements “are all inaccurate,” and his implication that we have jeopardised the confidentiality of the bidders, all the information we have shared with Leeds fans has been based on solid information, cross-checked with several sources with knowledge of the negotiations. This includes contacts on the potential buyers’ side, from whom we have had no suggestions that our public comments have caused any of the problems Ken Bates claims. At all times this summer we have respected the confidentiality of the negotiations, and have done what we can to placate the supporters’ anxiety about the slow progress. We have balanced this with our belief that the fans deserve to know what is going on at their club, and will continue to share important information with our members and with all Leeds fans whenever possible.