The first proper article that I ever put on this website was ‘The Curious Logic of Ken Bates’, discussing how underrepresented the playing side of things were in Ken Bates’s last season-long budget for Leeds United. This was, of course, the season after the summer spent developing the East Stand. I think it is fair enough to say that every disappointment since that summer can be traced back to the foolish development project, the height of what I believe to be Ken Bates’s incompetence at running a football club.
As much as Ken Bates blathered on about the need to diversify revenue streams over the course of a season, the East Stand will remain a white elephant for a good while. The cost of one of the Level 4 executive boxes for a season (around £20,000) is ultimately only equivalent to the rumoured wage for our highest paid player for a week. Does it really have the potential to make a profit great enough to be of value to a Championship club when compared to the over £6m cost of developing the stand? In my opinion, no.
Even aside from raw cost of the East Stand compared to the potential for useful income, I feel the need for alternative forms of funding to pay for it has hamstrung the club further. To pay for it, Ken Bates’s Leeds United borrowed £5m from Ticketus, and we are now obliged to pay them a total of £6.8m in exchange. Even if, as GFH Capital have claimed in recent months, we have no debts as a club (suggesting they have paid it off), that is a £6.8m hole in budgets for other parts of the football club, most damagingly for Ken Bates’s legacy, the footballing side of the club.
In my opinion, Ken Bates’s incompetence when it comes to running football clubs is incredible. It is worth noting the word incompetence, because too often people believe what he did at Leeds was due to hatred of Leeds. He didn’t hate the club, and in fact, people have claimed, and supposedly seen evidence that he loved it – the problem is that I feel he’s systematically awful at being the chairman of a football club. He’s made what are, in my opinion, the same mistakes over and over in his (hopefully over) career in football chairmanship. At Oldham, he set up a loss-making radio station. At Chelsea, he built the now often empty Chelsea Village, which would have completely crippled them had Bates not been lucky enough that a certain Russian took a fancy to his club. At Leeds, he did one and intended to do both, with his full East Stand development ultimately planned to cost the club between £80m and £90m. Thankfully, it seems as though this will not be followed up.
I’ve said over and over that Simon Grayson was completely and utterly hamstrung by the budget in his last season at Leeds United, which was cut by a couple of million pounds, but despite this, and with Howson, far and away his favourite player, in the side, he managed to guide us to 5th. Part of me used to assume that Bates’s dislike of Grayson’s extramarital affair was to blame, but ultimately, I don’t think Ken had the money to give to Grayson, thanks to the commitment towards the East Stand. Grayson’s budget was cut massively, and this is likely where the sales of Grayson’s top players (Schmeichel, Gradel and Bradley Johnson (someone who clearly didn’t want to leave Leeds)) that summer came from. Grayson listed in a recent interview a desire to sign players like Jack Cork, who ultimately moved to Southampton that summer for an undisclosed fee, thought to be around £750,000, not a ridiculous amount for a football club that has the highest turnover in the league. Who did he end up with? Michael Brown.
Aside from destroying that transfer window, the East Stand will impact potential for years to come – a deal with Compass ties up hospitality revenues in the near future, meaning the club sees none of the revenue streams Ken Bates alluded to. There is a hole at Elland Road, and anyone who owns the club is going to have to plug it, something you have to sympathise with them on. Leeds is a club with great potential for growth, but in the short-term, there’s a hell of a lot of problems to deal with before the footballing side can prosper. It all comes down to what I feel are Ken Bates’s egotistical building projects.
Aside from the East Stand, the building of the Pavilion a few years back is also symbolic of what Ken Bates has done, I believe, to hamper the club. The reality is that people are never going to be particularly keen to trek out to Beeston. If Bates had managed to build the Hotel, it would have, in my opinion, been empty for the majority of the year. Just imagine how badly it would have crippled the club.
Successive managers in Grayson and Warnock (who I didn’t really like, but that’s not important) have had relatively difficult tasks in achieving at Elland Road. It all comes down, truly, to Ken Bates’s building projects. Think of the players who, in reality, should have been able to play in the same team:
Schmeichel, Byram, Lees, Delph, Johnson, Snodgrass, Howson, Gradel, Becchio.
A team that would have got us promoted with ease, especially with solid additions surrounding them (the likes of Stephen Warnock, Adam Clayton, Ross McCormack, even Lee Peltier at centre back).
The East Stand being redeveloped is possibly the worst thing that’s happened to Leeds United in recent years, allowing a team to be ripped to shreds rather than moving forward as it should have done. This is why I hate Ken Bates, not because of some notion of him being “Chelsea”, but because, in my opinion, his stupidity has crippled Leeds United.
Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1).