Ken Bates’ programme notes 12.03.2011

The Leeds United Supporters Club, a somewhat anonymous organisation, who have declined to reveal its membership (100… 1,000… 10,000… whatever) or its accounts.

They own the Old Peacock pub on Elland Road, which has just published its accounts which showed that with a turnover of £351,000 they made just £2,500 profit on an investment of £102,000. (Billy’s Bar made £120,000 profit last year). As easy as it seems from the outside, I’m still puzzled by their claim that they “support Leeds United”. Haven’t seen much evidence of that so far.

When Bates published this self-congratulating propaganda in 2011, we quickly countered a few of the points made.

  • Firstly, the Leeds United Supporters Club held an annual financial meeting to ensure transparency for its members.
  • Ken Bates is quick to point out the £102,000 investment that LUSC made in acquiring the Old Peacock, yet fails to mention how much Billy’s Bar cost to build (£1000… £100,000… £1,000,000… whatever) before bragging about alleged profits.
  • By and large, supporters club are set up to organise group travel to and from games. In other words, their raison d’etre is to support Leeds United, and they do so by booking large numbers of tickets to each and every game. I know this because I was once a member of one.
  • Finally, the hypocrisy of calling the Leeds United Supporters Club “anonymous” when – at that time – an anonymous offshore trust (Forward Sports Fund) owned Leeds United wasn’t lost on anyone.

Keeping the above in mind, you may find Ken Bates’ programme notes from the Oxford United game a little confounding.

I genuinely had a lot of sympathy for the Supporters Club when they had to surrender the tenancy of the Old Peacock last spring. It was a good try but I must confess I was somewhat surprised when they took it on. We looked at it before they did and decided that we couldn’t make it pay. The trouble with a tied pub is that the brewery often charges too high a rent and the licensee has to buy all the booze from them, often at higher prices than available in the supermarket. This leaves little margin for all the overhead costs.

Pubs are shutting every week up and down the country and its down to the greed of the pub owners. A combination of high rents and alcohol prices means a community loses their pub, once the centre of their social activities.

As I say, we have sympathy for the Supporters Club, perhaps time for a rapprochement.

Once you’ve cut through the smug “I told you so” part and Ken Bates’ broken Britain monologue (despite spending just 90 days a year in the country, broken Britain is a regular feature of his programme notes) you’re left with the stunning realisation that the Leeds United chairman is actually trying to build bridges with the Supporters Club.

That final word, ‘rapprochement’ (which is Cambridge for peace talks) seems so out-of-place in Ken Bates’ programme notes that I was tempted  to email the club and make sure it wasn’t a typo.

When I mentioned the notes on Twitter, some fans were so shocked by that final line they were calling conspiracy, insisting that the notes must have been ghost-written by someone else.

As out-of-character as this seems, added to Shaun Harvey’s appearance at a meeting of the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust, you have to wonder whether things really are changing at Leeds United?

Has Ken Bates finally realised that ongoing tensions between supporters and club are damaging his business? Or is someone else pulling the strings, insisting that attempts are made to repair seven and a half years of broken relationships?

Whatever Ken Bates’ motives are, a call for peace is something I welcome. Words alone won’t repair the damage done however, there must be a concerted effort to once again engage with supporters at all levels and make them feel part of the club once more. As the old cliché goes, actions speak louder than words. Words are however, a good start.