Peter Ridsdale quietly rose to the position of chairman at Leeds United in 1996. Nick Varley gives us the lowdown of the lifelong fan who appears all to happy to mix it with the supporters
Distinguishing features First publicly spotted in the mid-1980s, he resembled a chipper, well-dressed geography teacher, ie tweedy sports jackets, but without leather elbow patches. The suits have stayed sensible, but the boyish parted hair has turned white so that he now looks like an avuncular Swedish diplomat.
Habitat Always a master of executive anonymity. After popping up as boss of shirt sponsors Burton in 1986, he quietly became a director the next year and remained on the board as his career saw him shuffle between various companies, including the home shopping channel QVC. When the media group Caspian (main asset: Paddington Bear) bought the club in 1996 and floated on the stock market, he emerged as chairman.
What use is he? The changes since he was first sighted in the programme – presenting the player of the month award for December 1986 to Jack Ashurst – say it all. The previous home (Second Division) game saw 14,452 watching a team recently strengthened, according to manager Billy Bremner, by the signing of John Pearson for £72,000. Now there’s a League title in the bank, a promising young team, a splendid stadium and Europe rather than gateways to Europe such as Grimsby or Portsmouth. How much is due to Ridsdale is debatable, but he was certainly a key influence.
Who remembers his birthday? For a start most fans, who recognise a kindred spirit in the bug-eyed figure leading the celebrations in the directors’ box. As a 10-year-old, Ridsdale met Billy Bremner, as chairman he went to his funeral, and is still in awe of the likes of Eddie Gray and Peter Lorimer. He has been spotted not only with a scarf draped in the rear window of his car but also giving the air- punching “Leeds salute”. He’s even admitted to taking part in a pitch invasion (after the 1-0 FA Cup semi-final second replay win over Man Utd in 1970). But City types also appreciate him.
Quote unquote He has mused with a good deal more openness than most chairmen on the financial aspects of the game. Apparently appalled by talk of a European breakaway, he also knows who in the game needs looking after. “We will never forget the fans who have supported us through thick and thin when we decide our pricing structure.”
Other offences to be taken into consideration At Charlton recently, one bemused fan spotted him at the bar and asked about the breakdown of Willem Korsten’s transfer. In response he got the full story, including the wages offered, accepted and then rejected. Earlier in the season Ridsdale made time for a meet-and-greet, not with a sponsor, but with a supporter who was attending his 1,000th game. And such examples are not one-offs. These days he is also chairman of the plc (although who actually owns the club remains unclear) and has just been elected to the Premier League’s ruling council. Do they know what they’ve done?
From WSC 149 July 1999. What was happening this month