Ken Bates is keeping quiet
12 August ~ When stories broke in late June that the owners of Leeds United had granted potential investors exclusivity on a takeover deal, even the most disillusioned fan got caught up in a wave of optimism. Rumours began circulating on Twitter as to the identity of the mystery investment group, with a Middle East consortium emerging as favourites. United fans are pessimistic by nature but few could contain their excitement at the possibility that the club might become the next Manchester City and – more importantly – get rid of rambunctious chairman Ken Bates.
The former Chelsea owner's relationship with supporters was fraught from the outset, with Bates appearing content to focus his energies on building the club's commercial revenues rather than investing in the playing squad. The sale of three club captains last season further fanned the flames of discontent.
The proposed takeover seemed too good to be true and so it proved as news leaked yesterday that talks had broken down between the two parties. Even the chairman's loyal apparatchik Shaun Harvey was said to be growing increasingly frustrated about the club's inability to strike a deal.
Rumours are all Leeds supporters have to go on because the LUFC website only exists to disseminate Bates's propaganda It is also rumoured that the plug was pulled on takeover talks because the terms were changed by Bates at the last minute.
An official statement issued through the club website late on Thursday confirmed the exclusivity period had ended, adding "the club will continue to be receptive to approaches from potential new partners who can establish that they have the necessary credentials".
There are strong suggestions that the Middle East investors are still interested in doing a deal on the original terms, but Bates is a stubborn owner and in this instance he holds all the aces. Since coming out of administration in 2007 the club has made a profit of £10 million and Bates has ambitious plans to transform Elland Road into a Chelsea Village of the north, so there's no pressing financial imperative for him to sell.
The combination of disappointing season ticket sales, fan unrest and the growing influence of the supporter-led LUFC Trust, which has proven a thorn in Bates's side over the last few seasons, might ultimately persuade the 80-year-old to cash in – that's the hope that United supporters cling to.
Bates has been surprisingly quiet during the courtship of the potential new owners but with the start of the new season looming large and the chance of a deal being done apparently further away than ever, beleaguered supporters await the chairman's inaugural programme notes with interest. Simon Creasey