Normally, conspiracy theorists just make me laugh. Princess Diana murdered by a Jewish rogue agent from MI6? Right. 9/11 planes empty and remote guided into the WTC whilst the passengers were gassed in a warehouse? Sure. Titanic sunk in insurance fraud? Maybe. People covering their head with tin foil and refusing to use the internet for fear of being anally probed are normally harmless, but when it comes to subject matter closer to home, that's a different story. One glance at the comments section of the Yorkshire Evening Post underneath almost any article on Leeds United will tell you that there is a small army of those who, following the era of deposed chairman Ken Bates, will believe almost anything about the current state of affairs at the club.
Bates list of misdemeanours (Alleged of course) runs the gamut from gross deceptions, breezes right through betrayal of trust to the kind of profiteering that would make even a senior banker slightly remorseful. To summarise, other than promotion at the third attempt from a division that included variously Cheltenham, Wycombe and Hereford, the Monaco-based tax exile's reign as Chairman was rather than a “Long slow arousal” as he put it in his programme notes once instead like being kicked in the balls season after season. I must state an interest here for clarity: personally, I despise him.
Possibly his biggest crime though was a quite deliberately orchestrated campaign of misinformation that surely would've had Joseph Goebbels looking on with admiration. Here was the man who had “Saved” Leeds United not once, but twice in 2005 and 2007. Firm foundations were being laid down for a return to the Premier League. We had budgets and balanced books. Our finances were healthy. Some fans, desperate for anything that resembled stability, swallowed each of these (Allegded) truths with a healthy appetite. Fractures inevitably developed: I even once saw two oppositely minded supporters have a fight about whether or not we “Going in the right direction”: As a vocation, being a Leeds fan began to resemble existing permanently inside a Kafka novel.
This created a sense of paranoia which, as the whole damn thing began to unravel in the ugliest possible terms via the divestment of our best players, turned ugly and left even the most rational with a distrust of the party line. As the team inevitably stagnated on the pitch, the lines were drawn, those against the increasingly disruptive measures taken to keep the enterprise afloat (Such as mortgaging season ticket revenues for two years to “Enhance our corporate entertainment proposition”) were dubbed sickpots and/or morons. A delegation from the squad sought out the Square Ball fanzine and the Supporters Trust to tell their side of the story; it seemed that Leeds United were broken in such a way that made Humpty Dumpty look like a wuss.
Then along came GFHC and the most protracted takeover in football club history. That's well documented; less so is the fans prolonged sense of frustration at the new regime. It's true to say that their financial affairs are opaque, as were Bates. It seems equally accurate to say that back then, despite an interminable due diligence period, messrs. Haigh, Patel, Nooruddin and the real moneymen had very little idea what they were buying, a situation only really dealt with at the end of last season with the appointment of the latter as chairman. Rumour has it that on purchase the Middle Eastern company's representatives felt they could run the business remotely with little management presence. After eight years of Bates total lack of competence – except in global tax law – it seemed obvious to everyone that no approach could be further from that which was necessary.
The other dimension that the new owners seem acutely aware of (And arguably over sensitive to) is the tendency of Leeds fans to see their glass as not so much half full as smashed in their face. Despite a string of actions which amount to nothing other than the wholesale dismantling of Bates oligarchic apparatus – the culling of his terrible radio station and the reintroduction of Radio Leeds, the swift removal of him, chief scout/spy Gwyn Williams and the old board – there are still plenty of people willing to see them through the jaded filters of the last decade.
For me this is to an extent a natural defence mechanism. A few years ago I used to go to away games with a group who call themselves the Maverick Whites, a hard drinking, fanatical in the old school sense gang that have seen it all from the San Siro to Histon. One of them turned up to a game wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “No club has a divine right to play at the top level. But we bl**dy well have”. It's a conceit that maybe irrational, and one that makes us unpopular all over the country, but it's right: there are you wager numerous Premier League chairman who'd sleep better at night knowing that Leeds had for instance replaced the away fan tile grist of Fulham. This sense of entitlement fuels recriminations and expectations in equal measure. Welcome to following LUFC.
Whilst the new management team has their faults, the foundations for success which Bates crowed about were it will come as no surprise nothing more than self aggrandising bluster. Only this week it emerged that the club has little or no scouting network, whilst the re-introduction of the Pro Zone performance management system widely utilised by others was only implemented in time for the embarrassing defeat to plucky Huddersfield Town. For those under any illusions, all the evidence frustratingly points to the fact that this is not going to be the quick job many impatient fans yearn for, seeing millions spent on players and then a gamble to the line for promotion as some anticipated.
Bur it's almost a year ago since GFHC took possession of the keys to Elland Road. Despite what they've managed to achieve in that period, they still find themselves being considered through the prism of the past regimes' sins. It's time that the slate was wiped clean. They may fail. They may succeed. Even they must wander though why so many people seem so happy to live in a past which is punctuated by lies, broken promises and disappointment. Inevitably with such a poisonous legacy to erase they face much greater scrutiny, but any analysis needs to be fair, balanced and in context. Knowing our luck David Haigh is an alien from the planet or Retaxalon 6, here to drain Leeds of all it's emotion as his his homeworld is fuelled by misery. Perhaps he's in cahoots with Joey Essex to turn the East Stand into a hairdressers/lap dancing bar. I'm afraid though we're just going to have to wait and see.