You may have been living in a cave – or too busy just p*ssing yourself laughing – but there's a takeover bid going on at Leeds United. Yes, love him or want to see the end of his reign so desperately you'd walk into a petrol station wearing a flame thrower if you thought it would help, United chairman Ken Bates is it seems on the verge of ending his spell in charge at Elland Road.
Up here it's big news, mainly because of the club's permanent stagnation under his seven year tenure. Unable to bring in the kind of outside investment he required to bankroll promotion to the Premier League, after a long period of silence the Monaco based tax exile has eventually revealed that he's in negotiations with GFH Capital, an investment fund based in the Middle East.
Few takeovers however have elapsed times that run into months. Early rumours began to surface in May, mostly later proving be either guesswork, malicious attention seeking, or a combination of both. On the United fans most ubiquitous message board – the neatly acronymed WACCOE – it even had it's own hashtag: TOMA – standing for Take Over My A**e. This wasn't an invitation (WACCOE isn't that kind of forum) but instead a symbolic handle that reflects the ultimate cynicism all Leeds fan treat potential good news with. After a decade of infamy and ridicule, our glasses are not half empty. We don't even have a f**king glass.
The deal is notable for a whole raft of reasons, one of the most interesting being the protagonists' public dialogue with the fans. Bates has long used his programme notes as demented, stream-of-consciousness rants which have at times bordered on racism and outright libel. As recent court cases have proven, his communication strategy is that of an oligarch, with sole editorial control resting in his hands.
The deal is notable for a whole raft of reasons, one of the most interesting being the protagonists' public dialogue with the fans.
Conveniently given Bates string of humiliations at the hands of high court judges, a new enemy has emerged in this year in the form of the club's rapidly growing Supporters Trust, who unwittingly have become the third body in what is becoming a car crash ménage à trois. Add in the club's own website (Fifth most traffic of any club in the UK) TV channel (LUTV) and in house radio station (Yorkshire Radio) and you have a Chairman who has all the tools at his disposal necessary to make his (Alleged) lies become the truth. Imagine Orson Welles now retired and a decrepit property developer, and you're nearly there.
As a part of the negotiation process, a confidentiality clause has been inserted into the agreement which allows GFHC the privilege of looking at the books. We don't know what it says. We don't know what it covers. If the fans even knew what they didn't know, that would be something. So far, what's in the public domain is that GFHC intend to buy the club outright with Bates severing all ties (Hallelujah) but what its valuation is (Rumour £52 million) and whether the deal involves buying back Elland Road and the club's training facility at Thorp Arch is unclear.
So Bates on one side, GFH on the other, with the supporters trust in the middle. Sort of. Clear? Of course not. What's been interesting however is that the senior executives at GFH – acting Chairman David Haigh, Salem Patel, a board member of GFH, and Hisham Al Reyes (Who describes himself only as a Baharaini banker) have all started using Twitter as a means of communicating directly to the fans. Ah Twitter. That bastion of truth and proclaimer of FACTS. Yeah, even lovers of the medium like me have to admit that it's a minefield of people spouting complete b**locks. But Patel, and especially Haigh, now have a medium into which they can chuck whatever comes into their minds at an audience that's long been desperate for information of any kind. The latter is now being touted as the club's new post sale chairman, and probably because of that now boasts 16,000 followers. The others have less, but that's not really the point; football authority figures using social media to engage with their fans? Whoever would've thought that?
After a decade of infamy and ridicule, our glasses are not half empty. We don't even have a f**king glass.
Clearly it won't be for everyone. You can't imagine “The_Real_Tony_Pulis” discussing the merits of his Stoke City team's plucky assassination of football's elite, or “C'estDeffoARSEne_Wanger” getting into an argument about not seeing it. In continuation of his conflict with the trust, Bates had to all intents and purposes claimed he didn't care about how he's perceived in under 50's media circles – a statement somewhat devalued given that he took the time to mention it. Instead he's continued on attacking the trust, Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post, and even those who populate the Revie Stand. The basis for this seems to be ever lessening grip of the confidentiality agreement, what with one party being savvy enough to co-opt the club's supporters ahead of time in their attempt at a putsch.
The point is that influencing stakeholder opinion remains an important aspect of managing a business. Whilst Ken Bates relies on his archaic communication channels in their increasingly ignored formats, his message is being ignored in favour of one from a few bankers from thousands of miles and several time zones away. Already these people who were anonymous three months ago have more clout and residual gratitude for using 140 characters than one man who owns the club, a radio station and a shonky online content broadcasting portal. You could argue it might be the best strategy for Bates to join 'em as he plainly can't beat 'em, but that Twitter account would make David Cameron's look like a WI committee meeting.
Football seems to thrive on irony and in amongst all the counter claims is the fact that GFHC have refused consistently to say where their funds to purchase the club or support their plainly stated first objective of Premier League football will come from. For the battle weary Leeds fan, swapping an organisaton lacking in transparency for one that lacks said but with a few more bob will be acceptable, as long as the end justifies the means. For others, frying pans and fires come to mind. Right now by having the nous to use social media Haigh, Patel and others have the upper hand in the PR battle, and no amount of chippy, misanthropic aggression from yesterday's man will be able to change that. I expect we'll be done by Bonfire Night. But I'm not saying of which year.
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