'He's not Norman Bates, in a strange way I feel reassured'
The ex-Chelsea chairman's abrasive approach could be just the tonic for Leeds, writes James Brown
Saturday 22 January 2005
A few years ago when I was editing
GQ magazine a colleague walked into the office and said: "Ken Bates' wife is on the phone, and she wants to talk to you".
A few years ago when I was editing GQ magazine a colleague walked into the office and said: "Ken Bates' wife is on the phone, and she wants to talk to you".
Believing the maxim that behind every big man there is an even bigger woman, I approached the call with a sense of terror, presuming I was about to get a grilling from the wife of a man who had infamously once recommended football fans be kept behind electric fences.
On the contrary, Mrs Bates simply thanked me for a recent business profile of Chelsea Village. "That was the fairest and and most balanced article I have ever read on Ken," she said. It was only the second time in my journalistic career that I had been called "balanced and fair-minded." (The first had been on commenting on the demise of Howard Wilkinson on Five Live).
When a man like Ken Bates arrives at your club it helps to have even a short history of being balanced and fair minded. He is not a man who naturally provokes fence-sitting, and already some Leeds fans are behaving as if Norman Bates has taken control. "Let's have a demonstration," one person wrote on a website. Why? He's not even offended anyone yet.
In a strange way I feel sort of reassured. I guess it's a sense of "he may be a bastard but at least he's our bastard now." Like many gleeful rival fans I had already begun to work out the odds of whether or not we could escape relegation if we were docked the penalty of 10 points for going into administration. I am now assuming this has been put on hold.
Given that Bates can only make money out of the club if the team is successful, he'll want us back into the big time ASAP. The first sign of things to come will be in his attitude towards the manager. In the latter years at Chelsea he appointed three good first-time managers in Vialli, Gullit and Glenda (OK, Hoddle had managed Swindon) and Ranieri was a pretty imaginative appointment. Kevin Blackwell hasn't done a bad job and he clearly has a vision of how the team should play - unfortunately that vision has too often included Michael Ricketts.
Our position as a club is pitiful compared to the glory European nights of just a few seasons ago. But the manager has, in David Healey, Matthew Kilgallon, Danny Pugh, Frazer Richardson, Aaron Lennon and Clark Carlisle, given some very good young players an opportunity. And he's given them some steady "bigger boys" like Paul Butler and Neil Sullivan to learn from.
Most of us have felt we are still short of an extra-special player, someone with creativity, a will to win and a touch of the maniac - like Vinnie Jones and Gordon Strachan. No one thought this character would emerge in the boardroom.
In Tom Bower's excellent book, Broken Dreams, Ken Bates takes a barrage of abuse and allegation, but then so do David O'Leary and Peter Ridsdale, and Peter Reid and Terry Venables, both of whom joined Leeds after the book was published. It looks as is if someone at Leeds United is using Broken Dreams as a headhunting guide. We only need Redknapp and we'd have the full set. Most football fans don't really care what goes on behind closed doors so long as their club's doing well on matchday.
Some might say that the wolf is no longer at the door, he's in the bed dressed as Granny, but to be honest right now I'm glad Baron Von Greenback and Co have passed the baton on. Their regime never looked anything but short term, as they admitted. It will be eventful, but supporting Leeds United has never been anything but.
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