Dear David and Salem,
First of all, allow me to join the countless thousands of others in offering my congratulations following the news that you’ve finally secured the acquisition of Leeds United Football Club. I’d also like to extend my thanks for the determination, devotion and persistence you’ve shown in pushing through, what doubtless must’ve been one of the most complex takeovers conceivable. Like everyone else, I truly hope that today marks the beginning of a successful new era at Elland Road.
Today, for the first time in a long time, feels like a good day to be a Leeds United supporter; having endured a desperate decade, Leeds fans are ready to back anybody who can offer the sort of hope, belief and ambition that’s been so sadly lacking at Elland Road for so many years. During those times, many have drifted away, especially in the last 18 months; some have been put off by exorbitant ticket prices, but many more have become alienated by the anaesthetising match day experience – a suffocating air of depression and apathy, the product of a succession of broken promises over team building.
This season, the silence in the half-empty stands and the performances on the pitch cannot be divorced from the effect this takeover has taken upon all of us. While an appreciation of the complexity and difficulty in dealing with Ken Bates, and an overwhelming desire on the part of most supporters to be rid of our departing chairman, has afforded you far more ‘slack’ than in any other circumstances, 6 months has tried the patience of almost everyone.
As such, the extended ‘honeymoon period’ that a new owner could’ve ordinarily expected, is no longer something that can be afforded to you – necessity and circumstances dictate otherwise. The prevailing mood amongst most fans seems primarily to be relief, rather than belief; the goodwill is undeniably there; those who have boycotted the club are already buying tickets and planning to purchase merchandise again; having refused to buy tickets for the last two League Cup ties, my first action in the aftermath of today’s announcement was to secure my Chelsea ticket, and on Saturday, for the first time in over two years, I shall return to buying beer and food from inside the stadium.
However, as much as everyone is ready to embrace new owners, to buy into your visions for the club and invest our hopes, belief and money into them, years of misery have made us a cynical bunch and have also deeply ingrained a tendency to necessarily doubt such promises. Actions have often stood in stark contrast to the rhetoric that preceded them; in order to get every supporter on board and utilise the potential for a phenomenal wave of positive momentum, it is essential that promises are kept and the fans and the club are as one again. As you have stated in the press release, you “know that football is at the very heart of the people of Leeds and the wider community” – if you intend to be true to these words, it’s time to engage supporters, to listen to concerns, encourage them back to Elland Road with initiatives and to reward those most loyal, rather than abuse them.
LUST need to be afforded recognition; a supporters’ group with an 8500 strong membership cannot be sidelined; it is inconceivable that any well-meaning board could have issue with any of the aspirations for the club as set out in their mission statement, while anybody who’s met the board members could not possibly doubt the sincerity and devotion to the club of these people, genuine supporters who’ve essentially given up any right to social lives since May and taken all manner of abuse in the process, just in the name of pushing for a better future.
The first steps towards wider engagement must involve a degree of transparency over the takeover process and the details of the nature of the investment. With the retention of Bates as part of the club, we can appreciate that a frank ‘warts and all’ account of the last 6 months is an unrealistic aim, but a degree of openness would do much to calm notions of mistrust. The source of funding is a far more fundamental issue; for too many years Leeds supporters had to stand witness to the struggles under Ken Bates’ chairmanship, whilst denied any details of those that owned the club – there existed no known party or consortium that could be called to account. While you will doubtless stand as first port of call for any concerns about the running of the club, some assurances about the identity or background of the “very wealthy” backer would do much to put minds at rest and once again make fans feel as though they belong, rather than simply exist as mere commodities to be kept at arm’s length.
Ken Bates stated today when interviewed about the takeover:
“How does this affect the fans? They’re the important ones who need to know what’s going on.”
The reaction to those words was a mixture of laughter and incredulity – can we please move away from this being the norm? While your twitter presence has no doubt represented a pro-active step, any updates provided through this medium have been as repetitively unenlightening as to become infuriating; an acknowledgement of our existence at best, a total disregard for our needs for reassurances at worst.
For too long, Leeds United hasn’t constituted what can be commonly regarded as a football club, the lack of engagement with its supporters represents just one instance of this, the most critical area of neglect though remains investment in the team itself. In its current manifestation, Leeds United stands as no more than a commercial development enterprise that considers matters on the pitch a trivial side product, reduced to one of 17 different departments that compete for fiscal resources. We now need a return to the philosophy where success and wealth accrued through commercial activities are regarded as the natural product of success on the pitch, where ultimately, the fate of the football team once again drives all.
This is where the most immediate challenge of all lies, on the pitch. The protracted takeover process has already destroyed Neil Warnock’s summer transfer window plans and with the closure of the loan window upon us tomorrow, the club essentially stands on the precipice of writing off an entire season. If this campaign is to count for anything, if you want to get the fans on board, if you want to build belief, positivity and momentum, and if you want to keep the season alive, this is your first, crucial test. The timescale is incredibly tight, but sympathy for such a predicament is unlikely to be forthcoming having taken 6 months to get where we are.
Beyond the realms of Thursday night, sorting Neil Warnock’s longer term future is essential; a 12 month contract extension is a ‘must’ if the club is enjoy any degree of stability. Having a manager in place until May, for what is most likely a project that will require at least another season is no way to build the foundations for the coming years. If Warnock is not willing to commit, then a new man for a new era needs to be found.
Then on to January, the month that will do more to define your stewardship than any other in the short term; that is when the small talk and the big promises need to be made concrete. Millions spent in the transfer market will be rewarded in millions more pouring into the club’s coffers through the turnstiles, in the shops, in the bars and through the many corporate facilities and vanity projects that the club have prioritised for so long.
For all our time in the wilderness, Leeds United still remains a famous name in European football and retains a worldwide fan base. Even now, the potential exists for this one city club to return to the lofty heights, for club and supporters to march on together towards a day where we can once again mix in the circles of the European elite. Please embrace it, don’t waste it.