Fans? Just another brick in the wall

THERE’S nothing like going to a football ground on a non-matchday to realise the awesome power with which supporters infuse the game. Without the life we bring in congregation, all grounds sit quieter, greyer and colder, as if deprived of their soul. The last time I visited Elland Road for reasons other than attending a match was in July 2007. Back then, a storm brewed over Beeston. Billy Bremner’s statue was draped in scarves and stood defiantly upon a funereal bed of white, blue and yellow flowers.

It was a scene that’s hard to forget: a time of introspection seldom observed in football. People – confused, angry, both – paused to read handwritten messages from others similarly fearing for their football club’s existence. “There’ll either be a Leeds United or there won’t,” chairman Ken Bates had said, and it would be two more long weeks before we’d learn whether there would be or not.

I recently made my first non-matchday trip to LS11 in almost four years. Off the bus, down the hill, across Elland Road, where a solitary wreath lay at the base of Billy Bremner’s plinth. Nobody hung around except me; the trickle of visitors passed through the club store back to their cars clutching shopping bags. Serenity of sorts, save for light traffic and the adjacent lump-hammers beating at the East Stand’s core. Thud. Thud. Thud. On high, more steward orange-clad builders scurried along stacks of new floors slotted like shelves into its exterior framework. I stood there, before the very reason why Bates had fought so tenaciously four summers ago. It had begun. Like the painstaking export of London Bridge to Arizona, Chelsea Village was being installed brick-by-brick in Beeston.

I realise that Elland Road’s in dire need of development. It always has been. From the 1950s West Stand to the concrete 1970s brutalism of the Kop, ever since I first went there in the mid-1980s it’s been a dungeon. The construction of the East Stand – said to be “magnificent” in its day but surely only in stature, not design – did nothing to alter my attachment to this unique, beautifully beastly site.

This gaping aperture in the earth is capable of emitting awe-inspiring energy from which Bates’ developments only subtract. His oeuvre presently clings to Elland Road’s decaying cavities like fillings plugged in by a backstreet dentist. Howard’s Restaurant: a beige embarrassment of phoney marble. Billy’s Bar: open, deserted, like a badly-tuned television left on in an empty room, soon to be joined by hundreds more empty rooms like those at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea’s current chairman, Bruce Buck, admits that the Bates business model is flawed, that returns on his £150m gamble in West London are slim, and acknowledges that far from sharing Bates’ Chelsea dream, “all the football fan wants, really, is football.”

I too have a dream. Since I don’t believe that a football club’s future rests on it becoming a hub to consumers who care little for it, I dream about Leeds United being centred around those that do. I dream that ticket prices reflect a desire for inclusivity, to recognise the value of fans’ emotional stake in the club. I dream that the single thing which ought to be the source of great collective strength for these individuals – the Members Club – is expanded democratically, leading to supporters being represented in the boardroom so that our concerns may be raised without being dismissed as dissension. In the absence of a need for secrecy, I dream of rebuilding partnerships with local independent media and returning FM match commentaries to the citizens of Leeds.

For a club so proud of its in-house media, getting information on the East Stand development, on its 22 new luxury executive boxes with private dining and padded match seating, is like attempting to complete a jigsaw with half the bits missing, the ones which Leeds United seem to be sitting on. The long-lost centrepiece of this puzzle is the cost of this summer’s construction which, at £7m, is sure to eclipse Simon Grayson’s spend on his squad. Publicly-available accounts state that the club’s holding company’s holding company has invested only £500,000 in Leeds United since 2007 yet fans pumped in £17.25m during 2009/10 alone, so must we really endure council websites and planning meetings just to glean the basics of a £7m development our cash is subsidising?

Elsewhere, clubs involve their fans and build futures together but not at Leeds United, where it’s as if certain facts are on a need to know basis and that supporters don’t need to know. It’s less “live it, love it” and more “like it, lump it” but that’s what Batesonomics is all about. As fans, bricks in the wall, all we ever have to go on are the utterings of the man who pathologically “saved” Chelsea so often that in the end they had to be saved from him.

18 Responses to “Fans? Just another brick in the wall”

  1. Not sure what your point is. I agree that as paying members we should have some kind of input, or at least our views should be taken on board when new policies are put in place. But are you really saying that the old ground we all love should not be redeveloped? This was clearly a major flaw in the ‘Ridsdale’ plan when gates touching 40000 were not fully exploited in terms of extra revenue. Your glass is not half full, it’s on permanent empty!! You talk about the 50s & 70s (the initial Gelderd End development was actually at the end of he 60s) and yet then say you first went to the ground in the 80s. And where are these clubs that fully involve fans? Chelsea? Salford? Pompey? Nobody agrees with every decision made at the club but you need to get over your hatred of Bates and start enjoying the football. Or you do you want to go back to the Scratching Shed and the old open kop days? Oh sorry, unlike many of us you weren’t around then so you really aren’t qualified to comment.

  2. I agree the ground must be redeveloped and extra revenue streams need to be sourced but what strikes me most about Elland Road is how the East Stand dwarfs the others. I know it is a long way off as we don’t have the money but it would be great if the other stands could be raised to the same height as the East Stand which would increase capacity considerably and make the ground look more like a 21st century stadium. The problem would be filling it of course which won’t happen outside the premier league and probably not with Bates in charge along with his over inflated ticket pricing policy. Increased capacity however, if used correctly, should mean more fans being enticed into the ground with lower ticket prices which would not only enhance the atmosphere but would also give the club more revenue on match days. The problem, as always, is the funding of course and investment on the team must come first to get us back to the promised where we all believe we belong. I just feel that putting in more and more luxurious executive boxes is not the best way forward. MOT

  3. @Chris (Barnsley)
    Fair enough, you don’t share my dream but qualified or not, I agree that Elland Road is in need of development. But central to that has to be the club’s supporters – season ticket holders, members, the common fan – over hotel and conference trade. There’s obvious value in hospitality revenues but there’s a balance to be struck, and Chelsea demonstrate that the template we’re using is wrong.

  4. TBG, Okay so you agree it should be developed! So what is the arguement. I would £7,000,000 build costs as relatively good value and at least it will give a return where as player investment misplaced will not. As Mr Bates continually says build a team and a club using sound foundations and good business sense. I am as Chris(Barnsley) states where are these fan run clubs?? I see you still have not answered. Are they perhaps Plymouth?Rushden &Diamonds? The only clubs it would appear that are prospering at present are ones with mega rich Billionaires. We do not want to be a club like Blackpool or Birmingham who get relegated because they can’t compete financially in the big league, so lets use financially sound building blocks in conjuction with a youth policy that will give us a sound and solid footing to get back where a club of our statue belongs. I am curious as to how you are qualified to slate off sound business? Furthermore where were you when Mr Grimsdale was financially raping our club because he was the one you should have objected to.
    Leeds Going Forward as One.

  5. I don’t advocate fans running Leeds United, but I’d feel a bit better with a fan on the board, wouldn’t you? Perhaps that way, the club wouldn’t be so cagey about figures. Unless you were at a Members Club event in Oslo in March, the only reason you’re in a position to evaluate the value of this development’s £7m cost is because it was dug out, by fans, from Council planning papers.

    Do you really believe Chelsea Village put that club on a sound and solid footing? It had almost had the same effect on them as Ridsdale did on us. And lets be honest, a hell of a lot of people were enamoured with Ridsdale until it emerged how haywire things were going. That blimming DVD of his was my tipping point.

  6. I beleive this sort of development is a good idea (despite the fact that to me the actual plans look architectually ugly)…. however the balance that needs to be struck hasnt been….. no good investing in this infrastructure if the club on the pitch is stagnant.

    The youth system needs to be rebuilt to get us back and keep us there because kids can grow and develop from champ players to prem players but to entice the best kids not to just sod off to barcelona we need to show some ambition…. a charismatic manager and a fan base that BELEIVES everything is going in the right direction…… Or else the kids parents get wind of the disassitsfaction and move there children on to a short term career in Chelseas 3rd string reserve team…. The parents of the chelsea three should be shot for destroying the kids careers…..

  7. Also parents wont invest their kids into Leeds United if the twathead of a manager wont give these lads a chance…….Graysons policy on youth players is another reason why we may be striggling to atract and keep talented kids.

  8. The development is ‘cart before the horse’!
    Team first and development second!
    Because we spend almost nothing on the team we will spend many years in the Championship.
    Our purchases, freebies and loan signings were a disaster last season, and we were never in with a real chance.
    Unless this trend is halted, and we bring in some top players,
    the development will be seen as a folly.
    The team is everything!!

  9. Clive Owen,

    >I would £7,000,000 build costs as relatively good value and at least it will give a return where as player investment misplaced will not.

    How do we know this development will give a return? Stamford Bridge in the Bates era had the largest number of unsold executive boxes in the country (http://goo.gl/TuS5i). Has no hotel ever lost money? According to one article (http://goo.gl/FZjUB), in 2009 a UK hotel company was going out of business every second day. According to another report (http://goo.gl/m25uj) Malmaison couldn’t sell their rooms for £1 a night. Projected costs for building the hotel have been mentioned in the £90m bracket; you’d have to sell a lot of £1 rooms to make that back.

    It is by no means guaranteed that this development will ever make any money at all.

    Secondly, Leeds United is a football club. The only reason it exists at all is to play games of football. Buying football players to play the games is also not a guarantee of success, as Ridsdale proved, but it is an integral part of the business of being a football club. I’d rather LUFC spent money on bad football players in an attempt at being a good football club, than money on bad hotels in an attempt at being… well, I don’t know what. Someone put it very well on the Waccoe forum recently: I grew up with posters of Gordon Strachan and David Batty on my bedroom wall, not posters of hotel receptionists.

    Lastly, for fan representation in the boardroom, look at Swansea, recently promoted to the Premier League and widely considered to be a very well run club.

  10. WE NEED TO BUILD A TEAM FIRST THAT WILL GET PROMOTION . WE THEN NEED TO STAY IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE AND BUILD A TEAM THAT CAN STAY THEIR. THEN WE CAN IMPROVE THE GROUND WHEN WE R GENERATING MORE INCOME

  11. Ken Bates is a disease eating away at Leeds United from within. Harsh ? Maybe, but he almost destroyed Chelski trying a similar project, and I cannot see any such project succeeding at Leeds.
    He bleeds the football club dry (Chelski money/Delph money), all used to support his extra-curricular business deals such as hotels and museums.
    When the kid Kebbie leaves Leeds and is linked to Barca what is he Bates PLC response “compensation”, and would Larry see it ? Would he f…
    Like you say, we fans want a football club first and foremost, we don’t oppose his other business plans if done in conjunction with success on the pitch.

  12. Interesting point. Nobody would argue that Elland Road needs developing and nobody would argue the team needs strengthening, the 64000 dollar question is which should come first. I know, as a supporter who first visited ER in 1976 having seen them away in London since 1973 which one I favour. To me it makes more sense for the team to be playing at the highest level possible before looking to expand the capacity and offer more corporate facilities to generate non footballing income. My real concern on the playing side is twofold. Why have we allowed the youth set up to just become a feeding ground for Chelsea, Everton and the rest, and why do we have a manager who seems unable to deal successfully in the transfer market and ends up relying on too many loanees? This isn’t a bash Larry post but most of his signings have been at best average. Compare us to Norwich last season, both came up, one bought a couple of hungry players looking to push on and a couple of decent long term loanees, the other ‘bought’ average squad players (apart from Kasper) and seemingly hundreds of failed premier league loanees, look what happened. MOT

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