WITH this fan’s world still a euphoric, mind-bending Escher-esque scene in which Simon Grayson smiles down from on high whilst a ruddy-faced knight of the realm slops out the sewers, let’s try and force yesterday’s events into some sort of perspective. One thing the national coverage of Leeds United’s humbling of all Mancunia elicits is that each step back towards the Premier League means we fans will rely less and less on Ken Bates for news and opinion.
“When the economy went to shit and profits tanked,” creative consultant Douglas Haddow writes in Adbusters magazine’s The Big Ideas of 2010 issue, “The sacred membrane that separated advertising and content was torn apart.” Same thing happened at Elland Road. The media strategy established by Bates after his 2005 takeover not only shielded him two years later from the club’s controlled demolition, but also supplied his best bet of digging gold from the rubble.
A £480,000 debt to the station was pivotal in Bates’ initial bid to regain control of the club, into which the broadcaster has done much in tandem with the Members Club and LUTV to welcome supporters with one hand while keeping them out with the other.
Naturally, on commercial media’s coattails came advertising, and the club established an in-house agency; precisely the sort that, Haddow insists, “spews their infectious bile over all that was once holy”. As if to dispel all doubt of this, Leeds United’s first signing of the 2010 transfer window today jumped a stricken south coast ship to join a regime which, in the last 12 months, has stocked its club shop with ready meals and target-marketed followers with pitchside ads for pornography.
Have no illusions that, as a database, the Members Club is infinitely more valuable to the club than it is to us, yet all it’s managed to glean so far from our names, addresses, dates of birth and purchase histories is that none of us can cook, or stop wanking.
The plum account at Elland Road is the selling of the L-shaped blockhead’s L-shaped block to anyone who’ll listen. The redevelopment of Stamford Bridge into what Bates dreamed as “one of the best grounds in the country” left it unfit for purpose with Chelsea on the verge of bankruptcy. But while external, contrary voices (such as David Conn’s ongoing distillation of the club’s offshore affairs for which the Guardian had their bottoms smacked) are dismissed as insubstantial, there remains little evidence that Bates’ scheme to replicate Fulham Broadway’s expensive mediocrity in, erm, Beeston is in our best interests – apart from his frequent say-sos on Yorkshire Radio, LUTV and in the programme that it is. Honest.
It’s with “a resounding shrug,” Haddow concludes in The Big Ideas of 2010, that audiences have “largely met the shift toward branded media” like Leeds United’s. However, as witnessed over the weekend, Ken’s stranglehold on the club’s message isn’t so fierce when it’s competing beyond the confines of the third division.
Gloriously anarchic, Leeds United fans are hard to chuck a blanket over but in 2010 our voices will crescendo to new, entirely authentic forms. It will be a year of mass individual expression as increasing numbers of bloggers, forummers and social networkers converge with new and existing independent initiatives run in the real world by fans, for fans. As Simon Grayson’s side flies higher, may the questions of those at the helm of our club become harder to ignore.
Here’s to 2010; to new friends and old enemies. Ha ha!