Why Do Leeds Fans Hate Ken Bates?

 Why do Leeds fans hate Ken Bates? The octagenarian businessman seems at first glance to be an inspirational figure to the ordinary person. Born in Eeling, a de facto orphan (though his father lived), Bates was brought up by his grandparents in humble surroundings.

Ken bates

The poor social mobility of the 60's and 70's did not stop Bates as he successfuly built a haulage business from scratch and slowly made a small fortune, branching into several different lines of business. But you can read this on Wikipedia. You're not here to read the unauthorised biography of Ken Bates, you're here to read why Leeds fans hate him.

One: Undiplomatic

There are plenty of reasons. Perhaps the greatest underlying factor is Bates' brash and often politically incorrect manner (though no doubt this is a bonus for some people). He has a history as a gruff and outspoken man, and his lack of sensitivity is perhaps best highlighted by a venture of his in the British Virgin Islands in 1968. I'll save some time and directly quote TheSquareBall on this, but you should definitely buy that issue of the magazine if only for an interesting (true) story:

"I must admit to getting a smile out of Ken Bates’ column in the Hull City programme in August. Not at the infamous ‘foreplay’ metaphor, mind – that just made me want to heave. But a bit further up the page, in the midst of a rant about illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, and single mothers, Ken made a reference to his own early life:

    Since leaving school I have had an interesting life and if you haven’t got caught up in political unrest in the Caribbean, you haven’t lived.

Well, quite so, Kenneth. And I had to smile, because the research I was doing at the time, for an article in the new issue of The Square Ball that goes on sale this Sunday, was hinting strongly that Ken had not just “got caught up” in political unrest in the British Virgin Islands at the end of the sixties; he had caused it."

"Ken Bates didn’t just have a rental agreement: he had ownership of a small country for six generations for a nominal rent. A photo taken around the time of the agreements reinforces this view of Bates as a late – very late – colonialist: in 1967, he took Oldham Athletic on a summer tour of the illegal state of Rhodesia, and had his photograph taken with Prime Minister Ian Smith, whose attempt to preserve rule by what the United Nations called “a racist minority” had brought worldwide condemnation and economic sanctions. The photo appeared in Oldham’s Boundary Bulletin ‘Courtesy of Rhodesia Ministry of Information.’" 

"Ken Bates didn’t just have a rental agreement: he had ownership of a small country for six generations for a nominal rent. A photo taken around the time of the agreements reinforces this view of Bates as a late – very late – colonialist: in 1967, he took Oldham Athletic on a summer tour of the illegal state of Rhodesia, and had his photograph taken with Prime Minister Ian Smith, whose attempt to preserve rule by what the United Nations called “a racist minority” had brought worldwide condemnation and economic sanctions. The photo appeared in Oldham’s Boundary Bulletin ‘Courtesy of Rhodesia Ministry of Information.’" 

Surely there's no need to go any further in putting accross what part of Bates' character Leeds fans don't like? Well, maybe he's changed. Here's a selection of some of his best quotes of recent years:

'Makelele? Who does he play for? I've only ever heard of his brother, Ukelele.'

'Poverty among fans is grossly exaggerated when you see what they spend elsewhere. A small minority are poor and can't afford it.'

'Roman Abramovich last night accused Ken Bates of being a racist after the former Chelsea chairman claimed the club were being run by "Siberian shysters".'[DM]

'Ken Bates, today in the high court stood by his claims that he was justified in describing a former Leeds director, Melvyn Levi, as "the enemy within" and a "shyster" trying to "blackmail" the club'
'Questioned by Simon Myerson QC, Levi's barrister, Bates maintained he was justified in writing about Levi in those terms and to print his address in the programme,'[Guardian]

Let's not even get started on his comments on the Chinese Olymic team basing itself in Leeds. Only good for: 'increased sales of sweet and sour pork.'

Two: Lack of Investment

 The next frustration has built over the last couple of years. When Bates took over, the club had "lived the dream" under a feckless board that included Peter Ridsdale. Unless you lived under a rock from 2000-2007, you know this story. Bates took the club over, but the debts were too great and Leeds went bankrupt. In fact, over Bate's tenure as official owner of the club, debts went from just over £9million after Bates' initial takeover[MightyWhites] to £34.7million[PDF].


This time, the club wiped off millions of pounds of debt when two of Leeds' main creditors were mysteriously only willing to write off their debt if a Bates-backed group (from various tax-havens) took over. This left many small businesses in the local area facing ruin. For a long time fans were willing to fear Bates' apparitions of Ridsdalian overspend and threats to the future of the club. But fans have been frustrated by Bates' policies recently.

Fabian Delph was a fantastic youngster for Leeds United. In 2008-9 Bates repeatedly insisted Delph would not be leaving Leeds:

'Our position is very simple – Fabian Delph is not for sale, nor will he be in the future.' 04.11.08[Twitter]

In Summer 2009, Fab was sold to Aston Villa for a deal believed to be £6million plus variables. Bate's deal with Villa was done against a higher deal with Man City because he didn't like their negotiating style. This is beileved to have cost the club the equivalent of a year's rent of Elland Road.

Fans expected the money to go to Thorp Arch - this is what Bates had promised. Yet the deadline for buying back Thorp Arch at the preferential price agreed on its sale came and went and there was no re-purchase. Bates had tried to strong-arm Leeds City Council into lending a lavish loan to Leeds, and the Council had refused. Two more years passed with no impressive transfer deals from the club. Then in 2011 we were faced with Bates' new pet plan: "Project Meccano" "The Great Beeston Project" the East Stand redevelopment.

All the while, we have lost players. Bates insisted that Max Gradel (like Fabian Delph) was going nowhere. Max Gradel promptly left at the end of the Summer transfer window. Before that, Beckford had left in search of the big-time - the club couldn't be blamed for that specifically. But next, the club failed to negotiate deals with Bradley Johnson and Neil Kilkenny. Neil made it clear he was not impressed with Bates; Bradley Johnson insisted he had only asked for wage-parity with some of the leading players. Johnson is now on the verge of an England cap with Premiership newcomers Norwich. This isn't a new thing - local right-back Frazer Richardson also pleaded his reluctance to leave Leeds when he was forced out on demotion to League One. Now Jonny Howson's wage demands have fallen on deaf ears and this has forced manager Simon Grayson to make an incredibly tough decision in selling his ever-present Captain. Fans now fear for Leeds' lynchpin Robert Snodgrass - despite Grayson's assurances.

I feel sorry for the manager. The latest PR move by Ken Bates was to publish in his program notes that Leeds had a whopping budget of £9.5mil and that Grayson had overspent to £11.5mil. As TheScratchingShed pointed out - that puts us roughly fourteenth in the second league in terms of wage-budget; on a par with Barnsley

Three: Inconsistency

And this is what infuriates fans. Bates insists that he saved us from bankruptcy and dodgy financial dealings. Yet he's inconsistent. There are rumours that he took out a loan for the development, to point away from it being Delph money. Fans don't see this as an improvement: that means he's putting us in debt in order to make some plush boxes for suits & ties - not what the fans want the club to be about. Bates insists that his policies will make Leeds stronger. Yet Leeds is losing it's most valuable assets - strong, young talent - and for pittance.

So he paints two scenarios with his hints: either first that he's saved the club and is keeping us debt free. Or that the club is barely bobbing above the water and he's taking out loans to redevelop the East Stand.

Hardly a successful tenure so far, whichever scenario you ascribe to.

Four: Trust Is Gone

 So it's not surprising that the trust has entirely gone. Howson's sale didn't cause it, it reinforced it; the straw that broke the camel's back. What I think shows how the fans responded is that while Grayson took a lot of stick over recent months, next to nobody blamed him for the decision to sell Howson. We all knew instinctively (as Bates has idiotically shown himself since!) that it was a lack of funds that was to blame. Leeds purchase players and negotiate new contracts through our Board, not the manager. And the consistently poor transfer record was (usually) acknowledged as being partly down to a bloody-minded approach by the Board to standard agent tricks, and an unwillingness by Bates to invest enough money.

And conspiracy theories abound. The fact that important people and organizations have accused Bates of acting illegally with Leeds only helps the fans' imagination when his policies fail. Many fans are propagating a quote by Bates when Leeds fans ruined a TV at Stamford Bridge in the 80s, hoping to kick Leeds out of the League. Many have, fairly logically, concluded that Bates probably owns Thorp Arch and Elland Road (especially since the anonymous groups are often based in the British Virgin Islands). We simply don't trust Bates not to have some evil plan anymore. I, for one, have tried to live with him as our Chairman. It's impossible.

Fabian Delph Jonny Howson Ken Bates Leeds United