Exclusive – David Haigh & Salem Patel Interview

Now we all know as proud Leodensians that yesterday was `Mad Friday’ when common sense is put aside, in favour of Viking style lager consumption, and indeed Viking style pillage. A night when traffic cones, kebab shop owners, and taxi drivers alike quake in fear and dread.

At RITGK our Friday night was little mad for different reasons, as our site editor received a tweet inviting us to meet up with David Haigh & Salem Patel at a smart Leeds City Centre Hotel the following morning, Did that just happen – erm yes it did.

An earlier than anticipated train ride from Birmingham & Wakefield for Matt BB & Matt M, saw us land in rain soaked Leeds not knowing quite what to expect.

We randomly bumped into David first in the reception, and once we’d ensured the scene was clear of prying eyes and ears we spoke, more openly possibly that we might have imagined after 7 years of a `nearly’ closed media shop at Leeds – why?

Well as per Salem Patel “Not because this is a PR Exercise – it’s the right thing to do. To re-engage with fans groups, with the wider community” a decent opening line. And more was to follow

We asked what they considered job one as they sat at their desks – their response? Well they didn’t have desks as yet – one imagines ken might be leasing those as a secondary part of the deal (we jest of course)

David Haigh’s take was “we’ve been doing this now for at least 7 months, there wasn’t a day one really”

Agreeing Salem Patel added that the key job in terms of a sound bite was “getting it right for Leeds on and Off the Pitch”

It strikes you one of the key points for GFH is re-engagement of fans, and this struck us as very definitely their `job one’ – Salem asked us twice (at least)

[quote] What do we need to do to bring the fans back? It’s a good question, No fans – no football club – a simple equation”[/quote]

So perhaps the days of fans concerns being disregarded as the angry murmurs of `morons’ are behind us, there seems a genuine energy and drive to understand why fans aren’t in Elland Road each home game packing it to the rafters.

David & Salem both wanted to know if we were at the Chelsea game (Matt M was Matt BB at this point nods gamely and feels a deep sense of shame!) They want that atmosphere `more regularly’

That the feeling of elation when Becchio scored was so unstoppable that “Even Ken stood up” – Well you heard it here first, Ken Bates does stand up at football grounds.

They both pointed to the release of half season tickets as wanting to make a statement of intent that fans are welcome, wanted and an essential part of their plans longer term. Also that they immediately opened up a twitter account to ensure communication lines were open.

They again asked our opinions about whether we felt these were good ideas – and yes they are.

How long has it been since we felt like the club wanted to listen to supporters opinions? It’s a tough job watching Leeds United., but trying to express opinions over the last 7 years has been tougher still with Bates in charge.

But what of Ken? An 8 month courtship was surely not easy – why did it take so long?

David tells us there is still a confidentiality agreement in place but referred to a 300 page legal document that was created in the process. Ken himself?  Well perhaps my favourite quote – his opening line to David? “How old are you?”

David compared Ken to Bernie Ecclestone, an entertaining character, with “great stories” and a fondness for strepsils. We didn’t push this one too much further because as per yesterday’s press conference this process is definitely about the future, but it definitely struck us that our chairman offered a `firm’ approach to them on initial advance.

So why Leeds United?

3 Key points as per Salem –

[quote]Did the club have debts? – no, did it possess a decent stadium – yes, there is little that needs doing to the stadium. And finally what about the manager – when we saw his track record we knew he was the right man and as per yesterdays press conference it was a contractual requirement he was in place”[/quote]

So backing Warnock is critical. Will they put their money where their mouth is in January?

The message here was that we have a “good nucleus and spine to the team already” but that they wanted to focus on ensuring players like Tate and Thomas become somewhat more secure, whether that means season loans or transfers isn’t abundantly clear  What was telling though was that Salem referred to “strengthening in the summer”

Which as we wrote yesterday seems logical in terms of continuity.

As the conversation moved back towards the business side of things Salem Patel was keen to point out another key advantage for Leeds.

With UEFA Financial Fair Play (UFFP) coming into effect 2013/4 “Leeds are at an advantage to clubs with smaller gates, and fanbases” according to Patel.

The days of “Sheikh Mansour and Abramovich” throwing vast transfer fees into loss making businesses were highlighted as unsustainable, he has an eye on the bottom line, but wants to do things sensibly and responsibly.

Are you reading Peter Ridsdale? If you are this is not an opportunity for another consultancy role..

Leeds have good gates, strong revenue streams, and managed properly it was made clear they gave us potential. But the conversation quickly turned to their main drive

[quote]Re-engage the club with  the  city. Place it at the heart of the community. Root and branch.”[/quote]

Haigh & Patel both highlighted the almost invisibility of Leeds shirts on the high street, or in shop frontages. They want that visibility to `increase’

And here we couldn’t resist – What about thorp arch? Will we see Leeds getting first dibs on the next Micah Richards? Seb Hines? Aaron Lennon? We opined that as a club this was almost as critical to Leeds fans as seeing success – that the success came from the city itself.

And music to our Ears Salem chips in –

[quote]We want to see Leeds kids at Thorp Arch, that they choose us over Man United or Man City. We’ll work hard with Shaun Harvey to see what we can do to achieve this.”[/quote]

But this is only part of the plan.

“Businesses, the council, schools, colleges, the armed forces aboard” were cited as people they wanted to engage with.

[quote]Not just one supporters group – but ALL supporters groups”[/quote]

David Haigh then spoke off the `unexploited worldwide potential of Leeds United” that he’s about to do an arctic trek and even up in the Arctic Circle he’s bumping into fellow whites. Not polar bears, but Swedish, Danish, Norwegian fans. So there you have it – we’re everywhere even at the North Pole.

Leeds has a bright future with these guys as the picture shows. And potentially the tallest football director in the league in David Haigh!


  • Deano

    No mention here about reducing the extortionate ticket prices to encourage the fans back. We will hardly ever fill the ground paying these prices, especially these days when there are often 2 games per week. What will they do about this?

  • http://Orange Bluesman

    All very ineresing but! Leeds United’s fanbase was built on the principe of total football in the Revie eara. The we had the dynamic and attacking football, with passion of the Wilkinson and Risdale era. We need a quality, attacking team and pride/passion!!!!

  • Marc Drye

    People moan about ticket prices, but they spend that in the pub before and after the game with nonchalant ease. Its only £24.00 in the yellow (former away section). Where i sit its £34.00, but its a great seat and i prefer to pay more for better view. Well done right in the gary kellys for getting interview with our new board. Keep it up! Sounds like the new board are more doers than talkers, exciting times.

  • Chareose

    Fans got disalusioned because of Ken Bates in general, the fact that we currently play unattractive football is the final nail……..To re-engage the fans GFH need to completely re-brand the club just like Revie did…. We need to see good football, real vision and full support of our Youth system which has always been critical to Leeds United success…….just going round the country chatting to a few blog writers is a start but isnt enough to bring the fans back

    Also they are right Leeds United has potential… It is the 3rd biggest city (officially according to wiki) in the UK and has a rich history of football, a fan base abroad and no other clubs in the area to compete with. In terms of fans and youth development it has phenominal potential.

    They also need to drop prices for children to try and reel in the lost generations scared off by Bates disgraceful reign….

    • Mattbb2

      Good points chareose, a good team is critical if the fans are going to come back.. It will then need investment. Short and long term.

  • whitedog

    And still KB attacks LUST in the programme notes…

  • Josh

    I’d be interested to know where this decent stadium that we possess is, it’s a shame to be renting one if we already have one kicking around.

  • http://gravatar.com/mattbb2 mattbb2

    and of course highlights his latest court case (pass the gin)… it would be nice to see those rants brought under control.