As part of his purchase from GFH Capital, Massimo Cellino agreed to take on the debts accrued by the business in the running of Leeds United. This of course famously lead to the impossible situation Cellino described in July.
As a refresher, he described a club losing a net amount of £100K per day. That of course wasn’t a situation of his design, he had inherited it from the prior owners. To combat that, as is often the case in these situations, he paid off a number of major creditors, notably Andrew Flowers and Sport Capital and the infamous ticketus debt was settled too.
Then came the cuts.
According to the Star, 300 staff axed in swinging cuts at Elland Road, the training ground shut over the summer, and sandwiches all round as the kitchens were shut in pre season too.
GFH had their hands tied early on in their ownership of Leeds though, they (like Cellino) agreed to take on the serviced debt of Leeds United – as well as pay cuddly Ken a purchase price for the club.(believed to be £15m in instalments) If Ken is to be believed, they also agreed contractually (though he as an act of kindness waived it) to pay him a £1m per year salary for 3 Years in his role as honorary club president.
But what were the debts? Surely Ken announced (regularly) that the club was debt free? Well of course it wasn’t – and who is nowadays? Ken mortgaged season ticket sales for 2 seasons, attracting an interest cost – and losing us the season ticket revenue (about a 3rd of all cash into Elland Road) in the process.
He’d mortgaged out the corporate hospitality from the East Stand too – to Compass – in return for a cash loan. Add on to that by his own estimation close to £20m of ground improvements over 5 years and you’ve got a tidy old sum there eating away at a decreasing revenue pot as the gate receipts fell. Why did the gate receipts fall? Simple really, dire football and no hope of promotion. Ken, based on the above, clearly had little option but to just say yes when suitors came in for Snodgrass, Gradel, Johnson, Howson and Delph. They wanted to go in most cases too, and play at a higher level, something they simply couldn’t envisage in Ken Bates dour, unambitious Leeds United.
So when GFH bought Leeds, Ken at a stroke washed his hands of the debts he’d accrued, and pocketed himself a tidy sum. His subsequent sacking by GFH was acrimonious though, as they trotted out a series of examples of his alleged behaviour whilst chairman, effectively using the club like a piggy bank, his worst malfeasance was the unauthorised hire of a private jet, essential of course to any businessman? (really…)
But to Ken this just released his claim for £3m of waived salary, damages, and made him bang his fists that bit louder about the money GFH hadn’t paid him yet – so in turn Cellino.
So by and by Ken created the debts, pocketed several more million pounds – and is a major Creditor now of Leeds United to the tune of several million pounds.
So it should come as no surprise to see photographs and column inches of Ken back at Leeds now. GFH’s sacking of Ken Bates and the details therein outline why he was quite so unpopular at Leeds. He is perceived by many as a self serving individual, oblivious to the feelings of supporters of our very precious football club, as he yanked it in and out of administration, threatened to liquidate and close the club down if he didn’t get ownership. The minutiae of the GFH claim around his personal use of cash at the club is emotive stuff, it tells a story many believed to be true. But it is invalidated in many ways by the fact that the main perpetrators of opaqueness and disingenuity over the last 2 years were GFH Capital themselves, with the best will in the world they had no money to bring to the table and left the club in a complete mess.
So the question is who’s worse? The answer is it doesn’t matter, they’re both as bad as each other.
Ken Bates has the sword of Damocles hanging over Leeds, if he presses his claims he can ruin a couple of seasons at Leeds; at best draining our playing squad investment with his various nebulous claims against us, at worst he can slam in a winding up order. But it really gets worse than that.
Should the Football League decide they wish to press their claims against Massimo Cellino for an act of dishonesty, and are successful in reversing their prior decision, it would leave the club owing Cellino an enormous amount of money. Should he press ahead in November, as per Phil Hay, and buy Elland Road, that number would only go up and up. So we would be talking about either an administration of unprecedented value, and, no doubt as is always the case with the FL, a trip down to the 4th tier. In that situation no matter what purchaser proposed a purchase Ken bates as a major creditor would have a significant say.
He managed to use Leeds United’s debt to Yorkshire Radio to swing through his CVA proposal in 2007, this time he would be genuinely owed millions of pounds and have a free hand to act as he wishes. Think of the implications there – a seat on the board? Ownership of assets of the club? More than that though he would be back.
Cellino has therefore got a little more on his hands than dealing with a bothersome old pest in Ken Bates. Giving him broadcast rights to Leeds games has a cash value, as does a box, both will stick in the throat of most Leeds fans, but the fact of the matter is that GFH didn’t really pay off Ken Bates, and now we’re continuing to pay the price of his presence at Leeds. Saying that, you’d have to wonder if his demands were ever met in full and a deal struck that he leave permanently if he could ever resist retraining. Bates is of course rarely seen at Stamford Bridge, perhaps Massimo needs to contact a certain high net worth Russian for advice on dealing with a very difficult pensioner..
Reporter – Matthew Brown – Bolton