Leeds United: Positives far outweigh any negatives of GFH’s year at Whites - Hay

David Haigh chats to manager Brian McDermott.
David Haigh chats to manager Brian McDermott.
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On this day in 2012, Shaun Harvey sat between David Haigh and Salem Patel and announced that Leeds United had officially been sold by Ken Bates to GFH Capital.

Bates himself was nowhere to be seen. “This press conference is about the club going forward,” Harvey said. “We want the focus to be on the future, rather than anything else.” And so the clock began to tick on the old regime.

It ran out on Bates when he was sacked as president in July and to an extent it will run out on GFH Capital when the company realigns itself as a minority shareholder behind a consortium led by Haigh.

How history remembers this year of ownership depends on how Leeds move forward under Haigh and whether the past 12 months come to be seen as a conduit for future prosperity.

But here are the reasons why United are better off for the takeover of 2012:

The Manager

Brian McDermott would tell you that he suffers from an image problem. Turn on lights, cameras and dictaphones and his light-hearted manner concedes to cautious, serious reflection. But the job at Leeds has become his life. “I love coming to work,” he told us a couple of weeks ago. “I can’t wait to get here in the morning.” It shows. You don’t hear an unhappy voice at Thorp Arch these days and the only player to have stirred the pot – Ryan Hall – was out on his ear last month. McDermott’s sharp, committed, tactically aware and built with big enough shoulders to carry United. If his record’s anything to go by, the second half of this season should be fun.

Keeping Ross McCormack

Would Leeds pre-GFH Capital have prevented Middlesbrough from seducing McCormack? The more pertinent question is whether they would have negated Boro’s bids by offering the Scot a new contract. There were arguments for refusing to improve his terms – the fact that United had done so a year earlier and his mixed form last season – and you can almost hear Bates making those noises. But much as McCormack wanted to stay, it was the commitment of four more years that stopped the situation from getting out of hand. The result? Seventeen goals and counting. Investment does pay.

Contracts

Not only McCormack’s but the extension given to Sam Byram in January and the three-year deal agreed with Alex Mowatt last month. Negotiations get done. The cynic in you says that contracts at Elland Road only maximise selling value but the club did not mess around when Cardiff enquired about Byram in April. They quoted £8m and Cardiff never phoned back. There was, of course, Luciano Becchio who United opted to sell instead of chain down. But to play devil’s advocate, McCormack’s best two seasons at Leeds have been years in which Becchio was either bit-part or absent altogether. Perhaps United nurtured one striker by flogging another.

Infrastructure

There isn’t a person at Elland Road who would pretend that improving Thorp Arch, implementing a full Prozone package and appointing a dedicated chief scout were ideas of the board. The suggestions came from McDermott. But Leeds put the money up and allowed their footballing operation to join the 21st century. It’s all very well saying Thorp Arch was state-of-the-art when it opened in 2002. So were Mini-Disc players back then.

The purge of senior staff

Bridges between Bates and sections of Leeds’ support went up in flames years ago. Many tarred Harvey with Bates’ brush and an Ofcom ruling against Yorkshire Radio this week criticised United’s former chief executive in dispatches. Another established figure, technical director Gwyn Williams, had his influence called into question by both Simon Grayson and Neil Warnock. United could end up paying heavily for sacking Bates and Williams – both of those cases are headed for court – but it has done GFH Capital good to cure old wounds and be seen as their own men. As McDermott said on Tuesday: “The past has been dwelt on too much here.”

Crowds

Last season’s average at Elland Road: 21,572. This season’s average at Elland Road: 25,510. You’ll find comparable increases among the away attendances too. Close attention to ticket prices and initiatives has made a difference and Leeds no longer give the impression that they’re happy to settle for a break-even figure at home.

The promotion before the game against Wigan on December 4 (a free ticket for every season-ticket holder) is as good an offer as you’ll see – an open invite which pays due regard to those who pay to be there every week.

Supporter engagement

Leeds’ matchday programme now features columns from the Leeds United Supporters’ Club and Right in the Gary Kellys, an online blog. United are finally communicating with the Supporters Trust at a high level too. Certain clubs can get away with keeping fans at arm’s length but not Leeds, and the existing board realised that long ago. At this rate they’ll be editing The Square Ball next...

Community Outreach

This isn’t a new phenomenon but it’s intensified in the past 12 months. Help for the homeless, Taking it to the Kids, and now there’s the fight against homophobia – an issue which too few clubs are brave enough to tackle. Even the PFA was unable to persuade any of its members to appear in an anti-homophobia video produced by the FA three years ago. Never let it be said that United lack a conscience.

Matthew Pennington.

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