Former chairman Ken Bates appears to be pursuing another media venture on Leeds United’s doorstep. Phil Hay reports.
You can take Ken Bates out of Leeds United but it seems you cannot take the man out of Leeds.
The club’s former owner was back on his old stamping ground last weekend, reacquainting himself with Billy’s Bar, one of the emblems of his tenure as chairman at Elland Road.
The 81-year-old has occupied offices over the road from the stadium’s drinking hole and is understood to be pursuing another media venture, seven years after launching the now defunct digital station Yorkshire Radio.
The new project is unconnected to United, as Bates has been since he was sacked as club president in July of this year, but Leeds and their directors will soon engage with him again in a legal battle stemming from that dramatic parting of ways.
His appointment as president on a three-year term was agreed under the terms of his sale of United to current owner GFH Capital last December but Bates occupied the honorary position for less than a month before he was dismissed for alleged gross misconduct on July 26.
His presidential reign was terminated in part because of a private jet contract agreed by Bates with the firm 247 Jet to fly him to Yorkshire from his home in Monte Carlo, a contract worth just under £500,000 over three years.
Leeds claim the deal was put in place without the approval of the board at Elland Road; Bates argued that having been a United director at the time when the contract was signed, he had the authority to negotiate and accept it.
Speaking in July, Bates said: “Part of the contract (when Leeds were sold to GFH Capital) was that they would pay my expenses in the same manner that I’d been paid expenses for the last eight years.
“They (GFH Capital) drew up the contract. I only signed it. I’ve been doing that mode of transport for eight years and they included it in the contract. There is nothing new there and I don’t have to justify it. There’s no validity in this.”
Leeds subsequently initiated legal proceedings, claiming against Bates for the cost of the private jet contract and further personal expenses amounting to more than £100,000.
United say those expenses – including meal bills totalling around £32,000, additional travel costs and a subscription for Sky Sports – were not used for the benefit of the club. According to Bates, some of the bills for meals were submitted to Leeds in error and without his knowledge.
Around three weeks ago, Bates lodged his defence in the chancery division of the High Court, denying gross misconduct.
He also submitted a counter claim against Leeds alleging that his sacking amounted to wrongful dismissal. The case is expected to be heard in the new year.
Bates stated repeatedly throughout his time as chairman and owner that he had not received a salary, saying he was “never paid a penny in wages.” His three-year contract as president offered him remuneration of £250,000 a year – £750,000 over the course of the term – but Bates waived that money from the outset and was not paid for his 26 days in the post.
He and GFH Capital had originally decided that he would serve as president until the summer of the 2016 season after his time as chairman ended on June 30.
Bates agreed to sell his majority stake in United to GFH Capital last November and finalised the Dubai-based firm’s takeover on December 21 but he remained in an executive role for a further six months.
He was replaced as chairman by shareholder and former vice-chairman Salah Nooruddin at the beginning of July.
The appointment of Bates as president – a role previously held by the late Lord Harewood – was controversial among sections of United’s support but it is thought to have been a non-negotiable term of the sale of Leeds to GFH Capital.
Salem Patel, a board member of both United and GFH Capital, talked in December of the importance of “leveraging” on Bates’ experience but said that in the end, “that was the deal.”
Asked about the presidency in May, GFH Capital said: “He will become president for a three-year term from July 1, 2013.
“It (the presidency) is an honorary role. As has always been the case, club policies will be decided by the club’s board and its directors.”
The impending court case with Bates has the potential to cost Leeds a significant amount of money.
Beyond legal fees, a successful claim for wrongful dismissal could commit United to paying some or all of the £750,000 technically due to him for his three-year term as president.
Courtroom battles were a feature of the former Chelsea owner’s eight years at Elland Road. He lost a bitter libel trial involving Melvyn Levi, the one-time United director, in 2009 and was involved in another court case against Levi in 2012. During the second round of proceedings, Shaun Harvey – then United’s chief executive and now CEO of the Football League – said the legal process was costing Leeds a “fortune”.
As another dispute awaits, United’s directors are said to be bemused by Bates’s reappearance at Elland Road last week, though his interest in further media ventures was made clear by his unsuccessful attempt to buy Yorkshire Radio, LUTV – Leeds’ official TV station – and the club’s website for around £2m in the months before he stepped down as chairman.
The offer came to nothing and Leeds decided to close Yorkshire Radio before the start of this season. The station had previously lost a key selling point after United returned match-day commentary rights to BBC Radio Leeds.
Bates, however, has committed himself to more time in Leeds after his recent move into office space opposite Billy’s Bar.
He is understood to have invited many of his former staff at Elland Road to a Christmas party in the city next month.