Friday 21st December was supposedly the day the world came to an abrupt and explosive end. For Leeds United however, it was a day that brought a new lease of life. After negotiations that appeared to drag on for as long as Earth life itself, GFH Capital finally concluded their takeover of Leeds United and the noises that came out of their first press conference were full of positivity, and a clear indication that a much needed fresh start is being sought at Elland Road.
Although the miserable Christmas weather shows little sign of abating, there was a sense that Friday’s takeover meant that a dark cloud, which has been hovering over Elland Road for the past couple of years was finally being lifted as Ken Bates’ stranglehold on the club began to loosen. He will remain on as Chairman until the end of the season to oversee the transitional period between the change of ownership, but the end of Ken Bates reign at Leeds is very much now on the increasingly brighter looking horizon.
That just 24 hours later, Leeds gave their fans an ideal early Christmas present by defeating high flying Middlesbrough in front of Elland Road’s largest league attendance of the season merely added to the festive cheer, and suddenly Leeds seem handily placed for a run at the play off positions at the turn of the year.
But, rewinding back to last Friday’s press conference, two stand out comments were made by GFH in regards to how they plan to run the football club. Firstly, and perhaps most significantly, they expressed a keen desire to re-engage the supporters. The Capital One Cup quarter final against Chelsea underlined just how immense the Leeds support can be, but the harsh reality is that league fixtures at Elland Road have seen attendances struggle to break the 20,000 barrier this season, a worrying situation for a one club city.
These figures become all the more alarming when you consider that Leeds attracted higher crowds during their League One days, and just two years ago, they were averaging 27,000 per game.
The sharp drop indicates just how disengaged Leeds fans have become with their club and the fact that GFH are keen to address this issue is a welcome contrast to Ken Bates, who seemed reluctant to build any sort of bond between himself and the supporters of the very club he owns.
Fans are the most prized asset of any football club, but this is something that appears to have been lost during the Bates’ tenure and as such, supporters have deserted Elland Road in their droves and will now need some convincing by the new owners to return.
One initiative already being implemented is the re-introduction of second half season tickets, where fans can purchase a seat for the remaining ten home fixtures at a set price. Whether this initiative works remains to be seen, but credit needs to be given to GFH for at least showing an interest in getting Elland Road closer to capacity once more.
A real point of interest will be when next season’s ticketing price structure is revealed. For too long, Leeds fans have paid extortionate prices in return for, at best, average football, and this has been a crucial factor in the dwindling crowds. The pricing structure undeniable needs re-evaluating, so it will be interesting to see GFH’s stance in that regard.
The second key observation that can be made from the press conference is that GFH stated categorically that they won’t overspend in pursuit of the Premier League. Whilst a certain amount of cash will be handed to Neil Warnock in January, the winter transfer window is notoriously difficult to attract appropriate players at a decent valuation, so the immediate concern will be signing up the array of loan players Leeds currently have on their books onto permanent deals.
It was interesting to note that, whilst getting Leeds back into the Premier League is the ultimate goal, it isn’t a necessity for the club from a financial perspective. Regardless of which division Leeds are in, they will remain in a financially sound position, a welcome change to the boom and bust era that Leeds are still suffering the consequences of nearly a decade later.
Of course, it is important that a greater level of investment is directed towards the playing squad in order for that Premier League dream to be fulfilled, but perhaps of equal importance is the need to hold on to their top players instead of cashing in and not re-investing, which has regrettably become the norm at Elland Road in the past few years.
Young Sam Byram has burst onto the scene this season, and has arguably been Leeds best player resulting in inevitable interest from other clubs. The goals of Luciano Becchio will, likewise, see him attract the attention, but it is of paramount importance that Leeds end their recent trend of being a selling club.
All in all, the early signs are positive, but there is a vast difference in talking a good game and producing the end results. GFH have said all the right things so far to get the fans on side, but they will be fully aware that, whilst this is a fantastic opportunity to be a part of the recovery of one of football’s finest institutions, it is also a huge task that will require hard work and dedication.
Leeds United are a wounded animal who are in desperate need of a healer, and GFH need to be that healer, banishing the memories of Ken Bates’ tenure in the process. If they get it right, the positivity that is currently surrounding Elland Road will extend far beyond the festive season and Leeds could be about to embark on a fantastic journey back to where they feel their true heart lies. It is a Merry Christmas at Elland Road this year, but will the same be said in twelve months from now?