Date: 22nd January 2006 at 12:37pm
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Yesterdays match against Leeds United coincidently landed on the first anniversary of Ken Bates taking the reigns at our Yorkshire rivals, after failing to become Owls chairman months earlier.

Flicking through the match programme yesterday, and the ex-Chelsea chairman had a four-page spread which looked back at a ‘year of real achievements’ at Elland Road. I’m sure anyone reading that feature yesterday will have been thinking ‘if only’ – I certainly was.

Of course, Ken tried to invest in Wednesday almost two years ago now, but was deemed incompatible with the current board – the words of current Owls chairman Dave Allen, not mine. Despite many people still wanting to see the back of Mr Allen at S6, the Ken Bates saga was pretty much forgotton, until yesterday that is.

Ken’s matchday programme notes make good reading for Leeds – who were plagued by ridiculous player contracts, and were experiencing the loss of Premiership income following relegation to the Championship. They were in a real mess.

Cue Ken Bates.

I know many Leeds fans, and know that when the news of Ken Bates being linked to the Elland Road club came filtering through, they were not happy to say the least. Leeds and Chelsea have always been deadly rivals. Chelsea probably coming a close second to Leeds’ hatred of Manchester United. Most fans who travelled away with the club can remember Bates in his Chelsea days, when he showed the ‘V’ sign and flicked his cigar butts down on the travelling support while mouthing obscenities.

Now the vast majority of Leeds fans are thankful to him from saving the club, who could have quite easily gone under before his arrival.

In the twelve months he’s been at the club, he’s managed to clear the club’s spiralling debts, and turn them in to a Premiership chasing team thanks to improvements to the playing staff.

Fair enough, the changes that the club has made hasn’t suited everyone – but Leeds are sitting 3rd in the Championship and are still capable of catching Sheffield United for automatic promotion – the table doesn’t lie.

The most noticable change at the club has been the ticket pricing – which Wednesday fans feared would happen at Hillsborough should Bates take charge. Leeds were averaging over 30,000 the previous season, but that average has now dropped to around 23,000 – with the Whites recording their highest gate of the season against us yesterday, a mere 27,843.

Bates’ policy makes complete sense in his programme notes though. First and foremost he’s a business man, and although the attendances have dropped greatly, the overall receipts increased, and the gates have improved since the team’s on field success. Bates’ focus very much lies with the hardcore set of Leeds fans, and as he says in his notes: ‘I believe offers for casual fans is wrong. I believe that our regular fans should be given priority’.

He’s also been forced to sell ‘the family silver’ in Elland Road and training complex Thorp Arch – which were the main contributors to the lowering of the debts at the club.

Bates looks at every piece of detail, and has even gone as far as stopping the use of green fax paper, stopping the boardroom champagne, and replacing hand towels with cheaper hand driers.

All in all, Leeds United Football Club are in a much better position than they were 12 months ago, and it’s all down to Ken Bates. He’s used the same policies he did at Chelsea, and look where they are now. The one problem Leeds fans face is in the future – as when Bates left Chelsea he left them in a precarious position, and was probably thankful for Roman Abramovic coming in.

So had Bates taken over at S6 – would the outcome have been the same? I’m sure Wednesday fans wouldn’t have been expecting us to be positioned around the automatic promotion places, but I’m sure some believe we would have been much better off financially.

Despite Leeds’ debts they managed to bring in high quality experienced Championship players in David Healy, Robbie Blake, Richard Cresswell, Rob Hulse, Shaun Derry, Eddie Lewis, Dan Harding and Ian Moore. The contrast was there for all to see. Wednesday had youth player Barry Corr on the bench, who has never scored a competative goal. Leeds had the luxury of replacing Robbie Blake with international David Healy. Rob Hulse was suspended.

Instead, Wednesday are struggling to afford the wages for League One players, namely Lee Trundle and Nathan Tyson, and are being forced to plough through the loan market to find players. Don’t get me wrong, Paul Sturrock has my full backing and although a few fans are pointing the blame towards him, his job is being made twice as hard because of the dire financial situation at the club.

So while Wednesday and Dave Allen are scrapping for every point at the bottom, and facing increasing financial pressure following the break down of the training ground sale, we look up at Leeds – who are fighting for a place back in the Premiership and are forever progressing both on and off the pitch.

Bates has done a fantastic job at Leeds, and reading his programme notes yesterday made me slightly green with envy of their situation following their downfall. Whether you were for or against Mr Bates coming to Hillsborough, us wednesdayites can only think ‘what if…’