KEN BATES believes Leeds United’s FA Cup third round opponents are a prime example of how best to run a football club.
The Yorkshire side take on Arsenal on Monday night in a repeat of last season’s fixture at the same stage of the competition when the Premier League club prevailed but only after a replay.
Leeds came agonisingly close to winning the first game at the Emirates Stadium only for Cesc Fabregas to equalise from the penalty spot, illustrating that the gulf between the two clubs on the field was perhaps not as large as many in Yorkshire had feared when the draw was made.
Off the field, however, the earning potential of Arsenal and Leeds is streets apart with Arsenal’s turnover of £255m and £46m profit in the last financial year dwarfing the £27m that came in at Elland Road to give the club a £2m profit.
Much of the difference is down to the Gunners being in the Premier League and the huge earning potential of the 60,000-capacity Emirates Stadium, which when opened in 2006 led to the club’s annual turnover almost doubling on the back of match-day revenue soaring to more than £3m per game.
Bates said: “Where they are today is through good business management, retained profits. They have a 60,000-capacity stadium, which Lord Triesman gave as an example of bad business finance. I wonder what the mortgage was on Lord Triesman’s house?
“Let’s face it, Arsenal have been a consistently successful club and it has all been done on self-generated, reinvested profits.
“Not because of the manager but because of the intrinsic mind-set of the board. Managers come and go.
“The board appoint the manager. The manager does a great job but the final financial decision is with the board.
“If you ask me what I admire about Arsenal, it is that it is a well-run club. If you look at Liverpool, apart from those idiots (Tom) Hicks and (George) Gillett, again no-one put any money into Liverpool.
“The most fantastic of all is Manchester United. They haven’t put a penny into Manchester United. They have got the biggest ground in the country, a consistent record of success and home-grown players. They have done it through first-class management.”
Bates, who as a youngster in the Thirties played for one of the junior side that at the time were affiliated to Arsenal, will not be at the Emirates on Monday night but he is looking forward to seeing Leeds take on one of the Premier League’s true giants on television.
It is a fixture, of course, that not so long ago was one of the highlights of the calendar in English football due to both teams competing for the top prizes.
Leeds’ relegation in 2004 put the rivalry on hold only for the two clubs to be reunited this time last year when drawn together in the FA Cup third round.
United came within a whisker of knocking the north London club out only for Cesc Fabregas to earn a replay with a stoppage time equaliser from the penalty spot.
Arsenal then went on to win the replay comfortably but the experience of taking on Arsene Wenger’s side, following on from similar tussles with Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, was a welcome reminder of happier days for Leeds.
For Bates, too, it was a return to a time when, as Chelsea chairman for 21 years, he was a regular at the top table of English football.
Asked if the experience of taking on some of the game’s biggest names in the Cups had reawakened any interest in resuming his place in the corridors of power within the Premier League, Bates replied: “No, not at all. That is because, as (Premier League chairman) Dave Richards said to me, ‘You won’t recognise what it’s like.’ When I was in the Premier League with Chelsea, the vast majority of the chairmen or their representatives were English but now you have absentee owners, some of whom have stooges to represent them, who have no authority.”
During his 21-year reign at Stamford Bridge, Bates filled a number of important roles and sat on various committees that helped decide the future direction of the game.
Such an impressive CV means his views on what he would, if Leeds do return to the Premier League in the future, look to change as one of the 20 top-flight chairmen, Bates’s reply is typically forceful.
“What do you mean if?” he replies. “It depends what is on the agenda. I have opinions but not until I know what the questions are. The Premier League is the most successful sporting competition in the world.”
Bates will later this month reach his seventh anniversary of taking charge at Elland Road. During that time, there have been plenty of ups and downs for the club with the past few months being perhaps the second most difficult period after the summer of 2007 when the club were in administration.
Most games have seen ‘Bates Out’ chanted by disaffected supporters but he said: “Fans put pressure on everyone, don’t they? If you are chairman, you have to live with pressure. If you win on Saturday, it is, ‘Yeah, we’re going to win the league’. If we lose, it is, ‘We’re getting relegated’ and they shout ‘sack the board’.
“The people with intellect respect what we are doing to the club but the mob, which is a very small number, want results.
“I can understand that. I remember my son saying to me 20 years ago: ‘Daddy, you must remember most people lead boring, meaningless lives, then they retire and then they die. The only thing around them is their football clubs.’ Pub and club, pub and club.
“I remember years ago the old saying was, ‘When Coventry City lose, never buy a Triumph built on a Monday. Seriously, that was legend, the thinking being it wouldn’t have been made properly.”