KEN BATES insists Leeds United are ready once again to raise their game on a night when Chelsea arrive at Elland Road for what he considers to be “the highlight of the season”.
Over the past three years, the West Yorkshire club have developed an enviable reputation for being able to upset some of the Premier League’s biggest names.
Manchester United are the most notable scalp to be claimed by Leeds in the cups but creditable draws in North London against both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have since shown that the 1-0 win at Old Trafford in January, 2010, was far from a one-off.
This season, United’s knack of upsetting the odds has continued with Champions League hopefuls Everton having been beaten along with fellow top-flight club Southampton en route to Neil Warnock’s side reaching tonight’s Capital One Cup quarter-final tie.
For Bates, the visit of Chelsea – a club he led for 21 years before selling to Roman Abramovich in 2004 – is one to savour as the countdown continues to Friday’s planned takeover by GFH Capital, whose representatives have this week met the Football League.
Speaking exclusively to the Yorkshire Post, Bates, who will remain as chairman for the rest of the season before becoming club president, said: “It promises to be a special night.
“It was inevitable Leeds would play Chelsea one day. This is football, after all. But we have had to wait. The wait is worth it, though, as I see this as the crème de la crème.
“We have been fortunate in recent seasons to have drawn Manchester United twice, Arsenal twice – including one that went to a replay – Tottenham, Liverpool and then, this season, Everton.
“That might not have been the biggest of occasions but they are still one of the big boys. While this was going on, we kept eluding Chelsea.
“But now we have them and as soon as the draw was made I thought, ‘This could be fun’.
“Let’s hope we have a great night. We are not expected to win so, therefore, everything will be a bonus. Meanwhile, it gives all our players a chance to show to the world how good they are against one of the top teams in the country.
“They did it against Manchester United. They also held their own against Arsenal and Tottenham, so that shows we can raise our game.
“Chelsea’s travel fatigue (following the trip home from Japan in the wake of Sunday’s Club World Cup defeat to Corinthians) could be a factor and if we come out of the traps like we all know we can, then it really could be a great night for Leeds United.”
Tonight will see United watched by their first sell-out crowd since January 2011 when Arsenal edged through to the FA Cup fourth round via a replay win.
The attendance, though, will be well below the 38,232 that watched the Gunners’ 3-1 triumph due to a combination of building work on the East Stand that saw corporate facilities extended and West Yorkshire Police insisting the lower tier of the South Stand remains empty to prevent trouble between fans.
Bates admits United were disappointed with the decision to keep 2,000 seats empty and is calling on fans to make sure tonight’s tie passes off peacefully to prevent a repeat in the future.
He said: “This game is obviously the highlight of the season. Elland Road will be full, though it is unfortunate the police have decided in their infinite wisdom not to allow Chelsea to have the 5,000 tickets they wanted.
“Instead, they got 3,000. The police then further decided that we can’t sell the 2,000 extra tickets Chelsea wanted. We can’t understand that.
“What I will say, though, is that some of the Leeds fans should think long and hard about some of the nonsense they come out with. All the silly chants, and things like that.
“Their behaviour at Sheffield Wednesday (in October when both sets of fans indulged in vile chants and exchanged missiles) could possibly have contributed to the police cutting down the number of seats we can sell for the Chelsea game.
“It is hurting the club, too, as those 2,000 seats we can’t sell means, at £25 each, that the gate receipts will be down £50,000. Our share of that would have been £17,000-£18,000, all money that could have gone towards buying a new player.
“What happened that night at Hillsborough could also have contributed to us now having to play four of our bigger league games at 12.30pm on a Saturday rather than 3pm. That is inconvenient and the atmosphere is never as good. It is all to do with the bad behaviour, which is stupid.
“So, we don’t want any nonsense against Chelsea. The rivalry has had a nasty edge at times, which I think is stupid.
“The (1970) Cup final that started all that nonsense was more than 42 years ago. That is a long time ago, and when most of the fans who chant the silly songs about Chelsea weren’t even born.
“We want this to be a special occasion and memorable for football reasons only.”