Ken Bates’ seven-year spell as the owner of Leeds would appear to be coming to an end after the investment bank, Gulf Finance House, today confirmed it had signed an “exclusive agreement” to lead a purchase of the Championship club.
The Bahrain-based company confirmed in a letter to the country’s stock exchange this morning that GFH Capital, one of their subsidiaries, was to “lead and arrange” the purchase of Leeds City Holdings, who own the football club, although there was no mention of who they were acting for.
Their acknowledgement confirms a growing train of thought that they were the brokers Bates has been dealing with all summer. Leeds announced on June 26 they had entered an exclusivity agreement with unnamed investors, but details have been hard to come by since.
Short of the club confirming the exclusivity period had ended, Bates’ admission on Saturday that he was talking to a Middle Eastern consortium was the first communication from the Elland Road club.
But having had some of their employees photographed with Bates over recent weeks, GFH today said: “Further to the news published in the Gulf Daily News on the 25th and 26th Sep 2012, referring to the proposed acquisition of Leeds United Football Club (LUFC), GFH would like to confirm that GFH Capital Limited, a 100% subsidiary of Gulf Finance House, has signed an agreement to lead and arrange the acquisition of Leeds City Holdings, the parent company of LUFC.”
David Haigh, who is the deputy chief executive officer and chief operating officer of GFH Capital, has been a visible presence at Elland Road over recent weeks and said on his Twitter account: “Good morning everyone. Thank you for all your messages of support. They are very important to us. #LUFC”
Whether Haigh will be involved in any regime which replaces Bates remains to be seen, although it is understood the latter is keen to remain at Leeds as a consultant at the very least.
He took over the reigns in West Yorkshire in 2005 following the club’s high-profile financial collapse and relegation from the Premier League and, despite initially overseeing a 15-point deduction and another relegation, he is widely acknowledged to have helped the club get back on a sound footing.
Fans have becoming increasingly frustrated with a perceived lack of investment, though, with the club no closer to returning back to the top flight than they were when Bates took over.
But, recognising the riches on offer in the Premier League, GFH added in their letter: “According to a recent study released by Deloitte, LUFC is one of the best-supported clubs in English football with a higher average match day attendance than most Premier League clubs.
“In addition, LUFC has a large and passionate fan base and a rich history of success in English football over the last 40 years.
“Football teams in England have recently received a significant revenue boost due to the renegotiation of broadcasting rights and it is expected from next season each team in the Premier League will receive a minimum of GBP 60m per season due to the increase in broadcasting right.
“LUFC would also benefit from this if it can achieve promotion to the Premier League.”
Owing to their desperation to return to a league in which they were once a force, and also out of frustration with Bates, a band of Leeds supporters last year formed the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust which now has over 8,000 members.
Having lobbied for change and investment, their chairman, Gary Cooper, today told Press Association Sport: “This is great news. The Trust has been calling for the potential buyer and the club to say something and this is what we’ve all been waiting to hear.
“It’s been a long, long summer for Leeds fans who have heard very little. We knew these talks were going on and with neither side willing to say anything, it has been frustrating.
“We are really pleased GFH have finally come out and said something. It now appears this deal is close to being completed. We always understood this was going to be a takeover and we all hope now that the new owners share our ambitions for the club.”
There was no comment from Leeds today.