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Jabba says: I had an invite to a meeting with the chairman as part of his "Speak to the people" initiative. Being at the wrong end of country on the day in question, I asked Bucky to go and represent me and the thousands of regular readers of the website. This is what he has to say.
Unravelling the Ridsdale Riddle - Paul Buck
It came as quite a surprise when I received an email from the proprietor of this website, Jon Abbott, asking me to represent him in a meeting with Peter Ridsdale. Of course, I'd heard that these events were going to take place, but never envisaged that I'd be sat at the other side of the table to a man who has (probably not single handedly, to be fair) caused my emotions to roller coaster in the last six months more than all my ex girlfriends put together!
Jon is more of a friend of a friend, although I think we have met on a couple of occasions before, during or after Leeds matches. The editor might confirm or deny this! [Jabba says: I'm pretty sure he's right but beer was probably involved...] So, considering I'm a lazy so-and-so and had only written a couple of pieces for leeds-fans.org.uk, both ultra-critical of the Ridsdale regime, I was very flattered when he asked me to go into the lions den wearing his colours! I did consider whether or not I was up to the task - I was basically representing Jon and his "readers" who had made specific requests for what they wanted from the meeting. So I wanted to be sure I could remain balanced, unbiased and focussed. What the hell? How many opportunities would I get like this? How many questions were burning inside? So I accepted with a mixture of wonder and trepidation.
And so came the day. Being an office-type (I work for the Government - that's all I'll say - adds a bit of the unknown) I was in my normal attire of suit and boots but wondered whether this would give the wrong impression, not so much to Peter Ridsdale, but to my fellow interviewers. I'd contemplated the staple football fans Stone Island and Armani jeans approach but dismissed it in the end. It was playing on my mind - even worrying about what to wear!!
We'd agreed to meet at the Billy Bremner statue. I arrived a full half an hour early and parked in the shadow of Billy's sculpture. I looked up at him from the driver's seat, arms held aloft in yet another triumph for the all-conquering Leeds United side, and wondered if the great man was turning in his grave.
The philosopher in me soon disappeared as I realised there were more pressing needs. So it was over to the Peacock for a quick "pre match" pint and a much-needed pee!
Feeling relieved, I sat nursing my pint and looked around me. I only really knew this place in the hustle and bustle anticipation of the match lying ahead, so it was strange to see it empty, bar a handful of retired men trying to work out better ways to spend their afternoons. One stared at the Racing on the TV screen lofted high in a corner. Another ploughed pound coins into a fruit machine like Armageddon was just around the corner.......
.....and the said machine suddenly regaled us with a polyphonic version of the duelling banjos tune from "Deliverance". How very, very appropriate. Surreal became the operative word as a text filtered through from my mate Macca - "Knee him int knackers! Pull his hair! Untie his shoelaces!" I think that was Macca's way of reminding me that public feeling was running high!
And so it was time to return to Billy and meet my fellow members of the Spanish Inquisition, who turned out to be John Boocock (LUST), Simon Jose (LUIFA), Mark Monk (To Elland Back), Gary Hewitt (Safe Standing), Paul and Shaun O Dowd (Square Ball) and Paul Fallon (LUST). When it was mentioned and analysed, we found we had formidable backing, as we represented several web sites with a combined 16,000 hits per day.
There was a quick discussion on tactics and it was on into the office. I was surprised to find that Ridsdale's office was actually over the road from the ground. No turning back now!
I was struggling with my emotions and trying to be balanced and open-minded. I'd grown to dislike Ridsdale very, very much recently and had gone so far as to brand him a liar on this very website. However, I'd never known then I was going to have the chance to put him to the test. So I dredged the memory banks and thought about the good times, the support in Istanbul and his orchestration of 8,000 Leeds fans singing the anthem in Milan. It's funny, but it prompted a LUFC overflow in the memory banks. I thought of Billy and of Don Revie, wheelchair bound, waving to the fans before a second division game against Manchester City. Grown men on the Kop, tears in their eyes, remembering the greatness the man gathered around him, and knowing that on the first count, he wasn't going to be around for very long and in the second instance that that greatness had long since disappeared and never looked like coming back.... but it almost did. And I thought of Kevin Speight and Chris Loftus and their families and wondered how they must be feeling with the hatred currently aimed at the Chairman. And I thought once more about Billy and the Don, both cut down at not exactly ripe old ages. And I wondered if all the hatred was worth it. Bill Shankly was a great man, but was his famous quote about football being more important than life and death really true?
So on my way into "battle", I'd successfully found that sense of balance.
Whilst we waited in what seemed like a holding area, I couldn't help but chuckle at the mock up of the dressing rooms, with benches and shirts hanging down emblazoned with the names of the Directors on them. This did nothing to suppress the notion that I was about to meet a person who defined the word "egotistical". Or was I completely on the wrong tac? Did it mean that the sales were going to get so bad in the summer that the shirts for the replacement players were being prepared early? Can you imagine Ridsdale and Viduka up front? The overweight one.... and former Chairman! Sorry - couldn't resist.
And so we were summoned in by Ridsdale's ever smiling PA and the first of a number of surprises on the day was revealed. Sat waiting, entrenched in the small, almost claustrophobic meeting room, Peter had his re-enforcements. The two Davids - Messrs Walker (Media director) and Spencer (Operations director) had been brought in as back up. Of course, this became a much bigger bombshell 24 hours later when I heard that Spencer had been given his P45! There had been no indication from either side during in the meeting of what was lurking on the horizon, although in hindsight - and I may have imagined this - Ridsdale did seem to hesitate slightly on discussing the clubs "non playing" cost cutting exercises.
Upon reflection, I can maybe see why Spencer went. Don't get me wrong - he seemed pretty honest and forthright and he seemed to have the best interests of the club at heart. When the possibility of a FA Cup final was mentioned, he looked to the heavens and muttered "Please God!" However, the bloke did seem to come across as maybe John Prescott does in relation to the Prime Minister. You know - sometimes a tad too forthright, quite a belligerent man, but without being outwardly rude. He did seem to back Ridsdale mainly. Sometimes he went too far and on a couple of occasions Ridsdale did gently talk him down. Nothing serious - maybe just over enthusiasm. Misplaced as it turned out in the end.
It was David Walker who first brought up the word we had all dreaded before the meeting - confidentiality. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the United take on this - they said they didn't mind us cascading what we had been told so long as it was accurate. Peter Ridsdale spoke of being stabbed in the back so many times by the media that he wanted to make sure this didn 't represent another opportunity. A for instance of this was the recent supporters club meeting when he was asked about David Batty doing a Lord Lucan. Apparently, he had replied that he wasn't the manager and it had nothing to do with him. He was pressed on it again and had re-iterated his stance but had added that both David O Leary and Terry Venables had commented that they thought that Bats, sadly, wasn't up to the job in the Premiership.
However, the fans were like the proverbial dog with the bone, and had re-phrased their question to "as a fan, would you like to see David Batty in the team?" So Ridsdale had replied, as a fan, that he'd have liked Batty to be given one last chance to prove his detractors wrong. Of course, the following day in the press, Ridsdale had been quoted as saying he disagreed with the manager and wanted to see Batty back on the pitch!
Ridsdale knew we understood his mistrust of the media. Simon Jose, of LUIFA, had been quoted as calling Ridsdale a "dimwit" in one of the Broadsheets. Apparently this quote was actually aimed at a former board member and attributed to the current Chairman, possibly, who knows, to stir things up in this meeting?
So we understood his take on matters and, even if we hadn't have done, we positively welcomed the meeting being tape recorded by both sides. We had feared a bit of cloak and dagger but this seemed to put us at ease on that score.
Later on, Walker promised us that the meeting would be transcribed in full and released to the attendees, which further served to ease our fears. I am unsure as to whether or not Jon will release an edited version of the transcription on leeds-fans.org.uk [Jabba says: I'll be putting up whatever we get - the more information we have out in the open the better].
And so, with tapes whirring, and following the previous 3 meetings in which Ridsdale had met 42 fans, the meeting commenced in earnest.
Our militant tendencies were being knocked out of us pretty quickly as we came to realise that the meeting wasn't going to be stage-managed. We had sent Ridsdale a list of 45 questions a few days prior to the meeting and I kind of expected him to provide well-rehearsed answers to a hand picked selection of those questions. So I was pleasantly surprised when the list of questions was nowhere in sight and Ridsdale asked John Boocock how he wanted to play it on our behalf.
And so the meeting turned into something of an open forum, loosely based around the questions provided with John, Simon and myself taking the lead by and large. I don't know how the other guys felt but if I'd have left that meeting having not said much, I'd have felt I'd let myself and the people I was representing down badly.
Jon had asked me prior to the meeting to pay attention to how Peter Ridsdale looked, his mannerisms and his all round ability to answer the questions.
I don't aim to go into what was said verbatim - the transcription will do that job - although I will, of course, touch on the pressing issues.
Ridsdale started the meeting looking ultra-confident. He leaned right back in his chair, kicking his legs out stretched and wide. On many occasions he sat with his head back, both hands clamped behind it. He had his back to an open window, looking out on Elland Road. I fiendishly imagined how a sniper on the South Stand roof would have a clean shot! Later on, however, I did notice his hand shaking and couldn't determine whether this was because of nerves or because of the open window behind him. And it wasn't far into proceedings that he opened his collar and loosened his tie (until Mark Monk asked to take pictures and his vanity returned, quickly doing the button and hitching up the tie!) One thing was for sure - he maintained eye contact at all times, something I was keen to keep tabs on.
Not forgetting his allies (although David Spencer might baulk at that word nowadays) - Walker looked smart, but more like the bloke every office has who looks after the stationery. I couldn't help think that he needed to revolutionise his wardrobe slightly. Spencer - again in Prescott mode - had an open necked shirt, brogues that looked like freebies from the man attached to Burtons and those annoying fluffy brown socks that ramblers wear.
Anyway - less of the bitching. Another thing that struck me about Ridsdale - and I sincerely hope a psychologist is reading (if so, please drop leeds-fans.org.uk an email to explain what follows) is that when he wasn't speaking, and sometimes when he was, he doodled furiously on the pad in front of him. Nothing in particular - just squares, circles, rectangles, and shapes in general. He'd outline a shape and then repeat the outline over the top a few times to give a thick line effect and, again, I wondered whether this was a sign of nerves. Maybe I was just reading too much into it - after all, we all did it at school!
I suppose what Ridsdale was wearing or doing isn't all that important at the end of the day. It's what he said.
Now I was a major sceptic going into this encounter. So either Peter Ridsdale can sit in a room with nine other people, seven of them just itching to find a chink in his armour, and - forgive the French - bullshit for England, or he really does care deeply about this football club.
I'm unsure as to which I firmly believe but I have to admit I was impressed not always with what he had to say, but with his delivery and seemingly honest and frank explanations of the points he was trying to put across. And I can honestly say that some of the things that had baffled and frustrated the hell out me before the meeting were clarified very adequately.
He was friendly but firm, always confident with his answers and eager to offer explanations to such an extent that some of the things said would be considered to be reasonably confidential. For instance, he had no problem in telling us his salary and the salary of the men sat around him. He did this in the form of an exercise up against the salaries of the Manchester United board to prove once and for all that, relatively speaking, they weren 't on more money than their counterparts across the Pennines. Whether Peter Kenyon would approve of his namesake Ridsdale telling a bunch of Leeds fans his salary is another matter, but hey! Who cares about hurting Peter Kenyon's feelings!! What I'm trying to get at is that I think Ridsdale was being reasonably honest.
The common theme throughout was Ridsdale's apparent abhorrence of the press. That seemed pretty clear and led me to wonder just how much he'd been given the Mark Anthony treatment. Or was it just a big smokescreen? I'd like to think I'm a decent judge of character and his mannerisms seemed to indicate not.
But it seemed a common conception that mistrust flowed pretty evenly throughout the football world.
A couple of for instances - I questioned Ridsdale on the Kleberson situation. As an aside, he said this wasn't yet dead and to look out for developments in the summer. He said he'd received six letters, all from different people in Brazil who purported to represent Kleberson. Each contained a different transfer fee, each a different signing on fee and none of which met the Leeds valuation.
It also seemed that trust of even fellow Premiership Chairmen was, shall we say, not one hundred percent. Apparently, amongst Premier league circles (and I can't remember how long ago Ridsdale said this was) it was common knowledge that Leeds and another club wanted to sign "X". So, at a meeting of all Premier League Chairmen, Ridsdale and his oppo stood in front of everyone, shook hands and agreed that the following day they would lodge a bid of 3.5m for the player in question. It was basically then down to the player to decide - I think this was in response to a question on wages and Ridsdale's attempt to justify the sky-high wages players are paid. The following day, Ridsdale lodged the 3.5m bid. The other club slapped in a bid for 4.75m. If anyone can use a search engine better than I can (it seems that just looking at Ulrikaspartners.com isn't good enough!) you might be able to find out who was the player in question. I could only find two - Jason Euell, who hardly gets the pulse racing....the other was Juninho. See if Ridsdale shakes Steve Gibson's hand on Saturday at Elland Road!
Anyway - I'm rambling! Suffice to say Leeds didn't get their man and Ridsdale had been stitched up.
Obviously the sales were the main topic of conversation. I'll attempt to put in six nutshells what was, or wasn't in some cases, said about each departure.
Ridsdale had said that, at the start of the summer, he could never have envisaged Rio leaving the club (but did also say the deal was done when Terry Venables arrived). However, the rumours started to circulate whilst Rio was at the other side of the world. And it was clear that Rio's head was being turned by "other sources". I asked whether the club had contemplated flying someone out to talk to him. It had been considered, but decided against because of the media frenzy that would have been whipped up. Anyhow, Rio couldn't have done anything until he got home no matter who had said what. Possibly thanks to the urgings of Beckham, Scholes, Neville and co, Ferdinand arrived home and asked for a move immediately. No sooner had this happened than Manchester United lodged the 30m bid. Now I'm at pains to say that Ridsdale never said this, but the basic jist was that this stunk of a conspiracy throughout. However, taking football economics and the climate looming on the horizon into account, a 30m bid was too big to turn down for any player and Rio was on his way.
Keane asked Venables for a transfer. Venables said he could go. Simple as that.
Not really discussed although Ridsdale did point out he was on loan. However, I wouldn't expect to see Olly back in the white of Leeds. Only chance of that is if Terry Venables goes in the summer.
Ridsdale visibly winced when he mentioned the 12m we could have had from Liverpool. I can just about quote him as saying "Who'd have imagined Lee Bowyer would turn down Liverpool?" The Chairman than indicated we accepted a pittance for Bowyer rather than let him walk on a Bosman in the summer, which, he seemed to indicate, was definitely going to happen.
Amazingly, Fowler wasn't mentioned once. I hope to be in this forum again (more on that later) so I'll make a note to ask about the Fowler fiasco, which completely ruined my holiday in Gran Canaria, I might add!
And, of course, the one that stunned us all the most. Ridsdale basically implied that he pleaded with the board not to let this one go (he later said that Smithy was the only player he'd lay down his job for) but Newcastle had engineered things perfectly. Running alongside these events, Ridsdale had sat down with the manager and said the club needed to raise a certain amount of money and reduce the wages by a certain amount. Ridsdale had basically said that everyone around the table, including him, knew the players who we' d have liked to have seen go to raise the money (names like McPhail, Duberry and Harte were mentioned. Ridsdale was coy - but he certainly didn't disagree with any of them). However, no bids were forthcoming for any of these players. He went on to say that none of the rumours had come about from Elland Road, basically saying Newcastle had almost "tapped up" the player through the press. And then, after silence for the whole month, they slapped the bid in with 48 hours of the "bloody" (as Peter Ridsdale dubbed it) transfer window. With no other bids for any other players, he said he was left with the agonising decision of sanctioning the move. Whilst nothing was said at the meeting, I'd like to add that Woody hardly begged to stay, did he?
So the Chairman had reasonably explained away five of the transfers, and when you heard the individual stories behind them, they almost seemed logical. We may have been sold a dummy, of course, but if it was, it was one of Pele proportions.
It was time to turn the focus of Ridsdale's media mistrust (even, seemingly of the Official web site) to our advantage. Ridsdale had already mentioned that communicating with the fans via the media wasn't the right way to do it. Other than the match day programme, which many don't buy or can't afford, what other ways were there? The only way he could communicate and know he'd get a fair crack of the whip would be through us - through our web sites and fanzines. Ridsdale concurred that answering the fans questions wasn't an issue - he said he wasn't trying to run and hide. So a tentative agreement was made to keep these meetings on a regular basis. I'll be very interested to see if this happens, and would relish going along again, of course. I firmly believe that we are the right people to cascade information to the fans. 16,000 hits tells you that the information flows to the right people quickly and, more importantly, accurately. I sincerely couldn't see an unofficial web site or fanzine stitch the Chairman up as he indicates the Tabloids and, indeed, Broadsheets do. We shall see!
There were other issues I could waffle about - but I've done enough waffling, I'm sure you'll agree, but to be brief -
The relationship with Terry Venables
Peter Ridsdale insisted his relationship with the manager was not just a good working one, but good all round. Terry Venables was unavailable to comment!
There was probably little else he could have said, but the Chairman did admit to making errors and said that in hindsight, he'd have done many things differently and admitted borrowing long term to fund short term investment was an error. In his defence he said that many things could never have been envisaged, the lack of Sky games and low league placing (with each Sky game and league place being worth about 400k) being two of them. He also said that David O Leary had promised to recoup some of the money spent and this was a stipulation of granting him the money to make signings (presumably this applies to Johnson and Fowler). However, he said the manager had promised to do this but not delivered.
The question of why O'Leary was sacked so far after the end of the season was raised. Ridsdale pointed out that O'Leary himself had said he would be judged on whether or not the team made the Champions League. As for the lateness, Ridsdale gave two answers. One was that the first board meeting after the season end wasn't until 31st May.
Much more fascinating for Leeds fans is that Ridsdale confirmed that Martin O'Neill was the number one target. This made things very awkward since David O'Leary spent much of the summer sat on a BBC settee, next to Martin O 'Neill, in the Far East.
Despite O'Leary's ghost writer being sat a few yards away, I just had to ask about the book. Ridsdale stated that the timing, despite the fact he was contractually allowed to write it, was "awful" and that it certainly didn't help relations with the players.
I deliberately waited until after the Sheffield United Quarter Final match to tackle this bit. Ridsdale had said that the club must operate assuming there'd be no competition in Europe and that is now a reality. More significantly, he said we are not yet at "break even" for that scenario and that 30 "top" (his description, not mine) players can't be sustained on a non-Europe basis. Add to this that Ridsdale had said his six-player reduction had not yet been met, you don't have to be Einstein to work out what's going to happen in the summer.
However, the Chairman did give us his promise that he would try to ensure none of the stars would be sold. For the first time, that sense of deja vu set in.
Further hope, possibly false, was raised when the man said that the glaring gaps in the team (which he outlined) would simply have to be plugged so we can maybe expect incomings and outgoings in the summer with, sadly, more of the latter. However, if McPhail, Harte and Duberry leave, and Kleberson comes in, I won't complain too loudly!
To look to the future, we need to cast our minds back to the horrors of January. Peter Ridsdale assured us that there were many other clubs desperate to offload, but no takers around for their players. He was hinting that we could expect an explosion of activity in the summer but this time, at bargain basement prices. Especially taking into account the new Premier League stipulations (50% down on transfers and paid within 12 months).
I took a slight ray of hope from the fact that the board at Leeds had seemingly realised that, when the new Sky TV deal comes about, the top cats are going to get the cream more than ever before, so he at least realised that there is a necessity to be amongst them, and he did confirm that the Far East (awash with cash) was the place they were looking to improve income streams. The Chairman stated that we weren't running away, but still thinking big.
Ridsdale also stated that, despite the Overdraft facility not quite being what it was, that they still had the support of the financial institutions and that if they didn't, they'd go under tomorrow. The sale of Woodgate, whilst infuriating fans, delighted the men in suits in London as it showed the club were capable of making "tough" decisions.
He also informed us that in turns of turnover, our merchandise profitability is still 2nd or 3rd best in the country, whilst pointing out that Nike take care of Manchester United's and Granada have a similar arrangement with Liverpool.
The "new" stadium
I think we can forget this. According to Peter Ridsdale, things were making progress until some representatives of Al Qaeda, clearly not having the best interests of Leeds United at heart, flew two passenger jets into the World Trade Center.
From here it all changed, and attitudes in the USA and the Far East changed very quickly, and quite understandably.
The club now has set up a joint venture with the Council to explore possibilities around Elland Road, but I wouldn't expect movement on this gathering any great pace. Talks are "ongoing".
And my personal opinion of the Councillors that run our city are less glowing than the ones I had of Peter Ridsdale before this meeting! But that 's for a different web site!
It's funny but I had to agree with Peter Ridsdale when he pointed out that it wasn't just the board who didn't deliver and I agreed with his observation that the Cardiff game was the catalyst. When I think about the players who we had at Elland Road, I can't help but think of the managers who could have made them the best in Europe. I wonder what The Don would have done with this squad.
And when I think about the display at Bramall Lane last Sunday, I fear for the future of my club. Dire beyond belief and once the players top showing a passion, there's only one way you can go.
But I'm in a privileged position in that I've had the chance to ask the questions, and to hear the responses straight from the horse's mouth.
Do I feel optimistic? Unfortunately not, at this moment in time. I don't mean that to sound unfair, or that I took nothing from the meeting because I think what's said above indicates quite differently. I do feel that I was treated like an adult and with honesty and for this, I'm thankful.