EXCLUSIVE: Roman is welcome at Elland Road… as long as he's wearing a shirt and tie! Former Chelsea chief Bates speaks out ahead of grudge match
00:25 GMT, 19 December 2012
Ken Bates is sitting in his penthouse apartment in Leeds city centre, flicking through a picture book sent from Stamford Bridge on his 80th birthday.
It was put together last December, with messages from former players and staff from the 21 years he spent at Chelsea, by the club’s long-serving and adorable press officer Thresa Connelly.
Frank Lampard signs off: ‘Thanks for splashing out 11m on me — I could have been playing in the Championship with West Ham!’
Back in the day: Roman Abramovich (left) took control of Chelsea from now Leeds owner Ken Bates
John Terry thanks Bates for his ‘amazing support’. Others, including Gianluca Vialli, Ruud Gullit, Marcel Desailly, Claudio Ranieri and Roberto Di Matteo are among those paying tribute to the grand old man of football. ‘I call Robbie my son, he calls me Dad,’ Bates said of Di Matteo.
On Wednesday night the chairman and current owner of Leeds United has to put such memories to one side and support his team in trying to beat Chelsea in their Capital One Cup quarter-final at Elland Road; a night when 35,000 Leeds fans will renew hostilities with their bitter rivals.
‘Watching Leeds play Chelsea at Elland Road will be like getting a new Bentley with your mother-in-law in the passenger seat and watching it go over a cliff,’ he admitted on Tuesday. ‘But it’s a huge game for Leeds and I want them to win, of course I do.’
He does, however, admit to being tempted to visit Rafa Benitez’s players in their hotel this afternoon. They will be just across the road from his apartment, in the Malmaison.
‘I only know a few of the players because so much has changed since I left, but it would be nice to see Frank and JT again,’ he said.
‘It will be a fantastic occasion. We are playing the best team in Europe and the second best team in the world. Elland Road will be filled to the roof.’
Bates sold Chelsea to Roman Abramovich in 2003, but he remains proud of the part he played in protecting the future of Stamford Bridge; in particular his success in wrestling the freehold away from the property developer, Marler Estates, and reuniting it with the club. He created the Chelsea Pitch Owners, the organisation that recently prevented Abramovich from buying the ground and moving elsewhere.
‘I’m pleased the Chelsea Pitch Owners blocked the move to buy Stamford Bridge,’ he said.
‘My days at Chelsea are done, but it was a fight worth fighting for the supporters.
‘They have nowhere else to play now because Battersea Power Station will be turned into villages and so will Earls Court.
‘It’s not the Chelsea I knew, but things change and I accept that.’
His relationship with Abramovich, chairman Bruce Buck and director Eugene Tenenbaum soured towards the end and Bates eventually left Chelsea in March 2004.
Pastures new: Bates says he will welcome Abramovich at Elland Road… if he is properly dressed
But he will welcome them into the Elland Road boardroom on Wednesday, should they choose to attend.
‘In the boardroom we invite six guests and I don’t care who comes along from Chelsea as long as they wear a jacket and tie,’ he said.
Bates’s charming wife, Suzannah, has been known to offer a Leeds United club tie to those who do not conform to house rules, and the Chelsea officials who do attend should not expect too much pampering. The Elland Road boardroom has a special atmosphere, with long tables for guests and directors and a perfect view of the pitch from high up in the East Stand. But changes have been made since Bates took charge.
‘When I bought Leeds (in 2005) they had no money, the carpets were rotting and the toilets were disgusting,’ he said. ‘They were millions of pounds in debt and then you walked into the boardroom and they were serving ros champagne. I put a stop to that extravagance straight away. It was the same at Chelsea after I bought them for 1 in 1982.
‘They were going skint, they couldn’t pay the wages, but they were serving sparkling wine and smoking big fat cigars in the boardroom.’
Bates has spent good money at Leeds,
investing 20m in stadium maintenance in the past eight years. He also
had to set aside the animosity and rivalry between Chelsea and Leeds
when he told Suzannah he was buying the club.
Expansion: Bates with Chelsea board member Matthew Harding in front of the stand he helped finance
‘We were living in Monaco in a penthouse and I was watching so much of Jeff Randall on Sky News that I found myself falling in love with him,’ he said.
‘I held Suzannah’s hand and told her, “I have to save Leeds United”.’
He has done that and now he’s on the verge of selling to Dubai-based investment firm GFH Capital after protracted talks about a takeover.
Testing: Bates says Neil Warnock pushes him to the limits and was unimpressed with Roberto Di Matteo's (below) dismissal
The club are in good shape. On the pitch, under the guidance of Neil Warnock, they are enjoying a run that has seen them win four of their last five Championship games in pursuit of a play-off place.
‘Neil pushes me to the limits,’ said Bates. ‘But every manager is the same. They just want one more player. Look at the pressure they are under these days, it’s ridiculous. Alan Pardew was the greatest thing since sliced bread when he was given an eight-year contract at Newcastle and yet people are now beginning to question him.
‘Robbie Di Matteo’s an intelligent man. He has degrees in maths and economics, but Chelsea sacked him because he lost a couple of games.’
It might just give him an excuse to crack open the bubbly if Leeds do win on Wednesday night.