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SBD Global/September 28, 2012/Franchises

Gulf Finance House Close To Purchasing Championship Club Leeds United

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Leeds United's Elland Road Stadium is lit by sunlight in this 2011 file photo.
Championship club Leeds United Owner Ken Bates’ seven-year tenure "would appear to be coming to an end" after investment bank Gulf Finance House signed an "exclusive agreement" to lead a purchase of the club, according to Mark Walker of the YORKSHIRE POST. The Bahrain-based company confirmed in a letter to the country’s stock exchange that subsidiary GFH Capital was to "lead and arrange" the purchase of Leeds City Holdings, which owns the football club, although there was no mention of who it was acting for. Its acknowledgement "confirms a growing train of thought that it was the brokers Bates has been dealing with all summer." Bates’ admission on Saturday that he was talking to a Middle Eastern consortium was the first communication from the Elland Road club. GFH 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, 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" (YORKSHIRE POST, 9/27).

'GREAT NEWS': The IRISH INDEPENDENT reported the Leeds United Supporters Trust has "welcomed news that a Middle-Eastern investment bank has confirmed it is leading a takeover of the club." LUST Chair Gary Cooper expressed his delight at the latest development. He said: "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." Leeds would make no comment, but Deputy CEO and COO of GFH Capital David Haigh, who is thought to be the frontman of the takeover, wrote on his Twitter account: "Good morning everyone. Thank you for all your messages of support. They are very important to us. #LUFC" (IRISH INDEPENDENT, 9/27). The PA reported that any takeover "would end Bates' seven-year reign, which has been marked by supporter unrest." Protests have regularly been staged against the former Chelsea owner's approach to running the club (PA, 9/27).

EN-GULFING THE SPORT: In N.Y., Nicolas Parasie wrote that if completed, "the move would be the latest in a string of investments in European soccer clubs by investors from the Gulf region." The Gulf state's sovereign-wealth fund, Qatar Investment Authority, bought Paris Saint-Germain last year in a deal valuing the club at €100M ($128M). Meanwhile, spending by Abu Dhabi's royal family helped Man City to their first EPL title in 44 years in May. However, lesser-known clubs "have also been on the radar" of Gulf investors: Spain's Getafe FC was bought by a Dubai investment group in '11, while Qatari investors recently held talks to inject funds into Belgium's Royal Antwerp FC. The person familiar with the matter said that GFH is "attracted by the potential broadcasting revenue that Leeds United would receive if they win promotion to the Premier League," which could total £60M ($97.3M) a year (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/27).

FACING CRITICISM: In London, David Conn wrote that in an 11-minute address on Leeds' in-house TV channel, Bates "spent almost as long criticising the LUST as he did discussing the club's destiny." If Bates, who lives in Monaco as a U.K. tax exile, does sell up and leave football completely, he "will avoid a possible Football Association charge of bringing the game into disrepute." The governing body "decided to charge Bates, and Leeds United, at the end of August, but is now holding that charge in abeyance." The charge follows the finding in Leeds county court in June that Bates, and the club itself, "committed harassment of former Leeds Dir Melvyn Levi by publishing personal attacks on him in Bates' chairman's notes in the club's match programme." Leeds' in-house Yorkshire Radio station was also found to have harassed Levi by broadcasting at least six times a public appeal for Levi's whereabouts, because Bates wanted to sue him. In his LUFCTV address on Saturday, Bates said of LUST, a mutual trust of 8,200 members formed according to the legal regulations of Supporters Direct, the organization funded by the Premier League: "They are a waste of space, a pain in the arse and achieving nothing." He described their contribution as "agitation stirred up by those idiots," and trust members as an "ignorant, illiterate minority" (GUARDIAN, 9/27).
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