Leeds United has banned The Guardian from covering its matches, apparently a reprisal against the newspaper for probing the club’s ownership.
The League One club’s chairman, Ken Bates, appears to have taken exception to articles by David Conn, which have reported a matter of public record, in which Bates made a sworn statement in court saying that he had been in “error” over the club’s ownership.
According to sources at Elland Road, Bates had long conversations with Ben Clissitt, the head of sport at Guardian News Media, over the articles. “He feels that the reporter has an agenda against him and Leeds United,” said the source.
According to Clissitt: “The Guardian has been banned from Leeds United by Ken Bates, which is not a unique experience, by any means. The club has taken exception to a series of articles written by David Conn, and refused our application for accreditation to cover the Norwich match on Monday.
“We stand by David’s journalism and the pieces that he has written. We will continue to try to get access to Leeds matches so we can serve our readers in print and online.”
For long-time Bates-watchers, his recent libel case brought by a former club director over remarks in the chairman’s programme notes, and the deep opacity surrounding the club’s ownership and offshore companies will be familiar – perhaps with the exception of the outcome of the libel case (which Bates lost).
During his two decades in charge at Chelsea, Bates regularly used his programme notes to rant against journalists who dared to question his management style, while failing satisfactorily to answer questions about the club’s ownership, which was wrapped in a nexus of complicated offshore companies.
Leeds, playing in the third tier of English football, have already reduced the amount of coverage the club receives in the national press by refusing to accredit all but two photo agencies for its matches this season.
As far as the Guardian ban is concerned, one long-time employee of the club told sportsjournalists.co.uk, “Given Chairman Ken’s litigious attitude, it surely says a lot if he bans the Guardian but does not sue them. Advantage Conn.”