Oh dear. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Elland Road, and maybe even to part with a few hard-earned shekels in the club Megastore, or in purchasing an ambitiously-priced match ticket for the visit of the Smoggies this weekend – watch out. Bates is back, and it’s not Norman of that ilk, but the supposedly departed and definitely unlamented Kenneth William.
Now, I’ve no desire to be unnecessarily alarmist, so if that opening paragraph sounded like a revolting mixture of recycled blurb from the publicity materials of Jaws and Psycho – then I humbly apologise. But it’s been a bit of a shock, you see – such a graphically horrible picture. It’s not what you expect or need to see, large as life and twice as hideously old, strutting about outside our sacred stadium as if – well, as if he owned the place. Gulp.
Theories abound as to the possible reasons for the return of Papa Smurf’s reptilian presence to LS11. None of them are much good. This is understandable; people are reacting viscerally, out of disgust and horror at such an awful apparition, they need comfort, reassurance – some reason for this ultimate unwelcome surprise, just when we all thought the old get was consigned to the dustbin of history. It’s a bit like waking from a nightmare of truly terrifying proportions, bathed in sweat and shaking like a palsied trauma victim, relishing that initial feeling of blessed relief that the shadowy horrors were only a bad dream – and then reaching out to touch some slimy monster by your bedside, poised to sink its slavering fangs into your neck and drink your blood dry. It’s just not nice, not nice at all.
Some of our more mischievous brethren have already been upping the ante in the nightmare stakes, breezily speculating that Papa Smurf is the eminence grise behind The Chief’s alleged consortium. But this surely has to be the most tasteless of wind-ups. Lucas is a nice guy and Lucas loves us. He would not – I am certain of this – have anything to do with such a recent and reprehensible piece of flotsam from the arse-end of United’s history. Lucas would be about renewed hope and fresh starts, concepts as far away from Bates and all he stands for as the average Man U fan is from the Theatre of Hollow Myths itself. Any coincidence of Lucas Radebe and Kenneth William Bates in the environs of Elland Road must be just that – a coincidence, if a particularly unnerving and distasteful one.
Others have suggested that rumours of Bates’ departure were greatly exaggerated, and that he never really went away at all, but lurked in some dark corner of his restructured East Stand, like a rat under the sink. Again, this seems unlikely – his proclaimed severing of ties with the club (and vice versa) was acrimonious and was also followed as day follows night by somewhat of a renaissance at the club; players were signed for actual money, ticket prices became marginally less insane – it was a whole new, brave new world. Still others have suggested that the being in the picture is not The Dark One himself, but some unfortunate looky-likey, doomed to tread the earth in the guise of Beelzebub, lacking only a 666 tattooed beneath his hairline.
By far the most mundane possibility – and therefore the most probable one – is that this is merely something to do with the Regional Members Club conference. Apparently, the Beast’s consort Suzannah still has loose ties with the RMC’s – and whither she goeth, so the Dark One will be slithering along not far behind. It is also bruited about though that Bates has offices over the Subway fast food outlet near the stadium. All in all, it would appear that he’s not quite so completely departed as we would ideally like to think.
Maybe it’s just that not-so-cuddly Uncle Ken still has loose ends to tie up with GFH, against whom, it was said at the time he left Leeds United, he was plotting one of his forays into litigation. Perhaps this manifestation – loathsome and unwished-for though it may be – is simply to facilitate some sort of agreement over vexed questions such as private jets and withdrawn Presidential privileges. It is earnestly to be hoped that this is so; that the whole thing is a hell of a lot more innocent than a picture of Kenneth William Bates could possibly ever look.
The fact is as well that, courtesy of the Taxman (may his name be ever blessed), Ken can still only spend so many days a year in this Sceptred Isle, and has to pass the bulk of his time basking on a rock in the Mediterranean, like the reptile he is. So, nasty though this has been, his presence about the place must be strictly temporary, and there are likely to be ever fewer reasons for it to be repeated, as time goes on and the stench continues to clear.
And one day, of course, he’ll be as gone as gone can be – by which time we might be back in the Promised Land of the Premier League and acting like a big club again. And for that glorious day, near or far, we all await in pleasurable anticipation – and with an ever-increasing confidence that sooner or later it must surely dawn..