“Good evening Andrew, I’m glad you’re out here. I’d like to introduce myself,”. I didn’t get to finish, as Mr. Umbers finished for me. “Simon O’Rourke,” he started. “Your top 20 was bullshit”. I saw that as the opening bell, and decided that unlike the fight that would take place six hours later, I wouldn’t be pulling any punches. He described 2900Miles.com as “a silly little blog”, which made me grin right before I pointed out that the “silly little blog” was being recited by Andrew himself. Standing outside Centenary Pavilion, he may have thought he was on his turf. He wasn’t.
I immediately responded to Mr. Umbers, who was enjoying what he likely assumed was going to be a peaceful cigarette. I asked Andrew Umbers if he’d like me to remove the article to which he took such great offense (Top 20: Andrew Umbers’ Greatest Hits). He of course responded with an immediate “yes”, and I said that I’d have no issue in doing so. I made a simple request of him: Convince me that you’re a Leeds fan, and I’ll remove it. He couldn’t, and I won’t.
Mr. Umbers, so I’d heard, has a habit of walking in to a room and assuming 1) he’s the smartest guy there and 2) he can answer questions with counter-questions and nobody will notice. I pushed for an answer on my simple question: “Are you, Andrew Umbers, a Leeds United Football Club fan? Yes or no”. His answer was measured, after a few nervous glances toward the lawyer who was accompanying him, and started with “I’m a businessman”, while glancing over at the cream cladding. I felt like a primary school teacher when I brought to his attention that he should look at people if he’s going to dodge question or answer with misdirection. I repeated the question: “Andrew, are you a Leeds United fan?” His next answer was as bizarre as his grin was smug: “Eleonora Immobilliare have..” I cut him off immediately and noted that he was considerably taller than me, so I’d like him to look me in the eye, and he’d have the pleasure of doing what he does with others; talking down to people. I asked him, yet again, to answer my very basic question. He didn’t.
We quickly turned to the topic of his association with Ken Bates, an association he told BBC Radio Leeds in January began in “2010, 2011, when a friend from the premier league introduced us”. His answer to me was quite different, he claimed he didn’t meet Ken until Shaun Harvey introduced them in 2012. A lie. The first of many that I gladly pointed out to him. I asked him about the discrepancy of up to two years in the timelines, he answered that I know nothing about running a football club. I responded with “No, but neither do you. Now, let’s get back to Ken Bates.”
He gave me a long, winding answer as to why I was wrong about their association, repeating himself multiple times. When I mentioned him allegedly meeting Ken Bates multiple times in the late nineties and early noughties as part of his failed attempt to invest in his actual boyhood club Barnsley FC, he looked like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. I knew I had him, as Altieri (I am told it was Altieri who was with him) stopped chuckling and whispered something to Mr. Umbers. As he tried to wrap up the conversation, I asked him the same question: “Andrew, look me in the eye and tell me you are a fan of this club, and you’re not here to pillage it”. He looked to the ground and mumbled something, I’m not sure what. That annoyed me, and the lawyer knew. That’s about the only time I lost my cool, and I barked “My eyes are up here, tell me you’re a Leeds fan while looking me in the eye”. This was my only opportunity to be forthright with the club hierarchy, and to get my point across, and I do regret losing my cool for that moment, as people were starting to watch.
Instead of answering my question, he asked me if I had ever saved a football club by restructuring the business and putting it on surer footing. I replied by pointing out that we were both in the same boat on this one, “No, but neither have you”. He spoke of Massimo the way my niece speaks of One Direction; doey eyed and in awe. He toed the company line well, though did admit he’s been in constant contact with Cellino since his ban, which seemed to annoy the chuckling lawyer. When I tried to come back to the topic of Ken Bates, he cut me off mid-sentence: “This business, sorry ‘football club’, has had a disease for fifteen years. This man [Cellino] is a surgeon who will save it”. “If Cellino is here to save us, Andrew, what’s your role?” I asked him. He had no reply, as he stubbed out what I believe was his fourth cigarette, and fumbled for another.
As he was lighting his cigarette, I figured I had one more shot at him, so I repeated my question: “Andrew, why can’t you look me in the eye and answer my question?” He responded, finally, with the most half hearted “Yes” I have ever heard. I urged him to consider his role at the club, to please leave the running of Leeds United to the professionals, those who actually work for their pay packet. He went in to robot/puppet mode yet again as he spoke of the wonderful work and tens of millions of pounds Eleonora Sport/Immobiliare had put into the club. I pointed out that a figure of 21 million pounds leveraged over the club as a loan is hardly gigantic investment for a club of Leeds United’s stature. He tried his best to intimidate me by leaning over me and saying “would you have preferred relegation?”, “Would you?” was my response. He had, yet again, avoided a very basic question and point. I asked him aswell why he took the playing squad to one side to address them directly ten days ago without notifying or involving Redfearn. He offered no response, but looked a bit hurt. I was happy.
As I butted my cigarette and told him we were done, a group of fans walked by us, one of which heckled Umbers and told him in no uncertain terms that he was “killing our club”. Andrew shrugged it off, and offered no response to the fan. It was my turn to lean in, and I told him while others watched: “Just ignore that, Andrew, you’ll be gone soon enough anyway”. He scoffed, as I made my way back to my table in a room full of actual Leeds fans and players, while Umbers finished his cigarette outside.
That was my weird, often bizarre conversation with Andrew Umbers, or at least the parts clean enough to be published. It lasted twenty minutes, it could have lasted hours. Midway through our discussion I made him the same offer I made Ken Bates: If you think my article and “silly little blog” are “bullshit”, then feel free to point to which facts presented are inaccurate. Be specific, let’s sit down and actually talk about facts. Facts are not Andrew’s friend, though I’d suggest he didn’t have many friends there with him last night anyway. This is, after all, a man who has facilitated and negotiated deals between Bates, GFH and Cellino that has seen him pocket enough money to keep him in jet black hair dye for a thousand years all while Leeds United scrimps and scrapes for every penny.
This is not Andrew Umbers’ club, despite his protestations that he and Massimo saved it. This is not Massimo’s club, despite Andrew Umbers all-but declaring Cellino as our Lord and Saviour. This isn’t my club. It’s ours, and if you understand what I mean by that statement, then you’re one of us.
Andrew Umbers is not.