Leeds United Stories, Vol. 1

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the square ball week

the square ball week



International football, like love, is a way of diffusing overwhelming passions in a positive way. Nothing speaks more strongly of the heart’s hidden torment than an exchange of flowers, Football Association pennants, and bodily fluids. But international football, like love, can sometimes fail to contain the torid amours of young men in heat. Things are said that are later regretted – other things are said, and never regretted. Blows are aimed, blows are landed, and what started with a kiss ends with a FIFA charge for disrepute. Oh, love is woe.

What happened in Serbia on Tuesday night was straight up disgusting, though. This was, at the end of the day, a youth international, a qualifying match for a junior tournament. Players in any game, but especially in an Under-21 game, shouldn’t be subjected to the kind of racist and poisonous atmosphere that led to the outright hostility at the end of England’s win over Serbia. Leeds United, normally in the shadows these days during international weeks, were at the centre of it all, as Tom Lees rushed to the defence of his former Leeds Academy team mate Danny Rose, and seemed at one point ready to take on the whole Serbian team and staff. If there’s one positive to be taken from this sorry event, it was that we finally saw the angry side of the normally inscrutable Lees. You shouldn’t really enjoy the sight of young players scrapping – unless you’re Ross McCormack, that is – but there was something satisfying about the photos of Tom in the thick of the action. Lees has built his game so far on anticipation and calm blocks, but rolling a bit of Norman Hunteresque grit in with it won’t do him any harm. Tom Bites Yer Legs?

We’re more used to seeing El Hadji Diouf involved in rucks of various sorts, but the dramatic weirdness Diouf managed in an international week in which he wasn’t even playing took it to another level. Diouf travelled to his home country of Senegal in a state of high dudgeon, indignant that despite the end of his five year international ban, the manager still won’t select him. The game did feature Max Gradel for the Ivory Coast, but after Didier Drogba made the score 2-0 the stadium in Dakar succumbed to a chaotic riot and the game was abandoned as players were led away under the protection of police shields. Senegal have been disqualified from the African Cup of Nations as a result, but the story took a bizarre twist when the Senegalese Football Federation president suggested the riot had been deliberate sabotage, and accused Diouf of trying to distribute 1,000 tickets to known hooligans as part of a plot to bring down the Senegalese game. Diouf denies it, of course, and says the Senegalese FA must all resign, but it remains a mind-boggling suggestion.

So Diouf has probably not had the restful week off his manager expected, and even managed to effectively cost us £25k as the FA finally handed down the punishments for the infamous Leeds v Doncaster dust-up last season. Rodolph Austin is also returning a little patched up from his games for Jamaica, although Austin’s week was more simply successful: The Beast kept his country’s World Cup hopes alive with two assists, the second from a powerful run into the box, in a 4-1 win over Antigua.

Another hope for the international week, that the takeover might move forward a glacial inch or two, also ended in disappointment: but we’re used to that after this summer. There was one development: Andrew Haigh posted on Twitter a document from Companies House that shows a loan from GFH Capital to Leeds United of £2m. The exact implications of this aren’t immediately clear to the layman, and as I am the layest of men, I won’t attempt a detailed explanation: but it seems like for as long as Leeds United owe GFHC that £2m, nobody else can take over Leeds United without GFHC’s say-so. Their front-man, and the man who would be king at Elland Road David Haigh has been fairly quiet this week, although This Is Cornwall did catch up with him to get some fascinating insights into what it’s like to be from Cornwall. There’s mention of the takeover too, of course, but this kind of thing – “We want to get it done as quickly as possible and we know the transfer window is coming up” – is bound to send your eyeballs rolling backwards.

To the football. Our international break ends with more cross-border rivalry – West Riding travels to South Yorkshire as Leeds play Sheffield Wednesday. As Right In The Gary Kelly’s reports, Neil Warnock has given his squad a jig or two this week: Dom Poleon and Zac Thompson have gone on loan to Bury, now managed by our and Neil’s old pal Kevin Blackwell; while Colin has brought another familiar – to him – face in, signing Ryan Hall from Southend on one of those loan-first-permanent-later deals. Warnock managed Hall before, when he was a youngster at Crystal Palace, and since then Hall has involved himself in a fair few battles and landed on the wrong side of the law. He’s also been a highly effective winger, with one of the best goals and assists records around last season, and the plan must be for Hall to go straight in the side on Friday night and start sticking the ball on Becchio’s head.

Football on a Friday night, though? If you’re planning on going out and having a good time after the game, keep your wits about you if Leeds lose. Now we’ve seen Tom Lees when he’s angry, now we know we don’t want to be in Tom Lees’s way when he’s angry. Or El Hadji Diouf’s. Or Ryan Hall’s. I know Warnock likes his teams tough, but it’s coming to something when Rodolph Austin seems to be the softest player we’ve got. Wait. Don’t tell him I said that.