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the square ball week

the square ball week


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There has only been one talking point this week. How do you police football fans? How do you stop them all from running on the pitch and assaulting players, from singing sick songs, from breaking seats and throwing coins? What do we do to make sure none of these things happens inside in a football stadium, ever again? And yet, all week, nobody has responded to these questions by inquiring of the inquirer, “Are you mad?”

What gets lost once you start dismissing entire groups of people as ‘vile animals’ is that the away following Leeds United took to Hillsborough last week was larger than the population of some substantial towns. Normally on a Friday night 5,300 people, men, women and children, would be dispersed among their two-up two-downs or gathered in small groups in pubs, restaurants or cinemas. Rarely, on a Friday, do you find the entire population of a town actively encouraged to leave their homes, drink all afternoon, gather in the confines of the town square, and asked to sit or stand quietly for two hours. I’m quite sure that if you did, you would soon see more disorder and violence there than on the average Leeds United away trip. Miss Marple couldn’t prevent murders in tiny country villages; Hercule Poirot couldn’t keep peace in a first class train carriage.

A sense of proportion is one thing football lacks (‘Tragedy as Team Lose!), and football might not be the same if it suddenly acquired one, but it has been sorely needed here. Leeds fans, as a group, do not routinely dismantle away ends every chance they get, or lionise paedophiles, nor do they line up in disorderly lines to take turns slapping goalkeepers. Equally, suburban towns do not host unexplained murders punctually each night. But bad things do happen. The point is to minimise the opportunities for the bad things to happen, and when they do happen, afterwards to minimise them again.

The attack on Chris Kirkland was an abhorrent individual act that you can’t prevent. Like Nigel Martyn, I don’t believe for one second that Aaron Cawley went on the pitch intending to punch Kirkland – but he went on the pitch, and Kirkland was there, and Cawley was stupid enough to follow that impulse instruction. You can’t do anything to prevent that apart from retrospectively rewire Cawley’s brain; you can only be thankful that it doesn’t often happen and punish the individual involved when it does.

The rest of the night’s events are a tangled, partisan and tit-for-tat mess, which it does nobody much good to dwell on. Fans of both clubs involved – of every club, in fact – should acknowledge that buying a ticket for the football also grants you free entry to a hypocrite’s convention, and debarrs you from the moral high ground forever after. Lots of people did lots of things that they shouldn’t have done, and one of the very best summaries of how the fault lies on all sides comes from a Wednesday blog, Owls Alive.

There is one point I will belabour here, though. Dave Jones does not deserve the abuse he gets in terrace songs, but, firstly, that does not make those songs “a form of racism,” whatever that means, or mean that every Leeds fan is a “vile animal” who agrees with them, or sings along. Secondly, I have seen cropping up time and time again the argument that Jones has a right to anger that Leeds fans do not, because the songs aimed at him were ‘personal,’ unlike, for example, the songs about Paddy Kenny’s wife, which were just ‘banter.’ Make no mistake: Istanbul songs aimed at Leeds fans are very personal indeed. To call them ‘Istanbul songs’ is to underrate the offence, in fact: they are songs about Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight, two Leeds fans who were murdered. It does not get much more personal than that to those in the Leeds crowd who knew them and loved them. Leeds fans have had that abuse for twelve years; so has Dave Jones. You would hope both us and Jones would have learned to rise above it by now, as Leeds did at Millwall last season (“Boring, boring Millwall”), but both Leeds fans and Jones showed last weekend that the blind ear isn’t always easily found.

The respective reactions to offensive chants were analysed by Fear and Loathing in LS11 and Jenber’s Blog in the aftermath too, F&L looking for fans to “Play the ‘bigger man’ – it isn’t easy, but it’s every fan’s responsibility (on both sides) to do so,” while Jenber makes the point that: “It doesn’t excuse Jones’s treatment, but his comments are more akin to a playground argument that he could have ended, instead of responding in an equally pathetic manner.” The Scratching Shed display perfectly the dualism inherent in every football supporter: questioning whether the sentence handed down to Cawley was harsh enough to act as a deterrent, then pointing out that ‘Vile Leeds Animal’ will be the hot Hallowe’en costume this year.

Travels of a Leeds Fan manages to say more about the football than most, and the forgetting of the football was another double-edged sword this week. On the one hand, it meant Michael Tonge’s fantastic equaliser was largely ignored – not at Howson Is Now, though, or by Right In The Gary Kellys; but it also meant that Luciano Becchio’s f’in unbelievable handball slipped off the radar – though not, again, at Howson Is Now. The media brouhaha also overshadowed the wretchedness of Leeds’ performance, which barely merited the draw we got.

It might have helped to have had something to distract from the football against Charlton, too, although I would have hoped for baskets of kittens or a children’s choir rather than what we got on Friday. Never in all my days have I known a more pointless game of football than Leeds United 1 Charlton Athletic 1 on Tuesday 23rd October 2012. I can’t ever remember a 1-1 draw being booed at the end, but it was heartening in a way that the decent result wasn’t allowed to mask the total misery of the performance. So bad was it, and so meagre the attendance, that the club emailed a letter from club captain Lee Peltier to the 17,484 who were there, essentially asking us not to hold it against them, and to please come out and watch the Birmingham game cos we’ll be better, honest we will. If you can stand it, here’s Travels of a Leeds Fan’s report; while the performance had RITGKs asking, Why All The Long Balls?

Birmingham has to be better, and the crowd has to be larger, if only to maintain somebody’s (anybody’s?) interest in taking us over – the latest twists in that saga are discussed here by RITGKs. More importantly, issue three of The Square Ball goes on sale on Saturday too, and we want lots of Leeds fans there to buy it. This issue has articles by Eamo of Howson Is Now and Amitai Winehouse of Spoughts about how much time they waste – I mean, spend profitably – pretending to to be digital versions of Leeds in FIFA and Football Manager; Eddie Taylor reports on his meeting with David Haigh in the GFHC central bunker; Andy P takes an indepth look at events at Hillsborough in 1987 and 1989; Jon Howe proposes nostalgia (and his new book) as cures for LUFC-related bad vibes; James Thompson finds some eerie deja vu for Kenny, Brown, Tonge and co.; and Moscowhite has a new respect for (and slight fear of) Tom Lees after his battles in Serbia. Plus White Watching takes in the last month of games, the Diary takes in the last month of nonsense, and the whole thing is only £1.50 at the ground on Saturday or £1 online right now. Oh, and there’s been a slight name change this issue – we’re not sure if that’ll stick, though.