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the square ball week

the square ball week


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One takeover, two games, three goals and six points! If we’d known it was going to be this good, we could have had this takeover done in August and saved ourselves the heartache. Who knew that stepping out of the shadows of speculation and signing a couple of good players could have such a positive effect! Well, I guess we all knew. But messages can take a while to reach Monaco/Nevis/Bahrain/Dubai/Grand Caymen/wherever.

The flurry at the end of last week that saw the takeover completed and Jerome Thomas and Alan Tate arrive on loan meant Elland Road was a much more positive place on Saturday. After three defeats to mediocre teams, there was every reason to expect an absolute shoeing from top of the table Crystal Palace, but Holloway and his fake-Barcelona side had reckoned without takeover-power. Maybe it was just the Kool-Aid talking, but new owners GFHC seemed to grab a lot of the credit for the unexpected win. GFH Off To A Flyer wrote Matt Burton at The Scratching Shed, pointing out the heavyweight scarf-wearing going on in the chairman’s box; while Rachel Stanton’s headline at Right In The Gary Kelly’s was GFH Inspire Rejuvenated Leeds. The ever-so-slightly more cynical Adam Jubb at Fear and Loathing in LS11 draws a comparison with the last time scarfer enthusiasm met blue and red stripes at Elland Road; for Jennifer Berry at Three Colours White the result – and the takeover – have, “brought hope back to fans who have given everything to a club with little reward”; while in Andrew Butterwick’s world at Travels of a Leeds Fan “The miserable West Yorkshire weather couldn’t dampen our spirits as we discussed the new signings … Life on Planet Leeds felt good all of a sudden.”

Pretty much everyone was agreed on two things: optimism is great when it’s matched by results, and Sam Byram was bloody brilliant against Palace. There was great satisfaction in watching newly minted England international Wilfried Zaha switched to the other wing after failing for an hour to get anything out of Byram; Sam then proceeded to start bossing the game from right-back, which I think provoked Holloway’s decision to move Zaha back over to stop our own teenage sensation. As Adam Jubb wrote, in this new post takeover world, “who knows, we might just get to watch this lad play, long after Zaha has departed to pastures new.”

The positive momentum – and an unchanged side – carried on into Tuesday night’s match against Leicester, which brought another three points and a particularly rare clean sheet. The defensive shut out was all the better given Leeds were defending a lead from the third minute after Becchio’s penalty put us one up, credit for which goes first to the new Tate and Lees partnership, according to Travels of a Leeds Fan. The same pair were praised too at Girl In The Gelderd, who also kept an eye on Kasper Schmeichel’s predictable stroppiness on his return to Elland Road.

The impact of Tate, and of wing loanee Thomas, has shown one immediate benefit of the end of the takeover speculation: Neil Warnock no longer has to patch and mend to quite the extent he has so far this season. To go from a situation where against Watford Paul Green was used at centre-back, to now having to choose from Lees, Tate or Pearce to play against Huddersfield, is like stumbling into a disused well and falling far enough to hit the highwayman’s treasure stashed at the bottom. Okay, it’s an extra centre-back, but maybe the feeling is better than the reality.

Which could be taken as true for the whole club now GFHC have their feet under the table: it feels good, it looks good, but is it good? Two new players and two good wins says yes; that fewer people – just 17,717 – paid to watch Leeds play Leicester than watched the League Cup game against Shrewsbury in August suggests plenty of work still to do. To Matthew Brown Bolton at RITGK, GFHC’s arrival gives hope that January will mean incomings rather than outgoings, while The Scratching Shed gathered the opinions of a lot of Leeds fans whose optimism is tempered by suspicion. We’ve been before, after all. And that other time. And the time before that. The updated ownership statement on the official site doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in those hoping for a simple future of transparent ownership: in short, Leeds City Holdings – which is Leeds United plus the other bits, and mostly based in Nevis – is being bought by LUFC Holding, which is based in Grand Cayman and owned by GFH Capital, who are based in Dubai and owned by GFH BSC, who are based in Bahrain, and we don’t know who owns them, but they have at least eleven shareholders because no person owns more than ten per cent. Got all that? No? Here’s Andrew Haigh with a map of the important bit, and maybe if they ask nicely they’ll explain it more slowly (and with actual names and net worths) after the 21st December.

Other rumblings of discontent can be heard: a petition against Ken Bates’s impending presidency is gaining more signatures daily, while Warnock’s claim that GFHC helped sign Jerome Thomas was soon disputed by “the current chairman,” as we have to call him. As for the rest of “the current board,” Peter Lorimer used his YEP column to weigh in with the controversial view that GHFC “seem like really good guys,” and said that, “I’m hoping to stay in the job.” One wonders what Leeds fans who were expected everything to change post-takeover must make of Leeds, with new owners, carrying on with Bates as chairman and Lorimer and Shaun Harvey on the board. Taking the typewriter off Lorimer would surely be a start, and it was strange to read that Huddersfield Town’s manager had finally bitten back at the treatment he got in Hot Shot’s column and to find myself agreeing with his view wholeheartedly. “A week before I got sacked he told me to sell Luciano Becchio,” said Simon Grayson, “so why did he not put that in his column?”

Grayson was speaking in the build up to the most cross-wired fixture of the season so far: if you pull at all the threads that connect Grayson, Warnock, Leeds and Huddersfield these days you’ll end up with a tangle ball of wall that, like a cloud that looks like the face of God, eerily resembles Adam Clayton riding Jermaine Beckford like a pony. Equally confusing is the news that Brian Deane is shortly to become head coach of Norwegian club Sarpsborg: a move nobody saw coming, but we wish him luck, and a hearty dinner or two with Frank Strandli. As shock moves go, I’ll admit it’s not quite in the Eric Cantona class: and in case you haven’t missed it, this week was the twentieth anniversary of ‘that’ transfer. I doubt you have missed it, since everyone has been going on about it all week, so we’re not going to dwell on it too long here. Pierre Laurent was twice the player Cantona was, anyway, he just never got the breaks.

We’ll end instead by pausing for a player we’ll never stop remembering fondly: Gary Speed. One year on, and it doesn’t seem like a year; but then, this doesn’t feel like twenty-two years ago. RIP.