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the square ball week

the square ball week


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We lost 5-1 to Chelsea and I don’t care. It’s takeover Friday and I don’t care. Bates has lost his marbles and I don’t care. All I care about is a cross from Thomas and, yet again, an outstanding finish by Luciano Becchio in front of the South Stand.

It’s become Luciano’s trademark. After he scored from McCormack’s cross in the first game of the season against Wolves, I wrote an article for The Square Ball pointing out that not only was it a replica of his goal against Millwall in the 2009 play-offs, but that he celebrated in exactly the same way too. Becchio has been here so long, I said, that he is retracing his own old footprints across Elland Road, an exercise in nostalgia before he’s even gone. On Wednesday night, after he swept the ball home from the same side at the same end yet again – Millwall, Spurs, Wolves, Chelsea – I thought for a moment Luciano was going to go on a lap of honour and be subbed straight off, “Cost less than Torres, and he scores more goals,” ringing in his ears. It’s a move I would have supported. I somehow knew it couldn’t get any better than that.

With 33,000 there and the floodlights and the rain, the big match atmosphere was back at Elland Road, even if our visitors’ songs were mostly incomprehensible: “Leeds is a sheep-owl, I wanna gay ham”? I’ve no idea what that was about. In the end Chelsea’s strength did tell: Lees and Byram, used to playing against the likes of Sam Vokes or peers in youth teams, could only cope with Torres, Mata et al for so long. 5-1 flattered Chelsea, but whatever, we had our moment. And anyway, even Watford scored six.

Becchio’s goal gave Andrew Butterwick at Travels of a Leeds Fan that old European night feeling, while he did right in his report to gloss over the second half. At Fear in Loathing in LS11 Adam Jubb looked at the fitting end to Bates’s reign, and the comparative records of Ken and Roman since they crossed paths at Chelsea. Let’s just say Abramovich seems to have got a slight upper hand, even if it has cost him.

Caught up in all the big match fever was the Chairman of Christmas Past, Present and (until the end of the season) Future, Ken Bates. I always suspected Ken would have something up his sleeve for the Chelsea game, but even I didn’t imagine that chief executive Shaun Harvey – can it really be him? – would dress up as Santa Claus and allow himself to be photographed with Ken Bates on his knee. Amitai Winehouse at Spoughts has more, and I was reminded of a sixties version Ken indulged in at Oldham – plus ca change, and all that.

That stunt was nauseating, but Bates’s other effort in the run up to the Chelsea game was enraging. Neil Ashton’s interview with Ken in the Daily Mail was another of the curious soft-soap columns of praise the London press rolls out for Ken every now and then – Chelsea’s press officer is “adorable,” apparently, Ken’s wife is “charming,” and this is somehow “journalism.” While Neil Ashton was gently stroking Ken’s beard with one hand, however, with the other he was attempting to play havoc with the life of Leeds United Supporters’ Trust chairman Gary Cooper.

Maybe it really was just coincidence that led Ashton to write both an adoring interview with Ken and an attempted hatchet job on Gary on the same day. The hatchet in question was that Gary, who has “attempted to buy Leeds United,” according to the headline, lost his house after a business set up to help his brother turn his life around failed. In advance of the story’s publication, Gary emailed all 8,500 members of LUST to give them the full story and ask if he still had their support as chairman. The answer was an overwhelming ‘yes’, as LUST’s members saw the story for what it was: a man doing his utmost to help his family having his actions twisted and his name besmirched because he dared to stand up for Leeds United’s fans. TSB’s own Michael Normanton gives his own Christmas movie slant on this shabby incident; 200% have also written about it here. The obvious connection between the Bates interview and the attempt to discredit Gary Cooper and LUST – they were on the same page in the print edition – does not reflect well on the people in the charge of the club I try my utmost to love, or give me much hope that true good feelings will return for as long as Ken Bates is associated with Leeds.

The plan was for that association to end with the press conference that announced the takeover: or, to put it another way, at 11am today. I’m writing blind here, but I think we know what’s coming, because it’s all been said: Haigh, Patel and Alrayes will join the board, Bates will be chairman until the end of the season and then president, Santa Harvey will still be chief executive indefinitely. My idea of a takeover was always that the people responsible for the last eight years of mediocrity and ill feeling would be swept away and replaced by decent folk with success for Leeds as their aim: not that we’d get three new board members and the status quo. Maybe GFH Capital will surprise me and we’ll be looking at a whole new Leeds United Football Club by the end of January, one that spends money on players, that considers the needs of its fans, one that engages with the city, one that doesn’t trash life long supporters in the press. One that does not involve Ken Bates in any way, shape or form. GFH Capital, if today you bought our football club, then today you need to start proving you deserve to own it. Your predecessor never quite understood that part.

This Saturday Leeds face Middlesbrough, and The Square Ball releases our last magazine of 2012; you can already buy issue five online for as little as one pound if you suspect the Mayan calendar will see the game called off. Our cover star is Alfie Haaland, who we interview inside along with Gunnar Halle, and who takes a very common sense approach to hating Man Utd. We’re not ignoring the fact that it’s Christmas: Adam Jubb contributes a ten page LUFC Christmas Carole (yes, as in Seb), and Jon Howe analyses our traditional festive form; and while it’s more 18+ than family friendly, Andy P’s guide to coping with life as a Leeds fan could come in handy round the fireside. We also have Richard Lindley on safe standing, Jailhouse John on the team behind John Charles, Steve Firth with an unusual take on the diving debate, Amitai Winehouse with another installment of Takeover: The Documentary, and plenty of other quality reading material. We only wish we’d thought of dressing up as Santa and sitting on each others knees, but someone got there first. Your 56 pages of independent Leeds United reading will still cost you only £1.50 from one of our frost bitten sellers outside the ground; add p&p to get it by post, or just get the digital download for a quid. Thanks for all your support of the mag, the podcast, and this column in 2012 – have a great Christmas, and we’ll see you next year.