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the square ball week

the square ball week


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The words you need to read this week come from a Leeds fan called Martin Hywood.

“I cannot be beat, I have to fight my hardest to do the things I love with the people I love. Every life is worth every effort to live it to its fullest and I’ll do that with my friends, family and my Beloved Leeds United.”

We could probably just stop this column there. That’s all for this week, folks. Martin’s said it all. See you next time.

We can’t leave it there, though. For a start, you still have to read the rest of Martin’s article on Right In The Gary Kellys. Martin has muscular dystrophy, and next time we are tempted to describe a Leeds’ performance as ‘painful to watch,’ we’ll remember Martin’s description of entering The Peacock on a match day:

“The feeling in my legs is absolute agony, the burning sensation beyond all belief. I seriously want to cry (This 38yr old man wants to cry!) but as I turn right from the main door and enter’ A wave of ‘We are Leeds’ hit me like a wall; I honestly thought my hair moved!”

In an unexpected twist, Martin’s article found its way to the powers that be at Elland Road. An email about the blog from Shaun Harvey was followed by a phone call to Martin from Ken and Suzannah Bates, who will be making a guest of Martin at a game, and making sure that his article is put before every member of the squad before next season gets underway. Hopefully our players will get the message.

Whoever they are.

Which brings us back to the perennial Leeds United problem of the transfer market. It seems the plan for this week was that by its end Warnock would have brought in the key players he can’t do without for next season, and then he could go and enjoy his holiday. Cue Warnock’s interview with the BBC this week, about those familiar United themes: “frustrations … disappointments … politics.” The most concerning non-transfer of the moment is Joel Ward’s: according to the Evening Post, the £400k fee is agreed, but Leeds can’t raise the money.

That’s particularly concerning given Swiss Ramble’s analysis of Leeds’ finances this week. Swiss Ramble is a widely respected blog about football finances, and their analysis of LUFC is, in a nutshell, that in terms of turnover and income Leeds dwarf the rest of the Championship, but that not enough of that income gets spent on footballers to allow us to compete. Leeds have the resources to considerably increase the playing budget, but have chosen to spend the money on other things. Or, as the Joel Ward news seems to suggest, Leeds United did have the resources, but now…

If we can’t sign ‘em, can we at least keep ‘em? Hmm. No. First to crack: Ross McCormack, who according to the manager has turned down a contract offer and is now for sale, joining Adam Clayton on the list of available-for-transfer-but-wait-hold-on-isn’t-he-a-good-one? players. We recommend Spoughts’ blog about Ross McCormack and marriage, by the brilliant Amitai Winehouse, who would like the chance, just this once, to learn to love a player before they slip away into the night. Also not signed up is Aidy White, who can sign a contract with whoever he likes and let a tribunal sort the fee. And then there’s Snoddy.

What can we say about Robert Snodgrass? At the moment we can say, “Robert Snodgrass plays for Leeds United,” and we can roll that phrase around our mouths for a while, saying it high, saying it low, saying it in a comedy Scottish accent – “Rabbi Sno’grah plaighs furrrr Lids U-norgh’d”; or hissing it in a Hannibal Lecter voice, down the phone to Paul Lambert late on a stormy night. But we might not be able to say it for much longer. Snoddy has, quite simply, gone rogue:

“The Chairman is trying to put a bit of pressure on me and he’s telling me what plans he has for the club. But they told me the same sort of plans the season before, and it didnt work out so it’s hard to buy into these things again.”

…and not for the first time. Snodgrass questioned the sale of Howson a few months ago – immortalised in this sobering image by Howson is Now – and now he’s again demanding of Leeds United exactly what the fans demand: Make The Team Be Good. Even Warnock, who it seems would dearly love to keep him, can’t argue with Robert on this one:

“He said to me, ‘twelve months ago it was Gradel, Johnson, Howson and me’ – and he’s the only one left. And I understand where he’s coming from … Snods has been here a lot longer than me, so he probably knows more about the politics than what I do.”

There’s some good analysis of this situation out there: on The Scratching Shed Matt BB notes that “this kitten has claws,” reading Snoddy’s comments as a gauntlet thrown down, a white glove across the white beard of Bates; TSS’s The Mangle column takes in a wider survey of the wreckage of the transfer window so far. Closer to home, our own Lee Hicken wrote about how Snoddy’s comments signal that Leeds have come to a crossroads, that strategy decisions have to be made right now; while your present correspondent – that’s me – got all smug about seeing player dissatisfaction coming in January, then even smugger about calling Warnock’s short term contract as a problem as soon as he arrived. I can only apologise – but I was giddy, as it’s so rare when writing about football that anyone – least of all your favourite player – echoes the thoughts you’ve been having for ages.

With all the misery surrounding transfers not done and contracts not accepted, is now a good time to find out that LUFC’s dispute with West Yorkshire Police has gone all the way to the High Court? Leeds do have a point regarding the high costs of football policing, but we wonder if the legal fees being spent in pursuit of this are the best use of our money right now, given that on past evidence they could add up to a couple of Joel Wards and a Clayton.

Let’s move on to happier things. It would be remiss of us not to mention that we’re offering a free trial subscription to The Square Ball magazine this summer – if you subscribe now, you can have our last three years of digital issues for free, and if you tell us you’re not into it within thirty days, we’ll cancel your sub and won’t charge you a penny. If even that seems too much like commitment, you can simply read TSB issue #9, from April just gone, online here, for nowt. Issue #9 had a strong 1986/87 theme, and YouTube user mozzertad has some rare videos from the end of that season: here is footage from the play-off semi final first leg against Oldham, and then see how Calendar and Look North reported the second leg using only still photographs. Check out Leeds’ kit in that away leg too – the iconic white Burton shirts, blue shorts, yellow socks: not a common combination for the mighty whites.

Here on Leeds On Line, we’ll have a review up soon of Dave Simpson’s The Last Champions book, but for now here’s an excerpt on Sabotage Times from Dave’s interview with Vinnie Jones. Eagle-eyed readers will note that Vinnie had not been a Leeds player for about eighteen months when the title was won, but by the time you get to, “But Wilko brought the Crazy Gang and the Culture Club together…,” assuming you haven’t already clocked the headline: “If You’re Umming And Aah-ing About Coming To Elland Road You Can F* Off,” you’ll realise that Vinnie is absolutely worth his place in a book about Wilkinson’s Champions. You probably couldn’t get a much more opposite player to Vincent Jones than Robbie Rogers (affectionately known at TSB as ‘Dot Com’), but he’s just given a short interview to The Columbus Dispatch, the paper who covered his previous club Columbus Crew, with some interesting reflections on moving trans-Atlantically (and then getting kicked in the head, and then getting his leg broke). Over on the Culture Vulture blog, Anthony Clavane has written an introductory blog post to the theatrical adaptation of his book The Promised Land, which runs at The Carriageworks in Leeds from June 22nd to 30th.

To end on the kind of positive note we started with: don’t miss the Evening Post’s report on the safe return of Billy Burton to Leeds, who spent twenty years in jail in the Philipinnes after being caught trying to smuggle cannabis in 1992. Knowing how he had got into that situation, his friends always maintained that the thirty year sentence imposed on Billy, a thalidomide victim, was extremely harsh, and amidst fears for his health the campaign for his release finally gained enough momentum over the last couple of years to see Billy returned home.

So Billy Burton will be watching Leeds next season, Martin Hywood will be watching Leeds next season; you and I and everyone we know will, whereever we are, be watching Leeds next season. Let’s cross our fingers and hope that next season is something worth watching.