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the square ball week

the square ball week

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On Thursday evening, LOL! Leeds Online broke the news that, after a meeting in Monaco, Neil Warnock had got the assurances he needed from Ken Bates to stay on as Leeds manager. Maybe the Count of Monte Carlo has a cloak of believability that is only effective on the riveira; maybe Warnock has what it takes so that when he talks, the man from Chelsea, he say: Yes. Either way, at least we know we’ve got a manager for the next couple of weeks. Now, what of the players?

If Warnock’s trip to the principality suggested he was at the end of his tether, the messages some players relayed to the fans – via the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust, rather than, say, Yorkshire Radio – made it sound like a number of our first team were of the same mind. One of the significant points of L.U.S.T.’s statement was that, as chairman Gary Cooper told the BBC, the players had approached the Trust to speak out. The luxury bubble in which we assume most footballers live has been pierced enough at Leeds that senior players feel they have to get the word out to the club’s supporters. Their message was a clear one: emotional investment by the players is not being matched by financial investment from the board, and players who want to play for Leeds and be successful with Leeds don’t feel like they’re being given a fair chance.

A number of players have grown so frustrated by the situation at Leeds United that they are on the verge of giving up, walking away and accepting offers to play elsewhere. Our sources stressed to us that these players do not want to leave Leeds.

The players asked to remain anonymous, but if they have significantly improved contracts available elsewhere, it doesn’t take a genius to realise these aren’t disgruntled reserves from Warnock’s ‘Eff Em Off’ list – these are the first team players, with a real passion for Leeds United, feeling let down by a board that puts everything else before football – quality players who want to play for Leeds, but may find themselves sold anyway before the summer is out. L.U.S.T. are holding one of their regular public meetings next Wednesday evening at The Magic Sponge, or via the internet if you want to listen in; all the details are here.

It seems that Warnock left Monaco confident that the players he wants to sign – the players he wanted to sign a month ago – will begin to arrive in the coming weeks. This could be a sign that the investment or takeover could soon be – DING. What? Ah come on, this isn’t bad going. This is paragraph four and it’s the first time we’ve so much as mentioned the slowest-cooling of all this summer’s hot potatoes, if not the only potato in town (speaking of which, Billy Paynter: still a Leeds player). The news on the takeover is: there is no news on the takeover. Gary Walker of the Yorkshire Evening Post has sounded dumbfounded by the lack of anything that even looks like a clue:

“Every hack worth his or her salt will have spent every spare minute chasing down leads and exhausting contacts to unearth the name of any potential buyer. Indeed, more bizarrely, no-one has even volunteered themselves and we all know plenty of people who would happily bask in the temporary glow of publicity just to be connected with a club of Leeds United’s stature and standing.”

The Spoughts blog sounded more optimistic that it will soon be over: “Ken Bates’s regime is becoming increasingly untenable. People have accepted the idea of a takeover now. People are expecting the end. Confidence is integral to any regime.” The Scratching Shed banged a similar drum, quoting Che Guevara and pointing out the chance for player+fan unity arising from the L.U.S.T. statement. Gary Hartley at The 127 Formation is looking in a different direction – far from dreaming of petro-dollars and Russian oligarchs, he’s wondering if Leeds fans would have the stomach to rip it up and start again, AFC Wimbledon style. Without perhaps anything that drastic in mind, here at LOL! the take was that this is a crossroads in LUFC history. We sometimes forget, as we get caught up in the speculation, just what a massive opportunity somebody might be buying themselves here, one that must emerge soon – chlorinated water running down its toned chest and dripping off its tight, sleek Speedos, as bystanders gasp and swoon – from the last seven and a half years of treading water down the municipal baths.

While Ken Bates, having packed in his Yorkshire Radio chats for the summer, has said not a word to anyone about anything for ages, his mouth still managed to land him – and Leeds United – in trouble this week. The long stewing beef – The Scratching Shed have a good summary of the history – with Melvyn Levi came to a conclusion – another one – in Leeds County Court this week. Three defendents – Ken, his radio station, and our football club – were found to have harassed Levi and were ordered to pay £10,000 damages, their own costs, and 30% of the Levi’s costs. We did a breakdown of some of the lowlights from the forty-page judgement on The Square Ball blog: Ken’s “chilling lack of concern” in the witness box was one, the judge’s observation that the repeated mentions of Levi on our matchday programme were of ‘no interest to genuine fans’ was another; the bright idea at Yorkshire Radio to use the Crimewatch theme when asking for sightings of Levi was just pitiful. Having an in-house radio station and a 100-page four-quid programme is supposed to be a licence to print money, according to Ken; instead Levi’s solicitors estimate Bates has spent around £4m on legal fees over the years of this dispute. Shaun Harvey (described several times by the judge as ‘looking embarrassed’) said in court that legal fees were costing the club a fortune, so we think we know who is picking up that bill. When we buy tickets to watch Leeds United, it’s in the not unreasonable expectation that some of the money will be spent on players for the team: so far we know that season tickets paid for the East Stand works, and it looks like legal fees have taken another slice; we’ve got Jason Pearce in, sure, but one man can’t make a defence. Although he can break it (Paul Rachubka: still a Leeds player).

Right in the Gary Kellys voiced their concern about all the non-football distractions and outgoings, and The Scratching Shed asked if having our summer on pause during the court case and the mystery negotiations might mean we miss out as players get snapped up elsewhere. They also talk up the propects of Lee Peltier and Paddy Kenny (whose mate Michael Vaughan seems to think is coming), and note the positive news about the professional contracts signed by six of Leeds’ youth players this week. Another round up always worth reading this summer comes from Fear & Loathing in LS11: they take us up to last Sunday and feature, as ever, some excellent jokes about Ben Parker.

Bad news comes in the shape of a closed pub: always a downer, even more so when it’s The Old Peacock, which we hope will find a new tenant soon to take over from the Supporters’ Club – it’s been there too long to be lost to thirsty fans. Something which also feels like it has been around for ever is HowsonIsNow.com, and we were a little shocked when it celebrated (here, with Lucas Radebe) only its first birthday this week. Has it really taken less than a year for Tom Lees to progress from adorable puppy dog to happy-go-lucky boyband heart throb? Where does the time go, we wonder. And yes, Ken, if you’re reading, this is a hint that you should hurry up with whatever it is you’re doing. We’re getting more and more worried that Monty Gimpel could be shaving before this takeover/investment/creation of an army of flying monkeys of yours is over with.


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