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the square ball week

the square ball week


Image from www.howsonisnow.com by J Thompson Design
We can’t deny it now, it’s what we all wanted. Stood in the queue like fidgeting bored kids, watching Forest and Watford looping the loop on their takeover rollercoaster, we wanted some of that ourselves. We wanted something to happen, some excitement, instead of just hanging around doing nothing, not getting any nearer to the front of the line. The only problem was that when news came, it was pretty far from being the news we wanted.

After weeks of clamouring for updates against a wall of silence from Leeds United, updates finally came on Thursday: loads of them. The takeover was off, then it was on again; the deal had collapsed and then it hadn’t; the bidders had pulled out, then they pulled back in. In the whirlwind that even minor news now creates on Twitter and Facebook and on forums, it was hard to grasp exactly what had happened amid the general uproar.

Looking back on it with a cooler head, the story of the day seems clear. The takeover broke down and was to all intents and purposes over; negotiations in the afternoon brought the deal back to life, but on a new, non-exclusive basis. And we still don’t know when all this might be resolved.

Here’s how it went: in the morning, Leeds United Supporters’ Trust were told that the takeover had collapsed. The information was strong enough for them to release the news on Twitter, comments that were reported here on Leeds Online. Shaun Harvey had flown to Monaco for urgent talks, but had not managed to conclude the takeover; he was spotted later in Leeds Bradford International Airport arrivals by YEP group editor Paul Napier, “dressed for business.”

Around the same time Neil Warnock, who has been hoping to sign a striker and a right-winger as soon as he could afford them, put Danny Pugh and Robbie Rogers on the transfer-list in a bid to raise funds that we had all assumed, and perhaps Neil did too, would be available to him without the need for player sales by now.

L.U.S.T. promised more news when they had it, and a clamour grew for an announcement to come from the club itself, which had been silent on the takeover subject since 26th June. Demands for answers were fuelled by the information coming from the more reliable sources on Twitter: Phil Hay of the YEP was putting the collapse down to, “the terms of the sale changed at the last minute … buyers are ready to go ahead on the original terms.”

Leeds United finally broke their silence at the end of the afternoon, issuing an oddly worded statement which, after defining in pure legalese that it referred to “Leeds United (‘The Club’),” announced that the period of exclusivity that had been granted to one “potential investor” had ended, but that discussions had not. It goes on to refer to not letting other options pass and ensuring Leeds are soon back in the Premiership (pause for a pet peeve here: the Premier League hasn’t been called the ‘Premiership’ since 2007! Anyway, deep breath, carry on). Fans expecting to hear that the takeover was doornail dead, and a list of reasons why, were left slightly confuddled.

A statement followed from L.U.S.T. clarifying the latest events as they understood them, and welcoming the news that the club and the buyer are still willing to talk. Trust chairman Gary Cooper also spoke to TalkSPORT, repeating there that while to all intents and purposes the deal had been dead in the morning, “quite massive shifts in opinions and attitudes” had emerged from an afternoon of talks behind the scenes and had led to the more positive note in United’s official statement.

Which is where we are. At least we know that things are still happening – the official silence as the season grew closer had us wondering if everyone involved had forgotten about the whole thing. “Remember that takeover we were working on last week?” “Um… remind me?” Unfortunately we’re still left with questions, and questions about questions, and a couple of answers, that lead to more questions. Coverage on The Scratching Shed and on Spoughts also seeks, and doesn’t find, answers. And the season starts on Saturday, if you’re prepared to count the Captial One Cup. Given that takeover speculation began as soon as the season was over and was soon officially confirmed, we were entitled to hope that the club’s ownership would be resolved by now; but we should remember that the question of ownership was never actually answered for the first six years of Ken Bates’ reign. We’re not sure we could stand another six days of this, let alone six years.

To Shrewsbury, then? We feel like we should apologise to the Shrews for the fact that nobody at the moment seems to give a particular toss that they’re coming. Er, we’re sure it’ll be a great game between two good teams, and football will be the winner. There. We’ll draw your attention to something happening after the game, though: L.U.S.T. and the Football Supporters’ Federation are hosting a joint event at The Magic Sponge on Lowfields Road, starting at 6pm, to discuss policing and stewarding issues at Leeds United games. This might seem like small beer compared to the takeover, but it’s a good indicator of what L.U.S.T. are really all about: far from being a 24/7 takeover update service, they’re a group of Leeds fans who represent Leeds fans on matters important to them. In this case, that’s policing and stewarding, something that affects every Leeds fan to some degree, as reflected in the unusually high number of complaints the FSF receive from matchgoers at Elland Road. Alongside L.U.S.T. and the FSF, West Yorkshire Police will be in attendence, and Shaun Harvey has said that he will either attend himself, or ensure the club are represented. We’re pleased to see this event going ahead: L.U.S.T. could easily have been distracted and let this fall by the wayside, but they seem committed to their efforts to improve Leeds United for the fans, whatever the name is on the Chairman’s Suite door.

The takeover isn’t the only thing worth talking about, though, so let’s zip through The Square Ball Week: Things That Aren’t About The Takeover. First off is the impending departure of Danny Pugh and TheRobbieRogers.com/injured. Right In The Gary Kellys has the most apposite tribute to the perenially injured American: an article about how Robbie could be the wing wizard to fill Snoddy’s boots, published about two hours before Rogers went on the list. A tough break for RITGK, but they should just be thankful they didn’t break any actual bones while writing the article. Rogers’s injury record was lethal: we’ve just sustained a paper cut while typing this, and we’re not even using any paper. Robbie’s strange Yank glamour will be a sad loss to Warnock’s increasingly dour-looking squad; worst of all might be the loss to Howson Is Now, whose Robbie_Rogers tag was just getting going. Robbie could always come back, although The Scratching Shed followed up the Beckford rumours by looking at five Leeds players who did, with mixed results. Speaking of dour, RITGK waited for Michael Brown to sign his new one year contract before looking at the role he could play this season. Becchio Well Placed are also expecting some grim times ahead, but if that’s the price of promotion, it could be worth it. A lot could depend on whether Rodolph Austin can have the seismic impact in midfield that the fans expect; TSS look at his first interview, and shudder. The Beast pulled on a Leeds shirt for the first time in Tuesday’s dazzling – and not in a good way – friendly at Burton; Fear and Loathing in LS11 were there, and were also at the slightly more inspiring game at Preston. Leeds’ three goals at Deepdale were all scored by defenders from the Thorp Arch Academy – who needs strikers, when Tom Lees can finish like this?

Well, Leeds United need strikers, is the answer to that, and it feels good to be able to dispense with at least one question so easily. That’s right, as we close this column we’re right back to the takeover again. It’s unavoidable, because much as we’d like to just close our eyes, grip the safety rail, and not look again until this is all over, we can’t ignore it because it’s at the heart of what Leeds United really need, and soon: a few answers, and after that, fewer questions.