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the square ball week

the square ball week


Most of the time this summer, I have been collecting clocks. My chronomatic enthusiasm has increased with the passing of the days and I have amassed a great variety of timepieces which I gather together here, high on the cliffs above Scarborough.

I have digital wristwatches counting down to the closure of the transfer window. I have classic Dieter Rams designed alarm clocks to tick off the seconds between games. I have old grandfather clocks that I wind each night while Ken Bates still owns Leeds United. I have precision Swiss-made clocks that cuckoo for every hour that Paul Rachubka remains a LUFC employee. I have sun-dials that mark the minutes until a takeover is complete. And in the Scarborough cliffs themselves I have the most implacable time-measuring instrument of all: the relentless action of the North Sea’s waves beating against the Yorkshire coastline, steadily eroding the earth beneath my collection and sending each clock tumbling, one by one, to be dashed on the rocks below. The ocean versus the takeover; the sea against the transfer deadline. This is Leeds United, August 31st, 2012.

If you’d said in May that come the closure of the next transfer window Leeds would have half a squad and half an owner I doubt even the most pessimistic Leeds fan would have believed you. As Phil Hay’s muscular column in Saturday’s YEP pointed out, takeovers don’t normally take this long to be over, and neither the bidders, the fans, or watching legal experts foresaw the process dragging on into the season itself. Whether Ken Bates, who is widely felt to be the boiled sweet in the windpipe of the negotiations, saw this coming, isn’t known.

I’m not sure many people around Leeds really care what Ken Bates thinks anymore. Nobody is looking for thoughts from Ken, but for deeds. Pen4Ken was marvellously pithy and to the point: here is a pen, sign the deal and go. No explanations are necessary now, no more talk, no more blame or finger pointing or politics or programme notes. Just shut up, sign, and leave.

Amitai Winehouse at Spoughts has written an excellent summary of Bates’s standing at Leeds, which is less ‘standing’ and more ‘staggering.’ Right in the Gary Kellys and The Scratching Shedtwice – also have good coverage this week. The failure to complete the deal has tugged away at the takeover curtain which for most of the summer hid what was becoming clear last season: that LUFC doesn’t have the money to carry on as it has. Bates can continue to run the club but with all the saleable assets – once known as players – sold apart from Becchio, the only way he can run it is into the ground. Bates himself raised the spectre of administration when referring to Portsmouth and Rangers in his programme notes, but administration is not an option for Leeds United anymore: not just because of the effect on the club, which we’re all too familiar with, but because a second admin would see both Bates and Shaun Harvey excluded from football for failing the Fit and Proper Persons Test. You don’t have to worry about whether Bates and Harvey have the interests of LUFC at heart, when their own careers are on the line.

Which leaves the takeover in an unusual position, and it’s not a good position for the current board. The bidders, one would hope, are looking at Leeds United with a perspective that extends beyond this transfer window, beyond this season, perhaps even beyond the next five or ten seasons. It is unlikely that the sense of urgency of the fanbase is shared by a group looking to make a long term investment. If, in that case, Ken Bates wants to waste a few months playing silly buggers and getting pens in the post, that’s probably not a problem to a group who believe they have a deal done to buy the club. Ken can cop the abuse and pay the bills – or try and pay the bills – for as long as he likes, and they’ll take over and sort it out when he’s had enough.

None of which gives us, or Neil Warnock, the season we wanted or expected – but since when has Ken Bates ever given fans or managers what they wanted? And in Warnock we have a manager for whom the phrase “when life gives you old man’s piss, make champagne” – or lemons/lemonade, whatever – was coined. Two more wins came this week, and while the opposition might not have been too tough, this has been the right sort of start under difficult circumstances. It’s always good to put one over on a Ferguson too, and Travels of a Leeds Fan picked out another goalscoring performance from Becchio as a highlight of the trip to London Road; Becchio Well Placed have unsurprisingly been pleased by this season’s performances from the only Argentinian Number 10 that matters.

A steady win over Peterborough meant three proper points, but there wasn’t much enticement to attend Elland Road for Oxford’s visit in the League Cup: it felt like a game we could do without, lest another player follow Paul Green to the sickroom. The 3-0 win – covered here by Travels and here by Fear and Loathing in LS11 – was a significant match for three good reasons, though: The Beast’s first goal, Lord Byram’s brilliant chip, and Tom Lees smiling for the second time in a week. The Jamaica Observer were delighted with the ‘Rudi Awakening’ of Austin, pointing out to their readers that his next game for Leeds will start at 9am Jamaican time; it was down to Howson Is Now to spread the joy over Byram’s goal. It wasn’t just the quality of the turn that made it, but the audaciousness of the finish – thirteen year old boys just shouldn’t have that kind of confidence. As for Tom Lees’s grin, you’ll have to take our word for it – he has had all photographic evidence systematically destroyed.

It’s Blackburn next at Elland Road, and after the comparative feel-good atmosphere of the Wolves game, LS11 might be under a cloud this Saturday. Travels of a Leeds Fan are calling it the Everybody Out Derby, as the Venkys and Kean Out crew travel over the Pennines to take on a renewed and embittered Bates Out army. Kick off is 3pm on Saturday afternoon, just as it always should be. Time to stop waiting for these cliffs to crumble away beneath us, and to push some of these noisily ticking clocks into the sea ourselves.