the square ball weekBack
Have you ever heard the expression, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and then toss it in the face of the person who gave you the lemons, until they give you the oranges you asked for in the first place?”
Ladies and gentlemen, I stole that joke, but I stole it from Phil Hartman, who was a good man, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. Besides, there can’t be a Leeds fan reading this who isn’t ready to rush to Elland Road with their own jug of lemonade, to toss it in the face of whoever is around.
I tried to keep a stiff lip through the early weeks of this season, because in the football world in general there seemed to have been a collective loss of sanity. Could Liverpool really be a ‘club in crisis’ after two games? Two games: league tables should be banned until after at least ten. But maybe the long summer since last season contributed to a rush to get the narratives set for this one – everyone seemed desperate to declare how their season would pan out, no matter how little evidence there was.
With that in mind, Leeds’ early record of won 2, drawn 1 and lost 1 didn’t look too bad. Maybe it wasn’t the promotion charge we were promised, and it certainly didn’t feature the abundant lemons we thought new owners would be bringing, but it wasn’t too shabby. And so we could be optimistic.
But then the transfer window closed. And then the injuries began. And the emergency loan window opened, but revealed an empty room. Then Luke Varney began spending more time on the pitch. Then we lost two games. And the takeover still wasn’t done. And the optimism turned to bubbles and evaporated.
It just doesn’t seem fair and childish tantrums are now, officially, justified. Cardiff, for a start, let’s start with Cardiff. Travels of a Leeds Fan’s report sets the tone – his journey over the border began with a broken down car, much as Leeds began the match with a broken down McCormack. But where Mr Travels and co. had a back up car to get them where they needed to be, Neil Warnock had no such luxury. And then there was Cardiff City, of course – I didn’t think ‘special teams’ were allowed in Assocation Football, but it seems that if you’ve got the money you can keep a free-kick specialist on the bench and bring him on when you’ve got a game to win. If only we’d known about this thirteen years ago, we could have kept Ian Harte for special occasions. We did at least get an Austin Allegro to celebrate, but the damage was done.
Hull brought no more cheer. They did bring a flare, though, set off with the score at 2-1; when they got their third, their fans were reduced to that pitiful ‘meow meow’ thing they do. On the bright side, Leeds did okay for the first quarter of an hour and Andy Gray finally got a senior goal for LUFC, sixteen years after his debut; but injuries to Drury and Becchio and an attendence of less than 20,000 reveal this game for what it was: a misery.
Fear and Loathing in LS11’s report puts the match into its wider context, because Tuesday was as much about what was going on off the pitch as on it. Eight hundred fans, according to West Yorkshire Police, protested outside before the game; the protests carried on inside in the South Stand, where banners (before they were confiscated) and songs alternated between abusing Bates and cheering on the players. Extra points to those involved for singing ‘Waccoe’ at the proper speed, sans claps.
Ken Bates had another set of programme notes to get through, too – how he must hate away games! He didn’t mess around this time, blaming LUST for everything ever – and this presumably before he parked his right next to LUST’s brillantly placed advert outside the East Stand entrance (you can get yourself a download of that poster from The Beaten Generation, and recreate the magic with a Matchbox car). There were some slightly more hopeful sounds amid the usual grunting, as Ken actually described some of the events of the summer – spoke to some people, spoke to some other people, things progressing, lawyers, pens – which is more information all at once than Bates or the club have shared at any time before now.
Ken’s deriding of LUST doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny, given that the Trust have become the de facto news service for update-hungry Leeds fans in part due to the club itself offering absolutely nothing. Compare, too, the club chairman’s rambling, insult-heavy programme notes with this clear and well measured ten minute interview with LUST chairman Gary Cooper from Calendar. One of these men is an incoherent, cantankerous and belligerent old git who should get his nose out of Leeds fans’ affairs. No, you can’t have any more clues.
As the week has gone on that sudden trickle of news in Ken’s column has begun to look like the start of the flood we’ve been praying for. The situation isn’t clear, but suddenly there is news about the takeover: The Scratching Shed and Right In The Gary Kellys do their best to summarise, but it looks like a change in the makeup of the bidding consortium could have broken the icy thaw that had descended on our summer of optimism – although the rumours that Bates could remain at Leeds as consultant/minority shareholder/world’s oldest teaboy bring a cloud rushing back down.
It’s one orange in Neil Warnock’s fruit basket, at least, and that has to help, because Leeds can’t carry on this season with only lemons in the juicer. TSS put out the call for footballers, any professional footballers, to give us something resembling a squad; RITGK wants to know when the cavalry will come; The Beaten Generation has a new loan arranger small-ad, something he thought had gone with Grayson; Jenber’s Blog, meanwhile, hits the nail absolutely on the head: “I have to say I am absolutely stunned that Warnock is still here.” Neil came for one last crack at promotion – presumably that’s what he talked to Ken and Shaun about at the man-bag conference in Monaco. Instead of a promotion challenge, he’s got a new best mate in El Hadji Diouf. These aren’t the oranges he asked for…
It’s been six games, but Warnock could have walked, just like 5,000 fans have walked away from attending matches; with each passing game, the fans Bates derides as a “noisy minority” become a larger and larger proportion of the crowd, as they’re among the few who still turn up. Phil Hay in the YEP isn’t messing around: his article this week is an essential summary of why things can’t carry on as they are. So, too, are the words of Neil Warnock himself on Thursday:
“If I’m honest I didn’t envisage the situation being like it is at this stage of my career where I do desperately want to try and get that eighth promotion. There is lots of ups and downs being manager of Leeds United and being a supporter of Leeds United. I am trying my hardest to do things and I will continue to do that until it becomes a situation where you can’t. If you can’t, you can’t. Everyone is working hard behind the scenes to change all that now. Hopefully, we will have some good news in the next ten days, couple of weeks.”
Although there Neil has gone and done it again – dangled that bit of hope in front of us, to keep that so-far fruitless optimism within reach.
If you’ve had it with the lemons we’ve got (hi, Varney) and want some of those tasty oranges you asked for (mmm, hi there Jermaine), don’t forget that issue two of The Square Ball magazine will be on sale at Elland Road on Saturday before we get beaten by Forest. This issue we’ve got articles comparing Rodolph Austin to Yaya Toure, Mark Tinker to Twin Peaks, and Luciano Becchio to his own ghost: it’s perfect for delusional Leeds fans everywhere! 56 pages of paper will cost you £1.50 from a seller outside the ground on Saturday; 56 pages of bytes and bits are just one pound from our website, where you can also sort a subscription or listen to our equally unrealistic podcast.