The City Talking: Fashion, Vol. 2

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the square ball week: que sera sera

the square ball week: que sera sera


David Haigh reads Lucas's bid documents (via Howson is Now).

If it wasn’t going to be Lucas, it was going to be someone. And if it’s going to be anyone, it might as well be Lucas.

Then again, it could end up being someone else entirely. If there has been a lesson to take from the last two years of upheaval, and the eight years of stagnation before that, it’s that we, as fans, don’t actually have a great deal of power. 

We can watch, and analyse, and discuss, and theorise and pontificate, but it all comes to nothing in the end. It’s like watching a game of football. You can yell at Ross McCormack, either encouragement or admonishment, you can debate his qualities in the pub and you can tear your hair out in the stands. None of it, really, has a decisive bearing on what he ends up doing on the pitch.

His training, his fitness, his diet, the advice of his manager and coaches, the performance of his team mates. That all has a bearing. Whether he had a good night’s sleep or not could be the deciding factor, or how he digested his breakfast. We can’t control him like on FIFA 14. 

All we can do is make our desires clear: we’d like him to put the ball in the net, four times if possible; but even if he hears us and wants nothing more for himself than to satisfy our wants, that’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to fulfil our desires. We can only watch and see what he does, and talk about what he might do, and what he did do after he’s done it. 

It’s not unique to football fans – there aren’t any sports, unless you count chess, where the audience sit in silence just to see what will be. Football fans are the only ones actually sing a song about their powerlessness, though: Que Sera Sera, Whatever Will Be Will Be. And football fans – in recent seasons, Leeds fans in particular – seem to be the only ones keen to apply the non-influence of fandom to every aspect to the the club.

The takeover – and by ‘the takeover’, I mean everything from the day in May 2012 when LUST confirmed there were offers for the club, through the months of speculation that followed, to GFH-C’s arrival, to last Friday when we broke on The City Talking then news that Lucas Radebe was involved in a new consortium’s bid, through to whatever happens this morning to make this out of date the moment I publish it – the takeover has been like another game for Leeds fans, to occupy our time in the gaps between the actual games of football that we know and love. 

Every attacking movement, every defensive reaction, every challenge and move and has been scrutinised and debated, with opinions formed and reformed, facts established and demolished, the players’ strengths analysed and argued over. It’s been as if an Elland Road full of spectators were directing their cries at a game played around a boardroom table, instead of with a ball. 

And just as our influence on the outcome of a game of football is minimal, so our influence on the outcome of the takeover has been minimal. Right up until the point when they appeared, scarves aloft and beaming in the East Stand, GFH Capital were a mystery to most; they bought the club anyway. We certainly didn’t see Salah Nooruddin coming; while the merits of Haigh, Patel or Alrayes as chairman were discussed, Nooruddin bought in and took over like a dinner guest arrived late and taking the largest helping of potatoes. And now it looks like all change again, we’re once more hotly debating the details – I’m sure it’ll be a dominant subject at the ground tomorrow – with no real power over the outcome. The statements and reports so far have been so guarded, we can’t even say for sure who is bidding with whom for what. And yet still we try to micro-manage it from the sidelines. 

Where our power does lie, though, is in making clear what we want. The real reason we yell at Ross McCormack is not to instruct him on what to do – I’m sure he’s pretty well informed when it comes to the rules and aims of association football – but to be a constant, nagging reminder to him that we expect him not just to know it, but to damn well do it. A footballer’s standing with the fans can be measured not only in goals scored, but in expectations met.

In the eager to please stakes, you can’t question the performance of GFH Capital. David and Salem tweeted each other their ‘#LUFC anniversary’ greetings yesterday, the boardroom equivalent of chasing an overhit through ball that you’re never going to reach, just to show that you’re trying. The shouts and demands from the fans, and the pressure from LUST and the other supporters’ groups, have definitely been heard by the folky folks from GFH Capital, IIBB, Brendale and Berrydale Holdings (even where those folks are basically the same), and the new websites, social media channels, membership schemes and community initiatives have fallen like rain, which has all been to the good. They’re expecting 30,000 at Elland Road on Saturday. That’s a phenomenal achievement, and it’s happened because GFH-C have heard what we want, and met our expectations. 

As in football, though, so in the boardroom, and the influence of our expectations can only extend so far. We might want Ross McCormack to push forward for a double hat-trick, but we don’t overrule Brian McDermott’s instruction to drop deep and defend the lead. Likewise, the fans’ voices are not the only ones the GFH-C lads on the ground in Beeston are hearing. Just as Leeds United is owned by GFH Capital, so GFH Capital is owned by GFH, and its the much quieter office back in Bahrain that truly has the ear of Haigh, Patel and the rest. Nooruddin may have bought on to the board at the parent bank, but that only gives him a share in the power. It’s not about who shouts the loudest, but about who speaks with the most authority. Gulf Finance House own Leeds United. They’ll determine its future to suit themselves. 

Elland Road’s an anxious place again, after barely a year of tranquility; I argue in the new issue of The Square Ball, on sale tomorrow, that it was always destined to be this way for as long as Leeds United remains in the ‘assets held for sale’ column in GFH’s accounts. If it wasn’t going to be Lucas coming in with a bid, it was going to be somebody. And while The Chief seems to have got there first, it still could be anybody. 

That new issue of The Square Ball is issue four, printed just last enough to have the news of Lucas’s bid as our cover story. As I mentioned, there’s some takeover talk inside from me, while Andy P whips the mask from the Bates spectre, Scooby Doo-style. Jon Howe writes lyrically about the looping nature of Leeds, linking The Beast, Huddersfield, Coventry and Carlton Palmer; Jailhouse John names 1962-65 as United’s true golden era; Ces Podd talks about breaking through at Bradford, and then breaking more barriers in the community for Leeds; plus tactics talk and the tallest, most malevolent floodlights in Europe. The digital edition is £1 from our online store; the paper ‘half-time’ edition is £1.50 from one of our friendly sellers outside the ground before the game tomorrow. 

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