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the square ball week

the square ball week


Happy New Year! Did you have a good Christmas? Or did you spend it watching Leeds United? Normally at Christmas time it’s the fans who feel tired and emotional – or just plain dog rough. It didn’t need official confirmation of the virus in the Leeds squad – from the man the official Twitter account calls ‘Ass Man’, Mick Jones – to see that the players were even more lethargic than the crowd.

“On 25 minutes,” reported Fear and Loathing in LS11, “a discarded McDonald’s bag made its way onto the turf, fittingly skipping past Peltier unnoticed, before settling in a quiet spot down the Leeds right – that’s as compelling as the action got.” At least we started 2013 with a win – thanks to a Becchio penalty – even if we didn’t play any football.

Becchio provided only the other real highlights of the festive fiasco – his brace in the Middlebrough game before Christmas securing our other points of the period, the first being another for Luciano’s collection of sweet strikes against Boro. With the takeover completed the day before, we could all unwrap our ‘Cult Heroes Calendars’ in a celebratory mood.

Mine nearly went in the bin on Boxing Day, but then it didn’t seem fair to blame Andy Hughes et al for that performance. Travels of a Leeds Fan reported the Forest fans chanting “We Want Seven” as Leeds collapsed in the second half. Only the blue santas of the South Leeds Independent showed any spark or creativity as Leeds went down 4-2.

Two goals were again the gap at the KC Stadium as Hull lapped up the points like kittens with fresh milk, in a game where Neil Warnock became the focus. A 3-5-2 formation felt odd from the start, and as Ian Wylie at Right In The Gary Kellys pointed out, since Filbert Street 2000 it has always brought difficulty upon Leeds. Jennifer Berry at Three Colours White reckoned defeat was inevitable, “even before Neil Warnock’s suicidal team selection and formation, due to the run that Hull have been on in recent weeks. Warnock knew it, his tactics said it and the fans were subjected to it”; subjected to a performance that was “shambolic and shameful” according to Adam Jubb at Fear and Loathing. Jen, Adam and Jeff Griffiths at RITGK’s were all coming to the same conclusion: new owners GFH Capital need to either back Warnock now, or find a new man and start again. Warnock promised Nigel Clough back in April that he would “never see a Leeds United side like that again,” but as Becchio Well Placed pointed out, “Nigel has the luxury of not owning a Leeds United season ticket.”

Fortunately the takeover was complete before the opening of the transfer window, meaning Warnock – who was just a bystander during the summer sales – can use the next thirty days to bolster the team, while the fans will be looking to GFH Capital to show what financial muscle they have. The first priority seems to be sign up the loan signings, whose performances are rounded up by Spoughts; Ryan Hall has already become a permanent signing from Southend, although he is yet to make much impression on the first team. The Scratching Shed preview the window here and report on the rumoured interest in Dexter Blackstock here; while the more down-to-earth side of the window came from Warnock himself, revealing he “just can’t compete financially with Leicester,” who dropped some loose change on striker Chris Wood in time for him to score a couple in their 6-1 hammering of Huddersfield. At RITGKs Ian Wylie looks back at Januarys gone by – not the prettiest reading.

Finance will remain on Leeds fans’ minds for the duration of this transfer window at least, and we still have the ‘legacy’ of Ken Bates to chew over too. The official site summarised the 2011/12 accounts over Christmas, before the full documents became available on Thursday. My own summaries of the headlines are here and some details from the full accounts here; Amitai Winehouse has also taken an early look for Spoughts. The short version is that our ‘well run club’ turned a £1m operating profit into a £3.3m loss in the twelve months to June 2012. Another intriguing detail is present in the note about the preference share issue The Square Ball reported on last year; the beneficiaries, Lutonville Holdings, whose £3.2m share purchase was due to become a £4m payout upon a “change of control” at Elland Road, turn out to be not such distant relations: “Significant influence is exerted over Lutonville Holdings Limited by virtue of its connection to Outro Limited which is wholly owned by Mr K W Bates,” say the accounts for Leeds City Holdings. In a remarkable coincidence, that share issue was made on 21st December 2011, a year to the day before completion of the takeover. One of the standout features of the accounts is the drop in matchday income – as Matthew Brown Bolton wrote at RITGKs, that’s “the cost of a lost fanbase.”

One way of rebuilding that fanbase is engagement with younger supporters, although I’m not quite sure ten year old Kai’s approach on Saturday is what anyone had in mind. The Scratching Shed round up the photographic evidence of the young Diouf-a-like’s progress around Elland Road on Tuesday, in the innocent hours before he became a ‘internet race storm’ – or rather, a way for newspaper websites to drum up hits. Adam had it right at F&L: “a heartfelt, amusing, if slightly ill-advised gesture … Kai still managed to pull off a far more convincing impersonation of a Leeds United player than any of those on the pitch.” El Hadji certainly liked it, but to play it safe it’s probably not something you should try at home.

Whether Diouf is worthy of such hero worship is another question entirely – has he been seen yet, blood pouring from his head, celebrating a win at Old Trafford? Patrick Kisnorbo’s contribution to our third round win in 2010 inspired a fancy dress version of its own, and it’s with a heavy heart I see the chronically injured Paddy depart on loan to Ipswich on the third anniversary of ‘January 3rd.’ That date inspired an enormously grumpy post at The Scratching Shed about “the day Leeds goes tinpot,” arguing we shouldn’t celebrate the Old Trafford win, for fear of everybody saying we look daft. I preempted this anti-fun attitude on the first anniversary, because personally worries about ‘looking tinpot’ or ‘being embarrassing’ only matter if you care what other people think. And I don’t. We’ve had precious little to celebrate in the last decade, and while yes, the Revie and Wilko achievements were more significant and even Bristol Rovers at home more important, you’re an odd egg if you spend your days ranking ‘fun’ in order of significance or embarrassment. Besides, that day in Salford really was historically significant, as I wrote in 2011:

Under no other circumstances could Leeds be described before visiting Old Trafford, on their official website, as “minnows”; never was victory sweeter than when we made Them suffer for our league status. For Them to be knocked out of the FA Cup in the third round, by a third division team, and by Leeds United, all on the same day: we did it to them, and they will never, ever be able to do it to us.

And it definitely was a brilliant day (though not for everyone). We’ll have many more games like this week’s against Bolton before we have another day like that, so mark it well, and remember the date.