the square ball week: leeds fans, warnock & takeover latestBack
On 1st May 1989, Mark Aizlewood scored a header at the Kop end for Leeds United against Walsall. Aizlewood, made captain by Billy Bremner and still wearing the armband and the no.4 shirt under new manager Howard Wilkinson, had been the target of vocal criticism from fans who felt his recent performances had not been good enough; but now he had scored a winning goal, and that was bound to get them off his back. Aizlewood, however, felt the goal wasn’t enough. With the ball in the net, he marched towards the Kop, pointed at the massed fans behind the fences, and raised his middle finger at them all.
Wilkinson, charged with sorting out a dilapidated club quickly, didn’t hang around. Aizlewood was subbed straight off for Batty, stripped of the captaincy, suspended for two weeks, and never played for the club again. Wilko, who had an understanding of the importance of the fans that I think has often been underrated, knew something that Mark Aizlewood did not: no matter what is said, or shouted, or who is right, or who is wrong: no individual is bigger than the fans of a football club.
It would have been helpful if Howard had been on Teesside on Wednesday night to have a quick word with Neil Warnock. After a trip to Wolverhampton on Saturday, Leeds’ fans were again travelling away, and again watching our uninspired side let a game slip away. Without intervention from somewhere, Middlesbrough were going to get a goal, win the game, and our frail play-off chase would be as good as over. “Warnock, make a change!” sang the fans. The response was a sarcastic clap from the manager, a gesture that said both, “I’m right, you’re wrong,” and “No matter how far you’ve travelled this week, you don’t get a say.”
The sad thing was, the performances against Wolves and Boro hadn’t been that bad. The defensive mistakes at Molineux riled Adam Jubb, while Andrew Butterwick at Travels of a Leeds Fan saw some encouragement in the debutantes at Wolves and the fact that either of two average sides could have won the game at the Riverside.
But what was a silly thing to do immediately became a really, really stupid thing to have done, as within moments of Warnock’s sauce Boro scored, and now he had to scramble to get some subs on and try to save the game: it was too little, too late. The post-match reaction was pretty much conclusive: Warnock, It’s Time To Go, and a look at what Leeds need in a new manager by Amitai Winehouse at Spoughts; Another Day In The Death of Leeds by Rob Atkinson; Five Key Reasons Warnock Should Go Back To Cornwall by Adam Jubb at Fear and Loathing in LS11; Clueless by Rachel Stanton at Girl in the Gelderd; Warnock Must Go at The Scratching Shed.
Jennifer Berry at Three Colours White suspects Warnock is too stubborn to leave before his time is up, and that we’re basically stuck with each other until the end of the season. If she’s right, it would seem like Warnock could do with adopting a more conciliatory stance towards our fans for the next few months; or at least, next time he takes on our entire away following in a battle of wits, he should try to avoid being proven so spectacularly wrong quite so soon. Oh, and get some subs on from time to time.
If Neil Warnock is thinking about heading out of the exit door at Leeds, he might find himself splitting the cab fare to the station with Salem Patel and David Haigh. I highlighted Adam Pearson’s comments about the potential at Leeds this time last week; this week, all the signs suggest Pearson is heading up a Yorkshire Consortium who wish to either invest in Leeds United, or just buy the lot outright. The deal as reported here on Leeds Online was based around the YC taking a 51% stake and leaving GFHC as minority shareholders; if the summer taught us anything, though, it’s that terms can and do and will change. GFH Capital responded to the initial reports with a fairly weird statement that said an offer for a majority stake “has not been accepted” – so, not rejected, either – and went on to say an awful lot about how they’ve set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page and not sold Sam Byram, but nothing at all about whether they intend to sell all, some or none of our football club in the near future. Matthew Brown-Bolton at Right In The Gary Kellys seems to think any bidder is being very presumptuous to think they could buy Leeds United from GFHC: “‘Flipping’ the investment isnt going to be an option … they want investors, not to sell the club.” Takeover talk continues, though, with some of the latest rumours rounded up here by The Scratching Shed and by Phil Hay in his report on Thursday for the Yorkshire Evening Post.
With the Fans Forum now postponed after David Haigh suffered a bereavement, Leeds fans will have to adopt the same stance as the summer; keep facing forward, and hope for the best. At least this Sunday’s trip to Manchester City promises some respite from the managerial and boardroom worries; Rob Atkinson has previewed the game at Life, Leeds, The Universe and Everything, while TSS have chatted to a City fan: “I was pleased when the draw was made. Without wanting to sound condescending, Leeds are a “proper” club and will bring a great away following.” Perhaps a big performance could recapture some sense of the better days, and a place in the sixth round of the FA Cup could certainly get some dreamers dreaming: to The Lost Generation Nadav Winehouse has written about this week on Spoughts, a win would at least be a welcome break from not knowing who owns your club or having your manager treating you like you’re thick. Here’s hoping.
If beating Manchester City seems like too much to hope for, the other escape route is into the past, a past which is on view at the White Cloth Gallery in Leeds from tonight. Photos of an
d by the ‘casual’ fans who followed Leeds in the eighties are on display this weekend at the venue on Aire Street, and a book collecting the pictures goes on sale at the launch party tonight, with all proceeds to Candlelighters and St Gemma’s Hospice. All are welcome at the free event tonight: Andy Peterson has a preview of the event on The Square Ball blog The Wish You Were Book and you can hear an interview with organiser Andy Pye on the most recent Square Ball podcast. It’s well worth attending tonight if you have any interest in Leeds, football, clothes, mucking about, or that stuff we used to have a lot of: fun.