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the square ball week: revelations

the square ball week: revelations


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Like an ailing soap opera in a desperate bid for ratings, Leeds United served up revelation after revelation this past week. None of it quite resulted in the drama of, say, The Crossroads Motel being sold, but the various happenings of the last seven days have been illuminating in their own ways.

The first cliffhanger of the week was Robbie H Rogers III announcement on his blog that he is gay and done with football. It had been a strange few weeks for our American ex-pat pal, as after his loan at Stevenage ended and his contract with Leeds was cancelled, his MLS rights were traded to Chicago without his knowledge and he popped up doing work experience at Men’s Health Magazine. Then came the late night blog post: “For the past 25 years I have been afraid, afraid to show whom I really was because of fear.”

“My secret is gone,” Robbie continued, “I am a free man, I can move on and live my life as my creator intended.” That life, as anyone who has followed Robbie on Twitter or Instagram knows, seems to have been an increasingly enjoyable one since he was knocked out on his Leeds debut: filled with coffee, art and exploration – but not much football – in both Leeds and London. It has looked at times like the best back-packing holiday you can imagine, and while some have wondered whether Robbie’s apparent retirement from football is due to homophobia in the game, my own bit of long-distance psychology would suggest Rogers isn’t moving away from something he hates by leaving football, but rather towards something he likes much more.

Robbie’s story reminded me of Aidan Butterworth, a striker who scored 17 goals for Leeds before ultimately deciding that life first as a P.E. teacher and then as an executive for Adidas would suit him better than playing professional football – he just didn’t find it fulfilling. Robbie Rogers may not have imagined a life outside of football, or outside the closet, before coming to England eighteen months ago, but, perhaps inadvertently, in his time with Leeds he has discovered a way to have both. “It’s 1 A.M. in London as I write this,” said the man we loved to call, “and I could not be happier with my decision.” Sometimes people go down the wrong path, and the life and career they choose at 18 is not the one they want at 25; it’s as brave a move to rip it up and start again as it is to carry on regardless. Godspeed you! Robbie Rogers: we’ve got coffee and wine gums for you any time you want them.

The realisation on Sunday that Manchester City are so far ahead of our current team was a bit less surprising than Robbie’s news. That our fans should still rank among the best in the country was maybe only a shock to the rest of football. At Fear and Loathing in LS11, Adam Jubb reported on the black humour that made the terraces entertaining even if the football was too hard to watch. Celebrating three pretend goals at 2-0 down was particularly inspired, and speaks to something very Leedsish: we’re always the best, even if it takes group hallucination to prove it. At Travels of a Leeds Fan, Andrew Butterwick was a bit more philosophical: “A strange day really. The atmosphere and banter were first class but the capitulation on the pitch was depressing.” Certainly the cup result did nothing to warm the frosty relationship between the fans and Neil Warnock, with Paulo di Canio now rivalling Nigel Adkins as fans’ choice to replace medal-worthy (in his own mind, at least) old Colin.

If the scoreline against the Citizens wasn’t that surprising after all, the three midweek points against the Tangerines certainly were. In a mood for revelations, Amitai Winehouse at Spoughts yelled ‘See! See! See what can happen!’ in his article about dropping Michael Brown. Brown’s absence wasn’t the only factor in the win; Varney’s much improved performance (another one) and Steve Morison’s debut goal were also factors, as were the new willingness the team showed to think before booting the ball aimlessly. It was hardly total football, and Blackpool – Son of Guv’nor in particular – never looked completely out of the game, but good performances have been a rarity even when Leeds have won lately, and a game as good as this one was like a surprise birthday party when it’s not even your birthday.

It’s not even your birthday, and yet loads of people have turned up, too, and that was the other epiphany of Wednesday: charge reasonable prices, and a reasonable number of people will come. 25,532 was our highest home league attendance this season, and while the three-times-daily ‘Watch Leeds 4 Less’ emails did become wearing, you can’t claim all those people were just anxious to see Paul Ince’s first game in charge. A Resounding Success, proclaimed The Scratching Shed, and while the maths might not add up just yet for GFHC, the combination of a healthy crowd, a decent performance and a good win could just be the alchemical formula that turns Elland Road from cemetery, to a cemetery with a party going on (just don’t daub any graffiti while you’re boogieing with Paddy Kenny).

Speaking of GFHC, they were unusually revealing this week, at least in terms of words spoken; what they revealed in terms of actual answers, following the continued speculation about new takeovers or investors, is somewhat more debatable. David Conn of of The Guardian – an “international enemy of Leeds United,” according to Ken Bates – had a sit-down chat with Salem Patel, gleaning a little more information about their strategies for seeking investment and the various black holes down which cash has been thrown by the previous management, and finding GFHC have at least one good reason not to sell up soon: “We do not wish to make a short-term profit to miss out on the £150m-£200m which could be made if the club wins promotion to the Premier League.” The YEP and BBC Leeds had to make do with written Q&A sessions, but both are worth combing through for clues about our future direction.

It wasn’t just GFHC who were rushing to unburden themselves this week as the interviews came in what footie commentators call a glut: Adam Jubb’s chat with LUST chairman Gary Cooper comes in part one and part two, and is well worth a read to straighten out some views of the takeover just gone and the Trust’s aims ahead, and to fully understanding the strain an apparently simple job like chairing a supporters’ organisation has meant for Gary and his family. Right In The Gary Kellys, meanwhile, have some easier listening: interviews with old boys Dom Matteo and Michael Bridges. Also worth reading this week are this appreciation of Lees and Peltier at centre back on Spoughts, and Jon Howe’s memories of defender of days gone by Neil Aspin at F&L; and this long meditation on Life, Football and Everything by John T. The temptation is strong to link John, or anyone, who wonders about the excited thrall that football can hold over you to this video of our mascots at the Etihad Stadium; they didn’t care about the score, they only cared about their dreams coming true. Let’s hope that for them, for Robbie Rogers, and for all Leeds fans, that’s something that keeps happening for us all, no matter how hard the road.

We can’t promise that the new issue of The Square Ball will make your dreams come true, but we can promise that 56 full colour pages of top quality fan-produced Leeds United stuff, nonsense, and solid good points well made, will keep any Leeds fan well satisfied. We can even offer you a free sample: just click here to download a free pdf of Charlie Philip’s article ‘Against Modern Football,’ about his fears for what might await Leeds should we ever again reach the Premier League. If you like that and want more, you can scratch your TSB pdf itch here for just £1, or for £1.50 we’ll send you a paper copy for you to treasure forever.