Leeds United Stories, Vol. 1
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the square ball week: wedge

the square ball week: wedge

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Image from www.howsonisnow.com

With a column in the Independent every Saturday, and his tanned-up appearances on Sky Sports, and his winks to the camera and little chuckles after the game, and his book out in the summer, did he mention he’s been working on a book that’s out this summer? – With all that, you would assume that Neil Warnock is someone who likes the sound of his own voice. What he might not like so much, though, is the sound of his own words sung back at him by a crowd whose anger had given way to sarcasm. “Can’t fault their effort,” sang the Kop as Derby sealed their win on All Fools’ Day, “They’re a great bunch of lads.”

It was mean, it was cynical, it must have bit hard on the ego in the dugout, but importantly, it said something true. It didn’t only mean that the fans have long since tired of Warnock’s insistence that ‘good eggs’ are somehow more important than ‘good footballers’, as those ‘great lads’ lost game after game; but it meant that the ‘honest bunch’ that Warnock has put together at Leeds are regarded as often with derision as with support.

Warnock’s response after the red card shown to Tom Lees at Ipswich drove the wedge in that bit further, widened the gap between the fans and ‘the lads.’ “I could kill him,” said Warnock, about one of the brightest local starlets the club has had in years. The 3-0 defeat was, “Scandalous today and it’s all because of Tom’s tackle, and I’m absolutely furious.” To pick on a young player, still learning the game, for mistiming a tackle, seemed harsh; compared to his defence of Luke Varney, after his elbow got him sent off en route to defeat at Millwall, it was downright outrageous. Perhaps Neil just likes Luke more than Tom; perhaps Neil was angrier as defeat at Ipswich was finally the end of his chance of a promotion bonus in his pay packet; who knows.

What I do know is that when Warnock was talking about Tom Lees that way it felt like he was talking about me, in a way that I don’t feel when he praises Varneh or Browneh or Kenneh. We have a club anthem, ‘Marching On Together,’ and another song, ‘The Lads of Leeds,’ which name checks every member of staff from the goalkeeper to the laundry staff, but if I’ll have one abiding memory of Warnock’s spell in charge, it will be of the way he managed to break down the bond between the fans and our players. This is a club where, in the summer, the players were willing to stand with the Supporters’ Trust because they felt both players and fans were being equally disrespected by the lack of ambition shown under Ken Bates; this is a club where not so long ago Andrew Hughes, never the most gifted of players, was raised aloft by fans who saw no difference between him on the pitch and us in the stands.

Now we’ve reached the point where talk of ‘honesty’ and ‘effort’ from the players is treated as a joke by fans who just don’t see it; where popular players like Becchio and Lees are singled out for criticism by the boss; where that boss is told firmly to “go forth” by one of the most visibly committed players at the club; where average summer signings turn their back on the fans; and where players argue about piss taking fans and get in a grump about the people who pay their wages having their say.

The club is in a better state than it has been in years, according to the outgoing manager; although even he changed his tune after his departure: “I wish we’d started the season with this squad,” he said after the transfer window closed, switching to, “Unfortunately, you saw in our January signings, we haven’t got enough quality,” once he was out the door. Well, we can argue all day about the merits of Becchio or Morison (I’ll say Becchio’s better and I’ll be right) or the squad in general compared to a year ago, but the bigger point may be that the relationship between the fans and the players is worse than it has been in years.

It feels to me like that will be Warnock’s bequest to West Yorkshire as he departs for Cornwall, but like most things Colin brought to Leeds, it’s pretty flimsy and easy to get around. Leeds always unite when our backs are against the wall, and while this is not quite a relegation dogfight – although it’s surprisingly close, for promotion contenders – the will to come together and back the side now Warnock has gone is definitely there. Into this breach steps Neil Redfearn, the ubiquitous ‘Redders’ of ‘Do It For’ fame one year ago (not to mention the no-pressure-honest comparisons to Revie from Peter Lorimer), who becomes caretaker in a different way to last time; whereas Simon Grayson was sacked before he had the chance to become truly unpopular, Redfearn this time feels like a relief after release from under the nose of the tyrant; especially as he’s bringing Richard Naylor along to help. While ‘Managerial Dream Team,’ as described at Right in the Gary Kellys, might be pushing it, the backing is there for the guys in charge, and nobody will be flicking Vs behind Redders and Nayls’s backs.

The speculation – and the betting – and the daftness – are all well underway about the choice of next manager, and as Rob Atkinson writes, Leeds are back at a very familiar crossroads. Not only in the dugout, but in the boardroom; George Dyer has summarised at Ole1985 this week’s latest maneouvres surrounding GFH-C and their investors, IIB, who Bloomberg reported as already speaking of LUFC in terms of “capital appreciation,” rather than, you know, winning a cup or something.

But all that can probably wait. Leeds travel to Charlton on Saturday, a team blessedly between us and League One, and while securing safety is priority number one – three points would do it, surely? – getting some good feeling into the place is priority number two. Popular youngster Dom Poleon has been recalled from loan, and after the debut of the very small Chris Dawson against Derby, the gradual replacement of Colin’s ‘honest bunch of lads’ with Redders and Nayls’s – er, I don’t know, ‘thieving gang of scrotes’? we’ll think of something – can’t start soon enough, if the unity between fans and players is to be found again.

It is thirteen years today since Kevin and Chris died. People and circumstances may have tried to drum it out of us over the years, but Leeds fans haven’t forgotten what togetherness is.

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Instagram: Leeds Indie Food Festival - Tall Boys

Instagram: Leeds Indie Food Festival – Tall Boys

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