the square ball week: dizzyBack
Dizzy, in the series of computer games in the late eighties, was an anthropomorphic egg from the fairy tale land of Katmandu, who tirelessly searched a haunted forest for the magic ingredients which, when combined in a cauldron, would cure his home village of athlete’s foot, and defeat the Evil Wizard Zaks. It was a fiendishly difficult task for a humble egg, trapped in a series of bewildering boobytrapped mazes, alone and trying to puzzle his way out. Any resemblence to the current situation of Brian McDermott at Leeds United Football Club is, of course, entirely coincidental.
Watching the players – what players he has, anyway – go through their paces at Thorp Arch, McDermott might feel a little like that stranded egg, the walls of his 8-bit world closing in on his plans for the season. Back in May planning for the new season had seemed like it would be easy: “I’ve already given the club some players that I’ve earmarked,” Brian told the Evening Post on 4th May, “In an ideal world we’d get the players we need in time for pre-season – which starts on June 27.” Mathieu Smith might be one player Brian needs, but unless he’s going to be the new John Charles and play in both attack and defence (with some time in midfield, too), you sense McDermott’s business is far from done.
Getting that business done is now the concern. The Crowne Hotel Affair of Tuesday night, when McDermott spoke with some candour to a charity function about the way his plans are going, wasn’t the first hint that spectres were haunting the woods around Thorp Arch – Brian had already said similar things to the Evening Post – nor was it the last. On Thursday Brian did the media rounds now expected of a football manager, and told them all pretty much what he told the dinner guests: “There possibly has to be outgoings to get incomings,” he said to BBC Leeds, adding that he’s “not sure” if a transfer fund exists. “I haven’t lost any targets yet, but as time goes on it’s not helpful.”
The transfer rumour mill doesn’t help when it links us to Emile Heskey, but the drip-drip of stories to the press is useful for monitoring who those targets might be, and whether they might come. Noel Hunt, aka Brian’s BFF, was supposed to have been snapped up over his wedding dinner, but now reports in Sarf Larndon suggest Steve ‘The Legend’ Morison might have to go on loan back to Millwall to free up money for Hunt’s wages. Defender Gabriel Tamas is staying at West Brom, although “Leeds United were reported to be interested in his signature”; Crewe’s 23 year old midfielder is now the subject of a firm offer from Wolves despite “Leeds United and Blackburn Rovers reported to be circling”; and good old Barry Fry is still dangling Peterborough captain Tommy Rowe, presumably in the hope of drawing a proper bid from Elland Road. “It’s been left up to Leeds to make a bid and discuss it, but it hasn’t got over first base, to be honest.” To be fair, I’m not sure I’d want to go to second base with Bazza either.
The name of Leeds United often gets chucked into the mix to raise the profile of a player looking for a bumper signing fee, but there is a common factor to all these stories and to McDermott’s own comments: Leeds are making enquiries, but not making signings. It’s the nature of football these days that when you make lots of enquiries you get lots of rumours, as people in the football world discuss options and deals and word gets around; but when rumours aren’t even halfway matched by actions, it leads to disquiet among the fans left on the outside. The best way to settle things down is actually to sign some players, and that thrown stone would nick the beak of another bird on its way past because ‘enquiries’ can’t play for us in midfield. Another way, and the way the club owners chose, is to talk.
‘Questions and Answers with Salah Nooruddin’ appeared on the official site on Wednesday evening, helpfully reminding us that this bloke is our vice-chairman, even though his 3.33% holding doesn’t merit a mention on the ownership statement. The questions Salah answered were apparently sent in by fans, although like us The Scratching Shed doesn’t remember ever being asked. It’s probably for the best, because if I had asked these questions, I wouldn’t have much liked the answers, and it’s hard to imagine Brian McDermott was pleased to read a question about ‘backing the manager in the summer transfer market’ veering off on to the subject of moving stuff around at Thorp Arch. “We also have to make sure that the net effect of our all our transfer dealings is to optimise the wage bill,” added Salah, disappointing anyone who hoped the net effect of our transfer dealings would be to improve the team.
Nooruddin also treated us to another chorus of, ‘We continue to seek to look to search for strategic investors,’ and some financial shuffling has actually taken place; it isn’t clear how much searching it took to secure a loan from one of David Haigh’s other companies, or what purpose “Restructuring GFH’s loans to the club … secured against club shares” serves, but if the only new investment we ever get is from the same people under different names, the contents of that transfer treasure fund will remain as mysterious as ever.
“The success of Thorp Arch is the envy of many other clubs,” said Nooruddin, in answer to a question nobody asked. “Our plan is to make maximum use of it in building long term success which is sustainable for the club and for the fans.”
But as Brian McDermott explores the woods around Thorp Arch in search of the magic promotion potion, he might prefer to leave any treasure chests he does find buried and locked. It’s a horror story straight from the Evil Wizard Zaks’ most perverse schemes: to send Dizzy digging, to have him prise open the lock of the ancient wooden strong box, only to find piles of moulded chocolate coins covering the body of Sam Byram.
There’s a castle in the sky, but all you’ve got is an empty potion bottle: how will our hero Dizzy save the Yolkfolk now?
about a year ago
The City Talking newspaper number 4 is now available in over eighty venues across Leeds, featuring our handsomely styled cover star, dazzling Hollywood legend Louis Le Prince.