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

the square ball week: miss you

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May Sports Images

Leeds United are away. They’re not just away, they’re in Slovenia. That’s a long way away. Thorp Arch is deserted. The academy kids will be there, of course, and the backroom staff. The ghosts of Kevin Blackwell and Gary Kelly rattle their chains and stalk the corridors. But there’s a large gap at the centre, where the first team should be. No clatter of studs across the parquet floor. No fraternal yells from the dressing room.

The fraternal yells, and terrified screams, can be heard instead on hotel balconies in Eastern Europe, where Mathieu Smith used some strong Anglo-Saxon terminology as Noel Hunt and Ross McCormack snuck up on him with a camera; WACCOE is ringing out in faraway town squares, apparently in a sing-off with some Belgians; the flags are flying, but around the edge of a foreign field, or a foreign bar; and the only money changing hands is being spent by Brian McDermott on Dan Lambert, a nice guy but not a new signing who will give us much down the wings.

Back in Leeds, meanwhile, we can only look on.

It’s a strange moment when the Leeds United charabanc rolls so far away. The pre-season barbecue at Warnock’s house last season was near enough to home that you could feel some involvement even if you weren’t there, but this season it feels like United have disappeared into a forest, perhaps never to be seen again. McDermott continues to speak about a vital signing – “It’s something we want to do and something we need to do,” he told Phil Hay in the YEP, “I don’t feel urgency but I do want this particular player” – but nothing is expected to happen while Leeds are on tour. At Elland Road you can imagine David Haigh idly doodling with a new club biro on a new club notepad, waiting for the phone to ring and wondering just what it is a football club’s managing director does all day.

The football we’ve looked forward to all season is being played, but it hasn’t yet reached a level or an intensity that makes it meaningful, and hearing Thom Kirwin commentate down a mobile phone from Slovenia only adds to the sense of strangeness. Farsley isn’t all that far away, of course, and the 5–0 win got exciting enough at one point for a flare to be lit; but while the goals for Poleon, Smith, Hunt and White were handy confidence boosters for the year ahead, the game was as much about meeting and greeting and admiring a newly ripped Paddy Kenny as about competitive football. Although Amitai Winehouse did analyse the tactics anyway on The Square Ball’s blog. The Pomurje XI – a representative side of the best of the Slovenian third division – didn’t provide much competition either, but that’s probably the point at this stage: it’s a training camp, with the games against FC Domzale and Ferencvaros stepping up the standard until the lads come home. And then go straight off again to Walsall.

In Leeds, the weather is beautiful, folk are happy and season tickets are starting to arrive. But while the football season is so close you can feel it, as long as United are on tour the main feeling is one of a lack. I might go down to Elland Road later, and just look at it. I know there won’t be anybody there, but even so. I feel like Bagpuss: Leeds United has become like a dream that won’t end, until Emily comes home to wake me up again.

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