the square ball week: spoiler alertBack
The official LUFC Twitter account has had its moments this season, so it’s only right that we take a moment to acknowledge when another’s social media bonfire is thoroughly doused.
“Boro have sold their entire 4,800 ticket allocation for Wigan,” declared the Middlesbrough FC account this week. “The largest away following in the Championship this season.”
“Just been told [Leeds are] into their second allocation for Blackburn and have sold around 5,700,” @Boro added a short while later, through a gritted Hootsuite.
Leeds United are good at this; we’re the original spoilers. No joy may pass. Arsenal fans must still look back bemused to 1999, when 40,000 Leeds fans turned out to support Jimmy Hasselbaink as he led a charge to gift our bitter rivals the title, but they don’t understand: the Arsenal fans were there in the ground with us. That meant that, if we beat them, not only did we get to enjoy the win, but we could laugh at them.
The thing about Leeds, though, is that we’ve been historically as adept at ruining our own parties as anyone else’s. This article at The Guardian recently declared that, “Trophies were not really the point of Revie’s team, whose repeated close shaves added to the mystique of one of English football’s most famous collectives,” and that’s true; you don’t get much more Leedsish than Eddie Gray bewildering six defenders to score a goal on our way to winning absolutely nothing.
Perhaps that’s why there isn’t as much anticipation around the trip to Blackburn as you might expect, given the size of the following. It doesn’t feel, yet, like looking forward to a party; Jager in the morning will change that, of course, but without a win in the afternoon, what’s Jager? Jager’s Jager.
It doesn’t help either that it feels like an age since Leeds last played; or that you have to add forty-five minutes to that to get to when Leeds last played well, given how the second half against Blackpool deteriorated into mehdom. The target for Leeds in Lancashire tomorrow is to build on the excellent first half against Blackpool and build momentum for some difficult games ahead; the worry is that the first half against Blackpool was a long time ago and they were bloody awful in Lee Clarkeish ways that Blackburn are not.
It’s not a massive worry, though, and uneasiness about the potential result is as vital in its way as confidence of victory; part of the joy of football is that it can’t be predicted. ‘We might lose’ is the necessary flipside to ‘We might win’; put them both together and you’ve got a reason to go to the match.
The lack of any real worry beyond the norm can be traced to a lack of news. Rudy Austin won a penalty shoot-out this week and doesn’t get back from the Caribbean Cup until today; apart from that, the international break has passed off peacefully. It’s probably not a coincidence that such peace has broken out while a certain president has been recharging his batteries in Florida, no doubt strolling cheerfully around used-yacht markets with his phone switched off.
The week before the Blackpool game was a riot of Cellinovision; he was everywhere, selling the club, not selling the club, buying the stadium, not buying the stadium, tired and ready to quit, tired and ready to go on holiday. The 2–2 draw with Charlton was muffled by the back and forth between Massimo and GFH, with Share Purchase Agreements and Ross McCormacks being bandied about, as if the football wasn’t happening.
It might have good of them all, in retrospect, to have saved all that for this week, when we didn’t have three important games to think about, but instead the attempts at off-pitch distractions have come from David Haigh and his representatives on Twitter, who seem to have decided that if it was good enough for Nelson Mandela it’s good enough for David Haigh, and taken to quoting the same inspirational poetry.
Leeds fans are the audience for this, essentially because Leeds fans are the only people who actually know who David Haigh is, and in that sense a moral responsibility does fall upon us Leeds fans to support the calls for his release. But while Leeds fans are Haigh’s only audience, we’re not his friends. Hearing that David Haigh is being badly treated by the Dubai authorities is like hearing that Eric Cantona is being badly treated by Alex Ferguson; what’s it got to do with us?
It’s obviously to do with us because the recently rebranded GFH and their associates still own a quarter of our club, the quarter that Cellino says is tying his hands over the stadium; and because much of the alleged fraud is said to have taken place while Haigh was in nominal control of our club. There’s a sinkhole beneath David Haigh’s jail cell, though, that doesn’t only threaten to swallow him up, but anyone who tries to establish the truth of a situation where nobody involved has done anything to show they can be trusted. The widespread response, then, is to turn the page, and see if there’s any team news.
There isn’t. And this is where the finger must point at Neil Redfearn and his staff for this apparent outbreak of peace. Redders says he already knows his starting eleven for Blackburn, and that it hasn’t been an easy decision, perhaps in an attempt to generate some pre-match excitement; thanks Neil, but it probably won’t work. The choice between Bellusci, Cooper and Pearce is the hot topic of the week, but while this might have to be whispered, they’re all pretty much of a muchness. If two of them were injured and the choice was between Wootton and Killock, then we might have a situation to conjure with.
Sharp or Doukara? Tavares or Dawson? Cook or Sloth? We’ve seen enough changes all over the pitch so far this season, especially in the ever-revolving but never-evolving diamond, that only tweaks are expected, rather than something radical; unless something radical happened to Massimo in Miami, and Bianchi has suddenly become droppable.
The return of Cellino is, as always, the distant thunder. He tends not to travel the Atlantic by jet but by hurricane, and when he sweeps in, you suspect this period of tranquilly lowered expectations will come to an end. He left Leeds looking like a man with a lot on his mind; in his absence, we haven’t had a flicker of thought anywhere. Redders says he talked to Massimo before he left about trimming from the fringes of the squad so some new loan players could come in, but nothing has happened while Massimo has been away; Redders says he talked to Massimo before he left about hiring an assistant manager, but nothing has happened while Massimo has been away.
That could be down to Cellino’s determination to roll without a chief executive; there simply isn’t anyone to do these things while he’s away. Or it could be that he has had other things on his mind that he needed to think about first.
Whichever it is, it’s left Leeds fans with nothing to think about except tomorrow’s game against Blackburn Rovers, and how early to start drinking, and how late – given the result – to stop. Leeds United are the original spoilers; but as always, it’s an open question as to whose weekend we’re going to spoil.