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the square ball week: we are leeds

the square ball week: we are leeds

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It’s one of the most distinctive chants in football, and it has an intro, although that part often gets left out.

“Everywhere we go,” it starts, setting up a call and response. "People wanna know who we are! (Who we are!) Shall we tell them? (Shall we tell them?) Who we are!

“We are Leeds, we are Leeds, we are Leeds!”

Most clubs’ fans sing songs about how much they love their team, and how much they hate other teams. Leeds United’s songs are different, in that they put the emphasis on our identity, not as something distinct from the team – ‘we’ support ‘them’ – but as something that defines us as well as them. We are Leeds, all of us, fan, player, manager, coach.

There’s nowhere to hide if you’re Leeds, and there never has been, not since Don Revie switched the strip to a gleaming all white, bright as a flash of lightning against any background. Howard Wilkinson recognised it too; when the blue and green striped away kit hid the players from each other and the world, he demanded an all yellow kit that made them stand out, and stand up, and be counted. Shall we fade into the background and hide? Or shall we tell them who we are?

Who we are has been thrown into doubt all this week. Are we really the club that goes to Bournemouth and concedes four in fifty minutes? Are we even going to be a club at all by the time Doncaster visit? And if we are Leeds, who are all these other people claiming to be Leeds too?

The unmasking of the account allegedly used by Salem Patel to influence conversations on the Waccoe web forum doesn’t only throw his competence into doubt – the original username was ‘melas’, but that must have looked a little obvious so it was changed to ‘Paddy Kenny #1’ – but raises big questions about who our owners really are, and who they want us to think they are.

There’s an argument that a club executive using a Leeds United discussion forum is a good thing – they should be aware of our opinions, and engaging with them, to use GFH Capital’s favourite buzz word. But if you’re going to engage, first you have to tell us who you are. And if you’re going to engage, you have to ask questions and explain why you’re asking them, not pretend to be guessing at figures in the club’s accounts – “the loss in revenue from 24 to 21k is probably around 2 to 3m” – or ask fans to guess at them for you rather than just ask the club’s accountants: “how much do we reckon the loss for the year to june 2013 will be?”

Then there are the attempts to sway opinion in favour of GFH: “A lot of fans seem to think gfh have no money. But does anyone actually know how much they have already put in to keep the club from going under? … i believe people will be surprised by how much GFH has had to put in to keep the club a float”; and in favour of Habib Habibou: “Warnock, hasn’t really given the lad a chance. Hoping to see a bit more of him…”

That’s before you get to loaded questions about journalists looking at Leeds United, and what look legally like fairly unwise comments about who Ken Bates will “go after.”

This might all seem fairly innocuous, but it is not the only aspect of Patel’s work that has come up for discussion. Sporting Intelligence reprinted Amitai Winehouse’s article from The Square Ball about his encounters, online and off, with Salem, encounters that switched from a relatively benign line of questioning about who should be manager – Adkins or Lambert, was the choice – to more troubling requests asking Amitai to write supportive tweets and blog posts, and criticising Amitai for things he’d written in articles and on forums that Salem didn’t like.

Amitai wasn’t alone in this; Dan at The Square Ball met Salem too, and then received similarly bemusing Twitter messages featuring lists of potential signings and requests for positive coverage. This wasn’t so much fan engagement as it was, like the account on Waccoe, an attempt to influence fans from the shadows.

Patel isn’t the only Leeds director with identity troubles. There have been rumours for a while that David Haigh’s true business past might not be fully represented by the narrative Peter Botting’s company has provided for his website, and the terrifying return of Ken Bates has thrown some of David’s recent comments into doubt. “Before you start another silly rumour about Sport Capital,” Haigh tweeted at The Square Ball when questions where being asked about that company’s move to offices shared with companies related to Bates’ Swiss trust of choice, Chateau Fiduciare, “There is zero involvement with KB.” KB claimed otherwise from beyond the club on Thursday when he said, “This is a secret. but…” and launched into a tale of how he was ready to put money in to the Sport Capital bid for Leeds United. Salah Nooruddin, meanwhile – who as chairman is notionally in charge of everything that is going on at LUFC – has disappeared completely.

Massimo Cellino hasn’t disappeared, but instead is trying to be in all places at once, being all things to all people. His current status is that, after claiming he “100%” would not appeal the Football League’s decision, he is appealing the Football League’s decision; after reportedly agreeing with GFH to pay the club’s running costs for six months regardless of the League’s decision, he’s refusing to pay the club’s running costs because of the League’s decision. All the while he’s still trying and failing to sell Cagliari, at the same time as telling that club’s fans – whose banners suggest they’ve lost all faith in their owner of 22 years – “I do not give up, do not get me wrong: I do not leave Cagliari.” Who is Cellino now? Does he own one club, or two, or none? How many does he want? Which one’s the Fiat 500 now, and which one the Ferrari?

Which brings us to the players, and the team that didn’t show up at Dean Court on Tuesday, and that hasn’t shown up much anywhere lately. The takeover, “Does affect what’s happening,” said Brian McDermott after the game, and he agreed when asked if being sacked already by Cellino has affected the attitude in the squad. “I think there’s an element of truth in that … I don’t think anybody’s given up, I really don’t. But it’s bitterly disappointing to try and explain that performance.”

One explanation is the doubt about wages being paid this month, which brings with it doubt about the club going into administration, which brings with it doubt about the club paying wages in general over the coming months.

But that doesn’t explain why Ross McCormack, as ever, can at 4–0 down seize the ball and ignore everything around him until the ball is in the net, and then run to give the credit to the travelling fans; while certain of his team mates seem barely able to kick a ball straight.

Badge-kissing has a bad reputation because of the overall cynicism that pervades football, but there aren’t many other ways for footballers to express their feelings about a football club, and we should welcome McCormack’s demonstrations that he is playing for the shirt – he, at least, isn’t hiding who he is. What I wouldn’t give for eleven players kissing the badge right now – or rather, eleven players who have earned the right to kiss the badge.

The badge, and the shirt, are the emblems of who we are: we are Leeds. Marching On Together has always meant the club as a whole – Shaun Harvey’s pronouncement in the Bates era that ‘Players play, managers manage and supporters support’ couldn’t have got Leeds United more wrong.

Players support fans and managers support players and fans support managers and we are Leeds, and that’s the Leeds United way. And it’s all done out in the open, wearing a gleaming white shirt, sung loudly from the terraces.

The answer to the question, ‘Shall we tell them who are?’ is ‘Yes.’ If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand Leeds United.

The new Square Ball Podcast is entitled ‘Before The Madness,’ because it was recorded last week before the Football League’s verdict was known; the madness at Leeds is enduring, though, so it’s pretty much all still relevant – especially the part where Michael previews the Bournemouth game by jokingly (we thought) predicting they would “Rush into a 4–0 lead…” We also wonder whether David Haigh could have found better uses for his nest-egg, whether better family planning by the Pearces could have saved our season, and explore the history of the Addicks, gor blimey guv’nor. The latest magazine is still on sale too: 56 pages of quality Leeds United writing, from only a quid for the digital version.

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