blackpool 1-1 leeds united: northern anarchyBack
I recently spoke to a guy about the golden days of Northern Soul in the 1970s, when thousands of dancers would descend on towns like Wigan and Blackpool and dance from midnight until breakfast.
“Anarchy,” was one word he used. Not in the nightclubs themselves; but in everything around them, in the culture and on the scene. The records were throwaways, saved from obliteration by love for the fun of it; the pharmaceuticals that fuelled the dancers were obtained by hook or by crook; the venues and towns were sleepy and down at heel and transformed completely by the mass arrival of hopped up soul boys and girls in the mood to party.
Leeds fans were once described by The Beaten Generation as “gloriously anarchic”, and you could easily apply that to the whole club. If there’s something that shouldn’t be done, you can guarantee that Leeds will do it; if there’s an opportunity for mischief, you know Leeds will take it; if we can shoot ourselves in the foot, you know Leeds will load the pistol.
True anarchy, though, is Blackpool. Leeds had it tough under Ken Bates, but if you want to see a club that is truly being ruined by its owners, take a trip to Bloomfield Road. What is actually left of Blackpool FC at the moment? They hardly have any grass to play on. They don’t have a manager worth the name. Their goalscorer at Elland Road, Nile Ranger, disappeared before Christmas, thankfully not to take up a contract offer from Leeds. The owners, the Oystons, only seem to interact with the club when they’re launching legal actions against its fans; and a lot of those fans, on Saturday, decided they’d rather go down the road and watch AFC Blackpool than go to see Blackpool play Leeds.
The fans are always the last to go, and when they start to go, you know you’re on the brink of losing everything. The Oystons might think they hold all the cards with the supporters, that with Championship (soon to be League One) football at Bloomfield Road theirs to bestow, they have a hold over the fans that will keep them coming back no matter what. But they’re wrong. What Blackpool’s fans want to see is a team wearing tangerine representing their town in a manner they can be proud of, and if they can find another club that satisfies that need, why keep giving money to the Oystons? And if all Blackpool’s fans decide en masse that AFC Blackpool is their future, what will the Oystons have left apart from league position, a crumbling stadium, and Lee bloody Clark?
Into all that wandered Leeds United, supportive of the fans’ fight to reclaim a club they can be proud of, and also supportive of the opportunities the Blackpool fans’ absence created for purchasing tickets in the home ends. If Bloomfield Road feels less and less like home the more and more the Oystons take the piss, a Leeds takeover of their front room won’t have done anything to make them happier with their lot. As scraps broke out in the stands, it’s an open question who was making who less welcome.
If Blackpool were left happy about one thing from Saturday, it’ll be the draw they got from the visit of the mighty Leeds United; it won’t do them any good and it won’t keep them in this division and the point was not the point, but when you’ve been as bad as Blackpool have this season, you’ll take what you can get on the way down. They took Leeds alright; we don’t have anything to play for either this season, and to be one of the few teams that don’t get to give Blackpool a kicking on their way down feels, if not as dramatic as a defeat, certainly like an opportunity missed.
We don’t have to overanalyse the reasons for missing that opportunity, because that would be applying unnecessary pressure at a time when Redfearn and Thompson should be allowed to get on with their jobs, without knowing how long those jobs will last and when they can’t do a right lot about things as they stand anyway. But they did seem to get a few things wrong for this one.
For one thing, all except Sam Byram were starting their third game in a week, and he had played with the others in the exhilarating but draining win at Fulham on Wednesday night. Aside from tiredness – and there is after all a two week break to enjoy now – sticking with the same line-up made it harder for Leeds to make the most of the unique opportunities offered by the Bloomfield Road, er, ‘surface,’ and by the Blackpool, er, ‘team’.
Antenucci’s equalising goal was neatly finished, but the build up play was hardly vintage. Bellusci booted a long free kick upfield, it bounced off the back of Peter Clarke’s bonce, and Mirco had to score. That, though, is how to play when you’re in a sandpit; keep the ball in the air as much as possible, and don’t try to pass the ball too much because the risk is too high and the chances of success are too low.
Sat on the bench for this one was Edgar Cani, as he has been sat on the bench ever since he arrived, and he stayed sat there for the whole ninety minutes too. While there’s every chance that he is as much of a carthorse as he looks at first glance, I can’t think of a better opportunity to test out our eight foot tall target man than in the mud against the softest defence in the league. Leeds have been playing attractive passing football lately; but Leeds have also conspicuously lacked a plan B this season, and Cani was supposedly brought in to provide one. Plan B could have started at Blackpool.
There’s also a question of risk and responsibility involved. The dark side to the Oystons negligence and that farcical playing surface is that it is, basically, dangerous. Get your studs caught in a rut, twist your knee, and that could be game over for the season, if not worse. In Lewis Cook, Alex Mowatt, Sam Byram and Charlie Taylor, Leeds had something like £20m of basic transfer value trotting around that pigsty; not to mention four young careers that need protecting if they’re to be long-lasting. I’m not suggesting there are players at Leeds that it wouldn’t matter so much if they got injured – although Granddi Ngoyi has put himself first in line if I was – but on a day that was never going to belong to the silkier players, a nice game of carpet bowls back in Holbeck might have been a better occupation of Lewis Cook’s time.
Redfearn might be a victim of wanting to perpetuate his own success here; and I suppose I did suggest after the Fulham game that he should never alter or tinker with the team ever again. But he shouldn’t be listening to me, and he shouldn’t be worried about altering a winning line-up to suit the opposition and the conditions. He had to alter it anyway to get the point; Antenucci, Morison and Doukara all came on as Leeds finally saw the benefits of going direct.
Not enough willingness to embrace anarchy, from Redders; too much, typically, from Giuseppe Bellusci, who would have been the matchwinner for Leeds if he had not pointlessly clattered Cubero off the ball as he ran towards Blackpool’s goal. Peppe, you can just go round them you know; you don’t always have to go through. There were protests from Leeds, but rueful ones; everybody knew deep down that Bellusci had screwed that up on our own behalf. The gun was loaded and pointed at Blackpool; naturally Peppe lowered it and took aim at his shoes.
It was almost the last action of the game, and that ought to be that for Leeds United and Blackpool for the forseeable future. Blackpool’s owners seem determined to ruin the club as some bizarre form of emotional blackmail against its fans, and if their slide down the leagues stops at League One, it’ll be a surprise.
Leeds, meanwhile, will no doubt continue to be as contradictory, confusing and anarchic as we always are and always have been; never finding life more difficult than when it’s being made easy for us, never doing so well that we can’t find a way to do badly. That’s us though, and at least we still have it. I’m not sure I’d want it any other way.