the square ball week: honouredBack
Sam Byram was not our top scorer, he didn’t lead in assists, he didn’t make any memorable match saving tackles, he didn’t single-handedly turn any games around; he didn’t even get sent off for fondling himself in public. But that understatement was exactly what made Byram’s debut season in football so spectacular.Sam did what’s known at Leeds as a Gary Kelly: he got tried at right back in pre-season, and then never moved. Kelly had had a couple of run-outs on the wing before 1993, but had seemed ready to succumb to homesickness and give it all up before Howard Wilkinson’s hunch that he was a ‘more reactive than proactive player’ solved our right-back slot for the next decade. In his first season Kelly played every minute of every single game for Leeds, then carried straight on to the World Cup with Ireland; although it was Gary McAllister that won the Leeds player of the year award. Byram didn’t quite manage every minute, although he was on the pitch more than any other outfield player this season, but he did sweep up at the club’s awards night last week, taking Fans’ Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year. Sam didn’t stop there, as he was also named one of Top Man magazine’s 20 Coolest Guys of the Month, “For being the youngest ever Leeds United Player of the Year, but more for having the best Joy Division/ New Order hair cut.”
It’s a testament to Byram that he’s taken all these plaudits without really doing anything spectacular. His goal of the season contender apart, Sam has shone by turning in performances of consistent high quality all season, by catching the eye simply for excellence, rather than for gaudiness. Perhaps playing at right-back had something to do with it; Byram played this season like the Gary McAllister of right-backs, able to control a game and exert his influence through good passing and a desire for the ball, while leaving the fancy touches and stepovers to, er, Michael Brown?
The question now, with Byram ruled out of the weekend’s game at Watford through injury, is whether that awards ceremony is to be his last Leeds hurrah. Manchester City and Everton have been the two clubs most often linked in recent weeks, and the money being spoken of – £10m – would be difficult to resist. Weary recent experiences with Fabian Delph would suggest we fans should hope we keep the player, as the team wouldn’t benefit from the money, but one would hope the case would be different under GFH Capital. It would still be hard to see a good young player leave, but nobody could argue that Byram hasn’t earned the transfers, the riches and the awards that are all coming his way.
Not everyone saw the awards do as about the award winner, mind. According to reports on the night, the chairman – yes, it’s still Ken Bates – celebrated by referring to sections of our support as “scumbags,” while his wife, angered by things being said in the audience, marched across and berated a table of innocent onlookers. The Bates family, classy to the last; Ken even had a celebration all of his own on Sunday; James Varley of LUTV tweeted that it had been a “Great do at Elland Road today to celebrate the chairman’s 8-yr stint.” Except that still was not even really the last: beginning July 1st, Ken Bates will be “president for a three-year term.”
You may not recall voting for Ken Bates to be president of your football club – if you’d like to vote now, you can do so via The City Talking’s poll here, and Right in the Gary Kellys give their view here – but it doesn’t matter, because the position is purely “honorary.” What exactly is being honoured here isn’t clear, but there is certainly no honour for Leeds United in having this man’s name at the top of the list of club officials. The ‘honour’ seems to have been insisted upon by Bates as part of the terms of sale to GFHC, which is an incredibly Batesian way of being honoured: so disliked is Ken, that the only honours he receives are those he can enforce through a contract negotiation.
It is possible to lean back and just let the man have his way – if being an unwanted pretend president with no influence makes the old git happy, then who are we to interfere? We can just ignore him and let him get on with it. But that’s rather letting him get away with yet more out of Leeds United, yet more that he has done nothing to deserve. And let’s not forget that when it comes to unpopular minority rule, Bates has form: he couldn’t wait to get over to the illegal racist state of Rhodesia in 1967 to shake hands with Prime Minister Ian Smith, taking Oldham on tour and continuing to conduct business there in defiance of a United Nations Resolution. From Rhodesia, to Tortola, to the Irish Trust Bank, to his last presidency at Chelsea to his eight years of calling fans “morons,” “sickpots,” and “dissidents” at Leeds, it’s hard to find the honour in our new president.
That aborted Chelsea presidency should perhaps serve as a warning to anyone who expects a Bates presidency to leave Ken truly without influence. “Bates was reportedly receiving travel expenses and other allowances worth £200,000 a year while continuing to represent Chelsea”; it ended, of course, in legal action. At Leeds, Ken has supposedly been hands off since he handed over to GFHC, but that didn’t stop him phoning Tom Lees on the team bus and then giving him his ‘Chairman’s Award.’ I’m not convinced that, even if unpaid, representing the club as president and making phone calls to staff is as hands-off as I’d like Ken Bates to be.
A lot may depend on the strength of character of the person who replaces Ken as chairman. The assumption has been since day one that GFHC’s David Haigh is lined up for the role, but if Ken Bates has a life-long credibility problem, Haigh seems to be becoming trapped in a whirlpool of public relations problems of his own. Thursday’s profile in The Daily Mail was much as you would expect for someone currently advised by no less than three P.R. agencies – he comes across as a great guy and a super Leeds fan. But while the version published in the morning described Dave as “Born in Beeston, a stone’s throw from Elland Road,” some cross-checking by suspicious Leeds fans showed the only birth records that matched in Grimsby and Salford, and by tea-time the article had been altered to read: “Salford-born but raised in his early years in Beeston, a stone’s throw from Elland Road…” His personal website, however, which describes his Cornish roots, still reads: “…apart from London, I have never lived anywhere that wasn’t walking distance from the beach”; perhaps he got confused about Beeston Beach when he saw the plans for Ken’s hotel. Amitai Winehouse at Spoughts has attempted to clear up the confusion.
It may seem like a small thing – maybe he was only in Salford long enough to be registered and then was back to Beeston, who knows – but if your word can’t be trusted on the small things, can it be trusted on the big things? And if this was purely a mistake by one of the P.R. companies – well, what’s with the P.R. companies, anyway? Who exactly thinks that Leeds fans need to hear that Haigh (apparently) “spent my early childhood, right on the doorstep of Elland Road … perched on my granddad’s shoulders near the halfway line”? The new tiered membership scheme, although not perfect, is of much more importance than some Instagram upbringing invented by a P.R. firm.
Dave needs to familiarise himself with the story of the boy who cried wolf – or the Tory boy who twitted owl. GFHC love to talk about being “transparent,” but when even your place of birth appears opaque, that talk looks very cheap indeed. These white lies – or P.R. slips, or whatever they are – only increase suspicion, and invite scrutiny. It took Leeds fans about half an hour of Googling to disprove that Haigh was born in Leeds – what else could be found if they have reason to delve further?
Perhaps the example of Sam Byram would also be useful for Haigh. Byram didn’t triumph by spending all season telling everyone what a great player he is and how he deserves the plaudits. He was simply, quietly, effectively brilliant, and he was justly rewarded for it. Good people get the honours they deserve.
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