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milton keynes 1-2 leeds united: tradition & anarchy

milton keynes 1-2 leeds united: tradition & anarchy


‘The Leeds fans were in the wrong places’ was the crux of the complaining that came from the people who watch football in Milton Keynes after the game on Saturday.

This was ironic, given that the entire Milton Keynes club is an interloper, occupying a position in the Football League Championship that isn’t theirs, it didn’t earn and it doesn’t deserve. At least the Leeds United fans, more than a hundred of them, sitting among the Milton Keynes people — I don’t think any of them were football fans — came by their places at the game somewhat honestly, and moved back to their rightful places cheerfully. If only their hosts had ever done the same.

As well as ironic it’s sad that this is how football so often feels, and no surprise that it should feel that way in Milton Keynes: conformist. The Milton Keynes club’s very existence defies convention, but theirs was a coup de boredom, where corporate interests defeated romance; a catchment area without a league club was deemed more precious than a league club and its history, strategic growth more important than Wimbledon’s unbidden and anarchic ascent of the football pyramid.

Of course it should be Milton Keynes where, having ridden roughshod over football once, they should do their utmost to enforce their own set of rules on the game, with, yet again, no heed to its customs. And those rules are, of course, the most miserable conformity: sit in your allotted part of the ground. Don’t shout too loudly. Don’t be raucous, unless a goal has been scored, in which case you might be permitted a ‘hurrah.’ Don’t do any of the fun, manic things that release the tension of the working week that people have been going to football to do since it was first invented. Don’t, in fact, act like you’re at a football match, said the people of Milton Keynes, who wanted football matches in their town so much they stole them from people who loved them.

Well, as the kid said to the monkey on the car, fuck off.

Hardy combatants in the defence of football’s impoverished stores of anarchy, even Leeds United have had a strangely conformist feel about them this season, ever since Uwe Rosler promised us heavy metal football. Metal, for all the posing and solos, can at its worst be a strict, conservative genre, all technical proficiency and volume but little innovation. That’s what Leeds have been playing so far this season; lumpy riffs and by-the-numbers chord progressions, with nobody around to offer an elevating guitar solo above the deadening noise. Botaka did not play.

For anarchy, then, we look to Silvestri and Bamba. Berardi used to fall into this category, but as he has got better he has become less interesting, and besides, Wootton replaced him for this game. This now feels less like capricious dropping by Rosler, more some mysterious tactical calculation whereby he thinks Wootton will suit the particular game better, normally leading to us defending frantically because the defence is unbalanced and poorer all around.

With plenty of frantic defending going on, Silvestri had one of his frustrating good games; frustrating because he always does this after a sequence of howlers, reminding us that he is actually really good at stopping the ball, rewarding his manager’s faith in him, before reverting to flap in his next game. Silvestri’s next game is at Middlesbrough, scene of his greatest triumph in a Leeds shirt, when he saved the game and the day last season; so expect disaster.

Sol Bamba was also great that day, and struck a blow against conformity at Milton Keynes with some goalkeeping of his own that wasn’t punished by the referee, and by continuing to be uneven where we’d rather he was steady. Boro last season was notable as a backs-to-the-wall performance, and as Milton Keynes drove forward first to pull a goal back and then in hopes of an equaliser, Leeds’ defence ground its shoulderblades into the new-town concrete; not always an effective tactic, but it worked this time.

It worked because the least conformist of them all, Charlie Taylor, had created a 2–0 lead for United out of nothing more substantial than ground concrete’s dust. Taylor, in his own way, has been quietly upending convention down the left side this season, and on Saturday he emerged from under his bushel, light shining, and stormed into the Milton Keynes penalty area first, to win a penalty, the second time, to lash the ball into the far corner of the net.

Taylor ran from near enough the halfway line both times, the first time challenged only by the defender he rounded, who then brought him down; the second time the only attempt to get the ball off him was a sliding tackle that, if anything, helped Taylor’s forward progress. He was not dribbling like Messi, but then he didn’t need to. And that’s what made the runs for the penalty and then the goals so great; where others had been timid, and have been timid this season, Taylor was confident, smart and determined, and saw nothing that could stop him from doing what he wanted. Least of all Milton Keynes. He went by their defence as if it wasn’t there; which, of course, it shouldn’t be.

Sam Byram used to do things like this. Back in his first full season, Sam would get the ball at full back, look at the rigid and regimented game in front of him, and think, sod that. I can do what I want, here. And often enough Byram would end up running games from right back, more like a quarterback, dictating the attacks. Charlie Taylor, back then, was playing for York City, then Inverness, then Fleetwood Town, where he won promotion, winning a play-off final at Wembley.

You wonder what that experience has given him that perhaps Byram could use. Sam’s been so important to Leeds United that he’s been flogged almost to the point of sterility; Charlie’s been out a little, seen something of the world. Well, Inverness and Fleetwood; but while Byram has played through three full seasons of mundanity in mediocre Leeds sides, Taylor has tasted something his peer hasn’t: success.

A successful history gives you a different perspective on what you can and can’t achieve. Sam Byram, and to a lesser extent Alex Mowatt and Lewis Cook, haven’t had their horizons broadened by a winning season, or even an enjoyable season; they’ve just been harnessed like drayhorses, old before their time, to the Leeds United grind, where we hope their youthfulness will somehow overcome the machine. To overcome it we might be better, instead, throwing Charlie Taylor into its cogs and guts, like a millstone heaved into a steam-powered loom.

It’s a lesson to learn with our other youngsters as they come through, too. They don’t all have to be promotion-winners, although that might help; promotion with Bury didn’t do Tom Lees any harm. But while successful history is preferred, any kind of history at all is useful. It gives one a deeper understanding of the game, its arts, its customs, its traditions, a framework for anarchy that true lovers of the game embrace.

While others shake their heads, and write strongly worded tweets of complaint about a game they co-opted, but never understood.

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