the square ball week: the empire is the emperorBack
Looking back, perhaps it’s telling that in Leeds United’s “reluctant” Sky Sports statement, the club listed the people who had “had enough” as: Leeds United Football Club, the players and staff, and Leeds United Season Ticket holders.
Those season ticket holders are also described in the statement as the club’s “key supporters”, which does kind of make them sound like one of those potato-flavoured snack partners for the Far East market that big clubs have. But we’re not a big enough club anymore to have key overseas snack partners, and it’s clear what is meant: of course season ticket holders are “key supporters.”
They’re not the only supporters, but they are the only supporters mentioned as suffering for the variable whims of Sky Sports’ post-work-pint scheduling sessions (“Uhhh god I can’t be arsed… should we just put Leeds? Just stick Leeds down and let’s get some more drinks”). They definitely weren’t the only supporters in attendance at that disputed game against Derby, though, and while season ticket holders from far and wide might suffer the brunt when fixture changes force travel cancellations, what of our foreign fans who make only a few trips a season, but put a small fortune at risk when making expensive travel arrangements? Sky Sports’ scheduling is an issue that affects the breadth of our club’s fanbase, from season ticket holders to matchday, walk up fans.
Assuming we have any of those left, that is. Looking back, perhaps that’s why only season ticket holders were included in the Sky Sports statement; it’s tough for Massimo Cellino to strike a pose of defending supporters’ rights, when the sports pages a couple of weeks later are highlighting the eye-watering cost to supporters of watching Leeds United play Bristol City. It’s worthy of Category A, apparently, so if you get a late hankering for some bottom half of the Championship football on the Saturday after next, and fancy viewing it from the South Stand cheap seats, you’ll need to find £42 — £32 base ticket price, plus £5 enforced ‘meal deal’ voucher, plus £5 not-making-your-mind-up sooner surcharge.
And then, once you’re inside, you can stand behind a line of flourescent jacketed stewards keeping you away from the season ticket holders the club is so anxious to protect. No flouro, no party. Those season ticket holders will have paid no more than £22 to see Leeds take on the mighty Bristol City, so perhaps the segregation of our fans is to protect them from the pitiful sight of matchday fans holding their flimsy card tickets and weeping that they’re almost twice the cost. Season ticket holders don’t come to Leeds United to be cried on.
There are cheaper tickets available, of course, but not much cheaper; knock the on-the-day fiver off and, thanks to the recently introduced meal deal ‘deal’ it’s still £37 to buy a ticket in the South today. There are also cheaper parts of the ground where, the club has taken care to point out, fans are welcome to buy their tickets, but that’s not the point; the South Stand is — or was — the cheap part of the ground.
It’s also the part that sung most vociferously for Massimo Cellino to go during the disastrous night Leeds played Blackburn; the suspicion since is that the South Stand has paid for that night the way Sam Byram paid for his performance that night: with spite such as would be expected to force someone out of the club, amid wild gesticulations about falling out of larve and being so haart.
Massimo Cellino is a man of contradictions, which is one reason why there are so many bloody arguments about him all the time. Only Cellino could nail his Sardinia Whites flag so firmly to the concerns of Leeds United Season Ticket Holders while simultaneously rinsing and demoralising game-by-game fans; only Cellino could initiate a battle that brings the Football League to the stadium’s door when he’s only an appeal’s width from being banned from the stadium himself.
Of course Cellino wasn’t there; only Cellino could start to battle at this level while thousands of miles away in Miami. One stark feature of the Sky stand-off was that, when Sky and Shaun Harvey arrived to have it out with Cellino, there was nobody to be found who had anything that could be called authority. All anyone at Elland Road had that day was fear of dismissal for gross misconduct if things didn’t go Cellino’s way, and the chance to join the ex-Leeds fastlane at the employment tribunal.
It’s the nearest thing we’ve had to a glimpse of a post-Cellino Leeds United; a near-empty Elland Road running according to the last threat Cellino made before he was forced out the door. The steady reversal of the progress made while Adam Pearson was here continued this week as Head of Recruitment Martyn Glover left to join his old compadre Sam Allardyce at Sunderland. When Pearson left, it was no problem, because Cellino said he would just work twice as hard; but if his plan is to just keep holding portfolios himself as their holders melt away, who will hold the portfolios when a bucket of water from Shaun melts Massimo, like a witch in Oz?
The club is apparently looking for a new Head of Recruitment, and handily enough Steve Evans’ brother, Gee, has previously been on hand to provide that service for Steve at Crawley, Boston and Rotherham. But it’s Cellino himself who has been phoning Steve in his car to bring up to date with transfer negotiations, for hours; and Cellino who has turned out to be behind the pursuit of Kyle Lafferty.
It makes sense when you think about it. Who else but Cellino — who was rumoured last season to be scouring lists of free agents for footballing ex-prisoners in need of a second chance — would want to sign a player who was bombed out of Serie B two seasons ago when Palermo’s chairman described him as “an out of control womaniser”? Apparently Uwe Rosler wasn’t keen on Lafferty, and the deal fell through, and suddenly it makes sense to flip the script on Martyn Glover’s role from recruiting for the club, to defending the club against witless recruiting. Cellino might come across as too savvy for that, but then he did sign Nicky Ajose from the same agent that had dropped Cameron Stewart in his lap. “I feel a bit stupid about that,” Cellino said in The Independent.
Cellino’s decision making has always been questionable; his firing policy always gets the headlines, but it’s thoughtless hiring policy that actually causes the trouble — it’s worth noting at this point that Kidderminster Harriers parted company with Dave Hockaday this week; although they did win their only two games of the season so far after the Hock was appointed in October, they also lost ten others (and drew one), including all of the last six. But now Cellino’s decision making isn’t only questionable for his judgement, but for his mandate.
Decisions being made in this month’s transfer window could affect the club for years to come. The decision to accept or refuse offers for Lewis Cook, Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt, Charlie Taylor, even Giuseppe Bellusci; how much to sell players for; how much to buy players for, and what contracts to give them. These are the sorts of decisions that have strangled Leeds United over the years: awarding Seth Johnson not an annual wage but a gross domestic product; selling Aaron Lennon for only a million; giving Steve Morison a long term contract around £20k a week; giving Sam Byram a shorter contract worth much less.
Steve Evans has had his say, repeatedly, on the last point; if Sam won’t sign a contract, Leeds should sell him. Evans will then, with his next quip, joke that his own contract runs until Friday; he just doesn’t know which one. That’s fine, but I’m uncomfortable with decisions about the long term future of a player who has been at Leeds United for the entirety of his puberty being made by someone who only just got here, who has a monthly contract. We know who made Steve Evans the manager, but Sam Byram might well wonder who made him the boss.
Cellino doesn’t joke about his own tenure, because to him it’s a much more dramatic affair of the heart than any short-term watermelon. Plus, he doesn’t even have the luxury of knowing that his presidency could end on a Friday. Thanks to the silent methods of the Football League, the decison to uphold his ban — or, indeed, to overturn it — could arrive on any day, at any hour; perhaps leaving him just enough time to yell, ‘Fack it, salla him to Brownmouth, one million, my haart is so broken, I go gets too drank’ into the phone before it becomes a Shaun Harvey sanctionable offence.
And when he hangs up, that will be that, because, having chased away his executives, the fans, the players, the authorities, the empire will be the emperor; the emperor of nothing, who had better leave us with something. And who had better act with some sense over the next twenty-five days.