Leeds United Stories, Vol. 1
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the square ball week: old boys

the square ball week: old boys

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There are still a few days left, but it’s with a sigh of relief that we can say the transfer window – and the reason why Harry Redknapp gets out of bed in the morning – is almost over. For a while, anyway.

Scott Wootton looks like the last through the in door at Leeds, so for the next few days its about who we keep, who leaves, and where the leavers go. 

We had a reminder this week that not all departures end in Gareth Bale-style animosity, enmity and outright stupidity. I sense that a lot of Tottenham’s signings these past few weeks are geared towards reducing the numbers of shirts burned outside the ground by the over-sensitive when <3-11 (or whatever his trademark is) finally gets his dream move to the Bernabeu. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Billy Paynter’s goal against Leeds in the League Cup this week proved that it is possible to retain a place in the affections – if that’s the right word – of the fans you left behind, even if you were far from the levels of a Bale while you were there. It was around this time last year that I penned a column wishing the eternal trier good luck and a bus-load of goals at Doncaster; while also calling him one of the worst strikers Leeds have ever had. 

There was never any bitterness with Billy, even when he scored on Tuesday. That goal could have been significant, too; an equaliser in the second half of an evenly matched cup game that Leeds definitely did not want to lose. But even as his free header hit the back of the net – and the finish was, to be fair, out of the upper drawers of his Swindon days – there was resigned shrugging from Leeds fans, rather than anger or laments that he had ‘come back to haunt us.’ Well, he always going to do it, wasn’t he?

A certain amount of protectiveness can persist with some old boys. The new issue of The Square Ball magazine will be on sale outside Elland Road before the game on Saturday (as will our t-shirts), and features an interview with Bradford City legend David Wetherall.  The thing with Wetherall is that before his twelve years at Valley Parade as player, captain, player-manager and youth coach, he was something of a Leeds United legend too: the chemistry student who stayed in school during our title winning season, before becoming a rock at the centre of our defence and putting the ball in the Man U net – twice. 

A move from Leeds to Bradford might not have been the most popular among Leeds fans, but most fans understood that it made sense for Wetherall. And they were furious when Peter Ridsdale, with his talent for sticking his foot right in the wrong bucket, said Leeds had “moved on from the [Rob] Molenaars and Wetheralls of this world.” That Ridsdale disrespected one of most faithful Leeds servants of the nineties, and a less long-serving but no less popular player in Molenaar, chipped away another of the layers of gloss that had concealed his cluelessness; that he did it while announcing the signing of Seth Johnson chipped at another. 

The reaction of Leeds’ fans was telling. Wetherall might have been a Bradford player by then, and he might have come from Sheffield Wednesday in the first place, but this guy was one of our own, and you didn’t speak about one of our own that way. “I’ve certainly appreciated it when supporters have talked to me about it like that,” David told me for TSB. Even in 2007, nine years after he had moved, Leeds fans were still calling radio programmes to describe Wetherall as “a collosus, he’s just quality … he’s just absolutely awesome.” Admittedly, this was the famous night when, after a defeat at Leicester, Leeds fans bombarded Mark Bright’s 606 pretending to be fans of other teams before chanting ‘We Are Leeds!’ – but the sentiment was sincere:

There are always these players around, players who might be wearing a different shirt but deep down have that Leedsness about them, whose achievements are still logged with supporters in Yorkshire. James Milner is the highest profile; a Milner goal in a televised Man City game is always followed by a lot of ‘1-0 Leeds’ comments on Twitter; and when he plays well for England, the pride is still Horsforth’s. Likewise Noel Whelan, who even celebrated his goal for Middlesbrough against Man Utd with a Leeds Salute. When we interviewed Noel for The Square Ball a couple of seasons ago he told us he’d played for Coventry against that lot with a Leeds shirt under his Coventry one; he might have been wearing Boro’s colours when he scored against them, but at least part of that goal was for us. 

The new season, after a summer of transfers and changes, has meant a decent amount of catching up going on, and it’s thrown up a lot of old names for Leeds fans: not just Billy Paynter. The aforementioned Woodgate has been reflecting on his career, and drawn his manager’s praise for performing well despite the death of his father on the eve of the season; Fabian Delph, still only 23, has had an excellent start to the season and, this Villa blog reckons, “is now looking like a £30m player rather than a £8m player”; Tom Taiwo is the same age but left earlier than Delph for the bright lights of Chelsea – he’s now trying to fight his way back into the side at Hibernian.

I’m not sure why this interview with Ramón Núñez, now of FC Dallas in MLS, is in German, but he does have this to say about Leeds: “The city itself is gorgeous, something that I enjoyed very much. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be back”; casting the net further back is this where-is-he-now? article on Tony Yeboah, who is welcoming Leeds fans to his hotel in Ghana – “They will say ‘do you remember this goal?’ or ‘do you remember this game?’” – although the tight git isn’t offering discounts.

Also abroad is Brian Deane, talking about adjusting to life as a manager in Norway; and then there’s David Wetherall in The Square Ball this weekend, and also on the back page of the free The City Talking newspaper’s new issue, out next week.

It’s an impressive list of old boys, and one day this weekend’s opponents QPR will have a list just like it; most of those old boys seem to still be at the club, though, and Harry keeps signing more, which means the game on Saturday will probably be our most difficult of the season so far. Leeds have had no problem meeting every challenge we’ve faced so far, though, so we have every reason to be optimistic.

You can insure yourself against the pain of losing by making sure you have some quality reading material for after the game; as mentioned, The Square Ball issue 2 will be on sale at the four corners of the ground and various other spots on Saturday. As well as the interview with David Wetherall, Andy P talked to Mick Roberts of legendary Leeds band The Bridewell Taxis, Jon Howe went to Howard Wilkinson’s house (he had an appointment!), Jailhouse John went to Wembley – in 1965, and there’s the usual mixture of nonsense, moaning, and sound common sense. It’s only £1.50 for the 56 page all-colour all-paper version, or a quid if you want to download a pdf.

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