The City Talking: Fashion, Vol.1

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the square ball week: squad shots

the square ball week: squad shots


Image by Joseph Gamble

The uncertainties surrounding the transfer window aren’t anything new; they’re just on the telly a lot more, and at greater volume, and because the transfer window and the season are always out of sync, a lot weirder. These days squad posters at the start of each season should come with a marker pen so you can cross out the escapees, and draw in the additions.

We faced this problem as long ago as 1999, when talks between Jimmy Hasselbaink and the club finally collapsed (Jimmy: “Pay me crazy amounts of money!” Peter Ridsdale: “No way, man, that’d be crazy!” Jimmy: “Right, I’m off to Spain to get crazy amounts of money.” Ridsdale: “Wait, I’ve had second thoughts! Too late, he’s gone. He had an interesting point with that ‘crazy amounts of money’ thing, though…”). It wasn’t a problem for long – we soon replaced him with ‘English Football Legend’ Darren Huckerby – but it was a problem for the club’s commercial department. Do you get the squad together again at Elland Road for a new photograph, just to replace one player? “No!” said Ridsdale, slamming shut the till. “Think of the expense!” 

For a year, then, kids gazed up at the poster on their walls, wondering why it didn’t look quite right; Darren Huckerby was there, but not there, illuminated by an ethereal light of his own that kept him apart from his teammates. And if they had a copy of that season’s club handbook, they’d be in for a shock: the squad photo on p95 showed Huckerby next to Danny Mills, but in the squad shot on p90, a frowny Hasselbaink was still there. We won’t even get into the way Jonathan Woodgate’s tongue was lolling out the side of his mouth – if they could Photoshop Darren-Floyd Huckerbank, surely they could have done something about that?

In my younger days, I’d handle this sort of thing myself. My squad poster for 1989/90 was an artwork of considerable violence. For one thing, it was inside the lid of my desk at school – yes, we had desks with lids, and inkwells, kids – meaning it was easily available to vandals, and as this school was nearer Stockport than Elland Road, there were plenty of those around. So the first tool I required was a good quality eraser, to remove the pencilled penises from David Batty’s head on a weekly basis. 

I also needed scissors and a decent stock of other team’s photos. Howard Wilkinson had been busy in the transfer market that summer, but the comings and goings didn’t let up, and the poster I pulled from a copy of Shoot! was soon out of date. In pre-season Noel Blake punched out an Anderlecht forward for no real reason, and arch-disciplinarian Sergeant Wilko soon got him sold; but he still stood sternly on the back row of my poster, and with no incoming players, I needed a solution. Well, I really liked David Batty; so I simply got another photo of David Batty, cut around his head, and blu-tacked it onto Blake’s body. (Even in 1989 I was aware of the folly of putting too much faith in footballers: I always used blu-tack, never glue.)

Two Battys was fine by me. Eleven Battys would have been fine, but finding enough pictures was a problem. So was Wilko’s tinkering. New signing Mickey Thomas didn’t last past Christmas, but it wasn’t long before a happy half hour cutting carefully around his wet-look perm put Chris Kamara’s head in his place. Ian Baird left, too, but he’d been replaced by Lee Chapman, and that was the neatest swap of all: a striker for a striker, and one from the First Division, too, meaning that I had plenty of pictures to bring in. 

As long as it was one-out, one-in, I was fine, but as promotion drew nearer, Howard’s squad got bigger. Another new striker arrived as a reinforcement upfront, and while I had no shortage of headshots, I had no space on the poster. Youth team graduate Gary Speed had already taken over from my second Batty as the new head of Noel Blake, so it was up above the West Stand seats, then, floating bodiless, where I had to place the out-of-scale head of Imre Varadi.

With that line crossed, I went for broke. In my search for photos of my favourite Leeds stars, I’d found them all in their younger days on the squad photos of their previous clubs; so I brought the second Batty back, and added a couple more Chapmans, an extra Sterland, a Fairclough from each of Spurs and Forest, even an additional Strachan – although I made sure not a trace of his former club’s red shirt remained. It was less a team photo, more a story-telling collage of how our squad had spent the eighties.

I wonder if Howard Wilkinson, sitting in his office with piles of Match and Shoot!, scissors and blu-tack, had the same problem. With the second division title won, Leeds United did a very sensible thing: they took another squad photograph. As a record of 1989/90’s achievement, it does lack Ian Baird, but otherwise it’s perfect: the team look splendid in long-sleeved Top Man/Umbro shirts, there’s a quiet look of satisfaction at a job well done on all their faces (apart from Batty, who looks like he’s spotted someone off-camera, nicking his sandwiches), and above all, it’s accurate at the time of winning the title: Chapman, Varadi, Kamara and Speed; they’re all there. And Dylan Kerr.

I’m sure some clubs have taken to not releasing their squad photos until after the transfer window has closed, but most of the time its easier to photograph whoever you’ve got and leave the rest to luck. I’m not sure what it says about Leeds United’s luck that we haven’t needed to bring Photoshop to bear on the visages of Brown and Pugh, but with the loan window opening soon and throwing the whole thing up in the air again, perhaps that’s where scissors and blu-tack – or a Photoshop copy-and-paste – will come in handy for people who like to keep their squad shots up to date. Or perhaps Brian McDermott, who rather than forgetting our past, seems to be bringing the best parts of it – like the pre-match tracksuit tops and wave – back to shape our future, will follow Wilko’s lead on this, too. An end-of-season commerative squad photo of achievement. That would be quite something to have.

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