the square ball week: emoshBack
The writing hand emoji was, according to Emojipedia, approved as part of Unicode 1.1 in June 1993.
1.1 was a huge update from the first version of Unicode, released in October 1991; 1.0 encoded 7,161 characters, 1.1 bumped that to 34,233. June 2016’s Unicode 9.0 release has 128,237.
Leeds United aren’t too fussed about 128,236 of those characters right now: U+270D is the only one that matters, the old school contract signing hand from back in the day. Imagine if Leeds had this idea back in 1993! Cycling through Teletext pages until that ClubCall advert appeared, a blockily rendered hand with a barely diagonal pen, beckoning you to call (the telephone symbol was also part of Unicode 1.1) to hear — yes — Brian Deane, for a club record £2.7m! David O’Leary, for free, rising to Seth Johnson!
At least Twitter isn’t charging us by the minute for the lowdown every time the @LUFC account waves its disembodied hand of gory temptation; this could have been an expensive couple of weeks. First Marcus Antonsson; and then, for a while, it looked like the most significant transfer news would be outgoing, with the blessed relief of Giuseppe Bellusci’s loan to Empoli. Tomasso Bianchi was confirmed going too, while already departed Mirco Antenucci fixed up a new club; Casper ‘Prince’ Sloth slipped back to Denmark, and the blessed relief about that move will all be his, and his family’s, who I hope will be pleased to have him home.
There are, or were, only two downsides to all these leaves. One, that Bellusci has only left on a season long loan. That puts Leeds fans in a trepidatious position, wanting Bellusci to perform well enough at Empoli to seal a permanent deal, but not so well that letting him go might look like an error, or tempt a certain over-emotional you-know-who to take a trip to Italy and drive him back here himself.
The other downside was that all the departures left Leeds’ squad looking fritful thin. Say what you like about the stock players Cellino and Nicola Salerno stocked the playing squad with when they stocked the squad with players before the transfer embargo dropped, but those stock players certainly used up all the pegs in the Thorp Arch changing rooms, and empty changing rooms will not help no Monk.
In rare style for Leeds United, though, a problem once identified was, in short order, solved, emoji by emoji. Antonsson. Kyle Bartley. Hadi Sacko. Robert Green. Matt Grimes. Kemar Roofe. Swedish flag, flexed biceps, dancer, crying cat face, dove of peace (I’m open to suggestions on that one), shinto shrine. Blam, blam, blam.
They’re a mixed bag, but there’s a lot of good mixed up in Papa Monk’s new bag. A winger deemed worthy of a €60m release clause. An England goalkeeper, of sorts. League Two’s top goalscorer and player of the year. A restoration, after the departure of namesake Eric, of oblique references to Claire Boucher. A new defender, who isn’t Bellusci. A new Swede, who isn’t Brolin.
There’s excitement in the bunch, and if you could bottle the positivity generating by that last Roofe-inspired tweet of the hand, you could sell a lot of season tickets by offering a sniff of the bottle with every one. It’s half a new team, mixing pedigree, potential, and the unknown; it means that, at QPR on the opening day of the season, half the feeling of same-old, same-old that has haunted Leeds United for years will be gone.
But it means nothing. This moment actually reminds me of one of the first print things I wrote for The City Talking, way back in the summer of 2013, when GFH were fresh owners and Luke Murphy was a fresh £1m signing by Brian McDermott, our fresh new manager. I was excited, I was positive, and as the season was about to start, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Because I just wanted to know, and know straight away, if this was going to work, or just be another failure; and the only way of knowing was for the season to be played and done. Only then would I know if the positivity was going to be worth anything.
You can’t test anything in the summer except intent, and Leeds United are an exception to that rule in any case, because only a fool would try to fathom Massimo Cellino’s true intentions, especially when combined with the intent behind the unparseably murky and still here GFH. We can’t judge whether Roofe is a good signing yet, because he might go the way of the last hot-prospect lower-league marksman we signed, and turn out to be a £3m Nicky Ajose. Antonsson — a new Zlatan, or a new Teddy Lucic? Ask me in May.
Ask me about all of it in May. Bartley, Grimes and Green are only signed up until then anyway, so that seems like a fair moment to emerge from hibernation, check the league table, and then decide if it would be safe to watch the highlights of the preceding nine months. If I’d followed that plan in summer 2013, the answer to my question then — is this gonna work? — would have been a delivered as a resounding ‘No’ with my May alarm, and I would never have had to experience the 2-0 at Spotland, the 6-0 at Hillsborough; or Mad Friday, or the rest. I wouldn’t have had to take the answer to my initial optimism about Noel Hunt as a series of nineteen goalless slaps to my disappointed face. I’d never have even seen Kebe or Stewart in a Leeds shirt; I’d have endured one season less of Luke Varney and Michael Brown.
If the league table in May 2017 does prove satisfactory upon my Rip Van Winkling, I could then address the other anxiety of summer 2016, by looking at the last few teamsheets for not only the new names, but the old and familiar. Well, young and familiar. Lewis Cook? Charlie Taylor? Alex Mowatt? Sam Byram? Wait, Sam Byram? How long was I asleep?
Cook to Bournemouth seems like it is on; war with Taylor’s agent (also Byram’s) is definitely on; Mowatt now has Grimes on his hands in his battle for a starting place — for a year, anyway. Perhaps it would be better to sleep through this bit; and if I don’t, then others certainly will, snoozily praising Cellino for investing in the playing squad, their dreams undisturbed as Cellino makes it all back and more by selling the best young player Leeds United have produced in years. For a pittance.
And at this point I’d like to acknowledge the personal element of these columns, which I’ve never hid, but which some people seem to struggle with when they come reading around here with grumps about objectivity and negativity. I treat these things pretty much as personal essays, which means they’re as subject to the whims of my moods and the ebb of my feelings as I want them to be; and if the mood and feeling that Leeds United tends to inspire in me these days is somewhat glum, that’s going to be reflected here. Oh well. And besides, when I do fall in love with a player and write their praises, it’s always the wrong bloody one for someone (‘Take the blinkers off about Botaka’ indeed) so what’s the fucking point. These are thoughts in progress, written down and offered with the hope that, if you read them, you won’t feel like I’ve wasted your time.
But there are thoughts in progress, then there’s progress that overtakes thought. I tend to write this column either Thursday night or Friday morning (if I can get up that early), especially in these days of Cellino, to try and stay ahead of redundancy, and this one was started early on Thursday evening after a tiring afternoon interviewing someone important about something-or-other, which left me feeling rather blank.
Blank, but positive, which is what this was at the start; I’m sure someone will misinterpret my notion of sleeping through until May so I can just find out if Leeds are going to be any good this year, without all the rigmarole, but it’s just that I care about it that much (a grown adult!) that I’d hide away from the world for nine months if it meant Leeds United were good again. Plus, I’m not actually going to do it, am I? It’s an impulsive feeling, a temptation I’ll write about here then resist, plus I’m supposed to write all the match reports and that so it’s not exactly practical.
And just as I know I have to be awake, I know that I will be excited come that first pre-season game, then the first league game; will Botaka play, and justify my love? Will Roofe or Sacko or Antonsson eclipse him? I’ve seen Roofe and Antonsson have some lovely goals on YouTube, and I’ll take some of that from players in Leeds shirts. Saying I want to sleep until May is just my way of saying I’m excited about the season, that’s all.
But as I’ve been writing this my phone has been buzzing with tweet alerts, and I’ve been increasingly distracted by those 140-character (to wring out the Unicode references a bit more) doses on the scroll; and the words have come slower, the desire to write something positive (for a bloody change, right?) has evaporated; for a few minutes this evening my forehead has just rested on my keyboard. (I hit save and then unplugged it first, because I am, after all, a pro.) Because Leeds United tempted Lewis Cook away from representing England in the under-19 European Championships this summer with the lure of getting down to pre-season with Monk and Clotet in Ireland, and now they’re flying him back a medical in Bournemouth, because there are a bunch of season-long loans to pay for and £6m will do, apparently.
I think about this stuff, you know. I couldn’t have written 211 of them (not including match reports) if I didn’t. I try to find some aspect of variety, some quirk of phrasing, some new style that’ll lift this writing away from the drear that is the football, but Leeds United just make it bloody impossible at times. No, all the time. Back before the summer I’ve written about above, in the season of Bates’ last stand, I wanted to get away from writing about Ken all the time so I took Luciano Becchio as my muse and concentrated on him, wrote about him every way I could, and it felt great to always have a source of inspiration I could turn to on the pitch. And fucking Warnock sold him halfway through the season. These things are biro-stabs as piercing as any that were aimed through my jumper at school, and the @LUFC Twitter account has the gall to taunt me with their pen-wielding hand when they’re hyping up some tawdry loan from the reserves at Garry Monk’s old club; although not quite as near-to-canteen-tears as having to log back in here at the butt-end of midnight to put that semi-colon where a full stop was doing very well and acknowledge that Terry fucking George has put a photo on Instagram of him (obviously), Massimo (inevitably) and Russell Crowe (mind-numbingly). Don’t go to bed just yet, ever, ever in your lives; although if ever there were reasons to make for the duvet and make a non-aggression pact with the world, Leeds United as viewed through Terry George’s Instagram account is a lot of them.
Anyway. It’s great that we’re all alive and everything could definitely be so much worse. This column/article/essay/whatever will end in a few lines with the observation that, the better Leeds United get, the harder they are to watch; I should qualify that now, as the better Leeds United seem to get, the harder they are to watch, but they never get as better as you think they do, and falling for it only hurts all the more. So this how this is finishing up:
It’s hard to get excited about a season’s loan of Bartley and Grimes, or a year of Robert Green, set against the next fifteen years of Lewis Cook’s career. It’s going to mean long-term pain for short-term… something. Something that will occupy our arguments for the next month, until QPR; something we won’t truly be able to assess for one, or fifteen, seasons; something that proves to me, again, that the nearer Leeds United comes to giving me pleasure, the harder it is to watch.
I don’t know if the Leeds United Twitter account has an emoji to summarise all that.