the square ball week: promising historyBack
I wonder what else they’ve got hidden in the East Stand.
It turns out there’s an entire legal company in there, and there has been since June last year. So that’s the whole of the 2014/15 season, hidden behind the windowless walls of the Delph Extension. Eighty-six people, scrivening and scratching. Was anyone, as they dozed through Leeds’ Milanic-inspired nil-nil draw with Reading, woken by the sound of pen on legal pad, by the tap of keys on typewriters? Did they just dismiss the first as the sound of rats? Did they, lulled into hallucination by the football, just dismiss the second as the sound of rats with typewriters?
Since it was built, the East Stand has always been a source of surprise. The first surprise was when, shortly after it was finished, David Batty was sold, apparently to pay for it; the next surprise was a few months later when we paid the same amount for Carlton Palmer and wondered if there was some way of reversing all these trades. There was then a period of relative calm, until Ken Bates, doing his best Enid Blyton impression, announced he’d found a network of secret caves down there and was determined to explore them. If he didn’t find a swarthy smuggler down there to thwart, he could as least build a jolly nice clubhouse for George, Timmy and the rest.
Nothing ever seemed to come of the famous catacombs, ‘underused space’ that Ken was determined to make pay its way; I suspect a kindly architect or builder may have gently explained to him that what he’d found where the foundations. But now Quindell Legal Services have been dragged like kidnap victims, blinking, into the light, to face the public and the planning process, who knows who or what might be in all those ‘underutilised’ spaces?
The space Quindell have taken over did, actually, have a use. When Ken Bates drove through his expansion plans for the East Stand it was, he reckoned, all for our benefit; the fans would get to enjoy some of the finest, er, corporate facilities available to fans, well, businesses, anywhere in football. Or at least we could stand in the street and look at them and be grateful that, after buying our own tickets to watch the football, we still had enough left over to afford a roof over our head and a warm place to sleep at night.
Bates was aware, though, that something more than empty words would be required this time, to keep the ever angrier hordes outside from snatching Barbados Bill’s tools out of his hand and dismantling the new building brick by brick. So we got a museum. Or rather, we got the promise of a museum, about the size of a penalty area, in the yellow brick sticky-out bit above the subterranean reception. There, fans. There’s your slice.
The museum even got a curator, lifelong fan Helen Castle, who started work on September 1st 2011, before the building work was even complete (“we’ve now got our museum lady” announced Ken), and was still there in March 2013, although by that time she must have been wondering whether her presence had been missed from the bill of sale to GFH-C.
Helen started by putting out an appeal for memorabilia and getting to grips with ‘thousands of items gathering dust in a storeroom beneath the South Stand.’ She was photographing and cataloguing everything, and told the YEP, “I want the museum to be object rich, with a permanent core and smaller temporary sections that can be changed to tie in with milestones like the 1992 title win.”
And I hope for Helen’s sake her job ended before she had to watch eight-six office desks, eighty-six office chairs being hauled in to occupy the space of her 86/87 memorabilia display. Choosing items for display was a labour of love, she told the YEP, but we know how labours of love have tended to end at Leeds United in recent years. I hope I don’t glance idly at a Norwich City line-up one day and find that the master index to our club’s history has been given a squad number; better there than in the bin, I suppose.
Perhaps a rogue filing cabinet still remains among all Quindell’s critical documents, the one their staff open and then sigh immediately because it’s full of football rubbish and not the case files they seek. Maybe the thousands of objects retrieved from the old South Stand store have been shovelled back in. Perhaps Ellie The Elephant’s head is mounted on a plinth and hands on Massimo Cellino’s wall; “Cecil the lion?” he tells visitors, cocking an imaginary shotgun and taking aim around the room; “Ah, some faking denteest, I tell you the real hunting stories…”
One thing that’s certain is that none of us have been able to appreciate Helen Castle’s work in the way it was intended — in public — and that if we ever do it will be done the hard way. Because the space for it is simply gone. If we’re to have a Leeds United museum — an ‘official’ one, anyway — the club will have to build one, and that opens up a whole can of Elland Road buy-back worms, not to mention the problems of appraising Cellino of quaint British traditions like planning permission and building standards.
It’s odd, in retrospect, that GFH-C didn’t figure that getting the promised museum in good order and open would have helped their charm offensive; perhaps it just looked too darned expensive compared to sticking some banners up telling people ‘the past is the past’, or perhaps that was too much of a mixed-message even for them. “‘The Past is the Past — and you can visit it today at the Leeds United Museum, inside Ken Bates’ Glorious Tribute to Fabian Delph…’ Yeah, Dave, I’m not sure you’ve thought this one through…” “Sorry, Hisham.”
But it’s something that I hope is now a little more likely; and hopefully with a little more sincerity. The origin story of the club’s new Kappa kits might create doubt — we’ve got Kappa because we’re fighting a legal fight with Macron, and there’s no sponsor because ditto, ditto, Enterprise Insurance — but the club has seized upon the opportunity and given the fans what they’ve wanted for years: white at home, yellow away. And no third kit, as the official Twitter account knowingly and gleefully trumpeted: “Meaning #lufc will only play in white or yellow during 2015/16.” ‘Find some way of abusing us for that!’ they nearly added, until they spotted some killjoy raising the spectre of meeting Torquay in the cup.
The tone of that tweet, though, and of much of the publicity surrounding the kit launch, has carried a transparent appeal to the fans: ‘We’re doing this for you,’ it says, ‘Because we know it’s what you want.’ After the build up there was really only one away kit they could have announced this week; there would have riots had they unveiled another glow-in-the-dark number, or even had another go at sky-blue. The lack of a sponsor — yet — wouldn’t have made up for the missed opportunity. It was so obvious that to unveil it the club really did just Photoshop yellow on to photos of the white kit, and for once we can be glad that Leeds United took the easy and obvious choice, and didn’t make it hard on themselves, or on us.
Of course, all yellow, blue trim and no sponsor doesn’t explain or excuse the unregulated presence of a firm of lawyers where our museum should be, and come Saturday it won’t protect our left-back or provide goalscoring opportunities against Everton the way a left-winger would, and it doesn’t rebuild or repair or solve anything at the club beyond its own limits: we have a proper away kit now, and that is that.
But it also means we now have a wish fulfilled, a promise delivered. That’s a mantra that’s as good for any football club as it is for any firm of lawyers, and it’s one that I hope Leeds United will carry through, from the East Stand to the pitch.