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the square ball week: waiting for cellino

the square ball week: waiting for cellino

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It’s undeniable that the board of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club only tweeted that photo of their board meeting this week as commentary on Leeds United.

It’s the only reason anything else in football exists: to scorn Leeds. Just look at the Europa League Final this week. At half-time the world was playing along with the pretence that James Milner, former sixteen year old wunderkind of Leeds United’s fall from millennial grace, would lift a European trophy as captain of Liverpool. Within minutes of the second half starting, the true story had been revealed: Liverpool only signed Milner at all so that Leeds fans would have to deal with his sternly disappointed face at full-time, trying to explain away the defeat, where we’d been encouraged to see reflected glory.

And so to Brighton’s board meeting, or at least the board meeting they fabricated so they’d have a photo with which to taunt Leeds United fans. Two days after a plucky, determined but narrowly fruitless attempt at overcoming Sheffield Wednesday and reaching a play-off final, they sent out a message from the chairman that was clear in its anti-Leeds intentions: “Day one of the 2016/17 season.”

Then they gave their manager a new four-year contract. Chris Hughton ought to be grateful; if it weren’t for the contrasting tableau his new contract created with Steve Evans’ situation at Leeds, they would never have given him it.

Meanwhile, on Elland Road:

A road. A chip shop.
Evening

EVANS: (despairingly) Ah! (Pause.) You’re sure it was here?
SLOTH: What?
EVANS: That we were to wait.
SLOTH: He said by Graveley’s. (They look at the chip shop.) Do you see any others? What are you insinuating? That we’ve come to the wrong place?
EVANS: He should be here.
SLOTH: He didn’t say for sure he’d come.
EVANS: And if he doesn’t come?
SLOTH: We’ll come back tomorrow.
EVANS: And then the day after tomorrow.
SLOTH: Possibly.
EVANS: And so on.
SLOTH: The point is—
EVANS: Until he comes.
SLOTH: You’re merciless.
EVANS: We came here yesterday.
SLOTH: Ah no, there you’re mistaken.
EVANS: What did we do yesterday?
SLOTH: What did we do yesterday?
EVANS: Yes.

Steve Evans was there to watch Brighton’s defeat by Sheffield Wednesday.

“If you look at the teams in the play-offs, if they go up then some of their players might be told to move on but they’d be wanted by plenty of managers in the Championship,” Steve told the Yorkshire Evening Post. “I’m keeping myself on top of all that.”

So the Championship play-offs take on a new aspect, as the eventual victors become losers, jettisoned back into the Championship they just escaped, their names noted down by Steve Evans as the perfect player to fit into his — his what? His team? What team does Steve Evans have? He might have the perfect replacement for Mirco Antenucci, a future partner that would bring the best out of Chris Wood, but does he have Chris Wood? And if Evans doesn’t have Chris Wood, who is thinking about a partner for Wood, and what will happen to Evans’ list of new players?

Carayol didn’t work out, Evans might think. But there’s a player who could really do well on the wing for Leeds United. I’ve put his name on my wishlist for Leeds United, season 2016/17. At the top of his wishlist for Leeds United, season 2016/17, Evans writes, ‘Be Leeds United’s head coach.’

Meanwhile, on Elland Road:

EVANS: So long as one knows.
SLOTH: One can bide one’s time.
EVANS: One knows what to expect.
SLOTH: No further need to worry.
EVANS: Simply wait.
SLOTH: We’re used to it.

Then take a goalkeeper, for example, it’s absurb in a game of football to be the one using your hands. You’re on the team, but not of the team, a player alone. The team played 4-4-2, you’re so easy to predict you’re not even necessary to mention, and yet you’re the one in a game of feet throwing in a pair of unpredictable hands. And standing there, just standing there, while everyone runs about you and at you.

Sometimes it seems like goalkeepers are more part of the crowd than the game; spectators, like everyone else. But at Elland Road, when you approach the Kop, they seem to beckon you in, until at the last moment they turn on you and reject you.

Unless you’re the goalkeeper for Leeds United, when you’re beckoned in by the supporters, until you make a hash of things and concede a goal, like all goalkeepers, when your closeness to the crowd means you hear and feel their resentment. He’s the goalkeeper; why did he concede one? Why did he let us down? Maybe goalkeepers would be better called goal-conceders. It would be more accurate, and manage expectations.

Take Bailey Peacock-Farrell for your goalkeeper. You’re promised a game or two when Leeds United are safe from relegation, but football conspires to keep beating Leeds United so they’re never safe. Then Marco Silvestri is sent off, so you have to play. And in the game you play, football conspires not to kick the ball at you, so you can’t show whether you’re a goalkeeper or a goal-conceder, until your own defender hacks down an attacker to give the other team a free shot at you.

Then, promised another game, you don’t get another game. Then, promised a new contract, you’re expected to decide on a new contract before the football club has decided on the contract of its head coach, or the contract of a goalkeeping coach to help you. “What will I be doing next season?” your goalkeeper asks, and silence descends, as if he’d cracked a ribald joke at a funeral.

Meanwhile, on Elland Road:

SLOTH: Well? What do we do?
EVANS: Don’t let’s do anything. It’s safer.
SLOTH: Let’s wait and see what he says.
EVANS: Who?
SLOTH: Cellino.
EVANS: Good idea.
SLOTH: Let’s wait till we know exactly how we stand.
EVANS: On the other hand it might be better to strike the iron before it freezes.
SLOTH: I’m curious to hear what he has to offer. Then we’ll take it or leave it.
EVANS: What exactly did we ask him for?
SLOTH: Were you not there?
EVANS: I can’t have been listening.
SLOTH: Oh… nothing very definite.
EVANS: A kind of prayer.
SLOTH: Precisely.
EVANS: A vague supplication.
SLOTH: Exactly.
EVANS: And what did he reply?
SLOTH: That he’d see.
EVANS: That he couldn’t promise anything.
SLOTH: That he’d have to think it over.
EVANS: In the quiet of his home.
SLOTH: Consult his family.
EVANS: His friends.
SLOTH: His agents.
EVANS: His correspondents.
SLOTH: His books.
EVANS: His bank account.
SLOTH: His Terry.
EVANS: Before making a decision.
SLOTH: It’s the normal thing.
EVANS: Is it not?
SLOTH: I think it is.
EVANS: I think so too.
Silence.

The Football League. The Football Association. The Italian legal system. You give some money to one man, it’s a problem. You don’t give money to another man, it’s another problem. And then the law changes and it’s not a problem, but because that’s not a problem anymore, the other man and his money are now a problem. And the boy, the Brazilian boy. They keep talking about him.

“I’ve had enough,” says Massimo Cellino, whose football club are believed to be about to give promotion a really good go next season.

“It’s better to walk out, not because I’m dishonest but because I’m tired and hurt and lonely,” says Massimo Cellino, who is often photographed by his friends in local nightclubs, posing with admirers and fans.

“I have no happiness any more and don’t know if I have the enthusiasm for the next season,” says Massimo Cellino, owner of Leeds United, a football club currently promoting season tickets by generating enthusiasm for next season.

“Today I’m not even sure I will be running this club tomorrow,” says Massimo Cellino, who also said he had called a board meeting for the following week.

“My only fault is PR. I apologise for that,” says Massimo Cellino, who has previously apologised for hiring Dave Hockaday, underestimating the standard of The Championship, not buying back Elland Road.

“If I could turn back time and you ask whether I would come to this club, I would say never. But now what should I do? Cry?” says Massimo Cellino, crying.

“I’ll tell you the truth — I’ve never been so confused,” says Massimo Cellino.

Meanwhile, on Elland Road:

EVANS: You’re sure it was this evening?
SLOTH: What?
EVANS: That we were to wait.
SLOTH: He said Wednesday. (Pause.) I think.
EVANS: You think.
SLOTH: I must have made a note of it.
He fumbles in his pockets, bursting with miscellaneous rubbish.
EVANS: (very insidious) But what about Wednesday? And is it Wednesday? Or rather not Thursday? (Pause.) Or Monday? (Pause.) Or Friday?
SLOTH: (looking wildly about him, as though the date was inscribed in the Clipper adverts on the East Stand.) It’s not possible!
EVANS: Or Tuesday?
SLOTH: What’ll we do?

And take Waiting For Godot as your new text to describe waiting for Massimo Cellino to hold his blasted board meeting, to decide the club’s plan for 2016/17 season; upon which the club has already made thousands of season ticket renewals or sales, despite nobody knowing the name of the coach, the standard of the players, even the identity of the club’s owner: Cellino wants to sell, he says, but he doesn’t want to be banned, but either could happen soon.

It even works as a rhyme: Massimo, Godot, Cellino, Time To Go, Time to Godot, Massimo Godot Cellino. But is it even the best existential drama for our needs? Two men, waiting for another man, whose name rhymes with Cellino: that’s neat. But take another existential drama: take Bagpuss. Emily’s cat Bagpuss, the most important, the most beautiful, the most magical, saggy old cloth cat in the whole wide world.

When Bagpuss wakes up all his friends awake too. The players in Thorp Arch woke up and stretched. Terry, the rag doll. Peter, the toad. And last of all, Professor Evans, who was a very distinguished old woodpecker. He climbed down off his bookend and went to see what it was that Emily had brought.

It was Bagpuss, which doesn’t rhyme with Massimo, but maybe suits our purposes better, for it’s only when Bagpuss is awake that the toys in the toy shop are awake, and it’s only when Massimo holds his board meeting, that Steve Evans and Bailey Peacock-Farrell can discover their fates.

The Time To Go, Massimo group parked a used-car style advert outside the East Stand in advance of Cellino’s mythical board meeting, but maybe they would have done better to remember Emily’s magic song to Bagpuss:

Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss
Old fat furry cat-puss
Wake up and look at this thing that I bring
Wake up, be bright
Be golden and light
Bagpuss, Oh hear what I sing

For Bagpuss read Cellino, for Emily read Terry, for the thing that I bring read whatever will wake Massimo up, and wake our club up, and bring all the mice in the piano back to life again:

We will find it, we will bind it
We will stick it with glue, glue, glue
We will stickle it, every little bit of it
We will fix it like new, new new.

Oh to hear their haunting song on the Lowfields, to see their little mending ways.

Meanwhile, on Elland Road:

EVANS: I can’t go on like this.
SLOTH: That’s what you think.
EVANS: If we parted? That might be better for us.
SLOTH: We’ll hang ourselves tomorrow. (Pause.) Unless Cellino comes.
EVANS: And if he comes?
SLOTH: We’ll be saved.
EVANS: Well? Shall we go?
SLOTH: Yes, let’s go.
They do not move.

CURTAIN

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