Choose TOMA: Memories from a Mad Summer Online

With GFH now with their feet securely under the table, one transfer window negotiated and initial impressions formed, this article (originally penned at the start of the season) looks back upon the online summer speculation frenzy and the hope that remained as the new season dawned…

Choose TOMA. Choose a Sheikh. Choose a country. Choose a consortium. Choose a f**king big personal fortune. Choose twitter timelines, Phil Hay, Google translate and bullshitting hotdog sellers. Choose WACCOE, ‘in the knowers’, and LUST statements. Choose fabricated press conferences. Choose shattered hopes. Choose wasted hours. Choose recycling ill-judged tea towel jokes. Choose following Paul Dews and wondering what he does for a f**king living. Choose endlessly refreshing the TOMA thread and wondering who the f**k you are at 2am on a Wednesday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing LUTV interviews, stuffing f**king junk food into your mouth. Choose sobbing away at the end of each day, drowning your sorrows in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to a selfish, f**ked up outside world that’s oblivious to your all-consuming inner torment.

Choose your obsession.

Choose TOMA.

But I chose not to choose TOMA. I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons? Who needs reasons when you’ve a life to lead…?

Also available as a t-shirt... and song!

Also available as a t-shirt… and song!

Now that would’ve been the perfect way to conclude the Trainspotting inspired introduction; but I couldn’t choose something else; we couldn’t choose something else; an all-consuming emotional investment in the world of Leeds United is the involuntary baggage we’ve become laden with – our drug: a dirty, socially frowned upon habit, offering the same fleeting, ecstatic emotional highs as heroin (so I’m told) but also sharing the dark, seemingly endless periods of lows, pain and irritability in between that such a dependency brings.

TOMA (Takeover? My Arse) has become more than a mere acronym; it’s become a way of life – a blueprint for existence of Whites fans across the globe over the course of this seemingly endless pre-season. The Euros; typically a course of salvation for the football starved, relegated as a side show; family, friends, daylight and fresh air – all disposable commodities in the crazed drive to satiate the need for up to the second information. Apparently, the summer of 2012 has been the coolest and wettest in decades… did anybody even realise?

As I view WACCOE now, on the Friday evening before the Shrewsbury game, the TOMA thread is on its 3118th page, its 62358th post and is rapidly approaching the 4.4million views landmark, and yet such astonishing figures can only hint at a narrative of such epic highs and lows, drama and comedy, heartbreak, despair, conflict and bullshit that it really could kick J.R.R. Tolkein’s arse in the literary stakes. As I browse now, the discussion is focused on this evening’s Calendar interview with LUST chairman, Gary Cooper. Yesterday, it was announced that the takeover had collapsed, today it’s back on… people – the more grounded ones, at least – reacted with a collective shrug of the shoulders: this sort of stuff has become the meat and drink we gorge upon daily!

73 long days have now passed since the takeover saga was first afforded the validity of official confirmation in the form of that first statement on the LUFC website; fittingly however, the embryonic stages date back a further 8 days and the words of the aforementioned LUST chairman. I say fittingly as LUST lie at the heart of this story, they represent the good guy, personified by Gary, the everyman hero working in unison with a mightier power, the mysterious bidder, in a bid to depose the evil tyrant and restore the essential foundations of hope and ambition to the Leeds United universe.

On the few occasions that the club have seen fit to comment, they have done so in response to a LUST press release, and yet there are still Leeds fans out there who berate the Trust, who claim that because they don’t prioritise pathetic individual demands for information above the wishes of investors with whom LUST hope to work for many years in partnership, for ALL our benefits, they are somehow not the fans’ voice or “know nothing”. I can only hope when this whole takeover is sorted, that those same people feel suitably embarrassed/humbled/grateful enough to offer the apologies and thanks they will so sorely owe. Anyway, enough of the soapbox and back on with the story…

So 81 days ago it all started, inauspiciously in the form of a simple post on WACCOE. As is standard, hysteria had set in about the club’s failing transfer policy on one the many threads devoted to the subject when BIG (shorthand for BillyisGod aka Gary Cooper) intervened to ‘leak’ the news that Shaun Harvey’s ears were burning following a meeting with a furious Neil Warnock (this is Joel Ward era) at Thorp Arch. Interesting, encouraging and reassuring news about our manager, but nothing sensational, right? True enough, but then the subject changed, hinting at something altogether more ground breaking – first up, a little tease that behind the scenes something was afoot, then another post and the big reveal! It read…

“There is a lot going on gents that is not public knowledge, until it becomes public knowledge the Trust really must keep its trap shut; we have a lot of credibility in a lot of places and by keeping confidences our reputation is spreading, and more and more people are talking to us. We have to continue to be discrete, even if it’s f**king killing me.

There is tunnel at the light of the end, ticking clock’s the.” 

The final sentence obviously makes little grammatical sense, but at the same time is easy to infer meaning from and in retrospect, clearly distils the on-going dilemma that LUST have had to wrestle with: how to keep fans as in the picture as possible, without breaking confidences – I for one, believe they have done so admirably.

Those hints alone were enough to send speculation hurtling into overdrive and the Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Group (MLSE) were quickly accredited with ‘most likely bidder’ status; the buzz was such that MLSE trended worldwide on twitter and the group were forced into issuing a denial. Meanwhile at Elland Road, the silence was deafening, none more so than on Yorkshire Radio where it had been announced that our gobshite owner would be breaking a habit of a lifetime by taking a summer break from his Wednesday lunchtime interview slot; his very raison d’être casually forsaken? Something was DEFINITELY afoot – it had to be. Confirmation wasn’t long in arriving…

It happened on a Monday night at 9.23pm; Phil Hay and LUST both tweeting statements within moments of each other, revealing that two parties were interested in the club, one of whom were some way down the line in negotiations. Timelines and messageboards went into meltdown; WACCOE was a sea of celebratory GIFs and inappropriate remarks regarding the instant sexual gratification the news had brought some people. Everything became a happy, hazy blur; I suddenly found myself checking the time, it was 1am and there were still over a thousand people browsing the TOMA thread – madness! Glorious, hysterical madness!

That Phil Hay tweet

That Phil Hay tweet

Finally it was out in the open, it was happening and by the next morning it was official; the club, their hand forced somewhat, confirmed that they were in investment talks. No longer was it a matter of if, rather who, and so began the longest running guessing game in football. The quest to identity the LUFC bidders has embraced a huge, eclectic cast of candidates, spanning the globe, featuring at some stage, pretty much every individual listed on the ‘Forbes Top 100 Billionaires Rich List’. Like your first love though, you never forget your first Sheikh, and within hours we had one.

Sheikh Al-Hasawi, a Kuwaiti fridge magnate (really!) had been tracked down by intrepid twitter investigators who’d translated his recent tweets to discover his intention to buy “a second tier English club with a great history” – it had to be Leeds, didn’t it? Google translate and an Arabic speaking WACCOE member (really!) was employed; a TV interview was found alongside other declarations, all supporting the notion. Suddenly the talk was of Leeds winning the Champions League in 2015, people were discussing scouting during the Italy vs. Spain clash at the Euros… by the next morning, the picture had shifted; Forest had gone from being barely whispered about dark horses to racing certs and the Sheikh was rumoured to be targeting Warnock as his manager. In a matter of hours the club had been cast from its place at the head of European football’s top table to oblivion – the cyclical pattern of ecstasy and despair was set.

Sheikh #1

Sheikh #1

Looking back, May was the golden period. Full of hope, excitement and a non-stop barrage of information, rumour and speculation; back then, the thought of going into the season, still none the wiser seemed inconceivable.

Contrast that to June; an agonising 30 days, waiting on the inevitable news that never arrived. LUST as always sought apply pressure where they could, a statement released on behalf of the players confirmed disillusionment amongst the squad about the club’s lack of ambition; it divided opinion amongst members, but completely exposed the contrasting ‘New Start’ PR pedalled on the official website. Speculation grew of a deal brokered with a Middle East consortium with July 1st pencilled in as completion date, to tie in with the new financial year. The story was given greater substance as players started to arrive; Drury and Green arrived on consecutive days, their new contracts both due to commence on the first day of the month. There were too many coincidences surely?

Come June 26th and the club finally chose to break its silence, announcing an exclusivity period had been awarded to a bidder and that no problems would be anticipated – salvation at last. The mood lifted immediately; irritation, frustration and exasperation step aside: optimism is riding back into town! A few days later, Gary appeared on Radio Leeds to update the supporters and finally confirmed that it was Middle Eastern investors, then when asked about the implications for the club, uttered words, destined (we hope) to be immortalised in our club’s history:

“I do know that this gives all Leeds United fans the opportunity to… dare to dream!”

July was just around the corner; everything fitted…but then nothing. NOTHING! Nothing that is until the manic Thursday just passed; July was just one long, interminable stretch, where an increasingly desperate fan base clutched at straws, conspiracy theories blossomed and pessimism predominated. Even the bullshitters got bored of the whole thing. The only thing to be gained during the entire month was a finer understanding of the Islamic calendar as people sought to ponder the effect of Ramadan and the specifics of the working week may have on the timing of the announcement – I came to detest the mantra “No news is good news”. Now at least we have something again.

It would be impossible to close a piece on TOMA without an acknowledgement of some of the many characters in the saga; everymen who have contributed to the drama of the last 11 weeks or so. Gary Cooper has become the embodiment of TOMA; his interviews inspiring the sort of reverence that a certain Monacan resident could only dream of as he and his dedicated team have worked tirelessly to maintain the balancing act of keeping supporters in the loop while respecting the bidder’s desire for confidentiality.

There were the bullshitters: on twitter the ‘Hotdog guy’ vehemently asserting an announcement date while even more vehemently promoting his ‘gourmet’ produce. The innumerable juvenile fame seekers, one especially who claimed to have THREE sources (while nobody else had one); the abuse he received when rumbled will remain long in the memory.

Then finally there was a man who transcended the mediums; his legend established on the grounds of his overwhelming optimism, his need to believe and his unrelenting and at times, psychologically unhinged pursuit of the truth. Step forward WACCOE’s ‘Toe Nail Soup’, a man whose desperation distils the entire TOMA experience; whether making phone calls to the PAs of billionaires to establish facts, twitter stalking a female journalism student and pushing her for facts after she was naïve enough to claim to be ‘in the know’ (she deleted her account), or telling the YEP’s Phil Hay to “piss off” on the same medium for being too vague in his revelations.

Ah TOMA; we’ve been through it all together, and it’s had its ups and downs… just don’t stay with us forever, eh?! Please.

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One response to “Choose TOMA: Memories from a Mad Summer Online

  1. HI Ken

    I really enjoy your blogs but this one may as well have been written in Arabic, as I have no idea what you are driving at.

    I don’t understand any of the first few paragraphs at all – something about going train spotting? WTF is all that about?

    Yours in complete ignorance of what is obviously a well researched piece that is sadly completely over my head.

    Regards

    KEV (MOT)

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