Last weekend, I devoted some time to debating whether to buy a ticket for the forthcoming cup tie with Chelsea; I’d avoided the previous two rounds having made a conscious, principled decision to boycott the games – I’m very much in the “No more dough to Monaco” camp; I’ve not spent a penny on food and drink at Elland Road in over 2 years, and don’t intend to do so again until Ken Bates has left the club. Having bought a ‘United for Life’ season ticket back in the days of Krasner, the League Cup provided me with my first opportunity this season, to draw a line in the sand over attending home matches; a chance to register an individual protest that would actually hit Bates in the pocket.
Shrewsbury and Oxford, I chose to go to; the takeover was still in the days when “imminent” seemed to mean “imminent”, but come the Everton game, my patience was at an end. In truth, it could’ve been a harder decision to make; after all, the League Cup fails to inspire much excitement and the live television coverage ensured I missed little, other than the prospect of standing in a half-empty stadium. Southampton was a harder call, I had no alternative way of watching the game, but then again, the opportunity to watch a club we played last year, fielding their reserve side hardly promised an enthralling spectacle.
But now Chelsea…
In truth, it’s not a game I would ever fancy our current side to win, but still…Chelsea. An 8 year hiatus from the Premier League has served to ensure that such clashes that reignite deep-seated, traditional rivalries are few and far between, so the opportunity just to sample the pre-match buzz again was starting to do battle with recently established principles. That was, until last night at Turf Moor.
Under any other regime, I’d have already secured my quarter-final ticket, I would’ve also snapped up my seat for the two previous rounds – no thought would’ve been required; just another unconditional act of devotion towards my club. If you’re a supporter, you back, you follow and you invest in your club, regardless of the fixture. However, what the Burnley game reinforced in no uncertain terms is the fact that Leeds United no longer resembles a football club.
Football clubs are sporting institutions. By definition, such bodies are both formed due to, and are sustained by, a passion to compete, a desire to achieve the absolute maximum possible, a continued quest for self-improvement and progression within their field, and ultimately the glory that comes with it. Those at the top, who dare to dream, inspire others to do so – to follow by investing heavily, emotionally and financially, into shared, collective ambitions.
Under Ken Bates, such synonymous traits have long since been cast out from the Elland Road philosophy. Leeds United is no longer about football; its primary function now is to provide a mouthpiece, a soapbox, an audience for a man whose outdated bile, few would otherwise choose to listen to. Football has long since been relegated to a side show; a means to an end, a necessary evil that must be sustained at the lowest possible cost, in order to keep one man’s ego and public profile intact.
The tragic fact of the matter is that attitudes have become ingrained; Peter Lorimer has long since opted for his 50 pieces of silver over any loyalties to those who paid to watch him, but the spectacle of hearing Eddie Gray prostituting himself out for a pay packet, gets sadder with every passing week; a man who is part of the fabric of the club, forsaking the old mantra of “Side before self every time” in favour of his bank balance. You wonder how Billy would feel. The likes of Gray should be revered, not reviled, but it’s nigh on impossible to defend his stoic defence of his employer when even Thom Kirwin has gone out on a limb to criticise the club. From top to bottom, at every level, Leeds United screams “balance sheet” and not football club.
And now finally, that attitude has crossed the final frontier – the Leeds away end; while too many home games to mention in recent years have been anaesthetising affairs, away trips have always provided for infinitely better match day experiences. Even when on the pitch, the team get a pasting, there’s always the comfort of being part of a boisterous Leeds army to provide some solace from the day. That was far from the case last night; in fact, there was barely a whimper throughout.
Despite the ludicrous nature of the never-ending takeover saga; that supporters can see our prospects of a successful season receding with every wasted, passing day and regardless of the fact that both the club and GFH appear to view the fan base with utter indifference, there was barely an utterance of dissent last night; a couple of short lived bursts of “Bates Out!” was as expressive as the crowd got.
Some who preach the need to support the team to the point of excluding any hint of protest may rejoice, I was rather more concerned; people should be livid with the situation, desperate to vent their fury, but last night it really just appeared that nobody cared any more – those in attendance still remain passionate about the club, but no longer have a cause to fight for or to believe in; if Leeds won, nobody was kidding themselves about a promotion charge, while defeat would be just confirmation of what everyone suspects – that Leeds are a club going nowhere. As in the boardroom, affairs on the pitch have become almost incidental. But even the news the masses have longed for may offer little solace. If Bates goes …so what? Do GFH inspire hope? Not at the moment.
In many respects, this feels like the lowest period in our 93 year history. There’s no belief in those at the top, in the heroes of yesteryear, in the players of today, or the guardians of tomorrow. But while the buck ultimately stops with the owner, the club is currently lacking leaders at all levels.
On the pitch there are seldom few who are showing themselves as being fit for the fight; take out Kenny, Pearce, Peltier and Byram from the line-up at Turf Moor and there was nothing left. There are many players who are simply not good enough for a mediocre Championship side, let alone Leeds United. There are others coasting along, content in the knowledge that their place in the team is under no serious challenge, while others exhibit the body language of men who bought into a vision, into promises of a bright, post-Bates future, only to discover it to be a sham.
In short, the team, rather like the fans, remain committed but just don’t have a cause to galvanise them. Like us, they’ve been patiently awaiting the big name reinforcements since July and the assembly of a promotion challenging squad, and like us, they’re beginning to wonder if another season is going to be frittered away.
While Neil Warnock must feel sickened to the core by the whole affair, it is now time for him to step up to the plate. Football sides are very much a reflection of their manager’s personality and philosophy, and Warnock has always been painted as a fighter; the man in the tracksuit, shouting and bawling from the touchline at his players, officials and anyone else who’ll listen. Warnock immediately won fans over back in February with his straight talking, no nonsense approach – it almost felt like he was one of us. In recent weeks, his reactions to most poor results and questions of possible signings have involved much philosophical sighing and shrugging of shoulders… while it’s possible to emphasise with his takeover fatigue, such responses no longer reflect what we as supporters want to hear. Simon Grayson ultimately allowed himself to become part of the problem at Elland Road by toeing the line, accepting repeated failures to honour promises; his vastly experienced successor has no such excuses
Now is when Warnock should be fighting his corner, demanding some degree of backing – if this takeover is so incredibly close, WHY can’t funds be released to secure loanees? The team and the supporters need some impetus and belief, and while those at the top continue to be so spectacularly negligent to these ends, that doesn’t excuse our manager.
Warnock may also choose to consider some of his selections and tactical choices. While broken promises over ‘marquee signings’ have undoubtedly left him a long way short in terms of the quality and strength in depth he was seeking, there are still players being inexplicably afforded chance after chance, while others are simply not being offered the opportunity in their preferred positions. The continued involvement of Danny Pugh sends out all sorts of wrong messages about the standards players have to meet in order gain selection. In midfield, Michael Tonge, despite barely having played a game at Stoke in 4 years is an automatic selection, while Michael Brown, offered reduced terms to reflect his status as a fringe player is back as a regular starter.
Although out of position, Aidy White has proven himself a complete waste of space – being Leeds born and fast, doesn’t make him a great player; the ability to pass, shoot, cross or beat players would certainly help though. More pressingly, what White’s right-sided midfield role also does is deny the team its best wide attacking outlet, by pushing Byram to right-back, which in turn has often resulted in Peltier on the left. To those more educated in tactics there may be method behind the madness – I can’t see it.
The result of the tinkering, the lack of competition, the shrugging of shoulders is what was seen at Burnley – Leeds have certainly been dominated more, but have rarely been quite so awful to watch. Long diagonal punts and little else was offered from an attacking perspective and the inability of the midfield to keep the ball, confounding and depressing in equal measure. People have questioned whether the defence this season is actually any better than before…I’d urge them to consider how long Leeds spend without the ball and reconsider their statement.
Just before half-time, I received a text message from a friend – it was like a Godsend, as it ultimately offered me a distraction for the remainder of the evening; I took the opportunity and found far more to interest me in those light hearted exchanges than any of those I’d paid £30 to see. It really shouldn’t be like this…
So while Bates, Haigh and Patel continue to undermine our latest campaign with their pathetic posturing and attention seeking, and should be the targets of any ire, it all comes down to Warnock in the meantime to drag matters back on track; he still enjoys an exalted status as a man of the fans, but if he wants to continue to do so it’s time he did right by us, by his players, and by himself. Performances are his domain, if he wants his players to put up a fight and for the supporters to stand up and be counted then he needs to do so too.
It’s high time that Bates and GFH were brought to account out boss; for pressure to be applied. It may cause more yet more anger and acrimony, but surely anything…anything, has to be preferable to the apathy of the present?