A piece from the latest issue of The Square Ball, all about dealing with international breaks and the current lack of acrimony at LUFC…
Football is an addiction, a socially acceptable vice. Day in, day out it is voraciously consumed by millions, unable to resist its draw and the media circus around it, though unlike smoking and drinking, it is not subject to heavy state taxation, public health warnings, studies, ‘Stoptobers’ or cost of living calculations. Our national sport is to all intents and purposes is considered by the powers that be, a harmless indulgence.
But an addiction remains an addiction and by definition, it has its consequences. Speaking purely in the most reductive terms it follows that for the anti-smoking lobby, the main concern are our lungs, while those who campaign against binge drinking and run alcoholism support groups, the primary focus on the liver, yet scant regard is given to the mental health issues associated with following a football club.
Certain afflictions are universal (the severity at the individual level remains of course, intrinsically dependent on the level of emotional investment and the club supported), seasonal rites of passages we all ready ourselves for, commonalities that bond us as followers of the beautiful game. Deadline Day Disorder, a frenzied free for all, sponsored by Sky Sports News where all and sundry indulge in a mental breakdown as they become slowly more irrational in the light of the desperately needed incoming striker not surfacing, more panicked as follower hungry journalists and fantasists on twitter link a beloved defender with a move away, and ever more exasperated as society’s lowest order homo sapiens flank flustered reporters outside Premier League training grounds.
Football’s own twist on Seasonal Affective Disorder is also common to all but the most fortunate (and those despicable breeds who avoid it by simply switching allegiances) and is typically found amongst at least 50% of supporters at this time of year; this is where the warm optimism of the summer has all but disappeared behind a mosaic of falling leaves, replaced by the cold, dark realisation of the bleak winter that is to come.
Then we have our personal maladies, conditions unique to ourselves or a selective few, but at least understandable to many around us who hold Leeds United dear. For my sins, I’m a long-term sufferer of Rodolph Austin Tourettes, a highly audible verbal tick that kicks in every time I see our Jamaican lining up a shot from 25 yards or more. Mercifully, the groans that typically follow as the ball enters a trajectory bound for somewhere lying between Horsforth and Hebden Bridge cover my embarrassment – those with a similar Steve Morison centred syndrome may sympathise. But hey, at least a Redders shaped antidote to my season long obsession with the whereabouts of Chris Dawson in relation to the first team appears to be surfacing…
But there is a bigger issue, a more damaging, medically recognised condition that I’m becoming increasingly convinced has osmotically permeated the minds of the LUFC fan base as a whole – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Neither the fact that I’m not a qualified practitioner, nor the research that suggests around 75% of sufferers inherit the condition is going to deter my unsound assertion, I’m simply going to cling onto the statistic that in some cases, societal factors act as a trigger.
One only has to look back over the Milanic reign for a compelling argument. Once installed, despite misgivings over his appointment in some quarters, the club appeared to fleetingly retreat into a hiatus from its default ‘crisis’ setting in its modus operandi; Milanic was an unknown quantity, he acted in humble manner, rather than rattled on about humility, and preferred to be selective in the use of his limited vocabulary, as opposed to hanging himself with his own words – in essence, off the pitch, he was everything Dave Hockaday wasn’t. Besides, after royally f**ing up once, Massimo wasn’t going to be overly hasty in dispensing with his services, was he…?
In essence, those innocent early days of October offered the mirage of stability, that state of being that we forever crave, advocate and which all the football scholars agree that every successful club needs. Yet part of me couldn’t deal with it, in fact part of so many of us couldn’t. International breaks are often intolerable, but the last one was interminable; without the hint of an imminent sacking, the Football League FPP a minor concern and neither the manager or owner inadvisably opening their cake holes, there simply wasn’t anything to get wound up about. Even the Bates radio deal did little to upset many who were happy enough to laugh at the thought of a man who should be getting the most out of his final years, instead channeling his energies into securing match commentaries that nobody will ever listen to, on a station that doesn’t even register.
Instead, in an effort to deal with the void of activity and acrimony, people started looking forward to potential problems and issues: the next tax evasion case, the Elland Road ownership deadline. They couldn’t, I couldn’t, so very many of us couldn’t simply switch off, it’s as if we’d forgotten how to, or lost the ability to do so at all. Maybe that’s what the last decade has done to us all – rendered us incapable of dealing with inertia. Maybe we could all collectively roll up at Neil Hudgell’s door and launch a lawsuit: ‘The LUFC supporters vs. The Club’?
Or maybe we’d best rediscover how to cherish those spells when the club are out of the news, to venerate patience, because with Redfearn now in charge, that is the greatest virtue we can afford the man who – Aidy White apart, and lets pass over him as that’s a whole other disorder – has now been part of the club longer than anyone else. A man who has tolerated Massimo whilst many of us have snapped many times over. A man who truly deserves our trust and tolerance.
In terms of Massimo, I noticed he was in the press again yesterday where he stated:
“Leeds is a very big club. We have incredible, crazy fans. I feel the football business in England is afraid of Leeds and I quite like that.”
In many respects, despite his Italian roots, Cellino has the feel of an owner who understands the club better than any who preceded him. If only he can just begin to understand himself a little more and realise that like Rome, Leeds United cannot be (re)built in a day, then we can all start to relax and embrace glorious stability once more.
We’ve become like this because of the actions of the successive ‘guardians of the club’; leadership ultimately comes from the top. Massimo, save yourself and us all from the prospect of Neil Hudgell. Preach stability, deliver stability, and then we can finally again learn to embrace it.
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