Is this the end of the Bates era?

Something’s in the air. Is it excitement or disappointment? With Leeds United, the two things often come in abundance. Last year, excitement gave way to misanthropy. People walked towards Elland Road knowing mediocrity was on the cards.

Something is amiss. People can’t figure out what is going on. Tweeters are tweeting. Forumers are foruming.

Is Ken Bates finally fucking off?

You dream about it. You thought the day would never come. Suddenly rumours abound, running at you, knocking you over like excited dogs. They leave turds of misinformation lying around the place. Occasionally you step into one of them, complain about it, then realise that these dogs have been eating gold bars on the sly, and you’re riding this turd train to a well informed future.

What am I trying to say? We have finally reached the point, as a fan base, that there are so many rumours about Bates leaving, about him selling up, that you feel something is amiss. The situation has got progressively weirder at Elland Road as well.

The summer began all hunky-dory. Warnock was being backed. The defence was being shored up. Jason Pearce, an actual prospect with an actual future ahead of him, had agreed to join Leeds United. He’d been given an actual contract. Leeds United, heaven forbid, had paid actual cash-money for him to join. We were harvesting the corpse of another club that had collapsed for any useful organs. It was exciting.

Then we stalled. Joel Ward, who two weeks ago was someone Leeds fans were unconvinced by, has become the messiah. His un-signing has become the non-symbol for all of the things that have already gone anti-right this summer. Ipswich may beat us once again to another player. What is it about players that Leeds have or want to have that make them desire East Anglia so? Are they curious about the former homeland of the Iceni? Are they intending to do master’s degrees at Cambridge? Have we been approaching too many intellectual players? These are all questions I ask myself whilst shuffling around town, screaming at passers-by and dealing with those damn government spies who want to harvest my brain facts.

So why has this occurred? Word emanating from the club, filtering through relatively official channels such as the Yorkshire Evening Post, suggest that we can’t, at this moment in time, drum up the £400,000 required to bring him in. Warnock wants him, and there are rumours that he might leave if this situation is not dealt with upon return from his holidays.

Then there’s the Snodgrass issue. He’s come out this week and outright pointed out that he had promises broken last summer. He’s not going to sign his contract unless he can see a future at the club. This, interestingly enough, has been met with acceptance from Peter Lorimer. Something seems awry there.

Finally, and most interestingly enough, was the news that Ken Bates is taking the summer off from being interviewed on Yorkshire Radio. This is incredibly bizarre, as, to put it simply, a significant reason why Bates purchased Leeds United and continued to own us, was that he loved being in the public eye. Former chairman Ken Bates was not interesting to the national media. With Leeds, he once again found a reason to be talked about, and where better to be talked about than his own in-house media setup? Why would he suddenly give that up? There’s no precedent. Last summer his interviews were one of very few constant updates from the club.

There are several ways to interpret this. The first, and the one I like to jump to in order that I don’t get all giddy, is that Bates is avoiding the spotlight in order to avoid further legal issues. Is it just a response to the court case that has pulled even more money out of the club?

Secondly, we could be heading to another financial combustion. This may come as a surprise, but I’m not the biggest fan of the Bates regime. Even so, I like to think Ken would not be delusional enough to constantly talk about the firm financial footing we are on whilst simultaneously battling an oncoming financial storm. Hey, there may be a surprise in store. I like to think this is unlikely.

Thirdly, and finally, we could be on the cusp of a honest, truthful, real, actual, factual, natural, understandable, takeover. In my guise as a fake writer about football, I jaunt around town in a trilby with a card saying ‘press’ stuck in it. I keep an ear to the ground for any undercurrents of information. I’ve heard relatively concrete rumours that Ken Bates may be on his way out. The internet, simultaneously, has heard the same. I’m even withholding some information that I feel doesn’t need to be proliferated, on the basis that the rumours one can find seem enough to speculate upon. They (and whoever they are, they love their metaphors) often say that there is no smoke without fire. I like to think this is true, but I’m avoiding raising my hopes too highly on the off-chance that I get burned.

Why else may this be true? Well, we could be avoiding spending money as some baffling method of saving money before Bates sells up. “Why would I spend my own penny on players when some Johnny Foreigner will come in and spend it instead?” I imagine Ken saying, whilst sat atop a throne made up of the disappointments Leeds fans have felt over the last seven years. But the point stands. Similarly, why would Lorimer speak so positively about meeting Snodgrass’s expectations. He’s usually responsible for ensuring we all understand that signing players is a luxury that successful football clubs don’t require.

To sum it all up, what is going on at Elland Road? It’s difficult to say. I may look back on this article as a foolish statement years from now, when we’re plying our trade in the Home Counties division 3, having relocated under the control of Mecha-Bates, but I think his time is almost up at Elland Road. Finally.

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Ross McCormack, Marriage and Leeds United

As someone in my late teens, I cannot claim to have undergone the rigors of marriage. The testing moment every morning when one wakes up, looks into the eyes of the person lying next to them and thinks, “what the fuck have I got myself into? They’re just going to get older and older and smell worse and then, eventually, one of us will die and the other will feel sad because there’s some lingering passion and a sense of ongoing commitment”. You may ask why this is important to Spoughts, especially as it does not seem to contain any thoughts about sports. That is, after all, our modus operandi on this site. I’ve often had to stop myself posting videos of laughing primates. They’re funny and I imagine they’d be a big deal on the internet, but dammit, that is nothing to do with sports or having thoughts about them.

Of course, here comes the moment of linkage. Why does the marriage thought link to what I’ve been thinking about sports today? I’ll tell you why, Mr. Questioning Reader, who, presumably, by this point, has completely given up on this rambling article and instead chosen to read competent thoughts about sport from these competent people, or these. Anyway, Mr. QR, the issue at hand is that not only have I never experienced marriage in real life, but in supporting my football team, I’ve never experienced a marriage to a player in the way that generations before have.

If you’ve got the sort of busy schedule that I, a student, have, you will often find the need to fill almost an entire day with entertaining distractions. If you’ve decided to while away some hours by listening to The Square Ball podcast, for example, you may have heard my dulcet tones express a love of two players this season. Adam Clayton, transfer listed on the day of that podcast, and Ross McCormack, who today looked set to turn down a contract extension at Elland Road. Adam Clayton, admittedly, I wasn’t too cut up about. He played a good pass, scored a reasonable number of goals, was a shining light in the first part of the season when the entire team was dog shite, but dammit, he just couldn’t kick people as effectively as Michael Brown towards the end of the season. All too regularly, Neil Warnock would view Clayton in the middle of the park, an opposition player in his vicinity, and time after time, those shins would remain un-kicked. He’d call him over, whisper sweet nothings in his ear, ask him if he could please, at the very least, show the minimum amount of commitment. Pick up at least one red card. Just the one Adam. Please. Yet Clayton, showing none of The Edge expected of a man of his name, only picking up a suspension for repeated yellow cards. The gall of the man! The gall!

Okay, so maybe I’m not over the idea of Clayton being sold. Yet even more so, the apparent imminent departure of McCormack (because, let’s be honest, we all know exactly how this will go by now) is of great disappointment. This was a man who scored 19 goals in a team that ended the season languishing in 14th place. A man who played 3 positions in some matches, impressing in all of them. A man who continued to score under Warnock, even when it seemed the entire team was set up to avoid the potential of that occurring. He’d come out of the famed Simon Grayson Ignoring Cave of Doom (previously known as the ‘Reserve squad’, then known as ‘League One Clubs on Loan’ before being cast aside for Warnock’s preferred banishment zone, the ‘Lack of Passion Boulevard’) and made himself an integral part of the first team.

He turned up when no one else did. Chased, harried. Yes, he was occasionally a luxury player, but more than ever, do we not need those? Next year when the ball is pumped long to Becchio, who will, invariably, fall to the ground, would it not instead be nice to have a striker who could pick the ball out of the air, control it and play it into an actual corner of the net? Someone with a bit of…ability. Technical aptitude. Not being…crap-ness?

Why does this lead to the marriage thoughts? McCormack is just another in the chain of players who will leave the club, despite showing ability and skill, with the manager forced to defend Bates’s ridiculous thrift. I’ve spent years developing relationships with players, only to have them dragged away from me far too soon. I admit I watched both Clayton and McCormack in the reserves last year. I remember telling my brother as certain players departed the club last summer that it didn’t matter. Clayton had bulked up. He looked like he was as good as both Johnson and Kilkenny. McCormack could score with ease. Why was Paynter getting into the side or, at least, onto the bench ahead of him?

So, admittedly, more than most Leeds fans, I’ve spent an additional year in these players’s company. Even so, the bond that I’ve formed with them isn’t the same as players at other clubs. Wouldn’t it be nice, for once, to see a player degrade in ability before our eyes? To see Ross McCormack age and lose his ability to play slowly, rather than him being snatched away from us immediately. It’d be lovely to be able to stand on the Kop and complain as McCormack harries and chases, but simply can’t do it. “His legs have gone”, I’d say to my brother in the future, “Remember when he was good?”. At this point, my brother would remove his robo-claw and press his government enforced button, as the bipedal dog squad descend upon me and tear me limb from limb for subversive thought. Admittedly, I don’t have a very positive view of the future.

One day, players will stay at the club for the long run. We won’t have to give players chants on their debut, lest they never be sung about in their time at the club. I’m already trying to think up things about El-Hadji Diouf. Given our current track record, he’ll be gone before he arrives. His wikipedia article will list Leeds as a club he played for in the future-past, with an appearances tally of (-1) and the note that his head exploded when asked to recount memories of his time at Leeds.

The long and the short of it? Please don’t let Ross go. Please don’t let Snodgrass go. I know you will, but I can hope. Then I’ll convince myself that Paynter is an ideal, ready-made, replacement.

Do you want to read more depressed predictions of our inevitable canine overlords? Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1).

Bluebird…no more?

Whilst reading this article, why not listen to the apt ‘Bluebird’ by Paul McCartney and Wings.

This is just a small commentary on a matter that has cropped up this week. Footballing message boards have been ablaze with responses to Cardiff City’s apparently impending change of branding. Blue to red, shifting across the generic colour spectrum, Cardiff fans could have understandably major qualms. As to whether they are right to and do, I feel several matters come to mind.

If I were to explore the history of my own club, a major event jumps out at me. Rebranding at the turn of the 1960s from Yellow and Blue to White was an integral part of Don Revie’s campaign to refresh Leeds United. Within ten years, they went from a regional club in a city dominated by Rugby to one of the best teams in the world (at that point). Anthony Clavane explains this incredibly well within the context of the Leeds Jewish Community in his award-winning book The Promised Land. Within 15 years, they had reached a European Cup final. Symbolically, the white kit represented the turning point in Leeds United’s history. That all white strip is a key feature of the club at this point. You do not hear of any controversy regarding this change, there doesn’t seem to be anything in the record books.

Given Cardiff’s recent failures in the play-offs, one could reasonably argue that a change in colour would provide a similar turning point. Frequent runs to the top of the Championship have been met with failure. Could it not, potentially, provide a similar benefit to that which it provided Leeds?

Admittedly, however, there is a massive difference between the two. As mentioned previously, Leeds were a minor blot on the footballing landscape at this point. The change in kit was no issue, as there was no real identity to the club. It was not as if Leeds’s nickname of the Peacocks had anything to do with the colour of the segments on the kit. Cardiff fans can point to their nickname, the ‘bluebirds’, as being heavily linked to the blue and white kit they wear. There is an identity there. It is not the same as a shift that occurred several generations ago. Too much history is tied up in the club colours to accept it readily.

Other minor benefits include the potential marketing ability of the new colours. Word is that in Malaysia, the club have struggled to take advantage of the connections of owner Dato Chan Tien Ghee in this regard, due to the colour of the kit. Red is, apparently, more marketable than blue. Furthermore, the money ‘TG’ could plunge in, were the club to change the kit according to his wishes, would obviously be a great boon to any attempt to get out of the league. Finally, the attempt to become the nation’s club by branding themselves in the primary colour of the flag could reap benefits. This could increase income, should the entire nation find themselves represented in the club.

However, in reality, history should take precedent. It is not like Revie’s Leeds switch, there is too much feeling involved to wade through. It has to be taken as a positive that Cardiff have decided not to go ahead with the change. One can say it would probably not have had a positive end.

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