Now that 49ers Enterprises’ stake in Leeds United is 44%, it’s time to look more seriously at the body from which the investment arm of our future touch-rugby overlords grew. Even United’s still-majority owner Andrea Radrizzani went to take in a San Francisco 49ers bout this week, so what did he see?
That depends where he was sitting. Experience of building a new stadium is an oft-cited reason for Leeds bringing the Niners guys to Beeston, where Elland Road is overdue a revamp, but the new home they opened in Santa Clara in 2014, forty miles from their old ground in San Francisco itself, suffers from at least one glaring flaw: the cheap bleachers form a semi-circle facing south-west without cover, so rooting Niners are seated staring directly into the fearsome California desert sun, literally bleaching. They don’t like this! But let’s assume 49ers chief exec Jed York and exec vice president Paraag Marathe entertained Andrea in the huge curtain wall block of north-east facing executive boxes. Free from retina damage, the deluxe seats still don’t offer all they might if what you want to see is a winning team on the ol’ griddle iron. Coming into Monday’s match with the Los Angeles Rams, the Franciscan Monk Boys hadn’t won a home game since October 2020, when they beat the Los Angeles Rams. That was the only game they won at home in 2020, the win before that happening in December 2019, against can you guess who? In fact the Niners have been sending their home record into all-time low territory lately, losing five in a row there coming into this game, making it 23 won and 34 lost in regular season matches since moving to Levi’s Stadium, aka The Field of Jeans. Since 1970 only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have put up a worse home win percentage, at their old Tampa Stadium between 1976 and 1997. From 2016 to ’17 the Forters lost eleven in a row in Santa Clara.
Losing at home all the time in a home forty miles away from home is one of the not-goods rumbling to the surface among the 49ers’ frustrated fanatics. Their team was supposed to be going for the Superbowl this year: since Jed York took over, they’ve been in it twice, in 2012 and 2019, but lost both times. Instead a poor start to the season has armchair quarterbacks bemoaning the lack of squad depth the 49ers can rotate from, blaming coach Kyle Shanahan for this inadequate roster, and blaming Messrs York and Marathe for not only enabling him, but giving him a contract extension last year that runs until 2025. Worse, amid the uproar, the owner seems to want Shanahan to keep going, too.
If there are similarities about the thin squad and deferring to coach, don’t make the mistake of thinking Shanahan is a Bielsesque guru. The 41-year-old Texan is in his first head coaching job, the high point of a technical career begun with Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he was 25, taking in work as offensive coordinator at five franchises from 2008 to 2017, when Jed York hired him away from Superbowl-losing Atlanta Falcons. Think of him like Paul Heckingbotton only he’s done some stuff and they’re sticking with him.
And maybe after Monday they have a point. The match with the Rammers featured two big improvements. First, it started after sunset so people could see. Second, the Niners won!
Sure they beat LA last time they won and the time before that so maybe that’s their thing now, they just always beat the Sheep Boys in Santa Clara. But those Horny Lads arrived with two new baubles, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr (no relation to David) and linebacker Von Miller (no relation to Amari). They’re both legitimately famous American Footballists: Beckham once signed the most expensive endorsement in NFL history with Nike, and Miller was in season 22 of Dancing With The Stars. Neither impressed on their Rams debuts, though, and neither did recently acquired quarterback Matthew Stafford. He was supposed to be throwing to Beckham, Miller and maybe some of the less famous Rams, but at one point he just threw the ball off the pitch, which wasn’t much help, and things got so bad his wife threw a pretzel at a heckler in the stands (she’s apologised, it’s all good). He also threw the ball to the 49ers a few times, and that gave the Niners their second touchdown, because Jimmie Ward just caught it and ran into the dropzone or whatever to make it 14-0 once another guy had kicked the conversion.
The first and fourth 49ers touchdowns came from throws by their quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo. This was good for him because like Shanahan he’s been with the organisation since 2017 and like Shanahan the fans are sick of him and want the other guy. The other guy is already there, a 21 year old named Trey Lance, who this season Shanahan plans to have watching Garoppolo and learning. Learning how to suck, according to the fans, who after Garoppolo had gone 3-4 in his seven games this season, which means winning three and losing four, wanted Lance to replace his elder and do his youthful stuff. They may also want Eddie Gray in charge, I’m not sure.
If there’s a Leeds parallel it’s the Bamford/Nketiah controversy of 2019, when dull old Pat Bamford pushed his poor form right to the edge of everybody’s patience, while thrilling loan kid Eddie Nketiah had no less than Ian Wright bigging up his substitute appearances. Just when it seemed like a change was going to be made, though, Eddie got his testes twisted, Pat started scoring goals, and that was the end of that, at least until the club spent a load of money on a big promo filming the very same Jean-Kevin Augustin medical that somehow missed how he was totally out of shape. Anyway, this Rams game was the one where Garoppolo did the Bamford tap-in ah-you-see! thing, even to the point that after he threw his second touchdown the commentator declared: “Garoppolo doesn’t care what the analytics community says now!” That’s right boys, roll up your spreadsheets and go on home!
I can’t help but feel wide receiver Deebo Samuel was the star of that play, though. I mean, he caught the ball. Then he had to nip between a bunch of tacklers like peak Jordan Botaka, and run into the try-zone where he celebrated by wiggling his hips at everyone. This was after he’d scored the third try by taking the ball out of Garoppolo’s hands about fifteen yards from goal, running over to the wing, then darting into the corner where he got a score and lay on the turf cupping his face in his hands and kicking his legs in the air like a cheesecake photograph of a 1950s pin up. I like these sexy celebrations, Deebo! I’ve found out that Deebo Samuel is an alum of the high school named after me in South Carolina, Chapman High School, where he played for our team the Chapman Panthers (sounds so cool), so I think he’s my favourite Niners player now.
I’m not the only one who likes him. People have been saying he’s ‘carrying’ the 49ers offens(c)e[attack] this season. But people have also been saying the 49ers are terrible this season. They might have to change their minds now: after beating the Rams their record is 4-5 and they’re back in play-off contention with some easier games coming up. They might still make the Superbowl after all. And everyone will be happy, right? Wrong. This is sport(s)! A lot of people put a lot of effort into dragging Shanahan, York, Marathe et al around the internet last week, and after one home win in two seasons, who can blame them. Beating up the same old Rams again doesn’t prove everything or anything is mended. The cracks? They’re being papered over before our sunburned eyes. You’ll also hear diehards upset that Garoppolo’s good game only pushes Trey Lance further away from a starting spot, because it’ll take even more bad games for Shanahan to get a clue and pull the lame old bozo out of there. The more I learn about the Niners the more they sound like an eerie mirror of the team they’re slowly taking over in LS11, although I’m going to have to think about whether this mood-merge is a good thing. At least nobody in the Bay Area this week can accuse that soccer guy Andy of being a distracting jinx while he’s over hanging out. ⬢(Every magazine online, every podcast ad-free. Click here to find out how to support us with TSB+)