This is the 300th edition of The Square Ball Week, which feels like a milestone worth marking, for a minute. There.
Hitting 300 has made me pause and go back over the last 299 in a way that I don’t remember 200 did; but the numbers and the years and the words are building up now. Add in the match reports as well, probably another 250 of those at least, and this is becoming a body of work. That’s appropriate, because that’s where it started; TSB Week number one had a shout out for good old Billy Big-Boobs Paynter, who had just scored two goals for Leeds United against Peterborough. Yes, Billy Paynter, two up front and two in the net. Starting weird and staying weird, that’s Leeds United since April 2012.
If only it had all been weird like Billy, looking as deadly as he could while our new away kit made him look like he was wearing a bra. Non-scoring strikers have been a theme over the years, not always with such grace as Paynter, but other themes have tended to drown the football, no matter how buoyant the boys looked.
These columns have tended to hit 100-up in summertime, but the subjects I found in number 100 and number 200 had plenty of air the rest of the time, too. Number 100 was written when Salem Patel’s attempts to influence opinion on the Waccoe forum were being exposed; he had first posted as ‘melas’, then as ‘Paddy Kenny |#1’ to fluff up Gulf Finance House’s ownership and express hopes that Neil Warnock would give Habib Habibou more of a chance. Number 200 was about Massimo Cellino’s promise that Leeds would be promoted in 2015/16, and his newer promise that Leeds would be promoted in 2016/17, complete with a money-back offer to season ticket holders if we weren’t. I said then that he could have made a better offer just by signing some really good players and going for it, and for once in 300 columns, I was actually right.
Those guys, plus a revolving cast of their feckless friends, featured throughout and often loomed over the match reports too: Ken Bates, Shaun Harvey, David Haigh, Hisham Al Rayes, Salah Nooruddin, Neil Warnock, Steve Morison, Andrew Umbers, Terry George, Steve Evans. It’ll be a while before we can be sure where to file Andrea Radrizzani and company.
But there have been footballers too, and desperate, clutching, almost tearful attempts to shove that lot out of the way so I can write about what we’re here for: footballers. Tearful is not an exaggeration. After Robert Snodgrass was sold, I made a deliberate vow to take Luciano Becchio as my muse for the coming season and write about him as much as possible. Neil Warnock sold him in January. Imagine how I fucking felt. It’s probably near to how you fucking felt, too.
I’m bringing this navel gazing more up to date, though, with a column I’d forgotten from last July. It was no.261, and it was about footballers, and it was about optimism; the kind of optimism you feel when you hear a nice Danish man from Spain saying, “Bellusci is already out. Everyone took this decision”; and the kind you feel when the squad has filled up with loads of new players you’ve never heard of, but who all sound brilliant.
This might not be as good as it gets, I wrote, but every day that Samuel Saiz, Ezgjan Alioski or Caleb Ekuban don’t play a football match for Leeds United is a day when we don’t have to indulge anything but our dreams about how good they might be.
Dreams. Another recurrent theme of the last 299 columns, which is funny given the way these columns recur in my actual dreams, usually personified by John Pemberton clattering me with a shovel while yelling, ‘Think of something to write you fraud, or next time I’ll be Richard Jobson!’
Dreams have been a safe place to retreat to while Leeds United have been too real; despite what your babysitter told you, Ken Bates can’t get you there. (It’s in real life that you need to worry about him.) Alioski hadn’t even signed when I wrote the line above, but it turned out to be true: Gjanni was never better for us than in the video announcing him, when he thumped his chest with a Leeds salute, pointed at the camera and said “M.O.T.”, like David Bowie come back to life as an Eastern European robot.
Then we saw him play, and he was good, but a Macedonian Metal Mickey wasn’t quite what any of us had dreamed up, and in winter he rusted up. Samu Saiz was a different matter, and while watching him we shook our heads as if to dislodge the sleepydust, until him and his spit took over from Pembo and his shovel. Ekuban has just kept us awake worrying. I wrote amid the bliss of July that Leeds had spent, ‘£10m already this summer, all of it on footballers, and they’ve not even bought a dedicated defender yet’; but I wasn’t ignorant, even though I wanted to be. I was just happy being excited about how the new players might play football, because I feared what would happen when they did play football. I wrote, ‘Football ruins everything’, and those might be the three truest words in all 300 of these columns.
How badly football ruined everything last season can be judged by the change in tone from last summer to this; I wasn’t the only one giddy on the hype for Mateusz Klich, but now even Kyle Bartley can’t raise our adrenalin. If Bartley signs, it won’t be exciting, it will be about time; and if he does play like our dreams, we won’t be grateful, we’ll just bitterly resent Radrizzani for not buying him sooner. I remember last year spending warm sunny days indoors watching a video of Huesca’s promotion finale, seeing the frightening swerve as Saiz scored in the top corner; I haven’t even typed Abel Hernandez’s name into YouTube yet. Jerry Mbakogu has frightened me off.
Ah well. It’s still only May. James Milner, who in TSB Week no.159 I speculated might be a witch hexing Leeds United until he retires, hasn’t even lifted the Champions League trophy yet. And if one thing has changed over the last 300 columns, it’s that at least now it’s just the football that’s ruining everything. I mean, if you ignore the international fiasco about the club badge, the arguments with the Football League about other clubs’ finances, the awkward links to Qatar, the post-season tour to a state being criticised internationally for genocide, and new investment from a gridiron club that we faked a link up with in 2014, then everything’s going great, really, and clearly completely different to how the last six years have gone.
I’m pretty sure that if we could just sign a quality goalscorer, then never mind the Premier League, we could be in the Champions League by the time The Square Ball Week turns 400. But then again, 300 weeks ago I was dreaming of Billy Paynter, rampaging around in his finest Victoria’s Secret push-ups as Leeds United got back where they belonged. Football ruins everything, but I’m still dreaming.
As this is number 300, I might as well make a pitch.
I have now written 300 editions of The Square Ball Week, along with something like 250 match reports, all available to read for free with no intrusive adverts, no clickbait, no messing about. You’ve read this far down so you know what it’s about.
They’re all free to read but they do cost to write, in terms of time and labour. I went freelance last year with the aim of writing a book (out in the autumn!) but there’s no money in freelance writing, and not much money in books. So it might not have been my wisest move.
But I put faith in one thing I do have — readers who like reading my stuff. There’s a developing conversation about markets for online ‘content’ and blah blah that will probably get more intense over the coming years, but it boils down to this: few outlets/websites would pay me for these articles, because they need millions from advertising to keep their companies going.
But if I can get a lot of you readers to pay me a little bit every month, I can make enough not to worry about paying rent/eating and so on, giving me the time to write better stuff.
Rather than get sponsors or advertisers, involving people I don’t want to deal with who want to advertise things you don’t want, this is a simpler transaction: if you like reading my stuff, you can just give me some cash. There, done.
That’s the pitch, anyway!
One pound a month is the starting price. In a normal month with four TSB Weeks and four reports, that’s 12.5 pence per article. I’ll also email you every day with a Leeds United news roundup; this is a link to read Monday’s.
You can pay more money if you think I’m worth more, or to get more stuff, or nothing at all and keep on reading my stuff for free — I’m happy to have readers!
It’s all handled by a website called Patreon, so I’ll let you click here for more information. Whether you sign up there or not, thanks for reading. ◉
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(feature image by Lee Brown)