The Square Ball Week: No, I Don’t Care

In 2018-19 articles, Free, Leeds United, The Square Ball Week by Moscowhite • Daniel Chapman

Along it comes, as inevitable as it is annoying, a fine for Pontus Jansson after this week’s rigmarole of charges, answers and judgements, as if the judgement was ever going to be anything other than a punishment.

Nobody at the FA was ever going to say that Jansson’s response to the charge seemed so totally reasonable, they should let him off. Meanwhile, Brentford’s Jorge Canos gazes into a mirror, rubbing his bruised forehead, wondering how he got away with it.

The Jansson/Canos disparity, that allowed Brentford’s player off with nothing after a three-person FA panel watched a video of him, unprovoked, marching across the dugout and head butting Ezgjan Alioski’s back and couldn’t agree that he’d marched across the dugout and head butted Ezgjan Alioski’s back, was not even the most annoying of the inconsistent, incompetent, incontinent decisions made in and after that game. We’ll face Blackburn Rovers this weekend without Luke Ayling, who is suspended because he complained about a free kick given against Jansson for a clean, hard tackle, then committed an innocuous foul so deep into stoppage time that giving him a second yellow card for it felt like a purely malicious act. Malicious, too, was the tackling by Moses Odubajo that led to him being subbed off by Brentford before he was sent off for his own second yellow card. As he watched the fourth official raise Obubajo’s number, Dean Smith probably couldn’t believe he wasn’t watching Jeremy Simpson raising a red card. Some guys get all the luck, huh?

That’s a lot of fairly hefty strikes against Leeds all from one ref in one game, but although Jansson’s fine has not even been confirmed at the time of writing, you might argue that the game itself is far enough in the past that we don’t need to sweat the details anymore. Decisions, they say, even themselves out over time; it doesn’t do to dwell when they go against you, because they’ll go for you soon enough.

If that’s the case, then can someone tell me when, exactly, we’re going to win the European Cup we were robbed of in 1975?

Or indeed the European Cup Winners’ Cup of 1973, and yes, if that means they have to reinstate that defunct competition then that’s just what it’ll take. After all, this was all supposed to even itself out, right? So we’ll gladly take a league title to balance the one Ray Tinkler stole in 1971, too, and the double that the Football League denied us in 1972 by making us play Wolves two days after winning the FA Cup final. We’re owed an FA Cup final appearance from 1967, while we’re at it, after Peter Lorimer’s inexplicably disallowed free kick, and I don’t know how fate intends to even up what befell Leeds in 1970, but I think it’ll require the realignment of several planets while at least awarding us blue ribands in the Horse of the Year Show.

Fucking hell, Leeds fans are boring when we get going on this stuff, right? Still singing that we’re Champions of Europe more than forty years later, still bleating about obscure disallowed goals from the late 1960s. All this was a long, long time ago, and to be linking what, to most non-Leeds fans, are barely plausible historic conspiracy theories to inconsistent modern refereeing is so stretched as to be ridiculous, right? There comes a time when you just have to let — it — go.

To the world outside Elland Road, Leeds fans retain a curious and possibly unique attitude that mixes self-entitlement with extreme paranoia and only becomes more aggravating the longer we’re in the second division. At what point should we stop banging on about the past, before we become Huddersfield Town, dutifully stitching stars onto a Yorkshire terrier’s collar to commemorate championships won between the wars?

(Prefer this as a podcast? Click here to support Moscowhite on Patreon.)

The difference there, though, is that Huddersfield won those titles. They were given the trophies. They paraded them along kennel-lined streets atop a carriage drawn by St Bernards. The record books show them in first place for the years when they were the best football team in the First Division. They got their rewards, like a treat for rolling over or shaking paws. Leeds United, meanwhile, always ended up with the funny guy who pretends to throw the imaginary ball. It’s easy to move on when you’ve got what you deserve. When you haven’t, the feeling doesn’t go away. You still want to go fetch what’s yours, however far back into history you have to run.

One upside of Jeremy Simpson’s clear anti-Leeds performance was that the atmosphere against Brentford became enjoyably fierce, and Leeds United has as a club internalised injustice as part of its fuel. It’s a stance full of contradictions, but it’s part of what make us Leeds. We want the trophies that we were denied, but if we had them, we might not be the same club. We don’t have the satisfaction of ancient league titles to sustain us through lean years. Instead we have the bitter anger caused by so many stolen victories to drive us forward for revenge. If we actually won the European Cup, though, would the song feel the same sung as joyful confirmation, rather than ironic defiance?

It might be nice to find out one day. But that would require the FA, UEFA and Football League conspiracies that have kept us down for so many decades to end, and judging by the events of the last two weeks, and by the twelve month absence of penalties in our favour, that’s not going to happen any time soon. Can we just let all that 1975, 1973, 1967 stuff go? No, not when we’re still facing fresh injustice on the regular in 2018.

And what can we do about it? Same as we have done for years: make our own rules. The guerrilla campaign supporting our right to the 1975 European Cup extends beyond the history-defying song; there’s a long tradition of Leeds fans making lowkey alterations to library books here and there, confusing people by dropping our famous win in 1975 into casual conversations, covering up a star on a Bayern Munich shirt or poster, all to insist that our alternate reality, while it didn’t happen, is closer to truth than what did happen. Truth, fairness, justice and beauty are all served best by Leeds United winning the European Cup in 1975. Who doesn’t want to live in a world of truth, fairness, justice and beauty? Apart from Franz Beckenbauer.

That’s what made Pontus Jansson’s interview after the Brentford game such a powerful and Leedsy statement. Not the swearing, or the “robbery by the referee,” but in between the two, when he was asked to watch his language. “No,” he said. “I don’t care.” And that was perfect, because it has been Leeds United’s attitude to injustice for more than forty years, and here was Pontus telling the country that. The record books might say Bayern Munich won the European Cup in 1975, but in Leeds we say no. We don’t care. That was a robbery by the referee. We are the champions of Europe. Pontus will be fined. He’ll pay it. It’s worth it. We’ve suffered much worse, but never in silence. ◉

(If you liked reading this, would you pay a pound a month for it? Click here to support Moscowhite on Patreon.)

(photo by Lee Brown)