Leeds: the back to front, inside out, upside down United

“The first and most constant problem with the City of Leeds is to find it. There never was a more faceless city or a more deceptive one. It hasn’t a face because it has too many faces, all of them different.”
~ Patrick Nuttgens

A WHOLE year ago, in Our New Year’s revolution, I found positives in the notorious unequivocality of Leeds United’s fans. 2010 would be “a year of mass individual expression,” I concluded, “as increasing numbers of bloggers, forummers and social networkers converge with new and existing independent initiatives run in the real world by fans, for fans.”

Visit BeestonAnd so it went. Within days Dan, Michael, Oddy and Moscowhite recorded the first of The Square Ball podcasts and before long this fortnightly fix of the unfettered foursome became as essential to fans the world over as the burgeoning number of blogs like The Scratching Shed, Travels of a Leeds Fan, Keep Fighting, Leeds Will Make You Dance, Dirty Leeds and Clarke One-Nil.

At street level, The Square Ball magazine remained the best-spent £1 around. Visit Beeston, the biggest of my collaborations this year, sprung from the centre spread of the February issue and the rest of its 48 pages were further boosted on a monthly basis by quality contributions from, amongst others, the ranks of the #twitterwhites.

Many club figureheads were using Twitter harmoniously by the time Director of Commercial Affairs, Paul Bell, gave the social networking fraternity “the opportunity to get involved and to make a difference” before rather wishing he hadn’t. Then, having irritated existing LUTV subscribers by snubbing complaints at being charged extra for pre-season friendlies, he tweeted about the virtues of fan engagement while continuing to ignore anything which vaguely resembled criticism.

The club’s serial opacity undermined most efforts in this area, and even an email from a supporter was dismissed out of hand by chairman Ken Bates because he considers them “the equivalent of anonymous letters and treats them accordingly” by publishing the sender’s address (incorrectly, it turned out) in the programme. In off-the-record conversations in April, Bates twice stated that the club still hadn’t received a penny for Fabian Delph just days either side of a fan being forcefully removed from a Q&A for streaming the event from his iPhone.

The pre-promotion form slump precipitated a summit meeting of the devoted and disgruntled which saw Ten for Ken take the questions Ken Bates’ Leeds United won’t answer onto the streets of Beeston. Snuck onto the official website in the summer was an enigmatic statement purporting to explain the club’s ownership structure. It didn’t, and if you don’t like it then lump it, sickpot.

When he wasn’t using it to slam Leeds fans, Ken Bates deployed Yorkshire Radio to attack Bradley Johnson (who had to use Talksport to defend himself) and to ascertain the whereabouts of former director Melvyn Levi so he may be issued with legal papers – on Boxing Day. One wonders more than ever whether the station is in the service of Leeds fans at all, or simply fighting Ken Bates’ corner. He’s still yet to take a single fan’s call live on air.

So thank heavens for those who do whatever they can to provide and take opportunities for Leeds United fans’ voices to be heard. 2010 saw them crescendo into new, authentic forms and in 2011 authenticity’s struggle with authority will intensify.

On top of indefensible season ticket price rises, the club’s cack-handed integration of new technologies will damage further its relationship with supporters, and throwing a spanner in the works of club-branded media this year will be the accelerated development of a handful of savvy, fan-run initiatives who will find themselves market leaders.

Already first ports of call for valued opinion, they will begin to set agendas at Leeds: the back to front, inside out, upside down United where we haven’t a voice because we have too many, yet also we don’t have nearly enough. If you haven’t already, this is the year to start making yourself heard.

6 Responses to “Leeds: the back to front, inside out, upside down United”

  1. As always, many thanks for the mention. Hope you had a happy Christmas and New Year.

    Think you’ve just summarised every ridiculous thing that’s happened in the last few months quite brilliantly there – a few of which I totally missed, like the iPhone streaming and Bell’s cheerleaders suggestion (I vote for… but that’s beside the point)

    As someone thoroughly submerged in Leeds United on a daily basis, it’s quite easy to miss how ridiculous some things are, only for other bloggers such as yourself to point them out and make me re-think. Maybe the lunacy of our ownership structure will one day become just another part of being a Leeds United fan and we’ll sit wondering why we ever bothered?

    Another year and the independent voice grows, but the problem remains. Ken Bates still spins the mainstream media and more fans buy into his propaganda every day, regardless of however much he tries to make them hate him by charging top half Premier League prices for Championship football.

    Still, I live in hope that 2011 is the year we can finally put this whole sorry saga behind us and concentrate on a successful, stable and prosperous future free from Kenneth and his illusive backers.

  2. Thanks, mate. The messages coming out of Elland Road are now so frequent and contrary that it’s difficult to keep track sometimes. The club may be uninterested – fearful, I suspect – of what Leeds fans have to say in reply but fellow supporters certainly aren’t.

    It’s thanks to the growing number of quality alternatives such as TSS that there are places where all things Leeds United may be openly shared and discussed, and it’ll be interesting to see how, or even if, the club come to terms with this.

  3. Six years of getting shafted and counting and no one is closer to coming up with any challenge that will affect the ownership structure.

    The dissenting voices of cyberspace remain just that, voices floating on the ether, affecting just a small proportion of the fanbase, most of whom simply want to moan online and do bugger all off it.

    Even attempts to unify the disparate groups into a simple questioning structure via TFK were riddled with the usual factional infighting and ridicule from the pro- and I-dont-give-a-stuff movements.

    Meanwhile, certain bloggers were castigating LLHB as a ‘smear campaign’ after it fell on its sword to make way for TFK…

    Good luck with thinking any number of voices will make a difference – it won’t. He won, we lost. Get used to it.

  4. >>Even attempts to unify the disparate groups into a simple questioning structure via TFK were riddled with the usual factional infighting and ridicule from the pro- and I-dont-give-a-stuff movements.

    Which is why 90% of the whole point that TBG makes here is about not trying to ‘unite disparate groups’, but about fostering and supporting a multitude of dissenting voices. If every single person who supported TenForKen kept asking the questions that matter to them, in their own way, from their own angle, it would make a hell of a lot of noise that would be difficult to ignore. By unifying them, you make it so that Bates &Co (cf. Legs &Co) only have one voice to ignore.

    And even if it doesn’t work, at least it might be fun. One of the few good sides of Ken’s continuing tenure is that TBG’s graphical responses get better and better.

    >>Meanwhile, certain bloggers were castigating LLHB as a ‘smear campaign’ after it fell on its sword to make way for TFK…

    LLHB ‘falling on its sword’ was a thoroughly daft thing to do, for the reasons given above. Right when there was a build up of momentum, and a crescendo of opposition to Bates, LLHB quit. I’ve no idea what that was meant to achieve.

  5. LLHB was asked to quit to provide TFK a clear run

  6. James, not all of cyberspace’s dissenting voices remain in the ether. The Square Ball, for example, engages fans on numerous levels: it can be picked up, read, listened to and contributed to.

    Where I think we agree is that as an objective the coordination of Leeds fans is unrealistic, and that’s why I propose fans propagate and support similar, sustainable initiatives of whichever form best suits their skills or inclination.

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