“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.”
And 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.