Visit Beeston World Tour!

“I LEFT England 7 months ago to ride a motorbike trip to New Zealand, and stuck a Visit Beeston sticker on the back of my bike that my mate printed out for me,” writes intrepid Square Ball reader, Stu Muxlow. “It’s been through 20 countries so far, so it shouldnt be long before the hotel is fully pre-booked!”

Here’s Stu and his bike taking time out from their epic journey through (amongst others) Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Nepal, Bangladesh and India to do a quick bit of sickpotting in the destination country of New Zealand. Well done, that man!

Read more about Stu’s quest on his Big Trip blog, and get your very own FREE Visit Beeston downloads.

Fans? Just another brick in the wall

THERE’S nothing like going to a football ground on a non-matchday to realise the awesome power with which supporters infuse the game. Without the life we bring in congregation, all grounds sit quieter, greyer and colder, as if deprived of their soul. The last time I visited Elland Road for reasons other than attending a match was in July 2007. Back then, a storm brewed over Beeston. Billy Bremner’s statue was draped in scarves and stood defiantly upon a funereal bed of white, blue and yellow flowers.

It was a scene that’s hard to forget: a time of introspection seldom observed in football. People – confused, angry, both – paused to read handwritten messages from others similarly fearing for their football club’s existence. “There’ll either be a Leeds United or there won’t,” chairman Ken Bates had said, and it would be two more long weeks before we’d learn whether there would be or not.

I recently made my first non-matchday trip to LS11 in almost four years. Off the bus, down the hill, across Elland Road, where a solitary wreath lay at the base of Billy Bremner’s plinth. Nobody hung around except me; the trickle of visitors passed through the club store back to their cars clutching shopping bags. Serenity of sorts, save for light traffic and the adjacent lump-hammers beating at the East Stand’s core. Thud. Thud. Thud. On high, more steward orange-clad builders scurried along stacks of new floors slotted like shelves into its exterior framework. I stood there, before the very reason why Bates had fought so tenaciously four summers ago. It had begun. Like the painstaking export of London Bridge to Arizona, Chelsea Village was being installed brick-by-brick in Beeston.

I realise that Elland Road’s in dire need of development. It always has been. From the 1950s West Stand to the concrete 1970s brutalism of the Kop, ever since I first went there in the mid-1980s it’s been a dungeon. The construction of the East Stand – said to be “magnificent” in its day but surely only in stature, not design – did nothing to alter my attachment to this unique, beautifully beastly site.

This gaping aperture in the earth is capable of emitting awe-inspiring energy from which Bates’ developments only subtract. His oeuvre presently clings to Elland Road’s decaying cavities like fillings plugged in by a backstreet dentist. Howard’s Restaurant: a beige embarrassment of phoney marble. Billy’s Bar: open, deserted, like a badly-tuned television left on in an empty room, soon to be joined by hundreds more empty rooms like those at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea’s current chairman, Bruce Buck, admits that the Bates business model is flawed, that returns on his £150m gamble in West London are slim, and acknowledges that far from sharing Bates’ Chelsea dream, “all the football fan wants, really, is football.”

I too have a dream. Since I don’t believe that a football club’s future rests on it becoming a hub to consumers who care little for it, I dream about Leeds United being centred around those that do. I dream that ticket prices reflect a desire for inclusivity, to recognise the value of fans’ emotional stake in the club. I dream that the single thing which ought to be the source of great collective strength for these individuals – the Members Club – is expanded democratically, leading to supporters being represented in the boardroom so that our concerns may be raised without being dismissed as dissension. In the absence of a need for secrecy, I dream of rebuilding partnerships with local independent media and returning FM match commentaries to the citizens of Leeds.

For a club so proud of its in-house media, getting information on the East Stand development, on its 22 new luxury executive boxes with private dining and padded match seating, is like attempting to complete a jigsaw with half the bits missing, the ones which Leeds United seem to be sitting on. The long-lost centrepiece of this puzzle is the cost of this summer’s construction which, at £7m, is sure to eclipse Simon Grayson’s spend on his squad. Publicly-available accounts state that the club’s holding company’s holding company has invested only £500,000 in Leeds United since 2007 yet fans pumped in £17.25m during 2009/10 alone, so must we really endure council websites and planning meetings just to glean the basics of a £7m development our cash is subsidising?

Elsewhere, clubs involve their fans and build futures together but not at Leeds United, where it’s as if certain facts are on a need to know basis and that supporters don’t need to know. It’s less “live it, love it” and more “like it, lump it” but that’s what Batesonomics is all about. As fans, bricks in the wall, all we ever have to go on are the utterings of the man who pathologically “saved” Chelsea so often that in the end they had to be saved from him.

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.

Visit Beeston on YouTube

WHEN Ken Bates was handed a “Visit Beeston” postcard by the editor of The Square Ball at a recent Q&A event at Elland Road, he remarked that even he’d seen it before. With whatever joke there was now wearing a bit thin since its launch in the Leeds United fanzine’s February issue, we thought we’d better make “Visit Beeston” jiggle around or something exciting like that.

So today, slotting in alongside the free downloads and rather smashing t-shirt is this 45-second animated trip of a lifetime back inside Mr Chairman’s mind to the LS11 of the future etc…

YouTube | Visit Beeston

Ken, your starter for ten…

“Our situation is paradoxical: never have the forces of repression been so weakened, yet never have the exploited masses been so passive. Still, insurrectional consciousness always sleeps with one eye open. The arrogance, incompetence, and powerlessness of the governing classes will eventually rouse it from its slumber.”
~ Raoul Vaneigem

Ten for Ken flyerTHE outcome of last week’s unprecedented summit meeting of individual Leeds United fans with existing official and unofficial groups, Ten for Ken offers the best opportunity yet for the devoted and the disgruntled to try to comprehend the goings-on at our football club.

Ten for Ken is the distillation of 5 years of Ken Bates’s Leeds United into 10 core questions we supporters feel duty-bound to ask our football club. Does it feel duty-bound to answer them?

So read them, download them, print and share them. Agree with them or disagree with them. But consider them, talk about them and go to tenforken.com and join them.

Look out for Ten for Ken flyers at Elland Road tomorrow, and listen now to Ten For Ken on last night’s Leeds United Unplugged show on Radio Leeds.

Carry On in the Third Division

The Square Ball issue 10AFTER the sell-out success of the issue featuring TBG’s “Visit Beeston” full-colour pullout (buy the T-shirt here), The Square Ball has commissioned another: based for some reason on a long-running series of low-budget farces.

Issue 10 of the magazine goes on sale for just £1 from vendors outside Elland Road at Saturday’s game against Southend United, and also online at thesquareball.net.

Carry On in the Third Division

10p from each copy sold goes to Candlelighers, the chosen charity of the families of Chris Loftus & Kevin Speight.

Build us a team, not a hotel

THOUGH undeniably a factor, the cup win at Old Trafford – contrary to recent opinion – is not the reason for Leeds United’s 2010 form slump. If it was, then Simon Grayson’s predecessors, with no cup prowess to speak of between them, wouldn’t have hit the self-same wall 12 months into their reigns, too. But they did.

As highlighted back in September, not one has survived a second year in charge under the Beeston hotelier. Gary McAllister didn’t even see out his first, after a dismal run of results with which Grayson’s line-ups are becoming increasingly flirtatious. Since marking an extraordinary first year in charge with victory on Boxing Day and another three points two days later, his Leeds United haven’t registered consecutive wins in a 16 game period which has yielded just 21 points. It’s an alarming second-year slump worse than Dennis Wise’s; worse even than that of Kevin Blackwell.

What this means is that in returning Leeds United to where it was when Ken Bates first clapped eyes on it in 2005, avoiding the inevitable fate in the process, Simon Grayson has much trend-bucking to do. But it’s too easy to demand the manager’s head; less so to ask why we must keep plating it up. Cash black holes, escalating ticket prices, expensive courtroom failures, hotel plans and an overabundance of borrowed players all feed into the sense that this regime’s murky pursuit of off-field mediocrity is inconducive to excellence on it, whoever picks the team.

Where our forefathers stood by the finest players of any generation, we do likewise by a club that increasingly feels like Leeds United in name only. Our behaviour is monitored by the Members Club while the club itself continues to harbour the veiled interests of a chairman and his secret associates. But for how long?

With the incoming Football League chairman’s drive for transparency, the growing culture of fan protest and the realisation that we have problems with brass hotel doorknobs on, not much longer, one would hope. Once pacified by Ken Bates-sponsored media, we Leeds United fans are forming networks of our own and assuming positions to demand for ourselves the very best football club the bland old man’s capable of – unless, of course, that’s what we already have.

Instead of striving to copy his own Stamford Bridge template, Ken Bates would be well advised to heed the words of Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck, the man tasked with making the west London development break even. “All a football fan wants,” he admits. “Is football.” Not a hotel.

Visit Beeston Down Under

Visit Beeston Down UnderMAYBE it was the unerring rumble of tyres on tarmac beneath him, or perhaps the sense that his beloved Leeds United were rolling over at Southampton, but as Dods the intrepid Square Baller drove Australia’s 400km-long Great Ocean Road, the dreamlike scenery brought to mind an oddly familiar nightmarish vision.

Then he reached for his favourite Leeds United magazine, opened it to the centre pages and there it was: Ken Bates’s Beeston of the future!

Build us a team, Ken – not a hotel.

More FREE Visit Beeston downloads

Visit Beeston on Lowfields RoadCOMPLIMENTING the existing A4 sticker sheet, are the latest additions to the FREE “Visit Beeston” download stable: posters in A3 and A4 sizes, plus an A5 flyer (to download: right click, save as).

See the “Visit Beeston” page for even more freebies, and squareballshop.com to buy the magnificent “Visit Beeston” T-shirt.

Beeston: been there? Buy the T-shirt!

SINCE TBG launched “Visit Beeston”, it’s been a hectic fortnight for Leeds United chairman and poster boy Ken Bates.

Either side of raising season ticket prices (again), he mounted his trusty soapbox (again) on climate change, AIDS and third world water supply and found himself under the the scrutiny (again) of the Guardian’s David Conn.

Phew. All we’ve done is these “Visit Beeston” t-shirts in association with Leeds United fanzine The Square Ball; yours to pre-order now at squareballshop.com.

You don’t have to visit Beeston to wear one – but it helps!