I RECENTLY did this follow-up ad to last month’s Time For Change poster for Leeds United Supporters Trust, because I believe – pissed-up pitch invading pillocks notwithstanding – that nothing in football has more importance than fans. Without us, it’s just 22 people getting some exercise.
Look out for the ad in the new issue of the by-the-fans, for-the-fans magazine, The Square Ball, on sale outside Elland Road at Saturday’s home game against Birmingham City and online right now at thesquareball.net.
FOUR promotions into their epic journey back to the Bundesliga, Austria Salzburg face new competition for a fifth – from none other than Red Bull, whose rebranding of their club prompted fans to reform it in Austria’s footballing basement in 2005.
Saturday’s 3rd division topspiele der woche saw second-placed FC Liefering enter Salzburg’s violet quarter to face the side they trail by a single point. From their red & white colours to the familiar styling of their club badge, FC Liefering are Red Bull in all but name; a monstrous club, a patchwork of body parts from pilfered graves – all because one team’s seemingly not enough for the drinks firm’s Dr Frankenstein, Dieter Mateschitz.
The story goes a little something like this. A few years ago, Bundesliga reserve sides were prevented from playing any higher than the 3rd tier: the Regionalligas East, West and Central. This was much to the annoyance of Red Bull, whose reserves had remained in Regionalliga West having won it in 2011. So they paid off cash-strapped USK Anif and changed its name to FC Liefering, then handed FC Liefering Red Bull Salzburg’s reserve squad, then formed a new club called FC Anif and gave it Red Bull Salzburg’s reserves’ league spot.
Confused? Well there’s another team, FC Pasching, under Red Bull’s evil wing now too, so there. The upshot of all this is that Red Bull have control of three 3rd division clubs – FC Anif and FC Liefering in Regionalliga West, plus FC Pasching in Regionalliga Central – and claim none of them are reserve sides, therefore all should be able to be promoted.
Furthermore, because promotion from the Regionalligas is clinched via a sequence of play offs, it’s conceivable that FC Liefering and FC Pasching could contend a bizarre end-of-season decider between two Red Bull teams. The Salzburg FA say they’re powerless to prevent this, but the Austrian FA surely face an administrative headache if such a situation were to arise.
On Saturday, a nervy tussle between Regionalliga West’s top two ended all square, with all the action saved for a fantic last 15 minutes which featured both goals and a red card for Red Bull in front of a rapturous Maxglan full house. With three games to go before der winterpause, Austria Salzburg remain undefeated in their latest exhilarating tilt at what could turn out to be their most impressive feat yet.
DUE TO popular demand, I have released these free, downloadable versions of the advertisement presently on Lowfields Road, displaying the core message of Leeds United Supporters Trust’s Vision Statement.
The month-long advertisement makes its home debut at tomorrow night’s game against Hull City and is due to land on the pages of the brand new issue of The Square Ball magazine on Saturday.
LUST is an independent, democratic, not-for-profit co-operative who believe our club should match the ambition of our fans. You can read its Vision Statement and join its ranks of over 8,000 members at lufctrust.org.
MICHAEL Tonge’s the Warnock old boy to plug a gap in Leeds United’s midfield and become its 69th loanee since 2004.
Having read the Leeds United Supporters Trust reinforce the Swiss Ramble’s view that the football spend is exceptionally low at a club whose turnover’s £32.6m yet is said by its manager to be “skint”, all that should be on borrowed time is the chairman.
SHE’S been at it again! No, not the cooking sherry – making a meal of our bloody midfield, that’s what. There’s this and so much more within the 56 pages of the latest 23-years-old-and-still-not-sold-to-Norwich Leeds United fanzine, The Square Ball.
Buy it from sellers around Elland Road at tomorrow’s home game against Wolverhampton Wanderers, or online at thesquareball.net.
“You know it’s goin’ slow but it’s comin’ your way,
You know we keep talking ’bout a revolution,
But the air’s so thin and you’re still polluting it,
You know we keep talkin’ but it’s so frustrating,
And you know we keep talkin’ but there’s no mistaking it.” ~ “Take Your Time” by Spiritualized
LONG before his near-namesake put pen to paper, Jason Pierce’s soporific protest song had become something of a soundtrack to supporting the late-Bates era Leeds United for me. Here’s hoping for a similarly epic, euphoric ending before too long.
IT crescendoed from nothing. What was a whisper when I left the country on Friday had become feverish takeover talk by the time I returned on Sunday. By Tuesday, Leeds United were in lockdown.
How fitting it was to be in Salzburg as such revelations, and potentially a regime, were unravelling. When Austria Salzburg’s then-chairman Rudi Quehenberger sold the club to local energy drinks magnate Dieter Mateschitz in 2005, he congratulated himself and the city on a job well done. With Red Bull’s millions, and a shiny new stadium built for Euro 2008, the side who’d just finished one place from the drop were installed as title favourites and alles war gut by the River Salzach.
However, when Mateschitz flaunted his investment ahead of the new season, fans found that the violet & white football club they and their families had followed since 1933 had vanished. Austria Salzburg’s colours, name, even its foundation date were no more. “The red bull can’t be violet, or else we couldn’t call it Red Bull,” Mateschitz said. “This is a new club with no history.”
When I read those words in When Saturday Comes’ September 2005 issue, I too was coming to terms with a new regime at my own club. If Mateschitz’s shift at Red Bull Salzburg was seismic, Ken Bates’ at Leeds United was more a case of creep. Though at his first potty-mouthed press conference he spoke of how Beeston’s wastelands meant he could build “Elland City instead of Chelsea Village,” I didn’t hear the sirens until a typically self-congratulatory interview, with administration just over a year away, saw him speak of his “local nationalist” Leeds United in the way that nutter Sam Hammam used to talk about Cardiff City equalling Wales.
Neither Bates nor Mateschitz care a hoot for fans, and both men’s policies have decimated their club’s crowds and with it, the atmosphere. Bates stretched our wallets to the limit and smashed our independence with his beefed-up Members Club and sycophantic media which enabled him to write off sceptics as “sickpots“, “morons”, and “dissidents”. Mateschitz’s idea of dealing with sustained terrace opposition to his aggressive rebranding of Austria Salzburg was to dismiss it as the work of “hooligans” who should “get another club”.
Under a thick fog of violet smoke at a home match against Austria Vienna in September 2005, that’s exactly what they did. Leaving Red Bull’s stadium on the poignant 33 minute mark were a thousand or so vocal reformers with no option but to go it alone. I’d stood with them twice before: in 2006, at a 3-0 win against Liefering in the 7th division, then again later that season as they beat Nussdorf 6-0 and celebrated the title with maximum gusto. Three further, consecutive promotions made the road back to the Bundesliga look like something of a cakewalk, but their ascent has arrested somewhat in the Austrian third tier.
Though they were destined for a mid-table finish, and since my last trip have moved from downtown Nonntal to a suburban site in Maxglan, the club I encountered in the Friday evening sunshine was immediately familiar. As big Chrie cheerfully manned the merchandise stall, Gebhard and Corinna got the beers in while Harry and I raised the Absolut banner. I’d worked on it with them a couple of years ago, in thanks to the 30-strong group of Violetten who’ve always welcomed me to Salzburg as one of their own. Formed in 1994, Absolut are one of the many independent supporters groups who formed the Initiative Violett-Weiss to protect their club’s proud history.
Much like at our back to front, inside out, upside down United, consensus between Salzburg’s democratically-aligned groups isn’t a formality. Two seasons without promotion have lead to some discontent in the ranks, but nonetheless the place feels overwhelmingly familial. I lost count of the number of youth teams proudly parading before kick off, and was pleased to recognise some of their coaches as ex-Austria Salzburg players. As the retiring tormann Alex Trappl applauded from the front cover of the free match programme and ex-stürmer Mario Schleindl eagerly milked the crowd chanting his name, the present-day Austria Salzburg and their opponents TSV Neumarkt took to the field.
It goes without saying that this Austria Salzburg, five years on and three leagues higher, is leaner, fitter, and better than the sides I’d seen before, and in 23-goal Marko Vujic they possess a forward of genuine quality. His cool finish just before half time levelled a speculative lob, and his 73rd minute penalty gave his side a 3-1 lead right up until Neumarkt’s Christoph Hübl – due to make the switch to violet & white this summer – rudely dashed the hopes of his future employers with an 87th minute equaliser.
Players for the club often speak of the adrenaline rush of playing lower league football in a Bundesliga atmosphere, and though the game lulled, as end-of-season fixtures so often do, the enthusiasm of the Ultras was relentless. Just in case anyone was thinking of leaving all the racket-making to them, the legendary Schützei popped up in the second half, standing on top of the players’ tunnel to whip the two halves of the main stand into a frenzy in the folkloric style of the Gelderd End’s very own “Collar”.
Refreshingly, the bar stayed open for a couple of hours after the game, providing me with plenty of time to mingle. Munich being just over the border, there was genuine delight at Bayern bombing at home in the Champions League, but the Premier League, would you believe, far from being The Best League in the World™ is somewhat unloved and spoken of as being bloated and boring.
Can you imagine the difficulty in explaining to an Austrian that I haven’t set foot inside Elland Road since sacrificing a life-size copper bust of Ken Bates? It wasn’t just to them either. European football’s best-kept secret is clearly getting out, because Marc had come from Dortmund and Darren was an Englishman who, like me, was on his third trip to Salzburg. Being a Wednesdayite, just imagine his delight at travelling all that way only to be introduced to a West Yorkshireman. But he was a cheerful sort, and with good reason – his club dodging the Bates bullet put mine right in the firing line.
As we bade farewell and poured into taxis bound for the city, it occurred to me how lucky I was to be there. The Maxglan ground only houses 1,566 for a club that recently took over 7,000 on a short, supercharged away trip to their former home to play Red Bull Salzburg’s reserves. There’s no doubt about Austria Salzburg’s potential but the need to build a new ground – “Eine Heimat für die Austria” – is obvious. Funding is an obstacle, but there’s certainly no shortage of will, and since the match sponsors were the local Labour party the political wind in the city seems favourable.
Many find football players inspiring, but for me, it’s the fans. Salzburg teaches us that co-operatives are the future; that individuals can wring all the cash they want from the game today, but fans, clubs, local councils and media working together will build the great clubs of tomorrow. Different minds can still sing in tune, and real fan power lies not in club-branded drinks, hotels or radio stations, but instead in standing in unison, in numbers, in independence.
Sooner or later, one way or another, Leeds United will learn to listen to its fans and the tracks we’re making will ensure that we will be ready. Whoever the club’s next owners are, let’s support fan-led initiatives now, join the Supporters Trust and be Leeds because we are Leeds. Our big questions for any owner shouldn’t be about how much they’ve got to spend, but about where we fit into their plans. For 7 long years, we’ve been nowhere. Whatever life after Bates brings and whenever that may be, I want fans to be independently represented on the board. We may not agree on everything, but we are the club’s beating heart.