Isn’t it Ironic

So all Billy Paynter needed, in the end, was a bit of encouragement. All the talk about working hard in training and waiting for the bus to come and hoping for lady luck to ride in on a unicorn of good fortune (or whatever stock footie analogies it was he used) turned out to be irrelevant: what Paynter needed, to get him scoring for Leeds, was the help of the Leeds support. “Come on Billy!” rang out from the Kop as Paynter made his appearance against Doncaster, although if truth be told, there was a smidgen of irony in the tone.

We love the unlikely at Leeds, and will always shout loudest in the hope of a long shot. A literal long shot, in the case of David Batty, whose every touch in his second spell was matched by an exhortation to “Shooooot!” Batts, being non-conformist to the core – or just a miserabilist killjoy, depending on your point of view – hated every minute of it, and seemed to take an almost perverse pleasure in turning a shooting opportunity into a chance to pass sideways. Danny Mills found it easier to get into the spirit of things. That first chant of ‘Danny Mills is Fucking Brilliant!’ came at the end of a first season in which Mills had been anything but, as he finally did something to make him look worth £4.5m. ‘Danny Mills is Fucking Brilliant!’ we sang, in the sure expectation that it was probably a one-off and worth doing for the giggles; there was less laughter around when Mills took Shevchenko to school, and the song became sincere.

Mixed in with the fervent desire to see our big number nine score a goal, was a knowing irony that even if his teammates kept setting Paynter up with the easiest of open goals, Davide Somma would still find a way to get on the pitch and block him. There was a risk, if Paynter hadn’t scored so soon, that the ‘Come on Billy!’ songs could have become incredibly hard to sing through our knowing smirks and sly winks. But perhaps we underestimate the power of our collective irony. Paynter’s goal against Preston was worth waiting for – okay, perhaps not quite as long as this, but the way he swayed between North End’s central defenders before swerving the ball into the corner of the goal was really quite something. We’d all hoped he would score one day off his arse, or off the Wonderbra he appeared to be sporting in the away kit photoshoot; but with the cries of ‘Come on Billy!’ in his ears, Paynter became a worldbeater.

So what other outlandish wishes can we grant, as we sing with a wink at the very-unlikely? ‘Kasper Schmeichel is a Super Leeds Fan, and a Very Quiet Man!’ – and O’Brien’s ears stop ringing all the time. ‘You’ll Never Out-Think McCartney!’ – and the opposing winger finds we do have a left-back in position, after all. ‘We Only Keep Clean Sheets!’ – the great Leeds United goal give-away draws to a sudden close. If we harness our sarcasm for good, we could do anything. ‘Ken Bates Prices Are Very Reasonable!’ Well, let’s not push our luck.


From The Square Ball magazine 2010/11 issue eight.