Daniel Chapman | Writing etc

We’re not going up this season, after all. Jonny’s sale says no promotion.

It won’t be due to Howson leaving, specifically. He hasn’t actually gone anywhere, at the time of writing: the news on this overcast Square Ball deadline morning in Leeds is that the club have “reluctantly accepted” an “acceptable offer” – around £2m – from Norwich. But even if he doesn’t go to Norwich today, the other interested parties – your Boltons, your Wigans, your Sunderlands – will no doubt be on high alert. They can offer him something Leeds can’t, apparently.

So no, we won’t miss out on promotion just because we’re selling Howson. That’s not to say he’s not a very good player, though. Often derided for going missing in games – and often, the derision was fair enough – when Jonny was on it for us, he was really on it. And even when he wasn’t, he wasn’t bad. Bad players don’t score perfect hat tricks. Moved forward into his favoured second striker role, Jonny is an influential attacking force and looks completely worthy of the captain’s armband. We haven’t seen that side of Howson often enough, perhaps, but then he is young yet with development, and consistency, still to come. So we’ll miss Jonny this season, but we’ll miss the 26, 27, 28 year old Jonny more in the seasons to come. So no, that’s not why Howson’s sale means we’re not going up.

Howson’s sale says we’re not going up because, if the club’s version of events is to be believed, Jonny wants to play in the Premier League. And a transfer is the only way he thinks he’ll get there. That’s the message from Howson’s transfer: players that want to succeed have to leave Leeds. This is a club that, according to Jonny, isn’t getting promoted within the next six months of his contract – or within the term of whatever contract Howson has been offered. And Howson isn’t just any player: this is the club captain, the midfield heart, the boyhood fan, the terrace hero, the public face of Leeds United: and he’s going to the Premier League, because we’re going nowhere.

Howson came to prominence in our League One era, and he was a player we could look forward to growing with as we returned to the top flight. We could enjoy watching him getting better as we got better. Did anyone else have a dim daydream of watching Jonny, the thirty year old skipper of Leeds, lifting the Premier League trophy? Well, it might have been.

Instead Jonny has got better and we haven’t. And our good players have left, tasted the Premier League (or Ligue 1), and Jonny hasn’t. Howson is captain of a clapped out old tub, but there’s a yachtsman’s cap on the other side of the harbour just waiting for him. Can you blame him? Stick a hole in the bottom of that creaky old barge Jonny, send it to the ocean floor.

It seems you can fleece the fans with promises of the Premier League, but you can’t fleece Jonny Howson. If he has looked our board in the eye when they told him, “We want to match your ambition,” and he’s not believed a word – well, vale, kid, and here’s to you. It’s an inherent cruelty of football that means Howson has that option, and we don’t.


From The Square Ball magazine 2011/12 issue six.