IT’S LATER THAN YOU THINK
I don’t know why I’m not enjoying this more. I mean, it’s alright. Beating Middlesbrough was good. But I can’t lift my spirits and join in the party mood. I want to. I don’t know what’s stopping me. I tried to write a considered, analytical article to work through this uneasy feeling I have about Neil Warnock, to set out in a coherent way the arguments both for and against and hopefully alight on the answer to my diffidence and thereby overcome it. This is what I wrote instead.
I’ve always been proud of our resistance, as a football club, to ordinary techniques of seduction. A brief dalliance with Cantona apart, it’s the Molenaars we swoon for, not the Brolins. Leeds United has a proud tradition of keeping its knickers on and demanding to see concrete bloody evidence of this allegedly flash car and so-called big house before we’ll even think about letting you so much as buy us a drink. If you’re going to be all talk and nil-nil draws, you needn’t think you’ll be getting your breakfast in our house tomorrow. And yet here we are: hypnotised. Because he says we’re much more attacking now and yet we’ve only scored two in four. And he says we’ll make the playoffs but we’ve only got five points from twelve. And he says not to worry because we’ll be better next season but he’s got a get-out clause at the end of this one. And he says that this time everything’s going to be different, and we’re believing him – for one wild, abandoned night we’re going along with it, we’re in his car – it’s a Nissan Micra – and we’re taking him back to our place, because he’s ‘between properties at the moment’, and on the doorstep, you look into his eyes, and suddenly you think, didn’t he say he was forty-two? Because he looks older, but oh, he’s so funny and kind and we can call in sick tomorrow… we’ll need to…
AT THE PARTY
Natasha finds me in the kitchen. I’m smiling weakly from one bland face to another, some chatter about cutlery factories and a holiday to Rome. “What is the matter with you?” she hisses in my ear.
“I just don’t like him!” I hiss back. “Like him?” she says. “Everyone likes him.” “That’s part of the problem,” I reply. “You’re impossible,” she says, jabbing me in my ribs. I hate it when she does that, as she well knows. “Here he comes,” she hisses now. “Be nice!”
“Hey, guys! Thought you could use a beer!” It’s a can of Stones. I take it. “Er, thanks, Mr…”
“Hey buddy, what’s with the mister act? Call me Colin, we’re mates, aren’t we?” He punches me on the shoulder and I reflexively put up my hand. “Woah, a bit of tension there buddy. Say, have you ever studied Eastern philosophy? It always relaxes me. Check this out! Yogic flying!”
Without another word he drops to the kitchen floor, cross armed and cross legged, and starts humping himself up and down as if trying to fight his way out of a strait-jacket, staring up into my eyes the whole time along the ridge of his bird-beak nose. There’s something grim in his determination to levitate and wow us all. Everyone seems to think this is incredibly entertaining, but it goes on for far too long. Eventually he gets up, and they all applaud. “Listen you cool dudes, I’m going to check the rest of the party. Stay cool in here!”
Natasha starts to say something to me like, “He’s not so – ”, when suddenly there is a cat in my face. “You didn’t think I’d leave here like that, did you?” It’s Colin’s voice, but all I can see is this cat. “That’d I’d leave here without giving you this – without giving you a wuffly kitten?”
I hear Nastasha scream, and Colin’s on the floor: I punched him, or maybe I punched the cat, I don’t know, but it’s Colin’s teeth that are around my feet like half a tubesworth of broken Polo mints. “Hey, man,” he mumbles. “Woah, well I guess my dentist needs the business, right?”
But I’m gone, I’m out the door. Fuck his fucking dentist. The last voice I hear is Natasha’s, Natasha yelling after me, “He’s a nice man!” Then everything comes dark.
JACKALS, FALSE GRAILS: THE REDFEARN ERA
I don’t like being conned either, and I feel like I’ve been conned. They were going to give the job to Redders. Don’t be fooled when these idiots talk about what a great decision they’ve made giving the job to Warnock. Giving the job to Warnock was the easy part: any idiot can employ Neil Warnock. But these idiots weren’t going to. Check the record with Neil himself. The idiots made a brief enquiry, but then announced Redders was going to have three games to prove himself. Then the idiots wheeled out every character reference they could pressgang into speaking to proselytise on Redders behalf, culminating in Lorimer dropping Revie’s name in the Evening Post. And the idiots weren’t even talking to Warnock, much less thinking about him; Warnock, meanwhile, was off for an interview at Wolves. And then on Saturday Redders lost to Brighton and then on Tuesday Redders lost to Coventry. “I spoke to Ken on Thursday,” said Warnock. He didn’t add that it’s painfully bleeding obvious that two McSheffrey penalties were the reason the idiots called. And I’m supposed to lick these idiots’ boots and like it? Fuck that. They’re the luckiest failures in town.
DON’T CRY FOR ME
I’m already dead. Everything now living is already dead. So it shouldn’t matter that Warnock has already left as soon as he arrived, right? Oh he’s still manager, you didn’t miss anything, he hasn’t quit already. Til the sun sets for the forty-fourth time, at least… no, but his end is in his beginning in a way quite unlike most other managers. Eighteen months. That’s it, that’s your lot. Retirement beckons, lovely house in Cornwall, wife can’t understand why I took this on, got a get-out clause before then anyway. A bit rough. To find out on your second date that your new lady love is emigrating in a year-and-a-half – that’s how long the paperwork takes, apparently. “I’ve always wanted to live in Canada,” she says, between sips of the champagne you’re paying for. “And of course it was all arranged before I met you.”
Maybe I don’t feel better because I never felt all that bad. I mean, we were doing alright. Tenth when they sacked Grayson, three points off the play-off places. Birmingham was a mess and the team wasn’t playing very well, but Grayson had regrouped and improved before and I didn’t see any reason why he couldn’t do it again. We won more than we lost and I wasn’t all that angry about things, and besides we could always get someone new in the summer. Then suddenly before I could even half-yell ‘Grayson Out!’ once with anything approaching conviction, everything changed and now it’s much better to have Warnock and be tenth and four points off the play-offs, because that’s more exciting now apparently. It’s like I was enjoying my favourite flavour of ice-cream cone just fine and somebody threw it on the floor and gave me a new brand of ice-cream that scientists and focus groups have proven I will like better. Um. I was alright with the one I had. “Well science says this one’s better.” Yeah, even so, though. “Plus that one’s on the floor now so you can’t have it. You’ll just have to enjoy this one. Don’t you like it better?” Well it’s good I suppose, but the other one was fine too – “Forget about the other one. We have science on our side.” I can’t argue with science, I suppose. But I don’t eat ice-cream for the science.
ONE NIGHT IN PARIS
Always on the bloody telly. I don’t know who half of them are but they’re always on the bloody telly. And tick off all the times when Leeds have been taken over by someone your gran that doesn’t like football has heard of. Brian Clough? She always thought he looked shifty and look how that ended. George Graham? Back to London like a shot, gran told you he would be. Dennis Wise? She never knew how he get so famous in the first place. And now Neil Warnock. He’s ubiquitous. He’s unavoidable. He’s pap-fabulous and he’s the innest thing. Rewind the video after the Doncaster game when he gets doorstepped outside the Banqueting Suite by Sky Sports. The flashbulbs popping, the microphones encircling, oh he’s got a quip alright, about not being allowed to speak, but he’ll speak anyhow, flicking the bleached blonde hair from his forehead and namechecking the hip young fashion house that designed that oh-so chi-chi blouse. At home Natasha flings her new Grazia at me. “There’s a big spread on him again,” she tells me. “He’s had his teeth fixed.”
KEN BLOODY BATES
Because he’s still here, isn’t he? Ken bloody Bates. It’s been double helpings all week at the orphanage, but the old tyrant is still in charge.
I’m trying to come up with a positive suggestion for who should manage Leeds instead, so I’ve turned to ‘Leeds United: A Complete Record 1919-1986’, by Martin Jarred and Malcolm Macdonald, edited by Anton Rippon. This is a fantastic and holy book. I regret slightly that my copy lacks a dust jacket. I don’t know really what I’m looking for until I find it: I’m looking for Dick Ray. Leeds United manager, 1927-35. Here’s what Jarred and The Mac have to say about him: “Dick Ray served the Leeds clubs loyally as a player, captain and committee man, secretary and manager.” Crivens. Is there anything he didn’t do? “An all-round sportsman, he played cricket with Bradford League club, Laisterdyke. After hanging up his boots in 1912, Ray served in the RASC in World War One.” All rounder, eh? Keep going. “He became a member of the original committee formed to get the new United on its feet and ran the side on a shoestring budget with considerable skill.” That was 1919. He came back in 1927: “…as manager-secretary at Elland Road, responsible for both team selection and playing policy. An outspoken character, he liked to do things his own way.” Ah, he wouldn’t suffer foolishness, would Mr Ray. And ‘manager-secretary’ has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it? Although personally I like ‘committee man’. You don’t get many committee men in football management any more. “By 1940 he was out of full-time football running a garage business in Leeds and having an interest in billiard saloons.” Not many people have an interest in billiard saloons anymore, either. Did Dick Ray beget a son, I wonder? And did Dick Ray’s son beget a son himself?
Warnock’s sixty-three. Bates doesn’t have a birth certificate and we’d need to fell him to count the rings. We’ve had seven years of dice-throwing to get us to this stage and now it’s down to a race against retirement for the manager and a race against the reaper for the chairman, all while the teams that come down from the Premier League bring with them ever greater riches. Do you ever look at Norwich and (soon to be) Southampton and wonder how they got back to back promotions to the Premier League? Was it because dynamic boardrooms found talented young managers with something to prove, gave them the resources they need and backed them through the tough times? Or was it because they bet everything on bringing a hired gun back for one last job, never mind what he leaves behind when he’s gone?
Everyone knows it’s more fun when you’re a gang! This is where you’re all from, and you’re all together and nobody knows your secret codewords and none of the grown-ups have found your den. We Are Leeds, We Are Leeds, We Are Leeds. But who’s this guy? The cool deputy head from school? Aw, man. And yeah, maybe we can still play our games. And maybe he knows some better games, and he might know how we can win and we can go over to the next estate and we can steal their stash of cider and lad’s mags. Except he won’t allow that because it’s more fun to be good at maths, he says, and we’ll win prizes at maths and maybe get our picture in the paper but we’ll have to get our picture taken with him. And it won’t be like it was when it was just us, and we might not always have won but it always meant something. He’s won loads of times, he always wins, and it won’t be special to him: it’ll just be another win, another notch on his bedpost. Scarborough, Notts County, Huddersfield, Plymouth, Sheffield United, QPR, and who was the last one? I bet they’ll be talking about him, not us, anyway. His record win, his achievement, his skill. Not ours. His.
PRETEND THE SHIP’S NOT SINKING
Natasha went straight in to the house as soon as we got home. A few minutes later I followed her up the stairs and knocked on the bathroom door. “Go away,” she said, not even shouting now. I went away. I’d pinched a half bottle of cheap whisky from the party and I sat at our kitchen table, trying to dim with an amber veil the over-watted bulb we both hated in that room and that I kept promising to fix. After half an hour or so she came down and poured herself a glass. “You’ll feel different about this,” she said. “You’ll feel different about this when he gets us to Wembley.” I drank off what remained in my tumbler, and my eye caught the postcard picture of Howard Wilkinson we keep on the fridge door. “I know I will, Natasha,” I said. “I know I will.”
From The Square Ball magazine 2011/12 issue eight.