The plan before the game was to get back to just that: the game. Football. The game, the sport, the thing about people kicking a ball around as a contest and an entertainment.
The closer it got to kick off with Ipswich on Tuesday night, though, the further away from football we became. By the end of the game, football was nowhere. This was just a… I don’t know what it was.
Neither does Brian McDermott. “Forget the league,” he said after the game. “Forget about me. This situation has to be resolved.”
The ‘situation’, of course, is the takeover we all wanted to forget for a couple of hours while the team played Ipswich. At the exact moment when team news was due – Diouf replaced Varney, if you still care to know, with Varney apparently refusing to play because he’s going to play for Blackburn – at that exact moment, a statement arrived from sponsor and prospective buyer Andrew Flowers that piled more complication and confusion upon the takeover, and distracted attention still further from the game.
If you think the takeover doesn’t affect the manager and the team, and their preparations for a game, you can’t have watched the first hour of Leeds United vs Ipswich Town. The first half was so insipid that a plainly angry and frustrated crowd could barely summon up the energy or interest at half time to boo. Why bother?
That disinterest was removed by the bizarre Ipswich goal. Paddy Kenny has always had an aura of untouchability about him which makes him look unaffected by mistakes, but on this occasion he didn’t even look affected by the shot, let alone by the way he let it go past him at the near post. He didn’t seem to even move. Perhaps he was thinking about what Julio Cesar would do in his situation.
The goal didn’t exactly galvanise United, but the last half hour at least had the appearance of a football match, and one that Leeds wanted to win. Whenever he had the ball, Cameron Stewart was still trying more stepovers per minute than his brain (and his legs) can keep pace with, but it was at least a sign of attacking intent, and troubled Ipswich enough to win a penalty that Ross McCormack converted.
In a way, it’s to the credit of the fourteen who played that they managed to get a point against a team on the edge of the play-off place, despite have no discernible gameplan beyond, ‘Ignore the takeover, and try to beat them.’ I can picture the home dressing room before the game, as news of Andrew Flowers’ statement filtered in, and the figure of Luke Varney filtered out, and McDermott rubbing out whatever had been written on the whiteboards and just writing ‘4-4-2 – Do Your Best’ in its place.
Maybe he should have added a special ‘Try Not to Zone Out Completely’ for the benefit of Kenny, but as I sat pondering who the owner of that Chevy Spark was, and why he or she didn’t just answer the pleas being made over the Tannoy the first, second, seventh or thirteenth time, I couldn’t claim that my mind was completely on the game either. That’s the major problem: nobody’s mind is.
From The Square Ball Magazine, 2013/14 issue 07