Daniel Chapman: Leeds United and London - you know the result before boarding the train to King's Cross

Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.

Tuesday, 24th December 2019, 6:00 am
Leeds United in action against Fulham at Craven Cottage. (Getty)

Leeds and penalties: we don’t get ’em. When we do, we miss ’em. But given against? Always, always. Kiko Casilla even saved Fulham’s on Saturday, but it went in anyway. Always.

The Square Ball had a not-very-dry run at losing to Fulham in London last week: nominated in the ‘club podcast’ category of the Football Supporters’ Association awards, we traipsed down to sit in a glitzy tent next to the Tower of London and applaud the Fulhamish podcast. They didn’t seem confident their team would beat ours, but we knew.

We lost to Liverpool and Manchester too, as The Anfield Wrap won the ‘fan media’ award, and United We Stand, sharing its 30th birthday with The Square Ball, won best fanzine.

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We listened to our northern comrades speechifying from the stage, each about their city’s unique culture that is better than the rest, and thought, always, always. TSB, and Leeds, has always held up a fairground mirror to the north-west’s absurd internecine battle for legitimacy.

If they’re both so unique, why do they sound so much alike?

One or the other of them rounded off with a weird dismissal of ‘inauthentic’ fan YouTube channels, which felt like an extension of the fashionable demand for people who ‘know the club’ at all levels: Solksjaer, Lampard and so on, down to the fans.

Then Arsenal supporters spent their weekend celebrating Mikel Arteta’s goalless draw at Goodison Park and lambasting Arsenal Fan TV, as if only one can be the true voice of the club, and the authenticity belongs to the coach who was an Everton legend before he ever played for the Gunners.

At the awards do, I wondered how far back this drive for authenticity is going to take us, whether we’ll have to start printing The Square Ball on photocopiers again to re-qualify as real.

Then I shrugged, and talked to our award-winning tablemates from Goal Diggers FC, who spent the summer putting on events and parties around screenings of the Women’s World Cup.

Dancing to Sophie Ellis-Bextor in front of flashing videos of Megan Rapinoe and Zinedine Zidane might sound abhorrent to old-school keepers of football’s authentic flames, but it definitely sounds like fun, and not far in spirit from our Peacocks, with our 1970s film-set floodlights, smiley badges, Gary McAllister and Brian Deane dancing at determinedly mixed club night Vague at The Warehouse in 1995.

All of which thoughts culminated in a hangover in London, the worst thing in the worst place. Gasping for fresh air, I opened the balcony windows of our AirBnb for a lungful of smog.

Anyone who thinks Leeds should have a metro system should have heard the local trains rattling through my aching brain: if it’s called the Underground, why is it on a bridge, metres from our third-floor window?

Another balcony overlooked a bin yard at the back, where £600,000 buys you a view directly into the lecture theatre of a school of psychiatry. The bored students might have learned more by looking out the windows at me, clutching a can of Northern Monk beer nursed all the way from LS11, deranged in an antique LUFC tie. You didn’t have to be Frasier Crane to deduce my team would not win at Fulham.

Leeds could have. We glimpsed victory in open spaces in the first minute, but Pablo Hernandez was injured before he could take advantage. Fulham manager Scott Parker implied United’s movements are scripted, and without Pablo, perhaps that’s true.

But referees in London also have a script, and the early penalty against Ben White proved decisive. United’s reaction was less rehearsed.

I’ve rarely known a group of players so confident in calling a decision “wrong”, in interviews, on social media, and in Mateusz Klich’s oblique reference to Stevie Wonder (perhaps the ref could really sing?).

It’s as if, after the spygate fine, nothing can hurt Leeds anymore – even the club Twitter account was in on the bitterness.

Authentically speaking, this is fans’ territory. Players are supposed to speak with stiff dignity about decisions evening out, but the boundaries are collapsing.

Leeds already have Gjannicam; how long before Klich is ranting for YouTube on the Lowfields? Traditionally he should say he’ll put it right in the next game, but why wait? Everyone can join in now.

Fans have known for years that in fanzines, phone-ins and pubs, it helps to get things off your chest. It’s like that first fresh breath in Leeds, when you step off the train from King’s Cross.