What Leeds United fans really want as Marcelo Bielsa takes on Premier League Arsenal - Daniel Chapman
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.
This column is at a disadvantage this week, written before kick-off at Arsenal.
If I knew the result, I’d know the lottery numbers, and these lines would be an anti-Manchester United tirade to make even Ezgjan Alioski blush.
In some ways this ignorance is a blissful reminder of my youth, and why not start this thrilling new decade with nostalgia for the early-1990s? The days when following football meant switching on the radio for Sports Report, and/or the television for Match of The Day; if you missed either of those, Teletext would give you a bare update until the newspaper reports.
It wasn’t much, but like walking 10 miles to school with a heavy sack of Oasis CDs on our backs, it didn’t do us any harm.
Now every moment of every match is available to examine in realtime on multiple platforms, but oddly, interest in the actual games seems less eager than it was, particularly in the FA Cup. The tie with Arsenal has been hyped up, but that mostly means replaying Allan Clarke’s winner from 1972. There doesn’t seem much anticipation for anything as exciting.
What we want from the game is not excitement, but knowledge. Will Robbie Gotts’ long-awaited debut reveal the offspring of Gary McAllister mating with Lee Bowyer? Will Illan Meslier understand the concept of penalty areas? And will the result or any injuries have an adverse impact on our league season?
Marcelo Bielsa taking on a Premier League side is an intriguing prospect, but not if Arsenal leave their Premier League players on the bench. At the time of writing I can report that we’ve learned Liverpool’s U23s can beat Everton’s first team in a competition Everton wanted to win and Liverpool would rather not be in, but I’m not sure what that tells us. Ah, the magic of the cup!
The FA Cup is becoming like the League Cup — a competition to be done with quickly with minimal damage, so clubs can concentrate on more important matters than, well, games of football.
The old-fashioned method of only knowing the result would work fine for most people, and far from being painful, news of a defeat can mean less expense on tickets and travel, less worry about tired players in the league. It’s win-win, but not for the cup.
That’s not a particularly new insight into the world’s oldest cup competition, but what’s interesting is how that attitude is filtering into other contests that lack the Premier sparkle of Watford versus Burnley. For our own reasons, this entire Championship season is something Leeds fans would gladly have over and done with so that we, too, can concentrate on the Premier League.
The dominant thoughts at the moment are less about the 90 minutes against Arsenal or Sheffield Wednesday, and more about the January transfer window, and whether Leeds will sign the right players to affect the final league table in May.
It’s not a case of wanting new players we can enjoy watching: this is pure function, pure results. Don’t show us the games, just show us the growing points tally, show us listed in the Premier League fixtures next season.
It’s not nostalgic to wonder if this is wrong, and it’s something Marcelo Bielsa often refers to. He says the focus on results — and the anger when they don’t go the right way — means people are neglecting the beauty he holds paramount.
We’ve become so convinced by the idea of promotion at all costs that our match tickets are almost worthless: what was once a way of relaxing on Saturday afternoons only increases our stress, even while the football being played is gorgeous. It’s like looking at a flower, and hating it.
There’s more football to watch than ever, but less pleasure being taken from watching it. Perhaps we need a new movement like slow cooking or slow TV, where people tune in for hours to watch a steam train gently chuffing through the countryside.
Bielsa was, of course, an early pioneer of slow football: when he was managing Vélez Sarsfield, he had a van rigged up with a screen in the back so he could spend the long hours travelling to and from Rosario absorbed in tapes of football games.
Maybe that’s the way forward: we each need a flatbed truck with a VHS combi and a stack of cassettes to reconnect with the game, and not the league.
Whatever happens in 2020 to this all or nothing season of ours, I hope we don’t look back one day, feeling like we missed it.