There can be times, when looking in from the outside on England’s most chaotically run football clubs, that trying to make sense of what is actually going on ceases to be of any significant value. There is no method, only madness – no narrative arc, just a series of random events held together by a small cast of characters, and the only way to be able to keep a grip on the entire sequence is to treat it all as something akin to the lucid dreams of a hyperactive three year old, full of Sunny Delight and the infinite possibilities of his or her imagination.
One is given pause to wonder, when considering the current travails of Leeds United – whose current plight keeps them firmly rooted in second place after Emmerdale in the running to be Yorkshire’s longest running soap opera – what is going on in the minds of some of the central characters. What, exactly, are Massimo Cellino’s thought processes? Is there some sort of grand master plan at work here that the rest of us are simply too troglodyte to understand, or is he more like a toddler? Is he capable of reacting to forms of basic sensory stimuli and perhaps even of basic, if strange to adult eyes or ears, logical thought? And if he does indeed possess a level of cognitive development that is somewhere on a spectrum between a sunflower and a highly strung toddler… how on earth did he get to be so rich? It’s difficult to avoid the suspicion that the rest of us mere oiks might be missing a method behind the madness so subtle as to be almost imperceptible.
The long suffering supporters of the club have had a little over a year and a half to get used to him, but he still retains his capacity to surprise. A little over a month ago, the counter-intuitive news was that he was preparing to sell up the supporters group Leeds Fans United, but no sooner had the ink dried on many thousands of words offering him something approaching the benefit of the doubt that any agreement was being disavowed and familiar mud-slinging had begun again. Cellino, who by this time was coming to resemble The Mayor of Halloween Town from The Nightmare Before Christmas, fired out an almost illogically furious statement, denouncing representatives of Leeds Fans United as telling “fairytales” about the meeting and acting “like kids in a sweet shop.” Well that, as the popular vernacular of the time goes, escalated quickly.
There will be some reading this and pondering how an individual that should, according to how most of us would interpret the rules of the Football League, have been banned twice from being involved in the running of a football club could still be acting on its behalf, but Cellino seems to have the governing body on his side, in this respect. Despite having been convicted in Italy twice for criminally dishonest tax evasion in less than two years, the Football League’s arbitration panel appointed to hear his appeal has stayed his second suspension, which enables him to continue until the appeal process is completed because he is contesting the decision in Italy. The Football League tells us that he will serve the full term of his suspension – 223 days – should his appeal fail, but it is simultaneously difficult to avoid the temptation that this form of arbitration amounts to little more than kicking a problem into the long grass for a few months whilst simultaneously showing up just how toothless the current regulations are.
These eccentricities and irregularities might be a little more tolerable to many supporters – even if they shouldn’t be, but that’s another matter altogether – were the team being successful on the pitch, but the fact of the matter is that Leeds United continue to stutter and wheeze their way through the Championship season. Since the appointment of the obnoxious Steve Evans as the team’s manager in October – a decision which only lends still further credence to the possibility that Cellino’s arrival at Elland Road could be some sort of bizarrely inventive plot to kill all Leeds United supporters by raising their blood pressure until it has the consistency of Tizer – the team has won just two of its seven matches, a run which included a home defeat at the hands of Rotherham United, who had already dispensed with Evans’ services this season. His new club now sits in seventeenth place in the table, just four places above the relegation places. Still, at least Leeds supporters may not have to wait too long for Evans to squeeze through the exit himself. His appointment made him Cellino’s sixth manager in eighteen months. The life expectancy of the Leeds United manager is not well known for its longevity.
Continuing his theme of apparently wanting to do anything he can to hurt the mental well-being of Leeds United supporters, Cellino’s latest stunt has been to put a £5 increase on the cost of match day tickets of those sitting in the South Stand at Elland Road for their forthcoming match against Hull City which can be – some might say, as a matter of principle if you are buying a ticket, has to be – redeemed at the catering kiosks in the stand. Already dubbed a “pie tax” by supporters, the Leeds United Supporters Trust has already contacted the Football League and the local Trading Standards Office about the matter. The club, meanwhile, issued the following statement on the matter:
The club is looking at ways to encourage supporters to use the facilities and catering offerings on match-days. Adult South Stand tickets are now being sold as a package, which includes the advertised standard match ticket plus meal deal voucher. The voucher offers a saving on the standard match-day food and drink prices, and to accommodate demand, additional catering units have been identified in the lower concourse and will be designated for serving the voucher-only meal deals. This new package only applies to the South Stand, and supporters have the choice to buy tickets elsewhere in the stadium at standard ticket prices.
So, let’s just take a moment to break that down into its constituent parts, with our attempt at a translation in italics:
“The club is looking at ways to encourage supporters to use the facilities and catering offerings on match-days” – We haven’t been making as much money as we’d like to through our in-stadium catering this season.
“Adult South Stand tickets are now being sold as a package, which includes the advertised standard match ticket plus meal deal voucher” – We figured the best way of achieving this would be to, rather than make it cheaper or increase the quality and/or range of what we were selling, make the purchasing of food and drink compulsory.
“The voucher offers a saving on the standard match-day food and drink prices, and to accommodate demand, additional catering units have been identified in the lower concourse and will be designated for serving the voucher-only meal deals” – It’s really cheap, we promise. Because everybody in that stand will feel as if they have no choice but to have their pie and pint, we’re even laying on extra units to turn them out.
“This new package only applies to the South Stand, and supporters have the choice to buy tickets elsewhere in the stadium at standard ticket prices” – Look, you bloody ingrates. It’s our football club, and if you don’t like it then you can bloody well bugger off to another part of the ground from now on.
Of course, giving supporters angry at being told that they will avail themselves of the club’s catering whether they like it or not potential missiles with which they could express said anger might not be the wisest idea in the world but, as we have seen in recent months, joined up thinking doesn’t seem to have been particularly high on the agenda of those running Leeds United of late. However, possibly mindful of the negative publicity that may come with a blizzard of pastry and meat of dubious origin raining down behind one of the goals (not to mention the unwelcome possibility of Steve Evans appearing with a bin bag and a garden rake), the LUST are coordinating a protest that will hopefully prevent such scenes and taps into what may be a raw nerve with Cellino himself. Seventeen minutes into the game, there will be a walk-out for seventeen minutes by all of those that are sick and tired of being treated as walking ATMs to be upended and emptied upon arrival at Elland Road’s turnstiles. Why the prominence of the number seventeen? Well, Cellino has a superstitious dislike of that number. As the protest’s organiser, John Bond, put it: “We all know he hates the number seventeen. We want to make it very clear to Cellino that he is not wanted. The way he runs the club is outrageous and we want our club back.”
Will any of this make any difference whatsoever to Massimo Cellino? Who knows? Given what we know of him, it would be unsurprising to hear that he had cancelled this particular initiative and will be handing out free kittens to all those who turn out at Elland Road instead. It would then be similarly unsurprising to hear that he’s changed his mind about that and that said kittens will be kicked into the crowd by the team, instead. Perhaps there is method behind the madness at Leeds United. Perhaps there is a complex psychological game going on that will end with the team steamrollering its way into the Premier League, cheered on by tens of thousands of newly-enthused supporters all singing the name of their glorious owner. Perhaps, however, there is only madness. Madness and obligatory pies. And whilst we might hope it’s the former, we strongly suspect it’s the latter.
You can follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter by clicking here.
You can follow Twohundredpercent on Facebook by clicking here.