Serial fanzine stalker, horse-whisperer and member of the Latvian Secret Service, Guy Hannay-Wilson caught up with Dan Moylan of tip top Leeds United fanzine, The Square Ball to chew the fat about our forthcoming League Cup tussle at St James’ Park as well as the recurring nightmare at Elland Road. Give your peepers an opening, this is a superb bit of gen from the people who know what’s what in West Yorkshire.
Dan Moylan, SB: We’re certainly far more competitive than we have been for a number of seasons, but we still lack real quality. We haven’t been comprehensively outplayed by anyone, nor have we dominated any other teams. It’s mainly been attrition that we’ve witnessed so far: lots of tight games, won and lost by fine margins. We’ve got all the hallmarks of a mid-table side!
TF: Have you been impressed with Brian McDermott since arriving earlier this year?
Dan Moylan, SB: After Neil Warnock’s era of bullshit, gloss and spin, it’s been great to listen to Brian McDermott. He’s a profoundly honest, likeable man who really understands the identity of the club and what needs to happen for us to move forward. He’s shown a great awareness of how to use the limited resources at his disposal and I’d say with certainty that we will move forward with him at the helm.
TF: How would you assess the strengths and weaknesses of the current squad?
Dan Moylan, SB: Our main strength is that we’re now organised. With the exception of Sam Byram and Ross McCormack, there are very few stand-out players. We’re yet to see the best of £1m midfielder Luke Murphy, a graduate of the Crewe academy, but he’ll develop in time. Overall, the squad is united. Our main weakness is a lack of width and pace. We lack flair players and, as a consequence, the match winning moments they create.
TF: How realistic are expectations of promotion in the short term?
Dan Moylan, SB: There’s a general acceptance that we lack the consistency and quality to be genuine promotion challengers, especially when you look at the comparative wealth of us and QPR (recently christened the Shepherds Bush Globetrotters by one of our writers). But we live in hope. Realistically, I think we’d be very happy with a playoff place. Next season should see a step up as the club will be in a stronger financial position, so the fans will likely expect a sustained push next year. We’ve proved we’re a patient lot, but our patience isn’t infinite. Owners GFH have set a target of 2-3 years for promotion, which seems realistic.
TF: Was Neil Warnock as much of a wanker as he’s normally considered?
Dan Moylan, SB: We naively thought he was just what we needed when he arrived! But by the time he left the view was almost unanimously the opposite. Warnock was hampered by a drawn-out takeover, and he seemed to give up as a result, which was fairly shocking to witness. You could detect that his passion had gone, and that he had one eye on retirement on his Cornish farm. However, none of that excuses the shabby fitness of his squad, the absolute lack of tactics employed, and his horrible, ineffective style of hoofball. Against this backdrop he completely abdicated himself of any responsibility, often singled out individual players for criticism, ostracised and/or sold crowd favourites (such as Becchio) while displaying obvious favouritism towards certain players. While all this was going on, he continued to play the chirpy, irritating, grinning buffoon in public. In public he seemed unmoved by the club’s declining fortunes. It was an unhappy marriage! And the whole debacle looks even worse when viewed through the prism of Brian McDermott. Warnock always talked about ‘I’ and ‘me’; McDermott is all about ‘us’ and ‘we’.
TF: Has the club recovered sufficiently from the Ken Bates debacle and the damaging relegation to the 3rd tier? Are the current owners GFH Capital good for the future of Leeds United?
Dan Moylan, SB: We’re still picking up the tab for Bates’s building excesses. He spent a reported £10m on refurbishing the East Stand, the newest part of the ground! He was hellbent on doing so, despite the football team being so obviously mediocre. He sold all our good players to keep the club afloat, while simultaneously selling our future revenues to pay for his property development. This year, for example, we had to hand the first £3.3m of our season ticket money to Ticketus 2 LLP, who were involved in the Rangers collapse. There were major cash-flow issues as a result of all this, which some think prompted Bates to sell. The biggest damage we’ve suffered from the Bates era is the polarisation of the support. The community around the club eroded away and we’re now facing the challenge of getting the city of Leeds back involved with the club. Only time will tell with GFH. Among many obvious but common sense steps that they’ve taken, their biggest advantage is actually that they’re not Ken Bates! It seems obvious that we need them to attract investors or to sell if we are to enjoy any sort of substantial cash influx. It’s fairly clear they don’t have the money themselves, so we’re relying on them finding someone who does. GFH’s business history is deeply worrying, but everything they’ve done so far at Leeds United has been good, so credit is due. But if we’ve learned anything in the last decade, it’s that we should always watch our owners with caution!
TF: At what stage are the Leeds United supporters trust and what have they achieved. Are you hopeful of any progress they can make?
Dan Moylan, SB: Bates completely refused to acknowledge the 9,500 strong supporters trust, yet still went on about them all the time, which suggests they were doing something right! Ofcom even ruled that Bates’s own digital station, the now-defunct Yorkshire Radio, had breached privacy rules when Bates spoke about the LUST chairman, Gary Cooper, on air. But with Bates now history, GFH have met with LUST, as well as all the other major supporters bodies, and they are building a fantastic relationship. It’s still early days, but there’s a genuine two way dialogue, which bodes well. All parties know the club and its fans need to heal after the fractured Bates era. As a fanzine we stay in close contact with the trust and we’re happy to see the progress being made.
TF: How was David Peace’s excellent “The Damned United” received by the Leeds support?
Dan Moylan, SB:For one thing, it was nice for our club to be central to a story (much like the film Goal! for you lot!). The book saw Peace interpreting a fairytale and painting exaggerated characters in Revie and Clough, so it needs to be read with that in mind. It’s quite a dark tale, underpinned by ritual, superstition, and personal demons. Unfortunately, the film seemed to disregard the complexity of the characters and did that horrible Hollywood thing of grossly simplifying the whole shebang. It turned Clough into the all-conquering hero and Revie into the arch-villain. So it can be an infuriating watch as a Leeds fan if you decide to take it too seriously, but disregard all the gloss and you can enjoy seeing Elland Road on film and laugh at some of the casting.
TF: The tie has caught a mood of anticipation amongst Mags who miss the edge of a match with LUAFC. Is this the same with yourselves? How does SJP as an away rank with yourselves?
Dan Moylan, SB: It’s a match we miss. Although we’re 90-odd miles apart, it has something of a derby feel to it. I guess it’s because we’re clubs of roughly similar stature and outlook: old-school clubs with lots of noisy travelling fans, one club cities at the centre of their regions, similar ups and downs since the 89/90 season. A visit to SJP certainly feels more exciting than going to the sterile indentikit stadiums scattered up and down the country, or small town backwaters where spotty oiks sing that they all “hate Leeds scum” without even knowing why.
TF: What is your outlook for both clubs this season?
Dan Moylan, SB: I’d say both Leeds and Newcastle are fairly unpredictable clubs, which means either has the potential to surprise at either end of the table in any given season. That probably means we’ll both finish mid table in our respective divisions! It’s what I expect from Leeds, though a playoff push shouldn’t be ruled out completely. From the outside it’s hard to know what to make of Pardew and the direction in which he’s taking you. It’s even harder to guess when you factor in the chaos of Kinnear and Ashley.
TF: What’s your prediction for Wednesday night?
Dan Moylan, SB: Based on our league form it should be, in theory, a tight affair settled by the odd goal. In which case it could go either way, especially if we raise our game. If it’s a more relaxed, open affair I can see you running away with it if you score early. Being honest, I’m struggling to predict this one, so let’s say 2-2 and we’ll let the penalties decide!
Many thanks to Dan for giving his time to speak with us. Do yourself a favour and log onto the Square Ball website.