“Cruel and unusual” is a highly descriptive phrase identifying treatment which is considered illegal due to the suffering, pain, or humiliation it inflicts on the person or persons subjected to it. It has an American flavour these days, due to the fact that it forms the sharp end of the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution, which was designed to protect citizens from being too harshly treated by over-zealous law-enforcers in the Land of the Free. Yet the words were first used as far back as 1689 in the English Bill of Rights, as the Old Country sought to limit the excesses of the various courts as they set about correcting malefactors. A similar form of words also appears in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Whichever piece of history you might choose, these are powerful words, specifying and ruling out of bounds judicial and other behaviour which is considered fundamentally unacceptable, uncivilised and uncalled-for. And yet somehow you still have Guantanemo Bay in the US of A – and over here in Merrie Olde England, we have the Football League.
In a sporting context, it’s hard to conceive of a situation more closely approximating to “cruel and unusual” than the Football League’s casually callous attitude to the hapless and frustrated fans of Leeds United, as their scrutiny of Massimo Cellino goes on and on, ad nauseam. To provide a little background, Leeds fans have been waiting for over a decade now for some obliging Knight to ride in on his white charger and bear us all off to a brighter and happier future. It’s been years of purgatory, humiliation and having to grub around in competition with clubs not fit to lace the boots of former Champions. And when, at long, long last, a potential saviour enters upon our tableau of suffering, with promises of rich bounty and an enhanced wage structure, what do the Gentlemen of the League do? They shilly-shally most grievously, that’s what. They mank about, ineffectually. They spin the whole bloody thing out until the nerves of all Leeds fans, whether they want the Italian or not, are as red and raw as meat on a butcher’s block.
It’s almost as if, in fact, they take pleasure from the long, drawn-out, torturous nature of their interminable process. Meanwhile, criminals, idiots and despots rule the roost at various other clubs, and nobody says them nay. Cellino, no more than a likeable rogue and certainly not the heavy-duty villain you find without too much effort elsewhere in the Championship, must feel rather picked-upon, to say the very least. It’s not fair; it’s not even remotely funny unless you’re some leering idiot that supports Sheffield Wendies or some other such bitter, Leeds-hating outfit. It’s the stuff of malice and persecution, the kind of thing that seems to happen only to Leeds fans – there’s no wonder some call us paranoid (And we’re not, not at all. They’re just getting at us).
Even when the end-game seemed to be upon us, still they’ve umm-ed and ah-ed away in their ivory tower, in that aloof, patronising, annoying way common to all such pettifogging bureaucrats. We’re meant to take from all this that they’re so busy and important, with weighty matters to consider, the kind of things that mere turnstile fodder could never hope to understand. Don’t they realise that we see only a bunch of daft old gits in suits, blundering around, trying and failing to distinguish arse from elbow? So when an Italian court pronounced Cellino guilty on Tuesday of some silly technical tax misdemeanour, fining him and grabbing his yacht, could the League not then have acted decisively? At least we would have known where we stand. But this latest five-day-and-counting extension to the already lengthy wait for some sort of decision – it’s just added bitter insult to grievous injury.
GFH also have to bear a large portion of blame for such a farcical, overblown and ridiculous situation. Their latest clumsy attempt to impose some sort of order took the form of an ultimatum to the League to get the matter sorted by close of play Thursday. Naturally, the League – standing on their supposed dignity – airily disregarded this. Such incredibly important gentlemen are evidently not to be told what to do and when to do it by a bunch of investment bankers. So they continue to take their own sweet time, to scratch their well-upholstered backsides and ruminate away, absorbing tea and biscuits and achieving the square root of sod-all.
Meanwhile, the fans continue to be treated as mushrooms: kept in the dark and fed on crap. And we suffer, not in silence – because there are some very angry people out here – but we suffer nevertheless; our club is important to us, and we’ve done nothing to deserve all this. We just want answers, stability, some idea of where we are and where we’re going, if anywhere. We want a future, one that might in some way make up for some of the dark hopelessness of the past twelve years.
All of these men in suits, at some point or another, have paid lip service to recognising that the situation – the stupidly long delay – is not ideal for the fans. They have acknowledged that there are many thousands of us out here, deeply affected by the goings-on at Leeds United, deeply apprehensive about what the future holds, profoundly upset and humiliated by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which buffet our club, while so many others seem to have a relatively untroubled existence. They have nodded their heads wisely, and expressed regret. But still the silly charade goes on.
It does appear likely that, at some point in the next few days (touch wood), we will get an answer. We were even told it might be by yesterday (Friday). But that was probably just to emphasise that it wouldn’t be happening on Thursday, as GFH had demanded. In any event, Friday came and went, and nowt happened. The previous time-scale of ten days would take us up to the end of the weekend, meaning that another vital match has to be played in a cloud of uncertainty. Nobody seems genuinely to care what all of this is doing to the legions of harmless and inoffensive people for whom Leeds United forms an extremely important part of their everyday lives. It’s scandalously thoughtless, unforgivably casual. In context, it is definitively cruel and unusual, the kind of thing no body of supporters, with the exception of Man U, should ever have to put up with. But we’re Leeds, so – apparently – we’re fair game for this sort of thing.
There are many out here now who don’t care half as much which way this decision goes, as they do about finally getting some decision, so that we can take stock and move on. Limbo is supposed to have been abolished by the Vatican seven years ago, but it’s where we’ve all been for the most part of this year so far, and it’s not very bloody nice. So please – after we’ve dealt with Millwall or they’ve dealt with us this Saturday – can we possibly call a halt to the most nonsensical period of uncertainty I can recall since the original TOMA? Because we really have had quite enough cruel and unusual treatment now, thanks.