Characteristically, Leeds United has contrived to make a drama out of a crisis, compounding the humiliation of an FA Cup Third Round exit at minnows Newport by adding the embarrassment of an on-pitch spitting scandal, as well as the six-match loss of star player Samu Sáiz. To make matters even worse, the intellectually-challenged end of the Whites’ support then took to Twitter with the express intention, so it seemed, of unleashing their long-repressed bigotry and incipient racism by attacking Sáiz in the worst kind of Daily Mail-reading Colonel Blimp-inspired terms. It made for very unedifying reading, even for Twitter after one of Leeds’ frequent bad days at the office.
There’s no getting around the fact that spitting at a sporting opponent is a disgusting matter, deserving of punishment and not to be tolerated – or even mitigated, if it comes to that. It initially seemed an odd affair to me, with some confusion and delay surrounding the red card in the immediate aftermath of Newport’s late winner. But Sáiz appears now to have admitted, acknowledged and apologised for his transgression, so that’s that. He’s bang to rights and indefensible, he’ll have to do his time, repent at leisure and make sure he sticks to his vow that this will never happen again.
Incidentally, and particularly for those who think I’m an uncritical Sáiz apologist, his conduct has worried me before, and I’ve gone into print hoping he’d see the error of his ways. This was over an early season tendency to wave imaginary cards when fouled, something that risked attracting the ref’s attention negatively, and a habit I’ve always hated. So I don’t see Samu as any sort of paragon of virtue; even so, some of the stick and abuse he’s received from alleged Leeds fans since the Case of the Newport Spit has been sickening in the extreme – decorum prohibits the reproduction of many of the remarks here. Suffice to say that there’s been a nasty, racist overtone in the murkier regions of the Leeds Twitter hashtag, many of the boneheads who like to comment there seeming to have forgotten what the little Spanish wizard has contributed to our faltering season so far.
It’s not big and it’s not clever, but then again, that just about sums up some of our Twitter knuckle-draggers. Sadly, the temptation to jump aboard a Brexiteer anti-“foreign signing” bandwagon appears to have been just too much to resist for many of these hard-of-thinking opportunists, with some of them engaged for hours on end in trying to outdo their IQ-minus cronies in a competition to see who could be the most offensively tasteless in their treatment of United’s best player this season.
The subtext emerging was of a groundswell of opposition, again mainly at the thicker end of United’s online adherents, to the idea of signing non-British players in the first place. Some Leeds fans, apparently, will not be happy until United’s first team consists of blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan stereotypes, goose-stepping their way towards the lower leagues with the Sieg Heils echoing from the stands – a harking back to the early and mid-eighties. But those days are gone; the continental and global lads are here to stay, they will continue to provide the best hopes of success – and the Twitter and other social media morons are welcome to crawl back under the stones from which they should never, in these more enlightened times, emerge.
It’s to be hoped that this will be a storm in a teacup, that United will safely negotiate the enforced and unfortunate absence of Sáiz – and that, when he returns, he will be given the warm welcome that his value to the team deserves. And that will probably be the case, because Leeds will surely move to cover for the lad’s loss, while the bulk of the United support are a silent yet match-day raucous majority, who will always be behind the men in the shirts, whether they hail from Selby or Spain.
Samu’s been a silly lad, but many, many young footballers are guilty of that; he’s not the first, he’ll not be the last, and it’s got absolutely bugger-all to do with his nationality. So, enough of all that nonsense. What we need now is to get stuck in as a United Leeds for the rest of the season, that’s boardroom, management, players and fans – and put this sorry incident behind us. The rest of the transfer window promises to be interesting or maybe even exciting, and meanwhile there’s a formidable array of opposition waiting to tackle a Samu-less Leeds. Let’s stick together, ignore the ten-a-penny haters – and show them all what we’re really capable of.