Sam Byram is STILL Not Leeds United’s Priority – by Rob Atkinson

Boy Wonder Byram

Boy Wonder Byram

Everywhere you look within the Leeds United blogosphere at the moment, people are gnashing their teeth, tearing their hair, rending their clothes and exhibiting other biblical signs of anguish and angst – and all over one slip of a lad.  Sam Byram was an unknown to 99% of the support two short years ago. Then he had a dream pre-season, started off the Championship campaign in the first team and stayed there, producing displays of a maturity and confidence far in excess of his tender years.

Naturally, being Leeds, this seeming success story is a double-edged sword. The presence of a boy wonder in the first team (otherwise known in LS11 as “the shop window”) more usually produces feelings of rampant insecurity among the Leeds faithful, rather than the warm glow that should accompany the sight of a youthful prodigy in the famous white shirt.  We know our place in today’s scheme of things, and it is very much that of “feeder club”.  Each successive hero has played his way into our hearts, prospered briefly in front of our adoring eyes and then departed for pastures greener, or more likely Canary yellow, with no sign of any adequate replacement.

It’s happened with Beckford, Howson, Snoddy, Becchio and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all.  Local hero status is no protection from the Lure of Elsewhere. Howson supposedly had Leeds tattooed on his heart, but it seems to have been erased easily enough. Now Southampton, awash with money after their summer fire sale, have been rebuffed after an offer of £4.5 million or so for Byram – but there are rumours that more serious suitors might be willing to more than double that sum.

Sam is quite possibly the jewel in the crown of the Leeds Academy production line.  Despite an injury-affected last year or so, he’s that good. It’s natural then that worries over his short-term future should be particularly unwelcome at a time when a new owner and “head coach” are supposed to be building for the club’s re-admission to the Promised Land of the Premier League.  But really – should we be worrying at all?

We need to take a long, hard look at what is necessary to get us out of this division in the desired, upwards, direction.  That list will include strikers who know where the goal is and are proficient at sticking the ball therein; midfielders and wingers according to the prescription of our former gaffer Dr. McDermott, who had seen this treatment work wonders at Reading; tough ball winners who are preferably not in the superannuated class, and a solid defence who will be mean enough at the back to make sure that increased productivity up front results in a net force taking us a lot higher up the league.  What we probably don’t actually need, and won’t until it’s time to start plotting our approach to the top flight, is a potentially world-class performer on the right flank.  It’s superfluous to our current requirements; we’re casting pearls before swine.

It would be OK, of course, if Sam did stick around.  It might even be better for the lad himself – too many fledgling superstars have gone up a level and struggled to stay afloat, look at Fabian Delph.  He’s only now beginning to look the player that seemed likely to be evolving under the guidance of Gary McAllister.  Byram might well benefit from another season at least of learning his trade at Leeds, or so the Hock seems to think. 

Looking at things realistically though – if there WAS an offer of £10 million for the youthful and richly promising Sam, and if that £10 million were to be made available for the construction of a team that would challenge strongly this season – might not that be a good option for Leeds?  It’s the kind of money that, in addition to the fortune we mugged Fulham for over McCormack, could easily fund the four, possibly five quality additions that we realistically need to propel us into the very top echelons of the Championship. Whether such investment would actually be made is, of course, another matter entirely – but that still doesn’t make the case for hanging onto a valuable, wantaway player. Once promoted, it’s a different ball game, but in the here and now the priority is actually getting there, and a lavishly-gifted Byram in a team consisting otherwise mainly of uninspiring plodders may not be enough to realise the dream.

A lot will depend on the attitude of the lad himself, and historically no sentimental feelings of attachment to the club that has nurtured their talent have persuaded previous uncut diamonds to hang around and be polished at Elland Road.  So if Sam wanted to go to a Premier League club, would we, could we, should we, stand in his way?  My view is that you don’t sacrifice a lad’s ambition and desire to mix it with the best, on the altar of narrow club interests – such a policy is liable to blow up in your face, leaving you with a disaffected and depreciating asset on your hands.  No, if Byram wants out, we’re better off gritting our teeth, securing the very best deal for Leeds United – don’t forget that sell-on clause, Massimo! – and getting on with reinvesting the loot in a team that will do the job at this level. We can leave worries about how we cope in the Premier League for such time as it’s a live issue, rather than the distant prospect it is right now.

We need to cast off that “Feeder club” image as the mortally humiliating insult it is.  We Are Leeds, after all.  But in order for that to happen, we may need to embrace the unwelcome label one last time, and speculate to accumulate.  And at least these days we seem of a mind to drive a very hard bargain, unlike previous years when the attitude has been disgustingly meek and humble as we accepted pittances for valued assets. If the departure of Sam provides the funds to finish the job, then that sad loss will turn out to have been a worthy sacrifice.

But, on the other hand, a stubborn desire to keep a luxury we can’t afford, and frankly don’t really need in our current situation, could turn out to be the ultimate example of short-termism, to the detriment of our longer-term prospects of life at the top.

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Ian Holloway: the Acceptable Face of Gutter Club Millwall – by Rob Atkinson

Holloway: voice of reason

Holloway: voice of reason

We’ve got it over with early this season – our annual trip to the murky bowels of Bermondsey, wherein resides the most singularly awful football club, with the most viciously depraved and uncivilised fans, anywhere outside of Istanbul. Yes, we’ve been there and done that for another year at least – it’s a safe bet that everywhere else we visit, with the possible exception of Huddersfield, will seem like the acme of culture and class by comparison with the degrading experience that is Millwall.

Over the past few seasons, the menu has hardly varied. For starters, a few dribbling morons scattered around their soulless Meccano stadium, Turkish flags waving, idiot leers on ugly faces as they parade their specially-purchased Galatasaray replica shirts. Then the main course of rancid chanting, as the assembled cretins rejoice in the murder of two football fans far from home, over 14 years ago. And for dessert, an insipid performance from our own heroes, who should really be inspired into a defiantly effective performance by such naked hostility, but who seem instead more inclined to surrender meekly.

Then, usually, instead of coffee and After Eight mints, it’s some piteous, whining self-justification and excuses from Millwall staff who wish to avoid criticism of their club for the abject behaviour of its ape-like supporters. By and large, it’s not a good day out for Leeds fans down Bermondsey way.

This season, though, there has been a refreshing change. Most of the pre-ordained programme of events proceeded pretty much as described above – with a slight shift of emphasis from celebrating death to rejoicing over sexual abuse – but the post-match reaction differed from previous years, in one significant and encouraging respect. Ian Holloway, the Millwall manager and a man worthy of admiration both for his achievements and for his freely-expressed and pungent views on the game, actually came out and condemned the rabble that hang like a millstone around the neck of anyone trying to create a better image for the Lions. Reacting to the home fans’ chants about Jimmy Savile (chants that the more self-righteous Millwall fans probably think represent an improvement on the usual ones about Turks and knives), Holloway said:

“I don’t think the chants were right because they’re disrespecting [Savile’s victims]. What he did is an absolute disgrace. Let’s stop and think about what he has actually done, yeah?”

“That’s the most important thing and we don’t see it. ‘Oh it’s a bit of banter’. It isn’t funny, is it? I don’t think so. Nobody likes a laugh more than me but I’m respectful, and that’s what I’m trying to show to Leeds United. They’re a great club, they come here with so many fans and want to be treated the same as anybody else.”

This represents such a departure from what we had come to expect of the Millwall apologists in previous seasons, that you almost have to pinch yourself and read it twice. We’re so used to standard fare of sickeningly tasteless chanting from the Lions’ tiny but viciously-warped home crowd, with obligatory excuses to follow as night follows day, that such a refreshingly honest and candid reaction comes as a massive – albeit pleasant – surprise, even allowing for Holloway’s track record of honesty, common sense and straight talking. The Lions boss went on to say:

“It is a really, really important issue if football supporters think they can go into a ground and sing songs about someone who has had a crash and aren’t here anymore, how disrespectful is that?”

“It goes against what football is about and to me that is obscene. That brings football into disrepute. I’ve been fined for disrepute by the FA God knows how many times. But I try and get people to be respectful and that’s all I want to say.”

“I’ve said it before the game ‘please come to the game, please enjoy yourself, go home safely and here we go let’s have a look at how good our team is’. Surely that’s the way forward.”

Holloway concluded his remarks by referring to Leeds United again as “a great club”, something guaranteed to stick in the craw of any chip-on-the-shoulder home fan. “They’ve got so many fans,” he said. “If I had a chance, I’d have a beer with one or two of them if I could.” That’s a sentiment likely to be reciprocated by many of United’s following, for whom the usual bitterness of defeat at this unwelcoming venue will have been sweetened somewhat by such welcome remarks from the architect of our downfall.

It’s undeniably good to get the Millwall experience over with so early in the piece, and to move swiftly on to the rest of what promises to be a long, hard season for Leeds United. But wherever we might travel during the remainder of the marathon Championship campaign, we’re unlikely to encounter such frankness and candour as Ian Holloway treated us to after this New Den encounter. It’s to be hoped that enough of his club’s fans will listen to and understand what he has said, to maybe make a difference as and when this fixture rolls around again. That has to be doubtful; but the fact that the Lions now have a man in charge who will not subscribe to the usual mealy-mouthed platitudes expressed by his predecessors on other such inauspicious occasions – that has to bode well for the prospects of introducing some primitive level of civilisation to what is a deeply flawed football club with a body of support to match.

Well, anyway – we can always hope. Thanks, Ian – you’re a gentleman

Goalden Boy Billy Sharp: Bound for Leeds United at Last? – by Rob Atkinson

...and you'd do for Leeds, mate

…and you’d do for Leeds, mate

The article that follows first saw light of day last September, when it seemed possible that Billy Sharp might be a loan-window option for Leeds. Sadly, it didn’t happen – but as the text shows, I was all for it at the time. Now, the Sharp to Leeds rumours are back, and stronger than ever. Could Leeds United finally get their man – the right man to provide the goals we’ll surely need in the season ahead?

Never one to get carried away by mere Twitter rumours, I am nevertheless fairly happy not to say excited at the loan window prospect – however remote – of Leeds United signing Southampton’s Billy Sharp, who spent most of last season on loan at Forest, but who certainly deserves a bigger move than that.

This is one that’s been mentioned in the past, and it’s always seemed like a good fit for all parties concerned, yet it’s never quite happened.  At first glance, Billy does seem an unlikely striker signing for United – he’s only 27 for a start, and we have historically looked to the superannuated end of the market – though things have improved in this respect under Brian McDermott.  And he scores goals.  My, does he score goals.  At Championship level, he’s a pretty reliable provider of that most valuable and sought-after commodity.  Billy Sharp just loves to hit the back of the net.

Any player – and most especially any striker – joining Leeds United needs to have one quality over and above the obviously desirable playing skills, fitness and application.  He needs to be strong-minded, a good character who’s resilient enough to step up to the demands of playing for a very demanding and sometimes unforgiving crowd.  This is a test that’s been failed by some pretty decent-looking performers over the years.  Elland Road has been something of a graveyard for strikers who have arrived with big reputations, but have failed to deliver and have ended up slinking off, beaten and broken men, into anonymous obscurity – or even worse, in the tragic case of Billy Paynter, into the first team at Doncaster Rovers.

Billy Sharp though seems to be a man of different mettle.  It’s impossible to comprehend a more tragic and shattering blow for a parent than the death of a baby.  Sharp, and his girlfriend Jade, suffered this awful calamity in November 2011 and the striker could readily have been excused if he’d felt unable to play professional football in the immediate aftermath of such a shattering bereavement.  Yet a mere two days after the death of his baby son Luey, Sharp played against Middlesborough and scored a brilliant volley, raising his Doncaster shirt to reveal the message “That’s For You, Son” (Pictured above). Thankfully, a more than usually understanding referee decided not to book the emotional Sharp, when normally a yellow card would have been applicable. Such a very courageous and professional response to tragedy speaks of a very strong character indeed, and this would seem to be the type of man that many a club would seek to have among their playing staff, not only for footballing reasons, but for the example of courage in adversity that will be set by such amazing resilience and fortitude.

I don’t know if Sharp will end up in a Leeds United shirt, but I’d love it if he did. He’s demonstrably what people used to call “The Right Stuff”, and his goal-scoring credentials are fully in order too.  I could see him being a massive part of any play-off push this season, and really it’s good to be linked with any player of this character and calibre. Twitter rumours towards the end of last season said he’s “in talks and a deal looks likely”. Well, we know that these stories float about and are often without foundation, but they seem to be surfacing again – and it’s definitely a case of fingers crossed for this one.  It might just be a match made in heaven, and the kind of signing which could see us challenging for a long-overdue return to the top table of English football.

The sticking-point could be wages – Sharp is rumoured to be on £15000 a week at Southampton, and it’s likely that the Saints would be reluctant to subsidise any of this. Often though, doing a deal is all about reaching an agreeable compromise even when one party is initially unwilling to play ball.

So, almost a year on, the Billy Sharp story still refuses to go away. The equation seems simple enough; Leeds need a hit-man, Sharp wants to return to Yorkshire, he’s the right age, the price looks right – could it finally all come together??

Fingers crossed here.

Round-up: New Cellino FL Charges Rock Leeds + Man U ‘Legend’ Retires – by Rob Atkinson

Sheriff Cellino to face FL lynch mob?

Sheriff Cellino to face FL lynch mob?

After a lengthy and sulky silence since a High Court defeat over their attempts to ban Massimo Cellino, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything can exclusively reveal that the gentlemen of the Football League (motto: In Senility We Trust) have drawn up a new raft of charges against the Italian. It is being confidently predicted that these latest allegations will shock and disgust the English football establishment to such a degree that Cellino will have no choice but to stand down.

A Football League statement, issued today, specified the following misdemeanours allegedly committed by Cellino since his confirmation as Leeds United owner:

  • That he has made Leeds United FC debt-free and solvent, with millions in working capital;
  • That he has pruned the Leeds United squad of deadwood left over from the Bates era;
  • That he has, moreover, obtained fees for several of these unwanted players;
  • That he has embarked on a programme of player recruitment to strengthen the squad;
  • That he proposes to acquire Elland Road and found a local Training Academy;
  • That – most seriously – he obtained a fee of £11m for Ross McCormack (approx three times the player’s true value).

The FL statement went on to emphasise how seriously it is taking these matters. “Any one of these charges, if proven, would be sufficient for the application of punitive sanctions,” said League spokesperson Mr Gobfrey Buffoon, “as any one of the measures Mr Cellino has allegedly taken would threaten to make Leeds United much more competitive, even to the point where a promotion push is feasible. This is quite clearly in contravention of several League regulations as well as the dying wishes expressed by our late, great leader, Saint Alan Hardaker.”

It is expected that the League will be supported in any action against Leeds United and Massimo Cellino by the majority of their member clubs, all of whom have expressed uneasiness at the thought of the Elland Road outfit attaining Premier League status.  Mr Cellino, when asked for his reaction to yet more Football League charges, was terse and yet apparently charitable. “Peace on them”, is all he would say to us, before heading off to the Old Peacock to get the beers in.

Elsewhere in the soccer world, it’s a sad day for the Biggest Club in the Universe™ as one of their all-time legends has announced his retirement. Howard Webb, the Trafford Ballpark outfit’s MVP for most of this century, has decided to call it a day at only 43 and with seemingly years of useful Man U service left in him.

Pride of Devon fans mourn the loss of a legend

Pride of Devon fans mourn the loss of a legend

It is not yet clear where new Theatre of Hollow Myths boss Louis van Gaal proposes to seek a suitable replacement for Webb. A spokesman for the franchise would only confirm that several promising younger officials were being looked at, and that early-season performances would be monitored carefully. Meanwhile, the loss of Webb has left a gaping hole in the Premier League also-rans’ squad, and it is thought that a new man will be recruited as a matter of urgency. With van Gaal fully occupied in his task of at least maintaining last season’s mid-table form, speculation is rife that the matter of Webb’s replacement may be delegated to former boss Alex Ferguson. This has been neither confirmed nor denied by the Man U board.

Shaun Harvey is 94.

Tragic Night for Twitter’s Leeds ‘Fans’ as United Win at Swindon – by Rob Atkinson

Rudy Austin seals United's victory

Rudy Austin seals United’s victory

It was the worst night imaginable for the legion of Leeds United Twitterati, who look forward with such glee to every defeat, lip-smackingly relish every setback and dream feverishly of humiliation and disaster – all for the chance these calamities afford them to seek some attention in 140 illiterately-utilised characters. Yes, Leeds United have actually triumphed in a pre-season game, against good footballing opposition too – and with several new signings shaping up well. It’s a set of circumstances liable to give the gloom merchants a serious migraine; all they can do now is wait, and hope, for another defeat on which to lavish their negative attention.

For the real fans, of course, the 2-1 win at Swindon is a cause for renewed optimism. These long-suffering types who follow their team everywhere, providing peerless vocal support and exuding loyalty, commitment and passion, were rewarded for their devotion by a much better display from United. There appears to be reason to believe that, at last, things might be taking a turn for the better. The latest news is that Milan youngster Zan Benedicic will complete a loan deal shortly, while the up-and-down, on-and-off transfer of Federico Viviani of Roma appears once again to be a strong possibility for completion, mere days after United owner Massimo Cellino appeared to nix the deal.

All of which will leave the Leeds cadre of joyless pessimists on Twitter, and elsewhere in the ether, very glum indeed. What, no chance to criticise recruitment plans? No opportunity to indulge in witty manglings of the Head Coach’s name?? Where will these attention-deprived types be, if they can’t sally forth to seek approval from like-minded idiots with derisive references to Whackaday, Hockalot and other blindingly-witty puns worthy of the finest of playground humour? What’s a boy to do, when there is no gloom and doom material to facilitate the urgent quest for more and more attention? It’s a conundrum, alright. Trust Leeds to go and spoil the fun for their growing army of doom-mongers, just when this was promising to be the kind of season they could truly drool over.

Leeds being Leeds, of course, there may well be further opportunities to spread a little misery in the near future – so the negative tendency need not despair just yet. Still, what with a win in probably the toughest pre-season game yet, and the cranking-up of the intensity of player recruitment with new targets mooted every day – these are alarming times for the Dismal Daniels and Gloomy Grahams out there. And long may they remain so.

For the rest of us – the devoted and uncomplaining majority – it’s onwards and upwards towards the serious business of League football in a couple of weeks’ time. For the time being, at least, we will be able to follow our favourites in relative peace and quiet – but always aware that we’re only one bad result away from the next joyous chorus of pessimism and fatalistic self-indulgence from the Hock-haters and nay-sayers. Let’s just enjoy it while they’re quiet and leave them to the misery that a Leeds United win will always bring them.

On, on, on.

Should Gutter Rags Mail and Mirror be BANNED from Leeds United? – by Rob Atkinson

Short and sweet this one, folks (at least my trolls will be pleased…)

Many of you will have read my occasional rants about the gutter end of the national press and their entirely destructive attitude towards Leeds United. In pandering to market forces (as, clearly, most of their readership will hate, loathe and detest the very name of our heroes in white), these toilet rolls lose no opportunity to have a dig – the Daily Fail have been at it again today, descending to the type of spite normally associated with pigtail-pulling schoolgirls. I’d provide a link but, on this occasion, I simply can’t be arsed.

Simple question, then, and I value your input as ever – should these two imposters and certain other of the gutter end of the Fourth Estate be banned from Elland Road?

I’d appreciate your views and, if possible, a little bit of the reasoning behind them.

I’d do a poll – but again, quite frankly, I really can’t be bothered. This is one question I just want to get out of the way with as little fuss and bother as possible. After all, it doesn’t affect me, as I never put money into the pockets of these dire excuses for news journals (and I’m sure many of you are the same) – but it does make my teeth itch that the talentless and booze-raddled hacks concerned are infesting the Leeds United press box, and absorbing the gratis hospitality. And no, it’s not envy. Been there, done that; but I was – naturally – coming from a supportive angle, as I love the club. The attitude and agenda of the hostile gutter press is diametrically opposite to mine. And, even though I don’t buy their crap, I’m sick of seeing it happen and reading snippets of their venom online. So, I just wondered what people think about a ban.

Over to you, with thanks.

Downmarket Leeds Fan Site Changes Name from WACCOE to THICKOE – by Rob Atkinson

The new Title - can YOU detect the edit?

The new Title – can YOU detect the edit?

The formerly half-decent Leeds United fans’ forum WACCOE will soon be no more, it has been announced. In a shock move designed to align the site’s core values more closely with the bulk of its readership, it has been decided that a name change is necessary. The old WACCOE name, it is thought, no longer represents the desired direction of what used to be regarded as an invaluable resource for fans of the Yorkshire giants. Instead, in an attempt to sum up the collective IQ of the readership, the title THICKOE has been painstakingly selected.

A spokesman for THICKOE stated, “WACCOE actually stands for We Are the Champions, Champions Of Europe.  Well, sort of.  There’s a “Tuh” in there, for The. We weren’t quite sure what to do with that. But some of us think it’s silly to go on about the past, we wanted something more relevant to US as a group.” When asked what the new acronym THICKOE stands for, our hapless source – southerner Mr Iain Monkey – was unable to help. “I’m not sure about that either, to be honest with you. All suggestions are welcome, it’s a detail we overlooked. We just thought it looked a bit similar to the old one, and that it summed up what we’re all about as a group of Leeds fans who like to swear a lot, spout neo-fascist views, laugh immoderately at each other’s jokes for the purpose of mutual reassurance and – most importantly of all – try to out-do each other for the attention and approval of our betters.”

There is some anxiety though, it would appear, in the re-branded site’s moderation team. A source close to the very top told us that they had tried recently to tailor the forum as per the requirements of its more prominent (jutting mandible-wise) members. “We’ve done our best,” Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything was advised. “We’ve tried to eliminate anyone who’s kicked up too much of a fuss over the site’s support for the Coalition government and our firm but fair stance on asylum-seekers (kick them out), benefit claimants (starve them, then kick them out), teachers (aaaarrrgh), the Labour Party (starve them, then shoot them, then kick them out, then shoot them again). We feel that this brings us broadly into line with our most devoted readership, some of whose best friends are foreign types of a non-Caucasian hue.”

Former and lapsed readers of the site are urged to return and see how things have come on. “We’re going great guns, honestly.  We have some really hard and cool and street nicknames for the new head coach – we call him Whackaday and Hockalot and, ooh, lots of others. It’s really brilliant and so edgy. Anyone who disagrees is silenced, so we don’t even have to worry about intelligent people spoiling things for the rest of us.”

It’s expected that THICKOE will be going live in time for the new season; in the meantime the old WACCOE brand will be discreetly phased out. “We’ve made a start already,” said Mr. Monkey. “If you look carefully at the site banner (pictured above) there’s been a bit of subtle editing going on – though you’d be forgiven for not noticing! No expense has been spared to ensure that the new brand is unmistakable, but that there won’t be anything too unfamiliar for our readers, most of whom haven’t been reading that long, have low, sloping foreheads – and can feel a little insecure.”

Mr. Monkey is 78, but his IQ is only 50.

Tabloid Smears Can’t Mask Growing Optimism at Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

Big Mass

Big Mass

It’s been just another few days in the grubby life of tabloid sports journalism UK style. Those booze-befuddled hacks, desperate to sell more copies than their fellow downmarket scandal rags, wallow happily in a sea of effluent they’ve excreted themselves, pandering to their readership’s darker prejudices. The target, of course, is everybody else’s favourite bêtes noires, our own beloved heroes in white, Leeds United.

This week, it’s been the Daily Heil with a mish-mash of unrelated stabs in the dark, all attempting to add up to a hatchet job. Very poor, very amateur … very Daily Heil. The truly awful Daily Mirror, for their part, attempted to up the ante by luring an unwary ex-United hero, Dominic Matteo, asking him a bunch of loaded questions and publishing the result under the supportive title of “Leeds are a laughing stock and I fear they’ll get relegated”.  Matteo’s recent dismissal from his position at the club is, of course, entirely unrelated to the views he now expresses, which in turn have nothing to do with the soiled wad of banknotes undoubtedly pushed his way from the Mirror‘s own filth fund. This blog understands that Matteo himself is less than impressed with the headline, the poor naïve soul. Bit late now, Dom – isn’t it? For future reference: when you sup with the Devil, you’d better use a long spoon.

The good thing is that neither of these pisspoor efforts at spreading alarm and despondency have been any more effective than a cat-flap in an elephant house. They’re irritating, nothing more – the kind of articles you could predict, almost word-for-word, without even having to glance at them. Such is the parlous state of UK tabloid coverage regarding football in general and Leeds United in particular. These people have their agenda and, once you take that on board, their stuff generally means nothing.

The other good thing is that, slowly but with gathering momentum, the Leeds United locomotive is pulling away from the sidings and getting ready for full steam up. The driving force behind this is, of course, United’s own Signor Loco, Massimo Cellino. There is definitely something about this guy that hasn’t been seen in the vicinity of Elland Road since – well, ever. He’s one on his own is Big Mass, they broke the mould when they made him. From a most inauspicious start, he’s gradually won over more and more of the vast Leeds United army out here. Supporters of the maverick Italian have seemed to outnumber the naysayers and doom/gloom merchants for some time now. In the beginning, the balance was rather different.

 

The wisdom of Cellino

The wisdom of Big Mass

The thing about Cellino is, every time he opens his mouth, pure gold pours out. For a stranger to these shores, he has a way with the language that is at once unique, compelling and deeply memorable. We all remember his observations about buying a bitch for a night, but not being able to buy the love, my friend. Admittedly, he’s not the most PC guy around. But that was a hell of a quotable sound-bite for somebody caught unawares by a phone call out of the blue, more than a touch ‘tired and emotional’ and with his guard distinctly down. There’s a fluency to the quote, a rhythm that lodges it in your consciousness. He’s been coming out with similarly notable pronouncements ever since. Some are less printable than others, but all have that Big Mass stamp of authority, confidence and authenticity about them.  Cellino shoots from the lip, he doesn’t waste words and he always makes his point crystal clear.

Actions, they say, speak louder than words – so it’s encouraging that Big Mass has recently started to show himself as a do-er and not just a talker. Shock waves are still reverberating around the football world at the price he extorted from poor old Fulham FC for a flash-in-the-pan Scottish badge-kisser of dubious motivation and fitness. People keep appearing in social media, all shocked-like, and pointing out another two or three internationals who have moved for a combined fee of less than Cellino got for Rossco. Don Revie described his capture of John Giles from Man U as “robbery with violence” – and so it was. By that reckoning, Fulham have been the victims of an armed blag that John McVicar would have been proud of.

The sale of McCormack was greeted by a kind of astounded approval by the Leeds United supporters fraternity – remarkable when you consider it represented the departure of yet another top performer, even though you did have the feeling that No. 44 might have had difficulty reproducing that annus mirabilis form next time around. But there were no mass protests, there was no real social media uproar. People were just too damned impressed by the amount we got. Naturally, there have been some feeble peeps from the usual doom-monger suspects, bleating about the figure being misleading, blah blah. But for the most part, we seem satisfied with the deal – and why the hell not?

If that wasn’t enough reason for a burgeoning optimism about LS11, then throw in a rash of signings since Ross sulked off down south, mostly unknown to us it’s true – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t quality. Nobody had heard of Hasselbaink before he arrived, or Radebe, or even Yeboah to a certain extent. Cellino and his deal-maker Salerno have form for finding rough diamonds and polishing them up. They managed it in a Fiat 500, and their stock is a lot higher now that they’re in charge of a Porsche. And all the time, Big Mass is there, hands on, sorting problems and building towards the new season, generally smiling, throwing out little nuggets about having millions in working capital – generally creating an atmosphere of positivity around Leeds that we haven’t seen the like of since before Publicity Pete got found out. A 16-0 pre-season win has done nothing to harm this heady feeling of reckless happiness, either (doom-mongers: “Who were we playing, Brazil?? Haw, haw, haw.”)

In such a swaggering manner are we sauntering expectantly towards the new season and 46 acid tests of the new regime. It won’t be all moonlight and roses, we can be sure enough of that. But there does now seem to be a new, unfamiliar optimism in the air, a feeling that last season can be consigned to history with a lot of its baggage now shed and a tasty few signings on board – with more to come. The feeling is growing that the new season will see a Leeds United worthy of our support – and that is support well worth having, when the crowd are up for it and the team are fighting for the shirt. We’ve seen those days before, long ago admittedly – but who knows? Maybe they’re on the point of coming back.

If that is the case – well, it’d take more than a few miserable and talent-free hacks wielding their poison pens to deflect us from our path onwards and upwards.  We’ll be Marching On Together quite shortly now, setting off on that League marathon with a visit to darkest Millwall. Bring it on, then. Forza Leeds and the tabloids can stick their spite and negativity where the sun don’t shine.

£104 for a Standing Season Ticket at Leeds United? Ja, Danke! – by Rob Atkinson

Uli Hoeneß in happier times

Uli Hoeneß in happier times

A stunning quote from a couple of years back drifted randomly across my desktop earlier today – and it fair brought me up sharp. It all had to do with the stark distinction between admission prices in the Premier League as compared with those charged for Bundesliga clubs in Germany. Across the board, the English clubs charged prices well towards the rip-off end of the scale, whereas their German counterparts had a much more enlightened view of match-day revenue – summed-up extremely neatly by this quote, which was not so much food for thought as a veritable feast for a delegation of philosophers.

Before I go any further into that, I should highlight a couple of salient points. The person being quoted is Uli Hoeness, famously and unforgivably the wearer of the number 10 shirt when Bayern Munich cheated Leeds United out of the European Cup in 1975. Hoeness it was, incidentally, after that match, who described Terry Yorath’s early challenge on Björn Andersson as the “most brutal foul I think I have ever seen” – clearly, he was unaware of the thuggish prowess of one Norbert “Nobby” Peter Stiles. Andersson was so badly injured in fact, that he had to quit football and join Abba – just kidding. Anyway, I digress.

Hoeness made this quote, the one that’s belatedly struck me only today, when he was the Bayern Club President – a role he later had to relinquish on account of a conviction for tax evasion, for which he was sentenced to three and a half years in jail. However, I do not accept that either his recent criminal conviction, or his part in the swindling of Billy’s Boys in 1975, constitute any reason to dispute the fact that Uli Hoeness was responsible for the most earth-shatteringly sensible statement in the entire history of football.

So, without any further ado, let’s just look at that quote. Commenting on Bayern’s advertised price at the time for “safe standing” season tickets, Hoeness said:

‘We could charge more than £104. Let’s say we charged £300. We’d get £2m more in income but what’s £2m to us?

‘In a transfer discussion you argue about that sum for five minutes. But the difference between £104 and £300 is huge for the fan.

‘We do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody.

‘That’s the biggest difference between us and England.’

Just sit back and take that in. Have you ever heard a simpler, more concise statement of good sense and unarguable logic? The man is stating that, in England, the fans are treated as cattle, to be milked for what they can give – and simply herded from pillar to post the rest of the time. He’s utterly right, indisputably and brilliantly spot-on. The fact of his links to Paris in 1975 – something the mere mention of which can still make a Leeds fan’s ears bleed – is neither here nor there. His tax-evasion and subsequent conviction and incarceration are likewise irrelevant. The guy is simply right – and it’s just as undeniably true today, as we face another football season here and in the newly-crowned leading football nation in the world, Germany.

What’s more, although the figures from the time, two years back, are a comparison between Bundesliga and Premier League, that comparison applies with almost equal impact to the English second tier, the Championship – and this is most certainly true of my beloved but obscenely pricey Leeds United. Have a gander:-

Rip-off England v Value Germany

Rip-off England v Value Germany

Remember, all of these figures are from a couple of years ago – but there are no grounds to suspect that the comparison is any less eye-watering today. The central point that Hoeness was making – that the actual benefit to clubs of higher prices is minimal, as compared to the burden it puts upon hard-pressed fans – is just as valid now as it has always been, and it’s unaffected by the sad fall from grace of the man himself.

Just think of it – what would be the effect if, for instance, Leeds United were able and willing to charge a lower rate of maybe £120 per season for a season ticket – said ticket to be for admission to one or more vast safe-standing areas? The first thing you’d get would be a years-long waiting list for those tickets – the demand would be incredible. Secondly, differentials would have to reduce in proportion, making higher-price seating tickets relatively cheaper. Again, demand would rocket; the stadium would in all likelihood be over-subscribed for every home game. A bigger stadium would become necessary. Leeds United would also be pioneers, the club that broke the mould and stopped ripping their fans off. Didn’t Big Mass himself say something along those lines just the other day?

The fact is that, with increased attendances, everything else improves – including profit margins. Incidental match expenditure would be a much bigger revenue item, as souvenirs, food, drinks, programmes – everything – sold in much higher numbers. Safe standing is, of course, a whole separate argument, with uneasy connotations for anyone who remembers Hillsborough ’89 – but it’s a case that is slowly gathering momentum as the policy is seen to work well elsewhere. The atmosphere under such conditions would improve out of all recognition. The “safe standing” areas would give back an area of the stadium to the fans who always used to generate that atmosphere: the singers, the shouters, the passionate and involved people that really got behind the team. 

Football would, at least in part, be returned to the working man and woman, from whom it has been so rudely snatched in the Sky/Murdoch era. It would be returned to the children too, the raw material for the next generation of hard-core fanatics. Football would be regaining its present and its future. The whole thing would be so incredibly better and more entertaining and inclusive, that people would be scratching their heads and wondering – why had nobody thought of this before? But somebody did, or at least they summarised the philosophy behind it. A former German international footballer, currently languishing in Landsberg Prison.

The current situation in English football is ridiculous when looked at in these terms. The seeds of disillusion for many Leeds fans – and I know this for a fact – were sown long before the club’s dramatic fall from grace from 2004 onwards. For many, the last straw came with the ending of the “East Stand Bond” arrangement, whereby bond-holders, who had contributed £500 each to the construction of the Magnificent New East Stand, had their season tickets pegged at early-nineties prices, and adjusted only for inflation. When that deal ended, those bond holders faced a dramatic rise in the cost of their season tickets because, in the real world outside of the “bond bubble”, match-day and seasonal costs had risen so dramatically. Many were sickened by the sharp elevation in their football expenses, and disappeared off the club’s radar.

The reason for the sharp rise can be divined from a glance at the bottom line on a Premier League player’s wageslip – but as Hoeness said, there’s no real logic to it. Look at that quote again – a club can get a few million quid extra with higher prices – which amounts to a haggling point in one major transfer deal, at the cost of inflicting debt and misery on their loyal supporters. Where’s the sense, or indeed the justice, in that?

As in so many things since the end of the Second World War, Germany gets it right where we get it spectacularly wrong. It just keeps happening time and time again, in industry, culture, sport in general and football in particular – on and off the field. The difference in pricing policy between the two countries’ league structures is not down to Hoeness, of course. It’s a function of logic and common sense on the one side, as opposed to greed, short-sightedness and muddled thinking on the other. It’s just that Hoeness came up with that memorable quote, that devastating logic. You’d think that even a complete fool, a purblind ass, a clueless ditherer without the first idea of how to organise inebriation in a brewery, would be made to see sense by the sheer rightness of his summary.

And on that note, gentlemen of the Football League, the FA and the EPL – it’s over to you.

 

 

Sacked Matteo Takes Mirror’s Thirty Pieces of Silver – by Rob Atkinson

Let me say right from the start – Dominic Matteo is a Leeds United hero. He’s earned that status, as have a select few before and since his time at Elland Road, by virtue of one historic, iconic moment. When Matteo rose at the near post to head home a corner into Milan’s net at the legendary San Siro, he sealed his place in Leeds United folklore – a place cemented by his subsequent performances in the white shirt. Yes, Dom Matteo is a bona fide Leeds hero. But even heroes are not immune from criticism.

Peter Lorimer could doubtless vouch for that, if he was of a mind to. His place in United’s pantheon of greats is a far more elevated and glittering one than even San Siro hero Matteo’s. Lorimer made his debut at the tender age of 15 and went on to forge a fearsome reputation as the rocket-shot weapon in the Leeds locker. Lash, they called him, and legend had it that goalkeepers would dive out of the way of one of his 90 mph strikes, rather than attempt a save and thereby risk injury or worse. Lorimer played a massive part in the golden era of Super Leeds; his “legend” status was surely indisputable.

Except, of course, he’s viewed very differently these days. Peter Lorimer is guilty, in the eyes of many Leeds fans, of selling his soul to the devil, in the not-so-cuddly guise of Wicked Uncle Ken Bates. That such a sparkling reputation as Lorimer’s could be so sullied should be a warning, surely, to lesser lights – that treachery and duplicity will not be tolerated by Leeds fans, no matter what your achievements are. It’s a warning that Dom Matteo, with his peroration in the paper that hates Leeds United more than any other gutter rag you could name, appears to have failed to heed.

In writing for the Mirror – a toilet tissue of a so-called “newspaper” – Matteo risks putting himself outside of the Leeds United family. He risks becoming a pariah – which is how some now see the iconic “Lash” Lorimer. The Mirror is not the only scandal rag currently to have a pop at Leeds – the lamentable Mail, often known as the Daily Heil by those with the inside track on editorial politics, has also had a go. It’s not too surprising; the gin-raddled hacks who staff these chip-wrappers-in-waiting are well aware that bad news about United sells copies among the cluelessly-ignorant, Leeds-hating hoi polloi.

But the Mail are just winging it; the Mirror have managed to lure the presumably unwary Dom Matteo, a contemporary Leeds hero, over to their dark and loathsome operation. It’s not a particularly wise move on the part of Matteo, recently sacked by Leeds – though he would surely claim this has had nothing whatsoever to do with his outburst in the most degraded of all gutter rags, the Sun not excepted. Had wiser counsel prevailed, Dom may well have stuck to disseminating his wisdom through the pages of the Yorkshire Evening Post, which benefits from both a more enlightened editorial stance and a readership to match. At least that way, his glowing reputation among Leeds fans would not stand at risk of becoming tarnished – as it does today.

It’s to be hoped that Matteo was well paid for his intemperate contribution in the slimy pages of the Mirror. Exactly how much it’s been worth to him, we’re likely to be left to guess. Thirty pieces of silver, perhaps? It’s a tad out-dated and probably not all that inflation-proof – but in the circumstances, it does seem appropriate.