The Hillsborough Disaster Warnings That Weren’t Heeded – by Rob Atkinson

Hillsborough - an Anfield tribute

Hillsborough – an Anfield tribute

Incredibly, a quarter of a century has flashed past already, since that awful spring day in 1989, when 96 football fans turned up to follow their team towards Wembley – and never came home again.  I was one of 14,915 at Elland Road that day, watching Leeds eke out a 1-0 home win over Brighton as Wilko’s first half-season meandered to an uneventful close.  When the news filtered through that there had been “trouble” in the semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, the initial reaction was predictable: “the scousers are at it again.”  Heysel was still fresh in the memory, English clubs were still banned from Europe – and nobody judges football fans quite like other football fans (or at least, so we thought until the Sun got going).  We were tolerably certain, as a bunch of Leeds supporters, that the Liverpool fans had caused more bother, and we glumly predicted another indiscriminate backlash that would envelop us all.

As we were on our way out of Elland Road, though, the full, awful impact started to hit home.  There were deaths – people had actually died at an English football stadium – something that hadn’t happened on anything like this scale before.  Apart from the Bradford fire – a very different disaster – the only comparable event in England had been the Burnden Park tragedy at Bolton, when 33 had lost their lives in a crush at a hopelessly inadequate ground with over 85,000 attending an FA Cup quarter final. That had been well over a generation before, in 1946.  Surely, it couldn’t really be happening again, on an even greater scale, in the shiny bright late eighties?

But as we looked on in horror, the TV and radio news brought increasingly sombre statistics while the death toll steadily mounted – and later the sheer ghastliness of the event would be magnified as the tale of criminal incompetence and official negligence was revealed – and as the filthy end of the press jumped on the “blame the fans” bandwagon that other football supporters had vacated as soon as the scale of the catastrophe became apparent.

If you were a Leeds United fan, a chill ran through you when you thought about what had happened; when you realised that this had, indeed, been a disaster waiting to happen.  The Hillsborough Stadium was so oriented that the organising authorities found it easier, more convenient, to allocate stands to the fans of opposing semi-finalists based on where the bulk of those fans were travelling from.  So in 1989, Forest got the large Kop End, while the much larger Liverpool contingent were shovelled into the Leppings Lane End behind the opposite goal.  It was the same the year before, when the same two teams contested the 1988 semi-final.  And similarly, in 1987, when Coventry of the Midlands faced Leeds United of the North, the greater Leeds numbers found themselves packed tight in Leppings Lane, while the smaller Coventry band enjoyed the wide open spaces on the Kop.

So two years prior to the Hillsborough Disaster, I and thousands of others were packed into the smaller Leppings Lane End on that April the 12th of 1987.  The atmosphere was electric; it was United’s first FA Cup semi for ten years and Billy Bremner’s men had been in terrific form as they challenged for a double of the Cup and promotion to the old Division One. We were jammed in like sardines on that terrace, looking up you could see fans climbing out of the back of the crowd, up over the wall and into the upper tier of the stand where space was more freely available.  Down on the packed terrace, it was swaying, singing fever pitch from before the kick-off right through to the heart-breaking climax of extra time.  You weren’t an individual, you were part of a seething mass that moved as one, shouted and sang as one and breathed – when it could – as one.  When Leeds scored their two goals, it was mayhem in there – you couldn’t move, you couldn’t breathe, you just bobbed about like a cork on stormy waters, battered by the ecstasy of the crowd, loving it and, at the same time, just a bit worried about where your next gulp of oxygen was coming from.  Leeds took the lead early, David Rennie scoring down at the far end.  That shattering celebration was topped when, having gone 2-1 behind, Leeds clawed it back right in front of us as Keith Edwards headed an equaliser and the United army exploded with joy.  It was the single most jubilant and yet terrifying moment of my life to that point.

Later, after the match was over, as we trailed away despondently from the scene of an heroic defeat, there was time to reflect on what had been an afternoon of highs and lows, with the physical reaction of that epic few hours inside a pressure cooker swiftly setting in.  With the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight, it’s easy enough now to look back over twenty-seven years and think: “Yes, we were lucky.” Lucky that the incompetence threshold wasn’t passed that day when we were there.  Lucky that enough of the terrace fans got into the upper tier to relieve the pressure ever so slightly – was that a factor?  So lucky that it wasn’t us, when it so easily could have been.  The warning signs were there – they just weren’t perceived by those of us – the fans – for whom it had just been another somewhat uncomfortable but thrilling spectator experience.  That those signs weren’t recognised or heeded by those responsible for public safety is a far more damning fact.

Tragically, the luck we’d had that day wasn’t shared by 96 Liverpool supporters two years later.  They set off to support their heroes, and tragically never returned.  Twenty-five years on, they still await justice. Their families and friends, veterans of a quarter of a century of grief and loss, have never given up the fight, despite cover-ups and official brick walls, despite scurrilous press coverage which reached an obscene and disgusting low point with the Sun – that vanguard of the gutter press – and its sickening lies.

Now, there is a new inquest, and we await the latest official findings, leading to what we must hope will finally be Justice for the 96.  And indeed for all of the friends and family they left behind.  Twenty-five years is far too long to wait for this; that wait must not be extended any further.  Let’s have that justice now, so that the dead can sleep more peacefully and the living can have closure of a sort – and move on with the business of being alive. And – as a footnote – how appropriate and fitting it would be if Liverpool FC could go on to seal this year’s Premier League title for the first time since the year after Hillsborough.  It’s been too long a wait for that, too – and there could be no finer tribute to the 96, surely, than eventual justice and the return of the Championship to Anfield.

Let it be.

About these ads

Leeds United Book Project Still Needs Publisher and Anecdotes – by Rob Atkinson

Image

Leeds United – Football League Champions

This article was originally published on March 6 this year.

In late 1992, there was a sea-change in English football with the introduction of the FA Premier League – a “whole new ball game” as the moguls at BSkyB termed it, with more than a passing nod to the surface glitz and glamour of the Wide, Wide World of Sports, state-side.  Nothing has been quite the same since, we’ve been living with the consequences – good and ill – of that Murdoch-inspired schism in our game for well over twenty years now.  The current state of play is unrecognisable from the dear old muck and bullets game we used to know – prices have sky-rocketed, wages have transcended the merely obscene and have attained a level which is truly, nauseatingly gut-wrenching – and we’ve had to put up with a Taggart clone riding roughshod over our beloved sport for the greater part of the Uncle Rupert era.  A whole new ball game indeed.

At the time of the change, though, Leeds United were the reigning Champions of England.  Many will recall this, perhaps not entirely as accurately as they might.  You will hear it said that Leeds “pipped” Man U to the title, or that those hard-done-by heroes and the Pride of all Devon somehow gifted the Championship crown to an undeserving and opportunistic Leeds.  All myth and fancy, of course – but the media never did let facts get in the way of a nice bit of propaganda to support the delusions which drift like opium smoke around the Theatre of Hollow Myths.  Leeds won the title by four clear points, despite losing or drawing several winnable games late on, so if anything the margin could and should have been greater.  They won the most games and lost the fewest, scoring the second highest goal tally and conceding few with a mean defence.  They had the indisputably best midfield around and they were undeniably worthy champions – the Last Champions.  This is one of the things I want to nail once and for all at the latter end of the book I’m now writing, a book that ends with the revolution of ’92.

Image

Cruyff has the honour of meeting Bremner

Leeds were also reigning champions where this book starts, with my first games in LS11 as a comparative latecomer at the age of 13 in 1975.  I saw us lose to Liverpool in the league and then beat Barcelona in the European Cup semi-final before a 50,000 sell-out at Elland Road.  I was hooked after the Liverpool game, hooked for life.  And I was star-struck with wonder as Armfield’s heroes in white dismissed Barca, Johann Cruyff and all, with King Billy Bremner scoring my first ever live Leeds goal.  What an honour that was for a newly-fanatical kid of 13.  We couldn’t know it at the time, but I’d just witnessed the last hurrah of Revie’s Immortals at home in Yorkshire.  They were to burn brightly again, in Barcelona and in Paris – but were doomed as so often before to be cheated of their just reward.  From ’75 onwards, it was a time of decline and then stagnation, until Sergeant Wilko stomped into Elland Road and dragged us back to the top in his own inimitable style.

Those fallow years of bleak exile in the wilderness form a thinly-documented part of United’s post-Revie history.  It’s a gap I aim to fill, and I can draw upon many of my own memories in order to do so.  Attention is also demanded for the late seventies mini-revival under Armfield and Adamson, with a peak in 1978/79 when a Tony Currie-inspired Leeds played some fantastic football and threatened briefly to revive former glories.  Alas, it all crumbled into dust and relegation – but some rich promise was there, for a while.  The basic premise of my book (which still lacks for a title, among other important attributes like a publisher) is to take the time between my first game in April 1975 when Leeds were Champions, and the Charity Shield match against Liverpool at the old Wembley in 1992, when Leeds were Champions again – and try to describe what it was like to witness such a fall from glory, such a humiliating yet exciting spell in the shadows and then such a meteoric rise back to the very top.  The fact that this process covered the last seventeen years of the original Football League epoch lends a kind of poignancy to the whole saga of triumph, despair and triumph again.

What I really need is input in the form of memories and anecdotes – the experience of fellow fans who, like me, were there through it all, or even those who followed from afar, separated from events in England, but still fanatically involved.  I know there are many such far-flung but devoted Leeds fans out there.  And I need help, advice, assistance.  I’m confident I can write the thing, and it will be written in the same idiom that has seen this blog grow and thrive.  It’s taking shape well, a good few thousand words in.  But I could use – and would be very grateful for – any information and advice about publishers, publishing, contacts – that sort of nitty-gritty thing.  And I still need a title! – although I’m now fairly certain that “Full Circle” will figure in it somehow.  All feedback is gratefully received; do people think a book of the kind I’m proposing has a market out there?

I mustn’t end without saying how massively grateful I am for the help, encouragement and assistance I’ve already received.  To those who have dug into their pockets and donated to this blog, enabling me to give more of my time to the book project – thank you so much.  It’s a humbling experience to discover the willingness of people out there to help get an embryonic project off the ground.  I appreciate the time you’ve secured for me to put the work in and get this thing down in words.  I’ve sent emails to everyone who’s provided such generous support, but rest assured – when The Book finally sees light of day, you’ll receive a copy of whatever it’s eventually titled, with my sincerest compliments.

Going forward – publishers, agents, those with connections – please do get in touch if you can help.  I’m confident I can produce a worthy addition to any fan’s Leeds United bookshelf, given some supplementary material and someone who will take a punt on me and maybe profit from it.  Who knows, maybe it can be a Leeds United book with something to say about football in a broader sense too.  You can rest assured that those I dislike will not be neglected!  Football is a tribal thing and, true to my tribe, I will be looking to have a pop here and there at that lot from ovver t’hill.  It’d be rude not to, after all.

Finally, after a big influx of blog followers over the past few weeks, can I just say welcome to anybody who’s new to “Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything”. I hope you’ll all stick around and be regular readers and responders! MOT

Image

Full Circle – The last Football League Champions in ’92

Marching On Together: Please Support This Fast-Growing Leeds United Blog – by Rob Atkinson

Unrivalled support

Unrivalled support

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything is growing rapidly. Back in September of last year, just before it was included on the News Now platform, the blog had received a total of only 13,000 hits in a little under nine months.  It was growing, but very slowly.  Now, that figure stands on the brink of the 900,000 mark. Sometime in May, if not before, somebody will register the one millionth hit. There are 1,182 WordPress followers, with an additional 2,891 following by email.  And it’ll be onwards and upwards from here.

I’m determined to see this blog continue to grow and thrive. Other projects will spring from it, notably a book about the varied fortunes of Leeds United between the Championship success of 1974 and that of 1992 – a “Full Circle” period that includes the thinly-chronicled second division years of the 1980s.  I believe that I provide a valuable service in trying to keep Leeds United fans – and others – around the world informed and amused.  Many are the comments I have had saying that this blog has cheered things up when the situation around Elland Road has seemed bleak.  It’s heart-warming and fulfilling to get feedback like that; it inspires me, as it would any writer, to carry on trying to provide what readers want.  I’m passionate about Leeds United Football Club, and I don’t hold back from communicating this in my blogs – which I try to keep coming at the rate of roughly one per day (sometimes more) where other commitments allow.

Every little helps

Every little helps

To do any and all of this, I need your help. I need individuals to read and share the blog so that those numbers continue to climb – this is so important. I also need small donors, people willing to click the PayPal button on the top right of each page, and give even a quid or two – or maybe commit to a quid or so a month – because it all helps. Many of you have been kind enough to do this already, for which I am humbly grateful – and as those people know, I always write to express that gratitude. Those who have donated £10 or more will receive a complimentary copy of the Full Circle book when it is published.

To put the value and helpfulness of small donations into context: if everybody who ever clicked on an article on this site had donated as much as 10p a time, I’d have been able to fund publication of my book under my own steam by now.  Every little counts – and there are a lot of you out there, with more joining every day.  Please help, if you can.

But as well as straightforward donations and increased readership and following, I also need people who are prepared to get more heavily involved – those who are willing and able to place adverts, sponsor sections of the blog - or even the whole thing. I would ask anybody interested in this to visit the Contacts section – and drop me a line. Again it helps the blog – and with hits running to an average of 25,000 a week and rising, it should be of benefit to you and your business, too.  And I know that there are some extremely enterprising and successful people out there, following this and other blogs – well, you’d be extremely welcome on board here.  But hurry – if Signor Cellino nips in first for a full site sponsorship, I can hardly say no!  And I believe he does have a few bob to spare…

This blog is going places.  I really believe that. It’s just a matter of time – and of how much support and encouragement I can hope to receive from my valued readers and fellow Leeds United fans. So, please help if you can – become a Friend of the Blog. Join in and get on board, and let’s make a big success.  Respond to the articles, join in the debates that ensue.  There are exciting times ahead - Leeds United may be about to turn a corner, so let’s all go forward and succeed together.  I’m actually thinking of instituting a Friends of the Blog list – and I’m open to any other suggestions for helping Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything keep on growing and thriving.

Last, but not least – to my small but dedicated band of trolls, the ones who write in so often and so passionately - but for my eyes alone (as their input hardly ever sees the light of day) – do not worry; none of this is aimed at you! You just continue to entertain me and make me laugh, if you will; I require nothing more from you.  You certainly help with the blog’s readership figures – but my request for actual help and support is aimed at true Leeds United fans and friends and followers of the blog.  Thanks, though –  I’m glad we could clear that up…

Ciao – Siamo Leeds.  Marciando Avanti Insieme

Welcome to Elland Road, Blackpool AND Their ‘Fit & Proper’ Rapist Owner – by Rob Atkinson

Blackpool director Oyston - guilty after every appeal, but "fit & proper"

Blackpool director Oyston – guilty after every appeal, but “fit & proper”

Massimo Cellino’s first home game as Leeds United owner throws up an interesting comparison, as – despite the recent appeal decision in his favour – the Italian remains under the shadow of Football League action at some point in the next few months.  The visitors, Blackpool, have as majority shareholder (and still registered as a director and therefore “fit and proper” in the eyes of the powers that be) convicted rapist Owen Oyston.  In a further twist of irony, Oyston’s son Karl sat on the Football League panel that shook its collective head, tut-tutted in righteous disapproval and sighed in a faintly scandalised fashion - as it ruled Cellino disqualified under its Owners and Directors rules, for import duty unpaid in Italy on an American yacht called Nélie.

Let’s start by exploding some myths.  There are those who now feel that, since Thursday, when the FL announced it was ratifying Cellino as a Leeds United director, there is nothing further to worry about.  This is manifestly untrue, and readers of that brief statement from the Football League will note the presence of giveaway words like “currently”.  There is no stick to beat Cellino with at present – but the League are keeping their powder dry and believe me, they mean to get their man, as and when possible.  On Thursday, the League merely rubber-stamped Cellino’s current status as fit and proper, having no other choice.  He had been found not subject to the OaD disqualifications by a stage of the League’s own process and – for now – that’s it.  But if the Italian judge in the Nélie case, Dr Sandra Lepore, in her reasoned judgement, were to impute dishonesty against Cellino, then he had better watch out again.  Fortunately, he has some decent lawyers and what looks like a sound defence.

So, that’s the “Massimo is now safe from the League” myth dealt with.  Now – what about Oyston?  Here we have a convicted rapist who apparently causes the Football League no qualms at all.  Ah, but – I hear you say – that conviction was ages ago and it’s “spent” now – so it’s not fair to say that the Football League are being unfair in a comparative sense.  The problem with that argument is that it is factually incorrect.  Oyston was found guilty of rape – a foul and horrible crime against the person – and sentenced to 6 years in prison.  He actually served three years and six months,  The rules relating to how convictions become “spent” – i.e. when they do not have to be disclosed in most circumstances and so become less restrictive in terms of professional status etc – are made under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA).  In Oyston’s case, it is entirely clear that his offence will never become spent, as he was sentenced to (and actually served) over two and a half years.  The other limb of the League’s Owners & Directors test relates to “dishonesty” – and it is this provision that threatens to snare our Massimo.  As for Oyston – if it is to be argued that rape is not a dishonest act, then surely what should really be on trial here is the set of regulations that permits such a grotesque result in the first place.  Can you really have an “honest” rapist??

Given that the League – which argued its case in front of Tim Kerr QC with unprecedented zeal and was not above the odd dodgy trick either – seem determined to “get” Cellino, then why, we are surely justified in asking, do they not display a similar determination to rid themselves of a character like Oyston?  And yet that question never arises, except in this and other blogs who seem to feel there’s a blatant contradiction here.

Is it because Oyston was convicted before the Owners and Directors rules were laid down?  That dog won’t bite, I’m afraid.  One of the salient points to emerge from the Cellino appeal was that the OaD rules are on-going in their application.  In other words, should any owner or director be found to rest within the scope of disqualification at any time, then the League can consider that person under OaD – and act accordingly.  So, after all that – why is there no action against Oyston?  And why, on the other hand, is there such a remorseless determination to exclude Cellino?

Some will point out that Oyston has always maintained his innocence and has persisted with all possible avenues of appeal.  As regards his protestations – well, to paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies in the Profumo case, “he would say that, wouldn’t he?”  The appeal options have availed Oyston naught.  He lost in the Court of Appeal and he lost again at the European Court of Human Rights, which held that his appeal was “manifestly ill-founded”.  Given all of that, the Football League would appear on the face of it to have some explaining to do, as to why they continue blithely to ignore the fact that they are, in effect, nurturing a rapist viper in the bosom of their “football family”.

As Blackpool visit Leeds United on Saturday, the two contradictory sides of this whole issue are brought into close contact, whether both parties are actually present at the match or not.  The more that Leeds United fans get to know Massimo Cellino, the more warmly he is regarded.  His deeds in the short period of his control have more than matched the words he uttered beforehand.  He has cleared off at least two debts that could have led to Leeds United being wound-up and going to the wall (whether in their heart of hearts the League mandarins consider this to be A Good Thing will probably remain moot).  But Cellino is undeniably acting as a fit and proper owner should, in protecting the best interests of his club.  Our various owners in recent history have signally failed to do this; indeed the newly released financial results for the most recent period available cast severe doubt on the fitness of GFH to run a piss-up in a brewery, never mind a leading football club.  Which begs more questions: why were the Football League not more diligent in investigating GFH? Or Ken Bates?  Why pursue the one man who is ready, willing and able – through his own resources – to steer Leeds United away from crisis?

The Football League, instead of sulking about their appeal defeat, need to look at this whole picture – including some of the dubious characters currently infesting boardrooms up and down the land.  They need to be very sure that they are pursuing rectitude and not a vendetta.  The upshot should be that they act fairly – and are seen to be acting fairly.  It might seem, on the face of it, rather unfair to drag Oyston’s name into all of this, when he’s served his time and so on.  But it’s the League who have to carry the can for that as well, in allowing such seemingly blatant contradictions to persist.  They have hung Mr Oyston out to dry, simply by giving the appearance of leaving him – a convicted rapist and guilty under the law of a foul and disgusting crime – in undisturbed peace, whilst harassing Cellino at every turn as he tries to do thousands of people a good turn by saving their beloved football club.

It simply doesn’t add up, and the Football League would appear to be bang to rights on the most glaring double standards rap you could possibly imagine.  I hope that these arguments can eventually be put directly to a responsible person in the League – perhaps by a Leeds area MP willing to take up cudgels on the club’s behalf.  And I hope we get some answers because – again, on the face of it – Leeds United could very well lose their saviour in the next few months, under the least transparent and most unfair set of circumstances imaginable.

Do these arrogant, faceless people really imagine that we’re going to tolerate that?

Why Vincent Tan’s Crystal Palace ‘spying’ outburst stinks of desperation at Cardiff City

Rob Atkinson:

An honest Cardiff fan’s clear-eyed view of owner Vincent Tan’s latest desperate tactic to help avoid a relegation he will have brought upon the club himself.

Originally posted on Metro:

Vincent Tan has again failed to place the blame on himself (Picture: Getty Images)

Cardiff City fans woke up this morning to the rather dramatic headline ‘Palace in Prem spy probe’ screaming out at them from the back page of the Sun.

Having read the article I came to the conclusion that the whole story could be summed up in one word: desperation.

The report claims last weekend’s Cardiff team sheet was leaked by someone within the club to someone with close links to Crystal Palace.

But does that account for the woeful way in which City capitulated and had no fight in them?

So the opposition knew who was playing before hand, so what?

I could have told you the two possible line-ups that we would have gone with, taking into account the fit players we had in the squad.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out…

View original 234 more words

How Leeds Could Do With a Season or Two of Frank Lampard – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds? Up norf, innit??

Leeds? Up norf, innit??

Cast your mind back to the genesis of Leeds United’s last promotion charge out of the second tier and back into the Promised Land.  In Sergeant Wilko, we had the man to lay down the rules and ensure that the work ethic was in place. Howard Wilkinson had turned up at Elland Road to be interviewed for the vacant managerial post at Leeds – and had ended up turning the tables on the bemused board members when he started interviewing them. The upshot was that he not only got the job, but also a cast-iron commitment to doing that job the way he wanted to, as opposed to the shoestring budget poor Billy Bremner had been stuck with.  It’s safe to say that the Leeds bosses were impressed by their new man, and they supported him accordingly.

The master-stroke came early.  Wilkinson beat off interest from Ron Atkinson at his old club Sheffield Wednesday to sign Man U’s mercurial play-maker Gordon Strachan.  This was some coup; not only were the Wendies still in the top flight, but Big Ron had been Strachan’s mentor from their days at the Theatre of Hollow Myths.  But Strachan was the right man at the right time in the right circumstances for Leeds; the battle ahead was tailor-made for his combative style and world-class ability, leadership and dedication.  The rest is history – we thought we might get a good year or two out of Strachan, yet we ended up with arguably the best eight years of his career, harvesting the Championships of the top two divisions in a three-season spell and establishing United as a top-flight power for fifteen years.

Wind forward over a quarter of a century from the capture of wee Gordon, and we find Leeds marooned once again in the shadowy hinterland of second-tier football. Morale is low, relegation to a humiliating second spell of League One football remains a faint but nightmarish possibility, the club has just been shaken up with yet another change of ownership and - just to put the tin lid on it - we have a sulky Football League, licking their QC-inflicted wounds and wondering how best to stitch us up in the weeks and months ahead.  What we need right now is inspiration on a par with that provided by our second-greatest ginger Scottish captain way back in the late 80′s.

This blog is open to suggestions here, but it’s difficult to think of a more likely candidate to play the elder statesman role so badly needed in an ineffective and inexperienced midfield than Frank Lampard of Chelsea. The man is a legend, but his ongoing career at Stamford Bridge must surely be in doubt as this season reaches a climax.  He might, of course, feel that he can stay on and fight for a continued place with Mourinho’s winning combination.  He may well end up with a double of League and Champions League this season, after all.  But if he were to decide that he wanted one last challenge – could his mind possibly be led in the same direction as Strachan’s was in 1989?  Could he decide that he wants to be instrumental in reviving the fortunes of a veritable sleeping giant?

Lampard would bring goals, class and composure to our midfield and – while he’d hardly cost the earth in a transfer fee – he would justify what would doubtless be high wages by forming a statement of intent as regards Leeds United’s transfer and team-building plans.  That was exactly the effect the Strachan coup had, back in the day.  Suddenly, Leeds was a possible destination for players of class and ambition.  That one signing made us high-profile again.  Lampard – or someone in his mould – would be the ideal “statement” signing for the summer of 2014.  If Frank doesn’t make the plane to Brazil, it’s more than likely that his England career would be over.  The legs aren’t quite what they used to be, but as part of a midfield which includes younger players to do his running for him, Lampard could be a major success in the Championship.

It remains to be seen, of course, what the summer will bring for Leeds – assuming that we do stay up.  There will be other issues to resolve – will Cellino still be in danger from the more detailed judgement in the Nélie case - or indeed from other cases yet pending?  Will the implications of Financial Fair Play on the back of a year or so’s mismanagement by GFH lead to a cautious transfer policy, despite the fact that Massimo is minted? It all remains to be seen.

For the time being, though – with the Football League temporarily at least chained up and impotent – we can indulge ourselves in a little daring to dream.  The next transfer window should be a lot more interesting than the last few, when the only real debating point was how many lies we were going to be told to flog a few more season tickets.  The signs are that Cellino will not be treading the path of deception, valuing the biggest asset of Leeds United as he does.  “Fans are not for sale, they have feeling and you don’t buy feeling,” he has said. “You can buy a bitch for one night, but you don’t buy the love my friend.”  The man has the soul and spirit of a poet, his fluency of expression promises to be a highlight of the Leeds United soap opera for as long as we’re allowed to keep him. Perhaps such a poet, someone who thinks so clearly and expresses himself so fluently, can look back at history for inspiration and then act on it to provide Elland Road with a new talisman.

If he does, he’s odds-on to have ideas of his own – and who knows, perhaps even Brian will get a say in the matter.  But just while we are daring to dream, my ideal situation would be for the name of Lampard to crop up, and then for Leeds to be audacious enough to ask the question.  Stranger things have happened – two months before Strachan arrived in LS11, any suggestion of that calibre of recruit for Leeds would have led you to a sojourn in a rubber room with the old back-to-front jacket on.  Wind back a further thirty years, and the signing of Bobby Collins from Everton would have appeared equally as outlandish a possibility.

Lampard for Leeds as the latest springboard to success and renaissance? Unlikely perhaps.  But, where Leeds United and Massimo Cellino are concerned, never say never.

Why Kewell is Leeds United’s Only REAL Judas – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds fans United in grief and dignity

Leeds fans United in grief and dignity

Alan Smith. Eric Cantona. Rio Ferdinand. Three Leeds United players who opted to transfer their allegiance to the Evil Empire over the wrong side of the Pennines. In so doing, they attracted hatred and brickbats aplenty from Leeds followers. After all, they’d gone to the club we despise above any other. So too, much earlier, had Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen, along with the less-well remembered examples of Arthur Graham and Peter Barnes in the relatively small collective of former Leeds players who have identified themselves with the Pride of Devon and their repellent supporters. These individuals, heroes to Leeds fans at one time or another, were held individually and as a category to be traitors to the United of Elland Road. Figuratively speaking, they had sold their souls to the Devil.

But really, all that “treachery” stuff, as applied to a small group of misguided men is just so much nonsense.  In some cases, it’s even an injustice – Alan Smith, for example, made his move against a background of a Leeds United desperate for money (does this sound familiar?)  He even waived his own cut of the deal so that his former club could derive the maximum financial benefit.  If that’s treachery, then Steve McClaren is a Dutchman.

For real treachery – allied to on-going bad taste and a degree of insensitivity that makes expenses cheat Maria Miller look like Mother Teresa – let me commend you to Harry Kewell Esquire, formerly of this parish.  Kewell, wearing the number 10 shirt, was one of the Leeds United side that emerged into a cauldron of seething hatred as the stricken Whites were forced to play the first leg of a UEFA Cup semi-final against Galatasaray mere hours after the savage murder of two of their supporters.  The home side refused to wear black armbands, demonstrating utter and callous disrespect.  They would later demand that the second leg should be played at a neutral venue, should their disgusting fans be banned from an Elland Road return.  The players of Leeds United looked up to the crowd that night and saw snarling faces, disfigured by feverish hatred, fingers drawn across necks in the time-disgraced “throat-slitting” gesture, the whole nightmare scene played out against a backdrop of “Welcome to Hell” banners as the bestial home fans taunted the United support, who simply turned their back on proceedings at kick-off in what must count as the most dignified display of protest in recent history.

Kewell cannot have failed to absorb that evil miasma of hate and malice.  He cannot have failed to appreciate the intentional hurt inflicted by the Galatasaray club – and especially their cowardly fans - to the feelings of everybody concerned with the Leeds United cause, especially of course the bereaved families of Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight.  Kewell must, surely, have felt as threatened and disgusted by the atmosphere prior to and during the game as any other United player that night.  It was a match that, in the circumstances, should not have been played.  Not that night, not so soon after those lads’ life-blood had been spilled.  Perhaps never.  Only the buffoons of UEFA could have made such a ridiculous decision as to rule the game should go ahead.  It was an infamous night in the history of football.

If, on that night, you had predicted that any United player would, at some point in the future, willingly embrace that atmosphere, happily align himself with such a notoriously uncivilised set of “supporters” – you could have offered odds of ten thousand to one, and no takers.  You’d have been laughed out of court, possibly with a few bumps and bruises for your own bad taste and lack of judgement.  And yet, a few short years afterwards, Harry Kewell – Mr Anywhere-For-A-Fat-Contract himself – elected to join that awful club and play for those despicable fans.  It was an act of calculated disrespect to the victims, their families, their friends, the wider Leeds United community and decent football fans everywhere.  It was base treachery in the raw; the act of a man who cannot see beyond his own narrow interests and who frankly could not give a damn.

At the time, he spouted a few mealy-mouthed platitudes about wishing to reconcile two sets of fans divided by tragedy.  Yeah, OK Harry.  Nothing to do with money after all, then?  He could not have more effectively alienated Leeds fans everywhere if he had sat down and thought about how to do so for a year.  It was an act of a vain and stupid young man whose God-given talent had set him up financially for life, but whose poverty of taste, sensitivity and loyalty would make the poorest beggar in the street look rich.  Any player who had ever been connected with Leeds United should have realised that such a move was the ultimate in terrible ideas.  It’s not something that should have needed explaining, not even to the meanest intellect or the most self-involved and vacant young man.

Now, fourteen years almost to the week after the murders in Taksim Square, and with his football career at an end, Kewell is once more plumbing incomprehensible depths of grossly bad taste.  He’s been busily tweeting away, offering a “match-worn Galatasaray shirt” as part of “Harry’s farewell giveaway”.  When he received a reply from George Speight, angrily denouncing this, he reacted typically, with an arrogant insult.  George Speight so happens to be the son of Kevin Speight, murdered by Galatasaray fans 14 years ago.  Kewell later claimed not to have realised this, and has removed the tweet – though perhaps the name Speight might have been a clue to anybody less completely in love with himself and all his own doings.  Whatever the case, it’s another almighty faux pas from a man who – you might have thought – had done his worst in the field of infamy long ago when he signed to play in front of a crowd of thugs and murderers.

Words like “Judas”, “traitor” and “treachery” are bandied about a bit too freely, sometimes.  That tends to become obvious only when you see a glaringly obscene example of the real thing – only then does it stand out that some dubious acts thus labelled are actually as water unto wine when it really comes down to it.  So forget those who have crossed the great divide between Elland Road and the Theatre of Hollow Myths – their defection means nothing at all in the scheme of things.  We have been amply repaid over the years anyway – luminaries such as Johnny Giles and Gordon Strachan have made the opposite journey and have found glory in all-white.  At the end of the day, all of that is just about football – and beside the matter of life, death and justice, football remains very small beer indeed.

Life and death were the issues on that April night so long ago, and events panned out such that two lads, who simply wanted to follow their heroes at a football match, never came home – and have never received real justice.  One of them had a son, who has had to grow up without his Dad, and who angrily wanted to point out to a thick-headed footballer the betrayal he believes that footballer is guilty of perpetrating – still, even today.  He received no apology, no understanding, no acknowledgement – beyond an insult and a hollow accusation of racism.  There is no greater treachery than that, no baser example of ignorance and poor taste.

Harry Kewell: one-time Leeds star, has-been footballer – and the worst example of self-seeking treachery it’s been my misfortune to witness.  What next in Harry’s Farewell Giveaway??  A shirt with “Judas 10″ on the back, maybe.  That would sum up Mr Kewell’s lasting mark on the game, his besmirched legacy, very appropriately indeed.

Watford Gap is an Almighty Chasm for Dreadful United – by Rob Atkinson

Another day, a new era, another defeat

Another day, a new era, another defeat

The two main commodities Massimo Cellino will be looking to import into his new project, Leeds United, will come free of charge – but are nevertheless very difficult to obtain.  Pride and Passion – anyone out there remember those two old friends?  I do.  Anybody old enough and fortunate enough to have seen Sergeant Wilko’s White Juggernaut blast its way out of the old second division in 1990 will also nod reminiscently, as the vision of those relentless troops is conjured up by their mind’s eye.  The energy, the commitment, the refusal to give in.  One game at Elland Road, Sunderland kicked off at the start and within five seconds, they had been dispossessed and were defending desperately as the white tide washed over them.  Those were the days.  This lot?  There’s simply no comparison.

In 1990, Gordon Strachan was the jewel in the United crown.  We have our jewel today in Ross McCormack, but it’s not set in a crown – more like a pile of the stuff well-fed pigs leave behind.  Leeds have some good players, but team spirit seems non-existent and there appears to be no identifiable ethic of getting out there and getting stuck in for the shirt, the badge and the fans.  In 1990, Strachan was ably supported by the likes of Vinnie Jones, Mel Sterland, Chris Fairclough and a pugnacious young midfield Rottweiler called David Batty, together with the nascent elegance of Gary Speed. McCormack in today’s shower has the air of a man who knows that, if the job’s going to get done, he’s going to have to do it largely by himself.

This latest United match at Vicarage Road marked the start of a new era, the beginning of a time when off-field worries, such as deferred wages and the lack of clarity over ownership, could be forgotten.  What better time to roll up the sleeves and run out with a snarl on the lips and fire in the belly, determined to get some blood on their boots?  But no.  It was, if anything, an even more pallid performance than the ones United fans have witnessed and raged over at far too many points in the last few months.  Leeds United are running out of time, running out of excuses (though they manage to recycle and re-use those) – and running out of the patience their sorely-tried yet still magnificent support is prepared to afford them.

The gap between Leeds and the relegation pack is now down to a mere eight points.  Another win and maybe a draw should be enough to see them safe – and safety is clearly the upper limit of ambition for a team as devoid of application and bottle as this one. Where those points will come from is anyone’s guess – that’s assuming they come at all.  Blackpool at home next weekend seems the best chance, but the Seasiders are also embroiled in the dog-eat-dog struggle at the bottom.  Everybody is aware of the current malaise at Leeds and teams are facing us expecting to win.  Blackpool will be disappointed with anything less than three points from their visit to LS11.

Barnsley away?  Forget it.  We always lose there, usually by a good few goals.  Barnsley might be less than world-class, but they are fighters.  Then it’s two home games against Forest and Derby, with an away date at Birmingham sandwiched in between.  One point out of nine from those three, maybe. If Leeds do escape relegation, it will be by less than a comfortable margin, and we’ll have done the deed by virtue of performances prior to Christmas – before the wheels fell off.

Whatever the rest of the season holds for us, it’s impossible to be anything other than pessimistic.  There is simply no reason for any belief that things might suddenly improve – and if the current attitude and form carries on, then our points total now may well not have changed by close of play on the first weekend in May.  And if that’s the case, we’ll have to rely on three of the teams below us failing to overhaul our meagre points total.  Dear me, I’m becoming rather depressed.

Still, tomorrow night it’s hopefully cheer-up time with Man U hosting an end of era party.  I shall be watching and hoping that they crash out of Europe because that would restore my spirits considerably.  But it’s a sad thing when Schadenfreude (no, that’s not a Bayern centre-back) is all that you have to rely on for your jollies, your own team being so utterly and lamentably crap.  If Massimo Cellino is going to restore the good times to Elland Road – aided by those long-lost, much-missed allies Pride and Passion – well, it still promises to be a long and arduous, slow climb back up to the heights I remember Wilko’s Warriors attaining.  Then again, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  I wonder if that step might be taken sometime this week??

Buona fortuna, Massimo.

Is Cellino Guilty? Possibly … Dishonest? No Chance – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino: trusting in providence

Cellino: trusting in providence

The Football League – still reeling from the impact of a mere QC having the brass bollocks to overturn their magisterial decision to reject Massimo Cellino as owner of Leeds United – plainly have all their hopes pinned on the “reasoned judgement” of the Italian judge in the “Nélie” case.  This judgement, a fuller statement of the reasons for the judge’s verdict of March 18th, is due within a 90 day period from the initial judgement – i.e. by sometime in June.  The League will be hoping, in their remorseless determination to get rid of Leeds United’s best hope, that there is a clear imputation of “dishonesty” within the judge’s reasoning; this would enable them to revisit the issue of Cellino’s “fit and proper” status, as covered in Tim Kerr’s appeal judgement which was released on Saturday.

Happily for Cellino, Leeds United and long-suffering fans everywhere, there must be a very good chance that the Italian judge – for sound, common sense reasons – will make no imputation of dishonesty.  Firstly, the fine imposed was some way beneath the normal minimum amount for the offence concerned, with a mention of “generic mitigation” about which we shall doubtless hear more in the detailed reasons.  But this may well be an indication that Dr Sandra Lepore has decided that duty was evaded for reasons other than dishonesty. This leads us onto the second point: the important, nay crucial, distinction between “guilt” and “dishonesty”, upon which depends the eventual outcome of this case – together with all the League’s hopes of saving face and getting their man.

The first thing that needs to be understood is that, for Cellino to be disqualified, he must be found to be guilty AND dishonest.  These two do always not go hand in hand, as some might assume.  “Guilt”, simply defined is “the state of having done wrong”.  Cellino would argue that, under the Italian constitution, his guilt is not established until the entire legal process including a couple more stages of appeal, is exhausted.  That argument failed before Kerr, but he somewhat unexpectedly took the view that, on the evidence before him, there was no reason to find that Cellino had acted dishonestly.

Guilt can arise knowingly or unknowingly.  You can be guilty by design, by omission, through ignorance or deception, by being misled or badly advised – many circumstances can lead to guilt, not just sheer badness.  As can be readily understood, guilt through ignorance or misunderstanding is a different thing from guilt with, as they used to call it, malice aforethought. It’s these different categories of guilt that will differ in the presence or absence of dishonesty. Somebody guilty through ignorance or misapprehension is not dishonest, and this is very important in Cellino’s case.

In effect, to avoid any imputation of dishonesty, all Cellino has to show is that he thought he was doing no wrong.  Dishonest guilt implies that the offender knows very well that what he is doing is wrong, but he chooses to do it anyway. It’s possible, of course, that import duty could be avoided in just this way.  But to what end?  You end up paying it anyway, and a fine which can be up to ten times the duty avoided – and, as in Cellino’s case, the item upon which duty should have been paid is confiscated.  That’s not a good result – so why would anybody willingly court such an outcome? Especially somebody of Cellino’s reputed wealth, to whom import duty of €300k or so is almost literally small change.

Cellino also makes the point that he could have spun out this case over the yacht “Nélie” over a maybe a couple of years, by which time he and Leeds United may well have been beyond the Football League’s jurisdiction anyway.  But instead, he opted to get it out of the way – because he thought he was right.  This is vitally important.  If Cellino really thought he was not guilty, then by the logic described above, he may well be guilty – but he can’t be dishonest.  Dishonesty would require a good understanding of his legal position, an acceptance that what he was doing was wrong – and a reckless determination to go ahead and do it anyway.  In those circumstances, the duty-evader could be expected to delay the evil hour of judgement for as long as possible, knowing he was bang to rights.  Not – as Cellino did – to expedite the process, seeking an early resolution – because of his firm belief that he was in the right.

To summarise the position – if we assume that Cellino is guilty, i.e. that he has done something wrong for whatever reason, then all depends upon whether that reason had some dishonesty attached.  But if he genuinely believed that he had a case for non-payment – based on the argument that he is a US resident, the yacht is a US craft and duty had been paid in the US – then he cannot be held to be dishonest.  Ignorant, maybe.  Misguided, possibly, or even badly advised. But not dishonest – and if that’s the case, then the Football League will not be able to apply their disqualification to him.

Given all of the above, if Dr Lepore has had regard to all of these circumstances, it’s difficult to see how she can impute dishonesty against Massimo Cellino in this case – and that may just be what is behind the rather low fine – significantly less than the normal minimum. Looking at it from the outside, it’s difficult to see how a finding of dishonesty can stick, given that all Cellino had to do was convince the judge that, if he has done anything wrong, it was through ignorance, not design. With so little to gain from acting dishonestly in such circumstances, and with the transparency of his actions in seeking to get the case disposed of quickly, there must be a very good chance that Cellino will emerge from this latest kerfuffle undamaged – much to the ongoing grief and rage of the Football League.

In Mishcon de Reya, Cellino has just about the finest legal team he could wish for – and they will certainly be on top of these arguments.  Here’s hoping, then, that justice and common-sense will shortly prevail over the League’s murky and Machiavellian motivations.

Leeds Fans Need to Seriously Consider Away Games Boycott – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United's massive away support

Leeds United’s massive away support

The Football League, having lost an appeal against its disqualification of Massimo Cellino in front of an independent QC, are now showing their true colours in the wake of that humiliating defeat.  Rather than personifying dignity and acceptance of the outcome of a judicial process, they hastened to point out that they were “disappointed” and stated they would be considering the judgement. There is no humility, only arrogance.  There is no recognition of the duty of care they have towards their largest member club and its thousands of long-suffering fans – only naked malice and an avowed intent to plunge that club back into the crisis from which it appears to be on the point of emerging.  It amounts to a vendetta.  Two facts above all have emerged from this over-long saga.

  1. The Football League do not have the interests of Leeds United at heart.
  2. Leeds United are too big for the Football League.

Item 1 above is the mildest way of putting what is increasingly obvious – that the League regard the Leeds takeover situation, not as a chance for a famous old club – exercising its own judgement and right to secure a stable future – to get back onto an even keel, but as an opportunity to hammer that club further into the mire. How else to explain the zest with which its lawyers conducted their side of the appeal argument before Tim Kerr QC?  They resorted to trying to discredit the independent Italian legal expert because of a harmless if misguided comment on a social media platform.  Yet, in the same breath, they were relying on the portions of that witness’s evidence which aided their case.  Kerr rightly threw such selective pleading out of the window – but the underlying message was of a determination to deny Leeds United their rich new owner that amounted to vindictiveness and malice.

The background to this attitude is odd, to say the least.  One of the League’s member clubs has as a majority shareholder a convicted rapist.  The son of that unsavoury character sat on the panel which originally decided that Massimo Cellino was not a fit and proper person to act as a football club owner or director.  The irony is immediately apparent, as is the stench of arrogant hypocrisy.  Really, you couldn’t make it up – if you did, it would be dismissed as fanciful.

Any fan of Leeds United, if of long enough standing, will have witnessed examples of the Football League going through back-breaking contortions to make life as difficult as possible for the Whites of Elland Road.  It’s a tradition that dates back to Alan Hardaker and his rabid hatred of Don Revie.  Hardaker is dead now – but the ugly attitude towards Leeds lives on, through the unctuous reptile that is Brian Mawhinney, as he did his worst in 2007, to the present day with Shaun Harvey in charge – the same Harvey who, in cahoots with Ken Bates, did his level best whilst employed at Elland Road to fulfil his master’s 1984 vow to see Leeds and its fans banished, destroyed, erased from existence. Lest we forget: “I shall not rest until Leeds United are kicked out of the football league. Their fans are the scum of the earth, absolute animals and a disgrace. I will do everything in my power to make sure this happens.” So said Ken Bates, and he came pretty close to success – aided by then Leeds CEO and current FL CEO, Shaun Harvey.

A salute to the League

A salute to the League

The fact of the matter is that Leeds United are simply too big and too historically important for an antiquated and inept organisation like the League.  This is, after all,  a body that embraces failure and the presence of also-rans as core values.  The members of the League are, by definition, clubs who have either failed to stay in the Premier League, or who have never been good enough to get there.  It’s a has-been or never-was League for bit-part players, chorus members.  The stars, the principals in the pantheon of English football, ply their trade outside of the jurisdiction of the FL. At the moment, Leeds United form part of the Football League’s brigade of failures.  The events of the past few months have shown us clearly how vital it is for United to shake the dust of this two-bit organisation from their feet, and move on up.

Meantime, we are necessarily subject to the rules and attitudes of an outfit that has shown itself beyond reasonable doubt as “not fit for purpose”.  Until Leeds can drag themselves out of the Football League quicksand, they will have to fight their own corner as best they can.  As things stand, Massimo Cellino is in – he is the new owner of the club.  He has the wherewithal and the experience and determination to bring success in a higher sphere to Elland Road, whilst at the same time restoring that famous old ground to club ownership and bringing it up to 21st century standards – the same applies to the training complex at Thorp Arch.  These are good and necessary steps for Leeds – and they are initiatives that the League would prefer to see nipped in the bud, as they remain openly determined to oust Cellino if at all possible.

The fans are in a unique position here to have their say and to vote with their feet.  Those fans are rightly famous throughout the country as providing a travelling army of away support which brings atmosphere and vast income to every ground they visit over the course of a season.  Home clubs keep all of their gate receipts these days, so that away support – so vital to our competing clubs – benefits Leeds United only in terms of vocal encouragement.  The clubs in the Championship – and, by extension, the Football League – benefit financially to a great degree, from the loyalty and commitment of the Leeds United away fans.  Now those fans should put club interests before their own, and be prepared to make a significant sacrifice in order to make an unanswerable point to the Football League – who they have propped up with their hard-earned cash since 2004.

For, surely, it is now time to consider a boycott of ALL away games by ALL fans of Leeds United FC.  The only way of influencing such blind, uncaring officialdom as we are up against, is to hit it hard, in the pocket, where it really hurts.  I would now like to join those voices calling for the Leeds United support to do just that – by withdrawing attendance at away games and letting the other clubs and the League bear the brunt of greatly reduced income as a result of such a boycott.  I should like to see Leeds United Football Club, if possible, refusing to take allocations of away tickets for the duration of any such action.  If the Football League wish to act against the best interests of Leeds United – and its fans – then let fire be fought with fire.  It wouldn’t take long for impoverished Championship clubs to start squealing and complaining to Shaun Harvey and his corrupt crew, as they see their income plunge without that Leeds United pay-day.

Supporters groups such as LUST could be instrumental in backing and organising an initiative such as this.  It seems drastic, and there will be many who would baulk at the removal of one of their lives’ major preoccupations, even if only temporarily.  But those people should ask themselves: why do we have to settle for such unremittingly harsh and malicious treatment from the Football League and its member clubs – think back to the self-interested clubs vote that confirmed the 15 point deduction before the start of 2007/08 – and yet continue to line the pockets of those club and the tin pot League to which they belong?  Why should Leeds United tolerate this situation any longer?  Drastic situation call for drastic measures.  It’s time to fight back.

I should like to see, initially, at least some wider debate about the merits and demerits of an away games boycott.  I’m sure it’s an argument that would rage hot and heavy.  But I believe, at this stage, that such a boycott is our one good chance of having our say and of the powers that be simply having to listen.  The alternative is that they will smile smugly at any peeps of protest, and carry on regardless in their business of keeping Leeds in crisis – to the approval of their rapist and embezzling cronies in Championship boardrooms who continue to be regarded as fit and proper against all justice and logic.

I’d like to call upon LUST, and the MPs of Leeds constituencies, to take up cudgels against the treatment being meted out to Leeds United by the incompetents at the League.  They should be putting the question – why should a football club, alienated and ostracised by the League of its current membership, continue to contribute so massively to the financial well-being of that League?  I believe it’s time to call a halt.  The gloves are off now; if the League want to batter us, then let’s batter them right back.

That’s my say.  What do the Leeds United fans out there think?