Leeds Blog Exclusive: Unelected PM Camoron “Rules Out Third Face” – by Rob Atkinson

Camoron: two-faced and that's quite enough, thanks

Camoron: two-faced and that’s quite enough, thanks

Unelected PM David Camoron has shocked Tory Party faithful by ruling out a third face. Speaking at a gathering of hostile, heckling pensioners which also included an undercover reporter from Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything, Mr Camoron remarked “I have always felt that two faces are the right number for a Tory politician. I have been two-faced for the whole of my political career, and I see no reason to change that now.” Mr. Camoron also pointed to the example of former Leeds United CEO Shaun Harvey, a man who has managed to rise to the heights of Football League top man on a mere two faces and absolutely no principles whatsoever.

“Mr Harvey is a fine example to all of us Tories,” stated the one-term, no-mandate PM. “He has managed to support the inclusion in the “football family” of rapists, porn barons, embezzlers, money-launderers and other such rank-and-file Tory types, whilst pursuing somebody in this foreign chappie Cellino, who has just a few import tax misdemeanours to his discredit, with all the enthusiasm of a bunch of purple-faced Conservative chinless wonders hounding a fox to its grisly death. It’s the kind of leadership I can only dream of providing myself, and shows that being two-faced is enough to get you to the top.”

Tory Party sycophants were quick to praise their leader. “Whatever David has said, I feel he is right, and very courageous too.” said Tarquin Toady-Greaser of Lesser Mansion Tax, near Cheltenham, “Now get off my land, you horrible little Leeds United oik, before I have you thrashed, tarred and feathered, demmit.”

In a week when it appears to have become de rigueur to rule out a third this or that, Nick Clegg is refusing to pass on an additional third chance of re-election in Sheffield Hallam this coming May, stating that his existing two chances of “slim and none” were leaving him “a little short of options” – particularly as ‘slim’ is reported to be on the point of leaving town.

Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, was last night refusing to rule out the prospect of a third MP for the party, pointing out that he himself is standing in Thanet South. Speaking from a smoking shelter outside a pub in the constituency, Mr Farage said that he remains “optimistic” that the UKIP message is finally getting across, praising the frankness and honesty of the likes of Janice Atkinson. When it was pointed out that Ms Atkinson had actually been ejected by the party for transcending even their standards of public conduct, Mr Farage would only quip, cryptically: “Oh, bollocks”.

Meanwhile in the Labour Party, there were contrasting approaches on this issue from two senior figures. Party Leader Ed Milliband was quick to rule out a third kitchen, stating that two were enough for any socialist – but at the dinosaur end of the party, John Prescott has confirmed that he “would rather like a third Jag“.

Nye Bevan is 117.

‘Grateful’ Man United to Unveil Statues of Rupert Murdoch and Howard Webb – by Rob Atkinson

Theatre of Hollow Myths - due a name change?

Theatre of Hollow Myths – due a name change?

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything can exclusively reveal that Man Utd – the former football club now known throughout the observable cosmos as The Pride of Devon – are to show their appreciation of two massively important figures in their recent history, by erecting statues in their honour.

The legends concerned are Aussie media tycoon Rupert Murdoch – who single-handedly ended Man U’s 26 year title drought by buying the game for them in 1992 – and former referee Howard Webb, who still holds the all-time club record for career assists, beating even Ryan Giggs and Mike Riley into second and third positions. Mr Webb is now the technical director of the Professional Game Match Officials Board, where he will be able to continue in the service of Man U, ensuring that the “right” referees are selected for their fixtures.

A Theatre of Hollow Myths insider, speaking on a lobby basis to Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything, confirmed that the two statues have been commissioned in recognition of the club’s immense gratitude for the contribution of these two individuals towards their unprecedented and frankly suspicious level of success. The identity of our source cannot be revealed, but we are able to confirm that he has an elder brother, a centre-half for the best team around, who won a World Cup winner’s medal for England in 1966, and that he himself is now mainly occupied in the “unofficial match ticket supply chain”, going under the nom de guerre of “Ticketmaster“. His anonymity guaranteed, he was able to give us full details of the nature and locations of the planned statues.

The first surprise is that the statuary tributes will not be a feature of the Theatre of Hollow Myths itself. “We thought that might be overkill,” our source told us, flicking nervously at his comb-over, “After all, we already have a statue to Alex Ferguson, and various tastefully-sponsored reminders of the Munich Air Disaster. Alex himself was none too pleased about the possibility of “yet anither piece o’ mairble clutterin’ up ma groond”, so we’ve had to move to reassure him that the new statues will be located elsewhere. And, to be fair, they were likely to be just too big for the space available. The Murdoch statue in particular would have been the biggest erection in Manchester within living memory.”

So, we asked, Alex was happy – as long as the statues weren’t actually outside the ground, then? “I wouldn’t say happy, exactly,” our man admitted. “He doesn’t really do happy – but he has calmed down a lot since we told him we’re planning to name the whole stadium after him. He was quite pleased about that, I think.” Startled by a second big and exclusive piece of surprise information, we indicated that this was news to us, and doubtless would be to many armchair-bound gloryhunters throughout the world. “Yes, it’s been kept under wraps,” conceded “Ticketmaster“, “but we think it time to make a lasting tribute especially to S’ralex. The change of name from Old Trafford to Old Pillock will therefore be registered in time for the start of next season.”

Finally, then – where will the new statues be – ahem – erected? It turns out that this has been the subject of heated debate within the club, who are ever conscious of their need to maximise merchandising income involve their loyal and faithful Sky TV subscribers throughout the country and beyond. “In the end, it came down to the two real hotbeds of support – so we’ve decided to apply the Wisdom of Solomon – and give one statue to Paignton and the other to Milton Keynes.” Sir Bobby Our source nodded, contentedly. “We feel that this is an equitable solution.”

Sir Bobby “Ticketmaster” Charlton is 103.

Why is Elland Road Suddenly a Child-Free Zone?? – by Rob Atkinson

matt child

Matt Child – four month Chief Operating Officer tenure ends abruptly

News breaking out of the blue that Chief Operating Officer Matt Child has abruptly resigned his position at Leeds United has taken the Whites world by surprise. No explanation is currently being offered for Child’s departure from a post he has occupied for only four months. At the time of his appointment, he was enthusiastic and passionate about the task that then seemed to lie ahead of him:

“The opportunity to deliver value to your home-town team and city doesn’t happen that often, if at all, so when I was asked to step in, there was only one answer.

“I have been involved for a few months behind the scenes and have been hugely impressed by the president’s passion, commitment and will to win.

“We find ourselves in interesting times, but as a Leeds fan I know only too well that we are often at our best when we have adversity.”

The life-long Leeds supporter had summed up his feelings by stating “It’s clichéd but I’m genuinely honoured to represent the club.

Sadly, perhaps – and for reasons that so far remain shrouded in mystery – that honour was destined to be short-lived.

The departure of Matt Child is just the latest development in what appears from the outside to be an increasingly Machiavellian climate within the club, with banned owner Massimo Cellino refusing to commit himself to a particular course of action, and rumours flying about the possible involvement of the Genting Group – officially denied today and therefore more credible than ever – and Hollywood A-Lister Russell Crowe.

There appears to be little sign of the muddy waters at Elland Road clearing for the foreseeable future. As ever, the club remains a magnet for controversy and baffling speculation. Supporters will be looking forward to more news on Child, Crowe, Gentings and the various other currently hot topics – as well as, perhaps, that well-known sideline of actually playing games of football.

Is This Amateurish Tennis Hack Leeds United’s Silliest Troll? – by Rob Atkinson

Harry Wall, ineffectual Leeds-basher - "It's like being savaged by a dead sheep"

Harry Wall, ineffectual Leeds-basher – It’s like being savaged by a dead sheep…

The latest in a series of increasingly bitter and skewed anti-Leeds articles under the byline of Harry Wall appeared today, seeking to capitalise on the current Russell Crowe rumours. Harry writes – on tennis, mainly – for the pisspoor online outlet “Give Me Sport” – otherwise known by exasperated persons of taste and discernment as “Give Me Strength“. The GMS output is characterised by lack of depth, an absence of any real research and a tendency uncritically to publish bile-ridden rubbish written by hopeful kids seeking to gain entry to a world plainly beyond their capabilities. Harry has settled on tennis as his main area of incompetence – but he just can’t resist having the odd ill-directed and misconceived pop at Leeds United from time to time. It’s like an itch he simply has to scratch – and he’s not shy about making a fool of himself in the process. Sadly, as someone once said about Geoffrey Howe – “it’s like being savaged by a dead sheep”. History shows that Geoffrey bit back – but poor Harry simply lacks the teeth.

If you trace back Harry’s online GMS portfolio just a few months, you will find (interspersed among his clueless tennis stuff) many articles – for want of a better word – about his football obsession, Leeds United. The tone of these pieces is invariably uncomplimentary; we are left assuming that Harry is one of that sad, lost legion who “all hate Leeds” – but have no idea as to why. Usually, it turns out that Daddy told them to. Should you, perchance, be a victim of insomnia, I would invite you to trawl through these articles – you’ll almost certainly find a temporary cure for your condition and the relief of blessed sleep. Otherwise, perhaps, you might be content with my potted summary further on.

Our beloved Whites have, it seems, kept young Harry quite busy over the past three months, as he attempts to refine what is a one-dimensional and ineffective writing style. If frequency of output counts for anything, then perhaps he’d be due an award of some sort – but sadly, the lack of any real quality makes it overwhelmingly likely that he’ll have to seek a living elsewhere. Meanwhile, as an aspiring thorn in the side of a great football club, he does make a mediocre tennis correspondent.

So what has beginner scribbler Harry had to say? In truth, not a lot – but he’s had a good few cracks at his favourite target. All of his attempts share the time-saving advantage of the headline having more content than the article – once you’ve read the banner, that’s pretty much it. If we go back three months, we can count 23 spiteful little sallies against Leeds among Harry’s stock-in-trade tennis rubbish. That’s a lot, even for an obsessive – or maybe young Hal simply knows what it takes to catch the eye of people who might otherwise be tempted to give his stuff a wide berth. Mention Leeds in a negative sense – and the Leeds-hating thousands will gather, buzzing about eagerly, as flies do in the vicinity of dog-crap. 

Starting those three months ago, Harry first inserts his foot in his mouth with his verdict that Leeds made a mistake selling Ross McCormack for £11m. Riiiight. Shortly afterwards he explains how the Whites were wrong also to sack a “top manager” … in Neil Warnock, believe it or not. Well launched now on a path of foolish fantasy, Harry goes on to advise that the Leeds promotion plan should involve the sale of their young stars. This is Harry in optimistic mode; he seems to believe that somebody might be listening. Next, he’s eagerly predicting relegation unless “big money is spent”, along with his opinion that Neil Redfearn is “not the right man for Leeds”. Then there’s an upset silence as far as United is concerned, which coincides with improved form for Leeds – but just over a month ago, Harry is back with a hopeful piece opining that the Whites’ relegation worries are not yet behind them: a “serious test” awaited – apparently. Then, there was his laughable opinion that United deserved punishment for their “poor treatment” of Millwall fans (he is silent on what happened when Rotherham United treated them rather more leniently – and suffered a riot as a result).

Lately, Harry has sulkily abandoned any hope that Leeds might yet go down, and has focused his woefully meagre talents on trying to drum up interest once again in the club’s young diamonds. Alex Mowatt, it seems, is “playing his way towards an Elland Road exit” and is also “Just what Man Utd need”. Mischievous, maybe – but the tone and standard sadly still fail to rise above that of a spiteful schoolboy. The next club Harry was trying to sell Mowatt to was Liverpool – and then, this morning, he concludes that the Russell Crowe talk is irrefutable proof that Leeds are now “a joke”.

Twenty-three pieces of time-wasting guff – probably a total of five minutes of blandly forgettable content; five minutes of my life that I will now never get back – but at least I’m getting a blog out of it and having a little giggle to myself. As we can see from the picture at the top, Harry is a beardless, fresh-faced youth – and we can perhaps excuse him much on that account. He’s trying to make his way in the world, and he’ll be neither the first not the last to take his first few faltering steps down what is clearly the wrong path. Later in life, when he’s abandoned his pipe dreams and settled for mundane mediocrity in some other, less demanding field, he may look back on these fledgling efforts, and be glad he didn’t pursue those goals, courting inevitable disillusion and disappointment. But that, after all, is a matter for him.

Of greater concern is the fact that an online outlet that purports to be a serious source of sports-writing can rely so heavily on such inexperienced and naive contributors. Nobody’s best interests are served here – not the writer, whose inadequacies are cruelly exposed; nor his targets, who may find the naive out there actually believing some of this rubbish; definitely not the readership, opening articles under different headlines, only to find the same old repetitive nonsense – and, surely above all, not GMS themselves, who shall find that by the standards of their contributors shall they be judged. Long term, no online outlet can afford to compromise on quality – that way a fatal loss of credibility lies. You can’t fool all the people, all the time…

Meanwhile, it seems likely that poor little Harry will be chuffed enough with himself to continue having his infantile pokes at a club with whom he has no apparent connection. I’m aware that a lot of people will feel that this piece is merely drawing attention to an attention-seeker – and I’ll probably get and ignore the usual spam content in reply – but I think it’s worthwhile, simply to establish that there is a common factor in a series of Leeds-bashing pieces that have run on this particular excuse for a sports news outlet. At least now, if we see another such on the same substandard site, we can think to ourselves: “No need to read this – it’s just daft little Harry again”.

Which is probably best for all concerned.

No Official Response to WHY Mancunian Ref Taylor Was Picked for Man Utd Match – by Rob Atkinson

Former Man U favourite Howard Webb celebrates with his team-mates... but at least he wasn't from Manchester

Former Man U favourite Howard Webb celebrates with his team-mates… but at least he wasn’t from Manchester…

Leeds United fans have cause to remember Wythenshawe referee Anthony Taylor – not too fondly, though – for his performance in a game between United and Middlesbrough early in the 2011/12 season. Taylor contrived to send off Jonny Howson and Max Gradel of Leeds as well as Boro’s Tony McMahon in a game which then United manager Simon Grayson described as “not having a dirty tackle in it”. Middlesbrough won the match 1-0.

That might well establish Mr. Taylor as a referee of less than optimal competence, certainly in Whites fans’ eyes – and yet he has gone on to officiate regularly in the Premier League, appearing to court controversy at about the same rate as any other referee on the roster – less, even, than some that we could name (and have named in the past). The other week, though, proud Mancunian Taylor dropped a particularly public clanger when failing to award a clear penalty against Man U at Newcastle United‘s St James Park, in a game won by the visitors with a late goal. Tim Krul gifted an easy chance to Ashley Young, who snapped it up before he could even remember to dive – and another Man U smash and grab was done. Same as it ever was, you might say. A penalty not given against Man U and a spawny late winner for them too – what’s so unusual?

The major issue here, though, may not have been the missed penalty – nor even the unsavoury spitting incident that Cisse of Newcastle admitted and apologised for, with Evans of Man U characteristically denying any wrongdoing, in accordance with club policy – despite clear video evidence. No, the real bugbear here is the fact that – for no apparent reason and with no possible justification – the authorities saw fit to appoint a Mancunian referee for a match involving a Manchester-based club.

To my knowledge, there was always a rule whereby a referee from the same area as one of the teams contesting a match would not be selected to take that fixture. That just seems like good, plain common sense, and I haven’t heard of any change to what was always a rigidly-observed convention. The not exactly infrequent situation whereby what seemed an obvious penalty was not awarded against Man U becomes even more unfortunate and embarrassing when combined with this additional and avoidable referee situation. Why on earth would the authorities court even more controversy than arises as a matter of routine, every time Man U get off scot free on a stonewall penalty shout?

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything has been a loud and frequent critic of the kid-glove treatment that is still handed out to the Pride of Devon, even now in these post-Ferguson times when – presumably – the powers that be are in somewhat less of a state of abject fear than they were when the Demented One was in charge of Man U and, by extension, the game. So this is not, perhaps, a voice that will be seen to be particularly impartial or unbiased. And yet the facts speak for themselves. It is simply true to state that rarely a month goes by without some blatantly naff decision in favour of the denizens of the Theatre of Hollow Myths. It’s no secret, and there’s plenty of internet wringing of hands that goes on about it, with a predictably bland and complacent attitude on the part of both Man U, their hordes of armchair fans and the nominal rulers of the game. But to have them allocated their own, local referee as well, for a game that might well have been tricky for van Gaal’s men had decisions gone as they perhaps should – that really rather does take the biscuit, if not the actual urine sample.

I’ve not been able to find any guidance or regulation which formalises rules as regards geographical origin of referees insofar as it’s relevant to any particular fixture – I’m aware that there are some pretty nifty sleuths out there though, so any input to clear the matter up would be welcome. But it’s surely just common sense and good practice to select an official who hails from as far as possible from the homes of any two competing teams. It just makes for a fairer feel to proceedings. And – let’s face it – you could actually choose a ref from Devizes, and he’d be just as likely an adoring fan of “Nitid” as not. Those glory-seekers are all over the place, after all. But it rubs the nose of every fan of every other club in the league well and truly in it, to make such a daft and open-to-suspicion appointment as a Mancunian ref for a Man U match.

Are they really that stupid at the FA and/or EPL? Are they really that loftily complacent and arrogant as not to bother even giving the impression of ensuring fair play?? The distasteful combination of yet another bottled penalty decision, together with the fact that it was a blatantly Manc ref that bottled it, leaves a decidedly nasty taste in the mouth.

So what are these idiots and incompetents actually up to? I first asked this question immediately after the game in question. Predictably, there has been zero response. But, surely, it’s time we were told.

Get IIIIIIINNN!!! Leeds Legend Noel Whelan is a Cult Radio Star   –   by Rob Atkinson

Get IIIIIIINN!!! Noel, Leeds United hero past and present

Get IIIIIIINN!!! Noel Whelan, Leeds United hero past and present

How bizarre, and yet how typical of this ugly duckling of a Leeds United season, that one of the main cult Whites heroes of the moment should be an employee of Derby County FC. Not that it hasn’t happened before, one way or another. Season 1991/92 threw up a couple of candidates, with Brian Gayle ex-Man City but on the books of Sheffield United, taking the honours as he scored the own-goal that finally turned the race for the last ever Football League Championship firmly Leeds’ way. No such rich prizes are at stake this season, and we have to look off the field of play for the hero I’m talking about. Take a bow Noel David Whelan, Academy Coach at Derby County, lifelong Leeds fan and the best thing to hit the airwaves in these parts for a long, long time.

When you listen to national radio, you want impartiality (not that you get it, not as a Leeds fan). It’s annoying if such an allegedly disinterested broadcaster shows bias, they get phone calls and irate letters. But local radio is a horse of a different colour. What you want then is a bit of parochial loyalty, a touch of blinkered self-righteousness. If the ref’s having a ‘mare – or even if, in truth, he’s just not giving the lads quite as much as he might – you want the regional radio guys to get hot under the collar about it, to have a bit of a rant or moan. It saves you the trouble and it also gives you that warm feeling that maybe you’re not just paranoid, that those buggers really are out to get us. Listen, you splutter to your significant other, I said to you that the ref was bent and the lino was blind or bent or stupid. Thom/Adam thinks so too. Bloody told you, didn’t I?

Sometimes though, the local guys can be a grievous disappointment in this regard. Forgetting that they’re not national commentators with all those boring rules and restrictions, some of our home-based broadcasters and summarisers can make the mistake of being so determined to be fair, that they lean over too far the other way, ending up calling every decision against Leeds, excusing the incompetent git of a ref, justifying the actions of those cheats and animals in the opposition ranks. This is extremely bad news for the fan glued to a crackly radio at home. That, by the way, is perilous stuff at the best of times. Radio commentary is just plain scary. Every shot is arrowing straight for the far top corner of your keeper’s net, every Whites passing move breaks down, we never get the bounce of the ball. It’s horrible and not good for the hypertension at all. And then, on top of all that, you get some ever so reasonable guy who, when the commentator screams, Penalty for Leeds! Surely that was a penalty!! – this laid-back, too-fair ex-pro will simply drawl, nah, never in a million years, he went down too easy, never a pen. Forbye, it wisnae in the area. Thwarted, you grind your teeth anew and feel the blood pounding insistently in your ears. It’s so bad for the health.

I’m not naming any names in that respect (but Eddie, for Christ’s sake get your act together and remember who you’re supposed to be supporting) – what I will say is that Norman Hunter, always reliable in terms of seeing the world through Leeds-tinted specs, is sadly missed from our local airwaves. But happily, the Advent of Noel has brought us a new hero, and he makes even Norman seem like a model of bland neutrality. When play is ongoing, there’s always a bit of Whelan wit and wisdom interspersing the description of the commentator. His Leeds-ness oozes from every pore and permeates everything he says. It’s simply wonderful.

Any Leeds fans will always look forward to any Leeds goal – it’s the longed-for climax to any foray forward and confirmed atheists have been know to offer up sincere prayers for that – ahem – moment of fulfilment. But in these days of Whelan, long may they last, there’s a little extra bonus to any Leeds score. Get IIIINNNNNNN!!!! you hear this demented, exultant voice thundering, rattling the commentary gantry and the windows of nearby houses, and doubtless attracting sidelong looks of disapproval from more ordinary, everyday mortals. Noel Whelan is not here simply to provide the professional’s point of view on the intricacies of play and team-shape. He’s here to see Leeds United win, and he wants it with his very guts. You can hear this in his voice, you can tell he’s kicking every ball and a good few of the opposition. It’s a tremendous feeling; like having your own personal, Leeds-centric representative up there in the commentary box where you’d secretly long to be yourself, instead of being surgically attached to this bloody radio.

Noel Whelan is the fan who really did live the dream, graduating from the terraces to don the Shirt and score goals for the club he loves. As a professional, when his career took him in a different direction, he made the best of it – not without the odd mishap, particularly at Coventry – and carried on scoring goals. Memorably, he scored for Boro against Man U in the Cup, and gave the old Leeds salute to the bitter cockneys who sat in the stand, hating him for his Leeds-ness and for scoring against their favourites. And all the time, he’s been Leeds, down to the very bone – and we’ve loved him for it, largely from afar.

Now his playing days are over, and – ever the pro – he’s earning his living still as part of the game, passing on his knowledge and experience to the Academy of a club other than Leeds. How odd that must feel to a man who so clearly has United in his DNA. But it doesn’t affect his deep and abiding partiality for the Whites; give him a mic, put him up there to watch the lads play – and he’s still passionately Leeds, desperate to see them win, straining every sinew as the Shirts toil away for the cause.

And then – we score. Get IIIINNNNNNN!!!! GET in! If things are going particularly well, a chorus of Marching On Together is not unheard of; though his singing would win few awards, the sentiment is pure gold. A model of impartiality Noel is definitely not – and that has endeared him to thousands of people for whom radio coverage is the only viable option. For those people, Noel is just like being there, or at least the very next best thing – he wants to win as much as you do and he celebrates like the fellow fan he is – as well as feeling the pain just as acutely as we all do when things are bad.

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything cannot help but feel that such passion, such absolute devotion to our one and only, beloved football club, is wasted whenever it’s not being employed in the United cause. Noel is not the first Leeds fanatic to pursue a career elsewhere. It was a standing joke at Newcastle that David Batty just couldn’t wait to be back at Elland Road. Whenever their team coach passed within sight of the stadium, his team mates would be at it, they’d rib Batts, telling him he’d be back there before long. And of course, he was. But when he wore another shirt, Batty fought and battled for that shirt, as a pro always will. I’ve seen Noel Whelan score against Leeds – it was in George Graham’s first game in charge, down at Coventry – and he looked utterly gutted and apologetic. And, naturally, he still got an ovation from the White Army that day.

Maybe Noel Whelan will one day be a part of Leeds United Football Club once more. Surely, he would grab the chance, should it ever arise – even in the sure knowledge that most such returns end in tears. But in the meantime – it’s wonderful to listen to him in his matchday stints on t’wireless, shamelessly biased, proudly Leeds, giving it the full throttle when we score, damning the officials who conspire against us. It’s simply just what is required, just what those fans out here in Radioland need.

Noel Whelan is a tonic. Every club should have one but, happily – and despite what the Derby County payroll people might imagine – he’s ours. And he’s the very Acme of one-eyed, tunnel-visioned, brilliantly biased, raucously supportive presence that any Leeds fan simply loves to hear as part of their commentary experience.

Other, more pallid broadcasters – please take note.

Are Buoyant Leeds United Facing a Blackpool Banana Skin? – by Rob Atkinson

The Mighty Tangerines celebrate one of their three throw-ins this season

The Mighty Tangerines celebrate one of their three throw-ins this season

With the kind of run Leeds United have been on lately – and, it must be said, the not exactly dominant or decisive way in which those positive results have been gained – a trip to Blackpool might just hold more in the way of a dirty great banana-skin than the long-advertised “fresh air and fun” for our Warriors in White.

That is not to say that Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything expects or would willingly accept anything less than a breezy win against the division’s whipping boys. It’s just that – well, we’ve all been here before; Leeds have this endearing habit of nicking results against the odds, or even disposing of league high-flyers as we’ve done home and away with AFC Bournemouth and Middlesbrough Ironopolis. And then, drat them all to hell and back, they go and let you down against opposition they should be rolling over and stomping into the earth. They’re a contrary mob, our Leeds – coupon-busters more often than most, and not always in a good way.

Even so, it’s difficult to see how United might contrive to lose this one, or even be held to a draw. It’s got victory written all over it; I’ve seen social media conversations devoted entirely to the knotty issue of whether we’ll prevail by five clear goals, or only four. They rightly say that pride goeth before a fall, but that’s not just pride we’re talking about there. It’s dangerously close to hubris or, as we say in the Broad Acres, proper beggin’ for a smack in t’gob. Should such a smack arrive, as would hardly be a surprise to those hard-bitten cynics among us who are students of the many and varied ways in which Leeds United can manage to lose a game, then perhaps those youthful and over-confident denizens of the internet might just consider keeping their injured gobs shut in the future.

All of that verges dangerously on the needlessly pessimistic; perhaps subconsciously this blog is attempting to ward off a negative result at Blackpool by attempting some reverse psychology with the Fates who decide this sort of thing. In reality, Blackpool are where they are – all but actually relegated, well before Easter – because they’re an ill-run club with an inadequate playing staff who have struggled against just about everybody this campaign. The Tangerines are so far behind in the Championship that the likes of Watford and Bournemouth have both lapped them at least once – and the relegation fight has long been a question of Blackpool and two others.

Leeds appear to have learned how to win ugly; Blackpool don’t seem to know one end of a football from the other. On paper, it should be boys against men – with our gallant troops ending up being castigated in the Lancashire Press for unseemly bullying and an unsporting lack of mercy. Would that it might be so. Without wishing to sound spoiled, the experience of seeing our lads hand out a good sound thrashing without once being troubled would be balm to the nerves. Wednesday’s 3-0 win at Fulham was anything but comfortable once you looked beyond the scoreline. What we need now is to go that extra mile and absolutely batter someone.

As if Blackpool’s problems aren’t already severe enough, their sketchy squad is weakened still further by several likely absentees for this weekend. Lugubrious Geordie manager Lee Clark, looking to end a run of six straight defeats, will probably miss Tom Barkhuizen for the game. The 21 year old picked up a foot injury in the loss to Charlton Athletic, and Clark explained, “Tom took a nasty whack on the top of his foot, so he’ll probably not be available for us. He hasn’t trained at all since Charlton.” Jamie O’Hara and Niall Maher are also ruled out for the game and Tony McMahon is suspended. “We are what we are tomorrow,” concluded Clark, glumly.

For Leeds, there is some chance of a first view at this level of January loan signing Granndi Ngoyi, with Rudy Austin also a possible returnee. Steve Morison is pushing for a recall against opposition that even he will fancy scoring against, and youngster Kalvin Phillips will continue to press for a Whites début at some stage. Some Blackpool fans are reportedly boycotting the match in protest at the running of the club, favouring a North West Counties Premier Division encounter instead of more probable Championship pain. It’s to be hoped that their pessimism is justified and that this blog’s wishes of royally tonking someone might be granted on Saturday by the seaside.

And yet that horrible banana-skin vision persists, so I’m not even going to stick my neck out far enough for a score prediction. Braver souls than I are cordially invited to give their own confident result forecasts below…

Football League to Dish the Dirt on “Impatient” Russell Crowe   –   by Rob Atkinson

Russell Crowe - bloodless coup?

Russell Crowe – bloodless coup?

The Football League‘s clandestine “Stop Leeds United Getting Serious Investment” Task Force was swinging into action yet again yesterday amid some alarm at FLHQ that Hollywood A-lister Russell Crowe might possibly be contemplating getting financially involved in the club he has long supported. A League spokesman confirmed “Our special anti Leeds United people are looking into this. And there will doubtless be something we can – ahem – stone the Crowe with, never fear! (chortle)”

As a first step, the League have consulted the Forbes “Rich List” and it is understood that they were perturbed by what was revealed about the actor’s heavy-duty financial clout. A senior figure in the FL structure –  who refused to be named, but admitted that his initials were Shaun Harvey – also expressed “concern” that Crowe is already involved in part-ownership with a highly successful Australian Rugby League club, showing no signs of leading them into administration. The League are understood to be taking the threat of good news for Leeds extremely seriously.

Russell Crowe is playing his cards close to his chest – having previously asked his near 1.7 million Twitter followers if purchasing a stake in Leeds would be “a good idea”, he now says he is “impatient” to see Leeds achieving success. He has also been in tweeting dialogue with a Leeds fan group, discussing ways and means. The League position on consultation with fans is unequivocally clear. “We don’t like it,” stated our incognito contact, “Once you start involving riff-raff like fans, you’re on the slippery slope to some sort of new-age, new-fangled, hippy, pinko liberal “democracy” thing. We really don’t go for that at all. Give us a good old-fashioned familiar, honest, fit and proper rapist or money-launderer – they’re the sort of people that we really can do business with. You know where you are with them.”

United’s currently suspended owner Massimo Cellino, meanwhile, has confirmed that he does not intend “immediately” to return as Leeds President when his disqualification lapses. Instead, he will pursue remedial avenues of his own, as an individual, with no formal connection to Leeds United AFC. “Is better this way,” the Italian insisted. “Now, when horse’s head found in bed with a one-a these guys scare half to death, like-a that brutto figlio di puttana bastardo, Signor Shaun, no need to worry about sanction for club. I will take care of business in my own special way, my friend.”

Russell Crowe himself had nothing specific to say about any potential League investigation, but confirmed through a spokesman that he would give the signal to “unleash hell”, should circumstances indicate that such a course of action is necessary. The veteran actor dropped a further hint as to his likely attitude, cryptically proclaiming: “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next. We are Leeds.”

The officials of the Board of the Football League, both individually and collectively, are understood to be “cacking themselves” after seeing the Cellino and Crowe quotes. A senior figure has sent out for clean underwear three times today alone, and evidence has been shown to us of a bulk order of “Nicky” quilted toilet roll as well as some Far-Eastern “herbal relaxation infusions”. It appears that the investigation into Mr. Crowe will proceed – but preparations are also well advanced for a sudden retreat, if and when necessary. “If hell is unleashed, we shall all be leaving the country the same day,” our source confirmed, pale of face and wringing palsied hands. “This really is becoming a bit too dodgy, even for seasoned duckers and divers such as us. Whether we’re dealing with Crowe or Cellino, or even waking one fine morning with some severed item of equine anatomy, it’s a distinctly worrying picture. A mad Italian and an erstwhile Hollywood hell-unleasher. Jesus. Those are two seriously intimidating mothers, though – aren’t they?? Criminy.”

Shaun Harvey, 94, is incontinently scared. 

 

Scintillating Arsenal So Nearly “Do a Leeds” (In a Good Way)   –   by Rob Atkinson

Özil - weakest link

Mesut Özil – weakest link in Monaco

In 1995, Leeds United were ‘The Team That Broke the Hearts in Monte Carlo’, courtesy of an unanswered hat-trick from the mighty Anthony Yeboah, striker extraordinaire. United cruised to a 3-0 win at the Stade Louis II, home of AS Monaco – and nothing like that has happened to the Ligue 1 giants again in the almost two decades since. But on Tuesday evening, a massively dominant Arsenal side came so agonisingly close to emulating Wilko’s Warriors and creating history for their club with the biggest Champions League comeback since Leeds themselves recovered from 3-0 down to VfB Stuttgart.

Back in those carefree, pre-meltdown days, Leeds United – three years or so after becoming The Last Champions – still had comfortably enough shots in their locker to give most teams a pretty tough time. A Yeboah-inspired blistering start to that season provided no hint of a clue as to the disappointment that lay ahead, with a pallid Wembley League Cup Final surrender to Aston Villa – where the seeds of Sergeant Wilko’s demise were sown. But in this early season purple patch, United were laying about them to devastating effect, with Masterblaster Yeboah scoring goal after rocket goal. Tony scored more goals of the season in that two or three months than most strikers could dream of in a career.

The assortment against the hapless Monégasques included his usual worldy, sandwiched between two more mortal efforts. That second goal was so typically Tony, instant control in the inside right channel, a sinuous turn past his marker as he progressed to the edge of the area, and a wonderful, curling finish at pace into the far top rigging. Sublime. Things looked really good for Leeds – and just around the corner lay the transfer coup of the year as world superstar Tomas Brolin signed for the Whites from Italian club Parma. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. 

Arsenal’s challenge on Tuesday night was precisely the emulation of that Leeds feat all but twenty years ago. The Gooners had to score three, or they were out of the Champions League – it was as simple as that. In the end, they fell just short – fatally damaged by a clueless performance in defeat at The Emirates – but they could take a lot of pride and encouragement from an utterly dominant return display that, in truth, should have seen the Pride of North London progress, against long, long odds. Little was lacking in a performance better even than the one that ejected Man U from the FA Cup days prior to this Riviera trip. Perhaps the weakest link on the night was Mesut Özil, as quite frankly he has been too often this season. A tendency towards misplacing final balls and running into instead of past defenders in one-on-one situations, may well have been the difference between narrow failure and spectacular success. Perhaps Özil can fill his boots in what remains of the Arse’s bid to retain the FA Cup. On this evidence, he owes his club and fans that much at least. 

The comparison between two European matches, twenty years apart, featuring my beloved Leeds and my much-admired Arsenal, reminds me that one of the young subs for Monaco that night in 1995 was a pre-Juventus youth by the name of Thierry Henry. He went on to do reasonably well for the Gooners and indeed played his part in the Premier League demise of Leeds by blasting several goals past us at Highbury in the early noughties. Henry’s loyalties were probably with Arsenal the other night in Monaco, as were the loyalties of this Leeds United fan, despite my love for and fond memories of the principality of Monaco. 

In the end, though, all of us who were hoping against hope for a Gunners recovery from that pallid home leg defeat, ended up disappointed – and yet thrilled by what had been a fantastic game with a real edge-of-the-seat climax to it. And – cold comfort though this would be to dedicated Arsenal fans – it was a match that revived memories of a golden night long ago when the Whites invaded France and prevailed through the sublime performance of a Ghanaian genius. 

It’s always futile to wish for the impossible – and anyway, while he lasted in England, he was ours – but how Arsenal could have done with Tony Yeboah, as he was in his prime, on Tuesday night.

Fulham 0, Leeds United 3; The Worries Behind the Win   –   by Rob Atkinson

Three kinds of lies

Three kinds of lies

A wise man once told us: “There are three kinds of lies. There are lies; there are damned lies – and there are statistics.

The point he was making, of course, was that the bare numbers rarely tell the whole tale; they can be twisted and manipulated to support a variety of points of view, depending upon the user’s level of dishonesty. Ask George Osborne about that – but don’t expect anything like the truth…

It was Mark Twain who popularised the quote; the identity of the originator is sadly lost to us. But, whoever it was, if he had been present at Craven Cottage last night to watch Leeds United seemingly cruise to a routine 3-0 victory over Fulham, then he might have found reasons both to praise and damn those pesky stats.

The main statistic of course, as Sky TV hacks are always expressing it, is “that little one in the top left hand corner of your screen”. The scoreline is the Alpha & Omega of statistics; a 3-0 win is a 3-0 win, decisive and indisputable. So mote it be. And yet, the other statistics in a game of football frequently bear critical examination. This is particularly so when that bare scoreline on its own might just lead us to false assumptions about form and performance. And the human element can also act so as to skew the outcome against all the logic provided by the facts and figures of a match. Last night at Fulham, if it hadn’t been for the frankly superhuman performance of Leeds keeper Marco Silvestri in all its elastically bendy brilliance, then the trend of the game’s shots on goal figures may well radically have changed the final scoreline.

Those damned match stats

Those damned match stats (Thanks to BBC Sport)

So, to get to the meat of the matter, the fact is that watching last night’s highlights is a fairly sobering experience for any Leeds fan, and tends to cure even those glass-half-full types of any excessive post-victory euphoria. The evidence of your eyes is that Leeds United were under considerable pressure for much of the evening; this continued to be the case even after Fulham defender Kostas Stafylidis‘ two mad moments which saw him dismissed for back-to-back yellow cards. There were too many times when Leeds were cut apart; too many occasions on which heroic custodian Silvestri had to fling himself into the breach. He had a very successful evening, our Marco – but it’s fair to say that you don’t ideally want to see your ‘keeper given quite so many chances to shine. Those statistics confirm for us what we could quite plainly see; Fulham’s creation of clear-cut opportunities was right up there and on another night might well have been reflected in a different result. A combination of poor finishing (a nervous and too-eager-to-succeed Matt Smith must hold his hand up here), excellent shot-stopping and the kindness of the woodwork saw Fulham fail to score, when they could easily have had half a dozen. That’s really no exaggeration.

After the match, United coach Neil Redfearn was understandably keen to highlight the fact that Leeds could have had half a dozen of their own. And it’s fair to say that it’s not Redders’ job to spread alarm and despondency among the troops. But equally it’s important that the weaknesses inherent in a performance that afforded the opposition so many chances, should be recognised and addressed. This is the big worry that the scoreline, excellent though it undoubtedly is, tends to conceal.

The fact of the matter is that, in the medium to long term – or perhaps as soon as the next game – we will get found out if these kind of statistics keep cropping up. Numbers can be interpreted or manipulated or crunched until the cows come home – but in their raw form, they still have their own undeniable message. Conceding a large majority of possession is a worry; it’s tiring to play and chase without the ball. Shots both on and off target against your own goal – that’s another worry. If you buy enough tickets, you’re going to win a raffle sooner or later; the woodwork and an inspired goalkeeper can only do so much. The numbers suggest that Leeds were cut open by an average Championship attack on far too many occasions. The conclusion has to be that Silvestri is insufficiently protected, and that can have only one outcome over time – we’ll be conceding too many again, and results will suffer accordingly.

This is not intended to be a whinge, or in any way to detract from yet another good result on the road. We should rejoice in that; the recent run has hauled us well clear of danger at the bottom and we now have the breathing space to think about next season – a significant luxury before we’ve even reached Easter. But the planning for a new campaign in August must surely address the concerns revealed by last night’s lop-sided possession and attempts on goal stats – otherwise, eventually, we’ll pay for soft-centred characteristics.

Perhaps the root of the problem is a lack of bite in midfield when Rudy Austin isn’t present. On the other side last night, Scott Parker gave an object lesson, even in defeat, of the difference an all-action, tigerish midfield presence can make. A lot of Fulham’s good stuff came through him, and – let’s not forget – there was plenty of good stuff from them last night. That we didn’t suffer by it was an eccentricity of the occasion, with so many chances fluffed, wasted or thwarted by Silvestri. But we can’t rely upon there being too many nights or days like that.

Fulham may yet fall through the trapdoor into League One, just a season after sinking out of the Premier League. If that were to happen then – once we had dried the tears of mirth from our eyes at the way Ross McCormack‘s dream had gone sour on him – we might well wish to look at the availability of Mr Parker who, on last night’s evidence, would be an asset to many a Championship team. I’m sure we could get him for a lot less than £11 million, just to pluck a figure out of thin air. Scott Parker was, more than anyone else in a Fulham shirt, rather unlucky to be on the losing side last night, and it’s clear as day to me that he would improve our midfield options.

Pie in the sky, of course – there are currently far too many variables, including the distinct possibility of yet another TOMA scenario this summer, to speculate on the direction of Leeds’ recruitment policy. That’s even assuming that we’re going to be out of embargo. But if there was even a chance of securing a Scott Parker type for the White shirt, then surely we’d reap massive benefit from that kind of all-action, committed presence. And, maybe then, we’d see a few of those damned statistics turning the way of our beloved Damned United.