Who’ll Be the Next League One Club to Overtake Leeds United?   –   by Rob Atkinson

Time's running out for Leeds United

Time’s running out for Leeds United

Leeds United are now in danger of becoming a perennial Championship club: just a bit too well-resourced and well-supported to repeat the disaster of relegation to League One – or so we all hope and trust – but nowhere near good or competently-run enough to make the life-saving jump into the Premier League. And believe me, the clock is ticking on that jump. It’s an elevation that will become more and more of a formidable mountain to climb over the next few seasons.

The problem is, among many other Leeds United problems, that the reward for Premier League failure is about to go through the roof. Soon, clubs relegated from the élite top flight will be able to bank ‘parachute payments’ of around £100m pounds, allowing them a clear head start on their unsubsidised second tier competitors.

The clear implication of this is that we may shortly have what amounts to a closed shop, consisting of the usual permanent Premier League members, plus a small pool of hinterland dwellers, bobbing up and down between the top two divisions. The so-call Financial Fair Play rules will make it difficult for even wealthily-owned Championship clubs of long standing to break into this yo-yo fringe group, never mind the band of true aristocrats.

For the likes of Leeds United, and even Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday and a few other genuinely sizable members of the new underclass, this could represent the start of a living death of perpetual mediocrity.

So it follows that Leeds really must get its act together, and get up there in time to be the beneficiaries of parachute payments, as opposed to being marginalised by their galvanising effect on others. Sadly, there is no real sign that our heroes are remotely well-equipped enough to move on up anytime soon. It seems more likely at this stage that we will be overtaken by lesser clubs, who will happily make hay while the sun shines everywhere except, it seems, over LS11. This is not an unnecessarily gloomy or unrealistic prediction. It’s already happened too many times. 

Look at the Premier League membership right now. It makes for worrying study. You will find five of our former League One opponents there, mostly well-established top flight members now, while we remain as strugglers one step above our historical low point. Behold the success stories of clubs Leeds United should leave gasping in their wake. Swansea City, promoted from League One in our first season at that level, have added a League Cup to their mantelpiece and have generally done well. Southampton, European qualifiers now after emerging from the third tier a year after we did, and looking to consolidate and hammer on that Champions League door. Even new arrivals Bournemouth are looking reasonably well able to hold their own among the giants, as are Norwich City. And look at Leicester City, promoted from League One in our second season at that level. As I write, they are sitting proudly at the summit of English football, Premier League leaders, for the moment at least, and looking thoroughly at home in such exalted company. 

Leeds could and should have done better than any of these clubs, each of them recent denizens of League One. All of them are far smaller than the Whites, but have benefited from positive commercial and football strategies, not shying away from the speculative investment it takes to accumulate league points. They are well run for the most part and demonstrably scornful of any perceived glass ceiling. What they have accomplished should have been far easier for a club the size of Leeds. But our five years in the Championship have been a story of abject failure and serial incompetence, all underpinned by a total lack of vision and ambition. It’s no wonder we’ve been left trailing by the likes of Southampton and Leicester, and it would sadly be no surprise to see other clubs of similar size, currently below us in the pecking order, overhauling and leaving us behind in the near future.

So, which clubs currently languishing in the murk of League One might yet beat us to the sunny lower slopes of the Premier League? Two obvious candidates are Coventry City and Sheffield United, both doing reasonably well in the league below us, both tolerably well-run now after hard times – and both the kind of club that would, you suspect, see promotion to the Championship as a signal to kick on, invest, and make the most of their upward momentum. Which is just exactly what Leeds United threatened briefly to do in that momentous first season back at second tier level, before the fire sales started and the club began to lose its heart if not quite yet its soul.

For too long, Leeds United has appeared more complacent than hungrily ambitious; more disposed to “manage” its supporters’ expectations, rather than seek to fulfill them. With clubs all around us – smaller but more beadily focused clubs – avid for success, recognition and, yes, those Premier League millions too, Leeds simply can’t afford to tread water for much longer. The Premier League is a top table positively groaning under the weight of good things, even for those forced to leave the party early. With the increasing likelihood that victims of relegation will be fortified by that generous parachute for resurrection almost immediately, it’s only going to get harder and harder for the less-privileged to gatecrash the feast.  The likes of Sheffield United and Coventry will be well aware of this, as will more immediate dangers like Forest and Wednesday at our own current level. Leeds United just seems to be drifting along, more concerned with internal crises than the need to better themselves, waiting perhaps for some divine right to assert itself and convey the club back to the Promised Land.

Well, it ain’t gonna happen, guys – as any long-suffering and knowledgeable supporter would be well able to confirm. They say the spectator sees most of the game, and it’s the Leeds United fans, as opposed to those entrusted with the running of the club, who appear most acutely worried about exactly how and when we are going to find ourselves back where we assuredly belong – and able to capitalise on the undoubted potential of the club in a much more financially conducive environment. For a true giant like Leeds – by far and away the biggest club below the Premier League (and bigger than most inside it) – the opportunity is there for the taking to re-establish itself as one of the big, swaggering kids on the block.

It will take bravery, audacity, sufficient investment, nerve and some cool heads to achieve this – all currently noticeable by their absence around Elland Road. But if we don’t sort ourselves out soon – and start making some serious steps forward – we may yet get trampled in the rush by our smaller, meaner rivals – each of whom provides in effect a blueprint for the approach we should have been taking all along.

Tick tock, Leeds United. Get your act together. Time is running short.

So, It Was Just Another of Your Lies, Mr. Cellino – by Rob Atkinson



They say that “a murderer will kill you and a thief will rob you – but with a liar, you just don’t know where you stand”. That neatly sums up the quandary in which many Leeds United fans find themselves over mercurial owner Massimo Cellino – or “Cellinocchio” as he is sometimes dubbed, with a nod to the legendary lying puppet Pinocchio, whose nose grew longer with every falsehood uttered, marking him out as a liar and not to be trusted.

In Cellino’s case, the lies are as plain as the nose on his face – buying back the ground, sticking with this or that head coach, selling his interest in the club to a fans’ group – and yet that facial feature stays obstinately the same size. It is the Cellino rap sheet that grows progressively longer, not his proboscis. Still, the indictment is just as damning as Jiminy Cricket‘s of Pinocchio – more so, in fact, as what Cellino appears to lack that Jiminy provided for the wooden puppet boy, is a conscience.

It is that lack of conscience, that tendency to deceive and make false promises, that puts Cellino beyond the pale for many Leeds fans, blunt and straight-talking as they tend to be, whether from within or without the Broad Acres. Fans, who deal in the currency of loyalty and fervent support, are at a genuine disadvantage when dealing with a man who will say whatever it takes to make his own position more comfortable or to deflect mounting criticism. The Cellinos of this world – and the Bateses too – will react to hard times by making hollow promises, figuring that the sweet music of such blandishments hath charms to soothe the savage breast. By the time these empty vows – a buyback of Elland Road to follow swiftly upon a visit to the ATM on the day he purchased United, a beautiful season to develop in 2015/16, an undertaking to sell the club to LFU – are exposed as the whopping lies they are, Cellino is already moving on, as intent on survival by whatever means as ever.

When Cellino said he’d sell, I had my doubts. When it seemed his preferred buyers were the fans themselves, I politely expressed a level of cynicism. When Peter “Mouthpiece” Lorimer came out and whispered seductively that the Italian could still succeed at Leeds “given time” – I suspected the vow to sell up was no more than a bluff. Now that he has stated there are no serious people expressing an interest in the club, and that any plans to sell in the short term are shelved – well, I’m not exactly surprised. For those of us who can smell the bovine ordure stench of a liar at long range, this has been coming. Cellino is reliable only in terms of his consistent unreliability.

So, it was all just another massive fib and we are stuck with the Italian for the foreseeable. Not surprise, but more a certain anxious disquiet is the dominant feeling now. Things had settled down a bit following Cellino’s “I’m outta here” claim. These things do filter down to the players as well as to the fans, and there has been more of a relaxed atmosphere in and around the squad since manager Steve Evans moved in and the owner almost immediately said he’d be on his bike. Perhaps those players felt that they would now be representing a proper football club instead of a Latin ego-trip with il Duce Cellinocchio, the lying puppet, ironically pulling the strings – and ruling according to his increasingly capricious whims. It will be interesting to see if this welcome recent upturn in the mood of the players will survive the realisation that we are not – by a long chalk – done with Massimo yet.

Perhaps it will take another disastrous run of form to make the Italian revert to retreat mode again – perhaps it might even cost us another manager. Or two, or three. Perhaps, even, it will take our perennial foes at the Football League to legislate the crazy reign of Cellino out of existence and into the history books. Contrary to much of what I’ve written about the League over the past couple of years, I’d rather they acted decisively, free of their usual bumbling incompetence, and rid us of this turbulent owner before he can spill any more innocent blood on the manager’s office carpet. We can but wait, wish – and hope.

The main thing we should wish for at the moment though, is that Cellino might stop acting like a rattlesnake, and man up enough to tell the truth about his intentions. If it’s not too much to ask, a few copper-bottomed guarantees about the future of current managerial and coaching staff wouldn’t go amiss, either. Not that many would believe any such promises – but the path to redemption could yet be picked out by such markers as the owner might be prepared to lay down, going forward. We could actually forgive him a lot for that – but, let’s not forget, there’s a hell of a lot to forgive.


If Moyes Really IS Discussing Leeds Job, LMA Should Intervene  –   by Rob Atkinson

Moyes - not wanted or needed at Elland Road

Moyes – not wanted or needed at Elland Road

One real caveat to this article. The recurring “David Moyes for Leeds” stories are mainly appearing in that part of the press more suited to the facilitation of post-excretory hygiene than any real attempts to inform or even entertain. Ever since it started to look likely that Steve Evans might be the right man at the right time for Leeds United, the doggedly Whites-hating sector of the Fourth Estate have been engaging in their usual distracting habits. Talking up a replacement manager who has flopped in his last two posts is one part of that (attempting to tap up Lewis Cook on behalf of a minor manchester club would be another).

So, on the one hand, it’s quite possibly not true, falling into the “unhelpful and unsettling negative Leeds United rumours” category so beloved of our more tawdry hacks. On the other hand (like the irritating Lewis Cook thing), there just might be an element of truth hidden somewhere within the ever-present clouds of speculation and wishful thinking. And, if that’s the case, then it shouldn’t only be present incumbent Evans who might be more than a little angry.

For a start, it’s clear that the vehicle for this Moyes story is a putative takeover, or major investment, by Leeds fan and business mogul Steve Parkin. That worthy is said to have identified Moyes as his preferred head coach, regardless of the fact we have a manager in situ. Now, I’m not privy to the inner workings of Parkin’s mind – but presumably he’s got something about him to have amassed a supposed £200m personal fortune (on the other hand, look at the none-too-bright Alan Sugar). You really might expect, though, that a man and fan, who is contemplating such major changes at the club he loves, might wish to play his cards a little closer to his chest. And he might, perhaps, be looking at making a welcome difference after the craziness of the Cellino regime – rather than perpetuating il Duce’s “hire and fire” vicious downward spiral into chaos.

It’s also becoming steadily more apparent that Evans is settling in well at Elland Road, putting his stamp on the place and making that difference we all so want to see on the pitch. He’s promised winning football and, an awful lapse against Blackburn apart, he’s doing fine. The fans have, by and large, cottoned on to this, despite initial reservations arising out of Evans’ abrasive reputation – as well as that sombrero. Given all of the above, it would seem that the case for yet another change at the helm of team matters is hardly made. And yet still, this unwelcome chat goes on. It’s hardly conducive to the stability we yearn for, having so sadly lacked that vital commodity of late.

All of which leads me at last to the point of this article (yes, there was always going to be a point, sooner or later). Having established that it’s by no means certain the Moyes link is anything more than a Wapping great lie, we are nevertheless forced to consider the ramifications in the event of there being any truth in it. And, surely, if David Moyes is talking to a Leeds United-connected party about a job that is currently amply filled, then he would be open to some criticism under professional standards established within the managerial game for some time past.

Over the last couple of decades or so, there have been laudable attempts by the League Managers Association (LMA) to clean up the act of their collective members, certainly in terms of a set of standards to be applied in the matter of how club posts become vacant and are filled. Our own Howard Wilkinson was in on the ground floor of this, as he was with so much else, and a lot of the more enlightened policy-making over the recent past has carried his unmistakable brand of common sense and integrity. One of the examples of bad practice thereafter distinctly frowned upon was an unfortunate tendency for currently-filled managerial posts to be bruited about as if available, regardless of the feelings and morale of the poor sap actually doing the job, with prospective candidates for these posts encouraging – or at least not discouraging – such speculation.

Nowadays, with the LMA keeping a beady eye on things, there is a more civilised feeling about the whole thing. Managers linked with jobs currently being undertaken by some poor, under-fire soul will tend to refuse to comment on speculation surrounding those posts. As a past and prospective member of the managerial fraternity in England, Moyes will surely be aware of the current conventions. As he can’t be unaware of his name being linked in the press with a post-takeover position at Leeds United, could he not perhaps have made it known that he’s refusing to be a party to such speculation as there has been a manager recently appointed at Elland Road? A dignified silence, after all, only takes you so far – and can be interpreted in more than one way. By his failure to distance himself from the Parkin/Leeds scenario, Moyes is hardly doing Steve Evans any favours.

And, if the LMA are to have any bite or credibility at all, shouldn’t they themselves be all over this situation like a cheap suit? It’s the LMA’s responsibility to ensure fair play, professional standards and “To encourage honourable practice, conduct and courtesy in all professional activity” (LMA Major Aims #6). They too will be aware of a rising tide of speculation to the detriment of a fellow member who has been in his job only a few weeks. Why don’t they say or do something about it? The silence from all parties on this matter, while the press engage happily in their damaging and irresponsible speculation, is ominous.

I’ve blogged recently about there being no current need to do anything other than stick with the man in charge for the foreseeable future. With Massimo Cellino in yet another froth of confusion about whether he’s selling up, fighting his ban or (like some Schrödinger’s Tycoon) both simultaneously – we might expect that his attention will currently be elsewhere and Evans can perhaps be left to get on with the job he’s admirably doing. It would seem that the clearest and most present danger to Evans’ tenure is in the form of a man outside of the club, currently out of work, and with only startling failures in his last two posts to recommend him.

It remains quite possible that all of this speculation is based upon nothing more than the old press habit of adding two and two to reach a total of five. But, if there is anything in it, then it’s time somebody acted to nip it in the bud – at least until such time as there might be an actual vacancy (heaven forfend). I’m reasonably sure I speak for a majority of Leeds fans when I say that we’d prefer the historically successful Steve Evans to continue trying to repeat that success in LS11 – rather than a serial failure in Moyes. But who listens to the fans? So it would be rather reassuring if the LMA could show some minerals, or Moyes himself some trace of professional courtesy and honour – and just utter a few pointed words to end the matter, so we can all move on to the next crisis.

And worry not, “gentlemen” of the press – at Leeds United, that next crisis is never very far away. 

For Evans Sake, Leeds Utd Have the Right Man. Now Stick With Him – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United Manager Steve Evans

Leeds United Manager Steve Evans

The unseen benefit of the scattergun, hire ’em and fire ’em recruitment approach adopted by Leeds United since the takeover of il Duce Cellino, is that at some point, unwittingly, you’re probably going to stumble haphazardly upon the right man for the job. And one of the obvious drawbacks of such an amateurish policy is that you’re all too likely then to dismiss him, either in a fit of Latin pique, or because you’ve been replaced by new owners who want their own man.

The evidence of the first few weeks of the Steve Evans era at Elland Road would seem to suggest that United have, for once in a very long while, got a square peg for their square hole. Having been lucky enough to do that, Leeds must not now, under whatever ownership, retreat back into their accustomed suicidal self-destruct mode – and dispense with a man and manager who might just be the best fit our maverick club could possibly wish or hope for.

The Steve Evans track record speaks for itself in both the best and worst of times. His human fallibility is evident from a brush with the law earlier in his career – but lessons learned from negative episodes in life can be instructive in the making of a highly effective professional. And it is this image that emerges from the Evans record of achievement at his previous clubs. It is an enviable record of unprecedented success at those clubs, by virtue of what the man himself succinctly refers to as “winning football”. He has no need or desire to elaborate on that two-word summary. He simply promises the fans just that – winning football. He knows and we know that everything good will flow from that.

The complexity and effect of the man is emerging little by little as a picture Leeds United fans have been wanting to behold for many, many years. There are echoes of the early Sergeant Wilko in the way Evans has breezed into the club with no fear on his own account, and the clear intention of doing things his way. Though not afraid himself, he appears to rule partly through fear – and partly by employing the encouraging “arm around the shoulder” approach. We hear that he can hand out rollickings to those who need it, as well as boosting those in need of a boost. It’s not rocket science – just horses-for-courses man-management, the type of thing that has produced results for the enlightened since time immemorial. The proof of the pudding, though, will be in the eating – but early indications are that certain Leeds United players, who had been under-performing, are now walking about with a new spring in their step. Long may that continue.

The danger now apparent is of yet another change; this one unwanted, unnecessary and foolish, with talk in various sections of the media that any possible new owner – a prospect widely perceived among Leeds fans as A Good Thing – could bring with him a change of manager, with Pride of Devon flop David Moyes touted as a likely contender for a job that really should be flagged up as unavailable. It may of course be that this is largely the not exactly Leeds-loving media being their usual mischievous and unhelpful selves. We can but hope.

What we have here is not yet a recovery, nor yet even a definite upward swing in the fortunes of our beloved Leeds United. The general stability of the club is far too fragile to make extravagant claims like that. But what we do seem to have are tentative green shoots emerging from what has too long been an arid desert of hopelessness. Little buds of confidence are emerging that just might flourish and bloom into full-on optimism – given the chance. Everywhere I’ve looked in the virtual world of Leeds United lately, I’ve seen surprised, almost bemused comments along the lines of “this bloke is really growing on me!” about our new manager. And one of the most noticeable things about Steve Evans is that he openly lays claim to that title. Leeds United manager – there’s a ring to it which the half-baked “head coach” thing lacks. It’s as if Evans knows he has ventured into shark-infested waters, and that he’ll have to be brave, bold and confident if he’s to succeed. He’s certainly making all the right noises, so far.

In Steve Evans – a man who swiftly acknowledged that he wouldn’t have been the first choice among Leeds fans (adding that he doubted he’d have been in the top ten) – we may just have the ideal candidate for the next holder of the Mr. Leeds United accolade. Steve Evans genuinely could be Mr. Leeds United, in a manner akin to earlier greats like Wilko, or even the as yet incomparable Don Revie. He reflects the club as those legends did – unprepossessing to outsiders, with a tendency to inspire fear and dislike among enemies. But there’s a steely determination there also, an unshakeable belief in his own ability that is likewise redolent of Leeds at its very best. That extra spring in the step of some of the young stars, those early results as they start to pick up – they’re down to that brash, ebullient presence rocking around the corridors of Elland Road and Thorp Arch. There seems little doubt of that.

I had my doubts too, at the start, though I was mainly preoccupied with being dismayed at yet another abrupt change of management. I heard of Steve Evans discussing his appointment to take over with no great enthusiasm. But first impressions are rarely all that reliable,  and I’ve never been so thrilled to have it demonstrated to me that, like thousands of others with the colours of this club running through their veins, I have good cause to believe team affairs are at last in safe hands. And, having accepted that – by hook or by crook and more by luck than good judgement – a bona fide appointment has at long last been made, I’m now in the same position as so many other fans, of being desperately concerned that – this time – we should stick with our man and see it through. See what kind of Leeds United Steve Evans can build. Hope that he will be given the time and the tools to finish the job, as he’s so successfully done elsewhere.

If, in a few weeks or months time, I’m writing another blog in bitter frustration and helpless anger, bemoaning yet more self-harming short-termism on the part of this crazy club – if, in short, Leeds United have lost their nerve yet again, and prematurely sacked yet another manager – then it’ll be with a sense of baffled despair about our club’s chances of ever making it back to the level of the game where they assuredly belong. It’s for Leeds now to stick with their man, back him through whatever high-level changes may be in the offing and try to ensure that, on the playing side of things at least, there is some stability and confidence. Those two advantages will come only with the security of a man in charge being given ample opportunity to do his job and earn success. For all our sakes, let this come to pass.

And if not – why then, the fans of this club will know for sure that they are the only stable and worthwhile thing about the place. They’ll know that the club can’t be trusted or relied upon to do anything but periodically make of itself a laughing stock before lesser clubs and lesser fans. It would be the only conclusion we could possibly draw – who could really blame us? The powers that be at Leeds United (whoever they might be on any given day) had better take warning; our faith in the direction of the club can only take so many hits before it crumbles into pieces. So don’t screw this up, guys.

Steve Evans has made it clear that he regards himself as privileged to be the Leeds United manager. He’s made it clear that he regards the fans as an asset unmatched elsewhere (If we played a five-a-side in Asia at three in the morning, they’d be there). Evans “gets” Leeds. He can see what the club – and the fans – are all about. You have the impression that he can sense a kinship – that he feels at home and wants beyond anything else to restore Leeds United to greater days. This blogger could listen to him talk about Leeds all day long – it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

You just can’t put a price on that feeling, and – for the first time in such a long time – I and many others believe we might just have a real Leeds United manager on our hands. Someone who appeared as a match summariser on Sky Sports Saturday earlier today, and made a point of giving the Leeds salute when on camera. I could barely believe my eyes. Now, that’s a real candidate for the next Mr. Leeds United.

So, for Evans’ sake – and for the sake of all of us and our turbulent love affair with football’s craziest club – let’s please see it through this time and go marching on together, back towards the top, behind a man who – given an even chance – just might make it all happen for us once again.

Happy Birthday to the Last English Champion – by Rob Atkinson

Howard Wilkochamperscap-300x193

Sgt Wilko – Champion

Another Leeds United birthday to mark with an appropriate tribute for all the man did for our great club. This time it’s someone who is a contemporary of those 70-somethings who have celebrated recently – the likes of Paul Madeley, Norman Hunter, Paul Reaney and Johnny Giles – but who was never, by his own acknowledgement, anything more than mediocre as a player himself. In the managerial arena though, Howard Wilkinson – 72 years old today – has outstripped virtually all of the Revie greats, winning the last ever Football League Championship, going down in history as the last Englishman to win the league in the 20th Century and masterminding the second incarnation of a winning Leeds team from a starting point remarkably similar to that which Don Revie inherited in the early sixties.

Wilko’s career after his playing days ended was an upward graph of coaching success from humble beginnings, but he went on to have two stints as caretaker-manager of England, as well as spells with Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday and Notts County. It is for his time at Leeds United, though, that he will be remembered as a football manager who walked into what had become a poisoned chalice of a job, a club with a revolving door on the manager’s office and one which had signally failed to recapture the magic of its one great period at the top of the game. Wilkinson came in with the air of a man who was going to put a stop to all the nonsense and set matters straight. Let the record show that he succeeded, beyond the wildest dreams of any Leeds fan at the time he was appointed.

In TV interviews at that time, he could be seen by the side of chairman Leslie Silver, regarding his coffee cup with little enthusiasm and mildly joking that he hoped we’d be able to afford better crockery when he got us winning. Leeds were treading deep water at the bottom end of the old Second Division, and had been looking more likely to proceed downwards from that point than up; a situation uncannily similar to the one Don Revie found in 1961. Both men would be able to count on the bounteous fruits of a productive academy, though Revie felt able to blood his precocious youths somewhat earlier than Wilko could in his reign. But where Don found his Bobby Collins, so Howard was able to persuade Gordon Strachan to step down a league and be the catalyst for a revival that may not have been as enduring as Revie’s, but was arguably even more meteoric and spectacular.

Wilko joined for the still fairly new 1988-89 season, and spent the rest of that campaign overhauling discipline at the club and bringing about his own type of working environment. The graph spiked upwards from there. In his first full season, with a batch of good, solid recruits added – and after an uncertain start – Leeds went top of the league and hardly faltered until promotion and the Championship were clinched on a sunny day in Bournemouth. A season of high achievement followed as Leeds swiftly found their feet back in the top flight after an eight year absence. United did far more than consolidate, battling away at the top end to finish an eminently respectable fourth, as well as reaching two domestic semi-finals. The following season was the last of the old-style Football League, and Wilko’s Leeds achieved immortality by winning the Title by four clear points to become the Last Champions. Less than four years after joining a club going nowhere but downhill, Howard Wilkinson had restored Leeds United to the very pinnacle of the game. It had taken Don Revie twice as long to win his first League Title.

While all this had been going on, Howard and his staff had been overseeing the development of an Academy setup which would go on to produce many stars towards the end of the century; many players who are still flourishing at the top level had their start in what was rightly famed as a world-class breeding ground for football talent.

One of the main regrets of the Wilkinson era at Leeds is that he did not survive long enough in the job to introduce these home-grown prodigies into the first team himself. But Wilko’s later years at Leeds coincided with boardroom uncertainty and financial mismanagement, both of which had their effect on sales and recruitment policy. So, we lost a Speed here and a Batty there and the likes of Carlton Palmer and Nigel Worthington came in; the club was reduced to offering pre-retirement homes to such as Ian Rush and David O’Leary. O’Leary it was, after a George Graham interregnum, who gained the most from Wilkinson’s enlightened youth development programme. Looking back, it’s clear that things could have worked out differently – quite probably the seeds of our 21st Century disaster were sown in Wilko’s 1996 sacking.

Howard Wilkinson stands alone behind Don Revie as Leeds United’s second-greatest manager, and probably as one of the more wronged men to have lost his job when so much of it had already been done to ensure the club’s own crop of major stars. As before, Leeds lacked the courage and patience to see it through; but these things are always clearer with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight.

Happy Birthday, Sergeant Wilko – you’ll always be remembered fondly at Elland Road, and your place in the history of English football is secure.

5 Things We Now Know About Sky’s Don Goodman After Town v Leeds   –   by Rob Atkinson

Saint Don Goodman the Blinkered

Saint Don Goodman the Blinkered

After a couple of hundred times watching the highlights of Sky’s Huddersfield Town versus Leeds United coverage, mainly to enjoy the Whites’ 3-0 victory over and over again, but also in the spirit of earnest research, this blogger is now able to reveal five hitherto unknown facts about co-commentator Don Goodman.

  1. Don Goodman never made a cynical challenge in his life. We can clearly tell this from the contemptuous and disgusted tone of his voice in proclaiming the cynicism of Scott Wootton‘s challenge on Huddersfield’s Harry Bunn. Clearly, Mr. Goodman would never contemplate such a base action, preferring to stand aside politely applauding when beaten by an opponent.
  2. Similarly, Don Goodman has never ever complained about a bang to rights refereeing decision against him in the whole of his football career. This must be so, because he clearly stated “I really don’t know why players complain about receiving yellow cards when it’s that blatant.” Any other case would leave Goodman open to a charge of being a rank hypocrite.
  3. Goodman never, ever formed part of a group of players clustering around a referee in order to try and influence his decision. As he virtuously points out, “the referee doesn’t need that, he needs to decide for himself.” With such strongly-held convictions as these about the sanctity of match officials’ decision-making, it is blindingly obvious, save for the hypocrisy provision mentioned above, that Goodman could never have transgressed in such an unhelpful manner.
  4. The best way to shut Don Goodman up is undoubtedly for Leeds United to score a goal. From the time of Wootton’s unpunished second foul at Huddersfield, right up until Mirco Antenucci scored United’s opener, Goodman had been bemoaning the lack of a second yellow card and subsequent dismissal for United’s defender. When the ball hit the back of the net, though, Goodman lapsed into a stunned silence lasting a full 18.25 seconds, before glumly observing: “Football isn’t fair sometimes – life isn’t fair sometimes,” adding that “Huddersfield will feel absolutely fuming”.
  5. Don Goodman in the course of his playing career always, but always, took in good part any studs over the ball challenges against him, that he now tends to describe as bearing “no malice” – as well as any sly kicks to the back of the legs late in the game, which can, apparently, be put down to “frustration”. It would have been incongruous for him to have complained about such challenges on himself, given his airy dismissal of the fouls perpetrated on Leeds players by their Huddersfield opponents.

These five new and telling facts about Don Goodman might, perhaps, shed some light on what might otherwise be described as inconsistencies in his co-commentary performance. Whether anyone with Leeds United sympathies, or indeed anyone with a more general ability to distinguish the relative locations of arse and elbow, will be mollified by such revelations, has to be a moot point. 

It may in fact be that Leeds fans as well as other people of intellect and discernment would tend to dismiss the “facts” enumerated above, in favour of a more general principle, as follows:

Don Goodman, from Leeds but never good enough to play for United, is an embittered has-been who is all too happy to accept BSkyB’s coin along with the privilege of jumping on their rabidly anti-Leeds United bandwagon. 

On the whole, that really does seem rather more likely.

Blatant Leeds-Bashing Exposes Amateur Face of Sky Sports   –   by Rob Atkinson

Sky Sports resident has-been Don Goodman

Sky Sports resident has-been Don Goodman

No writer worth his salt – not even a humble blogger such as yours truly – rushes into print with a knee-jerk conclusion based upon sketchy evidence. So you may take it as read that I have ample justification for what I’m about to say. I can point to instance without number of the kind of thing that most recently happened in the live transmission of Huddersfield Town‘s home game against my beloved Leeds United – indeed, I’ve had occasion to mention it before in the course of this season so far.

So I am absolutely entitled to say without fear of contradiction that Sky Sports‘ coverage of Leeds is characterised by shoddy amateurism, blatant prejudice and a naked desire to cater, not to fans of the Whites, but to the large anti-Leeds constituency out there, who pay their subscriptions and want to see their most-disliked team properly hammered, on the pitch, off it, or ideally both. It’s a huge market of clueless haters – and BSkyB evidently know which side their bread is buttered.

The Huddersfield game contained all the usual ingredients; an undertone of desperate desire for United’s opposition to do well (typified by the rising cadence of anticipatory excitement if the home side managed a shot on goal or a dive for a penalty appeal); a less than sympathetic interpretation of the refereeing decisions on the day, the over-riding assumption being that Leeds got all of the breaks; last but not least, the presence of Sky Sports’ very own anti-Leeds hatchet man in Don Goodman, someone who can always be relied upon to see every facet of any game in a distinctly anti-Leeds light.

The game’s most notable early incident was a clash of heads between Leeds defenders Scott Wootton and Liam Cooper prior to a United corner. The incident was serious enough for Cooper to be knocked unconscious; Wootton fared better, but can hardly have been unaffected by such a harsh meeting of minds. Once Cooper had been replaced by Sol Bamba, with Wootton able to continue, the game proceeded. Over the remaining time in the first half, Wootton committed two challenges which were definitely late and inaccurate – not something we’re unfamiliar with, even when the lad’s head is as clear as it ever gets. Goodman was quick to criticise after the first foul, for which Wootton was booked. “Cynical”, he pronounced, making no allowances for Wootton’s legendary clumsiness or the quite probable after-effects of the Cooper incident. It was noticeable that a couple of studs over the ball challenges on Leeds by Huddersfield drew no criticism, just something bland along the lines of “no malice in that”.

Wootton’s second badly-timed challenge in quick succession had both commentators calling for a second yellow and United down to ten men. Technically, they had a point; the ref could easily have booked Wootton for a second time. But it’s just as possible that he was making allowances for the clash of heads incident, as well as the fact that, on both occasions, Wootton might be said to have been going for the ball, but simply not good enough to get anywhere near it. And the fact is that, seconds prior to Wootton’s second foul, there was a blatant push on Lewis Cook that went unremarked by the commentators and unpunished by the officials. Anyway, these things happen in football and the talking heads are extremely choosy about what they pick up on. Several agricultural Huddersfield challenges during the game passed by with no action from the ref and no adverse comment from Goodman. Late in the game, there was a blatant kick out at a Leeds player by one of the Tesco carrier bags – Goodman just mumbled something about frustration.

The biggest single example of frustration on the day, though, was Goodman himself. He was still whinging about Wootton’s presence on the pitch as the United defender played a long ball down the line, for Stuart Dallas and Chris Wood to combine before Dallas crossed brilliantly to put the first goal on a plate for Mirco Antenucci. A fine goal, which lacked any description of the build-up as Goodman was still riding his hobby-horse. When he recovered from the disappointment of seeing Leeds score, Goodman could only bemoan the fact that “Football is unfair, life is unfair.” So it is, and the very best of hard cheese. The fact is that this embittered ex-footballer only seems to see injustice when Leeds benefit from it.

For the rest of the game, the resentment about Wootton remained a theme, with the only variety provided by snide remarks about United manager Steve Evans being unable to predict his own future beyond the final whistle. Don Goodman’s contribution to a great day for Leeds and for the long-suffering United fans was to carp, moan, bitch and ultimately resort to needless speculation about the prospects of a man who seems to be relishing his task in the Elland Road hot-seat, as well as getting stuck into that task in his own inimitable style.

Ironically, there was scope for some really informed comment if the amateurs behind the microphones had only identified and acted upon it. Some robust challenges went unpunished in the game and, yes, Scott Wootton could easily have seen red before half-time. Most of the officials’ energies seemed devoted to off-field transgressions of the mildest variety. Antenucci got himself booked by taking off his shirt after the first goal, revealing a yellow undershirt with a birthday message on it. Players keep doing this, and they keep getting daft bookings for it. There’s little discretion for refs to do otherwise, and that’s a cause for concern, being ridiculous overkill on the part of the powers that be.

Similarly, the fourth official‘s  main preoccupation, so it seemed, was to stop Steve Evans celebrating after each goal. What a joyless, clueless, ignorant approach to running a game full of passion, commitment and occasional explosive joy. So what if Evans cavorts on the touchline? So what if Antenucci, or any other player, dispenses with his shirt after scoring? Nobody died, after all – and I’d rather see some of the studs-up thugs getting their rightful bookings than this pettifogging, spoilsport obsession with punishing people, simply for celebrating. These annoyingly-beige people might one day succeed in taking all the spontaneity and all the passion out of the game – and where, pray, will we be then?

This sort of arse-about-face set of priorities was and is something that commentators would do well to highlight, given their prominent public platform. But, no. They’d rather take the easy road of showing their true colours – i.e. anything but yellow blue and white when Leeds United are in town. It reflects poorly on Sky and their hatchet-men of choice; it shows them up in a distinctly amateurish and prejudiced light – and it’s happened so many times now that many Leeds fans I know have stopped even laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. They’re rightly annoyed that Leeds are singled out for such treatment – especially from a has-been nonentity like Don Goodman.

It would be wonderfully surprising and uplifting if BSkyB could eliminate this shoddy flaw in their production values, so that the commentary at Championship games might perhaps approach the quality and sheer professionalism that characterises most of their excellent football coverage. But I won’t be holding my breath. Leeds-bashing has long been a national sport, in the media and among rival fans – and Sky all too clearly have their markets to cater to, including that rather large anti-Leeds contingent I mentioned earlier. Still, it’s annoying for those of us who keep the faith and know that Leeds United is a proud and historic name still. And it’s a great pity that Sky, for all their glitz and gloss, continue to employ bitter little men with bitter little minds to sully that name where and when they can.

‘Twas ever thus though, way back to the days of the Don’s Super Leeds. It’s much more “in yer face” now, that’s the thing, with cameras at every game and Leeds-haters well infiltrated into every branch of the media. They should be aware though, that we know the bitter whys and the commercial wherefores of what goes on – and we won’t put up with it in silence. Certainly not on this blog – so think on, Goodman & Co. We’re watching you, so just mind your step.

Dear Massimo: An Open Letter to Leeds Owner Cellino   –   by Rob Atkinson

Cellino - demanding respect

Cellino – demanding respect

Dear Massimo,

Although you almost certainly don’t know it, things have been rather rocky between you and me for a little while now. And it’s only now, as we hit this crisis, that I’m writing to you, even though you most likely won’t read this. But, although I’ve had occasion to make my feelings known to a good few thousand third parties, it seems that this juncture, when things are bad and there is tension on both sides, is the right time to address you more directly. Because it concerns something you suddenly seem to care about; something called respect.

The respect I’m talking about is regarded as a two-way street hereabouts – in the UK, that is, and more especially in Yorkshire. We talk here about “mutual respect” as creating a workable relationship between two parties, whereby much can be achieved. Your idea of respect, Massimo, appears to differ somewhat from that local model. It seems to have one of its carriageways missing – it looks to be a one-way process as far as you’re concerned: from us to you. You say that we, the Leeds United support, should show you respect; in fact, you demand that we should.

That’s a big problem for us, Massimo. We regard respect as something to be earned – not demanded. You once had some sage advice to give about matters of the heart and soul, in the context of football support – “You can buy a bitch for a night,” you confided, “but you can’t buy the love, my friend.” That seems so long ago now, back in your brief honeymoon period, such as it was. Many of us nodded and agreed with you. You were saying you’d just have to earn our love, and most of us liked the sound of that. 

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, Massimo. And little by little, bit by bit, that groundswell of support you had at first has gradually eroded away. We were quite frankly ready to adore anyone who could restore to our beloved club its pride and passion. But instead of the things we were promised – the repurchase of our spiritual home, for instance – there have been infidelities, broken vows, irrational actions. Withal, there has been a lack of respect from you to us – and the name of Leeds United made a laughing stock into the bargain.

People have come into the club, they’ve appeared to do well, gaining popularity – and then they have been unaccountably forced out. We, the fans, for whom it matters most of all, have been left in the dark and patronised through wildly varying statements from yourself or through club mouthpieces who appear to be towing a party line (take a bow, Mr. Lorimer). And yet, despite all of this, you see nothing wrong with presuming to demand our respect. It’s just not the way things are done here, Massimo. Not when so little by way of consideration and respect is coming our way.

Things have been worse lately. Just when we were thinking we might be finding a bit of stability, a respected CEO is gone, then yet another head coach and, hard on the heels of that, still another Football League ban for yourself. You’ll appeal it, but we all know there are more legal pitfalls in the offing. And all the time, this great club is losing more of its hard-earned respect and credibility. It’s been like some bizarre circus, the very antithesis of the utterly professional football club some of us were lucky enough to grow up loving, with fierce pride and a near siege-complex defiance running through the whole thing like a seam of gold. 

The thing is, we just don’t know where we are with you, or what you’re going to say or do next. Things have undeniably gone best when you’ve kept your head down and let people get on with their jobs. Daring staff have even remarked on this.  But you don’t seem able to maintain such a level of discretion. Every now and again, you break cover and say or do something crazy. And the club then suffers and we, the fans, cringe with humiliation. And yet you still see fit to demand our respect. 

One minute, you say you are ready to sell the club (having previously said you wouldn’t be tempted to sell for a billion). Then you’re selling to Leeds Fans United and wondering out loud why on earth you’d dream of selling to anyone else. And then you pull out of that, calling the fans’ group kids in a sweetshop. And now, today, as you bizarrely demand respect – you hint once more that maybe the fans can have the club. How can we even begin to understand all this to-ing and fro-ing….. much less respect it?

When you talk about respect, Massimo, you should look at the record of Leslie Silver OBE, a man who was at the top of Leeds United during a successful period a quarter of a century ago. He guided the club from the doldrums to the very top in his modest, unassuming way. He brought in football people and had the wisdom to listen to and support them. He earned our respect and that of his staff and peers, and he is much-missed today.

That’s how it’s done in these parts, Massimo my friend. You’ll get nowhere with Leeds fans, blowing your own trumpet about achievements that look silly beside those of the giants who went before you. Demanding respect cuts no ice with the guys and girls in the stands at Elland Road. They’ve been waiting for you to earn respect – and the noise you heard at the Blackburn game, and will hear again if you break yet another promise and venture back to a match once more, that’s a raucous signal that you’ve failed. You can demand, complain, bluster. It won’t get you anywhere in Leeds.

It’s best to keep quiet now, Massimo, until you can leave with some dignity. Anything else will be seen as digging yourself a bit deeper into that hole you’re in. It’s time now to take a look at yourself, at what’s been achieved at this club in the past and how – and acknowledge that your volatile, hire-and-fire approach hasn’t worked. If respect really is so important to you that you’ve made the fundamental mistake of actually demanding it – in Yorkshire, for crying out loud! – then you need to understand that there is only one way now of finally achieving that respect. 

Go with good grace and minimum fuss, Massimo. Go – and try to leave a great club in good hands. Give us the chance to regain some of the face and reputation we’ve lost on your watch. Get out while the going is good, and while something can still be salvaged from this season. No more demanding, just acceptance and a bit of humility at last. 

That’s what most of us are now asking of you. Do that simple thing, Massimo – and you’ll have belatedly earned our respect. For whatever that’s actually worth to you. But please – just think about it, OK? It’s for the best, believe me.

Yours sincerely


Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything

Happy Birthday Johnny Giles, the Greatest Manager Leeds Never Had – by Rob Atkinson

Johnny Giles - the Brains

Johnny Giles – the Brains

Another day, another birthday celebration for a United legend. This time it’s Johnny Giles, 75 today and famously one half of the best central midfield partnership of the last century. If Billy Bremner was the heart of Don Revie’s peerless team of stars, then surely John Giles was the brains and the vision, dictating and switching play, spraying passes all over the park with laser-guided accuracy and combining with Bremner in a way that many described as “telepathic”.

Johnny Giles was recruited by the wily Don Revie from under the nose of the great Matt Busby at Man U. He had shown his quality there, despite never really being played in the position where he could best influence matters on the field. Even at Leeds, his transformation from good winger to great schemer came about almost by accident, injury to the existing midfield general Bobby Collins influencing Revie’s thinking. Man U’s loss though was most definitely Leeds United’s gain over more than a decade as they rose to the top. Don Revie referred to his capture of Giles from Man U for a mere £33,000 as “robbery with violence”. Busby called it simply “my greatest mistake”.

Giles brought so much to Leeds United that it’s difficult to find the space to describe his impact. Put in on-field control of the play, he pulled strings and evolved strategy as each game progressed. His range of passing was legendary – TV commentators used to admire his latest pinpoint delivery by comparing it to the appropriate golf shot (that was the six iron). His ability on the ball, whether passing or shooting, was well-known and much admired; Gilesy was the acknowledged master.

What was often overlooked by the uninitiated was his steely efficiency in looking after himself in the warlike atmosphere of combat at home and abroad. Peter Lorimer tells the story of how Giles inflicted summary justice on a Turkish player who had persistently fouled him in the away leg of a European tie, and was then daft enough to crow in his face at the final whistle. John was miffed, and advised the Turk that he would see him in a fortnight at Elland Road. This was no idle threat.

Two weeks later, Giles asked Norman Hunter to drop the game’s first pass a couple of yards short – what is known as the “suicide ball” in football circles. Norman did as he was asked, the Turk eagerly jumped in to dispute possession – and Giles pounced, leaving his foot in to reduce his tormentor of the previous game to a grievously-injured heap, swiftly off on an urgent journey to the nearest hospital.

After the game, there was some puzzlement over how promptly the ambulance had arrived to assist Giles’ victim. The Elland Road switchboard operative swore blind that Giles had booked it for him before kick-off, something Johnny always denies. But the message was stark: mess with Giles or any other Leeds player at your peril. They looked after themselves and each other, and the bond thus forged endures to this day.

When Don Revie left for the England job, it was an open secret that he had nominated John Giles as his successor. The board were set fair to act on this recommendation, before backing down for fear, it is said, of upsetting Billy Bremner. It was an appointment that clearly should have been made, to ensure the kind of continuity Liverpool enjoyed after Bill Shankly stepped down. Who knows what the subsequent history of the club might have been? Giles had already had managerial experience with the Republic of Ireland and he went on to great success with the revival of West Bromwich Albion. In the event, he played on at Leeds for one more season under Brian Clough and then Jimmy Armfield. His last game for United should have crowned a glorious career with the top honour in club football. Sadly, thanks to the atrociously crooked display of referee Michel Kitabdjian for the 1975 European Cup Final in Paris, this was not to be.

Johnny Giles went on to enjoy a successful career after Leeds United, both as a manager and later in the media, where his eloquence and vast knowledge of the game served him well and earned him enormous respect in his native Ireland and further afield. He has gone down in Leeds United history as one of the true legends of the club – a great among greats. In terms of value transfers for Leeds, he has to be the top capture, despite the rival claims of Bobby Collins, Lucas Radebe and Gordon Strachan. It was a thief’s bargain, possibly the buy of the century.

Thanks for the memories, Johnny Giles, and a very happy birthday indeed.

Lorimer Plea Shows Cellino May Be Bluffing Over Leeds United Sale   –   by Rob Atkinson

Cellino: thanks for the endorsement, Lash

Cellino: thanks for the endorsement, Lash

It’s been another up and down week on the crazy roller-coaster ride that is modern-day Leeds United. Down in the dumps last Thurday with an abject defeat live on Sky to a Blackburn Rovers side that had it all too humiliatingly easy. Then an upswing, with embarrassing owner Cellino indicating he’d had enough (you’ve had enough, Massimo? How do you think we feel?) and was prepared to sell. 

Then it was a gradual upswing of wonder and optimism, with talk of fan ownership and Gladiatorial involvement from a Leeds fan of Maximus commitment and credibility. The feel-good factor peaked with the end of an eight month winless run at Elland Road and, for the first time in 32 years, a home ground slaying of the Welsh Drags. It was only one little 1-0 win over nobody much, but young Alex Mowatt‘s goal was a snorter and, all of a sudden, we were all feeling unaccountably pleased with life in the Leeds United universe. 

And then – the inevitable plummet back towards confusion and disappointment as Cellino proved once again that he’s more towards the compulsive Billy Liar end of the scale than the heroic Billy Bremner end. Having confirmed last week that he would sell to the fans group – “Who else would I sell to?” – il Duce now feels that mere supporters are like kids in a sweetshop, not serous buyers. That’s a step up from “morons”, I suppose, but still not exactly the epitome of respect. Still, most of us know what Cellino is all about by now, and would doubt his word if he confided to us that night follows day. Which brings into question the integrity of his assurance that Leeds is now up for sale. On that front, there may be trouble – and deep, frustrating disappointment – ahead. 

Why else would long-standing Leeds United top-brass mouthpiece Peter Lorimer be ruminating in the press that Cellino can still succeed “if given time”? Lorimer is presumably closer to the inner workings of that Machiavellian mind than most of us mere fans – so why would he be talking up the prospects should Cellino retain control, when the owner publicly maintains he’s selling up for reasons of demoralisation and shrunken balls?

Could it be, fellow Leeds sufferers, that we are having our heads messed with once again? Is Cellino yet again saying x whilst plotting y – and is Lorimer the poor sap being used as a one man Ministry of Disinformation? It wouldn’t be a massive surprise – but after half a dozen abortive attempts to find a football man who can work with a mad Italian fraudster, a promised “beautiful season” turning hideously ugly before our horrified eyes – and the general, sickening, lurch up and more often down of that Damned United roller-coaster – the United support can be expected to be very, very cross if they find they’ve been casually manked about with yet again. 

And yet what can we do? The vision of fan ownership turns out to be the mirage some of us foresaw, the relentless hiring and firing has become a sickening pattern, our club is held as a laughing stock by fans of clubs who should be knuckling their foreheads and addressing us as “Sir”. If an end is in sight to all of that, then it would be a worthy outcome in itself. But I have this sneaking feeling that the Cellino ego-trip has a while to run yet. Sadly, he might not be finished with us any time soon. 

That all sounds distressingly cynical and I hope I’m wrong. But, when the pirate captain of the not-so-good ship Nélie is saying one thing, while on his shoulder, Peter the Parrot is squawking quite another, then I feel that there is good cause to be both alarmed and disbelieving. That long-overdue win over Cardiff might just have been interpreted by the owner as a green light to carry on – with Lorimer smoothing the path. 

Please, please – let me be back in a short while holding my hands up and admitting I read it all wrong. Let this nightmare be over soon – so that we can lurch wearily on to the next one.