Steve Clarke for Leeds? Yes Please! – by Rob Atkinson

Steve Clarke - next up for United hot-seat?

Steve Clarke – next up for United hot-seat?

Rumours are growing and becoming more solid by the minute that Steve Clarke, former manager of West Brom and before that assistant to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool, is currently “in dialogue” with Leeds United regarding the newly vacant Head Coach position at Elland Road. A quick trawl through the saner end of the Leeds Twitter newsfeed reveals that this would be a highly popular appointment. This blog shares that opinion, and will be getting extremely drunk in celebration – should Cellino be able to pull off such a coup.

Make no mistake, Steve Clarke ticks all the boxes for “ideal appointment” under the current regime in LS11. Well used to the role of Head Coach and apparently happy and comfortable with that title, Clarke’s coaching credentials and club pedigree are impeccable and command respect. In our current position, Leeds United could hardly ask more or better than someone who has worked well and successfully with the Special One, not to mention the legend that is Dalglish. Along with the apparently “imminent” (God, how I hate that word) signing of Adryan, the appointment of Clarke would salvage a hell of a lot out of what has been a miserable time for the Whites since a slightly fortuitous win over Middlesbrough.

The buzz around the internet over the past couple of days has been that Cellino simply has to get this next appointment right. It’s very difficult to argue with that assessment; there is a season to be rescued and some faith and belief to be restored among the most important people of all: the Leeds United supporters. In Steve Clarke, Cellino might just be looking at the candidate who could form the cornerstone of his reign as President/Sheriff/Duce of Yorkshire’s premier club. If there’s a definite chance of getting Clarke, where else should he realistically look?? Massimo should move heaven and earth to secure this man for Leeds.

For Clarke himself, Leeds could be the kind of club that offers him a real chance of becoming a living legend. Get United back to the top, and he’ll be revered as the Messiah, remembered forever. It’s that kind of club, with that kind of support. If he’s as sensible as I hope and trust he is, he’ll nail down the terms of reference for his role at the club before he signs anything. It seems he’s better as a coach than as a spotter of transfer targets; Clarke and Salerno could just be the dream ticket under President Cellino.

Please, please – make this happen. It feels right, it sounds right. It hits the back of the net as the most goal-bound rumour I’ve ever wanted to emerge as a fact. Clarke – one nil!!

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

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Crocodile Tears from Lineker and Stelling Won’t Fool Leeds Fans – by Rob Atkinson

Gary "Wingnut" Lineker

Gary “Wingnut” Lineker

What have Gary Lineker and Jeff Stelling got in common? Well, they’re both engaging chaps who front popular football programmes on the telly; they have both developed a “style” – for want of a better word – designed to endear them to the less demanding fans out there – and, most recently, they have both taken out an onion and wept tears of breathtaking falseness over what they sincerely hope is the impending demise of Leeds United.

Lineker is the latest incarnation of Match of the Day man, presiding over the ongoing popularity of a football highlights programme with fifty years of variable quality behind it. It was under his stewardship that one of the programme’s less glorious deeds was perpetrated when, in the wake of S’ralex’s long-overdue retirement from the Theatre of Hollow Myths, the programme put together a montage of managerial greats, with the Purple-Nosed One at the head of the parade, natch. This item was notable to real students of the game for its studied failure to even mention the name of the greatest club manager of all, Sir Don Revie. It was a tawdry attempt to reinvent history and appeal in the most insidious and deceitful fashion to the vast army of the programme’s viewers out there who “all hate Leeds” – but couldn’t tell you why, beyond a mumbled “….well, me Dad hated ‘em, like…” Complaints to the BBC elicited nothing more than that cowardly corporation’s usual bland, patronising stonewall response – and Lineker did nothing other than essay his well-practised boyish grin, which apparently has middle-aged women the nation over suddenly needing a change of undies.

Now Lineker’s Twitter account states that he “genuinely feels for Leeds fans”. He clearly feels the need to qualify his sincerity by use of that word “genuinely” – that’s a sign of someone talking about someone or something on which they’d normally waste no finer feelings. But Gary feels “the heart has been torn out of the club”, hence his crocodile tears. Well, we’ll wait until the next time Match of the Day needs to revisit the managerial greats issue, thanks, and see if you’ve actually learned anything – no breath will be held.

Stelling: Countdown to hypocrisy

Stelling: Countdown to hypocrisy

Jeff Stelling is a sort of semi-comic front man for Sky’s Soccer Saturday programme, where one of his chief delights is to let a few seconds of tension build up for Leeds fans out there in TV land, before delivering a hammer blow with news of another goal against us – all with that trademark smug smirk on his gob. Now he, too, has chosen to sob publicly about his anguish over the Leeds situation. Jeff clearly thinks no small beans of himself – part of his counterfeit yet tear-stained lament includes the telling phrase “On the field, it is a total shambles with unknown player after unknown player coming into the club – I defy Leeds fans to say they have heard of them because I certainly haven’t – and it looks like it is going to be a terrible, terrible season”. Overlooking for a moment the fierce hope detectable in those last few words, it’s amusing to see that Stelling is so sure that, if he’s never heard of a player, then no Leeds fan can possibly have heard of him either. That’s some ego, for a Hartlepool fan. Unbelievable, Jeff! If he were to cast his mind back, Stelling might possibly reflect on who, exactly, had heard of Patrick Vieira before he signed for Arsenal – or Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Leeds), Eric Cantona (Sheffield Wendies on trial), and so on and so forth. Mr Stelling should, perhaps, wind his neck in a little and admit the possibility that he is not the fount of all football wisdom – except, maybe, when compared to Paul “I fink he’s only got free goals all season, Jeff” Merson. The Sky front-man’s expert opinion is that Leeds are doomed to relegation this season. Wishful thinking, Jeff?

When times are hard and you’re not all that popular to begin with, then you should expect wolves in sheep’s clothing, people who will smile and smile and be villains, well-meaning types who will sidle around behind as if to pat you on the back, before slipping a knife between your ribs. Leeds United and Leeds fans should be familiar from past experience with all of these unsavoury types, and their crocodile tears and weasel words should not fool us now. Just wait for better times to roll around, and the soft sawder and treacly syrup of ersatz sympathy will disappear like a ghost at cock-crow – it’ll be all open nastiness and overt bitching again. And do you know? I actually prefer it that way, so please bring it on.

We’re Leeds United, we hate to be pitied and we love to be hated. Your hate is what makes us stronger, after all – so please forget all the bovine ordure Gary and Jeff – let’s get back to normal eh? As soon as you like, there’s good chaps.

It’s a League Cup Tale of Two Uniteds as Minnows Progress – by Rob Atkinson

Matt Smith - scored for Leeds to momentarily cause despair among the Gobshite Tendency

Matt Smith – scored for Leeds to momentarily cause despair among the Gobshite Tendency

To be more accurate, it was a tale of two alleged Uniteds – plus one City and what might politely be termed a franchise as Milton Keynes Dons and Bradford City saw off the ‘disuniteds’ of Manchester and Leeds respectively. On the face of it, the similarities in the two cases are striking.  The Pride of Devon were condemned by English football’s only even more plastic club to a pre-Christmas period of plain and simple League fare, unrelieved by any spicy Cup-tie delicacies. They must concentrate on recovering, under new management, from a wobbly start to that bread-and-butter marathon, and forget all about knock-out glamour until it’s time to get knocked out of the FA Cup.

Leeds have likewise been dragged down to the level of that other United from ovver t’hills. They, too, will be stuck with repairing a dodgy league position until the new year rolls around. They, too, are in transition, rebuilding under a new regime. But there the similarities end – in terms of the manner in which the two Uniteds departed this season’s League Cup competition, anyway. Leeds, for the umpteenth time this season, were reduced to ten men, due on this occasion to foolhardy rashness on the part of Luke Murphy, who gave the ref every opportunity to brandish a second yellow. Murphy let down his team-mates, his coach and indeed his club, all of whom were relying on a united performance. The remaining ten stalwarts delivered though, and in the end Leeds were somewhat unfortunate to lose, as was pointed out by coach Hockaday afterwards – to depressingly predictable storms of social media abuse – about which more anon.

Man U, for their part, had no dismissals to cope with. They were simply out-played, out-fought, out-thought, thrashed out of sight by a team nominally two leagues inferior. Their much-vaunted manager, the former World Cup coach of the Netherlands, left out some supposed big-hitters, despite the lack of European distractions. Man U contributed in full measure to their own downfall, but the wretched MK Dons, a club whose origins leave the nastiest of nasty tastes in the mouth, nevertheless thoroughly deserved their crushing victory.

So the two Uniteds are no more, in this Cup competition at least. Life and the League Cup will go on without them, though there will be a few regrets on all sides about a third round draw that could have been a Roses clash at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, or which could have seen either minnow land a big fish instead of nibbling away at each other. Such is Cup football.

What remains to be said, other than that, in summary, Leeds were slightly unlucky and Man U got exactly what they deserved? Well, quite a bit, actually.

I’ve been rather quiet this season so far, due to some family health problems and various other slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, all of which – I’m glad to say – are being properly addressed. But I’ve still been keeping an eye on things, shaking my head gloomily at times, brightening up at bits of exciting transfer news at other times – and tut-tutting away as a middle-aged fan who remembers better times is wont to do. It’s been quite a good and exciting season, really – except for those pesky occasions when some fool has blown a whistle and we’ve actually tried to play a game of football. Big mistake, that. But the over-riding impression of this season so far, for me anyway, has been the clatter and clash of bandwagons being jumped on, over and over again, by far too many people who really should know a lot better.

The people I’m talking about, for the most part, manifest themselves in social media – Twitter being a particular offender in this respect. Some alleged Leeds United fans out there need to take a long, hard look at themselves after some of the unprecedented abuse being heaped on the head of a man in Dave Hockaday who is totally unable to defend himself and has managed to weather an ongoing storm with what can only be described as impeccable dignity. Hockaday has copped for the lot, from school playground stuff like the oh-so-clever plays on his name (Whackaday, Hockalot, Shockaday – and all the other dismally unfunny variants), to far more serious abuse from the kind of people who feel free to say what they like from what they gleefully feel to be safely unaccountable positions. I’ve seen fans freely expressing a hope that we would lose at Bradford, so that Hockaday might be sacked. Some of the bile and spleen vented has been utterly disgusting and degrading; some has been frankly laughable. The other day, there was a veritable Twitter-storm because Hockaday mentioned that Leeds would “inevitably” be back in the Champions League some day. He expressed a desire to be involved in that. And the world and his scabby dog seemed to join in an unseemly scramble to pour contempt on those innocent and sincere words.

Now, just imagine. What if Hockaday had faced the interviewer’s mike and had said “There’s not an earthly of Leeds ever getting into Europe again, not unless there’s a war. As for the Champions League – don’t make me laugh. And if they did, well – I wouldn’t want any part of it. Stuff that for a game of soldiers!” Would he have been applauded for his disarming frankness? Would the various social media have been abuzz with praise for his words of wisdom? No, of course they bloody wouldn’t. The fans would be outraged at such defeatist nonsense, and quite right too. So why go for the guy’s jugular when he expresses the naked ambition and belief in a brighter future that should be burning hot in any true fan’s heart? It makes no sense, and it reflects even less credit on those who, mindlessly sheep-like, follow the masses onto that overloaded bandwagon. For heaven’s sake, it’s nothing less than pathetic. And it grieves me to say this – but after what’s been said and written lately, I’m thoroughly ashamed of many, many Leeds fans right now.

It’s already been the same in the wake of the Bradford defeat. A few saner souls have pointed out that Murphy was an idiot getting himself sent off, that we battled well for an hour when a man down, took the lead and were only undone by a worldie and then a crap header that zipped through our keeper’s legs. AND we should have had a penalty when Poleon was taken out by the keeper – no, don’t listen to Don Goodman, he’s rabidly anti-Leeds and spouts nonsense. So, a few have broken the ranks of the silent majority – and they’ve highlighted the positives of the Bradford match. But many, many more of that knee-jerk faction of jerks have simply resorted to more abuse, more insults, more demands for the sacking of a guy who’s been there five minutes, and has spent that short time coping with the least helpful circumstances imaginable. That’s disgusting, ridiculous and completely unforgivable.

I’m old enough to remember demonstrations in the West Stand car-park when the fans had had enough and wanted Adamson Out, or on another occasion, Eddie Gray Back. I’ve seen little if any of that this time around. It’s mainly those big, brave Twitter types, sniping away from the safe anonymity of their keyboards, pouring their brainless vitriol onto the head of a man who probably will be gone soon, and who should, anyway, probably walk of his own accord – because he’s up against more than the opposition in the other dressing room every day of his working life. I’ll not comment on whether he’s a good enough coach – there hasn’t been the time or the proper circumstances in force to make a reliable judgement on that. But the players seem to like him – and aren’t they the best ones to ask, normally?

Back to the Bradford game. Once Luke “Stupid Boy” Murphy signed his own dismissal warrant, there were three possible objectives for Leeds United. In ascending order of importance, least important first: get to the next round of the Cup. OK, we didn’t make it, so what. We weren’t far off, in the end. Secondly; secure local bragging rights. I’d argue we managed that, making a good fist of a rearguard action against a spirited and motivated Bradford, and taking the lead against those formidable odds. Relative to the Man U debacle, we’ve no need to be ashamed of the effort and commitment of our ten warriors at Bradford. But the most important objective was to use an adverse situation to kick-start the bonding and gelling of this new group, under a new coach. The hour of battle against superior numbers in a hostile atmosphere will have gone a long way towards getting that process under way – and that really IS important, with the vast bulk of this nascent season still ahead of us.

In truth, I’m sick of the current situation, sick of the poisonous atmosphere in that odd virtual world, which is so much less apparent in the more old-fashioned world where fans still go to the match and get behind the shirts – I’m sick to death of so many of Leeds United’s yappier, dafter and more deluded fans – a vociferous but less than cerebral group I can only describe, rather impolitely, as the Gobshite Tendency. It’s a toxic mix, for anyone who loves the club, and I really am less than happy with it right now – so I shall return for the time being to looking after my family and parents as they struggle with real problems, far more intimidating than the daft footballing ones which seem to provoke such nastiness in some people. I’ve had enough, for the moment. So, as on a few occasions before, I shall take refuge in the past. I’ll write some nostalgia pieces, starting with one I promised a while back to my good mate Andy Gregory, of the excellent “We All Love Leeds” blog. We beat Southampton 7-0 in that one – but if Twitter had been around then, I’m sure there’d have been some eejits moaning that it should have been eight or nine and calling for the Don to be sacked. Just now, it really is that daft and annoying.

So – see you back in the Seventies, maybe. 

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

Boy Wonder Byram

Boy Wonder Byram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holloway: voice of reason

Holloway: voice of reason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and you’d do for Leeds, mate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fingers crossed here.

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

Sheriff Cellino to face FL lynch mob?

Sheriff Cellino to face FL lynch mob?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pride of Devon fans mourn the loss of a legend

Pride of Devon fans mourn the loss of a legend

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

Shaun Harvey is 94.

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

Rudy Austin seals United's victory

Rudy Austin seals United’s victory

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

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

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

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

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

On, on, on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you, with thanks.

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

The new Title - can YOU detect the edit?

The new Title – can YOU detect the edit?

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

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

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

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

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

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