Monthly Archives: May 2013

Memory Match No. 11: Nottm Forest 0, Leeds Utd 4 29.11.2011

Jonny Howson celebrates at the City Ground

Jonny Howson celebrates at the City Ground

Whatever some people may think of Leeds United fans – and who cares, after all, because we all know what fine, upstanding chaps we are – they certainly know the ideal form when it comes to paying full and emotional tribute to a hero lost long before his time.

In the universe of all things Leeds, the news of Gary Speed’s tragic and untimely death came as a JFK moment: you just know that, years later, you’ll recall exactly where you were when you heard the awful, mind-numbing announcement that such a recent Legend in White was dead, and apparently by his own hand.

The images are certainly clear and sharp over a year down the line: the sea of floral tributes around the foot of Billy Bremner’s statue; the crowds that gathered in silent, respectful tribute; the sight of that fine professional Bryn Law, struggling to contain his tears as he reported from Elland Road on the death of his friend, the female anchor in the studio clearly moved to tears herself as she witnessed his distress.  It was a tragic time of shock and grief.

In retrospect, it is clear that the next opponents for Leeds United in their undistinguished Championship campaign were on an absolute hiding to nothing.  Team and fans alike, emerging from that initial shock into a reluctant acceptance, were determined to pay the finest possible tribute to a fallen hero.  Speedo was, after all, a true legend from the most recent era of real legends, a veteran of the Leeds United renaissance of the late eighties and early nineties.  We had previously mourned our dead of that earlier generation of greats; The Don was gone and so was King Billy, neither having lived to grow old.  But the death of Speed was that much more of a shock; that much more distressing for his relative youth, for his contemporary appeal to a younger breed of Leeds support who had not witnessed Revie’s greats, and for the awful circumstances which had compelled a young man with seemingly everything going for him to take his own life.

The thousands of Leeds fans who descended upon the City Ground that November night may well have been pondering the state of mind that leads to such an awfully final act.  They were certainly determined to pay characteristically raucous tribute: this would be no solemn wake, but a vibrant celebration of all that Gary Speed meant to the Barmy Army of Leeds United’s travelling support. The match itself was necessarily a footnote to the real agenda of the evening.  Forest were pitiful in their ineptitude – a team that would later travel to Elland Road and score seven had nothing to offer in the face of United’s determination to mark the first match after Gary Speed’s death with a thumping victory.  The home team seemed out of the running from the start; it was as if they knew, in the face of the emotional momentum behind the Leeds team and fans, that they had no chance at all – and they meekly accepted their fate.

Before kick-off, there had been the now traditional minute’s applause – such a preferable option to the old-style minute’s silence with its potential to be disrupted by a few shandy-slewed idiots.  In the 11th minute, a tribute to Speed’s occupation of the number 11 white shirt, the 4000-strong Leeds United army behind one goal erupted into a chant of his name, a chant that was intended to be maintained for that poignant number of 11 minutes.  The tribute was interrupted for the best of reasons as Robert Snodgrass fired United into a 20th minute lead, a left foot shot into the bottom corner very much in the style of the man himself.  On the stroke of half time, Jonny Howson doubled the lead with an even better strike, the ball sitting up for him to belt a dipping right-footed effort past a helpless Lee Camp.  2-0 at the interval, and the home side had done little to suggest that it had any intention of detracting from the tributes of Leeds fans and players alike.

In the second half the pattern continued unchanged.  Forest remained awful, the home section of support seemed to expect nothing better and Leeds strolled to two further goals towards a comprehensive victory.  First just four minutes into the second half Luciano Becchio met a left wing cross at the near post to glance a fine header across Camp into the far corner.  Then in the 66th minute, the messiest of fourth goals.  The Forest defence conspired in its own destruction, parting like the Red Sea to lay on a clear chance for Howson to score his second, only for the over-worked and under-protected Camp to first save the effort, and then scramble after the loose ball.  His heroics were to no avail however as Adam Clayton picked up on the rebound to find a yard of space and fire into the empty net.

One thing that stands out in the writing of this article is the fact that, in the relatively short time since Forest were humbled, all four of the United scorers that night have left the club.  It’s a rather depressing thought, but they were certainly all Leeds all the way that night, and delighted to be able to help the Whites fans celebrate the life of one of their heroes with their own loud and proud tributes, and with a thumping victory to boot.  Forest’s only real contribution to the evening came late on when the frustrated and already-booked Andy Reid earned himself a second yellow with an agricultural challenge on Aidy White.  “Can we play you every week?” roared the United fans, a sentiment that would not survive the return game at Elland Road – and they would be glad too that it’s not every week they have cause to mark the passing of a United great at such a tragically young age, and in such awful circumstances.

 Gary Andrew Speed MBE (8 September 1969 – 27 November 2011) Leeds United 1988 – 1996, 2nd Division Championship Winner, First Division Championship Winner, Charity Shield Winner. 

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RIP

 Next:  Memory Match No. 12:  Real Madrid 3, Leeds United 2.  The late, great Don Revie always longed for his legendary Leeds United side to be pitched against the biggest legends of them all, and to draw CF Real Madrid in European competition.  Sadly, it never happened in The Don’s lifetime, but when a slightly less vintage era of Leeds finally appeared in the amazing Estadio Santiago Bernebeu, they were not disgraced – indeed, I rather think that Sir Don would have been proud.

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Shaker Aamer: Prisoner 239 and the Ongoing Scandal of Guantánamo Bay

Shaker Aamer's children in 2009

Shaker Aamer’s children in 2009

On 14th February 2002 Shaker Aamer became a father for the fourth time, his British wife Zin Siddique bearing him a son, Faris. On the same day, Aamer was incarcerated in Guantánamo Bay detention camp, where he has remained ever since. He has never met his youngest son, now aged 11. There has been no trial. He has never been convicted of, nor even charged with, any crime.

Shaker Aamer had been working for an Islamic charity in Afghanistan in 2001 when he was captured in Jalalabad and handed over to US officials. He was interrogated and then transported to Guantánamo Bay. Based on the evidence of a fellow detainee, Aamer was believed to have been working as a “recruiter, financier, and facilitator” for al-Qaeda. He has consistently denied all such allegations, and it was argued on his behalf by Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve that the evidence against him was unsafe, being inherently incredible and the product of false promises and even torture.

The Bush administration acknowledged that it had no evidence against Aamer and cleared him for release in 2007. The Obama administration cleared him for release in 2009. Four years on and Shaker Aamer continues to languish in the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, no charges preferred against him, no apparent bar to his release, his physical and mental health declining as he maintains a hunger strike – a glaring example of the most scandalous abuse of natural justice it is possible to imagine.

It has been speculated that Aamer “knows too much” about the goings-on inside the detention camp; allegations of torture have been made over the years, and Aamer himself has referred to instances where he has had his head beaten against a wall, and on one occasion waking from a severe beating to find a pistol on the table in his cell. It may be felt by some that it is the potential embarrassment to the authorities, consequent upon Aamer being free to speak out, that is the reason behind his continuing imprisonment – not any outstanding issue of national security.

Aamer is a charismatic and eloquent man, sometimes described as the “unofficial spokesman of the detainees”, so it may well be that there is something for some people to fear in what he might have to say when he is fully at liberty to speak. Clive Stafford Smith again: “I have known Shaker for some time; because he is so eloquent and outspoken about the injustices of Guantánamo he is very definitely viewed as a threat by the US. Not in the sense of being an extremist but in the sense of being someone who can rather eloquently criticise the nightmare that happened there.” Whatever the reason, there can be no excuse. The governments of the UK and the US agree that Aamer should be released: there is no charge against him; there is no evidence against him. And yet there he remains having already served longer, and in the harshest of prison regimes, than many a convicted murderer.

The US stands accused in the light of this scandalous situation of behaviour it would roundly condemn if perpetrated by a regime in a third-world country. The UK in its ineffectual stance over efforts to release Aamer, stands complicit in such a charge. Neither country emerges with any credit intact over such a blatant injustice, maintained over such a long period of time. The situation demeans both nations, and casts into a dubious light their mantra of “freedom over fundamentalism, democracy over dictatorship”. In allowing the incarceration of Shaker Aamer to continue, along with that of his fellow detainees who are also imprisoned without charge or trial, the leading lights of the western world are in danger of having their credibility shredded by their failure to act where the dictates of justice and the principles of democracy clearly indicate that urgent action is required.

The viewpoint of some of the public in this country, hearing of Shaker Aamed’s plight on national radio, is perhaps predictable in the climate since 9/11 and particularly this past week since the Woolwich atrocity. But it is nevertheless cause for head-shaking despair at the ease with which people are hoodwinked into ignorant bigotry. “Why are you running this item?” demanded one irate texter. “I am white, British and proud.” Others cited pearls of wisdom such as: “no smoke without fire”, or “well he’s not even a British citizen.” Yet this is a human being, acknowledged by successive political leaders of the nation that has deprived him of liberty and family life for eleven years as “clear to be freed”. That has been his status for the last five years. And yet still he rots away in his prison cell, subjected to daily humiliation and ill-treatment, missing his family growing up. It’s difficult to imagine a more appalling Human Rights abuse, and yet this is being condoned and allowed to continue by the self-styled “Leader of the Free World”. And there are people who applaud this, and recoil in apparent disgust at attempts to stand up for the rights of those detained without trial. It’s almost too depressing for words.

It’s not just the US either. Up to 90 Afghans are held without charge at Camp Bastion by UK forces, allegedly “for their own safety”. This has been described as a “mini Guantánamo Bay” – and when the name of a detention camp is used as a byword for all that is wrong with the legal process and principles behind such imprisonment, you know that there is something fundamentally wrong. Guantánamo Bay may not have the genocidally evil resonance of Auschwitz, Dachau or Belsen, but the metaphorical application is not a million miles away.

Shaker Aamer’s family now live in Battersea in South London. His wife has been ill since he was incarcerated eleven years ago; she has suffered from depression and other episodes of mental health disorder. Aamer himself is worried about how things will be when he finally is released, a prospect he views with touching confidence that it will actually happen; yet with some trepidation too. “I may find it difficult to respond to being called Dad,” he says. “Maybe my kids will have to call me Prisoner 239”. In January 2010, his 12-year-old daughter Johina wrote a letter to then UK Premier Gordon Brown asking for his release. This was three years after President Bush cleared him for freedom and one year after Obama did the same thing. In 2011, Aamer’s father-in-law Saeed Siddique commented, “When he was captured, Shaker offered to let my daughter divorce him, but she said, ‘No, I will wait for you.’ She is still waiting.”

Byram: City in Pole Position?

Super Sam

Super Sam

It’s a slightly worrying time for Leeds fans – otherwise known as “summertime” – the months when the “For Sale” signs start appearing above the heads of our latest prized asset.  The boy wonder in question this time is Sam Byram, and the usual loud denials and pledges of allegiance are to be heard already. Brian McDermott is “almost certain” that Byram will be at Elland Road next season.  The player himself has hinted he’d like to stay.  An ominous silence is noticeable from the direction of the owners.

I’ve written elsewhere  that it might not be the end of the world if Byram did end up following the footsteps of Delph and other richly-promising youngsters, away from LS11 to fulfill their undeniable potential elsewhere.  Historical precedent appears to favour the likelihood of this happening: we don’t have to go much further back to the loss of Aaron Lennon for a paltry million – what might he have added to the game plan of successive United bosses in the years since?

Reece Wabara

Reece Wabara

Now we hear that Reece Wabara, an extremely promising Man City starlet capable of operating in a variety of roles, is tipped for a loan move to Leeds this summer.  Quite apart from that little frisson of pleasure that goes with any link to players from such an elevated environment, this rumour should be seen in the context of Byram’s future, both over the short-term and perhaps slightly further ahead.  Are City throwing us a crumb from their bountiful table in order to pave the way for them to pick our ripest and juiciest plum?  Or are we far-sighted enough to want to add a player of Wabara’s potential and quality, in order to free up the even more sumptuous skills of Byram to operate further forward, possibly as a wide midfielder?

Whatever happens this summer, and fairly or unfairly, the ability or otherwise of United to hang on to Byram will be seen as the acid test of the still-quite-new owners’ ability to run the club along ambitious lines.  The retention of star players has never been a strong point; even during our last period of relative success in the nineties, when we had a team to compete with the very best – we couldn’t hang on to an unhappy Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.  So if Leeds DO manage to keep young Sam on the payroll, then we could perhaps say that sends out the right kind of optimistic message to pave the way for a real challenge for promotion next season.

It may be of course that City are playing a long game of their own.  A club with their virtually unlimited resources can buy just about anyone they like, Financial Fair Play rules permitting, naturally.  But maybe the advent of those rules are persuading the Premier League high-rollers to look at more creative ways of ensuring a flow of incoming talent.  The loan of a top-class youngster, and maybe a few million chucked our way and a loan-back option to sweeten the unpalatable pill – and City could well have secured themselves an option on a player who is likely (really highly likely) to be a major performer at the highest level and quite soon at that.

If Wabara does end up at Elland Road for next season, I’ll applaud United’s ambition, as far as it goes.  And if Byram is either sold or mortgaged, I won’t be screaming abuse from the rooftops – as long as the deal is done with the best interests of the club at heart, and especially if – in his own heart of hearts – Sam wants to ply his trade further up the food chain.  It’s going to be an interesting summer, and maybe a pivotal one in the history of our great club.  Whatever juggling act goes on, let’s hope that we don’t drop too many clangers this time.

Leeds United Such a Massive Pull in the Blogosphere: Just Ask West Ham

Dr. Weevil Of West Ham - Obsessed With LUFC

Dr. Weevil Of West Ham – Obsessed With LUFC

“We’re not famous any more” sing the Leeds fans, showing a neat grasp of irony in a medium too often dominated by the literal and the just plain crass.  The point is, of course, that we still are famous.  Hugely so.  Our fans scattered all over the globe mean that wherever you go, you’re likely to see a visiting Leeds United shirt to provide a welcome relief from all the tedious Man U rags sported by the clueless locals.  Listen to any Sky Live broadcast from the Theatre of Hollow Myths, and you’ll hear those wurzelly Devon accents mixing in with the nasal cockney whine as the Man U faithful describe how they “all ‘ate Leeds scam, innit”.

And the evidence is there in the ether too, as the web buzzes with references to our beloved Whites, ensuring that even the most facile and puerile of blogs can guarantee itself hits aplenty merely by mentioning those magic words “Leeds United”.  Some have taken it to such lengths that their Leeds-related output has shoved the more mundane stuff about their own desperately anonymous favourites way into the background, which is peculiar, but hey – you have to provide your readers with what they want to read, apparently – and if possible you have to try to attract some of football’s most fanatical fans by being “controversial” – or as we might more accurately describe it: by talking bollocks.

The leading contender for “biggest culprit” in these dubious and unprofessional tactics is a poorly-constructed and ill-written blog, ostensibly concerned with minor London club West Ham United, and entitled “The Game’s Gone Crazy”, which has a specially-created page to allow it to burble on about matters which are, frankly, none of its concern.  The Leeds United content of this page is out of all proportion to the interest you might expect the ‘Appy ‘Ammers to take in our beloved club, and of course it tends to paint the goings-on down at LS11 in the most negative light possible.  He’s been at it again today, capitalising on the 24th anniversary of Don Revie’s death to write another “controversial” article which – naturally – consists of second-hand lies and rumours recycled from various down-market tabloids, some successfully sued by former Leeds United personalities in the past.

Now, it must be said that a cursory examination of the contents of this upstart site (I’d caution you, gentle reader, not to waste too many of your valuable minutes on it) will reveal that the site-owner’s tactics are a hell of a lot sounder than his less-than-impressive literary ability.  He manages to attract a lot of comment and abuse from outraged fans of other clubs, with Leeds obviously prominent among their number.  The simple process of writing about Leeds, writing often and writing groundless rubbish, generates a lot of traffic for this site, traffic that its ‘Ammers stuff could not possibly hope to generate.  So, from that point of view, the author is running a successful operation, but one which owes little to the merits of his creation – which are appallingly few.  The sly Bubble-blower has fastened onto the global appeal of Leeds United to his advantage, and we should perhaps praise his acumen; it certainly far outstrips his ability to string enough sentences together for a decent piece of writing.

As you might expect, a number of his West Ham-oriented readership are a bit embarrassed about this craven behaviour – but their criticism falls on deaf ears by and large.  It’s quite obvious that “Dr. Evil”, as he is referred to by himself (and we presume he fondly hopes that others so refer to him as well), is preoccupied by getting as many reads as possible for his site and – only too well aware that his meagre talent is not going to get him far down that road – has opted instead for setting up as an irritant that will attract opprobrium and attention in equal measures.

It’s a back-handed compliment of course – the world knows that Leeds United is still big news out there, and any LUFC tag will pretty much guarantee a readership made up of Leeds fanatics (many thousands of us) and those who detest the very mention of our great club’s name (positively millions in the Devon/Cornwall hotbed of Man U support alone.)  So we should perhaps be flattered by the attention – it’s better than the dreadful and depressing anonymity suffered by West Ham and other such small fry.  And viewing it like that – not taking it too seriously and dismissing it as the unsubtle attempt to drag in readers that it undoubtedly is – we can smile ruefully and reflect on how much quieter a place the internet would be if Leeds United didn’t exist.  What would they all talk about then?  And where would the hapless and not-terribly-good Dr. Weevil find his victims… ahem… readers??

Beckham To Retire At Last

Beckham To Retire At Last.

Dortmund Über Alles

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The Germans are marching on Wembley with the aim of conquering Europe. It’s going to be Totally Teutonic, an island of internecine rivalry in North London. Some of the Little Englander persuasion, always ready to laugh when Germany lose in the World Cup (having recovered from England’s own earlier exit) or even when they get “keine Punkte” in the Eurovision song contest, will declare they have no interest in the result beyond a wistful longing to see them both lose. Others will aver that it’s really none of our business, and we should just play the genial hosts to a world-class event and stand ready to clap the winners on the back, whoever they might be, and say “Jolly well done, chaps”. Wrong, wrong, wrong. This result matters – well it does if you’re a Leeds United fan.

Firstly, let’s not forget that the city of Dortmund is actually twinned with Leeds, so we have those ready-made links which can be dressed up as brotherhood should the occasion require. This occasion does so require. We Leeds fans should stand four-square behind our European partners and wish them all success against Bayern Munich on Saturday evening. It’s only right and proper – after all, what are twinned cities expected to do other than support each other? But there’s another, far more compelling reason for wishing Bayern misery at Wembley. In fact, there are two.

Rewind firstly to 1999 and the culmination of the jammiest season an English club has ever had. Everything went right for Man U that year, and they walked off with a highly fortunate treble, after a series of unlikely comebacks and distinctly fluky wins in various competitions. At the death, they were one down in the Champions League final in Barcelona, having been outplayed by a massively superior Bayern side who had been thwarted by the woodwork on at least two occasions. Then – as we know – they scored twice late on, the usual jammy bounces and ricochets, and we’ve all had to live with the memory of Ferguson’s smug “Football, eh? Bloody hell” quote ever since. Bayern let us down that night, and they should not be forgiven.

And further back even than that – all the way back to 1975 and the night Leeds United became Champions of Europe in all but name, a moral status we have defiantly hailed loud and proud ever since. That we don’t have the trophy on our sideboard is an open sore that festers still and will never heal – as great an injustice as that perpetrated in Salonika two years previously. Penalty claims, really clear-cut, but turned down flat. Beckenbauer, der Kaiser, the guilty man. Bayern totally out-played by a Leeds side pursuing their last hurrah, committed heart and soul to winning it for The Don who was watching on from the commentary box in the Parc des Princes. A goal for Leeds, struck powerfully and true by Lorimer on the volley, Maier beaten all ends up, the very least our superiority deserved. Then, der Kaiser persuades the referee – damn him for all eternity – to speak to his linesman and see if there wasn’t maybe some way this inconvenient goal could be disallowed. And of course that is what happened. Thrown, deflated, outraged, the Leeds United side were hit by two late sucker punches, and Bayern were the most undeserving Champions of Europe ever – even more so than those spawny gits of ’99.

Those two Finals – the win for Bayern and the loss for Bayern – are a thorn in the side of every Leeds fan who can bear a grudge as a Leeds fan should. If the two results had been reversed – if they’d lost (as they should have) in 1975, and won (as they should have) in 1999, then we might well now be abandoning our civic links with the good Burghers of Dortmund, and saying a sentimental prayer for Munich. We’d probably have shouted for them last year against those fancy dans from Stamford Bridge. But justice prevailed on neither occasion, and Bayern Munich is a name inscribed forever on the Leeds United wall of hate.

So come on Dortmund. Get into them and make ’em have it. Let’s hope it’s another atonement and – as with last year at the hands of Chelsea – Bayern end up with nowt to show for their showpiece appearance and crying into their beer. Fingers crossed.

Shameful: BBC Spit on Don Revie’s Grave

Don Revie OBE:  The Greatest

Don Revie OBE: The Greatest

History, they say, is written by the winners.  In last night’s “Match of the Day”, the BBC provided ample evidence to show that it is also rewritten by hypocritical sycophants who should know better.

The events of the afternoon had not panned out as the scriptwriters would have wished, though all looked well ten short minutes from the end of Man U’s match at West Brom, S’ralex’s last game as manager.  The Plastic Champions were 5-2 ahead, and John Motson had purred, gasped and chuckled his way through 80 minutes of exhibition football, punctuated by comical home defending, and it looked very much as though another team was going to roll over meekly for the men from Salford.

Then S’ralex brought on Paul Scholes for the Ginger Minger’s own last appearance before his latest retirement.  The cameras prepared to adjust to soft focus, Motson drew in another breath preparatory to more shudderingly orgasmic tributes as he was consumed by an ecstasy of highly marketable sentimentality.  The stage was set for the Govan Guv’nor to stump off into the sunset, his purple-blotched features lacerated by a parody of a smile.

Then it all went wrong.  West Brom struck three times in the last ten minutes, Ferguson’s smile dropped to the floor quicker than a Gareth Bale dive and the mighty Man U were holding on at the end to avoid saying goodbye in the face of a last blast from a defeated Hairdryer.  5-5 it finished, and the BBC were denied their expected valedictory stroll in the sun; the Baggies had pooped the Corporation’s party.

Maybe it was this that prompted the spite and small-minded pettiness of the montage which prefaced the Match of the Day highlights late last night.  More likely though that it was always going to be yet another calculated slap in the face to the memory of a great man, a man whose boots the assembled hacks and ex-pros on the MOTD couch are not fit to lick, a true great of the game that the Establishment seem determined to pretend was never there.  Ferguson was painted in admiring and rose-hued tones, to a background of his many achievements as compared to the other “managerial greats.”  Bob Paisley, Brian Clough, Jock Stein, Bobby Robson, Ron Greenwood, Bill Shankly, Matt Busby, Bill Nicholson; all these legends were held up as examples of managerial excellence to be rightly lauded for their achievements and the mark they left on the game.

But no mention of the greatest of them all: Donald George Revie OBE.

This was no mere oversight.  It’s been going on for years, and it’s a premeditated and vicious attempt at the excision from public memory of football’s greatest manager, a cowardly and shameful act of malice aforethought.  It reflects ill on the researchers who put these things together; aren’t they aware of their history, we in the know might wonder.  Don’t they have access to Google?  But they know all about the Don, they know he transformed a tired old joke of a football club into the most feared and respected force in Europe; they know he did it without massive financial backing and without paying obscene wages; they know how he did it all to the dubious background of an initially apathetic support, fans who had only ever known mediocrity at best, and expected nothing else.  Out of all this, Don Revie wrought a miracle – a team that respected judges of the game have described as the finest club side in English football history.

The accidental omission of Revie’s name for any TV item concerning itself with managerial greatness would be unforgivably slipshod; the act of a clueless nincompoop.  But this was much, much worse than that.  It was an exposition of hypocrisy underpinned by malice and the bile of fifty years’ accumulated resentment.  It was a crass attempt at revisionism, a blunderingly clumsy try at pretending Don Revie never existed.  It was wishful thinking in its bitterest and most destructive form, a playground insult to a giant of the game.  The BBC cowards and toadies have exposed themselves as classless fools, deserving only of contempt and ridicule.

“And Leeds will go mad.  And they’ve every right to go mad!” – as Barry Davies memorably put it back in the day, in more realistic times before the game turned plastic, when everybody knew who the heroes were and we weren’t fed a diet of pap and lies.  And Leeds should go mad again.  The city, the club, the fans – none of them should continue to lie down and accept this disgraceful treatment, this attempted erasure of an iconic figure whom we all worship as “Simply The Best.”  There should be a loud outcry, a vehement protest.  This is my small contribution, but the fans as a body have form for hitting back at media and establishment when they feel one of their own wronged.

In 1994, the FA handed down a mandate that all clubs should observe a minute’s silence in respect for the late Matt Busby.  They did this because it’s what you do when a respected figure dies – except of course they’re not consistent.  They failed to mark the death of Don Revie, a tragic and cruel end from Motor Neurone Disease.  They failed even to send a representative to his funeral, although – to his eternal credit – Alex Ferguson was there, and Denis Law, as well as most of the Leeds United greats and other proper football men.  But none of the hypocrites in suits from the game’s ruling authorities saw fit to get off their backsides and pay tribute.  Revie was dead; let them get on with pretending he never existed.  So in 1994, when they were supposed to lapse into a respectful silence, the Leeds fans at Blackburn Rovers’ ground exploded in a raucous and repeated cry of “One Don Revie!  There’s only one Don Revie!!”  The great and the good of the sport were scandalised.  People pursed their lips and shook their heads sadly.  How dare these yobboes ruin our tribute to our Chosen One?  But I’m so, so glad that it happened.  We should not knuckle under to the official view; we should never bow down before such blatant hypocrisy.

They’re getting wise to rebellion now.  There tends to be a minute’s applause these days, lest any disrespectful mob should see fit to assert their unwanted point of view the next time some officially-beloved figure keels over.  But the fans will be heard, believe me.  And if the media – typified by these contemptible fools in charge of the increasingly poodle-like Match of the Day – continue so determinedly to ignore and try to obliterate the legacy of The Don, then I hope that defiant cry will be heard again, loud and proud.  While ever Leeds United fans are prepared to stand up and be counted, happy to raise their arms and voices and be heard – then Don Revie will never be forgotten, whatever the wishes of the pompous suits and deluded TV types.

Don Revie, “The Don” (1927 – 1989)  A true legend and a great of the game.  Whatever you might think of him – and God knows, I’m no fan – just ask S’ralex.

The Pride of “The Damned United”

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Was ever another phrase so obviously coined with one intention, only to be taken up and brandished with pride to the completely opposite effect? Author David Peace – a Huddersfield Town fan – has described his book “The Damned United” as “an occult history of Leeds United.” The word “history” in this connection is somewhat optimistic – the book is decidedly fictionalised, and the point of view is the imagined perspective of Brian Clough as he struggled through his 44 days in what could fairly be described as enemy territory. The book was a success, met by a measure of critical acclaim. The film it spawned was of more dubious quality, famous for the lengthy list of goofs on its Internet Movie Database page, and widely regarded as particularly one-eyed in its depiction of personalities and events, none of which bears much resemblance to actuality.

It is the tag though – that Damned United tag – which seems set fair to achieve iconic status, and not with the intended pejorative effect. With a typical sense of gallows humour, devotees of the Elland Road club have taken the label and made of it a badge of honour, waving it under the nose of the millions who despise Leeds United as a symbol of inverted defiance. We Are The Damned United, they say – do your worst. The tiresome recycling of allegations about Don Revie, the endless litany of “Dirty Leeds” myths and the omnipresent attitude that the West Yorkshire club exemplify all that is shady about football, all of this is held up to ridicule as those who love the club glory in the new name. Sod the lot of you. We are Dirty Leeds, The Damned United, and we are proud. It’s a unifying message, the foundations of a siege complex that can rally support behind any popularly-hated institution. It’s an assertion of individuality, of a refusal to conform to the cosy standards beloved of media and Establishment. It takes gritty character to be a Leeds fan in the face of such universal hatred, and those of sufficient character know they’re part of something unique and special. We Are The Damned United.

It’s also had the welcome effect of reclaiming a measure of ownership and identification with that word “United”. It’s highly doubtful that Town fan Peace could have foreseen or desired that effect, but there it undoubtedly is. For decades, the press, the football establishment in the UK and elsewhere – and of course Man U themselves – have been unrelenting in their efforts to corner the term “United” exclusively for the Salford-based franchise. It’s been an important marketing tool, a vital part of the attempt to sell the myth of The Biggest Club In The World™ (Copyright © The Gutter Press since the late 50’s) to children of all ages from Devon to Singapore. It’s seeped into the public consciousness like the subliminally insidious selling technique it is, and of course the tat-consuming, replica-shirt-buying, Sky-subscribing suckers have fallen for it in their millions. But now there is The Damned United, inextricably linked with Dirty Leeds, and suddenly that formerly football-related suffix isn’t quite so exclusively Man U any more.

Dirty Leeds The Damned United

The contrasting psyches of the Leeds United and Man U support is an apt illustration of how the two sets of fans have embraced such polar-opposites in terms of club and image. The Man U fans desperately want that monopoly of terminology, they need to believe the press-powered fairy-tale that there’s “only one United”. The motivation for being identified with what they are always being told is the “biggest and best” has a Freudian compulsion at the back of it, a sense that there is an inadequacy which yearns to be compensated for, an insecurity which needs bolstering. There are people like that everywhere, victims of society, and so you find Man U fans all over the place, as common and undiscriminating as flies. Leeds fans, on the other hand, tend to support their team – where the connection isn’t simply local and tribal – for reasons of perverse pride. It’s a manifestation of defiance and a refusal to be categorised as a commercial target group. The pride is palpable, and the negative image of the club feeds this. Sod you lot. We Are The Damned United. The emergence of such a potentially iconic label was not good news for Man U-inclined inhabitants of armchairs everywhere, and again, this is not an effect the author would have counted as one of his aims in producing his work.

Thanks, Mr Peace. You could hardly have aided our cause any more effectively, and Dirty Leeds have gained from the exposure in popular culture. The book may have been an attempted exposition of Clough’s state of mind as that complex character negotiated his time in purgatory; the film may have been an amusing romp through the mythical hinterland that borders but rarely intrudes on the territory of actual fact. But the label will probably out-live the pair of them, and will flutter bravely and proudly in the vanguard of the Leeds United juggernaut as it – eventually – thunders its way back to The Top.

Beckham To Retire At Last

Beckham: Hanging Up Boots

Beckham: Hanging Up Boots

So, the day has arrived at last.  An icon is to depart the game.  England’s “Goldenballs”, the man with the most famous metatarsal the world has ever seen, he of the sculpted facial furniture with chiseled jaw and cheekbones to die for, David Robert Joseph Beckham OBE is finally to quit the game he has – more or less – adorned since 1995.  Everybody is sitting up and taking notice at what is the end of an era.  Leyton Orient have felt it necessary to remind the world in a timely tweet that the Coiffed One is to make his last appearance against French side Lorient – NOT the English League One denizens L.Orient.  Thanks for clearing that up, lads.

 My first memory of David Beckham is necessarily hazy – I was quite intoxicated, and stood high up in the away end at The Theatre of Hollow Myths as Leeds United’s all-conquering youth side trampled the budding superstars of Man U into the turf on their way to an eventual 4-1 aggregate FA Youth Cup win.  That was in 1993, and it was some small measure of compensation for the transition from our status of Last Real Champions to that of Man U as first holders of the Premier League Plastic Trophy.  As the new era dawned, an epic career was off to an inglorious start, but it was destined to contrast starkly with the doomed efforts of that night’s winners.

Since then, even so jaundiced an observer as I must admit that Beckham has scaled Olympian Heights, and on one foot, too.  No less a footballing authority than the late, grating George Best described him in less than glowing terms: “He cannot kick with his left foot, he cannot head a ball, he cannot tackle and he doesn’t score many goals. Apart from that he’s all right.”  Not that he was bitter or anything – but maybe the fact that Beckham’s earnings in any given calendar month eclipsed the entire career earnings of the self-styled “Greatest Ever” had touched a raw nerve or two.  Whatever Bestie might have thought of the shortcomings of Becks talent-wise, the London boy could surely have taught him a thing or two about application, dedication and – crucially – not being caught with his pants down before important semi-final matches.

That ability to dedicate himself and make it big, on the back of a less-than-completely full box of tricks, certainly redounds to Beckham’s credit.  His habit of creating the most spectacular results with one swing of that cultured right foot did him no harm either.  On loan at Preston as a youngster, he created a stir by scoring direct from a corner, and not too long afterwards, establishing himself in the Man U first team, he looked up from just inside his own half at Selhurst Park, and lobbed the ball mightily over the back-pedaling ‘keeper Neil Sullivan to score an outrageously long-range goal against long-ball merchants Wimbledon.  The most famous exponent of this type of effort up to that time had been a chap called Pele, who tried it in the World Cup; but Pele had missed.

The path to World Superstardom was not, however, always strewn with rose petals.  Attitude problems surfaced, petulance would be a problem throughout most of his career (not an uncommon problem among graduates of the Man U finishing school), there were run-ins with his irascible mentor Ferguson, and he could be impulsive too.  He saw a young lass on a pop video, and he decided on the spot to marry her.  His judgement on that occasion at least was reasonably sound, or so it seems; the marriage is still going strong and from tacky beginnings with a wedding that would have figured large in any style guru’s nightmares, the couple have built a family with their weirdly-named brood and two large fortunes securing a stable future for all concerned.

So how will Beckham best be remembered?  Some will say as the archetypal Man U fan – he was born and raised in London after all, which is a headline qualification for that status.  Others will remember his flirtation with the extreme edges of fashion – his famous experiment with girly clothing as he sported a sarong, for instance.  But whatever he did, whatever style he either aped or created, there were millions queuing up to follow his every footstep.  He had the knack of capturing the hearts of a whole generation with the totality of the Beckham package – the talent, the looks, the style, the pop-star wife.  Some of it was grossly kitsch, Beckingham Palace was the venue for many sins against the Manual of Good Taste.  Some of it took your breath away with the sheer, daring nerve of it – the revelation that his son Brooklyn was named after the site of his conception had people offering up prayers of thanks that the tender moment hadn’t taken place in Peckham.  Subsequent male children were named Romeo and Cruz and then a girl arrived to be lumbered with the curiously android-like Harper Seven.  There is, after all, no accounting for taste.

Some will remember the iconic free-kicks for England, the most famous of which secured his country’s automatic World Cup 2002 qualification.  What people forget is that, had we been doomed to the play-offs, we might have taken Germany’s easier route to the Final – but who ever knows what fate might hold?  In the end, England and Beckham, together with his famously bust metatarsal, appeared in the global tournament, but for once Beckham wasn’t really up to it, and it was his half-hearted, half-baked, half-fit attempt at a tackle which let Brazil in for the equaliser at the quarter-final stage, the Samba Stars going on to eliminate England 2-1.

But whatever you might think of Beckham, my fondest memories of him will be in that England shirt – not for his flashes of temper, leading to notorious dismissals, but for the massively evident pride with which he wore the Three Lions over his heart, the utter commitment and dedication with which he put himself about the pitch in the England cause, be it merely as a star player, or eventually as captain of his country.  Nobody set a better example of leadership than David Beckham when he had that international shirt on, and nobody could ever doubt on those occasions that everything else – the endorsements, the mansions, the publicity stunts, the lurid tales of his off-field life – all of that was secondary to his intense, burning patriotism.  If that alone had been enough, England may well have had three winners’ stars to embroider above the Three Lions on the Shirt, instead of that solitary one.

So it’s farewell, Goldenballs.  He was a player of his times, a man who would be a superstar  among superstars, someone who would attract fan fervour and inspire adulation and hero-worship out of all proportion to his essentially modest character – and some would say disproportionately to his talent too.  Be that as it may, it’s unlikely we will see such a phenomenon again, unless the ingredients are coming together even as we speak, and yet another cockney Man U fan is bubbling under up Salford way.  You just never know.

Man City Will Bounce Back

Mancini: Sacked

Mancini: Sacked

Events at Manchester City this last day or so were flagged up well in advance – the media screamed “Mancini Out!” from every outlet – and despite scornful denials by the man himself, and messages of support from the fans, you felt it would turn out to be a case of “no smoke without fire.”

Even so, the news when it arrived, poignantly on the very anniversary of that last-gasp Title triumph, was a shock of sorts.  The club moved swiftly to justify their action – Mancini had “failed to meet football targets”, it was said.  Criticism was made too of his inability or reluctance to communicate, of an aloof and arrogant attitude, of his lack of interest in club matters below first-team level; specifically an apathy where bringing youngsters through was concerned.  Clearly all was not sweetness and light on the good ship City, and the mystery of their rudderless run-in for the league campaign, and how they sank without trace in the second half of the FA Cup Final may not be such a mystery after all.

In the odd spare moment I’ve had this season to glance upwards towards the Premier League summit, and away from Leeds United’s mid-table Championship toilings, City have puzzled and frustrated me.  At the outset, they seemed well-equipped to mount a reasonable defence of their title.  There were clearly two sides to this equation.  On the one hand, the squad at The Etihad was, in my view, the best in the Premier League – rivalled only by that at Stamford Bridge.  On the other – Man U are notoriously capable at employing a siege complex in order to use resentment to fuel their fightback.  They are also, undeniably, helped in large measure by the number of weird decisions that seem to go in their favour.  The away game at Chelsea was a good example of this, when Torres was sent off for being fouled by a Man U defender already on a yellow, and then the Salford side scored a late and clearly offside winner. This sort of thing tends to pepper Man U’s most successful seasons, and it’s not an attractive facet of the Premier League.

I’ve never subscribed to this “van Persie made the difference” nonsense.  I’m sure he made A difference – but not that much.  It’s been a stroll for Man U in a league in which they should – by all considerations of relative quality – have struggled to finish third.  Chelsea have had their own problems.  The phrase “Interim Coach” needs nothing added to it for an explanation of their failure.  But Man City was a conundrum, and it is only now, in the wake of Mancini’s sacking, that we are perhaps gaining a more complete picture of what things were like behind the scenes.

Now a tell-tale tweet from former kit man Stephen Aziz may have shed some light on just how negative the atmosphere has been at Man City.  The phrase “arrogant, vain and self-centred” appeared briefly before the tweet was removed. And there was more: “no manners ignorant just some of the daily traits really made going into work a daily grind!! #karma”.  That’s all pretty damning stuff, and quite frankly at top professional level, it doesn’t take one tenth of that apparent level of unhappiness and discontent to derail a club’s bid for honours completely.  This, more than the failure to pick up a trophy, may well be what lies behind Mancini’s abrupt departure on the first anniversary of his finest hour.

Man City fans feel an understandable affection and loyalty to the man who has given them their finest moments in over thirty years.  I too recall the expression on his face as City hammered Man U 6-1 at The Theatre of Hollow Myths, and I remember thinking that here was a man who would end up as loved as Malcolm Allison in his late-sixties incarnation, or Colin Bell, or any one of City’s heroes you may care to name.  He had the opportunity to instill himself into the DNA of the club, but – inexplicably – it looks more and more as though he’s been too arrogant to see the need to treat people as they need to be treated, and has therefore lost his fledgling Legend status.  The City fans will always remember him, of course.  He delivered, albeit at the last gasp, and put an end to an aching void where they’d won nothing as their despised neighbours cleaned up.  Of course he will always have a place in the collective City heart.

The next appointment is vital, however.  If City get it right, the quality of this squad can carry all before them next season.  Man U have a rookie at the highest level, and must expect a bedding-in period.  This year has been bizarrely tilted away from the finest talent in the league.  Next year may well be very different.