Monthly Archives: July 2013

Bumper Crowd for Leeds’ Opener Shows Fans are On Board

We Are Leeds

We Are Leeds

It’s been a topsy-turvy summer for Leeds United and its long-suffering fans, following hard on the heels of a grievously disappointing Championship campaign in 2012/13.  The close season has produced rays of hope aplenty though, shining a beam of optimism through the murky sullenness that has hung over the support these last few years.  Chairman Bates had held our famous old club in his talons, doing seemingly as he pleased and dismissing all attempts to make him see sense and make Leeds United competitive again.  Now Bates has finally gone and all his acolytes with him; his mouthpiece in-house radio station has gone too, the new owners are finally meeting productively with fans’ groups – we’ve even spent a few bob in the transfer market.

Not all is sweetness and light, however.  Let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be Leeds United without a few under-currents about the place.  It would appear that money is still too tight to mention, despite recurrent rumours of major investment from the likes of Red Bull, or the ever-present spectre of a loaded Arab prince about to step in and buy a controlling stake.  These dreams it appears are just that – and meanwhile we have hard financial realities to face. Unless we can unload some of Colin’s deadwood, it’s difficult to see where manager Brian McDermott’s “priority signings” are going to come from.  Normally a summer of transfer impasse will have Leeds fans in a froth of negativity, but it’s slightly different this time around, simply because that dreadful weight of Bates’ brooding presence has been lifted from our shoulders.  The place feels cleaner somehow, some of the pride has returned.  It feels as though we have our Leeds United back again.

These are good foundations to build upon, and expectations appear to have been modified accordingly.  Ever since we have returned to the Championship, each season we’ve set out with promotion to the Premier League as the be-all and end-all.  Now we have David Haigh saying that promotion is a realistic objective “within two years” – and yet some are actually wondering if this isn’t putting too much pressure on Boss Brian.  That’s quite a change from the pressure heaped upon Simon Grayson’s narrow shoulders, and even the gnarled and battle-hardened Neil Warnock found the heat in the Elland Road kitchen too hard to stand.

Given the new-era atmosphere breathing fresh air into LS11, it’s arguable that a two year timetable is quite acceptable, particularly as the owners haven’t yet been able to fund transfer recruitment on the scale of a QPR, for instance.  But we should remember also that some of the clubs who bought big this time last year suffered and struggled all season long. Blackburn bought Jordan Rhodes from ‘Uddersfield for a cool £8m, and almost went down. Wolves, with a Premier League parachute payment to fund additions, did go down. Loadsamoney is no guarantee of Championship success; the trick seems rather to be a united and happy squad under an inspirational manager.  Those ingredients may just be to hand; that’s what Brian and the lads will have to demonstrate over the coming months.

The sudden optimism and the positive feelings about the club seem real enough though. Our new owners have certainly made their mark, phrases like “engaging with the fans” have been backed up by ticket price initiatives and a more generally positive (and less obviously exploitative) approach to marketing.  If proof of this healthier club/fan relationship is needed, look out for the attendance at Elland Road on Saturday against Brighton.  It seems certain to break the 30000 mark, and all that is needed then is a good performance by the team, a positive result ushering in a solid start to the season, and the Leeds United ball will be well and truly rolling again.

That’s not too much to ask, now is it?  Brian and the lads in White – it’s over to you.

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Bates Leaves Leeds on a Typically Sour Note

Not-So-Cuddly Ken

Not-So-Cuddly Ken

It came out of the blue in a terse statement from Leeds United: Ken Bates would no longer be club president, and all his connections with the club had been severed forthwith. No reasons were initially given – and quite frankly, nobody at first cared. The main thing was, Bates was gone. He was going to be President of the club for life, then it was going to be only three years (there may not actually have been much of a difference between those first two) – but now he was gone, history, end of. Bye bye, Ken. Don’t let the door whack you in the arse on the way out.

Now, though, more details have emerged as to the reason for Bates’ abrupt departure. It appears that Ken – never a man to underestimate his own importance – had committed the club to a £500k contract for private jet flight to and from the Monaco bolt-hole of il Presidente for matchday travel. No RyanAir or EasyJet for Uncle Ken, you see, he was going to do it in style and, as ever, the club – the fans – would be the ones forking out for it. This, then, is the straw that has broken the Dubai-based camel’s back. Ken received a missive, delivered by hand, informing him that his non-services would no longer be required.

Staggeringly, Ken seems to resent this. After all the legal shenanigans that have punctuated his reign of terror in LS11, costing the club a reported £4m, he now feels that he is a wronged party, that Leeds United have treated him “despicably” and that he should be compensated. So, he intends to sally forth to pursue his favourite pastime of litigation – with Leeds United this time in the respondent’s box, as opposed to blindly funding his deluded fantasies. The irony of this is breathtaking, and it is only to be hoped that the British legal system has finally had enough of this irascible old man’s nonsense and will proceed to laugh him out of court. Football’s had its fill of Ken – honestly, hasn’t the whole country?

This, let us not forget, is the man who proposed (quite seriously) that fences enclosing fans on the terraces should be electrified to dissuade those of an eager disposition from getting at rival fans or the field of play itself. Who knows what that might have led to if the whole concept of fencing hadn’t become deeply unfashionable in the wake of Hillsborough? This is the man who declared his ambition to be the ejection of Leeds United and its “animal” followers from the Football League, following the actions of a group of freelance demolition contractors from Yorkshire in disabling the Stamford Bridge electronic scoreboard in 1984. Big Brother was watching us, and he decreed we weren’t fit to be part of the football family. He wanted us out – and he so nearly achieved his objective, didn’t he? This is the man, after all, who presided over the lowest point in Leeds United’s history. Ken Bates is a name that will forever be associated in the minds of Leeds fans with failure, corruption and despair.

Ken Bates and his megaphone mouth, unconnected to anything remotely resembling a brain, has represented everything bad about football for decades now – and it’s time we all had a well-earned rest from him. It is perhaps fitting that Bates and Ferguson – two markedly less-than-pleasant football personalities – should be heading into the sunset at the same time. Having the name of Ken Bates connected to the club I love has been a deeply horrible experience for me and thousands of my fellow Leeds United fans. The final separation looks highly unlikely to be amicable – Uncle Ken is far too self-involved and vindictive for that – but it is nonetheless a most welcome development for anyone with the best interests of Leeds United at heart. Ironically, GFH Capital are now quoting a confidentiality clause in refusing to comment on the reasons for the End of Ken, something the Bearded Gob used extensively during the endless takeover saga last year. So for the time being, Bates is wasting his bile on the desert air and getting no official response. But many thousands of happy individuals in Leeds United colours would be happy to deliver one last message to him.

Sod off, Ken, and take your legal team with you.

Leeds Fans Pinning Hopes on Luke Varney – Are Things That Bad?

Super Luke Varney

Super Luke Varney

Leeds United’s pre-season programme hit a real low point at Walsall, the 1-0 defeat seemingly the least of the problems on a night when the team’s performance levels were a world away from what will be needed in the nitty-gritty of the Championship marathon to be run over the next nine months. It was the pallid nature of the Leeds side’s display which had the supporters tearing out their hair by the roots. As this is an option denied to our smooth-domed manager, the disappointed and frustrated Brian McDermott settled instead for dubbing the match his “worst day as Leeds manager”.

Happily, in the next outing at Stevenage, both performance and result were immeasurably better. A 3-0 stroll away from home is always a decent result, whatever the opposition. Stevenage may not be the stiffest possible test, but at home they have slain many a higher-grade opponent as Newcastle could testify. The stand-out role on the night was filled byLuke Varney, last season’s pariah-in-chief, a man who has been described as having all the popularity and appeal of a fart in a spacesuit. It could take a miracle to redeem a reputation like that, and a nine-minute second-half hat trick might just qualify considering Varney’s utter failure to pull up trees in a Leeds shirt last season, the odd flash of promise notwithstanding. Such was the vitriol aimed at the ex-Pompey hitman last time around that you might wonder if even such a lethally-effective performance might help his cause. But wonder of wonders, the Leeds fans appear to have taken note, and appear disposed to look much more favourably upon Mr Varney.

On the face of it, this is a little strange. Leeds fans are not noted for their tendency to re-appraise players once they have initially passed judgement. Dating back to the hapless Terry Yorath, it’s usually been clear that once this crowd takes against you, you need to start thinking about moving on, even if it’s to Coventry. That the fans now seem willing to give Varney the benefit of the doubt might say more about the increasing sense of pessimism out there, as the transfer window drags on with no further quality signings, than it does about any new-found tolerance on the part of the Leeds support. In short, if they’re bigging Varney up, then things must be bad – doubtless an impression confirmed in some measure by McDermott’s recent gloomy demeanour.

Perhaps, though, a new investor may be found shortly – to give us wingers? Perhaps the hangdog expression on Brian’s face is just a front as he toils behind the scenes to bring us some late but great additions to our humdrum squad? Who knows? But it seems clear enough that pinning our hopes on last year’s flop is not exactly a statement of optimism for how things might go this time around. It could just be that – if things do pick up on the transfer front, and if early results are favourable with Mr Varney confined to the bench – the vociferous United support will go back to having a go at the poor lad, and urging him to ply his trade elsewhere. It’s not a happy thought for our hat-trick hero, and it’s also possible of course that he might show himself to be true Leeds United material and bang in 15 goals before Christmas. It’s to be hoped he does. But just for the moment, this new adulation says more about the general pessimism of the fans than it does about Super Luke Varney.

What Price the Soul of Leeds United?

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After the brief optimism of a few weeks ago, when the first post-Bates day saw welcome changes in the boardroom and welcome signings on the pitch – including one for whom we supposedly paid actual BIG money – things have gone a bit gloomy again over at LS11. The pre-season programme has now brought three successive defeats, including a woeful display at Walsall which Brian McDermott described as his “worst day as Leeds United manager”. The perceived wisdom is that we still need quality additions, including a rock of a centre-half and at least one tricky, fleet-footed winger. Brian’s “priority signing” is still unsigned, and unidentified. Clearly, more serious money is needed. Where’s it coming from?

The sequence of news items has been interesting. Once all that early-July optimism started to wane, the Red Bull story surfaced, and it refused to go away. The fans of course immediately started adding two and two to make five, and the scare stories of team rebranding circulated, along with slightly more feasible rumours of stadium naming rights. The battle lines were drawn; one camp stands firm in its traditionalism and will not tolerate the idea of the team playing at the Red Bull Arena, nor even a glimpse of that devil’s colour red on our pristine white shirts (with the fat blue stripe). On the other side there are those who feel we’ve sunk too low to be coy about appearances and naming rights – show us the money, they say, and you can basically do what you like to us. But we need to be talking massive money – we’re not, after all, some cheap trollop of a club you can buy for a song.

Once the Red Bull story had been around a little, and it had been possible to gauge fans’ reactions, Brian started to appear in the media again with his gloomy face on, bemoaning the lack of progress in the transfer market and making pessimistic noises about having to sell before he can buy. It makes me wonder whether, having realised that there would be significant fan opposition to the idea of naming rights to Elland Road being sold off, GFH might just have briefed Brian to get out there and make these dolorous pronouncements, putting the fear of God up the support that another season of under-achievement awaits and basically softening us up for whatever commercial coup they might have lined up. I’m not saying that Brian will necessarily be so ready to dance to the GFH tune, but I do smell a big, fat rat in terms of how our expectations are being managed, and how our instinctive suspicion of corporate influence over our club’s traditions is being dissipated by worry over lack of transfer money.

The fact is that the precedents are already out there for success at any price, and that we will ignore these new trends at our peril. Man City play at the Etihad, and Arsenal at the Emirates. If corporate stadium names are OK at these two grand old clubs, then why not at Leeds? It’s not as if any Leeds fan would ever call it by any other name than Elland Road anyway, so why the big fuss? We can expect to be wound up by opposition fans and the media, but what’s new about that? Surely the priority now is to give Brian McDermott the tools to finish the job.

If we remain too ignorantly proud to go with the flow, then we have to accept that the price of pride might be one we don’t wish to pay. Do we want to play at the Red Bull Arena in the Premier League, or at Elland Road in the Championship – or maybe even in League One? It might just be that the choice is as simple and stark as that.

New Fears for Gazza After Latest “Drunken Assault” Charge

Gazza: Slippery Slope?

Gazza: Slippery Slope?

There are uncomfortable parallels between the slippery slope Paul Gascoigne now finds himself on – a slope he started to slide down at a Wembley Cup Final in 1991 – and the decline and ultimately tragic death of another flawed genius, George Best. It’s not the happiest comparison to make, but perhaps it’s a message that needs to be spoken loudly and repeatedly, directly into the ear of the legendary Gazza, in the hope that he may yet be saved from the process of self-destruction he appears to be unswervingly set on. The news today that he’s been arrested over an incident involving drink and violence is no great surprise – but it IS cause for extreme concern.

Gazza was undoubtedly the finest talent of his generation, but like so many footballers and other artists gifted with supernatural skill of one sort or another, he seems fatally lacking lacking in anything approaching a safe level of common sense. Those identical words could have been written and published in the 1970’s, substituting only the legend of Gazza for the legend of Bestie. The similarities between the two are uncanny, both in terms of raw ability and irrepressible personality when things were going well. Sadly, the tendency towards addiction to factors which are the enemies of health and well-being seems another element ominously common to both.

George Best of course ultimately fell victim to his fatal attraction to booze and died an early and tragic death following the raising of hopes after a liver transplant. George was unable to leave the drink alone even after such a very final warning, and his demise followed as night follows day. There was a time when he had it all, of course – but it’s tempting to believe he might have wished to trade some of those trappings and achievements for a few more healthy years on the planet. Famously, a hotel employee once walked in to witness George surrounded by champagne bottles in his luxury suite, happily relaxing in bed with at least two Miss Worlds and the humble functionary sighed, without any apparent sense of irony, “George, George – where did it all go wrong?” It was funny at the time, as was Best’s quote when asked what he did with his money. “I spent loads on wine, women and song – but quite easy on the song – and the rest I just squandered,” he replied. Again, it’s pithy – but the humour shrivels away to nothing when you remember how he ended up in an early grave.

Is Gazza inevitably headed for a tragically similar fate? His health has been a matter of public concern for some time now, and again he seems totally unable to leave the booze alone despite repeated warnings that he’s drinking his health and possibly his life away. It’s not too difficult to pinpoint the start of Gazza’s descent – rewind back to the FA Cup Final of 1991, Spurs v Forest. A pumped-up Gascoigne had already perpetrated an ugly, early, chest-high foul on Garry Parker of Forest – a challenge which went unpunished by referee Roger Milford, but which could so easily have been a red card. Then, still high as a kite on Cup Final adrenalin, Gazza scythed down Gary Charles to concede a free-kick on the edge of the area. Forest actuallly took the lead from the resultant free-kick as Stuart Pearce hammered home – but the price for Gascoigne was even higher. He had ruptured knee ligaments in fouling Charles, and had to leave the field on a stretcher.

To many minds, he was never quite the same player again, even though his subsequent career still hit some major heights. Who knows what difference an early red card for the first foul might have made? Gazza would have avoided that calamitous injury and perhaps come much closer to fulfilling his outstanding potential – and maybe his life post-football would have been less of a horror show. No blame attaches to Roger Milford for his evident misjudgement – referees have no insight into the future.

Since his retirement, Gazza’s life has been a catalogue of calamity, culminating in this latest arrest and charge of alcohol-fuelled misconduct. That he is still drinking is a worrying signpost to the fate suffered by George Best, and if he fails to conquer this demon, it is difficult to see a bright future for the Clown Prince of the 80’s and 90’s. Daft as a brush, Bobby Robson called him, and there’s little reason to dispute that. But surely someone needs to take Gazza in hand and steer him away from a fate that Bestie could eloquently warn him all about, if only he were alive to do so. Someone, somewhere, has to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself. Someone has to save Gazza from himself.

Can Olympic Champion Murray Mint Himself a Wimbledon Winner’s Medal at Last?

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Two breathtaking, heart-quaking performances in this week’s Wimbledon quarter and semi-finals have seen British No. 1 Andy Murray through to the Final on Sunday, a progression many foretold from the start of the tournament, and all the more so following the early exit of both Federer and Nadal.  That formidable pair had loomed threateningly at the start of the Wimbledon Fortnight, promising to be Murray’s nemesis as they had each been on far too many previous occasions.  Their obliging co-operation in bowing out before any such calamity could strike has kept alive the dream of so many British tennis aficionados who have been yearning for a lifetime to see a British lad lift that famous trophy aloft.

Up to last year’s Final, Murray had been regarded by many with a sort of grudging respect which rarely if ever amounted to actual affection.  His slight tendency to taciturnity and the odd throwaway remark about his non-support of the England football team apparently did not endear him to many fireside patriots.  In the pubs and front rooms nationwide, as well as on the internet, you’d see many actively hoping for an early exit for our  only hope of ultimate glory.  Whether or not any of this was fair, it changed radically in a few tear-stained moments after Murray’s Final defeat to Roger Federer last summer. Trying manfully to fulfill his after-match obligation to speak to the crowd, Murray choked up with genuine emotion and palpable distress – and the stony old heart of England melted in a trice.  That iconic moment, together with the somewhat more relaxed and natural demeanour Murray displays since his happy partnership with coach Ivan Lendl began, seems to have converted the majority of the nation into supporters of our Andy. My wife, who is usually the best example of any feminine trait you might care to name, typified this sea-change.  She was a committed disciple before Murray’s first handkerchief was properly bedewed with manly tears, a complete volte-face from her position a mere few moments before when she had been relishing the Scot’s impending defeat.  Women, eh?

The thing is though, it’s not just the women.  Many blokes of my acquaintance and further afield – really, quite blokey blokes – now display positive support for Murray, and wish him well.  Apparently a few raw emotions, wrung from a stoic by the agony of defeat, can seduce even the proud male of the species.  I was a fan before, so I can’t really comment on the phenomenon, other than to observe that it has happened, and maybe just in time to stop the nation scowling sulkily at his ultimate triumph.

After last year’s Wimbledon, and the tears, Murray returned to the same venue shortly afterwards and carried off the Olympic Gold Medal, thrashing Federer in straight sets in a Final that he had reached – interestingly – via his only grass court meeting with Djokovic, his opponent on Sunday.  This also was a straight sets triumph.  An omen there, we may hope?  A first Grand Slam triumph followed too, with victory at the US Open where he beat Djokovic in the final. Another omen?  Murray is now very much “our lad” as he heads for his second consecutive Wimbledon Final on Sunday, and the vast majority will wish him success.

Murray can certainly seal himself in the affections of the nation for good this weekend. His demeanour on-court, and in his dealings with the press, still attracts criticism in certain quarters, but those people should remember that tennis is a game played, more than many others, in the head – the mental demands of a war of attrition over the best of five sets are gruelling at the best of times.  Murray will have learned from last year’s experience, and it seems likely that after his slightly less demanding semi-final, as compared to his quarter, or indeed to the epic semi that Djokovic had to weather, he should be in prime nick, both physically and mentally.  He’ll certainly need to be in order to beat the World No 1 again, and he’ll be aware too that in order to create further history, he now simply has to win the crown.  Last year, he wrote himself a page in the annals of British tennis just by reaching the final.  Now it’s time to take that last, decisive step.

Good luck, Andy Murray – we’re almost all right behind you.

Thatcher Day? No Thanks – Let’s Have a “Heroes Day” Late August Bank Holiday We Can ALL Support

British Heroes Day

British Heroes Day

Britain woke up on Wimbledon Men’s Semi-Final day to one of the dafter ideas of the year – the proposed re-naming of the late August bank holiday as “Margaret Thatcher Day” – shook its collective head incredulously and gaped in frank disbelief that anyone could suggest anything quite so stupidly divisive. Then it sighed with relief as it realised this was just another attention-seeking ploy by one Peter Bone – simply another of those tiresome so-called politicians who define their function by just how best they can publicise their tragically unremarkable careers – and fell instead to wondering whether to have toast or cornflakes for breakfast.

There was never anything to get really upset about, or to take too seriously.  Peter Bone MP has form for this sort of thing, after all.  His record reads a bit like a litany of gibbering lunacy and reactionary stances on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, the death penalty and conscription. He clearly subscribes to the maxim of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”, and sallies forth on a regular basis, seemingly with one solitary thought in his head: how best to get Peter Bone MP in the news. He’s regularly one of the most enthusiastic expenses claimants, pays his wife top dollar for “secretarial duties” (so he’s big on nepotism too) and has a string of failed businesses and other ventures to his name. He also boasts a consistent record of losing supposedly safe seats in elections, sometimes bucking a national swing to the Tories by actually reducing their vote in the constituency he’s fighting.  All in all – not the sharpest or most useful tool in the box.

So those of us who do not inhabit the lunatic hinterland of the Tory Right can dispose of the latest Bone rant with a derisive sneer and a muffled chortle, and leave the Daily Heil readers to linger lovingly over what is a dead-in-the-water idea right from the start. But it does perhaps raise a legitimate question of the potential dedication of that anonymous late August holiday – many other countries use such occasions to pay tribute to their notable figures, so is it such a bad idea in principle?  Maybe not – so long as we manage to disregard the blithering of Bone and his ilk, and consider instead ideas from the saner end of the spectrum. The fact is that, whoever one might select as a deserving recipient of an honour such as becoming an eponymous bank holiday, the tribute is likely to be divisive to a greater or lesser degree. If you put forward the seemingly obvious name of Winston Churchill, you will hear voices raised by those with an awareness of his role in the General Strike in 1926. Those who espouse a free-market philosophy and howl in horror at the full-employment strategy that underpinned British politics until 1979 will not take kindly to any suggestion that Clement Attlee should be honoured by such a dedication. We’re a nation of many threads – and you can’t please all the people, all the time.

Why not then have a day when people of diverse views and differing affiliations can define their own tributes and make their own dedications – either singly or in smaller or larger groups?  It could be called “Heroes Day” and it would be an occasion for everyone to think of the person who means most to them personally, and commemorate that life and its achievements in the way they consider most fitting. Those who can gather like-minded people together could perhaps organise groups in tribute to a favourite hero or heroine. One group might have their Florence Nightingale Day, another might wish to raise a flag for Arthur Scargill.  Any or all of them could use their hero or heroine to create a local event, or maybe even something on a wider geographical scale.  They could raise funds for an allied cause, and generally do a lot of good.

Heroes Day.  It has a certain ring to it; the inclusive context tends towards the subjective nature of hero-worship, yet there is a patriotic flavour to it as well.  There might of course be a down-side: there will always be individuals or groups who will seek to ignite strife by seeking to glorify the names of those who most would feel are unfit to be remembered or revered.  That could be a knotty problem; the whole concept of a Heroes Day would be for self-expression to have its head and for people to be able to pay tribute as they see fit, and the introduction of any form of censorship would strike a jarringly flat note in that symphony of personal freedom.  It almost brings us back to the ridiculous idea which prompted this article.  Clearly, some careful thought would be needed.

On the whole, though, the idea of a Heroes Day has much to recommend it, and is no more open to abuse than any other such suggestion might be.  To a certain degree, you just have to accept that grown-up people have to be given the latitude to express their views and celebrate their beliefs as they see fit, and the existing laws and by-laws are after all in place already to deal with any extreme manifestations which might crop up.  On the positive side, there could be great benefits which might arise out of the events which could be organised nationwide to celebrate a Heroes Day.  Fund-raising and education spring to mind, cultural events and perhaps even job-creation could be possibilities.  And in these times of gloom, with austerity piling up all about us and threatening to drown us all under it’s murky incoming tide, don’t we need something positive to focus our attention and creativity?  A national holiday, with thousands of individual events dedicated to the whole panoply of heroes, both past and present, a source of pride perhaps comparable to last year’s Olympics and Paralympics, a surge of national well-being in the recognition of who we are and who we have been.  Heroes Day.  I really do think it’s worth considering.  Who would your August Bank Holiday hero or heroine be?

Brian McDermott Preparing Leeds United for 46 Cup Finals

ImageHe’s a pretty downy old bird, Brian McDermott. You get the feeling that he doesn’t miss a trick in the business of getting the very best out of the resources at his disposal, and it’s a safe bet that he’ll be bang up to date with any factors that might affect his team’s chances of success. The last time he operated in this league, his Reading FC team recovered from a dodgy start to scorch through the pack and leave the rest of the division breathless in their wake as they clinched the Title.  On the face of it, there’s no reason he can’t do the same at Leeds – as long as he’s fully aware of one vital fact. Everyone raises their game against Leeds United.  We are everyone’s Cup Final.

What this means, in effect, is that – more so than most clubs – our players have to be prepared to face a very stiff challenge almost every week.  When the fixtures come out, fans of every other club in the league dive to examine the list, looking for one game: Leeds at home.  Those fans will leave their club and team in no doubt in the weeks and days leading up to their Cup Final – we must beat Leeds, or die trying.  So many times since we dropped out of the Premier League – and even before that – I’ve seen teams put in gut-busting, lung-bursting performances to pull off a great result against my hapless heroes in White.  So many times I’ve noted that this team’s next game produces a limp and pallid display as they struggle to a draw or defeat.  But, no matter – as long as they did it against Leeds United, their fans and their manager are happy.  We’re the scalp they all want, the potential feather in everyone’s cap.

This is particularly so when you look at the other teams in Yorkshire, for whom – you get the unmistakable impression – beating Leeds really is the be-all and end-all.  Your Huddersfields, your Barnsleys, your Sheffield teams.  Doncaster, even.  All those Hovis and cobblestone outfits.  They all have this chip-on-the-shoulder, urgent NEED to do it against Leeds.  Their fans demand it, motivated by a hatred for which they’re not even sure of the reason – summat to do with what their dad said about the sixties and Don bloody Revie.  But they simply must beat Leeds – do that, and avoid relegation and it’s been a good season.  Look at opposition message boards after Leeds have beaten their favourites.  The grief and bitterness are palpable, it’s something they just can’t cope with. It’s the same for the managers.  Remember the amusing sight of Darren Ferguson on the very edge of tears after defeat at Elland Road?

Brian McDermott, you feel, will be thoroughly aware of this – of the local derby factor, and of the feeling further abroad which inspires the likes of Forest and Derby, Millwall and Leicester to raise their performance levels against us.   If anyone can make this deep-seated hostility work FOR Leeds, you can bet Brian is that man.  He’s building his squad, and he’ll be building an attitude as well, the us-against-them solidarity that served him so well in this league at Reading.  Leeds is a horse of a different colour, of course, but the wily Brian will have it figured out, and he’ll want to use the other lot’s hostility against them.  We supporters will have our part to play too.  The fans just have to make Elland Road a cauldron of hostility again, somewhere that other teams and opposition players hate to play, because they know they’ll be facing 11 motivated and buzzing white shirts and 25000 12th men, screaming abuse at them the whole game through.  That’s how we handled it in 1990 under Wilko, and this guy can get the same thing going, if anyone can.

46 games is a long, long haul – the original football “marathon not a sprint”.  The advantage the other clubs will have is they’ll only face two Cup Finals in the season, maybe a couple more for those with local rivalries.  But for the other clubs, Leeds is The One, so we’re going to have to be up for it – bang up for it – each and every week.  If Brian McDermott can foster that attitude and that fighting spirit, and if we can win enough of those 46 Cup Finals as a result – then maybe, this time next year, we’ll be poised at the gates of the Promised Land.

Norwich Fans Getting Cheekier – Time They Showed Some Respect

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Over the past couple of years, Leeds fans have had to grin and bear it as little Norwich – an unfashionable club from the back of beyond – have used the fact of their temporarily higher league status to pluck such gems as Snodgrass, Howson, Becchio and, erm, Bradley Johnson from the Elland Road payroll.  In truth, only the first two of those four departures were all that painful – the odd twinge caused by Luciano’s departure has been relieved by his zero contribution to Naaaarritch since he joined them – but that hasn’t stopped those loveable Ciddy fans from gloating and grinning and taking the mick.  Every time another transfer “coup” has been completed, there they’ve been, savouring the novelty of lording it over Mighty Leeds, crowing about us being their “feeder club” (no marks for originality there, lads) and generally cavorting all over the internet like the small-time wurzels they are.

Now, just as things seem to be looking up at Leeds, there has been a mischievous little article on the Norwich  “Vital Football” site, wondering with innocent glee whether our Boy Wonder, the one and only Sam Byram, might be the next to tread the path from LS11 to the backwoods obscurity of East Anglia.  The article appears to be based on nothing more than hubris; there is no suggestion that Byram – a lad surely aware of his potential career path – would choose to make such an oddly negative, sideways-at-best move.  It appears to be a case of a lazy hack with nothing better to write, trying to cater to the schoolboy excitement of Norwich fans still grappling with the unaccustomed chance to make fun of a much bigger club.

And where, after all, is the harm you might ask?  If this internet bravado helps the currently happy Ciddy fans forget their inglorious past, then good luck to them, right?  After all, prior to their recent double promotion success, their club was mainly famous for the tired and emotional display of Delia Smith when she unwisely seized the match-day mike after lavishly sampling the vino cabinet, and treated the stunned home crowd to a slurred and cringeworthy motivational speech:  “Wheeeere aaaare yoooouu?  Let’s be ‘aaaavviiiin’ yooooouuu!!!”   It was entertaining for everyone outside Carrow Road, but hardly a siren call to tempt a future England star who already has a first team berth in a far bigger club.

Pride, they say, goeth before a fall.  I have a funny feeling that the Chris Hughton magic may be a little harder to work this time around, and that Norwich may face a long and bitter, possibly fruitless, battle to retain their top-flight status.  And if they come tumbling down, Snodgrass,Jonny Howson, Becchio and all, wouldn’t it be poetically just if a Brian-inspired and Byram-powered Leeds hurtled in the opposite, upwards direction?  Who would be laughing then?

If Byram has any sense (and all the indications are that he has), he’ll stay where he is for at least one more season unless a truly irresistible offer comes along.  This would be from a proper Premier League club, one that can offer him the chance of playing at the highest level and possibly competing in Europe.  Failing that, he would do well to continue last season’s meteoric development, if he can, at Elland Road – possibly helping to elevate Leeds United back to where they belong at the same time.  It’s not an unrealistic prospect, all of a sudden.

If, this time next year, Leeds have gone up and Norwich have been relegated – might we not be reading transfer speculation of a return to Elland Road for Snodgrass and Howson?  Maybe, after all, we’d need the cover in midfield and on the wing.  And if we did read that speculation – would that be hubris, or taking the mick?  Not really.  It’d be more like the natural order reasserting itself, as it inevitably must at some point (the Norwich fans know this, deep down.)  Perhaps then, they can be excused their current cockiness – they’re just making hay while the sun shines and trying not to worry too much about what tomorrow will bring.

Tomorrow will come though, Norwich.  And then we’ll see who’s the feeder club for real.

Game Giant Mattel’s “Complete Disregard” for Their Legion of Online Scrabble Fans

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Toy manufacturing giant Mattel are under fire from thousands of fans addicted to their online version of “Scrabble“, the popular word game played on a board with letter tiles, which has sold approximately 150 million sets worldwide. The row has erupted since the virtual web-based game, played regularly by a legion of Scrabble addicts on the Facebook platform, underwent “improvements” recently – changes which actually amounted to a complete revamp and not, according to angry users, in a good way.

The first inkling of change came in an online message seen by users as they started or rejoined ongoing games. A better experience was promised, and an exciting new look. What wasn’t flagged up was the overnight loss which would ensue, of game records, results, scores and contacts built up in some cases over years of enjoyable competition. Overnight, hordes of dedicated users found that their treasured online profile of games and opponents had been lost. Many thousands of people who had found friends in this virtual Scrabble world were angered to find that their fellow players were not in touch with them anymore, no warning having been given, no consultation having been entered into, and no option to retain the friendly competition that had lasted for so long and given such enjoyment.

What these frustrated online Scrabblers are left with is the unwelcome sight of a new version of the Facebook-hosted game which some have described as “brash” and “vulgar”. The rankings they have built up over long periods of participation, some players having many games on the go at any one time, have been lost, utterly and without warning. As many as 3.5 million online users were left with an unwelcome surprise as their opponents vanished along with the Scrabble-based friendships which had grown up between so many of them. Is this right or fair? More importantly perhaps for Mattel, is it even good business? There is, after all, that powerfully iconic word “goodwill” which many business people (and even some international conglomerates) keep close to hand at all times, as a reminder not to go stomping all over their customers, for fear that they may take their custom elsewhere. But Mattel seem curiously insensitive to the implications of goodwill in this case, and appear instead to be determined that there should be no going back, despite the growth and proliferation of some vociferous movements of protest and resistance.

The fury of the people affected, who have been so abruptly denied their daily “fix” of Scrabble and companionship alike, is readily understandable. A typical player is 72 year-old Kath Ward from Dunstable in Bedfordshire. She told the Mail Online:

‘My daughter knows that I like Scrabble, so when she found the game on Facebook she encouraged me to join and I signed up just to play. I have loyally played it every day since unless I am on holiday or terribly busy. I play for about three quarters of an hour to an hour depending on how many games I have on the go. I have made friends with people all over the world. People were very nice, you start off saying something like “that was a good word” and go from there. You get to know people. One of the people I regularly played with is in Spain and when we were there she invited us to visit. It saved all your games, so you had a record of all the people you had played and your statistics. This game means a lot to people – mostly silver surfers – they had dozens of friends on it. But it’s all been wiped overnight.’

Mrs Ward’s is one voice among many thousands being raised angrily at the sudden and arbitrary way in which their pastime has been wrenched from them. Users are talking about friends they’ve been in touch with for years, forming an online community of online Scrabble addicts, often chatting about general matters in between games, sometimes arranging to visit on holiday – but in many cases the previous version of online Scrabble was their only contact, and for some – shatteringly – the friendships have been lost with the abrupt deletion of all existing data.

On a purely competitive level, the point is also made that this was Scrabble – not some passing fad as many online games are – and that Scrabble people are obsessed with their records and rankings. Who should know this better than Mattel, the creators of the game? And yet they have acted in what seems an extremely rash manner to eradicate all these records, rankings and scores. The Mail Online reported a spokesman for Mattel as stating:

‘The Scrabble Facebook game is now managed by a new partner EA Mobile. The benefits of the new game include gameplay across devices, the addition of the Collins Official Scrabble Wordlist, the ability to play in six languages, the option to customise boards and tiles and the option to play ad-free. As part of the transition, we were unable to carry over ongoing games and statistics, the timer mode and the manual match-making function. The new version will have the same robust statistics moving forward.’

On that last point, many long-time Scrabble users are highly dubious, claiming that the ongoing stats include many people who have actually abandoned the game in disgust at the changes which were imposed. Mattel appear determined to remain obdurately on course with the new game; outraged former users seem equally set on maintaining their loud objections and making as much of a protest as possible for as long as it takes. The strength of the movement against the changes appears to be growing: one Facebook group maintains that the Scrabble changes are reversible, and continues to demand that Mattel see sense, look to their customer goodwill and set matters straight.

Watch this space!