Daily Archives: 28/11/2013

Making a Wish Come True for Young Leeds Fan and Cancer Fighter Joseph – by Rob Atkinson

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Making wishes come true

Sometimes the big, nasty world of professional football shows its usually-hidden, more human and caring side – just when you think it’s all about winning, money, egos, money, cheating and money.  Such a cynical attitude can sneak up on you unawares even if, like me, you’ve loved the game, and one club in particular, for the best part of forty years.  It’s difficult to avoid it, with all that you hear going on, and with the tantrums and spats of the great and the not-so-good.  But then something lovely happens, and you have a rethink.

ImageSuch an item cropped up today, in our local paper as it happens.  Because I’m happy to report that it’s the story of a very brave little lad, Joseph Carolan, who happens to be local to me and who has been battling away through the different phases of chemotherapy for the treatment of  Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.  Joseph was diagnosed with the disease in May last year after a visit to the doctor with flu-like symptoms.  His treatment involved long hospital stays and, during these, he passed the time by keeping up with Leeds United’s games, becoming a staunch fan of the Elland Road club.

Joseph has had a rough time of it, enduring nine months of intensive chemotherapy – and he is now embarked upon a further two years of maintenance chemotherapy.  It’s a grueling process, especially for one so young.  Joseph has lost some of his mobility as a result of all this, and relies quite heavily on a wheelchair.  He hasn’t been able to attend school either, so he’s missed out quite heavily in a few different ways.

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Joseph and Sam Byram in the new Leeds United-themed bedroom

So what better to cheer up a young football fan than a bedroom makeover in the colours of his favourite team? Happily, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, in conjunction with Leeds United Football Club, were able to step in and help arrange just that – and what’s more they managed to go one step further and give young Joseph a really brilliant surprise.  For when it was time to unveil his new, Leeds-themed bedroom, none other than United midfielder Sam Byram turned up to do the honours.  Joseph was naturally delighted and the happy surprise was a real fillip for him as he continues to receive the treatment his condition makes necessary.  His proud dad, John, was equally thrilled at what had been arranged for the young Leeds fanatic.  “Meeting Sam and having his bedroom decorated with a Leeds theme has really boosted Joseph,” he said.  “The medication that he’s on can make him feel quite down, but this has really cheered him up.”

Leeds United’s talented young midfield star, Sam Byram, was delighted to be able to help make Joseph’s day when he saw his new bedroom.  Sam said: “It was great to visit Joseph and see his face light up when he showed me his room. The items that the club donated have made his bedroom like a shrine to Leeds United. It’s very easy to forget sometimes what joy football can bring to people, and it was great to be able to meet Joseph and see the smile on his face.”

Joseph, from Pontefract in West Yorkshire, had been feeling poorly for some time before his diagnosis, so he’s had quite a long spell of feeling not particularly brilliant.  His dad John again: “Due to his illness Joseph has unfortunately had to spend a lot of time in his bedroom so having it decorated to reflect his favourite team is really fantastic for him.”

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Good buddies: Joseph Carolan and Sam Byram

It was particularly heart-warming to hear that a local boy, so poorly for such a long time but now battling away to get back to some normality, should have been given such a welcome boost by his beloved Leeds United – and even more so that he should have had the chance to meet one of his heroes in person as well as having his United-style room.  The Make-A-Wish Foundation relies heavily on donations, and anyone who feels they would like to contribute can do so here.  All credit to everyone who’s been involved with creating such a wonderful surprise for young Joseph; Leeds United might well reflect that it was only because of long spells in hospital that Joseph really got into them!  But as we know, once the bug bites, it doesn’t let go – so hopefully Joseph will be a United fan for many years.  From the look of the happy photographs of this event, that seems more than probable.

All the best to young Joseph for a full recovery – and Marching On Together with Leeds United to promotion.

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How Much Can Leeds Afford? Becchio and Gradel in January Would Seal Promotion – by Rob Atkinson

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Gradel & Becchio – dynamic duo

We’ve heard lately about United manager Brian McDermott having “funds” to assist with any player recruitment he might wish to undertake during the forthcoming January transfer window.  It’s a pretty vague word, funds.  Slightly more specific is the reported “seven-figure sum” invested in the past week or so by Managing Director and prospective Tory MP David Haigh.  Again, though, that doesn’t tell us too much, though it is encouraging.  We mustn’t get too giddy though.  We’re no longer living in the days when a paltry million pounds was quite a lot of money.  The one buzz-phrase surprisingly missing from this little shower of clichés is “transfer war chest” – perhaps because what Brian has is not so much of a war chest as a slightly cracked piggy bank.  But don’t be surprised if the phrase “war chest” is wheeled out at some point before the new year.

However much we have, or however little – and it’s important to acknowledge the wisdom of not being too specific as to figures because of the inflationary consequences for asking prices – the real burning questions would be: who do we go for? Who, after all, do we need?  The team is showing clear signs of increased unity and cohesion under Brian’s benign stewardship, and there must be a certain amount of wariness as to the possibility of rocking the boat too hard.  But you can never have enough good players, and for a club with an alarming track record over recent years of getting rid of our best, that maxim has a particular resonance.

Some of those players chucked overboard recently (yes ok, some may possibly have jumped ship) would be welcomed back by many.  But, of those, who would really fit in and add something significant to the existing squad?  I can think of three – and perhaps two of those might be feasible targets in January if – big if – we were to go down the route of welcoming back old boys.  My three would be Snodgrass, Becchio and Gradel. Sadly, Snods is probably beyond us for the moment, although that could and most likely would change in the event of Leeds and Norwich swapping leagues in May (Please, God. Pretty please.)  But the other two could just possibly be realistic targets – depending on exactly how much money there is in that piggy bank.

Believe me, I know how that assertion will be received by some.  I’ll probably get comments about “never go back”, “unrealistic targets”, “wage structure”, “why would he?” and all the rest.  Do save your breath, or your pixels and fonts – I’m aware of all the pitfalls.  But maybe if Leeds are taking the view that – hang on, we might actually have a shot at promotion here – there might be a more ambitious attitude to investment to bring about that promotion.  I believe that the acquisitions of Becchio and Gradel – with Becchio by far the more likely, but let’s dream a little – would pretty much guarantee a play-off place and could even open the door to the top two.  Both would add qualities that we currently just don’t possess.

McCormack has been prolific lately, but he’s a different type of striker to Luciano Becchio – and if Blackstock returns to Forest after his loan spell, we’re still going to need someone as an option for Rossco to play off.  And Becchio is a proven scorer at this level. As for Gradel – just look at those clips of him running at defenders in the white shirt. How bloody sexy is that??  He could do a hell of a lot of damage in this league, and he has a goal in him as well.  French football and French crowds are pretty insipid by English standards – could Mad Max be tempted home if we had the right kind of attractively juicy carrot to dangle before him?  It’s not impossible – though, again, some will say it is.  I wish them joy of their gloomy pessimism and inability to dream.

This is very much a what-if scenario.  I doubt that, in the real world, we’ll be making the level of investment required for such an audacious double swoop.  Becchio on loan, maybe.  The lad is plainly deeply unhappy at Norwich, and would probably walk back to Elland Road given the chance.  Gradel would be the cherry on the icing on the cake.  It’s undeniable that either or both “could do a job”.  Can anybody seriously dispute that?

Happy Birthday to Andy Ritchie: A Shining Light in Leeds’ Wilderness Years – by Rob Atkinson

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Andy Ritchie: post-Revie hero, 53 today

Happy Birthday today to one of the real stars of a fallow period for United: Andy Ritchie, a terrific striker who – from humble beginnings – made it as a hero of the Gelderd End at the One True United.

You could say of Andy that, by the time he arrived at Elland Road, he owed us a favour or two.  At the age of 18 while playing for man u, he had knocked in a hat-trick against Leeds in a 4-1 win for the Pride of Devon.  Not content with such precocious achievement, he did it again the following year, this time against Spurs.  Two top flight hat-tricks whilst still in your teens would seem to be a sign of real talent and the potential to succeed at the highest level – yet, in line with the brilliance of the managerial policy at the Theatre of Hollow Myths in those days, Ritchie was deemed surplus to requirements for “The Biggest Club In The Universe™”.  He was surprisingly sold in 1980 to Brighton and Hove Albion – doubtless to make room for some real talent at man u – such as Garry Birtles, Alan Brazil and Peter Davenport.

At Brighton, Ritchie again showed his worth as a striker to be respected, clocking up 26 goals in 102 appearances in what was always a struggling team.  Somewhat typically for his career, which turned out to be a bit of a saga of missed opportunities, he then moved on to Leeds United in 1983 in a swap deal which saw Terry Connor heading south to the Goldstone Ground.  The missed opportunity in question was the 1983 FA Cup Final which saw Brighton draw 2-2 with man u at Wembley.  This game was famous for the last minute of that draw, when one Gordon Smith was clean through with only Gary Bailey to beat.  “And Smith must score…!” shrieked the commentator.  Well, he didn’t – and Brighton let the country down by losing a replay 4-0.  The incident has gone down in Brighton folklore, they even had a fanzine with the title “And Smith Must Score”.  No disrespect to the hapless Gordon, but you suspect that Andy Ritchie would have scored. And how different might history have been then?

At Leeds, Ritchie settled down well and won the hearts of the fans he’d miffed with that hat-trick years earlier.  He was a solid performer for United in an era when they were few and far between, leading the line well and always reliable in front of goal.  He scored two hat-tricks for the club in season 1984-85, and played a prominent part too in the 1986-87 season, which saw Leeds under Billy Bremner reach the FA Cup semi-final and a Playoff Final replay, only to miss out narrowly on both fronts.

Ritchie’s career after Leeds saw him head back to lancashire, becoming a folk hero at Oldham as a player and later as manager.  With Oldham, Andy at last returned to the top flight, helping keep an unfashionable and poorly-resourced club there for a respectable three years, becoming founder members of the Premier League.  There was time at Oldham, too, for Ritchie to add to his unfortunate list of FA Cup near-misses.

Ritchie wound down his playing career at Scarborough, and then entered management and coaching at a number of clubs, including Oldham and Leeds United.  He is currently doing some football punditry with BBC Radio Leeds – he was the summariser for the win over Middlesbrough last weekend – and his name still crops up when lower league managerial jobs are vacant.

Andy Ritchie will probably go down in history as one of Oldham Athletic’s finest ever players – but he was a significant part of a generally bleak time in Leeds’ history too and is fondly remembered as a fine striker that we should probably have done more to hang on to.  Happy Birthday, Andy – thanks for some golden memories that lit up some very grey and dismal years for Leeds United.

Grim Christmas ahead for fifth of people who can’t buy food

The Tories are determined to get back to the Good Old Days, when Christmas conformed to that traditional picture that’s on Christmas cards everywhere – leaded windows throwing candlelight out onto a snowy street as rosy-cheeked traders do a roaring trade in hot chestnuts ……. and Bob Cratchit tries to feed his family on £1.50 while those even less fortunate starve in the gutter, orphans wake up to just another day at the workhouse and a thin helping of gruel, Tiny Tim wastes away as he sinks towards an early death because there’s no medical treatment and no help with his disabilities.

For a traditional Tory Christmas, you see, you need the cheery gaslights and the pretty fall of snow as the local mill-owner presides at his sumptuous family feast. You need Father Christmas showering the little ones in the nursery with gifts as the fire roars in the hearth and Mama hands Papa his hot toddy. But for a Tory Christmas, reviving those long-ago good old days, you also need unlit cellars with no heating and nothing to eat so that the poor can be reminded what the “shiftless” deserve out of life according to Victorian morality. For every feast for the workers, you need a character-building famine for the “shirkers”. For every Father Christmas handing out gifts to the lucky children, you need a workhouse overseer to make sure there’s no extra helpings of cold mush for parish paupers. For every Santa, you need a Scrooge.

This is where we’re heading in 21st Century Britain as Christmas rolls around again. Back to the Good Old Days, the Poor Law, the workhouse. Back to feasts and fortune for the lucky few and crumbs and despair for the rest. Back to hypocrisy, casual cruelty, oppression and greed.

Merry Christmas.

Leeds United Fans – Why do Some Appear to Revel in Negativity? – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds, Leeds, Leeds!

Leeds, Leeds, Leeds!

I’ve read a couple of articles lately, both decently-written and making some good points – but both leaving me despairing over the massively negative attitude current among a certain section of Leeds “support”.  The tendency, in fact is not only massively negative, it’s eagerly, loudly, brassily negative.  It embraces negativity and holds it close like it never wants to let it go.  It’s the very antithesis of what support should be all about. It’s defeatism in its most depressing and demoralising form; if these articles had been written in wartime, they may very well have been taken out and shot.

The common theme of course, hammered home with relish and supportive statistics, is that We Are Not A Big Club Anymore.  The people saying this say it passionately and with conviction.  Not only do they wish to believe that Leeds aren’t a big club, the very idea that some fans may not believe this – may, in fact be holding dear the belief that United are still big – clearly upsets and offends them.  They crop up everywhere, these pallid little people, spreading their message of gloom and churning out invidious comparisons by the bucketload.  They’re becoming an effective voice wherever fans gather together to discuss matters Leeds.  In fact there’s only one real problem with their whole campaign. It’s utter, unmitigated bollocks.

The fact of the matter is, no club is bigger or smaller than its fanbase, its potential for support.  A very reliable gauge of this is freely available in these tech-savvy days we live in. It’s what is nattily called “online presence”.  Give your mouse some exercise and find out for yourself – if you don’t already know.  In cyberworld, second division, under-achieving, out-spent and unregarded Leeds United are absolutely HUGE.  This is the best barometer you could wish for of the measure of passion out there, the incredible hunger and thirst for any morsel of news, any topic of debate about the Mighty Whites of LS11. They’re out there, right now, all over the globe.  They’re clicking away at their computer terminals reading and digesting, or they’re writing in dozens of languages about Leeds past, present and future.  Our great days on the field are an increasingly distant memory, and a large proportion of the match-day support of a decade ago are marginalised and still priced out of actual engagement with the match-going experience, despite a return to relative sanity in the pricing structure.  But around the globe, in the ether, over the airwaves and most importantly inside the heads of millions of fanatics, Leeds United are top four, a phenomenon.

So, why this overweening eagerness to paint us as a small club?  Is it the tiresome need of social writers to dress themselves up as that bit different?  You know – slightly windswept and interesting, with that world-weary air of cynicism etching attractive lines into their fashionably-troubled yet intellectual brows.  It’s odd.  Any real pretensions to “cool” tend to be dissipated by the unseemly scramble to out-do each other in the negativity stakes, and they’re usually followed by eager-beaver starry-eyed acolytes who wish to attach themselves to any view that doesn’t qualify as mainstream.  Perhaps that’s the answer – are we dealing with an online football-flavoured brand of snob obscurantism?

I’m not advocating the other pole of this issue, by the way.  That worryingly Freudian habit of a certain Franchise’s fans to shout from the virtual rooftops about how they’re the biggest, the best and totally huge and wonderful throughout the world and all four dimensions of spacetime. I’ll mention no names here, but the initials are man u.  I’d be even more concerned if our collective attitude was as deluded as that, not least because – in the case of our acquaintances from over the hills – their Devon and Cornwall-based support have made of themselves a laughing-stock with such wishful thinking.  Certainly in Barcelona and Madrid, and in various other centres of realism too, not excluding Beeston.

No, all I want is for certain people to remember the basic meaning of the word “support”. It does not include the peddling of negative thinking, nor does it encompass unhelpful and misleading assertions regarding comparisons with such giants as Norwich and Dull City.  All of this is willful and groundless cant, calculated to spread misery and crush hope.

Support is about identifying yourself with the club you love, and spreading the word to those less fortunate who have not seen the light.  It’s about getting the shoulder behind the momentum of recent promising form – and being prepared to back it all the way, in the face of the withering carpings of naysayers as and when necessary.  Support is an overwhelmingly positive thing, and it needs to espouse and reflect positivity in everything it does.

Criticism is part of this, we are not simply a massive band of yes-men.  But criticism can be couched in positive terms too – this will not do for Leeds United, we said of Bates, and behold, he is gone.  The same applies to ticket prices, or transfer policy, or anything else we’ve been unhappy with from time to time.  We say “this will not do because We Are Leeds, and we demand better”.  So we can be critical – and that can be effective – but it’s still our overriding duty to be biased, and to talk the club up – because we’re supporters. Criticism that amounts to a wholesale belittling of the club relative to other clubs who may be enjoying some temporary success – that’s just ridiculous, and so counter-productive as to be a sin. Spreading alarm and despondency is not needed, not helpful, not to be embraced.  There are idiots enough in the media eager as all hell to do that, without people who are supposedly fans getting in on the act.

So please, those who peddle pessimism or deal in negativity, think again.  Think not only of whatever you’re getting out of venting these frustrations of yours, but also of your obligations towards the club you’re supposed to be supporting.  Let’s not give our enemies, among rival clubs’ support and within the media, such a cheap advantage.  If you’re a fan, then act and speak as one.  Support your club as a supporter should.  After all – We Are Leeds United, and we are the best.