Daily Archives: 29/11/2013

Why Leeds United Still Needs a Bit of Bates – by Rob Atkinson

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Bates – “The Enemy Without”

In recent times just as in the Glory Days of the past, Leeds United have always been at their best when there’s a bit of adversity flying about, some mountains to climb – maybe a few unfair obstacles to overcome.  This is what is sometimes referred to as the “siege complex”. It’s what S’ralex Fergie used over the years at Man U to help them – with the valuable assistance of refs, authorities and media – to achieve honours and dominate in a way that teams of their relative mediocrity would not otherwise have managed.  The not-altogether-likeable Taggart was a past master at this – it was his greatest asset, much more effective than the tiresome “mind-games” which the gutter rags so loved to harp on about, but in which he was consistently out-manoeuvred by the likes of Wenger, Dalglish, Mourinho, Wilkinson and Benitez.

In a smaller way, and in humbler circumstances, Leeds teams over the past few years have benefited from this sort of togetherness, forged in the white heat of hatred and contempt from outside the club.  The “sod ’em, chaps – just get out there and fight” approach was never more clearly in operation than at the start of the 2007-08 season, United’s first in the third tier, when they began their battle to return from obscurity with the penalty of a 15 point deduction hampering them. We all know that they started that season on fire, despite the scratch squad assembled cheaply and at the very last minute, due to transfer restrictions imposed by the Football League.  A sort of “Dunkirk Spirit” bound those players together as they fought to recover from 15 points behind at the foot of League One, to actually top the table just before Christmas.  Overcoming such monumental calamity brought out the best in Leeds United.

So it was back in the sixties and seventies, when Leeds United swiftly became the most hated team in the land.  Possessed of some world-class players of devastating skill, capable of the most beautiful and effective football, the team nevertheless suffered from the media labeling it as “Filthy”, a tag that has never quite gone away.  A bond grew between those lads, a brotherhood nurtured by Don Revie, simply the best manager there ever was.  The Don, partly assisted by this early example of “siege complex” transformed an ailing provincial club with virtually no history by giving them, ultimately, the finest team in the world.

More recently than the Minus 15 era, we have had still further adversity to overcome, and this time it has brought out the best in the fans as well as the players and the club itself. The malign influence of Bates created a different atmosphere around Leeds United right from the start.  All of a sudden we had a despot at the head of the club, and not one of the “benign” variety – someone whose extreme personal charmlessness infected the way United were perceived outside the club.  There was a strong feeling as well that Bates was here to pursue his own agenda; certainly not one that was favourable to the future prospects of the Elland Road outfit.  In 1984, while chairman of Chelsea, Bates had responded to some freelance demolition work carried out on his Stamford Bridge scoreboard by a gang of contractors from Leeds by saying: “I shall not rest until Leeds United are kicked out of the football league. Their fans are the scum of the earth, absolute animals and a disgrace. I will do everything in my power to make sure this happens.” On the face of it, these are not the words of a man determined to restore Leeds United to former glories, and the fans twigged the subtle shades of meaning in the quote well enough to suspect that Papa Smurf meant us harm.

This led to the most concerted campaign of publicity and action by Leeds United fans in living memory.  They wanted Bates out of the club – and from a position of no representation, little power and organisation and zero support from the media (who you suspected found it quite funny that Leeds-hater Bates held the destiny of United in his gnarled hands) – they rallied round, gathered support, organised and hit the streets with protests and campaigns aimed at achieving a power shift in the Elland Road boardroom. Out of these beginnings, eventually, came the Takeover Saga – TOMA – and ultimately, reluctantly, Bates went.  By distinct contrast, Man U fans have gone so far as to form a whole other club, without having achieved anything like the same amount of success. After all, the Glazers are still there – despite FC United of Manchester, despite thousands of cockneys at the Theatre of Hollow Myths waving what looked for all the world like Norwich City scarves.  But out of adversity, dedicated Leeds fans helped achieve real change – that’s something to be proud of.

Now, even though Bates is gone from within the club, he’s still hanging around outside it, like a nasty smell that won’t entirely go away.  He has offices just over the road, and he’s busily plotting litigation after tasting the bitter fruits of defeat and being winkled out of his Presidency.  Seemingly, he can’t drag himself away from the club he stated so clearly all those years ago that he hated and wanted to see brought low.  Now we’re on our way back up again and he’s been forced out, he still won’t retire gracefully back to Monaco and die in the Mediterranean sun.  It’s a rum do.

But maybe, and here (at last) is the point of this article, we still need his loathsome presence, the occasional sight of him slithering his way around Elland Road, or even holding court to his favoured toadies in Billy’s Bar.  Maybe he represents that negative influence we seem to need around the club, to bring out the best in us and get us fighting fit and ready to rumble?  We had Brian Mawhinney, the Football League’s repulsively-oily agent of disaster in 2007, battering us with the points deduction and rallying support from the likes of fellow reptile Paul Scally.  We’ve had Chairman Bates, till he was forced out.  Both of them acted as a focus for the fighting spirit of this club, without which we tend to fall back into apathy and complacency.

Now, we have the right manager in Brian McDermott – and we look as if we’re getting to the point where the team is coming together.  We just need that extra spark, the anti-Leeds influence that we know we have to overcome, that will produce the flames of that United fighting spirit.  Maybe Bates is just what we need to provide that spark – a Bates now relegated to an impotent role, but still as repulsive and loathsome as ever.   He can serve as a reminder of what we had to put up with and what we managed, together, to overcome.  He can be the symbol of the world outside Elland Road, the world that still hates Leeds United and wants us to fail.  Given that, we can unite and fight, get behind the team, agitate for more and more improvements in the way our club is run.

That’s the way forward for Leeds.  We’re not meant to tread an easy path.  Out of adversity we’ve always wrought our greatest triumphs.  Given an enemy outside our gates to rally and unite us, we can do so again.

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“Day of Shame” for Dirty Leeds, the Damned United – by Rob Atkinson

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Billy & Co: Hard, but fair

Certain traditions run like a golden thread through the pages of any clubs’ history, but these are strange times and events are taking a turn for the bizarre.  Look at West Ham, the so-called Academy of Football – managed by a brontosaurus of a coach in Sam Allardyce who believes that a 4-6-0 formation is the way forward.  None of this old-fashioned malarkey about scoring goals for our Sam; he’s going to get the ‘Ammers relegated his way.  What would Ron Greenwood think?

Then look at the Premier League “Fair Play” league.  Look where Man U are – right down there near the bottom as if they were just any old club.  Seriously, what is going on?  The referees must be giving fouls against them for goodness’ sake, and actually booking players in that red shirt that previously meant immunity from normal discipline.  Pinch me, I must be dreaming. What on Earth are they playing at?

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Clean Leeds? You’re ‘aving a larf, mate

But for a truly shocking spectacle, one that will blast the eyes of any football nostalgia freak and confound millions of armchair experts everywhere, just take a gander at the Fair Play league for the Championship. There, sat somewhat shamefacedly at the top, are the arch-satans themselves, the famously filthy Leeds United.  How that must have made Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter choke on his cornflakes this morning.  Johnny Giles, known to many as a cultured performer with genius in his left foot, but by those who knew better as a pint-sized assassin, must have shaken his head sadly and wondered what things have come to.  This is not the Leeds United we all knew and loved, with blood on their boots and murder in their hearts.  What would Billy Bremner say?  Or, for those of an earlier vintage, Wilf Copping?

Just as the sound of leather on willow beguiles the senses of those sat around a village green watching cricket on a long summer evening; just as the sound of birds singing in a mellifluous dawn chorus brings promise of the balmy day to come – so the ghastly rattle of boot on bone and the anguished screech of yet another opposing player, nailed by a deadly-accurate but manifestly illegal lunge, would reassure the listener that they were at Elland Road with Norman or Gilesy going about their deadly business.  Some things just go with each other, like port and nuts, like Man U and arrogance.  If these traditions perish, what have we got left but some brave new world that we don’t quite understand?

Some will disagree, feeling that the appearance of Leeds United at the top of any league is long overdue and indubitably A Good Thing.  Those of a po-faced and purist turn of thought – the ones that yap away to each other unhappily if Leeds United rattle a few cages or shin-bones, or if earthier Leeds fans engage in verbal warfare with their like-minded counterparts at the Theatre of Hollow Myths – these more saintly people will welcome anything that further distances them and the Damned United from a bloodstained, strife-torn and controversial past.  Such tedious holier-than-thou types would like to see us as just another dull, routine club.  Look, they will squeak – we’re not Dirty Leeds after all.  We’re the cleanest and shiniest in the whole league.  They will nod a smug and satisfied little nod and then go on to remind you that we’re no longer a big club, either. Some people just have no feel for tradition.

There is some compensation for those of us with a more positive mind-set.  On a different page of the statistical website that shows Leeds in such a novel and incongruous fair-play position, we can see Ross McCormack sitting proudly at the top of the league’s scorers list, courtesy of his recent white-hot form in front of goal.  Now Ross is the kind of Leeds player any fan can warm to, outspoken in his regard for the club, ready to engage with the fans in social media – these are the sort of modern developments I can get along with.

If only those others in the team, those who bear the responsibility for defending United’s cherished tradition of “getting stuck in” and giving opposing forwards and playmakers a touch of gravel-rash from time to time – just to remind them they’re in a game – if only they could get their act together as Rossco has.  Maybe then we might start to sink towards our more accustomed place in the nether regions of the Fair Play league, whilst we’re rising slowly but surely towards the top of the League that really counts.

When I write of proud traditions in the context of getting stuck into the opposition, it’s not entirely tongue in cheek.  This “Dirty Leeds” reputation for dealing severely with upstart opponents really was a part of the culture of those early seventies times in particular.  You could hardly watch a sitcom without the name of the Yorkshire giants being brought into proceedings, by way of almost affectionate and decidedly respectful tribute.  We were quite the cultural icons.

In one episode of “Porridge“, for instance, the head screw Mackay claims to be “hard but fair”. “Yeah,” intones our hero Norman Stanley Fletcher, cynically – “Just like Leeds United”. And we get similar mentions elsewhere – “Rising Damp“, “Monty Python“, even.  Moments like that still give me that frisson of acknowledgement that I support a club outside the normal, humdrum, run-of-the-mill mainstream.  I support Dirty Leeds, the Damned United, and I’m proud of it.

So come on, Leeds – sort yourselves out and lets get the rest of football moaning and whinging about us again.  You owe it to those legendary hard-men of the past, all the way from Wilf Copping, via Billy, Norman, Big Jack and Gilesy, through to Vinnie and Batts. Where is that type of player now?  Maybe, after all, we should have made more of an attempt to sign Joey Barton.