Daily Archives: 01/12/2013

Sack for Wednesday’s Jones Spares Him Date With Leeds’ “Vile Animals” – by Rob Atkinson

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Oh Father – why hast thou forsaken me?

In the light of recent developments, what might not have been the most comfortable of occasions for a beleaguered David Jones, the now former manager of Sheffield Wednesday, will perhaps mercifully be avoided.  Due in January to “welcome” back to Hillsborough Yorkshire’s top club Leeds United and the magnificent supporters he unwisely chose to dub “vile animals”, Jones has instead been issued with a pre-Christmas P45.  There can be little doubt that he has earned it, having presided over the Wendies’ worst start to a campaign for 122 years as well as being prone to the occasional emotional outburst amid sloughs of deep and sulky gloom.  If there are any wise Wendy fans out there – and we’re talking a seriously rare species here – they will concede that their beloved club are, perhaps, better off without the Jones Boy. Whoever takes over can hardly do worse.

It may, of course, not be such good news for Leeds United.  Now they will be faced in January not just by the traditional chip-on-the-shoulder performance of inspired effort typical of all the smaller Yorkshire clubs facing the Elland Road giants – there will also be the new manager factor to contend with.  They might even get another draw.

It’s difficult to feel any sympathy for Jones, but he can be relied upon to supply all he needs of that himself.  Self-pity and self-justification are very much the strong suit of a man who seems to regard the world outside of his own little bubble of misery with a balefully jaundiced air of injured indignation.  After the latest defeat for his former employers on saturday, he was holding forth on the undesirability of replacing him with someone better.  ‘This club has had 12 or 13 managers in recent years but sacking managers isn’t the way forward,’ he said, hopefully.  But Wendies owner Milan Mandaric had evidently seen and suffered enough, and the loss at Blackpool turned out to be the last straw.  The search will now commence for someone who might be able to preserve the Howls’ Championship status and regruntle the apparently disgruntled Wendy fans – no easy task.

Whoever takes over the reins at Hillsborough will have his work cut out.  They need somebody strong, an organiser, someone who will take no nonsense in the dressing room.  Ideally the successful candidate’s CV should include at the very least a strong dislike for Leeds United.

Neil Warnock, perhaps….?

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Leeds Bête Noire Bates Replaced as Football’s Panto Villain by Hull’s “Doctor Death” – by Rob Atkinson

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Smile on the face of the tiger – disgraceful Allam

Leeds United fans know all about how it feels to have your club owned by a man who makes your teeth curl up with embarrassment, someone who has only to open his mouth to reveal the yawning cavity inside his skull.  Thankfully, Bates is now consigned to the dustbin of Elland Road history – give or take an outstanding court case or two – and the club can finally look forward to a future unencumbered by the whims and conceits of an irascible and unrepentant old man.  Some will mourn the loss of one of football’s “characters”, but really – with characters like that, the game would swiftly lose the plot. And anyway, it seems that there is another of the Batesian ilk, making a bad name for himself over in the Far East, in that soon-to-be City of Culture, Hull.

Hull City owner Assem Allam could be seen on the TV earlier this afternoon, simpering away to himself as his team of tigers beat Mighty Liverpool, courtesy of two wild deflections and some truly appalling Scouse defending.  The atmosphere at times was really quite deafening, the Hull fans – not noted for the passion of their support – belting out “City Till I Die” in a manner calculated to rock the rafters.  Allam bore the look of a man who felt he had personally inspired such vociferous support – and in a way that was true.  For Allam’s pre-match comment on the song rendered with such feeling by his club’s fans was that  “I don’t mind ‘City till we die’. They can die as soon as they want, as long as they leave the club for the majority who just want to watch good football.”  Not the most subtle of rebuffs for those City fans who are protesting against Allam’s proposed change of the club’s name to Hull Tigers.  In fact some would say that they were the words of a man disposed to let his mouth work without any apparent connection to his brain; the words, in short, of an intemperate oaf.  Most unsuitable for a future City of Culture.  But Allam was not content with one yobbish sound-bite.  He went further:

“How can they call themselves fans, these hooligans, this militant minority, when they disturb and distract the players while taking away the rights of others to watch the football, and of companies who have paid good money for advertising?

“If they want to express their feelings they are free to do so, either outside the stadium or pay to take [advertising] space.

“Seriously, they are welcome to talk to the stadium management about buying a space for a permanent banner, 10 times as big if they want. I am a supporter of democracy. I would have no issue with that.”

The City fans have organised themselves in an attempt to stop Allam from ripping away at their traditions and history in the name of tacky commercialism.  They will have noted with dismay that the Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan has succeeded against the protests of that club’s fans in changing the teams colours from blue to red, leaving them with the humiliating spectacle of their beloved Bluebirds turning out, in effect, in a strip that is a betrayal of their long-standing identity.  Tan’s regime  is also now threatening the future of popular manager Malky Mackay; the fans see this as a step too far and are issuing stern warnings and organising protests against such folly.

There is a growing and worrying need for sets of fans to form action groups against various pieces of arrant folly on the part of people who have bought football clubs in the evident belief that they then have the right to do whatever they like with those clubs.  The model appears to be based on the franchise system common enough in the States, where owners do have this licence to operate exactly as they please, even to the extent of closing down or relocating their toys, under a new identity and perhaps thousands of miles away. That’s just too horrible to contemplate for English football and, in the absence of any obviously helpful legislation to protect traditional interests, it does seem that the fans have little choice but to band together and get militant.

The conclusion is difficult to avoid that the game in this country has taken a wrong turning in making conditions so propitious for loaded foreigners to come in, buy their trophy clubs and then, with little or no understanding of the history and social impact of those clubs, set about bending them unrecognisably out of shape.  It may be that Assam is not aware of how embarrassing the Hull City supporters find it when opposing fans mock them by singing “Tigers, Tigers, rah, rah, rah!” at them.  But any football fan would completely understand that kind of humiliation – so why make things worse with a complete Tigers re-branding?  Does Tan at Cardiff honestly have any idea of the impact a change from blue to red has had on the fans of that club? Of the stick that the fans will have had to take from their despised rivals in Swansea? It seems doubtful that these people, flush with cash and arrogance, either know or care.

Both Hull City and Cardiff City are currently proud members of the Premier League – so things could be worse.  Both are doing OK as well.  But if you asked me, as a Leeds fan: would I settle for success at the kind of price being expected of fans of the two City teams – then I’d have to say, resoundingly: NO.  History and tradition count for a lot in football. This new wave of minted foreign ownership is set fair to suck the soul out of the game if the trend is allowed to continue.  That then becomes a national cultural issue and – surely – some Government department should be sitting up and taking notice.  And really, they should be taking notice now – and thinking about some possible protective action now as well.  Otherwise we will be doing the usual futile thing of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.  You can’t get much more uselessly British than that.

This footballing Tale of Two Cities is a definite pointer away from the creeping, insidious growth of clueless foreign ownership – and that’s not a xenophobic stance, it just so happens that most of the new owners are not from these Isles – which probably explains their lack of appreciation of just what the game here – and the fan culture – are all about.  It will be far too late to do anything about it when someone like Allam or Tan – or indeed like Bates, who proves that arrogant idiocy is not simply a matter of foreign nationality – decides that Hull isn’t a good place for a football franchise, and relocates them somewhere else entirely, with a snazzy new name to attract untapped local support.  It could easily happen – who speaks then for the disenfranchised Hull City fan of fifty years faithful support?

If we did move away from the current situation, we could do a lot worse than look to Germany, and their preferred system which relies heavily upon community-involved, supporter-owned football clubs which are part of the local fabric and represent the heart and soul of the fans.  It works very well in Germany, and certain clubs elsewhere – notably Barcelona – benefit from a similarly democratic and inclusive situation.

Whatever the future brings, I wish the supporters of Hull and Cardiff all the best as they struggle to retain their clubs’ identities in the face of unsympathetic ownership structures.  They will need all the luck and good wishes they can get – but if they succeed, it’s good for all of us – because it would send out a definite message that every football fan of every team should endorse: You’re welcome here, Mr Billionaire, and so is your money – but don’t you dare mess about with MY club.

Perhaps then, fan power would really have found its feet and organisations like IMUSA, LUST, and the protest groups at Hull, Cardiff and elsewhere can start to exercise a real and responsible on the game in this country.  That, if you think about it, is what will be needed if we’re ever to give the People’s Game back to the rightful owners.  And they are of course the people – us, the fans who love football and want to see it prosper – in the right way, the proper way, the traditional way.

Not – please note – as some rich guy’s toy to play with, break and then discard as a bored and spoiled child will tend to do.  Messrs Allam and Tan, and all the others – be warned.

Arsenal and Cardiff Serve Up a Football Treat With Added Class – by Rob Atkinson

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The definitive “Good Advert for Football”

Yesterday’s clash between Cardiff City and Arsenal at the imaginatively-named Cardiff City Stadium produced much that we might have expected – as well as quite a lot that we didn’t.

First things first, and a fantastic performance by the league leaders resulted in a win that looked, on the face of it, comfortable. Arsenal produced everything we all know they’re capable of: shimmering moves going forward with chance upon chance being created; bewildering interchanges of position which saw the most unlikely people cropping up at centre-forward – how do you mark your men against a team like Arsenal? It was a feast of flowing, creative football, beautiful to watch, virtually impossible to cope with and ultimately very, very effective.

And yet Cardiff, newcomers to the Premier League let’s not forget, more than played their part in a highly entertaining game which was always closer than the scoreline might suggest. Their promising forward Fraizer Campbell got himself on the end of a few quality deliveries, and on another day might easily have had one or two goals himself. But the goal-scoring honours on the day rested squarely with a former Cardiff player, Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal.

Ramsey’s was a performance to drool over, not just for his two expertly-taken goals, not even for the overall quality of his performance within a highly proficient overall Arsenal display.  What really caught the eye was Ramsey’s poise, self control and a disarming humility in the way he reacted to his goals. Not a flicker of celebration, just quiet satisfaction and the full measure of respect to the club that gave him his start.  You see this sometimes, it’s a bit of a phenomenon over the past few years, and while it’s not universally observed – van Persie’s tasteless degree of triumphalism against Arsenal themselves springs readily to mind – it always gilds the occasion with that extra patina of class; there’s just something fitting about it that reminds you what football should be all about.

Even in this, Cardiff City more than played their part.  It’s a shattering, disappointing feeling to see your favourites concede a goal, at the best of times – to see a former favourite score not one, but two – that’s really unpalatable. And yet the Cardiff fans, all of them from what could be seen, responded magnificently to the prodigal Ramsey’s return and successes.  When the former Bluebird scored his first goal – a header of stunning quality – his muted response brought the stadium to its feet as the home fans stood and applauded, clearly affected by the respect shown by their departed star.  How often do you see that?

As a Leeds fan, I can only remember one comparable occasion at Elland Road, back in the early nineties when Roy Wegerle of QPR scored a wonder goal of such world-class quality that even the notoriously partisan Leeds fans gave it a unanimous ovation.  To see the Cardiff fans applaud Ramsey – for his second goal as well, which put the seal on Arsenal’s win – made you feel good about the game again, as if the underlying decency of sporting competition will always, in the end, prevail over the less attractive features we’re sometimes exposed to.

In between Ramsey’s two strikes, we had the spectacle of Mathieu Flamini – brought off the bench nine minutes earlier as a holding midfielder – materialising at centre-forward to sweep the ball into Cardiff’s net from Mesut Ozil’s perceptive through pass.  it was another outstanding example of the sheer brilliance Arsenal have in their locker this season.  The third goal right at the death came when the outcome of the game was certain, but it was another quality finish, and another immaculate display of respect from the outstanding Aaron Ramsey.  He took the applause from all sides of the ground, from his fans new and old, clearly touched by the emotion of the moment.

Arsenal’s prospects look genuinely good, there are really only a couple of question marks over their possibilities for the rest of this campaign.  The first concerns how they will fare against the better teams in the Premier League – of these, they have only met a less-than-vintage Man U so far, who scraped a win that will have disappointed the Gunners – knowing themselves to be capable of much better.

The second possible issue is around the back-up they have available in the event of injury or suspension for striker Olivier Giroud. Reserve forward Nicklas Bendtner does not appear to have what it takes at this level, and Arsenal may need to look to the transfer market again when the window opens.  Their stunning pre-season swoop for Ozil has cured any notions that the Gunners lack clout and ambition in their recruitment policy – they will probably need to reaffirm this new determination in the new year.

A highly enjoyable game for more than the usual reasons, and great credit to both clubs. On this display, you would have to back Cardiff to survive with something to spare – and as for Arsenal, they should have their sights set firmly on nothing less than the Premier League title itself.  What better way to break that trophy drought, a millstone around Arsene Wenger’s neck for far too long now?  And also, what better for the game in this country than Champions of the quality and class of Arsenal, still our foremost club despite populist claims for clubs lower down the food-chain.  Arsenal for the Title – I’ll drink to that.

Daily Mirror’s Leeds United Red Bull Link is Just Their Usual “Bull” – by Rob Atkinson

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Answer: The Mirror, Sun, Mail etc etc

The ecologically-fanatical Green movement have occasionally waxed lyrical about the possibility of generating energy from methane – using the flatulent output of millions of fields full of peacefully-chewing bovine powerhouses to provide light and warmth for our homes. It’s a nice if slightly smelly idea.  The Mirror newspaper appear to have adopted their own version of this cattle exploitation concept, basing their sports journalism service, for want of a more appropriate phrase, on the more solid waste output of those noble beasts. How else to explain their continual fabrication of outlandish stories concerning Leeds United?

This morning, in a transparent attempt to up the ante after yesterday’s news of additional investment for the Elland Road club, the powers that be at the Mirror have evidently set some hacks to work to find something – anything – to muddy what seem to be unusually clear and sparkling waters for Leeds United.  It’s not difficult to take an old and tired story, polish it up a little and then serve it up as something new and tasty for the kind of undemanding and uncritical readership catered for by the trashier Redtops. Not difficult – but not particularly clever either.  It makes you wonder – don’t the writers on the Mirror have any ambitions to work for proper newspapers?  If they do, then surely their current tenuous relationship with the truth of what’s actually happening will hardly help them on their way.

For the avoidance of doubt, Red Bull are a franchise that have added several sports outfits around the world to their portfolio, but without any real attendant record of success. Their involvement tends to be characterised by getting in there, ripping up most of the traditions surrounding their purchase in favour of the appalling measure known as “re-branding” and then watching a previously independent club or team go swirling down the plughole.  This is not an approach that would be tolerated at Leeds United, a club notorious for the militancy and truculence of its support.  What seems as certain as these things ever can be, is that GFH Capital, the owners of United, are well aware of the limits imposed by that support on their latitude for instituting radical change.  But the likes of the Mirror have never let inconvenient facts get in the way of making up fairy stories as a simple alternative to reporting actual news.

A mere two months ago, this blog was relieved to hear that the Mirror was reporting as fact Leeds manager Brian McDermott’s readiness to quit Elland Road and take over the Ireland job.  Relieved, because of the reliable principle that – when the Mirror reports something as fact – it’s invariably just more of those bovine solids that they seem to find so palatable it’s positively their staple diet. Again, there was a wisp of credibility about the tale – Ireland were looking for a man of ability and integrity (in the event, they got Roy Keane instead), and the Mirror had simply followed their usual policy of adding two plus two, to arrive at thirteen-and-a-half.  You won’t ever go far wrong just by reading the Mirror and disbelieving all of it.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, it does seem that Leeds United may at last be on an identifiable and navigable path back towards the top.  A promising league position – despite yesterday’s blip – and a good manager with a decent squad and some potential to add to it in January – these are as close to good times as we’ve seen at Elland Road for many a moon.  None of which will be good news for the Mirror, the Sun and the other examples of toilet paper at the lavatorial end of the print media.  But frankly – who cares?  The truth is still out there, you just have to know where to look – and be determined at all costs to avoid the pungent Bull you’ll see in the gutter press…