Monthly Archives: February 2014

Jack Rodwell Could Be Cellino’s Latest Leeds Masterstroke – by Rob Atkinson

Jack Rodwell - Leeds United bound?

Jack Rodwell – Leeds United bound?

The identity of the fifth loanee – five is the maximum allowed – being pursued by Leeds is the subject of much speculation and now some increasingly strong internet rumours. If the Twitter chatter is to be believed, then Man City’s Jack Rodwell – young, talented, English and internationally honoured – could be about to don the famous white shirt until the end of the season.

The thing is, these days, Twitter rumours frequently do come true. Butland and Wickham – two quality recruits we would have dismissed as fanciful a few short weeks ago – were both accurately tipped in various tweets. Quality is the watchword here. We saw it in Butland against the smoggies. You can see it in Wickham just by trawling through the rage and grief on the Wendies message boards in the wake of that signing.

This influx of quality goes hand in hand with growing evidence that Massimo Cellino – FL approval doubts notwithstanding – is firmly in control at Elland Road. Another sign is the withdrawal of Enterprise Insurance’s drama-queen winding-up petition as Cellino has contemptuously paid off Flowers & Co with some loose change in his back pocket. Wages have been paid on time and in full, despite hopeful rumours in the press that the cupboard is bare down at LS11. And now, we might just be about to see the crowning glory of the Italian’s initial impact at Leeds United.

Looking at the evidence for Rodwell – he’s just what we need, and we’re now just starting to believe we can dare to dream. When Wickham signed, we were thinking, wow – follow that. And then a junior Cellino came out and said “the best is yet to come”. Rodwell is of international pedigree and would give us a fighting chance of the play-offs and advancing Cellino’s agenda by at least one season.

Could it happen? We’re likely to find out soon, this guy moves fast. Somebody else is coming in, and we can confidently expect more quality to enhance our first-choice team. Cellino appears to mean business – watch this space and get ready for a hell of a ride.

Irresponsible Man U & Rooney Highlight Need for Salary Cap – by Rob Atkinson

Wazza's Wages

Wazza’s wages, Wazza’s life

At a time when Leeds United are sweating upon the dilatory machinations of the Football League as we all wait for a verdict on Massimo Cellino’s proposed takeover of the club, it is chillingly instructive to look at what’s currently happening with the recently-deposed leaders of English football. Leeds are aiming to leave behind them more than a decade on the breadline, an era when every penny has been counted and investment has been shockingly inadequate to support the ambitions of an ostensibly upward-looking football club.  Man U, meanwhile are operating at the other extreme of the financial and moral spectra, being seemingly eager to throw obscene amounts of money at their own unwelcome dilemma – that of being abruptly overtaken by a pack of rivals who are suddenly displaying far more in terms of pedigree and potential.

The most recent symptom of this new high-water mark of the sickness consuming the game is Mr Wayne Rooney’s newly-inflated wage packet.  A click on that link will take you to a real time clock of exactly how much the past-his-best scouser is earning – for want of a more descriptive word – after his latest reprise of the “holding a gun to your employer’s head” ploy.  Usefully, it’s a per-second measurement – but watch those figures blur round as the synthetically-hirsute one racks up his wealth at an astounding £30 per minute.  Even more usefully, there’s a direct comparison between Wazza’s Wages and the more modest earnings of a real-life hero such as a trained nurse.  Now watch those figures climb for the poor nurse, sooooo sluggishly that it’s pitiful.  You can even compare what Man U are shelling out in salary for the formerly good England striker with what it costs us all (in salary alone, not the disastrous wider economic costs) to have Mr David Camoron as unelected Prime Minister. Basically, by the time our hard-working nurse has clocked up her first 50p, the eejit at the head of the coalition has blagged an undeserved three quid, which just goes to show beyond reasonable doubt that the whole of creation has got things severely arse-about-face.

Wazza's Wages - a scientific comparison

Wazza’s Wages – a scientific comparison

But for an exercise in the truly surreal, just look at Shrek’s Salary by the time Nursey has her opening ten bob.  In that brief period, he’s trousered a jaw-dropping £300.25.  He can probably afford three tenderly conjugal sessions with a high-class Granny-for-rent with that kind of dosh. Meanwhile, our poor Florence Nightingale will not yet be able to get herself so much as a vending-machine coffee – and even everyone’s least-favourite Old Etonian would need to fiddle his expenses extensively in order to get a decent meal at the Kensington branch of McDonald’s.  No change there, then. Many thanks, by the way, to @ampp3d for the graphic illustration.

Now, the foregoing surely provides anyone’s definitive answer to “Name something so gut-wrenchingly obscene it makes your eyes and ears bleed”. But really – is Rooney himself to blame?  Well, yes – he is, a bit, isn’t he?  Certainly from a moral standpoint, anyway.  At a time when so many are being driven to food-banks in order to keep body and soul together, it’s fair to ask how the grasping Rooney can sleep of a night – surely to goodness the thought of all those hungry people out there must trouble him a little, when he thinks of his £15 million-plus a year, merely for kicking a ball around.  You might even think it’d put him off his game and make him a mere shadow of his youthful self. Well, something certainly has.

But there’s a case also for saying: if somebody’s daft enough – if they have the slack-jawed idiocy to lash out those enormous sums to a mere footballer – then it serves them right for being so dribblingly moronic, and who can blame Rooney for accepting their ill-advised largesse.  Discount all the press reports of Rooney saying in the press how glad he was to commit his future to Man U (until the next time he fancies a fifty-grand a week pay rise, that is) – discount those reports, because they might make you sick.  You would also feel quite distinctly naused when, after the first five minutes of Wazza’s first match following his little hike in salary, some fluffy TV reporter assures us all that “he’s clearly utterly committed to the cause”, or some such specious, fawning bollocks designed to make the mugs in Man U favours think they’re getting value for money.  Pay no attention to all that flim-flam – because, at the end of the day, this disgusting, evil new contract for Rooney is to be laid at nobody’s door but that of the Man U Money Men, those pallid, grey little chaps whose job it is somehow to propel a moribund leviathan back to the top of the game – sans Ferguson, the diabolical genius on whom – with his coarse bullying streak, his taste for intimidation on an industrial scale and his deeply dubious “mind game” methods – their entire two decades’ worth of tarnished glory was founded. And if you don’t believe that – just ask Graham Poll, one of the men who helped create and maintain the Evil Empire, and has recently admitted as much.

The fact is, of course that – without the departed S’ralex – it’s going to be nigh-on impossible for Man U to regain their former undeservedly-attained heights, no matter how much money they chuck at the problem.  The top four we have now – Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester’s finest, City, are just too good for the fading Pride of Devon to be able to compete – certainly under their current, cack-handed management.  The big boys are simply superior – better run, better coached and with far better squads. The damage being done by Man U’s willingness to to lash out zillions on wages and – presumably, if they’re able to attract anyone half-decent – on transfer fees, is visited upon the game as a whole, not really on the super-clubs they laughingly call “rivals”.  Because, let’s face it – Man U’s rivals now are Everton and Tottenham, who seem likely to fight it out with the ailing ex-champions for that prized Europa League spot. How are the mighty fallen, eh?  And think of the damage to their so-called prestige. What – the “Biggest Club in the World™ ” – now stop that giggling in Madrid, Milan, London and Barcelona, it’s in very poor taste – scrambling to finish fifth? The club that prides itself on its amazing youth policy, doing what it’s always bitched about City and Chelsea doing, trying to buy their way to another title??  Surely not.  How utterly, degradingly, humiliatingly shameful. But – arf, arf – how funny, too.

The thing is though, once the laughing stops, I have to turn back to my beloved Leeds United and painfully wonder – just how the hell are we ever to fight our way back to the top, where every single true Whites fan knows in his heart of hearts we belong – when the idiots currently competing with today’s elite are allowed to practice such abysmal fiscal lunacy?  £300,000 a week for a faded old relic of a Rooney?  If Leeds could have that as a wages budget for their entire squad, that’d be 20 players commanding an average 15 grand a week.  Properly managed, that’d see us soar to promotion.  But what kind of future would face us then?

As I wrote just the other day, unless we could somehow afford to lavish an extremely unwise amount of cash on a gamble for success – “living the dream”, I seem to recall it’s known as – then we’d have to settle for mediocrity as the absolute upper limit of our potential.  That’s what this mega stretching-out of wage structures is coming to mean for the majority of clubs.  It’s sickening for the supporters who have to struggle along on one fifteenth per year of what Rooney rakes in per week.  It’s in danger of alienating even Man U’s own fans, who surely can’t be plastic suckers right down to the last Cornwall-based, Sky-addicted armchair.  And it’s destroying the possibility of fair competition, upon which is predicated the whole theory of League Football – the increasingly-mythical “level playing field”.

Make no mistake about it, the bulk of “competing” clubs haven’t a hope in hell of getting anywhere near the cartel at the top, and they know it.  And, ironically, this will apply almost equally to the club who, more than most, is bringing about such an unhappy situation by sanctioning such ridiculous amounts in wages to the avaricious young men who kick a football in their name.  Man U are contributing, in large measure, to their own demise as a major force – through sheer, desperate lunacy.

So it comes to pass that, just as Leeds United appear to be on the brink of ceasing to be paupers and becoming what we would until quite recently have thought of as seriously rich – it turns out that we’re not going to be really rich after all.  Not as compared to the top four cartel.  Not even when you put them alongside the rich-but-not-good-enough likes of Man U and Spurs.  For a club like Leeds, with such a proud history, with such loyal, fanatical and long-suffering fans, the prospect of being thwarted by what is, in effect, a glass ceiling is almost too much to bear.

But it’s a dilemma too.  What do we actually want, if our dearest wishes were to be granted?  Do we ask for mega-bucks to be spent on ensuring we win the title, as Man City and Chelski have done?  Do we invest more wisely, improve our infrastructure and act patient, on the Arsenal model? God forbid that we’d just assume we have a divine right to be the biggest and the best, like that scummy lot from the Theatre of Hollow Myths, and start paying over-rated has-beens like Rooney a king’s ransom every week. Surely, anything but that.

This stupid deal, offering a stupid boy a stupid contract, on stupid money, has to act as a shrill alarm-bell for the football authorities in this country and further afield.  Elementary physics will tell you that you can inflate anything by only so much – be it a bubble, a balloon or even an ego – before it bursts and becomes just a futile waste of air.  The time is now ripe to think seriously about a salary cap.  Nothing drastic.  Nothing that will make an obscenely rich group of spoiled young athletes feel any sort of a pinch. Just a measure to ensure more equal competition between participating clubs, and thus retain the possibility that success can perhaps be achieved on merit instead of simply by those with the wherewithal to buy it. Because, ultimately, that is what the game is all about.

Nobody will listen.  Nobody will pay any heed to what is staring them malevolently in the face.  They’re all far too busy riding the gravy train, or at least clinging on tightly to the coat-tails of those in first-class.  Perhaps they think – these pallid little grey men, with their clammy hands and glistening, moist, avaricious lips – that time is still on their side.  That, by the time the gravy train derails – as it surely will – they’ll have made their pile, and it’ll be someone else’s problem.  That’s not any sort of a strategy though – it’s the road to ruin, no error.  Under such benighted, short-sighted leadership, our beautiful game will end up plummeting downhill like a greased pig.

Perhaps the Financial Fair Play rules will mitigate this disaster that’s approaching so remorselessly.  But, sadly, rich, stupid yet sly people, focused on the short term and immense personal gain, tend to pay poorer, cleverer even slyer people to sort out for them inconvenient little problems like FFP. Loopholes will be found when needed, rules will be bent as necessary, palms will be greased with lavish abandon.  The train will continue its headlong flight, until the final calamity occurs.  Rooney won’t be bothered – he’ll have his £100 million or so and all the grannies and artificial follicles his mercenary heart could desire.  It’s us, the fans, who will suffer – along with the littler people in the game, those who will be left trying to pick up the pieces after meltdown.  All of this is so gloomy, I know. But who can put their hand on their heart and tell me that it’s not true?? Please, step forward – I could use the reassurance.

I’m afraid disaster is approaching – the kind of disaster that inevitably occurs when you put incompetent and unscrupulous people in charge of vast oceans of money, and fail to incorporate any fail-safe device.  That, by the evidence of Rooney’s latest wages coup, is exactly what’s happening, exactly what will continue to happen, unless there’s some unforeseeable wising-up at the top, and a wage cap is implemented as a matter of urgency.  Perhaps the football chiefs should have a word with their counterparts at the Rugby Football League?  Do it, chaps – and take a notebook and pencil.  But you know it ain’t gonna happen, so we’re doomed.  And let’s not hark back to Leeds’ own relatively innocent financial peccadilloes at the start of this century.  That was tropical fish feed to what’s occurring now.  Honestly – three hundred grand a week??? No, let’s not cloud the issue here.  I blame Man U, because Man U are to blame.

If I can have just one wish in the face of the dark age that is sooner or later to come – then it’s simply this.  God, in your infinite mercy: please let my cherished and much-loved Leeds United – providers of England’s Last Real Champions before the start of the Murdoch Money Epoch – please let us win at least one more trophy – before it finally all goes tits-up.

The Last Champions

The Last Champions

The Case for a Grown-up, Well-Moderated Leeds United Forum – by Rob Atkinson


Mature debate

What makes for a good football forum?

That’s a fairly vexed question, these days.  It may even be the kind of issue best looked at from the opposite perspective – in other words what are the elements to be avoided, at all costs, in order to have the best possible football forum?  In the case of Leeds United – where of course there is usually an elegant sufficiency of controversy, with plenty to get the old teeth into by way of intractable issues such as takeovers, transfer policy, managerial tactics and so on – the need for a really good internet forum is even more urgent than for most other clubs.

Sadly though, there appears to be a distinct lack of anything truly adequate out there.  Most of the existing resources are fundamentally flawed in one way or another.  Above all, there seems to be a pervading right-wing presence which makes for a hostile environment for anybody lumbered with, for instance, a social conscience or a bit of good, old-fashioned socialism.

This might be just about tolerable if all you’re looking for is simple football information and debate – but most forums seem to have pretensions to a wider and more eclectic scope. Some even have different sections expressly devoted to music, cars, politics, entertainment, topical issues, etc.  Now, this is all well and good, but when it goes hand in hand with the presence of a sizeable minority of vociferous right-wing boneheads, the debate (in some areas more than others) turns into a futile endeavour, with the more moderate points of view being shouted down by “I’m alright, Jack” tories, racist EDL apologists and other such unpleasant creatures.

The two most obvious offenders in these terms are probably the so-called Service Crew forum, and its more anaemic shadow, WACCOE – which, as I’ve previously pointed out, used to be half-decent – but are now dominated by cliques of what I can charitably term loudmouth smart-arses with unpalatably Thatcherite agendas.  I’ve recently found myself in a very small minority on both forums, and the outrage and resentment I’ve encountered, just for daring to be different, has – quite frankly – defied description.

The Service Crew forum in particular makes a habit of parading its right-wing leanings and is overtly hostile to anybody with a libertarian outlook.  A lot of this behaviour is, of course, motivated by a desire for peer approval. The overweening need to be “one of the lads” is very strong on this forum, and what used to be a reasonably useful resource for information and debate on all things Leeds has now had its waters muddied by the presence of a group of people who evidently need an outlet for the anti-social and otherwise reprehensible views they don’t feel safe expressing elsewhere.

This manifests itself differently according to the age of the contributor – there are clearly a few dinosaurs who hark back to what they think of as the good old days of football violence (FV for the ITK), and are forever re-living the days when they showed the world what jolly tough chaps they were by gratuitously banging heads with like-minded morons who happened to sport the colours of an opposing team.  Most of the younger contributors have no memories of such laddish behaviour, as organised hooliganism is largely consigned to the dustbin of history.  But this doesn’t stop the young and stupid tendency from wanting to ape their elders, and there is a lot of hero-worship going on, the objects of which are all too clearly those retired knuckle-draggers mentioned above.

There is a slight overlap from the SC Forum into WACCOE; some of the older boneheads have a presence there too, and again they find no shortage of young and foolish acolytes desperate for the approval of what are still comically known as “lads” (you have to remind yourself occasionally that the majority of former hooligans are now grandads of fifty-plus who are firmly in the “old enough to know better” club).  But WACCOE has another element too – generally these are a bit younger and frequently claim to be in some or other well-paid employment that doesn’t require much deep thought or originality, depending heavily on “I earn this much a year and I drive this or that inadequacy-compensating car”.

Again, this overly-defensive group are identifiable by a horror of seeming “different” to those they worship and by a poignantly-obvious need to bunch together with kindred spirits; to be accepted as part of a collective with a distinct and identifiably limited, conservative world-view.  The anonymity of the internet then affords these needy people the opportunity to jump on anybody with a viewpoint that doesn’t conform to the mainstream views prevalent on either WACCOE or the SC Forum, thus validating in their own minds the self-image they’re so assiduously cultivating.

On both sites, the moderation is insipid at best, so the abiding tendency of the rabid defenders of the current draconian government, to shout down voices of protest, is generally quite unfettered.  Any lone voice which does demonstrates a determination to have its say, or which defends its position vigorously, is left in no doubt that such views are unwelcome. Not altogether in the spirit of free speech, there are frequently appeals to the moderators to close threads where the cosy prejudices of the anti-intellectual hoi polloi are too enthusiastically challenged.  At the end of the day, it is likely to be the voices which shout loudest who prevail; free thinkers tend to get shouted down and any rational debate is drowned out.

One odd irony in this process is the tendency, during the initial part of the shouting-down phase, for those who wish to impress their heroes on the forum to attempt put-downs of a distinctly aggressive and/or abusive nature. However, if the response to this is in any way aggressive or abusive in return, then hurt, shock and outrage are tearfully expressed – and there is usually some petulant demand for the minority party to be banned, ironically for “not being able to debate rationally or without descending to abuse“. Clearly, then, reciprocity of invective is unwelcome.  Such a blatant contradiction is comical on the face of it, but the double-standard it exemplifies is deeply unattractive.  It appears that these forums are not primarily about debate, but are instead much more about that old demon of “wanting to belong”. All of which tells us much about those who wish to form and belong to cliques – but it doesn’t help in the search for a useful and stimulating, diverse forum with Leeds United AFC as its focus, but with an eye on other issues as well.

The key to having an internet forum which satisfies the requirements of those who don’t crave the approval of a boorish majority, would seem to be strong and impartial moderation.  This is where some of the better blogs out there probably score heavily over the anarchic babble which so typifies too many of the forums.  But, really, there should be a place for both forum and blog as, ideally, they exist to meet different needs.  The typical blog will, initially, carry the views of a strictly limited number of people.  This particular blog is a one-man operation; some, such as the excellent We All Love Leeds, have a group of able writers moderated by a dedicated editor. In either case, a lot of the diversity is achieved through the comments received to blog articles, frequently amounting to a thread of debate.  On this blog, I am extremely fortunate to have a collection of regular contributors who enhance and enrich the content with their entertaining and informed viewpoints.  I exercise quality control by eliminating the unacceptable trolling, and the result is – I firmly believe – a balanced resource which reflects viewpoints from all shades of opinion, without any need for recourse to childish name-calling.

The content of the typical forum, by contrast, is led by its public; there is no particular editorial position. Pretty much anyone can say pretty much anything once they are accepted onto the board and, without strong leadership and continual monitoring, many of the threads swiftly descend into slanging matches, pack hunting or – probably worst of all – escalating competitions where the desperate-for-approval strive to out-do each other in appearing successively more zany or off-the-wall witty than the contributor before.  That’s a skin-crawling thing to witness, and by no means conducive to grown-up debate, which consequently tends to wither on the vine.

I’m probably on the point of being ejected from both of the above-mentioned forums just at the moment, and it’s not something I will waste any time in mourning over.  What I am really wondering is: are there any resouces out there which are much better?  Any more enlightened forum where the young and yappy aren’t falling over themselves to gain the approval of older members who undeservedly gain this foolish cabal of admirers simply by regaling the ether with tales of what tough guys they used to be?  I do hope so.  Even these days, both the SC Forum and WACCOE occasionally produce little gems of information, scandal or gossip that remind you they used to be much more useful places, and not the barren wastes of time they have become more recently.

I’m well aware that many who read this blog will be frequenters of one or both of the forums I’ve mentioned above.  It may well be that some will wish to defend them against what might be seen as unfair criticism on my part.  That’s great – non-abusive disagreement has always been welcome on this blog.  So bring it on, I welcome all views that add to the debate and my position is not set in stone. But if anyone out there sees the smallest merit in what I’ve written – and especially if they know of a forum I could try which might not make me want to throw rocks at my screen – then I’d be grateful to hear about that, above all.

After this little rant, I do feel a bit better about things, thinking I may perhaps have touched a nerve here or there.  Now I just need a cup of coffee, some good TOMA news and maybe – just maybe – to have my faith in that whole “Marching On Together” thing restored a little.  Over to you on that last one…

Will Boro’ Bore Draw End the Era of Austerity at Leeds? – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino - wondering what the hell he's bought?

Cellino – wondering what the hell he’s bought?

Middlesbrough 0, Leeds United 0

If Massimo Cellino is indeed confirmed as the new owner of Leeds United sometime next week – and social media comment from his son seems to indicate that Monday might be a significant day – then it is somehow appropriate that over a decade of bleak poverty and tightly-knotted purse-strings should be brought to a close by such a mess of a match as we saw on Saturday lunchtime at Middlesbrough’s Meccano stadium.

In financial terms, the poverty of ambition Leeds displayed in this frustrating encounter – together with a complete lack of composure and, in some cases, ability – was an apt summation of the years of penury and deprivation we’ve all suffered since dropping off our Premier League perch in 2004.

Jack Butland

Jack Butland

On the other hand, should you wish a theatrical metaphor, this match ranged from slapstick comedy to low farce as two inept attacks somehow failed to breach two dodgy defences.  Comedy and farce could have morphed into tragedy if debutant United keeper Jack Butland had been cruelly denied the clean sheet his immaculate display most definitely deserved.  Butland averted that tragedy by his own efforts.  Commanding and assured, he gathered high balls, pulled off one spectacular save in the first half and one brave Schmeichel-like block in the second.  He also found time to prevent a Warnock own-goal and, in general, he was man of the match by several country miles.

In truth, it was a match that defied any attempt to sit back and watch your favourite team playing your favourite sport.  Although the result could have been worse, the experience was about as enjoyable as having wisdom teeth extracted without benefit of novocaine.  It was a game to anger any fan who has invested faith and money in supporting Leeds United.

All was frenzy, everything was done in such unseemly haste and there was a distinct lack of any apparent ability to pass to a man in the same colour shirt.  It was annoying, it was depressing – God alone knows what Cellino & Son must have thought.  Major surgery is needed to transform this squad into one which might challenge next year.  If only the heroic Jack Butland could be part of that recruitment programme.  But, surely – even Mark Hughes can’t be that daft?

If this appalling game does prove to be the last before our shady Italian is at last approved by the League, then it’s a suitably low note to end a very low period in the history of Leeds United.  But any new era is, at least initially, likely to bring us more of the same.  Next week’s opponents, QPR, are highly unlikely to be as forgiving of our defensive shambles as shot-shy Boro were, and the Sky cameras a week on might well witness a bit of a battering for our heroes. But, with Leeds, you just never know.  And after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the Cellinos could no doubt confirm.

Surely, today’s game was confirmation, if any were needed, that this season is a dead duck for Leeds.  We’d have to pull off a miraculous run to go into the play-offs – and even then there’s that pesky fundamental law of creation that dictates we just don’t do play-offs, so it’s perhaps just as well not to even think about it.  And we’d have to suffer a disaster of X-Factor proportions to fall into any real relegation danger – surely there are enough truly awful teams down there to ensure at least our safety for participation in next season’s Championship campaign.

No, this season now is all about doing the best we can on the pitch while more important matters are being sorted out off it.  What measures will be taken, what changes might be made – that’s anybody’s guess.  You have to assume that Cellino is itching to engage with the club and start putting his stamp on the whole place.  Whatever dull and depressing football the remaining matches might have in store for us, the events behind the scenes, at least, promise more entertainment than we’ve had for a good long while.

Bring it on.  Let’s get behind the new owner as soon as he’s confirmed at least as “fit and proper” as the Porn Kings who run West Ham, and the various other dodgy geezers in boardrooms up and down the country.  We’ll have to trust that the Cellino Effect might have a galvanising effect on our beloved club, such that – hopefully – performances such as I’ve just witnessed and ground my teeth over will be a thing of the past.

Meanwhile, I’m glad to say I’m helping a mate celebrate his birthday this evening and, in the course of that celebration, I intend to drink enough to forget all about the events today in Smogland.  With my luck, though, I’ll have a great time tonight but then have nightmares about next week’s likely drubbing in Shepherd’s Bush.

It’s a hard life being a Leeds fan.  But maybe not for too much longer…

A Premier League Leeds United: What Can They Really Achieve? – by Rob Atkinson

The Last Champions

The Last Champions

Here’s a conundrum for you.  What have Liverpool, Ipswich Town, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest got in common?

Give up?

Well, some of the better-informed anoraks out there (and it’s a noble fraternity of which I’m proud to be a member) tend to have the solution to riddles like this pretty much at their fingertips.  For the rest, the answer is that all of those clubs, since what I will loosely term the “modern era” of football started around 1960, have gained promotion to the top-flight and then gone on to win the actual title of Champions of England within a space of a mere one or two years.

Imagine that, if you will – a truly phenomenal achievement.  Arguably, Leeds are the ace in the pack, having achieved similar heights twice.  Revie’s promotion-winners of 1964 took five years to be Champions, but were contenders on all fronts from their very first season in the First Division.

Both Forest and Ipswich, some 16 years apart, stormed the First Division citadel in their very first season up. Leeds United, in 1992 and Liverpool, way back in 1964, each took just one year longer.  Leeds are not known as the Last Champions for nothing; their 1992 Title success marked a watershed in the English game.  Whatever the merits of the few Premier League era champions, it’s certainly true that Leeds will stand as the last club to muscle its way into the top flight as if they owned the place, breezing to the ultimate prize in such a very short time.  Since the Murdoch revolution, only Blackburn have come close to matching such a quick-fire achievement, and they followed the “spend, spend, spend” path to success in taking three seasons after promotion to edge their first title since before the Great War.

One thing that’s virtually certain about all of these achievements is that they won’t be emulated anytime soon.  And that regrettable fact is at the centre of everything that’s wrong with football today.  What we have now, as opposed to those exciting years when some batch of pretenders would upset the top-flight applecart, is a mere procession – with the cast varying only slightly from year to year.  The Premier League is often referred to as three divisions within one league, and that’s very difficult to argue with.

Firstly, there’s a cartel of the super-rich at the top, where the finances of the game dictate that a few established clubs will fight it out for the major honours every year.  Such are the favourable conditions for these elite clubs that it’s really very difficult for any of them to slip out of contention – it would take something approaching incompetent management for such a calamity to happen – yes, Mr Moyes, I mean YOU.  Take a bow, you’re a hero to thousands.

Then, of course, there’s the “dog-eat-dog” league at the bottom, where the same few clubs every year are hoping to finish just above last season’s promoted clubs and thus avoid relegation. Exciting – but not in a good way.

Lastly, in the middle, there’s that awful, bleak hinterland occupied by the likes of Stoke, Aston Villa, Newcastle and West Ham; clubs unlikely to affect the picture at the top or at the bottom, and who – you suspect – are happy just to continue making up the numbers, banking those Premier League payments year after year and settling for last spot on Match of the Day.  They’re happily riding the gravy train with no thoughts or ambitions for glory – and their fans appear to accept this.  But what a monochrome, depressing existence it must be. Is this what we want for Leeds United?

The fact is that, if and when United DO go up – and especially if we have a few quid in the bank courtesy of Signor Cellino – then this twilight, neither-here-nor-there, average, mediocre middle bit of the Premier League is likely to be the realistic upper limit of our ambitions. That’s if we’re rich and clever enough to haul our way clear of the grim struggle at the bottom, of course. Maybe also, there might be a run in the Capital Fizzy Carlsberg Milk Cup (or whatever it’s called) to look forward to with sweaty palms and fevered brow. Oh, the excitement of that – IF we don’t get knocked out early doors by the Under-17’s of Arsenal FC.

This question of how things would be when we finally gain entrance to the Promised Land is a relevant one that’s all too easy to overlook in our current mood of frustrated aspiration.  We’ve been wanting to get back up there for so long – and we’ve suffered so many setbacks and disappointments along the way – that the reality of what might await us once promotion is secured has not really occurred to us.  Sure, there have been some saying, well, we’ll budget for relegation, pick up the parachute payments and come back stronger – but look how often that’s actually worked.  Look at Wolves, look at Middlesbrough. They’ve come down rich and never really looked like getting back.  And how enjoyable is it up there if you’re sinking?  Do the fans of those struggling clubs look as if they’re enjoying themselves, shipping six goals here at Arsenal and maybe seven there at Man City?  It doesn’t look fun at all, not to me.  But these depressing scenarios have been off our radar, all the time we’ve been fighting vainly to make our mark one level below, thinking of the Premier League as the Holy Grail.   It hasn’t truly occurred to us that it might not be fun when we do get there.  It’s as if, preoccupied with our second-tier travails, we haven’t really thought about it too much.

Around twenty-five years ago, the feeling of anticipation generated by a run to promotion for Sgt. Wilko’s boys was a very much more positive thing. Sure, we looked at those opening fixtures with a slightly tremulous smile, noting that Everton away and then Man U at home was a rather stiffer proposition than the likes of Port Vale and Oxford.  But we girded our loins, so to speak, and went in with spirits and expectations high and – thanks to our redoubtable heroes in white – we were not disappointed.  But how optimistic would we be now about, say, Man City at home followed by a trip to Liverpool? Thanks to Mr Murdoch, it’s a case of lambs to the slaughter for any club going up against these top-end clubs – unless you have a lot of cash to splash out.  And even then, along comes Financial Fair Play to clip the wings of the “new money” boys, protecting the interests of those with established income streams from global markets.  The Cartel certainly intends to remain the Cartel.

For all of this, I blame one man above all others.  Mr Murdoch, je t’accuse.  At the time he bought the game, Man U hadn’t been champions since the days of black & white TV, and yet their careful marketing and packaging of their history – particularly the lucratively tragic parts – had garnered them a worldwide support and the status of everybody’s second-favourite club, along with massive overseas markets.  The restructuring of the game at the start of the 90s, with its abandonment of trickle-down economics, was a godsend for such a cash cow – despite its solid and consistent record of under-achievement since 1967.  Man U were the archetypal Premier League champions, a figurehead brand to lead the new League to the forefront of global sport and merchandising.  It was all so glitzy, glamorous and tacky, a festival of fireworks, cheerleaders and the twin misogynists who so aptly summed-up the spirit of the whole thing: overgrown guffawing schoolboys Andy Gray and his hairy  chum Richard Keyes.  All that glitter, all that sniggering sexism, all that tawdry scrambling for profit – and invariably champions to embody it all, except in those seasons when the likes of Arsenal stood up for the game’s soul. It was indeed a ‘whole new ball game’, as the marketing men would have it – but somewhere in the making of this revolution, a golden dream died – killed by Murdoch and buried under a vulgar heap of branded tat.

It is that golden dream we’re still missing today, nearly a quarter of a century on. Many thousands of football fans have grown up watching a game enslaved to this artificial agenda, shorn of the fiery ambitions which used to propel rejuvenated clubs from obscurity to the very top of the game. That type of overnight success almost literally cannot happen now; the bleak reality for promoted clubs is of a bitterly hard struggle before them, with survival the best prize they can really hope for. Should Leeds United succeed in gaining promotion, this season or next, then that is very much the reality that awaits us.  And, because we’re Leeds – because we’ve scaled the heights and reached the stars before – we’ve a duty to ask ourselves: is this really what we’re going to settle for – or can we (because we’re Leeds) expect and demand better?

The answer to much of this almost certainly lies with the man currently awaiting the League’s pleasure, as they mull over the question of whether he’s a fit and proper person (or at least as fit and proper as some of the crooks the League has previously sanctioned). If Massimo Cellino knows his history, and if he’s managed to suss out the character of the support while he was imprisoned inside Elland Road on that turbulent Transfer Deadline night, then he should by now have some awareness of the demands likely to be placed on his ownership post-promotion.  He should know that Leeds fans are never going to be childishly grateful just to be a part of things; that mere survival and the acceptance of regularly being ripped a new one by the Premier League big beasts – that’s never going to be enough.  If he does know all of that – if he takes it all on board and still wants to be the force behind the club going forward – if, moreover, he has a plan which will blow away all of the worries and fears of promotion in the Murdoch era – then every single Leeds fan must surely get right behind him.  These are very big ifs, as we all know – but it’s an apt enough time to raise all of this – because the new era of Massimo the First could well start as soon as Monday.  The Middlesbrough game could possibly be the last of this period of twitching uncertainty.  There are some signs pointing that way – the social media twitterings of the younger Cellinos and the fact of the signing (on loan) of a quality keeper in Butland, for instance.  Great changes may just be afoot.

Whether those changes are great enough to buck the trend of Premier League history and see us gatecrash the top end of the big time, remains to be seen. The summer between any promotion and our return to top-level action will be very interesting indeed and will tell us a lot about whether we’re going to make an all-out assault on success. It’s a very hard ask indeed.   But we are Leeds – and so that’s what we should expect and demand.

Leeds Takeover: Is the “Yorkshire Post” Backing the Wrong Horse? – by Rob Atkinson


Yorkshire Post: Nice headline, shame about the story

This bold headline in Tuesday’s edition of the YP was a scoop, surely.  Possible sensation.  Certainly an attention-grabber for anyone with the interests of Leeds United at heart.  Probably there would be interest further afield as well, for anything LUFC-related tends to make eyebrows raise and ears prick up, pretty much anywhere.  Love ’em or hate ’em – it’s very difficult to ignore Yorkshire’s Number One football club.  So this YP story looked like a sure-fire winner.  Only one problem.  The content of the article bore absolutely no relation to the headline, whatsoever.  There were no “first details”.  In fact, there were no details at all emerging from this meeting of Cellino and McDermott.  Nada, zip, zilch.  Nowt.  How perplexing.

What there was amounted to a rehash of several recycled, days-old, tired and weary semi-true factoids about United’s prospective new owner.  We could read – again – about his convictions for fraud.  The YP reckons they were both “spent” under English law and therefore would not be an impediment to Cellino’s passing of the League’s “fit and proper” test.  This conclusion seemed tinged with regret on the Yorkshire Post‘s part, but the raking-over of cold ashes continued nevertheless.  Fascinated, we were able to read – again – of how Cellino tried to sack McDermott and replace him with bosom buddy Gianluca Festa.  Yawn.  Heard it all before.  And we read – yet a-bloody-gain – that McDermott was reinstated during the 5-1 derby whopping of Huddersfield Town (some sources, including GFH, say that he was never actually sacked at all).  But again, we already knew about this, we’d known it all for ages.

And that was it – there was nothing more to this piece than a few reheated facts and rumours that were past their use-by date as long ago as last week.  What was the justification, we might well ask, for that rather misleading headline, appearing to promise at least some of the inside story around what actually passed between manager Brian and King-elect Massimo?   Ultimately, all there is to glean from this strange little article is that the Yorkshire Post appears to take a dim view of Signor Cellino and is thus moved to force-feed its readership a dubious diet of warmed-over snippets of an uncomplimentary nature.

The fact remains, after all, that Cellino is still quite likely to be Leeds United owner in the not-too-distant future.  And the Yorkshire Post, in common with any regional newspaper, surely has a vested interest in maintaining a mutually satisfactory working relationship with its local football clubs.  If it doesn’t, then it should have.  All of which begs the question – how does the YP imagine that a policy of repeated bitching about Cellino, under headlines purporting but failing to deliver new information – just how do they think this is going to assist them in establishing some sort of rapport with the imminent Cellino administration at the county’s foremost club?  It’s an odd sort of approach to the formation of professional and harmonious relations, to say the least.

If the YP have put all their eggs in the basket of earnestly hoping the Football League will somehow ditch Cellino, then that is one perilous and high-risk strategy.  There may well be a need for some frantic kissing-up mighty soon.  Perhaps, after all, they should adopt the Peter Lorimer tactic of heartily endorsing whoever seems likeliest to wield executive power in the near future – it seems to work for him, except insofar as his now-tattered “Legend” status with the fans is concerned.  It will be very interesting to see which direction the Yorkshire Post does take over the next few weeks, when this tangled situation – hopefully – gets sorted out one way or another.

Whatever course they opt for, it’s devoutly to be hoped that a newspaper with a long history of covering the slings and arrows of United’s outrageous fortunes can, in future, try to maintain some sort of link between headline and story.  Tuesday’s effort did them no credit at all, and many Leeds fans who rely on them heavily for updates on what the hell’s going on at Elland Road, will instead be wondering what the hell’s happened to journalistic standards at the YP.  The consensus on Facebook’s “Elite Dirty Leeds Group” – an eclectic mix of academics, nutters, deviants and cynics, bound together by an abiding passion for Leeds United – was that the YP had sold us a pup with this headline, and that the intention was to run a Cellino hatchet-job dressed up as a news article.  It’s hard to argue with that verdict.

Note to the YP: in future, chaps, if you’ve nowt new to say, perhaps it would be better just to say nowt.  There must surely be goings-on elsewhere you can usefully fill a few column inches with.  Filling them with your own jaundiced views on the soon-to-be-anointed King of LS11 is not a particularly bright idea.  Backing the wrong horse at this stage of the game is less bright still.

The fans need their local rag to keep tabs on things at Elland Road – so don’t let us down.  OK?

Could Oil-Rich Al Thanis Gazump Cellino to Buy Leeds Utd? – by Rob Atkinson

That nice Al Thani family, with dodgy geezer to the right

That nice Al Thani family, with dodgy geezer to the right

With all of this takeover kerfuffle going on (and on, and on…) – there’s something slightly odd about some of the reported arithmetic out there.  We hear that Massimo Cellino has just about purchased 75% of Leeds United for a figure said to be in the region of £25 million.  He would then have to buy the ground, settle debts, sort out various other ongoing issues such as the fatal weaknesses in the squad – all in all he’s not likely to get more than a few coppers change out of £60 million, and we understand that the deal would leave him stuck with various items of GFH detritus in executive positions. That’s quite a lot of wedge for a hands-on type of guy to lash out, just to be il Presidente.

On the other side of Massimo’s ledger is the ongoing sale of his first love, Cagliari, a small Sardinian club who have clung onto Serie A membership for the bulk of his tenure there since 1992.  That deal – which appears to be stuttering – is rumoured to be worth around €90 million to the Italian.  So it appears possible that he could conclude his football business for the month without spending any of this year’s alleged €200m income or shaving off any of his alleged €1.2bn capital.  Conclusive proof of all of this is furnished by readily-accessible Instagram pictures of Signor Cellino’s nubile daughter wiggling her extremely shapely derrière against a background of Elland Road as seen from an expensive position in the East Stand.

The strange thing is – why would the Al Thani family wish to purchase a struggling Italian club at the wrong end of a small island, lacking a stadium and destined to be forever in the shadow of the Italian mainland giants?  Why would they, in Cellino’s own words, be so keen to invest a solid lump of money in a Fiat 500?  Could they not simply ignore the Cellino factor, and move in on Leeds United – a club with its nose pressed up against the window of the most lucrative league in the world, with a stadium available for purchase at a good price and ripe for development, with an exclusive catchment area of support as well as a global fan-base voraciously hungry for anything to do with the Whites – to find themselves as Premier League owners-in-waiting?  Wouldn’t they rather compete on level terms with the Abramoviches and the Sheikh Mansours of this world – than scratch around from an offshore position with the relatively tiny potential of Cagliari, to try and make a mark on the mighty Italian league?

Naturally, the agreement that supposedly exists between GFH and Cellino might well stand firmly in the way of all this.  But, as the days go by, there is a growing feeling that all may not be well with that deal.  The Football League appear to be umming and ah-ing to themselves.  Their rules are fairly clear and, by the letter of them, Cellino ought to be OK to proceed.  But the League are under pressure from various sources – not all of them by any means kindly disposed towards Leeds United – and that pressure is directed at having the League look to the spirit, rather than the letter, of their so-called “Fit and Proper Person” test.  Cellino, so the argument runs, could charitably be described as “well dodgy”.  Even worse than the anti-Christ himself, Bates who, while a villain, was at least an unconvicted one.  Cellino will point in his defence to one spent conviction and one that was quashed.  But that hardly adds up to a model of blameless and virtuous conduct – and there’s still that little matter of an embezzlement charge hanging over his head.

The “Farnan Group”, poised like vultures in case the League do reject Cellino, don’t really inspire too much confidence either.  They were saying last week that would match Cellino’s offer for the club.  Their position more recently is best summed up as: “Erm, well, no, we won’t actually.  But we might buy the stadium, and, erm – oh look just talk to us, right?”  There’s not much more than meaningless noise coming from that direction.

And then there is the time factor.  When the Daily Mail aren’t making up silly stories of imminent loan deals for the Stoke ‘keeper and a Sunderland striker, they’re gleefully anticipating the end of the month when, they confidently predict, Leeds will be unable to stump up for the wages bill.  As ever with the Mail, you have to choose what to believe – and if you’re wise, you’ll just call it all lies, tear the paper up and use it to line the rabbit’s hutch.  Actually, if you were really wise, you wouldn’t have bought such a rag in the first place.

Currently, and as has been the case for the best part of the last decade or so, the state of Leeds United is best summed-up as: a total mess.  It’s much more of a mess now, in fact, than it has been even at various historical low points this century; now we have a maelstrom of conflicting parties, bumbling and incompetent higher authorities who are not fit to arbitrate at a coin-toss, and an almost entirely hostile media who have never forgiven us for being The Best under Don Revie, and who are determined to accentuate the negative, predicting our demise at every opportunity.

How beautifully simple it would be if someone could take a step back, do the elementary arithmetic, have a word in an Al Thani shell-like to explain what an attractive deal awaits the right multi-billionaire, and sit back to watch Leeds United emerge, phoenix-like, from the ashes of this embarrassing and degrading free-for-all which is currently sapping the fans of their will to live.

It’s too much to hope for, of course.  The question has long been asked – why can’t Leeds attract someone in the Mansour class?  And that someone is out there, right now, shopping for a club. How bloody frustrating is that?

Arsene Wenger ‘met with Robin van Persie’s agent to discuss transfer back to Arsenal’

Even Leeds Fans are Laughing at Man U – Part II. Now van Persie wants a transfer back to a big club that can play in the Champions League. Could Man U be after Varney when his Blackburn loan expires??

What Leeds Fans Should be Demanding for NEXT Season – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United - top flight in all but name

Leeds United – top flight in all but name

While all the wrangling over “fit and proper” tests is going on, while we’re all earnestly debating the future in-post of the current Leeds United manager (be it long or short) – while we’re all tearing our hair and rending our clothes at the media pantomime our club has become, enabling even Sun readers to essay a disdainful look down the nose at us – what should we really, actually be thinking about?  What burning issue deserves our closest attention?  What crucial conundrum should we be looking to resolve for ourselves which, once settled and decided, will colour our approach to all of the other, allied issues??

The answer, surely has to be (and the title of this article has probably already given you a clue to this) – what do we actually want for next season?  Where do we want to be, how do we want our campaign to go?  Assuming that by then the club is on an even keel – and I know that’s a fair old dangerous assumption – what would be the best way of celebrating this, of marking our return to sanity and being a football club again, instead of a three-ring circus?  I have a theory.

To me, there are two main possibilities.  For both of them, let’s assume that the Cellino takeover is complete, that Elland Road is Leeds United property again, and that there is some financial & managerial stability at the club with clear signs of a competitive transfer and wages budget.  I know that’s all a bit of a difficult proposition to swallow, but bear with me here.  Right then – one real possibility is that this current season has fizzled out into a mid-table anti-climax, as has been our usual recent experience.  It’s summer and we have the World Cup to suffer through, with some Test Cricket as a subsidiary diversion, and holidays and other lovely things that come with slightly warmer weather.  One of those lovely things could be a close-season of heavy recruitment involving quality players at Championship level, preparing our squad for a serious assault on this division next time around.  Nice.

The other feasible possibility is that, aided perhaps by some Cellino-financed muscle in the loan window, we’ve put together a run in the remainder of this season, and blagged ourselves a late play-off spot.  Riding the crest of a wave, we cruise into the Wembley final and a 4-0 thrashing of – ooh, let’s say Nottingham Forest, just for the karmic pay-back from 2008 – to finally make it back to the Premier League after all these years.  Also nice.

Incidentally, there is the faint third possibility, i.e. that we completely implode after a Football League refusal to sanction our Shady Italian. In this scenario, Shaun Harvey wakes up with a horse’s head next to him, Brian McDermott resigns and Michael Brown takes over as head coach, leading us to ten consecutive defeats and relegation to League One with the fire-sale of any remaining half-decent players we have.  Not nice at all, and hopefully not all that likely either.  Let’s just ignore that one, then.

So of the two scenarios that could play out – failure again this season but an all-out assault on the Championship Title next year, or struggling to glory via the lottery of the play-offs – which would we actually prefer?  Many will be seduced by the vision of being back in the big-time as early as next August.  Those people might also be hoping for an unlikely England World Cup victory, possibly with Jamie Milner scoring the decisive winner against Germany in the Final.  Optimism is an attractive trait – but the pay-off can be cruel.

Promotion this year would most likely see a season of grim struggle next time around, unless we were prepared and able to invest much more heavily than would be wise, or even legal under Financial Fair Play.  A season-long relegation battle might be the stuff of dreams for some clubs – but Leeds United aren’t a Norwich or a Cardiff.  Last time we went up to the top-flight, twenty-four years ago, we swaggered in for a year-long look around, during which we battered a fair percentage of the established opposition, before winning the bloody thing second year up.  The sheer cheek of it took everyone’s breath away. Now that’s the way to do it, if you’re a Leeds United.  But it’s so unlikely as to be next to impossible, that we could go up and stomp around like that next season.  Quite frankly, if all the effort of securing promotion is going to see us in a dog-eat-dog relegation fight with the dregs of the Premier League, I’d just as soon not bother, thanks.

On the other hand, if we are in a position to rebuild this summer for a Blitzkrieg approach to the second tier in 2014-15, then that could well lead to us blasting our way through the division and hurtling into the Premier League rather than scraping our way there by the fingernails.  Promotion achieved thus carries its own momentum – you’re building for the top flight on more solid foundations, as compared to our current footings of sand.  And the fun! Imagine a season next year to compare to the promotion campaign of 1989-90.  Those old enough to have witnessed it will know exactly what I mean.  After a slow start, we conducted ourselves like a Panzer tank for much of the league programme, the skill, commitment and aggression of our football blowing most opposition into tiny smithereens.  We had a rough patch, and it was a bit close for comfort in the end – but, still.  What a season that was.  Something along those lines, possibly an improvement in some aspects – that would do me, and I suspect many others too.  It’s certainly preferable to a Premier League season of grim, defensive, survival football.  So, tempting as the notion is of play-offs this season, with the incentive of rubbing somebody else’s nose in it as we’ve had our noses rubbed in it on showpiece occasions past – it really won’t do.  We’re useless at play-offs anyway, so if we made it, there’d probably only be misery for us.

So my conclusion is: let’s not waste our time with fast-fading hopes of promotion this year.  Let’s abandon such thoughts, unless the team suddenly gels, goes on a run and absolutely forces us to contemplate success.  On current form, let’s be realistic – that’s unlikely to happen.  Let’s instead wait this season out, hope and pray that the various suits in the club and at the League sort themselves out and get their act together, and let’s hope that this summer sees an exciting reconstruction programme ahead of an all-out attack on the summit of the Championship next time around.  Because, to me, when Leeds United arrive back in the top-flight, they should do so as Champions – not as winners of some tagged-on mini-tournament.  Let’s do it in style, as we did in 1964 and in 1990, taking such power and momentum along with us that we immediately became competitive in the higher sphere.  Let’s have our rivals wary of us. I remember a fanzine article in the summer of ’90, a Liverpool fanzine I think it was.  The title was “Bloody hell – they’re back!”, and it was all about Leeds United and how we’d probably seize the top-flight by the nuts and shake it up good and proper.  And we really did.

That’s what I really want for Leeds United.  I want us to do it in proper Leeds style, I want us to burst into that elite group like a torpedo, creating chaos everywhere.  I want them all to hate and fear us again – I definitely don’t want to read fans of other clubs saying, “Ah – look at once-mighty Leeds – finally managed to get back up and now see how they struggle”.  No, thank you.  Let’s do it the right way, the Leeds way.  Let’s make Vinnie and Howard and wee Gordon and Batts and the rest of them proud.  Let’s see Big Jack and Eddie Gray smiling at a revival of the Revie spirit, with “Keep Fighting” on the dressing-room wall and with our departed heroes approving, from wherever they are now.  Let’s March On Together – not limp apologetically into an exclusive club that doesn’t really want us.  Let’s get in there, and fuck ’em up.  To me, another year is a time well worth waiting – to make sure that we get where we want to be – by doing things the way we want to do them.

The Leeds United Way

The Leeds United Way

We’re a wealthy country… money’s no object…

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