The crappier end of the press in this country can be very, very predictable indeed when it comes to their coverage of Leeds United. I’m talking here particularly about the likes of the Mirror, the Mail (or the Daily Heil, as it’s colloquially known) and the Express – and then even a step lower than these diseased organs, down to the trash comics like the Sun and the Star. Even the so-called “quality” papers can be relied upon, more often than not, to print rubbish about the Whites of Elland Road. They hear the song that echoes around football grounds everywhere whenever a game of professional football is played in this country. They know from this that there’s a lot of clueless individuals out there who “all hate Leeds scum” – without knowing why, beyond the fact that their dads did too, back in the long-ago sixties and seventies. They know that this Leeds-hating, brainless yet massive constituency forms a significant market, and they’re ready and willing to pander to it – as this will sell thousands more copies of their grubby rags. It’s not big and it’s not clever – but it is lucrative. And really – why let a few scruples get in the way of the bottom line?
So, in the interests of satisfying their Leeds-hating mass-market, the papers will have no hesitation in printing any old rubbish that might stir things up or cause upset around LS11 – anything they can fabricate or indiscriminately recycle to unsettle things at Elland Road is grist to their less-than-choosy mill. Sometimes this will take the form of bare-faced lies – one outstanding rag the other week claimed that, if Massimo Cellino’s appeal against his tax evasion verdict were to fail, he would probably go to jail – and sometimes it’s just a matter of making something up and running with that. For this latter category, the hack concerned will normally look at the best player Leeds currently have and write some illiterate piece linking that player with one of the last clubs Leeds fans would wish to see him leave for. This is done with the aim of making the player restless if possible, irritating the Leeds fans and pleasing their army of anti-Leeds readers.
At its worst, this type of sleazy journalism can amount to illegal approaches from interested clubs with the media concerned acting as a conduit. It’s not confined to the printed press either. In January, Sky TV got ever so hot and bothered on deadline night, when the furore of McDermott’s abortive sacking developed into a feeding frenzy over Ross McCormack’s immediate future. With literally only a few hours of the window to go, Sky went into overdrive, doing their level best to generate interest from the likes of Cardiff and speculating frantically that the player would be making an urgent transfer request and heading off back to the Valleys. There was genuine excitement and eagerness at Sky HQ – and a palpable grief and disappointment amounting to actual sulkiness, when nothing happened after all.
Now, we have the fag-end of the season to go; those last few games with not a lot hanging on them for Leeds, not a lot for the lazy hacks who masquerade as journalists to exercise their poison pens over. So, we start with the traditional “let’s whip up some transfer interest in their best player” nonsense – and all of a sudden, our Ross44 is linked with the likes of Leicester and West Ham and sundry other smaller clubs. It’s calculated to annoy and to disrupt – but we should bear in mind that, from all we now understand, transfer policy in these Cellino days will be advised by what is best for the club first and foremost – not by any desperate need for money and not by a willingness to pander to a player’s own whim. The fact of the matter is that, for every transfer “story” in the gutter press that actually comes to be, there are perhaps 19 that never had even a whiff of truth about them, and which end up being far more useful as the wrappings of choice for those who love fish and chips.
It’s all part of being Leeds, after all. We don’t need to foster a siege mentality at this club – it arises naturally because there is a state of siege as far as the rest of football and the assembled media are concerned. And that’s annoying and sometimes even a bit upsetting – but really – would we have it any other way? Would we rather be a Man U, fawned over by a media which is comprised of liars, cheats and sycophants? Not really. It’s better to be Leeds, and to know exactly where we stand in relation to our enemies out there. We just have to remember: don’t believe everything they put in the papers. Or, in our case – disbelieve just about everything.
At least that way we’ll be nearer the truth.