The football season is over for Leeds United – in truth, it has been for some weeks, certainly well before the league programme ended with that draw against Derby. So, the choice is between speculating about developments behind the scenes at Elland Road, or having a nice pleasurable little dance on a couple of old rivals’ graves. I’ve done my share of Leeds United speculation for the day – it looks like it’s time to get nasty then, and celebrate the downfall of two sets of fine, feathered friends in the Canaries and the Bluebirds.
If I could have had the privilege of selecting two out of three clubs to drop out of the Premier League this season, and join us down here among the dead men, then those two would have been Cardiff and Norwich. So, I got my own way – and I’ll be looking forward to a renewal of hostilities next season. In the Norwich case, my desire to see them fall is something I’ve gone into already, and all of my negative feelings around that scenario were directed really at the Canaries’ annoyingly chirpy fans who took such pleasure in their favourites recruiting three-quarters of our League One midfield. I’ve made myself suitably unpopular on their effeminately-named message board The Pink ‘Un, and that’ll do for me. I’ve no real problem with the club itself – I’m an admirer of Stephen Fry, and even old Delia Smith is good for a laugh, especially for that famously “tired and emotional” rallying call to the Ciddy fans – something that always brings me at least a smile, no matter how grumpy I might feel.
So much for Norwich. Cardiff is a rather more complex case – there are Leeds United reasons for my gladness to see them come tumbling back down after one solitary season out of their comfort zone, and they date back to a horrible afternoon of FA Cup combat followed by vile crowd scenes, whipped up by their idiotic then-owner Sam Hammam – an episode we need not revisit here. But there are wider justifications for my intense distaste for Cardiff City that have arisen only this season. They relate to the club’s current owner and dictator Vincent Tan – a man whose knowledge of football would fit comfortably inside a peanut – and yet one who arrogantly thinks he knows best about everything and is prepared to ride roughshod over tradition and supporter upset alike to have his own way.
The fact is that, despite historic grievances, my sympathy has been with the Cardiff fans ever since Tan marched in and started changing their club in an arrogant and unilateral fashion. He decided that success was more likely if the team wore a predominantly red strip – no matter that they’d always been associated with blue – the nickname “Bluebirds” is a relevant clue here. Tan also displayed his phenomenal knowledge of the sport by openly questioning the goalkeeper’s scoring record – presumably the club’s football professionals were too polite or intimidated to laugh in his face.
But then Tan surpassed himself. With Cardiff relatively comfortably placed in the Premier League, and wins over the likes of eventual champions Manchester City behind them, Tan decided that the manager who had realised the top-flight dream – Malky Mackay – was not, after all, good enough. The owner therefore proceeded to undermine, belittle and unsettle his manager at every opportunity over a period of weeks. Mackay was so clearly a dead man walking – so evidently doomed to lose his job – that obviously results began to suffer, and that early season work of consolidation began to unravel.
Eventually, the inevitable happened and Malky Mackay was out of a job. Some wise Championship club is going to get themselves a very good manager for zero compensation there (I wonder who it might be? Bleedin’ Norwich, probably). Tan, further exploiting his vast oceans of football knowledge, recruited Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who had known success in the Norwegian League, but who looked from the off like a rabbit caught in the headlights in the pitiless environment of the Premier League. Before too long under Solskjær’s inexperienced guidance, Cardiff were obviously doomed to go down. Defeat followed defeat, and Solskjær looked more clueless with every setback. The end, when it came, was no surprise to anyone who knew anything about football, and therefore probably an earth-shattering shock to the deluded and massively ignorant Vincent Tan.
What can most certainly be said about Cardiff’s relegation is that it is definitely A Good Thing. Not because it will discourage the incompetent likes of Tan from presuming that they know best, all the time, about everything – but because, if results had picked up after Mackay’s sacking, and Cardiff had somehow survived, this might have seemed to stand as a vindication of Tan’s ridiculous and bizarre methods – and that, whatever wounded Cardiff City supporters might currently be feeling, would not be good for the game.
The whole episode cries out for some protection of professional football men against the crazy whims of crass amateurs – although it’s highly doubtful that anything will happen, due to the inertia and complacency that characterises both the Football Association and the Football League. So Tan will presumably carry on in his own sweet way – and the rest of the game can only hope that real football people will avoid his club as they might a bad smell.
We welcome Cardiff City back to the Championship, and we look forward to our games against them. Leeds United’s recent record in those games is not particularly good – but perhaps there is less need to worry these days. It’s quite probable that, even now, Tan is looking for the most prolific goalscorer he can afford – and that we will see that bewildered young man in goal for the Bluebirds when we host them at Elland Road.
Let’s just hope it’s not Ross McCormack.