Everybody knows that Leeds United aren’t exactly the toast of Fleet Street, or Wapping, or whatever geographical location you can choose these days as a symbol of the home and hearth of the English national press. Actually, Fleet Street remains the single most appropriate spiritual location for the gutter end of our national newspaper industry – as the River Fleet was famously one of old London Town’s most noxious and disgusting open sewers. Some things never really change.
Prominent among the Leeds-hating mainstream press is the scurrilous and disgusting Daily Mail – known as the “Daily Heil” by those of a discriminating nature who are all too well aware of this rag’s antecedents. The hacks at the Heil can always be relied upon to jump on the bandwagon of hating the Damned United in print and, these days, online too. But it’s a fact that some publications are just so bloody awful that you wouldn’t actually want them printing a positive word about your beloved club. It’d be a bit like getting a publicity break from Max Clifford.
The latest in a long line of articles with a distinct and rank anti-Leeds flavour appeared today under the byline of journalistic nonentity Patrick Collins, for whom you will search Wikipedia in vain – a damning indictment of the status and esteem of any “national” journalist. This particular Patrick is not to be confused with Patrick Barclay, who is a distinguished and erudite sports writer. But the Lesser Patrick’s lazy piece, published by HeilOnline, was typical of the anti-Leeds genre – take a handy quote, put a conveniently negative spin on it, burble on a bit and then submit it, to an uncritical and tasteless editor. Another day’s work done, another small addition to the Heil‘s record of shame.
One phrase ostensibly describing Don Revie’s Leeds United – and you can imagine the Lesser Patrick toiling over this until he thought he’d got it just right – went as follows: “Those of a certain age will recall a team of extravagant talent, irredeemably tainted by a taste for cynical brutality.” Now there is rich irony here, albeit of the unconscious kind, something that will have sailed right over the empty head of your average Heil hack. Because the fact is that, whenever such a wretched scribbler uses the words “irredeemably tainted”, readers everywhere will smile knowingly and think of the history of the Daily Heil. It’s not a story of which anybody but a moron such as Paul Dacre, or some of his allegedly noble and undeniably moronic predecessors, such as Lord Rothermere, could possibly be proud. The record of the Mail is littered with headlines which expose an editorial attitude that belongs in a Berlin bunker. It is a history of abject shame and an utter poverty of proper journalistic and editorial standards. If this is not true, then let them sue me.
Just to take the odd example from the past; in the 1930s, this “newspaper’s” proprietor, Lord Rothermere was vociferous in his support for various friends overseas, notably Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The Heil’s editorial stance towards these “heroes” of Fascism was therefore somewhat sympathetic, to say the very least. In January 1934, Rothermere himself penned an article headed “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” – and the paper provided details including an address to write to, in the earnest hope that “…young men may join the British Union of Fascists…” The Spectator commented at the time “…the Blackshirts, like the Daily Mail, appeal to people unaccustomed to thinking. The average Daily Mail reader is a potential Blackshirt ready made. When Lord Rothermere tells his clientèle to go and join the Fascists some of them pretty certainly will.”
More recently, the Heil has further immersed itself in disgrace and infamy with a series of headlines attacking minorities – usually conveniently vulnerable minorities – with absolutely no scruples as to whether or not their content contained any truth at all. One example of this was the trumpeting of the alleged discovery of a “gay gene” which, the rag hoped, might lead to abortions of those pregnancies which could supposedly be identified as leading to the birth of what they would presumably refer to as “gay babies”. The mind boggles painfully at that – but it’s pretty standard fare, sadly, for the Heil. Columnists in modern times have tended to include those who might be relied upon to continue the not-so-grand Heil tradition of bigotry and ignorance in print as well as online; the prejudiced, ridiculous and brainless Richard Littlejohn is an apt example of this policy.
For all of the reasons referred to above, I’m never all that bothered when another clueless and talent-free Daily Mail hack has a go at my beloved Leeds United. It’s an irritant, nothing more. And the good bit is that it gives me the kind of excuse I’m always craving to have a go, in my small and humble way, at such a very despicable and diseased organ.
So keep it coming, you modern representatives of Rothermere’s shameful legacy. I’d hate to be identified in any positive way with such a very tawdry publication, fit as it is for nothing better than wiping rear ends; it follows that I’m almost always glad to see the football club I love attacked so regularly by the likes of the Heil.
After all, just as we are defined by the quality and decency of our friends and allies, so too can we be judged in the best possible light by the bigotry and stupidity of our critics and enemies. ‘Twas ever thus – and long may it continue to be true.