It’s been just another few days in the grubby life of tabloid sports journalism UK style. Those booze-befuddled hacks, desperate to sell more copies than their fellow downmarket scandal rags, wallow happily in a sea of effluent they’ve excreted themselves, pandering to their readership’s darker prejudices. The target, of course, is everybody else’s favourite bêtes noires, our own beloved heroes in white, Leeds United.
This week, it’s been the Daily Heil with a mish-mash of unrelated stabs in the dark, all attempting to add up to a hatchet job. Very poor, very amateur … very Daily Heil. The truly awful Daily Mirror, for their part, attempted to up the ante by luring an unwary ex-United hero, Dominic Matteo, asking him a bunch of loaded questions and publishing the result under the supportive title of “Leeds are a laughing stock and I fear they’ll get relegated”. Matteo’s recent dismissal from his position at the club is, of course, entirely unrelated to the views he now expresses, which in turn have nothing to do with the soiled wad of banknotes undoubtedly pushed his way from the Mirror‘s own filth fund. This blog understands that Matteo himself is less than impressed with the headline, the poor naïve soul. Bit late now, Dom – isn’t it? For future reference: when you sup with the Devil, you’d better use a long spoon.
The good thing is that neither of these pisspoor efforts at spreading alarm and despondency have been any more effective than a cat-flap in an elephant house. They’re irritating, nothing more – the kind of articles you could predict, almost word-for-word, without even having to glance at them. Such is the parlous state of UK tabloid coverage regarding football in general and Leeds United in particular. These people have their agenda and, once you take that on board, their stuff generally means nothing.
The other good thing is that, slowly but with gathering momentum, the Leeds United locomotive is pulling away from the sidings and getting ready for full steam up. The driving force behind this is, of course, United’s own Signor Loco, Massimo Cellino. There is definitely something about this guy that hasn’t been seen in the vicinity of Elland Road since – well, ever. He’s one on his own is Big Mass, they broke the mould when they made him. From a most inauspicious start, he’s gradually won over more and more of the vast Leeds United army out here. Supporters of the maverick Italian have seemed to outnumber the naysayers and doom/gloom merchants for some time now. In the beginning, the balance was rather different.
The thing about Cellino is, every time he opens his mouth, pure gold pours out. For a stranger to these shores, he has a way with the language that is at once unique, compelling and deeply memorable. We all remember his observations about buying a bitch for a night, but not being able to buy the love, my friend. Admittedly, he’s not the most PC guy around. But that was a hell of a quotable sound-bite for somebody caught unawares by a phone call out of the blue, more than a touch ‘tired and emotional’ and with his guard distinctly down. There’s a fluency to the quote, a rhythm that lodges it in your consciousness. He’s been coming out with similarly notable pronouncements ever since. Some are less printable than others, but all have that Big Mass stamp of authority, confidence and authenticity about them. Cellino shoots from the lip, he doesn’t waste words and he always makes his point crystal clear.
Actions, they say, speak louder than words – so it’s encouraging that Big Mass has recently started to show himself as a do-er and not just a talker. Shock waves are still reverberating around the football world at the price he extorted from poor old Fulham FC for a flash-in-the-pan Scottish badge-kisser of dubious motivation and fitness. People keep appearing in social media, all shocked-like, and pointing out another two or three internationals who have moved for a combined fee of less than Cellino got for Rossco. Don Revie described his capture of John Giles from Man U as “robbery with violence” – and so it was. By that reckoning, Fulham have been the victims of an armed blag that John McVicar would have been proud of.
The sale of McCormack was greeted by a kind of astounded approval by the Leeds United supporters fraternity – remarkable when you consider it represented the departure of yet another top performer, even though you did have the feeling that No. 44 might have had difficulty reproducing that annus mirabilis form next time around. But there were no mass protests, there was no real social media uproar. People were just too damned impressed by the amount we got. Naturally, there have been some feeble peeps from the usual doom-monger suspects, bleating about the figure being misleading, blah blah. But for the most part, we seem satisfied with the deal – and why the hell not?
If that wasn’t enough reason for a burgeoning optimism about LS11, then throw in a rash of signings since Ross sulked off down south, mostly unknown to us it’s true – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t quality. Nobody had heard of Hasselbaink before he arrived, or Radebe, or even Yeboah to a certain extent. Cellino and his deal-maker Salerno have form for finding rough diamonds and polishing them up. They managed it in a Fiat 500, and their stock is a lot higher now that they’re in charge of a Porsche. And all the time, Big Mass is there, hands on, sorting problems and building towards the new season, generally smiling, throwing out little nuggets about having millions in working capital – generally creating an atmosphere of positivity around Leeds that we haven’t seen the like of since before Publicity Pete got found out. A 16-0 pre-season win has done nothing to harm this heady feeling of reckless happiness, either (doom-mongers: “Who were we playing, Brazil?? Haw, haw, haw.”)
In such a swaggering manner are we sauntering expectantly towards the new season and 46 acid tests of the new regime. It won’t be all moonlight and roses, we can be sure enough of that. But there does now seem to be a new, unfamiliar optimism in the air, a feeling that last season can be consigned to history with a lot of its baggage now shed and a tasty few signings on board – with more to come. The feeling is growing that the new season will see a Leeds United worthy of our support – and that is support well worth having, when the crowd are up for it and the team are fighting for the shirt. We’ve seen those days before, long ago admittedly – but who knows? Maybe they’re on the point of coming back.
If that is the case – well, it’d take more than a few miserable and talent-free hacks wielding their poison pens to deflect us from our path onwards and upwards. We’ll be Marching On Together quite shortly now, setting off on that League marathon with a visit to darkest Millwall. Bring it on, then. Forza Leeds and the tabloids can stick their spite and negativity where the sun don’t shine.