What have Gary Lineker and Jeff Stelling got in common? Well, they’re both engaging chaps who front popular football programmes on the telly; they have both developed a “style” – for want of a better word – designed to endear them to the less demanding fans out there – and, most recently, they have both taken out an onion and wept tears of breathtaking falseness over what they sincerely hope is the impending demise of Leeds United.
Lineker is the latest incarnation of Match of the Day man, presiding over the ongoing popularity of a football highlights programme with fifty years of variable quality behind it. It was under his stewardship that one of the programme’s less glorious deeds was perpetrated when, in the wake of S’ralex’s long-overdue retirement from the Theatre of Hollow Myths, the programme put together a montage of managerial greats, with the Purple-Nosed One at the head of the parade, natch. This item was notable to real students of the game for its studied failure to even mention the name of the greatest club manager of all, Sir Don Revie. It was a tawdry attempt to reinvent history and appeal in the most insidious and deceitful fashion to the vast army of the programme’s viewers out there who “all hate Leeds” – but couldn’t tell you why, beyond a mumbled “….well, me Dad hated ’em, like…” Complaints to the BBC elicited nothing more than that cowardly corporation’s usual bland, patronising stonewall response – and Lineker did nothing other than essay his well-practised boyish grin, which apparently has middle-aged women the nation over suddenly needing a change of undies.
Now Lineker’s Twitter account states that he “genuinely feels for Leeds fans”. He clearly feels the need to qualify his sincerity by use of that word “genuinely” – that’s a sign of someone talking about someone or something on which they’d normally waste no finer feelings. But Gary feels “the heart has been torn out of the club”, hence his crocodile tears. Well, we’ll wait until the next time Match of the Day needs to revisit the managerial greats issue, thanks, and see if you’ve actually learned anything – no breath will be held.
Jeff Stelling is a sort of semi-comic front man for Sky’s Soccer Saturday programme, where one of his chief delights is to let a few seconds of tension build up for Leeds fans out there in TV land, before delivering a hammer blow with news of another goal against us – all with that trademark smug smirk on his gob. Now he, too, has chosen to sob publicly about his anguish over the Leeds situation. Jeff clearly thinks no small beans of himself – part of his counterfeit yet tear-stained lament includes the telling phrase “On the field, it is a total shambles with unknown player after unknown player coming into the club – I defy Leeds fans to say they have heard of them because I certainly haven’t – and it looks like it is going to be a terrible, terrible season”. Overlooking for a moment the fierce hope detectable in those last few words, it’s amusing to see that Stelling is so sure that, if he’s never heard of a player, then no Leeds fan can possibly have heard of him either. That’s some ego, for a Hartlepool fan. Unbelievable, Jeff! If he were to cast his mind back, Stelling might possibly reflect on who, exactly, had heard of Patrick Vieira before he signed for Arsenal – or Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Leeds), Eric Cantona (Sheffield Wendies on trial), and so on and so forth. Mr Stelling should, perhaps, wind his neck in a little and admit the possibility that he is not the fount of all football wisdom – except, maybe, when compared to Paul “I fink he’s only got free goals all season, Jeff” Merson. The Sky front-man’s expert opinion is that Leeds are doomed to relegation this season. Wishful thinking, Jeff?
When times are hard and you’re not all that popular to begin with, then you should expect wolves in sheep’s clothing, people who will smile and smile and be villains, well-meaning types who will sidle around behind as if to pat you on the back, before slipping a knife between your ribs. Leeds United and Leeds fans should be familiar from past experience with all of these unsavoury types, and their crocodile tears and weasel words should not fool us now. Just wait for better times to roll around, and the soft sawder and treacly syrup of ersatz sympathy will disappear like a ghost at cock-crow – it’ll be all open nastiness and overt bitching again. And do you know? I actually prefer it that way, so please bring it on.
We’re Leeds United, we hate to be pitied and we love to be hated. Your hate is what makes us stronger, after all – so please forget all the bovine ordure Gary and Jeff – let’s get back to normal eh? As soon as you like, there’s good chaps.