Daily Archives: 24/01/2015

EXCLUSIVE: Police Fears of Betting Fix Allayed by Spurs Result – by Rob Atkinson

Police alert!

Police alert!

Police in Manchester, as well as detectives in London’s Metropolitan Police, were all geared up for a full-scale investigation into a possible betting sting earlier today, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything understands. Concerns were raised as news came in of some “incredibly unlikely” scores in the 4th Round FA Cup games around the country, as well as in certain league games.

The matches under the spotlight were Chelsea versus non-league Bratfud City, Manchester City at home to smog-bound Middlesbrough Ironopolis and the Southampton v Crystal Pulis game at the St Mary’s Stadium. All three encounters ended in highly unlikely away wins, and alarm bells were ringing. Asked whether nefarious activity by a Far East betting syndicate was suspected, a Police spokesman confirmed “That was very much the case. We were looking at a branch of BetFred in Scarborough.”

The police were on high alert towards the end of the afternoon fixtures. “We were looking for a pattern and starting to see one,” said DCI Ivor Truncheon of the Yard. “One more dodgy scoreline, and the boys and I were going to swoop.”

The game that might have tipped the balance from what could just have been an unlikely sequence of results, into a full-scale betting scandal, took place at White Hart Lane. “At one point, Tottenham Hotspuds were actually winning,” we were told. “Yes, things were getting that bizarre. But then Leicester got the digit out, imposed their superiority – and in the end, they won. Thankfully, that was enough to convince us that everything was legit. But if Spuds had actually won – along with all those other frankly ridiculous results – well, you can well imagine that we’d have had to take it all very seriously indeed.”

Asked whether the Watford v Blackpool game (where the away team led 2-0 at the interval, only to lose 7-2) came under any scrutiny, our police source was dismissive. “Nah, that’s just Blackpool being crap, isn’t it. We understand the FL might look at the slope at Vicarage Road, but that’s not a criminal matter.”

The FA Cup is 143.

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How Ex-Ref Poll Lifted Lid on Myth of Man U “Dominance” – by Rob Atkinson

Ferguson: intimidation

Ferguson: intimidation

As a Leeds United fan, the twenty year period between the start of the Premier League era and the departure from Man U of Alex Ferguson was for me a two-decades long spell of misery and disillusionment, relieved only by occasional peaks when some other team got a chance at the game’s major honours.

Man U monopolised the action to an extent unprecedented in modern history; to an extent, what’s more, unheralded even by their own respectable record prior to 1993. It was as if, with the inception of the Murdoch-backed elite top flight, a switch had been thrown to activate a Man U winning machine and reduce all rivals to the status of also-rans.

It was a modern phenomenon – but, as it now turns out, it was all a myth, all smoke and mirrors. This was aptly summed up by the present-day Man U struggling, with most of the same personnel and all the same financial advantages, against League Two basement boys Cambridge United. This was the reality masked by that twenty year bubble. Man U are relatively ordinary – the Taggart years were a myth. What we were watching over those two decades was nothing more than an over-long retelling of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – and we’re now some way past the part where the clear-sighted little boy has blown the gaff.

Thousands upon thousands of pissed-off football fans could tell you their own tale of a refereeing injustice sustained by their team, to the benefit of Man U. I have a variety of my own where Leeds United have been denied – a penalty given two yards outside the area at the Gelderd End, the disallowing of a Wes Brown own goal (for offside!), the failure to dismiss Man U keeper Fabien Barthez after he had conceded a penalty so crudely that it had had to be given – only for him to remain ludicrously undismissed and poised in goal to save the spot kick when he should have been taking an early bath.

Many other clubs will have similar anecdotal evidence. Tottenham’s “goal” at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, two yards over the line but not given, Barnsley’s non-awarded penalty at the Beckford End when the foul was so blatant that even the commentators swore it should have been awarded.  There are many, many more. It’s happened time and again, over the whole history of the Premier League.  A notorious statistical study found that, over an extended period of time, 87% of all fifty-fifty decisions went the way of the Pride of Devon.  In a game of fine margins, as any top-level professional sport is, that is a deeply damning statistic – and it makes a vital difference.

Over this whole period, naturally, official reassurances and denials of the obvious were as bland and unctuous as they were patronising and insulting to the intelligence of fans everywhere.  The media were complaisant in this, and the commercially-driven circus travelled on. At any slight sign of rebellion or disagreement with the party line, Ferguson himself would make a choleric proclamation; damning whichever referee had failed to decide in his team’s favour, or pouring Govan bile over whichever media organisation had dared think the unthinkable, or presumed to print heresy. One of the most familiar of radio sports headlines was “The FA have confirmed that Alex Ferguson will face no further action over [insert blatant transgression of rules here]”. It was tiresome, it was depressing – but it was the norm and, over time, a weary acceptance crept in that this is how our game now was.

Graham Poll - admission

Graham Poll – admission

Sooner or later, though, there was bound to be someone intimately involved with all of this, who would finally break ranks and confirm what we always knew: namely that two decades of unprecedented success have been founded upon bullying and intimidation to influence the game’s authorities both on and off the field, and to ensure a smooth passage in the print and broadcast media.  Then, finally, ex-referee Graham Poll came out in print and admitted how it was to be officiating in that era when Fergie’s word was law and referees (together with their support officials and governing body) were under immense pressure to rule on matters in a manner favourable to Man U.

“All the refs wanted in a Man U game,” said Poll, “was to get the match over, without having made any controversial decisions against Fergie’s boys – and ideally with Man U having won.”

Damning stuff, straight from the horse’s mouth. Again, we’re back to those fine margins. At the top level of any sport, it doesn’t take much to destroy the balance upon which depends true competition to ensure a reasonably level playing field.  It turns out that the playing field was as skewed as Yeovil’s legendary sloping pitch of giant-killing memory.  But at least at Yeovil, both teams got to play with the slope for half a game each.  Poll’s evidence is that the slope was in favour of Man U for 90 minutes plus however many were needed to ensure the “right” result.  Man U have won all those Fergie years honours with the aid of loaded dice.  So much in control of the game were they, it redounds to their shame that they didn’t win absolutely everything, every year.

Don’t take it from me.  Why would you?  I’m a Leeds fan with my own instinctive dislike and contempt for that over-blown club, that media-inflated false legend built on a well-marketed tragedy.  But just think back over all those incidents going back all those years.  Look at the watershed of the Premier League being founded – how the game was suddenly all about commercial interests, flogging satellite dishes and replica shirts.  Look where the biggest market was – all those plastic Man U fans in Devon and Cornwall, all of those merchandise-hungry fanatics who never saw a match day but shelled out for tacky Man U tat.  Look at the record of the Man U club prior to 1993 – seven titles in all their history.  And then 13 titles in twenty years after Murdoch bought the game and gift-wrapped it for Man U.  That’s quite a before and after picture, isn’t it?

The insistent pressure was extended beyond its mere effect on referees, too.  How many times have you seen Sky TV lingering lovingly over some Man U performance where the opposition simply caved in and rolled over to play dead?  And they’d win, 7-0, 9-0 even. Because they weren’t a bad team, and over the course of those twenty years they may well have won four or five titles, even if the game hadn’t been bent out of shape in their favour. See, I can be realistic about these matters. But ask any sports psychologist about the drip, drip, drip effect of relentless media propaganda. How many times do you need to be told you have no chance, before you begin to believe it? Teams went there psyched-out, expecting to lose, knowing they’d never get a penalty and would more than likely concede one or two and maybe end up with ten men too. Sometimes, they would even rest important players for a game they had a chance of winning a week later. They’d naturally sink to a defeat they acknowledged as inevitable, and Man U’s title rivals could do nothing but grind their teeth. And so the whole basis on which league football is predicated was blown out of the water, all to the inevitable benefit of Man U.  Fine margins and psychological edge – it doesn’t take much to warp the whole shooting match hopelessly out of shape.

What Graham Poll has done is to admit – in so many words – just what a relief it was to get off the pitch without having made any significant decision against a victorious Man U – because he knew what would follow as Ferguson would bitch about it in the press, and nobody would hold him to account.  There are plenty of examples of referees making the “wrong” decision, leading to the “wrong” result – and then not being awarded another high-profile game involving the Pride of Devon for literally months.  It was freely bandied about that this or that ref had been “banned” by Taggart. Meanwhile, the refs who “behaved themselves” – and we all know who they are – were regular fixtures at Old Trafford games, or in away matches featuring Man U.  It was all so frightfully, disgustingly cosy.

Now Ferguson has gone, and Poll – possibly tongue-in-cheek – was “worried” this time last year for the tyrant’s successor David Moyes.  He warned Moyes that he has “no chance” of pulling off the same kind of influence that he cheerfully and willingly admits Ferguson exerted over the game’s arbiters.  Some may well have noticed attempts on the part of the pitifully inoffensive Moyes to act like some Fergie clone, blustering his way into some pallid imitation of the Beast of Govan. But really, it was to very little avail.  And, inevitably, Moyes paid the price as Poll clearly foresaw. It just wasn’t the same for Man U without Ferguson to tyrannise the game, and still isn’t the same feeling under the almost equally baffled van Gaal, for whom the cracks are now starting to show in the shape of tetchiness and intolerance on camera. The Beast is gone – for the moment anyway – and with him has gone most of the edge of intimidation granted to Man U for so many years.

The thing is, this will come as news to not all that many people.  Figures within the media will profess astonishment and cynicism, preferring to dismiss even such compelling testimony as a storm in a teacup.  You still hear, week after week, commentators doing their best to sound surprised when another Man U foul goes unpunished, another good penalty shout goes un-awarded.  In tones of wonderment, they will observe “Well, the ref seemed to have a good view of that, I can’t quite understand why he’s not given it…”  Week after week, month after month, year after monotonous year.  But the fans know – and the fans, other than those with a vested interest and an armchair in Milton Keynes, will be totally unsurprised over those admissions of Graham Poll.  They will not be startled by what he has said – maybe just at the fact that he chose to say it. All of this has been so ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ over the Premier League era.  But the fans have known, alright.

It explains why, whenever a fan answers the question “who do you support” with “Man U” – and despite all those trophies, all that dominance – there is no gasp of respect, no acknowledgement of success.  It’s much more likely that they’ll be laughed at, and there’s no greater tragedy than that for what was once a name respected throughout world football – even if they HAD gone 25 years without the Title.  Ultimately, this will affect the way in which a famous club is regarded by history.  Nobody needs to tell a Leeds United fan about that – and there are more reasons to damn this United from just outside Manchester than there ever were to damn our own beloved United of Leeds.

It’s not clear why Graham Poll chose to come out and confirm what so many of us have known for so long.  Maybe it was a warning ahead of a possible return for Ferguson should even Louis van Gaal suffer Moyes’ fate and be cast adrift as the failures and defeats pile up. There is a precedent for this. Busby returned briefly when Wilf McGuinness, his hapless successor, found he’d inherited a poisoned chalice.  But that was 40-odd years ago and there was no Premier League to warp the game out of shape for pecuniary considerations. And Ferguson, it goes without saying, is no Sir Matt – he is unfit to lick Busby’s shoes, never mind fill them. Our game is far better off without his malign presence and influence.

Could Graham Poll, resentful of the pressure he had to work under as a ref for Man U games, be trying to warn the current batch of officials not to go back to their cowardly old ways if Ferguson DID make a comeback?  Could he belatedly be recognising where his duty to the game should actually be leading him?  One thing’s for sure: it’s out in the open now – and it’s the job of everyone with the interests of football and fair competition at heart to make sure that’s exactly how it stays.

We Hate Man United, We Hate Tottenham Too – by Rob Atkinson

Unrivalled support

Stand up, if you hate the scum….

I’ve taken a bit of stick lately, through the “Comments” facility of Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything, for appearing to nurse a degree of hatred towards certain other football clubs – and their supporters.  It’s a serious accusation, so I should make my position clear straight away.

I’m guilty as charged.  Guilty as hell.  Guilty as a weasel in the hen-house.  I do indeed hate, among others, Man U (the scum), Tottenham Hotspur and Galatasaray (Galascum).  It should be emphasised that this is not an exhaustive list.

My reasons are varied, according to the club involved – but those reasons are entirely valid, as far as I’m concerned.  They’re also entirely personal to me.  I don’t invite anyone to correct me over this and I wouldn’t dream of infringing on anyone else’s hatred territory. And, most importantly of all, though I have entered above a plea of guilty, I don’t feel guilty.  Not a bit of it.

Before I go on, let me state this as a guiding principle: there is a place in football for hate

Now, that might seem a rather provocative, not to say controversial statement, in these happy-clappy days when going to the match is supposed to be all about families, and fun.  When oompah bands high up in the stands, are strategically placed so that the newly-gentrified population in the 36 quid seats should not have to hear anything raucous or profane. 

But it’s true, nevertheless.  Football is tribal, football is cathartic, football is where you get to let off some steam after gritting your teeth all week. 

And, for all of that, you need someone to hate.

Hate is a much misunderstood, wrongly demonised word nowadays.  It’s not really to be found in the lexicon of the politically correct.  It sends out the wrong message, don’t you know, and speaks of the extreme edges of emotion and feeling, where those of pallid personalities do not wish to be seen. 

But hate is a real human emotion, and you can’t simply wish, or indeed legislate it away.  Properly expressed, it’s just about the best catalyst for atmosphere at a good old traditional sporting fixture.

The professionals should stay out of it, and get on with the game – it’s not really within their remit to get caught up in the atmosphere a bit of hate generates (although it’s frequently more entertaining than the football when teams DO let the passion affect them).  However, the real arena is in the stands, or on the terraces, as we used to say in happier times. 

Here is where the mutual dislike, felt in extreme measure in some cases, can safely be vented.  Two sets of supporters, bound by a common loathing, hurl insults of glorious vulgarity back and forth, each seeking to outdo the other in a contest outside of the on-field engagement.  The feeling is atavistic, and there’s no actual need for it to spill over into physical confrontation for honour to be satisfied.  The occasion as a whole is enhanced by these pieces of human theatre.

The modern tendency towards crowd interaction being drowned out by super-powerful P.A. systems, pumping out crap music, has detracted from this phenomenon, as have the silly drums and trumpets they call “bands”.  My own beloved Leeds United made an ill-advised decision, quite a few years back now, to promote a “band” – but the masses behind the goal did not approve.  The occasional toot and drumbeat were heard, only to be swiftly squashed by a throaty “Stand uuuup, if you hate the band”, and the experiment died an early and unlamented death.  Rightly so, too.  Bands at football stadia prosper only where the indigenous support lacks the moral fibre to resist such contrived attempts at a “nice” atmosphere.  Sheffield Wednesday is the obvious example.

Sadly, it appears that the good old days of free expression, where a cadre of like-minded fanatics could express their hatred of “that lot from ovver t’hill”, are soon to be behind us for good.  Yet there are still football clubs and fixtures which can conjure up some of the old atmosphere, so deeply do feelings run. 

I’m glad to say that dear old Leeds United is one such club, so pathologically hated by so many other sets of fans, and so willingly disposed to return that sentiment with interest, that our matches against a select group of old enemies roll back the years, and set the blood pumping with an almost-forgotten vigour.  Long may that remain the case – these are the real football clubs, with the real fans, and it’s this unreconstructed minority which is striving to hold back the tide of plastic, family-orientated, artificial bonhomie that so threatens to dull the palate as the 21st century progresses.

It’s not politically correct. It’s frowned upon by the self-appointed guardians of “The Good Of The Game”.  And admittedly, it too often spills over into taboo references, or actual violence, which is never something to be condoned.  But come the day when they finally kill the last wisp of hate-fuelled atmosphere, at the last old dinosaur of a non-modern non-Meccano stadium, they’ll be well on the way to finally reading the last rites over the corpse of the game as we used to know it.

And then – why, I’ll throw in the towel, say my goodbyes to Elland Road, and sulk off to watch Frickley Athletic play those twats from FC Scum of Manchester – confident that there will be enough curmudgeonly old reprobates on both sides who will be happy to spit venom at each other for 90 minutes – just for old times’ sake.