Daily Archives: 01/02/2015

Rudy to Become a 500,000 Pound Pie – by Rob Atkinson

Bye bye, Rudy

Bye bye, Rudy

It seems likely that ex-skipper Rodolph Austin will, after all, be leaving Elland Road this window – following the trail blazed by Jason Pearce to darkest Wigan over on t’wrong side of the hills.

The move comes just a couple of days after manager Neil Redfearn stated categorically that Austin was “not for sale”. That stance appeared to be dictated by the non-availability through injury of loan signing Granddi Ngoyi, who is likely to be out for a short while yet.

The nature of the modern game means that players can these days “better themselves” by moving from a footballing giant like Leeds to comparative midgets like Wigan. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I feel it’s difficult to say – it depends on your point of view. Any “bettering” will be purely financial, as there is still a massive status gap between the likes of the Latics and the Whites of Elland Road.

It’s likely to be a busy deadline day in and around LS11 – and it may be that the exit of Austin – apparently dictated by the chance of a fee (sadly well short of six million dollars) for a player who could have walked for nowt in July – will necessitate one more incoming transfer than previously anticipated. That, or we might be left light in midfield over the next few games, whilst still precariously placed in the league table.

Tomorrow should be a very interesting day.

Football League Sentence Leeds to “Death by a Thousand Cuts” – by Rob Atkinson

Corrupt, vindictive, selective and incompetent - a quadruple threat

Corrupt, vindictive, selective and incompetent – a quadruple threat

Throughout history, a tragically large fund of human ingenuity has been squandered on the age-old challenge of how best to inflict the longest, cruellest, most lingering death imaginable on those unfortunates deemed enemies. Whether that death might be brought about by fire, torture, evisceration, dismemberment or a dozen other grisly and barbaric methods, the zeal and enthusiasm of those inflicting the pain has generally known no bounds.

One particularly gruesome option available to Chinese practitioners back in the day was Lingchi – graphically described as “death by a thousand cuts”. This consists of a process whereby small portions of the victim’s anatomy are lopped off over an extended period of time, the art being to keep the subject alive and suffering for as long as possible before what would end up as a gratefully welcomed demise for whichever part remained of him.

With this in mind, and true to their historically malevolent attitude where Yorkshire’s finest is concerned, the Football League have typically creative plans for Leeds United. It is indeed a modern take on the long, drawn-out horror story of Lingchi that these benevolent gentlemen have opted to visit upon the most prominent member of their “football family”.

The League, you see, are on United’s case, and they’re not going to go away. Having temporarily got their man by imposing a ban on Massimo Cellino that will keep him away from Leeds United until his so-called Italian conviction is deemed “spent” under English law, the not-so-honest burghers of the game in this country now have an eye on impending legal cases. What they must now hope for will be more convictions for the Corn King, wide boy, fraudster or saviour, however you wish to term Cellino. And then, they’ll pounce again – not because they must. But because they can.

All of this is quite apart from the question of whether or not Cellino is a positive for Leeds, which really is currently a moot point. On the one hand, you have to ask yourself where United might be had the Italian not breezed in just over a year ago. Up a certain creek without benefit of paddle, quite possibly. On the other hand, it’s been a chaotic twelve months, full of craziness and questionable decisions. Cellino cannot be said to have emerged smelling of roses, not quite. But the argument as to his suitability for the ownership of Leeds United has been obscured by outside events. He simply hasn’t had the chance to prove himself one way or the other.

Wherever you might stand on Cellino’s effect on the club, good, bad or indifferent – the instability and uncertainty imposed by forces from without cannot be underestimated. And it is this uncertainty and instability that the League seem determined to maintain, by constantly pulling the Leeds owner up, banning him when they can, harassing and hunting him. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Championship, money-launderers and rapists carry on regardless, unmolested by Harvey and his cronies. This point is made often, addressed – never. The League complacently cock a deaf’un to any questions about the criminals at various of their clubs, and concentrate on the priority of getting Cellino, destabilising Leeds.

Instability at the top has a trickle-down effect on any organisation. At a professional football club, staff and players have to deal in the very fine margins that exist between success and failure. If a team is just a few percentage points below par, they have very little chance against well-prepared, highly motivated opposition. To ask a professional football club to conduct a league campaign in such a highly competitive environment, blighted by uncertainty and the lack of any continuity or stability, is like asking a marathon runner to complete the twenty-six miles in lead boots. The Football League will be well aware of this. What, then, can we deduce about their “duty of care” towards Leeds United? What does that mean to them? I know what I think.

If Leeds United do survive this season, retaining their Championship status, they will have done extraordinarily well, given the constraints applied from several quarters. But then, it all starts again – and we’ll be at the mercy of what happens in foreign courtrooms with the League determined to apply the letter of their Fit & Proper Test in Cellino’s case if not in any other. Wisdom, common sense even, if properly applied to the situation, would suggest that this test is for the vetting of prospective owners, not the harassment of those in situ. What could Cellino achieve if left to get on with the job, and no outside distractions other than some sort of hands-off monitoring? Isn’t that worth a try? What would Karl Oyston, Football League “Fit and Proper” arbiter and son of rapist and Blackpool FC stakeholder Owen, think of that? You’d have to ask him, and take your chances on which of his two faces might respond to the question.

There would seem to be no calm or peace ahead for Leeds, no period of grace, no chance to sit down and assess where they are with the job in hand. There is just the prospect of more chaos, more insecurity – more of the same, in fact. The Football League are not finished with Leeds yet, not by a long chalk. They have their knife in, deep between the club’s shoulder blades right now and they’re ready to twist it. And if they’re forced to withdraw that blade, they’ll be looking for the next opportunity to stab, and stab again. As often as they need to, for as long as it takes.

Lingchi. Death by a thousand cuts. That’s what Harvey and the Football League have planned for Leeds United. And right now, the smart money must be on those pallid gentlemen in suits finishing off our club for the foreseeable future.

Leeds Utd Could Lose a Treasured Rival in Millwall FC – by Rob Atkinson

What do you call a Millwall fan in a suit? The accused...

What do you call a Millwall fan in a suit? The accused…

Crisis club Leeds – I say “crisis club” because that’s how the Daily Mail and the Mirror and other such quality news outlets refer to us, so it must be true – may be about to suffer yet another shattering blow. A sporting rivalry treasured on both sides of an apparently vast divide could unthinkably be terminated by what would be a tragic relegation for those lovable chirpy cockney barrow-boys and girls of Bermondsey, Sarf Landan – Millwall FC.

How sad it would be to see this wonderful, heart-warming, community club disappear into the obscurity of the lower leagues. Community is such an important word when discussing the Lions of the New Den.  It is at the heart of everything they do. Older fans may remember the days when community singing was a vital element of every Wembley Cup Final occasion – and it’s sad that those days seem to have gone amid a welter of fireworks and other pyrotechnics.  How grateful we are then to Millwall, for their innovation of “community fighting” at a Wembley semi-final, battling among themselves, tearing into each other like playful and blood-crazed sharks as their team stumbled to defeat, heedless of the terror and confusion of those children present. It was a signature spectacle, bringing back in a manner peculiar to Millwall memories of those days when crowd participation was inextricably linked with the occasion itself. This was a few years back now – fortunately, perhaps, Millwall haven’t threatened to get near a semi-final since.

Visitor’s to the environs of Millwall’s homely little ground (local motto “Say it with half a brick”) will also have carried away with them memories of the warm – frequently hot – welcome they were usually afforded.  Nothing was ever too much trouble for the natives, who were regularly available for cultural exchanges on a twelve-to-one basis, with demolition and amateur dental and glazing clearance work frequently offered at no extra cost, together with a complimentary visit to the local A&E department. Back in the day, the very name of the Lions’ former home, The Den, was enough to make any prospective Daniel all too aware of exactly where he was venturing. The address of the old ground, Cold Blow Lane, added its own especial piquancy to the air of goodwill and bonhomie that traditionally surrounded an away fixture at Millwall.

The thought that all of this could be lost to the fans of Leeds United and the other Championship clubs is a sobering one.  And yet the threat is very real; after a series of defeats in December and the first half of January, Millwall were firmly in the danger zone.  That inept run of results has been interrupted by a draw against Reading and an unlikely win at Forest – but the ragged cockernees are still firmly in the mire.

It would be such a shame if even these fairly flea-bitten and toothless Lions ended up plummeting through the relegation trapdoor.   I’m happy to say that a cordial relationship has long existed between this blog and the close-bred supporters of the Bermondsey outfit.  There has even been a bit of banter here and there – it may surprise some erudite Leeds-supporting readers of these pages that the odd instance of respectable IQ occurs even among the ‘Wall fans every now and then. Yes, even from such a limited gene-pool as that in which those chirpy, loveable cockney brick-slingers exist, there are one or two who can string enough four-letter words together to form a simple, declarative sentence.  With their extraordinarily close “family ties” counting – so you might imagine – against any hybrid intellectual vigour such as we in the North enjoy, this seems remarkable.  But, nevertheless, it does appear to be so.

The dialogue between this blog and those in the vanguard of the Bermondsey intelligentsia has usually been  testy on the surface – that’s what rivalry is all about, even between two clubs so far apart on the evolutionary scale – but I’ve always been confident that warmth and humanity have underpinned all of our dealings.  Why, those passionate and committed – or at least certifiable – fans have even taken the trouble to enquire after my family’s health and life insurance, taking great pains to find out all they can about where we live and what security arrangements we have.

When Leeds had their “Black Friday” almost exactly a year back, there were those Millwall scamps, tweeting away in numbers, playfully rubbing my nose in it. But the following day, as Leeds murdered Huddersfield 5-1 and Millwall surrendered 0-3 to Reading, it all went quiet on their side – still, at least they’d made the effort the previous night.  It’s mainly been good, clean knockabout fun with only comparatively few threats of death and disfigurement coming my way – the defining characteristic of these salt-of-the-earth Lions fans. How I would miss all that if their beloved club’s relegation were to be confirmed – as seems sadly* likely. Then again, some welcome consolation would be found in the fact that Millwall’s demise will almost certainly mean the Championship survival of Leeds United after our most difficult season for a good few years.

Perhaps, if they do go down, they’ll be back sooner rather than later.  If not,  then beyond the fixture at Elland Road this coming Valentines Day, which Millwall will be under pressure to win, it’s unlikely that our paths will cross again in the foreseeable future. And, as Millwall normally bring only a few dozen fans to LS11, belying their obviously spurious reputation for being fighting troops (other than among themselves) it appears there will be little prospect of cultural exchanges of banter, or whatever on the February 14th matchday. Which again is a pity – but if North to Elland Road is too tough a trip for the majority of Lions fans, there’s little to be done about that.

It does rather look as though a whole era of friendly competition, mutual badinage and a couple of Cup Final outings in the limelight each year for little Millwall might just be coming to a tragic end. And it’s a pity. But United will find they have bigger fish to fry, the Millwall fans will be able to chalk one scary trip “Nawf” off their calendar, and each club will be able to get used to life in very different circles, with Leeds mixing it with huge clubs like Tuna billionaires Sheffield Wendies and Millwall – or in the local argot, Miwwwaww – bestowing their unique charm on the likes of Barnsley and so on.

So, let us not mourn over what might soon be past.  Let us, rather, be grateful it happened at all.  It was fun pretending we were on the same footing for a while, but all such fun has a natural end, and this may just be it.  Let us, then, shed just one silent, wistful tear – and move on.

* Not really.

BBC: “Distressing Scenes” Stopped Us Showing Full Leeds Highlights – by Rob Atkinson

Manish: "Upsetting scenes"

Manish: “Upsetting scenes”

Many fans of Leeds United – and even Huddersfield Town – were mystified at the BBC’s decision to show only brief highlights on the Football League Show of the pulsating West Yorkshire derby between Town and United on Saturday. Leeds fans have become used to an apparent BBC policy whereby matches featuring the League’s biggest and most illustrious club are given only scant coverage by the corporation, usually about thirty seconds somewhere towards the end of the programme’s Championship montage.

Derby games, though, might normally be considered a special case, with a large (for Huddersfield) and passionate crowd creating a vibrant atmosphere and adding to the spectacle of fierce local rivals going at it hammer and tongs. And yet, once again, the coverage was minimal. At the start of the programme, reference was made to “today’s early kick-off”, but this was an allusion to the Brentford v ‘Boro live Sky game – not the Town v Leeds affair which also had a lunchtime start.

When asked for an explanation of what might seem, on the face of it, to be slightly odd editorial decisions, a BBC spokesperson commented “Actually, we had planned to show extended highlights of Huddersfield Town versus Leeds United, featuring the match prominently near the start of our Championship section. But sadly, there were some distressing scenes caught by our cameras and we felt that these would be too traumatic to show to the vast majority of our viewers. We are always wary of transmitting events and unforeseen developments that may upset our audience. In this case, the game turned out in a way we could not possibly have foreseen – and we felt we had to reduce coverage to the minimum allowable and leave it till later in the programme.”

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything – whilst fully cognisant of the fact that the Huddersfield player Tommy Smith sustained a head or neck injury towards the end of the game, and that scenes such as that are always difficult and possibly traumatic viewing – still felt that this incident, upsetting though it undoubtedly was, hardly justified “pulling” the full highlights. We therefore put it to the BBC that, by the time the programme was broadcast, Tommy Smith was in a stable condition in hospital, sitting up and talking to doctors. Surely, the coverage could have gone ahead as planned – maybe with a reassuring message that the player was fine now, and in no danger?

The BBC spokesperson spluttered a little, and we wondered if he had perhaps choked on a corporate nibble. “The injury to the Huddersfield player? You thought that’s what I was talking about? No, no, no,” our contact laughed uproariously. “Oh, dear me, that’s a good one…” The laughter continued unabated as we waited patiently for our man to calm down and explain himself. “Look, you’ve totally misunderstood me,” he chortled, eventually. “When I referred to distressing scenes that we couldn’t possibly have anticipated, I didn’t mean some common or garden injury! Think, man! This was a Leeds United away win, clinched by a superb goal in the last few minutes! Can you imagine anything more horrible, more upsetting for our viewers?? We couldn’t possibly expose them to that – now could we?”

Manish Bhasin is a self-satisfied git.

Becchio: Could Love be Sweeter the Second Time Around? – by Rob Atkinson

The Luciano we Remember

The Luciano we Remember

As speculation mounts over just who the man could be that will revive the flagging fortunes of Leeds United in front of goal, one name simply refuses to go away.  Luciano Becchio of blessed memory, our very own Argentinian hit-man, a hard-working and committed striker with a Barça “B” notch on his CV – yet currently a flop at Norwich City, the deal that took him there having gone sour for both clubs.

Leeds emerged from that transaction with Steve Morison and some money. Then Morison went to purgatory in the shape of Millwall and has barely emerged since, despite a return to Elland Road – although he has lately shown some commitment and promise in a lone striker role. The Becchio money has of course long since disappeared on United’s running costs or Ross McContract’s wages – and poor Luca has spent the interim period sliding ungracefully down the pecking order of Norwich’s lengthening roster of strikers.  In his rare league appearances in the not-so-famous canary yellow, he has scored the grand total of zero goals. The form that prompted the Carrow Road lot to go after him was much more prolific as his Leeds career came to an end, but he did not take that form with him to East Anglia.

It is common knowledge that Luciano would be open to a return to Elland Road and, indeed, that he wasn’t all that keen on leaving in the first place. Dark rumours are being whispered abroad that he was forced out; that his availability was hyped-up by the men then in charge, and that poor Luca was but a pawn in the high-stakes finance game being played out in the wake of the GFH takeover. Perhaps it’s true.  So would Becchio be welcomed back to LS11?

Opinions, as ever, are divided.  Some would crawl over broken glass all the way to the wilds of Norfolk and then give the lad a piggy-back ride all the way up to Thorp Arch and pay for the privilege.  Others regard anyone who leaves as several grades down from Judas Iscariot, and would rather kiss a Man U badge than see such a traitor back in the fold.  The truth is out there somewhere, and more than likely it’s in between those two extremes.  There is always a worry about a returning hero; the late, great John Charles failed to relive the magic when he returned, and there have been other second-time flops since.  Isn’t it, perhaps, better to go for a new man, with no ex-Leeds baggage, one who will arrive with a clean slate and an eagerness to win new friends? You’d have thought so, and Signor Cellino prefers to shop elsewhere – but all of his prospects are turning up their noses at Leeds and heading off elsewhere.

Becchio’s failure to hack it in the Premier League during Norwich’s doomed survival fight (some would say that’s a harsh call given his relative lack of opportunities) will not have surprised many.  His game was always about drive and endeavour more than silky skills and fancy flicks or turns.  He would work so hard on his best days, he would go in where angels fear to tread, he would stick his head in where many might shrink from risking a boot.  On his off-days, by contrast, he could be awfully anonymous – subtract effort and commitment from his game and there was not, it seemed, a hell of a lot left.  And yet every now and then he’d produce a sublime finish, as depicted in the image above, that belonged at a much higher level.  His habit of picking on Middlesbrough endeared him to many, and the fact that the Smoggies coveted him as well as McCormack would be reason enough for many to get him back on the payroll.

As things stand, all we really have is a very persistent rumour that the Whites are looking for additional firepower, and soon at that, with the window slamming shut Monday night. Whoever we might get, I hope they’d come with a winger included, so that the whole thing might stand a better chance of working – although the club seem to be banking on Mowatt and Byram to do the wide boy stuff.

If Becchio does appear again in a Leeds United shirt over the next few days, he’ll be doing it because he’s wanted by the boss – Redders has come out and said as much, but was abruptly contradicted by the since-departed il Presidente. On the basis that the pro in the equation wants the lad, I’d cautiously welcome him back, and wish him all the very best as he seeks to resume a United career he should probably never have interrupted.