Daily Archives: 09/02/2015

MK Dons Sought “Ploughed Field” Switch for Bradford City Game – by Rob Atkinson

Bradford's moonscape of a "pitch" - after the divots had been replaced

Bradford’s moonscape of a “pitch” – after the divots had been replaced

Monday evening isn’t exactly a highlight of the week at the best of times. The weekend is just a pleasant memory and the daily grind has our noses firmly to its stone again, real life intruding to suck the joy and leisure out of our bleak existences. Oh dear – I’m depressing myself…

Even Monday evenings, though, when the next weekend mini-break seems so far off and unattainable, still sometimes has its compensations. Not tonight, however. No Premier League football to remind a nostalgic Leeds fan of what used to be on offer every fortnight at Elland Road. Not this benighted Monday. Instead, it’s rugged, ragged League One fare, as rough and honest as a monk’s undies, replete with hard graft, application, work rate and maybe a primitive sort of skill here and there. It’d do, normally – some games at this level can be ok. Ish. And if nothing else, you’d think that such rustic entertainment might help your average long-suffering Leeds fan stop thinking about that clueless git of an alleged referee who paraded his criminal lack of ability at Elland Road on Saturday.

But this isn’t the best of League One, such as it is. It’s Bradford. And there’s just something about that homely little club which makes watching any of their games feel like you’re witnessing two sets of artisans having a mud-wallowing contest. This, you understand, is at the best of times.

Tonight, the impression of mediocrity is heightened by the state of what Bradford City have the cheek to call a pitch. It is not a pitch. It is a morass. To say it’s cutting up is hopelessly inadequate. I’ve seen slasher movie victims less cut up than Bradford’s gloopy, damaged playing surface. Compared to this Somme battlefield of a playing area, Derby’s old Baseball Ground resembled a manicured, pristine bowling green. And as all of us with a few decades on our backs will recall, the Baseball Ground was a real pig of a pitch. They were still digging up mummified inside-forwards there a decade after Derby moved out to their new, Meccano stadium.

So bad is this Bradford surface that, I have it on good authority, visitors MK Dons took one look and asked to have the fixture switched to a ploughed-over potato field on the edge of the city. The ball would run truer there, the horrified Milton Keynes man protested. The farm furrows would suit the Dons’ passing game better than the ravaged, blitzed bog within Valley Parade’s not-so-hallowed portals. Besides, the desperate southerners argued, playing in a field would make the attendance look better. Most of the Bratfud faithful appeared to have turned up disguised as claret or amber seats.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the circumstances of this game have reduced it, as a spectacle, to something rather less entertaining than watching a turnip rot. Unsurprisingly, half time arrived with the scoreline as blank as Peter Beagrie’s face. Most of the first period had been spent with the combatants burying the ball under the friable surface and then digging it up again. The more skilful players on the Dons’ side resembled ballet dancers trying to escape quicksand. Even the muddied oafs of Bradford looked more like swamp-dwellers than footballers though that may be their standard appearance, for all I know.

I have to say, the second half was much better. I spent it asleep on the sofa, dreaming as an old man dreams, of Felicity Kendall and Debbie Harry, naked in a hot tub. I must have snored away thus, blissfully happy with aesthetic fulfilment, probably with an appreciative leer on my face, almost certainly drooling slightly, for – ooh, a good half hour. Then, the hot tub vision melted away, to be replaced by a mud-bath; Felicity and Debbie disappeared from view instead of obligingly wrestling – and I was awake, staring at the Somme again.

The surface hadn’t deteriorated – it couldn’t possibly have, not without two days’ application of a rotavator – and the brave, willing players of both sides were still trying to make the ball move as a spherical object ideally should. Somehow, the teams between them had managed to score some actual goals – three of them. I guessed they must have taken it in turns to use a tank or other caterpillar-tracked vehicle to conduct actual offensives, rather then just battle it out in the cratered and pitted no man’s land.

MK Dons, unable to reproduce the form that has been coming to them so easily when they play on grass, had to swallow the bitter pill of defeat to a team evidently more proficient at mudlarks than football. Whether they will lodge a complaint to the League is yet to be seen – but either way, the result is likely to stand. Bradford fans and players will head home happily, to spend the time until Friday afternoon scraping the mud off their boots, or clogs, as applicable. For them, mind-boggling as it might appear to civilised people, this passed for entertainment.

For Bradford, it’s a rise to the dizzy heights of only ten league places behind crisis club Leeds United. The glorious prospect of playing in the same division as their hated neighbours – and experiencing another Wembley Final thrashing – must be positively dazzling for them right now.  How the season pans out remains to be seen; but MK Dons will certainly be relieved to be heading back south without having lost any personnel drowned in the West Yorkshire peat bogs. For them, small mercies are all they have, tonight, to give thanks for.

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Cameron Jerome Disappointed NOT to Have Been Racially Abused? – by Rob Atkinson

Bellusci & Jerome - he said, she said...

Bellusci & Jerome – he said, she said…

To the surprise of many Leeds United fans, long inured to the habit of those wielding any sort of power finding against their favourites, Whites defender Giuseppe Bellusci was cleared of a charge that he racially abused Norwich City striker Cameron Jerome. It was an accusation that had been hanging over Bellusci for too many months; one can only speculate about the effect that the ongoing issue has had on his ability to conduct a career in professional football. And yet it is still Cameron Jerome, a man who has not been unwilling in the past to fling accusations of this nature at fellow professionals, who seems to see himself as the sole victim here.

In the end, common sense prevailed. The eventual verdict amounts to a slightly insipid “not proven”, but – as I had previously speculated – it is difficult to see how the outcome could have been anything else. With one man’s word standing against another’s consistent denials (and alternative take on what was actually said) and absolutely no third-party corroboration one way or the other, it is clear which way the verdict should have gone – although there is always many a potential slip ‘twixt cup and lip. There is no reason, either, to conclude that the decision reflects ill on Jerome; there is no suggestion, after all, that he has been anything other than scrupulously truthful in his account of what he thought he heard. The outcome follows on from the acceptance of the panel that there was a misunderstanding here, aggravated by the language barrier. Unable to prove either man wrong or false in his account, what else could this judicially-convened body reasonably do?

Jerome, though, is not persuaded and feels hard done by. Possibly he feels that his honesty has been impugned, in which case somebody with a better grasp of the technicalities should perhaps sit him down and gently explain. But there appears to be some resolve on the “disappointed” Jerome’s part to pursue the matter further, if at all possible. In this, he may well be backed by the “Kick It Out” movement, who have hinted at support for the miffed striker after due consideration of the reasons behind the decision.

Kick It Out is a worthy campaign for positive good in the modern game. But are they really serving anyone’s best interests in a case where, regardless of what was actually said by both parties, it will be impossible to prove the matter one way or the other? Their offer of support to Jerome is laudable enough in itself, but it would be better directed, surely, towards explaining to the guy the difficulties of proving something without any supporting evidence – and particularly where there is a reasonable basis for supposing that neither man is lying and a misunderstanding is the real culprit here. Instead, the stance of both the alleged injured party and his potential supporters appears to be a determination to keep open this can of worms, come what may.

The fact is that, in the heat of battle, with native tongues angrily resorted to, it’s entirely reasonable and understandable that whatever was said had its intended meaning lost in translation. Bellusci says he shouted in Italian that he would “black Jerome’s eye” after suffering a foul by the Norwich forward. It is this altercation that is pictured above. The Italian word for black is “nero” – it’s easy to see how an English speaker might hear that as “negro”. That’s the word Jerome thought he heard, and that – naturally – formed the whole basis for his subsequent complaint, which he has been acknowledged to have made quite properly and conducted impeccably. There is a minor dispute here about the word used, but beyond a one letter difference that doesn’t seem to be a crucial point – and it comes under the umbrella of “misunderstanding”. Only the meaning, or sense, is substantially disputed. It meant one thing coming from Bellusci’s angry mouth, so we are told – and quite another as heard by Jerome’s outraged ear. Therein lies the crux of the misunderstanding (which cannot be disproved) – and that is why this decision was – had to be – correct.

If Jerome has any common-sense at all, and does not want to be thought of as pursuing a vendetta in pushing an unprovable point of view – if he does not, in short, want to be thought guilty of that dread phrase “playing the race card” – then he had better swallow his well-publicised disappointment and get on with playing football as he is paid to do. On the facts and the evidence, or lack thereof, there is little else he can feasibly do. The Kick It Out campaign, whatever their understandable zeal in wishing to root out racists and see them dealt with, are not serving anyone’s best interests in advising their man otherwise – least of all Cameron Jerome himself.

Massimo Cellino went on record during the long wait for this matter to be decided as saying that, if Bellusci were to be found guilty of racism, then he’d be out of the club. As simple and unambiguous as that. There is absolutely no reason to suspect that Leeds United FC has anything other than a zero tolerance policy where racism is concerned. Not every club could say as much. Leeds, let us not forget, had in Albert Johanneson the first black player in an FA Cup Final; they had a black player (Gerry Francis) in the almost entirely white British 1950s – and they supported such an effective anti-racism campaign in the 80s that the club virtually rid itself of its extreme minority, who were reduced from a vocal force in and around the Elland Road stadium to disconsolate pariahs, shunned and marginalised by genuine Leeds supporters.

If – despite the “not proven” verdict – Giuseppe Bellusci did harbour the evil of racism deep within himself, then he would have chosen the wrong club to play for in Leeds, where black players have been a vital part of successive squads ever since the pioneering contributions of Terry Connor, Noel Blake, Vince Hilaire and others, over the past four decades. If Bellusci were of this unacceptable mind, he would be found out and turfed out by the club. I am proud to be able to claim this for Leeds, a club where Nelson Mandela’s hero, Lucas Radebe, has attained a God-like status, almost literally worshipped to this day by thousands of Leeds fans for whom his black skin is either irrelevant or a matter of defiant pride. Certain other clubs are demonstrably a long, long way behind Leeds in this respect.

Let us move on now, for all that is good in the game. Let Bellusci and Jerome get on with their respective careers, let Kick It Out continue with their vital work and their increasingly educational and beneficial influence on football in this country. This case has been an unedifying spectacle for too long now, giving hope to those with unsavoury agendas and casting doubt on the ability of my club and the game as a whole to thrive in their current proudly multi-cultural complexion. It’s gone on far too long and it’s ended more honourably than might have been the case.

Disappointed or not, Cameron Jerome – and, by extension, Norwich City – it now behoves you to accept the outcome and move on. Let that process begin now.

Graham Salisbury Not QUITE the Worst Ref Ever: Top Five Leeds Official Hate Figures – by Rob Atkinson

Webb:  Not as Bent as Michas or Kitabdjian

Webb: A Sad Loss to the Pride of Devon – Yet Not as Bent as Michas or Kitabdjian

Just to put into a proper context Graham Sainsbury’s dreadful performance as match referee for Leeds v Brentford, I thought I’d highlight some famous instances where Leeds have signally failed to get the rub of the green over the years.

Despite the fact that, currently, it’s the elderly and bewildered dotards of the Football League itself girding their withered loins to deal our club a death blow (with the current batch of refs, Clueless Sainsbury among them, seemingly happy to help) the focus here is on the men in the middle rather than those clueless suits at the top. I’ve had no compunction at all about naming and shaming – these gentlemen should really be in the stocks, getting mercilessly pelted with the finest and rankest of rotten fruit and veg.

So here we go; in reverse order of spectacular bentness and/or incompetent buffoonery, these are the Top Five candidates for “Injustice of the 20th Century”:

No. 5:  Wolves 2, Leeds 1  –  8th May 1972  (Ref: Bill Gow)

I’ve placed this as least serious from a refereeing point of view because – in the crucial penalty incident – Mr Gow was unsighted and badly let down by his linesman J C Collins of Macclesfield, an inexperienced official who apparently “froze”. It does seem to have been a blatant handball and a definite penalty though – in a match where Leeds would win the Title and therefore the “Double” if they could avoid defeat. Tellingly, Mr Gow got home that night to be greeted by his wife saying “It looked a penalty on the telly.” My main culprits for this game are the callous officials of the FA and Football League, who insisted a tired team should play a title decider a mere two days after a gruelling FA Cup Final against Arsenal. Leeds did not even get to celebrate their Cup triumph, heading straight off to Wolverhampton with their battered and wounded bodies and their missing heroes. It was a shoddy affair that you could not envisage these days. Respected “Guardian” writer Eric Todd described the uncaring treatment of a gallant Leeds side as “scandalous”.

No. 4:  Leeds United 1, West Brom 2  –  17 April 1971  (Ref: Ray Tinkler)

No doubts about the culprit here. Ray “Bastard” Tinkler’s face as he walked off the Elland Road pitch after this display wore a tellingly apprehensive expression; that of a man who knew he was heading out of a storm and into a typhoon. The game turned on an offside call – or more accurately, two of them. Already one down against opponents they’d been expected to beat easily, Leeds were pressing hard. A victory was vital in the race for the Title, anything less would pass the advantage to Arsenal. Then, Norman Hunter gave the ball away on halfway with most of the Leeds side committed forward. The ball bounced off Tony Brown into the Leeds half where a clearly-offside Colin Suggett was loitering as the linesman flags for the free-kick.Tony Brown continued his run when Tinkler failed to blow in response to the flag, passed the ball to Astle – also in an offside position – who scored. A season’s work, in the words of Don Revie, was undone in a few mad moments. Barry Davies, commentating for the BBC, memorably remarked “…and Leeds will go mad.  And they’ve every right to go mad..”  Strong stuff from a sober professional. In the wake of the crowd disturbances that ensued, Leeds were forced to play their first home games of the following season away from Elland Road, a sanction that led to points being dropped, and probably contributing to their narrow failure to win the 1972 title as well. So Mr. Tinkler may well have done us for two Championship crowns. Cheers, Ray – you utter, utter git.

No. 3:  Chelsea 1, Leeds United 0  –  FA Cup Semi-final at Villa Park  29 April 1967  (Ref:  Ken Burns)

The classic FA Cup Semi: two fine teams, not at all fond of each other – the fashionable Kings Road fancy dans of Chelsea against Don Revie’s battle-hardened stormtroopers. Or so the Press would have it. Chelsea were ahead late on, a fine goal from Tony Hateley being the difference. Leeds thought they’d drawn level when Cooper scored, but the effort was chalked off for offside, despite vociferous complaints from the Leeds players who swore blind that Cooper had come from an onside position. Then, a free kick 25 yards out. The ref took some seconds organising Chelsea’s defensive wall, and then caught the eye of John Giles – a commonly-accepted signal for the free kick to be taken. Giles rolled the ball to Lorimer, who smashed it into Bonetti’s net. Leeds were joyful, Chelsea despaired – but referee Burns ruled the goal out, ordering a retake because Chelsea’s wall was not far enough back – a technical offence against Leeds. As the commentator declared, “They’ll have to look through the rule book backwards to find a reason.” The retaken free-kick came to nothing, and Leeds were out of the Cup in the cruellest circumstances.

No. 2:  Bayern Munich 2, Leeds United 0 – European Cup Final, Parc des Princes, Paris May 28 1975 (Ref: Michel Kitabdjian)

40 years on, this still sticks in the collective craw of Leeds United fans. 40 years on, we still sing “We are the Champions, Champions of Europe” in ritual protest. Two blatant penalty shouts in the first half, the guilty man on both occasions was Der Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer.  First he handled blatantly in the area, and then a “scissors” tackle on Allan Clarke – you wondered how anyone could fail to give either.  Leeds were completely outplaying Bayern, drawing sympathy even from the English TV commentator who was bemoaning the lack of a more even contest.  Then in the second half the ball falls perfectly for Peter Lorimer just outside the Bayern penalty area.  Lorimer times his volley superbly, and it flies into the net, beating Sepp Maier all ends up.  Then confusion as the goal seems to be given, until Beckenbauer urgently directs the ref to speak to his linesman.  More confusion, then the goal is disallowed.  Bayern score twice against a demoralised Leeds near the end, and the European Cup is snatched from the hands of Revie’s old guard; the triumph that was to crown their careers torn away in the most dubious fashion imaginable.

No. 1:  Leeds United 0, AC Milan 1 – ECWC Final, Salonika, Greece 16 May 1973 (Ref: Christos Michas)

This is the Grand-daddy of bent matches, a game almost universally acknowledged to have been as straight as a corkscrew, allegations of bribery, the referee banned by UEFA afterwards – and still the 1973 Trophy is written into the extensive honours list of AC Milan.  Justice, as they say, is a gag.  Peter Lorimer on the match: “It was wholly, indisputably and wretchedly bent…”  Johnny Giles was out with an injured hamstring, but he’d been working for the media and had heard that the ref was “in Milan’s pocket”.  His gloomy view before the game was that it was one Leeds United wouldn’t be allowed to win.  Three minutes gone, and Milan are awarded a free-kick, a decision that could charitably be described as dodgy.  A weak shot takes a cruel deflection on its way into the Leeds net, and it’s 1-0 early on.  From then onwards, it was a story of United pressure thwarted by thuggish challenges from the Milanese, decision after decision going against the increasingly frustrated and demoralised Leeds team, two, possibly three good penalty shouts waved away by Michas, and inevitably the game finished with Milan leading by that early goal, collecting the trophy to hoots of anger and derision from the outraged Greek crowd who cheered the defeated Leeds side as they limped round on a lap of honour “after this most dishonourable of matches.”

There has been a petition to UEFA with a view to overturning the result in this wretched blot on the history of the game, awarding the trophy and medals retrospectively to Leeds.  UEFA did nothing.  I even started a second petition myself as, since the original effort in 2009, Christos Michas has died and is therefore not in a position to have his tender feelings wounded by justice being done.  So it seemed appropriate to try to revive the matter – after all, why should UEFA be permitted to sit complacently on such a scandalously unfair outcome? But it’s Leeds, so it’ll take a lot more than petitions to right this and other wrongs.

-o0o-

Leeds have frequently been the victims of poor decisions and examples of prejudice against them over the years.  They are still, to the best of my knowledge, the only team to concede a goal to the background of the referee punching the air in celebration – supposedly of a good advantage decision, but really?  Would it happen if the victims had been Man U?  In 1987, an FA black-tie junket broke out into cheers of joy when news arrived of Leeds’ Play-off Final replay defeat against Charlton.  We appear to be hated by dopey prats everywhere.

These are the five most blatant examples I could find of occasions when “The Damned United” have suffered at the hands of officialdom, referees in particular.  I’m sure there are many less famous instances, and I’d be interested to hear the recollections of others. More recent examples could include retrospective action against Lee Bowyer which ruled what was our star man that season out of a Champions League semi-final against Valencia (check out a blatant handball for the first goal in the away leg, too) plus a dodgy re-examination of an incident involving Jermaine Beckford at home to Millwall in a vital League One game as we were going for promotion.

It’s a well-known saying in the game that bad decisions, like bad luck, tends to even out over time so that all teams are more or less equal in the long run.  I think any Leeds fan who has even a passing acquaintance with the club’s history would have a wry grin at that one. This weekend’s travesty of a refereeing performance can only strengthen the feeling that the whistle-happy pillocks really do have it in for us; yet, on reflection, it does seem fair to say that Graham Sainsbury, or even Man U fanatic Howard Webb, pictured at the top there, is very small fry indeed, when compared to the Rogues Gallery detailed above. However bad things are now, let’s comfort ourselves with the thought – they’ve been worse in the past!