Daily Archives: 16/02/2015

Police-Basher Holloway Needs to Recognise the Millwall Fan Problem – by Rob Atkinson

Holloway: we'd have done it, too, if it wasn't for those pesky cops

Holloway: we’d have done it, too, if it wasn’t for those pesky cops

If this week had been about which football manager could make the biggest fool of himself, then we might very well have ended up with a dead heat between Millwall boss Ian Holloway and the manager of fallen giants Man U, Louis van Gaal. It was the Theatre of Hollow Myths boss that got off to a flying start, reacting petulantly to the jibes of former Fergie poodle Sam Allardyce that the Pride of Devon had metamorphosed into the Pride of Wimbledon, playing a long ball game to thwart the cultured Hammers.

Even Giggs facepalms at the van Gaal outburst

Even Giggs facepalms at the van Gaal outburst

To say that van Gaal was displeased is somewhat to understate the matter. To say that his production of copious paperwork (which he waved wildly and employed to lecture the assembled press) caused some bemusement and raised eyebrows would be hopelessly inadequate. There were embarrassed mutterings and rolled eyes aplenty, among the press and even in certain of the Man U staff present. It was all excruciatingly, gratifyingly cringeworthy.

So, it’s looking very much as though that club has done it again, making a formerly quite sane person head rapidly for the margins of weirdness. They did it to Cantona, they did it (and how) to the already rabidly eccentric Ferguson; even poor David Moyes in his brief spell went slightly doolally. Surely it’s only a matter of time before van Gaal’s presser consists of a single word, the Dutch equivalent of “Wibble” from a wild-eyed Louis with underpants on his head and pencils up his nose. In a club as distantly separated from reality as Man U, it’s just something that happens, figuratively at least.

Millwall manager Ian Holloway, meanwhile, quite possibly has a head start over the previously rational van Gaal in the craziness stakes. Holloway, after all, has solid form for a bit of casual verbal lunacy, as witness his various pre- and post-match pronouncements – especially during a brief Premier League heyday at Blackpool. And let’s not forget, he was a full week behind the Man U manager in the race for any “Nutter of the Moment” Award – but once he got going, he seemed set fair to surge past the Dutchman into pole position, with an incredible outburst after his team’s defeat at Elland Road on Saturday. Eschewing the normal managerial options of blaming the ref, or the pitch, or Lady Luck, Ian has zoomed straight to the extreme end of the loony scale – and he’s pointed his quivering finger directly at that fine body of men and women, the West Yorkshire Police.

Yes, folks – Millwall slumped to defeat not because they were crap and not because Leeds did well enough to overcome them on the field of play. It was those awful West Yorks coppers, victimising the poor old ‘Wall, insisting that their choirboy-innocent fans should have to obtain match-day vouchers, to be exchanged for tickets at a pre-arranged motorway services meeting point. This naturally resulted – as those evil, plotting police had obviously foreseen – in a reduction in the Millwall away support to a paltry couple of hundred. The main big brave boys stopped at home – as they have done for the last few meetings at Elland Road. And, as ever, there’s at least one pisspoor online news outlet ready to join in with some ill-informed and way off beam Leeds bashing, even when – as in this case – it’s the Police being bashed, for once, instead of the club. “Give Me Sport“? Give me strength… 

Mr. Holloway is clearly not a man to let a few inconvenient truths get in the way of a frankly ridiculous conspiracy theory. The fact that other clubs with notorious fans among their away support have had similar measures imposed, and yet have still managed to take a large and vociferous following on the road, seems to have escaped Ian entirely. Or has he, in his sudden madness, simply chosen not to see it? Leeds at Cardiff is an obvious example. How nice it would be to blame the Welsh Constabulary for our regular defeats in the Principality. But sanity sadly forbids and facts get in the way too. Bubble match or no bubble match, Leeds are out in force at Cardiff, as they always are, everywhere. Millwall included.

Holloway insists that it’s “time to stop tarnishing Millwall supporters with the mistakes of the past” and suggested West Yorkshire police were “too lazy to deal with the situation in a less draconian way”. All well and good – but imagine the row and disastrous fallout if the WY Police had been as complacent as Holloway would seemingly wish. What if the cops had taken a more relaxed and casual attitude, only to find that a numerically stronger set of Millwall fans had travelled without let or hindrance? What if that carefree band had then decided that some mayhem was in order, some provocation of the locals with tasteful references to Turks and knives, perhaps – with ensuing battles and inevitable broken heads and bloodshed? The police would be a bit embarrassed, wouldn’t they? And Holloway himself would have to look elsewhere for his excuses.

I’m not always here to bury rather than praise a man, simply because he has the misfortune to manage Millwall. After Leeds’ opening day defeat at the New Den, I highlighted Holloway’s timely and sensible remarks about the conduct of his club’s animal fans on that occasion. He spoke frankly, and there was no suggestion of the delusion that such a famously degraded bunch of sick thugs had suddenly grown wings and acquired harps. And yet now, here he is – wanting to deflect attention away from defeat, and seemingly ready to deny the reality of Millwall’s gutter-trash fans in order to find any excuse. I’m honestly baffled and, I have to say, he’s gone down in my estimation – as I know he has in many other Leeds fans’ views. He’s possibly tried to come out with something novel and pungent, but has succeeded only in making himself appear ridiculous, which is a shame. Amused and gleeful Leeds fans have been tweeting the West Yorkshire Police, thanking them for their efforts in achieving victory for United. Holloway has basically contrived to hand the irony initiative to the massive on-line Leeds United presence, and who can blame them for proceeding to hang him out to dry in plain view of a global audience? 

It’s high time, in fact, that Holloway recognised and acknowledged exactly what he has on his hands – which is a bunch of supporters who will always let their club down with sick taunts, violent behaviour and a determination to live up to their injured-innocence anthem “No-one likes us, we don’t care“. They’re the worst in football, bar none outside of Istanbul. Millwall the club are complacent and complaisant in the face of this, always ready to minimise the impact of these cretins on the unfortunates they meet along the way, always ready to offer excuses and blame somebody – anybody – else. That’s the situation, and Holloway appears to have shifted from an early season position of recognising and being dismayed by it, to slavishly following his club’s abhorrent line – even to the extent of coming out with such bizarrely ridiculous rubbish as these deeply silly “Policegate” remarks.

A message to Mr. Holloway from Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. You’re a decent man, Ian – and even a half-decent manager. But you work for a scum club with scum fans – as the contents of my email inbox demonstrate every time I have the temerity to write honestly about them. Time to wise up, acknowledge the truth and stop speaking rubbish. If you’re lucky, you’ll be sacked after relegation; perhaps then you can be a proper man at a proper football club again.

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Leeds Legends Grayson and Beckford to Oust Man U AGAIN?? – by Rob Atkinson

Jermaine scores at the Beckford End

Jermaine scores at the Beckford End

Ever since Simon Grayson‘s Preston North End sent the Blunts of Bramall Lane a-spinning out of the FA Cup last month, the question has been on every Leeds fan’s mind if not lips: could two Leeds United legends (and Neil Kilkenny) possibly do it again?? Because that Fourth Round replay set up a tasty if only partial rematch of an epic battle over five years ago (January 3rd, remember the date) between a lowly incarnation of The Damned United and – well – the club we just love to hate, as the song nearly has it. And tonight, at Deepdale, there is just a chance of that particularly fine piece of history repeating itself.

You may have noticed that we are occasionally fond of recalling this singular occasion at #LLUUE Towers – but anyway, here goes again. It was on January 3rd 2010 that third-tier Leeds United ventured to the home of the Champions of England and self-proclaimed “Greatest Club in the World”™ – lined up (so everybody outside of the Whites fraternity thought) for a ‘lambs to the slaughter’ bit part on the massive FA Cup Round Three national stage.

In the event, Leeds entered the Theatre of Hollow Myths as if determined to prove it was just that. There was zero respect for technically far superior foes, zero fear of the occasion and, vitally, zero awe of their surroundings for a team whose 9,000 strong following often made this feel like a home game, out-singing over six times that number of morose and disbelieving southern glory-hunters.

Leeds, set up to take the game to their hosts by manager Grayson – who may well also have made motivational use of a “minnows” jibe carelessly hurled by the ever-confident Man U – clinched this tie early in the first half. Johnny Howson‘s sublime long ball dropped like a dead bird into the path of predator extraordinaire Jermaine Beckford. The striker recovered from a slightly heavy first touch with a characteristic burst of pace, which allowed him to make a monkey out of Wes Brown and roll the ball, oh so exquisitely, into the far corner of the Pride of Devon net. The commentary of the moment deserves another airing for its sheer iconic beauty:

 “And this is Beckford, it’s just run away from him but he’ll still get a strike in on goal … and score at the Stretford End for Leeds United! And it doesn’t get any better than that for a Leeds United centre forward….. Jermaine Beckford gives Leeds the advantage at Old Trafford to the delight of their 9,000 travelling supporters!”

The way those words paint that picture, the one that every Leeds fan carries on the back of his eyelids to this day, still has the hair-raising, spine-tingling ability to thrill. It’s so graphic, so evocative of the joy of the moment, just so bloody wonderful. Leeds United’s eleven warriors on the pitch, together with their comrades in the dugout, were just about the only people of a Leeds persuasion not to get carried away with the emotion and wonder of it all. They, after all, still had a job to do.

How they set about that job, calmly, resolutely, professionally, is every bit as memorable and significant as the goal that won the tie. A third-tier team in the champs’ back yard might be forgiven for mounting a rearguard action, protecting – if they could – the advantage they’d gained. But not a bit of it. It was just too early for that. Leeds had threatened before the goal, and they continued to threaten, taking the game to the shocked Premiership outfit, playing with a swagger and effectiveness that belied the gulf in status. They had to sustain some pressure, they had to defend desperately at times. That was only to be expected. But they also continued to pose that nagging threat, right up to the end – Beckford was played through beautifully by Doyle in the second half and placed his shot a fraction wide at the Scoreboard End. Robert Snodgrass, fresh into the fray, stepped up to take a free-kick with that sublime left foot – and hammered it agonisingly to thud against the angle of far post and bar with the keeper nowhere near.

In the end, nails were bitten down to the elbows as the Man U desperation grew and the penalty appeals mounted up. Surely, as per the unwritten law, Mr Foy would give at least one? Meanwhile, Ferguson, the man with the schnoz of vintage purple, prowled about on his touchline, brandishing that yard-wide stopwatch, snarling at all and sundry when “only” five minutes of Fergie time were granted. Rooney, the thug, clattered into a Leeds player right in front of the away dugout, and then hurried away as the Whites backup team tried to get at him. It was frenetic, it was aggressive, it was committed – and it was simply marvellous.

And then, Leeds had done it. Memorably, the ball had gone out for a Whites corner as the final whistle blew with Leeds at the right end of the field. Old Trafford emptied in about thirty seconds flat, apart from the dancing, cheering 9,000 at that right end, with their songs and their glory, celebrating the most famous victory of all their wilderness years.

The personnel behind that wonderful performance and memorable triumph have all long gone from the club now. The real principals – Simon Grayson and Jermaine Beckford – are both at tonight’s potential giant-killers Preston; and you can guarantee that the memories will be flooding back for them, even now, as they contemplate a chance to have another go at the Masters of Hype. This is what will make the difference tonight between a mundane 5th Round Cup tie involving two ordinary Lancashire outfits – and a chance to relive history, perhaps to recreate it to some extent. League One Preston have the home advantage; let it pay off for them – and let Simon Grayson, Leeds fan and United legend, have another Cup day in the sun.

And… if Jermaine could possibly pop up with another winner – well, that would be as perfect as it could possibly get – short of him doing it all over again, wearing that famous white shirt and wheeling away in triumph once more… right in front of the Beckford End.

 

Ode to the Leeds United of 2015 – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United 2015

Leeds United 2015

Having received a review copy of Jon Howe’s new book “The Only Place For Us: An A-Z History of Elland Road” today, the first thing that struck me was a poem by Jason Stevens entitled Leeds United 1987. I won’t reproduce it here, in case that’d be unwisely illegal – but I’m sure you can Google it. In fact, I know you can. It’s well worth a read, not least for the way it captures the Leeds fan experience of almost thirty years ago. I was inspired to produce an updated, doggerel version, which I’ve published below. It’s sort of “the continuing story – up to date”.

Any other budding poets (or limericists) do feel free to comment with your own literary efforts.

A review of Jon Howe’s excellent-looking book will appear here, and possibly elsewhere, as soon as I’ve had the chance to read it.

Leeds United 2015 – by Rob Atkinson

(with apologies to Messrs Stevens & Howe)

Tallest floodlights now long gone
Plastic seats to sit upon
No more standing, no more crush
Three course meals and corporate plush

 

Robot turnstiles, insert card
Behave yourselves or else you’re barred
Pricey programmes, balti pies
Players’ wages on the rise

 

Segregation, us and them
GFH and Bates FM
Massimo, Italian gent
Football League insist he’s bent

 

Massive East Stand sparsely filled
Was it worth the cost to build
West stand, Elland Road and Kop
The dreary trudge back to the top

 

Fanzine culture, made its mark
Fanned an anti-fascist spark
Noel Blake and Vince Hilaire
Strength and power, skill and flair

 

Social media, Twitter Whites
Blogs and Facebook bragging rights
Damned United, streaming live
Merchandise subscription drive

 

Still the passion, still the pain
Sunshine, thunder, wind or rain
Come what may we’re always there
Dirty Leeds – our cross to bear