Football’s Best Fans Caught Between Rotten Club and Predatory Media – by Rob Atkinson

The unrivalled support - where Leeds still rule

The unrivalled support – the only area where Leeds still rule

Did you ever play piggy-in-the-middle as a child? It’s a game for three, with one in the middle, trying to intercept a ball that the other two are throwing between them. It’s fun for the two, not so much, after a while, for the one – so every now and then, if the unfortunate “piggy” doesn’t succeed in catching the ball, the players will swap around so as to share the enjoyment. That’s only fair, after all.

If you’re a Leeds fan, you might well identify with that unfortunate player in the middle. For that’s just how it feels, being trapped between the club on the one side and a voracious media on the other – both of them seemingly doing the best that they can to ensure you, as the fan caught between them, have the worst time possible. The difference between the game and this real life situation is that the poor sap trying to break out from the role of victim never actually seems to get that break. Thus, football’s best fans (by a country mile) continue to suffer as club and media pile the agony on, week after week, month after month, season after depressing season. And yet there may be some hope, as we shall see. Perhaps this darkest hour may yet herald a golden dawn.

Leeds fans are the best in the business – but they are currently caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one side, there is the bumbling incompetence and woeful lack of vision of a succession of club owners, ensuring that Leeds United are always seemingly engaged in trying to shoot themselves in the foot. How the fans would like to catch that side out, in order to have a go themselves.

And then, on the other end of the piggy-in-the-middle game, you have the assembled national media, for whom Leeds United have long been the target of choice. The media, in their various repellent forms, have been demonising and attacking Leeds for decades now – always ready to seize on yet more bad news to ram it down the throats of the hapless supporters in the middle, who had had enough way, way back – when I first took an interest as a fan. The fans would like to catch that side out too – and some are trying to make their feelings heard, little by little.

It really has been going on that long for the Fourth Estate in this country. Leeds United have been hated in print and over the airwaves for the whole time since Don Revie‘s boys climbed out of obscurity and grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. The difference back then, of course, was that it was more a siege complex than piggy-in-the-middle. The club – back then – had far more than its share of misfortune. But, in a marked contrast to the current tragic state of affairs, it didn’t appear to be actually complicit in all the bad stuff and the suffering of the fans. The maxim for Leeds in those days was displayed proudly on the dressing-room wall, visible to terrified opposition players as they walked past in the corridor outside. “Keep Fighting”, it said – and did they ever. The press decided that this was just not on – and war was declared. It’s a war they have waged ever since, long after Leeds as a club apparently gave up the fight to resist.

Nowadays, the press are as watchful as ever for any negative news they can publish and trumpet as propaganda. There’s something virtually every day. Only this morning, some online refuge for amateur hacks is gleefully speculating that ‘the “Redfearn controversy” could force talented youngsters to leave Elland Road’ words calculated to ensure that any Leeds fan will feel that bit worse over his or her Bank Holiday cornflakes than he or she might otherwise have done. And this piece of spiteful speculation, propped up by a line from some willing rentaquote ex-player, springs from yet another in a long and depressing series of own-goals by the club, which has foolishly isolated a manager in Neil Redfearn who had been doing just fine, thank you.

So Leeds United – a club currently rotten from the top and teetering under the strain of decades of mismanagement – provides yet again the raw material for a vindictive press to launch still another salvo of propaganda and negativity. And yet again, the fans – the best and most loyal set of supporters anywhere – are caught between the two opposing forces, powerless to do anything but despair and wonder when and where it will all end.

The hope for the future, such as it is, remains vested in those amazing fans. This is a group of supporters who continue to follow the club – that famous though latterly tarnished name – the length and breadth of the country, at any antisocial hour of the day or day of the week, in their vociferous thousands, out-singing and out-shouting home support wherever they go. It’s a modern phenomenon that attracts grudging respect from rival clubs, rival fans – even areas of the press. And maybe – just maybe – those remarkable fans hold somewhere among them the hope that this still determined and pugnacious piggy-in-the-middle might yet break out, and start having a say on either side of the game.

There has long been the facility – afforded by social media and the network of blogging sites – for fans to make their voices heard against the babbling background of the popular press. So now, if this or that gutter rag comes out with something particularly stupid and vindictive, the fans’ voice can be heard, comparatively faintly perhaps, but still there – and still defiantly raised in scorn and protest. The press and other media, though remaining powerfully unaccountable for the most part, no longer have it quite all their own way – and, particularly at local level, journos and broadcasters are having to take account of that steadily more audible fan voice. It’s a vox populi process that will only continue and become more effective over time.

And now, even the club itself  – and its succession of incompetent and unscrupulous owners – may yet be vulnerable in some measure to the effect of the fans. Just this past week, seven days wherein United have managed a couple more spectacular PR own-goals, an initiative has been taking off whereby at some point a group of fans might be able collectively to purchase a stake in the club – something that could lead to supporters having a real and inalienable right to a say in exactly how Leeds United should be run.

Leeds Fans Community Benefit Society (Leeds CBS) has attracted such interest among the support that it has brought forward the date on which the fans can invest in the possibility of buying a stake in Leeds United. Any fan can now become a Leeds Fans CBS shareholder – click here to see how – with the chance of playing their part in a future, supporter-shared, ownership. It’s an initiative that has won the approval and endorsement of respected local journalist Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post – for years a principled local oasis in a national desert of Press derision where Leeds United is concerned.

The fact that Hay – a resounding voice in the Leeds United press world – writes so encouragingly about a supporters’ initiative is highly significant. There is a sense that something serious might be happening here – a possible game-changer. As Hay puts it, during an apt summary of the Leeds CBS mission, serious financial backing can only enhance the fans’ cause – in other words, money talks, and the more of it there is, the louder that voice. The prospect of serious money, contributed by fans in support of a fans’ initiative, could now be the difference between more well-intentioned rhetoric and a real chance of a real say in the future running of the club we all still love – warts and all. And that could put us in on the ground floor of fan ownership in this country if, as some believe, it’s the way forward in a future that sees the corporate bubble finally burst.

For Leeds United and its amazing support, it’s been piggy-in-the-middle now for far too long, and the fans are sick of being trapped between two opposing yet equally malign forces, impotent – up to now – to do anything that might break the cycle. But it may be that this powerlessness – this feeling of just having to sit back and suffer – could finally have an end in sight. If the fans can have their voices raised against an uncaring and vindictive national media on the one hand – and if they can contribute their own hard-earned cash towards improving the running of the club itself on the other – then there might just be some light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. And – you never know – this time it might NOT be an onrushing locomotive bent on dashing all of our hopes and wishes. You never know.

Between us, the sayers and the doers might just have the means whereby that helpless piggy-in-the-middle – represented by the finest supporters anywhere – finally breaks out and has its long-awaited day in the sun.

13 responses to “Football’s Best Fans Caught Between Rotten Club and Predatory Media – by Rob Atkinson

  1. Percy Stern

    The only thing with which I would disagree is your choice of Gordon Strachan. Surely this should have been Bobby Collins as, without him, we may never have heard of Strachan coming to Leeds united


  2. dirty leeds

    Well written we speak,a sell out away following will be travelling down to wolves,and doing there best,to lift the spirits of a team,who the Italian mafia,seem hell bent on destroying.not bad considering we have nothing to play for as usual.


  3. Rob,

    Good piece again.You are doing your bit to bring sanity against an unprecidented wave of negativity and hatred towards anything LUFC.

    I will be putting my £100 into the cbs, even if it fails I will feel we had a go.

    Have a good day and enjoy the game.


  4. Happy Easter Monday to all Leeds Fans – let’s hope for a better game, and a better outcome, than Saturday.
    Yes Rob, I do recall fulfilling the role of piggy in the middle from the school playground many years ago. The thing is that the ‘piggy’ role for us Leeds fans is even worse than that. We have not just two, but three playground bullies chucking the ball in all directions well out of reach of our desperately clutching fingers, the third of course being the dear old Football League. The game is made even worse for us by the little pip-squeak, pound shop Hitler referees we get hanging around the periphery gleefully trying to join in and contribute to the torture (or am I just suffering from a persecution complex?)

    Anyway, let’s hope the new scheme will offer some hope of salvation and that, as well as the ‘widow’s mite’ invested by the average cash strapped fan, some really serious big money investors will seize the opportunity.


  5. Philip of Spain.

    Football supporters the world over should be eternally grateful to go to a game,have a beer or three,a bite to eat,watch the game,discuss it on the way home..Then look forward to the next one.It used to be like that at Leeds.What happened???


  6. Aussie Dave

    Never has the phrase Marching On Together meant so much or been so important for the future of our beloved club. Another great write Rob. Thank you for the work you do, the passion you show, the words you use that represents the way we all feel.

    But now is the time for us all to do our bit. It’s time to say ” enough is enough”. It’s time to all participate in the future ownership of this famous club. It’s time to use our own hard earned money to March On Together Forever……MOT


  7. LLP is not the answer….just wanted to say that


    • It’s all about opinions, isn’t it – and yours is published here along with anyone else’s with no lesser or greater value than anyone else’s. I would only add that this no time to be dogmatic; it’s time to ponder, listen, opine, discuss, resolve and DO something. MOT


    • WHY isn’t it ‘the answer’? We sing ‘We are Leeds’. This is our chance to put our hard-earned where our mouths are and show what those words really mean. What’s the alternative? Drifting for another 10 or 12 years? I invested today before heading for Wolves, and would urge everyone who loves Leeds – everyone who ‘gets it’, as Rob is prone to say – to do the same.


  8. oldcomrade

    Totally agree with Phillip of Spain, thats what supporting you team should be about, not hiding behind you hands wondering when the next bogey mans going to jump out and get yer.


  9. Without Tommo another defeat today. Good Leeds lad that he is, Redders isn’t the brightest coin in the fountain. Rob, your piggy in the middle is a good analogy of Leeds’ predicament but is a bit simplistic. Take a look at Games People Play by Eric Berne, specifically the Alcoholic game with White, an entity beset by internal problems, who plays in a five- handed game against a Persecutor, a Rescuer, a Patsy, and a ‘Connection’ or ‘Supplier’. White’s opponents win for as long as the problems continue. We need to go back to our roots and “keep fighting”!


  10. As always you have captured to mood of the moment. What can be lost in all LUFC fans giving careful consideration to Leeds CBS. Why should we massage the ego of yet another greedy owner, in for a quick buck and dragging our club through the mud yet again. We have the best fans no doubt but we need to start playing more smart with how we spend our money. Our financial support is a weapon, season tickets, merchandise, LUTV, etc. etc. Financial boycott by the fans of poor club management of our club is the only thing that will make them sit up and pay attention, We are being played for idiots by psychotic fools who generate rumour after rumour to divert attention from their poor and erratic management. At the moment the money we spend appears to be being flushed down the toilet year in year out. What can be lost by trying to change the real balance of power? Divert revenue, divert power, divert direct back in favour of the real Leeds United – the fans.


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