Daily Archives: 06/11/2015

Dear Massimo: An Open Letter to Leeds Owner Cellino   –   by Rob Atkinson

Cellino - demanding respect

Cellino – demanding respect

Dear Massimo,

Although you almost certainly don’t know it, things have been rather rocky between you and me for a little while now. And it’s only now, as we hit this crisis, that I’m writing to you, even though you most likely won’t read this. But, although I’ve had occasion to make my feelings known to a good few thousand third parties, it seems that this juncture, when things are bad and there is tension on both sides, is the right time to address you more directly. Because it concerns something you suddenly seem to care about; something called respect.

The respect I’m talking about is regarded as a two-way street hereabouts – in the UK, that is, and more especially in Yorkshire. We talk here about “mutual respect” as creating a workable relationship between two parties, whereby much can be achieved. Your idea of respect, Massimo, appears to differ somewhat from that local model. It seems to have one of its carriageways missing – it looks to be a one-way process as far as you’re concerned: from us to you. You say that we, the Leeds United support, should show you respect; in fact, you demand that we should.

That’s a big problem for us, Massimo. We regard respect as something to be earned – not demanded. You once had some sage advice to give about matters of the heart and soul, in the context of football support – “You can buy a bitch for a night,” you confided, “but you can’t buy the love, my friend.” That seems so long ago now, back in your brief honeymoon period, such as it was. Many of us nodded and agreed with you. You were saying you’d just have to earn our love, and most of us liked the sound of that. 

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, Massimo. And little by little, bit by bit, that groundswell of support you had at first has gradually eroded away. We were quite frankly ready to adore anyone who could restore to our beloved club its pride and passion. But instead of the things we were promised – the repurchase of our spiritual home, for instance – there have been infidelities, broken vows, irrational actions. Withal, there has been a lack of respect from you to us – and the name of Leeds United made a laughing stock into the bargain.

People have come into the club, they’ve appeared to do well, gaining popularity – and then they have been unaccountably forced out. We, the fans, for whom it matters most of all, have been left in the dark and patronised through wildly varying statements from yourself or through club mouthpieces who appear to be towing a party line (take a bow, Mr. Lorimer). And yet, despite all of this, you see nothing wrong with presuming to demand our respect. It’s just not the way things are done here, Massimo. Not when so little by way of consideration and respect is coming our way.

Things have been worse lately. Just when we were thinking we might be finding a bit of stability, a respected CEO is gone, then yet another head coach and, hard on the heels of that, still another Football League ban for yourself. You’ll appeal it, but we all know there are more legal pitfalls in the offing. And all the time, this great club is losing more of its hard-earned respect and credibility. It’s been like some bizarre circus, the very antithesis of the utterly professional football club some of us were lucky enough to grow up loving, with fierce pride and a near siege-complex defiance running through the whole thing like a seam of gold. 

The thing is, we just don’t know where we are with you, or what you’re going to say or do next. Things have undeniably gone best when you’ve kept your head down and let people get on with their jobs. Daring staff have even remarked on this.  But you don’t seem able to maintain such a level of discretion. Every now and again, you break cover and say or do something crazy. And the club then suffers and we, the fans, cringe with humiliation. And yet you still see fit to demand our respect. 

One minute, you say you are ready to sell the club (having previously said you wouldn’t be tempted to sell for a billion). Then you’re selling to Leeds Fans United and wondering out loud why on earth you’d dream of selling to anyone else. And then you pull out of that, calling the fans’ group kids in a sweetshop. And now, today, as you bizarrely demand respect – you hint once more that maybe the fans can have the club. How can we even begin to understand all this to-ing and fro-ing….. much less respect it?

When you talk about respect, Massimo, you should look at the record of Leslie Silver OBE, a man who was at the top of Leeds United during a successful period a quarter of a century ago. He guided the club from the doldrums to the very top in his modest, unassuming way. He brought in football people and had the wisdom to listen to and support them. He earned our respect and that of his staff and peers, and he is much-missed today.

That’s how it’s done in these parts, Massimo my friend. You’ll get nowhere with Leeds fans, blowing your own trumpet about achievements that look silly beside those of the giants who went before you. Demanding respect cuts no ice with the guys and girls in the stands at Elland Road. They’ve been waiting for you to earn respect – and the noise you heard at the Blackburn game, and will hear again if you break yet another promise and venture back to a match once more, that’s a raucous signal that you’ve failed. You can demand, complain, bluster. It won’t get you anywhere in Leeds.

It’s best to keep quiet now, Massimo, until you can leave with some dignity. Anything else will be seen as digging yourself a bit deeper into that hole you’re in. It’s time now to take a look at yourself, at what’s been achieved at this club in the past and how – and acknowledge that your volatile, hire-and-fire approach hasn’t worked. If respect really is so important to you that you’ve made the fundamental mistake of actually demanding it – in Yorkshire, for crying out loud! – then you need to understand that there is only one way now of finally achieving that respect. 

Go with good grace and minimum fuss, Massimo. Go – and try to leave a great club in good hands. Give us the chance to regain some of the face and reputation we’ve lost on your watch. Get out while the going is good, and while something can still be salvaged from this season. No more demanding, just acceptance and a bit of humility at last. 

That’s what most of us are now asking of you. Do that simple thing, Massimo – and you’ll have belatedly earned our respect. For whatever that’s actually worth to you. But please – just think about it, OK? It’s for the best, believe me.

Yours sincerely


Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything

Happy Birthday Johnny Giles, the Greatest Manager Leeds Never Had – by Rob Atkinson

Johnny Giles - the Brains

Johnny Giles – the Brains

Another day, another birthday celebration for a United legend. This time it’s Johnny Giles, 75 today and famously one half of the best central midfield partnership of the last century. If Billy Bremner was the heart of Don Revie’s peerless team of stars, then surely John Giles was the brains and the vision, dictating and switching play, spraying passes all over the park with laser-guided accuracy and combining with Bremner in a way that many described as “telepathic”.

Johnny Giles was recruited by the wily Don Revie from under the nose of the great Matt Busby at Man U. He had shown his quality there, despite never really being played in the position where he could best influence matters on the field. Even at Leeds, his transformation from good winger to great schemer came about almost by accident, injury to the existing midfield general Bobby Collins influencing Revie’s thinking. Man U’s loss though was most definitely Leeds United’s gain over more than a decade as they rose to the top. Don Revie referred to his capture of Giles from Man U for a mere £33,000 as “robbery with violence”. Busby called it simply “my greatest mistake”.

Giles brought so much to Leeds United that it’s difficult to find the space to describe his impact. Put in on-field control of the play, he pulled strings and evolved strategy as each game progressed. His range of passing was legendary – TV commentators used to admire his latest pinpoint delivery by comparing it to the appropriate golf shot (that was the six iron). His ability on the ball, whether passing or shooting, was well-known and much admired; Gilesy was the acknowledged master.

What was often overlooked by the uninitiated was his steely efficiency in looking after himself in the warlike atmosphere of combat at home and abroad. Peter Lorimer tells the story of how Giles inflicted summary justice on a Turkish player who had persistently fouled him in the away leg of a European tie, and was then daft enough to crow in his face at the final whistle. John was miffed, and advised the Turk that he would see him in a fortnight at Elland Road. This was no idle threat.

Two weeks later, Giles asked Norman Hunter to drop the game’s first pass a couple of yards short – what is known as the “suicide ball” in football circles. Norman did as he was asked, the Turk eagerly jumped in to dispute possession – and Giles pounced, leaving his foot in to reduce his tormentor of the previous game to a grievously-injured heap, swiftly off on an urgent journey to the nearest hospital.

After the game, there was some puzzlement over how promptly the ambulance had arrived to assist Giles’ victim. The Elland Road switchboard operative swore blind that Giles had booked it for him before kick-off, something Johnny always denies. But the message was stark: mess with Giles or any other Leeds player at your peril. They looked after themselves and each other, and the bond thus forged endures to this day.

When Don Revie left for the England job, it was an open secret that he had nominated John Giles as his successor. The board were set fair to act on this recommendation, before backing down for fear, it is said, of upsetting Billy Bremner. It was an appointment that clearly should have been made, to ensure the kind of continuity Liverpool enjoyed after Bill Shankly stepped down. Who knows what the subsequent history of the club might have been? Giles had already had managerial experience with the Republic of Ireland and he went on to great success with the revival of West Bromwich Albion. In the event, he played on at Leeds for one more season under Brian Clough and then Jimmy Armfield. His last game for United should have crowned a glorious career with the top honour in club football. Sadly, thanks to the atrociously crooked display of referee Michel Kitabdjian for the 1975 European Cup Final in Paris, this was not to be.

Johnny Giles went on to enjoy a successful career after Leeds United, both as a manager and later in the media, where his eloquence and vast knowledge of the game served him well and earned him enormous respect in his native Ireland and further afield. He has gone down in Leeds United history as one of the true legends of the club – a great among greats. In terms of value transfers for Leeds, he has to be the top capture, despite the rival claims of Bobby Collins, Lucas Radebe and Gordon Strachan. It was a thief’s bargain, possibly the buy of the century.

Thanks for the memories, Johnny Giles, and a very happy birthday indeed.

Lorimer Plea Shows Cellino May Be Bluffing Over Leeds United Sale   –   by Rob Atkinson

Cellino: thanks for the endorsement, Lash

Cellino: thanks for the endorsement, Lash

It’s been another up and down week on the crazy roller-coaster ride that is modern-day Leeds United. Down in the dumps last Thurday with an abject defeat live on Sky to a Blackburn Rovers side that had it all too humiliatingly easy. Then an upswing, with embarrassing owner Cellino indicating he’d had enough (you’ve had enough, Massimo? How do you think we feel?) and was prepared to sell. 

Then it was a gradual upswing of wonder and optimism, with talk of fan ownership and Gladiatorial involvement from a Leeds fan of Maximus commitment and credibility. The feel-good factor peaked with the end of an eight month winless run at Elland Road and, for the first time in 32 years, a home ground slaying of the Welsh Drags. It was only one little 1-0 win over nobody much, but young Alex Mowatt‘s goal was a snorter and, all of a sudden, we were all feeling unaccountably pleased with life in the Leeds United universe. 

And then – the inevitable plummet back towards confusion and disappointment as Cellino proved once again that he’s more towards the compulsive Billy Liar end of the scale than the heroic Billy Bremner end. Having confirmed last week that he would sell to the fans group – “Who else would I sell to?” – il Duce now feels that mere supporters are like kids in a sweetshop, not serous buyers. That’s a step up from “morons”, I suppose, but still not exactly the epitome of respect. Still, most of us know what Cellino is all about by now, and would doubt his word if he confided to us that night follows day. Which brings into question the integrity of his assurance that Leeds is now up for sale. On that front, there may be trouble – and deep, frustrating disappointment – ahead. 

Why else would long-standing Leeds United top-brass mouthpiece Peter Lorimer be ruminating in the press that Cellino can still succeed “if given time”? Lorimer is presumably closer to the inner workings of that Machiavellian mind than most of us mere fans – so why would he be talking up the prospects should Cellino retain control, when the owner publicly maintains he’s selling up for reasons of demoralisation and shrunken balls?

Could it be, fellow Leeds sufferers, that we are having our heads messed with once again? Is Cellino yet again saying x whilst plotting y – and is Lorimer the poor sap being used as a one man Ministry of Disinformation? It wouldn’t be a massive surprise – but after half a dozen abortive attempts to find a football man who can work with a mad Italian fraudster, a promised “beautiful season” turning hideously ugly before our horrified eyes – and the general, sickening, lurch up and more often down of that Damned United roller-coaster – the United support can be expected to be very, very cross if they find they’ve been casually manked about with yet again. 

And yet what can we do? The vision of fan ownership turns out to be the mirage some of us foresaw, the relentless hiring and firing has become a sickening pattern, our club is held as a laughing stock by fans of clubs who should be knuckling their foreheads and addressing us as “Sir”. If an end is in sight to all of that, then it would be a worthy outcome in itself. But I have this sneaking feeling that the Cellino ego-trip has a while to run yet. Sadly, he might not be finished with us any time soon. 

That all sounds distressingly cynical and I hope I’m wrong. But, when the pirate captain of the not-so-good ship Nélie is saying one thing, while on his shoulder, Peter the Parrot is squawking quite another, then I feel that there is good cause to be both alarmed and disbelieving. That long-overdue win over Cardiff might just have been interpreted by the owner as a green light to carry on – with Lorimer smoothing the path. 

Please, please – let me be back in a short while holding my hands up and admitting I read it all wrong. Let this nightmare be over soon – so that we can lurch wearily on to the next one.