Monthly Archives: February 2016

Cellino and Evans: Explain Yourselves, Gentlemen   –   by Rob Atkinson

CellinoLiar

Tell us what’s really going on, Cellino

It almost goes without saying that there is a lot wrong with Leeds United at the moment. Almost. But there’s always a few that need it spelling out, and the Leeds United online community of fans does not lack for the less mentally acute, as I’ll be mentioning again later. So let’s say it, whether it really needs saying or not. Leeds United is a club in crisis, rotten to the core, dead from the neck up. There’s that carrion reek about them, the stench of decay which is starting to bring out the vulture in opposing teams. As Brighton did tonight, they tend to circle for a while, then flap down to peck our eyes out. It’s not a pretty sight. 

There’s so much wrong with Leeds United right now that it’s not that easy to know where to start. But common sense says you should start at the top, especially given the headless chicken of a performance we witnessed tonight. Despite this, some of our online fanbase are letting themselves down badly, by going for cheap, easy shots, aimed at a manager who, like all the others, has been let down and betrayed by the club owner. And, like all the others, Steve Evans is having to toe the party line as long as he remains manager. Like all the others, the time for him to dare to tell the truth will be at some point after his inevitable sacking.

Steve Evans is having to manage with a bunch of players, a good proportion of whom he’s not all that keen on. He’s not been allowed the level of recruitment he publicly wanted, and stated was necessary. He’s biting his lip and making the best of the original, proverbial bad job. Too many of the Leeds Twitteratti, a notoriously dense bunch of bandwagon-jumpers for the most part, are disgracing themselves by descending to the bottom of their particular gutter and aiming personal abuse at a man who can’t hit back. Yes, Steve Evans is rotund. So what. We need to judge him on his ability once granted – if he ever is – the tools to do the job. To aim playground insults at him is the act of the intellectually bankrupt. These are not supporters, they are cretins.

None of that is to say that Evans is beyond reproach. I would love to hold him to account, if I thought for one moment that he would be free to speak his mind or tell the whole truth. I would like to know the thinking behind Scott Wootton’s unaccountable tenure in the team, and on the flank of the defence as opposed to the middle, when he is clearly out of his depth. But Evans is in no position to say anything that Cellino might object to. 

It is Cellino that is the problem here. Any professional sports club needs overall leadership and also separate and distinct sources of direction on the playing and non-playing sides. The problem at Leeds is that the ultimate leader is far too volatile, mendacious and untrustworthy to inspire confidence and commitment among the troops. And those playing and non-playing sides are not separate – confusion reigns because the lines that should divide these areas are blurred. 

Who picks the team? Who decides and changes tactics? We cannot know for certain, despite Evans’ frequent, hot denials of interference. We hear enough from other sources to lend some credence to persistent allegations that the hand of Cellino can be seen in areas a mere owner should leave to the professionals.

Above all, the parlous state of a famous old club cannot be laid at the feet of the well-paid players who are failing all too often to perform. Neither can the blame be ascribed to a hamstrung and at least partially gagged manager. It was Cellino who has presided over this car crash of a season, which he promised would be beautiful. It was Cellino who promised promotion to the top flight by 2016, a year that is, instead, taking us much closer to demotion. It is Cellino who has failed to deliver the squad improvements that everyone else, not least his beleaguered manager, could see were necessary. 

I’d love to see Evans able to put his side of the story forward, without fear or favour. That, though, would be tantamount to professional suicide. But somebody should be speaking to the fans about what’s really going on. Instead, we’re invited to cheer an improved business performance instead of goals, whilst paying pie tax and pandering to silly superstitions as exemplified by issue 16b of the matchday programme. We’re asked, remarkably, to believe in a regime that, time after time, has proven itself utterly unworthy of belief. 

So, step up and talk to us, Mr. Evans (if you’re allowed to). Talk to us honestly, Mr. Cellino (if you have it in you). We deserve an explanation for the state of the club, for a state of affairs at a legendary institution of the game, now reduced to the kind of spineless, gutless, clueless and shameless display we saw at Brighton on Monday evening. That will take some explaining, but surely someone has to try.

The problem, you see, is that the fans – the real fans – can only take so much. At some point, they’re going to be less keen to give up their time and money supporting a football club which seems to have lost its soul. And here I mean the diehard, long-suffering fans who put in the miles and the hours, not a set of clueless kids mouthing childish insults from behind computer screens. Leeds United could, after all, do without the Twitteratti, they’re just annoying noise. 

But those lads and lasses who follow and chant and sing, the length and breadth of the country? They’re Leeds’ last real asset, make no mistake about it. Alienate and disillusion them at your peril, Mr. Cellino. And we’re very nearly at breaking point now.

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Scott Gutteridge: My Side of the ‘Paid Cellino Fan’ Story 

In the interests of balance, and in the light of my previous article, I am reproducing Scott Gutteridge’s statement below, unaltered, unedited and without further comment.
I have recently become aware that a rather stupid story has been circulating in some media about my supposed involvement in a bizarre “plot” to somehow undermine Massimo Cellino, the Leeds United owner. I’m just writing this statement in order to put the record straight and to clear up some, frankly, wild inaccuracies.
Nobody who has an interest in Leeds United can be unaware that there are deep divisions at present between the pro and anti Cellino camps. However I am astonished at the media interest in this non-story given that it was a prank which some seem to have fallen for hook, line and sinker.
As an administrator on the In Massimo We Trust (IMWT) Facebook page I joined a website that seemed to me vehemently opposed to the owner in order to have a bit of fun and give them a wind up. I posted a statement there in which I claimed that an “unnamed source” at Leeds United paid me £500 a month to somehow place or write praiseworthy stuff about our owner. It’s kind of bizarre why anyone would believe that I was being paid to do it when I was actually doing it for free in any event and because I support the current owner. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr Cellino did not pay me any money, ever. I have never received any money from the club, ever, and certainly not for writing a few posts on a Facebook site. I support Mr Cellino’s ownership of Leeds United and was posting stuff for free anyway. If you look at it logically it doesn’t make sense that I would be paid to do this when I was doing it anyway. As I have said this was a laugh, a bit of a joke, a prank that I pulled on those that want to get rid of our owner.
I have seen Daily Mail article and it has me quoted. It’s almost like the journalist had spoken to me which is odd because, again nothing could be further from the truth. I did not speak to that journalist. In fact I have never spoken to any journalist in connection with Leeds United. I certainly didn’t give him those quotes. I’m flabbergasted that a reputable newspaper could print stuff I am meant to have said them when in fact I’ve never spoken to them. It seems that The Daily Mail is even less accurate than Billy Paynter!
If you also look at the language used you’ll see it’s not really my style. It appears more in keeping with some signed confession from a hostage of Kim Un-jun. I am also happy confirm that I have never been to North Korea either!
I’m grateful for this opportunity to clear this matter up once and for all. What started as a silly idea seems to have taken on a life of its own. I’m just glad that it can be put back in the place it belongs – the playground so we can all get behind Steve Evans, the team and club to push it where it belongs – The Premiership. MOT

Why Spend on Players, If You Can Buy Fans So Cheaply? – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino Out2

Cellino – determined to be popular – and ready to pay?

A fair-to-middling Championship player these days is going to set you back somewhere around £15,000 a week in wages. That estimate may even be on the conservative side (by that, I don’t mean a blatant lie, I mean somewhat under the actual level in reality). So, using extremely round and over-cautious figures, you’re probably looking at around 60 grand a month – just in wages.

And the thing is – a player can so easily let you down, by “not fitting in”, or “failing to adjust”. They’re delicate wee souls, these footballers. Expensive as they undeniably are, both upfront and in oncosts, they are by no means reliable. You can easily end up looking a mug, in committing to an upfront million or two, plus three-quarters of a million annually in wages – only for the player concerned to make zero impact on the first team, yet still go laughing all the way to the bank. Or limping, in the case of Chris Wood. There are a number of names for this syndrome, depending on the identity of the club it affects – here at Leeds United, we might choose from Botaka, Sloth or Wootton, perhaps. Any way you look at it, buying players is a deuced risky business, with a lot of money staked against potentially negligible return. If only there was a way of reversing that equation – paying peanuts and yet ending up looking quite good out of the deal. If only.

Leeds United‘s loco owner Massimo Cellino may, according to some reports today, have at least hoped he’d found such a reverse alternative. The gist of the report – which must be taken with extreme caution and a large bar of salt, due to its Daily Mail origins – is that Signor Cellino has hit on the novel wheeze of countering the well-deserved criticism he’s copped on social media by paying some clued-up I.T. type to unleash waves of optimism and positivity on the likes of Facebook. It’s even been suggested that a dedicated Facebook group, named Massimo Is God, or Cellino for Sainthood, or some such, has been set up with the express purpose of singing online hymns of praise to il Duce.

The person concerned, one Scott Gutteridge, has alleged that he was paid somewhere around £500 per month to spin this worldwide web of deceit – something he initially did in good faith to “exert a positive influence”, before belatedly realising that it was all “nothing more than propaganda with the wrongdoings being covered up by the club using the Facebook group to counter arguments”. Leeds United, Mr Gutteridge now concludes, is “a club rotten to the core”. One assumes that, if he ever was on the club payroll, he is now decidedly off it. Massimo might even feel that he’s a right to his money back.

The thing is, people really can be swayed by the incessant outpourings of certain vocal users of social media. That being the case, a nominal £500 a month might be seen as value for a man such as Cellino – who must occasionally think that the world is against him – in terms of the good press it can buy in relatively unregulated areas such as Facebook groups and so forth. Leeds fans are one of football’s larger and more active constituencies on the Internet. An attempt at transforming that healthy constituency into some latterday rotten borough could just reap more bounteous rewards than risky plunges into the transfer market. If you can get away with it, that is.

Let’s face it – at these rates, that sixty grand a month wage bill for Championship player Joe Average could get you somewhere around 120 bought and paid for propagandist/fan type people, all willing to spin away like little dervishes each month, in the interests of making Cellino seem palatable. What price these people put on their souls, if all this has any truth to it, is a matter for them. As a fairly vocal presence on the Interweb myself, my message to Cellino would be: you simply couldn’t afford me, my friend. Not that he’s ever asked, you understand.

Leeds United, as you might expect, has denied that there’s any truth in this story. The Daily Mail, for their part, insists it’s true – you might expect that, too, and with at least an equal measure of cynicism. Mr Gutteridge himself appears to be in the process of being taken to task on the matter in at least one highly respectable Leeds United Facebook group, but his responses are invisible to me for some reason. This means I’ve not been able to access any of his presumably pro-Cellino outpourings. Perhaps some of you, gentle readers, may have more luck.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the tragedy of it all is that you really can’t dismiss it out of hand. Despite the sensational unlikelihood of the allegations themselves, despite the fact that the story originates in the notoriously mendacious Daily Mail – despite all of that, you look at the claims and you think (a) Well, really – you just couldn’t make it up; and (b) Hang on, this is Cellino’s Leeds United. It could easily be true.

Let’s face it, you wouldn’t ever believe it of an Arsenal, or a Liverpool, or even, God help us, a Man U. But it’s Leeds United we’re talking about here, the Damned United, under that crazy, unscrupulous and fraudulent King of Corn. So, sadly, you can’t just laugh it off. The biggest tragedy of all here is that – whether the alleged payment concerned is £500 a month or even a lump sum of sixty pieces of silver – it really could all so easily be true.

‘Goals Pay the Rent’ and Leeds United Are Well in Arrears   –   by Rob Atkinson

Doukara Bristol

Doukara scores against Bristol City – one of four Leeds goals this year

The New Year of 2016 dawned with that familiar feeling for Leeds United fans of high hopes that we more than half expected to be dashed. December had been OK, and we had been promised an active January transfer window to add some quality to the squad. So, despite that dash of caution and reserve which comes with having been lied to so often before, many United fans felt something approaching optimism as the old year took its last feeble gasps.

Needless to say, it turned out that the caution, reserve – even cynicism – was fully justified, and that any apparent cause for optimism was just another mirage; all promise and no substance. Additions were made to the squad, and one big departure occurred, as is almost traditional for Leeds at this time of year. The new recruits look decent, which might be expected with a manager who, unlike certain of his predecessors, seems to have an eye for a good player. There were two loans and one actual bought-and-paid-for signing but, crucially, we missed out on any real injection of quality in the creative areas of the team. For it is goals, the making and scoring thereof, that have long been a thorny problem for this Leeds United team.

A glance at the time since that half-decent December shows starkly the level of poverty the team and the fans are struggling through in terms of that goalden currency you earn by hitting the back of the net. Those of a delicate disposition might wish to look away, as we squeamishly examine the team’s league output since the start of January. It’s a worthwhile exercise, though, nevertheless. As David Coleman memorably remarked when Kevin Keegan scored during Liverpool’s 1974 Cup Final demolition of Newcastle United, “Goals pay the rent“. Leeds won the League title that year, beating the Merseysiders into second place. There were no rent arrears for the Whites back then, in what was a season of glory for Yorkshire and England’s premier team. But Coleman’s pearl of wisdom is as true today as it was 42 years ago.

And how those famous words resonate for us now. In the seven league games since the turn of the year, four at home and three away, Leeds United have scored a grand total of four goals, one a bizarre last-minute own-goal to secure a home draw against MK Dons. Souleymane Doukara scored early against Ipswich before Leeds slipped to a 2-1 defeat and he scored again at Elland Road to beat Bristol City. And Mustapha Carayol notched one to hold Brentford to a draw at Griffin Park. And that was it, the sum total of the Leeds offensive output since this year began. The last two home games have yielded zero goals in over three hours of playing time. In a goalless draw with Middlesbrough that didn’t entirely lack merit, Leeds mustered two shots on target. In the previous home game, a 0-1 defeat to Nottingham Forest, Leeds did twice as well in terms of shots on goal, but still failed, as they say, to trouble the scorers. That’s quite frankly not good enough; it’s a record that screams out for corrective surgery to the squad. 

This is why the January window was so disappointing and represents so much of a missed opportunity. With injuries to key personnel up front and the loss of Sam Byram‘s considerable potential to create and convert chances, it was obvious to any observer with any football knowledge at all that attacking reinforcements were needed. And it wasn’t just a matter of a late push for the play-offs. Relegation cannot yet be entirely ruled out – and there is also the small matter of allowing the manager to recruit and “bed-in” his own players over the remainder of this season, with the aim of hitting the ground running for pre-season 2016-17. The fact that January was all about lying to us, and then trying to let us down gently, is a savage indictment of the man who holds the purse strings at Elland Road. And, whatever Steve Evans might say with his diplomatic head on, he was clearly champing at the bit to add to his squad – and he’s obviously a disappointed man now that even the loan window looks like bearing no fruit.

I wrote a month ago that Cellino deserved to be judged on his commitment to improving the squad during the January window. Now I say that he palpably failed that test. Leeds United fans must make up their own minds about the likelihood or otherwise of sufficient investment in quality during the summer to come. This blog fears that it may yet be just another window of opportunity wasted in “managing our expectations” – which is the euphemism of choice for lying to us a bit more.

One thing that seems certain is that, if he is not given a fair shot in the transfer market, then Steve Evans is a dead man walking at Leeds. Some may welcome that – I think it’s rather a shame. There’s a decent manager there, working under the usual difficulties at Massimo Cellino‘s Leeds, and a man who seems a sound judge of the type of player needed to succeed at Elland Road. It’s to be hoped that Evans survives and is able to make a convincing case for substantial levels of investment.

Because another thing that seems certain is that – without significant improvement – our beloved club will face another long, bleak season of struggle next season, and with no guarantee of Championship survival. Whether the owner will be making yet another hollow promise about a “beautiful season ahead” or not is largely irrelevant. Most of us, after all, are attuned to Cellino’s lies and hollow promises.

We also know, deep down, that – depressing and difficult as this season has been – next time around might just be harder still. 

Leeds Utd Boss Evans Heralds Radical Shift in Transfer Policy – by Rob Atkinson

cellino-and-steve-evans

One of these men controversially wants to sign “good players”. No, really.

In a shock move that will sweep away well over a decade of tradition, Leeds United boss Steve Evans has signalled a sea-change in the Elland Road club’s transfer policy. Boldly, daringly even, Evans has stated his intent to depart from well-established practice and sign the type of player not seen in the United team for many a long year.

Always a man to speak his mind and think the unthinkable, the Leeds boss is quite explicit in his revolutionary plans – and these plans, remarkably, are already underway. For today, Steve Evans has  revealed that the Whites have held advance talks with summer targets that he controversially categorises as “good players“.

Clearly, Evans is aware that this would be a radical departure from normal practice at Leeds, but insists that these “good players”, bizarre as this might sound, can help to form a good team that can be contenders for promotion to the Premier League. “Good players can be central to competitive league performance”, maintained the ebullient Scot. “Don’t get me wrong, we’ve done OK with the players we’ve signed before. But there’s a school of thought out there which holds that there’s a place for good players in a winning manager’s strategy. That’s something I’m prepared to at least try.”

Leeds fans will be well aware that the club’s usual transfer policy is unsullied by words like “good”. Our squad has mainly been built on solid Yorkshire/Italian traditions characterised by words like “cheap”, “free”, “past-it” and “crap”. The abandonment of these sterling attributes will not be met by universal acclaim. One Elland Road insider expressed grave doubts in the wake of Evans’ controversial remarks. “Is not set in stone, my friend”, our source confided. “Good might mean expensive, for sell, not buy. Is like paying taxes – not necessarily way to go. You can buy a journeyman for your bench, but you can’t buy promotion, my friend.”

Some fans, too, remain unconvinced by this latest statement of transfer strategy. We interviewed a typical supporter as he headed for the White Hart for a lunchtime libation. “Pull the other one, lad”, quipped the cynical one, cynically. “We were promised a beautiful season and that seemed a bit unlikely. Now look what bloody happened there. Then we were told that we had the Sam Byram money, and more besides, to compete in the January transfer window. And what did we end up with – three million profit and chuffin’ Wootton at right back, that’s what. Now they say they’re going to sign “good players”. You bloody what?? That’s the biggest whopper I’ve heard yet, and I’ve interviewed Ken Bates.”

Steve Evans’ P45 is described as “pending”.

Cellino: “I Speak For The Fans”… But Then Betrays Them?   –   by Rob Atkinson

…and stop lying to us, my friend

An exclusive report in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post, under the byline of Richard Sutcliffe, claims that Leeds United was offered – and decided to refuse – the option of playing Monday night’s rearranged Sky TV fixture against Middlesbrough on Saturday lunchtime. The game would still have been televised, with a kick off of 12:30 as opposed to the original 3:00pm, but it seems very likely that far less disruption would have been caused to travelling fans long-standing transport and accommodation arrangements.

Many fans were put to inconvenience and financial loss by the short-notice announcement of the game’s move to Monday night. The Football League has claimed that an announcement could have been made much earlier, but for United’s behind the scenes attempts to leave the fixture as originally scheduled. Now it appears that a compromise offer of a Saturday lunchtime kick-off, which would have saved the plans of many long-distance supporters due to arrive in Leeds on Saturday, was rejected by the club. 

This will be somewhat galling to say the least for Leeds United fans in general – and those who suffered inconvenience at short notice in particular. United owner Massimo Cellino has done his best to heap all of the blame on the Football League and/or Sky TV. This blog has no track record for defending those bodies, but it does appear from Sutcliffe’s Yorkshire Post article that Cellino will have pointed questions to answer about the treatment of fans in this instance.

Cellino, after all, has presented himself as the defender of fans’ interests in this affair. The club owner, writing in the match day programme for last night’s Boro game, said: “We are aware of many supporters, not only from England but across the world, who made plans to attend this game at the originally scheduled date of Saturday at 3pm. Those fans feel the effect financially and emotionally, but it is difficult for their voices to be heard. It is with their interests in mind that we continue to push for change.”

It would be somewhat bizarre of Cellino to bemoan the financial and emotional effects on fans in one breath, if with another he is rejecting a compromise offer that would have negated virtually all of those undesirable effects. If this report is true, it would seem that our owner, no stranger to the art of manipulating the truth, has once again strayed from the path of strict veracity. Indeed, this would be more than just another casual untruth. Some might say that it’s rank hypocrisy for Cellino to pose as the defender of the fans against those nasty League barons and TV moguls – whilst simultaneously acting behind all of our backs so as to ensure that those fans will suffer the “financial and emotional” effects that it now seems could easily have been avoided. 

There’s no apparent reason to disbelieve the Yorkshire Post claims. Which leaves Leeds United, in the person of Massimo Cellino to answer these questions:

  1. Is this claim by the Yorkshire Post of a compromise offer – allegedly made as early as December 15th – true?
  2. If it is true, then why was it rejected – when acceptance would have minimised disruption to travelling supporters, including many coming from abroad?
  3. How can Cellino claim to be looking out for fans’ interests in these circumstances?
  4. If it can be shown that supporters have incurred financial loss and inconvenience due to actions and positions taken by the club, then what plans does the club have to compensate those fans for that avoidable loss and inconvenience?
  5. When is Leeds United going to return to a more transparent approach in its dealings with supporters?

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything believes that answers to these questions are the very least that fans deserve. 

Over to you, Mr. Cellino… 

Leeds Disunited: Whites Support Base Divided Against Itself   –   by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Fans

Leeds fans – United? Not these days…

I remember clearly the days in the last century when the only real signs of division among Leeds United fans came during the occasional bouts of mock rivalry on the Gelderd End. It was light-hearted stuff, back then; a message to the rest of football that, such was the unity and togetherness of the White Army – even during the bleak second division eighties – we had to invent stuff to disagree about. Thus it was that half of the tightly-packed Kop would bellow “Rangers!” to a counterpoint of “Celtic!” from the other half.

The sectarian viciousness of the real thing north of the border was missing; it was just a bit of fun – usually when the lads on the park were doing quite well. By way of variety, when the mood was even more ebullient, Rangers and Celtic would be cheerfully abandoned for the rival claims of soap characters Amy Turtle and Albert Tatlock. They were crazy, happy, terraced and crush barrier days, bouncing around on your own favourite “spec” behind the goal, baying for victory but happily aware that, if you lost, you’d only wasted thirty bob or so.

Even when there was genuine discontent – during the “Adamson Out” era for instance, or in the wake of Eddie Gray‘s first sacking – the fans tended to be united in their disapproval. We won together and lost together, we celebrated or complained together. We marched on together, as our very own anthem had it. From the modern day standpoint, even the bleakest of times back then seem like heady days indeed. There was less to moan about in those days, maybe – and, again, the very cheapness of the matchday experience perhaps made it less likely that even the most vociferous of supporters would get too het up about matters Leeds. And there wasn’t such widespread and instantaneous communication then; before the Internet, with its Twitter and Facebook and its football message boards; before mobile phones, before even fanzines – before any of these, the main focus of any discontent was the supporters’ club bar or various pubs on matchdays, home or away. Nowadays, the burning issues flare up all that much more quickly and dramatically for the very ease and global reach of communication. If there’s a grievance, everybody knows – and, naturally, we all have an opinion.

So in this modern era, we pay through the nose for the dubious pleasure of seeing our club trying and failing to recover from the disaster that befell it at the dawn of the 21st century. With massively higher prices have come increased levels of discontent; with journeyman footballers “earning” in a week what we mere mortals might expect to gross in a year, has come bitter disillusionment. In that environment, issues that may have provoked only mild levels of discord in the post-match pub debate (pre-social media), now become divisive in the extreme on a pan-global scale. Positions are taken and defended, the loudest voices gather supporters about them and pitched battles are fought between opposing camps on the virtual battlefields of the World Wide Web. What was once, famously, a fiercely united band of supporters has become riven and polarised, pro-this and anti-that, rather than simply Leeds. The one-time rallying call of “We’re all Leeds, aren’t we?” has become more of a plaintive plea, an attempt to pour soothing oil on troubled waters. We might all be Leeds – but sadly we’re reduced to warring factions and there is little or no unity of purpose.

Positions have become so entrenched over the course of this last fifteen years or so – the era of Bates, GFH and Cellino – that unity, far from being something we can assume as part of the Leeds-supporting condition, has become an unattainable pipe-dream. The damage being wrought by that very lack of accord is surely visible to all who love the club, whatever side of the current divide they might occupy. Regardless of the pros and cons of the current ownership, and whether the net effect of that ownership is positive or negative, it will be hard beyond belief to restore our club to former glories whilever this deep schism in the ranks of the support persists.

For this reason, I’m taking a day or so off from airing my views on the current situation at the top of the club. Anyone who reads this blog is aware of those views anyway, and it’s struck me lately that, just now, the manifest symptoms of supporter disharmony coming out of whatever ails the club might well be doing more damage than whatever the root cause of that sickness might be.

What seems abundantly clear to me is that the current owner, whether he is A Good Thing or A Bad Thing as football club owners go, is highly unlikely to be the unifying force that is so sorely needed right now. That’s not me having a go, it’s what I believe to be a statement of fact, one that even the most passionate pro-Cellino advocate would find hard to dispute. Things have gone too far now for a spontaneous recovery. If we want a unified support – and, as far as such a thing is possible, that’s something we surely should want – then we have to acknowledge that someone is needed at the head of the club behind whom the vast majority of fans can unite. Failing that, and if things carry on as they are, then the support is bound to remain divided, to the detriment of all.

I’ve certainly never known Leeds United supporters to be so badly split, so rabidly at each others’ throats, as they have been over much of the time since the club’s precipitous fall from grace. It’s been a painful spectacle – and I’ve probably sinned as much as most in defence of my own strongly-held views from time to time in the past three years. But it’s now becoming an issue in itself, independent of the vexed question of who owns the club for good or ill. This hurtful division is an issue that needs urgently to be addressed, or we’re going to lose something that used to be a byword among football fans everywhere. We’ll lose the unity and purpose of Leeds United fans and, once that’s gone, it will be very, very hard to rediscover.

The battle lines are currently drawn, Leeds fan against Leeds fan, all over the internet. Let them be erased. Leeds fans are banning Leeds fans from discussion groups, simply for holding the “wrong” opinion. Let debate be free and unfettered. How much longer before we see Leeds-on-Leeds fighting in the stands, Millwall style? What begins on the Internet can so easily spill over into real life. Let’s not have that happen. We should be talking about what’s best for the club, and I believe that means a conversation about who, if anyone, can heal these rifts and see us United once more. We’re all Leeds, aren’t we?

Let’s start to act like it.

Leeds United Celebrates Victory in ‘Battle of the Lamppost’   –   by Rob Atkinson

Cellino sunshine

Cellino – winner or loser?

As Leeds United, this famous old, formerly successful, football club continues its laboured progress through one of the bleakest periods of its long and illustrious history, owner Massimo Cellino is jubilant today over a notable victory of historic proportions.

Forget promotion, forget League titles and cup final triumphs. Forget rampaging through Europe as the best team around. Cellino has redefined the word “victory” for United and its long-suffering fans. For he has just taken on a small group of those fans and has emerged a big, big winner. Leeds United, under Cellino’s courageous leadership, has accomplished the unprecedented feat of forcing the removal of a poster from a lamppost. These days, for Leeds, it really doesn’t get any bigger or better than that.

Of course, some disaffected malcontents will carp and criticise. Cellino should have ignored the poster, they will say. He should have kept his own counsel and denied the oxygen of publicity to a rabble of ungrateful fans who are  unreasonably demanding that United should be a proper football club again. Cellino, in taking this brave action, has merely drawn attentions to the grievances of a small group of activists, probably no more than 30,000 or so. This is what critics might claim.

But Cellino knows that he has secured a famous victory, and that his literally dozens of faithful acolytes will be thrilled at his success. “They shunt of bothered with that poster”, a pro-Cellino spokesman exulted yesterday. “Its defiantly been a wrong move from people what don’t have a clue how much Massimo has done for Leeds pacifically and football in general”.

The leaders of the Cellino Out campaign were unrepentant, however. “There are other campaigns being planned”, this blog was assured. “Just listen for the voice of the fans and watch for a blizzard of leaflets when we play Middlesbrough on Sky next Monday…”

Readers are cordially invited to submit their own opinion as to who, if anyone, has emerged victorious from The Battle of the Lamppost.

Leeds Fans’ Cellino Out Campaign Gathering Momentum – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino Out2

Cellino – what is he up to?

Mounting unrest among the unblinkered majority of the Leeds United support is seeing the pressure grow on maverick owner Massimo Cellino to pack up and ship out. After talk of an aeroplane fly-past during the Nottingham Forest home game, the object being to trail a suitably discouraging message to the Cellino regime across the sky, the more mundane method of posters on lamp-post billboards outside Elland Road has garnered media attention in the last 24 hours. For this, all possible credit is due to the people at WACCOE.com, a site I’ve had issues with over the past couple of years – but they’ve undeniably played a blinder here. Given Liverpool fans’ recent success in bringing their owners to heel, someone had to take up the baton for Leeds – nice one, WACCOE. It’s an unerring shot that has hit its mark, alright – when local reporter Adam Pope contacted the beleaguered Italian, who is still under the threat of Football League sanctions, to put him on the spot over the poster’s “Time to go” message, Cellino’s texted reply was “I agree !!!!”

cellino-poster

Message from WACCOE for Mr. Cellino

It would be easy and yet probably incautious to read into all of this that the Cellino Out movement is heading towards a successful endgame. It should, after all, be remembered – especially in the context of the owner’s surprisingly frank text to Mr. Pope – that the old maxim of “believe nothing until it has been officially denied” has particular relevance where the King of Corn is concerned. What he says and what he does tend to be wildly differing matters, and predicting his behaviour from one day to the next could lead the most canny gambler to ruin in short order. But the increasing visibility of the fans’ discontent, the fact that Steve Parkin has recently realised over £10m worth of assets into cash – and the whole mood around the club after yet another dreadful anti-climax of a transfer window, with the additional important factor of dreadful performances on the pitch – all of these factors combine towards a growing feeling that the wind of change is blowing in sharp gusts in the LS11 locality.

The next few weeks could see matters clarify themselves somewhat, both on and off the park. There is still talk that the quality of the squad might be improved via the loan market – a possibility which may not be totally unrelated to Mr. Parkin’s newly-enhanced liquidity – and, unusually for Leeds, the club is still in the FA Cup at the 5th round stage, giving some temporary meaning to an otherwise moribund season. With a high profile home match against promotion contenders Middlesbrough to come, live on Sky TV after a last-minute rearrangement which represents many fans’ only area of agreement with an angry Cellino, it could be that events on the field will either add to or detract from the intensity of the pressure being experienced by il Duce at the moment, and possibly in a decisive manner. The cruel reality is that success for United in Cup or League over the next month or so could come at the price of a bounceback factor for a man most of us would rather see bounce away. On the other hand, the bitter pills of a cup exit and continued poor form in the league could come with a sweetener in the shape of self-imposed exile for football’s nuttiest owner. 

It’s a sad indictment of the nature of Cellino’s reign that circumstantial evidence is usually a better guide to his intentions than the word of the man himself. For all practical purposes, we can dismiss his probably tongue-in-cheek text to Adam Pope as yet another example of his casual attitude towards communication with the fans – and the truth in general. But other signs would seem to indicate that dark clouds are gathering for a storm which may yet blow Massimo, his family and his notorious yacht Nélie back over the sea to Florida and away from football to a quieter, less notorious life.

That, ultimately, would be the best result for all concerned.

Birthday Boy Strachan’s Crucial Rocket for Leeds United Against Leicester – by Rob Atkinson

"Have you ever seen a better goal?  Have you ever seen one better timed??" John Helm, YTV

“Have you ever seen a better goal? Have you ever seen one better timed??” John Helm, YTV

On the occasion of Gordon Strachan’s 59th birthday – and by the way, many happy returns, Sir – I thought I’d look back to what was possibly his defining moment as the man who did more than just about anyone to reinvent Leeds as a post-Revie force in English football.

It had been a long time coming since Don’s Glory Boys dispersed to pastures new and a Golden Era faded into the dim haze of memory. We had been eight years in the second division doldrums and had almost forgotten what it was like to be a top team. But – finally! – it looked as though the nightmare was ending as Sergeant Wilko and Captain Strachan were set to lead United back to the Promised Land at long last. A home fixture against Leicester City was the penultimate hurdle to overcome, and expectations were soaring at Elland Road.

Twelve days before the Leicester game, United had appeared to strike a decisive blow, battering closest rivals Sheffield United 4-0 at Elland Road. But any hope that promotion could be clinched early was dashed over the next two fixtures, a draw at Brighton where the lead was squandered to sacrifice two points, and then a home defeat to a relegation-threatened Barnsley who even then had the ability to put one over on us with an inferior team. So the nerves were jangling for this home date with the Foxes.

Leicester breezed into town with no pressure on them at all as they bobbed about serenely in mid-table, but Leeds just had to win. A victory could possibly clinch promotion; anything else and we would be relying on others to give us that final leg-up – not an attractive prospect. The atmosphere at Elland Road that day was something to behold as 32597 packed the stands and terraces, the Kop a seething mass of bodies, a solid wall of sound. If the weight of support counted for anything, then it seemed Leicester might just as well turn around and go home – but to their eternal credit they fought the good fight and played their part in a memorable afternoon.

It all started well. Leeds pressed hard – this had been their preferred approach all season long. No opponent was allowed the luxury of untroubled possession as Leeds snapped at ankles and harried the enemy, hungry for the ball and well able to use it productively. At their best, United had proved a match for any team in the Division; as ever though it was the off days that had let us down. On this particular occasion, attacking the Kop End in the first half, the forward momentum seemed irresistible. Before long, the overlapping Mel Sterland fastened on to a ball at the right corner of the penalty area and fired low and hard into the net to open the scoring. The overwhelming relief was as evident as the unconfined joy around the packed stadium; surely now United would go on to consolidate their advantage and seal the promotion we’d wanted for so long.

Frustratingly, it was not to be. Despite further pressure, Leeds failed to make another breakthrough before half-time and Leicester – relaxed and pressure-free – were looking more and more ominously like potential party-poopers. These fears solidified in the second half as the away side pressed an increasingly nervous Leeds back, and eventually – inevitably – they drew level. The blow when it came was struck by a rumoured transfer target for Leeds, promising young Scot Gary McAllister. He proved that he packed some punch by belting a fine strike past veteran Mervyn Day to shock the Kop rigid and momentarily silence Elland Road.

Worse was so nearly to follow as McAllister almost did it again, another superb shot coming within an ace of giving Leicester the lead, something which would doubtless have produced the unedifying spectacle of grown men crying in their thousands. It may well be that McAllister sealed his move to Leeds with this performance and those two efforts, but I could have seen him far enough from LS11 that day. Leeds were rocking, looking at each other, scratching heads and clenching fists in the time-honoured “come on, let’s bloody sort this out” gesture. Slowly, by sheer force of will, the lads in White regained the initiative and it looked at least as though the danger of further damage was receding. The football was still nerve-shredding stuff, all urgency and little fluency, a desperate battle to eke out the extra two points that would make promotion so much more likely.

Time was ebbing away fast now, as Leeds hurled themselves time and again into the defensive barrier of red Leicester away shirts. Panic was setting in, the biggest enemy of constructive football. It was looking like a draw, which would not be enough. Then, a throw halfway inside the Leicester half in front of the West Stand, under the eyes of a bleakly worried Wilko. Sterland gathered himself and hurled a massively long throw deep into the away penalty area, only for it to be headed out from around the near post. McAllister attempted to complete the clearance with an overhead effort to get rid, but the ball hit Gordon Strachan to bounce back into the box. And there was Gary Speed to lay that ball back instantly to the still-lurking Strachan who simply lashed it, left-footed, into the net. The ball had gone in like a bullet; Strachan – too tired to control it and try to work a yard of space to dink one of those cute little far-post crosses as he might normally – settled instead for catching the ball right on the sweet spot and it arrowed home to a positive explosion of noise from all around Elland Road – the sudden release of what had been unbearable tension produced a massive roar to buffet the ear drums of innocent bystanders miles away.

It was one of those occasions when several things seem to happen at once. The crowd behind the goal at the South Stand end seemed to boil with passion and relief, a maelstrom of delighted celebration which was echoed across the whole stadium. Strachan himself ran to the byline, face contorted, weary limbs pumping in triumphant exultation as he took the plaudits of the faithful. A lone copper is visible on the TV footage between Strach and the cavorting hordes, a grin on his face as he moves to quell any ambitious pitch-invaders. In the commentary box, John Helm unwittingly propelled himself into immortality, not for the last time that afternoon. “Have you ever seen a better goal?” he demanded. “And have you ever seen one better timed?” It was a good question, and right then, right there, I doubt you’d have found a Leeds fan to answer “yes” to either part of it. The rest was a blur; Leeds held out, and we had won – and seemingly gained promotion. Rumours were flying around that Newcastle had failed to win, sending us up. But John Helm was at it again, more iconic words: “Is that confirmed…?” When the confirmation arrived, it was of a late Toon win; we still had it all to do at Bournemouth the following week. But Strachan’s late cracker had kept us in a race that we were ultimately destined to win.

My final memory of that day is of walking down off the Kop and onto the pitch as the masses there were starting to disperse. We crossed the hallowed turf from goal-line to goal-line, eventually exiting the ground into Elland Road at the south-west corner, where the big screen now stands. I can still remember the heady scent of stud-holed mud and trodden turf, my head was still buzzing as I walked over the spot where wee Gordon had made that perfect half-volley contact to send us all into delirium. It had been an atmosphere the like of which I have rarely seen before or since, only the mayhem at Bramall Lane when Gayle scored that own-goal title-clincher coming anywhere near, or maybe that ankle-busting semi-riot of a celebration when Dave Batty broke his long goal drought against Man City in 1991.

For the sheer relief of it however – the absolute nerve-shredding, tension-breaking release of it – this was definitely THE one. Without Strachan’s sublime strike, we could well have missed out on automatic promotion, and we all know only too well that there’s a law against us succeeding in the play-offs. Gordon’s Golden Goal had kept the dream alive and made possible all that followed up to the League Championship triumph two years later. Make no mistake – it was THAT important.

Thanks, wee man, for the brilliant memories. Have a brilliant birthday.