Watching Leeds United on the telly has health implications for your standard Whites fanatic, the kind with the iconic LUFC running through them like a stick of rock. Football devotees in general, and Leeds fans in particular, are hardly known for their Zen-like state of calmness, and it frequently seems to me that the telly people are doing their utmost to wind me up with their continual sniping at Yorkshire’s Number One football club. Because, whenever I’m stuck with TV coverage as opposed to being there, I always end up feeling as though my blood pressure has spiked, and I’m left foaming at the mouth, longing to give some smug pundit the baseball bat treatment.
The Burton Albion game on Boxing Day was a case in point. The Championship minnows had enjoyed two victories on the trot, and Sky Sports were all a-flutter to see them make that three against Big Bad Leeds. When the Brewers took the lead with a narrowly offside goal, the commentators glossed over it – Ronaldo Vieira shouldn’t have stepped out, their logic ran, so it was bad defending. If Vieira had stayed put, the lad would have been onside – but the pundits weren’t in any mood to let facts interfere with their “Chuffed that Leeds are losing” position. For the time being, they were as happy as a scum fan with a new easy chair (though that had changed by the time Ronnie, living up to both his names, put Kemar Roofe in for the winner).
Right at the end of the first half, Leeds defender Gaetano Berardi sailed into a challenge on Burton man Sean Scanell, and what followed was highly instructive. It was the kind of tackle that, when perpetrated by some media darling in a Man U shirt, elicits a roguish chuckle from the commentators, with the remark “That would have earned you a new contract back in the day, but now it’s a wee bit naughty”. The fact is that Berardi won the ball – with both feet, admittedly. But only the ball suffered, no blood was shed and no bones were broken. Still, the pundits were all pursed lips and sanctimony; their outraged verdict was that our man could and should have seen red.
In the second half, it was yours truly seeing red, as Albion’s goalscorer Tom Naylor, delivered the classic over-the-top leg-breaker on Vieira, studs into Ronnie’s standing leg, an absolutely atrocious challenge. From the Sky gantry, there was only the most sheepish of reactions – “Ooh, that’s another bad one” etc. There was none of the red card bloodlust, none of the hysteria that Berardi’s comparatively innocuous challenge had prompted. On the day, both incidents resulted in yellow cards – harsh in Berardi’s case, and a gross under-reaction to the Naylor assault on Vieira. But it was the Sky reaction that was the most disgusting aspect of the whole matter; they even edited the Naylor foul out of their highlights package, focusing the disciplinary spotlight firmly on the Berardi challenge. Sky TV do seem to have a heavy hand in editing Leeds highlights – the other week, they even edited Gjanni Alioski’s sumptuous winning goal right out of their Barnsley v United clip, which is a tad harsh, even by their ant-Leeds standards.
The thing is, these are not isolated examples. It happens time and again, most weeks in fact. There’s usually some dedicated Leeds-hating has-been in the co-commentary seat, and always an anti-United spin on the description of pivotal events. It’s no mystery as to what’s behind it – hating the Elland Road boys is still a national preoccupation, a good four decades after the Super Leeds era that got them all in such a resentful froth. So it’s in broadcast media’s commercial interests to hype up the hate, just as it is for them to view Man U through sentimentally rose-tinted glasses, catering to their tragic legions of armchair TV subscribers. Both attitudes are commercially sensible – but it doesn’t make them right.
Let’s face it, Leeds United are big box office for Sky’s Championship coverage, and it’s about time a little bit more respect was shown, if not outright gratitude. That’s only right and just, not that these are words figuring prominently in any broadcaster’s lexicon. But, for the sake of my blood pressure if nothing else, and to prevent me hurling something at my costly flat-screen technology – it’s time for the TV companies to wise up, grow up, and lay off my beloved Leeds.