Tag Archives: books

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Most Hypocritical “Leeds Fan” of Them All? – by Rob Atkinson

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Mark “Ker-CHING” Byford: one-time Leeds fan, perennial grasping hypocrite.

Whichever club you follow, you like to think that your fellow fans are, on the whole, jolly fine fellows – lads and lasses all. Equally, you hold dear the notion that the fans of “that other lot from ovver t’hill” (Man U, for any Leeds fan worth his salt) are a ridiculous bunch, amusing and repellent all in one, fodder for those of us who revel in laughing at the Pride of Devon.  This mind-set prompted me to write about Man U’s Top Ten Embarrassing Celebrity Fans, an article which was, I’m pleased to say, widely read and well-received. I’ve a Spurs version in the pipeline; I do like to pander occasionally to my own petty prejudices.

Every now and then, though, you come across such a repellent example of loathsome slitheriness among the ranks of your own beloved club’s supporters, that you just have to hold your hands up and say: “It’s a fair cop.  We’ve got a right one here.”  It’s happened to me, today.  I’m not talking about the vile Savile (indeed, I have a picture of him in a Liverpool FC shirt).  I’m talking about someone alive, kicking and doing very nicely for himself indeed, thank you.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mark Byford: former Deputy Director of the BBC, new author, Leeds United fan, expenses claimant extraordinaire and enthusiastic proponent of what can best be described as the “Byford Brand” with a view to the ongoing feathering of his own already plush nest.

Mark Byford featured on BBC Radio Five Live just this morning, eager and ready to be interviewed about his first book which was inspired, so we’re told more than once, by a shaft of sunlight shining on the name of a soldier, Larry Byford, on a war memorial in America.  The coincidence of names led Mark Byford to research and write a book about the American Byford, fallen in conflict in Vietnam, along with the wartime experiences of his own father Lawry Byford.  A neat idea and doubtless quite moving.

The wisdom of Byford in sticking his head above the parapet at this particular time, though, might be questioned by some who feel he still has a little embarrassment to live down.  Mark Byford, after all, is the man who walked away from the loss of his job at the BBC with twice his contractual severance entitlement, so that he trousered a cool £1 million on top of his extremely generous final salary pension entitlement.  Perhaps he felt that this sensitive issue would be overlooked in the eagerness of the interviewer to help him promote his book.  Big mistake.

Victoria Derbyshire is one of those interviewers whose sweet and demure exterior belies her underlying instinct to harry her prey; at times like these she is more polecat than tabby.  In the past she has upset the likes of Jamie Oliver with her remorseless style, and when she interviewed her own Five Live boss about why he wasn’t moving to MediaCityUK in Salford when the station moved in Autumn ’11, The Guardian said: “Derbyshire’s grilling of the station’s controller Adrian Van Klaveren made Jeremy Paxman’s infamous interview with (BBC Director General) Mark Thompson look like a vicar’s tea party.”  Now, she sank her teeth into Mark Byford’s pale and exposed hide – and she simply refused to let go.  The basis of her line of questioning was simple: “Do you think you deserved your £1m pay-off?”

Try as Byford might, he was unable to shake Derbyshire from this persistent snap, snap, snap onslaught which in the end left him bloodied and bewildered as she watched narrowly from a neutral corner, fangs still bared, ready to renew her attack at any time. His quandary was clear: he didn’t want to be seen to claim he deserved the money, but he didn’t want to admit that it was undeserved, unjustifiable and contextually grotesque. The word “context”, ironically, was one coping strategy he brandished again and again, though with an amateurish petulance that defeated any attempt at calm or cool.  He was simply out-thought and out-fought, run to ground, his desired cosy “book-plug” interview metamorphosed before his horrified eyes into a pitiless exposé of his self-seeking greed and arrogance.

It was with mixed feelings that I listened to this interview.  At first, I didn’t identify the author being invited to promote his book with the grasping executive walking off into Austerity Britain with his £1 million wad.  I wasn’t even sure why I was taking against him so – perhaps it was the unctuous tone with which he spoke of heroism and duty, whilst all the time emphasising the hooks and links a writer likes to employ to make his work more readable.  Only when Ms Derbyshire switched from plug facilitator into attack mode, did I make the connection – and then I just had to marvel at Byford’s willful resistance to the notion of “moral wrongdoing”, subtly advanced with all the finesse of a battering-ram by the merciless Victoria – as opposed to strict legal and contractual rights and wrongs.  And, blindly, blunderingly, he kept on using this word “context”.  Millions out there must have been wondering – if context is the thing, then in the context of austerity, painfully slow national recovery and widespread suffering, especially at the unregarded bottom of the pile – how on earth can such an obscene level of severance pay, on top of a sleekly fat pension, possibly be justified?

Which is what, time and again, from every direction, try as Byford might to avoid it, he was being asked – and refusing to answer.  Because there is no answer that amounts to justification.  And it turns out that there is much more for Byford to justify, if he possibly could.  A litter of extravagant expenses claims drifts in his wake, going back years – the man has a sleaze quotient an MP might envy.  His new book uses the loss of an American soldier in a long-ago conflict as its prime mover.  I wonder if the soldier’s family will benefit from its sales?  I do hope so.  The e-book edition – which is, after all, just a stream of bits and bytes flowing smoothly from the ether, production overheads negligible – is ambitiously priced at an eye-watering £17.72.  Clearly, somewhere along the line, Byford is still feeling the pinch – or maybe he feels that the Byford Brand commands a unit price of that order, for a first book too, simply because, well, it’s the Byford Brand.

When Lord Birt, outgoing Director General, favoured Byford as his successor, the Governors in their wisdom chose Greg Dyke instead.  Our hero put a brave face on it, and joked away the pain, claiming still to be friends with the man who pipped him.  “He supports Man U and I support Leeds United, and that’s the biggest problem we will have – he supports the worst team in British football and I support the best.”  All good knockabout stuff, and a laddish tone calculated to appeal to the LUFC fan in the street. But for once, I think the BBC got it absolutely right to prefer the Man U fan to the man who claimed as far back as Leeds University days to follow Leeds United – though acquaintances detected no passion for the club in him and suspected that it was a front for his research into criminality among football fans.  As with so much of his subsequent life and career, it would seem that – even back then – Mark Byford was mainly concerned with what was best for Mark Byford and his nascent Brand.

He’s frankly not the sort of bloke I care to have associated with my beloved Leeds United AFC – and nor is he the sort whose pockets I’d wish further to line by purchasing any book he writes.  I happen to think that the singularly undeserving and opportunistic Mark Byford has done quite well enough for himself already.

Ingenious Suggestions Invited

ImageSo, I’m writing this book.

It’s going to be about my team, Leeds United, and how the club have accompanied me on the highs and lows of my life, giving me misery when I’ve been at my happiest, and more misery when I’ve been down. It’s been done before, but every fan’s story stands alone and is unique in its way. Football affects us all differently, and we all react in an individual way to the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune that the game visits upon us. I started relatively late watching Leeds, and it was all my dad’s fault when I finally got round to it. Thanks, Dad. I think.

Really, I wasted the first 13 years of my life farting about watching old films and reading Biggles and Billy Bunter books, when I could have been watching Revie’s heroes stomping all the opposition into submission, and winning the occasional pot along the way. Instead of seeing us win our solitary FA Cup, I was reading a poem out loud at a Music Festival in Ponte, finishing runner-up in true Leeds United style. Instead of watching us take two league titles, I was being a bookworm and dreaming of a career as an astronaut. Talk about a misspent youth.

I finally started watching Leeds in April 1975. Revie had gone to his ill-fated stint as England boss. Big Jack had gone. The great days had gone too, although that wasn’t apparent at the time. Leeds were on their way to the European Cup Final, and my first game was a 0-2 defeat to Liverpool four days before I saw us beat Barcelona 2-1 in the European Cup Semi, First Leg, Cruyff, Neeskens and all. So, fittingly it was Billy Bremner who gave me my first Leeds goal, rocketing a shot into the top left corner in front of the South Stand as I watched stood precariously on my milk crate in that weird shelfy bit halfway up the Lowfields Stand. I still have the commentary of that goal as a ringtone on my iPhone. Fantastic.

And the rest is history; my history and the downs and ups of Leeds United FC over the subsequent 38 years to date. I hope you’ll buy the book, when it appears, and read more of my memories, interspersed with various rants here and there about how the game was, is and (I’m afraid) will be.

The thing is – I really need a title. I’m a bit stuck there, call it sub-editors’ block. The actual book is coming along nicely, and I think a lot of Leeds fans will empathise with what’s contained between the dust-covers – but I’m damned if I can think of a title for the front. Hang on – “The Damned United”?? Hmmmm, ideal – but I have the feeling it’s been done.

I would really appreciate some suggestions. If I end up using one of them, I will happily credit the owner of the idea on the inside front cover, as you do with proper books. And I’ll furnish a complimentary copy also, so you don’t have to wait for it to appear in the bargain bins for 99p. Can’t say fairer than that.

Honestly, I’m fresh out of original, snappy titles. Please help. As Brian McDermott says, we need to sing Marching On Together, and really mean it, suiting actions to words – so your support and inspired suggestions would be right in line with that Leeds United MOT spirit.

I look forward to some brilliant ideas, thanks in advance.