Tag Archives: Bradford City

Paudie O’Connor Has Found His Level Two Leagues Below Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

O’Connor – Bradford’s gain is no loss to Leeds

I was never convinced, despite assurances from fellow Leeds fans, that Paudie O’Connor had what it takes to succeed at Leeds. This is based not on rare glimpses of him in a first team shirt, but on his more frequent U-23 appearances in general, and one petulant episode after an away defeat to Barnsley’s second string in particular. I thought then, and it’s now been confirmed, that O’Connor’s future would play itself out away from Elland Road. I’m not unhappy to be proved right.

The incident in question surrounded my attempt to have a quick word with U-23 debutant Sam Dalby. O’Connor was having none of it and led Dalby away, hurling a string of four letter abuse over his retreating shoulder. I put it down to post-defeat temper and refrained from pressing the issue, as you do. But the unpleasantness and unprofessionalism of a young man who had, and still has, done little in the game, made me doubt his ability to stay the course at a club like Leeds. Now he’s gone, and many are expressing surprise at his descent to the Football League basement. I beg to differ. O’Connor not only has to work at his game, he’s got a fair bit of growing up to do too, and needs to learn to rein in his emotions, trying where possible to avoid tantrums. League Two will be a hard school but, right now, it’s just what he needs and a fair reflection of his current level of ability.

I would have kept my powder dry for as long as Paudie was registered as a Leeds United player. But he’s gone now, and I feel he’s no real loss in the grand scheme of things. It takes a certain sort of character to succeed at Leeds, and my instant impression after his hotheaded outburst was that O’Connor wasn’t the right material. Time alone will tell about that. Good luck to the lad at Bradford City.

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Bradford Fire Disaster 30th Anniversary – by Rob Atkinson

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Horrific scenes as the Bradford main stand burns fiercely

30 years ago today, I went to watch Leeds United play at St Andrews, Birmingham City‘s ground, in order to support the United lads, who still had a faint mathematical chance of promotion. These were the bad old days, when football violence was still highly fashionable, and it was predictable that things would get out of hand given the slightest excuse. Well, Leeds went one down, it was a crap game, and get out of hand things certainly did. There was a mass riot, invasions of the pitch from both sets of supporters, police horses tried to get between the warring groups and general mayhem ensued for quite a time. Inside the ground, a 12 foot wall collapsed and a young lad was crushed to death. It was a tragedy of the times, crowd disturbances were commonplace and only 18 days later, trouble at the Heysel Stadium in Belgium would cost the lives of 39 Italian fans as the European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus was fatally marred by ugly scenes of violence.

As the Leeds fans emerged from Birmingham’s ground though, we were totally unaware that an event had been unfolding back home in Yorkshire that would cost 56 more lives, leave hundreds injured and traumatised and form another catastrophic part of that dreadful month of May 1985. At Valley Parade, the antiquated home of Bradford City, a fire had broken out in the main stand, a ramshackle construction of timber with an oft commented-on build-up of litter beneath the wooden seats – a calamity waiting to happen. On that Saturday afternoon, as spectators packed the old stand to greet their promotion-winning Third Division Champions, the calamity did happen, and with unbelievable speed and ferocity.

At about 3:40 pm, ITV commentator John Helm noted that there appeared to be a small outbreak of fire in the main stand. Within four minutes, on a dry and windy day, the fire had engulfed the whole of the stand, trapping many in their seats. People dashing to the back of the stand for fire extinguishers found none – they had amazingly been removed for fear of vandalism – and the fleeing crowds were forced to break down locked exits in order to escape. Others escaped forward onto the pitch, and within the burning stand there were acts of outstanding heroism as some people tried to assist those less able, without regard for their own safety. The design and build of the ancient stand conspired in its swift destruction; the roof was of wood covered with tarpaulin and sealed with asphalt and bitumen. The whole structure was, in effect, one big incendiary bomb which had been waiting to go off for years.  Now, a single lighted match or cigarette, dropped under the seats onto the accumulated litter below, had started a conflagration that raged out of control before anyone could summon help. It was a miracle, aided by the selfless bravery of many of the spectators who rescued their neighbours, that more weren’t killed.

As it was, 56 deaths and hundreds injured left its mark on the game, and rightly so. The Popplewell Inquiry led to the introduction of new legislation to improve safety at sports grounds, and construction of new stands from wood was banned at all UK sports venues. Thankfully, the death toll had been somewhat limited by the absence of perimeter fencing around the pitch, a lethal factor in the 96 deaths at the Hillsborough disaster 4 years later. Bradford City’s ground now is unrecognisable from the ramshackle stadium I remember as a student in the city in 1981, when I attended a League Cup tie against Ipswich and marvelled from the open Kop at the sheer age and dilapidation of the wooden stand to my right. A magnificent state-of-the-art main stand now crowns the development which has taken place on all four sides of the arena – a credit to the City, to the Football Club and to the memory of those fans who died – 54 from Bradford City and 2 from their opponents that day, Lincoln City.

Later that year, in July, I attended a Bradford City memorial game at Elland Road when the majority of the 1966 World Cup Final teams, England and West Germany, turned out for a rematch. England won again, 6-4 with Geoff Hurst scoring another hat-trick, Uwe Seeler scoring a quite magnificent goal at the Kop End, and the late Alan Ball notching for England too, as did Martin Peters – the other Three Lions scorer in ’66. England were captained by the late, great Bobby Moore, and our own Jack Charlton appeared with lesser-known brother Bobby. It was a wonderful occasion and a fitting tribute to the dead and injured of the Valley Parade fire, raising many thousands towards an eventual total of £3.5 million for the Bradford Disaster Appeal Fund.

On this pleasant late spring day, when the memories of that awful summer of 1985 are receding further and further into the past, let us pause and remember those who died this day 30 years ago, as well as the victims of the Heysel Tragedy – and not forgetting young Ian Hambridge who died when that wall collapsed at St Andrews while football fans unknowingly rioted all around. Ian would be 45 now; he and 56 others at Bradford were robbed of their lives by the events of the day. Rest in peace, all of them – and let’s be thankful that we’ve seemingly moved on from that dark period in football and stadium history.

Racial Abuse Row to Hit Bradford City?   –   by Rob Atkinson

Garath McCleary complains to a match official about abuse from the Bradford support

Garath McCleary complains to a match official about abuse from the Bradford support

As a fan of Leeds United, I always get an incredulous reaction if I highlight racist behaviour or racial abuse from other quarters. Leeds fans simply have that name – and mud that sticky just sticks like hell.

But, in common with a surprisingly vast majority of United fans, I’m a non-racist football supporter who is always looking to root out examples of such ignorance and uncivilised behaviour. And there might just be a scandalous example coming out of the Reading v Bradford City FA Cup replay, covered live by BBC1.

One of the incidents captured by the Beeb’s cameras towards the end of the first half was a fan in the Bradford end apparently directing some less than complimentary remarks loudly in the direction of young Garath McCleary, Reading’s second goal-scorer tonight. McCleary reacted with such anger and distress that there has to be a suspicion of racial abuse – given that an irate football fan and a black footballer were involved in what was clearly a flashpoint. McCleary seemed to be urged by the assistant ref to report the matter to officials in the tunnel area. That advice appeared to be reinforced as the teams went off at the interval, with McCleary still obviously upset.

As this is written, Bradford have just gone 0-3 down and appear to be facing the end of their Cup adventure – particularly as they have also had a player dismissed. But that may yet turn out to be the least of the Bantams’ worries on an evening when disgrace threatens to engulf them.

There may well be more to be heard and said about this in the next few hours and days. It emerged today that a fan was arrested and ejected from the ground at half time.

New Play About the Bradford City Fire: “The 56”; a Leeds Utd Fan’s Review – by Rob Atkinson

The three-strong cast of The 56

The three-strong cast of The 56

When the Bradford Fire Disaster happened, I was in the middle of what I feared at the time would be the story of the weekend, as Leeds United fans fought a pitched battle with their Birmingham City counterparts at St. Andrews on Saturday the 11th of May, 1985. A young fan died at Birmingham that day, killed when a wall collapsed amid disgraceful scenes. It seemed certain that the events of the day would create the usual lurid banner headlines. Some fans on both sides would be happy and excited about this; others, less so.

For my own part, I was utterly gutted that we’d lost by a goal to nil, sickened at the thought of yet more bad press for my club – and completely unaware that a lad had lost his life. On the way back to Yorkshire, it became clear that, in the light of the devastating events in Bradford, nobody would be talking about our game and its riot after all. It was a dreadful Saturday in what, with Heysel still to come, would be remembered as a tragically awful season.

On Friday last, three decades older and that much more hard-bitten and cynical, I attended a new drama staged in Barnsley, based on interviews with survivors of that day at Valley Parade almost thirty years ago. It recalled in detail some extremely sad memories and brought back some long-buried feelings arising out of that weekend so many years before. The review I have written of the play, which is entitled simply The 56, is reproduced below.

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This review was originally published on The Public Reviews on 14th March 2015.

With the focus once again very much on the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster as the inquests re-openre-visiting all of those mistakes and examples of scandalously covered-up incompetence – here, on the stark and minimalist stage of the Civic in Barnsley, was an almost unbearably vivid reminder of another football tragedy in Yorkshire, with another shattering death toll.

Four years before the Sheffield calamity, and 40 miles or so up the road in Bradford, an inferno destroyed the old wooden-construction main stand at Valley Parade, home of new Third Division Champions Bradford City. Disaster struck without warning as the Bantams took on Lincoln City in what should have been a joyous celebration of promotion and the league title. On the day though, the story was more of heroism and unbelievable bravery amid terrifying chaos as fire broke out and fan tried to help fan despite intense heat, choking smoke and the speed with which the blaze spread, engulfing the stand and trapping the unfortunates who tragically fled in the wrong direction. It was one of those occasions too horrible to recall and yet too salutary ever to be forgotten. A line in the verbatim text of this hard-hitting piece says it all: 

“It was like a JFK moment, a Princess Diana moment. You’ll never forget where you were when you heard.”

The verbatim testimony nature of The 56 is at the core of what this work is all about. What is heard is no skilfully-crafted dramatic script – it is the actual accounts of survivors, those who were frantically involved on the day in escape and rescue. This lends a raw and visceral feel to the whole thing; the audience is aware at all times that these are real people giving their real and painful memories of events that really happened, and which affect them to this day. The way that the three actors handle this medium is admirable in the extreme. That quality of hearing words as they are formed in the mind of the witnesses is massively persuasive. The whole spectrum is there, from fond reminiscence of the innocently celebratory way that day started, through incredulous shock as events unfolded, so disastrously quickly, to grief, pain, even despair and a little bitterness – but with the pride of a city and a county which united in grief and loss to “just get on with it” as the long process of recovery began. It’s remorselessly impactful and almost uncomfortably inclusive.

The actors do all that could possibly be expected of them in terms of conveying the feelings and reactions of those survivors interviewed. As a piece of theatre, the effect is both harrowing and intensely evocative, with the increasingly convincing feeling of hearing about that awful day at first hand. The pace varies according to the mood of the moment; at times each character is lovingly sharing memories of the lead-up to that day and their love affair with a family football club, in relaxed and humorous monologue. But at other times, the dialogue comes at the audience pell-mell, the witnesses talking over each other as the confusion and bewilderment of developing tragedy is tellingly reproduced. And then it’s back to turn and turn about as each witness talks about the effect on their lives since that time, of the horrific memories they carry with them; mental scars are revealed as well as lasting shock and disbelief. But there is also the pride of getting on with life, of recovery – as club, stadium and city rose again in as literally Phoenix-like a manner as could be imagined.

It’s an appropriately minimalist production; the set is simple yet effective– a mute reminder of the wooden construction at the root of the disaster;the darkness of the backdrop conveys its own mood and message. The audience’s attention is drawn to the mesmeric interpretations of the cast who perform to pin-drop silence and a feeling of collectively held breath. As the testimony comes to a conclusion, the awful death toll – including, let us not forget, two fans of the other side that day, Lincoln City – is read out at funereal pace; a fitting tribute at the last to those who are no longer with us to give their own accounts. The audience reaction at the end is sombre but appreciative of what has been so consummately achieved.

In recognition of the thought-provoking nature of the evening, there was a Q&A session shortly after the end of the play itself. This gave a welcome insight into the creative process, with the actors and the director able and willing to enlarge upon what had motivated them and how they had approached the material so as to convey the testimony effectively, yet with immense respect.

This is a challenging piece, certainly not entertainment in the precise sense of the word. It sets out to remind, to enlighten and to pay tribute both to the dead and to those without whom that death toll would inevitably have been much higher. It tells of how individuals, a football club, a city and a county were struck by disaster, of how they conducted themselves so courageously on the day and of how they gradually recovered in the years to follow. In this, it is totally successful and – for those who wish to know more about what actually happened in Bradford on May 11th 1985, and how, and why – it’s a theatrical experience not to be missed.

The play was reviewed at the Civic, Barnsley on March 13th having previously been staged at the Edinburgh Fringe and in Bradford itself; it is scheduled to tour various other venues until May 23 (Click here for dates and theatres). A collection is taken at each performance to raise money for the BCFC Burns Unit Appeal; donations to this most worthy cause may be made online here.

 

MK Dons Sought “Ploughed Field” Switch for Bradford City Game – by Rob Atkinson

Bradford's moonscape of a "pitch" - after the divots had been replaced

Bradford’s moonscape of a “pitch” – after the divots had been replaced

Monday evening isn’t exactly a highlight of the week at the best of times. The weekend is just a pleasant memory and the daily grind has our noses firmly to its stone again, real life intruding to suck the joy and leisure out of our bleak existences. Oh dear – I’m depressing myself…

Even Monday evenings, though, when the next weekend mini-break seems so far off and unattainable, still sometimes has its compensations. Not tonight, however. No Premier League football to remind a nostalgic Leeds fan of what used to be on offer every fortnight at Elland Road. Not this benighted Monday. Instead, it’s rugged, ragged League One fare, as rough and honest as a monk’s undies, replete with hard graft, application, work rate and maybe a primitive sort of skill here and there. It’d do, normally – some games at this level can be ok. Ish. And if nothing else, you’d think that such rustic entertainment might help your average long-suffering Leeds fan stop thinking about that clueless git of an alleged referee who paraded his criminal lack of ability at Elland Road on Saturday.

But this isn’t the best of League One, such as it is. It’s Bradford. And there’s just something about that homely little club which makes watching any of their games feel like you’re witnessing two sets of artisans having a mud-wallowing contest. This, you understand, is at the best of times.

Tonight, the impression of mediocrity is heightened by the state of what Bradford City have the cheek to call a pitch. It is not a pitch. It is a morass. To say it’s cutting up is hopelessly inadequate. I’ve seen slasher movie victims less cut up than Bradford’s gloopy, damaged playing surface. Compared to this Somme battlefield of a playing area, Derby’s old Baseball Ground resembled a manicured, pristine bowling green. And as all of us with a few decades on our backs will recall, the Baseball Ground was a real pig of a pitch. They were still digging up mummified inside-forwards there a decade after Derby moved out to their new, Meccano stadium.

So bad is this Bradford surface that, I have it on good authority, visitors MK Dons took one look and asked to have the fixture switched to a ploughed-over potato field on the edge of the city. The ball would run truer there, the horrified Milton Keynes man protested. The farm furrows would suit the Dons’ passing game better than the ravaged, blitzed bog within Valley Parade’s not-so-hallowed portals. Besides, the desperate southerners argued, playing in a field would make the attendance look better. Most of the Bratfud faithful appeared to have turned up disguised as claret or amber seats.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the circumstances of this game have reduced it, as a spectacle, to something rather less entertaining than watching a turnip rot. Unsurprisingly, half time arrived with the scoreline as blank as Peter Beagrie’s face. Most of the first period had been spent with the combatants burying the ball under the friable surface and then digging it up again. The more skilful players on the Dons’ side resembled ballet dancers trying to escape quicksand. Even the muddied oafs of Bradford looked more like swamp-dwellers than footballers though that may be their standard appearance, for all I know.

I have to say, the second half was much better. I spent it asleep on the sofa, dreaming as an old man dreams, of Felicity Kendall and Debbie Harry, naked in a hot tub. I must have snored away thus, blissfully happy with aesthetic fulfilment, probably with an appreciative leer on my face, almost certainly drooling slightly, for – ooh, a good half hour. Then, the hot tub vision melted away, to be replaced by a mud-bath; Felicity and Debbie disappeared from view instead of obligingly wrestling – and I was awake, staring at the Somme again.

The surface hadn’t deteriorated – it couldn’t possibly have, not without two days’ application of a rotavator – and the brave, willing players of both sides were still trying to make the ball move as a spherical object ideally should. Somehow, the teams between them had managed to score some actual goals – three of them. I guessed they must have taken it in turns to use a tank or other caterpillar-tracked vehicle to conduct actual offensives, rather then just battle it out in the cratered and pitted no man’s land.

MK Dons, unable to reproduce the form that has been coming to them so easily when they play on grass, had to swallow the bitter pill of defeat to a team evidently more proficient at mudlarks than football. Whether they will lodge a complaint to the League is yet to be seen – but either way, the result is likely to stand. Bradford fans and players will head home happily, to spend the time until Friday afternoon scraping the mud off their boots, or clogs, as applicable. For them, mind-boggling as it might appear to civilised people, this passed for entertainment.

For Bradford, it’s a rise to the dizzy heights of only ten league places behind crisis club Leeds United. The glorious prospect of playing in the same division as their hated neighbours – and experiencing another Wembley Final thrashing – must be positively dazzling for them right now.  How the season pans out remains to be seen; but MK Dons will certainly be relieved to be heading back south without having lost any personnel drowned in the West Yorkshire peat bogs. For them, small mercies are all they have, tonight, to give thanks for.

Are Chelsea Wreckers Bradford City Heading for Another Glorious Wembley Battering? – by Rob Atkinson

A Bratfud fan with a typically creative solution to the problem of Fido's funeral

A Bratfud fan with a typically creative solution to the problem of Fido’s funeral

It’s been a pretty good year so far in the domestic cups, for some of Yorkshire’s minnow teams. Sheffield United, the Brave Little Blunts of Bramall Lane, are in the League Cup semis (don’t ask me to remember the sponsors, for heavens’ sake). In the same competition, Bradford City enjoyed one of their finest hours in an earlier round, with an only slightly fortuitous win over our own beloved ten-man Leeds United, celestially anointed Kings of the Broad Acres. Even poor old Sheffield Wendies managed to keep the aggregate tally against them down to single figures in losing twice in two competitions at Manchester City.

In the FA Cup, even more than usually for such a notoriously minnow-friendly institution, this was a weekend of genuine shocks, all over the shop. Again, Yorkshire’s tiddler clubs were to the fore in the tragic but not unexpected absence of Super Leeds – who had reprised their 1973 defeat at the hands of the Dirty Mackems, first time of asking. So it was left to the little guys again, the Blunts for one; they will take Simon Grayson’s Preston to a replay in Sheffield (good luck, SG).

Without any doubt at all though, the star turns of this 4th round so far are those battling Bantams from Valley Parade. In a performance they must treasure nearly as much as beating Leeds for the first time since the end of rationing, they went down to London and bearded the English title favourites Chelsea in their own lair. Feinting craftily to go two behind and thus lull the Rentboys into a false sense of half-time security, they emerged from their interval cuppas to seize the game by the throat – and proceeded mercilessly to throttle Jose’s troops to death with a four goal salvo that quite simply took their beastly breath away.

Last year’s League Cup Final achievement ended amusingly in a highly creditable (if you listened to the media) 0-5 defeat for the ten-man Bantams at the hands of Swansea City – who spent most of their time that Wembley afternoon trying to look as if it wasn’t just too, too easy. After a result like their defeat of Chelsea, though – where they made a whole nation laugh themselves weak-bladdered by slaying a far better team – plucky Bratfud must fancy their chances of at least matching last season’s feat. Maybe they can even cherish hopes of improving on it, by holding out for a 0-3 Final defeat against a Liverpool or a Palace or similar. Less of a thrashing against more illustrious opponents – that’d be progress. And you never know – it could happen.

Watching the richly comic spectacle of Mourinho’s Millionaires buckle and collapse against a genuine two-bob West Yorkshire pub team, it was impossible – despite the vitriolic hatred all Bratfud fans nurse in their bosoms where Super Leeds are concerned – quite impossible not to share in the joy and the laughter. After all, this was Chelsea, worshippers at the Altar of Mammon, for whom no trophy is beyond their Mafia-funded purse, stumbling to utter, shambolic humiliation against the rankest of rank paupers – whose team cost precisely zilch. It was beyond funny and, in the midst of all that comedy and Schadenfreude, it’s really easy to forget such little local difficulties as Bratfud’s Leeds United complex.

Anyway, as any knowledgeable Leeds fan will confirm, and as those few Bratfud fans who don’t exist in a state of permanent denial will admit, the Bantams/Whites hate affair is strictly a one-way street. We’ve always been the chip on their bitterly resentful shoulder – but, historically, we’ve had bigger, uglier, much more intrinsically detestable fish to fry. Leeds have never really gone in for hating on spurious grounds of mere proximity – it’s a sterile waste of time and passion. So, from our point of view, we have no real local rivalry, whereas every little club in Yorkshire (and elsewhere, it should be said) cordially, rabidly detests Leeds United. ‘Twas ever thus and, doubtless, ’twill ever be.

The best we can really do for those Bratfud fans who so desperately wish us to reciprocate their passionate and unrequited hatred is – well, to condescend to be pleased for them for a time, when a day like this Chelsea tie rolls around. And – as good, God-fearing, Chelsea-hating Leeds United fans – we are pleased for them. Very pleased. Really we are. It stands to reason. And besides, the Bantams actually deserved their victory, certainly far more than the faintly lucky Middlesbrough side did at Man City. It has indeed been Cup Shock Saturday, with big, shiny bells on.

So – Bradford march proudly on, perhaps even unto another deeply gratifying Wembley humiliation. Good luck to them, and to all the other Yorkshire small fry as they progress, against all sense and logic, in the cups. It’s all good as far as this Leeds fan is concerned. Why, I’ll even be rooting for the Blunts against Spurs on Wednesday – but then I’ll be after another enjoyable dose of Capital punishment for fellow Tykes at that there Wembley, just to help them remember their lowly place in the scheme of things. It wouldn’t do otherwise, would it? It would reflect badly on the region’s only proper football club.

After all – charity begins at home. And, nice guy and warm-hearted softy though you may be; you can really only take your faintly patronising condescension towards scruffy, unappreciative neighbours so far…

EXCLUSIVE: Police Fears of Betting Fix Allayed by Spurs Result – by Rob Atkinson

Police alert!

Police alert!

Police in Manchester, as well as detectives in London’s Metropolitan Police, were all geared up for a full-scale investigation into a possible betting sting earlier today, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything understands. Concerns were raised as news came in of some “incredibly unlikely” scores in the 4th Round FA Cup games around the country, as well as in certain league games.

The matches under the spotlight were Chelsea versus non-league Bratfud City, Manchester City at home to smog-bound Middlesbrough Ironopolis and the Southampton v Crystal Pulis game at the St Mary’s Stadium. All three encounters ended in highly unlikely away wins, and alarm bells were ringing. Asked whether nefarious activity by a Far East betting syndicate was suspected, a Police spokesman confirmed “That was very much the case. We were looking at a branch of BetFred in Scarborough.”

The police were on high alert towards the end of the afternoon fixtures. “We were looking for a pattern and starting to see one,” said DCI Ivor Truncheon of the Yard. “One more dodgy scoreline, and the boys and I were going to swoop.”

The game that might have tipped the balance from what could just have been an unlikely sequence of results, into a full-scale betting scandal, took place at White Hart Lane. “At one point, Tottenham Hotspuds were actually winning,” we were told. “Yes, things were getting that bizarre. But then Leicester got the digit out, imposed their superiority – and in the end, they won. Thankfully, that was enough to convince us that everything was legit. But if Spuds had actually won – along with all those other frankly ridiculous results – well, you can well imagine that we’d have had to take it all very seriously indeed.”

Asked whether the Watford v Blackpool game (where the away team led 2-0 at the interval, only to lose 7-2) came under any scrutiny, our police source was dismissive. “Nah, that’s just Blackpool being crap, isn’t it. We understand the FL might look at the slope at Vicarage Road, but that’s not a criminal matter.”

The FA Cup is 143.

It’s a League Cup Tale of Two Uniteds as Minnows Progress – by Rob Atkinson

Matt Smith - scored for Leeds to momentarily cause despair among the Gobshite Tendency

Matt Smith – scored for Leeds to momentarily cause despair among the Gobshite Tendency

To be more accurate, it was a tale of two alleged Uniteds – plus one City and what might politely be termed a franchise as Milton Keynes Dons and Bradford City saw off the ‘disuniteds’ of Manchester and Leeds respectively. On the face of it, the similarities in the two cases are striking.  The Pride of Devon were condemned by English football’s only even more plastic club to a pre-Christmas period of plain and simple League fare, unrelieved by any spicy Cup-tie delicacies. They must concentrate on recovering, under new management, from a wobbly start to that bread-and-butter marathon, and forget all about knock-out glamour until it’s time to get knocked out of the FA Cup.

Leeds have likewise been dragged down to the level of that other United from ovver t’hills. They, too, will be stuck with repairing a dodgy league position until the new year rolls around. They, too, are in transition, rebuilding under a new regime. But there the similarities end – in terms of the manner in which the two Uniteds departed this season’s League Cup competition, anyway. Leeds, for the umpteenth time this season, were reduced to ten men, due on this occasion to foolhardy rashness on the part of Luke Murphy, who gave the ref every opportunity to brandish a second yellow. Murphy let down his team-mates, his coach and indeed his club, all of whom were relying on a united performance. The remaining ten stalwarts delivered though, and in the end Leeds were somewhat unfortunate to lose, as was pointed out by coach Hockaday afterwards – to depressingly predictable storms of social media abuse – about which more anon.

Man U, for their part, had no dismissals to cope with. They were simply out-played, out-fought, out-thought, thrashed out of sight by a team nominally two leagues inferior. Their much-vaunted manager, the former World Cup coach of the Netherlands, left out some supposed big-hitters, despite the lack of European distractions. Man U contributed in full measure to their own downfall, but the wretched MK Dons, a club whose origins leave the nastiest of nasty tastes in the mouth, nevertheless thoroughly deserved their crushing victory.

So the two Uniteds are no more, in this Cup competition at least. Life and the League Cup will go on without them, though there will be a few regrets on all sides about a third round draw that could have been a Roses clash at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, or which could have seen either minnow land a big fish instead of nibbling away at each other. Such is Cup football.

What remains to be said, other than that, in summary, Leeds were slightly unlucky and Man U got exactly what they deserved? Well, quite a bit, actually.

I’ve been rather quiet this season so far, due to some family health problems and various other slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, all of which – I’m glad to say – are being properly addressed. But I’ve still been keeping an eye on things, shaking my head gloomily at times, brightening up at bits of exciting transfer news at other times – and tut-tutting away as a middle-aged fan who remembers better times is wont to do. It’s been quite a good and exciting season, really – except for those pesky occasions when some fool has blown a whistle and we’ve actually tried to play a game of football. Big mistake, that. But the over-riding impression of this season so far, for me anyway, has been the clatter and clash of bandwagons being jumped on, over and over again, by far too many people who really should know a lot better.

The people I’m talking about, for the most part, manifest themselves in social media – Twitter being a particular offender in this respect. Some alleged Leeds United fans out there need to take a long, hard look at themselves after some of the unprecedented abuse being heaped on the head of a man in Dave Hockaday who is totally unable to defend himself and has managed to weather an ongoing storm with what can only be described as impeccable dignity. Hockaday has copped for the lot, from school playground stuff like the oh-so-clever plays on his name (Whackaday, Hockalot, Shockaday – and all the other dismally unfunny variants), to far more serious abuse from the kind of people who feel free to say what they like from what they gleefully feel to be safely unaccountable positions. I’ve seen fans freely expressing a hope that we would lose at Bradford, so that Hockaday might be sacked. Some of the bile and spleen vented has been utterly disgusting and degrading; some has been frankly laughable. The other day, there was a veritable Twitter-storm because Hockaday mentioned that Leeds would “inevitably” be back in the Champions League some day. He expressed a desire to be involved in that. And the world and his scabby dog seemed to join in an unseemly scramble to pour contempt on those innocent and sincere words.

Now, just imagine. What if Hockaday had faced the interviewer’s mike and had said “There’s not an earthly of Leeds ever getting into Europe again, not unless there’s a war. As for the Champions League – don’t make me laugh. And if they did, well – I wouldn’t want any part of it. Stuff that for a game of soldiers!” Would he have been applauded for his disarming frankness? Would the various social media have been abuzz with praise for his words of wisdom? No, of course they bloody wouldn’t. The fans would be outraged at such defeatist nonsense, and quite right too. So why go for the guy’s jugular when he expresses the naked ambition and belief in a brighter future that should be burning hot in any true fan’s heart? It makes no sense, and it reflects even less credit on those who, mindlessly sheep-like, follow the masses onto that overloaded bandwagon. For heaven’s sake, it’s nothing less than pathetic. And it grieves me to say this – but after what’s been said and written lately, I’m thoroughly ashamed of many, many Leeds fans right now.

It’s already been the same in the wake of the Bradford defeat. A few saner souls have pointed out that Murphy was an idiot getting himself sent off, that we battled well for an hour when a man down, took the lead and were only undone by a worldie and then a crap header that zipped through our keeper’s legs. AND we should have had a penalty when Poleon was taken out by the keeper – no, don’t listen to Don Goodman, he’s rabidly anti-Leeds and spouts nonsense. So, a few have broken the ranks of the silent majority – and they’ve highlighted the positives of the Bradford match. But many, many more of that knee-jerk faction of jerks have simply resorted to more abuse, more insults, more demands for the sacking of a guy who’s been there five minutes, and has spent that short time coping with the least helpful circumstances imaginable. That’s disgusting, ridiculous and completely unforgivable.

I’m old enough to remember demonstrations in the West Stand car-park when the fans had had enough and wanted Adamson Out, or on another occasion, Eddie Gray Back. I’ve seen little if any of that this time around. It’s mainly those big, brave Twitter types, sniping away from the safe anonymity of their keyboards, pouring their brainless vitriol onto the head of a man who probably will be gone soon, and who should, anyway, probably walk of his own accord – because he’s up against more than the opposition in the other dressing room every day of his working life. I’ll not comment on whether he’s a good enough coach – there hasn’t been the time or the proper circumstances in force to make a reliable judgement on that. But the players seem to like him – and aren’t they the best ones to ask, normally?

Back to the Bradford game. Once Luke “Stupid Boy” Murphy signed his own dismissal warrant, there were three possible objectives for Leeds United. In ascending order of importance, least important first: get to the next round of the Cup. OK, we didn’t make it, so what. We weren’t far off, in the end. Secondly; secure local bragging rights. I’d argue we managed that, making a good fist of a rearguard action against a spirited and motivated Bradford, and taking the lead against those formidable odds. Relative to the Man U debacle, we’ve no need to be ashamed of the effort and commitment of our ten warriors at Bradford. But the most important objective was to use an adverse situation to kick-start the bonding and gelling of this new group, under a new coach. The hour of battle against superior numbers in a hostile atmosphere will have gone a long way towards getting that process under way – and that really IS important, with the vast bulk of this nascent season still ahead of us.

In truth, I’m sick of the current situation, sick of the poisonous atmosphere in that odd virtual world, which is so much less apparent in the more old-fashioned world where fans still go to the match and get behind the shirts – I’m sick to death of so many of Leeds United’s yappier, dafter and more deluded fans – a vociferous but less than cerebral group I can only describe, rather impolitely, as the Gobshite Tendency. It’s a toxic mix, for anyone who loves the club, and I really am less than happy with it right now – so I shall return for the time being to looking after my family and parents as they struggle with real problems, far more intimidating than the daft footballing ones which seem to provoke such nastiness in some people. I’ve had enough, for the moment. So, as on a few occasions before, I shall take refuge in the past. I’ll write some nostalgia pieces, starting with one I promised a while back to my good mate Andy Gregory, of the excellent “We All Love Leeds” blog. We beat Southampton 7-0 in that one – but if Twitter had been around then, I’m sure there’d have been some eejits moaning that it should have been eight or nine and calling for the Don to be sacked. Just now, it really is that daft and annoying.

So – see you back in the Seventies, maybe.