Tag Archives: Champions League

Cellino Sells Leeds Utd to Russian Oil Baron in £7.4 Billion Coup   –   by Rob Atkinson

A Russian oil field, yesterday

A Russian oil field, yesterday

NB: This article should be read with extreme cynicism after 12 noon on April 1st. 

Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino is on the point of completing the sale of his holdings in the company that owns Leeds United in a surprise mega-millions deal that will see the club bankrolled into the Champions League, a spokesperson for Eleonora Sports has confirmed. 

The shock deal has been brokered in the last seven days between oil billionaire Aprelya Pervyy and Cellino’s personal representative Avril Primero. While the share purchase price is given as “in the tens of millions”, it is understood that the total deal will be worth almost seven and a half BILLION pounds sterling, with the purchase of Elland Road, the foundation of a new triple A class Academy and the establishment of a new LUTV channel on the Sky platform factored in.

The new owners are believed to be targeting Champions League success within three years, to coincide with the club’s centenary celebrations in 2019. Financial Fair Play restrictions are “unlikely” to be seen as a barrier to success, with infrastructure investment through several specially set-up companies enabling United to compete at the top end of the transfer market.

With the deal due to be completed before the summer transfer window opens, the close season is expected to be a busy time for Leeds, with “significant behind the scenes restructuring” anticipated. Hollywood A-Lister and lifelong Whites fan Russell Crowe is confirmed as being uninvolved at this stage, but is believed to be monitoring the situation from his base in Australia. Crowe has been quoted recently as stating he is “impatient for success” at Leeds; that long wait could now be about to end. 

No further developments are expected today, but Cellino may have a statement to make as early as tomorrow, April the 2nd. 

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Happy Birthday to the Last English Champion – by Rob Atkinson

Howard Wilkochamperscap-300x193

Sgt Wilko – Champion

Another Leeds United birthday to mark with an appropriate tribute for all the man did for our great club. This time it’s someone who is a contemporary of those 70-somethings who have celebrated recently – the likes of Paul Madeley, Norman Hunter, Paul Reaney and Johnny Giles – but who was never, by his own acknowledgement, anything more than mediocre as a player himself. In the managerial arena though, Howard Wilkinson – 72 years old today – has outstripped virtually all of the Revie greats, winning the last ever Football League Championship, going down in history as the last Englishman to win the league in the 20th Century and masterminding the second incarnation of a winning Leeds team from a starting point remarkably similar to that which Don Revie inherited in the early sixties.

Wilko’s career after his playing days ended was an upward graph of coaching success from humble beginnings, but he went on to have two stints as caretaker-manager of England, as well as spells with Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday and Notts County. It is for his time at Leeds United, though, that he will be remembered as a football manager who walked into what had become a poisoned chalice of a job, a club with a revolving door on the manager’s office and one which had signally failed to recapture the magic of its one great period at the top of the game. Wilkinson came in with the air of a man who was going to put a stop to all the nonsense and set matters straight. Let the record show that he succeeded, beyond the wildest dreams of any Leeds fan at the time he was appointed.

In TV interviews at that time, he could be seen by the side of chairman Leslie Silver, regarding his coffee cup with little enthusiasm and mildly joking that he hoped we’d be able to afford better crockery when he got us winning. Leeds were treading deep water at the bottom end of the old Second Division, and had been looking more likely to proceed downwards from that point than up; a situation uncannily similar to the one Don Revie found in 1961. Both men would be able to count on the bounteous fruits of a productive academy, though Revie felt able to blood his precocious youths somewhat earlier than Wilko could in his reign. But where Don found his Bobby Collins, so Howard was able to persuade Gordon Strachan to step down a league and be the catalyst for a revival that may not have been as enduring as Revie’s, but was arguably even more meteoric and spectacular.

Wilko joined for the still fairly new 1988-89 season, and spent the rest of that campaign overhauling discipline at the club and bringing about his own type of working environment. The graph spiked upwards from there. In his first full season, with a batch of good, solid recruits added – and after an uncertain start – Leeds went top of the league and hardly faltered until promotion and the Championship were clinched on a sunny day in Bournemouth. A season of high achievement followed as Leeds swiftly found their feet back in the top flight after an eight year absence. United did far more than consolidate, battling away at the top end to finish an eminently respectable fourth, as well as reaching two domestic semi-finals. The following season was the last of the old-style Football League, and Wilko’s Leeds achieved immortality by winning the Title by four clear points to become the Last Champions. Less than four years after joining a club going nowhere but downhill, Howard Wilkinson had restored Leeds United to the very pinnacle of the game. It had taken Don Revie twice as long to win his first League Title.

While all this had been going on, Howard and his staff had been overseeing the development of an Academy setup which would go on to produce many stars towards the end of the century; many players who are still flourishing at the top level had their start in what was rightly famed as a world-class breeding ground for football talent.

One of the main regrets of the Wilkinson era at Leeds is that he did not survive long enough in the job to introduce these home-grown prodigies into the first team himself. But Wilko’s later years at Leeds coincided with boardroom uncertainty and financial mismanagement, both of which had their effect on sales and recruitment policy. So, we lost a Speed here and a Batty there and the likes of Carlton Palmer and Nigel Worthington came in; the club was reduced to offering pre-retirement homes to such as Ian Rush and David O’Leary. O’Leary it was, after a George Graham interregnum, who gained the most from Wilkinson’s enlightened youth development programme. Looking back, it’s clear that things could have worked out differently – quite probably the seeds of our 21st Century disaster were sown in Wilko’s 1996 sacking.

Howard Wilkinson stands alone behind Don Revie as Leeds United’s second-greatest manager, and probably as one of the more wronged men to have lost his job when so much of it had already been done to ensure the club’s own crop of major stars. As before, Leeds lacked the courage and patience to see it through; but these things are always clearer with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight.

Happy Birthday, Sergeant Wilko – you’ll always be remembered fondly at Elland Road, and your place in the history of English football is secure.

Three Top, TOP Leeds United Away Trips – by Rob Atkinson

We all have our favourite LUFC memories, and many will relate to games away from LS11.  Here, in reverse order, are my three favourite road trips following The Whites.

3. Sheffield Wednesday 1, Leeds United 6 12.1.1992

Image

Sergeant Wilko

This was Sergeant Wilko’s first return to Wednesday since he had quit Hillsborough to become Leeds boss in 1988.  It would also be Lee Chapman’s last game before his season-threatening FA Cup injury, which resulted in the drafting in of one Eric Cantona – with all the long term consequences that would entail.  But Chappy was destined to be sidelined only temporarily, and he went out in the most emphatic style.

There was a crowd of 32228 at Hillsborough, the usual vociferous contingent of travelling Leeds fans rivalling the home crowd for noise from the outset, and completely drowning them as the game went on.  Leeds United were weakened, so it seemed, by the absence of the injured Gordon Strachan and suspended David Batty, half of their legendary midfield Fantastic Four.  Any side, surely, would miss performers of such calibre.  Leeds, though, seemed determined to make light of the problem, and tore into their hosts from the start.  Full-back Tony Dorigo made an early darting run, cutting in from the left and making good progress down the centre of the pitch, before unleashing a right-foot thunderbolt that Wednesday ‘keeper Chris Woods had to tip over.  From the resulting Gary MacAllister corner, Chris Fairclough rose to head downwards, and found Chapman in splendid isolation four yards out; his finish swift and deadly for 1-0.

For a local derby, the contest had been decidedly one-way traffic – Chapman was to send two towering headers just wide before Carl Shutt had a scuffed shot smothered by Woods in the home goal.  Then, a true champagne moment as Mel Sterland fed the ball to Chapman on the right.  In a completely untypical burst of pace and control, Chappy surged between two hapless Wednesday defenders, raced into the area, and unleashed a shot that beat Woods completely, just clipping the frame of the goal to rapturous applause from the Leeds fans at the Leppings Lane End.  I remember thinking at the time that anything was possible now, if Lee Chapman could do something so utterly out of character.  And so it proved as, from a free kick awarded just right of centre some ten yards outside the box, Dorigo stepped up to absolutely hammer a left foot drive past the helpless Woods.  Cue mayhem and cavortings as the Leeds hordes behind the goal, celebrated as clean a strike as you could ever wish to see, the ball a blur as it arrowed into the far corner with deadly precision and power.

At 2-0 down, the home side were making increasingly desperate attempts to gain some sort of foothold in the match.  This desperation was adequately demonstrated when, from a harmless-looking ball into the Leeds area, Wednesday striker Gordon Watson ran in front of Chris Whyte, continued on for another step or two, and then hurled himself into the air, landing in agonised paroxysms of simulation between a bemused Whyte and Leeds ‘keeper John Lukic.  Such obvious fraud and villainy could have only one outcome, and the stadium held its collective breath for sentence to be passed on the miscreant.  Instead – amazingly – referee Philip Don pointed to the spot.  Whether none of the officials had seen the extent of Watson’s ham-acting, or whether they were moved by sympathy for the mauling Wednesday were taking from a rampant Leeds, it’s impossible to tell.  The outcome was the same either way.  Ex-Leeds hero John Sheridan stepped up, saw his penalty brilliantly saved as Lukic tipped it against his right-hand post, and then gleefully belted home the rebound to give Wednesday a massively unmerited lifeline.

This act of base and scurvy treachery required nothing less than a riposte of the utmost nobility and beauty, so we said to ourselves, though probably in more Anglo-Saxon terms.  And, happily, that’s just what came to pass.  Only six minutes after the home side’s ridiculous blagging of a comically unfair route back into the game, Leeds took effortless control again with a goal sublime in both its conception and execution.  Lukic bowled the ball out to Dorigo on the left flank; he sent it first time down the line to Gary Speed, who took one steadying touch before sending a beautiful flighted cross into the Wednesday area.  And there, inevitably, was Chapman, horizontal in mid-air, neck cocked to hammer the ball unanswerably past Woods, the perfect counterpunch to Watson’s knavish low blow.  It was a gorgeous goal, sweeping the length of the left side, taking the entire home team right out of the game, and re-establishing the two goal margin which was the least Leeds United deserved at half-time.

The second half that ensued was simply a story of how a blood-and-thunder Yorkshire derby turned into a stroll in the park for Leeds United.  It seemed as if all the life had been sucked out of the home team – a Wednesday side who, let’s not forget, were unbeaten at home since the opening day of the season, and who would go on to finish third in the table.  So they were no mugs, but Leeds United were absolutely irresistible on the day, and would have hammered far better teams than the hapless, bewildered Owls.

It’s possible that Wednesday were simply embarrassed about that cringe-worthy penalty, possibly they were dog-tired, having been run ragged since the start.  Whatever the case, their heads dropped steadily further and further as the game progressed, and they offered little resistance as Leeds proceeded to throttle the life out of them.  Chapman completed his hat-trick five minutes after the hour, heading in after Speed had struck the bar from a corner.  Poor Speedo was looking the other way, bemoaning his bad luck when the ball hit the back of the net after all, turning his frustration to joy.  Then, perennial bit-part player Mike Whitlow ventured forward, just because he could, and rose unchallenged to meet Rod Wallace’s right-wing cross and head easily over a stranded Woods.  It was left to little Wallace to administer the coup de grâce, striding clear after a shimmering exchange of passes in midfield to dink the ball over the advancing ‘keeper, and put the suffering home side finally out of their misery.  A highly satisfactory awayday slaughter of the Wendies.

2. AC Milan 1, Leeds United 1 8.11.2000

Dom Matteo....Scored A Very Good Goal....In The San Siro...

Dom Matteo….Scored A Very Good Goal….In The San Siro…

This match is so famous that I barely need to recount the action kick by kick.  The Leeds fans at one end of the San Siro were in fully, throaty voice for most of the proceedings, drawing incredulous glances from the attendant Carabinieri who were in full-on riot gear but friendly enough, muttering to each other about lunatic English tifosi (hooligans.)  The first half was a decent contest – Milan were through already, but not disposed to give Leeds an easy ride – especially after paranoid noises emanating from Barcelona, who – nervous about their own prospects – had done their best to warn Milan off taking it easy against Leeds.  So Milan pressed in front of a crowd of 52289, and their winger Serginho was causing Gary Kelly plenty of problems.  In the 26th minute, a slightly soft penalty was awarded to Milan at our end of the stadium, and 6000 Leeds fans held their collective breath as Andriy Shevchenko took careful aim only to rap Robinson’s right-hand post, the ball bouncing away to safety as the masses behind our goal celebrated as if we’d actually scored.  And then, miraculously, as the first half ebbed away, we did score.  A Lee Bowyer corner from the right found Matteo rising majestically at the near post to meet the ball with a punchy header which soared high into the net.  Cue utter pandemonium at the Leeds end as all the tension, passion and belief exploded in one almighty roar which almost lifted the hi-tec roof off the famous stadium.

The party went on throughout half-time and into the second half, drawing more bemused glances from the Italian police; there was only a brief hiatus in the 67th minute when the superb Serginho deservedly equalised, but then it was mounting fan fever again all the way to the final whistle and beyond as Leeds held out to qualify for an equally difficult second phase of the competition.  The scenes after the game are at least as famous as the events of the ninety minutes; the team coming back out onto the pitch in response to the demands of the faithful who were held back in the interests of crowd safety.  What followed was described by respected football commentators (as well as Alan Green) as the best example of team/fan bonding they’d ever seen.  Fans and players – even a certain Chairman – swapped chants and songs in a spontaneous celebration of a joyous night.  Even the uncertain musical efforts of Lee Bowyer were greeted by a blast of friendly derision.  It was a unique experience, and the Latin cops were clearly by now utterly convinced that these English people were absolutely barking mad.  As football nights go, you’d have to travel a long way to find one more worthy of memory – only a trophy could have improved it, but the spectacle of the game and its aftermath is one I have seen imitated but never repeated.

1. Sheffield United 2, Leeds United 3 – 26.4.1992

Jon Newsome, Superstar

Jon Newsome, Superstar

If you’re a Leeds supporter, you’ll have seen the goals from this game hundreds, thousands of time.  It plays through now, all these years later, in the Football Highlights studio of my mind; joy for the home side as Alan Cork, gleaming of bald pate, pokes the ball home to give Sheffield the lead.  Then, a midfield tussle in the swirling wind, as Leeds try valiantly to come back.  A late first-half free kick, which Gordon Strachan races to take before the home defence can set themselves, he finds Rod Wallace in the area who tips the ball past home keeper Mel Rees’s attempt to save, defenders scramble to clear, only to hit Gary Speed who bounces the ball back to ricochet off Wallace – into the net.  Pandemonium in the away end.   Level at half time, we’re breathless with drama and the hurly-burly of it all, raucous with United anthems, nervous of what’s yet to come.

The crazy game continues crazily.  A dangerous ball across the Leeds box is retrieved by home defender and future Leeds man John Pemberton, who turns it back towards the goal-line where Lee Chapman sticks out a leg for an own-goal greeted with horrified stupefaction by the Leeds fans behind the goal and we’re level again.  Then enfant terrible Eric Cantona enters the fray, and within a few minutes he is chasing a loose ball into the Sheffield half, with Rod Wallace scampering alongside and home defender Brian Gayle lumbering back in a desperate attempt to clear the danger.  And it’s Gayle, former Man City man, who finally slays Man United.  From my vantage point at the opposite end of the ground I see him get his head to the ball, and the action is suddenly slow motion.  Gayle has headed the ball, poor Mel Rees is stranded far out of his goal, the ball goes over his head in a slow, slow loop, and bounces tantalisingly towards the unguarded net…

Then I’m watching at full speed from the far end as Cantona and Wallace raise their arms in triumph, wheeling away in delight, and even as I wonder what they’re up to I realise that the ball has nestled in the Sheffield United net.  A red mist descends, and I am utterly outside of my skull and beside myself in delirious joy and fevered madness, looking around me, roaring like a demented bull, face congested with blood, eyes bulging; I grab a helpless wee St John’s Ambulance man by his lapels and scream beer and spittle into his terrified face “Get me some oxygeeeennnn!!!  I’m going to have a heart attaaaack!!!”  The mad moment passes, I drop the ashen medic and some measure of sanity returns, but we’re still cavorting and diving all over each other, a seething, sweating mass of Leeds, because we know it’s over, we know that Sheffield are beaten, and we know that Man U don’t have an earthly at Anfield, not a prayer.  We were going to be Champions; on that windiest and gustiest of days, a Gayle from Manchester City has blown the Scum away and decided in an instant the fate of all three Uniteds from Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

And so, of course, it panned out.  Later I watched mesmerised on TV as Liverpool beat a demoralised Man U, Denis Law and Ian St John trying to put a brave face on it, Elton Welsby’s foot bobbing away in thwarted anger as the script turned out just as none of them wanted.  Ian Rush scored his first ever goal against Them, and it was settled late on as Man U concede a second.  “And now the title goes to Leeds without any doubt at all” intoned Brian Moore in the ITV commentary as I sat there with tears of joy streaming down my unashamed face.  Gary Lineker had called into the studio earlier to complain that Rod Wallace’s goal had been offside (it was).  St John and Moore bemoaned that Man U had had no luck at all, and Welsby ground his teeth in the studio as the Man U fans outside hurled abuse at him, heedless of the fact that he shared their bitter disappointment.  All was frustration in the media and the rest of football and Leeds fans everywhere utterly failed to give a toss.  My finest hour as a Leeds fan, and my greatest ever awayday.

-oO0Oo-

Two from the same season, and one abroad that was “only” a draw – but each had a special appeal for me among the many away games I’ve seen.  I could have chosen so many others, going right back to my first ever away game, a 3-1 League Cup win at Bolton in 1977.  Still in the League Cup, there was that 6-0 win over Leicester City at Filbert Street, on a night when Robbie Savage never gave up, but proved that he was even worse than we thought.  How could we have known that he’d be worse yet as a pundit?

The golden memories are so many, I could possibly have managed a top ten quite easily.  I’d love to hear which away games others rank as their best memories.

Scintillating Arsenal So Nearly “Do a Leeds” (In a Good Way)   –   by Rob Atkinson

Özil - weakest link

Mesut Özil – weakest link in Monaco

In 1995, Leeds United were ‘The Team That Broke the Hearts in Monte Carlo’, courtesy of an unanswered hat-trick from the mighty Anthony Yeboah, striker extraordinaire. United cruised to a 3-0 win at the Stade Louis II, home of AS Monaco – and nothing like that has happened to the Ligue 1 giants again in the almost two decades since. But on Tuesday evening, a massively dominant Arsenal side came so agonisingly close to emulating Wilko’s Warriors and creating history for their club with the biggest Champions League comeback since Leeds themselves recovered from 3-0 down to VfB Stuttgart.

Back in those carefree, pre-meltdown days, Leeds United – three years or so after becoming The Last Champions – still had comfortably enough shots in their locker to give most teams a pretty tough time. A Yeboah-inspired blistering start to that season provided no hint of a clue as to the disappointment that lay ahead, with a pallid Wembley League Cup Final surrender to Aston Villa – where the seeds of Sergeant Wilko’s demise were sown. But in this early season purple patch, United were laying about them to devastating effect, with Masterblaster Yeboah scoring goal after rocket goal. Tony scored more goals of the season in that two or three months than most strikers could dream of in a career.

The assortment against the hapless Monégasques included his usual worldy, sandwiched between two more mortal efforts. That second goal was so typically Tony, instant control in the inside right channel, a sinuous turn past his marker as he progressed to the edge of the area, and a wonderful, curling finish at pace into the far top rigging. Sublime. Things looked really good for Leeds – and just around the corner lay the transfer coup of the year as world superstar Tomas Brolin signed for the Whites from Italian club Parma. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. 

Arsenal’s challenge on Tuesday night was precisely the emulation of that Leeds feat all but twenty years ago. The Gooners had to score three, or they were out of the Champions League – it was as simple as that. In the end, they fell just short – fatally damaged by a clueless performance in defeat at The Emirates – but they could take a lot of pride and encouragement from an utterly dominant return display that, in truth, should have seen the Pride of North London progress, against long, long odds. Little was lacking in a performance better even than the one that ejected Man U from the FA Cup days prior to this Riviera trip. Perhaps the weakest link on the night was Mesut Özil, as quite frankly he has been too often this season. A tendency towards misplacing final balls and running into instead of past defenders in one-on-one situations, may well have been the difference between narrow failure and spectacular success. Perhaps Özil can fill his boots in what remains of the Arse’s bid to retain the FA Cup. On this evidence, he owes his club and fans that much at least. 

The comparison between two European matches, twenty years apart, featuring my beloved Leeds and my much-admired Arsenal, reminds me that one of the young subs for Monaco that night in 1995 was a pre-Juventus youth by the name of Thierry Henry. He went on to do reasonably well for the Gooners and indeed played his part in the Premier League demise of Leeds by blasting several goals past us at Highbury in the early noughties. Henry’s loyalties were probably with Arsenal the other night in Monaco, as were the loyalties of this Leeds United fan, despite my love for and fond memories of the principality of Monaco. 

In the end, though, all of us who were hoping against hope for a Gunners recovery from that pallid home leg defeat, ended up disappointed – and yet thrilled by what had been a fantastic game with a real edge-of-the-seat climax to it. And – cold comfort though this would be to dedicated Arsenal fans – it was a match that revived memories of a golden night long ago when the Whites invaded France and prevailed through the sublime performance of a Ghanaian genius. 

It’s always futile to wish for the impossible – and anyway, while he lasted in England, he was ours – but how Arsenal could have done with Tony Yeboah, as he was in his prime, on Tuesday night.

What IS the Point of Tottenham Hotspur? – by Rob Atkinson

Arsenal, London's PrideArsenal, London’s Pride

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything is celebrating the FA Cup exit, at the hands of Leicester City, of Tottenham Hotspur FC – by reprinting this highly popular anti-Spuds article.

Thank you.

As a Leeds fan, I’m quite familiar with the whole big club/small club debate – who qualifies as “big”, what are the qualifying criteria? If you currently have a crap team, does that mean you’re suddenly a crap club? And so on and so forth, ad nauseam. It’s not really a question that preoccupies me too much – certainly not to the extent of the Freudian fixation with size that afflicts the plastic followers of a certain Salford-based franchise fallen upon hard times – but it can be annoying if you follow a club like Leeds United, with all the rich tradition of the Revie era and even allowing for the fact that our history before those great days was a bit of a void. But what I’d normally argue is that, look – we’ve been Champions three times in my lifetime, we have a global fanbase and a worldwide notoriety (I won’t call it adoration), a massive web presence which show how many people count the Whites as a big part of their lives – and absolutely no significant local rivals at all. Ergo, we are big. End of.

But what of certain other clubs who are routinely referred to as “big” – not to say massive or even as a “mega-club”? Tottenham Hotspur are a bit of a peculiar animal in this respect. From some points of view, they are certainly a club of significant size.  They have a decent stadium in a major city. They deal towards the top end of the transfer market and they’ve been a steady member of the top-flight since the mid-seventies, picking up the odd trinket here and there. But Spurs have two major problems: the first is that they haven’t been Champions since 1961 – a major flaw for a club with any pretensions to size and a place in the forefront of the game. The second problem may be succinctly summed-up as “Arsenal FC”, their fierce local rivals and the team that undeniably thwarts them at every turn.

Arsenal have been stomping all over poor old Spurs for a good while now – and of course, they’ve been and gone and done it time and time again in terms of Champions League qualification, edging the hapless Spuds out repeatedly over the past few seasons. The presence of Arsenal as Tottenham’s neighbours, rivals and perennial bêtes-noires is a major obstacle to their chances of ever being regarded as a mega-club, a status that Arsenal wear casually, as of right.  Arsenal, after all, have generally been top dogs in North London, certainly over the past fifty years. They’ve had stability in the managerial chair since the mid-nineties and not that long before Wenger it was George Graham importing large quantities of silverware into the stadium graced by the famous marble halls.

Even the Gooners’ recent potless run, terminated by last May’s FA Cup success, has not detracted from Arsenal’s ability to regard Tottenham from a lofty position of pre-eminence. In the fallow period, the Gooners nevertheless played football of a sumptuous beauty and brilliance, and just as importantly they managed the transition from a famous old home to a spectacular and world-class new one. The financial burden that went with this is steadily being seen off – and yet it’s a process that Spurs have yet to embark upon. Will they negotiate it as well as the Arse have? Highly doubtful.

The sad fact as far as Tottenham are concerned is that this continued subordination to a comparatively humble status will always be a glass ceiling that they will find impossible to break through, certainly if Arsenal now blossom into one of their title-winning incarnations, capable of dominating the domestic scene for years at a stretch. And Spurs need to be up there with the big boys if they are to come anywhere near the kind of status their fans expect and desire.

The youngest of those fans who can remember the last Spurs team to be champions will be coming up for retirement any time now. It was the year that I was born. That’s a hell of an indictment for a so-called “big club” – not really elite form at all. Consider all the other clubs who have any real pretensions to this elevated status in the game. They’ve all been Champions at some point in the last 40 years – even Man U, who couldn’t win the real thing after 1967, have gorged on the post-Murdoch pale imitation. Spurs can’t realistically claim to belong in this exclusive company of Champions – they’re really just a slightly inflated West Ham.

Perennial Champions League qualification is a great advantage for Arsenal, but being on the wrong end of that equation is proving to be a major disaster for Spurs. They lost the jewel in their crown to Real Madrid, and however many millions Gareth Bale brought in, it’s difficult to see where Tottenham, despite their own transfer spree, have a replacement on their books of anything like the same quality, young Master Kane notwithstanding (and he’s not as good as Lewis Cook…) All the best players get routinely gobbled up by the Champions League cartel and Tottenham are in very real danger of becoming the richest club to have their noses pressed up against the window of the House of Quality, yearning to be inside but kept out of the spotlight by their more illustrious neighbours.

That has to be a scary prospect for the proud fans of White Hart Lane, but it’s entirely realistic. Spurs may, with their serial Champions League exclusion and the still-painful loss of their talisman Bale (however ineffective he was against Sam Byram in that FA Cup tie at Elland Road), have blown their chances of ever again being thought of as a genuinely BIG club.

And if that’s the case – then, really… what IS the point of Tottenham Hotspur?

Simeone’s Tantrum Must Have Been Real-ly Sweet for Beckham – by Rob Atkinson

Mr. Angry "Cholo" Simeone

Mr. Angry “Cholo” Simeone

Atlético Madrid 1, Real Madrid 4 (aet) – Champions League Final 2014

David Beckham must have permitted himself the slightest of malicious smiles in the wake of his former club Real Madrid’s Champions League triumph over city rivals Atlético, who were coached by Beckham’s World Cup ’98 nemesis Diego Simeone. Those of a certain age will readily remember how the wily Argentinian fouled Beckham, who petulantly kicked out at his antagonist instead of getting up and getting on with it.

Beckham was foolish, but Simeone had exploited the situation to his best advantage, admitting later that he feigned injury from the kick in order to get the England player sent off.  That’s exactly what happened, and the gallant ten men of England ended up going out on penalties in a familiar hard luck story. The unfortunate if misguided Beckham was vilified at home for his immature reaction to Simeone’s deliberate provocation, something he took years to live down.  Surely he must have harboured some resentment ever since?

If he has, then that resentment might just have had the edge taken off it at the end of the Champions League Final in Lisbon at the weekend.  Leading 1-0 deep into stoppage time, Simeone’s Atlético team were cruelly pegged back by an equaliser in the 93rd minute.  In extra time, Real’s class told as they ran out 4-1 winners – all of which proved a touch too much for the temperamental Simeone, who completely lost it on the touchline and appeared to be trying to get at the referee or others on the pitch who had offended his sensibilities.

For Beckham, it must have felt like the ultimate pay-off.  He’d had quite a bit of his own back for the disaster of ’98 by scoring a penalty against Argentina to defeat them 1-0 in the group stages of the 2002 World Cup, which would prove to be Simeone’s last appearance on that exalted stage. But to see one of his former clubs in Real inflict such a hammer-blow on his old enemy must have been a moment of great satisfaction – human nature being what it is.

Simeone, who has had great success this season as his team won la Liga, consigning Real to the ignominy of third spot, felt this reverse as a bitter blow to which he clearly reacted bitterly.  It’s almost certain that he will face UEFA sanctions for his unseemly display as Atlético’s defeat was confirmed – and the way in which the baser end of his nature was revealed will long be remembered by those who were queuing up to praise him in advance of the Lisbon final.

It had even been suggested in that run-up to the game that a film should be made of the rise of the Madrid underdogs, with Burt Lancaster playing the part of coach “Cholo” Simeone.  Quite apart from the fact that Lancaster would find this a difficult role to play, on account of having been dead these past 20 years, it may now be felt that he wasn’t in any case an appropriate actor to portray Cholo’s complex mixture of passion, slyness and thuggery.

Vinnie & Eric

United old boys Vinnie & Eric

As to who possibly could play this demanding role – a cross between former Leeds United stars turned film actors Vinnie Jones and Eric Cantona might just be ideal, if impossible to find outside of this blog’s imagination.  It’s just a thought, after all – but apart from the errant Argie portraying himself, I just can’t think of a better candidate.

How San Siro Dom Matteo Became a Leeds Legend – by Rob Atkinson

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Dom Matteo scores to become a United legend

However much pedants may argue about when the third millennium started – January 1, 2000, or a year later – the season 2000-01 was the first proper 21st Century season, and it was also my annus mirabilis European campaign; having never seen my beloved Leeds play abroad up to this point, I witnessed them competing at the highest level in three true cathedrals of continental football.  Incidentally, I’ve always favoured the Jan 1, 2000 date as the start of the millennium – that’s when the most spectacular fireworks kicked off, that’s when the magical sight of four numerals clicking over was seen – and most importantly that’s when Leeds United were heading the Premiership table, marking what will probably be football’s only thousand year threshold by sitting proudly at the top of the game – a position that the media had been frantically speculating might have been held by the lesser United from the wrong side of the Pennines.

More about other parts of this memorable season elsewhere, but my European experience started in a “sports bar” on Westgate in Wakefield, watching nervously on a big screen as Leeds negotiated the second leg of a tricky Champions League qualifying tie against 1860 Munich.  We were ahead 2-1 from the first leg in Leeds, and such a narrow lead was never that secure.  In the end though, Alan Smith scored the only goal in Munich to close out the tie 3-1 on aggregate.  The subsequent draw saw United pitted against giants Barcelona and Milan as well as Turkish side Besiktas in an incredibly tough first qualifying group.  I was on holiday with my wife and young daughter on a campsite in the South of France when the first game was played, in Spain.  Callously abandoning my ladies to their fate, I impulsively jumped on a train from St Raphael to Barcelona, installed myself in a hotel with a swimming pool on the roof, bought a ticket from a tout, and watched from the midst of the fanatical home support – the Boixos Nois (Crazy Boys) – as Leeds, fielding a side decimated by injuries, slid to a 4-0 defeat.

If you’d told me then that we were destined for the last four, I’d have laughed long and bitterly, but I did enjoy every moment of my first European away-day in the palatial surroundings of the Camp Nou.  I still have two souvenirs – a plastic seat cushion and a big St Georges flag with LUFC Oxford Whites printed on it, which a group of Barca fans had captured and were waving in triumph at the end.  Stupidly, I approached them, feeling that a 0-4 defeat was humiliation enough, and demanded it back (quite politely).  I was getting snarls and throat-slitting gestures, and I remember mumbling something along the lines of “Barcelona no es Galatasaray”, which they seemed to take to heart.  Some of the lads’ girlfriends were regarding me pityingly, obviously wondering if I was drunk, or mad, or both – and to my relief they urged their men to show restraint.  Luckily for me, the lads seemed to listen – they handed the flag over, anyway – but if they’d known that we were destined to eliminate them from the competition, I doubt they’d have been so conciliatory.

The group then ebbed and flowed – but most results after that first defeat went our way.  We beat Milan at home, courtesy of Lee Bowyer‘s late winner which slithered through the Milan keeper’s grasp like a bar of soap on that soaking wet night.  Interviewed afterwards, Bowyer confessed his surprise and delight in tones of pure Albert Square – he hadn’t expected his shot to count because it “weren’t in the cawner” – but United were firmly back on track.  Then, we came so, so close to beating Barça at Elland Road, denied only at the very death after a world-class display from our inexperienced but brilliant young ‘keeper Paul Robinson – and we absolutely thrashed Besiktas by 6-0.  When it came to the last round of group games, the equation was simple – if we could avoid defeat at the San Siro, we would be through to the next stage, whatever Barcelona did to Besiktas.

And so I found myself on an early-morning flight from Leeds Bradford Airport to Milan Malpensa, along with thousands of other Leeds fans intoxicated at the prospect of a famous evening in a truly magnificent stadium.  We would arrive in Milan with plenty of time to look around the place before meeting up with coaches to the stadium, and it proved an eventful day.  There had been violence the previous night, a Leeds fan had been attacked and wounded in an incident which evoked horrific memories of the awful scenes in Istanbul just a few months before.  The city of Milan had been declared “dry” for the day, so it was extremely difficult to find a bar which would serve an obvious Leeds fan.  I was contented enough though, just wandering around the amazing Cathedral Square where I met legend and Leeds fan Ralph Ineson, of “Harry Potter” movie fame, and also memorably “Finchy” in the BBC’s “The Office”.  He was happy to have a chat and a photo, and then I ambled off to have a peek at the world famous La Scala Opera House, where my wife’s great-grandfather had been a violinist, so that was my passing nod to family history.

Finally, with the afternoon stretching before me, I bumped into an old mate from home – we both exclaimed stupidly “What are you doing here?” – and we managed to find a bar that was open, and spent a couple of hours relaxing and happily anticipating the match ahead.  The bar owner was friendly – so much so that he felt able to pop out on some errand, leaving us in charge.  The fearsome reputation of some Leeds fans had evidently failed to penetrate this far into the bar culture of Milano.

The match itself is so famous that I barely need to recount the action kick by kick.  The Leeds fans at one end of the stadium were in fully, throaty voice for most of the proceedings, drawing incredulous glances from the attendant Carabinieri who were in full-on riot gear but friendly enough, muttering to each other about lunatic English tifosi (hooligans.)  The first half was a decent contest – Milan were through already, but not disposed to give Leeds an easy ride – especially after paranoid noises emanating from Barcelona, who – nervous about their own prospects – had done their best to warn Milan off taking it easy against Leeds.  So Milan pressed in front of a crowd of 52289, and their winger Serginho was causing Gary Kelly plenty of problems.  In the 26th minute, a slightly soft penalty was awarded to Milan at our end of the stadium, and 6000 Leeds fans held their collective breath as Andriy Shevchenko took careful aim only to rap Robinson’s right-hand post, the ball bouncing away to safety as the masses behind our goal celebrated as if we’d actually scored.  And then, miraculously, as the first half ebbed away, we did score.  A Lee Bowyer corner from the right found Matteo rising majestically at the near post to meet the ball with a punchy header which soared high into the net.  Cue utter pandemonium at the Leeds end as all the tension, passion and belief exploded in one almighty roar which almost lifted the hi-tec roof off the famous stadium.

The party went on throughout half-time and into the second half, drawing more bemused glances from the Italian police; there was only a brief hiatus in the 67th minute when the superb Serginho deservedly equalised, but then it was mounting fan fever again all the way to the final whistle and beyond as Leeds held out to qualify for an equally difficult second phase of the competition.  The scenes after the game are at least as famous as the events of the ninety minutes; the team coming back out onto the pitch in response to the demands of the faithful who were held back in the interests of crowd safety.  What followed was described by respected football commentators (plus Alan Green) as the best example of team/fan bonding they’d ever seen.  Fans and players – even a certain Chairman and tropical fish fan – swapped chants and songs in a spontaneous celebration of a joyous night.  The uncertain musical efforts of Lee Bowyer were greeted by a blast of friendly derision as he looked suitably embarrassed.  It was a unique experience, and the Latin cops were clearly by now utterly convinced that these English people were absolutely barking mad.  As football nights go, you’d have to travel a long way to find one more worthy of memory – only a trophy could have improved it, but the spectacle of the game and its aftermath is one I have seen imitated but never repeated.

Dom Matteo, the hero of the hour, was simply a likeable and committed defender before that night, clearly delighted to be Leeds; the kind of player the Kop takes to its heart.  But after that night, he was elevated to demigod status, a true Leeds legend with his own song and a place on a pedestal in the United Hall of Fame.  The choice last season of Dom as a Football Ambassador for the club seemed obvious – but really it was utterly inspired.  This beloved ex-player and respected press commentator, dispensing common sense when all about him has been hysteria, sends out only the most positive of vibes.  He is the sort of person we need to see closely associated with the club, so his involvement in any capacity was a move to be applauded.  Just get Lucas “The Chief” Radebe back on board now, and we’ll be cooking with gas.

Thanks, Dom.  Thanks for being a voice of sanity in the press these past few years, thanks also for coming back to reassert your love of the club.  And thanks most of all for that memorable night in Milan.

Leeds Lad James Milner Stars in Champions League “Tale of One City” – by Rob Atkinson

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Milner – star performance

It was a Tale of One City in the Champions League last night, as both Manchester clubs managed to overcome the odds and triumph in their last group games to progress into the knockout stage of the competition.  Leeds United fans – the ones who can cast their minds back to before the start of the nightmarish downhill run to near-oblivion – will have been pleased and not a little proud to see one of our own put in a dominant display against reigning European Champions Bayern Munich.

Milner’s excellent performance for City will have just slightly nibbled away at the extreme edge of exacting the tiniest morsel of revenge for a 38-year-old injustice. Paris 1975 – ’nuff said.  It’s only a crumb of comfort – but still, it was so good to see a lad with Leeds engraved on his heart sticking it up Bayern Munich, whatever shirt he was wearing.  And Milner’s performance last night in the Allianz Arena was one of his very, very best.

It had started out badly for City, patently out-played in the opening movement of what would turn out to be an opus of two halves. Within twelve minutes, Bayern were ahead by two goals – albeit that both were demonstrably offside – and looked in fair shape to inflict utter humiliation on the out-foxed Mancunians.  This pattern held for the first twenty minutes or so, but then City started to edge their way, inexorably, into a game that was becoming more of a contest as they gained some sort of hold in midfield.  On 28 minutes, James Milner made the first of his three crucial interventions, stooping to reach a deep cross beyond the far post and – somehow – angling himself to head it accurately back across the six-yard box where Silva was on hand to finish.  Half time arrived with City one behind, a situation they would have snatched your hand off for after the early lop-sided exchanges.

In the second half, City managed to retain control against a Bayern side who, on this evidence, seem to have a slight weakness for complacency. One of the main guilty parties in that respect was Brazilian defender Dante, an extravagantly-gifted individual who, nevertheless, seems less than keen on some of the one-to-one responsibilities of any effective defender.  He was guilty of a slapdash challenge on Milner deep inside Bayern’s penalty area on 53 minutes.  It would have been relatively simple to jockey the City player until he ran out of room and options, but Dante challenged, fouled – and it was a nailed-on penalty.  Kolarov’s conversion was a mix of placement and power, giving Neuer in the Munich goal not an earthly.  City were level at 2-2, needing an unlikely two further goals to top the group – and Bayern, unable to rid themselves of that two-nil complacency, were rattled and shaken.

In the event, City were doomed to fall just short of winning their group, but the victory that a third goal won them will be an enormous boost, possibly for their season as a whole.  Last season Arsenal won 2-0 here, and they have hardly looked back since.  Such is the size of the achievement; beating Bayern at home is not given to ordinary teams.  When that winner came it was Milner, naturally, who struck the decisive blow.  A right wing cross flew straight through the Munich area, confusing and bypassing two defenders. Milner, advancing from the left on a curving run, managed to open up his body shape to send a first-time right foot shot bending inside Neuer’s left hand post for a finish of beauty and a joy forever.

Bayern looked shattered and bewildered as they first pressed desperately for an equaliser and then played out time in the knowledge that a one-goal defeat would still see them win the group.  Even then, more casual and lackadaisical defending from Dante almost let in sub Negredo for a fourth to complete what would have been a disaster for the Germans.  On the night, they had deservedly been beaten by a City side that had got its act together to great effect – but there is little doubt that Bayern will address their shortcomings and come back strongly, as they did after the Arsenal defeat. Just ask Barcelona and Dortmund about that.

Meanwhile, back in England, the Tale of One City was playing itself out in much less glamorous vein as Man U managed to overcome a Shakhtar Donetsk side which unquestionably out-played them for the bulk of the ninety minutes.  One decisive finish from Phil Jones, a chance dispatched with a striker’s touch and assurance, was the difference between the teams at the final whistle, and Shakhtar went into the Europa League as Man U topped the group.  But this game had been about the away side failing to take advantage of its superior passing and movement, particularly in the first half when their hosts simply couldn’t get near them. Shakhtar had done everything but score, and you couldn’t help but wonder if they really were as good as Man U made them look.

It’s goals that count though and, consummate as they occasionally seemed, Shakhtar have disappeared from this year’s Champions League with only themselves to blame for that. Whether the Pride of Devon progress much further will depend on the draw – normally quite kind to them – and whether they can shake themselves out of the one-paced game they’re currently playing under an increasingly-anxious David Moyes.

On an evening when all of Manchester – as well as the Home Counties/West Country hotbeds of Man U support – had cause to celebrate victory in Europe, it was, more than anything, Jamie Milner’s night.  His display in helping City to a quite magnificent comeback victory was notable to say the least, and should serve to quell a few murmurings that he’s no long quite “at it” for this level. If Milner became available for transfer at any point in the next few years, there would be no shortage of takers – and on this evidence it would be a lucky club indeed that secured his services.  One fond dream of Leeds fans everywhere must be that – if we did secure promotion in the short-term – Milner would perhaps return to Elland Road to be our elder statesman.

How appropriate that would be for the former Elland Road Wunderkind – and what a welcome he would receive.  In the meantime, it did the hearts of the Leeds faithful good to see him battering Bayern, something that must be high on the bucket list of anyone with LUFC in their DNA.  Well played, James Milner – still a great lad and still a class act.

United Flashback: Wembley 1992 as Leeds Put Four Past Liverpool – by Rob Atkinson

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Leeds United – Wembley Winners

For all the rival claims of the FA Cup and (don’t laugh) the variously-sponsored League Cup, there’s little doubt about the Wembley occasion it’s hardest to reach, the honour it’s toughest to compete for.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the FA Community Shield, or the Charity Shield as it used to be known in less politically-correct times.  This is not an event you get to be part of merely by winning a few games at home against the likes of Orient and Norwich, with maybe a semi-final against Aston Villa to spice it up.  It’s not a trophy you can win simply by the luck of the draw.  This is an event for winners, although League runners-up sometimes get a look-in if one club has been greedy enough to win the “Double”.  The Charity Shield is billed as the clash between reigning Champions and FA Cup-holders and as such it has the stardust of success and glory sprinkled all over it.

The Battle of Wembley '74

The Battle of Wembley ’74

Some will demur, saying it’s just a pre-season friendly.  Well, it does take place pre-season – but a friendly?  Before we look at this 1992 meeting of old foes Leeds and Liverpool, let’s cast our minds back to 1974 when the two sides met in the very first Wembley Charity Shield.  Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner sent off, Giles displaying the art of the left hook on the ref’s blind side to dislodge Keegan’s perm – and all manner of malicious goings-on besides as Cup-holders Liverpool edged out Champions Leeds on penalties after a 1-1 draw for which “combative” is a hopelessly inadequate description.  Ray Clemence conning David Harvey over the ‘keepers taking the last two penalties, then grinning broadly as he reneged on the deal.  The violence and then the discarded shirts of the guilty as they walked off, dismissed by the schoolmasterly Bob Matthewson, a ref who towered over the pocket battleships in the opposing midfields.  The fuss and bother afterward as the FA decided examples should be made, long bans handed out.  A “friendly” it most definitely was not.

This 1992 match though was played out in a much lighter and more entertaining vein.  There was an air of conspiratorial glee around the old ground; Liverpool had administered the fatal blow to Man U’s title challenge at the end of the previous season with a 2-0 victory, the faithful of the Anfield Kop taunting their misery-stricken rivals with chants of “Leeds, Leeds, Leeds” as the last hopes of Man U and media alike drained away.  The real Reds then went on to Wembley and routinely won the Cup against Leeds’ old Nemesis Sunderland, so that this “Traditional Curtain Raiser to the Season” had about it a faintly gloating atmosphere – mutual congratulation was in the breeze as we all celebrated the discomfiture of the Mancunian and Mackem scum.

The game itself was a crazy mixture of potent attacking and Keystone Kops defending which foreshadowed the season both clubs were to experience, but which was avidly lapped up by both Kops at either end of Wembley.  Leeds opened the scoring when Rodney Wallace scampered into acres of space on the left before squaring for one Eric Cantona to finish confidently past Grobbelaar in the Liverpool goal.  That was on 25 minutes, but only ten more were to elapse before Liverpool were level.  A deep cross from Ronnie Rosenthal found Ian Rush with enough far-post space to plant a header past John Lukic.  This was at the Leeds fans’ end, and I remember at the time thinking that Liverpool would now go on to win, but what a cracking day we were having anyway.  But shortly before half-time, Leeds were ahead again, Tony Dorigo sending a deflected free kick beyond Brucie into the left hand corner of the net.

The second half saw the game continuing to see-saw as both sides went for it.  Liverpool contrived a second equaliser when Dean Saunders fastened on to a loose ball and powered it past Lukic in the blink of an eye.  Again that feeling of slight resignation and again Leeds blew it away, regaining the lead after 75 minutes when Cantona headed a cross ball down for Wallace to tap back to him.  Cantona looked up and calmly directed the ball wide of Grobbelaar for 3-2.  The joy among the Leeds fans at this cherry on the icing of last year’s title triumph raised itself to a still higher level when the match seemed to have been decided 4 minutes from the end.  Wallace chased a ball out wide which, instead of trickling out of play, bounced off the corner flag and gave the live-wire Rodney an ideal chance to put in a telling cross.  And there was Cantona again, lurking at the far post as Grobbelaar flapped ineffectively for the ball, watching it all the way and planting a header into the empty net.  4-2 up against Liverpool at Wembley!  Eleven months before the birth of my daughter, this was probably just about up there with the Title decider at Bramall Lane for the most joyous events of my life to that point, and for a few delirious moments I didn’t rightly know where or who I was.

Sanity had barely returned when, way down at the other end, Gordon Strachan scored what must be the comedy own-goal of all time, executing a singularly ungraceful backward stagger as he tried to clear from the goal-line but succeeded only in trickling the ball over it.  Some cheered, some laughed; nobody was downcast except perhaps wee Gordon himself who looked distinctly pissed-off.  Leeds had won though, the occasion had lived up to and beyond expectations for me and my happy band and we waited joyously to watch the lifting of silverware at Wembley.

Before that happened, another display of respect and gratitude as the defeated Liverpool players trooped off into the tunnel at the United end of the ground.  The jubilant Leeds fans as a body stood to applaud their old enemies, the chants of “Liverpool, Liverpool, Liverpool” drawing reciprocal if shattered applause from the bemused players in red, honour satisfied, tributes paid.  Then the Leeds players going up the thirty-nine steps to hoist the Shield high, and cheers echoing anew from our throat-sore and ecstatic hordes.  Leeds United: Champions of England – the Last Champions – Charity Shield winners and the only team ever to score four against Liverpool in all of the Anfield giants’ numerous Wembley appearances.  Vivid memories of a truly wonderful day.

Time to Get Rid of Sepp Blatter, The “Benny Hill of World Football” – by Rob Atkinson

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Sepp Scuttle – on a mission

There were two very worrying pieces of news from the football world in the last couple of days, which I suppose is roughly par for the course.  The first concerns Sepp Blatter, the ridiculous FIFA President.  The second should concern him, but he’s a man who tends to brush off bad news that is inconvenient to him – so don’t hold your breath.

Firstly then, we have the unwelcome tidings that Blatter may wish to continue in a role he’s singularly inadequate for, possibly well into his eighties.  Certainly he appears unwilling to countenance the prospect of being succeeded by UEFA president Michel Platini, and his remarks about having “a mission to see through” will worry those who had hoped to see an injection of sanity at the top of the world game.

Secondly – there was the frankly disgusting outbreak of racist behaviour directed at Manchester City’s Yaya Toure during the CSKA Moscow v City Champions League game. Russia of course is the venue for the 2018 World Cup, and to hear monkey noises directed at the opposition’s black players is to understand that there are still nations where this problem is endemic. That is totally unacceptable by any reasonable standards, but such considerations appear completely to pass Blatter by.  He seemed to take great delight in the choice of Russia as 2018 host nation, and has been more concerned at rubbing England’s noses in it over their failure to hold a World cup since 1966, than with any strategies for addressing the disgusting tendency of Russian “fans” to sink to gutter depths of abuse and racial hatred.

Blatter has been described as the “Benny Hill of World Football”, which would appear to be a gross and unwarranted insult to an English comedian who is not around to defend himself or express his dismay at being compared with a buffoon such as the useless Sepp. His contentment to see a World Cup take place in a cess-pool of racism isn’t the limit of his idiocy.  He has also stood four-square behind the award of the 2022 tournament to Qatar – a nation state with temperatures which preclude a normally-timed World Cup and with a population the size of Manchester’s together with an even worse human rights record.  When it was revealed earlier this year that between June 4 and August 8 this summer, 44 Nepalese migrant workers died on construction sites, most of them from heart failure or industrial accidents, Blatter could only comment ‘FIFA cannot interfere with the labour rights of any country, but we cannot ignore them,’  As meaningless contradictions and futile wastages of breath go, that’s a market leader.  Blatter’s other helpful comments in relation to Qatar 2022 include advising gays “simply to abstain from sex” due to the emirate’s medieval laws concerning homosexuality.

The more one hears of Blatter and his rampant ego, his ridiculous bearing and his asinine statements, to say nothing of his decision-making skills which would appear to be on a par with General Custer’s at the Little Big Horn, the more it’s tempting to conclude that Benny Hill’s Fred Scuttle character could hardly do a worse job.  But if Blatter really is determined to cling on to power, it’s no laughing matter.  The lack of anything resembling a backbone in the levels of FIFA below the Almighty Sepp means that he could easily get his way, and if THAT happens – it’s not impossible to imagine that we may yet see a World Cup being held in Iran, Chad or Syria.  It’s imperative that we get rid of this stupid man – but an even higher priority than that is to make it abundantly clear to both Russia and Qatar that unless they put their houses in order within the next two years, then steps will be taken to reverse the decisions identifying them as hosts for the most prestigious football tournament of them all.

Nothing less than this will do.  But as long as the Blatters of this world are in charge, with the attendant baggage of incompetence, pomposity, rampant egos and the stench of corruption – then nothing is precisely what we shall get.