Tag Archives: death

Leeds are the Damned United, but Man U Takes Award for Sickest Fans – by Rob Atkinson

In the wake of the tragic helicopter crash at Leicester’s King Power Stadium last night, and with the sad likelihood that we shall shortly hear confirmation of lives lost, there has been much talk of the phenomenon of the “Football Family”, as fans of many clubs have rallied around to support Leicester City Football Club and its supporters at a very dark time.

All that is as it should be, and a respectful, reverent reaction has been almost universal. I say “almost”, because there are generally a few degraded exceptions, and those exceptions are almost always to be found among the usual suspects representing football’s least lovable “fans”. It will surprise few who are aware of their history that, on this occasion, it’s an identifiable group of Manchester United fans, the producers of a toilet roll of a fanzine known as Red Issue, who have plumbed the depths of poor taste as only they can.

This purulent rag has form going back years for the penning and publication of articles and “jokes” that take the breath away with their sheer, savage detestability. Emboldened by that curiously puzzling Manc sense of entitlement and by unjustified self-righteousness, they have disgraced themselves many a time, heaping shame and derision upon a club rarely short of that commodity. I well recall a photograph they published while Eric Cantona was at Leeds, of the Frenchman in the bath with his young daughter, accompanying the image with a caption designed to encourage their leering readers to conclude that Cantona was a paedophile. There was also a chant sung at Man U matches expressly accusing Arsène Wenger of the self same thing. In brief, these are awful, awful people with no redeeming qualities.

But they’ve outdone themselves this time, as can be seen from the disgusting tweets reproduced above, in the immediate aftermath of a football tragedy that has shocked the whole sporting world. It takes a person with his soul deeply rooted in the foulest slime at the bottom of the sewer to even think of such a thing, let alone share it with the world. But that’s Red Issue for you – the lowest of the low, even in the context of Man U fans.

But of course, it’s Leeds who are dubbed the Damned United, which is a sad indictment of people’s judgement for you. Luckily, although Leeds fans do not find halos sitting easily atop their heads, we’re in a different category entirely from the kind of filth they attract in Salford. Even Millwall fans have more to recommend them, having contributed generously to a fighting fund for young cancer sufferer Toby Nye. There is no such softer side to the arrogant, entitled and thoroughly disgusting fans of Manchester’s second club.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am. I’m sick of the media fawning that surrounds a club which embodies everything bad about the game. I’m sick of the way everyone panders to them because of their commercial clout, ignoring the many foul and detestable aspects of a club and set of supporters who feel they can do and say what they like. The media seeks to protect its own interests and preserve lucrative markets, which means they will always go easy on Man U.

As I write, they lead Everton courtesy of yet another blatantly unfair penalty award, reminding me that my own United have now gone 53 league games without even obvious penalties being given. That sums up the disparity of treatment, and maybe it’s an insight into why Man U fans such as the sickos behind Red Issue feel that they have the right to continue outraging any sense of decency.

This year, as every other year, Man U fans will collectively take out an onion to wallow in commercially advantageous grief over the Munich air crash sixty years ago. They will demand respect and empathy, despite the fact that – as you can see above – they have none for anybody else. But they think they’re a special case, and that they should be treated as such. Most of them will never have heard of AC Torino‘s even more tragic and devastating Superga crash, about which I’ve written before. Add “blinkered” to “disgusting”, then.

Man U fans feel that they are a breed apart. And they really are. Just not in the way they would like to think.

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Death of a Leeds United Fan – by Rob Atkinson

Reblogging this only because I initially omitted to include an Alzheimer’s Society link – and if just a few quid can be raised in the fight against this insidious robber of life and happiness, then it’ll be worthwhile.

Thanks for all the earlier comments – you can have no idea how much it’s helped. MOT

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything

Kenneth Atkinson 7.7.1927 - 27.2.2015 Taken on my parents' wedding  dayKenneth Atkinson 7th July 1927 – 27th February 2015
Taken on my parents’ wedding day, 1959

My Dad died in the early hours of this morning. He’d been afflicted with Alzheimer’s for the very last part of his life, and there’s that inescapable feeling that this loss is just final confirmation of what has been a gradual departure over the last few years. It’s still a shock, though – and, blogs being blogs, this is where I have to say how I feel – and make my last farewell.

Dad was a ridiculously handsome man who failed utterly to pass those fortunate genes on to me, bequeathing instead a fanatical love for Leeds United Football Club. He was Mr. LUFC to me, John Charles’ greatest fan and a dedicated match-goer through the Don Revie glory years – when I was just a small child with no interest in the game…

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Death of a Leeds United Fan – by Rob Atkinson

Kenneth Atkinson 7.7.1927 - 27.2.2015 Taken on my parents' wedding  day

Kenneth Atkinson 7th July 1927 – 27th February 2015
Taken on my parents’ wedding day, 1959

My Dad died in the early hours of this morning. He’d been afflicted with Alzheimer’s for the very last part of his life, and there’s that inescapable feeling that this loss is just final confirmation of what has been a gradual departure over the last few years. It’s still a shock, though – and, blogs being blogs, this is where I have to say how I feel – and make my last farewell.

Dad was a ridiculously handsome man who failed utterly to pass those fortunate genes on to me, bequeathing instead a fanatical love for Leeds United Football Club. He was Mr. LUFC to me, John Charles’ greatest fan and a dedicated match-goer through the Don Revie glory years – when I was just a small child with no interest in the game. I wondered back then what all the fuss was about, to be honest – but when he finally relented and took me to my first ever match, that was it. I was hooked for life, and the many misfortunes of the Whites, together with their sadly few triumphs, have been mine too over the past forty years. Thanks, Dad. It was somewhat of a poisoned chalice you passed on to me, but I wouldn’t be without it.

Kenneth Atkinson was much, much more than just a football fan, of course. He was at various times a National Service soldier, a fine and well-loved teacher, a wonderful gardener, a DIY God, a Bing Crosby and Gracie Fields fan who was also much addicted to military and brass band music – and of course he was a son, a brother, a father and a grandfather. He was never happier than when he was in his garden or his garage, pottering about and making things beautiful. Those last three words would be a fine epitaph for anyone, I feel.

He was a Tory too, my Dad – but that wasn’t his fault. He’d caught it off his Ma and it came down a long line of impecunious smallholders, so I never held it against him. It gave us something else to argue about when the football was just too depressing for words. He liked to display the remnants of his language skills, as well, having won prizes for them in the early forties at the Kings School, Pontefract. I once went for a job at a frozen foods head office, and he left me a note, mixed French and Latin: “Courage, mon brave, à bas les peurs. Bonne chance. Per ardua ad Fish Fingers!” His was a unique and not completely accessible sense of humour. As he got older, he’d laugh helplessly at any jokes we told him – but in years gone by, only his own witticisms really tickled him. Then, when he’d said something he thought incredibly funny, he’d sit there, tears rolling down his cheeks, throbbing with silent, painful mirth until we were all in tucks just at the sight of him. It makes me smile now, just to think of it.

As Dad got older, the Alzheimer’s condition took an ever firmer grip on him. And yet, quite late in his life, he was active and nimble of mind. He loved to tell and write about his early memories of Pontefract, his home for all the 87 years of his life, and the place from which he set off on his travels to all four corners of the earth. I published on here a piece he wrote about his childhood in Old Church in Ponte, and this shows he had a tale or two to tell – and told them well. Really, the first thing that convinced me he was losing his grip on reality was an increasing sympathy for Man U and “Fergie”, as he referred to a man I can never bring myself to acknowledge. But that probably says more about my extreme prejudice than it does about my Dad’s state of mind.

I’ve never been very good at goodbyes, but this one has been coming for a while. I’ll remember him for the things he loved – the football, the garden, his immaculate tool shed. And the people, too – his wife, my Mum, who he was crazy about for well over fifty years, his parents when they were around, we three lads, his brother and sisters, two of whom went before him, and of course his three grandchildren. I was always proud that his only grand-daughter – my daughter Kate – was born on his 66th birthday; surely the best present he ever got. I’ll leave the actual goodbye to a quote from her, earlier today:

When I think of being little, I always think of sitting with my Grandad in his beautiful garden. I can’t imagine my next birthday, because it’ll be the first in my life that isn’t his birthday too. I’ll miss his huge hands and I’ll miss his terrible French and I’ll miss his stories about teaching and travelling. Goodbye Grandad. I love you forever, and I hope you’re back in your garden now.

As someone who always raised his own flowers, I’m sure he’d not wish them now. But if anyone is moved to make a small donation to the Alzheimer’s Society, then that would be a blessing and very much appreciated.

RIP, Dad. I hope Leeds can do the decent thing and wallop Watford for you. Say hi to Don and Billy and Gary and John Charles for me, won’t you.

And last of all – à bientôt, Papa xx

Goodbye, Mr. Silver; the Last Great Leeds United Chairman – by Rob Atkinson

Leslie Silver of Leeds United

The late Leslie Silver of Leeds United

Still stuck in post-festive torpor and suffering with a heavy cold besides, I was watching “The Dam Busters” on Channel Five this afternoon, marvelling at the unaccustomed use of the “N-word” in reference to Guy Gibson’s dog, which rejoiced in a name even Nigel Farage would baulk at these days. Well, possibly. Much more to be marvelled at was the reckless bravery and absolute lack of fear among the aircrew charged with delivering the Barnes Wallis “bouncing bomb” against three dams in the industrial heartland of Nazi Germany, the Ruhr Valley. The mission was a significant success in terms of its objective, if not so much when judged by the number of lives lost. Over fifty men died as eight of the nineteen bombers failed to return.

leslie-silver-june-2009_270It felt like the weirdest of coincidences, then, that the first news I heard after the last strains of Eric Coates’ “Dam Busters March” faded away was of the death of Leslie Silver OBE, former chairman of Leeds United AFC and a past hero of Bomber Command, completing over forty ops in Europe and twenty in the Far East, where he was involved in dropping supplies into the infamous Changi gaol. Silver left the RAF at the age of 22 in 1947, having served four years during which he flew the full quota of 250 operational hours with four different squadrons. In 2013, he was awarded the Bomber Command Clasp at the age of 88.

Clearly, no ordinary man was our Mr. Silver. Having served his country so auspiciously in wartime, he then set about creating the business empire that would eventually make his fortune as well as contributing in large measure to the revival of a moribund late-eighties Leeds United. As a highly successful businessman in his fifties, Silver had been awarded the OBE in 1982, a year after joining the United board and a year before becoming Chairman, a position he held until 1996.

Leslie Silver’s time as Chairman at Leeds United encompassed the second most successful period in the club’s history, overseeing a rise from poverty at the foot of Division Two, with a disastrous relegation into the lower reaches of the league beckoning, to top-flight promotion, European campaigns and, of course, the immortal title of the Last Champions. Leeds took that final honour by four clear points in 1992, just before the restructuring of English football on a “greed is good, might is right” basis before the altar of satellite TV.

It goes without saying that Silver’s wealth, his business acumen and his vision were driving forces behind the meteoric rise of Leeds in the late eighties and early nineties. The amazing surge to success was even more abrupt and stunning than that of Don Revie’s white machine a quarter of a century before. Chief Silver and his chosen NCO, Sergeant Howard Wilkinson, plotted a path from the basement of the second tier right up to the ultimate prize in just under four years; it took Revie and Alderman Percy Woodward half as long again to make a comparable journey in the sixties.

That Silver had the vision to identify and recruit his man, and then the courage and grit to back him financially, is something for which all Leeds fans should be forever grateful. He embellished our history with a second era of glory by his astute choice of manager and his unswerving loyalty and commitment to the Wilko plan. When Silver stepped down, it was the end of sustainable success for Leeds; beyond lay only “living the dream” and the subsequent nightmare we’re all too painfully aware of today.

Leslie Silver deserves to be remembered as a major, pivotal figure in the history of Leeds United, as well as, of course, one of those long-ago heroes from the dark days of global war seven decades back. In later life, he also became the first Chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, these days known as Leeds Beckett University – and a faculty of that institution now bears his name.

For an unassuming war hero who died with the world still riven by strife – and for the modest mastermind behind the renaissance of a sleeping football giant, who leaves us as that giant slumbers once again – the reminder of his contribution to learning in Leeds may yet be the tribute he’d have prized above all others.

Leslie Silver, 1925 – 2014. Alav HaShalom.

Could Careless Talk Have Counted Tragically Towards the Loss of a Life? – by Rob Atkinson

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It was a very mixed weekend for Leeds United fans.  On the Saturday, the team beat Middlesbrough 2-1 to enter the play-off zone and maintain their recent good run.  But on Sunday, we awoke to news that one of our number, in a coma for over a year since being attacked on a night out in Sheffield on the 11th November 2012, had sadly died without ever regaining consciousness.  And at that point I have to say “Rest In Peace” to Richard Ismail, 45 years old, known to his friends as “Moody”.  The thoughts of so many are with his family at this awful time.  All of those who will be looking for justice to be done will be relieved to hear that, since a change of law in 1996, there is no longer a year-and-a-day cut off point for a charge of murder to be brought.  There will therefore now be a murder investigation even though Mr Ismail’s death occurred over the old time limit after the attack.  It’s understood that three individuals, widely believed to be fans of Sheffield Wednesday FC, are currently out on bail pending further possible action.

Under a month before the attack on Moody, Sheffield Wednesday had met Leeds United in a Championship fixture at Hillsborough Stadium.  It was not an edifying spectacle. There were scenes of violence on the field as Wednesday’s scrum-capped central defender Miguel Llera charged around, putting in tackles that resembled various degrees of common assault.  Leeds defenders, as is their wont, gave as good as their team-mates got. In the second half, just after United’s equalising goal, a lone Leeds fan ran onto the pitch and pushed a startled Wednesday keeper Chris Kirkland in the face causing him to fall and remain, shocked, on the ground.  The moron responsible went back into the crowd, but was subsequently identified and prosecuted.  Throughout the evening, both sets of fans breached the boundaries of good taste, Leeds fans taunting Wednesday manager David Jones over charges relating to alleged child abuse, of which he had been cleared years earlier.  Wednesday fans for their part gleefully mocked the Leeds support over the deaths of two Leeds fans in Istanbul in the year 2000.  It was a bad and disgusting day at the office and, sadly, it didn’t end at the final whistle.

After the match, the highly emotional Wednesday manager Jones, plainly trembling with anger and resentment, was asked about the condition of his goalkeeper Kirkland. Somewhat surprisingly, Jones paid little heed to this enquiry beyond acknowledging that the boy was shaken and claiming it had hindered his team from seeking a winning goal. He seemed far more concerned by the verbal abuse he had suffered, than by the physical attack on his goalkeeper.  In an unrestrained on-camera performance, he castigated the Leeds fans, comparing their behaviour to “racism”, taking Leeds manager Neil Warnock to task for praising the fans’ support of the United team and ending by saying that the Leeds fans were “vile animals.  All of them.”  Warnock seemed bemused by such an outburst, shrugging it off, doubtless aware from experience that immediately after a match is not an ideal time for rational thought and reflection.  Jones was quite specific, not to say selective in his attentions; he did not refer to the taunting of the Leeds fans by the Sheffield crowd over the Istanbul murders.

Because of the short time lapse between these shoddy events and the subsequent attack in Sheffield on Mr Ismail, the question has to arise: how much of what was said may have been in the minds of the protagonists on that fateful and ultimately tragic night?  It is understood that Richard Ismail was out for the evening with his partner, and that his clothing identified him as a Leeds United fan.  Or, let us not forget, as a “vile animal” in the minds of any Sheffield Wednesday fans daft enough, bone-headedly crazy enough, to have taken seriously what their club’s manager had said only a matter of weeks before.

Did those intemperate words still ring in the attackers’ heads?  Were they, in their own warped minds, taking action against a “vile animal”?  Did they, just possibly, feel that they were meting out some summary rough justice to a person identifiable with the fans who had taunted their own Mr Jones just the previous month?  Who knows what goes through a thug’s head as he swings into action with like-minded accomplices, encouraged at outnumbering a lone target who is on a night out with his partner?  But the question has to arise: if Mr Jones had been more circumspect in his remarks – or if, perhaps, a more decent interval had been allowed to elapse before any interview, to allow emotions to subside a little – might things not, just possibly, have turned out differently? Might this tragic episode possibly have been avoided?

It is, of course, impossible to say.  But the factors are all there for anyone looking for any kind of cause and effect scenario – just as the lesson is there to be learned about thinking before you speak, and refraining at all costs from going on camera, to an audience of millions, and saying things that are unwise; things that are far too inclusive; not, in short, the kind of things a level-headed professional really wants to be caught on the spot saying.  I remember being taken aback and more than a little shocked at the emotional vehemence of Jones’ performance in the post-match interview.  It just seemed so disproportionate, so incongruous in someone who had been a professional in football and in the sphere of social care for many years; fair enough, he’d taken dog’s abuse over a matter that should have had a line drawn under it years before. But sadly, these things happen – whenever crowds gather and alcohol has been consumed.  Sets of fans will go all out to bait each other, and they will raise the stakes in retaliation.  It’s not nice, but it’s far from unknown – and it’s part of the cross a football manager, or indeed many other professionals in different areas of public life, just have to bear.  That’s part of the reason they’re lavishly paid, part of the reason that it’s the tougher personalities that take these kind of jobs.  And really – wasn’t there some sort of support for Jones, from within the Sheffield Wednesday club?  He looked in need of it.

Still, Mr Jones didn’t appear inclined to withdraw his remarks even days later, although he did qualify them somewhat.  But by then, any possible damage had already been done. The internet was buzzing, you heard about “vile animals” everywhere. Some Leeds fans took it as a perverse badge of honour, others were more than a little annoyed and offended.  This latter group would post pictures of their cherubically cute 7 year old boy or girl in a mini Leeds shirt, asking “is this a vile animal, Mr Jones?”  Feelings ran very high for quite some time afterwards, and I can’t get out of my head the possibility that they might still have been running high enough, a few short weeks later, to have been a factor in turning what should have been a family night out into an ordeal of over a year, ending in the untimely death of a man who had done nothing wrong.

I don’t know if Mr Jones’ thoughts have run along these lines, or – if they have – whether he’s admitted to himself that he could have applied a little more self-control, been a little less all-embracingly condemnatory of ALL Leeds United fans – every one of them. Because, in saying something like that, you just never know what notion you might plant in the pea-brain of some self-righteous moron who wants then to take revenge. And from there, it’s impossible to say what might happen.  All we know is what did happen, and we know what was said – so publicly – just a short time before.  Whether there was a relationship between the one and the other will be impossible to prove – but the sad fact is that there could have been.  And if that doesn’t make the case for a bit more thought about the timing and content of these emotional post-match interviews, then I don’t know what does.   It is now being speculated that the forthcoming meeting of the two clubs at Hillsborough in January – a game that will also be live on Sky TV – will be played out in an atmosphere even uglier than last year’s malevolent brew – if such a thing were possible.  Given Jones’ currently-precarious position at Sheffield Wednesday, it’s difficult to say with any degree of certainty whether he will still be in his job by then. Perhaps it really would be for the best if he’s gone.

What seems clear enough to me is that, when considering what led up to Mr Ismail’s tragic fate, it’s not possible to view David Jones’ heat-of-the-moment remarks purely in isolation.  You throw a stone, and out spread the ripples, inevitably, unstoppably. If you speak on camera to thousands or millions, it behoves you to keep a check on what you say, and to bear in mind that your words will be interpreted in a variety of different ways, by a variety of different people, some more literal-minded than others.  And, given that – when there’s a rabble out there eager to be roused – it’s just not worth the risk to let off steam to that extent.  An event like Moody’s death puts starkly into context issues such as name-calling and the temporary catharsis offered by a hasty rant on camera.  Maybe, in time, Mr Jones and others can reflect on the implications of what was said and what was done in Sheffield just over a year ago.

Richard Ismail “Moody” 1968-2013    RIP  MOT

Turks Stuffed Good and Proper as Real Madrid Cruise in Istanbul – by Rob Atkinson

Galascum - Thoroughly Stuffed

Galascum – Thoroughly Stuffed

It’s a rare night indeed when a Leeds United fan can summon up even a passing regard for the pouting, strutting enigma that is Cristiano Ronaldo, late of the Scum, currently vying for top-dollar merchant with Gareth Bale at the Bernebeu, Madrid.  If ever there was such a night though, this is it.  Ronaldo ambled through the first hour of this match and then simply seized the home team by the scruff of the neck and tore them to pieces, scoring three times. With a brace from Benzema to add to Isco’s opener, it was the Winker’s hat-trick that inflicted the most agony on the hapless Turks, thereby giving any watching Leeds fan a rare treat.

Oddly, the various TV companies that cover the Champions League seem to have a fairly benevolent attitude towards the Istanbul club, despite the notorious nature of their fans in general and of course the tragic loss suffered by Leeds United – the club and the fans – back in the spring of the year 2000.  Since then, there have been other instances of crowd behaviour that would disgrace a bunch of neolithic savages, and there are of course the perpetual occurrences of throat-slitting gestures, “Welcome to Hell” banners and so on and so forth.  In short, this is a club that glories in its own tastelessness and lack of civilised behaviour – and yet we’re always hearing the commentators going on about the incredible atmosphere, the amazing fans, ad nauseam.  It’s enough to make your ears ache if you’re a Leeds fan, or indeed any decent-minded football fan – but there you go.

We’ll never know what the media attitude to them would have been if it had been a different United suffering on that awful night 13 years ago – but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it would have been somewhat different.  As it is, the tragedy of Istanbul 2000 seems to have been conveniently swept under the carpet, and the media appear to take delight in the progress of a club that deserve nothing but ill.  Still – we’re used to these double standards, and we take our comfort where we can.

Speaking of which, tonight was a delightful exhibition of Galascum getting well and truly thrashed by an awesome Madrid team.  The incredible, unprecedented feeling of actually enjoying a Ronaldo hat-trick – one particularly special strike in there, too – was a novelty that will possibly not be repeated.  Not unless Madrid dish this sort of treatment out again in the reverse fixture, anyway.

So for once I come not to bury Ronaldo, but to praise him; truly is it said that “mine enemy’s enemy is my friend”.  I still can’t stand the sight of Mr. Ronaldo, to be strictly honest.  He still has the kind of face you want to smack, still looks the sort of player that belongs with those other self-adoring prima donnas at the Theatre of Hollow Myths.  But he did Leeds United, Madrid and – whatever the mealy-mouthed hypocrites in the media might think – the whole of football a service tonight.  All those goals.  All that humiliation for a hopelessly-outclassed Galascum.  Even the late and meaningless home consolation scored to a nearly-empty stadium before Ronaldo administered the coup de grâce with the sixth.  All those glum fans who had started out so cocky and full of hope. Have it.

It was just one of those nights tonight.  For the past decade and more, I’ve winced every time I’ve seen that awful club with those disgusting fans getting anywhere, doing anything positive like winning a game, and hearing the British media fawning over them.  Tonight it was different.  Tonight, they copped for it, big time.  Tonight it was a case of “Hala Madrid” – or even “Hala Ronaldo” – just for tonight.  6-1 – SIX bloody one.  Well done, Real – and thank you, from a Leeds United fan.

Memory Match No. 11: Nottm Forest 0, Leeds Utd 4 29.11.2011

Jonny Howson celebrates at the City Ground

Jonny Howson celebrates at the City Ground

Whatever some people may think of Leeds United fans – and who cares, after all, because we all know what fine, upstanding chaps we are – they certainly know the ideal form when it comes to paying full and emotional tribute to a hero lost long before his time.

In the universe of all things Leeds, the news of Gary Speed’s tragic and untimely death came as a JFK moment: you just know that, years later, you’ll recall exactly where you were when you heard the awful, mind-numbing announcement that such a recent Legend in White was dead, and apparently by his own hand.

The images are certainly clear and sharp over a year down the line: the sea of floral tributes around the foot of Billy Bremner’s statue; the crowds that gathered in silent, respectful tribute; the sight of that fine professional Bryn Law, struggling to contain his tears as he reported from Elland Road on the death of his friend, the female anchor in the studio clearly moved to tears herself as she witnessed his distress.  It was a tragic time of shock and grief.

In retrospect, it is clear that the next opponents for Leeds United in their undistinguished Championship campaign were on an absolute hiding to nothing.  Team and fans alike, emerging from that initial shock into a reluctant acceptance, were determined to pay the finest possible tribute to a fallen hero.  Speedo was, after all, a true legend from the most recent era of real legends, a veteran of the Leeds United renaissance of the late eighties and early nineties.  We had previously mourned our dead of that earlier generation of greats; The Don was gone and so was King Billy, neither having lived to grow old.  But the death of Speed was that much more of a shock; that much more distressing for his relative youth, for his contemporary appeal to a younger breed of Leeds support who had not witnessed Revie’s greats, and for the awful circumstances which had compelled a young man with seemingly everything going for him to take his own life.

The thousands of Leeds fans who descended upon the City Ground that November night may well have been pondering the state of mind that leads to such an awfully final act.  They were certainly determined to pay characteristically raucous tribute: this would be no solemn wake, but a vibrant celebration of all that Gary Speed meant to the Barmy Army of Leeds United’s travelling support. The match itself was necessarily a footnote to the real agenda of the evening.  Forest were pitiful in their ineptitude – a team that would later travel to Elland Road and score seven had nothing to offer in the face of United’s determination to mark the first match after Gary Speed’s death with a thumping victory.  The home team seemed out of the running from the start; it was as if they knew, in the face of the emotional momentum behind the Leeds team and fans, that they had no chance at all – and they meekly accepted their fate.

Before kick-off, there had been the now traditional minute’s applause – such a preferable option to the old-style minute’s silence with its potential to be disrupted by a few shandy-slewed idiots.  In the 11th minute, a tribute to Speed’s occupation of the number 11 white shirt, the 4000-strong Leeds United army behind one goal erupted into a chant of his name, a chant that was intended to be maintained for that poignant number of 11 minutes.  The tribute was interrupted for the best of reasons as Robert Snodgrass fired United into a 20th minute lead, a left foot shot into the bottom corner very much in the style of the man himself.  On the stroke of half time, Jonny Howson doubled the lead with an even better strike, the ball sitting up for him to belt a dipping right-footed effort past a helpless Lee Camp.  2-0 at the interval, and the home side had done little to suggest that it had any intention of detracting from the tributes of Leeds fans and players alike.

In the second half the pattern continued unchanged.  Forest remained awful, the home section of support seemed to expect nothing better and Leeds strolled to two further goals towards a comprehensive victory.  First just four minutes into the second half Luciano Becchio met a left wing cross at the near post to glance a fine header across Camp into the far corner.  Then in the 66th minute, the messiest of fourth goals.  The Forest defence conspired in its own destruction, parting like the Red Sea to lay on a clear chance for Howson to score his second, only for the over-worked and under-protected Camp to first save the effort, and then scramble after the loose ball.  His heroics were to no avail however as Adam Clayton picked up on the rebound to find a yard of space and fire into the empty net.

One thing that stands out in the writing of this article is the fact that, in the relatively short time since Forest were humbled, all four of the United scorers that night have left the club.  It’s a rather depressing thought, but they were certainly all Leeds all the way that night, and delighted to be able to help the Whites fans celebrate the life of one of their heroes with their own loud and proud tributes, and with a thumping victory to boot.  Forest’s only real contribution to the evening came late on when the frustrated and already-booked Andy Reid earned himself a second yellow with an agricultural challenge on Aidy White.  “Can we play you every week?” roared the United fans, a sentiment that would not survive the return game at Elland Road – and they would be glad too that it’s not every week they have cause to mark the passing of a United great at such a tragically young age, and in such awful circumstances.

 Gary Andrew Speed MBE (8 September 1969 – 27 November 2011) Leeds United 1988 – 1996, 2nd Division Championship Winner, First Division Championship Winner, Charity Shield Winner. 

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RIP

 Next:  Memory Match No. 12:  Real Madrid 3, Leeds United 2.  The late, great Don Revie always longed for his legendary Leeds United side to be pitched against the biggest legends of them all, and to draw CF Real Madrid in European competition.  Sadly, it never happened in The Don’s lifetime, but when a slightly less vintage era of Leeds finally appeared in the amazing Estadio Santiago Bernebeu, they were not disgraced – indeed, I rather think that Sir Don would have been proud.

True Cost of Thatcher’s 1983 Election Win to be Revealed??

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Later today, figures on the number of suicides since the early eighties among British armed forces personnel who served in the Falklands Conflict are due to be revealed.  The headline figure on casualties of the fighting is clear cut: 649 on the Argentine side, 255 British and 3 Falkland Islanders for a total of 907 human souls lost over a rocky outcrop or two thousands of miles from the supposed “mother country” UK.  Arguments may well wax and wane over the correctness of Britain’s historical claims to the Falklands, or Malvinas as they are known in Argentina.  A rhetorical question often asked goes along the lines of: how would the British national psyche take it if Jersey or Guernsey, for instance, were to be claimed as sovereign territory by, say, Peru?  It’s a hypothesis that perhaps doesn’t get us far, other than maybe to provide an insight into the sensitivity of feeling over the Falklands/Malvinas issue for the citizens of Argentina.

Thatcher: In Command

Thatcher: In Command

Whatever the true cost in lives of the Falklands conflict, what seems indisputable is that the military operation and its success in terms of objective achieved certainly boosted a Tory administration that had seemed in terminal decline at the time of the Argentine invasion.  It has been alleged that the British Government had prior intelligence of a pending military operation  planned by General Leopoldo Galtieri‘s ruling junta, the implication being that Thatcher’s cabinet saw the political potential of a decision to war-war rather than jaw-jaw, and so elected not to nip the situation in the bud.  The extent of the mess that this government found itself in is difficult to over-state; had they successfully deflected any threat of invasion, or had they launched a diplomatic initiative in the wake of the Argentine occupation, it is doubtful whether the impact on the subsequent general election would have been as great.  Pragmatically, “war” (even an undeclared war) was a better option than “jaw” – or so the conspiracy theory goes.

On the Argentinean side too, there appeared to be significant political advantage to be gained from a successful re-acquisition of Las Malvinas.  The Argentine economy was in an even bigger hole than that of the UK, and the effect of the invasion was a major boost to patriotic sentiment and the consequent short-term popularity – or at least acceptance – of the previously despised junta.  The historical precedent of a convenient war, to arouse jingoistic feelings and a surge in national pride, is there for all to see.  Both sides will have been well aware of the stakes, and a certain amount of brinkmanship may well have been at play.  This was probably more the case on the Argentine side, where it seems likely their military operation was calculated on the basis that the British would have neither the will not the logistical capability to mount a response in kind over such a long distance with all the problems of cost, supply lines and communications.  In the UK, the swiftness with which that response actually materialised was a tell-tale sign that Thatcher’s government were not only willing, but eager to launch the most emphatic counter-strike possible, and the fervour with which the public hailed the departing task force was a massive encouragement to the hastily-assembled War Cabinet.

The Sun's Perspective

The Sun’s Perspective

The attitude on the part of the British forces seems throughout to have been one of belligerent determination and ruthlessness.  Despite the problems of distance (mitigated to a large extent by the availability of the strategically-located Ascension Island as a stopping-off point), the task force had the inestimable advantage of its professional make-up; the troops were regulars, hardened pros, and many feared for the fate of the Argentinean rag-bag of conscripts should they ever meet in direct combat.  In the event, the Argentine forces fought bravely and effectively, leading to unexpectedly bloody and costly land engagements such as the Battle of Goose Green.  The conflict as a whole was more a series of sharp engagements on land, at sea and in the air, than any drawn-out and attritional process.  British naval losses were significant – the attack on HMS Sheffield following hard on the heels of the notorious action to sink the ARA General Belgrano.  Both sides were being hard-pressed to hold their political nerve in the face of dramatic losses such as these.

In the end, of course, there could only be one winner and the likelihood all along was that the British forces, superior in training and equipment even though stretched logistically over such a vast distance, would succeed in re-taking the islands.  So it proved, but at a tragic cost on both sides in terms of lives lost.  The die had been cast right from the start in that the losing side would almost inevitably see political change in the wake of the conflict and many now view this, from the perspective of over thirty years, as a calculated risk on the part of both governments concerned.  The determination to press ahead with military action and the relative marginalisation of the United Nations in the matter speaks of a strong political resolve on either side, and the results are clear to see; Galtieri was removed from power in January 1983, whereas Thatcher received an immense boost in the polls, and this “Falklands Factor” saw her sweep to victory with a landslide later that same year.  The monetarist Tory government was not, after all, destined to be a one-term experiment as had seemed so likely prior to 1982.  The course was well and truly set and the old-style of government, with full employment at the root of all its thinking, was consigned to history.  Thatcher may have been the economic disciple of Keith Joseph, but she showed the survival instincts of a polecat to go with her determination to make Monetarism work and banish old-style Socialism.  From that perspective, the loss of a few hundred lives in the South Atlantic may well have been considered expedient against the probability of electoral defeat and a return to what she will have thought of as the economics of disaster.

Thatcher was the big winner in the Falklands conflict.  It has been posited since that a great saving, in terms of money and human lives, could have been effected by ceding the territory to Argentina and providing each islander with a bounty of £1 million and a villa in the South of France.  This is, of course, a simplistic hypothesis, but the numbers certainly add up.  The British government of the day could not contemplate what they would have seen as a craven climb-down, with a devastating effect on how the UK was seen in the eyes of the world.  To this day, pro-Thatcher apologists refer to the way she “made Britain great again” or similarly extravagant claims.

Simon Weston OBE

Simon Weston OBE

It is notable in this context that one of the most fulsome tributes paid to the late PM, after her death in April this year, was from Welsh Guards veteran Simon Weston OBE who famously suffered extensive burn injuries during the Falklands campaign in the attack on RMS Sir Galahad. Weston is now seen as an inspirational figure for his recovery from his injuries and his charity work, and his endorsement of Thatcher’s premiership was seen as a powerful vindication of her policies, particularly where the Falklands issue was concerned.

What appears absolutely certain is that Thatcher gained herself an extra seven years she would not otherwise have had, to advance her own agenda, and change the face of Britain forever.  Whether you regard the number of lives lost as a price worth paying for that will depend, naturally, on your own political convictions.  But it may be worth noting, later today, just how high that price was when those official Falklands-related suicide figures are finally released.  At a time when our government today is starting to pile up the body count as people take a drastically simple way out of the world being foisted on them, we may reflect on this depressing tendency of governments to view individuals as mere political pawns or economic units, rather than people imbued with a spark of life and the right to an existence outside of macro political considerations.  Life should be seen as far too precious to end up as a statistic of the battle to stay in power.

Thatcher & Fergie – Unlikely Bedfellows

Two Media Darlings

Two Media Darlings

It’s been an awkwardly stomach-churning day for any self-respecting Man U-hater with anything but the most robust of digestive systems.  The output of Sky TV and BBC Radio Five Live in the wake of the Govan Guv’nor’s resignation as Supremo at the Theatre of Hollow Myths has been wall-to-wall, sickly sweet revisionist nonsense.  It was perhaps predictable – Man U seem to attract this kind of attention quite regularly.  They hypocritically call Liverpool the “City of Pity” and “Shrine Worshipers”, and yet there was the cloying sentimentality of the Lone Piper at Old Trafford when Busby died, and of course there is the nauseatingly poorly-written “Flowers of Manchester” doggerel recycled every February 6th when the Man U Marketing Machine gears itself up for the annual “Let’s Make More Money Out of Munich” event.  The treatment of Man U in the media has a lot in common with the ingestion of a copious draught of heavily-salted water.  Both are pretty much guaranteed to make you sick.

For some of us, it’s only been a couple of short weeks recovery time since the last bilious attack brought on by an onslaught of gushing praise for a much-hated public figure.  To listen to the BBC’s output in the wake of Maggie Thatcher’s death, you’d think she was universally acknowledged as a saint who personally saved our country from the hordes of infidel savagery, instead of a humourless and uncaring woman who presided over the decimation of manufacturing industry and created an underclass of unemployed dole fodder.

Ironically, that assessment of Thatcher – the realistic one, not the BBC’s rose-tinted, soft-focus blarney – would almost certainly strike a chord with Ferguson, a man who has always made much of his Socialist roots.  And yet the fulsomely worshipful bilge poured all over her death and funeral has been rivalled today both in flavour and quantity as various media outlets have sought to paint a picture of “Fergie the Greatest”, conveniently ignoring the essential character of the man, which is that of a coarse bully and a ruthlessly competitive control-freak who would brook no opposition and practiced suppression of dissenting voices on a grand scale as well as nepotism, intimidation and other deeply unattractive tactics.  Ferguson and Thatcher operated in vastly different spheres, and pursued their objectives in vastly different ways, although the objectionable single-mindedness and refusal to acknowledge any other point of view was common to both.

It is arguable too that both shared a similarly dislikeable personal character and yet that both represented vested interests which have caused a complaisant media and establishment to bend over backwards in their efforts to hide these unfortunate facts.  However difficult they both were to handle at different times – Ferguson famously “banned” the BBC from his personal airspace for an extended period, claiming in a juvenile fit of petulance that the Corporation was “pro-Liverpool”, and objecting to their focus on the activities of his shady agent son Jason – the media still fall over themselves to praise both to the skies.  Powerful interests are at work here, rigid agendas are being pursued.

Ferguson will not relish any comparison with the Iron Lady, and yet such comparisons are irresistible.  Nepotism, for instance.  Thatcher was accused in many quarters of using her influence to smooth the path to riches of her not-outstandingly-bright son Mark, a man who would seem to have difficulty finding his way out of an open box.  Ferguson allegedly pushed the services of Agent Jason on young players at Man U and reacted with fury if the lad in question went elsewhere.  When his fledgling manager son Darren was sacked by his employers after his latest relegation, Fergie senior reacted by recalling two young Man U players who had been at that club on loan.  The similarities in modus operandi for Fergie and Thatch abound.

It is for the gross and over-the-top way in which both have been virtually canonised by the media in the wake of their exit from the stage that really sticks in the throat, however.  The tasteless extent of it, the gushing, nauseatingly deferential tone of the ubiquitous tributes, strike a remarkably similar tone in either instance.  In Thatcher’s case, the masses thus appeased were the blue-rinse brigade and their Colonel Blimp husbands, Tories to their last cell, and voraciously hungry for any news coverage to confirm their view that la Thatch was the greatest since Churchill, the greatest peacetime leader ever.  The claims of Clement Attlee, the authentic greatest PM ever, were callously overlooked, as was the fact that his funeral in 1967 was a quiet and dignified affair.  In the case of Ferguson, the masses are of course the legions of Man U fans all over the world and in Torquay and Milton Keynes in particular, who have been fed the myth of Man U being the greatest club in the world (Arf!) and who now wish to hear Fergie being called the greatest, against the claims of true greats like Busby, Revie, Shankly and the rest, proper managers who had to do it all on a level playing field and not the Sky-weighted Man U-centric environment we have now.

Radio Five Live are still at it, as I listen.  We go “back to Old Trafford” on a regular basis, to listen to the hushed tones of a reverential reporter, laying it on thick for the benefit of the thick.  It’s all so remarkably similar to the nonsense we all suffered in the wake of Thatcher’s passing.  Perhaps, for Ferguson, that is the unkindest cut of all.

Demand a Public Enquiry Into 1300 Deaths After Atos Medicals: Petition, Please Sign and Share

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Iain Duncan-Smith: Arrogant, contemptuous and out of touch

The petition calling upon Iain Duncan-Smith to instigate a Public Enquiry into the conduct of Atos, with particular reference to the appalling figure of 1300 deaths after Atos “medicals”, has so far attracted 4,346 signatures.  That’s not a bad start, but much more is needed.  YOUR support, and YOUR willingness to help network this petition could be vital; if a Public Enquiry could be brought about, Atos would be well and truly under the spotlight and it’s possible they may be forced to change their way of working.  It’s not over-stating the case to say that this could save lives.  YOUR signature, YOUR support could actually SAVE LIVES.  It’s that vital.

An Enquiry would seem appropriate in any case, for an organisation which has been branded “Not fit for purpose” by the British Medical Association, and which has itself recently issued a wheedling apology to the people it has wrongly found fit for work. The apology is aimed at the survivors of the Atos experience, you understand. Sadly, it is too late to apologise to the 1300 who have died.

The petition I’m asking you to sign can be accessed here. Please click the link, sign the petition, and share it as widely as possible. Share this article too, and follow this blog. It’s all about networking and it all helps  Just maybe, if things go well, we can make a difference. A lot of people are out there, counting on your support to start some sort of change for the better. Help them, in memory of the 1300 who have paid the ultimate price for official incompetence and callous disregard for how human beings are being treated.

Iain Duncan-Smith treated a previous petition started by Dom Aversano, calling on him to do as he said he could and live on £53 a week, with the utmost arrogance and contempt, dubbing it “a stunt”. This is the measure of the man’s utter disregard of public opinion, or indeed anything that doesn’t help advance his own malicious agenda.

Don’t let him get away with it again.  Become pro-active.  Make this man see that the voice of the people will not be ignored.  Sign and share, and make a difference today.

Please.  Share If You Care.