Tag Archives: depression

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. 

Image

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.

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Shaker Aamer: Prisoner 239 and the Ongoing Scandal of Guantánamo Bay

Shaker Aamer's children in 2009

Shaker Aamer’s children in 2009

On 14th February 2002 Shaker Aamer became a father for the fourth time, his British wife Zin Siddique bearing him a son, Faris. On the same day, Aamer was incarcerated in Guantánamo Bay detention camp, where he has remained ever since. He has never met his youngest son, now aged 11. There has been no trial. He has never been convicted of, nor even charged with, any crime.

Shaker Aamer had been working for an Islamic charity in Afghanistan in 2001 when he was captured in Jalalabad and handed over to US officials. He was interrogated and then transported to Guantánamo Bay. Based on the evidence of a fellow detainee, Aamer was believed to have been working as a “recruiter, financier, and facilitator” for al-Qaeda. He has consistently denied all such allegations, and it was argued on his behalf by Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve that the evidence against him was unsafe, being inherently incredible and the product of false promises and even torture.

The Bush administration acknowledged that it had no evidence against Aamer and cleared him for release in 2007. The Obama administration cleared him for release in 2009. Four years on and Shaker Aamer continues to languish in the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, no charges preferred against him, no apparent bar to his release, his physical and mental health declining as he maintains a hunger strike – a glaring example of the most scandalous abuse of natural justice it is possible to imagine.

It has been speculated that Aamer “knows too much” about the goings-on inside the detention camp; allegations of torture have been made over the years, and Aamer himself has referred to instances where he has had his head beaten against a wall, and on one occasion waking from a severe beating to find a pistol on the table in his cell. It may be felt by some that it is the potential embarrassment to the authorities, consequent upon Aamer being free to speak out, that is the reason behind his continuing imprisonment – not any outstanding issue of national security.

Aamer is a charismatic and eloquent man, sometimes described as the “unofficial spokesman of the detainees”, so it may well be that there is something for some people to fear in what he might have to say when he is fully at liberty to speak. Clive Stafford Smith again: “I have known Shaker for some time; because he is so eloquent and outspoken about the injustices of Guantánamo he is very definitely viewed as a threat by the US. Not in the sense of being an extremist but in the sense of being someone who can rather eloquently criticise the nightmare that happened there.” Whatever the reason, there can be no excuse. The governments of the UK and the US agree that Aamer should be released: there is no charge against him; there is no evidence against him. And yet there he remains having already served longer, and in the harshest of prison regimes, than many a convicted murderer.

The US stands accused in the light of this scandalous situation of behaviour it would roundly condemn if perpetrated by a regime in a third-world country. The UK in its ineffectual stance over efforts to release Aamer, stands complicit in such a charge. Neither country emerges with any credit intact over such a blatant injustice, maintained over such a long period of time. The situation demeans both nations, and casts into a dubious light their mantra of “freedom over fundamentalism, democracy over dictatorship”. In allowing the incarceration of Shaker Aamer to continue, along with that of his fellow detainees who are also imprisoned without charge or trial, the leading lights of the western world are in danger of having their credibility shredded by their failure to act where the dictates of justice and the principles of democracy clearly indicate that urgent action is required.

The viewpoint of some of the public in this country, hearing of Shaker Aamed’s plight on national radio, is perhaps predictable in the climate since 9/11 and particularly this past week since the Woolwich atrocity. But it is nevertheless cause for head-shaking despair at the ease with which people are hoodwinked into ignorant bigotry. “Why are you running this item?” demanded one irate texter. “I am white, British and proud.” Others cited pearls of wisdom such as: “no smoke without fire”, or “well he’s not even a British citizen.” Yet this is a human being, acknowledged by successive political leaders of the nation that has deprived him of liberty and family life for eleven years as “clear to be freed”. That has been his status for the last five years. And yet still he rots away in his prison cell, subjected to daily humiliation and ill-treatment, missing his family growing up. It’s difficult to imagine a more appalling Human Rights abuse, and yet this is being condoned and allowed to continue by the self-styled “Leader of the Free World”. And there are people who applaud this, and recoil in apparent disgust at attempts to stand up for the rights of those detained without trial. It’s almost too depressing for words.

It’s not just the US either. Up to 90 Afghans are held without charge at Camp Bastion by UK forces, allegedly “for their own safety”. This has been described as a “mini Guantánamo Bay” – and when the name of a detention camp is used as a byword for all that is wrong with the legal process and principles behind such imprisonment, you know that there is something fundamentally wrong. Guantánamo Bay may not have the genocidally evil resonance of Auschwitz, Dachau or Belsen, but the metaphorical application is not a million miles away.

Shaker Aamer’s family now live in Battersea in South London. His wife has been ill since he was incarcerated eleven years ago; she has suffered from depression and other episodes of mental health disorder. Aamer himself is worried about how things will be when he finally is released, a prospect he views with touching confidence that it will actually happen; yet with some trepidation too. “I may find it difficult to respond to being called Dad,” he says. “Maybe my kids will have to call me Prisoner 239”. In January 2010, his 12-year-old daughter Johina wrote a letter to then UK Premier Gordon Brown asking for his release. This was three years after President Bush cleared him for freedom and one year after Obama did the same thing. In 2011, Aamer’s father-in-law Saeed Siddique commented, “When he was captured, Shaker offered to let my daughter divorce him, but she said, ‘No, I will wait for you.’ She is still waiting.”