Tag Archives: FIFA

Germany the Authors of Their own World Cup Misfortune, but Leeds Hero Pontus is Smiling – by Rob Atkinson

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The Germans have a word for it, as they usually do. And, since the reigning champions were toppled out of the World Cup on Thursday, it’s a word that has gained a great deal of currency in the UK and pretty much everywhere else, really. Schadenfreude – the concept of pleasure and gratification arising out of somebody else’s misfortune – neatly sums up the national mood since South Korea applied the coup de grace to Germany’s limp 2018 World Cup campaign. To say that the nation rejoiced in the wake of this sensational result is not to understate the case. Even sober journalists and media types joined in the euphoric jollity. Everybody was queuing up to poke fun at the demise of the German national football team.

It’s tempting to suggest that there is some historical element in this tendency of ours to wish misfortune on the Germans. Two world wars during the twentieth century might lend some credence to this point of view; especially where our most senior citizens are concerned. But for people of more tender years, the motivation is less martial, more sporting. Put simply, most of us are just sick of Germany’s traditional efficiency in amassing trophies on fields of sporting conflict, especially as compared to the meagre hauls of the home countries. We are sick of losing to them on penalties, sick of them going on to beat the teams we might otherwise have beaten, lifting the trophies we might otherwise have lifted. And, much as we would love to see our own teams strut around a lap of honour, we’re sick of seeing them do that, too. As Manchester United would confirm, nobody loves a perennial winner. It’s just boring for the rest of us.

So, the German exit from Russia 2018 had its novelty value, but it gave us all a laugh too, with the comical nature of their defeat to South Korea. For once, their goalkeeper was not batting away our penalty shots to win yet another shootout for the Fatherland – instead, he was making an idiot of himself on the left wing as his team-mates desperately chased late goals; then he had to watch helpless as the Koreans streaked downfield to pop the ball into an empty net to seal Germany’s doom. Oh, how we laughed. It was as comical as it was richly satisfactory, with the commentators in tucks and everybody taking the mick. Days like this come around all too rarely; we have to make the most of them. And, oh boy, did we ever.

The thing is as well, for those feeling any slight twinge of sympathy for a beaten and ridiculed German team, they really have asked for this. If you cast your mind back to the game that Germany actually won, beating Sweden at the very last gasp, they proved themselves to be most ungracious in victory, taunting the Swedish bench and provoking an angry reaction. Our own Pontus Jansson was involved, leading the charge and looking as if he wanted to take on the whole of the German backroom staff by himself. At that point, it looked as though Sweden had suffered a fatal blow in terms of their World Cup chances; surely, Germany would now steamroller its way into the knockout phase. But a few days on, Germany are bottom of their group and have gone home, while Sweden finished top to progress. Germany’s display of arrogant triumphalism had earned them the bitter fruits of karma, and it seemed the rest of the world felt a deep sense of justice served.

Pontus is happy too. On his Instagram account, he observed after the German exit “Warm up done. Now let’s start World Cup!” The German view, though, is terse and chilling – “Yes, we deserved to go out. We are not good enough. Enjoy this while you can”.

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Elland Road’s England Extravaganza Proves Premier League Needs Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

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Southgate’s England win at a vibrant and atmospheric Elland Road

England‘s last stopping-off point before their Russian quest for World Cup glory was at a vibrant and atmospheric Elland Road – and the occasion told us plenty, some of it even about our national team and its chances this summer.

Talking about England first, this was a competent and dominant performance against a slightly jet-lagged Costa Rica team who were still nobody’s mugs. England pretty much won as they liked though, with Marcus Rashford, looking much more effective with better players around him, making a persuasive case for inclusion in the opening game of England’s group, ahead, perhaps, of Raheem Sterling. Rashford’s spectacular 13th minute opener brought generous cheers from the Kop, despite the lad’s day job, with Danny Welbeck‘s close range header near the end greeted equally warmly by the South Stand. In between the two decisive strikes, England passed prettily, defended well enough to leave their keeper Jack Butland largely unemployed, and a lively attack gave the Costa Rican defence plenty to think about.

But the signature note of the evening was struck by the occasion’s real star – Elland Road itself. For once in a very long while, the muted, apathetic atmosphere of Wembley was replaced by a thrillingly raucous fervour to urge on the national team, courtesy of one of football’s genuine, old-style cauldrons of white-hot atmosphere. That’s done nowhere quite so well as it is in this part of Leeds; the crowd lifted the England players to a degree that was obvious to anybody who’s suffered through some of those dreary friendlies in North London. This was dutifully acknowledged by commentators and pundits alike; Clive Tyldesley for ITV noted that the attendance was around 36,000, “but sounds like twice as much”. Indeed. Old Trafford, it’s worth mentioning, can do a similar trick – only the other way around.

Lee Dixon in his punditry role was fired with enthusiasm afterwards. This is what you need, he exulted, thumbing over his shoulder at the arena behind him. Let’s take England on the road. It’s a good idea, one that’s been around for years now, but the commercial lure of Wembley has usually won the day. Perhaps there will now be a rethink. It’s no coincidence that this was one of the better England “friendly” performances; the team responded to the crowd, the occasion, the unique atmosphere. Above all, tonight showed beyond doubt that the Premier League – currently stuffed with pedestrian acts like Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Watford – positively needs the return of Leeds United. The stadium, the club and the fanatical support are all wasted on anything less than the elite group, and the so-called Premier League has been diluted too far and for too long by elements of mediocrity. The return of United cannot come too soon, for the sake of all parties concerned.

For Leeds United fans, it was a taste of what might be to come, the stadium packed out and cheering on some top class footballers who may even be destined for great things. How the fans of Yorkshire‘s top club would like to sample that atmosphere, and witness this style of performance, on a more regular basis. It’s a dream, something to hope for and aspire to. And, you never know – those dreams do occasionally come true.

Cellino Early Favourite to Replace Blatter as FIFA Chief   –   by Rob Atkinson

 

Blatter: Exit stage right

In the wake of Sepp Blatter‘s sensational resignation as President of FIFA, only days after his re-election to a fifth term – the immediate favourite to replace the outgoing Swiss administrator and notorious crook is – unsurprisingly – notorious crook and soon-to-be-banned Leeds United owner, Massimo Cellino.

A FIFA insider, speaking on a lobby basis exclusively to Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything, confirmed that Cellino’s name was the one on everyone’s lips in the corridors of power at football’s governing body. “Signor Cellino is well thought-of here,” insisted our source. “Many people believe that he is the man most likely to uphold the finest traditions of FIFA and, more importantly, oversee the crucial cover-ups that will be needed quite shortly.”

It is not yet clear why Mr. Blatter has resigned, although people close to him are whispering the words “rumbled at long last”. FIFA will be in need of a man who is used to dealing in the many and various ways in which football and other spheres of public life can be disgraced, brought into disrepute, fixed, manipulated through bribery and generally bent out of shape. These exacting requirements are thought to boil down to a short-list of one, with other feasible candidates being either locked up in jail (Carson Yeung), busy as dictators (Cameron and Kim Jong Un), too old (Ken Bates) or too dead (Thatcher). As far as can be seen for now, Cellino is the only man with the track record and moral fibre to fill the shoes of such a monumental shyster as Blatter.

Leeds United FC had no comment to make beyond a tersely-worded short statement as follows: “Thank chuff for that.”

Massimo Cellino is as honest as the day is long.  In the vicinity of the North Pole at the Winter Solstice. 

Suarez Storm Exposes Depths of Football’s Hypocrisy – by Rob Atkinson

Suárez - the eye-teeth have it

Suárez – the eye-teeth have it

As a long-suffering fan of Leeds United Football Club, I’m no stranger to cant and hypocrisy as delivered by some of the mealy-mouthed “Guardians of the Good Name of Football” types, who infest the media to sickening effect. My club much more than most has been the target and victim of some of these holier-than-thou merchants over the years, the kind of people who will loudly condemn a Revie, a Bremner or a Bowyer whilst turning a conveniently blind eye to the peccadilloes of a Georgie Best, a Saint Bobby Charlton or a Royston Keane. It’s all part of the United-supporting experience, but no less nauseating for that. As an experienced and cynical White, you tend to sigh, roll your eyes and reflect upon what unctuous pillocks some people are. It’s a Leeds thing – but it manifests itself more broadly than that sometimes. The few hours since the Uruguay v Italy World Cup game are ample proof of this.

This short lapse of time, since Luis Suárez hurled himself once more into the teeth of a storm of public disapproval and disgust, has been a veritable feast, a feeding frenzy for saintly hypocrites everywhere. It shows no sign of abating; those who seek the moral high ground can scent the blood of a perennial target – and this time, they mean to get him. Prominent among these people, working himself up into a froth of indignant condemnation, is ITV’s own cabbage-patch doll tribute, Adrian Chiles. The man who is to bone structure what Wayne Rooney is to flower power coiffure, seems to be in the process of establishing himself as prat-in-chief among the sorry ranks of football presenters. Nothing is too trivial, no issue too banal that we’ll fail to hear those lugubriously annoying Midlands tones as Chiles essays another laboriously-crafted shaft of wit – pardon the unintentional spoonerism there.

Sitting alongside Chiles, as often as not, wearing his trademark glower in the hope that one or other of his colleagues will smilingly point out just how damned hard he is, will be Roy Keane – ex-footballer and dispenser of summary justice as defined by, erm, Roy Keane.  The Chiles/Keane axis can be a little uncomfortable to watch for anyone whose sensitivities include the thorny issue of unrequited love.  Chiles so openly slavers over the former Man U thug that you begin to worry about the absorbent capacity of his tie. It’s a one-sided bromance that makes you, as an onlooker, wince with pain as the hapless and cushion-faced anchorman makes cow’s eyes at the ex-footballer, who affords him only a sneer and another glower from under those knitted brows by way of return.  It’s car-crash TV – you ache for the hopeless yearning of Chiles and you want to look away when you see the Celtic indifference displayed by the object of his adoration.  But there’s a horrid fascination about the scene, and we’re reminded uncomfortably of our own episodes of hero-worship in our callow and distant youth.  To see a grown man, even one as fatally foetal as Chiles, going through such adolescent love pangs is at once repellent and riveting.

The irony is, of course, that part of Chiles’ remit is to jump aboard the nationally-sponsored anti-Suárez bandwagon.  It’s something he does eagerly enough; clearly he feels himself to cut something of a dash while he’s verbally pulling to pieces such a conveniently distant target.  After all, he can’t see himself in a mirror when he’s in mid-rant.  The reason that Chiles is such a case in point is that, during infrequent pauses for breath as he lambastes his latest absent target, he will glance adoringly yet again at Mr Keane, the urgent desire for approval writ large across his Pilsbury Doughman features.  Doesn’t it strike you that there’s something incongruous about all of this?  Whatever the sins of the Uruguayan – does not the beloved Roy have a rap sheet just as long and twice as disgusting?

I’m not expecting too much agreement here – after all, anti-Suárez sentiments have been abroad for a good while, and won’t have been ameliorated by his brace of goals against Engerland last week.  But really – is the little Liverpool genius that much more to be condemned than, for instance, Keane – a man receipted and filed for an arrogant thug and a brazen coward?

Neither is this blog looking to defend Luis Suárez, not on the substantive issue of this compulsion of his to sink his teeth into folk, anyway.  In the eyes of Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything, he is guilty beyond doubt of immense stupidity – he is in fact a repeat offender in that respect. There’s something wrong there, something fundamentally at fault under the bonnet.  It seems that such fatal flaws often go hand-in-hand with the kind of genius which blesses Suárez – similar examples are not hard to think of.  Gascoigne, Best, Cantona.  They all, to a greater or lesser degree, had and have a screw loose.  The misfortune of Suárez is that he’s a serial recidivist, someone who seemingly can’t avoid re-offending, with the same modus operandi cropping up time and time again.

This blog will also freely concede that biting is a disgusting offence against the laws of the game and also against natural decency – on an old-fashioned level, it’s simply not the way a chap goes about sorting out his differences with another chap.  It’s not cricket; not the done thing.  Perhaps things are different in Uruguay, perhaps this is just another of those unknown “cultural differences” as in the Patrice Evra “negrito” storm, something that football in this country, and the football press, have neither forgiven nor forgotten.  You don’t call a chap nasty names (especially when he plays for Man U) – and you don’t bite, inflicting your DNA upon some unwilling recipient.  It’s unmanly and possibly unhealthy.  Perhaps if the sins of Suárez were more manifestly British in character – perhaps something along the lines of the various acts perpetrated by Mr Keane in his time – then we’d more readily understand and forgive.  But, as they’re not – as they have this alien flavour to them, it’s all to easy to cast the foreigner as scapegoat, whilst dismissing more easily-understandable fouls and transgressions with a nod, a wink and a grin – Roy’s such a bad lad, a proper hard-man, tsk tsk – but really, you know, he’s one of us.  This nasty subtext of xenophobia underpins the differing ways in which the actions of Suárez and Keane are perceived, rationalised and – as the case may be – excused or condemned.

Don’t get me wrong.  I wouldn’t like to be trying to play football and then feel a set of teeth sinking into my shoulder.  I wouldn’t like it at all, and I doubt I’d have the restraint merely to whine at the referee if I were to be thus assailed. But ask me in the cold light of day whether I’d prefer that, or a calculated stamp intended to smash the knee of my weight-bearing leg – and I’d unhesitatingly plump for the Uruguayan’s top set every time.  A bite-mark heals a hell of a lot faster than ruptured ligaments.  And the fact is that Roy Keane – who carried out just such an assault on Alf-Inge Haaland, as all Leeds and Man City fans will remember – later acknowledged it as a coldly premeditated act, born of his anger at Haaland’s mocking him as he lay with a ruptured ligament of his own on the Elland Road turf in 1997.  That injury was sustained in the course of Keane trying to commit a foul; Haaland was innocent of any crime except the mouthful he gave to Keane, accusing him of feigning injury.  But Roy bore a grudge, Roy bided his time and Roy set out to end the career of Alf-Inge Haaland when they met in a Manchester derby four years later.  It was the act of a self-righteous, deluded coward; how Keane has this hard-man image utterly escapes me.  Another of his retaliatory acts was committed against that not-exactly-scary individual Jason McAteer, a player who would scarcely cause anyone to worry about the consequences of fouling him. But, in delivering a sly elbow to the face, Keane characteristically sneaked up from behind and then ran away – which neatly sums him up as the moral coward and fake hard-man he undoubtedly is.

So when we see the likes of Chiles having his empty-headed rant at the silly-boy actions of a firebrand and hair-trigger character like Luis Suárez – let’s not forget that one of his studio colleagues almost certainly has a hell of a lot more to answer for in terms of conduct unbecoming.  And yet, allowances were made for Keane throughout a career stained by many examples of petulant and vicious actions, with the man himself remaining arrogant, unrepentant, intent only on maintaining his illusory image as a tough guy.  As for Suárez, the press are even now engaged in talking up the length and severity of his punishment, as well as wondering excitedly whether or not any sanctions might spill over into Liverpool’s domestic campaign.  Let’s not forget that the Reds had to do without their Latin genius for the first few games of last season, courtesy of his last dental indiscretion.  It might even have made the difference by which they eventually lost the title – a high price to pay for proud and long-suffering fans. If the hypocrites have their way, then we will be denied the spectacle of one of the world’s very top players parading his genius – for that is what it is – not only for the remainder of the World Cup, but also well into the Premier League season yet to come.  The BBC are amazingly, ridiculously, mentioning a possible two year ban as I write. That would be a terrible tragedy, an injustice and a gross misreading of what is good for the game.

As I said earlier, genius is frequently accompanied by a lunatic fringe of unpredictably bizarre behaviour.  Genius is what Luis Suárez has, to a lavish degree.  He is one of the very few players for whom even today’s extortionate match ticket prices are well worth the investment.  Genius always deserves some latitude, some understanding of the nature of the beast.  Such is my assessment of the Suárez dilemma; genius has its prerogatives and will always be its own excuse.  By that reckoning, what possible excuse can there be for ersatz tough-guy and decided non-genius Royston Keane?  We’d better leave that to his besotted friend and colleague, hypocrite extraordinaire Adrian Chiles.

Karma for the Kaiser as FIFA Ban Beckenbauer (39 Years Too Late) – by Rob Atkinson

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Der Kaiser – justice delayed is justice denied

The news that FIFA has imposed a temporary ban from all football activities on “der KaiserFranz Beckenbauer will come as pretty cold comfort to Leeds United fans of a certain age.  They will remember all too well the massive effect that Beckenbauer, now 69 years old, had on the 1975 European Cup Final at the Parc des Princes, Paris.  Beckenbauer, then as now, was a massively-influential figure in the game, having captained West Germany to World Cup success only the summer before.  He certainly seemed to have an intimidating effect on French referee Michel Kitabdjian, who failed to give two seemingly clear-cut penalties to Leeds in the first half, and then quailed before the furious protests of der Kaiser – and, after a short delay, his Bayern Munich team-mates – having initially seemed to allow a Peter Lorimer volley in the 67th minute.

The rest, sadly for United – who had completely outplayed the defending European Champions up to that point – was history.  Leeds, demoralised and feeling cheated of an advantage which would have been well-merited, subsided to two goals from Roth and Muller, putting an end to their dreams of being top dogs in Europe.  It was difficult to overlook the undue influence that Beckenbauer had wielded over the course of the match, and the Leeds fans who remember the occasion still feel that the German’s standing in the game made it far too easy for him to alter the course of events in Bayern’s favour.

If the English club concerned had played in red, the protests from home might have been more vehement.  As it was, the focus was more on the subsequent actions of disgruntled Leeds fans than on any perceived injustice.  Beckenbauer had got away with two penalty claims, and he’d seemingly managed to sway an incompetent – at best – ref.  It’s little wonder that the very mention of his name gives Leeds United supporters the conniptions to this day.

The fact that Beckenbauer is now in some bother with World Football’s governing body might give rise to a few quiet nods of satisfaction in LS11 and considerably further afield – although of course those old wounds will remain raw until the last Leeds fan to remember that night is long past caring.  The current issue is nothing to do with the 1975 Final – it’s a different matter and it’s thirty-nine years too late anyway.  It’s just that, when someone seems to have got away with such a blatant buggering-up of justice for so long, it’s nice to see them called to account for anything at all. You’re almost reminded of Al Capone’s notorious career, bloodstained and terror-strewn – when he finally went down it was for the white-collar crime of tax evasion.  Hardly reflective of his undoubted crimes, but still.  Justice – of a sort.

So we Leeds fans will hope that Beckenbauer’s current problems don’t go away any time soon.  The man himself doesn’t seem unduly concerned though – and his continuing influence will more than likely see him walk out from under yet again.  He wasn’t the first footballer to get away with on-field dodginess, and he won’t be the last – but the injury he helped inflict on Leeds that night bit deep and it took us a long, long time to recover – while Bayern continued to flourish.

Justice?  It’s a gag, we all know that.  But for a while at least, we might hope and dream that it’s finally caught up with der Kaiser.

Financial Fair Play Rules Will Be Anything But Fair – by Rob Atkinson

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FFP – In aid of The Cartel

With the news that QPR are in line for a massive fine – reportedly a possible £62 million – for incurring heavy losses in their vain attempt to retain top-flight status, it’s time to pause, scratch our heads and reflect: just who ARE going to be the beneficiaries of the Financial Fair Play rules?

Firstly, what is “Fair Play”?  Doesn’t it imply a leveling of the playing field so that true competition might be a feature of our national game – instead of an all-powerful cartel at the top of the Premier League, carving up the goodies between them?  One of the worrying aspects of the Fair Play rules appears to be their scornful attitude to inward investment. Suddenly, this has become a grubby, slightly indecent concept, the clubs trying to invest their way towards parity with the Big Boys are looked upon as upstarts, unwelcome parvenus  The idea of slapping a massive fine on top of a big operating loss is likewise perplexing – somewhat akin to seeing a dangerous blaze which threatens loss of life and property, then trying to put it out by spraying petrol lavishly all over it.  We are in danger here of applying a cure that is worse than the disease.

As a Leeds fan, I suppose I should be leaning towards rules like this.  Leeds are a big club, and success would multiply their potential to succeed commercially by a factor of many. Presumably, this sort of self-generated wealth would meet with the approval of the minds behind Financial Fair Play – although, given the fact that it’s Leeds, we’re just as likely to get hit with a 15 point deduction.  But the whole thing stinks to me; I am cynical as to the thinking behind it – and even more so, I am cynical as to the interests of those who are behind the thinking.

Financial Fair Play appears to my non-financially-wired mind to want to put more power and financial muscle into the hands of those who already have the most power and financial muscle.  It will benefit, surely, those who have tapped successfully into vast overseas markets, those with massive supporter bases consisting of millions of people, most of whom will not necessarily have even visited the country wherein resides their team of choice.  The more tacky memorabilia and replica merchandise such a club can sell, to the biggest market possible, the more the new regime of Financial Fair Play will approve and enable that club.  Who on earth COULD they be thinking about here?

I’m even more worried, having heard about the bleak situation facing QPR, about the direction in which our game is heading.  It seems to be all about empowering the powerful, and rendering those who want to rise and compete incapable of doing just that. The legends that have been built up in the game over the past century or so are now in a position to benefit enormously from rules that reflect today’s “Devil take the hindmost” philosophy.  That might thrill the capitalist souls of many, but it doesn’t do much for the guy who likes the idea that, every now and again, some hitherto unregarded club will ascend through the levels and leave the Goliaths with a bloody nose. That sort of scenario, to me, is what sport is all about – and if you legislate against clubs trying to better themselves in what is increasingly a money-dominated game, then you’re cutting off a hell of a lot of the appeal of the game.

Or am I just being hopelessly naive?

World Football Must “Do a Leeds” – and Banish the Evil of Racism – by Rob Atkinson

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Yaya Toure – racially abused

Eyebrows tend to be raised, lips are apt to be pursed and there is a general air of bemused surprise when any Leeds United fan (this blogger, for instance) condemns racism.  Those who will throw their hands up in horror – rightly so – whenever they encounter a racial stereotype, seem rather less scrupulous about imposing stereotypes of their own when their cosy perceptions about United fans are challenged.  Hang on a minute, they demur – Leeds supporters are about the most racist around, aren’t they?  Well, perhaps they were, once upon a time.  But times change and the Leeds United fan culture of today is a vastly different thing to the bleak days of the early eighties.  More of which later.

The events of last week have brought the whole foul problem back into sharp focus. During Manchester City’s away Champion’s League tie against CSKA Moscow, midfielder Yaya Toure was subjected to monkey chants from the grinning morons among the home support. It’s a real problem in many parts of Europe and the one thing that’s tolerably certain is that it’s not going to go away on its own.  What’s normally needed to remedy such matters is supporter organisation into a strong anti-racism movement – which was, not incidentally, the Leeds United experience – or tough sanctions from some higher authority with something approximating to a backbone.

Toure may not have been alone in suffering this awful, unjustifiable and humiliating abuse – some sources report that team-mate Fernandinho may also have been targeted. Toure was understandably disgusted and has demanded action.  He has even gone so far as to suggest that the 2018 World Cup, scheduled to be hosted by Russia, could be hit by a black players’ boycott.  I only hope that he’s serious about that, and that he can count on the support of other black players, as this would be a shattering blow to the tournament – much, much greater today than it would have been in the eighties.  A far higher proportion of the world’s best players are black today than back then, such has been the explosive development of the game in Africa, a continent where many nations are emerging as serious football powers.  A black players’ boycott of the tournament, then, could be a way to apply irresistible pressure to fans and ruling bodies alike.  A World Cup without many of its most mesmerising stars would be unthinkable; even if it went ahead it would be so devalued as to be hardly worth winning.

Jose Mourinho has a view on the issue of a possible boycott, as he does on so many issues.  He expressed “sympathy” for Toure, but said he did not support the City player’s comments afterwards.

“I respect his opinion, but I disagree,” said Mourinho. “I disagree because the history of football was made equally by many races, and the black players have fantastic contribution to what football is.

“Who is more important: the billions of people in love with the game around the world, or a few thousand that go to football stadia and have a disgraceful behaviour in relation to the black players?

“If I was a black player, I would say the other billions are much more important. Let’s fight the thousands but give to the billions what they want: the best football. Football without black players is not the best football.”

As a football man on football matters, Mourinho’s is a voice to be respected – but in the last nine words of that quote, he basically makes the case for, not against, a boycott by black players of Russia 2018.  Just imagine if you will a tournament blighted by the kind of sickening filth Toure and possibly Fernandinho had to suffer last Wednesday night. It’s too horrible to contemplate – and what message would it send out to the billions worldwide that Jose is seeking to protect from a World Cup bereft of black talent? Endemic racism is OK as long as we’re being entertained by the football? That’s not the way to go and it’s not the example to set to the world’s children.

Mourinho then is surely wrong to suggest that those billions would rather witness a tournament dragged down to gutter level by cretins whose idea of fun is to abuse a world star by making crude monkey noises.  The best thing an organised movement of black players could possibly do is to show FIFA that the situation is intolerable by refusing to have anything to do with such a toxic affair.  Perhaps then even FIFA – a body which inspires little confidence, led by a man in Sepp Blatter who is little better than a bad joke – might consider its options, faced as they would be with a sanction of such potentially seismic effect.  They certainly should consider those options, which are practically limitless.

It’s certainly pointless to wait around hoping that UEFA might put their own house in order, something they’ve proved themselves singularly incapable of doing.  Instead, FIFA should act, and act decisively.  They should advise Russia that, unless this problem can be addressed and eliminated by 2015, an alternative host nation will be found for the 2018 World Cup – it’s that serious.  They should monitor the situation, act as advised and they should then stick to their guns.  They won’t, of course, because they are truly spineless and complacent – which is why the likes of Yaya Toure and the others like him who are subjected to this evil baiting, really have no choice but to rally together and organise themselves to take their own action.  Good luck to them if that’s the path they take.

In the early eighties the experience of being a match-going, non-racist Leeds United fan was lonely and disgusting.  The atmosphere was rancid with bigotry, skin-headed, bone-headed racists sold “The Flag”, a right-wing snot-rag, outside the ground.  It was done openly, brazenly.  Dissenting voices, when raised, brought upon their owners the risk of violence.  The club was inert and complacent.  The police sat by and watched.  It was depressingly, shamefully awful.  And then, things started to change.

Civilised, intelligent Leeds United supporters, unable and unwilling to accept the evil being dispensed in the name of their beloved club, organised themselves into Leeds United Fans Against Racism & Fascism.  Fanzines were sold expounding the voice of reason against the bigoted filth being peddled by the racists.  More decent supporters woke up to what had been going on, joined the anti-racist movement, bought the fanzines, started to raise the voice of protest against the ignorance and malice of the terrace chants against visiting black players.

Even the slumbering Leeds United itself reacted positively to the changes afoot.  Black players were signed, the first since the brief but bright Leeds career of Terry Connor. Noel Blake, affectionately nicknamed “Bruno”, loved by the Kop.  Vince Hilaire, quicksilver winger reviving memories of Albert Johanneson in the sixties, the first black player to play in the Cup Final and a Leeds hero when the Revie revolution was still new.  It was a painfully long, slow job – but Leeds United finally managed to rid itself of one of the most degradingly awful reputations for racism and bigotry, and they largely did it as an institution, by the efforts of enlightened fans supplemented by the club’s more enlightened transfer policy at a time when there was still an unofficial bar observed by the likes of Everton FC.

I’m extremely proud of the way my club tackled its problems.  The Leeds United of today bears no resemblance at all to the sick club being brought to its knees 30 years ago, dying of the cancer of racism.  The whole world has moved on, though pockets of the disease still exist at home, yet far more significantly abroad.  We now live in a time when these manifestations of hate and ignorance are a palpable shock to the system – and that in itself is a massive change for the better.  Such inhuman behaviour has never ever been acceptable, but now it’s seen to be completely unacceptable, and FIFA above all must face up to the reality of this.

FIFA simply have to act, and they have to act now.  Despite CSKA Moscow’s revolting stance whereby they’re claiming this simply didn’t take place – the club’s deputy media manager, Michael Sanadze, told Sky Sports News that “nothing special happened” – they have been charged by UEFA with “racist behaviour”. UEFA though are an organisation clearly lacking in the backbone to apply sanctions and see them through, Lazio having been punished for comparable transgressions in the past, the stadium closure subsequently being reduced to a mere slap on the wrist.

The message from FIFA has to be clear and unequivocal.  Stop the racist abuse – or lose the World Cup in 2018.  Failing that, Yaya Toure and his black colleagues – and how good it would be to think that non-black players might also support such a move – should carry with them the good wishes and backing of every decent-minded person as they seek to reduce the tournament in Russia to the well-merited status of farce.  It would be no more than FIFA deserve for what would amount to tacit support of the racist minority whose venom threatens to poison the whole football world.

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

Image

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.

Sepp Blatter “Seeks More Time” Over Qatar World Cup ’22 Details – by Rob Atkinson

Sepp Blatter wondering whether a brewery is a good place for a piss-up, yesterday

Sepp Blatter wondering whether a brewery is a good place for a piss-up, yesterday

FIFA has confirmed that the 2022 World Cup Finals tournament will take place in Qatar after all.  There will however be no final decision on the actual timing of the tournament until after the 2014 tournament in Brazil. A well-funded, well-fed and self-important FIFA Commission, possibly including vocal opponents of a winter World Cup, has been planned “to carry out very deep consultations and investigations and show some diplomacy and wisdom” a FIFA spokesperson stated, with a commendably straight face.

The latest decisions and non-decisions have been made in spite of shock information that has slowly seeped into the heads of FIFA President Sepp Blatter and other officials since December 2010 when the event was originally awarded to the middle-eastern oil state, which has been ruled absolutely by the Al Thani family since the mid-1800s.  These shattering revelations include the news that;

  • Qatar gets quite warm in the summertime;
  • Alternative times of the year, whilst cooler (merely “bloody hot” as opposed to “blood-boilingly impossible, even for a camel“), are inconveniently taken up with league programmes in the world’s major football-playing countries;
  • Migrant workers are routinely having their rights abused;
  • There have been instances of deaths on World Cup-related construction sites.

Mr Blatter has stated that he has “sympathy and regret for anything that happens in any country where there are deaths on construction sites, especially when they are related to a World Cup.”  But he feels that such considerations must not be allowed to get in the way of his vision for football. “The Fifa World Cup 2022 will be played in Qatar. There you have it.”

Such an autocratic approach has been welcomed by the authorities in Qatar itself, where this is pretty much how they run things all the time.  The state is ruled absolutely by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani who seized power in 1995.  Corporal and capital punishment continue to be practised, and several elements of the Western way of life are severely proscribed, including sexual orientation and freedom of expression.  A Qatari poet Mohammed al-Ajami, also known as Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb was handed a life sentence, apparently simply for words he has uttered or written.  FIFA have either been aware of all of these factors at all relevant times since 2010, or have become aware of them since – but there is no indication that their decision has been in any way affected, beyond Mr Blatter’s “regrets”.

The area of labour is similarly fraught.  Many cases of ill-treatment of immigrant labour have been observed. Qatar does not maintain wage standards for its immigrant labour. Under the provisions of Qatar’s sponsorship law, sponsors have the unilateral power to cancel workers’ residency permits, deny workers’ ability to change employers, report a worker as “absconded” to police authorities, and deny permission to leave the country. As a result, sponsors may restrict workers’ movements and workers may be afraid to report abuses or claim their rights.  It’s a system thought to be much-admired by some Cabinet Members in the UK’s coalition government, though nobody has been available to comment upon this.

One fact that may well have had some bearing on the FIFA stance is that Qatar has proven reserves of oil and natural gas, putting the state at the top of Forbes’ list of the world’s richest countries.

FIFA: “Putting money and commercial opportunism ahead of liberty and human rights since 1904”

Murdoch to Hammer Another Nail Into Football’s Coffin?

Uncle Rupert

Uncle Rupert

News is emerging that Rupert Murdoch may be about to unveil a “Summer Super League” plan for football, whereby 16 “elite” clubs would compete in a league-type competition throughout the traditional European close season.  Matches would be played in cities around the world in a transparent move to open up new markets and further popularise the Sky/Murdoch brand before an international audience possibly running to billions.

The drawbacks to such a plan spring readily to mind.  There is an obvious issue around the physical and mental demands upon players who might now be called upon to perform without a break in the whole calendar year.  That is, assuming that the players involved would be the senior players of the “elite” clubs envisaged as making up this league; but that does seem a fair assumption.  It is hardly likely that a project like this would have the necessary appeal and marketability if the competing teams were to field development squads – stars would be a pre-requisite for success.

What, then would be the impact on existing competitions?  It would be easy to imagine that the effect on, say, domestic cups could be quite shattering.  We’ve already had the precedent of Man U withdrawing from the FA Cup one season for some money-making prestige junket to South America where they competed for a version of the World Club Championship, and predictably sank without trace.  If the likes of Man U, Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal were to be invited (as they most certainly would be) to compete in Murdoch’s latest commercial fandango, then we could quite probably predict that – at the very least – the FA Cup, and certainly the League Cup would slide yet further down the priority list for these in-demand clubs.  Already we see shadow squads competing for the League Cup, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see withdrawals from that competition, and the treatment of the FA Cup as a proving ground for promising younger players.  It would be the eager crowds in the Far East, Australia, the USA and the Middle East who would have the pleasure of seeing the Premier League’s major talents performing in the flesh.

The question also arises: what of the World Cup, and the slightly lesser competitions held on individual continents?  Would FIFA be prepared to take on Murdoch and his increasingly omnipresent empire?  The days when domestic cup competitions caused a thrill of excitement and a sense of occasion are already receding into golden memory.  Will the same happen to the four-yearly cycle of the greatest international tournament of them all?  It’s not impossible; and if it were to happen, we’d know what to blame – the three M’s.  Murdoch, Money and Markets.

The time is fast approaching when Football as we know it will be in sore need of rescue by seemingly the only people left who actually care enough to want to preserve its proud history and tradition: the fans.  Obviously, I mean those of us who are old enough to remember the game’s great days, before Murdoch got his talons on it; when you stood on a packed terrace and sampled an incomparable atmosphere as you cheered on your favourites for under a pound and moaned mightily when that went up to £1.50.  When the only games shown live on the box were really big ones, Cup Finals, major International games, European nights and maybe the odd smattering of League games here and there.  Those were the days when you would have laughed out loud at any suggestion that one day you might be asked to fork out £60 a month for “entertainment” which might include Norwich v Wigan on a Monday evening.

That’s the reality we have now, and it’s scary to look ahead and see how much more our game might change now that Uncle Rupert has had this spiffy new idea.  He’ll want to make sure his audiences have their entertainment in a way that doesn’t put undue strain on their attention-spans, and allows enough time to sell, sell, sell in those commercial breaks.  Didn’t someone once have a great idea about playing four quarters instead of two halves?  What about time-outs?  Why bother with boring draws, can’t we have an exciting shoot-out?

If you doubt things might actually go down that road – just cast your mind back 25 years, and see if you could have imagined then the kind of game we have to watch today, and ask yourself: couldn’t it maybe happen?  Aren’t we in real danger of losing the last vestiges of the game we used to know and love?  And isn’t it maybe time to think just what the hell we can do about it?