This blog has had plenty to say over the past few months about the Football League and its attitude towards Leeds United. That’s a bone of contention that goes back many years, to the days of the late and, quite frankly, unlamented Alan Hardaker.
The current League v Leeds stand-off surrounds United’s temporarily disbarred owner, Massimo Cellino, for whom the suits appear to have it in, big style. Doubtless, many owners and administrators at other clubs will have had a quiet chuckle to themselves over the Leeds situation, particularly those who, unlike the oft-hounded Cellino, appear to be getting away with murder – or at least rape, grand larceny, money-laundering and making a cushy living from the distribution of porn. It’s usually open season on Leeds, and clearly even those of dubious scruples will feel free to have a giggle, if unobserved.
There’s a certain etiquette to this, however; you don’t publicly laugh and point a mocking finger, lest such an overt show of disrespect should rebound on you, leaving you with egg dripping off your face and looking pretty silly. After all, why antagonise and motivate a foe about to meet you on the field of battle? Why do their rabble-rousing for them? There’s little to be gained in making a joke when there’s a danger of that joke, ultimately, being on you. It’s known as “setting yourself up for a fall”, or as we might say in the Broad Acres, “Beggin’ for thi arse to be kicked”. It’s really not wise and best avoided. Most sensible people realise this and conduct themselves accordingly. Not so, it seems, Middlesbrough FC. They risked looking stupid with their “Fit and Proper” banner, pictured above. And, one smash and grab defeat later, stupid is just what they look – however fit and proper Boro owner Steve Gibson might normally be.
It really is rather difficult to understand the thinking, the strategic logic, behind such a pointless gesture. Alright, this blog has added its own six penn’orth with the text over the picture – but we’re in a position to do that. The battle is over, the winners are celebrating a seasonal haul of six points, the losers are licking their wounds and wondering what the hell happened. Now is the time to gloat and, if the gloating is done by throwing an unwise pre-match taunt back in the crestfallen face of the unwise taunter, then so much the sweeter it is. It’s the state of mind that convinced someone this was a good idea in the first place – that’s the thing baffling me. What’s to be gained? Very little, surely. But you stand to lose much if you psyche-up capable opponents by blowing raspberries before hostilities commence. You might very well lose the match, as well as a lot of face. This is what happened to Middlesbrough, and serve them right. Surely, someone up there in Smogland is regretting that banner right now.
In professional sport, this kind of stuff matters – more than you might think. There’s a fine line between victory and defeat, and every competitor strives for any marginal advantage. It’s by accruing those small gains that you enhance your chances of success. It’s hardly rocket science, but it is Sports Psychology. And line one on page one of that book reads: Do not hand your opponent the initiative by saying or doing something daft to rile them up before the game. That’s the First Commandment.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not putting Leeds United’s victory at Boro down to one daft banner. Nevertheless, it could well have been a factor. A player in the United team might have seen it and thought “Cheeky gets!”, before mentally rolling up the sleeves and getting ready to demonstrate the unwisdom of taking the mick. Some of the wiser heads on the Boro side may equally have been having a little groan to themselves and damning the stupidity of whoever had risked winding Leeds up to give them a hard time. Even small factors make a difference.
It wasn’t that good a banner anyway – rather embarrassing if anything. The way it furled gave the impression that somebody had stepped on Mr. Gibson’s face whilst it was still warm, leaving it looking lop-sidedly ridiculous. A banner so large must have had club approval – it just defies belief that they should sanction such a blatant own goal.
On the evidence of the Boro game, I’m still fairly certain that the Smoggies will go up. They’re a seriously good side and – well as Leeds undeniably played – if Signor Silvestri had been in less miraculously-inspired form, we could well have been buried. I’d seen Middlesbrough performing well in Cup games at Man City and Arsenal and, realistically, I worried for us. But things went our way, we battled hard, our keeper looked as if he could show King Canute up and actually hold back the tide – it just went our way; well done us.
How much, if at all, did that banner aid our cause? We’ll never know, clearly. But I do know it’s not the sort of thing I’d like to see at Leeds. We have enough trouble winning games (with due deference to this great recent run) without doing the opposition’s team talk for them. It’s just not a good idea at all.
Silly Boro – really very silly. Many thanks for the six points, though. We’ll miss you next year for that much, I suppose – but not for your strangely daft, weirdly unfunny sense of “humour”.