Tag Archives: Fulham FC

Agony for Leeds but Ecstasy for Sky’s Jeff Stelling as Fulham Snatch Late Draw – by Rob Atkinson

Stelling celebrates

“And there’s bad news for Leeds United, ring out the bells, rejoice!!”

We all know that Leeds United aren’t exactly the pin-up golden boys for various shallow media types and embittered ex-footballers turned pundits. It comes as no surprise, therefore, when every now and then some be-suited eejit just can’t help himself, and goes into an ecstasy of raucous celebration when some misfortune befalls the mighty Whites. It happened again, last night on Sky TV’s soccer special – Fulham scored a last-gasp equaliser against a dogged but tiring Leeds, and the world’s most famous monkey-hanger, Jeff Stelling, almost literally exploded with joy.

It was actually quite worrying on an empathetic level, once you got past the bleak realisation that two points were drifting away from Leeds at the very last minute. Poor Jeff looked to be on the point of apoplexy, his face swelling almost to bursting point and veins throbbing in his temples. His eyes were those of a man on the edge of Hartlepudlian hysteria – you’d have feared for the life of any simian in the vicinity had Mr. Stelling a convenient length of noosed hempen rope handy. From his demeanour, you might have thought that Hartlepool United had just clinched the Champions League by battering Bayern Munich – and all of this because Leeds conceding a late leveller completely robbed a so-called professional of any poise and impartiality. It’s a rum old world.

Of course, Sky Sports as an entity has form for this kind of thing. Seasoned watchers of their rolling scoreline programme on a Saturday afternoon or weekday evening will be aware of familiar signs allowing them some prior awareness of what’s going on in Leeds United games. It works like this: once you know who is watching the Whites in action, you listen for that voice. An exultant yelp in the background while Jeff is waffling on about Man U means the Whites have conceded; a despairing punctured gasp of dismay signals a Leeds goal. I’ve seen it happen any number of times.

Getting past my possibly paranoid take on Stelling & Co, it also has to be said that Leeds United were at least partially the authors of their own misfortune last night. Once again, as in times past, they allowed a situation to develop that bore more than a passing resemblance to the siege of the Alamo, in attempting to defend a one goal lead for nigh on ninety minutes. The occasional chance to put the game to bed was spurned, for the rest it was all about facing a huge majority of possession for Fulham, while retreating deeper and deeper into defence. As the finish line came into sight, Leeds were down to ten men after a fairly soft sending-off for Kalvin Phillips, who then took an inordinate amount of time to leave the field of play. And, naturally, it was in the extra minutes added on for that sluggish exit from the arena, when Fulham at last beat Rob Green with one of the worldy strikes we seem to concede far too often.

At the end of the day, Brian, it was a good point gained at a difficult venue against worthy opponents – though it did rather feel more like two dropped. But these things happen, and not just to Leeds. We all suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune from time to time, after all. It’s just that – when it does happen to Leeds – I’d rather not have my nose rubbed in it by some joke of a TV presenter who can’t maintain his thin veneer of professionalism due to an all-too-typical hatred of Leeds United. That really does grind my gears.

Even Stelling himself appeared to realise he might have gone too far, once the red mist cleared and his face reduced to a more normal size. “The Leeds fans won’t thank me for that,” he quavered accurately. Well, you got that right, didn’t you. Shriek with joy as a battling team sees two vital promotion points disappear, to the frustration of their legions of supporters everywhere? It’s more than just a little unprofessional, that – it’s unbelievable, Jeff.

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Fulham 0, Leeds United 3; The Worries Behind the Win   –   by Rob Atkinson

Three kinds of lies

Three kinds of lies

A wise man once told us: “There are three kinds of lies. There are lies; there are damned lies – and there are statistics.

The point he was making, of course, was that the bare numbers rarely tell the whole tale; they can be twisted and manipulated to support a variety of points of view, depending upon the user’s level of dishonesty. Ask George Osborne about that – but don’t expect anything like the truth…

It was Mark Twain who popularised the quote; the identity of the originator is sadly lost to us. But, whoever it was, if he had been present at Craven Cottage last night to watch Leeds United seemingly cruise to a routine 3-0 victory over Fulham, then he might have found reasons both to praise and damn those pesky stats.

The main statistic of course, as Sky TV hacks are always expressing it, is “that little one in the top left hand corner of your screen”. The scoreline is the Alpha & Omega of statistics; a 3-0 win is a 3-0 win, decisive and indisputable. So mote it be. And yet, the other statistics in a game of football frequently bear critical examination. This is particularly so when that bare scoreline on its own might just lead us to false assumptions about form and performance. And the human element can also act so as to skew the outcome against all the logic provided by the facts and figures of a match. Last night at Fulham, if it hadn’t been for the frankly superhuman performance of Leeds keeper Marco Silvestri in all its elastically bendy brilliance, then the trend of the game’s shots on goal figures may well radically have changed the final scoreline.

Those damned match stats

Those damned match stats (Thanks to BBC Sport)

So, to get to the meat of the matter, the fact is that watching last night’s highlights is a fairly sobering experience for any Leeds fan, and tends to cure even those glass-half-full types of any excessive post-victory euphoria. The evidence of your eyes is that Leeds United were under considerable pressure for much of the evening; this continued to be the case even after Fulham defender Kostas Stafylidis‘ two mad moments which saw him dismissed for back-to-back yellow cards. There were too many times when Leeds were cut apart; too many occasions on which heroic custodian Silvestri had to fling himself into the breach. He had a very successful evening, our Marco – but it’s fair to say that you don’t ideally want to see your ‘keeper given quite so many chances to shine. Those statistics confirm for us what we could quite plainly see; Fulham’s creation of clear-cut opportunities was right up there and on another night might well have been reflected in a different result. A combination of poor finishing (a nervous and too-eager-to-succeed Matt Smith must hold his hand up here), excellent shot-stopping and the kindness of the woodwork saw Fulham fail to score, when they could easily have had half a dozen. That’s really no exaggeration.

After the match, United coach Neil Redfearn was understandably keen to highlight the fact that Leeds could have had half a dozen of their own. And it’s fair to say that it’s not Redders’ job to spread alarm and despondency among the troops. But equally it’s important that the weaknesses inherent in a performance that afforded the opposition so many chances, should be recognised and addressed. This is the big worry that the scoreline, excellent though it undoubtedly is, tends to conceal.

The fact of the matter is that, in the medium to long term – or perhaps as soon as the next game – we will get found out if these kind of statistics keep cropping up. Numbers can be interpreted or manipulated or crunched until the cows come home – but in their raw form, they still have their own undeniable message. Conceding a large majority of possession is a worry; it’s tiring to play and chase without the ball. Shots both on and off target against your own goal – that’s another worry. If you buy enough tickets, you’re going to win a raffle sooner or later; the woodwork and an inspired goalkeeper can only do so much. The numbers suggest that Leeds were cut open by an average Championship attack on far too many occasions. The conclusion has to be that Silvestri is insufficiently protected, and that can have only one outcome over time – we’ll be conceding too many again, and results will suffer accordingly.

This is not intended to be a whinge, or in any way to detract from yet another good result on the road. We should rejoice in that; the recent run has hauled us well clear of danger at the bottom and we now have the breathing space to think about next season – a significant luxury before we’ve even reached Easter. But the planning for a new campaign in August must surely address the concerns revealed by last night’s lop-sided possession and attempts on goal stats – otherwise, eventually, we’ll pay for soft-centred characteristics.

Perhaps the root of the problem is a lack of bite in midfield when Rudy Austin isn’t present. On the other side last night, Scott Parker gave an object lesson, even in defeat, of the difference an all-action, tigerish midfield presence can make. A lot of Fulham’s good stuff came through him, and – let’s not forget – there was plenty of good stuff from them last night. That we didn’t suffer by it was an eccentricity of the occasion, with so many chances fluffed, wasted or thwarted by Silvestri. But we can’t rely upon there being too many nights or days like that.

Fulham may yet fall through the trapdoor into League One, just a season after sinking out of the Premier League. If that were to happen then – once we had dried the tears of mirth from our eyes at the way Ross McCormack‘s dream had gone sour on him – we might well wish to look at the availability of Mr Parker who, on last night’s evidence, would be an asset to many a Championship team. I’m sure we could get him for a lot less than £11 million, just to pluck a figure out of thin air. Scott Parker was, more than anyone else in a Fulham shirt, rather unlucky to be on the losing side last night, and it’s clear as day to me that he would improve our midfield options.

Pie in the sky, of course – there are currently far too many variables, including the distinct possibility of yet another TOMA scenario this summer, to speculate on the direction of Leeds’ recruitment policy. That’s even assuming that we’re going to be out of embargo. But if there was even a chance of securing a Scott Parker type for the White shirt, then surely we’d reap massive benefit from that kind of all-action, committed presence. And, maybe then, we’d see a few of those damned statistics turning the way of our beloved Damned United.

Sky TV’s Jeremy Langdon “In Therapy” After Leeds Thrash Wasteful Fulham – by Rob Atkinson

A despondent Jeremy Langdon of Sky Sports - bless him.

A despondent Jeremy Langdon of Sky Sports – bless him.

The look on his face would have brought a tear to a glass eye; that deep and worsening misery, as things went from bad to worse for Fulham, was writ large in every line of his suffering face – his doleful expression enough to curdle milk. Who?? I hear you ask. Ross McCormack, maybe, or Matt Smith? Both would have hoped for a happier time of it against their erstwhile employers. Having striven with might and main to succeed and justify the transfer fees Leeds had extorted out of the Cottagers, the striking pair fired a succession of blanks between them, Mr. McContract eventually limping off with a suspected knee injury. Doubtless he’ll have been reflecting that this was not the Fulham he’d fallen in love with at that first, romantic meeting between greedy turncoat striker and pink, pretty, blushing new payslip.

But no – despite the horrendous evening that both of these former United hitmen undoubtedly endured, the man who cut the saddest and most tragic figure of all was surely the Sky Sports News live match reporter, Jeremy Langdon. He looked as though he’d lost a bob, found sixpence and been bereaved of his closest friends and family, all while nursing a severe case of strangulated piles. Poor, despairing man. We must surely be big enough in victory to send him all the very best of wishes for his eventual recovery, as he heads for the restorative therapy of counselling, medication and electrodes. The increasingly glum and despondent look on Langdon’s face offered up little hope of him ever smiling again. It had been a truly dreadful night for anyone without Leeds in their blood.

But, for the rest of us – those with the sequence LUFC repeating itself ad infinitum throughout our sporting DNA – tonight was a small miracle as well as a huge celebration. For a start, we won. And not only did we win – we well won, 3-0 away at a club that was taking both the mick and several liberties not too long back. And not only that – we absolutely scored, from a corner, yet – and new hero Sol Bamba got off the mark as a Leeds scorer with that second breakthrough. With Sam Byram having got matters off to a satisfactory start with a powerful header in the dying minutes of the first half, and Mirco Antenucci rubbing the Fulham’s noses in it with a scuffed finish late on – and a sending off for home defender Kostas Stafylidis  – all it would then have taken was a Steve Morison goal to have us pinching ourselves to wake from what would assuredly have been one of those – ahem – “special” dreams. Noctis mirabilis? Abso-bloody-lutely.

If anything can add that extra bit of piquant charm to a 3-0 win away from home, it’s the undeniable fact that the scoreline hardly tells the full story. Fulham could and should have had a hatful themselves but, sure enough, the old firm of McCormack & Smith, “Howlers, we make ’em”, were on the kind of form to make us all send up prayers of thanks that we ever managed to offload them. Poor old Ross had the ball in the net at one point, but brilliantly managed to be offside in the process, much to his amusing anguish. And there has to be some feeling that he actually sustained the injury which eventually saw him subbed, in violently protesting to the ref after Stafylidis saw red. 

Fellow flop Matt Smith must be suspected in some quarters of still being on the Elland Road payroll, such was the sublime insouciance with which he spurned several gift-wrapped, gilt-edged golden chances. Our shot-stopper par excellence, Marco Silvestri should also be accorded a massive chunk of credit; for when any Fulham shirt did threaten to get one on target, there was Signor Marco, proud and defiant, thwarting them like a good’un. It was lovely, deeply satisfactory stuff.

Leeds coach Neil Redfearn commented afterwards that Leeds could have won by a massive 6-0, such was our dominance late on – but, really, it could just as easily have been 6-6 and a tie breaker. Thoughts of a 6-0 win for Leeds would, in any event, have brought with them fears for the grieving Sky reporter Langdon’s very existence.

It’s tempting to say – if only it had mattered more, or counted for something. The play-offs, after all, remain a distant and seemingly unattainable Holy Grail – we’d need a miracle of Steve Morison hat-trick proportions to get anywhere near that particular Promised Land. But the evening may not have been utterly without meaning; Fulham will now be looking nervously over their shoulders at the relegation dogfight just a few points behind them. If Wigan can rally; if McCormack’s injury rules him out; and if Fulham themselves succumb to trapdoor nerves – then this season might, after all, have a riotously funny, Schadenfreude ending of maliciously comic satisfaction. You just never know – but you can always pray for such a rewardingly humorous outcome.

In our comfortable and complacent mid-table security, it’s nice to have something devoutly to hope for in the unseemly battle beneath us. Apart from happier times for poor dear Jeremy Langdon, of course. Honestly. His tragic little face….

 

Ross McCormack Peddles the Same Old Tired Line at Fulham – by Rob Atkinson

Ross McCormack, purveyor of bullshit to the gentry, kisses his last badge but one

Ross McCormack, purveyor of bullshit to the gentry, kisses his last badge but one

We’ve known it often enough at Leeds United – a player signs and, early in his time at Elland Road, there’s the opportunity in an interview to put on the sincere face and say “…there were a few clubs interested in me, but once I heard Leeds United mentioned, that was it – there was nowhere else I was going to go.”  We humble fans are left to wonder about the identity of the disappointed clubs – CF Barcelona, perhaps, or Milan, Internazionale or Paris St Germain.  Or possibly Doncaster Rovers or Scunthorpe.  It’s become part of the transfer scene; it’s expected. Besides, nobody takes it that seriously. It’s all part of the schmoozing that seems to be de rigueur on either side of any transfer involving a club of any history or notoriety  these days.  You just wish the script might vary occasionally.

The thing is, there is a feeling that – here at Leeds, anyway – there is sometimes a kernel of truth concealed beneath all of the bovine ordure we’ve become used to.  Hang on, we think – it’s only right what the guy’s saying.  We speculate as to who else might have been in for him, whoever he might be – and the fact is that any player we might currently be making overtures to is highly unlikely to have a higher-profile option elsewhere. For most of our motley crew of incoming transfers over the past decade or so, Leeds United is the biggest club they’ve ever played for, ever will play for. So why would such relatively humble performers look elsewhere when the chance to sign for Leeds crops up?  That’s not arrogance, it’s simply the way things are, with the club at its present, humble level of the game.  The platitudes may be exactly that – but, used in connection with a move to Leeds, true giants of the sub-Premier League world, they’re at least partly believable.  We have the history, the tradition, the stadium, the support, the training ground – well, perhaps strike that last one.  But Leeds are a bigger deal than most Championship players could aspire to, and that’s an undeniable fact.

When these quotes arise out of a transfer to Fulham, though, it does become slightly comical. And, guess what, our former captain and genuine one-season wonder Ross McCormack, badge-kisser and Twitter-whinger extraordinaire, has actually been and gone and come out with the usual bull – but this time, it’s in a Fulham context.  Try it for size, why don’t you – here’s what Ross said.  “There was speculation in regards to other teams, but Fulham was where I wanted to be.” Funny, isn’t it? Go on, see if you can say it without a giggle.  Ross must have managed it straight-faced, anyway – or he’d have grievously insulted his new friends and fellow cottagers and that would never do.

Ross might be far too busy adding up all of the different figures in his new contract to have any real appreciation of irony or unintentional humour – and let’s face it, most footballers’ brains aren’t wired that way to start off with – but he must surely be kidding himself if he thinks he’s going to convince even a diehard Fulham fan that he’s there for any other reason but the bottom line on his payslip.  Your actual realistic Fulham fan, should such a beast exist, might also refer back to Mr. McCormack’s recent statement that winning promotion at Elland Road would beat playing for just any Premier League – not Championship club; they might even wonder if, in fact, their new signing speak with forked tongue.  Then again, they might equally just swallow all of this crap. They’re a bit simple, you know, some of these London boys.

It’s a snippet that has raised a smile here at Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything, anyway.  It’s just so blatant, the way that Mr. McCormack has hardly paused for breath in between trying to convince us that he’d only leave for the top flight, and then attempting to convince the Craven Cottage faithful, all 15,000 of them, that he feels he’s joined West London’s answer to Real Madrid. As players’ wage packets and egos continue to enlarge exponentially, it’s something we’ll become more and more used to.  But beneath the essential comedy of it, there’s that hint of disappointment and disillusion too, that these daft lads can honestly expect people to take them seriously when they keep coming out with the same clichés, time and time again.

Mind you, the next time some swarthy Italian B international with an eye for goal and a crafty agent breezes through the door at Elland Road and declares it his ultimate heart’s desire – I’ll probably nod approvingly and believe him implicitly.  And why not?  We’re Leeds United, after all, and that still makes the vital difference – as Mr. Ross McCormack may yet find out to his cost. 

 

Fulham’s Shahid Khan “Mugged” in Broad Daylight by Shady Italian – by Rob Atkinson

Ross Scot

McCormack – business or mugging?

Concerns are being raised about safety on the streets of south-west London, after the owner of Fulham FC, Shahid Khan, was allegedly mugged in broad daylight yesterday.  The American billionaire, 490th wealthiest person in the world, claimed that he was strolling along minding his own business when suddenly, out of the blue, he was waylaid by a man he identifies only as “Big Mass”, apparently a rival of Khan’s in the world of sport and finance.  Khan alleges that he was taken by surprise as the assailant appeared suddenly in his path, demanding money.  Anxious to avoid any unpleasantness, he gave up the contents of his wallet, some 11 million pounds.

The suspect in the matter, the man known only as Big Mass, was later questioned by police, but denied any wrongdoing.  “Was business deal, my friend” he is said to have claimed, before being released without charge. Mr Khan admits that he was presented with a second-tier footballer for use in his club Fulham’s forthcoming relegation fight, but he maintains that the transaction was more robbery than business.  “£11 million is a lot of money,” he lamented. “Would I really pay that much, willingly, for an ageing forward with only one good season behind him??”

A police spokesman commented: “We can find no evidence of any criminal activity here.  Money changed hands, as did the registration of a professional footballer.  We can see as clearly as anyone that the deal is lopsidedly in favour of the selling party, but that’s not actually illegal – not unless duress can be shown.  On the face of it, Mr Khan has simply been rather naive in paying so far over the odds.  But this appears to have been a case of being made a mug of, rather than an actual mugging.”

Local safety watchdogs were not so sure that things were as innocent as the police appear to accept.  One of their number is Fulham fan and part-time actor Hugh Grant, a man with some experience of the justice system at home and abroad.  Grant felt that there had been foul play, albeit very difficult to prove – and that vulnerable southern-based football club owners would need to be wary in future.  “This Big Mass chap seems to have got away with it big-time here,” Grant said, brushing back a floppy lock of hair from his forehead and smiling wryly. “We’re all going to have to be on the look-out – and we’ll be suggesting that Mr Khan is more careful about carrying large sums of cash.  It’d be embarrassing if he were to lose another 3 or 4 million to this plausible Italian character, only for Fulham to be left with a Paddy Kenny or a David Norris on our hands.”

The footballer central to the matter is philosophical about his newly-reduced status. “Business is business,” said Ross McCormack, 29.  “These deals get done, and I go where the wages are. I’ve already been given a Fulham FC badge to kiss and, while it feels a little strange, I can get used to it.  I can get used to anything if the price is right.”

Asked about his prospects at Craven Cottage, McCormack was bullish.  “I can achieve every bit as much here as I could at Leeds, possibly more.  At Leeds there was a statue of Billy Bremner outside the ground.  I was never going to get an honour like that, not there.  But here, the local hero is a player I’ve never heard of – so look out Michael Jackson, Rossco’s aiming to have his statue up there beside you before too long!”

Shahid Khan has more money than sense.

Fallen Canaries Still Chirping as Rumours Surround Leeds’ McCormack – by Rob Atkinson

Over the past few years, Leeds fans have had to grin and bear it as little Norwich – an unfashionable club from the back of beyond – have used the fact of their temporarily higher league status to pluck such gems as Snodgrass, Howson, Becchio and, erm, Bradley Johnson from the Elland Road payroll.  In truth, only the first two of those four departures were all that painful – the odd twinge caused by Luciano’s departure has been relieved by his zero contribution to Naaaarritch since he joined them – but that hasn’t stopped those loveable Ciddy fans from gloating and grinning and taking the mick.  Every time another transfer “coup” has been completed, there they’ve been, savouring the novelty of lording it over Mighty Leeds, crowing about us being their “feeder club” (no marks for originality there, lads) and generally cavorting all over the internet like the small-time wurzels they are.

Now, these cheeky, chirpy, safely-anonymous internet trolls are at it again, all agog with excitement that their little irritant of a football club are tipped by the gutter press to make yet another raid on a club that has looked down on them for the bulk of their undistinguished history.  It’s the classic small man syndrome; you suffer for years at the hands of bigger boys like Leeds, Ipswich – even Colchester and so on – and when the chance crops up to puff your chest out and do a little crowing after all those decades of feeble cheeps, well, you fill your boots (as it’s only too easy for those six-toed feet to do).

And where, after all, is the harm you might ask?  If this internet bravado helps the currently happy (despite demotion) Ciddy fans forget their inglorious past, then good luck to them, right?  After all, prior to their recent double promotion success, their club was mainly famous for the tired and emotional display of Delia Smith when she unwisely seized the match-day mike after lavishly sampling the vino cabinet, and treated the stunned home crowd to a slurred and cringeworthy motivational speech:  “Wheeeere aaaare yoooouu?  Let’s be ‘aaaavviiiin’ yooooouuu!!!”   It was entertaining for everyone outside Carrow Road, but let’s face it – it’s hardly a siren call to tempt a Scotland star who already has a first team berth in a far bigger club – or so you’d have thought.

However, money talks and – as one easily-pleased Canary reminded me just today (via a tweet, appropriately) – Norwich have recently copped for around £70m simply for achieving relegation.  Against that, we have Mr McCormack’s recent assertion that winning promotion as captain of Leeds United would mean a lot more than playing for “just any Premier League club”.  We must presume, then, that the attraction is that much greater again – when the option in front of him is just any ex-Premier League club.  Norwich is the arse end of nowhere, after all – you’d have thought that last season’s Championship top-scorer could do a hell of a lot better.  But, it’ll likely come down to just how many zeroes there are on the end of that bottom line.  Rossco is tied to a contract at Leeds, and there seems to be little suggestion that the club are minded to improve it.

Yesterday, the talk was that a firm bid of £5 million had been made by a Championship club – later tentatively identified as Fulham, another of the parachute payment brigade, lavishly rewarded for last season’s calamitous failure.

To be quite frank, I could cope if he went there. It’s not ideal – and I’m not saying a few more millions than that measly five would sugar the pill rather better – but at least Fulham’s not bleedin’ Norwich and those cocky bloody internet Canaries. I swear if I ever caught one of those I’d pretend I thought it was a lemon and squeeze it into my drink.

Roll on the end of the transfer window. Rumour has it that what’s left of our squad might start playing a few games of football then…