I’m sure this idea is out there, in light of what appears to be a sea-change of recruitment policy at Leeds United. It’s probably just that I haven’t seen it. But, surely, I can’t be alone in thinking that the time and circumstances are ripe for securing the return – even if only on loan initially – of former United talisman Robert Snodgrass.
It seems so obvious. West Ham don’t really want him. Villa definitelycan’t afford him. And it would upset those Norwich and Hull upstarts, quite apart from adding significantly to the skill factor and firepower at Elland Road. It’s a proper no-brainer to me and, for the first time in years, it seems feasible – the kind of quality we should be looking to add.
I’m interested to know what readers of this blog think. Please feel free to comment as usual, giving your thoughts – but do also answer the poll below – a simple Yea or Nay.
The frenzied scenes of celebration among Huddersfield fans, as their club narrowly avoided relegation from the Premier League, served mainly to put into sharp focus all that is wrong with Yorkshire football. And, much to the chagrin of any fan from the right side of the Pennines, there’s plenty wrong. Huddersfield saved their top-flight existence in much the same way as they’d earned it in last season’s play-offs – by hanging on grimly for draws and relying on slip-ups from others. It was a glory-free spectacle but, sadly, it’s the best the Broad Acres currently has to offer, which is a stinging indictment of the current state of all things football in God’s Own County.
When you look elsewhere in the county, the Sheffield clubs attained differing degrees of mediocrity, Leeds flattered to deceive and then reverted to type, Barnsley went down not with a bang but with a whimper – and the less said about the rest, the better. Perhaps Rotherham United might earn some glory for Yorkshire; that remains to be seen. The point is, the football performance of the Yorkshire area has been much the same as usual: when Leeds aren’t doing well, there’s nowt much going on. And so, while United remain in the doldrums, the best we can offer is the occasional play-off success or relegation escape. Compared to the fare being served up in parts of the lesser county to our west, where Manchester’s finest has emerged as the best team in Premier League history, this is a humiliating state of affairs.
The fact of the matter is that just about all of Yorkshire‘s footballing pedigree, such as it is, resides in LS11. The last two times that Leeds United have gone up to the top division, survival has been the last thing on their mind. On both occasions, they’ve gone up, had a brief and not exactly respectful look around to gauge the lie of the land, and then set about winning the thing, elbowing lesser mortals out of the way and imposing themselves brilliantly, much to the annoyance of media and rival fans alike.
This is the responsibility that Leeds United carries, nothing less than the pride and honour of the greatest county in the land. Nobody else will pick up that baton; nobody else can. It’s down to Leeds – if they can’t do it, it won’t be done. Things are different now as compared to those two previous promotions in 1964 and 1990. That twenty-six year span – the same gap, ironically, that now separates us from our most recent League Title – was the last hurrah of old style, ultra-competitive, strength in depth professionalism, when there wasn’t a six team cartel at the top of the league, monopolising the glory. To dominate in that era, as the Revie Boys did, when there was much less of a financial divide between the great and the not so great, was an achievement indeed. The way things are now, Leeds – in order to fulfil their destiny of salvaging Yorkshire pride – will have to place themselves on a comparable financial footing to the current behemoths of the game. To say that won’t be easy is to fall into the trap of hopeless understatement – yet, if United can just barge their way into the Premier League, there would be few if any juicier investment opportunities than a one club city of enormous prestige and illustrious history.
So, there’s the challenge. And only at Elland Road, as far as Yorkshire is concerned, is there even the remotest expectation, never mind demand, that such a challenge should be accepted. Because at no other club in Yorkshire will it even occur to the fans or the directors that such a thing is possible. The ultimate aspiration for them is to survive at the top table, hoping to lick up some rich men’s crumbs. This is the lesson of the unbridled joy with which Huddersfield’s survival was greeted. For Leeds, this would be a humiliation they could not countenance; when United do go up, the demand and expectation will be for so much more. And rightly so, for that is our proud legacy.
However hard the task, however unlikely the chance of gatecrashing that elite group, it’s the hungry and imperious expectation of success, written into the DNA of the club and its fans, that makes Leeds United the only candidates to bring some football honour and respect back to Yorkshire. If Leeds United can’t deliver, then nobody will – and we must hope that Leeds Rhinos in Rugby League, and Yorkshire County Cricket Club too, can fulfil that urgent desire for honour and success. In White Rose football, it’s United first and the rest nowhere, just as much as it has always been; that’s the grave responsibility we carry, just by virtue of being Leeds.
With the club’s centenary approaching, it’s time to deliver on that responsibility. As the Great White Hope of an entire county, let’s grit our teeth, and get on with it.
For the third home game in succession, Leeds United managed just a solitary goal at Elland Road – and for the second time on the trot, it was enough to take the three points on offer. Although Aston Villa salvaged a draw after falling behind, the last two visitors to Elland Road, the Cities of Norwich and Hull, have departed without troubling the scorers – despite making the Whites weather some heavy pressure. It’s been a less than convincing run of home games for Leeds, but the ends have justified the means, with only the United fans’ bitten down nails telling the story of how nervy the performances have, by and large, been. But Leeds are starting to rise to the challenge of exploiting Elland Road’s cauldron-like atmosphere, something they’ve too often failed to do in the past.
Against Hull yesterday, a pre-match hammer-blow turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The absence of talisman Samu Saiz caused a collective groan among the 35,000 faithful who had congregated to worship United’s brightest star. It was a groan that rippled throughout social media, sending a frisson of apprehension through the virtual Leeds universe, all we of little faith wondering if we’d have the creativity to deal with our rivals from Humberside. But the enforced rest for Samu (tight calf, didn’t feel right, should be back for Burton away) meant a start for United’s Pablo Hernandez, and it was the little Latin genius who provided the decisive moment almost half an hour into a first half that Hull had threatened to dominate.
After the visitors had put Leeds on the back foot for the most part, creating presentable chances while the hosts huffed and puffed to no great effect, Hernandez seized upon a shockingly poor clearance from City’s previously untroubled keeper Allan McGregor; swiftly sizing up the situation, Pablo snapped up possession, moved forward and produced an outrageous dinked chip over the advancing McGregor, the ball dropping sweetly under the bar and into the net to give United an advantage that, after the Norwich game the previous week, you thought they might well hold onto.
In truth, Hull were less of a threat after the goal than before, just as their fans were largely silent once behind, having exhausted their repertoire of songs about dead perverts and cities of culture – an ironic enough playlist while it lasted. Afterwards, Hull manager Nigel Adkins bemoaned the lack of reward for his team’s industry, estimating a 3:1 ratio in his team’s favour on chances created. Leeds boss Thomas Christiansen was disarmingly honest: “We were lucky to take the three points,” he acknowledged.
One big reason behind that win was much-maligned Leeds keeper Felix Wiedwald, who produced a string of fine saves before United took the lead, one great example being a full-stretch tip around the post in the very first minute. Felix looked solid throughout, and it was reassuring to see him looking so confident and self-assured, without those occasional Sprake-esque howlers.
It was Hernandez who made the crucial difference, though, with Leeds creating little else of note other than a good effort from Gjanni Alioski as the interval approached. At the end of this derby, Leeds could reflect upon another gritty home performance and three points to see them back in the playoff zone. As for Hull, they had positives to take from their early domination, but departed for their City of Culture disappointed, chastened – well and truly Pablo’d.
Every now and then a new story emerges from that part of the rumour mill labelled boldly “Too Good to be True”. Some you can dismiss out of hand as slightly less likely than Elvis appearing at the Batley Frontier Club. Diego Maradona to Division Two Leeds in the 80s would be an example of this. Others – well, you can’t help wondering. Sometimes, circumstances out of the ordinary can lend credence to whispers you normally wouldn’t even dare whisper.
The circumstances right now are out of the ordinary for Leeds United. Change is afoot, right at the top of the club and, not exactly coincidentally, things are going well on the field too. With new ownership a distinct probability, any incoming regime will be looking to stamp their mark on a slowly awakening giant of a club. The approved method is to make signings that materially improve first team options and, at the same time, send out an unmistakable message that these guys mean business. They’re called “statement signings” and they say, hey – look who we’ve got on board. This club is going places. Does the name Gordon Strachan ring a bell?
The news is that Rob Snodgrass, formerly of this parish but latterly plying his trade in the colours of a fishing village on the Humber, has turned down a new contract with his current club. This has been enough to set eyebrows twitching and tongues wagging around LS11 as well as further afield. What a signing he would be, if he could be persuaded to give Elland Road another try. And what a bold statement by the club’s new powers that be. As rumours go, this one is just so sexy you want to buy it dinner and then take it home to have your wicked way with it. Unlike some rumours, you might even find you still respect it in the morning.
Could it happen? Well, almost anything could happen in the wake of our beloved Whites being freed from ownership that has ranked highly on the lunacy scale. If new chiefs wanted to come in and say to the United support: “Here you are. It’ll all be OK now” – then this would be one way of doing it. Manager Garry Monk would probably be quite pleased as well, adding an experienced head to his young group.
This blog feels that some sort of transfer coup next month is more likely than not. A statement of intent needs to be made and a statement signing is an excellent way of making it. Snodgrass alone would not address all of the issues facing Monk and his squad – a backup striker is needed, for a start, and other areas call for attention. But Snodgrass, who embellished Leeds before, could do so again – he could be the X-Factor in a genuine promotion push as well as putting bright lights around a new owner’s name.
If Leeds United are to have a fresh start in 2017, then the recapture of Rob Snodgrass would be the ideal way to get it off the ground.
In the end, it was a 1-0 landslide at Wembley as Humberside’s finest totally eclipsed a bedraggled set of Owls in the first of this season’s playoff showpieces. But for the admirable Westwood in the Sheffield Wednesday goal, the scoreline could have been an embarrassing rout. Hull City would not have been flattered by a 5-0 scoreline, utterly out-playing the South Yorkshire pretenders.
The Sky commentators made much of the travelling throng of Wendies who packed out their end of Wembley and made themselves heard until all hope was gone. But how well do we at Leeds United know that promotions are won on the turf at the national stadium, not in the stands. The crowd contest when we played Donny in that League One playoff was even more lopsidedly unequal, with Whites fans massively dominating the spectacle. But it was Rovers who got the goal – and a similar scenario played itself out today.
So it’s well done to Hull City and Rob Snodgrass, and the very best of hard cheese to the Wendies, who also had their very own ex-White in the team. Tom Lees was the man who gave the ball away to give Hull the decisive goal, and what a strike it was. Congratulations, Agent Lees. You made it look like an accident.
Leeds United, then, even in their current chaotic incarnation, remain top dogs in Yorkshire. Local derby hostilities will resume next time around, despite all the confident rhetoric from certain big mouths down Sheffield way. Those mouths can munch away on some humble pie while Yorkshire’s finest at Elland Road try to get their act together.
See you next season, Wendies. So glad you’re still with us.
The more I see of football these days, with all of its allegedly “world class” stars, the more I think of the guy who scored the first goal I ever saw Leeds United score – in the flesh, so to speak. His hair was red and fuzzy and his body black and blue, and his name was Billy Bremner. God alone knows what he’d be worth today – sadly, he hasn’t been around since that awful time, eighteen years ago exactly, when football was deprived of a legend and Leeds United began to come to terms with the loss of a man who embodied everything that the Last Champions were all about, at their very, very best.
On the 7th December 1997, two days short of his 55th birthday, our greatest captain Billy Bremner died following a heart attack after a bout of pneumonia. The Leeds United world was plunged into shock and mourning at the death of a true hero, and the game’s great and good attended his funeral in Edlington. The tiny church, packed to the rafters with household names, was resounding testimony to the respect in which the wee man was held by all who knew the legend. Old comrades and old foes alike were there to say goodbye to an icon who had left us tragically young, but who had emblazoned his name across an era not wanting for stars.
Scoring for Leeds
Billy Bremnerwas quite simply a phenomenon. From the earliest days of his Leeds United career, once he had recovered from a bout of home-sickness for his native Stirling in Scotland, he was an automatic selection for the first team, unless injury or suspension ruled him out. He was a warrior, despite his diminutive size, but he was blessed with all the other attributes needed for a central midfielder on the battlegrounds of the English First Division. Skill, courage, “workrate” – as it’s known these days – were combined with sheer guts, tenacity, will to win – and that indefinable x-factor that ultimately set him apart from other gifted performers. A ball-winner, a talented user of the ball once won, a relentless harrier of the opposition for the full ninety minutes plus of each gruelling game – and a scorer of great goals too. Bremner was a big occasion man, a serial winner of semi-finals (Man U being his favourite victims), a man who unfailingly stepped up to the mark when his team-mates and fans needed him. He was utterly self-effacing in the interests of what was best for the team.“Side before self, every time“was his motto, and he lived up to those words for as long as he was involved in football.
Some called him dirty. And he was as capable as most other combative central midfielders of a bit of feisty skullduggery – but to define him by his occasional sins would be short-sighted in the extreme and would display, moreover, a lack of awareness of exactly what his game was all about. A consummate passer of the ball – with the neat reverse pass a speciality, flummoxing and wrong-footing many an international-class opponent – Bremner was the epitome of Don Revie‘s Leeds United, a team who said “If you want to play, we’ll out-play you; if you want to battle, we’ll out-battle you.” They usually out-thought and out-psyched the opposition as well. Many a visiting player was artfully allowed a glimpse as they passed by of the sign on the home team dressing room wall at Elland Road. “Keep Fighting”, it said – which was what Leeds United, guided by Don Revie off the field and Billy Bremner on it, did – and they did it better than just about anybody else.
Leeds United hero
The Sunday Times perhaps summed-up Billy Bremner as well and as succinctly as anyone. “Ten stone of barbed wire” they called him – the image of a spiky, perilous bundle of energy conjured up in five telling words. I saw an old clip on YouTube recently, grainy black and white footage of some or other game back in the day, and there had been an incident that set the players en masse at each other’s throats. Bremner – unusually – must have been some way off when the flashpoint occurred, for he was nowhere to be seen with the melée already well established. And then, from the right-hand margin of the screen, came this white-clad, unmistakable figure, tiny but fierce, hurtling towards the centre of the conflict with the desire to weigh in on behalf of the team writ large in every line of his being. He was a frenetic mixture of Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil, plunging into the fray like some one-man whirlwind, wreaking his own inimitable brand of havoc. Bremner was famous, even notorious, for this – for his battle-cry of “cut one of us, and we all bleed.” Billy shed blood in the United cause – usually, it must be said, not his own. But a thug he was not, and any team, any time, anywhere in the world would break the bank to have a Billy Bremner in his prime among their number. Fortunately for Leeds United, he loved the club and served it for sixteen years, becoming synonymous with the famous Whites of Elland Road. As Leeds fans, we could nominate no better candidate for the honorific title of “Mr. Leeds United”. Only the great John Charles, operating in a much less successful era at Leeds and destined to win his medals on foreign fields, could come anywhere near.
My second match as a Leeds United supporter was the European Cup semi-final, first leg againstCF Barcelona, Johann Cruyff, Johann Neeskens and all. Those two Dutch masters, with all the other glitterati of the Catalans’ world-class line-up were expected to have too much for a United side on the cusp of just dipping over the hill. The previous Saturday, I’d made my first visit to Elland Road and had seen us lose to Liverpool. I was all agog at the atmosphere, and didn’t really care about the result – I just wanted more.
BBC Commentary, Leeds Utd v Barcelona 9.4.75
So it was that my first ever Leeds United goal came to be scored by Billy Bremner himself, the greatest player in the greatest team United ever had. A long ball from Johnny Giles, headed down by Joe Jordan, found King Billy in enough space on the edge of the area at the South Stand end. He measured the situation, took aim and rifled the ball superbly, well wide of the helpless keeper, into the top left-hand corner. The din was deafening, like nothing I’d ever heard before, and rarely since. “Elland Road erupts” intoned David Coleman for the BBC, when he could make himself heard. The image of the small, red-headed giant belting that ball home will live with me to my last day. I’ve always been proud that my first goal was scored by King Billy. I feel as though, in a funny way, I own that goal.
Leeds United’s first match after the death of Billy Bremner was away to Chelsea, the kind of fixture that Bremner used to relish. It turned out to be a game that couldn’t have been more of a tribute to the departed Billy if someone had designed it so. United had two men sent off in what might be termed a lively encounter, and with nine warriors left, inspired by the memory of The Greatest, they battled, scrapped and fought their way to a 0-0 draw in the finest traditions of the Leeds United of old. The travelling hordes in Leeds colours were fully awareof the significance of the occasion. “Nine men and Billy….we’ve got nine men and Billy!“, they sang, loud, proud and raucous. “Billy Bremner’s barmy army” got many a refrain as well. The fans had said farewell to the Captain of the Crew in a manner hugely identifiable with the man himself and with the fighting traditions of the great side he led with such distinction. As far as these things can be, it was deeply fitting, and those who remembered Billy gave a knowing nod of appreciation.
RIP Billy Bremner. Departed far too soon, and greatly missed still. It’s unlikely we’ll ever have another quite like you.
Steve Bruce has this deceptive public image – he’s cultivated an on-screen interview demeanour which has convinced many that here is a nice, self-effacing guy. There’s a modest smile in there, or a resigned shrug, depending on how the match has gone for his team. There’s certainly none of the congested face with furious snarl surmounting a taut neck in which veins bulge with petulant fury – not these days. Perhaps the old boy’s blood pressure makes such displays inadvisable – he’s not as young as he used to be and, maybe, not in the best nick.
That Steve Bruce of old is well-remembered by Leeds fans who hold dear in their hearts the Whites’ Boxing Day 1995 beating of Man U at Elland Road. The breakthrough goal that day came from a rare penalty awarded against the Pride of Devon, duly converted with his usual classy panache by Gary MacAllister. But in the aftermath of the penalty award – a routine decision which would have been free of any controversy if it had been given against any other team – it was Steve the Bruce’s choleric reaction which grabbed the attention of onlookers from all sides. His face turned puce and seemed to swell until you feared the skin might split and pour blood and bile in equal measure onto the Elland Road pitch. He had to be restrained bodily from getting at the ref; the notion that he wanted to seize and throttle the official was hard to avoid. It took MacAllister himself to reduce Bruce’s temperature to below the critical meltdown mark – Scotland’s captain seemed to be reminding the England reject of the rules of the game where handling the ball in the area is concerned.
The guilty party, meanwhile, had slunk away without much protest at all. Nicky Butt had raised an arm and handled the ball – aside from his initial “hang on, you can’t give a pen against US” reaction, he seemed resigned that it was a fair cop. Only Bruce – and, after the match, Ferguson – had seriously seemed prepared to claim that what had in fact happened – hadn’t. But this was Steve Bruce the arrogant, bad loser – in the best traditions of the Theatre of Hollow Myths. Such behaviour was almost expected as part of the usual process of intimidation and aggression towards match officials.
Almost twenty years on, only the demeanour has mellowed – the determination and ruthlessness inculcated by Ferguson is a part of the Bruce DNA, as is a pathological unwillingness to accept that defeat, even from two goals ahead, was merited. The delivery is smoother, the visage less suffused with hate and resentment, but the message remains the same – we wuz robbed. He was singing that song at Elland Road that long-ago Christmas Eve, and he was singing it again at Wembley in the wake of Cup Final defeat. He can’t help it, it’s bred into him.
Bruce’s remarks in his post-match interview were described by cabbage-patch doll lookalike Adrian Chiles as “churlish”. That’s one word for the litany of grievances and excuses that preceded his laughable punchline “This isn’t the time to whinge”. Bruce had whinged long and hard, following the script that’s always been in his head, and his skewed reasoning and blinkered selectiveness were features hanging over from his Man U years. Arsenal’s first two goals were called into question – the first came from a free kick that Bruce felt shouldn’t have been given (wrong, Steve); the second resulted from a corner wrongly awarded (right – but you could see how ref Probert had been deceived). Bruce made no mention of the fact that Hull’s second goal came from a free kick taken 9 yards forward of the foul which led to it. Neither did he refer to the two clear penalties Arsenal could and should have been awarded. It was the one-eyed, wrong-headed Bruce of old; only the Man U shirt and the throbbing temple veins were missing.
Whatever the sulky reaction of Hull’s manager, Arsenal thoroughly deserved their victory, which owed much to resilience and bottle that many had thought the Gunners lacked. Many’s the time that the Arse have found it easy going against inferior opposition they have blown away with sumptuous football; this time, they faced a mountain no Cup Final side had ever before had to contemplate – two down in eight minutes and their game plan in tatters.
That they successfully climbed that mountain reflects immense credit on the Arsenal players and staff, together with their relatively long-suffering fans. Less credit is due to referee Probert – it was a great final despite, not because of, his slipshod efforts.
And – it has to be said, despite the gallant efforts of the underdogs and the fact that they fought to a particularly bitter end – least credit of all to the Hull City camp. That, though, is down to the ungracious reaction of their manager, a man who – despite that Ferguson upbringing – really should have known better.
Cup Final day and I’m relaxing by the balmy waters of the North Sea in beautiful, tropical Filey. Home cares and family worries are far away. The fridge is stocked with the chilled best of grain and grape and every other comfort and convenience (ensuite) is close by. Life is good.
So it should be too. The latest Leeds United season from hell is thankfully behind us and, internal strife notwithstanding, we can relax in the knowledge that our heroes’ turgid and tedious brand of football is in mothballs for a few weeks. Meanwhile we have the World Cup to look forward to, with the cream of English talent – as well as Wayne Rooney – poncing about ineffectually in Brazil and hoping to make it as far as another penalty shoot-out defeat to bleedin’ Germany.
But today is Cup Final day, and the eyes of the civilised world – and Humberside – are on Wembley, to see whether the Arse can beat Dull City and end their epoch-long trophy drought. I find myself not a neutral, for several reasons. Firstly, I’ve never been all that keen on Hull. They’re an upstart club with one of those horrible new breed of owners in Assem Allam – a man who wants to rebrand City as the Tigers. It’s a silly idea, the fans are against it – and yet Allam remains stubbornly convinced he knows best – like Vincent Tan at Cardiff, who suffered relegation for his presumption. The least I wish Hull is a Cup Final defeat – there’d be the bonus of the look on Steve Bruce’s face, too. Don’t get me started on him.
There are more positive, less vindictive reasons. I like Arsenal. They exude class as a club, from top to bottom. They play beautiful football, and they help me dislike Spurs. Manager Arsène Wenger is a class act too – the game would be the poorer for his loss, much as it is the richer for the passing of Alex “Taggart”Ferguson. It would be good to see the Gooners on the trophy trail again. My late father in law supported them, as does my daughter’s Significant Other.
Last but not least – I have a tenner riding on the outcome. I’m not a betting man, but when the semi finals came down to Arsenal and three nothing clubs, I thought even I couldn’t jinx them. I so nearly caught a cold against Wigan – so surely the Arse will now see me home happy and ten quid richer??
Come on you Gooners. Do it for yourselves and for lovers of the beautiful game. But most of all – with some brass at stake – do it for this admiring Leeds fan.
With the Leeds United takeover still dragging on and on, it’s possible to imagine that Massimo Cellino is taking a glance around the rest of English football – and wondering what he’s done so wrong that the game’s highly-respectable and august authorities appear to be wrinkling their noses at him.
Should he, for example, be following the example of Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan? Here is a man who has breezed into the club he’s bought and started treating it exactly like the plaything he obviously feels he’s acquired. Riding roughshod over supporters’ vehement objections, he’s now got the Bluebirds playing in red, he’s sacked the manager who did such a sterling job in getting them elevated to the Premier League for the first time since Noah was a lad – and he’s been heard disconsolately enquiring why the goalkeeper doesn’t score a few goals here and there. The latest Tan bright idea was to offer his players a £3.7m bonus to avoid relegation, an incentive swiftly withdrawn after it was pointed out to Vapid Vincent that this was illegal. Just to show they couldn’t be bought, his players went and lost at Spurs anyway. Cardiff were certainly struggling under Malky Mackay – as is only to be expected in that perilous first season up. But now, one ill-conceived managerial change later, they look doomed to relegation. Fit and proper? I wouldn’t want him at Leeds, thanks very much.
Allam – fit & proper?
Or there’s the chap at Hull City, Assem Allam. He doesn’t have much regard for history or tradition either. He’s not going to change the strip though, as Mr Tan so controversially did at Cardiff. No, Assem likes the strip, and he likes the Tigers nickname that goes with it. So much so, that he wishes to rename the club Hull Tigers, exposing their horrified fans to ridicule from the rest of the football fraternity. (Tigers, Tigers, rah, rah, rah!!) To those who protested, adopting “City till we die” as their rallying cry, kindly old Uncle Assem has commented: “they can die as soon as they want”. Fit and proper? Hmmmm.
Sullivan/Gold – fit & proper?
And further south still, we have those upright, downright pillars of the community who run West Ham – porn barons Sullivan & Gold. Their avowed mission, to provide prurient entertainment, salacious scandal and gorgeous, pouting tits by the barrow load to every UK breakfast table, has not caused even the slightest of ripples at the FA or Football League.
Cellino – de facto LUFC owner
Meanwhile, Massimo Cellino, having exchanged contracts with the useless GFH, is the de facto owner of Leeds United. He has kept us going through what appears to be a cash crisis which would have brought the club to the brink of administration and disaster, were it not for his financial support. Instead of going to the wall, United have been able to carry on, with Cellino paying off Enterprise Insurance – which has led to the sulky withdrawal of their petulant winding-up petition – paying the staff wages on time, funding the acquisition of two high-quality loan additions in the past fortnight and generally acting like a responsible – dare I say it? – fit and proper person to take Leeds United forward into a much more assured future – as compared to the last decade or so under a succession of potless chancers who the League appeared quite happy to see screwing things up.
Shaun Harvey – digging
Really – it’s almost as though the Football League, under that model of propriety Shaun Harvey, have a neat set of double standards and principles so flexible they might very well be called totally bent. All those dodgy geezers in charge of other clubs, and not an eyebrow raised anywhere until this latest Tan gaffe. And there’s poor old Massimo, doing his best, funding our skint club – and they seem to be digging deep for any excuse to tell him to get lost. Perhaps the King of Corn should be trying to emulate the Kings of Porn in order to gain this elusive acceptance. Perhaps he should change the Leeds United strip to pink with green spots, or start offering illegal bonuses à la Tan at Cardiff. Or maybe he could sweetly advise the denizens of the Gelderd End to accept a change of name to Leeds Peacocks, or end up sleeping with the fishes? Any of these seem to attract more official approval than the Italian’s current, inoffensive and supportive stance.
It’s rather an article of faith for Leeds United fans – some might even call it a tell-tale symptom of paranoia – to seize upon notable examples of bad behaviour by those at other clubs, wondering out loud: how would the authorities react if it had been us doing something like that?
The weekend incident when Newcastle manager Alan Pardew committed what amounted to common assault on an opposition player was a case in point. Just imagine if, say, Don Revie had upped and nutted Emlyn Hughes for example, or perhaps even an establishment darling like Bobby Charlton. The likes of Alan Hardaker would doubtless have demanded the death penalty, and our own Sir Don might well have ended up dangling from a lamp-post on Lancaster Gate.
Petulance and over-aggression, under the pitiless gaze of the omnipresent TV cameras, are becoming more and more of a problem on the football field. But in Saturday’s meeting of Hull City and Newcastle United, the issue reared its ugly head, so to speak, in the managerial technical area. With very little provocation – and somewhat less thought – Toon manager Alan Pardew acted like an inveterate thug, utterly disgracing himself and, by association, his club.
The circumstances were bizarre. No excuses could be made in terms of pressure or stress, no mitigation is available by way of any sense of injustice or bad luck. Rather, if anything, the opposite. Pardew’s Newcastle team were 3-1 up, having landed a hat-trick of sucker punches while Hull City had battered away at the Geordies’ goal to no avail. Then, City midfielder David Meyler, hastening to retrieve the ball for a throw-in, had the temerity to jostle Pardew in passing. Was this at the root of what followed? Did Pardew feel that his immense managerial dignity had been ruffled in his being brushed aside by a mere Hull City player?
Whatever the cause, Pardew reacted like a teenage hoodlum with twelve pints of White Lightning inside him. Facing up to a startled Meyler, the irate manager – there is no other way to describe this – butted his hapless target in the face. He “dropped the nut”, as we say hereabouts. Stitch that! He inflicted a “Pontefract Kiss”, which involves forehead but no lips and is decidedly not an expression of affection. The TV commentators yowled in shock and disgust. The pundits on Sky’s Soccer Saturday programme giggled, as is their wont, in delighted schoolboy amazement, tinged with an awful sense of what the headmasters at the FA might now do.
Let’s not be coy here – this was no ritualistic “shoving of a player’s head in the general direction of equally riled-up opponent”. You sometimes do get that between opposing players, and it’s usually more like two wary stags trying to show aggression without getting hurt, than any real intent to land a blow. Pardew’s offence was different. It was a full-on, neck flexed, calculated nutting, aimed at a player who clearly expected nothing of the sort from a Premier League manager. As Pardew’s forehead landed, the football world shook.
It’s been said quite a few times since the incident that such behaviour from a manager is unprecedented. Yet Pardew does have form for touchline aggression, having been caught on camera in the past, going full throttle for the distinguished throat of Arsene Wenger. This most recent descent of the red mist over Pardew’s vision is baffling, mainly for the relative lack of provocation in what was a fairly comfortable situation for his team – but also for the sheer lunatic foolhardiness of the act. This is a man, let’s not forget, who needs to be able to demonstrate the temperament and emotional stability to have charge of a squad of highly-paid athletes in the white-hot atmosphere of Premier League combat. Pardew has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that he lacks these qualities and you have to fear for his future, if not his sanity.
This is surely a situation where the game’s authorities have to act, and act decisively. They really are honour-bound to throw the book at Pardew if they are to send a sufficiently emphatic message to the effect that this sort of thing is simply unacceptable. Newcastle United themselves have attempted to defuse any action by the game’s rulers, imposing a heavy club fine and issuing an official warning. But really, the man’s credibility is shot – surely Newcastle cannot afford to be tainted by association with such a liability. The Toon fans of my acquaintance would not mourn his departure, and it may well be that a quality squad would benefit from a wiser, calmer head in charge of their team.
If Pardew now stays in charge of what is a significant if not huge Premier League club, then what sort of message does that send out to everybody involved with football – the players, managers, fans – everyone? What does it teach the young kids who watch football avidly on TV and will have seen Pardew’s nut-job in full HD and glorious slo-mo? Nothing of any good, that’s for certain.
The FA should act, and they should act swiftly. We are given to understand that they will investigate the matter – and of course they have no power to dismiss Newcastle’s manager; that is a club decision. But by imposing a touchline ban of significant length, the FA could perhaps force Newcastle United’s hand, compelling them to realise that hanging on to Alan Pardew is in nobody’s interests – probably not even his own, given the pressure he will now be under every time Newcastle play.
I’d find it very hard to defend a Leeds United manager in these circumstances – though I probably would try. That’s where blinkered loyalty leads you. It’s more than likely that some Newcastle fans will be minded to defend Pardew. But he’s made a fool of himself and it reflects no credit on Newcastle United FC that he’s still in post a full day after his ridiculous and foolhardy action. A parting of the ways would probably be in the best interests of everyone concerned, and after the events at the KC Stadium on Saturday, it can hardly come soon enough.