Tag Archives: Hull City

Come On, Arsenal; Win it for This Leeds Fan – by Rob Atkinson

Gooners' last Cup win, 2005

Gooners’ last Cup win, 2005

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.

Should Cellino Take a Leaf out of Cardiff Owner Tan’s Book? – by Rob Atkinson

Tan - fit & proper?

Tan – fit & proper?

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?

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?

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

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

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 does make you wonder – doesn’t it?

FA Need to Make Example of Newcastle Nutter Pardew – by Rob Atkinson

Pardew drops the nut as Howard Webb looks on

Pardew drops the nut as Howard Webb looks on

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.

Silly Red Tape in Leeds Winger Stewart’s “Technicality” Deal Needs Cutting – by Rob Atkinson

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Cameron Stewart in training for Leeds United

At last, success in the transfer market for Leeds United – a rare phenomenon for a January transfer window that has normally seen United fans with their noses pressed up against the window, on the outside looking in, as lesser clubs have managed to do deals our erstwhile owner Master Bates refused to sanction.  Those days are receding into the past now as a new atmosphere and a new attitude spreads throughout the club and the support.  Cameron Stewart is described as “highly regarded” and as a wide man with pace and a finish on him, he has to be a welcome addition to Brian’s sluggish squad.  It seems tolerably certain also that a second winger is to be added in the extremely near future, with Palace’s ex-Reading man and McDermott disciple Jimmy Kebe the name on everyone’s lips.  Ross McCormack let the “two signings” cat out of the bag in an incautious tweet which he then removed.  But expect Kebe, another injection of pace and creativity, to sign sometime on Friday.  Clearly, after so many tons of BS from Bates and Warnock, it’s a case of “No Bull Gives You Wingers”.

Annoyance

There is more than a slight annoyance though, over the Cameron Stewart deal.  We’ve signed him, in McDermott’s words, “on a technicality”.  What this means is that the lad has joined on a 93 day emergency loan, which we are told will rule him out of the last four league games of the season – as well as any play-off matches which we may yet just possibly be involved with.  This restriction is due to a rule about how many clubs a player can appear for in one season.  Because Stewart has played half a game for Hull, and has also played (and scored against Leeds) for Charlton this term, he cannot sign permanently for United in this window.  The emergency loan is the only way the deal could be done – and so we have this farcical situation where the winger will be unable to contribute to the very business end of the Leeds’ bid for promotion – if that is what it’s to be.

Now this, to me, is ridiculous.  Sure, you need rules – and this rule is presumably in place to prevent the daft situation of one player appearing in a bewildering variety of different shirts over one league season.  But rules should be our servants, not our masters – in other words they should be there to do a job, and not to cock things up that might otherwise have worked out for the best.  It is clearly Leeds United’s intention that Cameron Stewart will be a Whites player for the foreseeable future – the lad has evidently signed a 3 year deal which will commence in summer.  It’s equally clear that his involvement for Hull Tigers this term has been extremely marginal – one half of one game.  And yet because of this, it may well come about that Leeds will enter a play-offs campaign shorn of someone who could easily have established himself as the main United threat by then.  Not to put too fine a point on it, that sucks.

Common-Sense Dispensation

What this situation is crying out for is the football equivalent of a Papal Dispensation – some ultimate arbitration that can over-rule the sort of silliness created by the rules as they are being applied in this case.  Leeds United have done the right thing in getting the deal done by whatever means possible – if Brian McDermott wants the player, then that is the priority.  But now we need to be looking at either getting the 93 day period extended, citing unusual circumstances and the folly of having an important team member ruled out of the season’s climax – or alternatively, we should strongly request an ad hoc lifting of the “three clubs” rule.  Such a request would be based on the twin arguments that (a) Stewart has appeared for less than one full game for Hull, which is a negligible issue – and (b) a deal is actually in place which will see him become a permanent Leeds player in summer.  This is simply a common-sense argument, and there should always be latitude for the application of common-sense in any set of rules or regulations.

If such a solution could be found – and with the welter of legal eagles and sharp practice merchants surrounding any such deal, it can’t be beyond the wit of man to sort it out – then maybe some of the air of “they’ve always got it in for us”, which hangs permanently over Elland Road, may lift slightly.  I’m as paranoid as the next man, as any reader of this blog will confirm – but there is good reason for that.  Far too often in the past, Leeds have had the crappy end of the stick and have had to watch others being treated with comparative kid gloves.  Should the scenario of Stewart becoming our main man over the coming weeks act itself out, with the new winger firing us to play-off qualification with games to spare, then it would be to say the least controversial that he would have to put his feet up on the strength of half a game for Hull.  And if Leeds then go on to confirm their historical play-off ineptitude, yet another instance of injustice would be added to the club’s long list of grievances against officialdom.

Perhaps, after all, the authorities might look back on situations such as Leeds having to play for the Title only two days after winning the FA Cup in 1972 – and perhaps they may feel that this Stewart anomaly is a good chance to redress the balance a little.  They could even be reminded that rules have been waived in unusual circumstances before, so there is some precedent..  Man U were allowed to sign cup-tied players for their run to the FA Cup Final in 1958 in the wake of the Munich disaster.  Of course, the two situations are hardly comparable; then again, it shouldn’t take a tragedy for common-sense to come into play, and perhaps even the mandarins who rule the game might see this.  Let’s hope so – and let’s keep our fingers crossed for a rare instance whereby that precious commodity of common-sense prevails.

The Lesson of Leeds United: Sort Out These Tyrant Owners – by Rob Atkinson

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Bates: Irrelevant

Many times over the past few years I despaired of the future of my beloved Leeds United.  It was a club dying under the not-exactly benevolent rule of one Kenneth William Bates, a man who had taken control at Elland Road almost 21 years after declaring his avowed intent to see the club banished from the Football League and sent into oblivion.  This perhaps wasn’t the best recommendation for the supposed saviour of United (we heard repeatedly later of how he had saved Leeds at least once, and possibly two or three times).

The next seven years made you wonder whether the Bates reign had started with the breaking of a mirror in the Elland Road boardroom, although what followed was not so much bad luck as bad management, bad PR, bad taste – just every shade of bad you could possibly think of.  Ken’s method of “saving” Leeds, involving as it did relegation to the club’s lowest ever league status, did not inspire confidence.  Administration ensued, with record points deductions which saw an institution of the game in this country being hounded by their fellow league clubs who snarled and slavered as they were ranged against a hapless and helpless United.  It was like watching a mortally-wounded lion being snapped at by a pack of degraded hyenas – or standing by, powerless and frustrated, as a beloved family member was beaten up by snarling thugs.  It was simply horrible.

All in all, then, Bates’ potential as saviour looked more like that of a man who was determined to compass the demise of the club – and many were the reminders of his 1984 Chelsea-owning vow:  ”I shall not rest until Leeds United are kicked out of the football league. Their fans are the scum of the earth, absolute animals and a disgrace. I will do everything in my power to make sure this happens.”  Seven years under a Ken Bates thus motivated is a hell of a long time; for much of that period, things were bleak, grim and joyless around LS11.  The peaks of success were achieved in spite of Bates, not because of him; promotion and a famous win at the home of the Champions in the FA Cup came against a background of player sales, transfer market impotence and managers hamstrung into a frustrated inability to do their jobs properly and effectively.  Ken Bates was to Leeds United what Myxomatosis had been to the rabbit population of Australia; if he’d been left unchecked, the club may well have died.  It was that serious.

Now of course, despite the odd white-bearded apparition seen slithering around in the vicinity of Elland Road, Ken Bates is gone from the club.  It’s safe to pick up a programme again (and even a bit cheaper) – without having to bear the embarrassment of reading his latest rants against the fans (morons) or his business associates, nearly all of whom were either suing him or being sued by him – but at the club’s expense.  No more Radio Bates FM, no more silly bloody notions of a Northern take on Chelsea Village.  Gone and irrelevant, unlamented and destined (we devoutly hope) to leave no long-term mark on our beloved Leeds.

The legacy of Bates now is more intangible than material.  Sure, there’s the cladding on the East Stand and a few vanity projects elsewhere in the stadium.  But the true impact is on the fans; as a body we are now suspicious of owners, investors, saviours – yes, especially saviours.  The fans know what they want, but for the current owners of Leeds United it’s a slow process winning their unqualified trust – even if their aims really are absolutely parallel to those of the frustrated and long-suffering United support.  I write this with feeling; I’ve been as guilty as the next man of occasionally expressing doubts and reservations about where we’re heading under GFH, or under whatever the Consortium apparently on the brink of another takeover will call themselves.  It’s just not easy to lose that suspicion which amounts almost to paranoia; it’s not easy to trust men who are, after all, businessmen wanting to show some return on their money.  Trust will come, but more solid proof may be needed before everything in the garden is rosy.

Double jeopardy: Allam and Tan

Double jeopardy: Allam and Tan

Still, relative to certain other clubs, things are pretty good at Leeds United.  We could be Hull, struggling against an embarrassing change of name being foisted by owner Assem Allam on unwilling supporters who want to be Hull City and not Hull Tigers (cringe).  We could be Cardiff City, already suffering in red after they’ve been Bluebirds these many years.  Of course these two clubs are in the Premier League, and that will mean a lot to their fans.  But at what price?  Would Leeds United fans accept an elevation which comes at such a premium?  Red instead of White, or being known as Leeds Red Bulls even?  What price tradition, pride, identity?  I know how I’d feel – I’d fight such scandalous iniquities to my dying breath, and whatever the feelings of certain complaisant short-term glory seekers, I’m sure there’d be many thousands fighting with me.  As things stand, we have to trust that our current and future owners do not intend to follow a Hull or a Cardiff route.  If that trust were to be breached, things could get pretty hot for those gentlemen.

At times during the Bates era, I used to wish that something official could be done about him, to have him forcibly excised from our club.  “Fit and proper?”, I’d think to myself, unable to understand how any governing body could accept this of such a transparently villainous and malicious, self-serving old curmudgeon.  I saw managers depart and I knew they’d not had a fair chance.  I used to hope that maybe the League Managers Association (LMA) would advise its members not to work for Bates, and force the issue that way.  I doubt it would ever have come to that – too many peace-at-any-price merchants in those particular corridors of power.  But that’s how desperate I felt, that’s how much I wanted rid.  It’s just a year ago since the beginning of the end of Bates.  What a very much happier year it has been.

Now, with things so much more positive around Elland Road, and with the promise of better things yet to come, I can feel some sympathy for fans – and managers – who are suffering under tyrants, much as we did.  Particularly, I feel sympathy for Malky Mackay, the manager of Cardiff City who got them at last into the Premier League and whose reward is that he probably won’t be their manager for much longer.  He’s been issued with a “resign or be sacked” ultimatum by owner Vincent Tan, a man whose football knowledge adds up to precisely zero.  Still, having ruined the Bluebirds image, he feels qualified to criticise the coaching, tactics and transfer policy of a football man, a solid professional and a man of dignity and restraint in Mackay.  This manager is a dead man walking and he must know it – but still, he’s travelled to Anfield with his team, hoping against hope that he can coax a performance out of what must be a bewildered, angry and confused group of players – at the daunting home of a formidable Liverpool side.  And then, he’ll be gone.  I fervently hope he sticks to his guns and refuses to walk, and I hope too that every penny of his contract is paid up to him.  He will emerge with massive credit for a job well done; he will not be out of work for long.

If there are any hitches with the terms of his dismissal, though, the LMA should show it does have some teeth – and withdraw their members from availability for the Cardiff manager’s position.  Maybe they should do that anyway, to show some solidarity and to demonstrate to Tan and the others like him that the cadre of football professionals will not be made to jump through hoops at the petulant whim of wealthy but clueless, spoiled and egotistical individuals who are just looking for a shiny toy to play with.  I would love to see Tan in the position of having to manage his own football affairs.  His players wouldn’t be able to perform for laughing.  And after all, why should any honest professional, player, coach or manager want to work for such a man?  Let him paddle his own canoe, and let him sink without trace.  In the long run, it would even be better for the fans that way.

English football stands today in real danger of being dragged down to the level of certain other leagues throughout the world, where petulance and tantrums rule over sober judgement and the sanctity of professionalism.  This is something that should be resisted, tooth and nail.  As Leeds United fans, we feel a rivalry with pretty much any other set of fans anywhere, and an antipathy with several groups who don’t need naming here – but decidedly, Cardiff would be among that number.  However, in this situation, I believe that solidarity and the greater interests of the game as a whole should transcend any mere club or fan rivalry.  I’d be happy to stand alongside any Cardiff fans who wanted to protest about Tan and his treatment of a manager who has delivered a lifelong wish for them.  I would be proud to stand four square with them, and chant and sing as lustily as any.  Ultimately, no club is an island, and what can happen to one could happen to any or all.  We have the thin end of an almighty big wedge here, and if something is not done soon, then we might be surprised at some of the changes that will be imposed on clubs that might appear impervious to such interference.  And, of course, more good, honest managers like Malky Mackay will be humiliated in the press, and will lose their jobs at the whim of a megalomaniac who isn’t fit to run a pub quiz.

We at Leeds United should be as conscious of all this as anybody else.  We were nearer to disaster than many would care to admit when the first rumblings of a takeover were heard halfway through 2012.  And who knows what the future yet holds for Leeds?  At the end of the day, the notorious truculence and militancy of the Leeds United support may yet be its biggest asset – especially if, as usual, the game’s various governing bodies turn out to be about as much use as a pet rock.  So we need to stand ready at all times to look out for the interests of our club, which is so close to the hearts of so many of us.  And in the meantime, we cannot afford to ignore the plight of our counterparts at other clubs.  Solidarity and the will to organise and resist are immensely powerful forces if wielded wisely – as we found in our own fight against Bates, the will of the fans being, I believe, instrumental in giving impetus and direction to the takeover.

Let’s support the Hull and Cardiff fans where and how we can.  Let’s see if we can’t apply some pressure, as an organised and cosmopolitan movement of fans, to bodies like the FA, the Football League, the Premier League, the PFA and last but not least the LMA.  Maybe then the message would be brought home to Vincent Tan and similar tyrants that the game is bigger than them – bigger by far – and that their actions if seen to undermine the foundations of that edifice, will not be tolerated.

Time to Do Away With Megabucks Ownership and Let Fans Run Clubs – by Rob Atkinson

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Vincent Tan: clueless

The time is fast approaching when the people who know what the game in this country is all about, are going to have to stand up and be counted.  I mean, of course, the fans – and I write in the full awareness that too much standing up can lead to you being evicted from some of the more authoritarian clubs in the various leagues.  But this type of standing up would be symbolic.  It would send out a signal that we, the fans, have had enough of clueless owners and chairmen manking about with our game.

In the last week or so, it’s been carnage in the Premier League alone.  Steve Clarke of West Bromwich Albion has been sacked, a decision that makes lighting that extra boiler to get a few more leagues of speed out of the “Titanic” seem like a model of sober judgement.  Andre Villas-Boas has gone too, a victim of his club’s failure to hang on to their star performer from last season, Gareth Bale.  Anyone who saw the look on the face of Danial Levy during Spurs’ 5-0 demolition by Liverpool would not have given much for AVB’s chances of avoiding the pre-Christmas axe.  Meanwhile, up in Hull, battle-scarred old warhorse Steve Bruce is having to hide behind a sickly grin and pretend that it’s OK that Hull’s megalomanic owner, Assem Allam, is planning to trample all over the finer feelings of City’s support by forcing through a name change to Hull Tigers whilst inviting those who vociferously object to “die as soon as they like”. Tigers, Tigers, rah, rah, rah!

And now we have the news that Cardiff City’s clueless owner Vincent Tan has told his successful manager Malky Mackay – a hero to the Cardiff fans, and rightly so – to either resign, or be sacked.  Presumably Mr Tan feels that Mackay has been interfering too much in team affairs, and not listening to the vast wisdom of one V. Tan Esquire.  Who does this jumped-up little pro think he is, after all? Doesn’t he know whose toy Cardiff City is??

In truth, it’s beyond a joke already.  Good, honest pros are at the mercy of clueless amateurs whose only qualifications to be where they are in the football hierarchy are a stuffed wallet and a fool’s ego.  It’s way past time that somebody, somewhere, got a few people of common sense and influence together – or failing that, the likes of Bobby Charlton and Trevor Brooking would do – and set to discussing an alternative model for the game in England – before these spoiled, rich-kid charlatans ruin it beyond repair.

You wouldn’t have to look far to find that alternative model.  Go East, young man – cast your eye and focus your thoughts across the North Sea and look how things are run in the Bundesliga of good old Deutschland. Wonderful stadia with safe standing, reasonable ticket prices, a fantastic league nurturing a successful national team – and the fans involved at every level, helping make the decisions that ultimately affect them, for the good of all – not just some bloated plutocrat with a brain full of damp rot and the arrogant belief that wealth justifies autocracy.

Football in this country has a long history of being in thrall to a clutch of well-to-do local businessmen, but at least there was a hint of democracy in the old-style board of directors.  Now it’s CEO’s here and Directors of Football there, and all frantically knuckling their brows to whichever barmy billionaire sits on top of the whole creaky edifice.  They say with power comes responsibility, but not in English football.  No, sir.  These people delegate the responsibility whilst hanging on to the power.  They hire and they fire and then they do it all over again.  As the process goes on, so the credibility of the game diminishes – what’s the reaction of the fan in the street when he hears that an excellent coach like Steve Clarke has been sacked before the season is half-over?  Why, they laugh derisively, clearly unaware of the respect due to some stockbroker and investment banker who happens to own most of West Brom – despite being unburdened by any knowledge of the game.

Sadly, it looks nigh-on impossible to transform our game into anything resembling its efficiently-successful German counterpart.  Too many vested interests, too much money involved – and far too many tender, fat, sleek egos which demand to be stroked and adored whilst being party to amateurish decisions that would shame a Tory minister.  So it looks as though we’ll have to put up with what we’re reluctantly witnessing happen – and resign ourselves to the game here become ever more like the franchise system of American Football.  Yay.

When’s the next home Ashes series, anyone?

Leeds Bête Noire Bates Replaced as Football’s Panto Villain by Hull’s “Doctor Death” – by Rob Atkinson

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Smile on the face of the tiger – disgraceful Allam

Leeds United fans know all about how it feels to have your club owned by a man who makes your teeth curl up with embarrassment, someone who has only to open his mouth to reveal the yawning cavity inside his skull.  Thankfully, Bates is now consigned to the dustbin of Elland Road history – give or take an outstanding court case or two – and the club can finally look forward to a future unencumbered by the whims and conceits of an irascible and unrepentant old man.  Some will mourn the loss of one of football’s “characters”, but really – with characters like that, the game would swiftly lose the plot. And anyway, it seems that there is another of the Batesian ilk, making a bad name for himself over in the Far East, in that soon-to-be City of Culture, Hull.

Hull City owner Assem Allam could be seen on the TV earlier this afternoon, simpering away to himself as his team of tigers beat Mighty Liverpool, courtesy of two wild deflections and some truly appalling Scouse defending.  The atmosphere at times was really quite deafening, the Hull fans – not noted for the passion of their support – belting out “City Till I Die” in a manner calculated to rock the rafters.  Allam bore the look of a man who felt he had personally inspired such vociferous support – and in a way that was true.  For Allam’s pre-match comment on the song rendered with such feeling by his club’s fans was that  “I don’t mind ‘City till we die’. They can die as soon as they want, as long as they leave the club for the majority who just want to watch good football.”  Not the most subtle of rebuffs for those City fans who are protesting against Allam’s proposed change of the club’s name to Hull Tigers.  In fact some would say that they were the words of a man disposed to let his mouth work without any apparent connection to his brain; the words, in short, of an intemperate oaf.  Most unsuitable for a future City of Culture.  But Allam was not content with one yobbish sound-bite.  He went further:

“How can they call themselves fans, these hooligans, this militant minority, when they disturb and distract the players while taking away the rights of others to watch the football, and of companies who have paid good money for advertising?

“If they want to express their feelings they are free to do so, either outside the stadium or pay to take [advertising] space.

“Seriously, they are welcome to talk to the stadium management about buying a space for a permanent banner, 10 times as big if they want. I am a supporter of democracy. I would have no issue with that.”

The City fans have organised themselves in an attempt to stop Allam from ripping away at their traditions and history in the name of tacky commercialism.  They will have noted with dismay that the Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan has succeeded against the protests of that club’s fans in changing the teams colours from blue to red, leaving them with the humiliating spectacle of their beloved Bluebirds turning out, in effect, in a strip that is a betrayal of their long-standing identity.  Tan’s regime  is also now threatening the future of popular manager Malky Mackay; the fans see this as a step too far and are issuing stern warnings and organising protests against such folly.

There is a growing and worrying need for sets of fans to form action groups against various pieces of arrant folly on the part of people who have bought football clubs in the evident belief that they then have the right to do whatever they like with those clubs.  The model appears to be based on the franchise system common enough in the States, where owners do have this licence to operate exactly as they please, even to the extent of closing down or relocating their toys, under a new identity and perhaps thousands of miles away. That’s just too horrible to contemplate for English football and, in the absence of any obviously helpful legislation to protect traditional interests, it does seem that the fans have little choice but to band together and get militant.

The conclusion is difficult to avoid that the game in this country has taken a wrong turning in making conditions so propitious for loaded foreigners to come in, buy their trophy clubs and then, with little or no understanding of the history and social impact of those clubs, set about bending them unrecognisably out of shape.  It may be that Assam is not aware of how embarrassing the Hull City supporters find it when opposing fans mock them by singing “Tigers, Tigers, rah, rah, rah!” at them.  But any football fan would completely understand that kind of humiliation – so why make things worse with a complete Tigers re-branding?  Does Tan at Cardiff honestly have any idea of the impact a change from blue to red has had on the fans of that club? Of the stick that the fans will have had to take from their despised rivals in Swansea? It seems doubtful that these people, flush with cash and arrogance, either know or care.

Both Hull City and Cardiff City are currently proud members of the Premier League – so things could be worse.  Both are doing OK as well.  But if you asked me, as a Leeds fan: would I settle for success at the kind of price being expected of fans of the two City teams – then I’d have to say, resoundingly: NO.  History and tradition count for a lot in football. This new wave of minted foreign ownership is set fair to suck the soul out of the game if the trend is allowed to continue.  That then becomes a national cultural issue and – surely – some Government department should be sitting up and taking notice.  And really, they should be taking notice now – and thinking about some possible protective action now as well.  Otherwise we will be doing the usual futile thing of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.  You can’t get much more uselessly British than that.

This footballing Tale of Two Cities is a definite pointer away from the creeping, insidious growth of clueless foreign ownership – and that’s not a xenophobic stance, it just so happens that most of the new owners are not from these Isles – which probably explains their lack of appreciation of just what the game here – and the fan culture – are all about.  It will be far too late to do anything about it when someone like Allam or Tan – or indeed like Bates, who proves that arrogant idiocy is not simply a matter of foreign nationality – decides that Hull isn’t a good place for a football franchise, and relocates them somewhere else entirely, with a snazzy new name to attract untapped local support.  It could easily happen – who speaks then for the disenfranchised Hull City fan of fifty years faithful support?

If we did move away from the current situation, we could do a lot worse than look to Germany, and their preferred system which relies heavily upon community-involved, supporter-owned football clubs which are part of the local fabric and represent the heart and soul of the fans.  It works very well in Germany, and certain clubs elsewhere – notably Barcelona – benefit from a similarly democratic and inclusive situation.

Whatever the future brings, I wish the supporters of Hull and Cardiff all the best as they struggle to retain their clubs’ identities in the face of unsympathetic ownership structures.  They will need all the luck and good wishes they can get – but if they succeed, it’s good for all of us – because it would send out a definite message that every football fan of every team should endorse: You’re welcome here, Mr Billionaire, and so is your money – but don’t you dare mess about with MY club.

Perhaps then, fan power would really have found its feet and organisations like IMUSA, LUST, and the protest groups at Hull, Cardiff and elsewhere can start to exercise a real and responsible on the game in this country.  That, if you think about it, is what will be needed if we’re ever to give the People’s Game back to the rightful owners.  And they are of course the people – us, the fans who love football and want to see it prosper – in the right way, the proper way, the traditional way.

Not – please note – as some rich guy’s toy to play with, break and then discard as a bored and spoiled child will tend to do.  Messrs Allam and Tan, and all the others – be warned.

King to Reign at Elland Road? Marlon Tipped to Sign for Leeds

Marlon King aka "The Accused"

Marlon King aka “The Accused”

Yesterday I wrote an article about Leeds United being linked with Celtic’s Anthony Stokes, a rumour which – I think I made it clear – I’m not at all happy with. There were two planks to my argument against the recruitment of Mr Stokes – firstly that he’s not very good, having failed to pull up any trees south of the border (he’s done better up in Scotland, but quite frankly my Gran could score for fun up there and she’s been dead for 21 years) – and secondly that he doesn’t appear to be the nicest of chaps, with various indiscretions laid at his door, including the alleged nutting of a hapless Elvis impersonator.

Today was another day, and it has brought another none-too-tasty rumour. This one I find more palatable on the grounds of ability, but possibly even less so where personal conduct is concerned. Marlon King. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. The lad can play a bit, and even at the ripe old age of 33, it’s likely that he could be relied upon to give most Championship defences a thing or two to think about. He’s done the business at this level for quite a few clubs – one notable failure being a loan spell at Leeds, but at that time he was played out of position by the famously clueless Kevin Blackwell, so it was hardly a surprise that he ended up goal-less.

So, on the grounds of ability and scoring potential, and especially for free, this seems potentially a good signing. But there is a flip-side to Marlon’s coin, and that is his conviction in 2009 for sexual assault and ABH whilst on the books of Wigan Athletic, offences for which he received an 18 month sentence. It was also alleged that King had headbutted Dean Windass whilst at Hull City on loan, though this is not a crime which would necessarily alienate him as far as Leeds supporters are concerned. But the fact that Mr King has 14 convictions on his record since 1997 is doubtless a concern to Leeds United or any other club thinking of taking a punt on him. The rumour I saw today was on a Birmingham City fan site, and the responses from Leeds fans were not entirely positive. We’ve had our bad boys in the past, of course – Bowyer and Woodgate are particularly unedifying examples – but King appears to be a repeat offender at least in terms of getting on the wrong side of the law. Some of his transgressions are much worse than others, it must be remembered, and a record which includes a sexual assault conviction is a severe drawback to say the very least.

The fact remains though that King seems to have settled down somewhat since leaving jail on the more recent of two occasions. He has served Birmingham well, and he does retain the knack of scoring goals at second tier level. Worryingly however, he has been arrested and bailed yet again as recently as April this year after a car crash which left one man severely injured.

On balance, I feel that this would not be an ideal signing for Leeds United, though I’m not quite as emphatically of that opinion as I was with the Stokes rumour. If that leaves me open to a charge of putting on-field ability ahead of off-field misdemeanours and convictions, then – well, guilty, m’Lud. King will certainly end up wearing some club’s shirt next season, and quite probably in the Championship. If push comes to shove, I’d rather see him scoring goals for Leeds than against us, but overall I’m hardly impressed by the standard of striker tipped to be joining us down at LS11 for the new campaign. Can we have some better quality rumours, please?