Tag Archives: hype

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. 

 

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Kenyan Man U Fan’s Suicide Harks Back to Famous Shankly Quote – by Rob Atkinson

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Shanks – didn’t really mean it

There are many famous sayings attributed to the late, great Bill Shankly that are still quoted to this day.  Some of them, he even actually said.  The one in the image above seems likely to have been genuine, actually uttered by the great man.  But wherever you hear it quoted, you’ll usually hear a hastily-added qualification too: “He didn’t actually mean it, of course.  It was part of his football-daft image…”  Quite so.  Shankly was football-daft – many are the anecdotes to illustrate this, and again, some of them are based on fact. But Shanks wasn’t daft in the wider sense and, certainly, if he did utter the words above, they’ll have been uttered with tongue firmly in cheek.

All of which sheds awfully little light on the baffling and tragic death in Kenya of local Man U fan John Jimmy Macharia, 23 or 28 (depending on which report you read), who plunged to his death from a multi-storey apartment block in Nairobi after David Moyes’ men suffered a second home defeat in four days, further denting the champions’ chance of retaining the Premier League title. “Macharia jumped from the seventh floor of an apartment at Pipeline Estate after realising that his team Manchester United lost 1-0 to Newcastle at Old Trafford and committed suicide,” Nairobi’s County Police Commander Benson Kibui told Reuters.

Commander Kibui went on to bemoan the role of the English game in this and at least one other suspected suicide in Kenya over the past few years. “All witness accounts suggest he committed suicide because the team lost but officers are still talking to those who were with him as part of the investigations into the incident”, he said. “It is not the first time we are losing a young man because of the football in England, which is far away from us. The football fans should enjoy the matches… but they need to know that is just a game and they should not commit suicide, since life is very precious.”  Undeniably true.

The fact that even one fan, anywhere in the world, could actually be moved to take his own life on the back of a pair of home defeats for a team thousands of miles away, seems mind-boggling.  It seems also to give an uncomfortable resonance to Shanks’ famous quote – but a soundbite nearly fifty years old can have little to do with what is an extreme phenomenon, born of a different type of football support to that tribal devotion typical of Shankly’s day.

As I wrote yesterday, this newish, different type of support has grown apace in the past decade or so.  Some call it “glory-hunting”, some merely refer to “global fanbases”.  But at its extreme margins, where tragedies of this sort are liable to occur – however infrequently – the motivations behind choosing to support a “megaclub” stand some examination.  Why, exactly do far-flung people choose to do this?  I believe that the answer to that depends on the type of club involved – but by far and away the most common reason is the wish to be identified with some perceived example of size, power and success.  This is “gloryhunting” in the raw, where a person of questionable self-esteem, lacking any other readily-apparent avenues for self-aggrandisement, will latch on to an institution regularly “bigged-up”  by the media, held up and put on a pedestal by such media as an example of success, something to be worshiped and revered, an institution which will reflect honour and glory onto its adherents, wherever they might come from.

There is seen to be some social cachet, therefore, in being recognised as a supporter of, say, Man U.  The opportunity is seemingly there for the otherwise pallid and ill-defined individual to bask in some reflected glory. For certain people of a perhaps less robust personality, this represents a relief from the humdrum routine of unregarded anonymity – it provides an escape route from their own feelings of inadequacy.  In extreme cases though, the pedestal that such a needy person builds for him or herself is more like a house of cards that can too easily come tumbling down, bringing with it the hapless fan who has pinned so much carefully-nurtured self-esteem on a seemingly invincible team that turns out, after all, to be fallible. The shock of this will be too much for some to bear; as they witness the downfall of their heroes, icons they had thought utterly reliable, what are they left with?  For the tragic few – seized upon as merchandising fodder by a voracious world game…and then let down with a bump – the answer would seem to be: nothing.

Better then, by far, to use football as a channel, not for some hopeless yearning for a boost in self-esteem, but rather for the kind of grisly defiance and bloody-mindedness that characterises – for instance – Leeds United fans. If there’s one thing you can be tolerably certain of, it is that, by and large, Leeds fans need to be made of stern stuff.  Not for them the lure of glory and triumph, not for them the warm glow of media hype and approval, or widespread cultural adoration.  The Leeds fan – especially the Leeds fan from far afield – has different motivations of an earthier and more non-conformist character.  Why else would so many travel literally thousands of miles per season, pay Premier League prices for what has been decidedly indifferent fare this past decade – and all of this to a background of contempt, disapproval, even hate?  It’s a conundrum – but some answers may well lie in some of the illuminating responses I received to yesterday’s article.

Whatever the reasons – and on the evidence of those replies, I would venture to suggest that most of them have to do with a desire to kick-out against the Establishment, the accepted way of things – the requirements to be a Leeds fan include a thick skin, strong shoulders, a philosophical personality and – above all – an unshakeable inner conviction that, against all visible evidence, they are right and the rest of the world is wrong.  Thus equipped, the Leeds United fan is able to roll with the punches, go with the flow and still feel able to hold their head up high and proclaim “We are Leeds and we are proud.  Marching On Together.”  This is not the stuff of which potential suicides are made – or at least not for such mundane reasons as a football result.

It’s the kind of inner serenity that fans of many clubs might well wish they could trade for a trophy or two.  It’s a state of mind, and not one that can simply be assumed.  It’s often said that fans don’t pick clubs – rather clubs tend to select fans of the mettle required to be worthy of supporting them. The media have a role to play in all of this, and it’s by no means a blameless one.  In their decades-long campaign of advancing the interests of one club – Man U – above all others, they have inflicted a certain amount of collateral damage, whilst at the same time strengthening the sinews of those already sinewy individuals who dare to swim against the tide and aspire to be Leeds United fans, or followers of other similarly proud but unregarded, unhyped clubs.

The damage done by the media to the weaker vessels who have opted to cling to the coat-tails of the mighty Man U has not been done intentionally. But suggestibility and the capacity to be brain-washed are functions of the strength, or lack thereof, of the human personality, the human ego.  It is the weaker ones who will be vacuumed up, wholesale by such a leviathan as Man U, with their publicity operatives in the press and media acting as recruitment agents.  Only the strong of character can resist such a siren call, only the willfully-defiant will survive the propaganda and tempting blandishments to be seen and read everywhere.  From these ranks – the ranks of the strong and the pugnacious – will emerge the Leeds United fans from every corner of the globe.  These are not people who will launch themselves off a high building after a couple of home defeats.  And fortunately so, as otherwise there might by now be sadly few of us left.

The tragic young man in Kenya who died last weekend can be seen as an extreme example of a victim of the myth that has grown up around the likes of Man U – and they are not alone.  A few years back, another Kenyan fan, this time of Arsenal, also took his life after a poor result, in the Champions League – ironically against Man U.  Never can the essential wrongness of that famously ironic Shankly quote have been more vividly illustrated than in these two wasteful and needless deaths, precipitated – almost certainly – by the meaningless outcome of mere games of football on foreign fields that neither victim would ever have visited.  This is when you start to question the degree to which football is hyped, when at bottom it remains mere sport, paling into insignificance besides the great issues of today or any other age.  It’s a pastime, a preoccupation – something to talk about or argue over in a bar or on a tea-break.  It beguiles many an idle hour, but it’s not – of itself – all that important.

Of course, there is always a place for pride in football, and even for people to use it as a vent for emotions that can’t find an outlet elsewhere.  But we must retain a sense of proportion, which is what that bemused police chief in Kenya was saying.  Passion and commitment must be tempered by realism and a sense of proportion.  The media should be playing a leading part in this, instead of grossly exaggerating over long periods the significance of games and competitions, or the standing and supposed invincibility of certain favoured clubs.  To perpetuate these hollow myths is to act irresponsibly, as there will always be fragile personalities that cannot define for themselves a sense of proportion, and to whom, ultimately, something as silly as a game of football might actually become as important as life or death itself – all at the behest of irresponsible journalists selling a commercially-motivated fairy-tale.  And when the ultimate tragedy happens, we’re all of us the poorer for it, even though it’s likely to affect fans directly only at that over-hyped and ridiculously puffed-up elite end of the world game.

As Bill Shankly would doubtless have been the first to admit, the whole institution of football everywhere on the planet is not worth even a fraction of one life.  It’s time that those responsible, in media and megaclub marketing departments, for pushing the hype, the hard-sell and the lies, got real, got back to what the game used to be all about and got back to reporting what happens instead of trying to lead the game by the nose in the direction of success and glory for the few and Devil take the hindmost.

Because when all is said and done – it’s only a game.

Don’t Tar Leeds United Fans With the Man U Gloryhunters Brush – by Rob Atkinson

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Oh, dear…

A lot of Man U fans have to face quite a bit of stick for being southern-based gloryhunters who’ve hardly ever visited the Theatre of Hollow Myths, because – well, because they’re southern-based gloryhunters who’ve hardly ever visited the Theatre of Hollow Myths.  Fair enough then, really – for it does seem from all available evidence that these sorry types make up a significant portion of the fallen champions’ “support”.   Tune into any biggish Man U home game and, during Sky’s feverishly-excited build-up, you’ll probably see some home fans being interviewed outside the ground, making predictions for the match ranging between anything from a 4-0 win to a 7-0 win.  It’s the accents that strike you.  A thick Ulster brogue here, a lugubrious Brummie yow-yow there.  Norfolk, Suffolk, take your pick of the Home Counties, most will be represented.  North-easterners, Devonians, the distinctive sound of Cornwall.

gloryhunterShamefully, there will also be the familiar tones of Yorkshire here and there, South Yorkshire mainly, but you do get the hideous experience of warm, West Yorkshire dialect emerging from a smug face surmounting one of those awful red shirts.  It’s shudderingly disgusting. You get the obvious cockneys – and last (and distinctly least) you’ll get a smattering of Lancastrians.  And really very, very few actual Mancunians, who are normally identifiable by their distinctive speech defects – “lickle” for “little” – hosspickle, for hospital, keckle for kettle, and so on.  For anyone seeking justification for his or her own instinctive antipathy towards Man U, it’s a rich vein of compulsive, repulsive viewing – and as a sort of straw poll, it shows that the oft-quoted charge of Man U fans being largely out-of-town gloryhunters has plenty of merit.

The important thing here is not simply where all these fans come from, but wherein lies their motivation for following the team they follow.  The fact is that Man U are not the only club with a large proportion of fans from outside of their own city limits.  My own Leeds United also have a large and faithful body of support from all over the country, indeed, all over the world.  This leads many of a Man U bent to do their research and emerge, flushed and excited, with what they feel is a cast-iron rebuttal of the “Man U gloryhunter” stereotype, arguing that it’s a phenomenon common to many higher-profile clubs.  On the face of it, this is true.  But as regards the question of proportion, it’s undeniable that Man U have a greater degree of support from outside of its own immediate area than almost any other club you could name.  And, in any event, the “where” of it is really just a basic fact.  The interesting question is the “why” of it.  What motivates these eager aliens to travel so far to follow their club – or at least to lash out so much on a Sky subscription and a comfy armchair?  And this is where the “gloryhunting” factor can be seen in full play.  Moreover, the “glory” that’s being hunted is not just a matter of trophies and medals – a lot of it has to do with the “Love us because of Munich” line so relentlessly pushed by the Man U club itself over the past 55 years.

Other clubs have been successful in this period, during which the game has reached saturation point in the media, compared with the pre-Munich era when interest was confined largely to the cloth-capped working classes and the back page of the daily newspapers.  But no other club was adopted by the media to the extent of Man U after Munich, a relationship that started out with shock and compassion but has evolved and warped over the years so that – stronger today than ever – it is now more about the protection and exploitation of markets than it is about the mystique that allegedly surrounds the legacy of Munich.  Whatever the rights and wrongs about the furore that has ALWAYS surrounded the Munich disaster – leading many to believe that it was unique and the worst sporting disaster ever – there can be little doubt that many Man U supporters with no remote connection to the Manchester area can trace back the origins of their support to Munich, either directly or through a parent.

The out-of-town support of other clubs, most particularly Leeds United, have not had anything like the cushy ride accorded to the Man U gloryhunters. Whereas those of a red persuasion have read reams of copy glorifying their chosen club and giving them what might truthfully be described as an overwhelmingly positive press, the Leeds fans have had the opposite experience going back fifty years.  Hating Leeds in the press has been a national pastime for decades now, and it is against this background – and without the long periods of sustained success achieved, by hook or by crook, over at Man U – that Leeds fans of all backgrounds, from whatever point on the globe, have somehow sustained the fanatical and feverishly proud nature of their support.

No, there is no gloryhunting for those who make the pilgrimage to Elland Road.  A few peaks of success in fifty years, besides which all has been humdrum with spells of blackest despair as their beloved club plumbed the depths of the third tier, with long spells away from the top-flight limelight. For a Man U fan – feeling themselves slighted by accusations of gloryhunting, coming as they do from Torquay – to level a counter charge of gloryhunting at a Leeds fan from Norway or from East Anglia, is a shot in the dark, a wildly inaccurate attempt at a counterpunch which serves only to emphasise their own desperate culpability.  The Man U fan who has supported them from an armchair in Milton Keynes since 1993 – and there are many such – is bang to rights as a gloryhunter.  A “plastic”, as we say in the argot of football vitriol.  They may harp on about the Busby Babes, about the thirteen plastic titles on the sideboard since Uncle Rupert bought the game and gift-wrapped it for them – but their motives are transparently obvious and their local clubs look at them with contempt as traitors to the region.

It takes a certain sort of character to follow such a path, for such reasons. Some will be motivated by the need to be associated with perceived size and success, for whatever is lacking in their own lives that has left them with such a need.  Dr. Freud, it’s over to you on that one.  Some are best summed-up by a lady with a penetrating voice who rang in angrily to BBC 606 after a rare Man U defeat at the Theatre of Hollow Myths.  “That’s not what I buy my season-ticket and travel up from London for!” she screeched in indignant tones of equine distress. “Any more of that and I might as well follow Spurs.”  She’s not alone in her rage and dissatisfaction, and one can only hope on her behalf that wherever she ended up, the prawn sandwiches were adequate.

It takes a certain sort of character too, to support Leeds, to tread that difficult path in the face of virtually universal hatred with very little in the way of tangible reward, team success – anything that might be described as glory.  For those who follow this rocky path from afar – the stalwart supporters from Scandinavia, the Leeds nutters from Norfolk, from Ireland, from pretty well everywhere you can stick a pin into the map of the UK – and much further afield – that takes a character rich in dedication and the ability to keep going in adversity.  There isn’t one Leeds fan I know who isn’t proud to be Leeds, and that pride, that passion, has survived some incredibly frustrating times when the future looked bleak – even at one point, non-existent.  And there are many Man U fans of pride and passion too – misguided souls of course, but still – proud.  Respect to them, but there are many, many who are more like that angry caller to 606, who throw a tantrum every time the club has a blip, who threaten to desert the ship with other, similarly morally bankrupt rats, before that ship shows even a sign of foundering.  Their current situation may well turn into more than a blip; the ship may not be buoyed up by quite as much media support and official wariness as in Ferguson’s reign – and it will be interesting to see how many fall by the wayside if Man U do fall away.

The comparison in the two basic characters of support highlights the bizarre ridiculousness of Man U fans throwing the “gloryhunter” charge back in the faces of Leeds fans for whom the glory lies in following their team through thin and thinner, and in simply being proud to be Leeds.  Gloryhunting is not primarily about geography, it’s about motivation too, and perhaps most of all, it’s about your own innate character and what you expect of yourself. If Leeds United won promotion this year, the “Double” next year and then the “Treble” the year after, I’d have a hell of a lot more to crow about – but I couldn’t be more proud to be Leeds than I am right now.  And I’m a local boy – and yet I know, with utter certainty, that those lads and lasses from further afield feel as I do, that the hairs on their necks stand up when they see the ground or hear the songs – and most of them have never seen us win a thing, but they’ll always be there and always proud.

The Man U gloryhunters, on the other hand, have seen them win a lot – that’s why they’re there.  But what will happen if the glory dries up, as well it might?  Where will the Man U gloryhunters be then?  They could easily be at Stamford Bridge or White Hart Lane, that’s where – or at least be wearing a different replica shirt whilst ensconced in their Home Counties armchairs. That’s the the character of those who attach themselves to the most convenient example of success, and it’s also the difference between them – the gloryhunting, plastic legion of the damned – and the proud and defiant Marching On Together brigade of Leeds United.