Tag Archives: Ipswich Town

From Milk Crate to Press Box, 42 Years at Leeds United’s Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

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Sitting where Frannie Lee wouldn’t dare – within right-hook range of Big Norm

My Elland Road history is one of a gradual progression that has seen me following the varied fortunes of Leeds United from many different vantage points within that famous old stadium. I started out in the much-lamented Lowfields Road stand, its venerable roof famously braced by cross wires to stop it being blown away by anything above a stiff breeze. My spectating debut was in the funny little “shelf” area that ran the length of the stand between the terraces below and the seats above. I attended a good few games there, with our Gray and, solemnly in charge, my Dad – who saw that our match-day equipment included milk crates for us kids to stand upon, thus enjoying some sort of view.

When I first started going to Elland Road independently, I stood on the Lowfields terraces, but found the passion and buffeting of that experience a little too much – softie that I was. So the next move was to the Boys’ Pen, in the North-East corner of the ground. I stayed there until a ticket mix-up meant that I faced a choice between missing a League Cup tie against Everton, and braving the rigours of the Kop. I screwed up my courage to make my debut on that mighty and cacophonous hill – and never looked back. From that time on, I was a dedicated Gelderd-Ender and the Kop years represent my golden era of United support.

When the Kop went all-seater in the wake of Hillsborough and the Taylor Report, it never felt quite the same to me, and I sympathise with those who never experienced the thrill and surge of a packed Gelderd. One moment I’ll always remember is when Dave Batty scored against Man City early in our League Title season of 1991/92. As Batty himself later admitted, he was never much of a goal-scorer “but, against City, I were prolific”. Over a hundred games after his previous goal, at City in the late 80s, Batts hit the back of the net against the same opponents in ’91 – and at the Gelderd End, too. The whole stadium erupted in joy unconfined; I believe injuries were sustained on the Kop that day but, trust me, nobody felt any pain. It was a magical moment, the stuff from which legends are woven.

When my time on the Kop came to an end, my attendance at Elland Road growing less frequent, I became something of a nomad, taking in the view from the South, West and East of the stadium.  I was getting older and more curmudgeonly, less able and willing to tolerate the stresses of a packed crowd, or of bored kids making me get up and sit down all the time as they passed to and fro. I was becoming my grumpy Dad and, frankly, it had ceased to be fun. I was even considering a flirtation with Ponte Collieries, though my heart and soul belong to Leeds and always will. I just couldn’t hack it any more; I’d never got over the loss of the terraces, not that I’d last five minutes there, these days.

But now I’m back, a habitué of the press area courtesy of semi-regular Leeds United newspaper columns and, though I say it myself as shouldn’t, what has become a pan-global blog. Finally, I’m finding myself somewhat cossetted in experiencing an environment a bit kinder to middle-aged sensibilities. Last Saturday, I watched the Ipswich Town match beside one of my heroes, Norman Hunter, a legend of the Don Revie era at Leeds. I was utterly star-struck, but Big Norm was chatty and amiable – until the game started. Then he was kicking every ball, totally absorbed in the action, grievously upset at every United mistake (and there seemed to be a lot). It was an education for me in terms of what an old pro expects of the current crop, with the desk in front of us taking some punishment as Norm fulminated away. On my other side was erstwhile press-box doyen Don Warters, former Leeds United correspondent for the Yorkshire Evening Post. As Norman stumped off just before full-time, on his way to do his corporate bit in one of the lounges, I remarked that he didn’t seem too happy. Don grinned and replied, “He never is”.

I guess such hyper-involvement and the severely critical outlook goes with the territory for those guys who’ve been there and done it, especially at the level Norman, Billy and the rest played. But still, looking on the bright side – we did win on the day to stay top and, despite a couple of awayday blips recently, we’re still doing quite well overall. The football has been genuinely exciting so far this campaign, a real pleasure to watch and even to write about. What’s more, it’s a great view among all the scribes, the club kindly provides sandwiches, coffee and other such civilised comforts – and the company is amazing. All in all, just when I thought I was coming to the end of my Leeds United journey, it’s really wonderful to be back at Elland Road.

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Lowfields Road

Lowfields Road stand, towards the end of its life – but with the “Shelf” easily identifiable

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Shock for Leeds United Fans: We’re Not Top, We’re THIRD   –   by Rob Atkinson


Yesterday appeared to be a day of triumph for the Whites, as they beat Ipswich Town before a packed and rapt Elland Road to maintain their lofty position atop the Championship. Leeds United, leading the way, a promotion charge gathering momentum, the lads are in form and all’s right with the world. What could be better?

Except, it ain’t necessarily so. You see, those sporting geniuses at Paddy Power have decided, in their wisdom (and not for any sordid commercial reasons or wanting to weasel out of a bet, nosirreebob) that Leeds United didn’t win on Saturday. So we’re not top of the league, we’re only third. Because – and mark this well – own goals don’t count. As the hapless Ipswich goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski was officially credited with Leeds’ third and ultimately decisive goal, Paddy Power have airily ruled it out; Leeds didn’t win after all, the match was drawn. 

How utterly stupid, I hear you say – and you’re right. But it’s not only stupid, it’s bent, perverse, grubby and laughably self-serving. For a bookie to throw an attitude like that, simply to avoid paying out on a bet won fair and square, is utter lunacy. What credibility do they have left in the wake of such a crass decision? None; not a shred. 

As things stand, punters who bet on Leeds to win and Lasogga to score anytime are out of pocket in a totally inexcusable and scandalous manner. Lasogga undeniably scored. No arguments there. And Leeds undeniably won – yet Paddy Power denies it, for their own tawdry reasons. 

I hope that sanity prevails and that those frustrated and outraged punters get their winnings after all. But I also hope that Paddy Power’s business takes a massive hit over this – who in their right mind will place a bet with such a very unscrupulous firm? Not me, for one. And I bet all sensible punters feel the same.

Let us not forget, this is the firm that offered odds on the assassination of Barack Obama, amongst other tasteless actions. They even took bets on Ugo Ehiogu becoming manager of Birmingham City, after the former Leeds defender’s tragic death. I feel safe in saying that this is not a reputable firm.

Yesterday’s shameful decision not to honour bets on a Leeds victory disgracefully confirms that verdict. Paddy Power: pay up, shut up – and then get lost.

Oh – and we did win. And we’re still top. In the real world that is – not the murky and crooked view of a dodgy bookie. 

Leeds United Looking to Bounce Back After Millwall Loss – by Rob Atkinson

Klich

                    Hadi Sacko and Mateusz Klich 

NB: This article also appears in Saturday’s edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Leeds United’s first loss of the season, viewed in the context of what is shaping up to be a momentous campaign, was less painful than might have been expected. The defeat was narrow and yet decisive; United were blown away by the sheer desire and commitment of a Millwall side whose performances against Leeds rarely seem to lack those qualities. In the event, the home side deserved their success, having had an early strike ruled out for a debatable offside call. Even then, there was a hint of offside about the eventual winner, but justice was probably done on the day.

Fortunately for those United fans who felt themselves to have returned to Earth with a bump, there was a chance for redemption at Burnley in the midweek Carabao Cup tie. Sure enough, Leeds dusted themselves down and revealed their gritty side to match higher league opposition, despite nine changes from last weekend. There was a grim satisfaction in ejecting the Clarets from the competition, especially as United were up against two erstwhile heroes in Chris Wood and Charlie Taylor, both of whom saw a brighter, or at any rate, more lucrative future across the Pennines at Turf Moor. Any lingering resentment over those deals was largely dissipated when Stuart Dallas’s decisive shoot-out penalty hit the back of the Burnley net and, with hindsight, the cup tie turned out to be more about current Leeds heroes than it was about Messrs. Wood and Taylor.

The biggest revelation of Tuesday night, for me, was Mateusz Klich, a Polish midfielder who had not been pulling up many trees this season so far – but he certainly seized his chance at Burnley. Klich seemed to be everywhere, closing down, making interceptions, putting in the hard yards with driving forward runs and generally giving as complete a midfield performance as we’ve seen so far this season. On that form, Klich will have given head coach Thomas Christiansen another welcome selection headache going forward; Leeds are particularly well-served in the middle of the park, but it will be difficult to overlook the case for Klich if he maintains the level of performance he showed against the Clarets. The ice-cool and languid penalty he dispatched during the shoot-out topped off his night’s work perfectly; it looks as if United can expect much more from Mateusz.

The other particularly bright spark on Tuesday was Hadi Sacko, who had up until this match been a mercurial and frustrating, hit-and-miss performer – but again, you could see the work going on at Thorp Arch beginning to pay off in terms of the Christiansen ethos sinking in all the way through this squad. Sacko it was who made the initial breakthrough for Leeds, finishing well after bursting onto a Pablo Hernandez pass that found him in space vacated by a badly-positioned Charlie Taylor. A very sweet moment, that. Sacko showed menace every time Leeds got forward after his introduction as substitute and, again, if he can keep that up, there’s another useful iron in United’s attacking fire.

So we move on to Ipswich Town at a sold-out Elland Road today, where Christiansen’s troops will be up against no-nonsense Barnsley lad (and boyhood Leeds fan) Mick McCarthy as Town boss, assisted by former United striker Terry Connor. These two will put aside their Leeds affiliations for the day and their team will provide stern and well-organised opposition. Still, Elland Road will be rocking again and this Leeds squad provides so many options and permutations that you have to fancy United to find a way of dealing with the Tractor Boys. With some difficult games ahead, three points today would be very welcome, consolidating United’s heady occupation of Championship top spot.

These are interesting and exciting times for United fans, who will now be optimistic about seeing the Whites put that Millwall slip-up firmly behind them.

-o0o-

While you’re here – a gentle and polite reminder. Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything depends on your donations to keep going. Please click HERE to donate what you can – even a quid or two makes a big difference. This blog will never hide behind a paywall, so it relies on your generosity for its continued existence. Thank you – MOT.

Can Leeds United Beat Whites Fan McCarthy’s Tractor Boys? – by Rob Atkinson

Young Mick, darling o' t'pitheads

Young Mick, darling o’ t’pitheads

I’ve always been quite impressed by Mick McCarthy – right back to the time when he stood, tall and imperious, as the dominant figure in Barnsley‘s defence back in the day. I followed his fortunes with interest as he moved onwards and upwards, to Manchester City and Celtic, before plummeting down the food chain towards the end of his career, ending up as low down the evolutionary scale as Millwall. But everywhere he went, he took with him that indestructible air of unflappable Yorkshireness, dealing with opponents and situations calmly but as firmly as he had to. And that gritty look – the kind of ruggedness to which all we Tykes secretly aspire, the forehead hammered flat through contact with thousands of muddy footballs as he headed clearance after McCarthyite clearance up towards the halfway line. It was the kind of profile you might expect to see carved into the prow of a raiding war-boat, noble but menacing. I was once in a panto with his granddaughter too, so there’s clearly a bond.

All of this slight infidelity where my own heroes were concerned was long before I even knew that Mick was a Leeds United fan. And it was before I witnessed him from afar, playing the calm sheet-anchor to Roy Keane’s hysterically girlish prima donna at the Japan World Cup, as Mick strove to hold the Irish squad together after fake hard man Roy flounced petulantly off home. These two factors merely cemented the respect I’ve always borne the guy; I’d have loved to have seen him wear the white shirt at some point. As it was, he was really more my mates’ hero in the late seventies, the lads who followed Barnsley and who never really offered much in the way of banter, because they were 4th Div and we were First – and never likely to meet on the field of play. It’s a good job we can’t see what the future holds.

Lately, the remaining hair has turned snowy white as the forehead has encroached further and further back, heading inexorably for the nape of his neck. But he still cuts an impressive figure, and his post match interviews, whilst not perhaps in the Gordon Strachan ballpark, are still required listening for those who like their responses laconic and deadpan; tersely funny. He talks a good game, and it seems he’s above the usual run of manager too; certainly superior, at the risk of damning by faint praise, to one R. Keane. I thought at the time that Wolves were daft to get rid; so it proved. It’s good to see him back in harness with another United old boy, Terry Connor, and doing well at Portman Road.

Mick did well at Portman Road the last time Leeds met Ipswich Town, too. After a whirlwind start from United, fresh from having mauled Derby County 2-0, Town battled back from Mirco Antenucci‘s early strike to put us away quite comfortably, 4-1. Ipswich have been there or thereabouts all season – can United now return to recent home form and dispatch yet another high-flying Championship challenger?

As ever in this division, the only thing that’s predictable about any game is its essential unpredictability. From that point of view, as a reader of Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything sagely pointed out only this afternoon, the Championship has something going for it that the Premier League lacks. But it doesn’t make life easy for us amateur pundits. Nevertheless, here goes.

The first thing to say is that it would be no great surprise if Leeds did pull a result out of the hat tonight. We have form for sending the league’s high achievers scuttling home with tails sadly between the legs, licking unexpected wounds. Bournemouth, Derby, Middlesbrough have all come and gone with no reward – who is to say that Ipswich won’t go the same way?

Well, Mr McCarthy, his Leeds United affiliation shelved for the evening, probably will have quite a lot of say in the matter. There’s a strong ex-Leeds contingent in his squad too; Noel Hunt will have dreamed of showing us exactly what he’ll feel he never got the chance to show in a Leeds shirt. But, sadly for Leeds perhaps, Noel is injured and, in the absence too of David McGoldrick, the spotlight might just fall on another ex-White in Luke Varney. Poor old “Reg”, who cannot expect a warm Elland Road welcome due to his half-pike with triple twist in a Blackburn shirt not that long back, has not had it that easy since he left Leeds under a cloud. We must hope that capricious fate doesn’t have another shock in store for us.

Leeds themselves will be looking to replicate the first twenty minutes against Watford and then extend that level by another hour and ten or so. Ipswich will take advantage if we let them, so the kind of performance that has stopped certain teams playing against us since the turn of the year has to be the aim tonight. The likely line-up tonight could depend on whether or not a change of shape is contemplated, with Guiseppe Bellusci available again, and Billy Sharp, Antenucci and Steve Morison competing for what has been a lone striking role. Is 3-5-2 a possibility tonight? You have to cut your suit according to your cloth, and doubtless Redders will have been giving the matter some thought when he’s not been bemoaning Watford‘s zillion pound squad.

I’ll be bold and predict a 2-1 United win with – despite having lost a little faith in Nostradamus since the other week’s unfortunate dropped supernatural clanger – Morison to finally end that drought. And if Leeds do win, will Whites fans McCarthy and Connor be just a teensy bit pleased? Not a bit of it; they’re both pros down to their toenails, and on that account alone, this blog would still like to see them back at Elland Road one day.

New Striker for Leeds United; Cani, Pavoletti or Even Zamora? – by Rob Atkinson

Leonardo Pavoletti - another Italian Job for Leeds?

Sassuolo’s Leonardo Pavoletti – another Italian Job for Leeds?

With loan deals for Sol Bamba and Granddi Ngoyi done and dusted – both with a view to permanence at the end of the season – attention will now turn to the identity of United’s proposed new striker. It’s a minor shake-up for the squad as a whole with the two lads in from the Italian league and Noel Hunt  and Steven Warnock already having departed for Ipswich and Derby respectively. Ngoyi inherits Hunt’s number ten jersey and Bamba will take the number 3 left available by Warnock, despite the fact that there’s an imminent vacancy at the traditional centre-back’s number five, with Jason Pearce seemingly on the verge of joining Wigan Athletic – allegedly for an actual transfer fee, too – which is nice.

Whilst many out here in fanland appear to be of the opinion that a left-winger is needed as a priority, the club’s view seems to be that existing squad members can be trusted to provide better service from out wide on either wing, with the deployment of more effective team shapes now that the late, unlamented diamond is no longer forever. The question remains: who will be the main beneficiary of this anticipated more generous service? Will there be a new lease of life for Mirco Antenucci, who was in such sparkling good form earlier in the season? Will it be Billy Sharp‘s belated chance to shine, now that the threat of being banished to Ipswich has receded? Either or both of these happy events could come to pass, but it does seem more likely than not that more competition is to be introduced in the attacking department of the team.

The two most likely candidates seem to be the Albanian beanpole/battering ram Edgar Cani from Catania, or – more attractively, perhaps – Sassuolo forward Leonardo Pavoletti. It may even be that Leeds are particularly focused on Pavoletti, a target so nearly signed in the summer, with rumoured interest in Cani no more than a smoke-screen. It now appears that Cagliari’s attempts to sign Pavoletti are stalling – could he yet end up at Leeds?

The wild card in the mix is the QPR man Bobby Zamora who, at the age of 34, might just be looking for a final run of first team action before his batteries finally run flat. Zamora’s name has been mentioned on that notoriously less than reliable “source” Twitter; I mention his name here only for completeness.

Of the three striking possibilities, this blog would be happiest with the signing of Pavoletti – a striker who seems to have something about him and who would add something different to the options already at the club.

With the January window due to shut next Monday, the next few days should provide the answers we seek – either that, or it’ll be “don’t worry, the emergency window will be open soon….” We must hope for a happier outcome than that.

Noel Hunt Scores to Leave Leeds Boo-Boys Red-Faced – by Rob Atkinson

Ipswich Hero Noel - not good enough for 15th placed Leeds

Ipswich Hero Noel – not good enough for 15th placed Leeds

Really, you had a feeling it might happen. After a barren spell at Leeds United, Noel Hunt has made the loan switch to high-flying Ipswich Town – and has become an instant Tractor Boys hero with a last-gasp winner at Charlton Athletic.

No Tractor Boys at Elland Road – but boo-boys aplenty. Sadly, ’twas ever thus. I go back as far as Terry Yorath, who was routinely slaughtered by those on the terraces with size 12 gobs to accommodate their size 12 bovver boots – and with a size zero brain ostensibly directing things from somewhere in the pelvic region.

Yorath was a Welsh international who went on to have a fine career with Coventry and then Spurs. He was just one of too many players chased out of LS11, confidence in tatters, by the hard-of-thinking masses whose idea of motivational support amounts, it seems, to monosyllabic, visceral abuse. Great way to back the lads, lads.

Two of Cloughie’s imports in the autumn of ’74, John McGovern and John O’Hare, suffered ignorant abuse and were likewise sent packing from Leeds, doubtless grateful to get away. Instead of pining for what might have been in the White shirt, they settled for an English Champions medal, two European Cups, sundry Wembley triumphs and a bucketload of glory down Nottingham way. The bright lads on the Gelderd, unabashed, continued to hold that they were “roobish. Not good enough for Leeds, like”. Our talent as fans for shooting ourselves in the collective foot was honed as sharp as a knife in the back, even then.

This level of expertise as assessors of footballing talent is still manifesting itself among the Leeds United faithful. A small but loud minority will concede nothing to the pros in terms of their ability to label a player as “crap”. Even in the immediate aftermath of Hunt’s late winner at Charlton, there were many rather defensive tweets in the ether, insisting that Noel is “still crap”. After all, what does his manager know? Or his fellow pros??

Several United players down the years have been unable to give of their best with this sort of “support” ringing in their ears. Unaccountably, a goodly proportion of these hopeless, useless articles have gone on to do well elsewhere – at clubs whose fans embrace old-fashioned and out-dated practices, like cheering on whoever wears the shirt. That’s far too naïve and unsophisticated position for the bright sparks in the Leeds crowd, though. Of course it is. We’re Leeds and we know best – right?

It could be that Noel Hunt might still have a future at Elland Road. It’s hardly unknown for a player, his confidence holed below the water line, to be buoyed up by the experience of a run in some other club’s side, a chance to play his way back into form. Perhaps Hunt will be an example of that kind of renaissance. But equally, he may prefer to pursue his career elsewhere. You could hardly blame him.

Players are a valuable asset for any club. Those assets may appreciate over time, given success and the adoration of the fans. But some may sink without a trace and feel no option but to start again elsewhere, if anyone will take a punt on them. Ipswich boss and Leeds United fan Mick McCarthy must be pleased right now that he took a punt on Hunt.

Leeds fans are as self-congratulatory a mob as you’d find anywhere in football. They are prone to applauding themselves as the best supporters around. Taking an army of 7,000 to Blackburn as well as frequently following Leeds in numbers for midweek games away on the south coast – this speaks volumes for the fanaticism of the United support. But support is about more than just turning up in numbers, and sadly Leeds fans in my experience are frequently lacking in the aspect of support that involves actually being supportive. And that’s a significant fault that can have real consequences for players’ careers and, by extension, the club’s prospects of success.

Good luck to Noel Hunt in his loan spell at Ipswich, and beyond – wherever that might be. It’s difficult to envisage him back at Leeds, but I for one would be delighted to see him return, confidence restored. But confidence is a fragile flower, easily blown away by the scorching wind of spectator scorn in a white-hot cauldron like Elland Road with its mad up. The question Hunt might be asking himself in January, with a successful loan at Portman Road behind him, is: “Do I really need that??

The answer to that question might well result in Noel Hunt bearing down on the Leeds goal in some other team’s shirt in the not-too-distant future, to score against us and condemn the Whites to a possibly costly defeat. It’s happened before, it’ll almost certainly happen again. And you know what? We’ll bloody deserve it.

A Premier League Leeds United: What Can They Really Achieve? – by Rob Atkinson

The Last Champions

The Last Champions

Here’s a conundrum for you.  What have Liverpool, Ipswich Town, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest got in common?

Give up?

Well, some of the better-informed anoraks out there (and it’s a noble fraternity of which I’m proud to be a member) tend to have the solution to riddles like this pretty much at their fingertips.  For the rest, the answer is that all of those clubs, since what I will loosely term the “modern era” of football started around 1960, have gained promotion to the top-flight and then gone on to win the actual title of Champions of England within a space of a mere one or two years.

Imagine that, if you will – a truly phenomenal achievement.  Arguably, Leeds are the ace in the pack, having achieved similar heights twice.  Revie’s promotion-winners of 1964 took five years to be Champions, but were contenders on all fronts from their very first season in the First Division.

Both Forest and Ipswich, some 16 years apart, stormed the First Division citadel in their very first season up. Leeds United, in 1992 and Liverpool, way back in 1964, each took just one year longer.  Leeds are not known as the Last Champions for nothing; their 1992 Title success marked a watershed in the English game.  Whatever the merits of the few Premier League era champions, it’s certainly true that Leeds will stand as the last club to muscle its way into the top flight as if they owned the place, breezing to the ultimate prize in such a very short time.  Since the Murdoch revolution, only Blackburn have come close to matching such a quick-fire achievement, and they followed the “spend, spend, spend” path to success in taking three seasons after promotion to edge their first title since before the Great War.

One thing that’s virtually certain about all of these achievements is that they won’t be emulated anytime soon.  And that regrettable fact is at the centre of everything that’s wrong with football today.  What we have now, as opposed to those exciting years when some batch of pretenders would upset the top-flight applecart, is a mere procession – with the cast varying only slightly from year to year.  The Premier League is often referred to as three divisions within one league, and that’s very difficult to argue with.

Firstly, there’s a cartel of the super-rich at the top, where the finances of the game dictate that a few established clubs will fight it out for the major honours every year.  Such are the favourable conditions for these elite clubs that it’s really very difficult for any of them to slip out of contention – it would take something approaching incompetent management for such a calamity to happen – yes, Mr Moyes, I mean YOU.  Take a bow, you’re a hero to thousands.

Then, of course, there’s the “dog-eat-dog” league at the bottom, where the same few clubs every year are hoping to finish just above last season’s promoted clubs and thus avoid relegation. Exciting – but not in a good way.

Lastly, in the middle, there’s that awful, bleak hinterland occupied by the likes of Stoke, Aston Villa, Newcastle and West Ham; clubs unlikely to affect the picture at the top or at the bottom, and who – you suspect – are happy just to continue making up the numbers, banking those Premier League payments year after year and settling for last spot on Match of the Day.  They’re happily riding the gravy train with no thoughts or ambitions for glory – and their fans appear to accept this.  But what a monochrome, depressing existence it must be. Is this what we want for Leeds United?

The fact is that, if and when United DO go up – and especially if we have a few quid in the bank courtesy of Signor Cellino – then this twilight, neither-here-nor-there, average, mediocre middle bit of the Premier League is likely to be the realistic upper limit of our ambitions. That’s if we’re rich and clever enough to haul our way clear of the grim struggle at the bottom, of course. Maybe also, there might be a run in the Capital Fizzy Carlsberg Milk Cup (or whatever it’s called) to look forward to with sweaty palms and fevered brow. Oh, the excitement of that – IF we don’t get knocked out early doors by the Under-17’s of Arsenal FC.

This question of how things would be when we finally gain entrance to the Promised Land is a relevant one that’s all too easy to overlook in our current mood of frustrated aspiration.  We’ve been wanting to get back up there for so long – and we’ve suffered so many setbacks and disappointments along the way – that the reality of what might await us once promotion is secured has not really occurred to us.  Sure, there have been some saying, well, we’ll budget for relegation, pick up the parachute payments and come back stronger – but look how often that’s actually worked.  Look at Wolves, look at Middlesbrough. They’ve come down rich and never really looked like getting back.  And how enjoyable is it up there if you’re sinking?  Do the fans of those struggling clubs look as if they’re enjoying themselves, shipping six goals here at Arsenal and maybe seven there at Man City?  It doesn’t look fun at all, not to me.  But these depressing scenarios have been off our radar, all the time we’ve been fighting vainly to make our mark one level below, thinking of the Premier League as the Holy Grail.   It hasn’t truly occurred to us that it might not be fun when we do get there.  It’s as if, preoccupied with our second-tier travails, we haven’t really thought about it too much.

Around twenty-five years ago, the feeling of anticipation generated by a run to promotion for Sgt. Wilko’s boys was a very much more positive thing. Sure, we looked at those opening fixtures with a slightly tremulous smile, noting that Everton away and then Man U at home was a rather stiffer proposition than the likes of Port Vale and Oxford.  But we girded our loins, so to speak, and went in with spirits and expectations high and – thanks to our redoubtable heroes in white – we were not disappointed.  But how optimistic would we be now about, say, Man City at home followed by a trip to Liverpool? Thanks to Mr Murdoch, it’s a case of lambs to the slaughter for any club going up against these top-end clubs – unless you have a lot of cash to splash out.  And even then, along comes Financial Fair Play to clip the wings of the “new money” boys, protecting the interests of those with established income streams from global markets.  The Cartel certainly intends to remain the Cartel.

For all of this, I blame one man above all others.  Mr Murdoch, je t’accuse.  At the time he bought the game, Man U hadn’t been champions since the days of black & white TV, and yet their careful marketing and packaging of their history – particularly the lucratively tragic parts – had garnered them a worldwide support and the status of everybody’s second-favourite club, along with massive overseas markets.  The restructuring of the game at the start of the 90s, with its abandonment of trickle-down economics, was a godsend for such a cash cow – despite its solid and consistent record of under-achievement since 1967.  Man U were the archetypal Premier League champions, a figurehead brand to lead the new League to the forefront of global sport and merchandising.  It was all so glitzy, glamorous and tacky, a festival of fireworks, cheerleaders and the twin misogynists who so aptly summed-up the spirit of the whole thing: overgrown guffawing schoolboys Andy Gray and his hairy  chum Richard Keyes.  All that glitter, all that sniggering sexism, all that tawdry scrambling for profit – and invariably champions to embody it all, except in those seasons when the likes of Arsenal stood up for the game’s soul. It was indeed a ‘whole new ball game’, as the marketing men would have it – but somewhere in the making of this revolution, a golden dream died – killed by Murdoch and buried under a vulgar heap of branded tat.

It is that golden dream we’re still missing today, nearly a quarter of a century on. Many thousands of football fans have grown up watching a game enslaved to this artificial agenda, shorn of the fiery ambitions which used to propel rejuvenated clubs from obscurity to the very top of the game. That type of overnight success almost literally cannot happen now; the bleak reality for promoted clubs is of a bitterly hard struggle before them, with survival the best prize they can really hope for. Should Leeds United succeed in gaining promotion, this season or next, then that is very much the reality that awaits us.  And, because we’re Leeds – because we’ve scaled the heights and reached the stars before – we’ve a duty to ask ourselves: is this really what we’re going to settle for – or can we (because we’re Leeds) expect and demand better?

The answer to much of this almost certainly lies with the man currently awaiting the League’s pleasure, as they mull over the question of whether he’s a fit and proper person (or at least as fit and proper as some of the crooks the League has previously sanctioned). If Massimo Cellino knows his history, and if he’s managed to suss out the character of the support while he was imprisoned inside Elland Road on that turbulent Transfer Deadline night, then he should by now have some awareness of the demands likely to be placed on his ownership post-promotion.  He should know that Leeds fans are never going to be childishly grateful just to be a part of things; that mere survival and the acceptance of regularly being ripped a new one by the Premier League big beasts – that’s never going to be enough.  If he does know all of that – if he takes it all on board and still wants to be the force behind the club going forward – if, moreover, he has a plan which will blow away all of the worries and fears of promotion in the Murdoch era – then every single Leeds fan must surely get right behind him.  These are very big ifs, as we all know – but it’s an apt enough time to raise all of this – because the new era of Massimo the First could well start as soon as Monday.  The Middlesbrough game could possibly be the last of this period of twitching uncertainty.  There are some signs pointing that way – the social media twitterings of the younger Cellinos and the fact of the signing (on loan) of a quality keeper in Butland, for instance.  Great changes may just be afoot.

Whether those changes are great enough to buck the trend of Premier League history and see us gatecrash the top end of the big time, remains to be seen. The summer between any promotion and our return to top-level action will be very interesting indeed and will tell us a lot about whether we’re going to make an all-out assault on success. It’s a very hard ask indeed.   But we are Leeds – and so that’s what we should expect and demand.

Corporate Clowns Fighting Over Leeds United as Fans Suffer – by Rob Atkinson

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The interested parties

Finally, the silence has been broken – what we have been waiting for in terms of hard information, or at least a statement from one of the main protagonists, has at last come to light.  It’s a breaking of the impasse – but not in a good way.  What we have heard is an unedifying tale of wrangles over the terms of an agreement apparently struck last November.  It seems that the Flowers/Haigh/Un-named Others “Sport Capital” consortium found something, or maybe several things, not to their liking after the initial agreement for the sale of 75% of the GFH holding.  Various elements, it is said, were “not as originally described”.  Sport Capital therefore made a “revised” (i.e. lower) offer, which GFH have turned down, seemingly preferring to listen to other suitors, with a certain Italian prominent among the names being noised about.

In other words, it’s a mess.  In fact “mess” is really far too kind a way of describing the utter shambles, the embarrassing pantomime, that has been this takeover so far.  Quite apart from the humiliating spectacle of watching our great club being fought over by a bunch of incompetents, there are a few odd matters arising out of all this.  Not the least of these is the Sport Capital statement “We were fully justified in revising our bid because a number of things have come to light which were not as originally described“.  Now that does seem bizarre, because – let’s not forget – the Sport Capital Consortium and the existing GFH ownership have David Haigh in common.  So if Sport Capital have uncovered something nasty about the club, something that would justify a reduction of the offer which closed the original agreement – then why and how wasn’t Haigh aware of this before?  He was, after all, a senior figure in the running of the club this past year.  Even Andrew Flowers, big wheel in the club’s main sponsors Enterprise Insurance, should have had some level of knowledge.  There’s a rotten smell here, somewhere.

It’s a little odd too that Sport Capital, having (as some might say) reneged on the terms of the original agreement, are now accusing GFH of “breaching their covenant” in talking to other interested parties.  GFH are also accused of breaching their covenant with the fans – whatever that means – but it’s unlikely after today’s revelations that those fans will be confining any expressions of displeasure to GFH alone.  To the fan in the street, sick to death of being messed around by a series of chancers playing fast and loose with Leeds United – an institution of the English game, by the way – it would appear that all parties concerned are conspiring to make of our club a laughing-stock, an embarrassing soap-opera which does little but heap shame and humiliation on the heads of its loyal and fanatical supporters.

It’s difficult to take sides on the little information available, even since Flowers decided to speak out.  But the impression that goal-posts have been moved is not easy to avoid.  Flowers also said  “This boils down to much more than money but GFH have chosen to ignore that”.  But isn’t that slightly disingenuous?  To the selling party, it’s always going to be mainly about the money, surely?  Even though GFH were intending to retain a 10% stake, they will still have an interest in realising what they can for the chunk of the club they’re selling.  For Sport Capital to reduce their offer – and then cry foul and scramble for the moral high ground when the sellers refuse to lower the price – seems, to say the least, a little naïve.  And after all – if it boils down to much more than money – why have Sport Capital reduced their financial offer after an agreement had been reached?  There is much more here than meets the eye, much that we still don’t know on the basis of Flowers’ statement which – let’s face it – is only going to represent a one-sided point of view.  So when he, and Haigh, dismiss rival bids as being bad for the club and the fans – can we really trust their objectivity in a matter where they indisputably have a vested interest?

Meanwhile, hard on the heels of this new storm, Brian McDermott has had the task of trying to field a team that will stop the on-field rot by getting a result at Elland Road against Ipswich.  To say that the prevailing circumstances are not conducive to team preparation is a masterly feat of understatement.  I will try to raise the enthusiasm to write something about the Ipswich game later, but it’s hardly my prime concern right now and I freely admit that.

McDermott has been looking and sounding distinctly glum this past day or so, and all you can feel for the guy is deep sympathy – the sympathy you’d feel for any professional trying to do his job hamstrung and hindered by the manoeuvres of the crass amateurs in the chain of command above him.  Brian wants the matter swiftly concluded and, he emphasises, in the best interests of the club.  Give the guy an award for common-sense, a quality notably lacking elsewhere in what’s going on.  Reading between the lines, you can tell that Brian is half-expecting to be a casualty of whatever outcome we eventually get.  But he’s got his head down, doing his best in a difficult situation and he deserves the support of every true Leeds fan for as long as he’s at the club.

You honestly wonder how much more the fantastic fans of Leeds United are prepared to take.  If you got a couple of the more cynical type of satirical sitcom writers together, and asked them to pen a series about a football club setting out its stall to take the mickey out of its large and loyal fan-base, then they wouldn’t even be able to imagine or approach the farcical reality that now confronts us.  We deserve a lot better than this; but it’s a situation that has gone on now, with a few changes in the principal cast, for quite a few years.  In this time, we have seen clubs that suffered alongside us in the bowels of League One go on to comparatively great things.  Southampton, Swansea – even Norwich.  For heavens’ sake, Norwich have managed to prosper with three-quarters of our League One midfield and our top-scorer of last season warming the bench.  Reality would be funny if it wasn’t so utterly sickening.  For many, of course – the sad acts out there whose chief pleasure is to see Leeds United wounded and suffering – it is funny, in fact it’s riotously amusing.  And this all adds to the depression and misery for our fans, people who live and breathe Leeds United, people though who seem to be the least significant factor in the thinking of those who are wrangling over a great club.

It has to stop, and stop soon.  Clearly, this transfer window – despite the lies we were told last month and for most of this – is not going to be of any real help to us, and therefore this season is yet another write-off.  The only realistic aim now is to make sure we stay in this league, hoping that the ownership issue can be sorted out to leave us with a regime that can support the club’s immense potential and the fans’ justifiably sky-high ambitions.

That should be the bottom line, but right now it appears nothing more than a pipe-dream.  The clowns fighting over Leeds do not deserve any more of our faith or patience.  They don’t deserve to be associated with such magnificent support.  So step aside, clowns – and let’s have somebody in who knows their football, loves the club and has the will, imagination and financial muscle to take us forward.

There must be somebody like that out there, surely.