Tag Archives: Jeff Stelling

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

Stelling celebrates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Leeds United 0, The Idiots In Charge 3   – by Rob Atkinson

You can't count on the love, Massimo, my friend

You can’t count on the love, Massimo, my friend

Nil Three at home, then. Not good but, in the context of what is now a dead rubber of a season, not disastrous either. Not on the face of it, anyway.

It’s when you set out to look at the factors behind this defeat that the blood pressure starts to elevate towards danger levels. For once, I’m not here to blame the officials – though they undoubtedly played their incompetent and over-zealous part. I’m not even here, as I frequently have been, to lambast the Football League. My concerns are a little closer to home at present.

Looked at a day or so in advance, this was a game that Leeds United should have been looking to win, in order to maintain their recent goodish run, with a view to taking some momentum and supporter goodwill into summer – whatever that may hold in store for us (apart from another Ashes mauling at the hands of the Aussies). It was a winnable game because, let’s face it, Blackburn always should be, to start off with. And then there was the matter of their forthcoming FA Cup replay against Liverpool. A team with that in the offing, and Wembley awaiting the winners, could perhaps be expected to be a little distracted and therefore, you’d have thought, ripe for the taking advantage of.

Chris and Kev never forgottenAnd, really, any game at home or away should have been winnable on this weekend of tragic memory. It’s 15 years on Sunday since we lost two of our number, brutally murdered in Istanbul.

RIP Chris and Kev – never forgotten, and we’ll never forgive either.

For those 15 years, we’ve expected nothing less than total commitment from any Leeds team facing a fixture around this time. It’s about respect, which should act so as to enhance the standard level of professionalism and commitment we always look for. Any team facing Leeds on or about April the 5th should expect and be given a very hard time. It’s only right.

The ingredients were therefore in place for what should have been a Leeds performance to be reckoned with. But professional football is a game of fine margins, and any extraneous influence can act so as to reduce the chances of any team’s success on a given day. This week just gone, with quite appalling timing, the Leeds United powers that be have chosen to drop bombshells right into the middle of weekend preparations. A respected Assistant Coach, hardly in the job five minutes, has been suspended and told he has no future at Leeds; the Head Coach has apparently been told not to select the leading scorer due to unwelcome incentive provisions in his contract (so why did they agree them in the first place?) – and now that same Head Coach is having doubts about whether or not he can really carry on in charge. It’s difficult, he says – with admirable understatement.

So, whether or not the ref and his assistants are open to criticism, whether or not Blackburn Rovers performed above expectations, whether or not our team were below what we might have expected with the anniversary of Taksim Square imminent – the fact is that the people in charge at Leeds United, the chief among whom should not be influencing matters at all, currently – being banned – these people supposedly in control and acting in the club’s best interests have comported themselves like a bull in a china shop, smashing their way through the delicate business of preparing for a game without any regard for team or management morale. Those are not the actions of responsible owners. Those are the actions of clueless idiots.

Having stayed loyal for longer than was, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, either wise or reasonable – especially in the face of some bizarre decisions over the course of a bizarre season – this blog has had to perform an uncomfortable volte face. The events of this week have not, of themselves, caused any sudden, out of the blue 180 degree about-turn. Rather, they have been the last straw, the one that finally broke the camel’s back.

I can no longer stick up for Massimo Cellino and his cohorts. It’s all just become too ridiculous and humiliating. We’ve got a Hartlepool fan – a Hartlepool fan, for Christ’s sake – referring to us as a crisis club on Soccer Saturday. And it’s hard to do more than feebly protest that Jeff Stelling should move out of his glass house before throwing any stones. But he’s right. We are a crisis club – safety from relegation notwithstanding. How could we be seen as anything else? The leaders of the club are set fair to make us untouchable by any respected football professional in the game. If Redders were to walk – who would want to move into such a hands-tied, hamstrung job? Not anybody that, in an ideal world, I’d care to nominate.

Today, we lost a football match and had a lad sent off. It’s happened before, it will happen again. At the moment, those bare facts represent the very least of our worries. We’re now at the stage where more and more people, some of whom might be expected to have an apoplectic fit at the sacrilegious idea of a re-branded Elland Road, are now openly welcoming the prospect of new owners who might well do just that. That’s how desperate we have become; that’s the barometer of the urgent desire for change – yet again.

I should have realised the way things were going when I published a spoof article for April Fools’ Day, claiming that a Russian oil mogul was buying Cellino out. It got over 25,000 views, so it must have half-convinced some people. And, in the spirit of All Fools’ Day, I got some good-natured abuse for such an outrageous lie. But what I also got was a lot – a lot – of wistful responses, saying if only it were true, etc. That’s not the sign of a happy support – and it was a big enough sample to make me to think it’s a fair indicator of the current mood. Right now, if Red Bull were to march in and paint the whole stadium some god-awful shade of the devil’s colour – you get the feeling that a lot would simply sigh and say, get on with it, then – see where we go. That’s a shocking state of affairs.

For now, we simply have to blunder on, and hope that this season peters away without too much more in the way of humiliation. The Blackburn game doesn’t matter, of itself. Nor, to be honest, does a tough-looking fixture at Wolves on Bank Holiday Monday. It’s the factors behind the Blackburn result, and behind whatever might happen to us at Molineux, that are of real concern at the moment. I think it’s right and fair to lay the blame for this 0-3 defeat squarely at the door of the owners, whatever else might have gone wrong. And I feel the same way about the Wolves game. If we do well, I’ll praise the lads and the manager. If we get – as I fear – a proper seeing-to, I’ll be blaming the suits.

After a long struggle to stay loyal, and with the way I feel with all that has happened this week – and with Jeff Stelling’s non-ironic words buzzing in my head – that’s just the way it is now for this once but no longer pro-Cellino blog.

Crocodile Tears from Lineker and Stelling Won’t Fool Leeds Fans – by Rob Atkinson

Gary "Wingnut" Lineker

Gary “Wingnut” Lineker

What have Gary Lineker and Jeff Stelling got in common? Well, they’re both engaging chaps who front popular football programmes on the telly; they have both developed a “style” – for want of a better word – designed to endear them to the less demanding fans out there – and, most recently, they have both taken out an onion and wept tears of breathtaking falseness over what they sincerely hope is the impending demise of Leeds United.

Lineker is the latest incarnation of Match of the Day man, presiding over the ongoing popularity of a football highlights programme with fifty years of variable quality behind it. It was under his stewardship that one of the programme’s less glorious deeds was perpetrated when, in the wake of S’ralex’s long-overdue retirement from the Theatre of Hollow Myths, the programme put together a montage of managerial greats, with the Purple-Nosed One at the head of the parade, natch. This item was notable to real students of the game for its studied failure to even mention the name of the greatest club manager of all, Sir Don Revie. It was a tawdry attempt to reinvent history and appeal in the most insidious and deceitful fashion to the vast army of the programme’s viewers out there who “all hate Leeds” – but couldn’t tell you why, beyond a mumbled “….well, me Dad hated ’em, like…” Complaints to the BBC elicited nothing more than that cowardly corporation’s usual bland, patronising stonewall response – and Lineker did nothing other than essay his well-practised boyish grin, which apparently has middle-aged women the nation over suddenly needing a change of undies.

Now Lineker’s Twitter account states that he “genuinely feels for Leeds fans”. He clearly feels the need to qualify his sincerity by use of that word “genuinely” – that’s a sign of someone talking about someone or something on which they’d normally waste no finer feelings. But Gary feels “the heart has been torn out of the club”, hence his crocodile tears. Well, we’ll wait until the next time Match of the Day needs to revisit the managerial greats issue, thanks, and see if you’ve actually learned anything – no breath will be held.

Stelling: Countdown to hypocrisy

Stelling: Countdown to hypocrisy

Jeff Stelling is a sort of semi-comic front man for Sky’s Soccer Saturday programme, where one of his chief delights is to let a few seconds of tension build up for Leeds fans out there in TV land, before delivering a hammer blow with news of another goal against us – all with that trademark smug smirk on his gob. Now he, too, has chosen to sob publicly about his anguish over the Leeds situation. Jeff clearly thinks no small beans of himself – part of his counterfeit yet tear-stained lament includes the telling phrase “On the field, it is a total shambles with unknown player after unknown player coming into the club – I defy Leeds fans to say they have heard of them because I certainly haven’t – and it looks like it is going to be a terrible, terrible season”. Overlooking for a moment the fierce hope detectable in those last few words, it’s amusing to see that Stelling is so sure that, if he’s never heard of a player, then no Leeds fan can possibly have heard of him either. That’s some ego, for a Hartlepool fan. Unbelievable, Jeff! If he were to cast his mind back, Stelling might possibly reflect on who, exactly, had heard of Patrick Vieira before he signed for Arsenal – or Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Leeds), Eric Cantona (Sheffield Wendies on trial), and so on and so forth. Mr Stelling should, perhaps, wind his neck in a little and admit the possibility that he is not the fount of all football wisdom – except, maybe, when compared to Paul “I fink he’s only got free goals all season, Jeff” Merson. The Sky front-man’s expert opinion is that Leeds are doomed to relegation this season. Wishful thinking, Jeff?

When times are hard and you’re not all that popular to begin with, then you should expect wolves in sheep’s clothing, people who will smile and smile and be villains, well-meaning types who will sidle around behind as if to pat you on the back, before slipping a knife between your ribs. Leeds United and Leeds fans should be familiar from past experience with all of these unsavoury types, and their crocodile tears and weasel words should not fool us now. Just wait for better times to roll around, and the soft sawder and treacly syrup of ersatz sympathy will disappear like a ghost at cock-crow – it’ll be all open nastiness and overt bitching again. And do you know? I actually prefer it that way, so please bring it on.

We’re Leeds United, we hate to be pitied and we love to be hated. Your hate is what makes us stronger, after all – so please forget all the bovine ordure Gary and Jeff – let’s get back to normal eh? As soon as you like, there’s good chaps.

Leeds Humbled in Cup: The “Soccer Saturday” Experience – by Rob Atkinson

Merse at the back, looking “fick”

So, it was FA Cup time again – a competition where we’ve actually done OK these past few years, as a bit of light relief from generally mediocre league form. This year, the Cup Magic was to be non-existent, the Cup run very short and not so sweet. Out we went, humbled by League Two Rochdale, of whom it must be said: they deserved it. 5-0 would hardly have flattered them. Leeds played like a side who felt they had only to turn up to win; the thing is, they didn’t really even turn up.

But are we downhearted? Well, yes – some of us are. But not me. I’ve grown out of disappointment at cup exits. They’ve happened every year, twice a year – sometimes more in really good seasons when we’ve qualified to be beaten by some continental team – for all of the forty-odd years that I’ve actually cared. You become immune – and that helps, especially when our league status argues that we’re never going to have a chance of winning the bloody thing anyway. Let’s worry about cups when, on form, we should beat pretty well anybody. When those days return, the cups will look a lot more likely and a lot more attractive.

Today, without a match ticket and with no live TV coverage, I gave myself over to the tender mercies of the Sky Sports “Soccer Saturday” team.  It was an enlightening experience, confirming for me that, yes, we played terribly and that, yes, they still hate us.  We’re still the Damned United.  At one point, Jeff Stelling told us that he’d been told to stop referring to us as “the Mighty Leeds”.  He didn’t say by whom – I had it narrowed down to Phil Thompson (still bitter over some ribald jibes at his Manilowesque nose from the Gelderd End back in the day) and Paul Merson who, as the token Fick Cockney, simply doesn’t know any better.

Stelling got more excited as the afternoon went on, returning frequently to Spotland for reassurances that Leeds weren’t threatening to get back into the game (we weren’t, either).  His references to our glorious Cup history, for the purpose of contrasting today’s dismal display, seemed a little forced as we’ve only won it once – 42 years ago.  But Jeff wanted this to be the Marquee Giant-Killing, and he bigged it up accordingly.

It’s not as if there weren’t other shocks.  Villa lost at home to third division Sheffield United, much to the joy of their Cup-hating manager Paul Lambert.  Donny lost to little Stevenage – and the excitement of this game was enough to bring on earache, as the reporter at the Keepmoat was one John Gwynne.  He has one of those “rich north country” voices which sound like a goose farting through a foghorn, and many were the updates he loudly bawled, with scant regard for the sensitivities of the more delicate viewer.

Soccer Saturday sets its stall out to entertain as well as inform – which is presumably why they employ clowns like Merson (How’s it going Merse?  Still free-nil, Jeff.)  One of their comedy themes lately has been the appalling record of Hyde in the Skrill Premier League.  They’ve gained only three points all season and have a goal difference of minus 51.  Today, they lost 4-0 at Gateshead – one of their better results of this campaign.  But on this FA Cup day, the chance was missed to mention that Hyde are record breakers themselves, having once lost 26-0 to Preston in the 1887-88 competition.  Surely, they could have got a bon mot or two out of that?  But no, sadly they were too ill-informed – unless I missed it in listening out for a Leeds recovery.

Back at Spotland, it was becoming ever more obvious that our beloved United were merely going through the motions and that the mighty Rochdale were having it easy.  A richly-deserved second goal arrived, and we were well and truly Out – much to the malicious satisfaction of the United-Damning hacks in the Sky studio.  The Leeds fans packed behind the goal at Rochdale’s ground took it all in good part.  “We’re shit, and we’re sick of it,” they bellowed, displaying a keen sense of observation as well as a powerful collective ability to convey angst.  Sad to report, they gave Brian McDermott a pretty frosty reception at the end of the game.  It is to be hoped that the resolve of that gentleman was stiffened, rather than shattered.  My money is on him; he’s a never-give-up type.  He’ll have to be.

Worse things happen at sea – or, indeed, at Histon.  Rochdale have done well at home this season and in Keith Hill they have a manager who’s used to slaying the Whites with a nominally inferior team – he did it all the time at Barnsley.  His side played football today that put to shame the more direct approach of Leeds, but there is a lesson to be learned and it’s to be hoped the players learn it.  No league points were lost today, as Brian McDermott, looking for scraps of consolation, ruefully remarked.  And of course it seems likely that big changes are afoot.  For all the hysterical reaction over this defeat, you’d think that people out there actually thought we might have gone on to win the Cup.  Truly, that was never going to happen.  So, what have we lost, after all?  Only the chance to be beaten in the next round or two, possibly by someone against whom we’d simply hate to lose.  What should we do, then?  Why, we should draw a line under it sharpish, and move on.

This season is not going to be a season of on-field achievement – I will confidently predict that here and now.  The progress made this season will be mainly off the field, as a hideously-neglected scouting network comes online, and investment makes possible the instigation of a more progressive transfer policy.  Plans are afoot for Elland Road too, to brush up some of the tired old fabric of the place.  It’s long overdue – and I know people will say “Get the team sorted first”.  But there’s no reason why both areas can’t be addressed at the same time, if the right levels of investment are – as rumoured – shortly to be available.

The baseline requirement for this season, football-wise, is not to go down.  Making the play-offs would be a massive bonus; actually going up, little short of a miracle.  We’re currently just too far behind the teams that have invested properly for this level – they will likely pull away as the months go by.  Going up next season, on the other hand, is a reasonable ambition; there are three transfer windows to do the necessary work.  I would happily settle for that as the immediate aim – if next season is to be the Big Push, then there’s a lot of excitement in store.

Who knows?  Perhaps in a year or two, we really will be “Mighty Leeds” again, and maybe Jeff Stelling will even be allowed to admit it.  Won’t that be a glorious day?  And as for Paul Merson – well, he can bladdy-well stick his hard-of-finking objections where the sun don’t shine, squire.