Tag Archives: John Charles

RIP Edna Newton, 94, Leeds United Superfan Since the 1930s – by Rob Atkinson

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Leeds United superfan Edna Newton, who died this week aged 94

Whenever I hear the word “superfan”, I usually think of Gary Edwards, the Kippax painter, author, playwright and all-round good guy who has famously not missed a Leeds game for more moons than most of us would care to count. I was lucky enough to sit a couple of seats away from Gary on the Kop for a few seasons, and I was in awe of his longevity and dedication, as well as his legendary hatred of man u, the Pride of Devon, which complicated his life as a painter to the extent that he’d refuse to paint anything red, but would strip red paint for free.

Gary’s out on his own in many ways, but today I learned of another United superfan who, for sheer length of service, puts even Mr Edwards in the shade. Unfortunately, the reason that I became aware of Edna Newton is that she has sadly passed away this week at the grand old age of 94. Having accumulated that many years, Edna has probably earned her long, last rest – but it does seem a great shame that she won’t be around to witness the long overdue return of her beloved Leeds to the top flight.

Still, as a season ticket holder for 64 consecutive years, Edna had seen it all, and doubtless had many tales to tell of John Charles (I knew John, she said, he was a smashing fellow), the Don Revie era and much more from the chequered history of the Greatest Club in the World. Her achievement was such that even a legend of the stature of ex-Arsenal striker Ian Wright took time out to tweet “Rest In Peace Edna”, which is a pretty nice touch.

Fans are probably still the least appreciated part of a game that would not be half the spectacle without them – yet, every now and again, sheer loyalty and devotion above and beyond the call of duty, over literally decades, will be recognised and acknowledged. Such is the case with the late Edna Newton, and deservedly so. She stands comparison with any other Leeds fan and has her own place in the pantheon of United legends.

RIP Edna Newton (1924 – 2018)

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Death of a Leeds United Fan – by Rob Atkinson

Kenneth Atkinson 7.7.1927 - 27.2.2015 Taken on my parents' wedding  day

Kenneth Atkinson 7th July 1927 – 27th February 2015
Taken on my parents’ wedding day, 1959

My Dad died in the early hours of this morning. He’d been afflicted with Alzheimer’s for the very last part of his life, and there’s that inescapable feeling that this loss is just final confirmation of what has been a gradual departure over the last few years. It’s still a shock, though – and, blogs being blogs, this is where I have to say how I feel – and make my last farewell.

Dad was a ridiculously handsome man who failed utterly to pass those fortunate genes on to me, bequeathing instead a fanatical love for Leeds United Football Club. He was Mr. LUFC to me, John Charles’ greatest fan and a dedicated match-goer through the Don Revie glory years – when I was just a small child with no interest in the game. I wondered back then what all the fuss was about, to be honest – but when he finally relented and took me to my first ever match, that was it. I was hooked for life, and the many misfortunes of the Whites, together with their sadly few triumphs, have been mine too over the past forty years. Thanks, Dad. It was somewhat of a poisoned chalice you passed on to me, but I wouldn’t be without it.

Kenneth Atkinson was much, much more than just a football fan, of course. He was at various times a National Service soldier, a fine and well-loved teacher, a wonderful gardener, a DIY God, a Bing Crosby and Gracie Fields fan who was also much addicted to military and brass band music – and of course he was a son, a brother, a father and a grandfather. He was never happier than when he was in his garden or his garage, pottering about and making things beautiful. Those last three words would be a fine epitaph for anyone, I feel.

He was a Tory too, my Dad – but that wasn’t his fault. He’d caught it off his Ma and it came down a long line of impecunious smallholders, so I never held it against him. It gave us something else to argue about when the football was just too depressing for words. He liked to display the remnants of his language skills, as well, having won prizes for them in the early forties at the Kings School, Pontefract. I once went for a job at a frozen foods head office, and he left me a note, mixed French and Latin: “Courage, mon brave, à bas les peurs. Bonne chance. Per ardua ad Fish Fingers!” His was a unique and not completely accessible sense of humour. As he got older, he’d laugh helplessly at any jokes we told him – but in years gone by, only his own witticisms really tickled him. Then, when he’d said something he thought incredibly funny, he’d sit there, tears rolling down his cheeks, throbbing with silent, painful mirth until we were all in tucks just at the sight of him. It makes me smile now, just to think of it.

As Dad got older, the Alzheimer’s condition took an ever firmer grip on him. And yet, quite late in his life, he was active and nimble of mind. He loved to tell and write about his early memories of Pontefract, his home for all the 87 years of his life, and the place from which he set off on his travels to all four corners of the earth. I published on here a piece he wrote about his childhood in Old Church in Ponte, and this shows he had a tale or two to tell – and told them well. Really, the first thing that convinced me he was losing his grip on reality was an increasing sympathy for Man U and “Fergie”, as he referred to a man I can never bring myself to acknowledge. But that probably says more about my extreme prejudice than it does about my Dad’s state of mind.

I’ve never been very good at goodbyes, but this one has been coming for a while. I’ll remember him for the things he loved – the football, the garden, his immaculate tool shed. And the people, too – his wife, my Mum, who he was crazy about for well over fifty years, his parents when they were around, we three lads, his brother and sisters, two of whom went before him, and of course his three grandchildren. I was always proud that his only grand-daughter – my daughter Kate – was born on his 66th birthday; surely the best present he ever got. I’ll leave the actual goodbye to a quote from her, earlier today:

When I think of being little, I always think of sitting with my Grandad in his beautiful garden. I can’t imagine my next birthday, because it’ll be the first in my life that isn’t his birthday too. I’ll miss his huge hands and I’ll miss his terrible French and I’ll miss his stories about teaching and travelling. Goodbye Grandad. I love you forever, and I hope you’re back in your garden now.

As someone who always raised his own flowers, I’m sure he’d not wish them now. But if anyone is moved to make a small donation to the Alzheimer’s Society, then that would be a blessing and very much appreciated.

RIP, Dad. I hope Leeds can do the decent thing and wallop Watford for you. Say hi to Don and Billy and Gary and John Charles for me, won’t you.

And last of all – à bientôt, Papa xx

So, Did Leeds United Ever REALLY Sort That Gypsy Curse?? – by Rob Atkinson

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I worship the memory of Don Revie.  He’s probably my all-time hero; he took over a nothing club with a nothing history, famous only as a stepping-stone for the World’s Greatest Footballer on his way to success with Juventus as Italian football’s finest-ever import (yes, step aside, Platini, Maradona, Law, Greaves et al – John Charles is still the King for the tifosi).  Don took over at Elland Road, instituted a scouting system second to none and – let’s cut to the chase here – gave us the finest club side these islands had ever seen.  But in one respect, Don’s effectiveness is open to doubt.  A notoriously superstitious man, he became convinced that Elland Road was under a malign curse – so he recruited a gypsy from Scarborough (I can personally confirm that the place is crawling with them) in order to exorcise the spell and ensure success.

The fact that Revie and his team achieved far, far less than they should have has been put down to various factors over the years, but the possibility that the lady from Scarborough was off-form the day she went about her curse-lifting cannot be excluded.  It would, perhaps, be the most likely cause of United’s managing to finish runners-up so often with easily the best team around.  Always the bridesmaids, never the brides, it was often and cruelly levelled at the peerless Whites – and while some trophies found their way to LS11, that legendary team – dominant during a viciously competitive decade – never won its proper dues.  And when the talent drained away from Leeds in the wake of Don’s departure – well, then the curse really bit.

From the perspective of a half-century on, it’s possible to argue the theory that Don failed in his efforts to rid Leeds United and Elland Road of supernatural barriers to success.  It’s even arguable that, since those halcyon times, the strength of whatever evil influence pervades LS11 has actually increased.  How else to explain the fact that so many players over the years have done well in elevated company, but arrive at Leeds United and are immediately transformed into bumbling failures?  Or, indeed, the number of players who have served a spell with the Whites, looked hopelessly out of their depth – and have then gone on to do distinctly OK elsewhere?

As a club, we do seem cursed in some vital particulars.  Look at the effect we have on centre-halves, for instance.  They come in, they look good, they earn a permanent deal – and then they start playing like Frank Spencer in the 1970’s sitcom “Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em“.  Likewise with managers.  Our last two were notable for the ease with which they have attained promotion from this league into the FA Barclays Promised Land.  But they come to Leeds, shine briefly before the Gypsy’s Curse gets under their skin – and they then start floundering horribly, unable to make a single coherent decision, at a loss to pick a winning team or choose effective tactics.  They end up at after match interviews or press conferences, looking like rabbits caught in the headlights.  It’s pitiful.

Never has this line of reasoning seemed so obvious to me as right now.  We’ve just had two home games against distinctly un-scary opposition – and we’ve contrived to lose both, heavily, with only late goals putting a rather flattering patina on the ugly landscape of abject failure.  We have an intimidating stadium, players who have been successful elsewhere – and who will doubtless be successful elsewhere in the future – we have the best fans in the world, we’ve had managers with proven track records.  And yet we’re still irretrievably, inexplicably crap.  What to do?

Maybe the Italian guy is the answer in more ways than just the obvious financial sense.  He’s quite a superstitious cove himself, is our Massimo.  Perhaps he will sense the malevolent ambience around the place and take steps of his own to get rid of any other-worldly nasties that Don’s Scarborough exorcist failed to blitz.  Maybe the key to Cellino’s revolution lies in his ability to follow his own superstitions, make whatever supernatural changes are necessary and see Elland Road emerge from under the cloud of an ancient curse and into a bright new future where we get a bit of bloody luck every now and then.  At least we can rest assured we won’t be sporting a purple strip, and we can hope against hope that Cellino’s lucky colour is all-white.

It’s got to be worth a try.  Let’s face it, we’ve tried just about everything else – and still the Gods have rarely smiled upon us.  Then again, they’re usually too busy sorting out a spawny late winner for Man U, damn them.  We’ll just have to hope it’s not too late to get rid of whatever shreds of curse are still left after Don Revie’s failed attempt to get us blessed back in the sixties.  And I still won’t have a word said against the Greatest Manager There Ever Was.  He may not have known how to pick an effective gypsy, but he sure as hell could build up a club from nothing.  How we could do with the Don of Elland Road now.

Cristiano Ronaldo to Sweep Board in Fifa’s ‘Narcissist of the Year’ Awards – by Rob Atkinson

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A tender moment between CR7 and his biggest hero

Sometimes, you catch sight of a headline and, as you feel your eyebrows heading for your hairline, you wonder to yourself: “Did I really read that right?” Such a headline caught my notice the other day. “Cristiano Ronaldo opens a museum in his own honour in Madeira, Portugal“, it read. My eyebrows still haven’t returned to their default position – if fact I may well have pulled a couple of muscles there.

The thing is, the story in itself is not that surprising or earth-shattering. The impact is more of a jolt of self-affirmation – having a deep-rooted prejudice confirmed, right out of the blue like that.  You just think – well, I was right about that lad.  You see, I’ve long felt that Senhor Ronaldo has a touch of the Narcissus Complex about him. Many was the time when some noted Man U mouthpiece such as S’ralex Ferguson would say, with no evident sense of irony “Cristiano is the archetypal Man U player” or some such platitude. And I’d just nod, thinking to myself: isn’t he just. As was Royston Keane, pretend tough guy, for his blithe belief that the rules of the game were for lesser mortals. Cantona too, for his strutting, turned-up-collar arrogance – noticeably absent in his time at Leeds United where the likes of Strachan and Batty would have beaten it out of him.

So, despite Ronaldo’s much-publicised yearning to head off for pastures Iberian, I was actually quite surprised when he left the Theatre of Hollow Myths a couple of years back. He just seemed like a perfect fit for that particular club, an apt representative of the puffed-up, self-regarding Pride of Devon. Since arriving in Madrid, a constant theme has been his desire to be regarded in the same light he regards himself – if such a thing were only possible. Because, alongside his undoubted brilliance as a player and his lavish habit of scoring goals at an unprecedented rate for a winger, there has always been this “look at me” air about him.

This particular manifestation of narcissism is at its most apparent when he’s playing in a high-profile match, at the World Cup finals, for instance. There, the games are played in stadia equipped with those flying cams which zip about aerially, capturing close-ups of players from a position, seemingly, just above their heads. So whenever Ronaldo misses a goal or protests to the referee (he does this a lot), you’ll see him in a match like this, glancing at the nearest robot camera, then maybe checking out his magnified image on the inevitable big screen, admiring the pose even as he’s striking it.  He has a special “poised to take a free kick” pose as well – you’ve probably noticed.  He loves this one – legs akimbo, stock still, seemingly waiting for the crowd to subside to an awed hush. He sneaks little sidelong glances at the big screen then too, checking himself out.  It’s really quite funny and a little bit pitiful. There’s no denying that he’s a very good-looking lad, and yet this too-evident, overpowering self-adoration is curiously unattractive, casting a patina of ugliness onto features usually apt to set hearts, not all of them female, a-flutter.

It’s a character trait that makes it impossible to define Ronaldo simply in terms of his technical ability, his genius with a football at his feet, or even his extravagant goalscoring record. In this way, the narcissistic flaw in his make-up serves to keep him out of the Pantheon of True Greats, players – many of lesser ability – who combined admirable qualities such as humility, modesty, self-restraint on and off the field – things like that – with their obvious talent. Marks of maturity and character all, and reminders that talent alone, even genius, is not enough. Ronaldo’s flaws are less extreme than, say, Georgie Best‘s – and he’s certainly a much better pro – but just as was the case with Best, those flaws threaten to have him remembered at least as much for the negative parts of his persona as the positive aspects of his game.

Ronaldo is simply unable to restrain this tendency to sound overtly, overweeningly in love with himself. As many know, when somebody is in love, they’re totally unable to comprehend how anyone would be able to resist loving the object of their adoration. It’s a type of tunnel vision – the lover cannot see anything but good about the loved. This would appear to be precisely the nature of Cristiano Ronaldo’s intensely passionate relationship with himself. If he ever needed a motto, he could do a lot worse than to open his Bible and paraphrase John 15:13, summing himself up with “Greater love hath no man than I for me”. By comparison, Narcissus himself comes over as having slight self-esteem issues. Ronaldo loves Ronaldo, and you get the feeling that he honestly can’t understand why the world at large can’t share in his joy.

The opening of the CR7 Museum, by the adored CR7 himself, in honour of the said adored CR7, sums all of this up quite neatly. It provides independent verification of mine and others’ long-standing summing-up of Cristiano Ronaldo, and as such it’s really more to be wryly laughed at than fumed over. But it is a pity, in its way: a footballer’s life as an active player is, after all, relatively brief. After retirement, and as the glittering career fades ever further into the past, history can take a more jaundiced view of the former star than those who were there in the instant, cheering and applauding as a virtuoso performer plied his genius trade. The later view of the legend, the “warts and all” version, can even come to focus more on the warts than on much else worthy of admiration.

If Ronaldo wants the eye of history to gaze benignly upon him (and you can bet your last penny he does), then a little humility, a little less obvious awareness of his own talent and gorgeousness would have been a big help. But it’s late in the day for that; even now he’s seen as someone in whom human virtues epitomised by the likes of John Charles or Bobby Moore are sadly absent. In the meantime though, why would Cristiano care? He is playing for one of the biggest clubs on the planet, he has won and will win many medals and trophies – his life is one grand, sweet song.

It’s just that he appears to have been blighted by a crucial part of his development; that few years spent at Man U which can have an unfortunate effect upon an impressionable young man, especially one with a certain arrogance about him, the air of a braggart. It can have him believing in his own publicity and the rightness of everything he does or thinks, an impression reinforced by a complaisant media. Other, similar examples of this type have emerged from the club, other flawed characters who would have benefited from formative years spent in a less privileged and less insular environment. It manifests itself differently in Beckham, Keane, Cantona and a few more who spring to mind – but all of these players have emerged from Man U with character issues to confront, something they’re doing with varying degrees of determination and success. It does have to be said that not everyone is carried away on such a perilous tide; Paul Scholes for instance remained firmly detached from all the hype, to his eternal credit – and simply got on with his job. Andrei Kanchelskis was another such.

Cristiano Ronaldo is simply the most obvious example of the kind of young man who in many ways summed up the character of a club like Man U, but in many more ways was in sore need of being taken down a peg or two when the time was still ripe for his character to develop along more attractive lines. The moral is, I suppose: If you have a talented youth who thinks he’s the bees’ knees – send him to Barnsley where he’ll learn the rudiments and have the more offensive edges knocked off him. You won’t produce quite such a polished player that way, it must be admitted. But you would end up with a much better all-round bloke; one who would perhaps guffaw derisively at the thought of opening a museum in his own honour.

Leeds Legend King John Charles is Jimmy Greaves’ No. 1 – by Rob Atkinson

King John of Leeds United & Juventus

King John of Leeds United & Juventus

We all know what normally happens when any former footballer, once-famous manager or similar faded glory is asked the burning question: who was your greatest player of all time?  The form is that you scratch your head to make it look as if you’re thinking, nod sagely and then say “Why, it was Georgie Best, of course”, before holding your hand out for the cheque and heading straight for a refreshing cappuccino – or for the nearest bar if you’re NOT Jimmy Greaves.

Ex-Tottenham, Chelsea and AC Milan striker Greaves though – who also starred for Barnet FC and West Ham once his top-level playing days were done – had no doubts about his choice.  John Charles, he explained, was not only one but two great players.  At centre-forward just as much as when he was deployed in a defensive role at centre-half, King John had no peers.  During his spell in Serie A with Juve, an environment Greaves knows well from his brief stint with the Rossoneri of Milan, John would often start a game up front and then, having scored the goal to gain his team a precious lead, would be pulled back to centre-half to ensure that they didn’t lose it.

I’ve written a recent article myself about the great Charles, and how he should be regarded as the Best of British despite the populist claims of Georgie Best.  I expected to find broad agreement among Leeds fans – certainly the ones who had been lucky enough to see John play whilst he was in his pomp – but I also expected that fans of other clubs would have been firmly aboard the Best bandwagon – particularly as this was a vehicle driven quite hard by George himself, who never had any qualms about expressing his view that he was the finest player of all time.  With an ego like that, his spiritual home surely was the Theatre of Hollow Myths – but the fact remains that his professionalism and dedication were of a much lower order than is needed for true greatness to be accorded. That was very much my view anyway, and one that I hope can be seen as unbiased.  But a little corroboration from among the ranks of ex-pros can’t do any harm.

Interestingly, Greaves is not alone in dismissing the claims of Best.  George’s team-mate at Man U, Denis Law, also felt that Best fell short of true greatness because of the flaws of character and discipline that accompanied his undoubted genius.  By contrast, John Charles had an attitude and professionalism to match his incredible ability and the tremendous physique that enabled him to dominate two vastly different playing positions.  Furthermore, in the highly defensive, cynical and violent Italian league, John was never booked or sent off – as indeed he never was throughout his career – a notable achievement for any player. For a man often used as a defender in Serie A, it was little short of miraculous.

John Charles was voted Italian football’s top “foreign import”, thus coming ahead of Platini, Maradona, Brady and even Luther Blissett.  To this day, the fans of Juventus will greet a fellow football fan wearing Leeds United colours and talk eagerly of “il Gigante Buono”, the player that served both clubs so well, the man who has entered legend as King John.

Jimmy Greaves – you were a top player, and you’ve proved yourself at last to be a man of judgement and discretion.  I salute you.