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Leeds United’s New Striker, Upstaged by a Baby Girl – by Rob Atkinson

July 7th, 1993 was a very, very special day in my life. On that never-to-be-forgotten Wednesday morning, after a lifetime of waiting and to my immense delight … I heard that Leeds United had signed Brian Deane.

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Kathleen Abigail

No, no, no. Strike that. Just my little joke. The 7th of July 1993 was, of course, actually memorable for an infinitely better reason. Two weeks later than advertised (she never was that punctual, my wife) I became a Dad for the first and, to the best of my knowledge, the only time.

It’s exactly twenty-three years ago now, and whenever I see the beautiful young lady currently making a life for herself with her partner Liam in York, it amazes me how time has flown by since she made her first entrance. And I was there, as modern convention permits – indeed, demands. There were times during that long (especially for poor Tracy) period of labour when, believe me, the craven coward never far below the surface in me envied those yesteryear Dads-to-be. They were complacently uninvolved, able blithely to pace the carpet on the comfortable, clean outside, instead of sharing the hot and foetid atmosphere of a frenetic delivery room.

Kate was a planned baby, a wanted baby, a loved baby. But she probably has no idea, even today, of how she owes her very existence to my lack of precognition. If I’d been able to look ahead, when we decided it was time to present the old folks at home with a grandchild, things may have worked out differently. If I’d been granted a preview of some of the scenes that unfolded in that torture chamber of a birthing suite, I doubt very much whether Kate would ever have been considered, never mind conceived.

Thankfully though, the future is a closed book, and the human race was not to be denied a spectacular addition. So, we made our plans, happily envisaging the crib at home, the cot in the back room, the muddy football boots in the lobby cupboard and the toy goal net in the back garden. Oh, yes – I forgot to mention. Kate was supposed to be David. David Michael Kenneth, in fact; we generously honoured both Grandads in second and third place as well as settling on our favourite boy’s name as the winner. Because we knew, beyond reasonable doubt, that we’d have a boy.

The fact is that the Atkinsons had had a bit of a thin time of it on the distaff side over the previous fifty years. The last girl in the male line had been my Aunt Sheila in the 40’s; after that it had been boys all the way. My Dad sired three of us, despite always aching for a daughter (whom he’d have spoiled silly). My brother collaborated in the production of two more, and the received wisdom was that the Atkinsons could only churn out boys. I secretly wanted a daughter – having grown up as a truculent male teenager myself, I didn’t fancy handling the other side of that situation. But we both happily subscribed to the popular (and sensible) “doesn’t matter what we get as long as it’s healthy” line.

Once the supposedly tricky business of “dropping on” was accomplished – we struck lucky almost immediately, and one of my more irreverent friends dubbed me “one shot, one coconut” – our fever of speculation over what gender we might end up with grew apace. We actually resorted to an old superstition of dangling a wedding ring over the expectant tummy, and seeing which way it rotated, as this was supposed to be a sure-fire indicator one way or the other. We took care to eliminate any draughts which might set our experiment off to a false start, and Tracy lay down while I held the thread with the magic wedding ring attached. I swear on my soul that, with no outside influence at play, the damned thing suddenly jerked and started to rotate slowly clockwise – a sure sign that we were expecting a girl. So that was that particular old wives’ tale exposed as mumbo jumbo…

For the most part, Tracy’s pregnancy proceeded uneventfully. There was that one time when she felt some slight sickness, and fainted prettily on the upper landing, causing me to charge upstairs, snorting with alarm. And she seemed to exist almost entirely on milk and chocolate digestives, which transformed an ethereally-slim and insubstantial girl into a solid mass of obdurate flesh. On previous occasions when we’d collided in our tiny kitchen, I’d always ended up in fits of laughter as little Trace spun away through the door and glowered resentfully at mighty me. Now, it was my turn to bounce off and ricochet against the wall. And I was always getting edged out of bed by this brooding, broody lump of double humanity. It was a strange time.

In the end, Tracy was late delivering the goods – nearly two weeks overdue and showing no real signs of getting on with it. So, the decision was taken to get her into hospital, and “induce” her. This involved bed rest, a cocktail of hormone-based drugs, and subsistence on soup and ice cream. I spent a lot of this time visiting, and trying not to mention my own more interesting diet, for fear of provoking a hungry woman’s rage. When the time finally arrived, we realised that it was going to tick over on to the same day as my Dad’s 66th birthday and we still clung to hopes of presenting him with a grand-daughter – a gift that could never be topped.

The early hours of that July 7th were a riot of readings, tubes, examinations and just about every medical intervention you could imagine. Tracy was in a lot of pain, and I felt a miserable mixture of guilt and helplessness. Every five minutes, so it seemed to me, some new person would stride into the room, stick another wire, tube or implement somewhere about my poor, spread-eagled wife’s person, and bustle out again. Tracy gulped at gas and air in between times, and demanded either an epidural or a section, in increasingly strident tones. The epidural was granted at last, but took two tries to work, amid instructions for me to hold my wife VERY steady, as she’d surely be paralysed if the needle missed its mark. Thanks, Doc.

Then, all of a sudden, it was action stations in earnest. I was hastily retrieved from a waiting-room where I’d tried to catch ten minutes sleep on two pulled-together chairs, and peremptorily ordered to grab a leg, and keep out of the way. I surveyed the scene at the business end, and immediately knew that I was going to do that awful, clichéd thing, and faint. This filled me with horror – I’d be the deserving object of scorn in that overwhelmingly female environment, with my wife stoically suffering away. I’d never live it down. Mumbling an excuse, I dived for the adjacent bathroom, and splashed ice-cold water on my face, gulping massive breaths of air and feeling the muzzy sensation and the hissing and rushing in my ears fade away. I tottered back out into the delivery room, and resumed my station at Tracy’s left ankle, by which time the baby’s head was crowning. I stared again, fascinated now. We two were mere moments away from becoming three, and yet still we didn’t know the single most important fact about our child: boy or girl?

All those doubts seemed to vanish as matters accelerated towards a conclusion. With a courageous, fantastic effort, Trace had managed to deliver herself of a head, and was well on the way to producing a couple of shoulders. I gazed at my child’s mop of raven hair, and then marveled as a muscular upper torso began to emerge. I’d seen that thick black mane before, and those lithe and sinewy shoulders and limbs, oiled with unspeakable secretions and glistening in the harsh light. I’d seen them in Westerns galore, they were unmistakable. We were having an Apache.

The head and shoulders, unsurprisingly, are the hard part. The rest of my offspring fairly hurtled out, and with an exclamation of delight I squeaked at my wife in the high pitch of emotional release, “We’ve got a girl, Trace! And she’s bloody gorgeous!!” (Sensation, and sustained applause)

Now, another new-fangled tradition played itself out, as I was given some scissors and ordered to cut the cord. I ballsed it up, of course, getting three quarters of the way through, the scissors out of control in my shaking hand. But I somehow managed to saw my way past the last bit, and then I had my daughter in my arms for her first ever cuddle. 4:38 am. Welcome to the world, Kathleen Abigail. Happy birthday.

I don’t remember too much after that. The rest of the day was a confused blur of phone calls; my Dad being fooled into thinking it was a boy before we told him he had his grand-daughter, a lift home with my delighted parents while Trace was ushered off to a bath and a well-deserved sleep, and then celebratory bacon sandwiches at our house, courtesy of Mum.  We stopped for a pint of milk and the scum fan who kept the sandwich shop down the road saw me and was taking the mick over Brian Deane.  I told him I’d got a far bigger story, and so it came to pass that one of my earliest congratulations on new fatherhood came from a scummer, forsooth.  He was a good lad though, as it goes.

I do remember later, my Dad saying during the first visit how he was so pleased to have a grand-daughter for his birthday, and Tracy snarling that she “hadn’t done it for him”, as my Mum laughed in the background. And cameras were popping all over the place, everyone but my poor, tired wife lapping up the star treatment. Kate-who-was-supposed-to-be-David slept beautifully through all this, giving an entirely misleading impression of how she would comport herself during her noisy first three months. And then it was back home for us non-combatants, leaving Tracy to feeding lessons, and more blessed, welcome sleep. Kate Atkinson had arrived, and things would never be quite the same again.

And Brian Deane? Well, he had his moments at centre-forward, and even got Leeds into Europe one year with a virtuoso goal at Spurs. Beyond that though, his main claim to fame is that he arrived in my life on the same day that my only child did; but there, the comparison ends. Kate is now twenty-three, this very day –  and continues to confound, amaze and delight us as she lights up our lives. She doesn’t share her birthday any more, her grandad having passed away early last year. But the stories of her childhood are many and memorable; they’re the treasures we still hold now that she’s making her way in the world.

And, if I live to be a hundred, I’ll never ever forget the day I first met my daughter.  Happy birthday, Kate.  And all our love, as ever.

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UKIP : Nothing but the Same Old Story

A message of defiance and anger, but also of hope. That last thing has echoes of Clement Attlee in 1945 – still our greatest Prime Minister.

Labour Briefing

The John McDonnell Column

The media are in a frenzy over the electoral rise of UKIP. But why are people surprised at all about the emergence and performance of UKIP?

JMcDIt falls to the left to help explain that the rise of UKIP is extremely predictable.

After weeks of canvassing you find that you need a simple doorstep response to those people who say they’re thinking of voting UKIP. We must put this explanation into readily understandable terms so people have a very straightforward narrative to support and repeat.

It goes like this.

In every period of recession opportunist politicians from the right have emerged to seize upon the hardships people face to exploit them for their own ends. They always have to find a scapegoat to distract people from the real causes of the recession.

In this recession it is UKIP. In the past it’s been Mosley’s fascists in…

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Leeds’ Bournemouth Humiliation Worsened by PR Calamity – by Rob Atkinson

Don't forget the crowd bonus, Gaffer

Don’t forget the crowd bonus, Gaffer

You won’t hear me going on about tactical issues, team shape, diamond formations and all that malarkey. I know my limits. I have played football, mind you – in the distant days of my youth. I was goal-hanger-in-chief for Bradford College 1st XI in 1981/82, scoring in every game I played. I even scored a hat-trick past a keeper who’d played in a World Cup Qualifier. OK, it was for Oman. But still…

And even when my full-scale football days were over, I still played 5-a-side well into porky middle-age, undeterred by a snapped cruciate ligament.  I look back on my playing days very fondly, but I don’t kid myself I know the game on a deep tactical level, so I refuse to pontificate about it.  I know there are plenty who have no such reservations, but I also know that the pros think of these types as a rich source of amusement – not to be taken seriously.  So I’d rather stick to what I know for my scribblings.

For instance, I know enough about Public Relations to sort out the good, the bad and the ugly from the plain disastrous.  It was PR of that latter variety – the really crappy end of that particular stick – that Leeds United now stand guilty of, after yet another dire performance on the field. The team was thrashed out of sight by Bournemouth, a club who had never before beaten the once-mighty United.  Clearly, these are dark days, though Bournemouth are a decent side with a go-ahead young manager in Eddie Howe.  So it’s no real disgrace for this Leeds squad to lose to them – but, as is the case far too often with the modern-day Whites, it was the spineless manner of the defeat which really rankled.

Even that, though – even the appalling defending and general laxity of play – must pale into insignificance by the side of some of the quotes emanating from the United camp in the wake of this defeat.  The players, we are given to understand, are distracted – talking about the club ownership issues and, much more specifically, whether they are going to get paid.  This information is offered almost hopefully, as a sort of mitigating background to the inadequacy of the football Leeds are playing these days.  Bloody hell, guys.  Really?

Trust me – nobody has more sympathy for the working man and his right to get paid than I do (I also extend this courtesy to working women – outside the field of professional football).   I’m one of your actual left-wing reds under the bed, a proper old-fashioned socialist.  I’m deeply suspicious of management and I’m a strong supporter of workers’ rights, including the right to withdraw their labour if necessary.  What I’m not by any means as enthusiastic about is a bunch of extremely well-paid young men seeing fit to grouch – in these parlous times – about the possibility of not being paid on time, when their average bottom line must be forty grand a month at least.

To my mind, this is obscenely disgusting, and it is a PR disaster of the first magnitude that somebody has seen fit to voice such a matter as in any way excusing or making more understandable some of the players’ currently pathetic levels of performance.  When you think of the times we live in – times when we’re thanking God it’s been a mild winter so far, because otherwise pensioners face agonising heat-or-eat choices – it makes the blood boil, surely, to hear even a suggestion that athletes earning up to and beyond half a million quid a year should be grizzling about their lot if force majeure necessitates a temporary reaction to acute cash-flow issues.

There are people out here in the real world actually starving, for heavens’ sake. Yes – quite literally fading away from malnutrition in this first-world country of ours, reduced to subsistence on food-bank parcels and watching, horrified, as their kids become vulnerable to scurvy and rickets.  And yet, in this bleak context, you have the luckiest of young chaps, earning their munificent living in a manner most of us could only dream of, actually having the gall to grumble that this week’s £15k pay-cheque might not turn up on time – and this, apparently, is putting them off their game.  The sheer nerve and bad taste of that makes my head spin.  I don’t want to name names, but the person who has raised this issue of the poor players “worrying” must surely wish that, on that particular subject, he’d kept his gob firmly shut.

These are bad, hard times for Leeds United, there’s no denying that.  But at the end of the day, football is only a game – and the players who are so preoccupied with thoughts of the next fat wage-packet that they’re seemingly incapable of kicking a ball straight, must surely lack even the most remote sense of proportion.  So what if this week’s fifteen grand doesn’t show up?  What did you spend last week’s on, or that of a week before?  Are you down to the last six-figure sum in the bank yet?  Honestly lads, my heart bleeds for you, it really does.

There’s a real world out there, and most of the people living in it would laugh tears of bitter mirth at the very idea of a professional footballer at a club like Leeds United actually whinging about or even worrying about money.  As a breach of good taste and etiquette, that knocks passing port to the right into a cocked hat.  Things may well get a good deal worse at Leeds before they get better – but even if they do, all the sympathy should be reserved for the fans, those long-suffering fans who follow them everywhere, at vast expense, leaving home fans in awe of their sheer gutsiness wherever they visit.  There was the usual raucous army down at Bournemouth, most of whom will have arrived home, cold and dispirited and about £100 lighter in the pocket, sometime in the dawn hours of Wednesday morning.  How will they feel when they hear about the players’ petty worries?  Not too impressed, I’ll be bound.  They might well think – what if nurses, or soldiers, or fire-fighters decided to stick the bottom lip out and sulk when things got a bit stretched financially?  Where would we all be then?  And they might well be tempted to snap at a discontented footballer: “Honestly – grow up”.

Leeds United as a club doesn’t have a lot going for it at the moment.  It doesn’t own its stadium or its training ground.  It’s beset by takeover crises and an ownership and investment situation which seems to worsen by the hour.  But what it does have is undeniably the best support around – it’s the last real asset of the Leeds United “brand” and as such, it’s something the club simply cannot afford to squander.  But really – even a fanatic will run out of enthusiasm at some point – probably about the same point a saint loses the last shreds of his or her patience.  It’s a finite resource, like anything else. And if there’s one thing guaranteed further to sicken a devoted fan who has just made a round trip of hundreds of miles at great expense to see the heroes in white get well and truly stuffed, it’s to be made aware that those so-called heroes can think only about the next wedge of cash due to them – and sadly not about those poor fans, without whom there would be no game of football for them to get overpaid to play.

That’s a terribly sad situation, and I truly hope that all parties to this tasteless leak of unpalatable information get a lot of earache for it, together with a stern reminder of what real life is like out there in the real world. I’m a devoted Leeds United fan, and there’s not much about my beloved club that could ever genuinely nauseate me.

But this thing has – it really, really has.

Sepp Blatter “Seeks More Time” Over Qatar World Cup ’22 Details – by Rob Atkinson

Sepp Blatter wondering whether a brewery is a good place for a piss-up, yesterday

Sepp Blatter wondering whether a brewery is a good place for a piss-up, yesterday

FIFA has confirmed that the 2022 World Cup Finals tournament will take place in Qatar after all.  There will however be no final decision on the actual timing of the tournament until after the 2014 tournament in Brazil. A well-funded, well-fed and self-important FIFA Commission, possibly including vocal opponents of a winter World Cup, has been planned “to carry out very deep consultations and investigations and show some diplomacy and wisdom” a FIFA spokesperson stated, with a commendably straight face.

The latest decisions and non-decisions have been made in spite of shock information that has slowly seeped into the heads of FIFA President Sepp Blatter and other officials since December 2010 when the event was originally awarded to the middle-eastern oil state, which has been ruled absolutely by the Al Thani family since the mid-1800s.  These shattering revelations include the news that;

  • Qatar gets quite warm in the summertime;
  • Alternative times of the year, whilst cooler (merely “bloody hot” as opposed to “blood-boilingly impossible, even for a camel“), are inconveniently taken up with league programmes in the world’s major football-playing countries;
  • Migrant workers are routinely having their rights abused;
  • There have been instances of deaths on World Cup-related construction sites.

Mr Blatter has stated that he has “sympathy and regret for anything that happens in any country where there are deaths on construction sites, especially when they are related to a World Cup.”  But he feels that such considerations must not be allowed to get in the way of his vision for football. “The Fifa World Cup 2022 will be played in Qatar. There you have it.”

Such an autocratic approach has been welcomed by the authorities in Qatar itself, where this is pretty much how they run things all the time.  The state is ruled absolutely by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani who seized power in 1995.  Corporal and capital punishment continue to be practised, and several elements of the Western way of life are severely proscribed, including sexual orientation and freedom of expression.  A Qatari poet Mohammed al-Ajami, also known as Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb was handed a life sentence, apparently simply for words he has uttered or written.  FIFA have either been aware of all of these factors at all relevant times since 2010, or have become aware of them since – but there is no indication that their decision has been in any way affected, beyond Mr Blatter’s “regrets”.

The area of labour is similarly fraught.  Many cases of ill-treatment of immigrant labour have been observed. Qatar does not maintain wage standards for its immigrant labour. Under the provisions of Qatar’s sponsorship law, sponsors have the unilateral power to cancel workers’ residency permits, deny workers’ ability to change employers, report a worker as “absconded” to police authorities, and deny permission to leave the country. As a result, sponsors may restrict workers’ movements and workers may be afraid to report abuses or claim their rights.  It’s a system thought to be much-admired by some Cabinet Members in the UK’s coalition government, though nobody has been available to comment upon this.

One fact that may well have had some bearing on the FIFA stance is that Qatar has proven reserves of oil and natural gas, putting the state at the top of Forbes’ list of the world’s richest countries.

FIFA: “Putting money and commercial opportunism ahead of liberty and human rights since 1904”

An Acrostic Call to Arms

Virtue, it’s said, is its own best reward
Often we’re put to that test
To fight for our rights with a pen, not a sword
Elections must bring out our best

Let us stand firm and keep fighting our end
And never be beaten or cowed
Brave to the last, though our spirits might bend
Out of hardship, we’ll still shout out loud
Under vicious oppression though we live now
Remember to stay strong and proud

Never shall we be cast down by our foes
Even though tyranny reign
Vainly they seek to cut down the red rose
Efforts that we shall disdain
Ready to fight for the causes we chose

Tyrants have never been masters for long
Out of this darkness we’ll rise up reborn
Ready and able, our rallying song
Young or old, we will find our new dawn