Tag Archives: Liverpool FC

Monk’s Anger Should Ensure Feisty Leeds Display at Liverpool – by Rob Atkinson

odemwingie

Odemwingie: Who, Ref? Me, Ref?

Rotherham United 1, Leeds United 2

Garry Monk was naturally pleased with three vital points at the expense of a fired-up Rotherham United side – but he was clearly not a happy bunny after the final whistle, and you could see why. Leeds United, two up at half time and facing a depleted home side, after a senseless act of thuggery by Millers madman Peter Odemwingie brought him a well-deserved red card, should have been able to engage cruise control and ease to a comfortable three or four goal win. Instead, they allowed the complacency they’d been warned against during half time to creep into their play – and they came within one skied close-range finish of dropping two precious Championship points.

Such are the wrinkles Monk is doing his best to iron out of this Leeds United squad, and you have to say that there has been obvious progress within what he continually refers to as a young group. It’s live and learn as much as sink or swim in second-tier league football and, if the group can learn something from such a laissez-faire second-half display and still get away with a victory, then it’s been a good day after all. The record books will show that goals from Chris Wood and Souleymane Doukara were enough to see Rotherham off, despite Richard Wood’s late effort which only just beat an acrobatic Rob Green. At the end of the day, Brian, it’s all about results.

Still, Monk’s post-match demeanour left nobody in any doubt that the paint had just been blistered off the away team dressing room walls; the young group had been treated to a savage analysis of their shortcomings that, we can but hope, will lead to rather more focus over the next few games. That focus will be sorely needed for the stern tests that lie in wait for United; first at Anfield in the EFL Cup quarter-final, and then rather more importantly in massive league games against Aston Villa and high-flying Brighton and Reading outfits. If Leeds can emerge from that little lot with an honourable exit from the Cup and six or seven more league points safely banked – well, there won’t be too many glum faces around Elland Road.

If Garry Monk really is the real deal at this level – and there seems no valid reason so far to doubt that – then he will be adept at the art of dealing with matters in-house and by the judicious use of both stick and carrot as the occasion demands. All great managers, together with those aspiring to greatness, have had the common sense to know that sometimes an arm needs to go around the demoralised shoulder – and other times a boot needs applying to the relevant backsides. Young teams will wax and wane, it’s part of the process of becoming battle-hardened and consistently effective. Today, some of Leeds United’s players were found wanting – and got away with it. But it must not happen again.

On Tuesday night at Anfield, there will be nowhere to hide – and the eleven men in United shirts must have the message of what is expected ringing loudly in their ears. Whatever kind of side Liverpool put out, a display of the sort we suffered through in the second half at Rotherham will leave us needing an abacus to keep the Reds score, and headache pills for afterwards. The important thing today was the win and the three points – but if we were to gain the bonus of improved displays over the important games coming up from whatever bollocking was delivered in the dressing room – then today will have been doubly productive.

There are testing times ahead but, as the ancient scholar said, it’s a case of “per ardua ad astra” – through hardship, we can reach the stars. It would take a stellar performance at Anfield to survive another stage of the EFL Cup, and league points will be hard to come by over the next few league games; still, with the right proportions of carrot and stick from our bright young manager, you just never know.

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For Liverpool FC, The 96, The Families and the Friends   –   by Rob Atkinson

Hillsborough

Hillsborough: Justice at Last

The bodies laid out on the hard wooden floor
Motionless all, side by side
Robbed of their lives and let down by the law
Give us justice, they silently cried

They came for the football, their heroes in red
Part of a jubilant tide
Who knew such a day could end up with them dead?
Give us justice, they silently cried

In loud expectation, with glory the goal
They’d sung and they’d shouted their pride
Now shrouded in silence, each newly-fled soul
Give us justice, they silently cried

Betrayed by their guardians, those officers high
While the hacks and the suits squirmed and lied
With family and friends left to ask how and why
Give us justice, they silently cried

Inquest proceedings, foul slurs in the press
The guilty with so much to hide
These innocent victims with naught to confess
Give us justice, they silently cried

And what of the mothers and dads left behind
The sisters and brothers beside
As months and years passed they were not left resigned
Give us justice! they angrily cried

Through decades of struggle, they kept up the fight
Their arguments oft undermined
Yet they never lost hope nor extinguished the light
Give us justice! they angrily cried

Pouring scorn on the tabloids, exposing the Sun
Sharing the Truth far and wide
Politicians and journos and chiefs on the run
Give us justice! they angrily cried

Banners and flags on the Kop all these years
Venting the fury inside
Pressing the point through the veil of their tears
Give us justice! they angrily cried

At last the truth spoken, the guilty revealed
The living and dead unified
In one voice as they ask for their scars to be healed
Give us justice! they angrily cried

Seven and twenty the years that have passed
A lifetime of justice denied
The ones who were lost can be peaceful at last
And the families, who stood by their side.

RIP – You’ll Never Walk Alone

Rob Atkinson

The Hillsborough Disaster Warnings That Weren’t Heeded – by Rob Atkinson

Hillsborough - an Anfield tribute

Hillsborough – an Anfield tribute

Incredibly, 27 years have flashed past already, since that awful spring day in 1989, when 96 football fans turned up to follow their team towards Wembley – and never came home again. I was one of a paltry 14,915 at Elland Road that day, watching Leeds United eke out a 1-0 home win over Brighton as Sgt. Wilko’s first half-season meandered to an uneventful close. When the news filtered through that there had been “trouble” in the semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, the initial reaction was as predictable as it was wide of the mark: “the scousers are at it again.” Heysel was still fresh in the memory, English clubs were still banned from Europe – and nobody judges football fans quite like other football fans (or, at least, so we thought until the Sun got going). We were tolerably certain, as a bunch of Leeds supporters, that the Liverpool fans had caused more bother, and we glumly predicted another indiscriminate backlash that would envelop us all.

As we were on our way out of Elland Road, though, the full, awful impact started to hit home. There were deaths – people had actually died at an English football stadium – something that hadn’t happened on anything like this scale before. Apart from the Bradford fire – a very different disaster – the only comparable event in England had been the Burnden Park tragedy at Bolton, when 33 had lost their lives in a crush at a hopelessly inadequate ground with over 85,000 attending an FA Cup quarter final. That had been well over a generation before, in 1946. Surely, it couldn’t really be happening again, on an even greater scale, in the shiny bright late eighties?

But as we looked on in horror, the TV and radio news brought increasingly sombre statistics while the death toll steadily mounted – and later the sheer ghastliness of the event would be magnified as the tale of criminal incompetence and official negligence was revealed – and as the filthy end of the press, abetted by weaselling functionaries in Government and the Civil Service, jumped on the “blame the fans” bandwagon that other football supporters had vacated as soon as the scale and nature of the catastrophe became apparent.

If you were a Leeds United fan, a chill ran through you when you thought about what had happened; when you realised that this had, indeed, been a disaster waiting to happen. The Hillsborough Stadium was so oriented that the organising authorities found it easier, more convenient, to allocate stands to the fans of opposing semi-finalists based on where the bulk of those fans were travelling from. So, in 1989, Forest got the large Kop End, while the much larger Liverpool contingent were shovelled into the Leppings Lane End behind the opposite goal. It was the same the year before, when the same two teams contested the 1988 semi-final. And, similarly, in 1987, when Coventry of the Midlands faced Leeds United of the North, the greater Leeds numbers found themselves packed tight in Leppings Lane, while the smaller Coventry band enjoyed the wide open spaces on the Hillsborough Kop.

So two years prior to the Hillsborough Disaster, I and thousands of others were packed into the smaller Leppings Lane End on that April the 12th of 1987. The atmosphere was electric; it was United’s first FA Cup semi for ten years and Billy Bremner‘s men had been in terrific form as they challenged for a double of the Cup and promotion to the old Division One. We were jammed in like sardines on that terrace; looking up you could see fans climbing out of the back of the crowd, up over the wall and into the upper tier of the stand where space was more freely available.

Down on the packed terrace, it was swaying, singing fever pitch from before the kick-off right through to the heart-breaking climax of extra time. You weren’t an individual, you were part of a seething mass that moved as one, shouted and sang as one and breathed – when it could – as one. When Leeds scored their two goals, it was mayhem in there – you couldn’t move, you couldn’t breathe, you just bobbed about like a cork on stormy waters, battered by the ecstasy of the crowd, loving it and, at the same time, just a bit worried about where your next gulp of oxygen was coming from. Leeds took the lead early, David Rennie scoring down at the far end. That shattering celebration was topped when, having gone 2-1 behind, Leeds clawed it back right in front of us as Keith Edwards headed an equaliser and the United army exploded with joy. It was the single most jubilant and yet terrifying moment of my life to that point.

Later, after the match was over, as we trailed away despondently from the scene of an heroic defeat, there was time to reflect on what had been an afternoon of highs and lows, with the physical reaction of that epic few hours inside a pressure cooker swiftly setting in. With the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight, it’s easy enough now to look back over twenty-nine years and think: “Yes, we were lucky.” Lucky that the incompetence threshold wasn’t passed that day when we were there. Lucky that enough of the terrace fans got into the upper tier to relieve the pressure ever so slightly – was that a factor?  So lucky that it wasn’t us, when it easily could have been. Lucky, ultimately, to be alive and kicking still. The warning signs were there – they just weren’t perceived by those of us – the fans – for whom it had just been another somewhat uncomfortable but thrilling spectator experience. That those signs weren’t recognised or heeded by the people responsible for public safety is a far more damning fact.

Poignantly enough, the luck we’d had that day wasn’t shared by 96 Liverpool supporters two years later. They set off happily, to support their heroes – and, tragically, they never returned. Twenty-seven years on, the wait for justice has been torturous for all concerned. The families and friends left behind, veterans of over a quarter of a century of grief and loss, have never given up their courageous fight, despite cover-ups and official brick walls, despite scurrilous press coverage which reached an obscene and disgusting low point with the Sun – that vanguard of the gutter press – and its sickening lies. 

Now, there is an inquest verdict at last. We have the official findings of unlawful killing and, surely there is finally justice for The 96. And indeed for all of the friends and family they left behind. Yet, even now, with the South Yorkshire Police Force unreservedly accepting the inquest findings, we still have the likes of Thatcher aide Bernard Ingham refusing to apologise for his own scandalous remarks in the wake of the disaster, now utterly discredited as he himself has been. There is no remorse or regret from Ingham, who stands as a symbol of official ignorance and deceit. All he is good for now, this bitter, bigoted old man, is sitting at home and growing his comedy eyebrows.

Twenty-seven years is far too long for anyone bereaved of their loved ones to wait – but justice is worth waiting for, if only so that the dead can sleep more peacefully and the living can have closure of a sort – and move on with the business of being alive. And – as a footnote – how appropriate it would now be if Liverpool FC could go on to win the Europa League after that thrilling victory over Borussia Dortmund – just for the families, the friends and those that were lost on that fateful day and in its aftermath..

There could be no finer or more fitting tribute to The 96, surely, than this long-awaited justice that has been served today – and the return of the Champions League football to Anfield.

Let it be.

Should Leeds Gamble on Allowing Young Talent to Leave?

LUFC
Leeds United” (CC BY 2.0) by  Chris Robertshaw 

Leeds United appear to be set for another season in the Championship following a familiar, tumultuous campaign at Elland Road.

The club parted company with Uwe Rosler at the start of the campaign after we won just two of the opening 12 fixtures.

Steve Evans was brought in to replace the German and has moved Leeds into the relative safety of mid-table, although his future beyond the end of the season remains uncertain.

The team are 15 points adrift of the playoffs with nine games remaining in the season but stranger things have happened in the second tier and it could be worth an outside bet on reaching the top six at odds of 150/1 at the time of writing with 32Red for UK gamers.

Unless Evans and his side are able to reach the playoffs and make an unlikely surge for the Premier League, the club will have decisions to make regarding their squad for next term.

Leeds have always been consistent producers of successful young talent and now another series of young players have caught the eye of Premier League sides due to their exploits in the Championship.

Alex Mowatt, Lewis Cook and Charlie Taylor have all enjoyed impressive campaigns and have been linked with moves to the top flight.

Massimo Cellino has insisted that the players will not be sold this summer, although he might be tempted if the offer proves to be substantial.

Transfer business can be a difficult business for all football teams as you never know how successful you will be.

Bournemouth discovered with the signing of Benik Afobe that buying from the Championship can pay dividends, despite their heavy outlay on securing his signature from Wolves.

When a transfer deal is done correctly, the move can have benefits for both parties. For example, a team in Leeds’ situation would be able to use the funds to address needs elsewhere.

The example of Southampton may entice Cellino to opt to cash in on his young talent following their mass exodus in 2014 when Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers departed for other clubs.

Liverpool spent big money to acquire Lallana and Lovren, while Nathaniel Clyne followed in their footsteps last summer. However, the Saints used the cash received wisely and they are now within striking distance of the Champions League, although oddsmakers 32Red and Unibet have them at 50/1 for the top four.

Leeds have already allowed Sam Byram to leave the club during the campaign and have not felt the effects of his departure. This means they could well do the same with Cook or Mowatt in the future.

Success in front of the net has been the Leeds’ issue this term, with Mirco Antenucci leading the way with nine strikes while Chris Wood has notched eight goals.

Allowing Cook or Mowatt to depart for a fee in the region of £10m would not be bad business by Leeds, and may let the club target a striker next season to boost their goal tally to fire them into candidates for promotion.

Leeds, Liverpool Fans: Demand New Contract for Man Utd Hero van Gaal   –   by Rob Atkinson

 
Times are hard for Man United and their beleaguered Dutch genius of a manager Louis van Gaal. Following their latest defeat, at old rivals Liverpool, rumours persist that the axe is poised to terminate the former Holland coach’s tenure at Old Trafford. This would be a tragic turn of events for fans of some of England’s premier clubs, who are united in their conviction that Louis van Gaal is doing a fantastic job at Manchester United.

Fans of some of the country’s foremost clubs, as well as Newcastle United, West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur, have been invited to sign and share a petition calling upon Malcolm Glazer, the Man U CEO, to recognise the folly of a managerial change at this point, and immediately award van Gaal a new and improved five year contract, during in which he would hopefully be able to see through the job he’s started so promisingly to a conclusion that most football fans would wholeheartedly welcome. 

Fans of Liverpool, Manchester City, Leeds United and Arsenal, among others, are invited to sign and share the Change.org petition in support of van Gaal’s retention with the Premier League also-rans.

We at Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything are so impressed with the job van Gaal is doing, that we have no hesitation in endorsing this petition. We would urge our readers to sign it at once and share it as widely as possible. 

For the good of the game and the contentment of millions of people outside of Devon, Cornwall and the Home Counties, the success of this campaign is vital. 

Louis van Gaal must stay at Man U!

Genius Kewell’s Brilliant Theory on Why 5’8″ Leeds Keeper Didn’t Make It – by Rob Atkinson

Harry wearing his most intelligent and alert expression

Harry wearing his most intelligent and alert expression

As many will know, former Westlife boyband member Nicky Byrne narrowly missed out on real megastardom when his fledgling career as a footballer with Leeds United came to an abrupt end.

It has long been a matter of fevered speculation as to just why the diminutive Byrne never made it as a professional goalkeeper. There seemed to be no obvious reason why the tiny teen idol failed to make an impact in a position dominated by lanky lads of 6’4″ or thereabouts. Byrne himself, standing at a somewhat less than towering 5’8″, never revealed the reason for his sporting heartache, and it seemed fated to remain one life’s great mysteries.

But now that baffling conundrum may at last have been solved by the mighty cerebral power of Australia’s foremost intellect Harry Kewell. Such are the intricacies of Kewell’s musings that it’s really not easy to convey them in a form mere mortals will have a chance of comprehending. The best shot that Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything can make follows this paragraph. It’s complex stuff, mind, so read it slowly – and then read it over again, a couple of times if necessary. We’re trying to sum up the product of a superior mind here, so be patient with yourselves and give it every chance. You never know – a revelatory enlightenment might just dawn. Here goes, then. Take a deep breath…

Harry Kewell’s revolutionary thesis on the failure of Emerald Isle shorthouse Nicky Byrne to gain top-level employment keeping a size five football out of a goal measuring 8 foot high by 24 foot wide may be summed up in this one brilliant quote from the great man himself, as follows: (Here it comes. Are you ready??)

“He was just a little bit small.”

Wow.

On hearing such transcendental genius from the lips of the antipodean master, FIFA immediately capitulated, suspending both Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini to pave the way for Kewell to take over as the game’s omnipotent overlord. Football’s governing body faces stiff competition from the United Nations, who want the Aussie as their new Secretary General, and it is believed that British TV have approached Kewell’s current employers Watford FC to test their resolve to keep him, as they want his unparalleled intellect to replace the Eggheads team in its entirety, and take on all-comers on his own.

Moves are also afoot Down Under to strip Kewell of his Aussie nationality, as an IQ in excess of 65 is illegal in that part of the world. Clive James was deported under this provision many years ago, and the reverse legislation has enabled many emigrant Britons to make a new life in less mentally demanding circumstances.

Having proved himself in the genius stakes, Kewell is now thinking of taking up chess. “I tried it last year with a head-to-head challenge against Joey Essex, but he somehow beat me,” explained the former Liverpool shirker. “Now I feel more confident, so I’ll be having another go, maybe against someone even more cleverer this time.” 

Why Joey Barton Should Be Begging Leeds United to Sign Him – by Rob Atkinson

Barton doing what Barton does

Joey Barton doing what Joey Barton does

Mixed messages have been emerging from Elland Road over the past few days, leading up to and since the capture of Brentford winger Stuart Dallas. We’ve been told that Dallas is likely to be the end of any significant incoming business for Leeds United; but we’ve also heard from Adam Pearson that il Duce Massimo Cellino is prepared to sanction one, or possibly two more signings. This has naturally set tongues wagging and keyboards rattling as the Whites cognoscenti speculate on who else might yet arrive down LS11 way.

One name that refuses to go away is that of perennial bad boy Joey Barton, formally of QPR, Manchester City, Newcastle United, Olympique de Marseille and, for all we know, Borstal FC. Barton has had what might charitably be termed a troubled past. He’s proved himself on many an occasion not to be above a little thuggery, in much the same way that the sea is not above the clouds. Without doubt, he’s courted controversy and a certain measure of revulsion in those who believe that the beautiful game should be played beautifully or not at all. But there’s more to Barton than mindless violence and, undeniably, he’s a class above the vast majority of Championship midfielders in terms of pure football ability.

The pros and cons of Joey Barton are sharply delineated – he’s almost all black and white with very few shades of grey. On the negative side is the lack of discipline that has seen him on a porridge diet in his time, with several occasions on which he’s been bang to rights when put to trial by TV. Then again, Duncan Ferguson never let a spell in Barlinnie prevent him from becoming a legend in the game – something that, for all his notoriety, Barton has thus far signally failed to accomplish.

Still on the negative side, there’s Barton’s accustomed wage level. His habitual demands would see him fit into the Leeds United wage structure much as a quart fits into a pint pot. So, on the face of it, both his “attitude problem” (for want of a better phrase), and his affordability would seem to mitigate against him as a likely target for Yorkshire’s top club. But neither of these factors should necessarily prevent Barton from turning out in a Leeds United shirt.

The thing is, Joey is 32 now, with a senior career and earnings history going back 13 years. He will not be short of a bob or two – neither, surely, is he completely incapable of learning by experience when it comes to curbing that nasty temper. And on the plus side – the lad can play, far better than most of the opposition he’d meet in this league.

Looking for similar examples of players who might normally be expected to be both too expensive and too risky discipline-wise, the name of El Hadji Diouf springs irresistibly to mind. Diouf was the least likely of Elland Road recruits, having been a top-earner and a serial practitioner of some of football’s nastier tricks. But he duly came to Leeds, accepted relative peanuts in remuneration, cleaned up his act enough for his manager Warnock publicly to regret having compared him unfavourably to a sewer rat – and he made a moderate success of things in a team consisting mainly of players several classes of ability below him. Whether that’s enough of a precedent for us to be optimistic of seeing Barton in a Leeds United shirt is open to some doubt. But there’s one man who should be moving heaven and earth to make this happen – and that man is Joey Barton himself.

The fact of the matter is that Barton has possibly one shot left at writing himself indelibly into the pages of football history. He may or may not care about doing this – but any footballer worth his salt wants, ideally, to be regarded as a legend. And that, even today, is the opportunity afforded to the right calibre of player by Leeds United FC. After well over a decade in the shadows, and having plumbed hitherto unheard-of depths by sinking as low as the third tier, Leeds remains a giant of the game. The Elland Road club is, in fact, the last giant ever born – clubs have come to the fore since United did in the sixties, but not to such devastating effect and not for so long; certainly not to attain the rank of a footballing behemoth, as Leeds did from nowhere under the legendary, incomparable Don Revie.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Leeds United conferred legend status on characters as diametrically different from each other as Vinnie Jones and Gordon Strachan. That’s what being instrumental in revival and success for Leeds does for a player. And that’s what it could do, even at this late stage, for Joey Barton. As his career draws to a close, as he contemplates life after football and his descent into obscurity, that’s something that Mr. Barton should be thinking about extremely seriously. You’re a long time retired, after all.

It may well be that very nearly all of the Leeds transfer business is complete, after all. And if we do recruit more bodies, they’d more than likely be cover out wide and in central defence. But the need is still there for some versatile, commanding presence in midfield, too. And, sadly, the Vinnies and the Strachans are precious thin on the ground these days.

If Joey Barton had the sense he was born with – another conundrum not easily answered – he’d be prepared to walk barefoot over broken glass to Elland Road, there humbly to seek audience of Messrs. Cellino and Pearson (and maybe the physio team too, after miles barefoot over broken glass). He should be literally begging for the chance to play for Leeds, for his last shot at legend status. He should be promising to clean up his act and to become a role model for the youngsters and a hero to the fans. He should do all of this for the return of a reasonable pay-to-play deal, as befits an extremely wealthy man who has naught to lose, much to make up for – and a lasting reputation in football to gain.

Joey Barton – do you want to be a legend? Come to Leeds United, then… and, if you play your cards right, we might just arrange it for you.

Byram Is a Realisable Asset, NOT a Leeds United Necessity – by Rob Atkinson

Boy Wonder Byram

Boy Wonder Byram

Everywhere you look within the Leeds United blogosphere at the moment, people are gnashing their teeth, tearing their hair, rending their clothes and exhibiting other biblical signs of anguish and angst – and all over one slip of a lad. Sam Byram was an unknown to 99% of the support three short years ago. Then he had a dream pre-season, started off the Championship campaign in the first team – and stayed there, producing displays of a maturity and confidence far in excess of his tender years.

Naturally, being Leeds, this seeming success story is a double-edged sword. The presence of a boy wonder in the first team (otherwise known in LS11 as “the shop window”) more usually produces feelings of rampant insecurity among the Leeds faithful, rather than the warm glow that should accompany the sight of a youthful prodigy in the famous white shirt. We know our place in today’s scheme of things, and it is very much that of “feeder club”. Each successive hero has played his way into our hearts, prospered briefly in front of our adoring eyes and then departed for pastures greener, or more likely Canary yellow, with no sign of any adequate replacement.

It’s happened with Beckford, Howson, Snoddy, Becchio and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all.  Local hero status is no protection from the Lure of Elsewhere. Howson supposedly had Leeds tattooed on his heart, but it seems to have been erased easily enough, and our last sight of him was as he wheeled away after scoring a winner against us. Byram could so easliy have followed the well-trodden path out of Elland Road a year ago; Southampton, awash with Liverpudlian money from their fire sale of last summer, were rebuffed after an offer of £4.5 million or so for Byram – but there are now rumours that more serious suitors might be willing almost to double that sum.

Sam is quite possibly the jewel in the crown of the Leeds Academy production line. Despite an injury-affected and form-blighted last year or so, he really is that good. It’s natural then that worries over his short-term future should be particularly unwelcome at a time when a maverick owner and the latest in a long and dismal line of “head coaches” are supposed to be building for the club’s eventual re-admission to the Promised Land of the Premier League. But really – should we be worrying at all?

We need to take a long, hard look at what is necessary to get us out of this division in the desired, upwards, direction. That list will include strikers who know where the goal is (Chris Wood?) and are proficient at sticking the ball therein; midfielders and wingers – all very much according to the prescription of our former gaffer Dr. McDermott, who had seen this treatment work wonders at Reading. We also need tough, all-action ball winners who are preferably not in the superannuated class (Tom Adeyemi??), and a solid defence who will be mean enough at the back to make sure that increased productivity up front results in a net force taking us a lot higher up the league.  What we probably don’t actually need, and won’t until it’s time to start plotting our approach to the top flight, is a potentially world-class performer on the right flank. It’s superfluous to our current requirements; we’re casting pearls before swine.

It would be OK, of course, if Sam did stick around.  It might even be better for the lad himself – too many fledgling superstars have gone up a level and struggled to stay afloat, look how Fabian Delph initially struggled at Villa.  He’s only now beginning to look the player that seemed likely to be evolving under the guidance of Gary McAllister – and he may be about to disappear into the black hole that is the fringes of City’s 1st team squad.  Byram might well benefit from another season at least of learning his trade at Leeds, or so the conventional wisdom goes. 

Looking at things realistically though – if there WAS an offer of £8 million for the youthful and richly promising Sam, and if that £8 million were to be made (don’t laugh, now) available for the construction of a team that would challenge strongly this season – might not that be a good option for Leeds? It’s the kind of money that, as was said about the fortune we mugged Fulham out of for McCormack, could easily fund the four or five quality additions that we realistically need to propel us into the very top echelons of the Championship. Whether such investment would actually be made is, of course, another matter entirely – but that still doesn’t make the case for hanging onto a valuable, possibly wantaway player. Once promoted, it’s a different ball game, but in the here and now the priority is actually getting there, and a lavishly-gifted Byram in a team consisting otherwise largely of uninspiring plodders doesn’t look like being enough to realise the dream.

A lot will depend on the attitude of the lad himself, and historically no sentimental feelings of attachment to the club that has nurtured their talent have persuaded previous uncut diamonds to hang around and be polished at Elland Road. So if Sam wanted to go to a Premier League club, would we, could we, should we, stand in his way?  My view is that you don’t sacrifice a lad’s ambition and desire to mix it with the best, on the altar of narrow club interests – such a policy is liable to blow up in your face, leaving you with a disaffected and depreciating asset on your hands. No, if Byram does want out – especially as his current deal is fast running down – we’re better off gritting our teeth, securing the very best deal for Leeds United – don’t forget that sell-on clause, Massimo! – and getting on with reinvesting the loot in a team that will do the job at this level. We can leave worries about how we cope in the Premier League for such time as it becomes a live issue, rather than the distant prospect it is right now.

We need to cast off that “Feeder club” image as the mortally humiliating insult it is. We Are Leeds, after all. But in order for that to happen, we may need to embrace the unwelcome label in the shorter term, and speculate to accumulate. And at least these days we seem of a mind to drive a very hard bargain, unlike previous years when the attitude has been disgustingly meek and humble as we accepted pittances for valued assets. If the departure of Sam were to provide the funds to finish the job, then that sad loss will turn out to have been a worthy sacrifice.

The ugly truth of the matter is that a stubborn desire to keep a luxury we can’t afford, and frankly don’t really need in our current situation, could turn out to be the ultimate example of short-termism, to the detriment of our longer-term prospects of life at the top.

We Hate Nottingham Forest, We Hate Liverpool Too – by Rob Atkinson

Let me start out by saying this: there is a place in football for hate

Now, that might seem rather a provocative, not to say controversial statement, in these happy-clappy days when going to the match is supposed to be all about families, and fun. When oompah bands, high up in the stands, are strategically placed so that the newly-gentrified population in the 48 quid seats should not have to hear anything raucous or profane.

But it’s true, nevertheless. Football is tribal, football is cathartic, football is where you get to let off some steam after gritting your teeth all week.

And, for all of that, you need someone to hate.

Hate is a much misunderstood, possibly demonised word these days. It’s not really to be found in the lexicon of the politically correct. It sends out the wrong message, don’t you know, and speaks of the extreme edges of emotion and feeling, where those of pallid personalities do not wish to be seen.

But hate is a real human emotion, and you can’t simply wish, or indeed legislate it away. Properly expressed, it’s just about the best catalyst for atmosphere at a good old traditional sporting fixture.

The professionals should stay out of it, and get on with the game – it’s not really within their remit to get caught up in the atmosphere a bit of hate generates (although it’s frequently more entertaining than the football when rival teams DO let the passion affect them). However, the real arena is in the stands – or on the terraces, as we used to say in happier times.

Here is where the mutual dislike, felt in extreme measure in some cases, can safely be vented. Two sets of supporters, bound by a common loathing, hurl insults of gloriously inventive vulgarity back and forth, each seeking to outdo the other in a contest outside of the on-field engagement. The feeling is atavistic, and there’s no actual need for it to spill over into physical confrontation for honour to be satisfied. The occasion as a whole is enhanced by these pieces of human theatre.

The modern tendency towards crowd interaction being drowned out by super-powerful P.A. systems, pumping out crap music, has detracted from this phenomenon, as have the silly drums and trumpets they call “bands”. My own beloved Leeds United made an ill-advised decision a few years back to promote a “band”, but the masses behind the goal did not approve. The occasional toot and drumbeat were heard, only to be swiftly squashed by a throaty “stand up, if you hate the band”, and the experiment died an early and unlamented death. Rightly so, too. Bands at football stadia prosper only where the indigenous support lacks the moral fibre to resist such contrived attempts at a “nice” atmosphere. Sheffield Wednesday is the obvious, sad and sorry, example of such cardboard measures.

Sadly, it appears that the good old days of free expression, where a cadre of like-minded fanatics could express their hatred of “that lot from ovver t’hill”, are soon to be behind us for good. Yet there are still football clubs and historically tense fixtures which can conjure up some of that old atmosphere, so deeply do feelings run.

I’m glad to say that dear old Leeds United is one such club, so pathologically hated by so many other sets of fans, and so willingly disposed to return that sentiment with interest, that our matches against a select group of old enemies roll back the years, and set the blood pumping with an almost-forgotten vigour. Long may that remain the case – these are the real football clubs, with the real fans, and it’s this unreconstructed minority which is striving to hold back the tide of plastic, family-orientated, embarrassingly artificial bonhomie that so threatens to dull the palate as the 21st Century progresses.

It’s not P.C. It’s frowned upon by the self-appointed guardians of “The Good Of The Game”. And, admittedly, it too often spills over into taboo references, or actual violence, which is never something to be condoned. But come the day when they finally kill the last wisp of hate-fuelled atmosphere, at the last old dinosaur of a non-modern non-Meccano stadium, they’ll be well on the way finally to reading the last rites over the corpse of the game as we used to know it.

And then – why, I’ll throw in the towel, say my goodbyes to Elland Road, and sulk off to watch Frickley Athletic play those bastards from FC United of Manchester – confident that there will be enough curmudgeonly old reprobates on both sides who will be happy to spit venom at each other for 90 minutes – just for old times’ sake.

No Leeds United Welcome for UK Returnee Harry “Judas” Kewell – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds fans United in grief and dignity

Leeds fans United in grief and dignity

Alan Smith. Eric Cantona. Rio Ferdinand. Three Leeds United players who opted to transfer their allegiance to the Evil Empire over the wrong side of the Pennines. In so doing, they attracted hatred and brickbats aplenty from Leeds followers. After all, they’d gone to the club we despise above almost any other, certainly as far as anything these islands can provide. So too, much earlier, had Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen, along with the less-well remembered examples of Arthur Graham and Peter Barnes in the relatively small collective of former Leeds players who have identified themselves with the Pride of Devon and their repellent supporters. These individuals, heroes to Leeds fans at one time or another, were held individually and as a category to be traitors to the real United, of Elland Road. Figuratively speaking, as well as almost literally, they had sold their souls to the Devil.

But really, all that “treachery” stuff, as applied to a small group of misguided men is just so much nonsense. In some cases, it’s even an injustice – Alan Smith, for example, made his move against a background of a Leeds United desperate for money (does this sound familiar?) He even waived his own cut of the deal so that his former club could derive the maximum financial benefit. If that’s treachery, then Steve McClaren is a Dutchman.

For real treachery – allied to on-going bad taste and a degree of insensitivity that makes expenses cheat Maria Miller look like Mother Teresa – let me commend you to Harry Kewell Esq, formerly of this parish. Kewell, wearing the number 10 shirt, was one of the Leeds United side that emerged into a cauldron of seething hatred as the stricken Whites were forced to play the first leg of a UEFA Cup semi-final against Galatasaray mere hours after the savage murder of two of their supporters. The home side refused to wear black armbands, demonstrating utter and callous disrespect. They would later demand that the second leg should be played at a neutral venue, should their disgusting fans be banned from an Elland Road return.

The players of Leeds United looked up to the crowd that night and saw snarling faces, disfigured by feverish hatred, fingers drawn across necks in the time-disgraced but locally admired “throat-slitting” gesture, the whole nightmare scene played out against a backdrop of “Welcome to Hell” banners as the bestial home fans taunted the United support, who simply turned their back on proceedings at kick-off in what must count as the most dignified display of protest in recent history.

Kewell cannot possibly have failed to absorb that evil miasma of hate and malice. He cannot have failed to appreciate the intentional hurt inflicted by the Galatasaray club – and especially their cowardly fans – to the feelings of everybody concerned with the Leeds United cause, especially of course the bereaved families of Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight. Kewell must, surely, have felt as threatened and disgusted by the atmosphere prior to and during the game as any other United player that night. It was a match that, in the circumstances, should not have been played. Not that night, not so soon after those lads’ life-blood had been spilled. Perhaps never. Only the buffoons of UEFA could have made such a ridiculous decision as to rule the game should go ahead. It was an infamous night in the history of football.

If, on that night, you had predicted that any United player would, at some point in the future, willingly embrace that atmosphere, happily align himself with such a notoriously uncivilised set of “supporters” – you could have offered odds of ten thousand to one, and no takers. You’d have been laughed out of court, possibly with a few bumps and bruises for your own bad taste and lack of judgement. And yet, a few short years afterwards, Harry Kewell – “Mr. Anywhere-For-A-Fat-Contract” himself – elected to join that awful club and play for those despicable fans. It was an act of calculated disrespect to the victims, their families, their friends, the wider Leeds United community and decent football fans everywhere. It was base treachery in the raw; the act of a man who cannot see beyond his own narrow interests and who, frankly, could not give a damn.

At the time, he spouted a few mealy-mouthed platitudes about wishing to reconcile two sets of fans divided by tragedy. Yeah, OK Harry. Nothing to do with money after all, then? He could not have more effectively alienated Leeds fans everywhere if he had sat down and thought about how to do so for a year. It was an act of a vain and stupid young man whose God-given talent had set him up financially for life, but whose poverty of taste, sensitivity and loyalty would make the poorest beggar in the street look rich. Any player who had ever been connected with Leeds United should have realised that such a move was the ultimate in terrible ideas. It’s not something that should have needed explaining, not even to the meanest intellect or the most self-involved and vacant young man.

Now, fifteen years after the murders in Taksim Square, and with his football career at an end, Kewell is once more involved in English football, for the first time since a dilatory and uncommitted stint at Liverpool, as a member of the Watford FC coaching staff. Leeds fans will not welcome his return; for us, his copybook is blotted beyond any hope of redemption. Kewell put himself beyond the pale by the manner of his leaving Elland Road, when he and his agent held the club to ransom (in stark contrast to the example of Alan Smith, cited above) ensuring his pockets were well-lined, to the detriment of the club that gave him his start. His subsequent betrayal of the soul and spirit of Leeds United, by signing for that tawdry outfit from Istanbul, added gross insult to what was nearly a mortal injury.

Words like “Judas”, “traitor” and “treachery” are bandied about a bit too freely, sometimes. That tends to become obvious only when you see a glaringly obscene example of the real thing – only then does it stand out that some dubious acts thus labelled are actually as water unto wine when it really comes down to it. So forget about those who have crossed the great divide between Elland Road and the Theatre of Hollow Myths – their defections mean nothing at all in the grand scheme of things. We have been amply repaid over the years anyway – luminaries such as Johnny Giles and Gordon Strachan have made the opposite journey and have found glory in all-white. At the end of the day, all of that is just about football – and beside the matter of life, death and justice, football remains very small beer indeed.

Life and death were the issues on that April night so long ago, and events panned out such that two lads, who simply wanted to follow their heroes at a football match, never came home – and have never received real justice. One of them had a son, George, who has had to grow up without his Dad, and who, once upon a time, angrily wanted to point out to a thick-headed footballer the betrayal he believed that footballer was guilty of perpetrating, by his thoughtless act of offering a Galatasaray shirt as a prize in an online competition. George Speight received no apology, no understanding, no acknowledgement from Kewell – just a casual insult and a hollow accusation of racism. There is no greater treachery than that, no baser example of ignorance and poor taste. And now the traitor is back among us once again. It’s very difficult to wish Watford anything but ill-luck and failure, just on this one account. 

Harry Kewell: one-time Leeds star, has-been footballer – and the worst example of self-seeking treachery it’s been my misfortune to witness.