Tag Archives: Manchester United FC

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.

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Are Celtic Just a Scottish Version of Man U That Leeds Love to Hate? – by Rob Atkinson

The Old Firm divide

The Old Firm divide

Wisely or not, this blog decided over the weekend to stick its nose into the current kerfuffle between those two friendly members of the “Old Firm” – Celtic and Rangers, both of the Glasgow parish (I use that word in its loosest possible sense). This latest spat has arisen from the decision of some Celtic fans to take out an ad in a Scottish Sunday paper, announcing to the world that they don’t recognise the post Ibrox crisis Rangers as the club that has existed since March of 1872 (they somehow managed to survive those first 16 years before Celtic were formed to give their lives some meaning…)

For these bright, media-savvy Bhoys, who invested a cool three grand into said advert, the team currently playing as Rangers is a new one that the mighty Celtic have no history with. Old Rangers are dead, they say. The Old Firm is dead. 126 years of history can simply be wished – or advertised – away, apparently. All specious nonsense, of course – but understandably, feelings are running high on both sides, as each attempts to out-justify the other.

My main aim in writing the original article (and one previous follow-up) was simply to highlight the advert nonsense, point out my quaintly romantic notion that a football club is about fans, history and tradition and not money, corporations and receivers – and then leave the combatants to get on with it. Which they did, and at some length too. They’re still at it, you can faintly hear the hullabaloo, just a few blogs back. And I have to say, wading through all that comment and counter-comment has opened my eyes to the depths of the mutual hatred up there. At times, it was like bobbing for apples in a cesspit.

I also have to say that, of the two, my sympathies are more and more with the Rangers lot – whereas prior to all of this, I always struggled to decide who I wanted to win a particular Old Firm match. I watched mainly for the blood and studs spectacle of it all – real old school stuff that you don’t see in England outside of a women’s hockey international.

It became clearer and clearer to me though that the Celtic side of things reminded me, more and more, of the attitude struck by those old foes of Leeds United from the Theatre of Hollow Myths – on the wrong side of the Pennines. You know the sort of thing – biggest and best, greatest in the world, don’t you dare say a word against us, blah blah blah. The fans of the Pride of Devon – as we fondly refer to Man U hereabouts – have swallowed all the propaganda, hook line and sinker. They really believe all the merchandise market-inspired guff the media feed them, and they recycle it as fact. Laughable, if irritating. We all know a deluded scum fan – so you know what I mean. But the club itself is just as bad, always wanting an unfair advantage, always demanding the benefit of the doubt, always cynically cheating, lying and manipulating – even now that Ferguson is history. And so, to an extent, it appears to be with Glasgow Celtic.

The quote below is from a Rangers fan in the thick of the argument that has been raging on this blog for a few days now. There is so much there that reminds me irresistibly of Man U and the way they try to go about getting the best of everything and sod everyone else. It’s a really, really harsh thing to say – but aren’t Celtic simply Man U-Lite?

“So, did Celtic play by the rules when they signed Juninho using the same EBT scheme that their support slaughter Rangers for. Did they play by the rules when we got to the UEFA final and asked for an extension to the season to avoid playing four games in one week? I think your CEO said that you were going on a Far East tour and couldn’t agree. Did those matches ever take place? What about the game you got cancelled following the death of a player who had left you years previously? If you can’t remember it then it was when you were in the middle of an injury crisis. Remember the qame where you had to beat our score to win the league and your star striker accused the team we beat at home 6-1 of cheating while his team mates accused the goalkeeper of the team you were beating 4-0 at the same time away from home of trying too hard. I think you even missed a penalty that day. What about when you caused a referee strike in Scotland and we had to import refs from Europe because you said they were all cheats?

Oh you play by the rules all right. That’s why you ran to the SFA to try and get titles and trophies stripped from us so that you could jump from our shadows. You knew the rules all right when you got the Swiss team thrown out of Europe who had just humped you and then a few years later your knowledge of the rules came to the fore again when Legia had to get thrown out of the CL after also humping you because a player they had assumed had served a suspension played two minutes when they were 6-1 up on aggregate. Remember a few weeks later when you signed the guy on loan and you went to the SPL and said I know we signed him late however it is just a technicality …..don’t be sticking to them rules.

Playing by the rules…..pass the sick bucket.”

I’ve purposely posted that in blue, so that no Celtic eye will be able to read it and thus suffer some hurt to their tender feelings. But, for the rest of us, there’s this ineffable sense of one club trying to run the game – of the tail trying to wag the dog, north of the border, just as it has been over two decades in England. It’s all so undesirably familiar, so tiresomely reminiscent of the way in which Man U have gone about dominating English football ever since Murdoch bought it for them in 1992, after one too many failed title bids, thwarted by our own beloved Whites.

Given the tradition whereby Celtic fans tend to have Man U as a second team, their “English” team (Rangers are more yer Liverpool), I suppose most Celts won’t be in the least offended by a comparison between them and the Pride of Devon. But believe me, it’s not intended in a good way – most football fans who haven’t swallowed all the market-driven media pap would confirm that it’s a mortal insult to be compared to such a plastic franchise. But there you go – none so blind as those who won’t see.

A footnote to the original issue of whether or not Celtic fans genuinely consider there is no history between their lordly selves and Rangers FC in the here and now: I said it would be interesting to see the reaction among the packed Bhoys at one end of the ground if and when their favourites scored. And it was interesting – if utterly predictable. They celebrated, of course – and they celebrated wildly, exploding with delight, as though their team had defeated Real Madrid themselves in a Champions League Final. The noise damn near knocked out one of my trusty LG flatscreen speakers as the hooped hordes yelled, screamed and cavorted in triumph. Not that they were remotely bovvered, of course. Because Rangers FC means nothing to them now. Right, Bhoys?

Talk about posturing for effect. Talk about self-delusion, and striking an attitude that doesn’t stand up to any serious examination. Talk about being exactly like the intrinsically detestable Man U – the club we routinely refer to as “the scum”. Ask yourselves: can Celtic really claim to be any better than that?

Leeds Title Retrospective: Villa & Hammers Could Still Make Liverpool Champions – by Rob Atkinson

The Last Champions

The Last Champions

The more years that pass since Leeds United’s 1992 title success, making them the Last Champions – it’s 22 years now – the more the myth is perpetuated by the Man U-friendly media that it was the collapse under pressure of the Pride of Devon that year which denied them the ultimate accolade.  In short – and as echoed in Alex Ferguson’s bile-ridden summary of the season – Leeds United didn’t win the League – Man U lost it.

There had been a lot of talk throughout that last season of pre-Murdoch football about how “fitting” it would be for Man U to at last end up as top dogs after 25 years of hurt (or amusement, depending on your point of view).  There was nauseating speculation about the date that the title would finally “come home to OT”.  Somewhere in Greater Manchester, there is, in all likelihood, a warehouse which still contains souvenir candles, t-shirts and sundry other tawdry tat, prematurely commemorating the 1992 Championship success that never happened for Ferguson’s nearly men. There was a fair degree of confidence in the air, as you can see.

In the end, it wasn’t fitting – because Man U weren’t good enough and Leeds claimed a deserved honour.  The Whites finished top by four clear points, having won most games and lost fewest.  They scored the second-highest number of goals and conceded the second fewest to end up with the best goal difference overall.  Any way you care to look at it, Leeds were worthy champions – but that doesn’t stop the media and others from pushing the “unlucky Man U” myth. And the fact is, as well – the winning margin for the Champions could – and should – have been far greater.

Setting aside the well-remembered banana skins that Leeds contrived to skid wildly on away from home as the season got to its final act – those thrashings at Man City and QPR and a pallid defeat at Oldham – Leeds also managed to let slip four seemingly-vital points at fortress Elland Road, to mar an otherwise unstoppable progress in their home campaign.  In the last eight home games, Leeds won six and drew two.  The only teams to escape from LS11 with anything at all were Aston Villa and West Ham – coincidentally the two clubs Liverpool are now relying upon to upset the Manchester City apple-cart, and deliver a long-overdue title to Anfield.

Those two 0-0 draws at Elland Road served, at the time, to increase the conviction that we were destined to fall short at the end of the season. They were games of missed opportunities, including a rare missed penalty by the normally infallible Gordon Strachan – and those four dropped home points could well have been fatal in the final reckoning.  But as things turned out, the two agonising draws served only to limit the final margin of success, proving that then, as now, it was impossible to call correctly the twists and turns of a title head-to-head.

In the end, it was Man U that bottled it – as Liverpool appear to have done at home to Chelsea and at Crystal Palace – and it was Leeds United who finally held their nerve to close the season out with a series of coldly nerveless performances, culminating in that crazy, decisive match at Sheffield United.

Now, in the moment of Liverpool’s blackest despair, it is those two claret-and-blue clubs which hold the key to the Reds’ remaining shreds of hope. Manchester City have to face the challenge of obtaining four points from the two home games left to them, and thereby clinch a title that was Liverpool’s to lose until these last couple of weeks.

City may well be without their talisman Aguero, but of course they have a squad packed with quality even without the quicksilver Argentinian.  But in his absence, City always seem that bit more more ponderous in attack, that few percentage points less lethal than when he is in there and performing at his best.

Neither Villa nor West Ham have anything to play for other than pride; nor indeed do they have anything to fear.  They may well set out to frustrate the home team in these two Etihad encounters – and in both games, the longer it remains goalless, the more Manchester City would become nervous and doubtful.  The fans would sit there, getting edgy – thinking “typical City”. It’s unlikely, but it’s not impossible.

Liverpool, ultimately, will have only themselves to blame if they do end up missing out on what was a golden chance to be Champions again – after so long a time without that once perennial accolade.  The defence has not been good enough and there has been, at times, an unforgivable naivety of approach made worse by shattering individual errors.  A draw was good enough at home to Chelsea, but it was thrown away.  A 3-0 win at Palace would have put the pressure on Man City – but a gung-ho quest for even more goals opened the back door, and the Pulis-inspired Palace nipped in three times to deny the Reds that victory.

It would take a heart of stone not to feel regret and sympathy for the sobbing, devastated double Player of the Year Suarez; he deserves far better from what has been a magical season for him.  And Gerrard, too, deserves more than he looks likely to get.  The list of mediocre players with Premier League medals is a long one, the list of greats who lack one is somewhat shorter.  The injustice of that will not be lost on Gerrard, a player whose fierce desire to be the best has been etched in every line of his being lately; but who is likely, in a vicious twist of fate, to be the man who carries the can for Liverpool pulling up short of the line.

All these players and their team-mates can do now, is wait – and hope.  If Aston Villa – notorious for blowing hot and cold this season – can turn it on at City and claim a highly unlikely win, then the Reds’ fate would be back in their own hands come Sunday.  They would be one home victory over Newcastle from recapturing the Holy Grail; given that vastly improbable last chance, you sense they would not squander it at any price.

Now that Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has played his last card in the game of raising the pressure stakes, by publicly conceding the title, City will be as well aware as anyone that a banana skin awaits them on Wednesday, with another beyond that on Sunday.  They’re the same two home-ground banana skins that Leeds United so nearly slipped up on all those years ago in 1992. Can Villa and the Hammers throw a spanner in the works for real this time?  

Leeds Utd: Getting Along Fine Without Professional Yorkshiremen – by Rob Atkinson

Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen

Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen

One of the great things about being a Leeds United fan – and there are many, it goes without saying – is that we don’t have to stumble along under the crippling burden of embarrassment that afflicts certain Yorkshire clubs, notably in this case, Barnsley FC.  I’m referring, of course, to the football-supporting choices of that most loathsome of creatures: the Professional Yorkshireman. Think of that brilliant Monty Python parody, the Four Yorkshiremen – and you’ll recognise the type I’m on about.  Now imagine one of those buggers supporting and then betraying your team.  Horrible.

There are quite a few of these sad types, notable for their carefully-cultivated air of bluff down-to-earthness.  Being down to earth is money in the bank for your Professional Yorkshireman – and of course money in the bank is a subject very close to their hearts, just as it is with genuine Tykes the length and breadth of God’s Own County. Rumour has it, after all, that copper wire was invented by two Yorkshiremen disputing ownership of a penny. So what is it that separates the odious “Professional” from the upright, genuine, sterling Yorkshiremen who, as we all know, are the salt of the earth?  I can tell you, in one unpleasant phrase: base, self-serving treachery.

The one major qualification for any Yorkshireman should (to my mind) be a parochial contempt for anything and everything beyond the Broad Acres – and most especially for that land of the misbegotten over the wrong side of the Pennines.  There’s just something wrong about that place.  The accents are appalling, the cuisine is based on what you can do with livestock blood – and when you finally get to the coast, it’s the wrong way up.  It’s true.  Just think about it.  When you’re walking in a northerly direction, the sea should be on your right, just as it’s properly on your left when you’re heading south.  That’s as it should be – as it is with all of those jewels of the East coast like Filey, Scarborough and Brid.

But in Blackpool or Morecambe, it’s all arse about face, you end up disoriented and feeling as though you’re on some alien planet – an impression that contact with the locals will only reinforce.  Take David “Bumble” Lloyd, for example.  What a pie-munching yonner he is.  But it’s a dire place altogether, even without the inbred population – the most welcome sight I ever see apart from a Leeds United goal is that lovely White Rose marker on the M62, telling me I’m heading back into civilisation.

All of the foregoing is just plain common sense to proper Yorkshiremen, people of taste and refinement, to whom a west of the Pennines accent has the same effect as fingernails drawn slowly down a blackboard.  But – brace yourselves here – there are some who live, move and have their being among us lucky sons and daughters of the three Ridings – who were actually born here, for Don’s sake – and yet who find it possible to betray us all, in the foulest, most contemptible way imaginable.

Yes, avert your eyes now, for it’s the ultimate in bleak, degraded horror that I’m talking about: supporting Man U. A frisson of shuddering horror there, right? Now do not hasten to judge the weaker vessels; many of these misguided souls are insecure and inadequate, seeking to align themselves with what they perceive as size and success.  Their motivations are a subject for fascinated disgust, it’s beyond the ken of the well-adjusted to understand such perversion.  But whatever reasons they may have for their aberration must remain between them and Dr Freud, for these are sick people; we may regard them with more pity than anger.  They are squandering their birthright, and they will find no happiness in life.

But the very worst offenders are those who have achieved fame, celebrity, wealth by making the most of the place they were born; by capitalising on their God-given Yorkshire heritage.  For these people to commit the ultimate sin of selling their souls to the Pride of Devon – that’s beyond unforgivable. It’s despicable, degraded, disgusting – it’s the lowest form of base treachery you can put a name to, especially when perpetrated by one who has made a fat living off his White Rose credentials.  There are two chief offenders I have in mind: Michael Parkinson and Geoffrey Boycott.

Both of these are fairly detestable in their own right, even without any considerations of football affiliation coming into the equation.  Boycott has developed into the tiresome gob-on-a-stick type, deeply in love with his own exaggerated dialect, relishing every opportunity to be “outspoken” on the radio, as he verbally rips into cricketers more talented than he ever was. Parkinson has descended towards the testy and crotchety hinterland of senility as he has aged, chasing the coin with the avarice of a man who breeds moths in his wallet, inflicting his deadly dull “interviewing voice” on us from naff insurance adverts as he tries to flog us funeral policies with the promise of a free Parker pen.  It’s all miserably dispiriting for anyone who was ever a fan of either man, both so identifiable, by their own unremitting efforts, with the county of their birth.  But I was never a fan of either, so I can tell it like it is, and with a light heart.

Parky - Plastic Red

Parky – Plastic Red

Both have committed the unforgivable sin of giving their allegiance – the unquestionable property of one or other of Yorkshire’s football clubs – to Man U. Parkinson, in particular, is grossly culpable.  His anecdotes of Skinner Normanton, as well as other heroes of his widely-publicised Barnsley-supporting youth, made his name for him as a half-decent writer and retailer of funny stories.  But, when push came to shove, Michael shoved off, deciding that his favourite team was Man U and that he was chosen by some higher power to write a brown-nosing biography of George Best (for whom he had to delve deep into Paul Reaney’s back pocket). There may well be Barnsley fans who don’t know this, who regard “Parky” as one of their own – but those who are aware of his duplicity rightly view Michael Parkinson with contempt.  It’s many moons now since he headed south to live with his showbiz and Man U mates, and grow his eyebrows into two miniatures of Michael Heseltine’s coiffure – much the same as that other famous old Yorkshire curmudgeon and Labour Party betrayer, Bernard Ingham.  The south is welcome to Parkinson, a Professional Yorkshireman who started out as a Barnsley fan, made his name as such – and then defected to the Evil Empire.  He even tried to get his son into football by pushing him towards Chelsea.  Ugh.

Boycott - Cloughie disciple

Boycott – Cloughie disciple

Boycott, for his part, also made his name synonymous with that of the great county which gave him birth and entitled him to play for the White Rose – an honour it is impossible to surpass.  But for all that he always based his “Yorkshireness” on his achievements in “creekitt”, as he insists on pronouncing it – and although he had football trials with Leeds, playing indeed alongside the legendary Billy Bremner – he never offered his support to a Yorkshire team, preferring instead to follow Nottingham Forest due to the presence there of fellow gobshite Brian Clough.  The action, many will agree, of a scab.  When Clough departed the scene, Boycott followed the path of the weak-minded and became a Man U fan – something he clearly fails to regard as in any way inconsistent with his heavily-emphasised Yorkshireness, which he continues to play for all it’s worth in his regular radio pundit stints.

Far be it from me, a cricket novice, to criticise Boycott’s views on that sport – so I’ll leave it instead to an expert.  Steve Harmison has said of the self-styled “best opening bat” that “…the fact is that within the England dressing room [Boycott’s] views are regarded as a joke. People who only have a passing interest in the game hear the famous Geoff Boycott Yorkshire accent and may think it gives some status to his opinions. But inside the dressing room he has no status, he is just an accent, some sort of caricature of a professional Yorkshireman. Indeed, quite a few of us cringe whenever he comes near.” Damning stuff indeed, and the spectre of the Professional Yorkshireman appears to haunt that insider’s view of England’s former opener.

There are others who might possibly qualify – for want of a better word – to be called Professional Yorkshiremen.  Dicky Bird, for instance – but he strikes me as a fairly inoffensive, if overly-lachrymal, sort of bloke. And I believe he still supports Barnsley, if only on the big occasions. He certainly emerged from the woodwork to see them promoted to the Premier League – though I believe he was nowhere to be seen when they went back down, twelve short months later.

Others the accusation might be levelled at, I will not hear a word against. Fred Trueman, for instance.  Unashamedly Yorkshire, but as far as I know he never made a sideshow of it, and the stories about him are many and legendary. Fred was an effortlessly Yorkshire character and he’s much missed.  One story of when he was dining with the MCC at an exclusive restaurant bears repeating.  Apparently, he spotted the date on the menu, written in French after the style of such high-falutin places: Jeudi le deuxième Mai. Pointing to it with a calloused forefinger, he said “Aye – Ahs’ll ‘ave that for sweet.”

When we speak of Yorkshiremen in years to come, I hope and trust that it’s men like Fred, Dave Batty, Harold Wilson (maybe), that we’ll be talking about. Not the likes of Parkinson and Boycott, who made such efforts to establish and profit from a Yorkshire background, only to betray it in the least excusable way possible.  I feel a bit sorry for Barnsley FC, being so often linked to their tawdry, shallow sort and yet being abandoned at the first opportunity by hollow traitors for a media circus like Man U.  Leeds have been lucky, over the years, to attract the support of proper Yorkshiremen, as well as those enlightened souls from further afield who can see more clearly than others that we’re the best club in the world.  Long may it remain so.

Ex-Man U Boss Fergie Still Paranoid Over League Kings Liverpool – by Rob Atkinson

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S’ralex – the lunatic fringe view from the stands.

Alex Ferguson has been mercifully quiet since his retirement, contenting himself in the main with a seat in the stands from which to glare down balefully at the struggles of his hapless and helpless successor, David “Gollum” Moyes.  It’s been a quieter and more peaceful – even saner – game without the rantings of the whisky-nosed old curmudgeon.  Although Moyes’ plight has been pitiful to behold, at least some light has been shed on what was behind the success of virtually the same team last season, which looks so spectacularly inept this time around.  It’s been Fergie all the time it seems; terrifying opponents, refs and FA officials alike into granting his team every advantage they could wish for.  Now that he’s subsided into a brooding and impotent silence, away from the arena itself, the game seems a fairer and cleaner thing, with everyone a lot happier – fans all over Devon and Cornwall and in Milton Keynes who have Man U sympathies always excepted.

The old tyrant’s broken that silence this weekend though, deigning to pronounce upon the Premier League Title race, for which he sees a wider-than-usual field of maybe as many as six possible contenders.  Pushing the margins of credibility, he includes old charges Man U among these contenders, along with the Arsenal, Man City, Chelsea and even Everton and Spurs.  Notable by their absence from this select group of “Fergie’s Favourites” is Liverpool FC, a name that the Govan Gob studiously avoided mentioning, wary perhaps of bringing on an attack of apoplexy.  Clearly, the purple-nosed Taggart clone still has a problem with a club he vowed to “knock off their perch” when he first slithered south all those years ago.  How he failed to do that, despite all those lies, damned lies and statistics, is detailed below.

Let’s face it – Man U fans can crow all they want about 20 titles, but the evidence to confound their plastic claims is there for all to see, like some geological stratum separating the dinosaurs from the mammoths.  That schism dividing the game up to ’92, from the showbiz shenanigans of ’93 onwards, stands out like a Tory at a Foodbank, exposing Man U as the wealth-backed, monopolising opportunists that they are.  Seven titles in their history before Uncle Rupert bought the game for them.  Thirteen in the twenty years after the game went mad for money when, aided by more riches than anyone else, combined with the threat of Fergie to cow refs and officials, the Pride of Devon all but cleaned up in what was no more or less than a game of craps played with the dice heavily loaded in their favour.  And it was all done with such bad grace, another indictment of this new and joyless age we’ve been plodding through.  No gentle wisdom of the Bob Paisley variety – instead we had the sour bile of Ferguson himself and now seemingly a Fergie-Lite clone in the newly growly and grouchy David Moyes.  No loveable old-style hard-man Desperate Dan type like Tommy Smith – we just had the manufactured machismo of Roy Keane, a supposed tough-guy with an assumed snarl and trademark glower, whose typical party trick was to sneak up behind wee Jason McAteer and fell that not-exactly-scary individual with a sly elbow.

The comparisons could go on all day, but the bottom line is that Liverpool at their peak – and it was a hell of a peak – typified all the values of football that some of us remember from a pre-Sky, pre-glitz, pre-greed age when it really was all about a ball.  Now, it’s all about money, and contracts, and egos, and snide bitching to the media if you don’t get all your own way – and lo, we have the champions we deserve – but not, it seems, for very much longer – despite the wishful thinking of a silly and deluded old man.

To apply a conversion rate which sums up the way our game has been degraded in the Fergie/Murdoch era – let’s say that each Premier League (or Premiership, or whatever else it’s been marketed as) is worth maybe half – at the very most – of each proper Football League Championship, won on a level playing field in the days when the game still belonged to us and the world was a happier and more carefree place.  At that rate, Man U are still a good long distance behind Liverpool, which, on the basis of the history of English football as a whole, is precisely where they belong.

Ferguson might choose to ignore the challenge of a newly-invigorated Liverpool, but then again, football knowledge was never the strong point of the Demented One.  For bullying and intimidation, he wouldn’t have had much to learn from Torquemada, but his opinions on the game can safely be set aside in favour of those from saner minds – i.e. just about anyone else.  Meanwhile, it should be emphasised once and for all, for the avoidance of doubt and despite the latest nonsense from S’ralex – Liverpool are still very much The Greatest.

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Chelsea Defeat Best Proof That Man U Miss the Fergie Fear Factor – by Rob Atkinson

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S’ralex in happier times

This year, just as in the past two seasons – but for a vastly different reason – the Chelsea v Man U fixture has provided a litmus indication of the influence Alex Ferguson has held over the game of football in England since the inception of the FA Premier League in 1992.  In the previous two meetings between the two clubs at Stamford Bridge, Ferguson was still very much in charge of Man U – and it showed.  This season’s clash found the Pride of Devon under new management – and, boy, did that ever show too.

Two years ago, it may be recalled, the game followed a pattern very similar to Sunday’s clash – up to a point.  Chelsea established a three-goal lead by early in the second half on both occasions, but from then on the games followed very different paths.  Back in February 2012, the brooding presence of Ferguson in the Man U dugout, together with the co-operative Howard Webb on the field, saw two penalties awarded to the away side as they swiftly reduced the arrears to a single goal.  By that point, Chelsea were reeling, their confidence shot through, and it was clearly only a matter of time before an equalising goal.  When it came, in the 85th minute, the build-up told its own damning tale.  The sight of a demoralised Chelsea defender, attempting to close down a left-wing cross as he backed away, hands studiously behind his back, clearly convinced that a third penalty would be awarded if the ball could be struck against any part of his arms, was symptomatic of a refereeing culture dominated by fear of what Fergie might do or say if his side were defeated.  It was like watching a boxer trying to avoid a knockout blow with his guard held down, a pitiful sight.  In the event, two dropped points meant the title would end up with Manchester City – but Howard Webb had done his bit, as he did so often for the benefit of Man U.

Last year’s game between these two at Stamford Bridge was even more indicative of where the power really resided.  This time, Man U had raced to an early two-goal lead and it appeared that no undue interference with events would be needed.  But two goals from Chelsea in four minutes either side of the interval restored parity – and suddenly the establishment’s favoured team were in danger of losing a game they had looked to have comfortably under control – and what would S’ralex say then, pray?

That thought was plainly too horrible to contemplate for the referee, Mark Clattenburg on this occasion.  His sending-off of Ivanovic for a foul on Young was reasonably clear-cut – but then Clattenburg made two decisions which demonstrated the influence of the Ferguson Fear Factor.  Firstly, an already-booked Torres was clear and racing through on goal when he went down under challenge from Jonny Evans.  If the foul were to be given, then Evans would have to go for a professional foul, and it would be ten-a-side.  Clearly, that would not do – so Clattenburg brilliantly decided that Torres had dived, issued him a second yellow and made the contest 9 v 11.  To cap a tremendously influential performance, he then allowed the clearly offside winner for Hernandez after 75 minutes, and Man U saw the game out against their demoralised opponents to bank the three points.

Both of these games stand as damning evidence of what former referee Graham Poll admitted recently – that when officiating in a Man U game, it was always a relief to get the match over with, ideally with Man U winning – and certainly NOT having made any crucial calls against them, for fear of what Ferguson might say or do in retaliation.  But for this year’s game, there was no Ferguson in the dugout – and the performance of the referee seemed suddenly free of those perceived pressures of the Fergie years.

It’s not as though Man U didn’t try to apply such pressure.  There were concerted efforts by their bench, with Moyes to the fore in his Fergie-Lite guise, to get David Luiz sent off instead of merely booked – to no avail.  Penalty shouts – an ever-present feature of any Man U game – likewise went unheeded, despite the presence of the usual diving suspects.  Chelsea, having eased into a three-goal lead despite a well below-par performance, never looked seriously troubled.  In contrast to the two previous years, they never seemed to have the slightest fear that the game might suddenly turn against them.  The referee even went so far as to dismiss Vidic and book Rafael for ugly challenges – decisions he probably got the wrong way around.

The late-ish Man U goal might have heralded a late onslaught in previous years, with the winning side suddenly assailed by fear and insecurity – but that was when Fergie was on the bench.  Now, with the impotent tyrant up in the stands, shaking his head glumly, there was no sign that the consolation goal would be anything but exactly that.  Man U had been beaten, despite early dominance of possession, despite a lacklustre showing by Chelsea.  It was their seventh defeat of the season, leaving them 14 points behind the leaders – or, more relevantly, a possible 7 points off Champions League qualification.  Tellingly, people have even begun to speculate as to their main rivals for a Europa League place.

It’s a new and unwelcome landscape for the ailing champions, and a lot of people are beginning to wake up to what all of this says, not only about their immediate prospects, but also of their record over the past twenty years, and to what degree that has been skewed by the ever more apparently crucial Fergie Fear Factor.  Thirteen titles in twenty years – how many would they have won without the dubious methods employed by the Govan Gob?  A virtually identical squad to last season’s runaway winners is now being revealed as the ordinary group that it is.  The myth of Man U is being ruthlessly exposed – and while nobody could argue that this is good for them, or for their globally spread cadre of fans, including the tiny minority that actually attend matches – it surely has to be good for the game that such an evidently dominant force for the swaying of authority and the warping of results has now departed the scene.

It would seem likely that history may not take quite such a rosy view of the Ferguson legacy as he would perhaps like – and the ironic fact is that this could perhaps come about not because of results under his leadership, but in the light of the pallid performance of virtually the same team, newly deprived of the advantages bestowed by the malign influence of S’ralex.  If that turns out to be the case, then we may all be taking a somewhat more realistic view of those so-called Ferguson Glory Years.

Kenyan Man U Fan’s Suicide Harks Back to Famous Shankly Quote – by Rob Atkinson

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Shanks – didn’t really mean it

There are many famous sayings attributed to the late, great Bill Shankly that are still quoted to this day.  Some of them, he even actually said.  The one in the image above seems likely to have been genuine, actually uttered by the great man.  But wherever you hear it quoted, you’ll usually hear a hastily-added qualification too: “He didn’t actually mean it, of course.  It was part of his football-daft image…”  Quite so.  Shankly was football-daft – many are the anecdotes to illustrate this, and again, some of them are based on fact. But Shanks wasn’t daft in the wider sense and, certainly, if he did utter the words above, they’ll have been uttered with tongue firmly in cheek.

All of which sheds awfully little light on the baffling and tragic death in Kenya of local Man U fan John Jimmy Macharia, 23 or 28 (depending on which report you read), who plunged to his death from a multi-storey apartment block in Nairobi after David Moyes’ men suffered a second home defeat in four days, further denting the champions’ chance of retaining the Premier League title. “Macharia jumped from the seventh floor of an apartment at Pipeline Estate after realising that his team Manchester United lost 1-0 to Newcastle at Old Trafford and committed suicide,” Nairobi’s County Police Commander Benson Kibui told Reuters.

Commander Kibui went on to bemoan the role of the English game in this and at least one other suspected suicide in Kenya over the past few years. “All witness accounts suggest he committed suicide because the team lost but officers are still talking to those who were with him as part of the investigations into the incident”, he said. “It is not the first time we are losing a young man because of the football in England, which is far away from us. The football fans should enjoy the matches… but they need to know that is just a game and they should not commit suicide, since life is very precious.”  Undeniably true.

The fact that even one fan, anywhere in the world, could actually be moved to take his own life on the back of a pair of home defeats for a team thousands of miles away, seems mind-boggling.  It seems also to give an uncomfortable resonance to Shanks’ famous quote – but a soundbite nearly fifty years old can have little to do with what is an extreme phenomenon, born of a different type of football support to that tribal devotion typical of Shankly’s day.

As I wrote yesterday, this newish, different type of support has grown apace in the past decade or so.  Some call it “glory-hunting”, some merely refer to “global fanbases”.  But at its extreme margins, where tragedies of this sort are liable to occur – however infrequently – the motivations behind choosing to support a “megaclub” stand some examination.  Why, exactly do far-flung people choose to do this?  I believe that the answer to that depends on the type of club involved – but by far and away the most common reason is the wish to be identified with some perceived example of size, power and success.  This is “gloryhunting” in the raw, where a person of questionable self-esteem, lacking any other readily-apparent avenues for self-aggrandisement, will latch on to an institution regularly “bigged-up”  by the media, held up and put on a pedestal by such media as an example of success, something to be worshiped and revered, an institution which will reflect honour and glory onto its adherents, wherever they might come from.

There is seen to be some social cachet, therefore, in being recognised as a supporter of, say, Man U.  The opportunity is seemingly there for the otherwise pallid and ill-defined individual to bask in some reflected glory. For certain people of a perhaps less robust personality, this represents a relief from the humdrum routine of unregarded anonymity – it provides an escape route from their own feelings of inadequacy.  In extreme cases though, the pedestal that such a needy person builds for him or herself is more like a house of cards that can too easily come tumbling down, bringing with it the hapless fan who has pinned so much carefully-nurtured self-esteem on a seemingly invincible team that turns out, after all, to be fallible. The shock of this will be too much for some to bear; as they witness the downfall of their heroes, icons they had thought utterly reliable, what are they left with?  For the tragic few – seized upon as merchandising fodder by a voracious world game…and then let down with a bump – the answer would seem to be: nothing.

Better then, by far, to use football as a channel, not for some hopeless yearning for a boost in self-esteem, but rather for the kind of grisly defiance and bloody-mindedness that characterises – for instance – Leeds United fans. If there’s one thing you can be tolerably certain of, it is that, by and large, Leeds fans need to be made of stern stuff.  Not for them the lure of glory and triumph, not for them the warm glow of media hype and approval, or widespread cultural adoration.  The Leeds fan – especially the Leeds fan from far afield – has different motivations of an earthier and more non-conformist character.  Why else would so many travel literally thousands of miles per season, pay Premier League prices for what has been decidedly indifferent fare this past decade – and all of this to a background of contempt, disapproval, even hate?  It’s a conundrum – but some answers may well lie in some of the illuminating responses I received to yesterday’s article.

Whatever the reasons – and on the evidence of those replies, I would venture to suggest that most of them have to do with a desire to kick-out against the Establishment, the accepted way of things – the requirements to be a Leeds fan include a thick skin, strong shoulders, a philosophical personality and – above all – an unshakeable inner conviction that, against all visible evidence, they are right and the rest of the world is wrong.  Thus equipped, the Leeds United fan is able to roll with the punches, go with the flow and still feel able to hold their head up high and proclaim “We are Leeds and we are proud.  Marching On Together.”  This is not the stuff of which potential suicides are made – or at least not for such mundane reasons as a football result.

It’s the kind of inner serenity that fans of many clubs might well wish they could trade for a trophy or two.  It’s a state of mind, and not one that can simply be assumed.  It’s often said that fans don’t pick clubs – rather clubs tend to select fans of the mettle required to be worthy of supporting them. The media have a role to play in all of this, and it’s by no means a blameless one.  In their decades-long campaign of advancing the interests of one club – Man U – above all others, they have inflicted a certain amount of collateral damage, whilst at the same time strengthening the sinews of those already sinewy individuals who dare to swim against the tide and aspire to be Leeds United fans, or followers of other similarly proud but unregarded, unhyped clubs.

The damage done by the media to the weaker vessels who have opted to cling to the coat-tails of the mighty Man U has not been done intentionally. But suggestibility and the capacity to be brain-washed are functions of the strength, or lack thereof, of the human personality, the human ego.  It is the weaker ones who will be vacuumed up, wholesale by such a leviathan as Man U, with their publicity operatives in the press and media acting as recruitment agents.  Only the strong of character can resist such a siren call, only the willfully-defiant will survive the propaganda and tempting blandishments to be seen and read everywhere.  From these ranks – the ranks of the strong and the pugnacious – will emerge the Leeds United fans from every corner of the globe.  These are not people who will launch themselves off a high building after a couple of home defeats.  And fortunately so, as otherwise there might by now be sadly few of us left.

The tragic young man in Kenya who died last weekend can be seen as an extreme example of a victim of the myth that has grown up around the likes of Man U – and they are not alone.  A few years back, another Kenyan fan, this time of Arsenal, also took his life after a poor result, in the Champions League – ironically against Man U.  Never can the essential wrongness of that famously ironic Shankly quote have been more vividly illustrated than in these two wasteful and needless deaths, precipitated – almost certainly – by the meaningless outcome of mere games of football on foreign fields that neither victim would ever have visited.  This is when you start to question the degree to which football is hyped, when at bottom it remains mere sport, paling into insignificance besides the great issues of today or any other age.  It’s a pastime, a preoccupation – something to talk about or argue over in a bar or on a tea-break.  It beguiles many an idle hour, but it’s not – of itself – all that important.

Of course, there is always a place for pride in football, and even for people to use it as a vent for emotions that can’t find an outlet elsewhere.  But we must retain a sense of proportion, which is what that bemused police chief in Kenya was saying.  Passion and commitment must be tempered by realism and a sense of proportion.  The media should be playing a leading part in this, instead of grossly exaggerating over long periods the significance of games and competitions, or the standing and supposed invincibility of certain favoured clubs.  To perpetuate these hollow myths is to act irresponsibly, as there will always be fragile personalities that cannot define for themselves a sense of proportion, and to whom, ultimately, something as silly as a game of football might actually become as important as life or death itself – all at the behest of irresponsible journalists selling a commercially-motivated fairy-tale.  And when the ultimate tragedy happens, we’re all of us the poorer for it, even though it’s likely to affect fans directly only at that over-hyped and ridiculously puffed-up elite end of the world game.

As Bill Shankly would doubtless have been the first to admit, the whole institution of football everywhere on the planet is not worth even a fraction of one life.  It’s time that those responsible, in media and megaclub marketing departments, for pushing the hype, the hard-sell and the lies, got real, got back to what the game used to be all about and got back to reporting what happens instead of trying to lead the game by the nose in the direction of success and glory for the few and Devil take the hindmost.

Because when all is said and done – it’s only a game.

Suarez Showing Why He’s Vital for The EPL – by Rob Atkinson

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Suarez – magician

As a Leeds United fan, it amazes me that a player of the sheer quality – and breathtaking ability to entertain – of Luis Suarez hasn’t been better appreciated in the country where he plies his trade. Last night at Anfield, he gave a performance in Liverpool’s 5-1 demolition of Norwich City to make any fan of the game thank their lucky stars that certain parties didn’t manage to drive the Uruguayan from these shores. It must have been a mighty close thing, such was the vitriol poured upon his head by various holier-than-thou types who would evidently be quite willing to see such virtuoso talent lost to English football. And this, mainly, because a silly molehill was made into a ridiculous mountain called Evragate.

The issues surrounding that shoddy affair have been gone into, not wisely but too well. A lot of ignorant and uninformed opinion conspired to have Suarez painted as an out-and-out villain and a racist to boot, whilst anointing Patrice Evra, Man U’s typically dislikable defender, as Saint Injured Party of Dakar. Neither conclusion stands up to intelligent analysis. The cultural mores of Uruguay make Suarez difficult to convict on the evidence of what happened in this case, while Evra’s tendency to make trouble and exploit situations will invariably speak for itself.

Less easy to dismiss was the bizarre incident when Suarez decided to take a chunk out of the arm of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanović. Any supporter of Suarez would have shaken his head despairingly at that one – it was inexcusable. But by this time, Suarez was cast ineradicably in the public eye as A Nasty Man – and sometimes that kind of thing can become a self-fulfilling prophesy, with the subject of all the negative attention liable to crack under the strain.

I have to confess that I would instinctively defend Suarez over Evragate, even if the deeper issues didn’t support the view that he’s not quite the despicable git he’s been painted. Evra is an unpleasant individual with a track record of winding up opponents in the approved Man U manner. As a Leeds fan, that is anathema to me. But the way in which Suarez was hung out to dry, vilified by people who evidently couldn’t have cared less about the positives the little South American brings to our game – to me, this was shocking and uncalled-for. I felt then and I still feel now that he should have been cut some slack and certainly not hounded as he was. Maybe then there’d have been no biting incident. Who knows? Luis Suarez is a volatile character. It’s part of his make-up, and he’s most definitely not alone in that. But so is sublime talent an integral part of the Suarez package, as he so extravagantly demonstrated last night.

Players score great goals sometimes, occasionally hat-tricks and sometimes even more. Our own Ross McCormack rattled up a four goal haul at Charlton recently and that was an outstanding performance. But it was as water unto wine when compared to the Suarez Masterclass which saw Norwich slaughtered by the world-class talent of a Latin magician.

You’d have to go a long way to see goals of greater quality than three of the four that Suarez scored last night. The fourth was merely very good, and Liverpool’s fifth was served up on a plate for young Raheem Sterling by … Luis Suarez.  If ever a man took on and routed an opposing team of eleven helpless men, with only incidental help and support from the ten bit-part players on his own side, that man was Suarez.  He was that good.

Looking at the four goals he scored, all showed exemplary technique, reflexes, balance, artistry, sheer star quality. Three were blinding efforts that would have graced any game of football ever played, any time, anywhere. The body shape of the man as he dispatched each chance with exactly the right contact to send the ball fizzing into the Norwich net told of a very special talent in the person of a natural athlete and superb technician. These were special goals in a fabulous performance; Suarez has been building up to this ever since the delayed start to his season, after suspension for the Ivanović incident and a summer of speculation as to whether he would be part of the English game this season. Even when it seemed that the danger of him being lost to our game was past, speculation was still rife about interest from Arsenal – and what an addition the Uruguayan would have made to that outstanding team.

What was made finally, undeniably clear at Anfield last night was that to even risk harrying Luis Suarez out of our game would have been the most arrant folly. Players like that come along once a generation; the Evras of this world are ten-a-penny stuff by comparison. The goals that Suarez scored against Norwich will be talked about, admired and replayed for years – decades. You don’t ever forget quality, genius like that. And that quality, that genius, could so easily have been lost to the game, just because an ignorant cabal of self-appointed judges got bees in their bonnets when they felt that precious Patrice Evra had been insulted. It was a disproportionate, foolish and unwarranted reaction and – in talent and entertainment terms – it could have cost us dear.

Look at those goals, and marvel. Watch them a few times over – you won’t regret it. Luis Suarez, Superstar. It’s about time we all focused on the immense positives he has brought to our game, and started to appreciate the worth of the man. He sparkles, he entertains – he even plays the game with a smile on his face – mostly. There’s plenty you can’t say that about. Thank heavens that Anfield’s magician was not lost to the game of football in England.