Tag Archives: media

Lasogga and Saiz the key to Leeds United promotion push

With Leeds sitting just outside of the top half of the Championship, it’ll take a big push to get the fans dreaming of promotion to the Premier League.

Nine teams are vying for the four slots in the end of season lottery, although Aston Villa and Derby would appear to have two sewn up. That leaves two from seven; Leeds United being one of those seven.

Paul Heckingbottom might have his work cut out in achieving Leeds fans’ dreams, but being unbeaten in the last three matches is a great basis for a late surge. The recent 1-0 win against Brentford was a huge morale boost, given the Bees are close rivals in the play off hunt.

Despite defender Liam Cooper scoring the only goal of the game, it was the partnership of Samu Saiz and Pierre-Michel Lasogga that really got fans pulses racing. In that combination lies Leeds’ best hope of putting together some end of season form and maybe, just maybe stealing sixth spot from under rivals’ noses.

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Pierre-Michel Lasogga By Amy.Leonie – Eigenes Foto; aufgenommen beim Training von Hertha BSC Berlin, CC BY 3.0,

Lasogga is on loan from Hamburger SV and currently has ten goals to his name. It’s not been a great season by his own high standards; spells injured and on the bench have disrupted his momentum. What could he have achieved though if he’d stayed fit and in Thomas Christiansen’s plans?

Lasogga had five goals from seven matches going into March, a run of form that will be crucial to any lingering hopes of promotion.

If him hitting form wasn’t enough, Samu Saiz is also back in the starting line up after a horrible start to 2018. His dismissal in the FA Cup defeat against Newport might have been controversial, but Christiansen cites it as one of the reasons he was dismissed. The Spaniard might be unpredictable, but on his game he’s unplayable. Saiz has five goals and five assists this season, the second highest number of assists in the squad after Pablo Hernandez, having played six matches fewer.

The odds are not in Leeds’ favour, they’re a long way down the list for promotion, priced as 50/1 for a long-awaited return to the top table, well behind next best bets Brentford and Preston on 14s and 20s respectively.

It might still be worth looking at the bet £10 get £30 888sport betting offer, though, as Lasogga can be found at a generous price to finish as the league’s highest scorer. He’s seven behind in the charts at the moment, but with Saiz providing the bullets he might be a long-shot to storm up the table.

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Pablo Hernandez By Juan Fernández – flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0,

It is looking increasingly like another year in the second tier for Leeds United, something fans will lament with one breath and praise in the other. After the torrid Cellino years, any sort of stability should be welcomed and, although Paul Heckingbottom isn’t a manager to set pulses races, one or two of his stars are. Lasogga is due back at Hamburger SV in May, but Saiz remains contracted to the club beyond this season. The former will likely not be back next season, so replacing him will be incredibly important, but Samu Saiz should be retained because, in him, Leeds have a player that can change a game in a instant.

Who knows, with a little bit of luck and hard work, it might just happen as early as this season. Miracles do happen every day in football and Leeds United are undoubtedly due one soon

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“Completely Lacking Spirit and Passion”: Leeds Owner Radrizzani Issues Stern Rebuke – by Rob Atkinson

In a complete departure from his usual urbanely diplomatic stance, Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani has taken to Twitter and bemoaned the “lowest moment for me since I joined” in what are, for him, harshly critical terms.

Normally, Radrizzani confines himself to what amounts to a supportive and broadly positive stance, preferring to exhort the fans to greater heights of support rather than issue any direct criticism. This tweet, though, utterly abandons any such diplomacy, and instead hits hard – striking right to the heart of any football professional‘s self-image. In accusing the players of lacking spirit and passion, he is levelling about the most serious charge imaginable. Let nobody doubt the anger and frustration behind such frank and revealing words.

It may be that Andrea has been rattled by the spitting storm that threatens to engulf the club, depriving Leeds of their best attacking player Samu Saíz for maybe up to six games – if the charge is proven. That would be enough to unsettle the most sanguine of club owners but, even so, Radrizzani’s words are pointed in the extreme. Tweeted to the entire Leeds United Universe, the criticism is scathing, devastating. Anybody on the Leeds United payroll will disregard this at their extreme peril.

It looks as though the owner is a long way short of happy. To an extent, the remedy is in Radrizzani’s own hands, with most of the January transfer window remaining available to him. It’s fair to surmise that, as the owner has seen fit to be so very publicly critical, and about areas of the game that form the basis of professional pride too, then much harsher words will be spoken in private behind the scenes at Elland Road. And what might come of that – well, it’s anyone’s guess. But the gloves are off now, the owner has broken cover and the game’s afoot.

There has, as yet, been no dreaded “vote of confidence”, for which small mercy Thomas Christiansen, our likeable Head Coach, may perhaps breathe a small sigh of relief. But a warning shot has definitely been fired across the bows of the Leeds staff, both playing and coaching. Once the top man identifies a deficiency in the Spirit and Passion Department, then something most definitely has to be done. The only one of the Holy Trinity of pro qualities not identified was “commitment” and, based on the Cup showing at Newport, that was most probably an oversight on Andrea’s part.

One way or another, the mood around the club has just been amply clarified in resoundingly emphatic terms; following momentous words like that, some sort of decisive action can usually be anticipated. It should be an interesting next few weeks down LS11 way.

Leeds Owner Cellino Says Reports He’s Crooked Are a Non-Story – by Rob Atkinson

CellinoLiar

Massimo Cellino – as straight as a corkscrew?

In a terse statement after it was put to Mr. Cellino that sources are claiming he’s about as straight as a sidewinder’s backbone, the maverick Italian confirmed: “This is a complete non-story. There is nothing of any interest here whatsoever. It should be ignored, and people should be looking for real news. This paper, it says I am not an honest man, it says I lie, I cheat, I break the rules. All of this is common knowledge, my friend. Is a complete non-story, move on!”

Meanwhile, members of the online group In Massimo We Trust (motto “Gullibility We Goddit”) are being contacted by countless Nigerian businessmen offering to make them rich if they will just divulge their bank details. Asked why the group retains any faith at all in Mr. Cellino, their spokesman would only say “You shunt of asked me that”, before issuing tearful threats and then blustering a bit before going home crying.

Massimo Cellino’s official honesty rating is a worryingly low 17% – despite a recent on-field purple patch for his club Leeds United.

 

Six Years Ago Today: “Cup Minnows” Jibe Returns to Haunt Man U – by Rob Atkinson

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Jermaine scores at the Beckford End

As a result of the famous encounter between Man U and Leeds United in the FA Cup 3rd round of 2010, the Pride of Devon famously won yet another honour when a national newspaper awarded their incautious webmaster the “BIGGEST HOISTING BY YOUR OWN PETARD” accolade. When Man U drew Leeds or Kettering in the FA Cup third round, their official website’s headline was: ‘United To Face Cup Minnows’ – a banner that could just possibly have referred to Kettering, who still faced a second round replay at Elland Road. The sly intent of a dig at Leeds United escaped nobody though and, unlikely as it seemed that the United of Elland Road could pull off a shock at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, there must have been one or two wiser heads who were groaning at the sight of such crass bumptiousness – and wondering how anyone could possibly wish to tempt fate so. As we all know, the events of that day resulted in an almighty shock, joy for the fans of the Damned United and the renaming of one end of the Man U ground as “The Beckford End”.

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Not what she’d been led to expect of “minnows”

Such unwise overconfidence had been seen before in the name of Britain’s least modest and unassuming club. Back in 1992, one of the many commercial outlets which swarm around the Salford-based franchise like flies around steaming ordure, were guilty of a comparably embarrassing cock up. Tasteful sets of lovingly crafted Man U candles, unsuitably inscribed with the legend “Football League Champions 1992″ were offered for sale at an enticing price with the confident slogan “To commemorate our forthcoming title success”. Sadly for the manufacturers, demand turned out to be low for these attractive souvenirs, due to the fact that Leeds United had the poor taste to win the league by four clear points. There is a warehouse somewhere in a dingy area of a dingy city that houses these unwanted reminders of failure, along with “Champions” t-shirts, flags, banners and other associated Man U tat that was at least twelve months ahead of its time. The overweening desire to win the last proper League Championship was evidently far too strong for mere considerations of caution, humility and wisdom to stand much of a chance, and so it was that Man U chalked up yet another example of chickens being counted before the formality of hatching was complete.

A picture also exists of a humble functionary hastily dismantling a Man U “Champions 2012” banner, which had become abruptly redundant when Sergio Aguero scored in the dying moments of Man City v QPR to clinch the title for City and leave the Devon and Home Counties half of Manchester crying into their prawn butties.  The tendency towards the assumption of success before it’s actually been earned appears to be a recurrent problem at The Greatest Football Club In The World™ (Copyright © Most of the Gutter Press Including BSkyB). Most football fans would find this sort of thing humiliating enough to make their teeth curl up and die, but the Man U bunch are curiously insensitive to such feelings, buffered as they are by relentless “Biggest and Best” propaganda to perpetuate their comfy if mythical self-image. The odd cold dash of reality is never quite enough to quell this methane-fuelled flame of hype and self-aggrandisement so, apart from the odd uncomfortable wriggle in armchairs all over the south of England, Man U fans continue quite happily in their own little pink fog of Freudian delusion.

The flip side of this excruciating coin, though, is the fierce, intense joy and satisfaction of a pompous bubble satisfyingly burst for the fans of whichever club is on the other half of the equation. In the examples quoted above, Leeds (twice) and Man City have found the joy of achievement considerably enhanced by the fact that the complacent hordes of glory-hunters had clearly expected victory to come about as of right. This is an exquisite refinement of Schadenfreude – the pleasure of achievement by virtue of bursting a despised rival’s over-inflated balloon is sweet indeed.  The fact is as well, it’s not just the fans of this ridiculous club just outside Manchester who assume success will be theirs – the moguls of the media are right in there as well, wanting and expecting. The shattered expressions of Elton Welsby and Denis Law, after Leeds won that title in 1992, told their own story. The cameras lingered mournfully on the shocked faces of Phil Jones and S’ralex Ferguson at the Stadium of Light in 2012. There was a distinct lack of the enthusiasm you might expect of news-hungry hacks, in the wake of the defeat of the champions by a third division club in the FA Cup in 2010. The media have their markets to think of; replica shirts, newspapers and satellite dishes must be sold in Devon and Cornwall, Milton Keynes and Kent.n These not-so-impartial hacks really want Man U to win, and their confusion and misery in the event of a shock is just bloody wonderful to behold.

To be the agents who have brought about misery of this order – for such wholly unattractive and unadmirable institutions – is to know a defiant and glorious joy of virtuous achievement. In the long run, largely due to off-field pressures, Man U will win trophies and the assembled lapdogs in the press will yap their hymns of praise and ram the whole charade down the throats of the rest of us. But every now and then, it all goes wrong for the anointed favourites – and then there are good times for all right-thinking people, the ones who want to see a more level playing field and some even-handed competition as we used to have it. Leeds United drew that era to a close by becoming the Last Real Champions, but there have been the occasional reminders of it even during the Murdoch Man U dynasty, when the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, City and – yes, Leeds United too, have stood up to be counted and have given the establishment club a bloody nose. It’s times like those that keep the old spirit of the great old game feebly flickering away, that stop it sputtering out altogether. Long may these rays of light continue to shine through the boring gloom and procession of the modern game.

Howard Wilkinson, Sergio Aguero, Jermaine Beckford, Arsene Wenger, Simon Grayson – and all the other heroes – we salute you.

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Sergeant Wilko – last English Champion, Last Real Champion

For Evans Sake, Leeds Utd Have the Right Man. Now Stick With Him – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United Manager Steve Evans

Leeds United Manager Steve Evans

The unseen benefit of the scattergun, hire ’em and fire ’em recruitment approach adopted by Leeds United since the takeover of il Duce Cellino, is that at some point, unwittingly, you’re probably going to stumble haphazardly upon the right man for the job. And one of the obvious drawbacks of such an amateurish policy is that you’re all too likely then to dismiss him, either in a fit of Latin pique, or because you’ve been replaced by new owners who want their own man.

The evidence of the first few weeks of the Steve Evans era at Elland Road would seem to suggest that United have, for once in a very long while, got a square peg for their square hole. Having been lucky enough to do that, Leeds must not now, under whatever ownership, retreat back into their accustomed suicidal self-destruct mode – and dispense with a man and manager who might just be the best fit our maverick club could possibly wish or hope for.

The Steve Evans track record speaks for itself in both the best and worst of times. His human fallibility is evident from a brush with the law earlier in his career – but lessons learned from negative episodes in life can be instructive in the making of a highly effective professional. And it is this image that emerges from the Evans record of achievement at his previous clubs. It is an enviable record of unprecedented success at those clubs, by virtue of what the man himself succinctly refers to as “winning football”. He has no need or desire to elaborate on that two-word summary. He simply promises the fans just that – winning football. He knows and we know that everything good will flow from that.

The complexity and effect of the man is emerging little by little as a picture Leeds United fans have been wanting to behold for many, many years. There are echoes of the early Sergeant Wilko in the way Evans has breezed into the club with no fear on his own account, and the clear intention of doing things his way. Though not afraid himself, he appears to rule partly through fear – and partly by employing the encouraging “arm around the shoulder” approach. We hear that he can hand out rollickings to those who need it, as well as boosting those in need of a boost. It’s not rocket science – just horses-for-courses man-management, the type of thing that has produced results for the enlightened since time immemorial. The proof of the pudding, though, will be in the eating – but early indications are that certain Leeds United players, who had been under-performing, are now walking about with a new spring in their step. Long may that continue.

The danger now apparent is of yet another change; this one unwanted, unnecessary and foolish, with talk in various sections of the media that any possible new owner – a prospect widely perceived among Leeds fans as A Good Thing – could bring with him a change of manager, with Pride of Devon flop David Moyes touted as a likely contender for a job that really should be flagged up as unavailable. It may of course be that this is largely the not exactly Leeds-loving media being their usual mischievous and unhelpful selves. We can but hope.

What we have here is not yet a recovery, nor yet even a definite upward swing in the fortunes of our beloved Leeds United. The general stability of the club is far too fragile to make extravagant claims like that. But what we do seem to have are tentative green shoots emerging from what has too long been an arid desert of hopelessness. Little buds of confidence are emerging that just might flourish and bloom into full-on optimism – given the chance. Everywhere I’ve looked in the virtual world of Leeds United lately, I’ve seen surprised, almost bemused comments along the lines of “this bloke is really growing on me!” about our new manager. And one of the most noticeable things about Steve Evans is that he openly lays claim to that title. Leeds United manager – there’s a ring to it which the half-baked “head coach” thing lacks. It’s as if Evans knows he has ventured into shark-infested waters, and that he’ll have to be brave, bold and confident if he’s to succeed. He’s certainly making all the right noises, so far.

In Steve Evans – a man who swiftly acknowledged that he wouldn’t have been the first choice among Leeds fans (adding that he doubted he’d have been in the top ten) – we may just have the ideal candidate for the next holder of the Mr. Leeds United accolade. Steve Evans genuinely could be Mr. Leeds United, in a manner akin to earlier greats like Wilko, or even the as yet incomparable Don Revie. He reflects the club as those legends did – unprepossessing to outsiders, with a tendency to inspire fear and dislike among enemies. But there’s a steely determination there also, an unshakeable belief in his own ability that is likewise redolent of Leeds at its very best. That extra spring in the step of some of the young stars, those early results as they start to pick up – they’re down to that brash, ebullient presence rocking around the corridors of Elland Road and Thorp Arch. There seems little doubt of that.

I had my doubts too, at the start, though I was mainly preoccupied with being dismayed at yet another abrupt change of management. I heard of Steve Evans discussing his appointment to take over with no great enthusiasm. But first impressions are rarely all that reliable,  and I’ve never been so thrilled to have it demonstrated to me that, like thousands of others with the colours of this club running through their veins, I have good cause to believe team affairs are at last in safe hands. And, having accepted that – by hook or by crook and more by luck than good judgement – a bona fide appointment has at long last been made, I’m now in the same position as so many other fans, of being desperately concerned that – this time – we should stick with our man and see it through. See what kind of Leeds United Steve Evans can build. Hope that he will be given the time and the tools to finish the job, as he’s so successfully done elsewhere.

If, in a few weeks or months time, I’m writing another blog in bitter frustration and helpless anger, bemoaning yet more self-harming short-termism on the part of this crazy club – if, in short, Leeds United have lost their nerve yet again, and prematurely sacked yet another manager – then it’ll be with a sense of baffled despair about our club’s chances of ever making it back to the level of the game where they assuredly belong. It’s for Leeds now to stick with their man, back him through whatever high-level changes may be in the offing and try to ensure that, on the playing side of things at least, there is some stability and confidence. Those two advantages will come only with the security of a man in charge being given ample opportunity to do his job and earn success. For all our sakes, let this come to pass.

And if not – why then, the fans of this club will know for sure that they are the only stable and worthwhile thing about the place. They’ll know that the club can’t be trusted or relied upon to do anything but periodically make of itself a laughing stock before lesser clubs and lesser fans. It would be the only conclusion we could possibly draw – who could really blame us? The powers that be at Leeds United (whoever they might be on any given day) had better take warning; our faith in the direction of the club can only take so many hits before it crumbles into pieces. So don’t screw this up, guys.

Steve Evans has made it clear that he regards himself as privileged to be the Leeds United manager. He’s made it clear that he regards the fans as an asset unmatched elsewhere (If we played a five-a-side in Asia at three in the morning, they’d be there). Evans “gets” Leeds. He can see what the club – and the fans – are all about. You have the impression that he can sense a kinship – that he feels at home and wants beyond anything else to restore Leeds United to greater days. This blogger could listen to him talk about Leeds all day long – it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

You just can’t put a price on that feeling, and – for the first time in such a long time – I and many others believe we might just have a real Leeds United manager on our hands. Someone who appeared as a match summariser on Sky Sports Saturday earlier today, and made a point of giving the Leeds salute when on camera. I could barely believe my eyes. Now, that’s a real candidate for the next Mr. Leeds United.

So, for Evans’ sake – and for the sake of all of us and our turbulent love affair with football’s craziest club – let’s please see it through this time and go marching on together, back towards the top, behind a man who – given an even chance – just might make it all happen for us once again.

Leeds Coach Rosler Receives the Dreaded Vote of Confidence   –   by Rob Atkinson

 
Down the years and decades of football history, certain conventions have come to assume the status of indisputable pearls of wisdom – some positive and others less so. Just before half-time is “a good time to score”, for instance. No intelligence is available about what might be a bad time to get a goal. Or there’s the one about the crowd on the Anfield Kop being worth a goal to Liverpool (usually a dodgy penalty). Such clichés can sometimes be viewed with some scorn, but the reason they attain cliché status in the first place  is usually because they have a certain ring of truth.

One of the most chilling football clichés of all is the one about “the Chairman’s vote of confidence” with its grim connotations of imminent termination. The general assumption, once one of these death-knell pronouncements has been made, is that the unhappy recipient of what is presumably intended to be interpreted as reassurance, now has nothing to look forward to but the sombre sound of his P45 hitting the doormat.

The hapless manager, then, hearing his ultimate boss telling everybody how happy he is with the job being done, reacts with neither happy smile nor that joyful serenity of spirit with which we would see all our efforts blessed. Rather, his brow is bespangled with cold beads of sweat; his Adam’s apple bobs up and down nervously, he quakes inwardly. He knows the subtext of the vote of confidence; he knows that he’s most likely a dead manager walking. All that remains, he fears, is the formality of the axe falling – and the ceremonial clearing of the desk.

Sadly for Uwe Rösler, this particular cliché is not peculiar to the English game. If it were, he could perhaps reassure himself that a German has nothing to fear from an Italian vote of confidence, or voto di fiducia, such as our Head Coach has received only today from Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino. Italians, Uwe might muse, optimistically, tend to go about these things rather more graphically; the prospect of waking up next to a horse’s severed head would perhaps be more like it. And, after all, Cellino was all Latin charm and affability as he delivered his ringing endorsement of Rösler’s stewardship. Nothing sinister there, surely. 

But, as Shakespeare warned us, a man can smile, and smile, and be a villain. Rösler would not be the first Head Coach to bask in the warm glow of what sounds like approbation from Cellino, only to discover shortly afterwards the metaphorical stiletto knife jutting out from between his shoulder blades. Several Leeds coaches have been thus dispatched in the Italian’s short reign at Elland Road – and he has form for such very mixed signals going back considerably further in his maverick career.

Are Rösler’s Leeds days, then, already numbered? It’s a debatable question and, sad to say, debate is pretty much all we have – in the absence of any real reliability where the soundbites coming from United are concerned. Rösler says he picks the team with no interference from above. Perhaps he does. Who knows? Cellino says he’ll give his man time and that he likes him. He’s said similar things before. Perhaps he means it this time. Who knows? All we humble fans can do is speculate, with the lessons of history our most reliable guide.

Sometimes it must occur to Leeds fans that it might be restfully nice to support some humdrum, boring club, where nothing much ever happens. Barnsley, perhaps, or even Spurs. The roller-coaster at United is so very much of a rocky ride that it’s difficult truly to appreciate such highs as we ever get, knowing – really knowing – that there’s an inevitable plunge back into the depths to follow. That’s not good for the digestion, never mind your heart or your peace of mind. But this is the club we love and, right now, it’s not exactly in the steadiest of hands. 

However this season is panning out, whatever the shortcomings of the team – or of the club’s approach to its playing staff’s contractual issues, come to that – we must surely yearn for some semblance of stability and continuity, to see us through to calmer waters. We must hope against hope that, for once, and against the notorious track record of Signor Cellino, the dread “vote of confidence” will turn out to be exactly what it says on the tin, instead of some veiled death warrant as per that hackneyed cliché. The very last thing we need right now is yet more turmoil at a club which sometimes seems to have the monopoly on it. 

So, yes Massimo. Uwe is a good professional and he’s doing the best job we can expect, given financial and other restraints. We’re glad to hear you think so too. So let’s take that as read, then, shall we? Perhaps – just perhaps – you can now let the guy get on with his job, and stop feeding the press so many quotes that might be helpful to that dubious fraternity – but really don’t do our football club many favours at all. Let’s have some peace, quiet and progress – just as if we were a normal football club. After all, we appear to be stuck with you – just as you are stuck with us, the more cynical and watchful end of football’s most fanatical and stroppy supporter base.

Seriously – can we just move on now, and forget any more votes of confidence, or whatever other football clichés? Thanks, Mr. Cellino.

The Health Problem Behind Those Tight-Fitting Leeds United Replica Shirts – by Rob Atkinson

One home, one away and one keeper's, please. All XXXL

One home, one away and one keeper’s, please. All XXXL

The new Leeds United home and away replica shirts are now available in the club shops, at an only mildly extortionate price, resplendent in traditional white and yellow respectively, innocent of any tacky sponsors logo and – apparently – quite the most desirable things since Felicity Kendal’s late 70s vintage derrière. I’ve had my say on the home shirt – I wasn’t keen, but I was clearly in the minority as far as that went. The away shirt, though, is undeniably sexy.

The only real peeps of protest have come from those chaps of “more generous proportions”, who are finding difficulties with the “snugness” of the design. It’s proving difficult, it seems, for the more portly gent to squeeze his avoirdupois into his shiny new shirt – unless he’s invested in a couple or three additional X’s on top of the standard XL. As the owner of a somewhat rounded physique myself, it’s got me thinking and, slowly but surely, a rant has developed.

It’s a rant that has its roots in a news item from a couple of years back, when BBC Radio Five Live were in crusading mode, their plan of campaign as usual heavily reliant upon taking a lazy sound-bite and stimulating a heated debate around it. On this occasion, the sound-bite was a distinctly unprofessorial (not to say yobbish) statement by one Professor Craig Currie of Cardiff University, who had given it as his august opinion that we in the UK are “a nation of lazy porkers”. Now, the good professor may have expressed himself like a lout – but, now as then, he does rather have a point.

I must reiterate here that I am something of a porker myself though not, I hope, a lazy one – but it should be clear from the outset that I’m not here to have a go at hapless fellow fatties. I’m all too well aware that we chubsters have more than enough to put up with in terms of slings and arrows and brickbats from insensitive skinny types, bad cess to them. I myself suffer from Type II Diabetes, a condition occurring typically with old age but also probable in earlier years where weight is a factor influencing health. And yet as a younger man, I was extremely fit, active and sporty – so the question arises: what other factors are at play? Why are those Leeds United shirts so tight?

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I believe that, as a nation, we have failed to address this public health issue in a number of important respects. In a nutshell, I blame the parents – but also educational institutions for their control-freak attitude to school dinners, and successive governments who have taken an alarmingly short-term and complacent approach to investment in measures to preserve the fitness and health of the population.

Let’s look at parents first. How many times have you heard of a 1960’s mum or dad, themselves brought up in an atmosphere of post-war austerity, telling their already full-up offspring “Clean your plate now – I won’t have you wasting good wholesome food.  That would feed a family for two weeks in Biafra.” That’s what I used to hear as a kid, and, although I always had to bite back a snapped “Well, send it to Biafra, then”, it was considered sound child psychology. I even relayed a watered-down version of it to my own child. But this one phrase, or variants thereof, can be held at least partly responsible for a pattern being set in childhood whereby many people feel actual guilt if they’re in danger of leaving food uneaten on a plate.

At my primary school in the sixties, those of more delicate appetites were always in danger of being sent to “stand at the wall” in the big dining room when the dreaded school dinners were being served. Leaving food on your plate was a disciplinary issue, and offenders were subjected to this diluted form of public humiliation. Looking back, it seems barbaric – a kind of child abuse. And all the time, the insidious process of habit-formation was going on, with young bodies and developing digestive systems being routinely overloaded as those plates got laboriously, reluctantly cleared. It was a mental process as well as a physical one – the feeling of guilt at any waste was ingrained early. Even now, in restaurants, we of a certain age make the old joke: finish up now, or you’ll get stood at the wall. It’s the product of misguided brainwashing 50 years ago, by parents, by teachers, by the formidable army of “dinner ladies”.

So the errant notions of childhood nutrition, arising out of an historical and hysterical “post-rationing” culture that spawned the baby-boomers, may be one factor that is now reaping an unwelcome harvest in the proliferation of Type II Diabetes in younger age-groups such as the 40-somethings. What else might be at play? Hand-in-hand with the issue of nutrition goes the equally thorny one of exercise. When I was a child, most recreation was out of doors, and nearly every patch of public land had its games of football going on whenever the players weren’t required in the classroom or at home. It was jumpers for goalposts over the length and breadth of the country, and kids ran and ran after a ball, or whatever other sporting object and, by and large, they were lean and fit as whippets as a result.

All that started to change with the advent of videos and computer games and, latterly, the Internet. Each advance of technology has had the effect of dragging the youngsters indoors to become fat and pasty as they pursue their virtual preoccupations. It was a clear, unmistakeable signal for the authorities to do something, something urgent and effective, to promote exercise and the outdoors as essential to health and development. Investment was necessary in exercise facilities, and the crucial importance of this had to become a much more up-front feature of the national curriculum. This much, surely, was self-evident.

So what have our various political persuasions of government done? Failed, utterly, that’s what. Cut back on investment. Sold off playing fields. Allowed the private sector to hire out exercise facilities at a premium price to make a fat profit and cause a problem of fat people who can’t afford to get fit. This failure to invest is a classic illustration of the wisdom of the old saw “A stitch in time saves nine”.

My own spiral downwards from fitness began with a cruciate knee ligament injury – and by the time I’d recovered, I was saving up to get married. I couldn’t afford gym fees etc – so it was too expensive to get fit again. My current health problems can be traced back to that time, and I’m sure the story is similar for many thousands of others. If misfortune strikes, part of the healing process has to be an active and healthy lifestyle, with exercise restoring the body as far as possible from an event like my knee injury. If that’s made too difficult due to financial circumstances, you pay a price in later life and declining health.

Now, the government is wailing and gnashing its teeth at the cost to the NHS of this Diabetes explosion, and other health issues that seem set fair to bankrupt our health service. It’s a bit like a householder bemoaning a £350 plumbers’ bill which has come about because they failed to invest £2.95 in lagging the pipes. Just consider the massive folly of what has happened. Selling off the playing fields, only to reap the harvest of a nation of lazy porkers. Flogging exercise facilities and then pointing the finger at the victims of obesity-related illness is comparable to raffling off the lifeboats on the Titanic, and then blaming the iceberg for the death toll.

If we’re to reverse this helter-skelter decline in the nation’s health, we need to stop whinging and shouting “Why, oh why” from the rooftops – and actually do something. Austerity only compounds the problem; investment, investment, investment is the way forward. If it’s possible to spend a pound on exercise and thereby save a fiver later on in healthcare costs – and it demonstrably is – then that is the road we must go down, and on a macro scale.

It may be that we’d only be shutting the stable door after the lazy porkers have bolted – but we have to act now. Exercise facilities must be made available, they must be made attractive and they must be made cheap or free. Public awareness must be raised. Full-time posts must be established for professionals who will then have the responsibility of changing lifestyles and encouraging the nation to get off its backside and do something. That will create jobs, it will have a positive effect on the health of many who simply can’t afford to take advantage of what’s currently on offer – and that, in turn, would have an incalculable effect on the mental health of the population, which right now and for some time past has been crying out for a good healthy kick of endorphins; the feel-good factor.

The cost of all this? Vast. Really, humongously enormous. But the benefits down the line, the savings to be made by the nipping in the bud of all these dire health issues, would be immeasurably greater still. That’s the whole point of investment – you grit your teeth and pay up, hoping for and trusting in a positive return later. The return on the billions spent now, though, should be many more billions, possibly trillions saved in the future. This is an investment we can’t afford not to make.

Just as we now look back at the sixties and remember the influence of our parents, products of late-forties austerity, so in fifty years time our descendants might look back on the current austerity-obsession, shake their heads sadly, and wonder what might have been if we’d only shown the foresight to invest in the future, and to educate our population about the wisdom of staying as fit as possible for as long as possible. At the moment, with our short-sighted insistence on short-term savings we’re storing up trouble in the shape of a vast medical bill which will come due when our next generation grows up flabby and unhealthy, and starts keeling over in rows from the effects of cardiac disease, diabetes, strokes, and other fat-related nasties.

We simply have to pay a few bob to lag those pipes now, if we’re to have any real hope of avoiding that gargantuan plumbing bill in the future. Take it from a deeply concerned porker – a stitch in time really does save nine.

“Travel Man” in Barcelona: Channel 4 Sacrifices a Great Idea on the Altar of Cheap Laughs

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Ayoade and his self-adoring comedy face


Barcelona
is a city I love and have visited frequently, my passion for the place surviving even my witnessing of a 4-0 massacre suffered by my beloved Leeds United. This explains the enthusiasm I felt for this Travel Man series opener – and also my deep sense of frustration and annoyance, having endured an hour of irritating ego-tripping and hopefully-funny silliness masquerading as an informative travel programme. Never have I started to watch a TV offering with a greater sense of anticipatory relish – only to end up feeling I’d have been better employed and more fulfilled eating a plateful of dried locusts.

The two presenters – Richard Ayoade and Kathy Burke – promised much initially, but fell woefully short of their supposed brief. This was, ostensibly, to sum up the attractions of a vibrant and wonderful city and maybe have a few laughs along the way. Ayoade, best-known (though not by me) as a presenter of a gadget show called The IT Crowd, was culprit in chief for what I count as this show’s failure. The premise in Travel Man is that “Richard hates travel and holidays – so what will he make of 48 hours away from home?” Sadly, all else was subordinate to this contrived central message, which Adoyade proceeded relentlessly to hammer home in the most unsubtle way imaginable. It was my first taste of his – for want of a better word – style; I shall not be putting myself out to repeat the experience.

From early in the piece, it was clear that Travel Man was to be the vehicle whereby Ayoade might reach a wider audience and give them the benefit of what he fondly imagines is his laconic and laid-back presentational personality. The dreaded “comedy voice” was a frequent intruder into his narrative; that annoying way of introducing ironic quotation marks by vocal inflection, so that the listener will (hopefully) be inescapably aware that here is a windswept and interesting cynic with an edgy and alternative view on pretty much everything he sees. Some people can carry this off and even make some decent entertainment out of it; Ayoade, on this depressing evidence, patently can’t.

In contrast to my zero prior knowledge of Ayoade, Kathy Burke is a performer I’ve always liked and rated – but here, she was drawn into a teeth-curling attempt to create an unlikely comic double-act. Everything of substance was sacrificed in the effort to get as much ironic comedy as possible – frankly, not a lot – out of this incongruous pairing. Whatever the lure of Barcelona’s many and varied points of interest, it all had to be about Richard Ayoade and his reactions to whatever he saw; a self-indulgent and subjective take on each too-hurried item with the twitchily uncomfortable Ms Burke doing her best to play up to her colleague’s self-adoration.

Thus, in the interests of establishing the desired laugh-a-minute feel to the thing, there was an awkward “Ooh, we have to share a hotel suite” moment with Ms Burke seeming to fear some unlikely molestation from her clearly aloof partner in crime; then there was some cringe-worthy banter at the Nou Camp football stadium, magnificent home of CF Barcelona – where Ayoade was at some pains to demonstrate his effete apathy towards the Beautiful Game – and next some frankly repulsive emetic slapstick in a restaurant, to the bemusement of the admirably patient, polite and professional staff. Burke is a highly capable performer, but she was rather dragged down to the level of her colleague, who was clearly preoccupied with projecting his individual personality over the whole undertaking.

So, instead of being treated to Barcelona’s panoply of vivid beauty and unique art, we got a series of laboriously ponderous set-ups culminating in yet another of Ayoade’s hopefully-cutting one-liners – drawled and mannered punchlines that invariably failed to be even a fraction as devastating as they were clearly intended to be. It was bitterly disappointing fare, and Burke did well to hide the embarrassment she must surely have felt. Perhaps she will reflect that, as an accomplished comedienne, she should not be wasting her time playing stooge to a partner who should have stayed at home surrounded by his gadgets – rather than stepping so far out of that comfort zone into the pitiless and unforgiving arena of comedy.

The victim in all of this squalid waste of time and opportunity – apart from the hapless viewer, sat seething with all hopes dashed – is of course the city of Barcelona itself. A feature-length programme could hardly do justice to its many attractions: the beauty and individuality of its Gaudi-dominated architecture; the culture that shines dazzlingly out of every sunlit surface; the cuisine, the sport, the history. It’s all there in one precious jewel of a city, just waiting to be described and marvelled over. But, disgracefully, we got none of that – in fact it is sadly fair to say that by far the most informative aspects of the whole production were the occasional graphics which flashed up, telling us the price of this or that and highlighting one or other sight worth seeing. Meanwhile, Ayoade and Burke were tenaciously flogging away at the dead horse of their joint comedic potential; it was grisly, unrewarding viewing.

What we did learn is that Richard Ayoade loves Richard Ayoade, and is keen to share that passion with a broader interest group than his usual audience of geeks – but that he is guilty of the cardinal sin of any wannabe comedian: that of forgetting to be funny. And we also learned that Kathy Burke, when handed lemons, will do her solid best to make lemonade, bless her. On this occasion, though, she should have thrown those lemons at her partner’s smug countenance – and hopped straight back on the train home. If she had – then maybe I and doubtless thousands of others might have been spared the empty disappointment felt after a production, that could have achieved so much, ended up delivering nothing but resentment. The knowledge that there went an hour of my life I’m never going to get back left me wondering what the effortlessly authoritative Michael Portillo might have done with such a nugget of a travel show idea. He could not, let’s face it, have been worse – and you just know that he’d have been far, far better – by an order of several hundred magnitudes.

This series will tragically continue with what we might dolefully expect to be a similar treatment of Istanbul, but it won’t have me for company. My advice is to stay at home instead of being tempted to go along for the ride and, with all due deference to Richard Ayoade’s forcefully-professed and overtly squeamish dislike of muddied oafs – see if there’s any football on.

Angry Leeds Fans in Protest at F.L. HQ, Preston TOMORROW – by Rob Atkinson

The Football League: rubber-stamped as corrupt

The Football League: rubber-stamped as corrupt (and incompetent)

The Football League Operations Centre at Edward VII Quay, Navigation Way, Preston PR2 2YF will be the scene of peaceful protest tomorrow, as Leeds United fans turn up in force to hold the League to account for their callous and ignorant treatment of its biggest and most famous member club. The local police are fully aware of the planned protest and have liaised with the organisers to ensure a smooth and peaceful event, between 10:00 and noon on the day.

There is no need to go over the fine details of the League’s mistreatment of Leeds United here. It’s all been well-documented enough – and the League in its complacency has taken not a blind bit of notice despite all the articles, arguments and logic placed before it. Serenely ignorant, they have blundered on, determined to act in the worst interests of United, flying in the face of their own guiding principles. It is time, therefore, to turn up in numbers and to make some noise. We must devoutly hope that the media will take an interest so that, perhaps, a few ripples may spread further afield. This blog understands that BBC Look North are interested in the event – again, let us hope so.

The other purpose of the protest event is officially to present to the FL a printout of the Change.org petition (publicised on this blog a number of times in the past few weeks). This petition has now broken the 20,000 barrier. That’s not so far off an average home attendance for Leeds in these parlous days; pretty good going for a campaign that is largely confined to online media and will therefore not have reached the ears of many less tech-minded Leeds fans.

The protest in Preston is the culmination of months, years, decades of shoddy treatment of our club Leeds United at the hands of the League. Finally, we have the opportunity to be heard.

Support the petition. Support the protest. Make your voice heard. We may never get another chance as good as this.

The LUFC Prophet on “Why Moyes Never Stood a Chance at Man U” – by Rob Atkinson

Ta Ta, Taggart

Ta Ta, Taggart

As a Leeds United fan, I don’t get many chances to say “I told you so”.  I’ve made two football bets recently, and I’ve paid out twice – a fiver to a Newcastle fan who told me to my disbelief they’d lose at home to some Premier League no-hopers (and they did), and a bar of Dairy Milk chocolate to my Barnsley-supporting postman who bet me we’d beat them at Oakwell. I didn’t mind paying out on that one.  My only chance of coming out ahead now rests on a tenner I have with a mate which says Arsenal will win the Cup.  Fingers crossed…

But in matters Man U, I was a prophet of peerless foresight as long ago as July last year – when I forecast that David Moyes was doomed to failure at the Theatre of Hollow Myths.  I reasoned that the brooding presence of eminence grise (avec le nez pourpre) Alex Ferguson would do Moyes no good as he sought to make his own influence the guiding light at the Pride of Devon.  I figured that he would be hampered by the proximity of the ex-boss – just as happened before, 40-odd years ago, when Busby stepped down but refused to go away.

Well, I did tell you so – and lo, it has come to pass.  Whatever now happens to the fallen champions-turned-also-rans, it should be noted that some of us out here saw months ago that there’d be tears before bedtime round Salford way. I might be accused (accurately) of wishful thinking – but the logic behind my prediction has, I feel, been shown to be impeccable.  Below is what I wrote on July 7th, 2013 as Moyes was setting out his stall as Man U manager.  I will not gloat over his downfall – but the fact that he has brought the club I detest down with him is extremely amusing and satisfactory.

-o0o-

There are worrying signs already for the inheritor of the poisoned chalice that is the Old Trafford hot-seat.  David Moyes has been gathering his own people about him as he sets forth to put his own stamp on the Man U machine – but Moyes will be grimly aware that The Ghost of Alex Ferguson Past is the least of his worries.  The man himself will be there all too often, all too real and large as life, in the flesh and walking the corridors of power down Trafford way.  It’s the presence of the former boss that is likely to make an already difficult task that bit less easy for the 50 year old heir to the throne.  If you know your history, you’ll be aware that Wilf McGuinness, the successor to Matt Busby, had to go about his work with the Busby factor still about the place, the old man still visible backstage, the players saying “Morning, Wilf” to McGuinness – but “Morning, Boss” to Busby.  He didn’t last long before the sainted Matt was back to try and steady a sinking ship. His successor, Frank O’Farrell, didn’t do much better.

You might hope, for Moyes’ sake, that Ferguson will have the forbearance to stay away from the training ground and the stadium when the day-to-day business of running the club and the team is going on.  Perhaps he will, but media pressure is already a clear and present danger for Fergie’s successor. The press don’t want to let Fergie go; he’s been a rich source of copy for them for so many years that many hacks who have covered all matters Man U can hardly remember a time when he wasn’t there – and they want to stay snug in their Fergie comfort zone, with their cosy old stand-bys of the hair-dryer and the stop-watch.

The signs were there even at Wimbledon this past week.  Fergie took his place in the Centre Court dignitaries’ enclosure to support his compatriot Murray, and the commentary box fizzed in a fever of ecstasy as that familiar purple face gazed o’er the scene.  The cameras lingered lovingly on those craggy, ravaged features and many were the cutaway shots of Fergie’s reactions as Murray laboured to his victory.  Afterwards, the desperation to lever S’ralex into the post-match interview was as cringingly embarrassing for the viewer as it was perplexing for Murray, who perhaps naively expected tennis questions.

The message was resoundingly clear: Fergie is still The Man as far as the press are concerned.  Reports of Moyes’ early press conference at Old Trafford leaned heavily upon comments such as “Fergie would have approved of Moyes’ flash of temper”, “Moyes displayed a Fergie-like tenacity” and so on and so forth.  There are clear indications that every word Moyes utters, every decision he takes, will be viewed in the light of “what S’ralex would have said/done” – and clearly, this is bad news for anyone wanting to to make the job his own and do it his own way.

It might even be interesting to speculate on whether Moyes would perhaps quite like to be portrayed in a different light to that which has shone on the Man U manager this past 27 years.  Moyes seems a sensible and modest chap after all, any similarity to his predecessor appearing limited to the accent and the obsession with the game.  A departure from the arrogance and overbearing nature that has characterised the club during Fergie’s reign might be welcome to such a relatively pleasant bloke, but it appears unlikely to be allowed judging by the tone of some of the press quotes from this preparatory phase of the season.

We are given to understand, for instance, that late last season Moyes was honoured with a personal visit to his home from The Fergie Himself.  “I thought he’d come to tell me he was taking one of my players”, said the ex-Goodison boss, to an unheard and incredulous chorus of “What the hell…?” from Evertonians everywhere.  So this is how the Old Trafford club have been used to operating in the transfer market?  Hmmmm.  But instead of airily notifying a “lesser club” of an impending transfer swoop, Fergie was there to tell Moyes he was the next Man U boss.  Not ask, tell.  Moyes’ eager compliance was taken as read.  The Man U brand of arrogance, it seems, will take more than a change of manager to eradicate.

I’m not particularly worried about the prospect of Man U being less successful in the next few years, and of some of their legions of fans being seduced to supporting clubs closer to home, such as Torquay or Spurs or Nagoya Grampus Eight.  I’d be quite happy with that; I have no love of the Trafford-based franchise or the way it operates.  But I am slightly concerned for Moyes himself, who seems a decent cove, and who I can see going the same way as McGuinness went; a proper football man crushed by the weight of recent history and cowed by the long shadow of his immediate predecessor.  For Moyes’ sake, I hope that doesn’t come about, but all the signs are already there that it might.  Only Fergie himself can decide to remain in the background, the media are far too much in love with the myth they have created to let him go easily.

Perhaps, though, Fergie will actually do the decent thing?  I somehow doubt it.