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Leeds Fans Must Now be United Behind Club and Team – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Fans United

Every Leeds United fan knows that following the Whites automatically includes you as part of the most fanatical and vociferous band of supporters anywhere. In short, the greatest fans around. This is an article of faith with United fans, not even a matter for debate. So mote it be. 

How very odd, then, to find yourself shaking your head in baffled disbelief at some of the social media output from the massed keyboards of this elite cadre of support. Clearly, with an online presence that probably runs into the millions worldwide, not everybody is going to agree all the time, for instance, on the vexed subject of United’s transfer policy. Still, the why-oh-why stance of a small but loud minority of the virtual support is hard to stomach for those of us who were brought up on the credo of “my club, right or wrong”.

It’s not only a transfer window thing, either. In fact, compared to the negative attitude of some “supporters” towards players struggling for form and confidence, Victor Orta and his transfer team are being afforded a relatively easy ride. Even so, the amount of uninformed criticism surrounding United’s recruitment efforts, during this and other transfer windows, tends to make Twitter an area of the Internet it’s wiser to avoid, especially for those who prefer their blood pressure to remain at a good safe level. Needless to say, that’s not a luxury in which I can indulge, being of the blogger/columnist persuasion, and my hypertension suffers accordingly.

Transfers are complex matters, due to all manner of factors: finances, agents, rival clubs, media and so on. I don’t envy the United officials trying to negotiate such choppy waters while being assailed and vilified on all sides by a section of online fans not overly burdened with any knowledge of what they’re talking about, and even less so by any tact, restraint or decorum. It can’t make the job any easier and, every now and again, you do see a faintly exasperated comment from the club along the lines of “we’re doing our best, we all want good outcomes, please be patient”. Sadly, such assurances usually fall on deaf ears; there are those out there, it seems, who wallow in negativity and relish any chance to have a moan or offer their unqualified opinions. 

It’s the carping criticism of certain players, though, that really offends and annoys. Take Patrick Bamford, for instance. Now, some of the criticism he receives has been fairly gentle and possibly even merited, though his record at United is good, taking into account last season’s injury woes. His milder critics peddle a ruefully humorous line, referring to Patrick as “Lord Bamford of Beeston” and wondering, tongue in cheek, if he shouldn’t delegate his goal-scoring duties to his butler. That’s the kind of thing that, reaching a player’s ears, might make him smile and redouble his determination to succeed. It’s harmless fun and, if the line is drawn there, nobody could really complain. 

But the more serious and malicious abuse is blatantly counter-productive, a classic case of a pistol levelled directly at our own collective foot. Players, and strikers in particular, thrive on confidence and encouragement. It makes little sense to hurl abuse and ill-founded criticism at a player such as Bamford, who will not be assisted by suggestions that he couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo, or that he’s worth less than a written-off, wheel-less banger rusting in a ditch. All that and worse has been flung at Bamford.

Fortunately and thankfully, the lad has a resilient character and a cold determination to succeed. His goal at Bristol City, the movement and the finish from that aristocratic forehead, testify to that. Long may his ability to rise above the howling of the mob continue.

Now, the window is closed until January, and it’s been a far better one than the usual suspects referred to above would wish you to believe. The squad has been purged of certain disruptive elements as identified by Marcelo Bielsa himself and, despite FFP strictures, the overall quality is arguably higher. In any event, we go with what we’ve got; if the performance at Ashton Gate can be maintained or even improved upon, it’ll take a fabulous opposing performance to stop us in any given match.

Whether you’re a matchgoing, raucous fanatic, or confined to long distance support, the message from here is the same. Get behind the team, get behind the club. We’re all on the same journey. Marching On Together.

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Could Likely Man U Signing Daniel James Still Move to Leeds United? – by Rob Atkinson

Daniel James of Leeds United – could it yet happen?

Swansea City‘s big discovery of the season just gone was undoubtedly Daniel James who swiftly made a name for himself with a series of scorching performances for the Welsh side. His sheer pace was the most notable part of James’ game, but there was some vision too, and an eye for goal. All of this led to James coming within an ace of signing for Leeds United as the January window closed, only for a Swansea official to get cold feet and hide under a table instead of completing the deal.

Since that time, James has been touted as the one who got away, as far as Leeds were concerned – and now he appears to be on the point of a move to Manchester, to play for that city’s junior club. But could things take yet one more twist, with Daniel James appearing in a Leeds United shirt next season after all?

On the face of it, the lad has secured himself a glamour move to a club that used to be among the honours on a regular basis, and you can’t blame a player for snapping up the chance of a Premier League berth. But whether it’s a good career decision for the player himself has to be a moot point, with many a youngster having gone there and then dropped right off the radar. Daniel James carved himself a reputation as a fine Championship player last season. His quality is such that you could easily see himself making an impression as a mid to lower table Premier League performer. But with a move to Old Trafford, James would possibly be looking to cut it in the top half of the EPL – is he really at that level yet?

On the other hand, clubs like Man U frequently sign players like James only to loan them out to continue their football education. This must be a possible path for young James next season, and – if that proves to be the case – then Leeds United should be at the head of the queue for his loan-basis services. It’d make sense for both clubs, and the player too, whatever reservations fans on either side of the Pennines might have. This is how football works these days, with plenty of “mutual benefit” deals being done.

So, could Daniel James yet be ripping up the Championship in a Leeds United shirt next season, as he did for Swansea over the past nine months? It’s got to be a possibility. If James does complete his move to the red quarter of Manchester, don’t be surprised to see a season long loan move to Elland Road materialise shortly thereafter. Many stranger things have happened.

Marching On Together

Mbappe and Neymar for Leeds in PSG Link Up? – by Rob Atkinson

Mbappe – could he win a regular starting place at Leeds?

The likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are not the most likely participants in next season’s Championship, but other current PSG might be beating a path to the Elland Road players’ entrance if there’s anything in the Twitterstorm surrounding possible investment by Qatar Sports Institute in Leeds United.

For the time being, it’s all smoke and mirrors. But I’ve been dreaming of linking Mbappe to Leeds for ages now – so ‘ave it.

More to follow, without a doubt.

Is There Still One More Twist in Leeds United’s Auto Promotion Bid? – by Rob Atkinson

Jesus

Don’t forget – Jesus once wore the shirt

David Prutton, now a Sky Sports pundit but nicknamed “Jesus” by Leeds fans once upon a time, due to his startling resemblance to the alleged Son of God, might therefore be wryly amused by the fact that United’s automatic promotion hopes appeared to die on Good Friday. As yet, and with a barren Easter Monday visit to Brentford answering no prayers originating in and around LS11, there seems to be nary a sign of any resurrection for what was probably a misplaced optimism that we might find a straightforward path out of the EFL wilderness. Barring a miracle on a par with the loaves and fishes gig, it’s likely that Leeds United will, after all, have to settle for a play-offs lottery that has served them so ill on so many occasions in the past.

But, soft. Perhaps the time for despair is not yet nigh. Any neutral observer looking at the twists and turns taken by this season’s Championship promotion race will note that it’s been a consistently inconsistent affair, predictable only in its inscrutable unpredictability. You couldn’t have made it up, such observers would say, possibly gasping and throwing their hands in the air to signify outraged disbelief. If you were writing a script, they might add, you wouldn’t have dared include so many plot twists, for fear of being dismissed as some lunatic sensationalist with a bevy of bats in the belfry. Why, then, should we assume that all is done and dusted with two games yet to be played for each interested party? Why on earth would we now presume to predict an outcome that has from day one been so capriciously impossible to foresee?

Out of such perverse logic might appear the odd straw for fans of Leeds United eagerly to clutch with a fierce defiance born of pure desperation. Could Ipswich get a point at Bramall Lane while a depleted Leeds triumph over the division’s form team Aston Villa, leaving things on a last day knife-edge? Of course not. But then again, you might have argued as dismissively about ten man Wigan’s chances of overcoming a one goal deficit to beat the Championship’s best home ground team in Leeds. And you’d surely have bet against a QPR side that had lost seven on the bounce somehow defying the match stats to see our heroes off 1-0 the other week. All of which proves the truth of the old saw about not counting chickens before they’ve hatched.

Of course, in public, I’m maintaining a front of stoical resignation and predicting yet more play-off disappointment for my beloved Whites. My perceived sanity and any remaining shreds of credibility probably depend upon this outward display of common sense. But this little blog is my private fantasy land – and here, all things are possible until the actual point at which it can be shown they haven’t actually happened. So, just between you and me, gentle reader, I will cling on to my faint but still flickering hopes that a miracle could yet occur, and that we might yet see our favourites ascend to the Promised Land as of right, instead of having to trust to that fickle and Leeds-hating jade Lady Luck. You never know, it could still just happen.

Hell fire, friends – we might yet even win the Championship. The kind of roller-coaster script this year’s League has apparently followed might actually demand a properly daft denouement like that. Keep the faith.

Marching On Together 

LUTV: High Time Leeds United Reached For the Sky – by Rob Atkinson

LUTV, the Whites’ very own dedicated online TV channel has massive potential to be a worldwide success, given the club’s rapidly growing and endlessly fanatical global support. It would be difficult to overstate this potential even as things stand but, with a more ambitious approach, the Sky would literally be the limit.

As we stand, the service is sometimes ok, sometimes so-so – but, all too often, it goes down completely or suffers from annoying buffering problems. It’s not the sort of thing which is good for customer relations; people for whom the chance of seeing their heroes play “live” are paying good money, and they are all too often being left frustrated and disappointed as their screens freeze while their blood boils.

The answer, surely, is to emulate some of the other clubs with followers all around the globe, in seeking a superior technology as a platform for broadcasts. I’m not au fait with the commercial issues surrounding the broadcasting of a club channel as part of a Sky TV package, but it does seem to me that there is a vast and growing market out there made up of far-flung fans desperate to see anything to do with Leeds United.

It must work for the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea, or they wouldn’t be there on the Sky Sports menu. If it can be a success for them, so it could be for Leeds – especially when you consider our owner is a TV mogul in his own right.

So come on, Andrea Radrizzani, let’s get our act together like the big club we are, and fly Sky high. You know it makes sense – certainly better sense than the current hit and miss service we’re all having to make do with. I’d be a willing subscriber, and I’m certain thousands around the world would be queuing up to hand over their hard-earned cash for a decent product that doesn’t leave you gnashing your teeth and tearing your hair out.

I’ll watch this space with interest.

EFL Confirms Standing on Public Footpath Worse Than Racism and Violence (If You’re Leeds) – by Rob Atkinson

Suárez bite – only half as bad as standing on a public footpath

There was a sense of relief yesterday that, apparently, Spygate had at last been put to bed. The general feeling was one of “Aaaaaand relax” – we could now get back to thinking about football and, more specifically, earning a path out of this increasingly ridiculous and corrupt Football League.

Today, though, people are looking at the sheer size of the fine Leeds United have had to accept as the price for concluding what had become a long-running farce. Two hundred thousand pounds. When you look at it, really consider it, that’s an obscenely disproportionate sanction. Some sort of context is afforded when you notice that Russia was fined £22,000 for the racist chanting of its bigoted supporters, and Luis Suárez copped a total of £106,000 for two separate incidents in which he deliberately bit opponents. There are, needless to say, plenty of other illustrative examples.

So, on this basis, being present on public land with footballers training on the other side of a mesh fence is seen as just under twice as heinous as sinking your teeth into two opposing footballers. And it’s almost ten times more outrageous to public morals and decency than the mass chanting of racist jibes. There’s something far wrong with that particular sense of perspective. It’s almost comical, but hardly anyone is laughing.

The bemused fan of Leeds United (and, for all we know, this applies equally to players, staff and directors too) is left scratching his or her head at the outlandish disparity between the penalty for what is basically a non-offence, and the much less potent sanctions applied in the case of far more disgusting, violent and bigoted behaviour. There is a sense that the slavering pack of press and opposing fans that were on Leeds United’s case had to be mollified somehow, and that most of this lynch mob wanted a points deduction for United. Faced with this, and armed only with a vague and flimsy “utmost good faith” principle, did the League feel constrained to lay it on thick, in order that those thirsting for Leeds’ blood should not be too disappointed? How much would they rather have applied a points deduction of, say, 15 points – to end up looking draconian instead of plain stupid?

Other questions arise. What of Swansea City, who basically hid behind the sofa on transfer deadline evening, refusing to answer calls as their player waited at Elland Road for his transfer to be confirmed? Is that “utmost good faith”? What of Liverpool, who cleared one penalty area of snow at half time, but not the other, in order to maximise their second half advantage? Where’s the good faith there?

Most tellingly of all, what if the club involved in Spygate had not been Leeds United, but some hand-to-mouth, impoverished League Two club without two ha’pennies to rub together? Would they have been hit to the tune of two hundred grand, ushering the receivers in through the stadium doors? Deep down, we know it wouldn’t happen – because this hypothetical League Two poorhouse club would not have the initials LUFC.

The Football League, in levying such a ridiculously high fine, has abandoned any pretensions to proportionality or a real life view. They’ve blatantly – to quote the excellent Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post – taken a hammer to crack a walnut. Some Leeds fans are now seeking to crowdfund a contribution to the vast sum Leeds will have to pay, but that’s not really the point. Because, although it may well be that Leeds United feel the pragmatic thing to do is take this penalty flush on the chin and move on, that doesn’t make it right. The Football League has, yet again, exposed itself to ridicule and derision, something that has implications for every club under its jurisdiction.

Whichever way you look at this bizarre conclusion to Spygate, it smacks more of appeasing the mob than it does of any maturely considered conclusion. And whatever word you might use to sum the whole mess up, it most certainly wouldn’t be justice.

Leeds United Contribute £200,000 to Shaun Harvey’s FL Leaving Do – by Rob Atkinson

Shaun Harvey – disappointed and calling it a day

At long last, the Football League investigation into the so-called Spygate affair has been concluded, and it can now be revealed that the delay in considering and pronouncing upon a relatively simple matter was caused by an almighty internal wrangle within the Football League.

It turns out that the matter was pretty much done and dusted some time ago, with the League reluctantly concluding that, as no specific rules had been broken, it was not possible to impose a points deduction. Instead, the League had to settle for dressing up the matter of a man standing on a public highway and looking through a wire fence as “a breach of good faith”, enabling action under regulation 3.4 – but even this has proved problematic.

A League spokesperson confirmed that the League was struggling to make even the “good faith” provisions stick due, he said, to a number of far more serious breaches during the time that Spygate had been current. “We’ve had blatant diving, clubs clearing one penalty area of snow but not the other, clubs reneging on transfer deals at the last minute, all sorts of stuff going on. But we had to do this to Leeds, because it was the only way we could get them. And that was a very cruel blow to Shaun Harvey, who had been determined to deal a fatal blow to that club’s promotion chances”.

It appears that Mr. Harvey has indeed taken the outcome of Spygate very hard indeed, as he had hoped it would be instrumental in keeping Leeds United down in the Championship. So depressed is he by the thwarting of his dearly held hopes, that he has now announced he’ll be stepping down at the end of the season. “Shaun is a broken man”, confirmed our source. “He feels that he just can’t go on, so he’s going to retire to a smallholding in Little Sodbury. We at the League feel that the least we can do is to give him a good send off, so we’re fining Leeds enough to send him off in style”.

When it was pointed out that two hundred grand was quite steep for a leaving do, we were told “We’re pulling out all the stops here, because Shaun really needs cheering up. So we’ve booked his favourite acts, Kylie, Jason and we’ve even arranged a personal appearance by Shaun’s hero Frank “Fwankie” Lampard. I imagine they’ll be commiserating together”.

Leeds United’s only comment was “We’ve fully cooperated with this whole fiasco from start to finish, and all we can say is that we’re satisfied with the outcome. It’s well worth a couple of hundred grand to get rid of that oily little sod Harvey.

Frank Lampard is a bitter, thwarted little man.

Media Moving on from Spygate for Concerted Effort to Sell Leeds Star Jack Clarke – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United’s Jack Clarke – the poise of the matador

The UK sports media don’t like Leeds United to have nice things. The recent embarrassing emphasis on so-called “Spygate” – the sensational exposé of a man in a tracksuit on a public highway by a wire fence, failing to avert his eyes from the spectacle of some footballers training in plain sight – was of course intended to derail the United promotion bandwagon, but Leeds have still won eight of the last eleven and are clear at the the top. All the hacks have accomplished really is to emphasise their own essential silliness. So – what to do?

Well, it’s transfer window time and, for your average grubby hack with a Leeds-hating readership to satisfy, what better opportunity for the talking up of the latest United wonderkid in the hope of provoking an auction? Such seems to be the mindset of the gutter end of the media right now, not excluding our good friends at Sky, who are positively schizo over Leeds United, simultaneously hating and capitalising on Yorkshire’s number one football club. The current focus is on United’s Jack Clarke, a young wing wizard with that touch of genius about him. The hacks have seen this divine spark, have noted it well – and are determined to bring about his departure from Elland Road at the earliest opportunity.

The stories have cropped up thick and fast – mostly the former, it has to be said – over the past few days. One mischievous rag, conscious of Leeds fans’ lack of regard for Devon’s Finest, have even linked him with Manchester’s second biggest club. Perhaps they feel young Jack would prosper under what they’re selling as the Norwegian reincarnation of Matt Busby, clearly a better mentor than some Argie who sits on a bucket.

Sky were in on the act today as well, playing tempting clips of young Clarke bamboozling full-backs and sticking the ball in the net. It’s all designed to whip up interest from one or other of their favoured clubs because, alas, so far the only enquiries seem to have been  joke ones, from the likes of Crystal Palace and Southampton – hardly the stuff of a young winger’s dreams. Meanwhile, Jack is thriving at Leeds, in and around the first team, contributing solidly to the promotion push, and with the alluring prospect of a fat new contract and maybe a Championship winner’s medal in the offing. For those who wish Leeds ill, namely just about everyone who doesn’t bleed yellow blue and white, these are not good feelings.

Let’s be honest, Jack Clarke at 18 looks to be the real deal. He has that matador’s poise, the ability to play a bewildered defender into hopeless confusion and ultimate defeat. Only the other day, he destroyed the opposing Derby County full-back, who was promptly dispatched to Aberdeen with twisted blood, there to reflect and convalesce, having been replaced at Derby by a pensioner. Clarke has the nascent promise of a youthful Stan Matthews – there’s no deep, dark secret as to how he beats his man. He dances for a moment, in possession of the ball – will the defender sell himself, or just back off, quivering? Then – a drop of the shoulder, a change of pace, and Jack is gone, leaving his man in a crumpled heap, arrowing a deadly ball into the box, and Roofe is there to snap up the chance. Or maybe Clarke swerves back on his path into the box, and curls the ball inside the far post. You just don’t know, although that initial beating of the full back, that’s an open secret. You know how he’ll do that. But, as with Stan Matthews, stopping it is another matter entirely. The media knows all this, and they’re agreed: Clarke must go from Leeds.

But anyone who knows the game will know that Jack Clarke is in the best place he could be, especially at this time of his fledgling career. Quite apart from the material and competitive career rewards dangling in front of him, he’s working with the best coach in Marcelo Bielsa that he could possibly wish for, and in a team that might have been set up specifically to showcase his devastating talent. At eighteen, Clarke needs to be protected from the predatory and kept close to the nurturing influence from which he’s currently benefiting. Jack has the role models right now, in the coaching set up and alongside him in the team, that will give his genius the best chance of emerging in full bloom. To dump him into a so-called “elite” development squad would be to risk seeing that potential stifled, instead of being honed, as it is now, under Bielsa and alongside the likes of Pablo Hernandez.

Leeds United themselves, thankfully, seem to have become a lot more selective in terms of both squad augmentation and pruning. The development squad is being enhanced with a succession of quality additions, and the progression from there to first team level is a clear path. United also recognise and reward the diamonds yielded by this rich seam, polishing some for display on a grand stage, profiting from others judiciously, with the dividend being ploughed back. It’s a policy designed to reap ever richer harvests in the near future – showing that this is a club at long last on the right track. We can safely assume that United will no longer accept derisory offers from smaller clubs for a short term profit that denies them progress and a longer term bounty.

If I’m correct about all that, then – all media hue, cry and desperation notwithstanding – young Jack Clarke will remain exactly he is, shining and dazzling on either wing, tormenting opposing defences with his prodigious, precocious talent, in the colours of Leeds United, settled and happy on the brink of a sensational career. Which is exactly what we would all of us wish and hope for.

Sky Sports et al not included.

Would VAR Get Man United Relegated and Leeds United Promoted? – by Rob Atkinson

LUFC red card

Referees just love Leeds United

I’ve never really been in favour of the intrusion of modern technology into professional football. I was generally supportive of the view that the game needs its bits of controversy, things to talk about and argue over in the pub or, as years went on, via social media. And that, ideally, the game at its elite level should stay as close as possible in its essential character to the thud and blunder affairs fought out on parks pitches every Sunday morning.

But the old maxim of “the referee’s decision is final” has started to wear a bit thin, as with that other cliche “these things tend to even themselves out”. We were always asked to believe that, yes, referees made mistakes alright, but that they were honest mistakes, human errors. We were told that, over time, all clubs would get roughly the same amount of good and bad decisions, and that, ultimately, ability and fitness would be the decisive factors. And for a long time, many of us would believe these fables, we’d even repeat them to each other, wanting our beloved game to be straight.

The worm of doubt for Leeds United fans crawled out of the bad apples among the refereeing fraternity as far back as the sixties. I’ve written an article on this blog about the very worst decisions my club has been on the wrong end of – even limiting myself to the truly appalling travesties of justice, it it could have been a much longer list, space permitting. Leeds fans started giving wry smiles when referees were defended as honest Joes who were bound to make the odd mistake. We knew better, out of bitter experience. We knew exactly who would get the breaks and the dodgy calls, and we knew just as well that it wouldn’t be us.

The situation has never really improved for Leeds as far as getting a fair go from referees and the game in general is concerned. As I write, it’s 58 games since we last got a penalty kick awarded, during which time ten have been given against us, including some proper howlers. You get used to it, you come to expect it, but naturally, you never really accept it as your lot. I well remember Thomas Christiansen‘s ashen face after one match early last season; he was unable to credit what he’d seen with his own eyes, and I just thought, welcome to Leeds, mate – welcome to our world.

Things are different for other teams, of course, and it goes without saying that life at the non-crappy end of the stick is best exemplified by Manchester United, or the Pride of Devon, as I fondly refer to them. Their long penalty runs are matches without conceding one; it’s frequently said that nothing short of the cynical murder of an opposition player in their own penalty box will lead to a spot kick being awarded against them. One referee from the nineties, Graham Poll, frankly admitted that the best a ref could hope for when taking a Man U game during the tyrannic reign of Alex Ferguson, was to get the thing over, with as little controversy as possible, and ideally with Man U having won. That’s a mindset which must have yielded many victories in a game of fine margins; Man U were the beneficiaries of intimidated referees who wanted to avoid the Fergie treatment in the press, with a subsequent blacklisting from big matches.

This was a situation that applied throughout the Ferguson reign at Old Trafford, a period in which there was really no excuse for Man U failing to win the league in any one year. With everything in their failure, and the media vicariously lapping up the glory, Man U went from strength to strength. The learning curve their players were on under Ferguson was more than simply curved – it was totally bent.

But now, Fergie is long gone, and the major silverware eludes Manchester’s second-best football club. And yet still the “controversial” decisions accrue in their favour. Last night’s home game against Arsenal demonstrated both manifestations of the modern game; the old fashioned “lino’s call” for offside which resulted in Man U’s first goal, and the beginnings of modern technology ensuring that a goal stood which you would never see given against Man U in the days when eyesight alone judged whether the ball was over the line. Goal line technology, for a side that have seen so many narrow decisions go in their favour, is bad news for Man U. How much worse for them will it get when the video assistant referee (VAR) comes in for the Premier League next season, presumably taking away from the hapless Red Devils the marginal decisions they invariably get now?

It’ll be interesting to see what actually happens. My theory is that a club which has always suffered under the naked eye method of making decisions will be bound to do better when such a fallible system is superseded by state of the art cameras. And, equally, clubs that have always tended to get the rub of the green under “human error” will find themselves suffering disproportionately as those errors start to vanish from the game.

Could such a revolution actually result in the previously favoured club losing their exalted status, while the erstwhile pariahs come to the fore? Well, that’s probably just my over-active tendency towards wishful thinking. Still, it would be vastly entertaining and deeply satisfactory, if it ever came to pass. But the whole culture of the game and its supporting media is ranged against anything so unthinkable. During the Man U v Arsenal game last night, BT Sport‘s resident ex-referee “expert” Phil Dowd acknowledged that Man U’s first goal was narrowly offside. “But it was so close,” he demurred, “it would have been very harsh to give it. So, good goal.” That type of Man U-centric thinking still takes my breath away, even after decades of hearing stuff just like it. And it makes me think that, technology notwithstanding, the Old Trafford team will probably still be getting that annoying rub of the green for some time to come.

That’s not really any of my concern, though I’d like to think it vexes a few of you out there just as it does me. But my priority is Leeds United, and – eventually – we’re going to be playing our games under the electronic eye of VAR. And maybe then, if not before, we might actually get the odd penalty, or at least not have so many utterly crap ones given against us. And, if that proves to be the case, then I’ll happily declare myself a convert to this new technological approach. After all – who can afford to go down to the pub for an argument these days?

Leeds are the Damned United, but Man U Takes Award for Sickest Fans – by Rob Atkinson

In the wake of the tragic helicopter crash at Leicester’s King Power Stadium last night, and with the sad likelihood that we shall shortly hear confirmation of lives lost, there has been much talk of the phenomenon of the “Football Family”, as fans of many clubs have rallied around to support Leicester City Football Club and its supporters at a very dark time.

All that is as it should be, and a respectful, reverent reaction has been almost universal. I say “almost”, because there are generally a few degraded exceptions, and those exceptions are almost always to be found among the usual suspects representing football’s least lovable “fans”. It will surprise few who are aware of their history that, on this occasion, it’s an identifiable group of Manchester United fans, the producers of a toilet roll of a fanzine known as Red Issue, who have plumbed the depths of poor taste as only they can.

This purulent rag has form going back years for the penning and publication of articles and “jokes” that take the breath away with their sheer, savage detestability. Emboldened by that curiously puzzling Manc sense of entitlement and by unjustified self-righteousness, they have disgraced themselves many a time, heaping shame and derision upon a club rarely short of that commodity. I well recall a photograph they published while Eric Cantona was at Leeds, of the Frenchman in the bath with his young daughter, accompanying the image with a caption designed to encourage their leering readers to conclude that Cantona was a paedophile. There was also a chant sung at Man U matches expressly accusing Arsène Wenger of the self same thing. In brief, these are awful, awful people with no redeeming qualities.

But they’ve outdone themselves this time, as can be seen from the disgusting tweets reproduced above, in the immediate aftermath of a football tragedy that has shocked the whole sporting world. It takes a person with his soul deeply rooted in the foulest slime at the bottom of the sewer to even think of such a thing, let alone share it with the world. But that’s Red Issue for you – the lowest of the low, even in the context of Man U fans.

But of course, it’s Leeds who are dubbed the Damned United, which is a sad indictment of people’s judgement for you. Luckily, although Leeds fans do not find halos sitting easily atop their heads, we’re in a different category entirely from the kind of filth they attract in Salford. Even Millwall fans have more to recommend them, having contributed generously to a fighting fund for young cancer sufferer Toby Nye. There is no such softer side to the arrogant, entitled and thoroughly disgusting fans of Manchester’s second club.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am. I’m sick of the media fawning that surrounds a club which embodies everything bad about the game. I’m sick of the way everyone panders to them because of their commercial clout, ignoring the many foul and detestable aspects of a club and set of supporters who feel they can do and say what they like. The media seeks to protect its own interests and preserve lucrative markets, which means they will always go easy on Man U.

As I write, they lead Everton courtesy of yet another blatantly unfair penalty award, reminding me that my own United have now gone 53 league games without even obvious penalties being given. That sums up the disparity of treatment, and maybe it’s an insight into why Man U fans such as the sickos behind Red Issue feel that they have the right to continue outraging any sense of decency.

This year, as every other year, Man U fans will collectively take out an onion to wallow in commercially advantageous grief over the Munich air crash sixty years ago. They will demand respect and empathy, despite the fact that – as you can see above – they have none for anybody else. But they think they’re a special case, and that they should be treated as such. Most of them will never have heard of AC Torino‘s even more tragic and devastating Superga crash, about which I’ve written before. Add “blinkered” to “disgusting”, then.

Man U fans feel that they are a breed apart. And they really are. Just not in the way they would like to think.