Tag Archives: passion

“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.

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England Will Need True Warriors Against Wales   –   by Rob Atkinson


ArtofFootball
Any Leeds United fan worth his or her salt will nod and give the thumbs-up to a player prepared to shed blood in the United cause. It’s in the DNA of the club; such players are an integral part of our history. The blood shed will preferably be that of an opponent, but your archetypal Elland Road patron warmly appreciates the warrior who leaves the field of battle liberally bespattered with his own gore. It’s a mark of commitment, and that goes down well with us northern folk.

Down the years, we’ve been lucky enough to have many such doughty battlers gracing the white shirt. Hunter, Giles, Vinnie, Billy, the list is long and impressive. Sadly, the standard is lower these days, the commitment less nakedly obvious. The same appears to apply to the national team, also. I was reminded of this when I received a t-shirt from my good friends at The Art of Football, an online firm with a difference, specialising in quality prints to adorn the proudest chest.

The shirt I received, pictured above, bears the unmistakable figure of Stuart “Psycho” Pearce, a player I for one would have absolutely loved to have seen in a Leeds United shirt. His commitment was exemplary, he was a man who’d have been an asset to any team, anywhere at any time. England, like Leeds United, have had a few of these over the years. Terry Butcher, so famously pictured with a pint or two of his own blood soaked into his England shirt – another image available in this Euro ’16 range. Tony Adams, neck veins bulging as he bellowed the National Anthem before every International of his career. Pearce himself, stepping up to the plate in a penalty shoot out, exorcising the ghost of a previous miss by belting the ball past the Spanish keeper at Euro ’96, at one with the fans as he ran to them, his pride and fight written all over his face. 

Where are these players now? John Terry might have been the last for England, though maybe Cahill can succeed to his crown. I have to confess, I can’t remember the last Leeds player in this warrior category. And United will need someone of that ilk to challenge next season. But England need a man like that as soon as Thursday – because the Welsh will have their war paint on, there’s no doubt about that. 

Perhaps if the existing England players can channel some of that Psycho Pearce spirit in time for their next test, we might overcome a Welsh team with much commitment but relatively few world-class performers. The fans, too, could do worse than embody the Pearce approach, focusing on getting behind the shirts instead of acting like idiots in the pubs and bars. The atmosphere will be fierce on Thursday, the stakes high. We will need warriors on the pitch and the pride and passion of supporters in the stands if we’re going to match Wales in either arena. 

Let players and fans be inspired by the image of Stuart Pearce at his most committed, with the flag of St. George behind him. Given that, we can succeed despite the famous bravery and desire of the Welsh. 

England Expects!

Leeds Utd Players Take Note: April 5th is NOT Just Any Day – By Rob Atkinson

Leeds Fans

We Are Leeds, We Neither Forgive Nor Forget

There have been many famous rallying speeches over the whole history of combat, whether it be in the theatre of war or merely a matter of winning a game of football. We can all name the famous motivators in each sphere: Elizabeth I or Henry V, Admiral Lord Nelson or Winston Churchill, each of whom fired up their troops to give their all in battle for England. Sir Alf Ramsey did the same for the Three Lions heroes of 1966 and of course our own Don Revie was unrivalled as he created a team who would run through walls for him, inspired by the steely cry of “Keep Fighting”.

But sometimes, tub-thumping speeches should not be necessary – the occasion speaks for itself and demands pride, passion and commitment more than any mere words could possibly do. The Leeds United players who take the field against QPR tonight, 5th April, should be fully aware that today is a date when nothing less than every last drop of blood, sweat and tears will suffice. The United army will demand that – and more – as will those glued to their radios at home. And rightly so.

Chris and Kev - RIP

Chris and Kev – RIP

For April the 5th is a date carved painfully into the hearts of Leeds fans everywhere. On that fateful day 16 years ago, we lost two of our own as Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight were cruelly, foully murdered by savage, uncivilised scum in Taksim Square, Istanbul. This evening’s match is therefore not about League points or position, it’s not even about the farcical running of the club or the inept administration of an incompetent and bumbling Football League. It’s about pride, passion, respect and commemoration – and those four qualities need to burn white-hot within the very being of each man wearing that big Leeds badge over his heart at Elland Road.

If there are any Leeds players unaware of the significance of this occasion – well, shame on them.  And shame on the staff at the club who should be making sure that their charges are at least on nodding acquaintance with a reality beyond their own pay packets.  It’s not been easy to admire many of the Leeds players lately; with a few notable exceptions, they’ve played in a distracted fashion and displayed a distinctly chicken-hearted attitude to the business of playing for the shirt and getting results.  They should be left in no doubt at all that such frailties will not be tolerated tonight – not on April the 5th.  For this match, they should imitate the action of a tiger, as Henry the Fifth put it.  They should stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood – and get stuck in, just as if they really did have the hearts of lions.

Nothing less will do, it’s the very least they owe the Leeds supporters everywhere.  If they don’t know this, then it should be made abundantly clear to them prior to kick off.  They should run out there onto that pitch with no thoughts of money or other distractions: they should emerge onto the field of combat ready and willing to give their all for the Leeds United fans, and especially for the memory of those two lads who never came home.  This should be an occasion for the restoration of pride, for remembering that they have the honour to represent the greatest club in the world, in front of the greatest fans in the Universe.  Defeat is permissible; a defeatist attitude and a failure to step up to the mark is not. Not on April the 5th.

Perhaps the match against Rangers can be a starting point for the Leeds United team, the first steps on the long climb back to respectability.   It really needs to be – there is simply no more appropriate date for the launching of a fight-back, even though this season is now meaningless – apart from the still lingering threat of relegation.  If the Leeds lads can get out there and fight tonight – show that they care, battle for the cause, demonstrate some respect for the fans and those we’ve lost – then maybe they can start to recoup some of the respect they’ve undoubtedly squandered over the past few months.  It’s to be hoped so, because you get nowhere in any professional sport without earning respect.

The April 5th anniversary of the shocking events in Istanbul really means something to the Leeds support.  More than any other date, it’s when we remember and pay our respects – and the players should participate fully in this.  It’s part of deserving to wear the shirt and the badge.  Fans of other clubs love to show their disrespect, they love to wear the shirt of that awful Turkish club whilst grinning and gloating.  Millwall fans, Man U fans – scum like that.  April the 5th is when we rise above it all, in dignity and pride.  The players need to join in with that, too.

Do it tonight, lads – get out there and fight, give everything.  Do it for Chris and Kev, do it for all the rest of us who remember them sixteen years on.  Do it for the shirt, do it for the badge.  Make us proud of you again, on this day above all others.  Then, perhaps, we can go Marching On Together towards a better future, whatever the next few days, weeks and months might bring.  All it takes to start fighting back is that pride, passion and respect. That’s how we commemorate those who died, and that’s how we’ll forge the togetherness we need to restore this great club to where it belongs.  Let’s start that process of fighting back and climbing upwards, on this sad and solemn anniversary, at Elland Road this evening – let’s show them what we’re made of.  If we have enough tigers and lionhearts on the park, Queens Park Rangers will at least know they’ve been in a game – which is the very minimum requirement for any true warriors of Elland Road.

After all: “We’re Leeds – and we’re proud of it”.

RIP Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight, taken far too soon. April 5th, 2000

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.

Happy New Year to All Leeds Fans; the Best Fans in the World – by Rob Atkinson

Spontaneous reaction from an awestruck Derby fan

Spontaneous reaction from an awestruck Derby fan

Amid the doom and gloom of 2014, let’s all remember that we still have one massive asset – the incredible support that Leeds United is struggling vainly to deserve. The support is the lifeblood of any club, and we have simply the best around. This is not just the biased ravings of a Leeds lunatic with white-tinted spectacles on. It’s the view of other fans too, even some of those who hate us the most. The picture accompanying this paragraph is of an awestruck reaction from a Derby County fan after last night’s debacle (I don’t endorse ALL the text of this, by the way). And below, I reproduce without embellishment the views of a Cardiff fan who attended a United away game at Blackburn, which make for edifying reading, to say the very least. It’s quite long, not totally approving of ALL the antics of United’s travelling army – and many of you will have seen it before anyway. But it’s useful to remind ourselves of the high esteem in which this club’s support is held in certain parts of what might be deemed enemy territory:

I used to hate Leeds United.

I’d gleefully join in with ‘We all hate Leeds scum’ chants and sing about how they weren’t famous anymore. If there was no derby game that season it would be the first fixture I looked for and would anticipate it like a cup game.

Then I grew up a bit. I went to Leeds University for three years and saw how passionate the city is about their local team. In most cities without a team in the top flight you are just as likely to see people in Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea shirts than whoever the local team may be, but it couldn’t be further from the truth in Leeds. If you’re from Leeds, you support Leeds United – end of story. I can’t imagine what the punishment is for someone from Leeds supporting Manchester United, but I imagine it involves some kind of public stoning before being beheaded by Lucas Radebe.

As I developed a more reasoned outlook on football I began to wonder why just so many teams hate Leeds United with such a passion. Their location means they have a higher number of geographical rivals than most, but this doesn’t explain why football grounds around the UK reverberate to the tune of ‘We all hate Leeds scum’ from supporters of clubs that Leeds couldn’t care less about. From what I understand from my experience of Leeds fans (and feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong), they hate Manchester United, Galatasaray and Chelsea, dislike Sheffield Wednesday and couldn’t really care less about anybody else. So why do they anger the footballing public so much?

The answer for the older generation is presumably the fact they used to be good. Really good. During the 60’s and 70’s they won several domestic trophies and deserved to win the European Cup, denied only by some ‘interesting’ referee decisions in favour of Bayern Munich. However, the last time Leeds won a trophy was 1992 and they were relegated from the Premier League in 2004, even dropping as low as the third tier for a short time. So if jealousy isn’t the reason for the widespread Leeds hatred, what is? I joined 7000 or so Leeds fans at Blackburn Rovers to see if they deserved the title of ‘Dirty Leeds’.

As soon as I arrived in Blackburn you could tell that this was more than an away day, this was more like an invasion. The streets of Blackburn were absolutely filled with Leeds fans, with a large section of them heading to the Postal Order pub. This was the place to be for the next hour, as the visitors from Yorkshire produced a fantastic atmosphere inside the local Wetherspoons, better than most teams can create inside a stadium. The only people inside the pub not having a great time were the overworked bar staff and the couple who had chosen spectacularly poorly when picking a venue for their first date. Safe to say they didn’t stay very long, and date number two doesn’t seem particularly likely.

Two large tables turned into a stage, with the Leeds fans taking it in turns to play the part of conductor. “On the table for the lads” would be chanted at the individual of choice, who would then climb up onto the table and start a song, or be booed mercilessly if they refused. One particular visitor whose size would probably most politely be described as ‘Extra Extra Large’ was encouraged onto the table a number of times, refusing each time until he was bought two pints. After downing them both in one go, he took a run up, sped towards the table with determination, leapt through the air like a salmon and…made it about six inches off the ground, crashing into the table and falling on the floor. They didn’t ask him again after that.

While the away support did have plenty of humour, there was also a touching side to a number of their chants, paying tribute to Richard Ismail, known as ‘Moody’ to Leeds fans. Moody was a lifelong Leeds fan who recently passed away after spending over a year in hospital following an assault in Sheffield. “We’re all Moody aren’t we” was chanted throughout the afternoon, with the same phrase written on a flag displayed proudly at Ewood Park.

As the visitors got drunker and drunker, the chanting got wilder and wilder. Starting at “Number one is Michael Brown”, they made it all the way to “and 100, is Michael Brown” before insisting that they all dreamed of a team of Michael Browns. I’ve seen him play, and one Michael Brown is bad enough, never mind an army of them. It was at this point that things got a little out of hand, as the Leeds fans chanted “Let’s pretend we scored a goal”, counted down from ten and then went absolutely mental. Beer flew through the air, tables were overturned and pint glasses were smashed. The pub decided that it was probably time to close and the bell for time at the bar was rung at about 1:45pm. As fans filed out towards the ground or a different bar, it looked like a bomb had gone off. In fairness, many Leeds fans apologised for the damage and helped to turn the tables back over before they left.

Normally in my reports I would spend a great deal of time writing about the game itself, but honestly, it was just awful. Not so long ago Leeds and Blackburn had wonderful sides which would have made this fixture a joy to watch, but these days have gone due to the curse of the modern-day football club owner. The Venky’s have run Blackburn into the ground, while a combination of Peter Ridsdale and Ken Bates have done their best to kill off Leeds United.

Leeds had one chance of note, a beautiful flick from Ross McCormack setting up Danny Pugh who looked certain to score – only denied by a wonderful save by Blackburn’s Kean (not that one). Blackburn had a few more opportunities, forcing Paddy Kenny into making some good saves, but in all honesty it was a game worthy of being 0 – 0, and that would have been generous. The winner came just before half time, Tommy Spurr sweeping the ball into the net from a corner after some lacklustre defending.

The real story of the day was the Leeds fans. More than a third of those in attendance were from the away side, and they were also responsible for 95% of the noise. A small pocket of Blackburn fans to the right of the away end did their best to create an atmosphere, but attempting to take on 7000 Leeds supporters in an atmosphere contest is like attempting to storm a US military base with a plastic spoon, you’re not going to get anywhere. There were effectively four away ends, with the Yorkshire side bringing so many fans that they had taken up the entire stand, usually segregated to contain both home and away fans.

They sung and supported the team for 90 minutes, and didn’t do anything worthy of the ‘Dirty Leeds’ label as far as I could see. I was starting to realise that the reason so many people hate Leeds is because they aren’t Leeds. Leeds United are a reminder of how good English football used to be and the atmosphere which made the country the envy of Europe. These days are long gone, surpassed by Germany, Poland, the Balkans and many more, but the passion of Leeds United remains. When you watch a Leeds game, you don’t feel as though you are in the stale and sanitised world of English football. It almost feels as though a Leeds United away end belongs in a museum, a reminder to fans within England that watching football is something to be enjoyed, rather than endured.

Now, these Leeds fan are by no means perfect, the destruction of the pub was uncalled for and some of the chants about Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones were tasteless at best, but arguably no worse than the kind of thing you’d hear at countless other grounds around the country on a Saturday afternoon.

I think far too many people fall into the trap of hating Leeds because that is what they are told they should do. Leeds fans have continued to show fantastic loyalty to their club, despite the fact they have suffered an even more spectacular fall from grace than Miley Cyrus. I have no doubts that the Leeds team of the past was well worthy of hatred, and in the old days of hooliganism being rife across England the damage done by their fans to various cities and towns is well-known. However these days are long gone, and hating Leeds United is now a fashion statement for most, rather than anything tangible.

One incident long after the game had finished demonstrated the commendable attitude that Leeds fans have to supporting their team, despite the fact that they are, more often than not, terrible at the actual football side of things. I was amongst 300 or so Leeds fans waiting at Mill Hill station, waiting for a connection back to Blackburn Central to head home. First of all a train arrived on the opposite side of the station, heading towards Preston. Several of the more drunk Leeds fans got on this service anyway, despite the fact it was heading in completely the wrong direction. Those who remained on the platform began doing the conga up and down the outside of the train, singing “do do do, you’re getting on the wrong train!” This was followed by a reworking of their earlier chant, as they bellowed “Let’s pretend our trains arrived”, counting down from ten and leaping around the platform like they’d just won the European Cup.

The author then challenges his Cardiff-supporting fellow fans to state why they hate Leeds, if not for the spurious reasons he’s cited in his piece. Again, I don’t agree with every last syllable – but to me, it’s remarkable how a fan of another team so completely “gets” what supporting Leeds United is all about. Take that quote from midway through: “I was starting to realise that the reason so many people hate Leeds is because they aren’t Leeds. Leeds United are a reminder of how good English football used to be and the atmosphere which made the country the envy of Europe.” Doesn’t that sum up perfectly the Leeds effect on the game as a whole? Could it be better put? I couldn’t do it.

These two snippets of enemy intelligence are, if you think about it, independent verification of what we all know to be true, deep down. We are United and we are the best. And it’s us, the fans, who truly are United. We’re the lifeblood of the club, the essence of Yorkshire’s Number One. That’s something to be genuinely proud of, when so much about the club is shamefully inadequate.

So – a very Happy New Year to the best supporters in the world. Maybe 2015 will after all bring us a little closer to what we all desire with every fibre of our being: better times for our beloved club. Whatever happens, we’ll still be here, we’ll still be the best. We always knew that – but it’s good to know that others know it too.

Keep it loud and proud in 2015 and beyond. Keep singing and shouting and being The Best.

We Are Leeds.

What Leeds Fans Should be Demanding for NEXT Season – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United - top flight in all but name

Leeds United – top flight in all but name

While all the wrangling over “fit and proper” tests is going on, while we’re all earnestly debating the future in-post of the current Leeds United manager (be it long or short) – while we’re all tearing our hair and rending our clothes at the media pantomime our club has become, enabling even Sun readers to essay a disdainful look down the nose at us – what should we really, actually be thinking about?  What burning issue deserves our closest attention?  What crucial conundrum should we be looking to resolve for ourselves which, once settled and decided, will colour our approach to all of the other, allied issues??

The answer, surely has to be (and the title of this article has probably already given you a clue to this) – what do we actually want for next season?  Where do we want to be, how do we want our campaign to go?  Assuming that by then the club is on an even keel – and I know that’s a fair old dangerous assumption – what would be the best way of celebrating this, of marking our return to sanity and being a football club again, instead of a three-ring circus?  I have a theory.

To me, there are two main possibilities.  For both of them, let’s assume that the Cellino takeover is complete, that Elland Road is Leeds United property again, and that there is some financial & managerial stability at the club with clear signs of a competitive transfer and wages budget.  I know that’s all a bit of a difficult proposition to swallow, but bear with me here.  Right then – one real possibility is that this current season has fizzled out into a mid-table anti-climax, as has been our usual recent experience.  It’s summer and we have the World Cup to suffer through, with some Test Cricket as a subsidiary diversion, and holidays and other lovely things that come with slightly warmer weather.  One of those lovely things could be a close-season of heavy recruitment involving quality players at Championship level, preparing our squad for a serious assault on this division next time around.  Nice.

The other feasible possibility is that, aided perhaps by some Cellino-financed muscle in the loan window, we’ve put together a run in the remainder of this season, and blagged ourselves a late play-off spot.  Riding the crest of a wave, we cruise into the Wembley final and a 4-0 thrashing of – ooh, let’s say Nottingham Forest, just for the karmic pay-back from 2008 – to finally make it back to the Premier League after all these years.  Also nice.

Incidentally, there is the faint third possibility, i.e. that we completely implode after a Football League refusal to sanction our Shady Italian. In this scenario, Shaun Harvey wakes up with a horse’s head next to him, Brian McDermott resigns and Michael Brown takes over as head coach, leading us to ten consecutive defeats and relegation to League One with the fire-sale of any remaining half-decent players we have.  Not nice at all, and hopefully not all that likely either.  Let’s just ignore that one, then.

So of the two scenarios that could play out – failure again this season but an all-out assault on the Championship Title next year, or struggling to glory via the lottery of the play-offs – which would we actually prefer?  Many will be seduced by the vision of being back in the big-time as early as next August.  Those people might also be hoping for an unlikely England World Cup victory, possibly with Jamie Milner scoring the decisive winner against Germany in the Final.  Optimism is an attractive trait – but the pay-off can be cruel.

Promotion this year would most likely see a season of grim struggle next time around, unless we were prepared and able to invest much more heavily than would be wise, or even legal under Financial Fair Play.  A season-long relegation battle might be the stuff of dreams for some clubs – but Leeds United aren’t a Norwich or a Cardiff.  Last time we went up to the top-flight, twenty-four years ago, we swaggered in for a year-long look around, during which we battered a fair percentage of the established opposition, before winning the bloody thing second year up.  The sheer cheek of it took everyone’s breath away. Now that’s the way to do it, if you’re a Leeds United.  But it’s so unlikely as to be next to impossible, that we could go up and stomp around like that next season.  Quite frankly, if all the effort of securing promotion is going to see us in a dog-eat-dog relegation fight with the dregs of the Premier League, I’d just as soon not bother, thanks.

On the other hand, if we are in a position to rebuild this summer for a Blitzkrieg approach to the second tier in 2014-15, then that could well lead to us blasting our way through the division and hurtling into the Premier League rather than scraping our way there by the fingernails.  Promotion achieved thus carries its own momentum – you’re building for the top flight on more solid foundations, as compared to our current footings of sand.  And the fun! Imagine a season next year to compare to the promotion campaign of 1989-90.  Those old enough to have witnessed it will know exactly what I mean.  After a slow start, we conducted ourselves like a Panzer tank for much of the league programme, the skill, commitment and aggression of our football blowing most opposition into tiny smithereens.  We had a rough patch, and it was a bit close for comfort in the end – but, still.  What a season that was.  Something along those lines, possibly an improvement in some aspects – that would do me, and I suspect many others too.  It’s certainly preferable to a Premier League season of grim, defensive, survival football.  So, tempting as the notion is of play-offs this season, with the incentive of rubbing somebody else’s nose in it as we’ve had our noses rubbed in it on showpiece occasions past – it really won’t do.  We’re useless at play-offs anyway, so if we made it, there’d probably only be misery for us.

So my conclusion is: let’s not waste our time with fast-fading hopes of promotion this year.  Let’s abandon such thoughts, unless the team suddenly gels, goes on a run and absolutely forces us to contemplate success.  On current form, let’s be realistic – that’s unlikely to happen.  Let’s instead wait this season out, hope and pray that the various suits in the club and at the League sort themselves out and get their act together, and let’s hope that this summer sees an exciting reconstruction programme ahead of an all-out attack on the summit of the Championship next time around.  Because, to me, when Leeds United arrive back in the top-flight, they should do so as Champions – not as winners of some tagged-on mini-tournament.  Let’s do it in style, as we did in 1964 and in 1990, taking such power and momentum along with us that we immediately became competitive in the higher sphere.  Let’s have our rivals wary of us. I remember a fanzine article in the summer of ’90, a Liverpool fanzine I think it was.  The title was “Bloody hell – they’re back!”, and it was all about Leeds United and how we’d probably seize the top-flight by the nuts and shake it up good and proper.  And we really did.

That’s what I really want for Leeds United.  I want us to do it in proper Leeds style, I want us to burst into that elite group like a torpedo, creating chaos everywhere.  I want them all to hate and fear us again – I definitely don’t want to read fans of other clubs saying, “Ah – look at once-mighty Leeds – finally managed to get back up and now see how they struggle”.  No, thank you.  Let’s do it the right way, the Leeds way.  Let’s make Vinnie and Howard and wee Gordon and Batts and the rest of them proud.  Let’s see Big Jack and Eddie Gray smiling at a revival of the Revie spirit, with “Keep Fighting” on the dressing-room wall and with our departed heroes approving, from wherever they are now.  Let’s March On Together – not limp apologetically into an exclusive club that doesn’t really want us.  Let’s get in there, and fuck ’em up.  To me, another year is a time well worth waiting – to make sure that we get where we want to be – by doing things the way we want to do them.

The Leeds United Way

The Leeds United Way

Failure Varney Joins the “Couldn’t Handle Playing for a Big Club” Army – by Rob Atkinson

Andy Hughes, Leeds United Warrior

Andy Hughes, Leeds United Warrior

On any decent scale, there tend to be two well-defined extremes.  No scale can be effective without this; you need to know the Alpha and the Omega before you can properly ascribe values to what lies in between.  This useful little principle is identified by the scale which measures the worth to us Leeds fans of players leaving Elland Road for whatever reason.  What memories do they leave behind them?  What emotions do they evoke, now that they are gone?  In terms of recent departures, we’ve been looking for the negative end of this scale.  We’re talking outgoing players on the permanent staff here, not loans – otherwise the claims of Andros “Klingon” Townsend would be hard to dispute.  The positive, top end of the scale, I would humbly submit, is occupied by Andy Hughes, for reasons which will be clear to many, but which I shall nevertheless sum up below.  The arse-end of this scale, the epitome of negativity and bad grace, has just been claimed for his very own by the recently departed and very much unlamented Luke “Reg” Varney.

Everything you need to know about Andy Hughes is contained within the video interview linked to his name in the paragraph above.  For a player late of this great club to speak with such passion – let’s face it, such love – of his time at Leeds United, would bring a tear to a glass eye.  It’s inspirational, emotion-wracking stuff.  Andy Hughes was not the greatest nor the most talented player ever to wear the white shirt.  But he has a heart the size of the East Stand, and he always, always gave his all for the cause.  You can tell how he loved playing for the club, for the badge, for the fans.  He’s in a very small and exclusive group of players from the recent past who truly “get” what it is to be Leeds.  The fans at Elland Road have always loved a trier, someone prepared to go the extra mile and run his knackers flat for Leeds.  Hughes was such a player, is such a man.  He joined at an historical low ebb and felt privileged to do so, determined to do his bit and much more, to restore the club to a higher level.  He was part of many great performances and his commitment was the stuff of legend.  All hail Andy Hughes;  he is in the exclusive Alpha group of my recent ex-players scale, top dog with the likes of the Chief among the elite of this century.

On the other hand, there’s Varney.  Oh, dear.  He didn’t have the best of times at Elland Road, but then, it’s a tough place to perform for all but the most gifted or determined of players.  Varney was found wanting on both counts.  And yet, people did try to give him a chance, we tried to like him.  This man might score us some goals, we thought.  And if it doesn’t happen, maybe he’ll get his head down, work hard – earn our respect and regard that way.  Sadly, the Reg approach was more of the “OK, it’s not going for me, they don’t like me – I’m going to sulk” variety.

"Reg" Varney

“Reg” Varney

There were highlights,  A goal against Spurs in the Cup, for instance.  But by that time, the relationship between player and fans was already quite toxic; you felt he was at least as likely to flick two fingers at the crowd, after scoring, as he was to celebrate with them.  He seemed to have the respect and support of his peers; his team-mates at the club – but then again, football is a close-knit business, and the dynamics within the group have little to do with how the fans relate to a player, or vice versa.  But Varney never gave himself the chance to be a real part of the Elland Road experience – and the likes of Andy Hughes could teach him an awful lot about that.  Varney, though, since before his recent departure, has shown that he is incapable of understanding what it takes to play for a big club with passionate support.  Since our decline, sad to say, we have had far too many players like this – which explains why Leeds United have struggled.  We simply haven’t had enough of the big players, the big hearts.  It’s a salutary lesson for the future which is about to open before us.  Worthy of note too is the fact that Noel Hunt, another player who hasn’t exactly grabbed the fans’ imaginations, is quietly waiting and working for his chance.  Credit to him.

Varney finally cooked his own goose when his desire to get away first persuaded him to refuse to play against Ipswich – for fear of injury – and now has led him to giving the classic “bitter ex-player” interview to the first eager hack he’s tripped over in Lancashire.  The refusal to play for the club which was paying him thousands a week for a privilege that is but a dream for the legions of Leeds fans out here – something we’d be ecstatic to do for free – marked Varney down as a selfish mercenary, someone who put his own narrow interests ahead of his club, his contract, his team-mates and last – and very much least in his eyes – the supporters.  It’s difficult to imagine greater treachery; one can only hope that his pay packet ended up empty after that episode.

The interview doing the rounds today does Varney no credit either.  It’s all “me, me, me” apart from the word turmoil, which he has evidently only just learned and was eager to use as often as possible.  As a piece, it was designed to endear himself to his new club, and it dripped with indifference to the old.  He seemed to be trying to justify his decision to refuse to play – what his new fans and his new manager/team-mates will make of that is anybody’s guess.

Two ends of the same stick – the end with the golden ornament, and the crappy end.  Alpha and Omega, Andy Hughes and Luke Varney.  That’s the scale that any future player departing our great club can be judged against.  Are you more of a Reg, or more towards the Hughsie, top end of things.  Most will come somewhere in between.  Thankfully, there aren’t all that many Varneys.  But oh, how we could use a player or two more with the heart and soul of Andy Hughes.

Time For True Leeds United Fans to Get Positive and Support the Club – by Rob Atkinson

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Elland Road packed with the faithful

Sometimes, a good old-fashioned cliché is the only thing to resort to, especially when things seem bleak and morale is low.  So I have a couple to offer that may help at this uneasy time when Leeds United stand on the brink of yet another new beginning and we’re all questioning what’s wrong in the club after one of the worst results in our entire history.  The two that spring to mind are “The darkest hour is the one just before the dawn” and “Let your faith keep you strong“.  There may well be others equally applicable.

The thing about clichés is that they wouldn’t be quite so hackneyed and frequently-quoted if they didn’t have that element of truth and common sense about them.  The central message of any such quotation as related to Leeds United right now must be that the club needs positive support in bad times even more than in good.  This is no time to spread despair and linger over the agony and humiliation – for such it surely is – of a defeat to an inspired but much lowlier team.  What we have to do now, as a massive collective of followers for one of the world’s most famous and fanatically-supported football clubs, is: stick with it.  Tough it out.  We’ve had bad times before, and ultimately they’ve helped make the good times even sweeter.

Rochdale was a bad experience, worst of all for the fans who made the journey and backed their men to put on a professional display for the shirts they were wearing and the badge on those shirts.  The fans that make these trips are the single most notable thing about the Leeds United of today.  They are a modern phenomenon, supporting a mediocre team with almost unfailing good humour and vociferous enthusiasm.  Fans of clubs we visit are in awe of the sheer passion these fantastic fans generate.  But clearly, any group of football followers will have a collective breaking-point.  That point was reached at Rochdale; the fans had had enough and they said so.  They expressed their anger and their pain in terms that even the most complacent and overpaid player could easily understand.  The manager was brave enough to emerge after the game and take his share.  He has expressed no disagreement, but has remained dignified and determined.  When success comes, Brian McDermott is the kind of man who will think back to yesterday at Rochdale so that he will not be carried away in the flush of achievement.  Brian is a steady man, and he will take on board the disappointment and suffering of those loyal fans.

But we’ve had our moan now.  It was a message that had to be sent out, and our representatives at Spotland duly obliged.  It’s done; let’s move on.  We stand on the brink of – quite possibly – a major upturn in the fortunes of Leeds United.  Just as efforts over the past year in team building are very much a work in progress, so the achievements behind the scenes and the changes wrought there are possibly slightly under-appreciated.  But Leeds United today as a club is a very different entity than the one labouring under the yoke of Bates’ last few months in charge.  This is something for which we should all be truly grateful.

Rochdale is gone, just as Histon disappeared into the past.  Not so long after Histon, we were winning at Man U – and this was at a time when that was quite a hard thing to do.  Rochdale will be remembered as a low point, but the highs which will follow are apt to be all the sweeter for that bitter experience.  Such are the slings and arrows of outrageous Leeds United.

Now we wait for the tangible results of all the backroom activity currently going on at the club and at the Football League.  We can justifiably wait with some excitement; the signs are good that the club is about to commence operations on a whole new level.  The FA Cup meant little to us this season, in reality.  The pride and feelings of the fans, granted.  But as a competition, it is one that we can manage without – just as long as our progress in the right direction is maintained.  That’s the cause in which we should be lending our support.  What’s about to happen might just be a massively significant time in the history of our club, and we must be seen to be behind the teams – the ones off the field as well as on it.  And we’re a team ourselves, a massive united group of fanatical supporters who all wish to be involved in the success of United.  Any team needs to pull together, and that’s just what we need to be doing, right now and going forward.

So please – put Rochdale behind you and get your chin up.  We’re Leeds and we’re proud even in those times when the team give us little reason to show that pride.  Players come and go, teams evolve.  Even management and owners aren’t forever.  But the club and the fans are bound together in perpetuity, and we must seek to go forward as a united force.

We Are Leeds, Marching on together.  We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re going to stay with them forever – at least until the world stops going round.  Let’s remember that.

Don’t Tar Leeds United Fans With the Man U Gloryhunters Brush – by Rob Atkinson

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Oh, dear…

A lot of Man U fans have to face quite a bit of stick for being southern-based gloryhunters who’ve hardly ever visited the Theatre of Hollow Myths, because – well, because they’re southern-based gloryhunters who’ve hardly ever visited the Theatre of Hollow Myths.  Fair enough then, really – for it does seem from all available evidence that these sorry types make up a significant portion of the fallen champions’ “support”.   Tune into any biggish Man U home game and, during Sky’s feverishly-excited build-up, you’ll probably see some home fans being interviewed outside the ground, making predictions for the match ranging between anything from a 4-0 win to a 7-0 win.  It’s the accents that strike you.  A thick Ulster brogue here, a lugubrious Brummie yow-yow there.  Norfolk, Suffolk, take your pick of the Home Counties, most will be represented.  North-easterners, Devonians, the distinctive sound of Cornwall.

gloryhunterShamefully, there will also be the familiar tones of Yorkshire here and there, South Yorkshire mainly, but you do get the hideous experience of warm, West Yorkshire dialect emerging from a smug face surmounting one of those awful red shirts.  It’s shudderingly disgusting. You get the obvious cockneys – and last (and distinctly least) you’ll get a smattering of Lancastrians.  And really very, very few actual Mancunians, who are normally identifiable by their distinctive speech defects – “lickle” for “little” – hosspickle, for hospital, keckle for kettle, and so on.  For anyone seeking justification for his or her own instinctive antipathy towards Man U, it’s a rich vein of compulsive, repulsive viewing – and as a sort of straw poll, it shows that the oft-quoted charge of Man U fans being largely out-of-town gloryhunters has plenty of merit.

The important thing here is not simply where all these fans come from, but wherein lies their motivation for following the team they follow.  The fact is that Man U are not the only club with a large proportion of fans from outside of their own city limits.  My own Leeds United also have a large and faithful body of support from all over the country, indeed, all over the world.  This leads many of a Man U bent to do their research and emerge, flushed and excited, with what they feel is a cast-iron rebuttal of the “Man U gloryhunter” stereotype, arguing that it’s a phenomenon common to many higher-profile clubs.  On the face of it, this is true.  But as regards the question of proportion, it’s undeniable that Man U have a greater degree of support from outside of its own immediate area than almost any other club you could name.  And, in any event, the “where” of it is really just a basic fact.  The interesting question is the “why” of it.  What motivates these eager aliens to travel so far to follow their club – or at least to lash out so much on a Sky subscription and a comfy armchair?  And this is where the “gloryhunting” factor can be seen in full play.  Moreover, the “glory” that’s being hunted is not just a matter of trophies and medals – a lot of it has to do with the “Love us because of Munich” line so relentlessly pushed by the Man U club itself over the past 55 years.

Other clubs have been successful in this period, during which the game has reached saturation point in the media, compared with the pre-Munich era when interest was confined largely to the cloth-capped working classes and the back page of the daily newspapers.  But no other club was adopted by the media to the extent of Man U after Munich, a relationship that started out with shock and compassion but has evolved and warped over the years so that – stronger today than ever – it is now more about the protection and exploitation of markets than it is about the mystique that allegedly surrounds the legacy of Munich.  Whatever the rights and wrongs about the furore that has ALWAYS surrounded the Munich disaster – leading many to believe that it was unique and the worst sporting disaster ever – there can be little doubt that many Man U supporters with no remote connection to the Manchester area can trace back the origins of their support to Munich, either directly or through a parent.

The out-of-town support of other clubs, most particularly Leeds United, have not had anything like the cushy ride accorded to the Man U gloryhunters. Whereas those of a red persuasion have read reams of copy glorifying their chosen club and giving them what might truthfully be described as an overwhelmingly positive press, the Leeds fans have had the opposite experience going back fifty years.  Hating Leeds in the press has been a national pastime for decades now, and it is against this background – and without the long periods of sustained success achieved, by hook or by crook, over at Man U – that Leeds fans of all backgrounds, from whatever point on the globe, have somehow sustained the fanatical and feverishly proud nature of their support.

No, there is no gloryhunting for those who make the pilgrimage to Elland Road.  A few peaks of success in fifty years, besides which all has been humdrum with spells of blackest despair as their beloved club plumbed the depths of the third tier, with long spells away from the top-flight limelight. For a Man U fan – feeling themselves slighted by accusations of gloryhunting, coming as they do from Torquay – to level a counter charge of gloryhunting at a Leeds fan from Norway or from East Anglia, is a shot in the dark, a wildly inaccurate attempt at a counterpunch which serves only to emphasise their own desperate culpability.  The Man U fan who has supported them from an armchair in Milton Keynes since 1993 – and there are many such – is bang to rights as a gloryhunter.  A “plastic”, as we say in the argot of football vitriol.  They may harp on about the Busby Babes, about the thirteen plastic titles on the sideboard since Uncle Rupert bought the game and gift-wrapped it for them – but their motives are transparently obvious and their local clubs look at them with contempt as traitors to the region.

It takes a certain sort of character to follow such a path, for such reasons. Some will be motivated by the need to be associated with perceived size and success, for whatever is lacking in their own lives that has left them with such a need.  Dr. Freud, it’s over to you on that one.  Some are best summed-up by a lady with a penetrating voice who rang in angrily to BBC 606 after a rare Man U defeat at the Theatre of Hollow Myths.  “That’s not what I buy my season-ticket and travel up from London for!” she screeched in indignant tones of equine distress. “Any more of that and I might as well follow Spurs.”  She’s not alone in her rage and dissatisfaction, and one can only hope on her behalf that wherever she ended up, the prawn sandwiches were adequate.

It takes a certain sort of character too, to support Leeds, to tread that difficult path in the face of virtually universal hatred with very little in the way of tangible reward, team success – anything that might be described as glory.  For those who follow this rocky path from afar – the stalwart supporters from Scandinavia, the Leeds nutters from Norfolk, from Ireland, from pretty well everywhere you can stick a pin into the map of the UK – and much further afield – that takes a character rich in dedication and the ability to keep going in adversity.  There isn’t one Leeds fan I know who isn’t proud to be Leeds, and that pride, that passion, has survived some incredibly frustrating times when the future looked bleak – even at one point, non-existent.  And there are many Man U fans of pride and passion too – misguided souls of course, but still – proud.  Respect to them, but there are many, many who are more like that angry caller to 606, who throw a tantrum every time the club has a blip, who threaten to desert the ship with other, similarly morally bankrupt rats, before that ship shows even a sign of foundering.  Their current situation may well turn into more than a blip; the ship may not be buoyed up by quite as much media support and official wariness as in Ferguson’s reign – and it will be interesting to see how many fall by the wayside if Man U do fall away.

The comparison in the two basic characters of support highlights the bizarre ridiculousness of Man U fans throwing the “gloryhunter” charge back in the faces of Leeds fans for whom the glory lies in following their team through thin and thinner, and in simply being proud to be Leeds.  Gloryhunting is not primarily about geography, it’s about motivation too, and perhaps most of all, it’s about your own innate character and what you expect of yourself. If Leeds United won promotion this year, the “Double” next year and then the “Treble” the year after, I’d have a hell of a lot more to crow about – but I couldn’t be more proud to be Leeds than I am right now.  And I’m a local boy – and yet I know, with utter certainty, that those lads and lasses from further afield feel as I do, that the hairs on their necks stand up when they see the ground or hear the songs – and most of them have never seen us win a thing, but they’ll always be there and always proud.

The Man U gloryhunters, on the other hand, have seen them win a lot – that’s why they’re there.  But what will happen if the glory dries up, as well it might?  Where will the Man U gloryhunters be then?  They could easily be at Stamford Bridge or White Hart Lane, that’s where – or at least be wearing a different replica shirt whilst ensconced in their Home Counties armchairs. That’s the the character of those who attach themselves to the most convenient example of success, and it’s also the difference between them – the gloryhunting, plastic legion of the damned – and the proud and defiant Marching On Together brigade of Leeds United.

England Internationals Should Play for Free – by Rob Atkinson

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Three Lions – all the incentive needed and more.

After England’s successful World Cup qualifying campaign, the dust is now starting to settle, and thoughts are beginning to intrude along the lines of: Oh, Christ, spare us another World Cup finals performance like the last one.  It’s a memory just too depressing for words as highly-talented yet grossly over-paid young players sulked around the pitch as if they’d forgotten exactly how lucky they were to be there at all.

The fanatical travelling army which follows England everywhere were shocked into spells of stunned silence at the lassitude and sheer incompetence of some of their so-called heroes in an England team made up, as is usual in these money-mad times, of multi-millionaires, millionaires, and perhaps two or three of the merely very rich.  The fans turned to each other and asked, what the bleedin’ hell is going on?  Well, situation normal, isn’t it?  What a load of overpaid rubbish.  We’ll stay at home and watch it on the box another time. It goes without saying though, that the fans will always be there.

With the money in the game, the long-established infrastructure, and the size of our nation relative, say, to a country like Holland which produces excellence as a matter of course, we should be doing better in these massive pan-global tournaments.  But however easily, or even gloriously we manage to get there, it always seems to go wrong – at least it has so far this century.  The relative glory days of Mexico ’86, Italia ’90 or even England ’96 are a long time ago now.  Something is rotten in the state of England.  What are the missing ingredients?

Allow me to propose an old-fashioned answer: Pride and Passion.  Those two words sum up the edge that England teams, maybe lacking in the technical gifts of continental and latin american players, used to possess; attributes that used to see us through against higher levels of skill and flair. These are the qualities our national team has shown too little of over the years, qualities the fans still possess in abundance.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the players who represent England are lacking totally in either commodity, but I would venture the opinion that they is no longer the over-riding motivation.  Money – oodles of it – always looms far too large within the game.  To clear the players’ heads, to rid them of competing considerations and leave them focused on the job in hand, to nurture the mindset that they are representing their country, and carrying the hopes of millions, I would propose – quite seriously – that we abandon henceforth the practice of paying players to play for England.

This is not a new idea, not by any means.  Before World War Two, players selected for England were invited to choose a match fee OR a souvenir medal – not both.  They invariably opted for the medal – and this in an era when professional football wages were capped at a level not far above those of a skilled worker.  But pride and passion motivated them.

Nowadays of course, footballers earn a vast amount, and some would say good luck to them – but do they really need to be paid over and above their club contracts for what is still a signal honour?  The playing employees of Liverpool, Man U, Man City, Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal and the rest pull down many, many times the average wage and exist on an entirely different plane to those who shell out their hard-earned to watch them perform.  How does this affect the way we see them?

As things stand, the emotional distance between the crowd and the players is magnified by a patently enormous gulf in financial status, which breeds resentment among the fans when things aren’t going well on the field (look at him, fifty grand a week, and he couldn’t trap a bag of cement). Would the frequently toxic nature of that crowd/team relationship not be improved if the players were really playing for the shirt and the cap, and nothing else?

Removal of monetary rewards would not be universally popular among the players – but might this not help sort out the committed from the opportunist, and thus – to risk an archaic phrase – engender a more positive team spirit?

There would be no unpalatable need for the FA to profit by the players’ noble sacrifice.  The money that now goes on match fees and bonuses should instead be diverted to a charity of the players’ choice – and would this not only provide an additional incentive to win, but also enhance the team’s good-guy credentials?

They might feel, deep inside, that they’re a cut above the opposition – who are shamelessly, brazenly, doing it for the money.  It might even give them that crucial edge. Success is, after all, about the steady accumulation of marginal gains.

No match fees or any bonus, not a red cent – just an international cap.  No taint of lucre in the motivations of the players, who would in any case be set for life even if they never earned another penny.  No charge of “mercenary footballers” from a disgruntled crowd – rather it would be:  well done lads, you’re doing it for England and glory.  If you didn’t win – well, we know you were giving of your best, for love of the shirt and charitable causes.  Think of that.  Wouldn’t our England players rather be loved and admired, than just that tiny bit richer?

Can there really be a better incentive than national pride and sheer altruism, uncluttered by the financial bottom line?  Wouldn’t there just possibly be a whole new dynamic around the currently unfancied England setup that might even take us onwards and upwards? Am I being hopelessly idealistic or even naïve?

Well, perhaps I am – but I would humbly suggest that it’s got to be a better way, and is certainly worth a try.