Tag Archives: referees

Leeds Taste Derby Day Defeat at Rampant Barnsley – by Rob Atkinson

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Mike Dean – doubly incompetent

In football, as in life, timing is everything. And it was the timing of two rather poor Mike Dean penalty decisions during Leeds United‘s tumultuous defeat at Oakwell this evening that may well have been the factor upon which the outcome of the game ultimately depended. Had Leeds gone in at half-time 2-0 up, with a penalty to add to Chris Wood’s bundled opener after Kyle Bartley got a Barnsley hand in his face at a corner, there could have been few complaints from a home side that looked to be under the cosh at the time. But, in the final analysis, the fragility of a 1-0 lead was exposed by a late first half smash and grab goal from the hosts – and you sensed then that the tide had turned decisively.

In the second half, Barnsley came out like a pack of ravenous hounds and punctured United’s rearguard twice in quick time in a dominant spell. Two great finishes left Leeds with what, in the end, proved to be too much to do. This always looked to be the case, even after Dean’s second shoddy call of the match, awarding Leeds a penalty from a good forty yards behind play, for a handball offence that was clearly miles outside the box. Chris Wood duly converted but, even with their hopes so fortunately boosted, United never really escaped the stranglehold Barnsley had put on them from the time of the equaliser. In the end, the injustices evened themselves out, allowing the better side over 95 minutes to enjoy a deserved victory. 

What might have transpired had the hapless Dean got his calls the right way around is anybody’s guess – though it’s tempting to suppose a Leeds side two goals to the good would have taken some pegging back. As things were, there can be few complaints, and both sets of fans will be in agreement that Mr. Dean should go back to Premier League football and practice his dubious skills there.

For Leeds, defeat might just be a timely wake-up call and a reminder that the squad still needs a bit more strength in depth. It’s to be hoped that this will be addressed in the coming days, along with the pressing need to get back to winning ways on Wednesday against a Nottingham Forest side that should be ripe for the beating. United manager Garry Monk will be focusing already on that game, and the Whites should see it as a chance to start off on another positive run. 

Lastly, it has to be said that Barnsley’s grit and attitude were as commendable as the quality of the goals they scored. Everyone knows how much beating Leeds means to the Tykes, and those victory celebrations will be sweet indeed. With Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday also flying high in the Championship, it’s turning out to be a good season for Yorkshire clubs. None of which is any comfort in defeat – but Leeds know there is stiff competition out there and it’s up to our heroes to step up to the plate now and reassert their authority. 

That process can and must start on Wednesday. After a great run since December, we now expect nothing less.

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Ref Anthony Taylor Reaps Rewards of Incompetent Leeds TV Display   –   by Rob Atkinson

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Anthony Taylor, TV Star

Since a performance of appalling ineptitude in the televised Sheffield Wednesday v Leeds United clash last month in the Championship, referee Anthony Taylor has become a bit of a TV star. The fact that Taylor’s most embarrassing mess-up at Hillsborough was to the detriment of the Whites may not be totally unrelated to his subsequent prolonged spell in the limelight.

United manager Steve Evans was understandably incandescent with rage after Taylor contrived to allow a set piece to proceed while Wednesday’s Fernando Forestieri was making his snail-paced way off the pitch, having been substituted. Leeds, two down at the time, scored a perfectly good goal which was initially awarded and then sheepishly chalked off by Taylor. Evans described the bumbling official as fit only for an Under-9s league and it was easy to understand his frustration. It was a case of extremely inept match management that arguably denied Leeds a deserved route back into a fixture they were actually dominating – albeit from a losing position. 

Since then, it seems that Taylor has been on our screens more often than the ubiquitous and even more annoying Katie Hopkins. And this after the kind of cock-up that might have been expected to see him relegated to League Two fixtures on the  rainiest, bleakest midweek evenings. Could it be that such discomfiture heaped on Leeds United, never exactly the establishment’s favourite club, caused more chortling than concern in the corridors of power? Might it perhaps have amused certain Leeds-hating gentlemen in grey suits and influential positions, to the point where they felt it appropriate to rub some salt into an open wound?

It’s easy if not exactly appetising to imagine the violent shade of puce which must disfigure Steve Evans’ face every time he sees Taylor on his TV set. As manager of Leeds United, though, he can expect to have his blood pressure raised by instances of callous disregard and blatant micky-taking by the game’s rulers. It goes with the territory. 

Still, it’s odd in the extreme that Taylor should have become quite such a small-screen idol after such a very humiliating faux pas. In other circumstances, he would surely have experienced the wrath of his superiors. But, it was Leeds – did that make the difference?

Taylor’s latest centre-stage appearance was in yesterday’s Tale of Two Cities clash between Manchester‘s finest and surprise package Leicester at the Etihad. A plum fixture, to be sure – one that any referee would covet, let alone a man so recently exposed as a bumbling incompetent. During proceedings, we were told by the commentators that Taylor had taken a brief break from his busy TV schedule to attend a UEFA course. It seems that our favourite ref will be seeing much more action in Champions League matches next season. The mind boggles. Let’s hope he’s learned the rudiments of match control by then. 

Call me paranoid if you wish. But remember – there’s nothing like people getting at you, or your favourite team, for 50 years or so, to engender a feeling that the world’s against you. Anthony Taylor’s unlikely late season stint in the spotlight is persuasive evidence that, for Leeds United, this is still very much the case. 

Lucky Sheffield Wednesday Benefit From Opponents’ and Officials’ Howlers   –   by Rob Atkinson

Referee Taylor: Which way is the rule-book?

Sheffield Wednesday 2, Leeds United 0

Sometimes, a simple scoreline can be so deceptive. Without making too many excuses for the myriad inadequacies of this Leeds United performance, the match between United and Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough was one of those occasions when the score alone tells a very misleading story.

The fact of the matter is that Leeds, having more than held their own in a first half where steadier finishing would have seen them comfortably ahead at the interval, had their own ‘keeper Marco Silvestri as well as some fathomless decision-making by replacement ref Anthony Taylor to blame for a second period capitulation. Ironically, it was the home side in the unfortunate position of having to field a third-choice goalkeeper – but any observer unaware of this fact might have guessed that the novice was in the away goal. Silvestri first gave away a needless corner from a shot heading two yards wide, resulting in a scrambled opener – and then spilled a long-range shot for the predatory Hooper to claim a second for Wednesday.

In such circumstances, you could perhaps have forgiven Leeds for concluding that it simply wasn’t their day – but to their credit, they plugged away and continued to press the home side back. It took a bizarre piece of refereeing to deny United an avenue back into the game as the clock ticked towards the final ten minutes. Leeds had already been denied by the woodwork when Wendies defender Pudil committed a foul – surely a second bookable offence – that gave Leeds what seemed like a deserved goal from Liam Cooper. The referee had checked on the progress of Wednesday’s substitution of Forestieri, had seen the player making his way slowly off – and had then whistled for the Leeds free-kick to be taken, signalling a goal when Cooper bundled the ball into the home net. Bizarrely, he then reversed his decision after consultation with the fourth official and Leeds were denied. In effect, Wednesday had benefited directly from time-wasting in the shape of Forestieri’s snail-pace trudge off the pitch. Rough justice – the kind of justice meted out to Leeds United over the past half-century – had kicked the Whites in the teeth yet again.

From the retaken free kick, insult was added to injury when Pudil – who should have seen red for the foul that led to the original award – cleared the ball off the line, and Leeds United’s last chance of recovery was gone. In truth, of course, United’s own profligate finishing and the basic errors of a goalkeeper in Silvestri whose position must now surely be in jeopardy, have ended up costing Leeds dear. But yet another unprecedented piece of shoddy refereeing leaves a nasty taste in the mouth – one that Leeds fans are all too familiar with from long and bitter experience. Plus ça change… It’s difficult to see this particular football tradition ending anytime soon.

Finally – and just to put the slings and arrows of an outrageous South Yorkshire lunchtime into perspective – it appears that a Wednesday fan lost his life to a heart attack on the Hillsborough Kop as the game was in its second half. Such a tragedy would blight any occasion, and it certainly puts petty sporting rights and wrongs firmly into their unimportant place. To the late football fan and his grieving family, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything extends sincere condolences and sympathy. Rest in peace.

No Official Response to WHY Mancunian Ref Taylor Was Picked for Man Utd Match – by Rob Atkinson

Former Man U favourite Howard Webb celebrates with his team-mates... but at least he wasn't from Manchester

Former Man U favourite Howard Webb celebrates with his team-mates… but at least he wasn’t from Manchester…

Leeds United fans have cause to remember Wythenshawe referee Anthony Taylor – not too fondly, though – for his performance in a game between United and Middlesbrough early in the 2011/12 season. Taylor contrived to send off Jonny Howson and Max Gradel of Leeds as well as Boro’s Tony McMahon in a game which then United manager Simon Grayson described as “not having a dirty tackle in it”. Middlesbrough won the match 1-0.

That might well establish Mr. Taylor as a referee of less than optimal competence, certainly in Whites fans’ eyes – and yet he has gone on to officiate regularly in the Premier League, appearing to court controversy at about the same rate as any other referee on the roster – less, even, than some that we could name (and have named in the past). The other week, though, proud Mancunian Taylor dropped a particularly public clanger when failing to award a clear penalty against Man U at Newcastle United‘s St James Park, in a game won by the visitors with a late goal. Tim Krul gifted an easy chance to Ashley Young, who snapped it up before he could even remember to dive – and another Man U smash and grab was done. Same as it ever was, you might say. A penalty not given against Man U and a spawny late winner for them too – what’s so unusual?

The major issue here, though, may not have been the missed penalty – nor even the unsavoury spitting incident that Cisse of Newcastle admitted and apologised for, with Evans of Man U characteristically denying any wrongdoing, in accordance with club policy – despite clear video evidence. No, the real bugbear here is the fact that – for no apparent reason and with no possible justification – the authorities saw fit to appoint a Mancunian referee for a match involving a Manchester-based club.

To my knowledge, there was always a rule whereby a referee from the same area as one of the teams contesting a match would not be selected to take that fixture. That just seems like good, plain common sense, and I haven’t heard of any change to what was always a rigidly-observed convention. The not exactly infrequent situation whereby what seemed an obvious penalty was not awarded against Man U becomes even more unfortunate and embarrassing when combined with this additional and avoidable referee situation. Why on earth would the authorities court even more controversy than arises as a matter of routine, every time Man U get off scot free on a stonewall penalty shout?

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything has been a loud and frequent critic of the kid-glove treatment that is still handed out to the Pride of Devon, even now in these post-Ferguson times when – presumably – the powers that be are in somewhat less of a state of abject fear than they were when the Demented One was in charge of Man U and, by extension, the game. So this is not, perhaps, a voice that will be seen to be particularly impartial or unbiased. And yet the facts speak for themselves. It is simply true to state that rarely a month goes by without some blatantly naff decision in favour of the denizens of the Theatre of Hollow Myths. It’s no secret, and there’s plenty of internet wringing of hands that goes on about it, with a predictably bland and complacent attitude on the part of both Man U, their hordes of armchair fans and the nominal rulers of the game. But to have them allocated their own, local referee as well, for a game that might well have been tricky for van Gaal’s men had decisions gone as they perhaps should – that really rather does take the biscuit, if not the actual urine sample.

I’ve not been able to find any guidance or regulation which formalises rules as regards geographical origin of referees insofar as it’s relevant to any particular fixture – I’m aware that there are some pretty nifty sleuths out there though, so any input to clear the matter up would be welcome. But it’s surely just common sense and good practice to select an official who hails from as far as possible from the homes of any two competing teams. It just makes for a fairer feel to proceedings. And – let’s face it – you could actually choose a ref from Devizes, and he’d be just as likely an adoring fan of “Nitid” as not. Those glory-seekers are all over the place, after all. But it rubs the nose of every fan of every other club in the league well and truly in it, to make such a daft and open-to-suspicion appointment as a Mancunian ref for a Man U match.

Are they really that stupid at the FA and/or EPL? Are they really that loftily complacent and arrogant as not to bother even giving the impression of ensuring fair play?? The distasteful combination of yet another bottled penalty decision, together with the fact that it was a blatantly Manc ref that bottled it, leaves a decidedly nasty taste in the mouth.

So what are these idiots and incompetents actually up to? I first asked this question immediately after the game in question. Predictably, there has been zero response. But, surely, it’s time we were told.

Man United Cup Penalty Sheds Light on Leeds Failed Spot Kick Claims – by Rob Atkinson

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Last night’s Deepdale judges panel, deeply impressed by a flawless Rooney dive

The Man U victory over Preston North End in the FA Cup 5th Round (Jubilate Deo – FL) has not only disappointed all right-thinking Leeds fans, who had hoped for a slice of history to be served up once again, reheated yet still as delicious – it has also highlighted the technical deficiencies of the recent spate of failed Leeds United penalty claims.

Leeds players, management, staff and fans – everybody, in fact, right down to Mrs Miggins in the players’ canteen – have been unanimous in their outrage and disbelief, as well as outraged disbelief and disbelieving outrage, over a series of penalty box incidents in which Leeds players have been either hacked down, sent flying, half-murdered, knouted, burned at the stake, keelhauled, kneecapped, scalped, napalmed, beaten about the head, given the Chinese burn or flayed alive – and yet no penalties have been given. It’s been nigh on unbelievable, said a Whites official disbelievingly. There’s been a couple of blatant handballs in there too, as well as an attempted coup by a well-known former chairman and something well dodgy involving hedge funds, traceable to the same source. Not once has the whistle sounded for a spot kick, despite the local casualty ward being overrun by near fatally injured Leeds players, all assaulted in the box, or something similarly embarrassing and painful.

But now new and highly convenient information has come to light regarding a little-known but currently preferred method of assessing penalty claim validity. The new guidelines are amply illustrated by the penalty awarded to Man U at Deepdale in last night’s cup tie. A top football administrator was kind enough to explain: “Firstly, as we can see on the TV replay, no contact whatsoever was made by the defender with the diving player, Sir Wayne Rooney of England and St George. This is a vital point – we can’t risk injury to England’s top diver. Secondly, the player not fouled was wearing a Manchester United shirt – again, this is absolutely pivotal to the success of these claims. And thirdly, we were drawing a ga… Ahem. I mean Mighty Man U were drawing a game we – they – needed to win. A combination of these factors will always mean a nailed-on penalty award, especially if Sir Wayne feels that he wants to score a goal. In cases of doubt, an independent panel can rule in favour of Sir Wayne using our extraordinary, super-special “TCP” – Tantrum Containment Protocol  – (see picture above)”

“Clearly, the recent claims by Leeds United for penalties have fallen down when assessed by any and all of these three scrupulously fair indices. Furthermore, an examination of the penalties awarded against Leeds will reveal that no contact has been made in the majority of those cases, constituting an obvious prima facie case for penalty awards under the “It’s OK Cos It’s Against The Damned United” Provisions, 2007 (and ibid.) In most of those cases where Leeds were correctly penalised, these were technical matters where the ref simply had to award a penalty, or he may have had to caution the diving player – and risk handing an advantage to Leeds in contravention of prevailing League policy. You see? This was the clinching factor in Sir Wayne’s beautiful dive and claim at Preston – we were well aware of the strong desire among Leeds fans for Preston to win, and thus revive memories of that tragic occasion on January 3rd 2010. It was just Hobson’s choice, as you can’t fail to appreciate.”

Having got the nagging penalty mystery cleared up, it is still hoped, in some quarters at Elland Road, that an explanation may yet be forthcoming over apparent “fit and proper” anomalies. These are seemingly straightforward instances of perverse judgement whereby rapists, grand larcenists, porn barons and jailed money launderers are somehow deemed “squeaky clean”, technically speaking, instead of – as one might expect – “a right nasty, evil bunch of bent bastards who should be doing hard labour on bread and water at Devil’s Island Penitentiary, without the option” – to use another esoteric legal term. Our Football Administration source declined to comment on this point, explaining that he had an appointment for new glasses and his head polishing.

Shaun Harvey is bald and half blind.

Graham Salisbury Not QUITE the Worst Ref Ever: Top Five Leeds Official Hate Figures – by Rob Atkinson

Webb:  Not as Bent as Michas or Kitabdjian

Webb: A Sad Loss to the Pride of Devon – Yet Not as Bent as Michas or Kitabdjian

Just to put into a proper context Graham Sainsbury’s dreadful performance as match referee for Leeds v Brentford, I thought I’d highlight some famous instances where Leeds have signally failed to get the rub of the green over the years.

Despite the fact that, currently, it’s the elderly and bewildered dotards of the Football League itself girding their withered loins to deal our club a death blow (with the current batch of refs, Clueless Sainsbury among them, seemingly happy to help) the focus here is on the men in the middle rather than those clueless suits at the top. I’ve had no compunction at all about naming and shaming – these gentlemen should really be in the stocks, getting mercilessly pelted with the finest and rankest of rotten fruit and veg.

So here we go; in reverse order of spectacular bentness and/or incompetent buffoonery, these are the Top Five candidates for “Injustice of the 20th Century”:

No. 5:  Wolves 2, Leeds 1  –  8th May 1972  (Ref: Bill Gow)

I’ve placed this as least serious from a refereeing point of view because – in the crucial penalty incident – Mr Gow was unsighted and badly let down by his linesman J C Collins of Macclesfield, an inexperienced official who apparently “froze”. It does seem to have been a blatant handball and a definite penalty though – in a match where Leeds would win the Title and therefore the “Double” if they could avoid defeat. Tellingly, Mr Gow got home that night to be greeted by his wife saying “It looked a penalty on the telly.” My main culprits for this game are the callous officials of the FA and Football League, who insisted a tired team should play a title decider a mere two days after a gruelling FA Cup Final against Arsenal. Leeds did not even get to celebrate their Cup triumph, heading straight off to Wolverhampton with their battered and wounded bodies and their missing heroes. It was a shoddy affair that you could not envisage these days. Respected “Guardian” writer Eric Todd described the uncaring treatment of a gallant Leeds side as “scandalous”.

No. 4:  Leeds United 1, West Brom 2  –  17 April 1971  (Ref: Ray Tinkler)

No doubts about the culprit here. Ray “Bastard” Tinkler’s face as he walked off the Elland Road pitch after this display wore a tellingly apprehensive expression; that of a man who knew he was heading out of a storm and into a typhoon. The game turned on an offside call – or more accurately, two of them. Already one down against opponents they’d been expected to beat easily, Leeds were pressing hard. A victory was vital in the race for the Title, anything less would pass the advantage to Arsenal. Then, Norman Hunter gave the ball away on halfway with most of the Leeds side committed forward. The ball bounced off Tony Brown into the Leeds half where a clearly-offside Colin Suggett was loitering as the linesman flags for the free-kick.Tony Brown continued his run when Tinkler failed to blow in response to the flag, passed the ball to Astle – also in an offside position – who scored. A season’s work, in the words of Don Revie, was undone in a few mad moments. Barry Davies, commentating for the BBC, memorably remarked “…and Leeds will go mad.  And they’ve every right to go mad..”  Strong stuff from a sober professional. In the wake of the crowd disturbances that ensued, Leeds were forced to play their first home games of the following season away from Elland Road, a sanction that led to points being dropped, and probably contributing to their narrow failure to win the 1972 title as well. So Mr. Tinkler may well have done us for two Championship crowns. Cheers, Ray – you utter, utter git.

No. 3:  Chelsea 1, Leeds United 0  –  FA Cup Semi-final at Villa Park  29 April 1967  (Ref:  Ken Burns)

The classic FA Cup Semi: two fine teams, not at all fond of each other – the fashionable Kings Road fancy dans of Chelsea against Don Revie’s battle-hardened stormtroopers. Or so the Press would have it. Chelsea were ahead late on, a fine goal from Tony Hateley being the difference. Leeds thought they’d drawn level when Cooper scored, but the effort was chalked off for offside, despite vociferous complaints from the Leeds players who swore blind that Cooper had come from an onside position. Then, a free kick 25 yards out. The ref took some seconds organising Chelsea’s defensive wall, and then caught the eye of John Giles – a commonly-accepted signal for the free kick to be taken. Giles rolled the ball to Lorimer, who smashed it into Bonetti’s net. Leeds were joyful, Chelsea despaired – but referee Burns ruled the goal out, ordering a retake because Chelsea’s wall was not far enough back – a technical offence against Leeds. As the commentator declared, “They’ll have to look through the rule book backwards to find a reason.” The retaken free-kick came to nothing, and Leeds were out of the Cup in the cruellest circumstances.

No. 2:  Bayern Munich 2, Leeds United 0 – European Cup Final, Parc des Princes, Paris May 28 1975 (Ref: Michel Kitabdjian)

40 years on, this still sticks in the collective craw of Leeds United fans. 40 years on, we still sing “We are the Champions, Champions of Europe” in ritual protest. Two blatant penalty shouts in the first half, the guilty man on both occasions was Der Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer.  First he handled blatantly in the area, and then a “scissors” tackle on Allan Clarke – you wondered how anyone could fail to give either.  Leeds were completely outplaying Bayern, drawing sympathy even from the English TV commentator who was bemoaning the lack of a more even contest.  Then in the second half the ball falls perfectly for Peter Lorimer just outside the Bayern penalty area.  Lorimer times his volley superbly, and it flies into the net, beating Sepp Maier all ends up.  Then confusion as the goal seems to be given, until Beckenbauer urgently directs the ref to speak to his linesman.  More confusion, then the goal is disallowed.  Bayern score twice against a demoralised Leeds near the end, and the European Cup is snatched from the hands of Revie’s old guard; the triumph that was to crown their careers torn away in the most dubious fashion imaginable.

No. 1:  Leeds United 0, AC Milan 1 – ECWC Final, Salonika, Greece 16 May 1973 (Ref: Christos Michas)

This is the Grand-daddy of bent matches, a game almost universally acknowledged to have been as straight as a corkscrew, allegations of bribery, the referee banned by UEFA afterwards – and still the 1973 Trophy is written into the extensive honours list of AC Milan.  Justice, as they say, is a gag.  Peter Lorimer on the match: “It was wholly, indisputably and wretchedly bent…”  Johnny Giles was out with an injured hamstring, but he’d been working for the media and had heard that the ref was “in Milan’s pocket”.  His gloomy view before the game was that it was one Leeds United wouldn’t be allowed to win.  Three minutes gone, and Milan are awarded a free-kick, a decision that could charitably be described as dodgy.  A weak shot takes a cruel deflection on its way into the Leeds net, and it’s 1-0 early on.  From then onwards, it was a story of United pressure thwarted by thuggish challenges from the Milanese, decision after decision going against the increasingly frustrated and demoralised Leeds team, two, possibly three good penalty shouts waved away by Michas, and inevitably the game finished with Milan leading by that early goal, collecting the trophy to hoots of anger and derision from the outraged Greek crowd who cheered the defeated Leeds side as they limped round on a lap of honour “after this most dishonourable of matches.”

There has been a petition to UEFA with a view to overturning the result in this wretched blot on the history of the game, awarding the trophy and medals retrospectively to Leeds.  UEFA did nothing.  I even started a second petition myself as, since the original effort in 2009, Christos Michas has died and is therefore not in a position to have his tender feelings wounded by justice being done.  So it seemed appropriate to try to revive the matter – after all, why should UEFA be permitted to sit complacently on such a scandalously unfair outcome? But it’s Leeds, so it’ll take a lot more than petitions to right this and other wrongs.

-o0o-

Leeds have frequently been the victims of poor decisions and examples of prejudice against them over the years.  They are still, to the best of my knowledge, the only team to concede a goal to the background of the referee punching the air in celebration – supposedly of a good advantage decision, but really?  Would it happen if the victims had been Man U?  In 1987, an FA black-tie junket broke out into cheers of joy when news arrived of Leeds’ Play-off Final replay defeat against Charlton.  We appear to be hated by dopey prats everywhere.

These are the five most blatant examples I could find of occasions when “The Damned United” have suffered at the hands of officialdom, referees in particular.  I’m sure there are many less famous instances, and I’d be interested to hear the recollections of others. More recent examples could include retrospective action against Lee Bowyer which ruled what was our star man that season out of a Champions League semi-final against Valencia (check out a blatant handball for the first goal in the away leg, too) plus a dodgy re-examination of an incident involving Jermaine Beckford at home to Millwall in a vital League One game as we were going for promotion.

It’s a well-known saying in the game that bad decisions, like bad luck, tends to even out over time so that all teams are more or less equal in the long run.  I think any Leeds fan who has even a passing acquaintance with the club’s history would have a wry grin at that one. This weekend’s travesty of a refereeing performance can only strengthen the feeling that the whistle-happy pillocks really do have it in for us; yet, on reflection, it does seem fair to say that Graham Sainsbury, or even Man U fanatic Howard Webb, pictured at the top there, is very small fry indeed, when compared to the Rogues Gallery detailed above. However bad things are now, let’s comfort ourselves with the thought – they’ve been worse in the past!

Football League Issue “Apology” to Huddersfield Over Leeds Match – by Rob Atkinson

The Football League board, yesterday.

The Football League board, yesterday

The Football League have moved to smooth ruffled feathers at Huddersfield Town, after a “misunderstanding” led to the hosts in Saturday’s West Yorkshire derby missing out on the current “penalty against Leeds United” refereeing policy. A League spokesman, Ivor Whytes-Grudge QC, confirmed that a “formal apology” had been issued, but insisted that it was just a communications breakdown that had led to the Terriers being denied a spot-kick at some point in the game. The formal League position is that the appointment of an official from the Premier League pool was to blame; the League’s own refs, they say, are well aware of current requirements as can be seen from statistics in recent matches involving Leeds.

When pressed on the matter of penalties, Mr Whytes-Grudge was emphatic. “The League has nothing to be ashamed of here. This has been a simple mistake and, as we all know, mistakes will happen from time to time. But if you look at Leeds last three games, it’s clear we’ve been doing our bit – at least with our own officials,” he added, wryly. “In those three games prior to Huddersfield, there has been a well dodgy penalty awarded against Leeds in each match. Further, in the Birmingham game at Elland Road, two nailed-on awards for Leeds were brilliantly refused. And against Bournemouth, the ref managed to award a penalty near the end and send the Leeds player off – when the foul was outside the box, with covering defenders. Sadly, the silly lad Kermorgant missed it – we’re actually considering a disrepute charge over that.”

What went wrong in the Huddersfield game, then? Surely, they’re feeling dogged by bad luck? “Well, it was a shame, but it was just one of those things. We had the appointment of Chris Foy imposed on us, after he was dropped for that weekend from the Premier League. Then – and we have to hold our hands up here – it was down to us to brief Mr. Foy thoroughly on current Football League policies. And that didn’t happen. Our bad.”

So will normal service be resumed this weekend? Mr Whytes-Grudge was cautious. “We’ll have to see about that. This Huddersfield complaint had to be looked into, and we’ve had to do a proper grovel – but it has rather brought things out into the open. The Leeds coach, Redfearn – he was starting to make a few remarks about them being got at and, when you’re sussed, you have to have a rethink and come up with a Plan B. We might just have to be a little bit subtle from here on in – know what I mean?”

Legendary Football League administrator Alan Hardaker, 102, is dead.

How Ex-Ref Poll Lifted Lid on Myth of Man U “Dominance” – by Rob Atkinson

Ferguson: intimidation

Ferguson: intimidation

As a Leeds United fan, the twenty year period between the start of the Premier League era and the departure from Man U of Alex Ferguson was for me a two-decades long spell of misery and disillusionment, relieved only by occasional peaks when some other team got a chance at the game’s major honours.

Man U monopolised the action to an extent unprecedented in modern history; to an extent, what’s more, unheralded even by their own respectable record prior to 1993. It was as if, with the inception of the Murdoch-backed elite top flight, a switch had been thrown to activate a Man U winning machine and reduce all rivals to the status of also-rans.

It was a modern phenomenon – but, as it now turns out, it was all a myth, all smoke and mirrors. This was aptly summed up by the present-day Man U struggling, with most of the same personnel and all the same financial advantages, against League Two basement boys Cambridge United. This was the reality masked by that twenty year bubble. Man U are relatively ordinary – the Taggart years were a myth. What we were watching over those two decades was nothing more than an over-long retelling of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – and we’re now some way past the part where the clear-sighted little boy has blown the gaff.

Thousands upon thousands of pissed-off football fans could tell you their own tale of a refereeing injustice sustained by their team, to the benefit of Man U. I have a variety of my own where Leeds United have been denied – a penalty given two yards outside the area at the Gelderd End, the disallowing of a Wes Brown own goal (for offside!), the failure to dismiss Man U keeper Fabien Barthez after he had conceded a penalty so crudely that it had had to be given – only for him to remain ludicrously undismissed and poised in goal to save the spot kick when he should have been taking an early bath.

Many other clubs will have similar anecdotal evidence. Tottenham’s “goal” at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, two yards over the line but not given, Barnsley’s non-awarded penalty at the Beckford End when the foul was so blatant that even the commentators swore it should have been awarded.  There are many, many more. It’s happened time and again, over the whole history of the Premier League.  A notorious statistical study found that, over an extended period of time, 87% of all fifty-fifty decisions went the way of the Pride of Devon.  In a game of fine margins, as any top-level professional sport is, that is a deeply damning statistic – and it makes a vital difference.

Over this whole period, naturally, official reassurances and denials of the obvious were as bland and unctuous as they were patronising and insulting to the intelligence of fans everywhere.  The media were complaisant in this, and the commercially-driven circus travelled on. At any slight sign of rebellion or disagreement with the party line, Ferguson himself would make a choleric proclamation; damning whichever referee had failed to decide in his team’s favour, or pouring Govan bile over whichever media organisation had dared think the unthinkable, or presumed to print heresy. One of the most familiar of radio sports headlines was “The FA have confirmed that Alex Ferguson will face no further action over [insert blatant transgression of rules here]”. It was tiresome, it was depressing – but it was the norm and, over time, a weary acceptance crept in that this is how our game now was.

Graham Poll - admission

Graham Poll – admission

Sooner or later, though, there was bound to be someone intimately involved with all of this, who would finally break ranks and confirm what we always knew: namely that two decades of unprecedented success have been founded upon bullying and intimidation to influence the game’s authorities both on and off the field, and to ensure a smooth passage in the print and broadcast media.  Then, finally, ex-referee Graham Poll came out in print and admitted how it was to be officiating in that era when Fergie’s word was law and referees (together with their support officials and governing body) were under immense pressure to rule on matters in a manner favourable to Man U.

“All the refs wanted in a Man U game,” said Poll, “was to get the match over, without having made any controversial decisions against Fergie’s boys – and ideally with Man U having won.”

Damning stuff, straight from the horse’s mouth. Again, we’re back to those fine margins. At the top level of any sport, it doesn’t take much to destroy the balance upon which depends true competition to ensure a reasonably level playing field.  It turns out that the playing field was as skewed as Yeovil’s legendary sloping pitch of giant-killing memory.  But at least at Yeovil, both teams got to play with the slope for half a game each.  Poll’s evidence is that the slope was in favour of Man U for 90 minutes plus however many were needed to ensure the “right” result.  Man U have won all those Fergie years honours with the aid of loaded dice.  So much in control of the game were they, it redounds to their shame that they didn’t win absolutely everything, every year.

Don’t take it from me.  Why would you?  I’m a Leeds fan with my own instinctive dislike and contempt for that over-blown club, that media-inflated false legend built on a well-marketed tragedy.  But just think back over all those incidents going back all those years.  Look at the watershed of the Premier League being founded – how the game was suddenly all about commercial interests, flogging satellite dishes and replica shirts.  Look where the biggest market was – all those plastic Man U fans in Devon and Cornwall, all of those merchandise-hungry fanatics who never saw a match day but shelled out for tacky Man U tat.  Look at the record of the Man U club prior to 1993 – seven titles in all their history.  And then 13 titles in twenty years after Murdoch bought the game and gift-wrapped it for Man U.  That’s quite a before and after picture, isn’t it?

The insistent pressure was extended beyond its mere effect on referees, too.  How many times have you seen Sky TV lingering lovingly over some Man U performance where the opposition simply caved in and rolled over to play dead?  And they’d win, 7-0, 9-0 even. Because they weren’t a bad team, and over the course of those twenty years they may well have won four or five titles, even if the game hadn’t been bent out of shape in their favour. See, I can be realistic about these matters. But ask any sports psychologist about the drip, drip, drip effect of relentless media propaganda. How many times do you need to be told you have no chance, before you begin to believe it? Teams went there psyched-out, expecting to lose, knowing they’d never get a penalty and would more than likely concede one or two and maybe end up with ten men too. Sometimes, they would even rest important players for a game they had a chance of winning a week later. They’d naturally sink to a defeat they acknowledged as inevitable, and Man U’s title rivals could do nothing but grind their teeth. And so the whole basis on which league football is predicated was blown out of the water, all to the inevitable benefit of Man U.  Fine margins and psychological edge – it doesn’t take much to warp the whole shooting match hopelessly out of shape.

What Graham Poll has done is to admit – in so many words – just what a relief it was to get off the pitch without having made any significant decision against a victorious Man U – because he knew what would follow as Ferguson would bitch about it in the press, and nobody would hold him to account.  There are plenty of examples of referees making the “wrong” decision, leading to the “wrong” result – and then not being awarded another high-profile game involving the Pride of Devon for literally months.  It was freely bandied about that this or that ref had been “banned” by Taggart. Meanwhile, the refs who “behaved themselves” – and we all know who they are – were regular fixtures at Old Trafford games, or in away matches featuring Man U.  It was all so frightfully, disgustingly cosy.

Now Ferguson has gone, and Poll – possibly tongue-in-cheek – was “worried” this time last year for the tyrant’s successor David Moyes.  He warned Moyes that he has “no chance” of pulling off the same kind of influence that he cheerfully and willingly admits Ferguson exerted over the game’s arbiters.  Some may well have noticed attempts on the part of the pitifully inoffensive Moyes to act like some Fergie clone, blustering his way into some pallid imitation of the Beast of Govan. But really, it was to very little avail.  And, inevitably, Moyes paid the price as Poll clearly foresaw. It just wasn’t the same for Man U without Ferguson to tyrannise the game, and still isn’t the same feeling under the almost equally baffled van Gaal, for whom the cracks are now starting to show in the shape of tetchiness and intolerance on camera. The Beast is gone – for the moment anyway – and with him has gone most of the edge of intimidation granted to Man U for so many years.

The thing is, this will come as news to not all that many people.  Figures within the media will profess astonishment and cynicism, preferring to dismiss even such compelling testimony as a storm in a teacup.  You still hear, week after week, commentators doing their best to sound surprised when another Man U foul goes unpunished, another good penalty shout goes un-awarded.  In tones of wonderment, they will observe “Well, the ref seemed to have a good view of that, I can’t quite understand why he’s not given it…”  Week after week, month after month, year after monotonous year.  But the fans know – and the fans, other than those with a vested interest and an armchair in Milton Keynes, will be totally unsurprised over those admissions of Graham Poll.  They will not be startled by what he has said – maybe just at the fact that he chose to say it. All of this has been so ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ over the Premier League era.  But the fans have known, alright.

It explains why, whenever a fan answers the question “who do you support” with “Man U” – and despite all those trophies, all that dominance – there is no gasp of respect, no acknowledgement of success.  It’s much more likely that they’ll be laughed at, and there’s no greater tragedy than that for what was once a name respected throughout world football – even if they HAD gone 25 years without the Title.  Ultimately, this will affect the way in which a famous club is regarded by history.  Nobody needs to tell a Leeds United fan about that – and there are more reasons to damn this United from just outside Manchester than there ever were to damn our own beloved United of Leeds.

It’s not clear why Graham Poll chose to come out and confirm what so many of us have known for so long.  Maybe it was a warning ahead of a possible return for Ferguson should even Louis van Gaal suffer Moyes’ fate and be cast adrift as the failures and defeats pile up. There is a precedent for this. Busby returned briefly when Wilf McGuinness, his hapless successor, found he’d inherited a poisoned chalice.  But that was 40-odd years ago and there was no Premier League to warp the game out of shape for pecuniary considerations. And Ferguson, it goes without saying, is no Sir Matt – he is unfit to lick Busby’s shoes, never mind fill them. Our game is far better off without his malign presence and influence.

Could Graham Poll, resentful of the pressure he had to work under as a ref for Man U games, be trying to warn the current batch of officials not to go back to their cowardly old ways if Ferguson DID make a comeback?  Could he belatedly be recognising where his duty to the game should actually be leading him?  One thing’s for sure: it’s out in the open now – and it’s the job of everyone with the interests of football and fair competition at heart to make sure that’s exactly how it stays.

Round-up: New Cellino FL Charges Rock Leeds + Man U ‘Legend’ Retires – by Rob Atkinson

Sheriff Cellino to face FL lynch mob?

Sheriff Cellino to face FL lynch mob?

After a lengthy and sulky silence since a High Court defeat over their attempts to ban Massimo Cellino, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything can exclusively reveal that the gentlemen of the Football League (motto: In Senility We Trust) have drawn up a new raft of charges against the Italian. It is being confidently predicted that these latest allegations will shock and disgust the English football establishment to such a degree that Cellino will have no choice but to stand down.

A Football League statement, issued today, specified the following misdemeanours allegedly committed by Cellino since his confirmation as Leeds United owner:

  • That he has made Leeds United FC debt-free and solvent, with millions in working capital;
  • That he has pruned the Leeds United squad of deadwood left over from the Bates era;
  • That he has, moreover, obtained fees for several of these unwanted players;
  • That he has embarked on a programme of player recruitment to strengthen the squad;
  • That he proposes to acquire Elland Road and found a local Training Academy;
  • That – most seriously – he obtained a fee of £11m for Ross McCormack (approx three times the player’s true value).

The FL statement went on to emphasise how seriously it is taking these matters. “Any one of these charges, if proven, would be sufficient for the application of punitive sanctions,” said League spokesperson Mr Gobfrey Buffoon, “as any one of the measures Mr Cellino has allegedly taken would threaten to make Leeds United much more competitive, even to the point where a promotion push is feasible. This is quite clearly in contravention of several League regulations as well as the dying wishes expressed by our late, great leader, Saint Alan Hardaker.”

It is expected that the League will be supported in any action against Leeds United and Massimo Cellino by the majority of their member clubs, all of whom have expressed uneasiness at the thought of the Elland Road outfit attaining Premier League status.  Mr Cellino, when asked for his reaction to yet more Football League charges, was terse and yet apparently charitable. “Peace on them”, is all he would say to us, before heading off to the Old Peacock to get the beers in.

Elsewhere in the soccer world, it’s a sad day for the Biggest Club in the Universe™ as one of their all-time legends has announced his retirement. Howard Webb, the Trafford Ballpark outfit’s MVP for most of this century, has decided to call it a day at only 43 and with seemingly years of useful Man U service left in him.

Pride of Devon fans mourn the loss of a legend

Pride of Devon fans mourn the loss of a legend

It is not yet clear where new Theatre of Hollow Myths boss Louis van Gaal proposes to seek a suitable replacement for Webb. A spokesman for the franchise would only confirm that several promising younger officials were being looked at, and that early-season performances would be monitored carefully. Meanwhile, the loss of Webb has left a gaping hole in the Premier League also-rans’ squad, and it is thought that a new man will be recruited as a matter of urgency. With van Gaal fully occupied in his task of at least maintaining last season’s mid-table form, speculation is rife that the matter of Webb’s replacement may be delegated to former boss Alex Ferguson. This has been neither confirmed nor denied by the Man U board.

Shaun Harvey is 94.

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

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S’ralex in happier times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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