I’ve never been fond of the whole huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ scene myself, not have I ever been enamoured of blood sports – it seems perverse to me that entertainment should be had at the expense of some poor creature’s life. Still, it takes all sorts and, like most people, I tend to afford my sporting heroes a bit of latitude where their tastes differ from my own. Thus, I never had any problem with Vinnie Jones, who is frequently to be found at the less harmful end of a gun as he pursues his countryside recreation. It’s just one of those things I file under inexplicable, and move on, minding my own business.
Another Leeds United legend who enjoyed a spot of sporting mayhem was Jack Charlton, lost to us at 85 on Friday after a long illness. Big Jack was beloved by many for his extraordinary contribution to the football world as player, club manager, international manager and as a pungent pundit who was never at a loss for a bon mot or two. He was larger than life, massively successful, utterly likeable and revered accordingly. It’s certainly not for me to pick faults with a man of that stature and a legend in the history of the club I love.
However, there’s always the odd person who is willing – nay, eager – to abandon any such scruples and weigh in on the attack even against a beloved public figure, just as soon as they are safely dead and unable to defend themselves or retaliate. In the case of York councillor and former City Mayor Dave Taylor, we’re talking about a very odd person indeed, with a particularly lousy sense of timing. Councillor Taylor chose to bray his delight at the news of Big Jack’s passing, barely 24 hours after that sad event. For a person in public life to put into print on social media such very tasteless comments as Taylor did must surely indicate supreme self-confidence or profoundly arrogant stupidity. I offer no verdict on that point, beyond noting that the offending Facebook status was removed when poor Dave became aware he’d upset folk with his crass comments.
Sadly for those of a reckless demeanour and possessed of mouths that flap without brain being engaged, nothing ever disappears from the Internet, and Taylor’s unwise and tasteless remarks are quite easy for anyone to find. I shall not reproduce them here, I wouldn’t wish to sully this blog with such crass idiocy and, after all, the necessary details are indelibly out there. Suffice to say that the initial remark was along the lines of I hear Jack Charlton is dead. Good – later toned down to some weasel words about having no sympathy and finally deleted altogether. But it may be that some of Jack’s legions of fans and friends will choose to pursue and harry Councillor Taylor, who might well pay the price so many public figures pay when they choose to chelp not wisely, but too well. And there’d be some justice in that, along with maybe some comfort for those appalled by Taylor’s sheer lack of taste and respect. Who knows? The Green Party are unlikely to welcome the publicity that their York councillor is attracting, and they will have a decision to make as to what, if any, disciplinary action is appropriate.
Councillor Taylor, pictured above, looks like the kind of chap who seeks and welcomes attention. But it seems that, in the matter of his attack on the late and deeply lamented Jack Charlton, he may already be regretting the attention he’s attracted. He might just have bitten off more than he can chew. I do hope so.
Tommy Smith, Liverpool’s legendary hard man defender and frequently skipper in the sixties and seventies, passed away today aged 74. With him went another link in the chain that Liverpool and Leeds United forged between themselves in those two decades, for most of which time they were untouchable as the two great powerhouses of English football.
Tommy was an original who became almost a cliché in that he was one of the earliest examples of the “take no prisoners” school of defending as English League football went through a grisly tough phase before and after Alf Ramsey’s World Cup triumph in 1966. In those days, a cult grew up around defenders upon whom you could rely to “kick owt that moves”; most of the top teams had at least one such. Indeed, what possibly set Leeds aside was that they were so richly served on both the constructive and destructive sides of the game. Man United’s George Best famously reminisced “All the top teams had one hard man. We had Nobby Stiles, Liverpool had Tommy Smith, and Arsenal had Peter Storey. Leeds United, by the way, had eleven of them”. That’s the kind of slightly grudging, backhanded compliment that makes a football fan’s heart swell with pride.
Tommy Smith, though, really did stand out. His appearance was almost that of a Desperate Dan in all red, the kind of man you supposed would shave with a blowtorch. Granite jawed and imposing, he struck fear into many a flash striker’s heart, and he neither gave nor asked any quarter when battle was joined. His catchphrase, issued in a Scouse growl whenever he was annoyed by opposition antics, was “Do that again, and I’ll snap yer back”. It was probably safer to assume that Tommy meant it, and behave accordingly.
On one famous occasion, though, when Leeds United visited Anfield, Allan “Sniffer” Clarke had the temerity to upend Tommy, leaving him dazed on the turf. Blinking and shaking his head, Smith enquired of his concerned Liverpool colleagues, in the manner of a road accident victim asking if anyone got the car’s number, “Who did that? I’ll snap his back!” A Liverpool team-mate promptly replied, “It was Clarke. And he’s just gone and kicked Emlyn up in the air as well”. Immediately, Smith’s expression softened. It was well-known on Merseyside that Smith had no time at all for Emlyn Hughes, and that fact clearly saved Sniffer from retaliation, as the Anfield Iron just smiled and got up a little groggily, saying “Ah, let him be. I always knew that fellow Clarkey was a good lad”.
It’s one of those stories linking Bill Shankly’s Liverpool with Don Revie’s Leeds, along
Tommy and Billy, Red and White
with the Spion Kop applauding the new Champions in 1969 after Leeds United secured a 0-0 draw at Anfield to win their first title. It was typical of the mutual respect between two great northern clubs, and it was still going on in 1992 when Leeds fans applauded Liverpool off at Wembley after the Reds had been beaten 4-3 in the Charity Shield. United fans hadn’t forgotten that their third title had been confirmed when Liverpool beat Man Utd 2-0 the previous April. It was a fantastic sight to behold, confirming the enduring link between good friends and foes.
Tommy Smith epitomised this fierce but friendly rivalry, and we’re all the poorer for his loss. I’ll never forget his finest hour, powering home a header in the 1977 European Cup Final to help Liverpool become Champions of Europe for the first time. It was a goal that summed the man up: uncompromising and unstoppable, scored by a legend among legends.
Tommy Smith, Liverpool FC Legend. (5.4.45 – 12.4.19) RIP
The more I see of football these days, with all of its allegedly “world class” stars, the more I think of the guy who scored the first goal I ever saw Leeds United score – in the flesh, so to speak. His hair was red and fuzzy and his body black and blue, and his name was Billy Bremner. God alone knows what he’d be worth today – sadly, he hasn’t been around since that awful time, 21 years ago exactly, when football was deprived of a legend and Leeds United began to come to terms with the loss of a man who embodied everything that the Last Champions were all about, at their very, very best.
On the 7th December 1997, two days short of his 55th birthday, our greatest captain Billy Bremner died following a heart attack after a bout of pneumonia. The Leeds United world was plunged into shock and mourning at the death of a true hero, and the game’s great and good attended his funeral in Edlington. The tiny church, packed to the rafters with household names, was resounding testimony to the respect in which the wee man was held by all who knew the legend. Old comrades and old foes alike were there to say goodbye to an icon who had left us tragically young, but who had emblazoned his name across an era not wanting for stars.
Billy Bremnerwas quite simply a phenomenon. From the earliest days of his Leeds United career, once he had recovered from a bout of home-sickness for his native Stirling in Scotland, he was an automatic selection for the first team, unless injury or suspension ruled him out. He was a warrior, despite his diminutive size, but he was blessed with all the other attributes needed for a central midfielder on the battlegrounds of the English First Division. Skill, courage, “workrate” – as it’s known these days – were combined with sheer guts, tenacity, will to win – and that indefinable x-factor that ultimately set him apart from other gifted performers. A ball-winner, a talented user of the ball once won, a relentless harrier of the opposition for the full ninety minutes plus of each gruelling game – and a scorer of great goals too. Bremner was a big occasion man, a serial winner of semi-finals (Man U being his favourite victims), a man who unfailingly stepped up to the mark when his team-mates and fans needed him. He was utterly self-effacing in the interests of what was best for the team.“Side before self, every time“was his motto, and he lived up to those words for as long as he was involved in football.
Some called him dirty. And he was as capable as most other combative central midfielders of a bit of feisty skullduggery – but to define him by his occasional sins would be short-sighted in the extreme and would display, moreover, a lack of awareness of exactly what his game was all about. A consummate passer of the ball – with the neat reverse pass a speciality, flummoxing and wrong-footing many an international-class opponent – Bremner was the epitome of Don Revie‘s Leeds United, a team who said “If you want to play, we’ll out-play you; if you want to battle, we’ll out-battle you.” They usually out-thought and out-psyched the opposition as well. Many a visiting player was artfully allowed a glimpse as they passed by of the sign on the home team dressing room wall at Elland Road. “Keep Fighting”, it said – which was what Leeds United, guided by Don Revie off the field and Billy Bremner on it, did – and they did it better than just about anybody else.
The Sunday Times perhaps summed-up Billy Bremner as well and as succinctly as anyone. “Ten stone of barbed wire” they called him – the image of a spiky, perilous bundle of energy conjured up in five telling words. I saw an old clip on YouTube recently, grainy black and white footage of some or other game back in the day, and there had been an incident that set the players en masse at each other’s throats. Bremner – unusually – must have been some way off when the flashpoint occurred, for he was nowhere to be seen with the melée already well established. And then, from the right-hand margin of the screen, came this white-clad, unmistakable figure, tiny but fierce, hurtling towards the centre of the conflict with the desire to weigh in on behalf of the team writ large in every line of his being. He was a frenetic mixture of Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil, plunging into the fray like some one-man whirlwind, wreaking his own inimitable brand of havoc. Bremner was famous, even notorious, for this – for his battle-cry of “cut one of us, and we all bleed.” Billy shed blood in the United cause – usually, it must be said, not his own. But a thug he was not, and any team, any time, anywhere in the world would break the bank to have a Billy Bremner in his prime among their number. Fortunately for Leeds United, he loved the club and served it for sixteen years, becoming synonymous with the famous Whites of Elland Road. As Leeds fans, we could nominate no better candidate for the honorific title of “Mr. Leeds United”. Only the great John Charles, operating in a much less successful era at Leeds and destined to win his medals on foreign fields, could come anywhere near.
My second match as a Leeds United supporter was the European Cup semi-final, first leg againstCF Barcelona, Johann Cruyff, Johann Neeskens and all. Those two Dutch masters, with all the other glitterati of the Catalans’ world-class line-up were expected to have too much for a United side on the cusp of just dipping over the hill. The previous Saturday, I’d made my first visit to Elland Road and had seen us lose to Liverpool. I was all agog at the atmosphere, and didn’t really care about the result – I just wanted more.
BBC Commentary, Leeds Utd v Barcelona 9.4.75
So it was that my first ever Leeds United goal came to be scored by Billy Bremner himself, the greatest player in the greatest team United ever had. A long ball from Johnny Giles, headed down by Joe Jordan, found King Billy in enough space on the edge of the area at the South Stand end. He measured the situation, took aim and rifled the ball superbly, well wide of the helpless keeper, into the top left-hand corner. The din was deafening, like nothing I’d ever heard before, and rarely since. “Elland Road erupts” intoned David Coleman for the BBC, when he could make himself heard. The image of the small, red-headed giant belting that ball home will live with me to my last day. I’ve always been proud that my first goal was scored by King Billy. I feel as though, in a funny way, I own that goal.
of the significance of the occasion. “Nine men and Billy….we’ve got nine men and Billy!“, they sang, loud, proud and raucous. “Billy Bremner’s barmy army” got many a refrain as well. The fans had said farewell to the Captain of the Crew in a manner hugely identifiable with the man himself and with the fighting traditions of the great side he led with such distinction. As far as these things can be, it was deeply fitting, and those who remembered Billy gave a knowing nod of appreciation.
RIP Billy Bremner. Departed far too soon, and greatly missed still. It’s unlikely we’ll ever have another quite like you.
No need for any flowery prose here. No possible dispute about the sentiment in the title of this brief piece.
Don Revie was the greatest English manager of all time. He single handedly raised Leeds United from mediocre nonentities, famous only for John Charles in the forty-odd years of their history, to the most feared and respected club side in the world. Leeds United were the last club to emerge from obscurity to attain the status of giants; there have been no additions to those ranks since. Don Revie brought this about, a success story from humble beginnings that no other manager can match.
On the 88th anniversary of his birth, let all Leeds United fans raise a glass to The Don – The Greatest. Taken far too soon over 26 years ago, but still loved by those who matter, still revered by those who know – never forgotten.
Don Revie – simply the best English football manager ever.
Fifteen years ago today, two of our number – two brothers in White – were brutally murdered by cowardly thugs in Taksim Square, Istanbul. Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight travelled abroad to support their heroes of Leeds United play in a UEFA Cup semi-final against a team representing a club that glories – still to this day – in generating an atmosphere of evil and murderous hatred. UEFA themselves were ineffectual back then and have largely remained so, turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to repeated instances of this awful club’s “fans” disgracing the name of football.
That’s the background that we’re all too well aware of. But today is about remembering two lads who loved their football club but had their futures stolen from them in a manner that has nothing to do with the Beautiful Game. As has often been said since, nobody should ever set off to a football game, only to lose their lives. The tragedy and poignancy of that bleak sense of loss weighs our hearts down still.
The poem below expresses far better than I ever could this sadness – which is yet tinged with pride that Leeds United has such support, that we are a massive global family which suffers together over such a tragedy and that we will never forgive or forget. Justice has dragged its heels, but the Leeds family has always been there to remember those two lads who never came home.
I came across this poem just yesterday, and was blown away by it. Sadly, it was written by someone who has since passed away himself – I know only his first name, Dennis. But it expresses what we have all felt ever since that terrible day in 2000 when we lost two members of our Leeds United family.
These beautiful verses seems to me to say it all – so I reproduce them here, with thanks and much respect to the late Dennis, who wielded a pen, not a knife – and proved himself a true fan of football and Leeds United. Just like Chris and Kev.
I dreamed I saw Chris and Kevin Down at Elland Road today Said I but lads, you’re some years gone We never left said they We never left said they
Still stunned and dreamy I asked of them Why do you linger still? Your love and kindness is our bread We stayed to eat our fill We stayed to eat our fill
Is this just one last show from you Then forever you’re away? It’s true you may not see us here But here we’ll always stay But here we’ll always stay
So tell us what’s your darkness then Pray tell us where’s your light It’s darkest when your heads go down When you sing our world is bright When you sing our world is bright
But are we not just mortals, lads Whose time will pass us by? Our kin and Leeds are part of us A part that will not die A part that will not die
I dreamed I saw Chris and Kevin Down at Elland Road today Said I but lads you’re some years gone We never left said they We never left said they
Still stuck in post-festive torpor and suffering with a heavy cold besides, I was watching “The Dam Busters” on Channel Five this afternoon, marvelling at the unaccustomed use of the “N-word” in reference to Guy Gibson’s dog, which rejoiced in a name even Nigel Farage would baulk at these days. Well, possibly. Much more to be marvelled at was the reckless bravery and absolute lack of fear among the aircrew charged with delivering the Barnes Wallis “bouncing bomb” against three dams in the industrial heartland of Nazi Germany, the Ruhr Valley. The mission was a significant success in terms of its objective, if not so much when judged by the number of lives lost. Over fifty men died as eight of the nineteen bombers failed to return.
It felt like the weirdest of coincidences, then, that the first news I heard after the last strains of Eric Coates’ “Dam Busters March” faded away was of the death of Leslie Silver OBE, former chairman of Leeds United AFC and a past hero of Bomber Command, completing over forty ops in Europe and twenty in the Far East, where he was involved in dropping supplies into the infamous Changi gaol. Silver left the RAF at the age of 22 in 1947, having served four years during which he flew the full quota of 250 operational hours with four different squadrons. In 2013, he was awarded the Bomber Command Clasp at the age of 88.
Clearly, no ordinary man was our Mr. Silver. Having served his country so auspiciously in wartime, he then set about creating the business empire that would eventually make his fortune as well as contributing in large measure to the revival of a moribund late-eighties Leeds United. As a highly successful businessman in his fifties, Silver had been awarded the OBE in 1982, a year after joining the United board and a year before becoming Chairman, a position he held until 1996.
Leslie Silver’s time as Chairman at Leeds United encompassed the second most successful period in the club’s history, overseeing a rise from poverty at the foot of Division Two, with a disastrous relegation into the lower reaches of the league beckoning, to top-flight promotion, European campaigns and, of course, the immortal title of the Last Champions. Leeds took that final honour by four clear points in 1992, just before the restructuring of English football on a “greed is good, might is right” basis before the altar of satellite TV.
It goes without saying that Silver’s wealth, his business acumen and his vision were driving forces behind the meteoric rise of Leeds in the late eighties and early nineties. The amazing surge to success was even more abrupt and stunning than that of Don Revie’s white machine a quarter of a century before. Chief Silver and his chosen NCO, Sergeant Howard Wilkinson, plotted a path from the basement of the second tier right up to the ultimate prize in just under four years; it took Revie and Alderman Percy Woodward half as long again to make a comparable journey in the sixties.
That Silver had the vision to identify and recruit his man, and then the courage and grit to back him financially, is something for which all Leeds fans should be forever grateful. He embellished our history with a second era of glory by his astute choice of manager and his unswerving loyalty and commitment to the Wilko plan. When Silver stepped down, it was the end of sustainable success for Leeds; beyond lay only “living the dream” and the subsequent nightmare we’re all too painfully aware of today.
Leslie Silver deserves to be remembered as a major, pivotal figure in the history of Leeds United, as well as, of course, one of those long-ago heroes from the dark days of global war seven decades back. In later life, he also became the first Chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, these days known as Leeds Beckett University – and a faculty of that institution now bears his name.
For an unassuming war hero who died with the world still riven by strife – and for the modest mastermind behind the renaissance of a sleeping football giant, who leaves us as that giant slumbers once again – the reminder of his contribution to learning in Leeds may yet be the tribute he’d have prized above all others.
RIP Marko Ivkovic, latest victim of the Istanbul cowards
As any Leeds United fan knows, Istanbul is a dodgy place to be if you’re identifiable as a follower of any team pitted against a local side, whose fans tend to glory in a reputation for bloodthirstiness with “Welcome to Hell” banners, throat-slitting gestures and other manifestations of their complete lack of civilised conduct and behaviour. Leeds fans know this better and more painfully than most after the savage murder in 2000 of two of their number on the eve of a UEFA Cup semi final between Galatasaray and United. Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight were knifed to death in Taksim Square – the amount of justice meted out since then for their senseless slaughter would fit comfortably, disgracefully, inside a peanut.
The body of the killed Serbian basketball fan is taken to the Forensics Institute
Now the madmen of Istanbul are at it again, as another supporter of a team visiting from outside Turkey has met an untimely death at the hands of lunatic cowards armed with knives. Marko Ivkovic was stabbed and killed on November 21 in Istanbul in front of the venue where a Turkish Airlines Euroleague game between Galatasaray Liv Hospital and the visiting side was being played. The name of the game is unimportant – basketball or football. Once again, as in 2000, the message has been sent out that Istanbul is not a safe or a civilised place for supporters of visiting teams to be seen or heard. And once again, local authorities in Turkey are leaning over backwards to blame the murdered rather than the murderers – Istanbul police saying that the killing was the result of a fight between Red Star’s supporters. The Serbian club Liv Hospital claimed in a written statement that the 25-year-old Marko Ivkovic was “killed by Galatasaray hooligans” and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic voiced “outrage over the monstrous murder,” according to a government statement on November 22. Vucic also said that Galatasaray coach Ergin Ataman would not be welcome in Serbia after he “accused the killed young man and all other Red Star fans of terrorism,” the Serbian government statement said.
All of this harks uncomfortably back to the murder of the two Leeds supporters, when a campaign of misinformation aimed to heap blame on Leeds fans as a group, labelling the Turkish murderers as sturdy patriots. Such is the warped sense of right and wrong, the utter absence of any sense of justice, in a city and a country which appears to embrace the knife culture as something to be proud of.
UEFA acted like a timid old woman in 2000 – in that it failed to act at all, in any meaningful or effective way. On a few occasions since then, when the animal fans of an animal club have acted to bring further disgrace on the game, the buffoons at UEFA have continued to cower behind their desks, afraid, seemingly, of any risk of upsetting the cowards and thugs of Istanbul, be they on the streets or in the local corridors of power.
Will anything happen now? Probably not. Istanbul is a blind spot for sporting authorities, it seems. Will still more innocent visitors to “Hell” have to die, before anything effective is done? Sadly, that is quite probably going to be the case.
It’s way past time for severe action. Individuals should be brought to justice by local powers who are more inclined, it seems, to make excuses and protect the guilty, the murderers. If the authorities in Istanbul are unable or unwilling to do this, then the teams, in whatever sport, that represent that city should be banned, forthwith and sine die, from competition outside the borders of Turkey. Let them slake their thirst for blood and violence on each other, let them be a local difficulty. They should not be welcome in civilised countries, neither should teams from nations which don’t routinely harbour tawdry killers be expected to visit such a very backward part of the world.
Sport and the rest of the world can do without Galatasaray and the thugs and cowards of Istanbul who wear their colours and stain their reputation with the blood of fans who simply wanted to watch a game, but ended up losing their lives. How many more will die before this simple truth will be recognised by the simpering fools of UEFA and the other European sports governing bodies?
RIP Chris and Kev – and now sadly also Marko Ivkovic.