Tag Archives: Sky Sports

Agony for Leeds but Ecstasy for Sky’s Jeff Stelling as Fulham Snatch Late Draw – by Rob Atkinson

Stelling celebrates

“And there’s bad news for Leeds United, ring out the bells, rejoice!!”

We all know that Leeds United aren’t exactly the pin-up golden boys for various shallow media types and embittered ex-footballers turned pundits. It comes as no surprise, therefore, when every now and then some be-suited eejit just can’t help himself, and goes into an ecstasy of raucous celebration when some misfortune befalls the mighty Whites. It happened again, last night on Sky TV’s soccer special – Fulham scored a last-gasp equaliser against a dogged but tiring Leeds, and the world’s most famous monkey-hanger, Jeff Stelling, almost literally exploded with joy.

It was actually quite worrying on an empathetic level, once you got past the bleak realisation that two points were drifting away from Leeds at the very last minute. Poor Jeff looked to be on the point of apoplexy, his face swelling almost to bursting point and veins throbbing in his temples. His eyes were those of a man on the edge of Hartlepudlian hysteria – you’d have feared for the life of any simian in the vicinity had Mr. Stelling a convenient length of noosed hempen rope handy. From his demeanour, you might have thought that Hartlepool United had just clinched the Champions League by battering Bayern Munich – and all of this because Leeds conceding a late leveller completely robbed a so-called professional of any poise and impartiality. It’s a rum old world.

Of course, Sky Sports as an entity has form for this kind of thing. Seasoned watchers of their rolling scoreline programme on a Saturday afternoon or weekday evening will be aware of familiar signs allowing them some prior awareness of what’s going on in Leeds United games. It works like this: once you know who is watching the Whites in action, you listen for that voice. An exultant yelp in the background while Jeff is waffling on about Man U means the Whites have conceded; a despairing punctured gasp of dismay signals a Leeds goal. I’ve seen it happen any number of times.

Getting past my possibly paranoid take on Stelling & Co, it also has to be said that Leeds United were at least partially the authors of their own misfortune last night. Once again, as in times past, they allowed a situation to develop that bore more than a passing resemblance to the siege of the Alamo, in attempting to defend a one goal lead for nigh on ninety minutes. The occasional chance to put the game to bed was spurned, for the rest it was all about facing a huge majority of possession for Fulham, while retreating deeper and deeper into defence. As the finish line came into sight, Leeds were down to ten men after a fairly soft sending-off for Kalvin Phillips, who then took an inordinate amount of time to leave the field of play. And, naturally, it was in the extra minutes added on for that sluggish exit from the arena, when Fulham at last beat Rob Green with one of the worldy strikes we seem to concede far too often.

At the end of the day, Brian, it was a good point gained at a difficult venue against worthy opponents – though it did rather feel more like two dropped. But these things happen, and not just to Leeds. We all suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune from time to time, after all. It’s just that – when it does happen to Leeds – I’d rather not have my nose rubbed in it by some joke of a TV presenter who can’t maintain his thin veneer of professionalism due to an all-too-typical hatred of Leeds United. That really does grind my gears.

Even Stelling himself appeared to realise he might have gone too far, once the red mist cleared and his face reduced to a more normal size. “The Leeds fans won’t thank me for that,” he quavered accurately. Well, you got that right, didn’t you. Shriek with joy as a battling team sees two vital promotion points disappear, to the frustration of their legions of supporters everywhere? It’s more than just a little unprofessional, that – it’s unbelievable, Jeff.

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

Leeds United Manager Steve Evans

Leeds United Manager Steve Evans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blatant Leeds-Bashing Exposes Amateur Face of Sky Sports   –   by Rob Atkinson

Sky Sports resident has-been Don Goodman

Sky Sports resident has-been Don Goodman

No writer worth his salt – not even a humble blogger such as yours truly – rushes into print with a knee-jerk conclusion based upon sketchy evidence. So you may take it as read that I have ample justification for what I’m about to say. I can point to instance without number of the kind of thing that most recently happened in the live transmission of Huddersfield Town‘s home game against my beloved Leeds United – indeed, I’ve had occasion to mention it before in the course of this season so far.

So I am absolutely entitled to say without fear of contradiction that Sky Sports‘ coverage of Leeds is characterised by shoddy amateurism, blatant prejudice and a naked desire to cater, not to fans of the Whites, but to the large anti-Leeds constituency out there, who pay their subscriptions and want to see their most-disliked team properly hammered, on the pitch, off it, or ideally both. It’s a huge market of clueless haters – and BSkyB evidently know which side their bread is buttered.

The Huddersfield game contained all the usual ingredients; an undertone of desperate desire for United’s opposition to do well (typified by the rising cadence of anticipatory excitement if the home side managed a shot on goal or a dive for a penalty appeal); a less than sympathetic interpretation of the refereeing decisions on the day, the over-riding assumption being that Leeds got all of the breaks; last but not least, the presence of Sky Sports’ very own anti-Leeds hatchet man in Don Goodman, someone who can always be relied upon to see every facet of any game in a distinctly anti-Leeds light.

The game’s most notable early incident was a clash of heads between Leeds defenders Scott Wootton and Liam Cooper prior to a United corner. The incident was serious enough for Cooper to be knocked unconscious; Wootton fared better, but can hardly have been unaffected by such a harsh meeting of minds. Once Cooper had been replaced by Sol Bamba, with Wootton able to continue, the game proceeded. Over the remaining time in the first half, Wootton committed two challenges which were definitely late and inaccurate – not something we’re unfamiliar with, even when the lad’s head is as clear as it ever gets. Goodman was quick to criticise after the first foul, for which Wootton was booked. “Cynical”, he pronounced, making no allowances for Wootton’s legendary clumsiness or the quite probable after-effects of the Cooper incident. It was noticeable that a couple of studs over the ball challenges on Leeds by Huddersfield drew no criticism, just something bland along the lines of “no malice in that”.

Wootton’s second badly-timed challenge in quick succession had both commentators calling for a second yellow and United down to ten men. Technically, they had a point; the ref could easily have booked Wootton for a second time. But it’s just as possible that he was making allowances for the clash of heads incident, as well as the fact that, on both occasions, Wootton might be said to have been going for the ball, but simply not good enough to get anywhere near it. And the fact is that, seconds prior to Wootton’s second foul, there was a blatant push on Lewis Cook that went unremarked by the commentators and unpunished by the officials. Anyway, these things happen in football and the talking heads are extremely choosy about what they pick up on. Several agricultural Huddersfield challenges during the game passed by with no action from the ref and no adverse comment from Goodman. Late in the game, there was a blatant kick out at a Leeds player by one of the Tesco carrier bags – Goodman just mumbled something about frustration.

The biggest single example of frustration on the day, though, was Goodman himself. He was still whinging about Wootton’s presence on the pitch as the United defender played a long ball down the line, for Stuart Dallas and Chris Wood to combine before Dallas crossed brilliantly to put the first goal on a plate for Mirco Antenucci. A fine goal, which lacked any description of the build-up as Goodman was still riding his hobby-horse. When he recovered from the disappointment of seeing Leeds score, Goodman could only bemoan the fact that “Football is unfair, life is unfair.” So it is, and the very best of hard cheese. The fact is that this embittered ex-footballer only seems to see injustice when Leeds benefit from it.

For the rest of the game, the resentment about Wootton remained a theme, with the only variety provided by snide remarks about United manager Steve Evans being unable to predict his own future beyond the final whistle. Don Goodman’s contribution to a great day for Leeds and for the long-suffering United fans was to carp, moan, bitch and ultimately resort to needless speculation about the prospects of a man who seems to be relishing his task in the Elland Road hot-seat, as well as getting stuck into that task in his own inimitable style.

Ironically, there was scope for some really informed comment if the amateurs behind the microphones had only identified and acted upon it. Some robust challenges went unpunished in the game and, yes, Scott Wootton could easily have seen red before half-time. Most of the officials’ energies seemed devoted to off-field transgressions of the mildest variety. Antenucci got himself booked by taking off his shirt after the first goal, revealing a yellow undershirt with a birthday message on it. Players keep doing this, and they keep getting daft bookings for it. There’s little discretion for refs to do otherwise, and that’s a cause for concern, being ridiculous overkill on the part of the powers that be.

Similarly, the fourth official‘s  main preoccupation, so it seemed, was to stop Steve Evans celebrating after each goal. What a joyless, clueless, ignorant approach to running a game full of passion, commitment and occasional explosive joy. So what if Evans cavorts on the touchline? So what if Antenucci, or any other player, dispenses with his shirt after scoring? Nobody died, after all – and I’d rather see some of the studs-up thugs getting their rightful bookings than this pettifogging, spoilsport obsession with punishing people, simply for celebrating. These annoyingly-beige people might one day succeed in taking all the spontaneity and all the passion out of the game – and where, pray, will we be then?

This sort of arse-about-face set of priorities was and is something that commentators would do well to highlight, given their prominent public platform. But, no. They’d rather take the easy road of showing their true colours – i.e. anything but yellow blue and white when Leeds United are in town. It reflects poorly on Sky and their hatchet-men of choice; it shows them up in a distinctly amateurish and prejudiced light – and it’s happened so many times now that many Leeds fans I know have stopped even laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. They’re rightly annoyed that Leeds are singled out for such treatment – especially from a has-been nonentity like Don Goodman.

It would be wonderfully surprising and uplifting if BSkyB could eliminate this shoddy flaw in their production values, so that the commentary at Championship games might perhaps approach the quality and sheer professionalism that characterises most of their excellent football coverage. But I won’t be holding my breath. Leeds-bashing has long been a national sport, in the media and among rival fans – and Sky all too clearly have their markets to cater to, including that rather large anti-Leeds contingent I mentioned earlier. Still, it’s annoying for those of us who keep the faith and know that Leeds United is a proud and historic name still. And it’s a great pity that Sky, for all their glitz and gloss, continue to employ bitter little men with bitter little minds to sully that name where and when they can.

‘Twas ever thus though, way back to the days of the Don’s Super Leeds. It’s much more “in yer face” now, that’s the thing, with cameras at every game and Leeds-haters well infiltrated into every branch of the media. They should be aware though, that we know the bitter whys and the commercial wherefores of what goes on – and we won’t put up with it in silence. Certainly not on this blog – so think on, Goodman & Co. We’re watching you, so just mind your step.

Leeds Wizard Botaka In At the Riverside Deep End?   –   by Rob Atkinson

New Leeds United man Jordan Botaka: debut today?

The same ground and the same fixture that saw the introduction to English football of Middlesbrough‘s Brazilian star Juninho could today witness the debut of another mercurial talent. Almost twenty years after the Boro star made his bow, heralding a new era on Teesside, Leeds United‘s exciting new signing Jordan Botaka might just be about to unleash his own brand of magic on the Championship – in the most challenging of circumstances. 

Two decades back, Juninho stepped out against Leeds to introduce himself to an adoring Riverside Stadium. This lunchtime, Congo international Botaka is in line for a first United appearance, backed by the Whites’ travelling army and scrutinised by the critical eye of Sky Sports live coverage. The key to the tricky wide man’s first outing is the mindset of off-colour prodigy Sam Byram, United’s defender-turned-winger, who is currently the subject of much speculation and debate – not to mention the withering attack launched on him this week by Leeds’s outspoken owner Massimo Cellino.

Byram, such a hot prospect only two years ago, has reportedly turned down a new deal at Elland Road. His form over the last eighteen months has been patchy as he’s made a troubled comeback from injury. Now it would appear that his heart and soul may be elsewhere as transfer speculation has him linked with some of England’s major clubs, as well as Sunderland. In circumstances like that, his inclusion against a rampant Boro would be a risky business for United coach Uwe Rösler. It’ll have to be all hands at the pumps for Leeds at the Riverside today, just to avoid being swamped. 

And yet this has been traditionally a happy hunting ground for United since that memorable occasion of Juninho’s first game in England. A one-all draw on that occasion was distinctly respectable, but in the intervening period there have been rich pickings here for the Yorkshire giants. Only last season, the Whites turned up, struck early through Alex Mowatt, and held on grimly in the face of a Smoggies onslaught to depart triumphant. 

A win today would be in the face of similarly daunting odds. Boro are on a roll, win after win making them stand-out performers in the depressed environment of football’s far north-east. Middlesbrough will be confident of beating a Leeds side conceivably unsettled by Cellino’s latest outburst – and this alone could make the case for the benching of Byram. Gaetano Berardi is doing a fine job at right-back, and Botaka could be the wing presence United have needed to bring out the very best of Chris Wood. The case for change is compelling – and if form is the deciding factor, Byram could hardly complain about being “rested”.

Twenty years back, Junino made his mark, but Leeds were the happier side as they salvaged a draw. Today could be the start of another player’s story as Jordan Botaka waits on the wing – and another draw would be another highly worthy result. 

Leeds Let It Slip Late; But Sky Should Sack Disgraceful Paul Walsh   –   by Rob Atkinson

Chris Wood celebrates his first United goal

For those of us trying to keep up with events at Ashton Gate via Sky’s Soccer Special, it was relatively simple to gauge the progress of Leeds United at Bristol City – simply by listening to how hopeful, depressed, bored, hopeful again and ultimately jubilant was the demeanour of the most disgracefully biased match reporter, in Paul Walsh, that it’s been my misfortune to witness. 

Hating Leeds is a media preoccupation, we know that. But do they have to be so awfully blatant about it? Walsh was transparently hoping against hope from minute one that Bristol City could get a result. When Mirco Antenucci gave United the lead from the penalty spot in the first half, the ex-Liverpool striker sulked and pouted that the advantage was undeserved. Then Chris Wood doubled the gap after the interval, applying a fine finish after cutting inside a defender. Walsh was distraught; from that time until City’s late comeback, he was morbidly resigned to defeat. When Leeds missed a half chance to go three up, he admitted he knew little about it as he’d actually started watching one of the other games. 

Only when the home side scored what looked like a last-minute consolation did Walsh perk up and show some enthusiasm and faint hope. After that, we could tell that City had gone close again but missed without even going to the game – it was clear from Walsh’s clearly audible agonised gasp off camera. Then, at the end of six minutes injury time, Walsh got his reward with a scrappy equaliser – and smiled broadly at last. 

I’m not going to dwell on yet another Leeds capitulation, it’s too depressing. We know this was two points needlessly dropped; there is some consolation in Wood breaking his duck with that fine second-half strike. For the rest, it was flattering to deceive, late panic and surrender – the usual United stuff we’ve all seen far too much of. 

The stand-out point here, the factor diverting this blogger from bemoaning another sub-standard Leeds performance, was the unforgivably amateurish and biased display of Leeds-hating from yet another old pro in Walsh, who has evidently been well-paid for the sole purpose of rubbing our noses well and truly in it. That’s just not good enough, and I’ll be contacting Sky to complain. 

I’d urge anyone who agrees that Sky are basically taking the mick to add their voices to a chorus of protest. Paul Walsh should be sacked – he’s not of the standard we have the right to expect. Our protests will fall on deaf ears, of course. But the very act of having a go might just make us feel a tiny bit better on yet another let-down of a night for Leeds United. 

Sky Sports Exclusive: Leeds Star Adryan “Wants to Leave United to be Fast Food Server” – by Rob Atkinson

Adryan: "Don't gimme no KFC, man"

Adryan: “Don’t gimme no KFC, man”

News is emerging from a Sky Sports interview with Brazilian starlet Adryan, that will rock every Leeds United supporter who is gullible enough to believe it. Remarkably, after a mere few weeks with the Elland Road club, and no first team appearances, the Flamengo youth product wishes to leave Elland Road to work in a fast food restaurant …. serving burgers!

The incredible truth of the matter is to be found in an exclusive interview given to this channel by Adryan, in which he admits that he simply adores a famous American brand of hamburger. “The truth is that this snack is close to my heart and always will be,” stated the blond boy wonder. He went on:

“It’s impossible not to think about burgers. I have a lot of affection for this food. I can’t think of eating any other kind of junk nourishment. I am a burger eater, so let’s see what happens in the future. But burgers and the cholesterol they contain will always be in my blood.”

These dynamite revelations must surely mean that Adryan’s Elland Road days are numbered, as he heads off to seek his fortune as a minimum-wage purveyor of mechanically-recovered meat products, fried and served up in mouth-watering helpings of convenience-food heaven. You can trust your Super Soaraway Sky when we tell you: Adryan wants OUT of Leeds! You heard it here first, folks.

Believe us. Adryan wants to make it in the burger-selling game. We should know – we’ve been serving up Whoppers since the late eighties, and what’s more we know that when you add two and two, you frequently end up with thirteen and a half.

Colonel Sanders is 149.

Leeds-Hating Gutter Press Step Up Campaign to Sell Ross McCormack – by Rob Atkinson

Daily Heil - one of the gutter brigade

Daily Heil – one of the gutter brigade

The crappier end of the press in this country can be very, very predictable indeed when it comes to their coverage of Leeds United.  I’m talking here particularly about the likes of the Mirror, the Mail (or the Daily Heil, as it’s colloquially known) and the Express – and then even a step lower than these diseased organs, down to the trash comics like the Sun and the Star.  Even the so-called “quality” papers can be relied upon, more often than not, to print rubbish about the Whites of Elland Road.  They hear the song that echoes around football grounds everywhere whenever a game of professional football is played in this country. They know from this that there’s a lot of clueless individuals out there who “all hate Leeds scum” – without knowing why, beyond the fact that their dads did too, back in the long-ago sixties and seventies.  They know that this Leeds-hating, brainless yet massive constituency forms a significant market, and they’re ready and willing to pander to it – as this will sell thousands more copies of their grubby rags.  It’s not big and it’s not clever – but it is lucrative.  And really – why let a few scruples get in the way of the bottom line?

So, in the interests of satisfying their Leeds-hating mass-market, the papers will have no hesitation in printing any old rubbish that might stir things up or cause upset around LS11 – anything they can fabricate or indiscriminately recycle to unsettle things at Elland Road is grist to their less-than-choosy mill.  Sometimes this will take the form of bare-faced lies – one outstanding rag the other week claimed that, if Massimo Cellino’s appeal against his tax evasion verdict were to fail, he would probably go to jail – and sometimes it’s just a matter of making something up and running with that.  For this latter category, the hack concerned will normally look at the best player Leeds currently have and write some illiterate piece linking that player with one of the last clubs Leeds fans would wish to see him leave for.  This is done with the aim of making the player restless if possible, irritating the Leeds fans and pleasing their army of anti-Leeds readers.

At its worst, this type of sleazy journalism can amount to illegal approaches from interested clubs with the media concerned acting as a conduit.  It’s not confined to the printed press either.  In January, Sky TV got ever so hot and bothered on deadline night, when the furore of McDermott’s abortive sacking developed into a feeding frenzy over Ross McCormack’s immediate future. With literally only a few hours of the window to go, Sky went into overdrive, doing their level best to generate interest from the likes of Cardiff and speculating frantically that the player would be making an urgent transfer request and heading off back to the Valleys.  There was genuine excitement and eagerness at Sky HQ – and a palpable grief and disappointment amounting to actual sulkiness, when nothing happened after all.

Now, we have the fag-end of the season to go; those last few games with not a lot hanging on them for Leeds, not a lot for the lazy hacks who masquerade as journalists to exercise their poison pens over.  So, we start with the traditional “let’s whip up some transfer interest in their best player” nonsense – and all of a sudden, our Ross44 is linked with the likes of Leicester and West Ham and sundry other smaller clubs.  It’s calculated to annoy and to disrupt – but we should bear in mind that, from all we now understand, transfer policy in these Cellino days will be advised by what is best for the club first and foremost – not by any desperate need for money and not by a willingness to pander to a player’s own whim.  The fact of the matter is that, for every transfer “story” in the gutter press that actually comes to be, there are perhaps 19 that never had even a whiff of truth about them, and which end up being far more useful as the wrappings of choice for those who love fish and chips.

It’s all part of being Leeds, after all.  We don’t need to foster a siege mentality at this club – it arises naturally because there is a state of siege as far as the rest of football and the assembled media are concerned.   And that’s annoying and sometimes even a bit upsetting – but really – would we have it any other way? Would we rather be a Man U, fawned over by a media which is comprised of liars, cheats and sycophants?  Not really.  It’s better to be Leeds, and to know exactly where we stand in relation to our enemies out there. We just have to remember: don’t believe everything they put in the papers. Or, in our case – disbelieve just about everything.

At least that way we’ll be nearer the truth.

Stand Up, If You Hate Man U – And Think It Might Be TV’s Fault

Hate Man U

On Saturday 8th January 2005, Manchester United played Exeter City in the 3rd round of the F.A. Cup. It was something of a mismatch on paper, but surprisingly a plucky Exeter team held out for a 0-0 draw, and took the holders to a replay. A significant achievement for the minnows, but this game was noteworthy for another reason; to date it remains the last F.A. Cup tie involving Manchester United not to have been shown live on TV.

Even on the face of it, this is a remarkable statistic. Particularly in the earlier rounds, there are many matches from which TV companies can take their pick, and traditionally the perceived likelihood of an upset is a big draw. Given the perennial dominance of Manchester United, it’s usually difficult to see much chance of a giant-killing, and the interest in games involving them, you might think, will be mainly for those occasions when they’re drawn against a Chelsea, or a Liverpool, or maybe even a Manchester City or an Arsenal.

Looking at the list of games included in this amazing run of uninterrupted TV spotlight, some of them really do make you wonder what the companies concerned hoped to achieve, with the chances of an embarrassingly one-sided contest surely outweighing by far any prospect of a surprise. It begs the question of whether broadcasters are putting too high a priority on audience over entertainment value. There may be a certain piquant charm in seeing the likes of Burton Albion gazing wide-eyed at the immensity of Old Trafford, but some of the ties televised have lacked even this saving grace. Middlesbrough or Reading at home? Hardly sets the pulse racing, does it?

Any hint of complaint about Manchester United will, naturally, bring anguished howls of protest from the direction of London and Devon, as hard-core Reds, some of whom may even have visited Old Trafford, loudly complain about this latest manifestation of “jealousy”. It’s become rather a knee-jerk reaction, but there’s really not a lot of foundation for it. Anyone truly motivated by envy (jealousy means something different, chaps, look it up) has a simple solution at hand – simply jump aboard the bandwagon. The prevalence of the Old Trafford club on our TV screens will certainly garner them increased “support” from those who just want to be identified with such a vulgar example of a club gorging on success. It is the more negative effect of blanket coverage that should be worrying, not so much for Manchester United, but for the sport itself.

For there is a danger here that the media have not only created a monster, but that they are actively encouraging that monster to eclipse all their rivals. The basis of any sport must be healthy competition, but there is disquieting evidence that the playing field has not been level for a long time now. It doesn’t take too much digging to unearth some unsettling trends. One study over a number of matches suggested that 88% of all marginal decisions went the way of Manchester United, and there was also a distinct lack of penalties awarded against them in league games at Old Trafford over a period of years. There have also been instances of referees who have displeased Alex Ferguson mysteriously disappearing for months from their fixtures. In a game of fine margins, as any game is at professional level, evidence that one club enjoys preferential treatment is a matter of concern. Such a trend, given the amount of money flowing into the game, could easily lead that one club into an unhealthy dominance, to the detriment, ultimately, of the spectacle as a whole. Fierce competition is so crucial to any healthy sport, that the importance of this principle is difficult to overstate.

Success, they say, is all about the steady accumulation of marginal gains. Manchester United as an institution appears fully to appreciate this, as any club should. But these days, the media are the game’s paymasters, particularly the TV companies – and when they start favouring one club above all others, then you have to fear for the ability of others to compete in the long term. It’s a matter of concern – and it could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as more coverage (of an almost exclusively favourable nature) promotes more support ever further afield for “United” as the media love to call them. And the more support they gain, the more of a market there is which will feed on their success, so the more commercially desirable their success will become – and commercial pressure speaks volumes when knife-edge decisions are to be made.

It would be difficult to imagine that any other club should have such a long, unbroken run of live TV coverage in their F.A. Cup ties. In the 4th round of this year’s competition the other week, they figured in their 38th consecutive such event. The home game against Fulham followed its predictable, boring script – early penalty, spineless opposition, comfortable home win. Meanwhile, Brighton faced Arsenal, in what was, equally predictably, a much more exciting contest; two sides playing good football, and the prospect of a shock never far away. But this tie was not seen live. In the 5th round, Man U will face Reading at home, which will probably, let’s face it, be another Fulham-esque stroll. And, sure enough, yawn yawn, it’s live on the box again, despite the fact that there are murmurings of discontent now, from some sections of the press who evidently realise how boring it all is.

As a Leeds United supporter, I’ve had cause to bless the tendency of TV companies to cover even the games where “United” seem certain to roll over the opposition. On January 3rd 2010, Leeds, then of the third tier, triumphed at Old Trafford before a live ITV audience, sending the Champions spinning out of the Cup at the earliest possible stage. But satisfactory as this was, it’s the exception, not the rule – normally the colossus will trample the underdogs, and their millions of fans worldwide will be happy. But what about the rest of us? Are we to continue paying our satellite subscriptions, and buying our match tickets, for the privilege of watching Man U clean up as the stakes become higher, and the odds become ever more skewed in their favour?

At some point, worms will start turning and – at the risk of mixing metaphors – maybe the bubble will finally burst. Then, chill winds of reality will blast through the offices of the TV moguls. Don’t say you weren’t warned.