Tag Archives: Sky TV

Isn’t it Time TV Stopped Pandering to the “We All Hate Leeds” Brigade? – by Rob Atkinson

Bafc LUFC

Burton Albion & Sky Sports v Leeds United

Watching Leeds United on the telly has health implications for your standard Whites fanatic, the kind with the iconic LUFC running through them like a stick of rock. Football devotees in general, and Leeds fans in particular, are hardly known for their Zen-like state of calmness, and it frequently seems to me that the telly people are doing their utmost to wind me up with their continual sniping at Yorkshire’s Number One football club. Because, whenever I’m stuck with TV coverage as opposed to being there, I always end up feeling as though my blood pressure has spiked, and I’m left foaming at the mouth, longing to give some smug pundit the baseball bat treatment.

The Burton Albion game on Boxing Day was a case in point. The Championship minnows had enjoyed two victories on the trot, and Sky Sports were all a-flutter to see them make that three against Big Bad Leeds. When the Brewers took the lead with a narrowly offside goal, the commentators glossed over it – Ronaldo Vieira shouldn’t have stepped out, their logic ran, so it was bad defending. If Vieira had stayed put, the lad would have been onside – but the pundits weren’t in any mood to let facts interfere with their “Chuffed that Leeds are losing” position. For the time being, they were as happy as a scum fan with a new easy chair (though that had changed by the time Ronnie, living up to both his names, put Kemar Roofe in for the winner).

Right at the end of the first half, Leeds defender Gaetano Berardi sailed into a challenge on Burton man Sean Scanell, and what followed was highly instructive. It was the kind of tackle that, when perpetrated by some media darling in a Man U shirt, elicits a roguish chuckle from the commentators, with the remark “That would have earned you a new contract back in the day, but now it’s a wee bit naughty”. The fact is that Berardi won the ball – with both feet, admittedly. But only the ball suffered, no blood was shed and no bones were broken. Still, the pundits were all pursed lips and sanctimony; their outraged verdict was that our man could and should have seen red.

In the second half, it was yours truly seeing red, as Albion’s goalscorer Tom Naylor, delivered the classic over-the-top leg-breaker on Vieira, studs into Ronnie’s standing leg, an absolutely atrocious challenge. From the Sky gantry, there was only the most sheepish of reactions – “Ooh, that’s another bad one” etc. There was none of the red card bloodlust, none of the hysteria that Berardi’s comparatively innocuous challenge had prompted. On the day, both incidents resulted in yellow cards – harsh in Berardi’s case, and a gross under-reaction to the Naylor assault on Vieira. But it was the Sky reaction that was the most disgusting aspect of the whole matter; they even edited the Naylor foul out of their highlights package, focusing the disciplinary spotlight firmly on the Berardi challenge. Sky TV do seem to have a heavy hand in editing Leeds highlights – the other week, they even edited Gjanni Alioski’s sumptuous winning goal right out of their Barnsley v United clip, which is a tad harsh, even by their ant-Leeds standards.

The thing is, these are not isolated examples. It happens time and again, most weeks in fact. There’s usually some dedicated Leeds-hating has-been in the co-commentary seat, and always an anti-United spin on the description of pivotal events. It’s no mystery as to what’s behind it – hating the Elland Road boys is still a national preoccupation, a good four decades after the Super Leeds era that got them all in such a resentful froth. So it’s in broadcast media’s commercial interests to hype up the hate, just as it is for them to view Man U through sentimentally rose-tinted glasses, catering to their tragic legions of armchair TV subscribers. Both attitudes are commercially sensible – but it doesn’t make them right.

Let’s face it, Leeds United are big box office for Sky’s Championship coverage, and it’s about time a little bit more respect was shown, if not outright gratitude. That’s only right and just, not that these are words figuring prominently in any broadcaster’s lexicon. But, for the sake of my blood pressure if nothing else, and to prevent me hurling something at my costly flat-screen technology – it’s time for the TV companies to wise up, grow up, and lay off my beloved Leeds.

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When Wilko’s Leeds Ruined Christmas For Fergie and Man United – by Rob Atkinson

Yeboah scores

Masterblaster Tony Yeboah gets the second for Leeds to ruin the Man U Christmas

As Yuletide approaches, it seems fitting to strike a seasonal note and invoke the Spirit of Christmas Past for a nostalgic revisiting of one particular December 24th many moons ago. All the ingredients for happiness came together that day: we ate, drank and were merry; we were uplifted and raised our voices in chorus amid a mighty throng; and we experienced and passed on goodwill to all men – except for a select few in the red shirts of Manchester United.

It was Christmas Eve 1995, and I awoke unusually early for a home match because Leeds United were due to face that other United from across the Pennines in a late morning kick-off at Elland Road. I’d stayed at a mate’s house, the plan being to gather at a local hostelry and wait for the supporters’ bus, fortified by a breakfast of bacon butties and bottled beer, whilst perusing the morning papers, unanimously predicting some away-day Christmas cheer for Fergie and his not-altogether-likeable Manchester United team. Those journalists’ anticipation of my team’s likely demise left me feeling queasy, a sensation not lessened by the pre-breakfast intake of alcohol. By the time we left for the stadium, I was feeling fairly poorly, with an uncomfortable sense that I was not going to enjoy my day. And, although Man U were recovering from a poor result at Liverpool, the boys and girls at Betulator would probably have endorsed my pessimism; it felt like very long odds against a home win to gladden the hearts of the faithful.

How wrong could I have been? Leeds were coming off the back of a humiliating thrashing at Hillsborough, and the feeling among our partially inebriated band of United faithful was that we’d either be getting more of the same, to cast a pall over Christmas itself – or that we’d mount a spectacular recovery and return to form, sending the enemy back to Lancashire beaten and subdued. And lo, it came to pass. Our heroes in White rose to the holiday occasion and rewarded the Elland Road congregation by granting their dearest wish, outclassing the invading Mancunians and recording a 3-1 victory that guaranteed we’d be opening our gifts and engulfing our turkey dinners the following day in the very highest of spirits.

There was even a Christmas miracle as, against the normal rules of these occasions, Leeds were awarded and dispatched an early penalty, much to the disgust of apoplectic Red Devils captain Steve Bruce, clearly not used to that sort of treatment. We had a brief scare as Andrew Cole notched a leveller against the run of play, but then Tony Yeboah provided a majestic finish before Brian Deane sealed the win late on with a precise header from a Tomas Brolin cross. At the end, the home fans celebrated raucously, revelling in the Yuletide spirit and the discomfiture of the away fans, that gloomy and huddled bunch, as they departed on their long and dispirited trek back to Devon.

If it sounds as though I can remember all this in vivid detail across the intervening years, well – that would be somewhat deceptive; it’s just that I’ve watched and re-watched the highlights so many times since. My main memories are of the spectacular hangover I experienced in the remainder of that Yuletide Eve; the feeling that, nevertheless, all was right with the world and that Christmas would be merry indeed – and the look of relief on the faces of my wife and infant daughter, who had feared I’d be grumpy in defeat and not inclined to carouse. It’s ridiculous of course that a mere game of football should so influence my mood at such a time of year, but that’s the way it was – and I suspect it still would be.

Perhaps that’s why they don’t tend to have football on December the 24th any more, such intense rivalry being out of keeping with festive good cheer. I can quite see that – but believe me, when you beat your biggest rivals the day before Christmas, there’s no better way to ensure the happiest of holidays.

Have a great Christmas, one and all.

Cellino: “I Speak For The Fans”… But Then Betrays Them?   –   by Rob Atkinson

…and stop lying to us, my friend

An exclusive report in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post, under the byline of Richard Sutcliffe, claims that Leeds United was offered – and decided to refuse – the option of playing Monday night’s rearranged Sky TV fixture against Middlesbrough on Saturday lunchtime. The game would still have been televised, with a kick off of 12:30 as opposed to the original 3:00pm, but it seems very likely that far less disruption would have been caused to travelling fans long-standing transport and accommodation arrangements.

Many fans were put to inconvenience and financial loss by the short-notice announcement of the game’s move to Monday night. The Football League has claimed that an announcement could have been made much earlier, but for United’s behind the scenes attempts to leave the fixture as originally scheduled. Now it appears that a compromise offer of a Saturday lunchtime kick-off, which would have saved the plans of many long-distance supporters due to arrive in Leeds on Saturday, was rejected by the club. 

This will be somewhat galling to say the least for Leeds United fans in general – and those who suffered inconvenience at short notice in particular. United owner Massimo Cellino has done his best to heap all of the blame on the Football League and/or Sky TV. This blog has no track record for defending those bodies, but it does appear from Sutcliffe’s Yorkshire Post article that Cellino will have pointed questions to answer about the treatment of fans in this instance.

Cellino, after all, has presented himself as the defender of fans’ interests in this affair. The club owner, writing in the match day programme for last night’s Boro game, said: “We are aware of many supporters, not only from England but across the world, who made plans to attend this game at the originally scheduled date of Saturday at 3pm. Those fans feel the effect financially and emotionally, but it is difficult for their voices to be heard. It is with their interests in mind that we continue to push for change.”

It would be somewhat bizarre of Cellino to bemoan the financial and emotional effects on fans in one breath, if with another he is rejecting a compromise offer that would have negated virtually all of those undesirable effects. If this report is true, it would seem that our owner, no stranger to the art of manipulating the truth, has once again strayed from the path of strict veracity. Indeed, this would be more than just another casual untruth. Some might say that it’s rank hypocrisy for Cellino to pose as the defender of the fans against those nasty League barons and TV moguls – whilst simultaneously acting behind all of our backs so as to ensure that those fans will suffer the “financial and emotional” effects that it now seems could easily have been avoided. 

There’s no apparent reason to disbelieve the Yorkshire Post claims. Which leaves Leeds United, in the person of Massimo Cellino to answer these questions:

  1. Is this claim by the Yorkshire Post of a compromise offer – allegedly made as early as December 15th – true?
  2. If it is true, then why was it rejected – when acceptance would have minimised disruption to travelling supporters, including many coming from abroad?
  3. How can Cellino claim to be looking out for fans’ interests in these circumstances?
  4. If it can be shown that supporters have incurred financial loss and inconvenience due to actions and positions taken by the club, then what plans does the club have to compensate those fans for that avoidable loss and inconvenience?
  5. When is Leeds United going to return to a more transparent approach in its dealings with supporters?

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything believes that answers to these questions are the very least that fans deserve. 

Over to you, Mr. Cellino… 

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. 

Sky & FL Confirm Today’s Leeds v Bristol City Match Switched to Monday   –   by Rob Atkinson

The Football League Panel, yesterday

The Football League and Sky TV board members – definitely not muppets

The Leeds United home game against Bristol City has been put back to Monday evening for live coverage, a joint statement by Sky TV and the Football League has confirmed. Both bodies have expressed regret at the inconvenience to supporters of the two clubs, and have undertaken to provide at least 24 hours notice in future, except when their own interests dictate otherwise. 

Leeds United FC has reacted angrily to the news, threatening to refuse entry to the Sky personnel on Monday, as well as pursuing compensation for 20,000 heated pies that will now have to go to landfill. “Is not good enough,” stated a senior Elland Road figure, adding somewhat confusingly, “League and Sky, they try to take the peace.”

Bristol City are thought to be considering a formal protest on behalf of their travelling fans, whose char-a-banc had reached the industrial wastelands of South Yorkshire before hearing of the postponement. Sky and the League have remained tight-lipped in the face of resistance to their scheduling plans. “The match will take place on Monday as arranged a full two hours ago,” said a spokesman through tight lips, “We simply can’t have peripheral bodies like clubs and fans dictating to us on fixture matters.”

Newly engaged Rupert Murdoch is 153. 

Leeds Fans Petition Sky TV Over Short Notice Fixture Changes   –   by Rob Atkinson

SkyBet FL

In the wake of yet another Leeds United match being selected for live coverage by Sky Sports, Whites fan Scott Jones of Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, has organised a petition calling on Sky TV to stop causing fixture changes at short notice.

The reasoning behind the petition, hosted by Change.org, is that many fans of Leeds United (and other clubs) live far from the stadium, some even abroad, and they must necessarily arrange tickets, travel and accommodation quite some time in advance. The subsequent rearrangement of fixtures will inevitably cause financial loss and great inconvenience to these fans, who are left feeling that their concerns are of no importance to the big companies concerned.

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything feels strongly that these fans, whichever club they support, have a solid argument to the effect that a minimum notice period should be observed, without which games should not be rearranged. An alternative course would be adequate compensation for fans thus affected, as a matter of course and with no quibbles.

There are, of course, two sides to every coin. Live TV coverage is of great value to those who, for whatever reason, cannot get along to games in person. And some games will suddenly assume greater significance, with a consequent justification (Sky might argue) for selecting such games at short notice. But match-going supporters remain the lifeblood of football, and their understandable worries and concerns should not lightly be dismissed, nor indeed ridden over roughshod – as it appears all too frequently is happening. At the very least, the issue is worthy of consideration by the relevant bodies, and some attention should be paid as to how supporters’ concerns might be addressed.

For the Leeds United v Middlesbrough fixture just selected for coverage and therefore put back to the Monday evening, I have heard of a large party flying in from Norway, of a group who have paid four figures for an executive box, and sundry other groups and individuals whose long-established plans have been thrown into disarray, just on Mr. Murdoch‘s airy whim. This is simply not good enough. It’s high time Sky stopped messing loyal fans about, fans who have spent time and money making travel arrangements long in advance of the original fixture, from far afield. They lose out big time and Sky doesn’t seem to care one jot.

The Change.org petition started by Scott Jones can be signed here. It’s worthy of support, so please take a little time – out of consideration for your fellow fans – to do just that.

Plans For Statue of Leeds Legend Mowatt at Elland Road   –   by Rob Atkinson

History-maker Alex Mowatt: to be immortalised outside Elland Road?

Leeds United 1 (Mowatt), Cardiff City 0

After eight barren months without a win at Elland Road, and 32 years since a win over this pesky South Wales outfit on home soil, Tuesday night’s 1-0 victory over Cardiff City came as a welcome relief to everyone with Leeds United carved painfully into their hearts.

It was a win that provoked reactions across the full gamut of human emotional response, from a devastatingly gutted Don Goodman, Sky TV’s Leeds match mickey-taker of choice, right through to the joyful elation of young Alex Mowatt himself, the scorer of a goal fit to win any game of football. Picking the ball up halfway inside Cardiff territory, almost midway through the second half, Mowatt shimmied away from a distant challenge with one sinuous matador’s flourish of his hips, looked up briefly and then back down at the ball – which he caught with an absolute purler of a left foot strike to hammer it into the top right-hand side of the Gelderd End goal.

Cue the mayhem of relief and hysteria as the hardy Leeds fans behind that malnourished goal exploded into cavorting celebration. Mowatt took the rapturous applause with a clutch of delighted – or astounded – teammates dancing dervish-like around him. Meanwhile, poor Goodman, with a face like the smell of gas, sadly relayed news of the goal to a mainly disappointed nation.

It was the undoubted high point of a low-key match between two sides currently locked together in second-tier mediocrity. But that goal will long be remembered, and not just for its sumptuous quality. It was a goal, note well, that brought to an end those two dismal runs of failure. No home wins since March was a shameful record for a club whose home was once regarded by many good judges and Alex Ferguson, as the most hostile and intimidating arena in football. And 32 years is far too long to let a club as deserving of regular sound thrashings as Cardiff are, go unchastised.

So, two monkeys were dislodged from our collective back on Tuesday night, two unwelcome ghosts were laid to rest. It’s fanciful of course – even edging close to bitter sarcasm – to suggest raising a statue to our youthful midfielder on the strength of one sublime strike. But though intended as a bittersweet jest, the jocular notion in this article’s headline sums up the relief generated by one fairly unremarkable but sorely needed victory.

In a week when Massimo Cellino bid farewell to Elland Road – as a matchday spectator, at least, and subject to any late changes of his mercurial mind – and when it also became a distinct possibility that a fans’ consortium might replace the Italian, possibly with a Gladiator on board, it was vital, crucial, utterly necessary to mark this possible fork in the road with a win. And that we did – for which Don be praised.

Onwards and upwards now? Well, perhaps. Despite the shenanigans at boardroom level, it appears that new manager (let’s call him a manager now) Steve Evans is expecting to strengthen his patchy squad significantly before the end of the loan window. And that’s with a view merely to staunching the flow of our life-blood, with the prospect of further major surgery in January. From this small beginning, great changes could come about. Maybe. 

We start anew then, with a home win under our belts, with some cocky old foes subdued for once and with a whole new era quite possibly about to begin. Will things get better now? Is the only way up? We shall see. Don’t forget – next weekend is Cup Final weekend. 

Well – it is for Huddersfield Town and their motley crew of dog-botherers, anyway…

Live TV Incentive for Huddersfield Town’s Cup Final – by Rob Atkinson

Huddersfield fans - a different breed

Huddersfield fans – a different breed

Excitement levels were rising today in the avenues, alleyways, streets and kennels of Huddersfield, with the news that their seasonal Cup Final against the club they’re utterly obsessed with, big brother from down the road, Leeds United, will be televised live by the Sky cameras.

Local boy Jack Russell was almost beside himself with gleeful anticipation as he gave his reaction to the momentous news. “It’s momentous news, this,” he yapped eagerly. “We have a bone to pick with Leeds after their two lucky wins against us last season. And it’s a bone that I’m off to dig up right now,” he added, before scampering off to cock his leg against the gas-lit street-lamp outside his owner’s ramshackle two-up, two-down.

Elsewhere, anticipation reached fever pitch amid a positive orgy of excited yelping and bottom-sniffing. The dark, satanic charity shops of West Yorkshire‘s most 19th Century spot were being stocked with Big Match merchandise: Town v Leeds collars, baskets and feeding bowls were flying out of the door as trade became brisk a few short hours after the news broke that the locals’ Cup Final would indeed be screened before the whole nation.

Huddersfield fans have mixed feelings about the comparatively long wait for their season’s high-point; the match does not take place until November 7th, with a lunchtime kick-off. But the feeling among the majority is that the league games leading up to the Final will enable Town to prepare adequately for a challenge they failed to meet twice last season. “It’s not abart results in t’other games afore t’Coop Final,” insisted local character Al Sation. “It’s all abart t’proper preparation, like, cos t’most impooortant thing is to beat Leeds, or at least gerra draw, or at t’very least keep it darn under three this time.”

Meanwhile, large areas of Huddersfield are expected to subscribe to mains electricity for the first time, in order to be able to use their new Sky TV subscriptions for The Big Day. Others have stated that they don’t hold with such new-fangled nonsense, and will attempt instead to run reconditioned Sky HD boxes off the gas supply or perhaps by steam. “If we gerrall this leccy nonsense tekkin’ a foot’old in t’Tarn, it’ll be t’beginning o’ t’end,” barked octogenarian rat-catcher Fred Bassett. “T’place’d go to t’dogs. Not that that’s a bad thing, tha knos…”

Leeds fans groups declined to comment specifically on the Huddersfield game, merely expressing mild surprise that the local derby against Sheffield Wendies had not been selected for live coverage. “We’re that used to being on the box,” said one world-weary Whites fan. “It’s getting to the point that we’re always on – but I suppose it is nice for the smaller clubs to have their time in the spotlight. Even Huddersfield!”, he added, chortling merrily.

The Leeds game will, in fact, be Huddersfield’s second live TV date of the season, in addition to Wolves away in October. But the John Smith’s Stadium outfit have admitted that the trip to Wanderers will now be treated as just another warm-up game in preparation for the real thing. Talk of fixtures against Leeds being treated as Cup Finals has long been a bone of contention among Terriers fans – but it certainly remains the case that this is the fixture that means more to them than any other. The televised Leeds game is set to gain the highest viewing figures of any TV event among Huddersfield viewers – with the possible exception of Crufts.

How Premier League CEO Scudamore Blew the Gaff on Man Utd Bias – by Rob Atkinson

Pet lip:  Premier League CEO Scudamore misses those Man U days of success

Pet lip: Premier League CEO Scudamore misses those Man U days of success

As a Leeds United fanatic, a card-carrying cynic and someone with no faith in the football authorities these days to run a fair and disinterested league competition, I have written many times on this blog about my belief that the Man U domination of the game in this country after 1993 (the FA Premier League début season) was deeply suspicious. The last season or so’s steep decline, with a squad not at first markedly different to the one that romped home in Taggart’s final season, begs the question: what’s really different? It has appeared ever since The Demented One left that the change of stewardship is behind this relative failure. But was Alex Ferguson the sole factor in the unprecedented success enjoyed by the Pride of Devon over the last two decades?

These days, following a series of revealing comments over the past year or so from people who should know whereof they speak, it appears that at least a couple of other factors have been at play throughout that twenty year period. I have said over and over again in Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything, that the Fergie years have been trophy-laden for three well-defined reasons, none of them all that adjacent to the quality of their playing squad. They may be summed up as: Ferguson, match officials and the rulers of the game itself. These three influences conspired over two decades to exaggerate the success of Man U out of all proportion to the abilities of their playing and coaching staff in that period, many of whom have gone on to enjoy sustained mediocrity elsewhere. Add into the mix the drip, drip, drip effect of blind, unquestioning media adulation, spearheaded by Murdoch’s Sky empire and endorsed by lapdog attitudes from the terrestrial broadcasters who know which side the commercial bread is buttered, and you have what is technically known as a “Scum-friendly environment”.

This may to the unwary sound like just another conspiracy theory.  But you only have to look at the unprecedented before and after picture of Man U’s record pre-Murdoch as compared to their success under Uncle Rupert. After all, we’re talking an almost total domination of the Premier League era here, by a club that – for the 26 years immediately preceding the league reorganisation – couldn’t buy a title. Seven times Champions in their whole history prior to 1993, and then thirteen Premier League titles in the first twenty years after Rupert Murdoch bought the game.

That’s such a sharp delineation between failure and success – it’s not coincidental that the demarcation line is the inception of the Premier League, the changing of football in this country from a sport to a brand – and the new understanding that the game was now about markets and money to a much greater extent than it had ever been before. Man U were the new brand leader, and they had better succeed – or the Premier League product might not fulfil its immense potential for dominating the world in terms of TV audiences, syndication and merchandising. And that would never do. So the game leant the way of the Man U scum – as we at Leeds United fondly refer to them – and the pressure applied by Ferguson to match officials was allowed to take effect. Professional sport is a matter of extremely fine margins; a slight bias over a long period will skew outcomes to a massive degree – and that’s exactly what has happened.

Naturally, none of this has ever been acknowledged. It’s been of paramount importance, after all, that the Premier League should at least retain the appearance of being a fair competition, on the proverbial level playing field. But now – Ferguson has gone, Man U are failing, the referees are not by any means as intimidated, opposing teams are not scared any more; not, as they used to be, beaten before they took the field. And now people are speaking out, very revealingly – and in some cases that is clearly intentional, in other cases less so. Ex-referee Graham Poll is one who has made his views known quite deliberately; he has spoken out about the feelings of a ref in the Fergie years, how the priority was to get off the field without having made any close calls against Man U – and, ideally, with them having won the game. What is the cumulative effect of that kind of insidious pressure over twenty years? Self-evidently, it’s significant; look at the trophy records, the penalty for and against statistics, the time added on if Man U weren’t winning – and so on and so forth.

Poll has also written about the unprecedented scenes when three penalties were given against Man U in a home game against old rivals Liverpool. Even though things have changed in terms of the favourable decisions enjoyed by Man U, these were the first penalties awarded against Man U as the home team since December 2011 – well over two years without conceding a home league penalty. Poll’s observations on that make for interesting reading for anyone who, as I do, strongly suspects that Man U had it easy from match officials in the Fergie years.

And then, to put the tin lid on it, we had Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore sounding off, in earnestly worried tones, about how the Premier League “brand” is being adversely affected by the difficulties Man U were having last season (happily, it’s carried on in pretty much the same vein this time around). It’s difficult to believe that he was quite aware of the import of what he was saying – this was a tacit admission, after all, that the supposedly disinterested rulers of the game actually have a vested interest – as I’ve been saying long and loud – in the regular success of Man U. “It’s a double-edged sword,” said Scudamore, at the time. “When your most popular club isn’t doing as well, that costs you interest and audience in some places.” The hapless Peter doesn’t identify the other edge of that sword, but he’s clearly perturbed by the prospect of a future with Man U as the also-rans they’ve been this last two campaigns.

Speaking in greater depth about the ethos of the Premier League, as well as its duty to fans around the world, Scudamore went on: “There are lots of fans around the world who wish Manchester United were winning it again. But you have to balance that off against, generally, we’re in the business of putting on a competition and competition means people can compete.” The wistful tone of that last sentence was massively telling. Other clubs will insist on competing, particularly now that Ferguson is history. How very inconvenient and bad for business. What a deuced bore.

The FA Premier League mandarins at a high level clearly see even competition, where any old Tom, Dick or Manuel (or even Jose) can win the League, as their cross to bear, something that will inhibit their ability to market their “brand” around a global audience in thrall to Man U. But they have made a rod for their own back in allowing the creation of that trophy-winning monster, under the inimical sway of a tyrant from Govan, to become so all-consuming in the first place. Now they’re reaping what they have sown – in pumping up the bubble of unrealistic success for one favoured club, they have left themselves without a Plan B for when that bubble bursts – as bubbles inevitably will.

For real football people – the fans out here, the people who have always gone along to the match, with little if any thought of global markets and syndication deals – this new reality of genuine competition has come as a breath of fresh air. There’s a new top four out there, of varied make-up which usually excludes Man U, and they’ve all played wonderful football and succeeded on their own merits.

We’ve also seen less of the media-beloved “mind games” which are so tiresome to the fan in the street. We’ve not missed that old curmudgeon, railing at authority whenever he gets any less than his own way and intimidating anybody who gets in his way. Football seems fresh and new again; Man U were seventh last time – which is probably about where they should have finished the season before. The first twenty years of the Premier League can be seen as a statistical blip, the product of a tyrant dominating and bullying the people charged with the responsibility to see that the game is run fairly. The evidence is there; listen to Poll, listen to what Scudamore is actually saying. Look at the results and standings this season and last.

We’re so very sorry, Mr Scudamore, if your product and your brand are suffering from the failure of “your most popular club”. Perhaps you should take the view that popularity is there to be earned by whichever club can succeed on merit? That it’s not something to be inculcated by the favourable treatment of one chosen club, amounting to institutional bias over twenty long years. Perhaps you can learn that – and then all we will have to regret is the two decades when, aided by Ferguson and a terrified cadre of referees and officials, you – blatantly and with malice aforethought – sold the game down the river.

Newcastle Team “Scared Because Stoke Looked Like Sunderland” Claim – by Rob Atkinson

Toon v Sunderland today. Er, we mean Toon v Stoke.

Toon v Sunderland today. Erm, we mean Toon v Stoke

A novel excuse has been advanced by an un-named Newcastle United player after the Toon’s disappointing home draw with Stoke. The Geordies had been leading near the end through a goal from Mackem youth product Jack Colback (74′) – but in the end, they were pegged back when Peter Crouch planted a firm header past Tim Krul as the match moved into added time.

One anonymous Newcastle player, immediately after the game, has apparently blamed Stoke’s red and white striped jerseys for the way City were allowed to snatch a point. “They looked canny like Sunderland, like, and it fair scared the clarts oot of us, bonny lad. Why AYE – it’s no excuse like, though but,” the player – believed to be from Newcastle’s English contingent – stated as he came off the pitch. Asked to enlarge on his controversial viewpoint, the Toon star would only add “Them buggas have made a turtle habit of beating us hollurr, every time we meet up, like. It’s enough to put a gadgie off his Broon, man. Sur when the likes of Sturk City torn up, the spittin’ image of them Sunnerlan’ buggas, it was just toomuchforruslike. Wuz’re like, y’knaa, psycholgically disTORBED, like! Pass us an orange, Thelma pet.”

A long-standing Newcastle fan, Sidney Aloysius Smutt, when asked outside the ground after the match for his views, would only observe “Haddaway an’ shite, ya bastads. Wuz’re not frit o’ that loosy Mackem lot. Or Sturk. Gan yem, man, before yiz gets a purk in the eye, like. I’m the cock o’ the waaaalk, man, me like.”

Mike Ashley (94) is uncomfortably close to Rangers.