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Elland Road’s England Extravaganza Proves Premier League Needs Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

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Southgate’s England win at a vibrant and atmospheric Elland Road

England‘s last stopping-off point before their Russian quest for World Cup glory was at a vibrant and atmospheric Elland Road – and the occasion told us plenty, some of it even about our national team and its chances this summer.

Talking about England first, this was a competent and dominant performance against a slightly jet-lagged Costa Rica team who were still nobody’s mugs. England pretty much won as they liked though, with Marcus Rashford, looking much more effective with better players around him, making a persuasive case for inclusion in the opening game of England’s group, ahead, perhaps, of Raheem Sterling. Rashford’s spectacular 13th minute opener brought generous cheers from the Kop, despite the lad’s day job, with Danny Welbeck‘s close range header near the end greeted equally warmly by the South Stand. In between the two decisive strikes, England passed prettily, defended well enough to leave their keeper Jack Butland largely unemployed, and a lively attack gave the Costa Rican defence plenty to think about.

But the signature note of the evening was struck by the occasion’s real star – Elland Road itself. For once in a very long while, the muted, apathetic atmosphere of Wembley was replaced by a thrillingly raucous fervour to urge on the national team, courtesy of one of football’s genuine, old-style cauldrons of white-hot atmosphere. That’s done nowhere quite so well as it is in this part of Leeds; the crowd lifted the England players to a degree that was obvious to anybody who’s suffered through some of those dreary friendlies in North London. This was dutifully acknowledged by commentators and pundits alike; Clive Tyldesley for ITV noted that the attendance was around 36,000, “but sounds like twice as much”. Indeed. Old Trafford, it’s worth mentioning, can do a similar trick – only the other way around.

Lee Dixon in his punditry role was fired with enthusiasm afterwards. This is what you need, he exulted, thumbing over his shoulder at the arena behind him. Let’s take England on the road. It’s a good idea, one that’s been around for years now, but the commercial lure of Wembley has usually won the day. Perhaps there will now be a rethink. It’s no coincidence that this was one of the better England “friendly” performances; the team responded to the crowd, the occasion, the unique atmosphere. Above all, tonight showed beyond doubt that the Premier League – currently stuffed with pedestrian acts like Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Watford – positively needs the return of Leeds United. The stadium, the club and the fanatical support are all wasted on anything less than the elite group, and the so-called Premier League has been diluted too far and for too long by elements of mediocrity. The return of United cannot come too soon, for the sake of all parties concerned.

For Leeds United fans, it was a taste of what might be to come, the stadium packed out and cheering on some top class footballers who may even be destined for great things. How the fans of Yorkshire‘s top club would like to sample that atmosphere, and witness this style of performance, on a more regular basis. It’s a dream, something to hope for and aspire to. And, you never know – those dreams do occasionally come true.

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Pontus Jansson Should Buckle Down at Leeds and Show Us Why We Used to Love Him – by Rob Atkinson

Pontus

Pontus as we knew and loved him

It’s been a love affair like so many others, waxing hot with passion and mutual desire in that early, devoted phase – then cooling off, with indifference where once was there was adoration. Harsh words are spoken, third party interest rears its opportunist head, and whatever the formerly enamoured couple might say only serves to emphasise the widening gap between them.

This is how things are now developing for those two erstwhile paramours, Pontus Jansson and the massed support of Leeds United. In the beginning, it looked like true love, with frequent, heartfelt declarations on both sides. Pontus said and did the right things, and the besotted Leeds crowd swooned accordingly. Pontus headed away every threat on our goal, and occasionally sallied forth upfield for attacking set pieces, nutting spectacular goals that roused the support to a fever pitch of ecstasy and adoration.

Surely, this was a love affair that would stand the test of time, with Jansson living up to the lyrics of his love ballad by demonstrating his willingness to head away footballs, opposing attackers, bricks, meteorites if need be. Pontus did it all, and communed with the support after the final whistle sounded and battle was done. Great was the love that cascaded down from the stands for our Swedish hero. Pontus was Leeds, and Leeds loved Pontus.

When the rot started to set in, it seemed scarcely believable – but, in reality, it was that age-old story of love and then loss being retold in the football idiom. Leeds fans didn’t want to believe their idol had feet of clay, and spent months in denial as Jansson’s form faded and the occasional lapses of fidelity became more frequent. Pontus started to show a tendency to bail out when the going got tough; only a few brave souls, at first, invited charges of heresy by pointing this out. The support en masse waited for signs that the beloved Pontus still loved them and would return to his brick-heading ways of those passionate early stages of mutual devotion.

But a few – a significant few – feared that the magic had gone, that the magic hat no longer fitted a swollen head, that Pontus had lost his desire and dedication. Time and again, when things were going against the team, Pontus sought the sanctuary of the changing rooms, nursing some apparent injury that would miraculously clear up when easier opponents were in the offing. It seemed as though our hero had a streak of yellow in what had seemed to be a warrior’s persona, and his adoring fans fretted at this evidence of fallibility in a man who, not so long before, had seemed to epitomise all that was good and heroic about Leeds United and its fanatical following.

Alas, the evidence against Pontus continued to pile up last season. Despite the occasional signs of defiance in defence, and the even more occasional evidence of lethal intent in attack, Pontus was, overall, the merest shadow of the Pontus we’d known and hailed as a defining hero the season before. Slowly, the truth was dawning on the Pontus fan club: here, just possibly, was yet another apparent idol who had flattered, only to deceive. We’ve seen enough of those before – but, with Pontus, it was supposed to be different.

Now, with his substandard contribution to Leeds United’s substandard season behind him, Jansson is away at the World Cup with his national team, and he’s making noises about his future that will not sound like sweet nothings to those who have worshipped him since those hearts and flowers early days. He wants to stay in England, we hear, but – despite the fact that he has a contract running until 2022, he’s not going to commit himself to seeing it out. He wants to aim for the Premier League, but if you read between the lines of his public utterances, he might rather achieve this through a transfer out of Leeds than soil his hands, feet and head by battling through another Championship muck and bullets campaign.

Maybe I’m doing Pontus a disservice, but perhaps I can be forgiven a slight bitterness. I loved Pontus too, as much as anyone, when he was doing it for Leeds and everybody was raving about this new juggernaut at Elland Road. And I’ve seen central defenders arrive on loan before, performing excellently and then, as soon as a permanent deal is signed, fading away to be the merest shadow of their former selves. It’s become depressingly regular – but I would have laughed at any suggestion of it being a route our Pontus might go down. And yet here we are, watching with horror as Jansson morphs before our eyes into just another Lubo Michalik. It’s just so sad to see a loved one end up this way.

Still, other relationships have hit rocky patches and still come through. It’s still possible for the Leeds support and their Pontus to rekindle some measure of the rapport that seemed to exist until comparatively recently. But it’s not for the injured party in these cases to make special efforts or resolutions. That’s for the one who strays, by word or deed – they’re the guilty element in the equation. It’s for them to renew their vows and attempt to rebuild bridges. Pontus needs to clear his mind, stop chelping about his club career until the World Cup is done with, and then settle down to win his admirers back by recalling the Jansson we used to know, possibly even – who knows? – with his partner of those heady early days, Kyle Bartley, once more by his side.

One more season of that partnership, together with improvement elsewhere in the squad, might enable Jansson to recapture his mojo, stop blaming others for his own failings and generally get back on the horse again and start heading away those bricks, to the left and to the right. If all that comes to pass, maybe Jansson will finally secure his passage to the Premier League. And it would taste all the sweeter, because he would have earned it. Along with, not incidentally, the renewed and restored adoration of his Elland Road fan club.

Pontus, you know it makes sense, and you know you owe us this – so make it happen. After all, every one of us wants the traditional happy ending.

International Call Up for Leeds Striker Ekuban Proof of Quality – by Rob Atkinson

 

Ekuban

Caleb Ekuban shows striking potential for United

It must be a bit of a kick in the teeth for the self-proclaimed experts on the Leeds United #LUFC Twitter hashtag, or feed, or whatever these geeks call it, to see that Whites striker Caleb Ekuban has been called up by the Ghanaian national squad. It’s always a bit galling when mere football professionals dare to set up their opinions against the omniscience of the Twatterati, but there you go. Some people just haven’t got a clue.

In the real world, of course, those in charge of the Ghana squad have seen the potential in Ekuban; possibly, they even feel all that’s required is for the lad’s confidence to be given a timely boost. It’s the sharp edge of his game that needs honing to perfection, that ice-cold instant of detached judgement that makes the difference between a finish and a miss. Even Roy of the Rovers had similar issues at some stage, even Jimmy Greaves, Robbie Fowler – any striker worth the name. Any and all of them will tell you that most of the art or science of playing in attack is to be in the right place at the right time. For the most part, Ekuban has demonstrated this facility, together with an appetite for graft that has endeared him to those in the Leeds crowd who appreciate that sort of thing. “You’ve got to be there to miss the chances”, as old-school centre-forwards would tell you – getting into the positions, that’s the secret. The rest is down to that elusive quality of confidence, something that has been shouted out of Ekuban’s game by the clueless mob who pour scorn out of their idiot box keyboards.

The call up to the national squad could make a big difference to our Ekuban, and the team may well reap the benefit of that when it matters, next season. Alongside the expected renaissance of Samu Saiz, and given a season a little more blessed, with no niggling injuries for Caleb and no bloody silly suspensions for Samu, there’s a formidable attacking partnership ready to blossom. Mark my words.

And, if you don’t believe me, put your faith in the judgement of the Ghana national tam selectors – they should know a decent striker when they see one. I’m not saying that Ekuban is another Yeboah. Then again, I’m not saying he doesn’t have the potential. All I want is for the lad to be given a fair chance, without a bunch of clueless yahoos just waiting to pounce on any missed chance and jump on an easy bandwagon. Yep, that’d be nice.

I won’t hold my breath, though. Good luck, Caleb Ekuban – and I hope you ram the flawed judgement of our resident online idiots right back down their throats.

Lasogga and Saiz the key to Leeds United promotion push

With Leeds sitting just outside of the top half of the Championship, it’ll take a big push to get the fans dreaming of promotion to the Premier League.

Nine teams are vying for the four slots in the end of season lottery, although Aston Villa and Derby would appear to have two sewn up. That leaves two from seven; Leeds United being one of those seven.

Paul Heckingbottom might have his work cut out in achieving Leeds fans’ dreams, but being unbeaten in the last three matches is a great basis for a late surge. The recent 1-0 win against Brentford was a huge morale boost, given the Bees are close rivals in the play off hunt.

Despite defender Liam Cooper scoring the only goal of the game, it was the partnership of Samu Saiz and Pierre-Michel Lasogga that really got fans pulses racing. In that combination lies Leeds’ best hope of putting together some end of season form and maybe, just maybe stealing sixth spot from under rivals’ noses.

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Pierre-Michel Lasogga By Amy.Leonie – Eigenes Foto; aufgenommen beim Training von Hertha BSC Berlin, CC BY 3.0,

Lasogga is on loan from Hamburger SV and currently has ten goals to his name. It’s not been a great season by his own high standards; spells injured and on the bench have disrupted his momentum. What could he have achieved though if he’d stayed fit and in Thomas Christiansen’s plans?

Lasogga had five goals from seven matches going into March, a run of form that will be crucial to any lingering hopes of promotion.

If him hitting form wasn’t enough, Samu Saiz is also back in the starting line up after a horrible start to 2018. His dismissal in the FA Cup defeat against Newport might have been controversial, but Christiansen cites it as one of the reasons he was dismissed. The Spaniard might be unpredictable, but on his game he’s unplayable. Saiz has five goals and five assists this season, the second highest number of assists in the squad after Pablo Hernandez, having played six matches fewer.

The odds are not in Leeds’ favour, they’re a long way down the list for promotion, priced as 50/1 for a long-awaited return to the top table, well behind next best bets Brentford and Preston on 14s and 20s respectively.

It might still be worth looking at the bet £10 get £30 888sport betting offer, though, as Lasogga can be found at a generous price to finish as the league’s highest scorer. He’s seven behind in the charts at the moment, but with Saiz providing the bullets he might be a long-shot to storm up the table.

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Pablo Hernandez By Juan Fernández – flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0,

It is looking increasingly like another year in the second tier for Leeds United, something fans will lament with one breath and praise in the other. After the torrid Cellino years, any sort of stability should be welcomed and, although Paul Heckingbottom isn’t a manager to set pulses races, one or two of his stars are. Lasogga is due back at Hamburger SV in May, but Saiz remains contracted to the club beyond this season. The former will likely not be back next season, so replacing him will be incredibly important, but Samu Saiz should be retained because, in him, Leeds have a player that can change a game in a instant.

Who knows, with a little bit of luck and hard work, it might just happen as early as this season. Miracles do happen every day in football and Leeds United are undoubtedly due one soon

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… 

Leeds United Celebrates Victory in ‘Battle of the Lamppost’   –   by Rob Atkinson

Cellino sunshine

Cellino – winner or loser?

As Leeds United, this famous old, formerly successful, football club continues its laboured progress through one of the bleakest periods of its long and illustrious history, owner Massimo Cellino is jubilant today over a notable victory of historic proportions.

Forget promotion, forget League titles and cup final triumphs. Forget rampaging through Europe as the best team around. Cellino has redefined the word “victory” for United and its long-suffering fans. For he has just taken on a small group of those fans and has emerged a big, big winner. Leeds United, under Cellino’s courageous leadership, has accomplished the unprecedented feat of forcing the removal of a poster from a lamppost. These days, for Leeds, it really doesn’t get any bigger or better than that.

Of course, some disaffected malcontents will carp and criticise. Cellino should have ignored the poster, they will say. He should have kept his own counsel and denied the oxygen of publicity to a rabble of ungrateful fans who are  unreasonably demanding that United should be a proper football club again. Cellino, in taking this brave action, has merely drawn attentions to the grievances of a small group of activists, probably no more than 30,000 or so. This is what critics might claim.

But Cellino knows that he has secured a famous victory, and that his literally dozens of faithful acolytes will be thrilled at his success. “They shunt of bothered with that poster”, a pro-Cellino spokesman exulted yesterday. “Its defiantly been a wrong move from people what don’t have a clue how much Massimo has done for Leeds pacifically and football in general”.

The leaders of the Cellino Out campaign were unrepentant, however. “There are other campaigns being planned”, this blog was assured. “Just listen for the voice of the fans and watch for a blizzard of leaflets when we play Middlesbrough on Sky next Monday…”

Readers are cordially invited to submit their own opinion as to who, if anyone, has emerged victorious from The Battle of the Lamppost.

If You’re Loyal to Cellino’s Leeds United, You’re a Mug   –   by Rob Atkinson

Cellino smoking while Leeds United crash and burn

It gives me no pleasure to write an article under a title like that. In fact, it causes me immense pain. Loyalty is the raison d’être of the fanatical football supporter. It’s a byword for anyone who loves “their” club. It ranks right up there with passion and pride in the lexicon of the devoted follower – and that applies to followers of Leeds United far more than most.

Right now, the way the club is being run is a sick joke. The old maxim of “no one man is bigger than the club” has been torn up and thrown onto the fire by an egomaniac of an owner in Massimo Cellino, who clearly regards himself as the living embodiment of a famous old football club. He’s wrong, of course – but sadly for those of us who see that, he doesn’t recognise a world in which he can be wrong. As far as the Italian fraudster is concerned, he is the answer, whatever the question might happen to be.

That word loyalty resonates with fans, and people in general, no matter how hard times could possibly get. It’s a quality deemed to be of the first importance, especially at the very worst of times. This applies throughout most of life; stick together, guys, and we’ll get through this. But, in modern football, loyalty has been bent out of shape into a slavish obligation to turn up and support even the rottenest of regimes. And, right now – at a time when we the fans are palpably being made mugs of – those who devotedly roll up at the turnstiles, to cheer on their demoralised heroes, can only be classified as mugs. Helpless mugs who see no alternative to their lifelong habit of watching the Whites. Loyal mugs who justify the owner’s stubborn determination to stay in control, football pundits and rulers notwithstanding. 

The crowd tonight, or the more vocal part of it anyway, attempted to qualify their loyalty with repeated chants of “Massimo, time to go”. But they had to be there in the first place to join in with those chants. And they had to have parted with their hard-earned cash to be there, meaning that they’re propping up a regime that they’re now loudly opposed to. 

Make no mistake, the Elland Road crowd have correctly identified the villain of the piece. They’re not daft mugs – just misguided for being there at all. They know, those intuitive mugs, that Cellino is the problem. I’d hazard that the players know too – they’re certainly all too well aware from recent experience that no one “Head Coach” is going to be there long enough to make a real difference. Those players know that they’re actually playing not for any football man, but for a mad despot who will keep chopping and changing, sticking his unqualified nose in, reducing a great club to the status of a music hall slapstick routine. You can see it in, their headless chicken, panicky performances, especially under the eyes of those massed loyal, frustrated mugs in the stands. Is it any wonder that what Cellino promised would be a “beautiful season” is swiftly degenerating into ugly farce?

The time is now for the fans to organise, so far as such a thing is possible, and resolve as a body to be mugs no longer. Attendances at home and away must be made to suffer, in the hope of hitting any regime where it really hurts – in the pocket. The Cellino era needs to have the life choked out of it, if not by the League’s seemingly toothless “fit and proper” test, then by loyal, devoted people who love Leeds United – but are determined to be mugs no longer. 

We have decent players for this league. We have a manager in Steve Evans who has produced winning football at his previous clubs, in a manner undreamed of by his predecessors. The problem is not in the dugout and, despite appearances, it is not on the pitch. The problem is right at the top, where the rot set in when Cellino moved in – and any semblance of sanity or stability moved out. That rot will seep down throughout the club unless it’s checked. Eventually, the Leeds United we all love might very well rot to the core, and cease to exist in any form we might recognise or wish to see. 

The Elland Road crowd has taken a big step tonight towards assuring Massimo Cellino that he’s not wanted at Leeds. Now those loyal supporters must show a more painful kind of loyalty, by doing the unthinkable and staying away – withdrawing their vocal and financial support of this decaying club. They must stand up to be counted and make the rest of football sit up and take notice. They must stop being taken for mugs and they should stop acting like mugs. 

Because, deep down – whatever Cellino might smugly think – Leeds United fans are definitely NOT mugs – it just currently seems that way. That’s what we have to demonstrate, and it has to start now. 

And, if not now – after the rotten mess we’ve seen tonight – then… when?

Leeds United 0, The Idiots In Charge 3   – by Rob Atkinson

You can't count on the love, Massimo, my friend

You can’t count on the love, Massimo, my friend

Nil Three at home, then. Not good but, in the context of what is now a dead rubber of a season, not disastrous either. Not on the face of it, anyway.

It’s when you set out to look at the factors behind this defeat that the blood pressure starts to elevate towards danger levels. For once, I’m not here to blame the officials – though they undoubtedly played their incompetent and over-zealous part. I’m not even here, as I frequently have been, to lambast the Football League. My concerns are a little closer to home at present.

Looked at a day or so in advance, this was a game that Leeds United should have been looking to win, in order to maintain their recent goodish run, with a view to taking some momentum and supporter goodwill into summer – whatever that may hold in store for us (apart from another Ashes mauling at the hands of the Aussies). It was a winnable game because, let’s face it, Blackburn always should be, to start off with. And then there was the matter of their forthcoming FA Cup replay against Liverpool. A team with that in the offing, and Wembley awaiting the winners, could perhaps be expected to be a little distracted and therefore, you’d have thought, ripe for the taking advantage of.

Chris and Kev never forgottenAnd, really, any game at home or away should have been winnable on this weekend of tragic memory. It’s 15 years on Sunday since we lost two of our number, brutally murdered in Istanbul.

RIP Chris and Kev – never forgotten, and we’ll never forgive either.

For those 15 years, we’ve expected nothing less than total commitment from any Leeds team facing a fixture around this time. It’s about respect, which should act so as to enhance the standard level of professionalism and commitment we always look for. Any team facing Leeds on or about April the 5th should expect and be given a very hard time. It’s only right.

The ingredients were therefore in place for what should have been a Leeds performance to be reckoned with. But professional football is a game of fine margins, and any extraneous influence can act so as to reduce the chances of any team’s success on a given day. This week just gone, with quite appalling timing, the Leeds United powers that be have chosen to drop bombshells right into the middle of weekend preparations. A respected Assistant Coach, hardly in the job five minutes, has been suspended and told he has no future at Leeds; the Head Coach has apparently been told not to select the leading scorer due to unwelcome incentive provisions in his contract (so why did they agree them in the first place?) – and now that same Head Coach is having doubts about whether or not he can really carry on in charge. It’s difficult, he says – with admirable understatement.

So, whether or not the ref and his assistants are open to criticism, whether or not Blackburn Rovers performed above expectations, whether or not our team were below what we might have expected with the anniversary of Taksim Square imminent – the fact is that the people in charge at Leeds United, the chief among whom should not be influencing matters at all, currently – being banned – these people supposedly in control and acting in the club’s best interests have comported themselves like a bull in a china shop, smashing their way through the delicate business of preparing for a game without any regard for team or management morale. Those are not the actions of responsible owners. Those are the actions of clueless idiots.

Having stayed loyal for longer than was, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, either wise or reasonable – especially in the face of some bizarre decisions over the course of a bizarre season – this blog has had to perform an uncomfortable volte face. The events of this week have not, of themselves, caused any sudden, out of the blue 180 degree about-turn. Rather, they have been the last straw, the one that finally broke the camel’s back.

I can no longer stick up for Massimo Cellino and his cohorts. It’s all just become too ridiculous and humiliating. We’ve got a Hartlepool fan – a Hartlepool fan, for Christ’s sake – referring to us as a crisis club on Soccer Saturday. And it’s hard to do more than feebly protest that Jeff Stelling should move out of his glass house before throwing any stones. But he’s right. We are a crisis club – safety from relegation notwithstanding. How could we be seen as anything else? The leaders of the club are set fair to make us untouchable by any respected football professional in the game. If Redders were to walk – who would want to move into such a hands-tied, hamstrung job? Not anybody that, in an ideal world, I’d care to nominate.

Today, we lost a football match and had a lad sent off. It’s happened before, it will happen again. At the moment, those bare facts represent the very least of our worries. We’re now at the stage where more and more people, some of whom might be expected to have an apoplectic fit at the sacrilegious idea of a re-branded Elland Road, are now openly welcoming the prospect of new owners who might well do just that. That’s how desperate we have become; that’s the barometer of the urgent desire for change – yet again.

I should have realised the way things were going when I published a spoof article for April Fools’ Day, claiming that a Russian oil mogul was buying Cellino out. It got over 25,000 views, so it must have half-convinced some people. And, in the spirit of All Fools’ Day, I got some good-natured abuse for such an outrageous lie. But what I also got was a lot – a lot – of wistful responses, saying if only it were true, etc. That’s not the sign of a happy support – and it was a big enough sample to make me to think it’s a fair indicator of the current mood. Right now, if Red Bull were to march in and paint the whole stadium some god-awful shade of the devil’s colour – you get the feeling that a lot would simply sigh and say, get on with it, then – see where we go. That’s a shocking state of affairs.

For now, we simply have to blunder on, and hope that this season peters away without too much more in the way of humiliation. The Blackburn game doesn’t matter, of itself. Nor, to be honest, does a tough-looking fixture at Wolves on Bank Holiday Monday. It’s the factors behind the Blackburn result, and behind whatever might happen to us at Molineux, that are of real concern at the moment. I think it’s right and fair to lay the blame for this 0-3 defeat squarely at the door of the owners, whatever else might have gone wrong. And I feel the same way about the Wolves game. If we do well, I’ll praise the lads and the manager. If we get – as I fear – a proper seeing-to, I’ll be blaming the suits.

After a long struggle to stay loyal, and with the way I feel with all that has happened this week – and with Jeff Stelling’s non-ironic words buzzing in my head – that’s just the way it is now for this once but no longer pro-Cellino blog.

Celtic Fans Open to Ridicule Over Rangers “Old Firm” Claims – by Rob Atkinson

At Leeds United, we’re no strangers to the unwelcome feeling and experience of your club in crisis. We’ve seen our beloved Whites pushed to the brink of actual expiry and ejection from the league; we’ve seen administration and League sanctions. Spectacular collapse and the plummet from the heights of the game to the depths of despair was a process raised almost to a perverse art form by United – to the point that it became known as “doing a Leeds”. So we know what crisis, despair and poverty are all about – the only thing that can really surprise a Whites fan these days is to see a club in straits even more dire.

Which brings me on to Glasgow Rangers FC. There is no need for me to re-hash here exactly what has happened to them over the past few years. In short, it was a precipitous fall, and an unprecedented reduction in status. From being permanent members of a top two cartel, Rangers were sent spinning into the gloom and obscurity of Scotland’s lowest major league. The journey back is well under way, but problems beset them still. On Sunday, for the first time since their fall from grace, Rangers face Celtic in the Scottish League Cup semi-final at Hampden Park. The Old Firm rivalry is back, right? Well, not according to the hardly unbiased fans of Celtic FC. Take a moment to look at the rationale espoused by a group of their fans in an advert placed recently.

Celtic fans - are they kidding?

Celtic fans – are they kidding?

Now, surely – these Celtic fans cannot be serious? It’s a wind-up, right? Are they quite barking mad, these loose-lipped Bhoys? What are they worried or insecure about, that they should resort to this? The whole “argument” stated above smacks of trying too hard, a mean-spirited attempt to cast back down a club trying to recover from an almost terminal decline. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Rangers’ fall – and without declaring any particular affiliation on either side of the Old Firm divide – this blog has to state in the strongest possible terms that what we have here is a bunch of partisan yet clueless fans talking fluent rubbish.

Whatever arguments you might summon, whatever contortions you might go through, leaning over backwards to show that black is white – surely the one thing any set of football fans must agree on is the major factor in any football club’s identity. It is the fans, it has to be. The fans embody the tradition and continuity of any club. Football shirts might change colour, as with Cardiff. Ground moves are commonplace these days and have never been unknown. Players, directors, managers and staff come and go, without necessarily having any real connection to the clubs they serve for a time.

So what is the one thread that runs right through a club’s very soul and being? It is the fans, the loyal supporters who follow, follow, through thick and thin, passing on the supporting tradition down the generations, wedded to their club in good times and bad. And it is those Rangers fans, the ones who have stuck by the Rangers FC as they sank to the depths and rose again – they embody Glasgow Rangers and in so doing, they give unquestionable continuity to the institution that is Glasgow Rangers FC. They also make a total mockery of this laughable stance from a set of fans who feel just as passionately about their club – and who have thus allowed themselves to go out on a limb, in trying to kick a club when it’s down, succeeding only in making arrant fools of themselves.

I wouldn’t particularly care, normally, who wins on Sunday at Hampden. I miss the Old Firm games for their passion and spectacle, it’s for those reasons that I always tune in to watch and would one day like to attend one of these occasions. The tradition of atmospheric support from both sets of fans, with tempers frequently running high on the park and referees praying for the final whistle to come with as little as possible actual violence – that’s so much of what football should be about. These are factors which are gradually being marginalised in the modern game as a whole, with increasing gentrification everywhere and a diminution of the raucous passion we of a certain age remember. But all of that is still present at certain fixtures – Leeds against Man U is one, Newcastle versus Sunderland bears a mention – there is el Clásico, of course. But the grand-daddy of them all is the Old Firm game – even if a lot of the cause and reason behind this fact isn’t of a particularly savoury or relevant nature.

So where do these Celtic fans get off, trying to defuse, deflate, diminish all of this? Don’t they realise how much the game north of the border needs its return, and in full rude health at that? For goodness’ sake, Celtic need it. Surely, these pompous, paragraph-quoting fools are kidding. If they’re not, then they deserve the ridicule that should be coming their way. And, for the record, against my normal neutral Old Firm stance – I would say to them “If you really do mean this – then you’re idiots; and I hope you get stuffed out of sight on Sunday”. 

Unexpected Bonus for Harvey and FL as Leeds Splits Start to Show – by Rob Atkinson

Elland Road: are the foundations crumbling?

Elland Road: are the foundations crumbling?

It’s been just another cataclysmic day at Elland Road. In the wake of a battling draw against Birmingham City on Saturday, when the match officials put in a disgraceful performance that will no doubt have earned them plenty of brownie points at Football League HQ, Monday brought the League’s latest confirmation that the interests of its biggest member club are a long way down the list when there are vendettas to be pursued. Massimo Cellino’s ban under the largely discredited “fit and proper test”, prompted by a legal process that has some way yet to run under Italian law, has been upheld – meaning that the King of Corn must step away from his involvement with Leeds United until April, at which point the conviction, though not finally ratified in Italian courts, will be deemed “spent” under English law. Leeds as an entity are considering their options; meanwhile the individuals concerned have had plenty to say, with alarm and confusion regrettably ensuing.

Sadly, too, there are signs that the strain is beginning to show behind the scenes at Elland Road. This is potentially calamitous, but really not all that surprising; embattled is hardly an adequate word to describe the position of the club throughout this torturous season. Great Britain in the early part of World War II could scarcely have been more isolated or heavily assailed from all directions than the hapless West Yorkshire pariahs of Leeds. It appears highly unlikely on this occasion that a convenient Eisenhower figure is going to appear over the horizon, perhaps backed up by the cavalry. If Leeds are to fight on, they will – as ever – fight alone.

Such a siege situation historically demands unity and solidarity within the ranks as well as clarity and leadership from the top. If you’re lacking those elements, you can rest assured that your walls will ultimately be breached and the barbarian hordes will inundate your enclave with gorily fatal results. At Leeds, the splits are beginning to show – and under the pressure of universal hatred and contempt, those splits, the cracks just now appearing in the very foundations of the club, are liable to widen as they threaten to topple the whole edifice. This is an outcome that Shaun Harvey and his crooked cronies at the Football League must devoutly have wished for – but scarcely dared to hope might happen.

The alarming thing about any football club in this type of situation is the marginal advantage it affords all of its rivals. In professional football, as in any top level sport, those margins separating success from disaster are always fine. Games are won and lost, seasons succeed or fail, clubs stand or fall, not by gulfs of clear blue water, but by details of fine tuning. For Leeds, against whom it is an article of faith for rival clubs to raise their game – and engaged as they are in the dog eat dog frenzy at the foot of the table – the writing is now very clearly on the wall. The situation prior to the latest Black Monday was serious enough. Now, things have taken on a still more sombre and frightening aspect.

The reactions from within the club to the League’s latest knife in the back have been confusing, dissonant, unhelpful. At a time when a United front is absolutely crucial, Leeds seems to be an organisation divided within and against itself. The signals from the top – from Cellino himself –  have been of apathy, despair, defiance and then, disastrously, of a most bizarre attempt at self-aggrandisement, all in swift and bewildering succession. First we heard that the Italian was unsure as to whether he would take the reins up again at the end of this present ban. Then it was, well, someone else will sign the cheques; nothing has changed. This was swiftly followed by a rabble-rousing “I’ll be back” in the best Arnie tradition, as he seemed set fair to terminate the League in all its Machiavellian plotting. But at the last, as Monday ebbed away into Tuesday match-day, we had Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino blurting that three players – named as Bianchi, Sloth and Doukara – wish to leave the club in the event of Cellino’s appeal being rejected.

Just how this might be imagined to help the situation is nigh-on impossible to explain – so I won’t even try, as it’s honestly beyond me. But I could provide a list as long as your arm of ways in which such a pronouncement is shatteringly unhelpful. Firstly, we must assume that none of the trio identified as wantaways can be involved in the match-day squad for the visit of league leaders Bournemouth. How can they be? They’ve been publicly outed as the first of the rats clamouring to dive off the sinking ship. Their relationship with team-mates, management and fans must surely be so compromised that they will be of no use in any game, let alone one so difficult. It’s back to that fine-tuning mentioned earlier. In the run up to kick-off in a professional football match, everything has to be exactly right. There is certainly no place for the kind of stun grenade that Cellino has carelessly lobbed into the middle of sensitive preparations for a battle with the usual, highly-motivated opposition.

Even if it’s all just hype and brinkmanship, and the players concerned have no intention of seeking to absent themselves from a struggling, failing club – the damage may well have been done. Even if there are no schisms within the squad, even if Redders does not feel that he’s been dealt an exceptionally cruel hand by his maverick owner – what are the poor, bewildered fans to make of it all? Just what will the atmosphere be like at Elland Road, a ground that should be a cauldron of white-hot support to test the nerve of any opposition? How much good will it do Leeds United if that normally vociferous support are stunned and demoralised, reeling from the news that a good proportion of the squad want out? In the event, Casper Sloth seems to have come out and denied that he’s anything other than totally committed to the Leeds United cause, asserting his own commitment to fight for the shirt and produce better than we have so far seen from him. But, welcome though that might be of itself, doesn’t it merely emphasise the utter failure of Leeds United’s personnel to be seen to be singing from the same hymn sheet? The damage has most likely been done – just how much of a disunited United side will take the field against the table toppers, who are seeking to avenge an unlikely early-season defeat on their own patch?

We keep on saying this – but it’s difficult to think of a worse day in the club’s history, and that is not primarily down to the corrupt and foolish League’s latest travesty; it is more down to the appearance of turmoil and chaos within what should be the Leeds United “circle of trust”. You might argue for the post points deduction era as being comparable in terms of crisis, but that whole minus 15 thing was demonstrably a unifying factor in Dennis Wise’s cobbled-together League One squad. Now, at a time when, more than ever, they need to be able to rely on each other, that priceless quality of unity seems to have been recklessly, thoughtlessly tossed away as intemperate mouths have spoken without caution or reason, with no regard to team spirit or the need to be together and fight a common foe. It might now be down to the fans to somehow overcome their own doubts and trepidation, to get behind the team and inspire them as few if any bands of supporters anywhere are better able to do. But what sort of shape is that support in right now? Not very happy, not very united and not very impressed with the man who had appeared as a saviour – that, surely, is the absolute least of it.

It would be just like Leeds United to bounce back after all, in the course of what must be a Tuesday of healing and rapprochement. It’s happened before, hasn’t it, and not so long ago at that. In the wake of last season’s lowest ebb, with the summary dismissal of McDermott by an owner not yet in situ and Sky TV’s urgent efforts to persuade our star striker he should be demanding a transfer, the team responded and, after a nervous start, utterly destroyed Huddersfield Town 5-1 with that striker – I forget his name – notching a hat-trick. It’s not impossible that a similar scenario could unfold with Bournemouth in opposition (and probably feeling that crisis-torn Leeds are there for the taking). Morison to score three, anyone? It’s not impossible – it’s merely bloody unlikely.

Whatever the outcome of the match on Tuesday evening, Leeds have to get it right in the hours and days immediately afterwards. They have to put a stop to all of these mixed messages – and certainly there should be an immediate halt to any tactic of broadcasting the message of “the players love me so much, they don’t want to stay without me”. Wiser counsel must prevail and, with that in mind, it is to be hoped we hear a bit less of certain highly vocal and emotional parties – and a lot more of the new Chief Operating Officer, Matt Child. His was the sole voice of reason and sanity on Monday; amid all of the confusion swirling around him, he spoke quite well. He might just offer some sort of navigable route out of the morass in which we currently flounder.

The one thing we cannot hope for is any sympathy from outside of the club, its support and a very few gentlemen of the press who have demonstrated in the past their unwillingness to follow the herd on its Leeds-hating stampede towards the common gutter. So, we are just going to have to make the best of things, as usual, strive to support the team against the south-coast high-flyers on Tuesday evening – and simply hope against hope (and against all realistic probability) for better times ahead. Surely, even this remorselessly grim season must yet have some positive moments in store for us?