Tag Archives: tradition

West Ham Farewell Party Confirms the Love For Elland Road   –   by Rob Atkinson

Elland Road

Elland Road, THE place of worship for thousands

Just nine days short of 480 years since another Boleyn met her end, on a Tower Green scaffold one sad Tudor morning, the curtain finally fell on West Ham United’s Boleyn Ground last night. It was the climax of 112 years of East End football history, fittingly topped off with a thrilling late victory and then the obligatory lasers and fireworks – spectacular high jinks, warming the cockles before the cold reality of the bulldozers moving in to do their grim work. 

Poor little Queen Anne was snuffed out by a French swordsman imported specially for the occasion by her kindly husband King Henry VIII. One swing of that fine blade left la Boleyn shorter by a head – and it was deadly twin thrusts from another Frenchman that could have cut short the farewell celebrations at the Boleyn Ground. West Ham had taken an early lead, but two goals from French prodigy Martial threatened rudely to poop the Hammers’ party. Fortunately, not least for this hardly unbiased viewer, the Irons roared back with two late goals to secure victory and put the Champions League hopes of Manchester’s finest back in their own hands. What a game, what a night. But then, chillingly, comes the bleak reality of the following day.

Watching such a thrilling match and then such an emotional farewell event had me wondering how those Hammers fans were feeling as the night and the occasion went by. There must surely have been a slightly unreal air about the place. Is this really the last time? Is this familiar old place really going to be torn down pitilessly, along with all the memories of good times and bad? Those questions must inevitably have gone through thousands of baffled, barely believing cockney minds. 

I have my own recollections of the Boleyn Ground – or Upton Park, as it was also known. Only a few, but marked each time by a Leeds United win, which obviously makes for good memories. And enough of those memories to make the place quite familiar to me. So even I can hardly credit the fact that, so soon, it will all be gone. But if I had to guess, based on my own forty-odd years of football fandom, just how those West Ham fans were feeling last night, I’d wager there was a lot of sadness and a sea of tears after the jubilation of victory, as the loss of a beloved place of worship started to sink in. And, I ask you, how on earth must they be feeling this morning?

It’s a bit hard to put myself in their shoes. The nearest comparison I can make is that last occasion, before the suits brought in the seats, standing on the Kop terraces against the Wendies. That was emotional enough. I literally can hardly imagine how I would feel if Elland Road itself – my second and spiritual home since 1975 – was condemned to be rased to the ground. Words would not be able to express the awful emptiness I would feel, the nightmare sensation of being cast out of my comfort zone, never to return. It came close enough – too close for comfort – to actually happening, with a firm proposal to relocate put to the vote in the 90s. For me, it didn’t really hit home or seem real at that time. I truly know that now.

I know it, because of what I saw in the coverage of the Boleyn’s last game. Because it’s a stadium I’m familiar with, I was suddenly forced to contemplate the same grisly fate befalling Elland Road. It’s a simply horrible thought. It certainly gave me nightmares and, this morning, I really feel for those displaced, dispossessed Hammers fans. 

Some will point to the grandeur of their new surroundings at the Olympic Stadium. Well, whatever floats your boat. And there’s the small matter of 52,000 season tickets sold already ahead of the next campaign. The Hammers are moving up to a different level, it’s a whole new ball game now. So it may well be. But is it worth it? Well, you could rebuild the Bernebeu or the Camp Nou in Roundhay Park and, for me, the answer would still be no.

It’s a bit different for us. We’ve been the best, on more than one occasion, and we’ve sustained that excellence at a fortress called Elland Road. So much of what Leeds United have achieved is part of the concrete, the steel, even the hallowed turf of that venerable old stadium. Maybe it would have been harder for us than it’s turning out to be for those Hammers who said “goodbye” last night. But honestly, I doubt it. I think it’s going to be very hard indeed on those fans, once the dust has settled. 

All I can say for myself is that last night reinforced for me the emotional pull of Elland Road, the fundamental attachment I so strongly feel for the place. I’m quite certain that the same is true for thousands of other Leeds fans. Perhaps it takes being a spectator at an event like last night to really bring home what being at home is actually all about. And what losing that home would heart-breakingly mean.

Hammers fans still have their memories; they’ll still be able to replay the mind’s eye video of countless great matches and famous victories. But the place where all those things happened will soon be dust, and there’s an awful finality to that. When the place is gone, the memories will be harder to put into their proper setting. Even ghosts need a place to float around in.

Every time I see Elland Road, a thousand precious memories become real again for me – some pretty bad ones too, make no mistake. But they’re all part of that fund of recollection any football fan builds up, and they’re inextricably linked with that loveable ramshackle old stadium, with its incongruously shiny newer bits. Even they’ve been with us over a quarter of the club’s lifetime. I love every inch of the place, down to the last rivet and the smallest blade of grass. Part of my life would be gone, if I had to go through what the Hammers fans went through last night. What they’re only starting to get used to this morning. 

Congratulations to West Ham, on a fine victory and a fitting way to mark the end of an era. I’m really pleased for you – and yet I’m sorry for you too. God knows I’d love the experience again, of beating that lot and reducing them to misery. I’ve always loved that. But – at the cost of a large chunk of my soul? I think not. I really think not. 

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Leeds Bête Noire Bates Replaced as Football’s Panto Villain by Hull’s “Doctor Death” – by Rob Atkinson

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Smile on the face of the tiger – disgraceful Allam

Leeds United fans know all about how it feels to have your club owned by a man who makes your teeth curl up with embarrassment, someone who has only to open his mouth to reveal the yawning cavity inside his skull.  Thankfully, Bates is now consigned to the dustbin of Elland Road history – give or take an outstanding court case or two – and the club can finally look forward to a future unencumbered by the whims and conceits of an irascible and unrepentant old man.  Some will mourn the loss of one of football’s “characters”, but really – with characters like that, the game would swiftly lose the plot. And anyway, it seems that there is another of the Batesian ilk, making a bad name for himself over in the Far East, in that soon-to-be City of Culture, Hull.

Hull City owner Assem Allam could be seen on the TV earlier this afternoon, simpering away to himself as his team of tigers beat Mighty Liverpool, courtesy of two wild deflections and some truly appalling Scouse defending.  The atmosphere at times was really quite deafening, the Hull fans – not noted for the passion of their support – belting out “City Till I Die” in a manner calculated to rock the rafters.  Allam bore the look of a man who felt he had personally inspired such vociferous support – and in a way that was true.  For Allam’s pre-match comment on the song rendered with such feeling by his club’s fans was that  “I don’t mind ‘City till we die’. They can die as soon as they want, as long as they leave the club for the majority who just want to watch good football.”  Not the most subtle of rebuffs for those City fans who are protesting against Allam’s proposed change of the club’s name to Hull Tigers.  In fact some would say that they were the words of a man disposed to let his mouth work without any apparent connection to his brain; the words, in short, of an intemperate oaf.  Most unsuitable for a future City of Culture.  But Allam was not content with one yobbish sound-bite.  He went further:

“How can they call themselves fans, these hooligans, this militant minority, when they disturb and distract the players while taking away the rights of others to watch the football, and of companies who have paid good money for advertising?

“If they want to express their feelings they are free to do so, either outside the stadium or pay to take [advertising] space.

“Seriously, they are welcome to talk to the stadium management about buying a space for a permanent banner, 10 times as big if they want. I am a supporter of democracy. I would have no issue with that.”

The City fans have organised themselves in an attempt to stop Allam from ripping away at their traditions and history in the name of tacky commercialism.  They will have noted with dismay that the Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan has succeeded against the protests of that club’s fans in changing the teams colours from blue to red, leaving them with the humiliating spectacle of their beloved Bluebirds turning out, in effect, in a strip that is a betrayal of their long-standing identity.  Tan’s regime  is also now threatening the future of popular manager Malky Mackay; the fans see this as a step too far and are issuing stern warnings and organising protests against such folly.

There is a growing and worrying need for sets of fans to form action groups against various pieces of arrant folly on the part of people who have bought football clubs in the evident belief that they then have the right to do whatever they like with those clubs.  The model appears to be based on the franchise system common enough in the States, where owners do have this licence to operate exactly as they please, even to the extent of closing down or relocating their toys, under a new identity and perhaps thousands of miles away. That’s just too horrible to contemplate for English football and, in the absence of any obviously helpful legislation to protect traditional interests, it does seem that the fans have little choice but to band together and get militant.

The conclusion is difficult to avoid that the game in this country has taken a wrong turning in making conditions so propitious for loaded foreigners to come in, buy their trophy clubs and then, with little or no understanding of the history and social impact of those clubs, set about bending them unrecognisably out of shape.  It may be that Assam is not aware of how embarrassing the Hull City supporters find it when opposing fans mock them by singing “Tigers, Tigers, rah, rah, rah!” at them.  But any football fan would completely understand that kind of humiliation – so why make things worse with a complete Tigers re-branding?  Does Tan at Cardiff honestly have any idea of the impact a change from blue to red has had on the fans of that club? Of the stick that the fans will have had to take from their despised rivals in Swansea? It seems doubtful that these people, flush with cash and arrogance, either know or care.

Both Hull City and Cardiff City are currently proud members of the Premier League – so things could be worse.  Both are doing OK as well.  But if you asked me, as a Leeds fan: would I settle for success at the kind of price being expected of fans of the two City teams – then I’d have to say, resoundingly: NO.  History and tradition count for a lot in football. This new wave of minted foreign ownership is set fair to suck the soul out of the game if the trend is allowed to continue.  That then becomes a national cultural issue and – surely – some Government department should be sitting up and taking notice.  And really, they should be taking notice now – and thinking about some possible protective action now as well.  Otherwise we will be doing the usual futile thing of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.  You can’t get much more uselessly British than that.

This footballing Tale of Two Cities is a definite pointer away from the creeping, insidious growth of clueless foreign ownership – and that’s not a xenophobic stance, it just so happens that most of the new owners are not from these Isles – which probably explains their lack of appreciation of just what the game here – and the fan culture – are all about.  It will be far too late to do anything about it when someone like Allam or Tan – or indeed like Bates, who proves that arrogant idiocy is not simply a matter of foreign nationality – decides that Hull isn’t a good place for a football franchise, and relocates them somewhere else entirely, with a snazzy new name to attract untapped local support.  It could easily happen – who speaks then for the disenfranchised Hull City fan of fifty years faithful support?

If we did move away from the current situation, we could do a lot worse than look to Germany, and their preferred system which relies heavily upon community-involved, supporter-owned football clubs which are part of the local fabric and represent the heart and soul of the fans.  It works very well in Germany, and certain clubs elsewhere – notably Barcelona – benefit from a similarly democratic and inclusive situation.

Whatever the future brings, I wish the supporters of Hull and Cardiff all the best as they struggle to retain their clubs’ identities in the face of unsympathetic ownership structures.  They will need all the luck and good wishes they can get – but if they succeed, it’s good for all of us – because it would send out a definite message that every football fan of every team should endorse: You’re welcome here, Mr Billionaire, and so is your money – but don’t you dare mess about with MY club.

Perhaps then, fan power would really have found its feet and organisations like IMUSA, LUST, and the protest groups at Hull, Cardiff and elsewhere can start to exercise a real and responsible on the game in this country.  That, if you think about it, is what will be needed if we’re ever to give the People’s Game back to the rightful owners.  And they are of course the people – us, the fans who love football and want to see it prosper – in the right way, the proper way, the traditional way.

Not – please note – as some rich guy’s toy to play with, break and then discard as a bored and spoiled child will tend to do.  Messrs Allam and Tan, and all the others – be warned.

“Day of Shame” for Dirty Leeds, the Damned United – by Rob Atkinson

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Billy & Co: Hard, but fair

Certain traditions run like a golden thread through the pages of any clubs’ history, but these are strange times and events are taking a turn for the bizarre.  Look at West Ham, the so-called Academy of Football – managed by a brontosaurus of a coach in Sam Allardyce who believes that a 4-6-0 formation is the way forward.  None of this old-fashioned malarkey about scoring goals for our Sam; he’s going to get the ‘Ammers relegated his way.  What would Ron Greenwood think?

Then look at the Premier League “Fair Play” league.  Look where Man U are – right down there near the bottom as if they were just any old club.  Seriously, what is going on?  The referees must be giving fouls against them for goodness’ sake, and actually booking players in that red shirt that previously meant immunity from normal discipline.  Pinch me, I must be dreaming. What on Earth are they playing at?

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Clean Leeds? You’re ‘aving a larf, mate

But for a truly shocking spectacle, one that will blast the eyes of any football nostalgia freak and confound millions of armchair experts everywhere, just take a gander at the Fair Play league for the Championship. There, sat somewhat shamefacedly at the top, are the arch-satans themselves, the famously filthy Leeds United.  How that must have made Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter choke on his cornflakes this morning.  Johnny Giles, known to many as a cultured performer with genius in his left foot, but by those who knew better as a pint-sized assassin, must have shaken his head sadly and wondered what things have come to.  This is not the Leeds United we all knew and loved, with blood on their boots and murder in their hearts.  What would Billy Bremner say?  Or, for those of an earlier vintage, Wilf Copping?

Just as the sound of leather on willow beguiles the senses of those sat around a village green watching cricket on a long summer evening; just as the sound of birds singing in a mellifluous dawn chorus brings promise of the balmy day to come – so the ghastly rattle of boot on bone and the anguished screech of yet another opposing player, nailed by a deadly-accurate but manifestly illegal lunge, would reassure the listener that they were at Elland Road with Norman or Gilesy going about their deadly business.  Some things just go with each other, like port and nuts, like Man U and arrogance.  If these traditions perish, what have we got left but some brave new world that we don’t quite understand?

Some will disagree, feeling that the appearance of Leeds United at the top of any league is long overdue and indubitably A Good Thing.  Those of a po-faced and purist turn of thought – the ones that yap away to each other unhappily if Leeds United rattle a few cages or shin-bones, or if earthier Leeds fans engage in verbal warfare with their like-minded counterparts at the Theatre of Hollow Myths – these more saintly people will welcome anything that further distances them and the Damned United from a bloodstained, strife-torn and controversial past.  Such tedious holier-than-thou types would like to see us as just another dull, routine club.  Look, they will squeak – we’re not Dirty Leeds after all.  We’re the cleanest and shiniest in the whole league.  They will nod a smug and satisfied little nod and then go on to remind you that we’re no longer a big club, either. Some people just have no feel for tradition.

There is some compensation for those of us with a more positive mind-set.  On a different page of the statistical website that shows Leeds in such a novel and incongruous fair-play position, we can see Ross McCormack sitting proudly at the top of the league’s scorers list, courtesy of his recent white-hot form in front of goal.  Now Ross is the kind of Leeds player any fan can warm to, outspoken in his regard for the club, ready to engage with the fans in social media – these are the sort of modern developments I can get along with.

If only those others in the team, those who bear the responsibility for defending United’s cherished tradition of “getting stuck in” and giving opposing forwards and playmakers a touch of gravel-rash from time to time – just to remind them they’re in a game – if only they could get their act together as Rossco has.  Maybe then we might start to sink towards our more accustomed place in the nether regions of the Fair Play league, whilst we’re rising slowly but surely towards the top of the League that really counts.

When I write of proud traditions in the context of getting stuck into the opposition, it’s not entirely tongue in cheek.  This “Dirty Leeds” reputation for dealing severely with upstart opponents really was a part of the culture of those early seventies times in particular.  You could hardly watch a sitcom without the name of the Yorkshire giants being brought into proceedings, by way of almost affectionate and decidedly respectful tribute.  We were quite the cultural icons.

In one episode of “Porridge“, for instance, the head screw Mackay claims to be “hard but fair”. “Yeah,” intones our hero Norman Stanley Fletcher, cynically – “Just like Leeds United”. And we get similar mentions elsewhere – “Rising Damp“, “Monty Python“, even.  Moments like that still give me that frisson of acknowledgement that I support a club outside the normal, humdrum, run-of-the-mill mainstream.  I support Dirty Leeds, the Damned United, and I’m proud of it.

So come on, Leeds – sort yourselves out and lets get the rest of football moaning and whinging about us again.  You owe it to those legendary hard-men of the past, all the way from Wilf Copping, via Billy, Norman, Big Jack and Gilesy, through to Vinnie and Batts. Where is that type of player now?  Maybe, after all, we should have made more of an attempt to sign Joey Barton.

McDermott Seeks Re-birth of “Scary” Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

Scary Leeds Salute Their Scary Fans

Scary Leeds Salute Their Scary Fans

A lot has been heard of the recent GFH mantra since the joyous ousting of Ken Bates – in an understandable effort to erase the nightmares of the Uncle Ken era from supporters’ minds, the new owners have been telling us “Forget the past – it’s all about the future”. All very well, and definitely positive in its way – but surely, a club like Leeds needs to hang on to some of its past, the grand old traditions, the glorious history?

One man certainly thinks so, and you could hardly find anyone the fans are more likely to look up to right now.  Boss Brian McDermott is setting about sorting the future out, alright – but he also has a wise and admiring eye on the past.

One manifestation of this is the restoration of a pre-match ritual that many, including myself, remember very fondly.  When I first started going to watch Leeds, you knew what to expect before kick-off at Elland Road.  The other lot would shamble out, they’d head to their allotted territory at the Elland Road end of the stadium and then kick a ball or two around between them sheepishly, aware that they had to face the Leeds United side and just about the most hostile and partisan crowd anywhere.  Then the Kop and the other United parts of the ground would start the chant “Bring on the Champions!”, before the warriors finally entered the arena.

Out they would file, United, purposeful and focused, clad all in white, muscular and determined. With not a glance to the cowering opposition, scattered in their preparatory warm-up, the Leeds United team stayed together as they arrived in the centre-circle. Here they would line up, raise their right arms in unison to salute the faithful, staying in disciplined line as each man, arm still aloft, turned to greet every section of the support to roars of approbation.

It used to make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, this telling statement of intent, this confident, almost arrogant, affirmation of superiority.  It pre-dated the “We Are Leeds” terrace chant, but that message still came across, loud and clear.  It was unique, special. It was Leeds, Leeds, Leeds alone – and there was no other team like us.

But then, it just stopped.

It probably took me a few matches to fully appreciate the awful truth that the pre-match salute had indeed been abandoned.  I was absolutely gutted; it was a time of transition and we were not the force we had been – but this betrayal of tradition, as it seemed to me, was the ultimate acceptance that the Glory Days of Mighty Leeds – Super Leeds – were finally gone.  Gone for good, as far as I knew.  Fans had much less of a voice back then; there might have been some protests, but nothing was done.

But now we have Brian McDermott.  Softly-spoken but dedicated and committed Brian, fiercely determined and one with the fans Brian.  Brian who wasted no time in distancing himself from his lifelong ambition to manage the Republic of Ireland, declaring instead that he has a job to do at Leeds United, a job he’s proud and thrilled to have and one where he’s single-minded in his resolve to succeed.

Now this new idol of the Leeds support, long-suffering and battered as we’ve been over the past disastrous decade, is giving us back some of the glorious pieces of our past we’d thought lost forever.  And he’s started with the Leeds salute as practiced by King Billy & Co all those years ago.  As a symbol of not only a new era, but a new era that is intended to re-awaken past glories and return us to the top of the game, this could hardly be more potent or evocative.  Not for the first time in his short career at Leeds, Brian has hit the nail unerringly on the head.

What can you say about a man like that, who’s come into the club as a stranger and so completely fastened on to the Leeds United legend that he knows, instinctively what we all want, what Leeds United needs.  How can you express what it means to us all?  He knows what’s needed and he acts upon it.

Results-wise, achievement-wise, we’re at the beginning of a very long journey.  There will be pitfalls on the road ahead, set-backs in our progress, times when we all doubt where we’re heading.  Money is so integral to success now and Brian McDermott will rely on his board for support as he bids to succeed.  But steps like this – just the simple restoration of an iconic tradition – speak volumes for the man and his ability to feel what it is to be Leeds.  He loved that old salute, he says.  He loved seeing them walk out like soldiers, he remembers it being “a bit scary”.  McDermott knows what makes a club tick, he’s in tune with this club’s legends.

Brian McDermott is already well on the way to becoming a Leeds United Legend himself.

What Price the Soul of Leeds United?

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After the brief optimism of a few weeks ago, when the first post-Bates day saw welcome changes in the boardroom and welcome signings on the pitch – including one for whom we supposedly paid actual BIG money – things have gone a bit gloomy again over at LS11. The pre-season programme has now brought three successive defeats, including a woeful display at Walsall which Brian McDermott described as his “worst day as Leeds United manager”. The perceived wisdom is that we still need quality additions, including a rock of a centre-half and at least one tricky, fleet-footed winger. Brian’s “priority signing” is still unsigned, and unidentified. Clearly, more serious money is needed. Where’s it coming from?

The sequence of news items has been interesting. Once all that early-July optimism started to wane, the Red Bull story surfaced, and it refused to go away. The fans of course immediately started adding two and two to make five, and the scare stories of team rebranding circulated, along with slightly more feasible rumours of stadium naming rights. The battle lines were drawn; one camp stands firm in its traditionalism and will not tolerate the idea of the team playing at the Red Bull Arena, nor even a glimpse of that devil’s colour red on our pristine white shirts (with the fat blue stripe). On the other side there are those who feel we’ve sunk too low to be coy about appearances and naming rights – show us the money, they say, and you can basically do what you like to us. But we need to be talking massive money – we’re not, after all, some cheap trollop of a club you can buy for a song.

Once the Red Bull story had been around a little, and it had been possible to gauge fans’ reactions, Brian started to appear in the media again with his gloomy face on, bemoaning the lack of progress in the transfer market and making pessimistic noises about having to sell before he can buy. It makes me wonder whether, having realised that there would be significant fan opposition to the idea of naming rights to Elland Road being sold off, GFH might just have briefed Brian to get out there and make these dolorous pronouncements, putting the fear of God up the support that another season of under-achievement awaits and basically softening us up for whatever commercial coup they might have lined up. I’m not saying that Brian will necessarily be so ready to dance to the GFH tune, but I do smell a big, fat rat in terms of how our expectations are being managed, and how our instinctive suspicion of corporate influence over our club’s traditions is being dissipated by worry over lack of transfer money.

The fact is that the precedents are already out there for success at any price, and that we will ignore these new trends at our peril. Man City play at the Etihad, and Arsenal at the Emirates. If corporate stadium names are OK at these two grand old clubs, then why not at Leeds? It’s not as if any Leeds fan would ever call it by any other name than Elland Road anyway, so why the big fuss? We can expect to be wound up by opposition fans and the media, but what’s new about that? Surely the priority now is to give Brian McDermott the tools to finish the job.

If we remain too ignorantly proud to go with the flow, then we have to accept that the price of pride might be one we don’t wish to pay. Do we want to play at the Red Bull Arena in the Premier League, or at Elland Road in the Championship – or maybe even in League One? It might just be that the choice is as simple and stark as that.