Tag Archives: tributes

‘Grateful’ Man United to Unveil Statues of Rupert Murdoch and Howard Webb – by Rob Atkinson

Theatre of Hollow Myths - due a name change?

Theatre of Hollow Myths – due a name change?

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything can exclusively reveal that Man Utd – the former football club now known throughout the observable cosmos as The Pride of Devon – are to show their appreciation of two massively important figures in their recent history, by erecting statues in their honour.

The legends concerned are Aussie media tycoon Rupert Murdoch – who single-handedly ended Man U’s 26 year title drought by buying the game for them in 1992 – and former referee Howard Webb, who still holds the all-time club record for career assists, beating even Ryan Giggs and Mike Riley into second and third positions. Mr Webb is now the technical director of the Professional Game Match Officials Board, where he will be able to continue in the service of Man U, ensuring that the “right” referees are selected for their fixtures.

A Theatre of Hollow Myths insider, speaking on a lobby basis to Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything, confirmed that the two statues have been commissioned in recognition of the club’s immense gratitude for the contribution of these two individuals towards their unprecedented and frankly suspicious level of success. The identity of our source cannot be revealed, but we are able to confirm that he has an elder brother, a centre-half for the best team around, who won a World Cup winner’s medal for England in 1966, and that he himself is now mainly occupied in the “unofficial match ticket supply chain”, going under the nom de guerre of “Ticketmaster“. His anonymity guaranteed, he was able to give us full details of the nature and locations of the planned statues.

The first surprise is that the statuary tributes will not be a feature of the Theatre of Hollow Myths itself. “We thought that might be overkill,” our source told us, flicking nervously at his comb-over, “After all, we already have a statue to Alex Ferguson, and various tastefully-sponsored reminders of the Munich Air Disaster. Alex himself was none too pleased about the possibility of “yet anither piece o’ mairble clutterin’ up ma groond”, so we’ve had to move to reassure him that the new statues will be located elsewhere. And, to be fair, they were likely to be just too big for the space available. The Murdoch statue in particular would have been the biggest erection in Manchester within living memory.”

So, we asked, Alex was happy – as long as the statues weren’t actually outside the ground, then? “I wouldn’t say happy, exactly,” our man admitted. “He doesn’t really do happy – but he has calmed down a lot since we told him we’re planning to name the whole stadium after him. He was quite pleased about that, I think.” Startled by a second big and exclusive piece of surprise information, we indicated that this was news to us, and doubtless would be to many armchair-bound gloryhunters throughout the world. “Yes, it’s been kept under wraps,” conceded “Ticketmaster“, “but we think it time to make a lasting tribute especially to S’ralex. The change of name from Old Trafford to Old Pillock will therefore be registered in time for the start of next season.”

Finally, then – where will the new statues be – ahem – erected? It turns out that this has been the subject of heated debate within the club, who are ever conscious of their need to maximise merchandising income involve their loyal and faithful Sky TV subscribers throughout the country and beyond. “In the end, it came down to the two real hotbeds of support – so we’ve decided to apply the Wisdom of Solomon – and give one statue to Paignton and the other to Milton Keynes.” Sir Bobby Our source nodded, contentedly. “We feel that this is an equitable solution.”

Sir Bobby “Ticketmaster” Charlton is 103.

Two Years Ago Today, Elland Road Bids Speedo an Emotional Farewell – by Rob Atkinson

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McAllister, Strachan and Batty pay tribute to Gary Speed

Leeds United 2 (Snodgrass 2), Millwall 0  Elland Road 3rd Dec, 2011   Att. 27,161

A fairly routine win against Millwall wouldn’t normally be the stuff of reminiscence, but this was no ordinary match.  On this Saturday, we were at Elland Road to say “Goodbye” to Gary Speed, who many of us remembered as a bright new talent, nobbut a lad mind you, but promising plenty as he made his mark on United’s promotion charge in 1990.  The memories he left us with from that point on are many, and they’ve been relived over and over in the two years since his untimely death.

Enough, surely, has also been said about the circumstances surrounding the manner of Speedo’s departure – so here I’ll just remember how it was when the crowds gathered early by Billy’s statue, which was festooned with flowers, shirts, flags, toys, all manner of tributes to a great man taken far too soon.  It was a spectacle alright, a reverential throng stood there around the statue, deep in thought, each still struggling to come to terms with the enormity of what had happened.  The atmosphere was eerie and yet respectful, sad and yet full of memories and the hushed talk of happier times.

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Tributes to a late hero

The match that followed happened to be against Millwall, normally a lively encounter on and off the pitch when the Londoners bring anything like decent numbers.  That doesn’t happen often these days, security concerns having led to a reduction in the away support due to the annoyances surrounding Police restrictions on how the stadium may be approached.  But whatever the history between United and Millwall, it should be said that those fans who had travelled north conducted themselves impeccably, both during the pre-match on-field ceremony when the remaining three of that fabulous early nineties midfield quartet laid a wreath in memory of Speedo, and afterwards during a game which seemed like a meaningless appendage to the sad, real business of the day.

For the record, Leeds won the game 2-0 with second-half goals from Rob Snodgrass – one special shot and one very good header. Good as the goals were, welcome though the three points undoubtedly felt on the day, I had forgotten the details of the game itself. The images that remain in my mind are those in the images that accompany this article, scenes I’ll never forget. Some things transcend mere sport and mere tribal rivalry.

After all, the sudden shock of Speed’s death had left its mark on fans everywhere, not just at the clubs he had served with such distinction. Everywhere.  You only had to look at the bewildering array of tributes around Billy’s statue to know that,  Leeds, Newcastle, Everton and Bolton, naturally they were represented.  Sheffield United and the proud national colours of Wales, too.  But also Man United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley, Huddersfield – the list of old foes grew as you walked around the flower-strewn base of our late, great skipper’s statue.

When you think about it; what a great addition that legendary figure of Billy Bremner has been to Elland Road, what a proud focus for everything that Leeds means to its fans – and significantly, what a natural place to gather when we have good news to celebrate or bad news to mourn.  Billy is always there when he’s needed, frozen in time, arms raised in triumph as when he walked off the field at the Nou Camp in Barcelona, knowing that he was in the greatest club game of all, at long last.  It’s an inspiring, iconic work of commemorative art, and it provides such an appropriate backdrop when, as two years ago today, we had a more recent hero to pay our respects to, and for whom we had gathered to say our last farewells. It’s a place that conjures up a feeling of immense togetherness and solidarity, of what it means to be Leeds, in glory and in tragedy.  It’s a sacred place, like that.

I’ll forget all about that game again, now that this piece is done.  It was just another result, albeit one we’d normally savour, with fierce rivals beaten convincingly.  But the atmosphere that day, the tangible tributes left by so many fans of so many other clubs, the dignity of the pre-match proceedings, the laudable and much-appreciated respect shown by the away fans – all of that will stay in the memory long after Snoddy’s two cracking goals have faded away.  It was a sad but a special day, and surely Speedo could not have wished for a better farewell at what was his spiritual football home, the place that made him one of the Last Champions.  It was tragic, awful, a needless waste the way Gary died.  But when it came to saying goodbye to him, on this day two years back, Leeds United – and Millwall, and all the other clubs and fans – did it right.

RIP Gary Speed – never forgotten.

Memory Match No. 11: Nottm Forest 0, Leeds Utd 4 29.11.2011

Jonny Howson celebrates at the City Ground

Jonny Howson celebrates at the City Ground

Whatever some people may think of Leeds United fans – and who cares, after all, because we all know what fine, upstanding chaps we are – they certainly know the ideal form when it comes to paying full and emotional tribute to a hero lost long before his time.

In the universe of all things Leeds, the news of Gary Speed’s tragic and untimely death came as a JFK moment: you just know that, years later, you’ll recall exactly where you were when you heard the awful, mind-numbing announcement that such a recent Legend in White was dead, and apparently by his own hand.

The images are certainly clear and sharp over a year down the line: the sea of floral tributes around the foot of Billy Bremner’s statue; the crowds that gathered in silent, respectful tribute; the sight of that fine professional Bryn Law, struggling to contain his tears as he reported from Elland Road on the death of his friend, the female anchor in the studio clearly moved to tears herself as she witnessed his distress.  It was a tragic time of shock and grief.

In retrospect, it is clear that the next opponents for Leeds United in their undistinguished Championship campaign were on an absolute hiding to nothing.  Team and fans alike, emerging from that initial shock into a reluctant acceptance, were determined to pay the finest possible tribute to a fallen hero.  Speedo was, after all, a true legend from the most recent era of real legends, a veteran of the Leeds United renaissance of the late eighties and early nineties.  We had previously mourned our dead of that earlier generation of greats; The Don was gone and so was King Billy, neither having lived to grow old.  But the death of Speed was that much more of a shock; that much more distressing for his relative youth, for his contemporary appeal to a younger breed of Leeds support who had not witnessed Revie’s greats, and for the awful circumstances which had compelled a young man with seemingly everything going for him to take his own life.

The thousands of Leeds fans who descended upon the City Ground that November night may well have been pondering the state of mind that leads to such an awfully final act.  They were certainly determined to pay characteristically raucous tribute: this would be no solemn wake, but a vibrant celebration of all that Gary Speed meant to the Barmy Army of Leeds United’s travelling support. The match itself was necessarily a footnote to the real agenda of the evening.  Forest were pitiful in their ineptitude – a team that would later travel to Elland Road and score seven had nothing to offer in the face of United’s determination to mark the first match after Gary Speed’s death with a thumping victory.  The home team seemed out of the running from the start; it was as if they knew, in the face of the emotional momentum behind the Leeds team and fans, that they had no chance at all – and they meekly accepted their fate.

Before kick-off, there had been the now traditional minute’s applause – such a preferable option to the old-style minute’s silence with its potential to be disrupted by a few shandy-slewed idiots.  In the 11th minute, a tribute to Speed’s occupation of the number 11 white shirt, the 4000-strong Leeds United army behind one goal erupted into a chant of his name, a chant that was intended to be maintained for that poignant number of 11 minutes.  The tribute was interrupted for the best of reasons as Robert Snodgrass fired United into a 20th minute lead, a left foot shot into the bottom corner very much in the style of the man himself.  On the stroke of half time, Jonny Howson doubled the lead with an even better strike, the ball sitting up for him to belt a dipping right-footed effort past a helpless Lee Camp.  2-0 at the interval, and the home side had done little to suggest that it had any intention of detracting from the tributes of Leeds fans and players alike.

In the second half the pattern continued unchanged.  Forest remained awful, the home section of support seemed to expect nothing better and Leeds strolled to two further goals towards a comprehensive victory.  First just four minutes into the second half Luciano Becchio met a left wing cross at the near post to glance a fine header across Camp into the far corner.  Then in the 66th minute, the messiest of fourth goals.  The Forest defence conspired in its own destruction, parting like the Red Sea to lay on a clear chance for Howson to score his second, only for the over-worked and under-protected Camp to first save the effort, and then scramble after the loose ball.  His heroics were to no avail however as Adam Clayton picked up on the rebound to find a yard of space and fire into the empty net.

One thing that stands out in the writing of this article is the fact that, in the relatively short time since Forest were humbled, all four of the United scorers that night have left the club.  It’s a rather depressing thought, but they were certainly all Leeds all the way that night, and delighted to be able to help the Whites fans celebrate the life of one of their heroes with their own loud and proud tributes, and with a thumping victory to boot.  Forest’s only real contribution to the evening came late on when the frustrated and already-booked Andy Reid earned himself a second yellow with an agricultural challenge on Aidy White.  “Can we play you every week?” roared the United fans, a sentiment that would not survive the return game at Elland Road – and they would be glad too that it’s not every week they have cause to mark the passing of a United great at such a tragically young age, and in such awful circumstances.

 Gary Andrew Speed MBE (8 September 1969 – 27 November 2011) Leeds United 1988 – 1996, 2nd Division Championship Winner, First Division Championship Winner, Charity Shield Winner. 

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RIP

 Next:  Memory Match No. 12:  Real Madrid 3, Leeds United 2.  The late, great Don Revie always longed for his legendary Leeds United side to be pitched against the biggest legends of them all, and to draw CF Real Madrid in European competition.  Sadly, it never happened in The Don’s lifetime, but when a slightly less vintage era of Leeds finally appeared in the amazing Estadio Santiago Bernebeu, they were not disgraced – indeed, I rather think that Sir Don would have been proud.

Thatcher & Fergie – Unlikely Bedfellows

Two Media Darlings

Two Media Darlings

It’s been an awkwardly stomach-churning day for any self-respecting Man U-hater with anything but the most robust of digestive systems.  The output of Sky TV and BBC Radio Five Live in the wake of the Govan Guv’nor’s resignation as Supremo at the Theatre of Hollow Myths has been wall-to-wall, sickly sweet revisionist nonsense.  It was perhaps predictable – Man U seem to attract this kind of attention quite regularly.  They hypocritically call Liverpool the “City of Pity” and “Shrine Worshipers”, and yet there was the cloying sentimentality of the Lone Piper at Old Trafford when Busby died, and of course there is the nauseatingly poorly-written “Flowers of Manchester” doggerel recycled every February 6th when the Man U Marketing Machine gears itself up for the annual “Let’s Make More Money Out of Munich” event.  The treatment of Man U in the media has a lot in common with the ingestion of a copious draught of heavily-salted water.  Both are pretty much guaranteed to make you sick.

For some of us, it’s only been a couple of short weeks recovery time since the last bilious attack brought on by an onslaught of gushing praise for a much-hated public figure.  To listen to the BBC’s output in the wake of Maggie Thatcher’s death, you’d think she was universally acknowledged as a saint who personally saved our country from the hordes of infidel savagery, instead of a humourless and uncaring woman who presided over the decimation of manufacturing industry and created an underclass of unemployed dole fodder.

Ironically, that assessment of Thatcher – the realistic one, not the BBC’s rose-tinted, soft-focus blarney – would almost certainly strike a chord with Ferguson, a man who has always made much of his Socialist roots.  And yet the fulsomely worshipful bilge poured all over her death and funeral has been rivalled today both in flavour and quantity as various media outlets have sought to paint a picture of “Fergie the Greatest”, conveniently ignoring the essential character of the man, which is that of a coarse bully and a ruthlessly competitive control-freak who would brook no opposition and practiced suppression of dissenting voices on a grand scale as well as nepotism, intimidation and other deeply unattractive tactics.  Ferguson and Thatcher operated in vastly different spheres, and pursued their objectives in vastly different ways, although the objectionable single-mindedness and refusal to acknowledge any other point of view was common to both.

It is arguable too that both shared a similarly dislikeable personal character and yet that both represented vested interests which have caused a complaisant media and establishment to bend over backwards in their efforts to hide these unfortunate facts.  However difficult they both were to handle at different times – Ferguson famously “banned” the BBC from his personal airspace for an extended period, claiming in a juvenile fit of petulance that the Corporation was “pro-Liverpool”, and objecting to their focus on the activities of his shady agent son Jason – the media still fall over themselves to praise both to the skies.  Powerful interests are at work here, rigid agendas are being pursued.

Ferguson will not relish any comparison with the Iron Lady, and yet such comparisons are irresistible.  Nepotism, for instance.  Thatcher was accused in many quarters of using her influence to smooth the path to riches of her not-outstandingly-bright son Mark, a man who would seem to have difficulty finding his way out of an open box.  Ferguson allegedly pushed the services of Agent Jason on young players at Man U and reacted with fury if the lad in question went elsewhere.  When his fledgling manager son Darren was sacked by his employers after his latest relegation, Fergie senior reacted by recalling two young Man U players who had been at that club on loan.  The similarities in modus operandi for Fergie and Thatch abound.

It is for the gross and over-the-top way in which both have been virtually canonised by the media in the wake of their exit from the stage that really sticks in the throat, however.  The tasteless extent of it, the gushing, nauseatingly deferential tone of the ubiquitous tributes, strike a remarkably similar tone in either instance.  In Thatcher’s case, the masses thus appeased were the blue-rinse brigade and their Colonel Blimp husbands, Tories to their last cell, and voraciously hungry for any news coverage to confirm their view that la Thatch was the greatest since Churchill, the greatest peacetime leader ever.  The claims of Clement Attlee, the authentic greatest PM ever, were callously overlooked, as was the fact that his funeral in 1967 was a quiet and dignified affair.  In the case of Ferguson, the masses are of course the legions of Man U fans all over the world and in Torquay and Milton Keynes in particular, who have been fed the myth of Man U being the greatest club in the world (Arf!) and who now wish to hear Fergie being called the greatest, against the claims of true greats like Busby, Revie, Shankly and the rest, proper managers who had to do it all on a level playing field and not the Sky-weighted Man U-centric environment we have now.

Radio Five Live are still at it, as I listen.  We go “back to Old Trafford” on a regular basis, to listen to the hushed tones of a reverential reporter, laying it on thick for the benefit of the thick.  It’s all so remarkably similar to the nonsense we all suffered in the wake of Thatcher’s passing.  Perhaps, for Ferguson, that is the unkindest cut of all.