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Leeds Utd Players Take Note: April 5th is NOT Just Any Day – By Rob Atkinson

Leeds Fans

We Are Leeds, We Neither Forgive Nor Forget

There have been many famous rallying speeches over the whole history of combat, whether it be in the theatre of war or merely a matter of winning a game of football. We can all name the famous motivators in each sphere: Elizabeth I or Henry V, Admiral Lord Nelson or Winston Churchill, each of whom fired up their troops to give their all in battle for England. Sir Alf Ramsey did the same for the Three Lions heroes of 1966 and of course our own Don Revie was unrivalled as he created a team who would run through walls for him, inspired by the steely cry of “Keep Fighting”.

But sometimes, tub-thumping speeches should not be necessary – the occasion speaks for itself and demands pride, passion and commitment more than any mere words could possibly do. The Leeds United players who take the field against QPR tonight, 5th April, should be fully aware that today is a date when nothing less than every last drop of blood, sweat and tears will suffice. The United army will demand that – and more – as will those glued to their radios at home. And rightly so.

Chris and Kev - RIP

Chris and Kev – RIP

For April the 5th is a date carved painfully into the hearts of Leeds fans everywhere. On that fateful day 16 years ago, we lost two of our own as Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight were cruelly, foully murdered by savage, uncivilised scum in Taksim Square, Istanbul. This evening’s match is therefore not about League points or position, it’s not even about the farcical running of the club or the inept administration of an incompetent and bumbling Football League. It’s about pride, passion, respect and commemoration – and those four qualities need to burn white-hot within the very being of each man wearing that big Leeds badge over his heart at Elland Road.

If there are any Leeds players unaware of the significance of this occasion – well, shame on them.  And shame on the staff at the club who should be making sure that their charges are at least on nodding acquaintance with a reality beyond their own pay packets.  It’s not been easy to admire many of the Leeds players lately; with a few notable exceptions, they’ve played in a distracted fashion and displayed a distinctly chicken-hearted attitude to the business of playing for the shirt and getting results.  They should be left in no doubt at all that such frailties will not be tolerated tonight – not on April the 5th.  For this match, they should imitate the action of a tiger, as Henry the Fifth put it.  They should stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood – and get stuck in, just as if they really did have the hearts of lions.

Nothing less will do, it’s the very least they owe the Leeds supporters everywhere.  If they don’t know this, then it should be made abundantly clear to them prior to kick off.  They should run out there onto that pitch with no thoughts of money or other distractions: they should emerge onto the field of combat ready and willing to give their all for the Leeds United fans, and especially for the memory of those two lads who never came home.  This should be an occasion for the restoration of pride, for remembering that they have the honour to represent the greatest club in the world, in front of the greatest fans in the Universe.  Defeat is permissible; a defeatist attitude and a failure to step up to the mark is not. Not on April the 5th.

Perhaps the match against Rangers can be a starting point for the Leeds United team, the first steps on the long climb back to respectability.   It really needs to be – there is simply no more appropriate date for the launching of a fight-back, even though this season is now meaningless – apart from the still lingering threat of relegation.  If the Leeds lads can get out there and fight tonight – show that they care, battle for the cause, demonstrate some respect for the fans and those we’ve lost – then maybe they can start to recoup some of the respect they’ve undoubtedly squandered over the past few months.  It’s to be hoped so, because you get nowhere in any professional sport without earning respect.

The April 5th anniversary of the shocking events in Istanbul really means something to the Leeds support.  More than any other date, it’s when we remember and pay our respects – and the players should participate fully in this.  It’s part of deserving to wear the shirt and the badge.  Fans of other clubs love to show their disrespect, they love to wear the shirt of that awful Turkish club whilst grinning and gloating.  Millwall fans, Man U fans – scum like that.  April the 5th is when we rise above it all, in dignity and pride.  The players need to join in with that, too.

Do it tonight, lads – get out there and fight, give everything.  Do it for Chris and Kev, do it for all the rest of us who remember them sixteen years on.  Do it for the shirt, do it for the badge.  Make us proud of you again, on this day above all others.  Then, perhaps, we can go Marching On Together towards a better future, whatever the next few days, weeks and months might bring.  All it takes to start fighting back is that pride, passion and respect. That’s how we commemorate those who died, and that’s how we’ll forge the togetherness we need to restore this great club to where it belongs.  Let’s start that process of fighting back and climbing upwards, on this sad and solemn anniversary, at Elland Road this evening – let’s show them what we’re made of.  If we have enough tigers and lionhearts on the park, Queens Park Rangers will at least know they’ve been in a game – which is the very minimum requirement for any true warriors of Elland Road.

After all: “We’re Leeds – and we’re proud of it”.

RIP Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight, taken far too soon. April 5th, 2000

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Ref Anthony Taylor Reaps Rewards of Incompetent Leeds TV Display   –   by Rob Atkinson

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Anthony Taylor, TV Star

Since a performance of appalling ineptitude in the televised Sheffield Wednesday v Leeds United clash last month in the Championship, referee Anthony Taylor has become a bit of a TV star. The fact that Taylor’s most embarrassing mess-up at Hillsborough was to the detriment of the Whites may not be totally unrelated to his subsequent prolonged spell in the limelight.

United manager Steve Evans was understandably incandescent with rage after Taylor contrived to allow a set piece to proceed while Wednesday’s Fernando Forestieri was making his snail-paced way off the pitch, having been substituted. Leeds, two down at the time, scored a perfectly good goal which was initially awarded and then sheepishly chalked off by Taylor. Evans described the bumbling official as fit only for an Under-9s league and it was easy to understand his frustration. It was a case of extremely inept match management that arguably denied Leeds a deserved route back into a fixture they were actually dominating – albeit from a losing position. 

Since then, it seems that Taylor has been on our screens more often than the ubiquitous and even more annoying Katie Hopkins. And this after the kind of cock-up that might have been expected to see him relegated to League Two fixtures on the  rainiest, bleakest midweek evenings. Could it be that such discomfiture heaped on Leeds United, never exactly the establishment’s favourite club, caused more chortling than concern in the corridors of power? Might it perhaps have amused certain Leeds-hating gentlemen in grey suits and influential positions, to the point where they felt it appropriate to rub some salt into an open wound?

It’s easy if not exactly appetising to imagine the violent shade of puce which must disfigure Steve Evans’ face every time he sees Taylor on his TV set. As manager of Leeds United, though, he can expect to have his blood pressure raised by instances of callous disregard and blatant micky-taking by the game’s rulers. It goes with the territory. 

Still, it’s odd in the extreme that Taylor should have become quite such a small-screen idol after such a very humiliating faux pas. In other circumstances, he would surely have experienced the wrath of his superiors. But, it was Leeds – did that make the difference?

Taylor’s latest centre-stage appearance was in yesterday’s Tale of Two Cities clash between Manchester‘s finest and surprise package Leicester at the Etihad. A plum fixture, to be sure – one that any referee would covet, let alone a man so recently exposed as a bumbling incompetent. During proceedings, we were told by the commentators that Taylor had taken a brief break from his busy TV schedule to attend a UEFA course. It seems that our favourite ref will be seeing much more action in Champions League matches next season. The mind boggles. Let’s hope he’s learned the rudiments of match control by then. 

Call me paranoid if you wish. But remember – there’s nothing like people getting at you, or your favourite team, for 50 years or so, to engender a feeling that the world’s against you. Anthony Taylor’s unlikely late season stint in the spotlight is persuasive evidence that, for Leeds United, this is still very much the case. 

Three Top, TOP Leeds United Away Trips – by Rob Atkinson

We all have our favourite LUFC memories, and many will relate to games away from LS11.  Here, in reverse order, are my three favourite road trips following The Whites.

3. Sheffield Wednesday 1, Leeds United 6 12.1.1992

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Sergeant Wilko

This was Sergeant Wilko’s first return to Wednesday since he had quit Hillsborough to become Leeds boss in 1988.  It would also be Lee Chapman’s last game before his season-threatening FA Cup injury, which resulted in the drafting in of one Eric Cantona – with all the long term consequences that would entail.  But Chappy was destined to be sidelined only temporarily, and he went out in the most emphatic style.

There was a crowd of 32228 at Hillsborough, the usual vociferous contingent of travelling Leeds fans rivalling the home crowd for noise from the outset, and completely drowning them as the game went on.  Leeds United were weakened, so it seemed, by the absence of the injured Gordon Strachan and suspended David Batty, half of their legendary midfield Fantastic Four.  Any side, surely, would miss performers of such calibre.  Leeds, though, seemed determined to make light of the problem, and tore into their hosts from the start.  Full-back Tony Dorigo made an early darting run, cutting in from the left and making good progress down the centre of the pitch, before unleashing a right-foot thunderbolt that Wednesday ‘keeper Chris Woods had to tip over.  From the resulting Gary MacAllister corner, Chris Fairclough rose to head downwards, and found Chapman in splendid isolation four yards out; his finish swift and deadly for 1-0.

For a local derby, the contest had been decidedly one-way traffic – Chapman was to send two towering headers just wide before Carl Shutt had a scuffed shot smothered by Woods in the home goal.  Then, a true champagne moment as Mel Sterland fed the ball to Chapman on the right.  In a completely untypical burst of pace and control, Chappy surged between two hapless Wednesday defenders, raced into the area, and unleashed a shot that beat Woods completely, just clipping the frame of the goal to rapturous applause from the Leeds fans at the Leppings Lane End.  I remember thinking at the time that anything was possible now, if Lee Chapman could do something so utterly out of character.  And so it proved as, from a free kick awarded just right of centre some ten yards outside the box, Dorigo stepped up to absolutely hammer a left foot drive past the helpless Woods.  Cue mayhem and cavortings as the Leeds hordes behind the goal, celebrated as clean a strike as you could ever wish to see, the ball a blur as it arrowed into the far corner with deadly precision and power.

At 2-0 down, the home side were making increasingly desperate attempts to gain some sort of foothold in the match.  This desperation was adequately demonstrated when, from a harmless-looking ball into the Leeds area, Wednesday striker Gordon Watson ran in front of Chris Whyte, continued on for another step or two, and then hurled himself into the air, landing in agonised paroxysms of simulation between a bemused Whyte and Leeds ‘keeper John Lukic.  Such obvious fraud and villainy could have only one outcome, and the stadium held its collective breath for sentence to be passed on the miscreant.  Instead – amazingly – referee Philip Don pointed to the spot.  Whether none of the officials had seen the extent of Watson’s ham-acting, or whether they were moved by sympathy for the mauling Wednesday were taking from a rampant Leeds, it’s impossible to tell.  The outcome was the same either way.  Ex-Leeds hero John Sheridan stepped up, saw his penalty brilliantly saved as Lukic tipped it against his right-hand post, and then gleefully belted home the rebound to give Wednesday a massively unmerited lifeline.

This act of base and scurvy treachery required nothing less than a riposte of the utmost nobility and beauty, so we said to ourselves, though probably in more Anglo-Saxon terms.  And, happily, that’s just what came to pass.  Only six minutes after the home side’s ridiculous blagging of a comically unfair route back into the game, Leeds took effortless control again with a goal sublime in both its conception and execution.  Lukic bowled the ball out to Dorigo on the left flank; he sent it first time down the line to Gary Speed, who took one steadying touch before sending a beautiful flighted cross into the Wednesday area.  And there, inevitably, was Chapman, horizontal in mid-air, neck cocked to hammer the ball unanswerably past Woods, the perfect counterpunch to Watson’s knavish low blow.  It was a gorgeous goal, sweeping the length of the left side, taking the entire home team right out of the game, and re-establishing the two goal margin which was the least Leeds United deserved at half-time.

The second half that ensued was simply a story of how a blood-and-thunder Yorkshire derby turned into a stroll in the park for Leeds United.  It seemed as if all the life had been sucked out of the home team – a Wednesday side who, let’s not forget, were unbeaten at home since the opening day of the season, and who would go on to finish third in the table.  So they were no mugs, but Leeds United were absolutely irresistible on the day, and would have hammered far better teams than the hapless, bewildered Owls.

It’s possible that Wednesday were simply embarrassed about that cringe-worthy penalty, possibly they were dog-tired, having been run ragged since the start.  Whatever the case, their heads dropped steadily further and further as the game progressed, and they offered little resistance as Leeds proceeded to throttle the life out of them.  Chapman completed his hat-trick five minutes after the hour, heading in after Speed had struck the bar from a corner.  Poor Speedo was looking the other way, bemoaning his bad luck when the ball hit the back of the net after all, turning his frustration to joy.  Then, perennial bit-part player Mike Whitlow ventured forward, just because he could, and rose unchallenged to meet Rod Wallace’s right-wing cross and head easily over a stranded Woods.  It was left to little Wallace to administer the coup de grâce, striding clear after a shimmering exchange of passes in midfield to dink the ball over the advancing ‘keeper, and put the suffering home side finally out of their misery.  A highly satisfactory awayday slaughter of the Wendies.

2. AC Milan 1, Leeds United 1 8.11.2000

Dom Matteo....Scored A Very Good Goal....In The San Siro...

Dom Matteo….Scored A Very Good Goal….In The San Siro…

This match is so famous that I barely need to recount the action kick by kick.  The Leeds fans at one end of the San Siro were in fully, throaty voice for most of the proceedings, drawing incredulous glances from the attendant Carabinieri who were in full-on riot gear but friendly enough, muttering to each other about lunatic English tifosi (hooligans.)  The first half was a decent contest – Milan were through already, but not disposed to give Leeds an easy ride – especially after paranoid noises emanating from Barcelona, who – nervous about their own prospects – had done their best to warn Milan off taking it easy against Leeds.  So Milan pressed in front of a crowd of 52289, and their winger Serginho was causing Gary Kelly plenty of problems.  In the 26th minute, a slightly soft penalty was awarded to Milan at our end of the stadium, and 6000 Leeds fans held their collective breath as Andriy Shevchenko took careful aim only to rap Robinson’s right-hand post, the ball bouncing away to safety as the masses behind our goal celebrated as if we’d actually scored.  And then, miraculously, as the first half ebbed away, we did score.  A Lee Bowyer corner from the right found Matteo rising majestically at the near post to meet the ball with a punchy header which soared high into the net.  Cue utter pandemonium at the Leeds end as all the tension, passion and belief exploded in one almighty roar which almost lifted the hi-tec roof off the famous stadium.

The party went on throughout half-time and into the second half, drawing more bemused glances from the Italian police; there was only a brief hiatus in the 67th minute when the superb Serginho deservedly equalised, but then it was mounting fan fever again all the way to the final whistle and beyond as Leeds held out to qualify for an equally difficult second phase of the competition.  The scenes after the game are at least as famous as the events of the ninety minutes; the team coming back out onto the pitch in response to the demands of the faithful who were held back in the interests of crowd safety.  What followed was described by respected football commentators (as well as Alan Green) as the best example of team/fan bonding they’d ever seen.  Fans and players – even a certain Chairman – swapped chants and songs in a spontaneous celebration of a joyous night.  Even the uncertain musical efforts of Lee Bowyer were greeted by a blast of friendly derision.  It was a unique experience, and the Latin cops were clearly by now utterly convinced that these English people were absolutely barking mad.  As football nights go, you’d have to travel a long way to find one more worthy of memory – only a trophy could have improved it, but the spectacle of the game and its aftermath is one I have seen imitated but never repeated.

1. Sheffield United 2, Leeds United 3 – 26.4.1992

Jon Newsome, Superstar

Jon Newsome, Superstar

If you’re a Leeds supporter, you’ll have seen the goals from this game hundreds, thousands of time.  It plays through now, all these years later, in the Football Highlights studio of my mind; joy for the home side as Alan Cork, gleaming of bald pate, pokes the ball home to give Sheffield the lead.  Then, a midfield tussle in the swirling wind, as Leeds try valiantly to come back.  A late first-half free kick, which Gordon Strachan races to take before the home defence can set themselves, he finds Rod Wallace in the area who tips the ball past home keeper Mel Rees’s attempt to save, defenders scramble to clear, only to hit Gary Speed who bounces the ball back to ricochet off Wallace – into the net.  Pandemonium in the away end.   Level at half time, we’re breathless with drama and the hurly-burly of it all, raucous with United anthems, nervous of what’s yet to come.

The crazy game continues crazily.  A dangerous ball across the Leeds box is retrieved by home defender and future Leeds man John Pemberton, who turns it back towards the goal-line where Lee Chapman sticks out a leg for an own-goal greeted with horrified stupefaction by the Leeds fans behind the goal and we’re level again.  Then enfant terrible Eric Cantona enters the fray, and within a few minutes he is chasing a loose ball into the Sheffield half, with Rod Wallace scampering alongside and home defender Brian Gayle lumbering back in a desperate attempt to clear the danger.  And it’s Gayle, former Man City man, who finally slays Man United.  From my vantage point at the opposite end of the ground I see him get his head to the ball, and the action is suddenly slow motion.  Gayle has headed the ball, poor Mel Rees is stranded far out of his goal, the ball goes over his head in a slow, slow loop, and bounces tantalisingly towards the unguarded net…

Then I’m watching at full speed from the far end as Cantona and Wallace raise their arms in triumph, wheeling away in delight, and even as I wonder what they’re up to I realise that the ball has nestled in the Sheffield United net.  A red mist descends, and I am utterly outside of my skull and beside myself in delirious joy and fevered madness, looking around me, roaring like a demented bull, face congested with blood, eyes bulging; I grab a helpless wee St John’s Ambulance man by his lapels and scream beer and spittle into his terrified face “Get me some oxygeeeennnn!!!  I’m going to have a heart attaaaack!!!”  The mad moment passes, I drop the ashen medic and some measure of sanity returns, but we’re still cavorting and diving all over each other, a seething, sweating mass of Leeds, because we know it’s over, we know that Sheffield are beaten, and we know that Man U don’t have an earthly at Anfield, not a prayer.  We were going to be Champions; on that windiest and gustiest of days, a Gayle from Manchester City has blown the Scum away and decided in an instant the fate of all three Uniteds from Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

And so, of course, it panned out.  Later I watched mesmerised on TV as Liverpool beat a demoralised Man U, Denis Law and Ian St John trying to put a brave face on it, Elton Welsby’s foot bobbing away in thwarted anger as the script turned out just as none of them wanted.  Ian Rush scored his first ever goal against Them, and it was settled late on as Man U concede a second.  “And now the title goes to Leeds without any doubt at all” intoned Brian Moore in the ITV commentary as I sat there with tears of joy streaming down my unashamed face.  Gary Lineker had called into the studio earlier to complain that Rod Wallace’s goal had been offside (it was).  St John and Moore bemoaned that Man U had had no luck at all, and Welsby ground his teeth in the studio as the Man U fans outside hurled abuse at him, heedless of the fact that he shared their bitter disappointment.  All was frustration in the media and the rest of football and Leeds fans everywhere utterly failed to give a toss.  My finest hour as a Leeds fan, and my greatest ever awayday.

-oO0Oo-

Two from the same season, and one abroad that was “only” a draw – but each had a special appeal for me among the many away games I’ve seen.  I could have chosen so many others, going right back to my first ever away game, a 3-1 League Cup win at Bolton in 1977.  Still in the League Cup, there was that 6-0 win over Leicester City at Filbert Street, on a night when Robbie Savage never gave up, but proved that he was even worse than we thought.  How could we have known that he’d be worse yet as a pundit?

The golden memories are so many, I could possibly have managed a top ten quite easily.  I’d love to hear which away games others rank as their best memories.

Leeds United Should be the 1973 Cup-Winners Cup Holders – by Rob Atkinson

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Milan v Leeds 1973 – Leeds Never Stood A Chance

Forty-two years ago today, one of the most notorious injustices in the history of European Football competition was visited upon the hapless heads of Leeds United at the European Cup-Winners’ Cup Final in Salonika, on 16 May 1973. There seems little doubt that the Greek referee, one Christos Michas, was bribed by Leeds’ opponents on the night, AC Milan. UEFA acted in the wake of this tawdry sham, banning Michas from officiating – a tacit admission that something about the match was very wrong indeed. This appeared to be a view shared by the crowd which attended the Final all those years ago; they roundly booed the Milan team as they sheepishly paraded the trophy, showing great sympathy to the unfairly beaten Leeds United team.

The game was littered with what might charitably be called dodgy decisions by Michas – fouls not given against Leeds, whose every little transgression was rigorously punished. Milan, it seemed, could do no wrong – Leeds were up against impossible odds, to the outrage and disgust of the largely neutral crowd. A Leeds player uninvolved through injury that night, Johnny Giles, had overheard enough before the match to glumly inform his team-mates in the dressing room that they “would not be allowed to win”. Not the best motivation, perhaps, but borne out in the end by the events which unfolded on the pitch.

An attempt at overturning – indeed reversing – this shoddy result took place in 2009 when Yorkshire & Humber MEP Richard Corbett gathered the support of over 12000 people for a petition he presented to UEFA on the 36th anniversary of the 1973 Final. UEFA refused to act on the petition, addressing a long-winded response to Mr Corbett, but failing utterly to expunge from their record such a shameful incident. Milan are still recorded as the 1973 Cup Winners, a situation so bizarre as to be frankly laughable.

At a time when the fortunes of the Elland Road club are once again at a low ebb, there’s frequently some comfort to be had in looking back at what has, at times, been a glorious and trophy-laden history for Yorkshire’s premier football outfit. But some anniversaries – this is one, and there’s shortly to be another when we remember being robbed in Paris in 1975 – simply remind us of how much more that great team could have achieved on a level playing field – if they had not been thwarted at every turn by incompetent or bent refereeing, official intransigence by the Football League, the FA and UEFA – or a grisly combination of all these negative factors.

The European Cup Winners Cup Final in Greece 42 years ago today goes down in history as yet another occasion when Leeds United were the bridesmaids and not the brides – the bald facts of the matter will record Leeds as big-time losers once more, sadly, when the real story of that game goes far beyond the result into very murky territory indeed. Leeds fans will quite rightly see their team as the moral victors on a day of disgrace for UEFA. Tragically, the surviving warriors in white from that May evening so long ago will almost certainly never see matters put right – and so the winners’ medals will continue to adorn trophy cabinets that are shamed by their presence there.

On a day when we yet again face an uncertain future, and when the prospects of more silverware for our great club seem very distant indeed, we salute the real winners of the 16th May 1973 – Leeds United.

Graham Salisbury Not QUITE the Worst Ref Ever: Top Five Leeds Official Hate Figures – by Rob Atkinson

Webb:  Not as Bent as Michas or Kitabdjian

Webb: A Sad Loss to the Pride of Devon – Yet Not as Bent as Michas or Kitabdjian

Just to put into a proper context Graham Sainsbury’s dreadful performance as match referee for Leeds v Brentford, I thought I’d highlight some famous instances where Leeds have signally failed to get the rub of the green over the years.

Despite the fact that, currently, it’s the elderly and bewildered dotards of the Football League itself girding their withered loins to deal our club a death blow (with the current batch of refs, Clueless Sainsbury among them, seemingly happy to help) the focus here is on the men in the middle rather than those clueless suits at the top. I’ve had no compunction at all about naming and shaming – these gentlemen should really be in the stocks, getting mercilessly pelted with the finest and rankest of rotten fruit and veg.

So here we go; in reverse order of spectacular bentness and/or incompetent buffoonery, these are the Top Five candidates for “Injustice of the 20th Century”:

No. 5:  Wolves 2, Leeds 1  –  8th May 1972  (Ref: Bill Gow)

I’ve placed this as least serious from a refereeing point of view because – in the crucial penalty incident – Mr Gow was unsighted and badly let down by his linesman J C Collins of Macclesfield, an inexperienced official who apparently “froze”. It does seem to have been a blatant handball and a definite penalty though – in a match where Leeds would win the Title and therefore the “Double” if they could avoid defeat. Tellingly, Mr Gow got home that night to be greeted by his wife saying “It looked a penalty on the telly.” My main culprits for this game are the callous officials of the FA and Football League, who insisted a tired team should play a title decider a mere two days after a gruelling FA Cup Final against Arsenal. Leeds did not even get to celebrate their Cup triumph, heading straight off to Wolverhampton with their battered and wounded bodies and their missing heroes. It was a shoddy affair that you could not envisage these days. Respected “Guardian” writer Eric Todd described the uncaring treatment of a gallant Leeds side as “scandalous”.

No. 4:  Leeds United 1, West Brom 2  –  17 April 1971  (Ref: Ray Tinkler)

No doubts about the culprit here. Ray “Bastard” Tinkler’s face as he walked off the Elland Road pitch after this display wore a tellingly apprehensive expression; that of a man who knew he was heading out of a storm and into a typhoon. The game turned on an offside call – or more accurately, two of them. Already one down against opponents they’d been expected to beat easily, Leeds were pressing hard. A victory was vital in the race for the Title, anything less would pass the advantage to Arsenal. Then, Norman Hunter gave the ball away on halfway with most of the Leeds side committed forward. The ball bounced off Tony Brown into the Leeds half where a clearly-offside Colin Suggett was loitering as the linesman flags for the free-kick.Tony Brown continued his run when Tinkler failed to blow in response to the flag, passed the ball to Astle – also in an offside position – who scored. A season’s work, in the words of Don Revie, was undone in a few mad moments. Barry Davies, commentating for the BBC, memorably remarked “…and Leeds will go mad.  And they’ve every right to go mad..”  Strong stuff from a sober professional. In the wake of the crowd disturbances that ensued, Leeds were forced to play their first home games of the following season away from Elland Road, a sanction that led to points being dropped, and probably contributing to their narrow failure to win the 1972 title as well. So Mr. Tinkler may well have done us for two Championship crowns. Cheers, Ray – you utter, utter git.

No. 3:  Chelsea 1, Leeds United 0  –  FA Cup Semi-final at Villa Park  29 April 1967  (Ref:  Ken Burns)

The classic FA Cup Semi: two fine teams, not at all fond of each other – the fashionable Kings Road fancy dans of Chelsea against Don Revie’s battle-hardened stormtroopers. Or so the Press would have it. Chelsea were ahead late on, a fine goal from Tony Hateley being the difference. Leeds thought they’d drawn level when Cooper scored, but the effort was chalked off for offside, despite vociferous complaints from the Leeds players who swore blind that Cooper had come from an onside position. Then, a free kick 25 yards out. The ref took some seconds organising Chelsea’s defensive wall, and then caught the eye of John Giles – a commonly-accepted signal for the free kick to be taken. Giles rolled the ball to Lorimer, who smashed it into Bonetti’s net. Leeds were joyful, Chelsea despaired – but referee Burns ruled the goal out, ordering a retake because Chelsea’s wall was not far enough back – a technical offence against Leeds. As the commentator declared, “They’ll have to look through the rule book backwards to find a reason.” The retaken free-kick came to nothing, and Leeds were out of the Cup in the cruellest circumstances.

No. 2:  Bayern Munich 2, Leeds United 0 – European Cup Final, Parc des Princes, Paris May 28 1975 (Ref: Michel Kitabdjian)

40 years on, this still sticks in the collective craw of Leeds United fans. 40 years on, we still sing “We are the Champions, Champions of Europe” in ritual protest. Two blatant penalty shouts in the first half, the guilty man on both occasions was Der Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer.  First he handled blatantly in the area, and then a “scissors” tackle on Allan Clarke – you wondered how anyone could fail to give either.  Leeds were completely outplaying Bayern, drawing sympathy even from the English TV commentator who was bemoaning the lack of a more even contest.  Then in the second half the ball falls perfectly for Peter Lorimer just outside the Bayern penalty area.  Lorimer times his volley superbly, and it flies into the net, beating Sepp Maier all ends up.  Then confusion as the goal seems to be given, until Beckenbauer urgently directs the ref to speak to his linesman.  More confusion, then the goal is disallowed.  Bayern score twice against a demoralised Leeds near the end, and the European Cup is snatched from the hands of Revie’s old guard; the triumph that was to crown their careers torn away in the most dubious fashion imaginable.

No. 1:  Leeds United 0, AC Milan 1 – ECWC Final, Salonika, Greece 16 May 1973 (Ref: Christos Michas)

This is the Grand-daddy of bent matches, a game almost universally acknowledged to have been as straight as a corkscrew, allegations of bribery, the referee banned by UEFA afterwards – and still the 1973 Trophy is written into the extensive honours list of AC Milan.  Justice, as they say, is a gag.  Peter Lorimer on the match: “It was wholly, indisputably and wretchedly bent…”  Johnny Giles was out with an injured hamstring, but he’d been working for the media and had heard that the ref was “in Milan’s pocket”.  His gloomy view before the game was that it was one Leeds United wouldn’t be allowed to win.  Three minutes gone, and Milan are awarded a free-kick, a decision that could charitably be described as dodgy.  A weak shot takes a cruel deflection on its way into the Leeds net, and it’s 1-0 early on.  From then onwards, it was a story of United pressure thwarted by thuggish challenges from the Milanese, decision after decision going against the increasingly frustrated and demoralised Leeds team, two, possibly three good penalty shouts waved away by Michas, and inevitably the game finished with Milan leading by that early goal, collecting the trophy to hoots of anger and derision from the outraged Greek crowd who cheered the defeated Leeds side as they limped round on a lap of honour “after this most dishonourable of matches.”

There has been a petition to UEFA with a view to overturning the result in this wretched blot on the history of the game, awarding the trophy and medals retrospectively to Leeds.  UEFA did nothing.  I even started a second petition myself as, since the original effort in 2009, Christos Michas has died and is therefore not in a position to have his tender feelings wounded by justice being done.  So it seemed appropriate to try to revive the matter – after all, why should UEFA be permitted to sit complacently on such a scandalously unfair outcome? But it’s Leeds, so it’ll take a lot more than petitions to right this and other wrongs.

-o0o-

Leeds have frequently been the victims of poor decisions and examples of prejudice against them over the years.  They are still, to the best of my knowledge, the only team to concede a goal to the background of the referee punching the air in celebration – supposedly of a good advantage decision, but really?  Would it happen if the victims had been Man U?  In 1987, an FA black-tie junket broke out into cheers of joy when news arrived of Leeds’ Play-off Final replay defeat against Charlton.  We appear to be hated by dopey prats everywhere.

These are the five most blatant examples I could find of occasions when “The Damned United” have suffered at the hands of officialdom, referees in particular.  I’m sure there are many less famous instances, and I’d be interested to hear the recollections of others. More recent examples could include retrospective action against Lee Bowyer which ruled what was our star man that season out of a Champions League semi-final against Valencia (check out a blatant handball for the first goal in the away leg, too) plus a dodgy re-examination of an incident involving Jermaine Beckford at home to Millwall in a vital League One game as we were going for promotion.

It’s a well-known saying in the game that bad decisions, like bad luck, tends to even out over time so that all teams are more or less equal in the long run.  I think any Leeds fan who has even a passing acquaintance with the club’s history would have a wry grin at that one. This weekend’s travesty of a refereeing performance can only strengthen the feeling that the whistle-happy pillocks really do have it in for us; yet, on reflection, it does seem fair to say that Graham Sainsbury, or even Man U fanatic Howard Webb, pictured at the top there, is very small fry indeed, when compared to the Rogues Gallery detailed above. However bad things are now, let’s comfort ourselves with the thought – they’ve been worse in the past!

Will Istanbul Hooligans Get Away with Murder Yet AGAIN?? – by Rob Atkinson

RIP Marko Ivkovic, latest victim of the Istanbul cowards

RIP Marko Ivkovic, latest victim of the Istanbul cowards

As any Leeds United fan knows, Istanbul is a dodgy place to be if you’re identifiable as a follower of any team pitted against a local side, whose fans tend to glory in a reputation for bloodthirstiness with “Welcome to Hell” banners, throat-slitting gestures and other manifestations of their complete lack of civilised conduct and behaviour. Leeds fans know this better and more painfully than most after the savage murder in 2000 of two of their number on the eve of a UEFA Cup semi final between Galatasaray and United. Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight were knifed to death in Taksim Square – the amount of justice meted out since then for their senseless slaughter would fit comfortably, disgracefully, inside a peanut.

The body of the killed Serbian basketball fan is taken to the Forensics Institute

The body of the killed Serbian basketball fan is taken to the Forensics Institute

Now the madmen of Istanbul are at it again, as another supporter of a team visiting from outside Turkey has met an untimely death at the hands of lunatic cowards armed with knives. Marko Ivkovic was stabbed and killed on November 21 in Istanbul in front of the venue where a Turkish Airlines Euroleague game between Galatasaray Liv Hospital and the visiting side was being played. The name of the game is unimportant – basketball or football. Once again, as in 2000, the message has been sent out that Istanbul is not a safe or a civilised place for supporters of visiting teams to be seen or heard. And once again, local authorities in Turkey are leaning over backwards to blame the murdered rather than the murderers – Istanbul police saying that the killing was the result of a fight between Red Star’s supporters. The Serbian club Liv Hospital claimed in a written statement that the 25-year-old Marko Ivkovic was “killed by Galatasaray hooligans” and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic voiced “outrage over the monstrous murder,” according to a government statement on November 22. Vucic also said that Galatasaray coach Ergin Ataman would not be welcome in Serbia after he “accused the killed young man and all other Red Star fans of terrorism,” the Serbian government statement said.

All of this harks uncomfortably back to the murder of the two Leeds supporters, when a campaign of misinformation aimed to heap blame on Leeds fans as a group, labelling the Turkish murderers as sturdy patriots. Such is the warped sense of right and wrong, the utter absence of any sense of justice, in a city and a country which appears to embrace the knife culture as something to be proud of.

UEFA acted like a timid old woman in 2000 – in that it failed to act at all, in any meaningful or effective way. On a few occasions since then, when the animal fans of an animal club have acted to bring further disgrace on the game, the buffoons at UEFA have continued to cower behind their desks, afraid, seemingly, of any risk of upsetting the cowards and thugs of Istanbul, be they on the streets or in the local corridors of power.

Will anything happen now? Probably not. Istanbul is a blind spot for sporting authorities, it seems. Will still more innocent visitors to “Hell” have to die, before anything effective is done? Sadly, that is quite probably going to be the case.

It’s way past time for severe action. Individuals should be brought to justice by local powers who are more inclined, it seems, to make excuses and protect the guilty, the murderers. If the authorities in Istanbul are unable or unwilling to do this, then the teams, in whatever sport, that represent that city should be banned, forthwith and sine die, from competition outside the borders of Turkey. Let them slake their thirst for blood and violence on each other, let them be a local difficulty. They should not be welcome in civilised countries, neither should teams from nations which don’t routinely harbour tawdry killers be expected to visit such a very backward part of the world.

Sport and the rest of the world can do without Galatasaray and the thugs and cowards of Istanbul who wear their colours and stain their reputation with the blood of fans who simply wanted to watch a game, but ended up losing their lives. How many more will die before this simple truth will be recognised by the simpering fools of UEFA and the other European sports governing bodies?

RIP Chris and Kev – and now sadly also Marko Ivkovic.

 

Financial Fair Play Rules Will Be Anything But Fair – by Rob Atkinson

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FFP – In aid of The Cartel

With the news that QPR are in line for a massive fine – reportedly a possible £62 million – for incurring heavy losses in their vain attempt to retain top-flight status, it’s time to pause, scratch our heads and reflect: just who ARE going to be the beneficiaries of the Financial Fair Play rules?

Firstly, what is “Fair Play”?  Doesn’t it imply a leveling of the playing field so that true competition might be a feature of our national game – instead of an all-powerful cartel at the top of the Premier League, carving up the goodies between them?  One of the worrying aspects of the Fair Play rules appears to be their scornful attitude to inward investment. Suddenly, this has become a grubby, slightly indecent concept, the clubs trying to invest their way towards parity with the Big Boys are looked upon as upstarts, unwelcome parvenus  The idea of slapping a massive fine on top of a big operating loss is likewise perplexing – somewhat akin to seeing a dangerous blaze which threatens loss of life and property, then trying to put it out by spraying petrol lavishly all over it.  We are in danger here of applying a cure that is worse than the disease.

As a Leeds fan, I suppose I should be leaning towards rules like this.  Leeds are a big club, and success would multiply their potential to succeed commercially by a factor of many. Presumably, this sort of self-generated wealth would meet with the approval of the minds behind Financial Fair Play – although, given the fact that it’s Leeds, we’re just as likely to get hit with a 15 point deduction.  But the whole thing stinks to me; I am cynical as to the thinking behind it – and even more so, I am cynical as to the interests of those who are behind the thinking.

Financial Fair Play appears to my non-financially-wired mind to want to put more power and financial muscle into the hands of those who already have the most power and financial muscle.  It will benefit, surely, those who have tapped successfully into vast overseas markets, those with massive supporter bases consisting of millions of people, most of whom will not necessarily have even visited the country wherein resides their team of choice.  The more tacky memorabilia and replica merchandise such a club can sell, to the biggest market possible, the more the new regime of Financial Fair Play will approve and enable that club.  Who on earth COULD they be thinking about here?

I’m even more worried, having heard about the bleak situation facing QPR, about the direction in which our game is heading.  It seems to be all about empowering the powerful, and rendering those who want to rise and compete incapable of doing just that. The legends that have been built up in the game over the past century or so are now in a position to benefit enormously from rules that reflect today’s “Devil take the hindmost” philosophy.  That might thrill the capitalist souls of many, but it doesn’t do much for the guy who likes the idea that, every now and again, some hitherto unregarded club will ascend through the levels and leave the Goliaths with a bloody nose. That sort of scenario, to me, is what sport is all about – and if you legislate against clubs trying to better themselves in what is increasingly a money-dominated game, then you’re cutting off a hell of a lot of the appeal of the game.

Or am I just being hopelessly naive?

World Football Must “Do a Leeds” – and Banish the Evil of Racism – by Rob Atkinson

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Yaya Toure – racially abused

Eyebrows tend to be raised, lips are apt to be pursed and there is a general air of bemused surprise when any Leeds United fan (this blogger, for instance) condemns racism.  Those who will throw their hands up in horror – rightly so – whenever they encounter a racial stereotype, seem rather less scrupulous about imposing stereotypes of their own when their cosy perceptions about United fans are challenged.  Hang on a minute, they demur – Leeds supporters are about the most racist around, aren’t they?  Well, perhaps they were, once upon a time.  But times change and the Leeds United fan culture of today is a vastly different thing to the bleak days of the early eighties.  More of which later.

The events of last week have brought the whole foul problem back into sharp focus. During Manchester City’s away Champion’s League tie against CSKA Moscow, midfielder Yaya Toure was subjected to monkey chants from the grinning morons among the home support. It’s a real problem in many parts of Europe and the one thing that’s tolerably certain is that it’s not going to go away on its own.  What’s normally needed to remedy such matters is supporter organisation into a strong anti-racism movement – which was, not incidentally, the Leeds United experience – or tough sanctions from some higher authority with something approximating to a backbone.

Toure may not have been alone in suffering this awful, unjustifiable and humiliating abuse – some sources report that team-mate Fernandinho may also have been targeted. Toure was understandably disgusted and has demanded action.  He has even gone so far as to suggest that the 2018 World Cup, scheduled to be hosted by Russia, could be hit by a black players’ boycott.  I only hope that he’s serious about that, and that he can count on the support of other black players, as this would be a shattering blow to the tournament – much, much greater today than it would have been in the eighties.  A far higher proportion of the world’s best players are black today than back then, such has been the explosive development of the game in Africa, a continent where many nations are emerging as serious football powers.  A black players’ boycott of the tournament, then, could be a way to apply irresistible pressure to fans and ruling bodies alike.  A World Cup without many of its most mesmerising stars would be unthinkable; even if it went ahead it would be so devalued as to be hardly worth winning.

Jose Mourinho has a view on the issue of a possible boycott, as he does on so many issues.  He expressed “sympathy” for Toure, but said he did not support the City player’s comments afterwards.

“I respect his opinion, but I disagree,” said Mourinho. “I disagree because the history of football was made equally by many races, and the black players have fantastic contribution to what football is.

“Who is more important: the billions of people in love with the game around the world, or a few thousand that go to football stadia and have a disgraceful behaviour in relation to the black players?

“If I was a black player, I would say the other billions are much more important. Let’s fight the thousands but give to the billions what they want: the best football. Football without black players is not the best football.”

As a football man on football matters, Mourinho’s is a voice to be respected – but in the last nine words of that quote, he basically makes the case for, not against, a boycott by black players of Russia 2018.  Just imagine if you will a tournament blighted by the kind of sickening filth Toure and possibly Fernandinho had to suffer last Wednesday night. It’s too horrible to contemplate – and what message would it send out to the billions worldwide that Jose is seeking to protect from a World Cup bereft of black talent? Endemic racism is OK as long as we’re being entertained by the football? That’s not the way to go and it’s not the example to set to the world’s children.

Mourinho then is surely wrong to suggest that those billions would rather witness a tournament dragged down to gutter level by cretins whose idea of fun is to abuse a world star by making crude monkey noises.  The best thing an organised movement of black players could possibly do is to show FIFA that the situation is intolerable by refusing to have anything to do with such a toxic affair.  Perhaps then even FIFA – a body which inspires little confidence, led by a man in Sepp Blatter who is little better than a bad joke – might consider its options, faced as they would be with a sanction of such potentially seismic effect.  They certainly should consider those options, which are practically limitless.

It’s certainly pointless to wait around hoping that UEFA might put their own house in order, something they’ve proved themselves singularly incapable of doing.  Instead, FIFA should act, and act decisively.  They should advise Russia that, unless this problem can be addressed and eliminated by 2015, an alternative host nation will be found for the 2018 World Cup – it’s that serious.  They should monitor the situation, act as advised and they should then stick to their guns.  They won’t, of course, because they are truly spineless and complacent – which is why the likes of Yaya Toure and the others like him who are subjected to this evil baiting, really have no choice but to rally together and organise themselves to take their own action.  Good luck to them if that’s the path they take.

In the early eighties the experience of being a match-going, non-racist Leeds United fan was lonely and disgusting.  The atmosphere was rancid with bigotry, skin-headed, bone-headed racists sold “The Flag”, a right-wing snot-rag, outside the ground.  It was done openly, brazenly.  Dissenting voices, when raised, brought upon their owners the risk of violence.  The club was inert and complacent.  The police sat by and watched.  It was depressingly, shamefully awful.  And then, things started to change.

Civilised, intelligent Leeds United supporters, unable and unwilling to accept the evil being dispensed in the name of their beloved club, organised themselves into Leeds United Fans Against Racism & Fascism.  Fanzines were sold expounding the voice of reason against the bigoted filth being peddled by the racists.  More decent supporters woke up to what had been going on, joined the anti-racist movement, bought the fanzines, started to raise the voice of protest against the ignorance and malice of the terrace chants against visiting black players.

Even the slumbering Leeds United itself reacted positively to the changes afoot.  Black players were signed, the first since the brief but bright Leeds career of Terry Connor. Noel Blake, affectionately nicknamed “Bruno”, loved by the Kop.  Vince Hilaire, quicksilver winger reviving memories of Albert Johanneson in the sixties, the first black player to play in the Cup Final and a Leeds hero when the Revie revolution was still new.  It was a painfully long, slow job – but Leeds United finally managed to rid itself of one of the most degradingly awful reputations for racism and bigotry, and they largely did it as an institution, by the efforts of enlightened fans supplemented by the club’s more enlightened transfer policy at a time when there was still an unofficial bar observed by the likes of Everton FC.

I’m extremely proud of the way my club tackled its problems.  The Leeds United of today bears no resemblance at all to the sick club being brought to its knees 30 years ago, dying of the cancer of racism.  The whole world has moved on, though pockets of the disease still exist at home, yet far more significantly abroad.  We now live in a time when these manifestations of hate and ignorance are a palpable shock to the system – and that in itself is a massive change for the better.  Such inhuman behaviour has never ever been acceptable, but now it’s seen to be completely unacceptable, and FIFA above all must face up to the reality of this.

FIFA simply have to act, and they have to act now.  Despite CSKA Moscow’s revolting stance whereby they’re claiming this simply didn’t take place – the club’s deputy media manager, Michael Sanadze, told Sky Sports News that “nothing special happened” – they have been charged by UEFA with “racist behaviour”. UEFA though are an organisation clearly lacking in the backbone to apply sanctions and see them through, Lazio having been punished for comparable transgressions in the past, the stadium closure subsequently being reduced to a mere slap on the wrist.

The message from FIFA has to be clear and unequivocal.  Stop the racist abuse – or lose the World Cup in 2018.  Failing that, Yaya Toure and his black colleagues – and how good it would be to think that non-black players might also support such a move – should carry with them the good wishes and backing of every decent-minded person as they seek to reduce the tournament in Russia to the well-merited status of farce.  It would be no more than FIFA deserve for what would amount to tacit support of the racist minority whose venom threatens to poison the whole football world.

Time to Get Rid of Sepp Blatter, The “Benny Hill of World Football” – by Rob Atkinson

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Sepp Scuttle – on a mission

There were two very worrying pieces of news from the football world in the last couple of days, which I suppose is roughly par for the course.  The first concerns Sepp Blatter, the ridiculous FIFA President.  The second should concern him, but he’s a man who tends to brush off bad news that is inconvenient to him – so don’t hold your breath.

Firstly then, we have the unwelcome tidings that Blatter may wish to continue in a role he’s singularly inadequate for, possibly well into his eighties.  Certainly he appears unwilling to countenance the prospect of being succeeded by UEFA president Michel Platini, and his remarks about having “a mission to see through” will worry those who had hoped to see an injection of sanity at the top of the world game.

Secondly – there was the frankly disgusting outbreak of racist behaviour directed at Manchester City’s Yaya Toure during the CSKA Moscow v City Champions League game. Russia of course is the venue for the 2018 World Cup, and to hear monkey noises directed at the opposition’s black players is to understand that there are still nations where this problem is endemic. That is totally unacceptable by any reasonable standards, but such considerations appear completely to pass Blatter by.  He seemed to take great delight in the choice of Russia as 2018 host nation, and has been more concerned at rubbing England’s noses in it over their failure to hold a World cup since 1966, than with any strategies for addressing the disgusting tendency of Russian “fans” to sink to gutter depths of abuse and racial hatred.

Blatter has been described as the “Benny Hill of World Football”, which would appear to be a gross and unwarranted insult to an English comedian who is not around to defend himself or express his dismay at being compared with a buffoon such as the useless Sepp. His contentment to see a World Cup take place in a cess-pool of racism isn’t the limit of his idiocy.  He has also stood four-square behind the award of the 2022 tournament to Qatar – a nation state with temperatures which preclude a normally-timed World Cup and with a population the size of Manchester’s together with an even worse human rights record.  When it was revealed earlier this year that between June 4 and August 8 this summer, 44 Nepalese migrant workers died on construction sites, most of them from heart failure or industrial accidents, Blatter could only comment ‘FIFA cannot interfere with the labour rights of any country, but we cannot ignore them,’  As meaningless contradictions and futile wastages of breath go, that’s a market leader.  Blatter’s other helpful comments in relation to Qatar 2022 include advising gays “simply to abstain from sex” due to the emirate’s medieval laws concerning homosexuality.

The more one hears of Blatter and his rampant ego, his ridiculous bearing and his asinine statements, to say nothing of his decision-making skills which would appear to be on a par with General Custer’s at the Little Big Horn, the more it’s tempting to conclude that Benny Hill’s Fred Scuttle character could hardly do a worse job.  But if Blatter really is determined to cling on to power, it’s no laughing matter.  The lack of anything resembling a backbone in the levels of FIFA below the Almighty Sepp means that he could easily get his way, and if THAT happens – it’s not impossible to imagine that we may yet see a World Cup being held in Iran, Chad or Syria.  It’s imperative that we get rid of this stupid man – but an even higher priority than that is to make it abundantly clear to both Russia and Qatar that unless they put their houses in order within the next two years, then steps will be taken to reverse the decisions identifying them as hosts for the most prestigious football tournament of them all.

Nothing less than this will do.  But as long as the Blatters of this world are in charge, with the attendant baggage of incompetence, pomposity, rampant egos and the stench of corruption – then nothing is precisely what we shall get.

Istanbul “Front Runner” for Euro 2020 Semis and Final – are UEFA Stark, Staring Mad? – by Rob Atkinson

Turkish Fans "Demonstrating Their Cultural Uniqueness"

Turkish Fans “Demonstrating Their Cultural Uniqueness”

As if eager to demonstrate once and for all that they are out-of-touch, irresponsible, lacking in judgement and foolhardy to the point of actual insanity – it would appear that UEFA are genuinely considering Istanbul as a host city for the semi-finals and final of the Euro 2020 Championships.  Our beloved FA, itself a body which has frequently demonstrated its own lack of fitness to run a piss-up in a brewery, stated today that it believes Istanbul is the “front runner” and main rival to Wembley’s own bid.  Istanbul lost out to Tokyo in its bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games, after all.  FA General Secretary Alex Horne said: “We’ve taken some soundings, there’s a sympathy for Turkey and it does feel like they are the front-runners.  We get the politics around Istanbul, having not got the Olympics.”

Demir

Demir

Well, forgive me, but I don’t “get” this at all.  Turkey has just about the most horrific history of football violence it’s possible to imagine.  Istanbul in particular is home to Galatasaray, whose fans’ party piece is to raise banners when “welcoming” visiting teams to the airport or to their bear-pit of a stadium, the banners bearing the warm and comforting message of “Welcome to Hell”.  Other touching signs of friendship and bonhomie include mimed throat-slitting actions performed en masse.  Sadly, these ugly manifestations of Turkish culture have been shown to be no mere gestures.  In the spring of 2000, two Leeds United fans – Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight – were brutally attacked and murdered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Ali Umit Demir and three other men were arrested for the killings, and Demir was jailed but released for retrial after a successful appeal.  When the four men first appeared in court, they were cheered by members of the public, Demir being described as a “patriot” by residents of Istanbul.

More than 13 years on, it is still unclear whether Demir will ever face an appropriate penalty for his admitted crime of stabbing Mr Loftus and Mr Speight.  Over the time since these tragic killings, fans of Turkish clubs have continued to disgrace themselves on numerous occasions with acts of violence and displays of hostility which UEFA have consistently failed to address, despite the alacrity with which they deal with lesser offences elsewhere.  It has been reported that certain UEFA officials regard knife-carrying and its concomitant perils as “part of the culture” in Turkey, and this may partly explain their casual attitude towards what goes on there – but it certainly does not excuse it.

No Leeds United fan and, for that matter, no Manchester United fan needs any instruction about the atmosphere and the dangers of following football in Istanbul. Personal experiences of fans from both clubs leave little room for doubt that it’s a place to visit and roam around in only with extreme reticence and caution.  The idea of masses of fans from different nations adding their high-spirits and nationalistic fervour to the cocktail of hatred and overt hostility which is so much a part of the fabric of Istanbul – it’s just too horrible to contemplate.  You’d have thought that even a pea-brained UEFA pen-pusher could have accumulated enough evidence, both anecdotal and empirical, to realise this.  But no.  Self-satisfaction and pompous idiocy rules in the corridors of UEFA, and they will seemingly be willing to compound their laxity of recent years in failing to deal with what has happened there, by a whole new level of crass stupidity in contemplating taking a major Championships to a murderous pit.

It is to be hoped that wiser counsel – if any should exist in the game’s higher authorities – will prevail, and some safer place will be found.  The idea of awarding the final stages of a prestigious tournament to Istanbul is a bit like inviting an arsonists’ self-help group to organise a bonfire in a petrol dump – only more so.  If the madmen of UEFA have their way in this, the consequences could be dire; you only have to ask the Man United fans ill-treated by the local police, or the Leeds fans who, heart-sick at their bereavement of the night before, turned their backs at the start of the match against Galatasaray, because that club had failed, along with UEFA, to postpone the game, or even to order that black armbands should be worn.

It may be that one day Istanbul will be a fit place for civilised football fans to visit, and maybe even for a tournament to be held. But that day is not yet, it won’t be here by 2020 and it won’t be for many more years after that.  Most sensible football fans would confirm that.  Now we just have to find a way to persuade the fools in UEFA, and in our own FA, what their own eyes and ears should have told them long ago.