Tag Archives: West Ham United

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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As West Ham Say Goodbye to Upton Park, Memories of a Leeds Fan – by Rob Atkinson

wright hammer

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Happy Wright

Tonight we bid a sad farewell to Upton Park, or the Boleyn Ground, long-time home of Olympic Stadium-bound West Ham United. The ‘Ammers, as they’re known locally, have usually been obliging victims for Leeds United teams of most eras, and were particularly notable as lenders of a helping hand towards the end of our title run-in of 1992, when they defeated Man U in a game that turned Alex Ferguson the deepest shade of exasperated purple I’ve ever seen. So it’s fitting, as another proper London football ground bites the dust, that I should write a little about the ‘Appy ‘Ammers; some of my fondest memories are of victories there, particularly this MayDay romp in 1999.

It was an encounter, played out in front of a packed Boleyn Ground crowd of 25997, that found Leeds United in a rich run of form; ten games unbeaten since an early February reverse to Newcastle at Elland Road, after which they had reeled off seven consecutive league victories followed by three draws on the trot. The Whites’ determination to get back to winning ways after those six dropped points was exemplified by the fastest possible start.  A mere twenty seconds had ticked by when the ball nestled in the West Ham net, put there emphatically by the ebullient Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who ran at a retreating Neil Ruddock before finishing neatly with a left-foot shot past Shaka Hislop. And then the game went ever so slightly mad.

Jimmy’s goal apart, the first quarter of an hour had seen both sides engaging in tackles which tended on the thuggish side of enthusiastic. West Ham’s Eyal Berkovic was a victim early on, and Lee Bowyer was on the end of a clattering as the home side sought revenge. Then Ian Wright, no stranger to controversy and the disciplinary attentions of referees, led with his elbow when challenging for a high ball, and copped for a yellow card that looked a lot more justified than the second yellow he got after only 15 minutes, following an altercation with Ian Harte, Harte, Harte. So Wright was on his way back to the stand after a mere quarter of an hour, loudly protesting the injustice of the case and hell-bent, as it turned out, on venting his frustrations on the décor in the ref’s room. 

For the next half-hour, leading up to the interval, Leeds proceeded to make a one man advantage look anything but as West Ham pressed them back, causing panic in the away defence as the promptings of Berkovic and Paolo di Canio created some decent chances to possibly level the game. Leeds had managed to be distinctly the poorer side in that opening 45 minutes, and yet – as if to prove once again what a daft game football can be – they hit West Ham with a sucker punch in first half stoppage time. David Batty appeared to have committed a foul in midfield which might well have justified a booking had the ref not totally ignored it and waved for play to continue. Harry Kewell duly obliged, picking the ball up wide on the left and mesmerising the overstretched Hammers defence before cutting the ball back from the by-line for Alan Smith to convert gleefully.

2-0 then at half time and – for once – it had pretty much all gone Leeds’ way. We had been outplayed for most of the game so far, but were somehow two goals and one man to the good; courtesy, it has to be said, of some not exactly even-handed refereeing.

The second half began much as most of the first had been spent, with Leeds on the back foot and defending precariously. Straight away, the dangerous Berkovic bamboozled Jonathan Woodgate, turning him inside out before supplying di Canio with the perfect chance to pull a goal back. 2-1 to the visitors then, but the balance of the play had been with West Ham, and maybe now the momentum was theirs too. None of us could feel over-confident despite a man and a goal advantage, because all of us could recall Leeds blowing such enviable positions many times in the past.

This time, though – for once – we were not to be let down. A rare defensive slip just after the hour from the otherwise excellent Marc-Vivien Foé saw Hasselbaink sprint clear to round Hislop, who then brought him down. Penalty to Leeds and, despite the presence of defensive cover, Hislop was sent off. It was a slightly unfortunate second red card for West Ham, who felt compelled to replace Berkovic with reserve keeper Craig Forrest as the calamities mounted for the home team. Forrest’s first act was to pick Harte’s penalty out of the back of the net, and Leeds were 3-1 up and cruising against 9 men. Foé, we will remember, sadly died four years later at the tragically young age of 28, from an unsuspected heart condition whilst representing his country in the FIFA Confederations Cup.

Now at last Leeds started to dominate as a two-man advantage would suggest they should. The best goal of the game arrived on 78 minutes, Bowyer hitting an unstoppable right-footed shot from twenty-five yards, which curved slightly as it found the corner of Forrest’s net.  Just a minute later, Alf-Inge Haaland sprinted on to a Hasselbaink pass into a massive amount of space on the right hand side. Unchallenged, he was able to advance into the penalty area and beat Forrest with an accurate shot just inside the far post.

The eight outfield players in claret and blue were clearly finding the pace too hot, and suddenly there was room aplenty all over the pitch for Leeds to exploit, and exploit it they did.  Aided by the fact that the Hammers – to their eternal credit – were still trying to attack Leeds in spite of their depleted resources, Leeds were granted the licence to ping the ball about, always able to find a man or two in space, making the tired home players work overtime to chase possession as the Upton Park faithful bayed their hate at the referee. Truth to tell, we could easily empathise with the ‘Arrassed ‘Ammers; far too many times down the years we’d been in their shoes, watching impotently enraged as some git of a ref casually destroyed our afternoon. It was somewhat bizarre to watch the situation unfold in reverse – but what the hell. We made hay while the sun was shining, and happily the team was doing the same.

The game had long been over as a contest and, at 5-1 up with no credible opposition to deal with, Leeds seemed intent solely on playing out time. Smith still managed to miss a passable chance to make it 6-1 and Clyde Wijnhard contrived to get himself booked, eliciting maliciously ironic chants of “Who’s the bastard in the black” from the jubilant Leeds fans, who displayed an ironic gallows humour not altogether appreciated by the home supporters. Finally, hothead Irons defender Steve Lomas allowed his mounting frustration to get the better of him, launching an agricultural challenge in the direction of Harte and duly collecting his marching orders to reduce the hapless, helpless Hammers to eight at the death.

It had been a strange game, a romp for the Whites on the face of it – judging by the lop-sided score line anyway. But it had never been quite like that; not that our awareness of having been outplayed for long stretches diluted our joy one tiny bit. It’s a sad fact that 5-1 away wins do not come along very often, and we enjoyed this one to the full. We enjoyed it for the whole of the slightly perilous walk back to the tube station, and we were still enjoying it when we beheld the distinctly pissed-off figure of Leslie Grantham heading down the stairway to the platform where we were celebrating noisily. Leslie Grantham, soap-opera legend as Eastenders arch-villain Dirty Den; Leslie Grantham who had done serious time for killing a German taxi-driver; Leslie Grantham, Hammers fanatic, who – despite being accompanied by his two young boys – bore a grim aspect which looked rather as if he wouldn’t mind adding a couple of Leeds fans to that record.

Tactful and understanding to the last of private grief, we wisely kept our distance and refrained from seeking autographs. It had been a memorably bizarre day for Leeds United and an equally happy summer evening awaited us in the sinful fleshpots of London, crap, watery cockney beer and semi-hostile natives notwithstanding.

Dirty Den 1, Dirty Leeds 5.

Sam Byram Presented With Bewildering Choice of Relegation Battles – by Rob Atkinson

Byram - spoilt for choice?

Byram – spoilt for choice?

For a young man still learning his trade after graduating from one of football’s finest academy setups at Leeds United, hot prospect Sam Byram now looks to have a tempting choice in front of him; he could be fighting relegation with either Sunderland or West Ham United this coming season.

Of course it might also be that Byram will prefer to continue his development at Elland Road, where great changes are afoot with a new head coach promising fast, aggressive, attacking football. This is surely just the kind of menu to have a pacy young wing-back, effective all the way up and down the right flank, licking his lips and champing at the bit – if I may be permitted to mix my metaphors. But the lure of the Premier League has seen United shorn of many a promising young talent before; our Sam would be in illustrious company if he decided his future would be best spent elsewhere.

This blog’s opinion, for what it is worth, is that any deal for Byram should be sanctioned only if the benefits to the club are absolutely irresistible. From that point of view, the rumours suggesting that Sunderland might be prepared to offer their richly-talented forward Connor Wickham and a cash adjustment not unadjacent to £6 million would have any discerning Leeds fan urging the club to snatch the Mackems’ hands off. Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything has given its opinion on a couple of previous occasions that a nominal right-back (albeit with attacking ability) as sumptuously talented as Byram is a distinct luxury in the Championship. A player like Wickham and a cool six mill besides would provide a wealth of options in terms of building a team that could challenge at the top end of this league. If Sunderland are that keen to capture Byram, then it’d be extremely tempting to roll out the welcome carpet when they come a-calling – and make sure they get the worse of any bargain. This is something that Massimo Cellino notably has form for, with last season’s brutal mugging of Fulham over Ross McCormack being the obvious example of seeing coming a club with more cash than sense.

From Byram’s point of view, though, it’s hard to accept that he couldn’t do better than clubs likely to be scrapping away at the foot of the Premier League. Names of much greater pedigree than Sunderland or the Hammers have also been whispered as possible destinations – Liverpool, maybe, or even Manchester City. Again, Cellino would be expected to drive a hard bargain, if Byram were to be winkled out of our clutches – and at least we’d have the admittedly dubious satisfaction of seeing yet another Leeds old boy strutting his stuff at the top end of the top league.

It’s always difficult, contemplating the loss of a home-grown star – thankfully, there is no sign of the supply drying up, and this is likely to have to provide one of our club’s main income streams until that glorious time rolls around when we, too, dine at the top table in the swanky restaurant that is the Premier League. Things will be different then – or so we must hope. Leeds would be looking to storm the top flight for the third successive time, following promotion in the early sixties and late eighties and the subsequent swaggering domination of the game enjoyed by those two great sides.

Whether it’s feasible to expect a hat-trick of such achievements must be open to the gravest doubt, given the radically different landscape of football now as opposed to then. But it’s in the nature of Leeds to gatecrash cosy, elitist parties and make their presence felt. Those previous two promotion outfits have surely written that into the club’s DNA – and now, as then, we have the same promising knack of producing our own, sparkling talent.

Perhaps Sam Byram will be leaving this summer – or perhaps he will pen a new deal and stay. Either way, whatever happens has to be for the good of the club, and in the longer term at that – no short-sighted squinting at the immediate future should get in the way of a focus on lofty ambitions beyond the next season or two. This blog hopes that the lad will stay, but is philosophically accepting of the possibility that he might well be seduced away.

And, whatever his destination, surely Leeds fans will wish him all the best – especially if any deal done helps United lay the foundation for a brighter future. That, much more than the future of any individual player, is what matters above all to anyone with the interests of Leeds United at heart. 

BBC: ‘Eastenders’ Goes For Cockney Cred by Introducing Man U Family – by Rob Atkinson

Mr Harris and his ex-pug wife

Cockney reds, Mr. Reg “Prawn Baron” Harris and his ex-pug wife, Frankie Knuckles

Any soap-addicted Leeds United fan will be able to recall the most legendary reference to football in the BBC’s flagship offering, Eastenders. Saying farewell to a departing character bound for a new life “Ap Norf” in Leeds, Mark Fowler (played by Grange Hill‘s Tucker Jenkins) extolled the sporting virtues of West Yorkshire’s Number One city. “They’ve got a good football team!” he enthused, raising a glass in the Queen Vic and causing manly chests all over the Broad Acres to swell still further with justified pride. After all, at that time, the “good team” thing wasn’t even an exaggeration, as David O’Leary modestly watched “moy babies” take all comers apart with consummate ease. It was all a long, long time ago.

Now, though, as part of its quest to bring maximum realism even to its soap opera output – and building on the recent publicity surrounding the Eastenders’ 30th anniversary – the BBC has announced it will be introducing a family of Man U fans to Albert Square. It’s a move some regard as long overdue, reasoning that it’s impossible accurately to reflect life in the capital without a proliferation of glory-hunting, armchair-dwelling, plastic “cockney reds” skulking around every corner, tragically clad in the latest tacky 4th away strip. The Eastenders production office has promised us a family who will breezily reinforce all of those too-true stereotypes that make Man U the club we all just love to hate – even now that they’re crap.

The head of the family, a retired East-End boxer named Frankie “Knuckles” Kray, rules her household with an iron fist inside a chain-mail glove. No stranger to violence, she can be relied upon regularly to engage in some aggro in the Queen Vic, claiming afterwards that it was Leeds fans on the way back from Chelsea. Frankie is 46 and started supporting Man U as long ago as 1993. She is already on her fourth armchair.

Her common-law husband, Reg Harris, has also been a Man U fan since 1993, prior to which he had supported Liverpool from afar, only defecting when they “turned rabbish, squire, and stopped winning nuffink.” He is buoyed up in his change of allegiance by the fact that his hero, Zoe Ball, did exactly the same thing in order to revive a flagging career. Reg, who is in the Norwegian prawns import racket, says that supporting Man U has had a similarly positive effect on his own fortunes. He now supplies the executive boxes at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, and names Roy Keane as his least favourite player ever. He has never been to a football match, believing that he needs an up-to-date passport to venture north of Watford.

There are two children in the Kray/Harris family, Ryan and Eric. The lads were born in 2000 and 2009 respectively (coincidentally, nine months after each of the Pride of Devon‘s two most recent Champions League flukes). Both boys are fiercely proud and lifelong Man U fans who are now seriously considering defecting to Chelsea to avoid being ribbed and tweaked at school. Most of their mates have already switched clubs since Sir Taggart retired, and the lads now find themselves frustrated in their instinctive glory-hunting tendencies and laughed at by the teachers. Despite such ideological doubts, however, both are still forced by their parents to sleep in branded Cantona Kung-Fu pyjamas and, emotionally scarred, have been in touch with the NSPCC twice about this. Ryan, the elder brother, has been force-fed Quorn since he was weaned and is consequently bow-legged and afflicted with boils, wind and close-set eyes.

The BBC are certain that the introduction of this family, with all of its obvious tragicomic potential, is a sure-fire ratings winner. “We expect to consolidate our pre-eminent viewing figures position in London and the Home Counties,” said a Corporation spokesperson, “as well as making inroads in the West Country and Devon/Cornwall. We may even pick up the odd viewer in the North…” he speculated, feverishly, as he checked the JICTAR figures on his iPhone.

Dirty “Den” Watts, erstwhile West Ham supporter, is dead. Twice.

 

New Era of Success for West Ham Could See End of Leeds Obsession – by Rob Atkinson

New Plans for Allardyce and West Ham

New Plans for Allardyce and West Ham

After a long history of flattering to deceive, West Ham United, doyens of London’s East End as the locally-famous ‘Appy ‘Ammers, are at last about to embark on a period of real achievement – by the simple expedient of switching their priorities away from the stony ground of league football, in which any seeds of success have stubbornly failed to flourish in the 119 year history of the club.  It’s a bold move – but the feeling is that something has to be done, as football has never been a happy environment for the Hammers or for their long-suffering fans, many of whom would rather talk and write about true giants of the game, such as Leeds United – rather than waste any time on the Boleyn Boys.

In that long history, there has been the odd Cup success, including – as many Hammers fans would have you believe – the World Cup in 1966.  But league success – that true indicator of a big and successful club – has eluded the East London hopefuls.  Their best top-flight finish was third, 29 years ago.  A symbol of the club has been the bubble, famously linked to West Ham by their “Forever Blowing Bubbles” theme song.  Like the bubble, they can be pretty, and they can promise to fly high – but again, as with the delicate and fragile ephemeral phenomenon that is that glistening envelope of water, they tend to flourish only briefly before bursting abruptly and disappearing from view.

Now, the club’s owners, highly respectable porn barons Sullivan and Gold, have had enough of all that bubble stuff, and they intend to seek success where it might more feasibly be achieved.  A source close to the two dirty old men was quoted as saying, “The guys see us as having more potential in the field of light entertainment, rather than plodding around a football field with a load of rough boys, getting kicked and invariably losing.  So the plan is to switch targets for this coming season; we’ll be entering a team into Strictly Come Dancing, and we might possibly stick a couple of likely solo acts into BGT or maybe even the X-Factor.  But all of that is just the beginning.  If this goes as well as we think it might, we’ll be pulling out all the stops and giving it the full 150% for The Big One.  Yes, folks – watch out.  The Hammers are going all out to win Eurovision in 2015!  We just have to do something – win something – to get our fans talking about us – instead of bloody Leeds United all the time.  It’s humiliating…”

A source at the FA was cautious when asked for a reaction to this.  “It’s quite unprecedented for a club to pull out of league competition and concentrate on light entertainment, dancing, crooning, acrobatics, prestidigitation – that sort of thing.  We did have that time when Man U pulled out of the FA Cup to go poncing about on a beach in South America, but …”  Our man scratched his head, bemused like.  “We’ll have to see what the full committee make of it.  I suppose if any club were to make this sort of switch, it’s more likely to be West Ham than anybody else.”

The mood at Upton Park, though, is one of grim determination.  “By the time we switch to the Olympic Stadium, we want some silverware on the sideboard,” said our source. “Dancing, magic, tricks with dogs, anything. Singing, certainly.  Look at the bearded lass who won Eurovision just the other week.  Dead spit of Billy Bonds, she were – weren’t he?”  When asked whether the Hammers would still be playing football at their new venue, our man was cagey.  “There’s more to life than bleedin’ football, you know! There’s lots we could do there to make a crowd like ours happy.  Dancing on ice, all sorts.  Just watch us go, once we start winning stuff. You wait and see, mate, you just wait and see – starting with ‘Strictly‘.”

In related news, the club are expected to announce that the iconic “Forever Blowing Bubbles” song is to be dropped, with immediate effect, due – it is said – to those connotations of fragility and ultimate disappointment. Instead, and to signal an era of success unknown in the ‘Ammers’ ‘Istory, the club tune will be “Stranger in Paradise” from the start of the 2014/15 “Strictly Come Dancing” season.  It is anticipated that new lyrics will be sung by the Upton Park crowd, beginning “Hail Fat Sam, He’s a Walrus Called Allardyce”.

The Hammers’ two surviving World Cup winners, Martin Peters and Sir Geoff Hurst, have issued a joint statement, reading simply: “It’s Bobby Moore that we feel for.  If he was alive today, he’d be turning in his grave.”

Alf Garnett is 95 (and supports Spurs).

Clearest Sign Yet That Ross Will Stay at Leeds: Mail Report He’s Off – by Rob Atkinson

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Ross: staying or going?

The ever unreliable Daily Mail are reporting that Leeds will accept an offer of £5 million to be tabled by West Ham on Monday, pending discussions of Massimo Cellino’s takeover of the club.

The inherent contradiction here is that, if a takeover endgame were indeed in progress, then it is highly unlikely that any major incomings or outgoings would be sanctioned by the current owners – as this might affect the plans of imminent buyers of the club.  Such elementary common sense does not appear to have been allowed to get in the way of the Mail‘s desperate desire to flog the “Ross Is Off” story for all that it’s worth.

It may just be that this Mail report is the best sign yet that McCormack will be in the Leeds United team to face Ipswich on Tuesday.  Whether this will prove to be his last game in a Leeds United shirt is another matter.  The tweets of Messrs Haigh, Patel and Nooruddin, though, appear to confirm that those gentleman have been made fully aware of the strength of feeling among the Leeds support.  It has been said that their intentions regarding Ross were made clear last summer, when a number of bids from Middlesbrough were rejected.  The pull of Premier League money may be stronger – let’s wait and see if the resolve to keep our captain at Elland Road holds true.

If not, then the suits in the boardroom are going to have to do some mighty fast talking to keep the fans onside and face the rest of the season in anything other than turmoil.

West Ham “McCormack Bid” is the Acid Test for Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

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Please….. no more bloody straws…

When a tantalising Sky Sports News tweet appeared today, promising a “major Leeds United transfer development” after 4pm, you somehow knew it wouldn’t be good news – despite David Haigh’s promise of just that for long-suffering Leeds fans sometime this week.  But good news and the January transfer window don’t really go together like fish and chips for Leeds United.  The January transfer window is more of a misery time for us, or at best one of bleak disappointment, leading to dull and resentful apathy.  That’s the way it has been and – despite the usual promises – it’s looked for some time now as though this one will be no different.

So when this Sky Sports story finally broke, telling the world that West Ham United have made a “surprise bid” for our Captain of one week, Ross McCormack, the natural reaction was to laugh bitterly – and the first thought that went through a cynical head was, “Yeah, that’d be about right – why not really rub it in?”  After all, this is the club that sold top-scorer Luciano Becchio just when we needed him most, this time last season.  This is the club that sold our brightest talent and the nearest we’ve had to a Leeds United icon lately, in Robert Snodgrass.  Those were to Norwich, of course, a small club who seemed to delight in being able to pick on a moribund giant.  West Ham could easily be placed into that category too.

A hybrid of two riddles here: what do West Ham and Leeds United have in common – but also what’s the difference between them?  Answer: both are joke clubs – but West Ham are a joke club with some money.  And money talks, as we can all deduce from the deafening silence (apart from those few isolated tweets of promise) emanating from our club this past few weeks – weeks that were supposed to be about making signings and ratifying a takeover, for those who believed all the blarney we were fed in December.

It’s hard to write that riddle thing, even to make a point.  But, with everything that’s gone on at Leeds United lately, it’s difficult to reach any other conclusion but that we are a joke club.  A sick joke, an unfunny joke.  A joke club run by joke people who believe they can get away with feeding the fans crap for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and then expect them to beg for more crap for supper.  And the sickest joke of all is that they probably can get away with it.  The only possible source of resistance is from the fans, and our fans are as divided as any, with some factions for GFH, some wanting the Sport Capital group, even a maverick few still harking back to Bates – and all of them willing indeed eager to have a barney with any of the rest, whilst pouring ridicule on the few real attempts out there at organising support.  Read any Leeds United internet forum, and you’ll see it’s true.  We might all be Leeds, but United we most definitely are not – and that’s tantamount to a licence for the suits in the boardroom to do as they think best – a scary thought for anyone who wants Leeds United once again to occupy a prominent place in English football.

There’s the story of the straw that broke the camel’s back (this is not a middle-eastern consortium reference).  The moral is, of course, that if you go on piling up the burden on the poor old camel, it will eventually collapse at the addition of even one more straw.  In the same way, the faith and patience of the fans – those of us who can smell the stench of what we’re being fed – is surely at breaking point.  What will it take for that faith to finally collapse?  And what happens then?

The only way to register a protest in today’s world is to try and hit people in the pocket, because of that aforementioned fact that money talks.  It’s not the club’s fault that West Ham have seen fit to bid for McCormack.  But it IS the club’s fault – presumably – that this is the only item of news we currently have to chew on, we who are so hungry, so starving for some positive tidings, a ray or two of hope that maybe we have a brighter future.  That positive news, despite many coy hints, smileys and tweets from the usual suspects, has failed to materialise.  Our expectations have been managed; two loans apart, the club has almost managed to negotiate yet another window with no investment anywhere near the scale of the serious players at the top of the league.  That’s taking the mick, and dress it up how you like, it’s not good enough for a club like Leeds United with fans like the fanatical yet deeply put-upon Leeds fans.

Leeds United Football Club need to consider very, very carefully now as to just how much more their loyal body of fans will put up with.  Nobody likes to be made a fool of, especially not in front of a gaping, jeering world of rival fans, workmates and just anybody who feels inclined to rub salt into wounds, ie almost everybody.  The time is approaching when the final straw will be added to that onerous burden, and then some sort of collapse of support is possible.  People will vote with their feet, people will find better things to do with the hard-earned money in their pockets.  Why shouldn’t they?  The club will always preach about loyalty and support – but that’s a two-way street and at the moment the traffic is strictly one-way.  So why should people continue to pay still-exorbitant prices to watch football at a club which seems to have forgotten entirely what it’s supposed to be about?

It may well be that joke club West Ham are kidding themselves if they think they can tempt McCormack to join a team that has just sustained a 0-9 defeat in a semi-final and who are very probably headed for relegation.  But if Leeds United have any say in the matter – and after all, they do – then they need to consider very carefully what’s best for the club and the fans before taking that usual step of buckling and grabbing the cash.  That camel’s legs are trembling, and who can tell how many more straws it will take to complete the job of flattening it along with all of our hopes, our faith, our belief?

This bid for Ross McCormack may well be the acid test.  Can Leeds United pass it?

West Ham and Leeds Utd: A Tale of Two Managers – by Rob Atkinson

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Fatuous Sam: “I’m the boss”

It’s a funny old game, football.  Takes all sorts too.  While Leeds fans were venting some well-justified spleen at their misfiring players and management following the debacle at Rochdale, West Ham’s supporters, by contrast were waxing somewhat more philosophical – give or take one weeping kid –  during their own side’s 0-5 mauling at Nottingham Forest.  Or so it would appear, anyway, from reading the not entirely reliable internet outlet which is HF’s “The Game’s Gone Crazy”.

Poor kid

Poor kid

It was interesting, watching the Un’appy ‘Ammers disintegrate at the City Ground.  The travelling Clarets support got glummer and glummer as the game went on – and the distress of that one poor little soul reduced to tears at the humiliation of his favourites by these Norvern (to him) upstarts was especially heart-rending.  It really can be quite upsetting, the way TV cameras tend to zoom in on weeping infants these days when a team’s having a crisis.  We at Leeds know this all too well.

Leeds were awful at Rochdale and West Ham were equally awful at Forest.  The ‘Ammers manager, Fatuous Sam, chose blithely to shrug off what was an appalling defeat.  “I’m the manager,” he said.  “I make the decisions.”  There wasn’t too much sympathy in evidence for the suffering supporters.  At least Brian McDermott for Leeds acknowledged that the United display had been unacceptable.  Fatuous Sam seems to react rather testily at any suggestions mere fans might be critical of his team selections.  This is, after all, a man who feels that he would win everything if put in charge of a truly big club.  It seems amazing that no real giant of the game has ever taken him up on such a confident prediction.  Perhaps they’re mixing him up with Mike Bassett?  On the evidence of the Forest defeat, the fictional comedy England boss might just be a better bet.

The hapless West Ham fan blogger who much prefers to write of bigger clubs had evidently turned on his favourite target of all as a sort of therapy in defeat.  It’s understandable in a way.  Mired in the relegation zone and looking to be on the downhill run out of the Big Time, there’s not a lot of inspiration in writing about the ‘Ammers, is there?  But it’s a shame his research lets him down.  In his haste to revive memories of a famous Leeds FA Cup defeat at Colchester 43 years ago, HF mentions that even Bremner couldn’t spare United such a humiliation.  But as is quite well-known among real football fans, Bremner wasn’t in the team that day – as he frequently reminded people for years afterwards.  It also, apparently, took Don Revie three years to get Leeds “into the Prem”.  Not too bad, HF.  Only thirty years out with the terminology.

The tragedy of the thing is, this amateur is in far too much of a hurry to recycle his tired old standbys (such as “The Leeds United McFeelgood Factor Sleeper Express to the Premiership, Europe, Infinity and Beyond” – yawn, yawn) to bother with petty considerations such as research.  And boy, does it show.  Reading his blog is strictly for hard times – or for those, like me, who feel the occasional need to monitor him and to put him firmly but kindly in his place.

Things could be worse though.  HF is a pretty poor blogger – I can’t think of any worse off the top of my head, and that includes several particularly deluded Man U examples – but by the side of the team he ostensibly supports and that team’s fat and fatuous manager, he doesn’t look all that bad.  Perhaps he will do better next year when Leeds and West Ham are in the same division.  Then he can abandon his wet-behind-the-ears attempts at condescension, and start shooting from the hip, especially when the ‘Ammers face either of their two Cup Finals against the Mighty Leeds.  It might even do him some good and make him that bit more readable.  You never know – it really is a funny old game.

Lethal Lampard Back Again to Hammer Upton Park Boo Boys – by Rob Atkinson

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Chelsea Pensioner Lampard: Hammers torturer-in-chief

After this stroll in Upton Park from an effortlessly superior Chelsea side, West Ham boss Sam Allardyce must be preoccupied by one burning question: are there three worse teams in the Premier League than his punchless, impotent Hammers?  Because, make no mistake, West Ham’s short term future revolves entirely around that one issue.  If three teams even less creative, even less error-prone and ineffective, can be found to occupy the dreaded drop zone – then the Hammers may survive another season.  If not, it’s back on the downward path for one of the classic yo-yo clubs.

Even at 3-0, this scoreline hardly flattered Chelsea.  Rather, it was an indictment of some profligate finishing on their part – they could and should have had at least a couple more, and Frank Lampard will consider himself rather let down, not having completed his hat-trick.  As for the Hammers – they’re as lightweight up front as the famously under-endowed Olive Oyl.  To their eternal credit, they did finally muster a shot on target – in the 94th minute.  If only that could have gone in, it would have made …. absolutely no difference at all. Meanwhile, at the other end, the poor old ‘Ammers goal was ready to collapse after a ninety minute shelling during which it had sustained enough enemy fire to scuttle a fleet.  Again, one wonders how it ended up at only three.  West Ham, for their part, were a bit lucky to get nil.

It’s the fashion in these tender-hearted and sentimental times for returning old-boys to show a bit of class and decorum, should they happen to have the bad taste and ill manners to score against the alma mater.  This is an admirable convention in many ways, and it’s probably saved a few hot-headed pitch invasions.  But really, it would be too much to expect of the Hammers fans’ least-favourite Lampard, the junior Frank of that ilk.  When he was a Hammer, he got hammered as a daddy’s boy.  When he left for Chelsea, he was castigated for greed and disloyalty.  On the numerous occasions since then, when he’s rippled the Barrow Boys’ net, he’s taken vile abuse and snarling hatred – simply for doing his job.  These ‘Appy ‘Ammers boys have a chirpy cockney reputation, but anyone who’s walked from the Boleyn back to the tube after a tidy little away win for their team might beg leave to doubt the sincerity of all this alleged good-natured bonhomie.  The truth is that are about as charming as a bucket of cold jellied eels, as friendly as Dirty Den in a taxi.  So when Frank Lampard pops another one in against the Iron, you can forgive the lad a bit of a celebration.  He looked nearly as happy as those who had backed him as an any time goalscorer at betting site bwin.com!

Lamps’ two displays of triumphant joy today, either side of a slide-rule finish from Brazilian Oscar, will not have gone down well with the Upton Park clientele.  But they had better brace themselves for more of the same, because although they won’t meet the class of Chelsea every week, there aren’t too many teams which will be troubled by an attack so lacking in penetration that a belting prescription of Viagra looks the least that will be needed to inject a bit more oomph.  This brings us back to the question of whether enough teams can reasonably be expected to finish below Sam’s droopy troops, to give them a fighting chance of securing another campaign.  On today’s evidence, that looks rather doubtful.

Leeds Legend King John Charles is Jimmy Greaves’ No. 1 – by Rob Atkinson

King John of Leeds United & Juventus

King John of Leeds United & Juventus

We all know what normally happens when any former footballer, once-famous manager or similar faded glory is asked the burning question: who was your greatest player of all time?  The form is that you scratch your head to make it look as if you’re thinking, nod sagely and then say “Why, it was Georgie Best, of course”, before holding your hand out for the cheque and heading straight for a refreshing cappuccino – or for the nearest bar if you’re NOT Jimmy Greaves.

Ex-Tottenham, Chelsea and AC Milan striker Greaves though – who also starred for Barnet FC and West Ham once his top-level playing days were done – had no doubts about his choice.  John Charles, he explained, was not only one but two great players.  At centre-forward just as much as when he was deployed in a defensive role at centre-half, King John had no peers.  During his spell in Serie A with Juve, an environment Greaves knows well from his brief stint with the Rossoneri of Milan, John would often start a game up front and then, having scored the goal to gain his team a precious lead, would be pulled back to centre-half to ensure that they didn’t lose it.

I’ve written a recent article myself about the great Charles, and how he should be regarded as the Best of British despite the populist claims of Georgie Best.  I expected to find broad agreement among Leeds fans – certainly the ones who had been lucky enough to see John play whilst he was in his pomp – but I also expected that fans of other clubs would have been firmly aboard the Best bandwagon – particularly as this was a vehicle driven quite hard by George himself, who never had any qualms about expressing his view that he was the finest player of all time.  With an ego like that, his spiritual home surely was the Theatre of Hollow Myths – but the fact remains that his professionalism and dedication were of a much lower order than is needed for true greatness to be accorded. That was very much my view anyway, and one that I hope can be seen as unbiased.  But a little corroboration from among the ranks of ex-pros can’t do any harm.

Interestingly, Greaves is not alone in dismissing the claims of Best.  George’s team-mate at Man U, Denis Law, also felt that Best fell short of true greatness because of the flaws of character and discipline that accompanied his undoubted genius.  By contrast, John Charles had an attitude and professionalism to match his incredible ability and the tremendous physique that enabled him to dominate two vastly different playing positions.  Furthermore, in the highly defensive, cynical and violent Italian league, John was never booked or sent off – as indeed he never was throughout his career – a notable achievement for any player. For a man often used as a defender in Serie A, it was little short of miraculous.

John Charles was voted Italian football’s top “foreign import”, thus coming ahead of Platini, Maradona, Brady and even Luther Blissett.  To this day, the fans of Juventus will greet a fellow football fan wearing Leeds United colours and talk eagerly of “il Gigante Buono”, the player that served both clubs so well, the man who has entered legend as King John.

Jimmy Greaves – you were a top player, and you’ve proved yourself at last to be a man of judgement and discretion.  I salute you.