As a Leeds United supporter, the two and a half weeks that followed
the inevitable departure of Simon Grayson have proved nigh on unbearable. Day
upon day has been spent, furtively scanning twitter timelines, WACCOE and the
Oddschecker website, desperately hunting for concrete clues and news on the
next incumbent of the Elland Road hot seat.
Dealing with this process should be a lot easier by now; us
supporters are now well versed in these helpless rituals, as the tortuous and
spectacularly depressing ‘fruits’ of three consecutive transfer windows stand
testament to. It wasn’t though; if anything it was even harder to deal with -
the problem being, that we’ve been so conditioned to the underwhelming by our present chairman that a nagging undercurrent of pessimism underlie all speculation.
The announcement that Neil Redfearn was to be given a run of
games did little to quell such concerns; it seemed the cheap fix was again the
preferred option. When the debacle at Coventry killed any such aspirations,
stone dead, the unruffled response by Bates just served to elevate fears further;
as every new day passed, so the spectre of a Phil Brown or Paul Ince arriving
at Thorp Arch grew larger in our minds.
Finally, on Friday, a first concrete hint that the torment
was coming to an end; in the space of a lunch break, Neil Warnock had gone from
being on the fringes of the betting at 6/1 to a racing certainty at 1/10. Of
course, that wasn’t that – it never is at Leeds – one more night of uncertainty
remained. By early Saturday morning though, twitter was awash with stories and
one particular photograph of a meeting from the day before. Shortly before
10am, Chris Kamara finally confirmed the news, announcing that Warnock would no
longer be on ‘Goals on Sunday’ as he had a new job to attend to.
My twitter timeline that morning was an exemplification of
how quickly news spreads on that medium. In the space of minutes, there were
over a hundred new entries, about half of which were either tweets or re-tweets
of that photograph of Bates, Harvey
and Warnock, sat outside a bar in Monaco. Each entry excitedly accompanied by remarks
alluding to the arduous process coming to an end.
Amongst the sea of near indentikit tweets, one stood out
above the others. The tweet came from Liz, a girl I consider among my
very favourite tweeters, both on account of her ability to transform the most
trivial aspects of life into engaging spectacles within the confines of 140 characters, on my timeline, and the high degree of sense she talks with regard to Leeds
United, off it. Her reaction simply read:
“Bates + Warnock +
Leeds United = The FA shitting themselves!”
The remark brought a smile my face and doubtless did for
others too, for we all know that equation had a simple, irrefutable truth about
it, and moreover, it reflected something that had been starkly missing at the
club for some time.
I for one are delighted to pin my colours to the Neil
Warnock mast; I’ve overtly campaigned for his appointment as the next Leeds
manager since the day QPR dispensed with his services – indeed early on
Saturday morning, one friend was quick to remind me of a semi-drunken pitch I’d
made to that effect at a gig, while Grayson was still in charge. As much as I
detest Ken Bates, just for once, I find myself having to congratulate him on
making a sound football decision.
Now back to that tweet…
Warnock is not a man who’ll win Leeds United many friends;
he’s managed to alienate pretty much every section of the football loving
public at some stage, and has achieved such notoriety whilst managing a number
of fairly inoffensive, nondescript clubs, ones who are regarded with a relative
degree of ambivalence on the national stage. Now at a club that’s hated, almost
by default, the possibilities appear infinite.
No matter how low Leeds have sunk over the last
decade, there have still been opposition supporters, clamouring to mock our
predicament – where Portsmouth have attracted sympathy, our decline was
soundtracked by the muffled laughter of many, especially those of the ‘armchair’
persuasion who could often be found crawling out of the woodwork for the day in
large numbers, especially to proclaim “You’re not famous anymore!”…the irony
lost on them.
Even now, with arguably the least competitive,
aggressive and physical team in the division, cries of “Dirty Leeds” remain
commonplace, although one Middlesbrough supporting mate has recently shifted
his stance – in view of the current spate of opposition sendings off, we’ve now
been reduced to the label of “cheats”.
As a club, Leeds United are never going to be loved by the
neutral, a begrudging respect is the best we can ever hope to achieve. In this
club, it’s as if Neil Warnock has found his soul mate; a footballing
institution, derided from most quarters, but ultimately at its best when
feeding off that hatred and rubbing others up the wrong way.
All of Leeds United’s successes have been built around teams
that play at a high-tempo, who spend the 90 minutes in the faces of the opposition,
who aren’t afraid to put their foot in… and who, win, lose, or draw, always
ensured the other team left the pitch, knowing they’d been in a game. Even
David O’Leary’s ‘babies’ - arguably the Leeds side most warmly regarded by
neutrals – were built around that philosophy, complementing it with a fantastic
brand of attacking football.
High levels of effort and commitment are a given for a good
team, and the first demand the Elland Road crowd make of any player – skill and
ability is a blessing, but not enough in isolation; supporters want players who
are ready to run through brick walls for the team, anyone doubting the value
placed on the most basic attributes need only look at the affectionate regard
that Andy Hughes is still regarded. Leeds fans demand utter dedication to the
cause as minimum, and as they’ve demonstrated on numerous occasions, will not
tolerate anything else, much like Warnock.
As Warnock re-instils a competitive edge at Elland Road, no
doubt the potential for on the pitch flare ups will increase – although no doubt,
an FA shit storm awaits and while El Hadji Diouf was the main propagator, I was
still in some perverse way heartened to witness the large scale ruck at the
final whistle yesterday; it was as if the players had finally woken from a
long, complacency induced coma. With this rediscovered passion, no doubt media scrutiny will
intensify and with it a new re-energised wave of Leeds baiting. I for one can’t
wait for that moment; although it’s human nature to like to be loved and
appreciated, at Leeds it’s a long-held truism that the level of hatred directed
towards the club is almost directly proportional to how successful the side is.
Moreover, Leeds more than any side can feed off a siege mentality, and in
Warnock have no greater exponent.
But it’s not just Warnock’s abrasiveness, his broad
shoulders and his love of fighting the fight that makes him the ideal
candidate; to reduce him to such a reactionary stereotype would do a man with 7
promotions under his belt a grave disservice.
Warnock has a great record of dragging teams out of a
malaise and galvanising them in time frames most of his peers would consider
unrealistic; most significantly, he’s achieved that in both of his most recent
roles at QPR and Crystal Palace – a true man for a crisis. He’s a man who won’t
suffer fools; so many of the performances this season that have been
attributable to “slow starts”, a “lack of luck” or plain “disappointing” wouldn’t
have been regarded in such a favourable light by Warnock. Neil Redfearn – a
dignified if ineffective caretaker – saw fit to praise the players’ “fantastic
efforts” during his stint; ask yourself: would Warnock regard those displays
Crucially, Warnock can organise a side. He can develop a
disciplined system of play, where players know their roles, and where any
amount of good attacking play isn’t likely to be undermined by repetitive
defensive lapses. Furthermore, when things do go wrong, then as long as his
players give their all, he’ll back them to the hilt – he’s a man who demands
everything, but who in return gives everything back, a man who players will put
in a shift for.
Then there’s arguably the most important of all factors, the
passion Warnock has for the post of Leeds manager. It’s been long known in
local media circles, the high regard our new man has for the club and how he’s
longed for the opportunity at some stage to take on the job. A Yorkshireman by
birth and having spent long stints of his career in local football circles, he
knows all about the Leeds United and has been quick to state that the job represents
both the biggest challenge and most prestigious role of his career.
Yesterday alone at Elland Road was proof enough for many of
the (few) remaining doubters. Having been appointed on the Friday evening, most
managers would be expected to take no more than a watching brief in the stands,
but not Warnock. The new man chose to speak to the players both before the game
and at half-time, and by his own admission, spent more time on the phone to the
dug-out than he’s ever done. While the team started the day playing to Redfearn’s
game plan, they finished it clearly under the influence of Warnock’s ideas.
Having got used to the sad spectacle of watching Grayson, then Redfearn, stood
motionless in the technical area, presiding over matters but barely reacting to
them, it was heartening to Warnock so pro-active.
Before the game, Leeds United’s resident gimp, Ben Fry
announced that LUTV would be the first place to hear from our new manager when
an interview to be filmed on Sunday afternoon would be available for viewing –
again, Warnock could not wait that long and within 45 minutes of the full-time
whistle he was discussing his thoughts and ideas with Eddie Gray. He was only
on air for 5 minutes, but was able to talk more constructively in that time
about team affairs than Grayson did in the entirety of his final 12 months;
gone was the tired repetition of sound bites, broken promises to tackle
recurring difficulties – Groundhog Day, finally banished.
During the interview Warnock didn’t put a foot wrong; he was
honest, incisive and upbeat, he also spoke frankly about all the issues – large
and small – that have niggled Leeds fans for so long. His first observation was
about the lack of leadership on the pitch; the second was about the folly of
leaving Snodgrass to play out wide, especially when teams doubled up on him…he
then uttered some magical words, about how he wanted to engineer our formation
to get Snoddy playing in the hole, immediately acknowledging that our best
player should be the fulcrum of all our attacking movements – maybe us supporters
are not always crazy to question tactics after all! There were other
observations too; finally it seems the day off having 11 men back to defend a
corner might be behind us; in the future we’ll not have 3 players hanging back
to mark a solitary front man when we attack; it also seems that there are big
plans to re-energise Luciano Becchio, including a change in emphasis to bring
our midfield closer to our front line – many have questioned the Argentine’s
body language this season, but when there’s often no supporting midfielder within
30 yards to pick up his headers or support his hold up play, it must be
Warnock concluded his chat by ensuring he got his point across
about the support; partisan, aggressive, unrelenting and vociferous, at its
best, much like the man himself. He’s been a Leeds enough times to witness Elland
Road in full cry and knows that when the ground is bouncing, the atmosphere is
almost incomparable – his hunger to be part of that, week in week out was
tangible in his voice.
While some will remain who aren’t completely sold on
Warnock, I suspect that those numbers will continue to dwindle over the coming
weeks. I can understand the wishes of individuals who would’ve liked an Eddie
Howe or Brian McDermott type who could’ve maybe moulded the team into the next
Swansea, but ultimately, I don’t have the same confidence such an appointment
would’ve work. Ken Bates has a long term strategy, a vision, but that only applies
in the areas of ground development and the expansion of corporate facilities,
on the pitch, regardless of funding, he still expects instant results –
evolution, doesn’t sit with his strategy.
Similarly, after so long in the wilderness, I’m not
convinced the fans would possess the patience necessary. Fans at every club
have high hopes, it’s why they continue to support their club, but hand in hand
with those hopes are rather more modest expectations. At Leeds, certainly at
Championship level, there is little differentiation between hopes and
expectation. To cope with the pressure of the situation the club needs a big
man, an experienced man, a man who’s done it before and can live with the
pressure. It’s no coincidence that West Ham, a club under comparable pressure,
decided to forego their footballing principles in order to go with a ‘sure bet’
in Sam Allardyce – as expected, he’s delivering. Warnock stands as our best bet
to deliver in the short-term; the club were never in the market for a Mourinho,
but maybe we’ve secured the ‘Smart Price’ equivalent – devoid of Jose’s looks, class,
his sophistication and his track record at the highest level, but when operating
where money is tight, almost without rival.
The only question marks that remain now are in regard to our
own chairman. Two of the key reasons I hoped for Warnock above all others are
that he’s a man who’ll fight his corner until the last (a deficiency that I
fear ultimately undermined Grayson) and he is of sufficient stature in the game
that I could only assume that his arrival would be conditional upon
reassurances regarding player investment. Looking back at Bates’ appointments
at Leeds, and further back during his Chelsea days, appointing such a character
wouldn’t seem to sit easily with our chairman, while promises of squad
investment run counter to his claims about trimming this seasons’ playing
So what next; has Bates finally accepted the shortcomings of
his excessively frugal policies, alarmed by falling gates and the sudden
emergence of LUST as a wholly credible opposition? Is this a signal that,
counter to his arguments, credence has been paid to the case being made that the club needs
to speculate at least a little to accumulate? Or best of all, after so many years
of false promises, is the money coming from elsewhere; after seven long years,
Bates has finally found an investor to come on board, or more likely, buy him
out? Whatever is the case, the coming weeks promise to be VERY interesting.
The one thing I can say for definite is that yesterday,
despite the obvious deficiencies on the pitch and my continued reservations
about Bates and Harvey, I left the stadium feeling genuinely optimistic – it’s
been a long time.
Even by his own shameful standards, Peter Lorimer plunged
to new depths in his YEP column today, staging another character assassination
of Simon Grayson and, more remarkably, attempting to absolve himself and his
employers of any responsibility for the club's current malaise.
Rather than rant incessantly, and under the influence of
a bottle of wine, I considered it rather a good idea (at the time) to answer
instead through the medium of poetry. Half an hour later...
"But we’ve all taken our share of the criticism.
I’ve been criticised, Ken Bates has been criticised and Shaun Harvey’s been
criticised. That’s totally out of order because we’ve done b***** all
wrong." (Peter Lorimer, 17th February, 2012)
So let’s get this right Pete,
You’re not to blame.
Nor Harvey, nor Bates,
Not one of you shamed
It’s all down to Grayson,
Who got us promoted,
Not down to Ken,
The man you deep throated?
Well let’s look at the evidence to see if you’re right,
Is it the truth or propaganda?
Are you talking shite?
Now first there’s Shaun Harvey
The Chief Exec King,
Been at three clubs,
Led them all to admin,
Admitted culpability for the summer transfer sham,
And yet now Grayson is carrying the can.
Then there’s our Ken,
Should the buck not stop here?
The supporters want him out on his ear,
Yet you remain blind to the entire farce,
Still, it’s hard to see with your head up his arse.
Only £9.5m annually to pay for a squad,
And yet our mediocrity you consider quite odd,
After Brum you fumed that our defence went and fudged it,
Against a man earning a quarter of our entire wage budget
Is Ken’s lack of investors really down to us?
Chanting bad things and causing a fuss.
Or can the reason actually be found,
In nil team investment and the half empty ground?
Or maybe Ken doesn’t want investment at Leeds,
The notoriety of being a twat’s what he needs?
Three credible consortiums dismissed out of hand,
All mention omitted from the match programme.
“Simon had to go!”
We hear the club say.
Another season we can’t throw away
“We need a change now, to give us a chance”
“And where’s this new man?” ask all the fans,
Yet the silence is deafening down at Elland Road,
While Bates eyes the cheap option and gives him a
Then there’s you Peter,
Not a care for our club,
Just here for cash to subsidise your pub.
Spouting shit weekly in the Evening Post,
“We want promotion!”; that is your boast.
But from your pathetic diatribes it’s easy to see.
February 14th - for so many, a soul destroying day; another opportunity for the
corporate slags to make hay with another assault on your finances; when you
feel obliged to express your love, not on the spur of the moment or because the
mood takes you, but because the calendar dictates that you do so.
Yes, you can opt
out; to not follow the crowd is option, and yet, hamstrung by your deep held
affection, it still feels like an obligation. Why do so many of us poor souls
tolerate it? Why do we keep making the same mistakes, believing that this time
will be different? What drives us to pursue the subject of our infatuation,
blindly devoting ourselves when the chances are they have no interest in us?
What at the very best can we hope for; that maybe, for a few passing moments, a
beautiful, precious but all too brief period, they’ll maybe flirt with you,
tantalise and flatter with flashes of promise…before inevitably breaking your
That’s the Leeds
United experience for you; never better distilled than in the 90 minutes that
over 3000 Whites followers stood witness to at the Ricoh Arena.
With love in the
air and passion on the terraces, scope to recycle programme notes about slow
arousal and the innumerable opportunities to be had from footballers grappling and slipping balls between each other’s legs, I was never going
to pass up the opportunity to deliver the most immature, smutty and downright
juvenile report I could possibly muster.
So as the
players entered the tunnel, a warm, capacious abyss, where so many men had been
…oh no hang on,
FUCK IT!!! As much as I intended to indulge in a ‘smutfest’, the latest shower
of shit, masquerading as a team performance just cannot be allowed to pass
without straight comment.
Let’s be clear
here; under the Bates regime, Leeds United have plunged to many new all-time
lows on the pitch, each one, somehow superseding that which it followed:
relegation at home to Ipswich cast into shadow by capitulation at Histon, an
afternoon that in turn that still couldn’t rival the gloom of Hereford, and now
On paper, a 2-1
loss at Coventry doesn’t appear to represent a new nadir in our history,
especially with pastings at the hands of Barnsley and Birmingham so fresh in
the memory; it was rather, the manner of the defeat, and the circumstances in
which it played out that dictate why last night was such a depressing spectacle
In the space of
three transfer windows and little over 13 months, Ken Bates and Shaun Harvey
have presided over the decimation of an exciting, vibrant team that was perhaps
only a couple of players short of an automatic promotion slot, to a mediocre
Championship side, lacking quality, pace and any tangible belief in club or
themselves. Having made Grayson the scapegoat, they’ve then affronted the fan
base with a stream of players spouting pro-Redfearn propaganda as they sought
to fill the management void with the minimum of fuss, and more importantly,
expense – tonight the fruits of their policies were ruthlessly exposed.
football, defeats have to be taken on the chin and merely accepted – this
wasn’t one of those; the Coventry players entered the pitch displaying the sort
of body language expected of an outfit that’s languished for so long at the
bottom of the table, suddenly bereft of the spine of their team through
injuries to Richard Wood, Sammy Clingan and the departure of Lukas Jutkiewicz.
They left the pitch at the end looking like promotion contenders.
With the exception of McCormack, Leeds were diabolical in all areas of
the pitch, even Snoddy was dragged down by the ineptitude of the team
performance; the home side more organised, confident and damningly, far more
committed. The opening goal was a case in point as Alex Nimely somehow walked
through Darren O’Dea, evaded the weakest of Clayton challenges before tumbling
under a mindless nudge from Pugh. Inevitably, it was McSheffrey who converted
from the spot; his celebrations in front of the Leeds fans more befitting of a
last minute promotion clincher – a measure of the feeble level to which his
career has fallen.
one of only two highlights of the night, was neither deserved nor onside, but
at least, just reward at least for McCormack’s commitment. The other moment of
light relief came from O’Dea, his efforts at clearing the ball by attempting a
diving header just a foot off the ground, rather than trusting his foot, a stark
reminder of his ability – but comedy gold all the same. By chance, Leeds United
may have just discovered the first ever two legged species of ungulate.
Any response to
Redfearn’s half-time “bollocking” was undetectable; the Whites created only two notable chances, McCormack blazing wide and White tamely passing the ball to
the keeper when clean through (see Paynter vs. Southampton). Coventry’s late
winner was as inevitable as it was deserved.
In some regards,
defeat came as a relief; it’s surely inconceivable that Redfearn will get the
job. That said, he’s a man created in Bates’ own image; his utter lack of
ambition quite overwhelming. Aidan White isn’t a winger – he can’t cross, nor
can he finish; every Leeds fan on the planet knows that switching Tom Lees to
right back represents tactical Armageddon, and as for subbing McCormack – the
crescendo of “There’s only one Simon Grayson” and “You don’t know what you’re
doing” that followed in response articulated everything. While many fans accept
that Grayson’s reign had run its course; the chants very much implied the anger
over how his efforts had been hamstrung by employers who’d now turned the task
of appointing a successor into a shambles.
of his disappointment at the end and how he’d stressed at half-time about “not
getting beat and maybe pinching something” – seemingly our current philosophy in a
radio address came, the management situation registered little more than a
passing mention, instead used primarily to set up another dig at a journalist;
predictably, moments earlier, you could almost sense Ben Fry - a man, who if a Buddhist would no doubt
pray to be re-incarnated as the gusset fabric in Bates’ undercrackers – sagely nodding away as his boss conveniently swung the gauntlet of blame from
the management to the players.
When the moment of Simon Grayson’s inevitable departure
duly arrived, Shaun Harvey - while typically brushing over the issue that the
decision had been conveniently made to coincide with the closing of the
transfer window - released an official club statement explaining that the
decision was made in order to give the new Leeds United manager as much time as
possible to secure a play-off position.
The wording of the press release, if nothing else,
suggested at least a recognition of a need for urgency if the Whites were to
rescue this season, yet 11 days on and we’re seemingly no nearer an
appointment, indeed on the basis of Bates’ last radio address, this will still
be the case another week down the line.
Now the fact that board have yet again failed the
supporters comes as little surprise, indeed the revelation that Harvey had
chosen to go on holiday in the aftermath of the sacking and Bates has ruled out
a return to Yorkshire until March simply re-affirms the utter negligence of on
the field issues that continues to pervade club policy.
However, what has driven me to despair is the way in
which many supporters have merely accepted the situation. Some people seemingly
still give credence to the drivel the YEP still allow Peter Lorimer to spout
forth on a weekly basis. But surely even those people, the ones who believe
that a target spend of 35% of turnover on the playing staff is an acceptable
way to run a football club, cannot be pacified by the prospect of Leeds United
again trying to do things on the cheap by manoeuvring Neil Redfearn into the
manager’s office…surely not?
Tragically it would seem that I am wrong. Indeed, even
some of more ‘enlightened’ elements are philosophically taking it on the chin.
The mantra appears to be that “Redfearn deserves a chance” to stake his claim –
NO HE DOES NOT!!!
There is one simple, irrefutable reason why Redfearn
should not even, for a moment, be considered. It’s concise and should really
serve as a reminder to those who contemplate otherwise; it’s because:
WE ARE LEEDS UNITED!!!
Yes, that’s right! Remember? One of the biggest clubs in
English football; a club that attracts a national and worldwide following that
all but a very select few others can even dream about! We’re a club that brings
home supporters out in their droves, every time we visit their town. We’re a
club that even after years in the doldrums could command an FA Cup sell-out at
Old Trafford within hours of tickets going on sale, who similarly attracted full houses at White Hart Lane and the Emirates. We’re a club that although
despised by many in the higher echelons of the game, are also missed in at
least equal measure. We’re a club who had a following of 55,000 in Wembley for
a League One play-off final (and could have sold many thousands more had the
Football League not made such a mess of the ticket allocations), who took over
10,000 to Madrid for a ‘dead rubber’ Champions League tie, who can sell out
6,700 tickets for venues like the Ricoh Arena and Oakwell.
Have so many supporters forgotten about this; brainwashed
into pitifully low expectations by the ceaseless Bates regime propaganda that’s been
relentlessly spewed through the club’s media outlets? Seemingly they have.
Yet despite this alarming widespread acceptance of
mediocrity, of a philosophy of competing with the Doncasters and Watfords,
those with an outsiders’ perspective can at least still appreciate what the
club potentially represents. When names of the stature of Raddy Antic and Sven
Goran Eriksson express a firm interest in the Leeds job, it’s a reminder of the
club’s standing within European, never mind Championship football. While
neither man – particularly the latter – would bring a cast iron guarantee of
success, their representations to the club illustrate the cache that a
well-run, ambitious Leeds United would still possess, even existing out of the
Premier League limelight.
So mindful of the pedigree of some of the names
interested in the job, including that of the ideal candidate in our current
situation, Neil Warnock, why should anyone even entertain the thought of Neil
Redfearn? Big clubs appoint big names, those aspiring to regain such status seek out proven experience, or at least exciting promise…neither
merely settle for convenience. Very rarely these days would an ambitious outfit
seek to appoint from within.
The club would argue that Redfearn has made an immediate
impact; if you believe Bates, the team looked like world beaters in
“demolishing” Bristol City. Having been to that game (unlike Bates) I saw an
entirely different display where Leeds were outplayed by 11, then 10 men,
before finally getting to grips with the game following the second dismissal.
It was a display comparable with many of the worst of Simon Grayson’s reign and
ironically stood in stark contrast to the opening hour of his predecessor’s
final game. Against Brighton, the same trait of defensive errors cost the side
any chance of picking up points – do these two games represent a tangible
improvement? Not in the slightest!
Secondly is the assertion that the players like Redfearn.
Well how marvellous! Quite frankly, after witnessing so many pitiful, passionless
showings from this team this season, the last thing the squad requires is
mollycoddling. They need somebody who goes into the dressing room, looks them straight
in the eye, and makes it clear in the bluntest of terms that they play for the
shirt, week in, week out or they find a new club. It was of little surprise
hearing support from McCormack, but you would expect little else from a man who
spent more of last season playing reserve football under Redfearn than he did
for the first team; you’d also expect kind words from those who’ve graduated
through the youth set-up as well – albeit it should be noted that their
opportunities have been gained through performances at other clubs, not under
Redfearn – regardless, this new found joy hasn’t manifested itself out on the pitch.
We also had captain Lonergan praising Redfearn’s tactical
nous after the Bristol game. What were the intricacies of this tactical master
class? To keep things solid – Eureka! We appear to have a real visionary on our
hands here…if you forego consideration of how busy our keeper was at Ashton
Gate, oh and the shambolic final half hour yesterday. But never mind that,
that’s just another inconvenient truth designed to de-rail the propaganda
Then there’s Redfearn’s seeming lack of a philosophy, of
confidence, drive, ideas and ambitions. Listening to his post-match dissection
provided yet another depressing chapter to this sorry season. He spoke of the
same things that Grayson did, about tightening up at the back, about
concentration, about hard work on the training ground. He saw fit to praise the
players’ efforts (no wonder they like him) but most alarmingly, he also
revealed his mindset. When asked about the equaliser, he replied “…having got
1-1, the last thing you want to do is get beat” – we were playing Brighton at
home! Any criticisms from the terraces about Redfearn not possessing a winning
mentality as Andros Townsend was left to warm up until the closing minutes,
fully vindicated by that one statement!
Where was his ambition? Where was the assertion that he
was looking to grasp this opportunity with both hands? Where was the rhetoric
about implementing new ideas? Were these the words of an inspirational,
talismanic leader of men, capable of dragging a club off its knees and
instilling the belief necessary for a promotion campaign? I think not.
While I stated that big clubs who prosper don’t appoint
with convenience as their chief criteria, that’s not to suggest that the ideal
candidate can never be found by promoting from within, it’s just an extremely
rare occurrence. The last such instance at Leeds was of course David O’Leary; now
contrast his approach when offered a chance to impress his employer. O’Leary
was bold from the very outset, stating very firmly that he wanted to take the
club in a new direction and he backed those words up, immediately instating
Jonathan Woodgate and Stephen McPhail in the first XI for his opening game at
Nottingham Forest. He spoke passionately about the club, his ideas and where he
wanted to take us.
Nothing that’s been said in support of Redfearn stands up
to stringent examination, he shouldn’t even merit a second thought as potential
candidate. I’ve found nothing at all to support his case, but even while some
of the “benefit of the doubt” brigade remain, one look at his track record
should alone resoundingly close the case for the prosecution before Bates,
Harvey or Lorimer choose to try and argue any further:P
Pl W D L
Halifax Town (caretaker manger): 30th Aug 2001 – 12th Oct 2001 8 2 2 3
4th Mar 2002 – 25th
Apr 2002 11 3 1 7
Scarborough: 24th Oct 2005 – 6th
July 2006 29 5 7 17
York City (caretaker manager): 21st Nov 2008 – 24th Nov 2008 1 0
Leeds United (caretaker manger): 1st Feb 2012 to present 2 1 0 1
Twice not considered not good enough for the Halifax Town job - that in itself exposes the folly of putting Redfearn in the frame for the post, but
even more pointedly, it’s an examination of the permanent posts he's held that really ring alarm bells.
Only 5 wins in 29 games at Scarborough is a shocking return, but even more
worryingly, having been given the majority of the pre-season to build a side to
reflect his philosophy at Northwich, he was sacked after 9 games – he collected
a single point from a possible 27!!
Neil Redfearn is not and never will be the answer for
Leeds United; he may be for Ken Bates, but as we know, by his own admission,
the team remains Bates’ second priority. Most rational supporters know it and
the LUFC Trust know it, and as the hugely successful ‘March for Change’
illustrates, an increasing number of fans are quite rightly buying into their
The LUFC Trust aren’t proposing anything revolutionary,
they are simply campaigning for what we as Leeds United fans have a right to
expect – ambition from the board, investment in players and a serious drive for
promotion, and the appointment of the manager is the most pivotal decision for any such
regime. If you haven’t joined, please do it now; who could possibly take issue
with such a sentiment? Don’t settle for second best any more, not if the name
of Leeds United is to count for anything!
In the meantime, I can only grasp on to the hope that the
sighting of Keith Curle at Elland Road suggests that next Saturday’s visit of
Doncaster provides the stage for Redfearn’s final hurrah.
I’ve long held a soft spot for the city of Bristol; there’s
something quite endearing about the unassuming way in which its people live.
It’s a place of modest expectations where utter mediocrity is embraced with
gusto and celebrated. Being a finalist for the title of 2008 European City of
Culture is regarded with civic pride, regardless of the fact that Liverpool was
crowned the eventual winner.
What perhaps best captures the essence of the Bristol is
David Prowse; one of the city’s most revered and beloved sons, Prowse has
assumed deity like status on the back of being the Green Cross Code Man and his
portrayal of Darth Vader…a portrayal that essentially entailed dressing up in the
costume and walking about, pointing a bit – never spoke, never saw his face; albeit in
truth, immortal lines like “I find your lack of faith disturbing. Admiral”
wouldn’t quite hold the same gravitas as “I wish you’d believe me, my lover!”
drawled out in Bristolian tones.
Even the youth generation in the surrounding hinterlands
seem to share the same notions of pride. The delightful Fran, at the Michael
Wood Services branch of KFC asked me if I minded waiting a couple of minutes as
they were still “preparing my produce”… maybe she’s one of those new fast
tracked trainee ‘chefs’ from the ad campaign? They seem to be easily pleased in
the South West, regardless – maybe Ken should think of moving his investment?
The warm welcome extended to Bristol itself. We were able to
find a parking spot just a few minutes from both the ground and the Tobacco
Factory bar. One of the local families even saw fit to leave their sofas by the
pavement for any weary passers-by to utilise.
Unsurprisingly, in the Wedlock Stand the pre-match mood
reflected the grim weather conditions; anti-Bates sentiment dominating
discussion. As the PA blasted out ‘Double Barrel’ ahead of Chelsea’s… er,
sorry, Bristol City’s entrance, Leeds fans chose to substitute the timely
handclap and chant of ‘City’ with a simple, forceful, ‘Bates Out’ – a strategy
employed to even better effect to punctuate the singing of ‘Leeds United
Calypso’ later on in the afternoon.
The game started and Leeds fell into their now almost
customary role of being on the back foot; the usual spirited 5 minute opening,
giving way to approximately 60 seconds of blood and thunder before the home
side established a grip on proceedings. In the centre of the park, Delph darted
around to little effect, while I'm assured Clayton was on the pitch somewhere too... consequently, predictably and depressingly, Kilkenny ran the game and the
home side forced Lonergan into a number of decent stops.
Leeds’ left side was particularly troubling; Aidy White appeared
bamboozled as to what the strange white spherical object being wantonly launched
at him was, while Danny Pugh, despite looking to mimic Glenn Hoddle in his
posturing and long range passing, rather undid those intentions by executing his
ambitions with the sort of accuracy typically found in a Peter Lorimer
propaganda sound bite.
A nervous Neil Redfearn watched on from the touchline, his
agitation clear as he paced around and jigged on the spot, resembling an
incontinent festival goer at the back of a 10-deep queue for a Portaloo, the
morning after a night on the cider and chicken madras. Only Snoddy (who else?)
and McCormack offered any glimpse of hope to the Whites followers, who had to
contend themselves with a pleasingly passionate repertoire of anti-Bates chants
and a fair degree of banter with the locals at the far end of the stand. In
fairness, the City fans were more passionate than most, even if their level of literacy
accomplishment restricted a number of their ditties to being based around
monosyllabic noises – plenty of “ohs”, “ehs”, “wheys” and or course, “aaarhs”. Credit
should be given though for managing to inspire a rocking rendition of “We ARE the Leeds scum” as the insults flew.
Suddenly, on 40 minutes the game changed. From nothing,
Leeds put together a flowing move and Snoddy (who else?) converted from an
angle. Moments later, James Wilson lost his head and hauled back McCormack:
straight red, no complaints. Game over surely?
Leeds of course tend to fly in the face of expectation and conspired to spend the opening exchanges of the second half under the cosh.
Only the sending off of Bolasie for hauling down an improving Adam Smith for a
second time swung the game decisively in Leeds’ favour - I’ve long been a
sceptic about the ‘good luck fairy’, but it seems she’d be happy staging a
benefit gig for Leeds fans at the moment, so many times have we recently profited
from such incidents.
As Leeds gained the ascendancy, the excellent McCormack and
Snodgrass stretched the City backline time after time with clever movement. The
latter nearly added a hypnotic second, weaving past three players in the box,
only to see his shot cleared off the line – it almost seemed incomprehensible that
even a cluster of men between them could deny our saviour these days! Adam Smith also started
to provide hints of his attacking ambitions while Fabian Delph began to slalom
through the midfield, all of a sudden, watching Leeds seemed like fun again.
McCormack’s goal sealed it; a just reward for a fine
display and vindication of the ‘Calamity James’ taunts that had rained downed
from the Leeds end all half; his shot going in via the underside of the keeper.
Becchio’s late third, smashed in from close range, provided a fitting ending to
Come the final whistle, the players came to applaud the
supporters; Snoddy particularly basked in the acclaim – how great that we still
possess one wonderful player who truly adores the club. As the players trooped
off, Snoddy waited, grabbed the badge on his shirt then turned… the inevitable
canticle from the Leeds end resounded around BS3 – “Snoddy, Snoddy Snoddy! Oi,
oi, oi!!” He looked back from the half-way line, beaming.
Never mind the snow, the jackknifed lorry on the M42, Jenny's periodic instances of road rage, the anarchic satnav, the 7 hour trek
back - THAT moment above all else, made it all worth it.
Memo to new manager: Two priorities – Make Snoddy captain;
sort his contract!
The reality check is a common phenomenon in football; a universal experience that fans at every level can relate to. At the very highest level, it may come in the form of a humbling defeat at the hands of ‘inferior’ opposition, as Roberto Mancini on the back of his visit to Goodison Park would testify. At his level, the reality check functions as a moment of revelation that serves to shake people out of a mindset of complacency, informing future decisions and reinvigorating efforts in the drive for success. While Manchester City fans may fume in the aftermath of such a setback, they can also find solace in the truism that such moments remain as inevitable as their club’s continued prominence in the highest circles while Sheikh Mansour indulges his passion.
Lower down the echelons, a reality check for supporters can prove to be a far more sobering experience; it may involve taking on board awful, unpalatable truths – a complete reappraisal of their clubs standing in the grand scheme of things. Sadly, this is the case for those who follow Leeds United.
If a Manchester City fan was to “wake up and smell the coffee” today, it’d be some premium, speciality blend from the top end of Starbuck’s menu, at Leeds it’s more a case of a tepid, watered down serving of Mellow Birds, presented in a polystyrene cup from a road-side catering van.
While Leeds United remains a big name in football, while we still command the ability to compel the national media and the football public alike, we are sadly no longer a bigger club, in fact we’re nothing like it. The infrastructure is there, the fan base, the tradition, but the one key factor that dictates everything isn’t there – ambition. In the hearts and minds of supporters, it remains, but where it matters most, in the boardroom, there is none.
Ken Bates dreams of Premier League football. He expects Premier League football, but does so without any acknowledgement of his responsibilities in facilitating a concerted push towards this goal. Bates isn’t interested in team building – by his own admission on Monday, building a club is his priority – off the pitch activities dominate his thoughts, yet on the field success is expected to coalesce with his ambitions, regardless of such neglect.
Like it or not, we have to find a manager whose qualities, track record and experience can dovetail with the priorities and expectations of those running the club. As it stands, there is only one realistic candidate - Neil Warnock.
I can fully appreciate why the prospect of Warnock managing the club abhors so many Whites followers – by his own admission, Warnock is a man who exists to agitate the opposition and their supporters. However, is this not the same sort of character our fan base would embrace with open arms when he’s fighting for our cause, rather than against? Leeds United has always championed the rogues, the outcasts, the bad boys – who during the Second Division title winning season didn’t adore Vinnie? Who wasn’t devastated when he was subsequently sold on to Sheffield United?
I have seen a multitude of other names suggested, many of whom appeal greatly, but just aren’t realistic propositions. Roberto Martinez is a case in point; a man with a great footballing philosophy, a strong, promotion winning C.V. and currently in charge of ‘tin pot’ Wigan Athletic. It shouldn’t be inconceivable that a club of our stature could be capable of luring such a manager – we’ve done it before with Wilkinson – but such is the common perception of Leeds United from the outside in 2012 that any such rumour would be laughed at… a tragic state of affairs.
There have been other names mentioned too, some of whom may well be far more attainable. Karl Robinson at MK Dons is regularly mooted in dispatches while Paulo Di Canio also featured in the early betting. I would add the names of Dougie Freedman, Brian McDermott and Eddie Howe to that list too. These are managers who could be appointed with a view to the long term; young men entrusted and backed to build a team, and given the time necessary to create something that reflects their own vision. In more typical circumstances, I would be pushing for such candidates. Who, after all, hasn’t watched on with a mixture of admiration and envy as Swansea and Norwich have adapted almost effortlessly to top flight life?
Under Ken Bates however, thoughts of ‘typical circumstances’ can almost be precluded without any contemplation; a manager is urgently required who can galvanise a side, make them difficult to beat and hellishly competitive on the pitch; a man who can channel the general hatred of Leeds United and use it to fuel a siege mentality; a man who can take a collection of mostly mediocre footballers and fashion them into an efficient, competitive unit; most of all, a man who can make an instant impact and who can deliver promotion…and quickly!
As much as I’d love to see a Brendan Rogers-style revolution at Leeds or a Paul Lambert-esque fairytale, where a combination of boardroom backing and shrewd signings take an exciting Leeds United back to the ‘promised land’, neither the patience nor the financial will exist at the top. If Bates was to alter his philosophy to fit with either approach, then fantastic, but he isn’t. Regardless of his programme ramblings, he expects instant gratification from little arousal.
If the next incumbent in the hot seat is to survive under Bates he must secure the maximum possible returns for minimal investment. He’ll need to be an experienced, confident character to deal with expectations from above and on the terraces; he needs to be able to brush off the barbed comments and blame culture of Messrs Bates and Lorimer. What’s more, he has to be cheap and available. All things considered, it’s hard to see past a certain 62 year old Yorkshireman with a hunger for the job and a point to prove isn’t it?
Yes, I’m taking a short-termist view – I fully concede that point; but it’s a realistic viewpoint, one that’s done in consideration of those that run our club. As many have claimed, Warnock struggles once he gets a side into the Premier League, but quite frankly, that’s an argument that has to take a back seat. Leeds United needs to be in the Premier League as soon as possible; the chasm between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is widening at such a rate that club risks becoming a ‘never will’. Even just the promise of one season and parachute payments would at least serve to make Leeds a far more credible force at Championship level afterwards – and that’s the worst case scenario. On the other hand, with momentum and hitherto unparalleled backing from the stands, Warnock might just make his final hurrah his finest hour and keep us up.
There is of course one other scenario of which we all can dream: maybe, just maybe, promotion might well just attract (yet) another investor, but one this time who might just be able to make our despot an offer even HE can’t refuse!
Suddenly, short term thinking doesn't seem quite so bad.