The Gelderd End

Whites 0 Seagulls 2, Hornets 4 Whites 1

One of the many issues that befall a club like Leeds United when languishing in the Championship, is the division’s collection of combatants with scant repute whose followers attempt to manufacture a ‘rivalry’ in order to justify their existence.

Brighton fans don’t generally interest themselves in such folly but recent times has seen a minority of their number travelling to Elland Road determined to cast us all as moronic homophobes. The pursuit of equality in society is an honourable aim but those from ‘Sussex by the Sea’ ought to remember the rather stereotypical welcome their pro Thatcherite town of the 1980’s gave to visiting Northerners and how the Goldstone Ground regularly serenaded us with songs about slums and signing on.

Watford supporters take their fascination with the Red Ridings to a bizarrely unhealthy level. Despite the cavernous gulf between the history and size of both clubs, there has been a desperate ploy by those in sleepy Hertfordshire to engender some kind of mutual antipathy with their West Yorkshire ‘rivals’. This is quite a strange concept for many of us and it’s a struggle to find a reason why. Even after our trouncing in Cardiff there was little anger shown to our opponents as we instead chose to vent our frustrations at the pointlessness of the Blackwell regime. Perhaps the demise of their so-called historical agitators Luton Town has left the Hornets feeling empty and aimless and in need of a fillip from further afield.

The faithful returned to the old house for our match with Brighton in fairly upbeat mood and with good reason to do so. The Middlesbrough victory had given us enough to believe that steady progress was being made. What transpired was another in the litany of Elland Road debacles in which an unperturbed visiting side were allowed to stroke the ball around at nothing more than training pace, while their befuddled opponents chased aimlessly. The second half improved slightly with at least an attempt to adhere to the passing principles that Mr Hockaday is said to champion but we were largely hamstrung by a lack of speed in both body and mind. The coach later acknowledged a truly ‘painful’ experience.

Those of us that weren’t at Wembley on Saturday afternoon were at nearbyVicarage Road witnessing another humiliating afternoon that left the Head Coach hanging by a thread. Many Leeds fans could luxuriate in the consolation of a Challenge cup victory but there was no such solace for those of us of a black and amber persuasion. Don Massimo was reportedly so incensed by the manner of the defeat that rumours of the coach’s demise began to circulate from the most reliable of sources. The cyber ghouls found their thirst for misery and misfortune suitably quenched, while Talksport’s Stan Collymore expressed his anger at ‘the waste of a huge club’.

Twenty four hours of depression later Don Massimo publicly announced a stay of execution for his beleaguered employee in typically dramatic fashion. “Blame me. It’s my fault. I am the manager maybe I should sack myself” barked the President admitting to his own shortcomings. “I want to do everything too fast – I want 15 new players, I want to be in the Premier League, I don’t want the old coach, I want a new one. I want to build Rome in 12 hours but it doesn’t happen. If another coach comes in and we have the same problems, we are back in the shit. So I’ll wait.” He then went on to admonish newcomer Giuseppe Bellusci for the sending off that precipitated a desperate capitulation. It was mistake that the Italian defender subsequently apologised for.

For those of us that would like to see our colourful owner succeed the whimsical public musings and desire to micro manage every facet of the club sits uneasily. I doubt that any reputable coach worth his salt would feel comfortable with the prospect of working in such a restrictive and emotional environment. It is true that the current system is in its infancy but I think we all realise it is unlikely to succeed in its present form. There are times when there appears to be no system at all.

Going Casual

Lions 2 Whites 0

For the first time in many a year the dawn of a new campaign was an unwelcome guest in my house. Its arrival signalled the end of a largely carefree summer that saw the rebirth of ‘Classy Cas’, an entertaining Brazilian diversion and the impressive coronation of Vicenzo Nibali on the slopes of ‘Le Tour’. A feeling of contentment had only occasionally been pricked by happenings at Elland Road but now the boundless state of nervous tension had returned. There was simply no appetite for the tortuous months ahead.

Our club’s continually fluctuating disposition had taken another turn for the worse during the previous week. An urgent need for positivity floundered upon the collapse of several transfer deals, Benito Carbone’s abrupt departure and Don Massimo’s less than judicious comments about his newly installed Head Coach. Our collection of self righteous malcontents was bristling with anticipation.

Events in South London didn’t disappoint those strange souls that seek solace in their own side’s woes. An undercooked visiting side tamely surrendered in front of what will be Millwall’s only sell out of the season. With a number of our new recruits deemed unready for the rigours of England’s second tier, last season’s band of clueless nitwits were left to reconnect us with the misery to which we have become so accustomed.

Whites 2 Stanley 1, Whites 1 Boro 0

By the time the Elland Road faithful convened for a tough league opener against Middlesbrough, an air of nervous optimism had tickled our bellies once again. Sully Doukara’s well taken brace helped negotiate a potentially uncomfortable cup tie against Accrington, while off field developments gave those of us with a less entrenched outlook a sliver of optimism upon which to grasp.

Stung by the debacle at The Den, an experience that had him shivering like a shitting dog, Don Massimo swept into action in a bid address our many deficiencies and within twenty four hours Giuseppe Bellusci, Liam Cooper and Billy Sharp had been captured. Not only did this swift action portray a decisive and enterprising owner but also suggested the Italian’s hard line approach had softened somewhat. Bellusci and Cooper arrived following quickly resurrected deals that had previously been frustrated by the financial demands of agents and clubs, while Billy Sharp decamped to the Ridings despite the President’s initial conclusion that that the striker was too old.

While all three recruits suggested a renewed sense of conviction within the corridors of power and seemed to reinvigorate and reunite an often fractious fan base it was Sharp’s signing that struck a real chord with the masses. The deal put an end to a five year spell in which player and club had been continually linked. Even when he appeared in the colours of our opponents there was always a feeling of quiet admiration and the numerous goals that he plundered against us were always met with forlorn thoughts of what could be.

Against Boro the new arrival found his every touch embraced with a gasp of eager anticipation. Both he and fellow debutant Cooper slipped seamlessly into an admirable team effort that matched a heavily fancied opponent stride for stride. The game seemed to be drifting towards a goalless denouement until King Billy’s final contribution sparked the sort of euphoric scenes that suggested the self appointed ‘fat lad from Sheffield’ was born to play for our club.

Alejandro

I like Massimo Cellino. There are plenty of detractors and one can see why but there is no doubt that his passionate, energetic and single minded approach has provided the kind of leadership seldom seen in the Ridings. While Uncle Ken camouflaged his insecurities within scripted interviews and belligerent state broadcasts, Don Massimo displays a cast iron confidence in his methods. The last few months have pulled tightly at our emotions and recent developments have seen us entertain hope and despair in equal measure. We always seem to be in a permanent state of nervous tension and the arrival of an exuberant Italian will only serve to feed our psychosis.

June came with an entertaining Latin American distraction but did nothing to ease the burden on our weary shoulders. An underwhelming coaching appointment followed a number of highly publicised cost cutting measures, leaving the ‘cadre of joyless pessimists’ licking their chops at the promise of another banquet. As July arrived our propensity for civil war was nurtured by another high profile departure and the interminable bickering between our many factions. A mischievous skewing of the form book allowed us a brief taste of optimism and saw the malcontents dissipate into the background but a string of dubious pre season performances have left them contemplating apocalyptic disaster.

David Hockaday’s arrival as first team coach was a deeply disappointing moment accompanied by an outpouring of anger and bemused bafflement. During his first public outing Mr ‘Wackaday’ pushed his credentials forcefully but was undermined by a lamentable managerial record and a lack of hearty praise from elsewhere. His cause wasn’t helped by reports that suggested a move for Reading Academy Director Eamonn Dolan had been scuppered by its financial implications.

An air of negativity swamped the emergence of both candidates and took no account of our leader’s new continental coaching structure or failed to acknowledge his efforts in researching such obscure individuals. Perhaps the attitude was understandable faced with his eventual choice. Choosing Dolan would appear to have been a more progressive move and the President’s decision to opt for what is widely regarded as the cheapest option represented a disturbing development. The new man will have a tough time convincing the doubters that he is the alchemist we all desperately crave.

The fluctuating nature of our disposition was again apparent upon the sale of Ross McCormack to Fulham. Previous regimes would have suffered a brutal public pummelling for even entertaining such thoughts but Don Massimo saw his reputation enhanced by an ability to procure a hugely inflated fee for an unsettled striker with only one prolific season to his name. On his departure McCormack attempted to deflect criticism with a few carefully chosen insincere words but only succeeded in blemishing his own reputation amongst the throngs.

The post McCormack era began promisingly, as though fate had decided to reward our sympathetic attitude towards the Scot’s departure. Don Massimo gave a clear indication that our recent windfall would lead to the repurchase of Elland Road and alluded to a healthy transfer kitty. A cornerstone of the proposed regeneration came with unheralded arrival of former Cagliari Sporting Director Nicola Salerno, one of our president’s closest and shrewdest allies. In their time on Sardinia the pair garnered a reputation for youth development and successful scouting networks that helped a club the size of Doncaster Rovers hold its own amongst Italy’s top flight.

Don Massimo’s original plan had been to source recruits from England but recently admitted that a lack of knowledge of the English game combined with its overpriced market place, would lead to an influx of youthful Italian based signings and the promotion of a number of academy starlets. Most fans are quietly encouraged by the new arrivals but the mood has been dampened by the scepticism surrounding David Hockaday and his performance thus far. In the aftermath of Saturday’s fortunate draw at Chesterfield one scribe branded the new man ‘deluded’ and ‘out of his depth’, while suggesting his appointment as Leeds United’s Head Coach was akin to ‘feeding caviar to a pig’.

 

Jackie Sings The Whites

It was the sad and inevitable conclusion to a needlessly drawn out affair. Brian McDermott’s departure provided the only predictable chapter in a very unnerving period and came with charitable words of conciliation from both sides. The final outcome represented a surprisingly bloodless denouement to a situation that had become increasingly fractious.

Both manager and paymaster had not spoken since the season’s end, instead choosing to communicate through ‘terse’ and ‘defensive’ written correspondence. Don Massimo had even used a television interview to lambast the manager for taking a customary but unauthorised end of season absence. It had all become rather unseemly.

Our erstwhile friend leaves with the respect accorded to a decent man but without the accolades of a successful one. The manner in which he dealt with swathes of boardroom villainy will live long in the memory but so too will the abject performances and tactical confusion we were often forced to bare. Some fans argue that he was the right man at the wrong time and perhaps the concept has a grain of truth. I would suggest that our ascension from the bowels of Division Two to Europe’s top table under the tutelage of Don Revie, proves that winners find a way to win regardless of constraint.

Many would have spent Saturday afternoon contemplating our club’s next move. Much of the speculation was spiced with a continental flavour but the conversation took a disturbing turn for the worse with the news that an obscure non league coach had become the bookies favourite to land the post. I like most had to Google the name of Dave Hockaday and found a man who resembled an ageing Julian Dicks with a painfully underwhelming CV. We were all stung by the absurdity of the development.

Apart from the search for another messiah, the chaos continues to abound within the corridors of power. There’s the threat of mass redundancies, the temporary closure of Thorp Arch and the freezing of assets brought about by a winding up petition served by a former director. A man incidentally now languishing in a Bahraini prison cell accused of embezzlement and money laundering by our former Bahraini overlords. It’s a dramatic tale of the swindler swindling the swindlers.

Don Massimo is a man who often likes to voice an opinion before he has one. He is a shrewd operator and appears to be conducting the type of root and branch enema that we desperately require but his whimsical public musings often give one the impression that he’s making it up as he goes along. It’s a weakness that allows his doubters and our enemies to fuel the flames of fear.

The situation isn’t helped by an action starved media keen to inject controversy into an otherwise sleepy hiatus and of course it is the supporters that suffer. The anti Cellino camp groans with every development regardless of outcome while others balk at an atmosphere of persistent negativity. We are an argumentative breed at the best of times and our number has always been characterised by the constant bickering of estranged factions. The arrival of Massimo Cellino will only serve to accentuate the debate.

 

Laundering Hope

Another false dawn. Another tortuous endeavour. Another wasted opportunity. Another murky tale of deceit and double-dealing. Another skirt with financial collapse. Another manager whose rhetoric floundered in a sea of mediocrity. Another newcomer offering hope and salvation. Another summer in which to dream. Another…. Another…. Another……..

It all started promisingly enough. Luke Murphy became our first £1m capture in a decade and Ross McCormack shed the image of a sulking and self-centred striker to become an inspirational leader. The onset of winter saw us handily placed after a steady if unspectacular campaign.

The misconception that our club was being run in an enterprising and progressive fashion carried us through the Yuletide celebrations but began to unravel soon after. Brian McDermott’s inadequacies manifested themselves in a string of abject reverses, while the bandits from a Bahraini bank thrust us into the financial wilderness. By February Leeds United as a functioning football club had unequivocally ceased to exist.

When Massimo Cellino entered our collective consciousness he had already been cast as villainous despot and spent his first weekend in the Ridings chased through Beeston by an angry mob. The necessity of his arrival has softened those attitudes somewhat and a display of passion and warmth has only served to accelerate the process. Despite a wayward and often volatile reputation our new leader speaks candidly about the ‘bloodbath’ he has inherited and appears to have taken a rather measured approach.

Many predicted the swift and immediate demise of our beleaguered manager following the season’s conclusion but Don Massimo offers only vague answers to such questions. There also needs to be swathing cuts to our overpaid and bloated squad but again our leader refuses to be rushed. This apparent lack of urgency has provided a surprising denouement to a dismal season and is causing distress to those who call for decisive action.

Fight!!! 

Last season’s finale was flushed with the blissful sabotage of Watford’s promotion dream and a sense of optimism induced by the arrival of a new manager and new ideals. Twelve months on and this end of season encounter could not offer such solace. Most of the bumper 30,000 crowd that arrived in LS11 did so not in eager anticipation of fresh hope but to swing the collective axe on another desperately disappointing campaign. In the end it was an afternoon that ‘brought a year of madness to a steady and cordial end’.

The Whites ended a decade of intolerable subservience to an old rival with an improved display but were flattered by a Derby side ensconced in the playoffs and distracted by bigger battles ahead. Ross McCormack agonisingly failed to join the likes of Charles and Lorimer by finishing a goal shy of thirty for a season but was instrumental in Matt Smith’s deft equalizer. Michael Brown also impressed with an ‘ageless’ performance in what is likely to be his Elland Road farewell.

Brian McDermott was quick to highlight the improvement in results since the cessation of boardroom hostilities but many remain unconvinced. They were victories grasped from the impoverished hands of the division’s weak and were by and large unstinting in their mediocrity.

The Spirit Of 85 

St Andrews 85

 The prospect of another lacklustre and meaningless end of season encounter was lightly spiced with the host’s precarious league position and the presence of a former tormentor in the stands.

I have two abiding memories of the diminutive Italian Benito Carbone. Primarily it’s the goal that put paid to David O’Leary’s FA Cup ambitions in 2000 but there is also his acquisition by Bradford City some time later. It was a signing that was supposed to cement their place in the top flight but instead sent them spiralling towards the financial abyss.

Carbone’s appearance in Birmingham as a guest of Don Massimo led some tabloids to excitedly predict the imminent demise of our beleaguered manager, while the Yorkshire Evening Post proffered the possibility of an academy position. Subsequent comments by Signor Cellino suggest that the locals had it right.

Despite a desire to see the conclusion to another dispiriting campaign, the travelling hordes found plenty with which to amuse themselves. While some marked the occasion with fancy dress others chose to evoke the spirit of 1985 with city centre skirmishes and the wanton destruction of St Andrews’ inner echelons.

The players enjoyed themselves too. Young striker Matt Smith enhanced his growing reputation with a lovely header and Danny Pugh’s cool strike could well have been a farewell gesture. The calamitous third goal summed up City’s desperate plight and sent them tumbling towards League One.