IMG_20150623_211515

It was the sort of occasion you’d expect in front of 30,000 fervent souls shorn of the shackles of self-destruction and despond. Those of us decamping to the old house did so not only buoyed by glorious sunshine but a sense of wondrous bemusement, for our football club had spent much of the summer behaving like one.

The appointment of Sol Bamba as captain seemed to eloquently symbolise the regeneration. Only three months earlier and with the walls of Elland Road set to crumble once again, the popular centre back unleashed a damning indictment of our club and its methods. It was a courageous and selfless move undermining both a sensitive Italian and any hope of a permanent deal but an unexpected return found him lionised in the role of leader and moral compass.

The football itself resisted the mischievous temptation to puncture our joyous mood and for a healthy portion of this robust Roses contest our fearless young charges, in the words of Don Massimo, had Burnley ‘running scared’. Mirco’s beautiful creation was typical of the afternoon and deserved to snatch the spoils but alas defensive laxity tugged at our coat tails once again.

 

IMG_20150331_184456

All in all the month of July has provided a reasonably safe and peaceful passage. Our most expensive signing in fifteen years, the inevitable departure of Neil Redfearn and a small scale riot in Austria would suggest otherwise but these days our existence is measured by the tantrums of our madcap owner and Don Massimo’s heartening self imposed low profile continues.

The £3m arrival of Kiwi international Chris Wood should provide the type of goal scoring power to which we have been unaccustomed since the halcyon days of League One and served to signal an encouraging intent. The arrival of Ross Turnbull and Tom Adeyemi were followed by Luke Murphy’s decision to accept a contract extension on reduced terms and suggest a departure from last year’s influx of continental arrivals.

Unfortunately it’s still not enough for most and the desperate desire for pace and width so apparent since the sale of Max Gradel continues to go unquenched. Our former hero’s impending return to Bournemouth could see us enjoy the sort of windfall required to attain such treasures and finally put to rest the ‘make do and mend’ philosophy.

Say Cheeeeese!

Our existence is indeed unpredictable. Countless years spent in a state of bafflement as the seasons waxed and waned between soul destroying calamity and unyielding expectation. Naturally a new regime driven by a whimsical and erratic Latin temperament was only ever going to accentuate the psychosis and that babbling mess of a press conference only served to induce further heartache. As we suffocated between the derision of a delighted media and our own eternal infighting it felt like we were on the brink.

A month on and things have taken another unexpected twist. Don Massimo has for the time being cast asunder his natural predilection for dictatorship and overseen the sort of backroom reconstruction that has induced a sense of heart warming stability. Does this betray a man who has come to realise his limitations or is it a pragmatic move by one in the face of another imposed exile?

Adam Pearson was the first to come and has been at the heart of everything since. Our old friend became a catalyst for the new direction and was without doubt the driving force behind the professional capture of the respected Uwe Rosler. Herr Rosler looks and speaks like the long lost member of a world renowned Teutonic collection of Electro pioneers but arrives with a promise of the type of attacking football that goes down so well in the Ridings.

Others quickly followed suit. All of them men well versed in the rigours of English football and some arriving from more serene surroundings. The only blemish came when Don Massimo allegedly tore up the unsigned contract of a proposed Sporting Director due to that individual’s plan for a summer holiday. Cries of derision emanated from the masses but you could see Il Capo’s point of view. The character in question had been on gardening leave since his departure from Norwich at the start of the year and to request another absence at such a crucial time hardly smacked of commitment. It was all quickly forgotten in the midst of Neil Redfearn’s delightful and equally surprising return to the academy fold.

Of course for most fans signings are the hard currency of a successful summer. Youngsters Lee Erwin and Charlie Horton arrived from Motherwell and Cardiff respectively and although progressive their arrival did not tickle our hopes of a promotion campaign. The permanent capture of the popular centre back Sol Bamba was both substantial and unifying but fell short of the statement of intent we all crave. One fan suggested that the imposing Ivorian was akin to the Christmas present you’d bought yourself. Should we eagerly await the arrival of Santa’s swollen sack?

 

The Thinker

Don Massimo has returned to find himself languishing in the pit of unpopularity with little room to manoeuvre. The final weeks of the season proved to be a fitting epitaph to a ridiculous campaign and il Capo is well aware of the bristling hostility.

In the last few days it seems our under fire owner has attempted to germinate the seeds of reconciliation. News of Lewis Cook’s contract extension and the arrival of former director Adam Pearson as Executive Director and ‘right hand man’ is cause for cautious optimism but we are still dogged by the distasteful and shameless displacement of Neil Redfearn.

Then to cap it all off came Thursday afternoon’s car crash of a press conference. Don Massimo had hoped the personal appearance would help him outline his plans for the future but it proved nothing more than a chamber of horrors. Adam Pearson looked on helplessly as our ‘idiot in chief’ rambled like demented fool with every incoherent musing interrupted by an occasional frothing at the mouth. It had the hallmarks of a mad man under pressure who seems to have learned nothing from his time in the Ridings. It was the latest episode in a sequence of shambolic events that many hope will see the beginning of the end to our Italian adventure.

Season Finale: Addicks 2 Whites 1, Owls 1 Whites 2, Whites 0 Millers 0

Without doubt the most productive fortnight of Steve Morison’s chequered Elland Road stint. Two goals in as many games came as a blessed relief but it was the striker’s off field performance that provided his most telling contribution. An honest post match interview betrayed a growing schism at the heart of Don Massimo’s Leeds and told the story of a club creaking under the weight of disunity, disloyalty and Latin lunacy.

Whether the ‘Charlton Six’ were really injured was open to debate and proved ultimately immaterial. So too was the true nature of the owner’s involvement in the treachery.  Fans and commentators railed in anger at the absent half-dozen believing it to be another petulant attempt to further undermine a much valued man. Redders himself chose the diplomatic approach and was alone in doing so.

Between the toxic barbs of social media and the 3000 voices emanating from the Jimmy Seed Stand, the miscreants and their president were left in no doubt about a perceived skullduggery and Morison’s comments did little to temper this view. It felt like a watershed moment.

Cup Final Glory

In the build up to our visit to Hillsborough Owls supporters must have been licking their lips at the prospect of another commemorative cup final DVD. Our club and its continental contingent had been driven on to the back foot by the full force of public outcry, an experience they would not have endured in the sleepy back streets of Italian lower league football.

A testing derby laced with hurtful reminders of last year’s drubbing didn’t promise to offer salvation but our recent woes galvanised those that remained and the victory proved to be a beautifully timed show of support for their beleaguered leader.

Don Massimo could have come to Rotherham but didn’t, choosing instead to undertake ‘scouting duties’ at a match involving Morecambe and Southend. Don Massimo is a temperamental and irrational man but an intelligent one nonetheless. The fact is that he wasn’t really wanted and what seemed another curious decision was perhaps a wise one under such antagonistic circumstances. The appearance of purple balloons complimented with murmurs of ‘time to go’ were suggestion enough but the overwhelming support for a man so disgracefully undermined would have left him in no doubt about our loyalties. He’s Neil Redfearn and he is ‘one of our own’.

The final game was frustrating and forgettable but that wasn’t the point. It was a case of celebrating a club temporarily shorn of its destabilising Italian influence. Our Anglo Italian relations seem to be in terminal decline and while Cellino signings like Gaetano Berardi and Sol Bamba have grown in stature, Sylvestri, Bellusci, Antenucci and the President himself have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

 

Prince Johnny

I’m getting the feeling that I’ve seen it all before. The swathes of goodwill afforded Neil Redfearn deteriorates with every passing defeat as it did with Brian McDermott before him. Two decent men isolated to the point of no return, chewed up by the parasites that ruin our once great club.

This was better than Cardiff but gave you a sense that both the coach and his squad had run out of steam. Johnny Howson’s emotional return was largely uneventful until a lovely finish elicited an immediate apology from the player and a respectful reply from those that once cheered him. It is widely understood that his departure was a reluctant one made at the behest of a greedy shylock and the display of warmth between the local lad and his people suggested that despite the histrionics of our hierarchy, a certain amount of class can still be fostered at Elland Road.

 

Shut Up

Whites 0 Rovers 3, Wolves 4 Whites 3, Whites 1 Bluebirds 2

Sabotage. That’s the only word for it. A move made with the soul intention to disrupt, undermine and isolate. There was always a possibility that the cretins in charge of our club would find a way to torpedo our optimism but the nature of their latest indiscretion bordered on treachery and that wonderful evening by the banks of the Thames seems predisposed to another lifetime.

Steve Thompson was not only Coach Redfearn’s best man and best mate but exerted a steadying influence that had overseen our transformation from relegation fodder to a side more than capable of puncturing the top ten. This wasn’t a heady ambition I know and the performances were not always easy on the eye but his senseless and unexplained departure has ripped at the heart our optimism and created a chasm that is unlikely to be healed.

Despite an enforced absence and comments to the contrary the latest development has all the hallmarks of our errant and irrational owner. It is true that Sporting Director Nicola Salerno personally delivered the hammer blow and Chairman Andrew Umbers lies every time he opens his mouth but I doubt il Presidente would allow his minions to go unchecked.

Rumours abound that our narcissistic and emotionally immature leader has been stung by the burgeoning popularity of his erstwhile managerial axis and moved to clip their wings, while others believe the selection of top scorer Mirco Antenucci lays at the root of the rift. Fancy signing a striker and then insisting he doesn’t play for fear that further goals will activate a lucrative clause in his contract? It is all rather believable at Don Massimo’s Leeds.

The sickened and shell-shocked natives returned to the old house with sadness not anger in their hearts. Supporters of both persuasions offered a fitting tribute on the fifteenth anniversary of murder in Istanbul but perhaps understandably our team did not. They had been effectively beaten by their own board forty-eight hours earlier.

A second defeat in three days came at Molineux but not in the manner that many expected. It wasn’t a particularly palatable prospect a week ago but recent events left us fearing the worst. Five minutes into the second half it looked like the hiding to nothing we’d all feared until a fight back brought us within a whisker of something credible. A last-ditch concession was scant reward for the display of spirited resilience, a quality we will all need in the coming months.

Reports suggested that Don Massimo had returned to the Ridings on the eve of Cardiff City’s visit but our under fire President wisely chose to make it a low-key affair. His presence was not felt before, during or after this meaningless mid table tussle and that is probably just as well.

The malaise caused by last week’s ruinous events was epitomised by a mind numbing and clueless display that left fans dismayed and Neil Redfearn fuming. The coach’s post match comments added to prevailing sense of tension in the way they singled out players such as Bellusci and Antenucci while sparing  the youngsters from much of the blame.

 

Down By The Thames

Cottagers 0 Whites 3

They came from far and wide. Practically every corner of the kingdom was represented. A seething mass of expectant humanity. I would suggest that there were more backsides than seats upon which to house them but I don’t think that’s allowed these days. You stood where you could and woe betide anyone that complained to the contrary.

Ten minutes from kick off the place was heaving with fans sprawled dangerously over stairwells and gangways but still they kept coming. Seeping into the terrace and melting into any available space. There was only supposed to be 4,000 but both the noise and sea of faces pointed to many more than that.

The game itself fitted perfectly into the chaotic narrative. We should have been dead and buried well before Sam Byram’s opening salvo but our frustrated opponents were constantly undone by a combination of bad luck, ineptitude and the other worldly reactions of Marco Silvestri. It was as though a divine authority had decided that our rambunctious invasion had warranted the prize of conquest and our hosts bowed to the unquenchable desire of the travelling multitude.

The incessant din emanating from the Putney End continued apace throughout a second half that brought Sol Bamba’s dramatic header, a reckless sending off and the unabated heckling of our treacherous and cash hungry former captain. Steve Morison laboured unsuccessfully for the goal that would have seen the ‘horrible hordes’ spontaneously combust until Mirco Antenucci capped the show with a gloriously miscued half volley. Our night by the Thames was both wonderful and bemusing in equal measure.

Tangerines 1 Whites 1

It is quite remarkable to think that Neil Redfearn arrived on the Lancashire coast no nearer a decision on his future. The Yorkshire Evening Post used its preview of Saturday’s tussle in which to labour the point and called for the club to confirm a contract extension so thoroughly deserved. Failure to make such an undertaking would be indefensible but alas not inconceivable at Don Massimo’s Leeds United.

Our trip to the Seaside brought us back down to earth but Antenucci’s second goal in three days ensured it wasn’t a complete comedown. Blackpool’s dispirited and quarrelsome existence combined with their sand dune of a pitch to make it a rather desolate affair. We toiled ineffectively for an hour until Mirco’s sublime lob denied the Tangerines an unlikely victory they probably deserved.