Friday, April 29, 2011

Dirty Leeds

Seeing as we’re going to new territory this weekend (Elland Road) I felt it was important that I do some reconnaissance.

Another ground will be ticked off on the list of “been there, done that” and more importantly we’ll be trying to unravel the mysteries surrounding the “Dirty Leeds” subculture or species which continues to survive in the environs and history at Elland Road.

The Leeds fans are undoubtedly fanatical, with the club boasting attendances which would put many Premiership clubs to shame and which have barely faltered as the club began its’ downward slide eight or nine years ago. This enduring fanaticism is driven partly by past glories and partly by the feeling which has developed around Leeds that “nobody loves us but we don’t care”, akin their cousins in the south, Millwall and Wimbledon.

And let’s face it – traditionally nobody loved Leeds and they didn’t care.

In fact they loved it –so much so that they are slightly perturbed with the current populist sympathy vote which Leeds evoke - how many times do we now hear statements like “the Premiership needs Leeds”, or “poor old Leeds, play offs again”. It’s as though their pattern of failure has evoked sympathy and they’ve effectively donned the mantle of the poor guy in the corner in the wheelchair. Used to be a fine winger once, you know, so sad to see him like that now.

While public opinion may have removed them from the top of the most hated list and replaced with, quite rightly, the money boys at Manchester City and Chelsea and the perennial winners of everything, Manchester United, to Leeds fans their mantle is sacrosanct – a symbol of Northern defiance and of working class aggression.

So why were Leeds hated?

We need to go back exactly fifty years to identify the fulcrum, if nothing else. March 16th 1961 and Don Revie takes over as manager of Leeds United. During his tenure which ended in 1974, the club became one of the dominant forces in English football, winning a succession of trophies at the end of the sixties and in the early seventies, but also became reviled.

Like so many of his peer Northern managers, Revie grew up in abject poverty in Middlesborough and obtained an outlet from his grimy surroundings through the medium of football. His early upbringing nurtured both a ruthlessness and a desire for financial security (which was later to influence him in decisions surrounding the England job). The ruthless streak shaped his first actions on being appointed manager of Leeds – that of purging what he later called 'a dead club' of its rotten core – getting rid of 27 players in his first two years.

To those that he brought in, he adopted a different approach - Revie created brotherly spirit among the squad. 'Our whole ethos was built on loyalty,' says Peter Lorimer - 'We all fight for each other, we all work for each other. If someone kicks me, he kicks all eleven of us.' Revie involved the players' families, to heighten the sense of togetherness. He organised social nights for the players, including rounds of carpet bowls, dominos and bingo. 'We had 15 years of what no man gets,' Lorimer says. 'Every day you'd go to work and it was an absolute pleasure. You couldn't wait to get in your car and go down to the ground and be amongst the lads.'

But Revie's loyalty could reach a more sinister level. In 1971 Gary Sprake was involved in a drink-driving accident, seriously injuring a female passenger before fleeing the scene. When police turned up to arrest Sprake shortly after the crash, Revie intervened and the incident was covered up: the goalkeeper's car was reported stolen and he received a mere police censure instead of more serious charges.

Perhaps this ruthless and sinister approach was ultimately what gained Leeds their reputation on the pitch. They espoused a high-tempo pressing game suffocated opponents and overwhelmed those that tried to outpass them – was Ireland under Charlton modeled on this, without the skill? If your side tried to kick them, Leeds would kick back twice as hard. They feigned injuries, harassed officials and pinched, kicked and hit opponents. The player on the goal line at corners, taking the ball to the corner flag to waste time – all tactics reputedly brought into the English game by Leeds.

Revie created an attitude within the club not seen before in English football. At the time it was called 'professionalism', but this was no complimentary term; instead it encapsulated the cynicism, physicality and relentlessness of Leeds. To many, Revie is the man who ended English football's age of innocence.

The image of 'Dirty Leeds' was reinforced on the terraces, where their supporters earned a reputation for viciousness. The reputation endures - Elland Road has the highest number of Football Banning Orders compared with other grounds in England. Their supporters even now appear to revel in the criticism and condemnation heaped towards them. It will certainly be very interesting to see some of them at first hand, albeit those in the Billy Bremner suite may not be representative of the hardcore.

As we observe human nature and try to understand the psyche behind Leeds, let us remember that we have had one in our midst for the last thirty years. One who has been capable of inflicting horrific injuries to those around him with his renditions of the old Stylistics classics; or of insulting people in a heinous manner by falling asleep in mid-sentence in a London sports bar. So as you observe the local wildlife with removed indifference, stop and occasionally cast a brief glance closer to home.

Bring on the weekend.


The sad part is that behind the Dirty Leeds image was a team of exceptionally talented players. Norman Bites your Legs Hunter is often tagged as the face of “Dirty Leeds” but this overlooks the fact that he was inaugural PFA Players Of The Year in 1974 (voted by his fellow professionals – a question of honour among thieves maybe); Bobby Collins, Jackie Charlton and Billy Bremner all won Footballer of the Year; Leeds contributed seven players to the 1970 England World Cup squad; their 1969 title-winning team comprised a starting eleven of internationals; and of course Johnny Giles was the shining light in our own national team for several years. Add to this the fact that Revie was twice named Manager of the Year and you can get a very different impression of a complete footballing unit.

It’s probably best to conclude by remembering one of Revie’e first acts as new Leeds manager – that of changing the colour of the kit from royal blue to all white to emulate Real Madrid, the all-conquering European champions.

In the immortal words spoken to George Best by the hotel waiter – where did it all go wrong?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Referee's Alphabet

From our favourites, the fun-loving "Half Man Half Biscuit"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I want you to go back, back in time ....

Gleesons pub, Booterstown. Early eighties.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Settling in at Flancare park

Keith Gillespie brought all the skills he learnt at Old Trafford and St James Park to the Airtricity League on Saturday night at the Flansiro, Co Longford against Waterford.

This late and over the ball tackle on Michael Coady may give a little insight into the psyche of Mr Ladbrokes 2002 and go a way towards explaining why Alan Shearer, no shrinking violet himself, dropped him on the floor in Cafe en Seine on the Newcastle trip to Dublin a few years back. Nasty piece of work Mr Gillespie.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Justice for the 96

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster and the official Liverpool website is awash with memories, tributes and support for the 96 who died that day.

The Sheffield Wednesday website also remembers the victims and refers to a service at 3pm to be conducted by the club's chaplain at the entrance to the ground. Sadly the Nottingham Forest website is devoid of any reference to the event and not surprisingly The Sun focuses on trivialities such as former Eastenders star Michelle Collins' impending debut in Coronation Street.

Driving deeper into the Liverpool site, you come across the following "What does Hillsborough mean to you?" response from a supporter on the day, Chris Owen.

My name is Chris and I'm fast approaching 40 and now living in Perth Western Australia and this is what Hillsborough means to me. I was 17-years-old and my brother Richard was 14, and we'd both been lifelong reds. This was our first season as ticket holders and our first away game without Dad.

We arrived at the Leppings Lane end and it was packed. The Reds came onto the pitch and there was an almighty surge. I was lifted clean off my feet and pushed further through the crowd until we where 6ft from the fence and my brother started to scream he was getting crushed. A couple of men asked if he wanted pushing up above the crowd. I can still picture his face being so frightened. The man asked if I wanted to go, so I squeezed my arms free and pushed on their shoulders until I was on top of the crowd. We scrambled over the fence, but I slipped and caught a few peoples fingers that where poking through the mesh.

I looked in horror to see faces of unconscious people, gasping and pleading to be let out. We landed on the pitch with people in the stands booing us; I remember screaming at the police that people where dying in there, but no one listened. The events unfolded and we were sitting in the penalty area with people staggering around in a daze or injured. One of my worst memories was walking back through the twisted metal that was left of the Leppings Lane end knowing people had died just watching a game.

The trip home was awful with two empty seats on the bus. We arrived in Birkenhead and I phoned home. Our parents thought the worst as my dad had seen events unfold on a TV as he walked past the shops, it was a picture of a policeman giving a young boy CPR. The whole street had descended on our house for support; it was a very emotional return.

The days following were a blur of uncontrollable grief. We went to Anfield a few times and placed some flowers and a shirt with a message. I went to the Cup Final but didn't renew my season ticket; it would have killed my mum.

I went to some counselling but spent 10 years trying to come to terms with it all and struggling to process what had happened. I still don't know if the men who helped us got themselves out. They saved our lives and I have never been able to thank them. It also haunts me that I hurt people's fingers when I slipped over the fence, people who where grasping for their last breath.

I still cry when I really think about it and struggle to watch the memorial service on TV or the internet every year. I'm still bitter about it today and feel unjust in how we've all been let down. It will be with me forever.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Time marches on

Watching the Spurs Real Madrid match last night and specifically the after match analysis which had Giles, Dunphy and Brady giving it the usual guff.

Eoin, listening to Gilesy spouting on infallibly about some key feature of the game turns to me and says - That's shite, who is that guy anyway? A question I had never anticipated and it brought it home so succinctly - like all football fans we are locked in a bottleneck, a short time period when all our real idols flourished, where all the great matches occurred, great goals were scored and life-long loyalties were developed. For us the late sixties and early seventies define that period - before that long shorts and boots above the ankle; after that overpaid uneducated louts. Sad, and time moves on so swiftly.

Never one to miss an opportunity I advised Eoin that he played for Leeds in the sixties, was one of the filthiest players in the English League and played a few times for Ireland. Some day he might learn the truth but that's another day.

Friday, April 8, 2011

McDaid's Football Special

It is with a degree of nostalgia and fondness that I replicate the article from the Irish Indo of last month featuring the great sports drink of our time - not Powerade, Red Bull or even Lucozade but wait for it ...... the McDaid's Football Special.

Jill and Marie were two of it's staunchest supporters, waiting eagerly over a long journey from Dublin and not permitting any wee breaks, until we had arrived at our Donegal destination and tasted the golden drink.

Let the Indo take over:

A SOFT drink made from a secret recipe that has been enjoyed for over 50 years by a select few is about to be launched nationwide.

Outside of north Donegal, few people have even heard of McDaid's Football Special, a cola-style frothy drink which is synonymous with Ramelton, the small heritage town where it is made. But owner Edward McDaid plans to take Football Special into the soft drinks premiership. "It is a strange product in many senses. Whatever it is about it, it seems to hit a memory button and conjure up pleasant memories of childhood, even with people who haven't tasted it before," he explained.

His father Jim and his uncles chanced on the unique combination of ingredients over 50 years ago and luckily his uncle Eamon -- who had trained in a soft drinks company in Belfast -- recorded the quantities so it could be recreated. "My father was a founder member of the Swilly Rovers Football Club in Ramelton and they were trying to come up with a soft drink that could be put into the cup after a win, instead of whiskey. "The fruit syrup flavours that are used are all fairly common and shouldn't belong together but they do," he said.

The base ingredient for the drink is indeed unique to Ramelton in the form of spring water from McDaid's very own underground spring well, less than 100 metres away from the production plant. Production Sugar, seven different syrups and a heading liquid are added to the water, which is then carbonated and bottled.

Edward is about to add a marketing and sales person to his six-strong staff and aims to rebrand and triple production at his plant as the product goes nationwide in June. Although business has been hit by the recession, he believes Football Special, and its sister flavours, banana, pineapple and cream soda, will go down well with fizzy drinks fans. "If Donegal people for all these years have been having this experience and enjoying it, could we be so different from everywhere else in the country?" Edward asked.

As for the secret recipe, as with Coca-Cola, its maker's lips are sealed. "Only myself and one other person know and we never travel on the same plane. I fly Ryanair and he takes the Swilly Bus," he laughed.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Champions League we're havin a laff

The moment the arse fell out of my world......

One fat bastard, click, click, click

Bringing a smile into his life

One of these guys is a Spurs legend who sadly got a bit fond of the juice and had to give it up on doctors orders in order to prolong his playing career and to stay sane. The guy sitting down is is Paul Gascoigne.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bandit country

Not sure if this is an April Fools trick (don' think it can be) but I was browsing the Leeds United official website today and I came across a page where they were asking for supporters views on Leeds cult heros. Vinny Jones was mentioned and the above picture was shown - Vinny tackling a kid it would appear. Something very wrong here - if the picture is real, it's hardly the stuff of cultheros and if it's a photoshop job, it's equally dubious behaviour "creating" a picture in which a little kid gets a dose of adult hardman tactics.

Looks like we're heading into bandit country indeed.

While on the subject of photoshop, the correct use is shown below where the Man City squad picture was embellished to include Wayne Rooney, Diego Forlan and Zlatan Ibrahamovich (wishful thing from a City fan) and also Where's Wally who appears in his traditinal red and white in the fourth row (in case you were haveing trouble finding him yourself).

The picture appeared in the Aris Thessaloniki programme for their home game with City earlier this season. Classic stuff!