This week marks 21 years since two Leeds United fans went off to a game of football and never came back. Never has the phrase “never forgive and never forget” been so apt. Although my blogs are rarely contain any serious material, it would be remiss of me not to mention it. RIP lads.
Coincidentally, this week, branch member and ex (old) Knaresborough Branch secretary, Dave Rowson, has had his book published, which vaguely chronicles, those heady European days. There are many many stories from those days, some we’d rather forget and some we will fuzzily remember fondly. All I can say is, thank The Lord there was no such thing as social media and camera phones at the time. Some memories we will treasure forever and some, simply put, we won’t.
A fair few of the branch were in Istanbul that night. Some were waiting at LBA for a flight because they could only get the day of the game off work. And, as much as I dislike our then Chairman, Peter Ridsdale, to be fair, that night he did the best any Chairman could have done. That was probably his finest hour, at a very distressing and difficult time.
There has been enough written about that terrible night and the days after, and the subsequent lack of justice since. There is nothing I can add to this sad story, but it was good to see that excellent banner and the tribute from Leeds United at T’Blades game. Well done to all those involved.
My piece today however, refers to one of the many (many) failings of our then Chairman, Peter Fibsdale ( and don’t even get me started on that terrible book he “wrote”).
Peter was ultimately one of the architects of our ruin. However, as The Secretary rightly points out, there didn’t seem to be much corporate oversight either. The rest of the blame for our initial fall and then repeated falls from grace could also be laid at the feet of our manager, a certain Mr O Leary and the air of complacency that had developed at ER, along with certain off pitch antics from a number of our squad. But for your delectation, here is the article that still vexes me from 20 years ago:
and for you none believers, it even made it to The Grauniad:
There are a few who might say that I am still quite bitter about this.
As the old saying goes, a grudge is for life, not just Christmas. I am not exaggerating, but to me it is probably THE biggest lie ever told. Yes, since then, there’s been multiple others that I can trawl up e.g “Fabian Delph is NOT for sale”. There’s the usual comical ones “Ken Bates saved Leeds United” , “It’s (CVA) the only way to save the Club”, “GFH will save Leeds United”, the Shaun “Weasel” Harvey famous ones of ” I have no idea who owns Elland Road, but it definitely isn’t Ken Bates”, “I have NEVER known who owns Elland Road”, “No-one knows who owns Elland Road” . The clear codswallop that we as Leeds fans have had to endure is endless, not forgetting the most one current one of “The design of the new crest was done with consultation of tens of thousands of Leeds fans, and fans are happy with the result”.
This lie of lies, however, that we wanted to leave ER, was full on bulls**t.
Yes, we all got a vote on whether we thought Elland Road should be moved to a “better” site …. er… Swillington. Swillington …. seriously …. near the sewage works …. anywhere but Swillington …. so they called it Skelton instead. And remember, this was in an era when many clubs were getting rid of their old grounds, and moving to wraparound newer, modern grounds, which promised better facilities and increased capacity but were all built out of town, in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest pub, all in the name of progress. Not for the benefit of normal fans though. None of this getting off the train and walking down to the ground via the pub. Nope, only for the ones who drove to the game or got a coach, where’s the fun in that? Not for the benefit of the businesses in the local community either, who used to get the football trade. Nope.
It was never anything to do with selling off the valuable land that the old ground was on and getting minted on the profits from the Barratts / Wimpey / Persimmons of this world (remember this was 2000s), though. So, this was the major discussion in the pubs and clubs around the country, and the YEP and Radio Aire had their two penn’orth as well. Fibsdale announced that there would be a consultation, and he would go with whatever the result was.
No-one and I mean, NO-ONE I knew actually voted for the move away from our home. EVERYONE I knew wanted to stay at ER. So, imagine our surprise when, in the programme notes and the YEP, Fibsdale comes out with “more than 80% of our loyal support have voted for a move to … Swillington …. er Skelton”.
That’s full on vote rigging to the scale of most third world, sub continent, despotic countries. How concerned was I? Concerned wasn’t the word. I was LIVID. I spent the whole of the time in the pub before the game, after the game, and in the Kop, during the game, going all Tommy Torquemada on everyone within 5 square foot. I stopped at burning people at the stake, but Inquisition mode was on, and no-one, not even the stewards was spared. For those of you who don’t know who Tomas Torquemada was, look him up. Whilst you can’t help but admire him for his work ethic, I fear he enjoyed his job that little bit too much. The man was the epitome of taking religion to that extra enthusiastic mile. Unfortunately.
Why am I harking back to two decades of newsworthylessness?
It stems from hearing a snippet from TalkSport or Radio 5, where the two commentators were going on about how Leeds United needed to get a more “competitive” edge by building a new stadium. As if the only way team would get better and be able to compete in this league would be if it had a new stadium.
We’re 10th in our first season back in the PL and we have had most of our defence out for most of the season. How not competitive are we? In the alleged, most competitive league in Europe, how does being 10th with a makeshift defence for 80% of the season transpire into not being competitive? Do I not sound like Graham Taylor?
What they really mean is that they don’t like being sat up on that gantry above the crumbly West Stand. And why would the metropolitan snowflakes want to sit there? You are basically swinging in the rafters up there, right above the pitch. None of this nice warm studio, shielded from the baying fans below stuff. That gantry is as unique to ER as the old Stadio Delle Alpi was to Juve. No one can compete with that.
I hope that when we do get a new stadium, things like that are remembered and retained, within the limits of Elf and Stacey of course, as much as possible.
I don’t want the new ER to welcome the away fans and the journos. I want them to dread coming to Fortress ER. I don’t want an IdentiKit ground with a running track separating us from the pitch. I want us to be there, right in their faces. I don’t want the opposition and their fans to have an enjoyable experience, I want them to dread every single second of it, and be able to watch it on a nice big screen, which doesn’t look like it’s been rescued from a skip outside the studios after they filmed The Running Man in 1987. I don’t want the new ground to be an overwhelming monstrosity, just tidy up the West Stand so it doesn’t look like Wembley in 1936. Stick a museum in it, sort out a decent scoreboard and telly, put some decent bogs in the stands, get some proper beer and more importantly proper functionning beer pumps in. It doesn’t need to look like the Starship Enterprise, all shiny and new, it just needs to have 50,000 capacity, at least 48,000 for the paying fans and then the rest for the necessary corporate animals.
Statesman like but under stated – like Bielsa.