In this modern 21st century age of pretending everyone is equal so they don’t get upset about it, even if they are not as hard working / practical / knowledgeable / intelligent as the next person, levelling the playing field is one of the key phrases being banded about. We would like to think we are right to stop promoting elitism, wouldn’t we? When you think about it though, are we? Is the 21st century progressing into the equal society that our leaders keep telling us it is? Or actually are we still in the old “do as I say, not do as I do” lip service 20th century? In truth, I don’t think there is any levelling of the playing field at all. The only levelling of the playing field that is going on, is hopefully what is currently being done at ER on our pitch.

So, what’s going wrong? Or is anything wrong at all?

Big clubs attract big money from advertising, sponsorship, rich owners, rich agents (!) etc etc etc. It’s not their fault, is it? The “big” clubs are bound to get attention from their loaded current and prospective owners who are willing to plough their hard earned dosh / ill gotten gains (delete as appropriate)  money into their “investment”. That can’t be wrong, can it? Surely, there’s nothing wrong with the bigger clubs always having the first pick at the cherry tree? But then think what happens with the smaller clubs. What slim pickings are they left with? And really this potentially means anyone outside of the “Big 6”. Look at for example, Bournemouth. They did ok for themselves on the pitch for a while, despite the lack of owners with huge pockets. But their luck ran out eventually and every season now the likes of Burnley, Fulham, Brighton etc. all fight to get out of the relegation Death Race that is the last 6 weeks of the season . That’s no fun every season is it? But is it so wrong to have something to aspire to? Everyone wants to be in the PL, right?

On the flipside, you have the never ending conversation from FIFA about the need for a new European League, with the “biggest” clubs from Europe playing. As if Klippety hasn’t got enough to moan about with Livarpool already being “forced” to play too many games with not enough substitutions. After all, there’s far too much football for these professional players to cope with, isn’t there? The League, the Chumpions League, all those international pre season and mid season friendlies, the odd trip to Dubai thrown in, and then the small matter of the League and the FA Cup (which could get you a place in Europe in case you fall out of the Top 3) and all those international games as well, including that nonsense Nations League (what’s that all about?). So does an elite “FIFA European League” actually have a place alongside the already dreadful Eur “a no hoper” League and Chumpions League that hardly anyone bothers watching now anyway? Well, that depends on how much money FIFA will make, doesn’t it? Money talks, after all. So is it really about guaranteeing these “big name” clubs consistently have a place in a “top” competition to ensure the money men get their global advertising revenue streams?

Is the reality more exasperation than aspiration or inspiration?

I’ll put some more examples to you.

This week we heard that there has been an increased stake from our American friends in California. This has been uniformly welcomed with open arms. More investment potentially means more money into the coffers, which to some fans,  means a big fat purse to splash out on new players with. To me, I hope that the investment goes into the redevelopment of our aging stadium and neighbouring facilities. Don’t get me wrong, the facilities at Thorp Arch are some of the best in the league. Thorp Arch is one of the reasons why Leeds is lauded as a Premier League Academy team. But they chose to film parts of the King’s Speech in the West Stand for a reason. They filmed the famous stuttering speech which was delivered by George VI in 1925 at the Empire Exhibition, Wembley Stadium, from the West Stand in 2011. So the West Stand’s claim to fame is that it looked like Wembley in 1925. What does that say to you about the need for investment into our beloved ER? This, when Ken “I never took a penny in wages” Bates had come up with his famous plan to build a hotel at ER and had already put a new face on the East Stand (as well as some shiny new corporate boxes where ordinary fans used to sit), even though the West Stand was desperately crying out for an update to those wooden seats. After all, football isn’t just about the 30 match days a season , is it? Thank the Lord that he never got a chance to do a Leeds version of the “Chelski Village” at ER.

There have been plans touted for Citeh style facilities at ER utilising the old Matthew Murray site and Fullerton Park to improve the area and make it easier to access on site facilities rather than making the 20 mile trip out to Wetherby. I can only hope that the funds go there and not to splashing out on “big name” players. We need to get that West Stand refurbed and the rest of the ground up to PL standards. We need to get more capacity for the people who want to sit in the stands, not just the money spinning corporate entertainment boxes which generate so much money. We need to improve the match day facilities so we’re not queueing for 20 minutes to get crap beer and a nuclear pie with a dubious indistinguishable filling (which may or may not have derived itself from animal or vegetable matter a lifetime ago – who knows ), and we well and truly need to sort the pitch out 

After all, we need more seats to get all the “new” fans in for the next couple of seasons until they get bored again when we sink back to mid table mediocrity, or heaven forbid, get relegated again. After all, nothing says part time support more than half empty stadiums on a cold Tuesday night in February, or even 20th September (8488 attendance at that Cup game against Blackburn in 2016) when the novelty factor has worn off. By then, there won’t be sight nor sound from the keyboard warriors whingeing about not getting a ticket, without donating another kidney to get enough loyalty to go to Southampton in January on a Monday night. Just like it was in 2006. That was the last time they all got bored and disappeared.

I digress, sorry.

Why not get big players, I hear you all say. If we are a “big” club, we should attract “better” players. Big name players attract greedy agents circling like vultures round a corpse in a desert. Once again, money talks but do you necessarily get what you pay for? Do we want or even need a Paul Pogba after all? Plus, what does that say to the developing Youth Teams? What is the point of having a brilliant youth team if they will never stick a chance of playing in the 1st team, because of the big money signings that SkyTVisf**kings**t wet themselves over in the January and Summer  transfer windows. Unwittingly, it is the keyboard warriors who create so much chaos and influence owners and Chairmen with big pockets to make rash signings. Some of these keyboard chumpions have never been to  and probably will never go to a live game, even if they wanted to. I wonder if anyone has ever thought that social media is being deliberately exploited by said agents to manipulate others and bump up their inflated prices? Hmmm.

Of course, FFP was meant to put a lid on things, but as demonstrated by Derby, where there is a will, there’s a lawyer. There is always a way to manipulate things, even if it means sponsoring the wages of their new player manager. The less said about Derby, the better.

It’s not even just the players though. Look at the managers, or head coaches as they are all called now. We called it, did it and broke the mould on that one. How many of the teams in the PL are managed by young home grown British talent? Not many. Probably Graham Potter and Eddie Howe are the stand out ones there, ( Howe technically not in the PL now indeed clubless at present), alongside the old warhorses like Roy Hodgson, Moyes, Brendan and Big Sam. Still not managing the “big” clubs though. Once again, there will be the ones that argue, if you want a good manager (head coach) you have to spend big to stay in the PL.

This is where Fat Frank comes in. There he was the poor lamb, he did so well with … er Derby … Nearly got them promoted. He “told” Bielsa a thing or two about how “we” play football in this country. Fat Frank took on his dream job at his dream club, where they all loved him so much, because he knew where the English game was coming from. He had so much experience playing in this league. It was the pinnacle of his career, head coach at the club he devoted so much of his life to and loved so much. Having handed over the reins at Derby to the safe hands of Rooney blah blah blah. Look where it got you, Sunshine. Out on your arse, mate. After he had that magnificent display against us as well, when he “taught Bielsa a thing or two about playing in the PL”. I think it went a bit downhill from there. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer fella after what happened to the Beradi doppelganger, Villas Boas.

Sour grapes aside, where does that leave the FA with “levelling the playing field” when it comes to getting the English grassroots coaches through the managerial ranks? If Fat Frank failed, with all his experience in the PL, who else is going to make the cut? Let alone getting more BAME managers involved. If someone of Fat Frank’s stature and footballing pedigree can’t make a difference, there’s not much hope of anyone else, is there? Fat Frank’s demise is hardly going to give any hope to any up and coming managerial hopefuls, is it? Who have we from our PL stock of yesteryears superstars, who can pick up that vaunted “Big 6” head coach gauntlet? Stevie G at er Rangers? Gary “the more eloquent half of the Neville Brothers” Neville has given the ghost up. Although he did publicly admit that he probably made the wrong decision about not playing Rodrigo as a centre half. Not many others is there? It’s about as level a playing field as our pitch against Brighton the other day.

How much levelling of the playing field is there?

Well, at least we have more women in the game… right? Linespeople, referees, that Gabby Logan, that’s ok isn’t it? I’ll only pause to mention Karen Carnage. But poor Jeff ” no mates” Stelling. In these unprecedented times, I have watched poor Jeff lose his mates one by one. He may as well go back to Countdown now. If he was an animal, you’d have took him to the vet by now to stop his suffering. Essentially Jeff Stelling took that boring afternoon spell that SkyTVisf**kings**t forced us into when they started putting games on at any other time than 3pm on a Saturday back in 1994, and made it his own. Yes, the heady days when all you did on a Saturday was go to the pub, go to the game, go back to the pub and go for a curry before the last bus home. Unless it was a Cup weekend of course.

But when the true Gods of Football took over and changed the scheduling, the ones who didn’t have the luxury of a local team to go support (or go to Scotland to watch a proper game), Saturday afternoon was left bereft. The choice was find a local team or go shopping with the missus and the kids. Not likely. So Jeff invented Soccer Saturday. And soon, that Saturday afternoon spell of emptiness was filled by the TV equivalent of those ones who had a ticket but spent the afternoon in the pub enjoying themselves talking about football, rather than wasting their time actually going to the game and putting themselves through 90 minutes of crap football and ruining their day. I can honestly say I watched some of it intermittently, and it was vaguely reminiscent of pre match pub stops with the early kick off on the telly in the background, without the alcohol but with smart suits. Even in the Kings Arms, there was always some old codger with something smart to say. Never a dull moment.

Sadly no more for SkyTVisf**ings**t.

If you know me well, you know how much I hate those long, uncomfortable silences. Tumble weed moments, where two seconds of no discussion seems like two hours and everyone shuffles awkwardly around avoiding eye contact. You know the ones I mean. Where you can be in full flow, with quips and banter a plenty, interrupting the sensible discussion but not stopping it, and then someone says something and it all goes quiet. A ball of rolling grass tumbles past you, an owl hoots in the distance and the lonely wolf cries. Switch camera to Jeff Stelling tugging onto his Mum’s coat, going “please Mummy let me come home, I don’t like it here”. 

It takes time to build up knowledge about football. It takes skill and experience and hours put in watching some of the best football ever, as well as the utmost dross you’ll force yourself through to be able to do what the likes of Merson, Nichols, Le Tissier, Thompson and even old Hairy Arms Keys and Andy Gray did and do. As old and mysoginist and “white” as they were, they knew a thing about football. They had seen it all, laughed and cried about it and with their wealth of knowledge could write a hundred books about it if they were allowed to.

This lot, not a chance. It’s almost as painful as the cricket now. I’d rather watch it in silence (without the added crowd noise) than watch it with them. You’d be better off getting some from the pub doing it, when we eventually are allowed back to the pub, of course.

Levelling the playing field? Not as good as it’s cracked up to be, eh?

To finish with; a bit of pitch porn that’s in all our dreams

If Nigella Lawson did pitches

Picture courtesy of barenburg