Daniel Chapman | Writing etc

Leeds United 0-0 Reading

Ah, Easter. A time of rebirth, of new flowers coming into bud, of little chicks cracking out from eggshells, of uncertain lambs unsteady on their legs; all around us are the blossoming fruits of a cold, harsh winter spent indoors, shagging. It’s an inspiring time to be alive. Oh, but wait, Resurrection is Easter Sunday, isn’t it? And this is Good Friday. A time of sorrow and sin, of pain and suffering; of finding the best, nicest most stand-up chap you can find, and nailing the fucker to a cross. At Elland Road, Simon Grayson gathers his squad together. “Alright, Richard,” he says. “Your time has come. You’re starting tonight. Just make sure you keep Long, McAnuff, Kebe and Hunt quiet, and we’ll get our reward in the Kingdom of Heaven. Or at least the play-offs. No pressure though, eh lad? – oh, and here’s the captain’s armband back.”

Derby County 2-1 Leeds United

My mum always used to tell me, “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.” And sometimes she would say, “If the wind changes, your face will stay like that.” I wonder if Robbie Savage’s mum ever said that to him. I suppose if she did, he didn’t listen. But anyway.

Noel Whelan: The Square Ball Interview Preview

As the response to Tom Lees successful loan spell at Bury has shown, Leeds fans are desperate for youth team players like Lees and Aidy White to make it into the first team. It’s been the Leeds way: Don Revie built our greatest side out of players like Bremner, Gray and Lorimer that he nurtured as teenagers; Eddie Gray then went on to manage a popular team in the early eighties that had Sheridan, Sellars, Wright, Linighan, Irwin and Phelan all from the youth ranks. More recently David O’Leary flirted with success by bringing Smith, Woodgate, Harte, McPhail, Robinson and Jones through from Thorp Arch; and as that era fell apart, the darker days of Kevin Blackwell’s attempts to rebuild were brightened by the fleeting glimpses of Richardson, Kilgallon, Walton and Lennon.

Isn’t it Ironic

So all Billy Paynter needed, in the end, was a bit of encouragement. All the talk about working hard in training and waiting for the bus to come and hoping for lady luck to ride in on a unicorn of good fortune (or whatever stock footie analogies it was he used) turned out to be irrelevant: what Paynter needed, to get him scoring for Leeds, was the help of the Leeds support. “Come on Billy!” rang out from the Kop as Paynter made his appearance against Doncaster, although if truth be told, there was a smidgen of irony in the tone.

About Howard Wilkinson, Part 2

In the second part of our preview of The Square Ball magazine’s exclusive interview with Howard Wilkinson, Moscowhite writes about stammering and yammering at his hero over the phone; about Sergeant Wilko’s willingness to take the brickbats, as well as the bouquets; and about how what someone doesn’t say can often tell us much more than what they do. The full interview is published this weekend in issue seven of The Square Ball magazine, along with this fantastic centre spread by The Beaten Generation.

I haven’t been on many conference calls, but thanks to The Square Ball contributor The Flying Pig I can from now on regale people in pubs endlessly about the time I was on a conference call with Howard Wilkinson. It was, predictably, an odd and educational experience; and that was just operating the phone. To start with, you have to enter a pincode, and then say your name into the phone, and then your arrival is announced to the ‘conference’, and then you can talk. I’d done all this, and was chatting away with TFP, when through our small talk cut a familiar voice that said:

I admit: my heart skipped a beat. Sitting in a quietish corner of a pub in central Leeds, on the phone to a Leeds fan in London, and to Howard Wilkinson, who announced himself as “Howard Wilkinson,” in Howard Wilkinson’s voice, and then spoke to us: it was a big moment for me. I don’t remember what I said at first, and TFP didn’t record this bit; I think my first words were something like, “Er, honour, um, Mr Wilkinson, privilege, um, Mr Wilkinson, er.” For a brief moment, I wondered if the whole thing wasn’t some elaborate wind up. Later in the recording you can hear me mumbling at Howard about having his photo on my first ever scrapbook, and wishing him a Happy Christmas; the sound of my forelock being tugged and the gravel being scraped doesn’t come across, fortunately.

The Flying Pig was a bit more composed, and I calmed down eventually. What followed was a surprisingly in-depth and revealing conversation with the best Leeds manager of my lifetime. It had taken a lot of donkey-work to set up, for which The Flying Pig must take all the credit; while Wilko was in lengthy negotiations to keep Sheffield Wednesday afloat, TFP was in lengthy negotiations with Howard’s PA to get an interview for the magazine that Wilko described in the nineties as having, “a lack of originality … reads like back issues of Private Eye, i.e. pre-war.” With Wednesday safely uprighted, Howard gave us about twelve hours notice for a Saturday lunchtime phone conversation; and when, with the call begun, TFP asked Howard how long we had with him my heart sank because I’m sure he said, “About ten minutes.” Maybe I misheard and he said twenty; either way, he kept talking to us quite willingly for over three-quarters of an hour.

In approaching Howard, TFP and I hadn’t wanted to walk the well-worn line of the promotion and title-winning era. We quickly discounted the obvious questions: what was Vinnie like, why did we sell Cantona, what happened in 92/93, why did we sell Cantona, tell us some Mel Sterland stories, why did we sell Cantona. It seemed to us that most of those questions have been answered, as far as Howard was willing, elsewhere; and we wanted to take a different tack. We were interested in the Leeds job as a ten year project, in the elements he’d brought to it from Sheffield Wednesday, in what he had intended to achieve and how things like Thorp Arch had been so successful, in what he’d planned for project year eleven, had he still been there. We were also interested in the effect that the long-term planning had on the on-field performances, and explanations for some of the stranger events (Batty out and Pemberton in, for example).

Howard answered everything in the thoughtful and careful style you would expect. It was actually a pleasure – for example when he was talking about setting up the Thorp Arch academy – to lean back, sip my nerve-settling pint, and listen to those familiar soft South Yorkshire tones calmly explain the theory behind youth football development. Wilkinson has spent a lifetime in the game, as player, coach, manager, administrator, chairman; at all levels from non-league right to the top of the Football Association. The man knows what he’s talking about, and it’s a treat to listen to him.

Wilko also surprised us. We asked the question about his plans for that eleventh year, pointing out that it was almost ten years to the week since Wilkinson’s appointment in 1988 that David O’Leary took over the Leeds job and inherited the ‘babies’ from Thorp Arch. Had Howard wished he’d still been there, to manage Kewell, Woodgate, Smith and co? ”It was my dream,” was Howard’s startling response. I’d never heard him speak like that about the Leeds job; Wilkinson always seemed to talk about projects and pragmatism and work and jobs. I’d expected a similarly pragmatic response to such a conjectural question. But here he was telling us: it had been his dream. It immediately sets you wondering about what ifs – what if his dream had come true, what if Wilko had managed that brilliant side, instead of O’Leary…

Sergeant Wilko doesn’t play the ‘what if’ game very much, though. We found that out after sending him the transcript of our conversation prior to printing it in the magazine. He soon contacted The Flying Pig to discuss some amendments. I wasn’t party to this conversation, but I do know that it took over half an hour as Howard read his reconsidered answers to TFP over the phone; and I was fearful of what I would find had been changed or cut when I saw the new transcript. In fact, Howard mostly just tidied up our straight transcription of his speech, and clarified parts where he hadn’t made his point properly or had repeated himself.

The only significant changes that Wilko made were revealing in their own way, however. Throughout our conversation, it was remarkable how willing Howard was to take responsibility, even blame, for everything. For example, about Tomas Brolin Wilkinson said, “What happened with Tomas wasn’t his fault, it was my fault, a mistake.” To say that none of what happened was Brolin’s fault is, to my mind, a stretch – nobody had forced him to eat all those meatballs, after all – but Howard is willing to take full responsibility for the transfer, and to be quoted as such. It was the nature of our talk, though, as we looked back, that other people should be implicated and mentioned in the story. Nothing Howard said – about boardroom changes, about players, about situations at the club – was particularly earth-shattering or controversial, and most of it could probably be found in the public domain in other forms – but in the second transcript, it was all removed. Any comment that could have been perceived as critical of another person had either been rephrased or removed. Personally, I would have run with it, and not expected to cause anybody any harm; but that’s why I’m a hack writer for a football fanzine, while Howard Wilkinson is Howard Wilkinson. His alterations are an object lesson in humility, responsibility, and sensitivity. I hope I will be forgiven for including here, in true hack style, a comment that Wilkinson removed which I think says a lot about this aspect of his character. We asked at one point if he ever felt like writing another book, to set the record straight on the last few years at Leeds, to restore his reputation with those who said he’d ‘lost it.’ Howard said: ”You can spend your life trying to self justify. But the question you always ask yourself is: ‘If I do this, if I say this, will it be in the best interests of the club going forward?’ If the answer to that is ‘no,’ then you don’t say it, and you don’t do it.”

We’re left, then, trying to find in past events some way of securing the reputation of a man who doesn’t care for living in the past. I’m reminded of the fact that Howard Wilkinson willingly attended the press conference at Leeds that announced his own sacking; you can see him there on the end of season video, sipping champagne and wishing then-Radio Leeds reporter Bryn Law all the best. He tells Richard Whiteley about it in this television interview: ”I turned up and said, look, ask me all the questions you want to ask me, and then I can get on with the rest of my life; we can close this book, and start the next book.” Howard can – and will – reel off the list of his accomplishments at Leeds: Second Division champions, then First Division champions, in just three exhilarating seasons; Charity Shield winners; League Cup finalists; 4th, 5th and 5th place finishes in the top flight; built the East Stand and bought the stadium back from the council; built Thorp Arch and the academy; oversaw, with Paul Hart, winning the FA Youth cup twice; he took an ailing, old-fashioned relic and turned it into a profitable, modern football club; if it hadn’t been for Wilkinson’s vision, and his capability, that eight year exile in Division Two might have become permanent. But what Howard won’t do is try to rewrite or justify the past, or talk about things he could have done but didn’t, or about what other people did or didn’t do. In this age of tell-all stories, sold for megabucks to the Sunday tabloids, we should value that kind of integrity. The past is gone, and no amount of talk can change it now; and the only way Howard Wilkinson would wish to be judged is on the factual record, the record of what he did and what he achieved at Leeds United; and on his character, his demeanour and his way of conducting himself with respect to the club. On both counts, the evidence can only point one way: to the fact that Howard Wilkinson stands second only to Don Revie as the most significant and brilliant manager our football club has ever had.


Originally on The Square Ball blog

About Howard Wilkinson, Part 1

The Square Ball issue seven includes a fantastic interview with our legendary former manager Howard Wilkinson, by TSB forumite The Flying Pig. To whet your appetites, Moscowhite takes a look back at the Wilkinson era, and remembers how Sergeant Wilko took a broken down football club that was firmly in the doldrums and, with a ten year vision and the backing of an ambitious board, built a modern football club that we could be proud of.

The Diary of Gary McSheffrey Pt.2

Back in November, Gary McSheffrey warmed up for Leeds United’s visit to the Ricoh Arena by moaning to the Coventry Telegraph about his continued maltreatment at the cruel hands of the dastardly Simon Grayson.

McSheffrey admits that he expected an offer from Leeds after seeing out the last five months of his Birmingham City contract on loan at Elland Road.

We at The Square Ball were intrigued by the mindset of the kind of man who thinks that one fluked goal is enough to earn a contract at Leeds, and who complains about the man-management of a man who isn’t his manager. We were also, frankly, a bit worried about “Doyler,” who we sort of liked while he was here. Through a protracted process of negotiation (which may or may not have involved Noel Whelan, McSheffrey’s bins, and a crate of WKD), we laid our hands on some explosive extracts from McSheffrey’s diary, which shocked the world of football when we published them in The Square Ball magazine issue four.

With Gary due in Leeds this weekend, for his first visit to Elland Road since he stank the place out like a backed-up bog while on loan, we got back in touch with our Coventry insider who supplied The Square Ball with more fragments from Sky Blue Thinking: The Secret Diary of Gary McSheffrey.

18th November

I’ve been showing some great form in training lately – the lads have got a new nickname for me: ‘GOAL MACHINE.’ They took to it really well after I sent Doyler to have ‘GOAL MACHINE’ printed on my training top and I made the club secretary send a memo to all players and staff. We had a penalty competition this morning and out of ten penalties, I would have scored all ten if Mr Boothroyd had gone along with my suggestion to try it without a keeper. What’s the point of goalies anyway? How many goals do keepers score? But never mind, Keiren Westwood knows how to treat people. There was already a card of apology and a bunch of flowers waiting when I got home. I sent the flowers on to Doyler’s mum. I’m already looking forward to her thankyou note.

20th November

We played Burnley yesterday at the Ricoh. We won one-nil and I scored the winner! Actually, it was Doyler who put the ball in the net. I was over on the wing at the time, practising some air-shots – the boss is really impressed by the effort I’m putting in to improving my game. Anyway so Doyler scored, and we won the game, but afterwards I made him see sense. He’s going to contact the Football League today to see about having the goal transferred into my name, but in the meantime to make up for it he took me out to Ritzy’s. Drinks were on Doyler, to celebrate another great performance by GOAL MACHINE! Didn’t pull this time, but Doyler disappeared about half-two with some tasty-looking piece. I didn’t care: GOAL MACHINE GARY MCSHEFFREY had scored enough for one weekend!

21st November

Got a thick head after last night – woken up by the phone. It was Doyler’s mum, returning my call from 3am last night. I don’t remember calling her, but in a way that’s the best kind of follow-up call; the one for the call you don’t remember making. Simon Grayson could learn a thing or two about man-management from Doyler’s mum. She’s a fine woman.

27th November

GOAL MACHINE MCSHEFFREY STRIKES AGAIN! I scored the winner at Scunthorpe in another 1-0 win. Well, their keeper scored an own goal as well but everyone knows it doesn’t count if the keeper scores. The coach was rocking on the way back, as the lads all did the new ‘GOAL MACHINE’ dance. You have to stand in the aisle and you jump up and down like a cheerleader, while spelling out ‘G-O-A-L M-A-C-H-I-N-E G-A-R-Y M-C-S-H-E-F-F-R-E-Y.’ We’re hoping to get it on Soccer AM. There’s actually only Doyler does it so far, but I kept him at it all the way from Scunthorpe to Coventry.

12th December

Another great performance by me yesterday in a goalless draw with Reading. Me and Doyler did our usual ‘mental playback’ of the game afterwards, and the hat-trick GOAL MACHINE scored then was phenomenal. Then we hit Ritzy’s, and while I didn’t score a hat-trick there – I’m not a perve – I did score with this one right sort. I was woken up by her screaming this morning: she hadn’t noticed Doyler followed us in a taxi and didn’t expect to find him asleep at the end of the bed. Women just don’t understand, do they? I had a proper headache and took some aspirin, although she said they weren’t aspirin, they were pills for something else. She wouldn’t say what, and turns out Doyler’s no chemist. Never mind! I’m not frightened of a few pills. If I’m going to play like George Best on the pitch, I should play like him off the pitch too.

31st December

New Year’s Eve is always a time for reflection. I’ve had a great year, really: played brilliantly for Leeds United, and been in superb goal-scoring form for Coventry, what with the goal against Burnley and the goal against Scunthorpe. This is not a time to think about GOAL MACHINE, though; the festive period is a time to remember the less fortunate members of our society. So I went down to the Coventry ‘In The Community’ office and got a big signed photograph of me done real fancy-like, in a proper frame. Doyler was made up when I gave it to him on Christmas morning, it brought a bloody tear to my eye. And believe me, GOAL MACHINE doesn’t cry for much.

5th January

Seen that Chicharito scored for Man Utd again today. How come, if his name is Javier Hernandez, does he have Chicharito on his shirt? It doesn’t seem fair, somehow. The way I see it, I’ve got two options. Sign for Man Utd, or get ‘GOAL MACHINE 69′ done on the back of my Coventry shirts. The transfer window is open now, but Doyler’s gone to see the Coventry kit man just in case Alex Ferguson doesn’t return my call.

25th January

Dear diary, GOAL MACHINE doesn’t cry easily, but I can hardly write for sobbing. Doyler’s gone. Signed for Sheffield United. It isn’t even a loan, it’s a proper transfer and everything. Apparently they were impressed with his goal-scoring this season. I was straight on the phone to Mickey Adams at Sheffield to tell him that goal was only marked down to Doyler due to a clerical error but he doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘misunderstanding.’ I feel bereft. Doyler was supposed to go in my place to the clap clinic today – I found out what that bird’s pills were for – and I’m not bloody going on my own.

3rd February

It’s late but I just can’t sleep. Played two games since Doyler left, but we lost them both. Doyler says I played brilliantly, and of course I did, but it’s not the same hearing it from him on the phone instead of in person. What’s worse is, we’re playing at Elland Road on Saturday, so I’ll have to see that swine Simon Grayson. No doubt he’ll snub me again – such a rude man. At least the Leeds fans will give me a big welcome, that should cheer me up; Leeds fans always recognise when they’ve been honoured by watching a true great. GOAL MACHINE will admit to being a bit nervous, though that might be due to the stress of moving house. I think it’s the right move in the long run, though, this is much more comfortable than my last place. On the downside, the bed seems to have been made for a smaller man, but at least I only have to shout out in the night and Doyler’s mum will come to tuck me in.


Originally on The Square Ball blog

About Selling Thorp Arch

For a football club with its own radio station, internet-tv channel, and media-happy chairman, Leeds United sometimes uses the oddest outlets to tell fans about the most important things. The Leeds United On The Road event in Hampshire was a meet-and-greet for the local fans, a welcome chance for supporters to chat with Peter Lorimer, Gwyn Williams, Davide Somma and Ben Parker, and hopefully a good time was had by all.

According to this brief report, posted on Waccoe by an attendee, Technical Director Gwyn Williams used the occasion to share some important news with the fans present, news that could materially affect the future of our football club; news that is worthy of communication to fans beyond Fareham Working Mens Club.

To quote from the thread:

The first point, about abolishing the reserves, seems at first to be counter to good sense given the size of our squad these days. But the point about the standard of opposition in the East League Division – Gateshead, Grimsby, Middlesbrough, Scunthorpe, Hull, Lincoln and Hartlepool – has merit, and Thorp Arch has lately become a regular venue for games against sides from Sheffield United and Newcastle to give the old lags like Crowe and the young hopefuls like Hatfield a sterner test. Making such matches a regular habit in place of trips to Gateshead could be a sensible policy.

Williams’ remarks about the future of Thorp Arch itself, however, are more concerning.

Buying back Thorp Arch and Elland Road from Jacob Adler was one of the stated aims of Ken Bates when he assumed control of Leeds United after administration; since then, Elland Road has been sold on to Teak Trading in the British Virgin Islands while Thorp Arch has remained the property of Barnaway Ltd of Manchester (of which Adler is a director); six years later, Ken Bates is still no nearer to acquiring either one. Attempts to buy Thorp Arch reached a peak of activity fifteen months ago, as the club tried unsuccessfully to convince Leeds City Council to finance the repurchase on their behalf. Soon after this eleventh-hour bid failed, the period of exclusivity that would have allowed Leeds United to buy Thorp Arch at favourable terms ended, and we have since been reduced to the status of tenants at the facility we built, with no exclusive right-to-buy and an ever-increasing rent; something Ken Bates never fails to mention whenever there are complaints about the high price of tickets to see Leeds.

To find, fifteen months later, that Gwyn Williams considers Thorp Arch to be ‘outdated’ is surprising, then, given howpublic the club’s disappointment was when the council funding fell through. It is difficult to imagine that Thorp Arch’s condition has deteriorated so much in such a short space of time that it is no longer cost-effective to buy. The club loves to quote a new signing on the official site as ‘impressed by our Premier League facilities’ – surely they didn’t all mean Billy’s Bar?

Leeds City Council’s August 2009 report (pdf) on the merits of helping Leeds to buy Thorp Arch includes some detailed information about the facilities:

As well as describing the present “high quality facilities,” the report also analyses the cost of replicating those facilities elsewhere:

In August 2009, then, £15m was “nearly three times the cost of acquisition” of Thorp Arch, putting the buyback price at that time at £5m-£6m for a ‘truly exceptional’ facility, suitable for use as an international ‘team base camp’; the market value was believed to be £11m. In January 2011, though, we are supposed to believe that buying Thorp Arch and‘bringing it up to Prem standards’ would cost so much more than £15m that it would be cheaper and easier to start again elsewhere.

What has happened to Thorp Arch in the space of just fifteen months? How could it be of World Cup standard fifteen months ago, but not even Premier League standard now? How can we account for the difference between £6m to buy it fifteen months ago, the market value of £11m, and in excess of £15m to buy and use it now? Were the repercussions of not buying it during the period of exclusivity really so severe? If so, why did the club not make sure of buying it then? If we can afford, or can secure the finance to develop a new training ground, why couldn’t we afford or secure the finance to buy Thorp Arch?

Questions are always more common than answers at Leeds United these days. For my part, I cannot believe that Thorp Arch is no longer fit for purpose, or that £15m would be required to buy and reinvigorate it when the keys were ours for £6m fifteen months ago. If the real reason for the dramatic cost increase is an extortionate purchase price now demanded by Barnaway, or that the present owners of the club do not want to do business with Jacob Adler, then we should be told the truth about that deal, and not expected to believe that an international class training facility has fallen into disrepair in a matter of months. Should Leeds leave Thorp Arch, then Barnaway and Adler, who have benefited from rents from the club (financed by Leeds fans’ ticket purchases) since 2005, would be free to profit by either selling the facility, finding new tenants, or as has often been rumoured, selling the site for housing; a successful planning application for houses on the site would be worth a fortune. Even as a sports facility, it has value. In assessing the back-up options, the Council report in August 2009 saw few problems in finding new occupiers should Leeds default on repayments:

It is impossible to feel comfortable about Thorp Arch being left in the hands of Barnaway. Thorp Arch was the project of Howard Wilkinson, and perhaps more so even than the League Title, it is his legacy at Leeds United. It is there so that Leeds United Football Club can profit: profit by attracting top players to its “truly exceptional” facilities, where they can train and improve; and profit by producing players of the calibre of Woodgate, Smith, Robinson, Lennon, Milner, Delph, et al. But Wilko’s vision for the academy has already been allowed to run down. In his forthcoming interview with The Square Ball Howard speaks at length about the importance of the residential aspect of youth development, describing how at Thorp Arch he created The Grange, a live-in “greenhouse” for young footballers, where players like Woodgate and Smith were nurtured twenty-fours a day. When the newer buildings, known as The Barn, and the playing pitches were sold to Barnaway (do note the name) in 2004, The Grange was sold to Stirling Investments, who have since demolished the residential academy and are currently seeking permission, in partnership with Barratt Homes, to build twelve houses in its place. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the supply of talented players from Thorp Arch has slowed to a trickle since Wilkinson’s residential ethic lost out to property developers and the young players were sent to live with landladies. Thorp Arch was not built so that property speculators could profit from its rent, sale, or demolition; but that seems, these days, to be its primary use.

I worry too that any potential replacement, at a ‘disused school or uni’ site would not be a) of the standard of Thorp Arch or b) as easily achieved as Williams makes it sound. Such a major development could, dependent on location, face neighbourhood opposition; it would also require the blessing of the council’s planning department, where policies thatprotect the community use of school playing pitches would need to be overcome. The infamous ‘Visit Beeston’ hotel project still does not have planning permission, despite the club’s claim to have been granted consent in April 2009; and Shaun Harvey has this week turned again to Leeds City Council for financial support for the stalled project. A similarly protracted and fruitless process could see Leeds United kicked out of Thorp Arch with nowhere to go.

If leaving Thorp Arch is a serious proposition, and if Leeds United have a sensible case to support the idea, with a workable plan in place for a suitable and cost-effective replacement, then rather than casually mention it at a supporter’s club dinner, they need to tell all the club’s supporters, and they need to put that case to us for our approval. As Ken Bates often reminds us, our ticket money pays the rent on the place; and our ticket money would be the security against any loan to pay for a new facility. We need to know the real reason why we have to move and why we cannot stay, we need to know where and what we will move to, and we need to know who stands to profit. Leaving Thorp Arch would impact Leeds United Football Club at every footballing level, from the schoolboys to the first team, and a move like that should only be made after full consultation, and with the full consent, of Leeds United’s supporters.


Originally on The Square Ball blog

Side Before Self: About Billy Bremner and Andy Hughes

There are numerous candidates for greatest ever Leeds United player, but only one has a statue at Elland Road, and that is Billy Bremner. You could argue that John Charles had a stature that nature denied to Billy; that Eddie Gray had such sweet feet that he could run rings around his captain; that Jack Charlton’s longevity and growth from rebel to hero tells a better story. There is always that room for debate; but a player like Andy Hughes, of course, would not even come close to the discussion.

Something about Billy Bremner, though, clinches his place on the pedestal afforded to the best we ever had; he chimes with what Leeds United is about; he is an emblem, a symbol, of what we as a club should aspire to. Helpfully, Mr Bremner put it into words:

It was his philosophy, and it is our philosophy. Bremner was the greatest because he deliberately diverted his talents to the benefit of Leeds United Football Club, even when that might not have been to the personal benefit of William Bremner. Personal glory was not the goal for Billy; everything was for the furtherance of the cause of Leeds United. It was that selflessness and commitment that ensured his status as our greatest player, quite apart from his exceptional abilities as a footballer. Billy Bremner didn’t just play well for Leeds; he set the standards by which we as Leeds fans still, often unconsciously, judge our players today.

To Andrew Hughes, then. Hughes joined Leeds United when Leeds United was at its lowest; not just in Division Three, for the first time, but fifteen points adrift at its bottom before a game had even been played. What Hughes offered, and what he delivered, was exactly what was required: effort, and commitment to the cause of the club. Hughes’ skills, first in midfield and then wherever he was needed, were never technically outstanding; but he understood that through effort he could raise his performance, and the performance of those around him; and that through effort the club as a whole could do better. It was this effort that eventually dragged Leeds, three seasons later, back to Division Two; and it shouldn’t be ignored that in our promotion season Hughes, considered to be technically lacking, played over thirty games in unfamiliar positions and never let anybody down.

The iconic images of his celebrations after the game against Bristol Rovers owe their power to the fact that promotion meant more to Hughes because he had had to work harder to achieve it; and because he understood that it was an achievement shared, an achievement on behalf of the fans who held him aloft that day. In his parting interview with Yorkshire Radio, Hughes said:

Note the language Andy uses. “I did something for Leeds United.” Andy’s celebrations weren’t about the fulfilment of a personal ambition. They were celebrations of the achievement of a collective goal, of his pleasure at doing “something for Leeds United”, something for the football club; something for us. He celebrated because he had done something for the side, rather than something for the self.

This is the key to why so many Leeds fans, who were never that impressed with Andy Hughes the footballer, feel a pang, and can sense a gap, now that Andy Hughes has gone. It is hard to think of a player who has bought so fully into the philosophy that Billy Bremner made integral to this football club, and who has been so willing to let that philosophy be his guide. Hughes’ final demonstration of his commitment to our team has come in the manner of his departure. In his interview on Yorkshire Radio, he said:

Yet despite his depth of feeling for the honour of playing for Leeds, Andy Hughes is leaving because, in his own words:

Andrew Hughes yesterday closed the greatest chapter in his football career because it would be to the betterment of Leeds United. The manner of his departure conformed to the manner of his time at Leeds: he did everything within his power to help the football club, to return it to the top divisions where it belonged, but to where Hughes himself does not. Every single time and in every single gesture whether on the pitch, on the shoulders of fans, or working in the community: Hughes did it all for the side, and not for the self.

Andy Hughes didn’t just buy into Billy Bremner’s philosophy; he lived it, and he gave to it everything he could, ending finally in the noble gesture of his departure. Of course he shouldn’t be talked about as one of Leeds’ greatest ever players, up there with Bremner and Charles; that would be daft. But just as we as fans learnt from those players, and saw in their example the best example that players should follow at our club, so did Andy Hughes. He was no Billy Bremner as a football player, but he believed in and practised Billy’s philosophy of Side Before Self, Every Time with all the passion of a fan; which is exactly what we, as Leeds fans, demand from our players. They don’t have to be Billy Bremner; they just have to believe in Billy Bremner.

I feel quite sure that Billy Bremner, had he lived to see him play for Leeds, would have been enormously proud of Andy Hughes.


Originally on The Square Ball blog and in 10/11 issue eight

Oh Striker-Jinxing Shirt-Buying Supporter of Leeds

The introduction of names on the back of football shirts, like most ‘innovations’ in modern football, brought many troubles upon the average football supporter. Where once you would be happy with a white t-shirt, perhaps with a badge sewn on, you now not only had to choose between home, away and third shirts, you had to choose a favourite player and wear his name and number wherever you went; you wouldn’t even have the benefit of seeing it for yourself. You might even forget it was there, until some bemused soul taps you on the shoulder one day and says, ”Hodge?”