Today while out and about in the car, flitting between such soul destroying cathedrals of Sunday consumerism as B&Q and Homebase, I was able to punctuate the mundanity of it all by sticking The Stone Roses’ debut album in my stereo. Like so many people of my generation, the eleven tracks on that record represent the very reason why I fell in love with music. But what gives those songs even greater resonance are the indelible association they hold with Leeds United’s glorious promotion campaign of that year.
Hearing the cocksure confidence, swagger and sheer arrogance of that initial release remains as exhilarating as ever, even over 20 years down the line, and when belting out the lyrics in the car, it dawned on me that The Stone Roses represented everything Leeds United were about as a club back then, and everything that’s sadly lacking now.
The Stone Roses weren’t interested in making a living out of music, of regularly releasing records, collecting the royalties, playing mediocre venues and ‘getting by’, they had a single raison d’etre, to be the biggest, most important, most revered band in the planet, notions of mediocrity were never entertained – they didn’t exist to get by, they had a vision: they were the best in their field and were destined to reach the very pinnacle, nothing else registered.
In 1988 Leslie Silver suddenly took upon the same philosophy. He appointed a manager, charged him with creating a long term vision for the club and then backed him heavily to do so, and like the Roses, by the summer of 1990 he was relishing an encounter with the big time.
Two years later of course, Silver fulfilled his dreams as his man took Leeds to the very summit of the English game; the Roses sadly were to crash and burn; contracts, court cases and infighting killed their momentum and they could only watch on as Oasis lifted the crown of “biggest band on the planet” that had been theirs for the taking.
Yet, last summer, some 21 years since their heyday, the Roses announced a series of comeback shows at Heaton Park; they became the fastest selling gigs in UK history – so how did this happen? And more to the point, how is this relevant to Leeds United?
Well the Roses vision, their arrogance, confidence and absolute belief in being the best has always lived on; it’s a huge part of the reason why they were so brilliant and why people bought into them so heavily. Although they can never hope to fully recapture that spirit of yesteryear, people still desperately logged on to try and secure tickets, just for the chance to just have another taste of the exuberance, the hope of that period. Even two decades on, the band talked a good game and you could sense at the press conference that a steely determination and unwavering belief still existed that they would fulfil every promise; that they were back to conquer, and not just to make up the numbers.
Contrast this to Leeds United. We’re back in the second tier, but where’s the excitement, the drive, the euphoria, the ambition? If Bates, by a perverse set of circumstances had fronted the Roses, his philosophy no doubt would’ve been “Why aim for the top, when you can get by as Flowered Up?” – it’s little wonder Leeds United can’t dream of shifting over 150,000 tickets in under 15 minutes!
However, Ken Bates is an old argument, as anybody with even the most miniscule modicum of sense has long appreciated that he represents the single greatest hindrance to our progress to the footballing summit. My issue lies now with Simon Grayson; is he actually good enough for Leeds United?
While I feel reluctant to stick the boot into Grayson, he is now at a crossroads and he isn’t showing any signs of choosing the right turning. His record over the last 12 months has been pretty awful, and it’s down to luck alone that the club remain on the fringes of the play-offs. Were it not for two dubious sendings off, a moment of madness from Alex McCarthy and defensive catastrophes in the Burnley and Ipswich ranks, Leeds could quite conceivably be on a run of seven straight defeats. Awful performances have become the norm… and let’s be realistic, if Grayson didn’t work for Ken Bates, then grumblings amongst the fan base would’ve been a lot more audible by now.
Grayson supporters will of course, rightly, point to the measly budget available to him, but in all honesty, I can no longer take that argument on board. Yes, of course, you cannot seriously hope to challenge for promotion with such measly resources, and yes, Grayson is on a hiding to nothing… and that begs the question: why the hell doesn’t he do something about it?!?
This is where my real problem with Grayson lies. Where’s his drive? Where’s the hunger to make Leeds United the best? Where’s the desire to repay the long suffering supporters with a successful team – one to be proud of?
Here I find myself again returning to the Stone Roses; the glorious album closer; ‘I Am The Resurrection’ could almost represent an open letter from Leeds fans to Ken Bates; amongst the most pertinent of the lyrical tirades are the lines:
Now tell me those sentiments have never echoed in your mind when reading our chairman’s programme notes, or listening to one of his Wednesday morning radio addresses? Should Grayson feel the same? He’s one of us after all, or so we’re told. That’s what he’s been trading on to keep the faith and backing of the fan base. Yet do we see any evidence of that? On the contrary, what we read and hear are the same sorry old sound bites and clichés, toeing the club line. Either Grayson does truly believe that selling Howson was the best thing to do, or he’s playing up to the ‘yes man’ role – either way, that’s not what I want from a Leeds United manager.
Returning momentarily to those lyrics, the next line in the song is the glorious statement:
I am the resurrection and I am alive…
Such a messianic claim is the preserve of a select and arrogant few in life; including admittedly, a number of the mentally ill, but for some others, it represents, albeit not in a completely literal sense, a belief in themselves, an arrogance that they are the best in their chosen field, that they exist to achieve and not to compromise, that their vision is an absolute and woe betide anyone who doesn’t facilitate and buy into it – it’s fair to say that Grayson doesn’t fall into this category.
Leeds United as a club is currently going nowhere, and rather than pushing, pushing and pushing to change that, Grayson appears to be complicit in this stagnation, rather than fighting it. To the outsider looking in, it appears that to our manager, the Leeds job IS just another job, a way of paying the bills, rather than a passion. As a fan, I can’t settle for watching my club settle for a life of mid-table mediocrity in the second tier, watching on as clubs a fraction of our size outspend and outperform us on a regular basis. Those at the top should be identifying the likes of Spurs as aspirational role models, rather than Burnley and Blackpool.
If Simon Grayson has serious ambitions for himself and the club, he should be demanding more: more of his chairman – a £9.5m budget is pathetic – more of the quality of players he’s looking to recruit; more of his coaching staff and most importantly, more of himself. I see no ambition, no long term plan, no vision for the future on the playing side of things – I’d expect nothing else from Bates, but when the same can be said of Grayson, it truly is worrying.
More to the point though, the same concerns seem to be held by the players. Two months have passed since the team’s last convincing performance – the 4-0 drubbing of Forest – and that was more a response to the tragic loss of Gary Speed than anything of Grayson’s doing. Before that, I’d suggest that you’d have to go right back to the win at the Keepmoat in September for a truly impressive showing. Furthermore, until recently, the one consolation to be had after our increasingly regular drubbings would be that there would be a ‘response’ in the next game – even that isn’t the case any more.
The club is directionless and the team has now fallen into line; Grayson’s words no longer carry the resonance they once did; he no longer has a vision the players can buy into. His words are now hollow; week in, week out Grayson emphasises the need to start games better, yet Forest aside, the team haven’t scored a first half goal since the 3-2 win at Peterborough – THAT’S 16 GAMES!!
The signs are that the players have lost their faith and with every passing game, so are an ever increasing number of fans. If the next 48 hours go as expected and a couple of loanees or cheap journeymen arrive then that’ll be the final straw for me. I want a manager who has a vision, ambition and who isn’t willing to settle for second best (or about fifth best in Leeds United’s case). If that costs him his job, then at least he can leave with his head held high, rather than face being implicated in overseeing the slow death of our club.
Grayson still has strong support on the terraces and no doubt a number of other club chairmen who’d happily employ him tomorrow; he must use his current position of power before he erodes it completely. It may be a gamble pushing Bates for funds, but the stakes are arguably even higher for Bates. Even our deluded despot must be conscious of how any such move to force the manager out could prove to be the decisive tipping point in the anti-Bates campaign.
One look at the most successful managers of recent years in the English game brings up names like Ferguson, Mourinho, Wenger and Redknapp – all of them possess an absolute belief in what they’re doing (not necessarily their chairman’s philosophy), a streak of arrogance and a determination to do everything their way. Win at all costs, not muster by as far as possible is the philosophy. Does Grayson possess this? I have my doubts.
A manager is recognised as much for his legacy at a club as his achievements. Howard Wilkinson is as much beloved for the nucleus of the Champions League side he helped create as for the titles he delivered. What would a new incumbent inherit from Grayson? – Maybe three or four decent players, a couple of whom are likely to depart in the summer, then a whole load of mediocrity.
If Grayson wants what we as fans want, he now really has to show it over the next 48 hours. No more quick fixes, no more squad men; players of proven ability or rich promise – players who’ll be around the first XI for many years, rather than another burden on the tight wages budget come next January. Ever since his inaction almost cost us promotion two years ago, Grayson has presided over a series of disastrous transfer windows. If come Tuesday night, Leeds fans are again feeling underwhelmed and bitter; I fear he won’t have the chance to break yet another series of false promises, come the summer.
To conclude by coming full circle, like Leeds United, I’ll always love The Stone Roses, even if, almost inevitably they fail to meet up to expectations in June. I guess as well as for the peerless music they produced back in that era, it was the attitude, the philosophy they personified that made them so special. ‘She Bangs The Drums’ remains THE requisite Roses track of choice for me, nothing quite captured their essence like the magical line:
Oh, to have an Ian Brown in the Leeds United hot seat…