Just to be clear, slight liberties with taste, decency, language and reality have been taken in the creation of the following piece…
‘Twas the night before Christmas, down Beeston way,
A beleaguered Neil Warnock tries having his say,
But an unflinching chairman showed not a care,
The future of Leeds United still up in the air…
Narrator: Hey everyone, I’m Seb; you know the little French fella who played on the wing for Leeds a few years back. Yeah, that’s it, Seb Carole. I quite liked that opening, quite pithy, intriguing, but still true to the rhythmical structure of the original poem – all my on work as well! Anyway, I’m here to narrate this heart-warming tale (and justify the pun in the title of the piece), so get yourself comfortable, place another log on the fire…or turn the central heating up a notch, pour yourself a sherry and relax as I bring you ‘The LUFC Christmas Carole’…
*PLAYING OF GENERIC JINGLY CHRISTMAS MUSIC*
Narrator: And so our tale begins; it’s Christmas Eve in Howard’s (award winning) restaurant and Ken Bates sits alone, enjoying a choice selection from the early evening menu, when in walks Neil Warnock…
Neil: Ken, what is this about tomorrow? Me and the lads were promised the day off by David Haigh so we could celebrate Christmas with our families. We were supposed to be flying down to Nottingham on a chartered plane at 8.00am on Boxing Day morning in recognition of our efforts.
Ken: First of all, it’s Mr Chairman to you, secondly that Saudi-based chancer isn’t running this joint! As if I was ever going to sell up now I’ve got some morons to cover the costs of the East Stand beautification project.
Neil: But Ken…Mr Chairman, it’s Christmas…
Ken: Christmas?! Some girl drops a sprog 2000 years back and claims it to be the result of a phantom pregnancy, and you expect me to piss away money in recognition of this? Listen, that Mary girl was probably putting it about all over Nazareth – I wouldn’t trust a thing those shady foreigners claim.
Neil: But Christmas is a time of giving…
Ken: Too right, sunshine! It’s when those morons fork out Category ‘A’ prices for the privilege of watching Bolton Wanderers on a Tuesday afternoon! A Fourways coach will depart from outside Yorkshire Radio HQ tomorrow at noon sharp, and remind those bloody players that if they want a full English breakfast at the Travel Tavern, they’ll have to pay the £5 supplement.
Ken: No buts! Now sling your hook! I’ve got my new morons’ address to record for LUTV; my very own gift to them. Then I’m phoning Shaun, these season ticket renewal notices don’t just write themselves!
Narrator: And with that, a sorrowful Neil Warnock departs to break the news to his players. Ken returns to his main course, then moves onto the (recommended by Imre Varadi) cheesecake when suddenly a cold wind stirs and the entrance doors to the (award winning) Howard’s blow wide open. Through the mist, a pale but familiar figure emerges…
The Ghost of Melvyn Levi: Ken, Ken, Ken…
Ken: Levi! Stop stuttering you old fool! What the hell are you doing here? Didn’t I ban you from the ground the same day as the BBC, the Guardian newspaper and the cast of Hollyoaks? Just wait until I pen my next lot of programme notes!
TGOML : No Ken, I’m the ghost of Melvyn Levi. It’s been 7 long years since I departed this football club and I’m coming to warn you to change your ways before it’s too late! It’s Christmas and you’ve shattered the dreams of thousands by pulling a fast one with this takeover; where once hope existed, it has gone. I plead with you now; embrace charity and philanthropy, use your influence for good and allow Leeds United to once again thrive by selling up.
Ken: What a load of pandering, liberal bollocks!! Besides, how can you be a ghost? You’re not dead…as hard as tried to ensure otherwise!
TGOML: Okay, okay! I’m not so much a ghost, more of a vision, but I’m striving to be Dickensian here, so throw me a fricking bone!
Ken: And what about those chains? Have you just been pulled away from Carole, mid-act?
TGOML: They’re from the war chest! I’m trying to embrace symbolism! Now let’s get back on topic…
Ken: What? You mean all that drivel about philanthropy and charity? Don’t make laugh Levi, you’re so tight that if you ate coal you’d shit diamonds!
TGOML : But I’m a changed man, and I want to help; consider this my festive gift to you.
Ken: You want to help me? A man who’s put you and your wife through months of emotional torment and harassment? Why Melvyn Levi, would YOU want to help ME?!
TGOML : I want the chance to give something back; those court cases have paid for me three holidays, a conservatory and a new Vauxhall Zafira! Please heed my words Ken. You will be visited by three ghosts tonight, expect the first when the bell tolls six!
Ken: THREE visits? Can’t I have them all at once? I’ve got the missus waiting back at my apartment, and a Santa sack of my own to empty over her – BATES IN! BATES IN!
Narrator: With that, Melvyn’s vision dissolves into the ether. Momentarily shaken, Ken puts the encounter down to working too hard and the scampi, resolving to sack the chef. After finishing his bottle of Dom Pérignon, he makes his way over to the plush surroundings of his East Stand office. On the way he’s confronted by a woman and a familiar looking portly gentleman.
Gary Cooper: Season’s greetings Mr. Bates. Could I please trouble you for a donation toward the work of the Leeds United Supporters Trust?
Ken: What?! You bunch of layabout, moronic, sickpot dissidents?! Bib Squad! Over here!!
Narrator: With that, Gary Cooper is forcibly marched away by two of the crack purple bib security team…until they are reminded by his accompanying Football Supporters Federation representative that he is on council owned land, where they have no jurisdiction.
Unrepentant, Ken enters the reception, makes his way up to his office and begins work on his speech; but as much as he tries to dismiss his encounter in Howard’s (award winning) restaurant, he remains troubled. He glances upwards towards the clock, it’s suddenly 5.59 – he starts to sweat, his pulse is racing; in an effort to calm himself he makes for the drinks cabinet…
Ken: Right, Ken old boy, let’s get you a brandy… what the…Peter?!
Narrator: As Ken opens the cabinet, he’s affronted with a chilling spectacle, as a pale, shabbily presented figure presents itself to him…
Ken: Jesus, Peter! Get a grip on yourself! I’ve told you your job as lapdog…erm, fans’ representative is safe now I’ve seen off these Saudi chancers! You’re looking a bit pasty…
The Ghost of Christmas Past: Oh Ken, I’m not Lasher, but a spiritual apparition of his being.
Ken: But you’re not dead!!
TGOCP: Bloody hell Ken, we’ve been through this already with Levi. Just go with it. I AM the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Ken: Okay, okay. I know how all this works; you’re gonna talk a load of sentimental bollocks and try and tug on my heart strings.
TGOCP: Better than that Ken; care for a Holland’s pie?
Narrator: Upon his first bite of the pie, Ken immediately fell under a hypnotic spell as Peter takes him on a journey back in time. The first destination, Loftus Road…
Ken: Oh the memories. Wait, a minute, is that me there, with my old granddad? How I remember the trepidation as we took that tram ride up Uxbrudge Road…oh look, there’s the old apple box I used to stand on to see. Oh, those were the days…
TGOCP: The days when your love of the game came before everything else, eh Ken?
Ken: I, I don’t believe it! There he is! The guy…my first hero! You see him? Over there, look. No, not on the pitch! The bloke on the turnstiles refusing to let children in the away end at concessionary prices unless they’ve brought a birth certificate!
Narrator: The Ghost sighed, a change of tack was needed and with it, Ken journeyed forward 10 more years to one of the most seminal nights of his life…
TGOCP: So do you recognise this place?
Ken: Of course I do, this is the office of Fezziwig, my business mentor! I learned so many things from this man; he made so much money taking bribes from applicants at Ealing asylum offices then sending the buggers home anyway.
TGOCP: He did have some questionable business practices, but his generosity towards friends knew no bounds. Those parties of his were always memorable; this more than any…
Narrator: Ken then looks on aghast; right before his eyes, his first encounter with the love of his life is unfolding…
Ken: Oh Maggie. She was everything to me, the purest, most wonderful, giving person I’ve ever met. Please Lasher, let me gaze upon for a few more minutes.
TGOCP: Sorry Ken, we’ve more time travelling to do.
Narrator: And in the blink of an eye, Ken finds his younger self sat by the riverbank with Maggie on an idyllic summer afternoon…
Ken: Oh no, please spare me this!
Narrator: A broken Ken looks on, for he knows almost verbatim what is to follow…
Maggie: Two years into our courtship now Ken, oh when are we to be wed?
Young Ken: I’ve told you Tiger; these things cannot be rushed. Building a life together is a process of slow arousal. We have an extension to build on our rented homestead before we can make any grand plans and proposals.
Narrator: A distraught, Maggie walks away. She’s heard the same old line one time too many. Ken, too proud to give chase was never to see her again.
TGOCP: You see, that pure, innocent, sweet woman of youth was forever lost in that moment. Your unrelenting, selfish ways forever tainted her for the rest of the days.
Ken: What do you mean? That girl won three General Elections!
Narrator: Despairingly, the Ghost made one last gambit; one final effort to break down the walls of chilling cynicism and re-kindle his love of the spirit of football. Onwards to Stamford Bridge, April 1984; Chelsea are in the process of defeating Leeds 5-0 and clinching the Second Division Title…
Ken: Oh Kerry Dixon! Kerry, Kerry, Kerry…
TGOCP: Stop playing with yourself!! Now look before you, does this occasion not remind you of the reason you fell in love with the game?
Ken: Of course it does! I was in the process of enforcing a membership scheme, I’d applied for planning permission for electric fences – good times! Hang on a minute, what are those Leeds bastards doing to my scoreboard…!!!!
Narrator: With that, the Ghost sinks to his knees; his every intention misunderstood and misinterpreted, he would again later claim. He returns to the shadows as Ken, still spouting vitriol, returns to consciousness…
Ken: Absolute shithouses, the lot of them! Do you know…Peter?
Narrator: Shaking with rage and a little confused, Ken finds himself back in his office; he looks suspiciously upon the pie and resolves to review all catering contracts, but try as he might, he can’t dismiss his thoughts of Maggie and what might’ve been. He sits motionless, lost in the midst of quiet contemplation and the hours pass by in a blur. Then suddenly, the silence is punctured by a thundering banging on the door. Flustered, he looks nervously looks towards the door and beckons the visitor to enter. In walks a familiar figure.
Ken: Simon! What the hell are you doing here? You do know the secretarial staff knocked off a couple of hours ago? Ah, wait a minute…pale complexion, another bloody ghost!
The Ghost of Christmas Present: You’ve guessed it Kenny, love. I’m the big spirit of the here and now and we’re gonna instil some festive footballing spirit in you!
Ken: You’ve trimmed a bit of timber since you left us Simon, even ditched the ill-fitting training gear…
TGOCP: It’s amazing what the love of a good chairman can do! C’mon, hop in my club sponsored Seat Ibiza; we’re heading for some parties!
Narrator: A short time later, the pair arrive at a Brewster’s pub in Morley, host for the Yorkshire Radio Christmas meal. They stand by the door, eavesdropping on the topic of conversation.
Thom Kirwin: Well, I for one am glad that the stingy old git isn’t here! Has us all working on the minimum wage and won’t even fork out for a staff do…
Eddie Gray: Well Thom, that’s the thing about Christmas parties, everyone’s got an opinion. Just because someone chooses to invest in a Christmas do, it doesnae guarantee it’ll be any better. Look at Radio Aire…
Everyone at the table: OH SHUT UP EDDIE!!!!!
Ben Fry: Look guys, it’s Christmas. A time to be thankful for what we have; I propose a toast to Mr Chairman – without him, we’d be nothing!
Narrator: As the attendees turn to make for the doors, Ken turns to the window, a single tear wells in his eyes. “Oh Ben…”
TGOCP: Okay Kenny baby! Back in the car, we’re having jelly and ice-cream at Warnock’s house!!
Narrator: As the clock strikes 9, the pair arrive in the kitchen where the first team squad chat excitedly about their Christmas morning plans and how they’d love to see in the New Year in the play-off positions…
TGOCP: There you have it Kenny, the class of 2012! Such a meagre squad; look over there, a paltry Luke Varney, roasting on the fire.
Narrator: Suddenly Ken’s gaze is caught by another player, sat alone in the corner…
Ken (sighs): Do tell me Simon, who is that sullen looking young man? He appears to be carrying the weight of the world upon his shoulders.
TGOCP: Ahhhh! That’s Tiny Tom Lees. Such a sorry tale, he’s suffered with acute depression ever since his mum refused to buy him a troll pencil topper at the age of 4 and he hasn’t smiled since. His condition has baffled every doctor he’s seen.
Ken: Such a shame, he seems such a sweet little fellow. Look at him, clearing up the plates and offering to help Neil’s missus with the washing up.
Narrator: At that point, Mrs Warnock thanks Tiny Tom for the offer, warmly rubbing his hair. She then tells him as Christmas is such a magical time of year he should make his own seasonal wish. As he makes his way to a quiet corner, Ken moves closer to listen to him…
Tiny Tom: I wish Leeds would make a multi-million pound signing, just this once…oh please, Santa.
Narrator: At that moment, Ken is overwhelmed by a feeling, hitherto foreign to his being. Empathy has struck and he struggles to contain himself.
Ken: Simon, Simon. Does he get better? Please say it is so.
TGOCP: That is all to be decided in the future.
Ken: But must I wait?
TGOCP: You must, but not for long…expect the final ghost on the stroke of midnight.
Ken: Need I fear him?
TGOCP: All dishonourable men should fear their future…
Narrator: With that, a sorrowful Ken bowed his head. When he raised it again he was back in the upper echelons of the East Stand. He peered out of through the glass, surveying his Kingdom as the soft lighting of the Centenary Pavilion sign glimmered against the backdrop of the M621. For the first time, he was beginning to doubt himself. Minutes passed like hours as the he awaited the ominous chimes of the clock. Then suddenly, the first chime and before him a time tunnel vortex opened, the nature of which would be way too expensive to recreate in any am-dram production. Then a figure emerged, again it seemed familiar…
Ken: Oh tell me, are you the one I should so fear? Are you the Ghost of Christmas Future? Bloody hell, you’re the spitting image of Sam Byram!!
The Ghost of Christmas Future: I am that spirit and the reason why I resemble him so is that I am his test-tube offspring!
Ken: No shit?
TGOCF: When you sold my father to Norwich, you made it a condition of his sale that he provided three cupfuls of semen; you claimed it was going to prove an inspired move forward that’d save the club millions on scouting costs.
Ken (excitedly): And tell me spirit, did it work?
TGOCF: No, I was born OCD linked to excessive masturbation; I eventually snapped my wrist and ended up in a mental institution!
Ken (nervously): So are you de…
TGOCF: No, strictly speaking, I’m not a f**king ghost!! Now follow me, the space-time continuum is unpredictable beast – we must move fast.
Narrator: So Ken followed the Ghost and seconds later emerged from the first wormhole; it was a psychiatric ward…
Ken: Oh Spirit, is this where you were sent? It’s such a horrific place.
TGOCF: It is, but we are not here to see me, that would break all sorts of physical laws. Behold. The patient…
Narrator: The ghost points over to a bed where Neil Warnock and a number of other current Leeds players, all a few years older, are crowded around a bed. Barely daring to look, Ken approaches the bed – his worst fears are confirmed…
Ken: Oh no! Not Tiny Tom! What happened?
TGOCF: When international experts found they could do nothing for him, you advised Neil to sell him to Covance for medical research to fund the acquisition of a new loan signing.
Ken: And Neil agreed?
TGOCF: He’s nothing if not a realist. Had he not sold Robbie Rogers to a glue manufacturer, he’d have never been able to bring in Alan Tate and Jerome Thomas, remember?
Ken: Oh why didn’t I fund the signing of Nicky Maynard?!There is still time to changes things…tell me this is so?
Narrator: The ghost merely turned and ushered Ken towards the vortex. One final destination lay ahead…
Ken:A graveyard? Oh no, poor Tom – and so few mourners.
Narrator: Then Ken looked more closely, stood side by side, two ashen faced figures gazed into the ground; Ben Fry and Dennis Wise. An overwhelming sense of dread encompassed him as he glanced towards the headstone – it was his own name that he read; having enjoyed a millionaire’s lifestyle, his passing was being marked in a manner akin to that of an anonymous pauper.
Ken: Oh Spirit, why do so few people mourn for me? Do I really have so few friends? My dear Susannah – tell me, has she already passed?
TGOCF: Ken, you were not a man beloved of the people, and although you may have at least expected a slightly larger turnout, your insistence that it was announced exclusively on Yorkshire Radio meant that nobody knew. As for Susannah, she left you back in 2013 to take up residence as a housemaid for some Russian Oligrach in Kensington…
Narrator: As the realisation of his life’s work dawned upon him, Ken’s introspection was only broken by the noise of the vicar: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” He turned to the Spirit, begging for another chance…
Ken: Please Spirit, I can see the foolhardiness of my wrongdoings. Let me redeem myself; as from this moment I vow to enlighten rather than darken the days of those whose path I cross. I want to court love and admiration, not loathing; I want to give people a successful football team, good times on the pitch, Premier League football. I’ll… I’LL SELL LEEDS UNITED!!!
Narrator: As the soil fell downwards, cascading off the shovels of the gravediggers, Ken could feel himself becoming smothered; he writhed and screamed hysterically for one more chance as the spirit faded into the distance, until the covering of dirt created a film of complete blackness.
He gave out one final scream… then suddenly found himself awake, bolt upright and in the palatial surroundings of the Reaney Lounge. He looked at his watch, it was 7.00am; could it be that it wasn’t too late? He excitedly ran and flung open a window. A child of about 12 was passing underneath, decked out in a Paul’s Boutique jacket and pair of tracksuit bottoms…
Ken: Hey you there!! Yes, you boy!!
Narrator: The figure below looks upward and extends a middle figure…
Child: My name’s Teagen, blud. Is you blind or summink, innit?!
Ken: Apologies dear girl. Tell me, what morning is this?
Child: It’s Christmas innit! Is you high or summink, old man?
Ken: Oh dear girl. I’m only high on life. Here’s a wad of cash, please get for me the largest turkey in all of Beeston!
Child: But everywhere is shut! I can break into the Co-op if you like?
Ken: Ah fear not, sweet one. Be on your way, I shall raid the cold store at (the award winning) Howard’s instead!!
Narrator: And with that, a whistling, chirpy Ken makes his way around to the West Stand. Tipping a nod and offering the compliments of the season to one and all in his path. En route, he suddenly he spies Gary Cooper from a distance and beckons him over. Wary of another tirade, Gary approaches wearily.
Ken: Okay fat lad, how much would you like for this organisation of yours? How about representation on the board? Only one thing though, if you’re gonna be coming into the East Stand, we can’t have you looking a scruffy bugger. Here’s my Jacamao store card – knock yourself out son!
Narrator: Leaving a flustered Gary in his wake, Ken made with haste to Howard’s and then onward to the Pavilion where the chefs were to be given the largest of all turkeys to prepare. Ken waited with almost insufferable impatience for the players to arrive for the coach. As noon approached and the players congregated and prepared to board, Ken strode out of the entrance…
Ken: Come inside dear players, for I have prepared a feast for one and all!!
Narrator: And so the players walked in to find the most glorious of Christmas feasts. They sat down and at first with bewilderment, and then joy, listened to how Ken now intended to sign those takeover contracts on the pitch prior to the Bolton game and how every penny he’d made during his tenure would be ploughed in Neil Warnock’s pot. “Eat, drink and be merry!” was the only order the day, for tomorrow morning a plane awaits.
Then Ken’s gaze shifted; in a scene of such merriment, one sullen face remained… he smiled and gently approached his target.
Ken: Oh sweet Tiny Tom. This year you will get your Christmas wish… a multi-million pound signing!!
Narrator: And then suddenly, something truly remarkable to behold; after a couple of minutes of gurning and straining, it happened. Tiny Tom finally smiled.
Christmas truly is a time for miracles.