The Marching On Together Story

WHEN Andy Sturdevant saw The Damned United film a couple of years ago, he liked the theme song so much he adapted its lyrics for his city’s baseball side, the Minnesota Twins, and performed it on his local radio show.

When Sam Utne heard about Sturdevant’s version last year, he started to record his pals singing it on Skype and slapped the consequential cacophony onto YouTube in the nick of time for the opening day of the Twins’ 2012 season.

What these Minnesotans were meddling with was Marching On Together. I recently chatted to sock tag-inventing artist Paul Trevillion for The Square Ball magazine about how the anthemic sound of Leeds, Leeds, Leeds – to give the B-side to the top ten hit Leeds United its proper name – came into being. Days before Don Revie’s men beat Birmingham City in the 1972 FA Cup Semi Final, Trevillion takes up the tale.

“I said to Don, ‘We’ll have to get a song. Is there anybody you’d like to sing it?’ He replied, ‘Yes, Tom Jones.’ I said, ‘We won’t get Tom Jones!’ ‘Get the guy who writes his songs then,’ he insisted. ‘The guy who wrote Delilah, The Last Waltz, come on!’ ‘That’s Les Reed and Barry Mason,’ I replied. ‘They don’t do football records, Don!’ ‘You want the boys to wear your stocking tags?’ he said, ‘But you’re telling me you can’t get him to do our record? Go get him.’

“So I found out where Les Reed lived and I went round. I got there at eight o’clock in the morning and rang the bell. Nothing happened. I waited another hour and I rang it again, and there was no answer. I kept pressing the bell, and in the end it was about one o’clock in the afternoon and he answered the door and said, ‘What do you want? I’ll give you just a minute, that’s all. 60 seconds.’ ‘I want you to do the Leeds United song,’ I said. He burst out laughing, saying ‘You’re kidding.’ ‘No,’ I insisted. ‘We’re gonna bring it out in time for the Cup Semi Final. Are you on?’

“He said ‘Come in. I’ll get Barry over.’ Barry Mason arrived and asked, ‘How do you want it?’ ‘There’s a number in Robin Hood with Errol Flynn,’ I told him. ‘It won an Oscar, it’s the greatest music I’ve ever heard. Can we have it like that?’ And Barry started banging on the table, saying ‘How about: Here we go with Leeds United! We love you Leeds! Leeds! Leeds!’ I said, ‘Get the beat from Robin Hood, get that sound!’ and they were on for it.

“I couldn’t believe it, we got the record out for the Birmingham game. The bloody Birmingham game, the Semi Final, not for the Final! It got to number ten, for goodness sake! Above all the great stars who were around – the Elvis Presleys and the Tom Joneses and all of it – and it’s still a belter, and Leeds still do it.”

Why PPV is already a thing of the past

IN A development so thrilling even Paul Bell broke his four week silence on the subject of LUTV, it was announced this week that tomorrow’s home game against Millwall will be broadcast live to overseas subscribers on a pay-per-view basis.

Given that Leeds United fans’ fivers will this time acquire a product worth having – a real game of football – the online reaction was largely acquiescent, nothing like the storm that surrounded last month’s pair of PPV friendlies. Some went further, with esteemed blogger TSS reprising a recent claim that PPV is here to stay.

PPV is all-too-commonly confused with pay TV. Ken Bates did it when swatting away criticism of his £5 friendlies on Yorkshire Radio by stating that “there are pay-per-view games on Sky”, when there hasn’t been for over 3 years. No, PPV is not the future, and it’ll only be in the present as long as British football’s existing TV contracts remain an anachronism.

The game will soon drag its broadcasting deals out of the stone age towards something resembling the comprehensive value to fans of Major League Baseball’s astonishing MLB.tv, a package offering all 2,500 games a season live online for just $19.95 a month. Being exempt from the constraints of existing local TV deals means that, as with tomorrow’s LUTV broadcast, such packages are hugely favourable to the overseas viewer.

LUTV has the capability to simulcast all Leeds United home games, it’s just the rights that need development. PPV is a stepping stone along the way towards clubs being media companies that play football, and this will be reflected in broadcasting deals and, therefore, the packages on offer to the viewer.

Tomorrow’s show is groundbreaking, but football over here will quickly make huge strides with online scheduling and PPV will be forgotten along the way. You, the market, will see to that.

A whole new ball game

thefa01LAST week, Major League Baseball’s season came to a disappointing, crushingly inevitable conclusion. If I’d wished – and were it not for the ensuing domestic chaos, I might have – I could’ve watched every single ball game on MLB.tv. That’s 2,430 regular season games live in HD and home comforts for the monthly fee of $19.95.

It’s a package which, by comparison, leaves Sky Sports’ paltry 92 live Premier League matches – even with Champions League, Football League, SPL and Carling Cup thrown in as well (plus whatever else they have knocking around) – looking like something from the stone age.

No wonder then, that in the wake of Setanta’s demise, the FA dipped their toes online; first for England’s defeat in the Ukraine and then for Saturday’s FA Cup first round clash between Oldham Athletic and Leeds United.

With half the sparse crowd at Boundary Park shushed by Jonny Howson’s first-half howitzer, the FA could do little about the fact it was an otherwise dreadful game. But by the time Mike Grella added a second, the admittedly colourful language of our boisterous travelling support had been silenced as well; seemingly by a member of the TV production crew.

If the streaming of this tie was the FA realising they’ve got a lot of catching up to do, then the decision to muffle the sound of those present beneath fake crowd noise was it swiftly exercising control over one of its “core brands” at the expense of its followers.

Whoever would resort to such crude artifice? Don’t the FA realise that we know more about how effects microphones work than most supporters? Would censorship have resulted had Leeds fans been fastidiously singing about “When we win the FA Cup (Sponsored by E.ON)…” ? In fact, in future why don’t they just dub that on themselves?

I would say you’ve just heard it here first, folks – if it hadn’t have been done already. Middlesbrough match commentaries on local radio regularly used to feature the apparent sound of the Riverside metronomically chanting the name of the local cable TV firm: “COMCAST TEESSIDE! COMCAST TEESSIDE!”. They weren’t of course, so let’s just consider this a warning. I’m allowed to say that on here, right?

Ballparks figure

SINCE it’s the MLB All-Star game tonight (on ESPN America from 00:30 GMT), let’s talk a little baseball. And Ken Bates.

Like most things in life worth knowing, I learned of Shea Stadium’s existence via a Beastie Boys lyric. It wasn’t the first time I’d acted on a rhyme of theirs in New York (that was “Excuse me motherfuckers, can I beg your pardon / I’m gonna see the Knicks at Madison Square Garden”) but by the time I got around to taking the 7 train to Queens a couple of months ago, old Shea had been bulldozed car park flat.

citifield01Both the Big Apple’s Major League Baseball sides have miraculously built ballparks in the shadows of their existing homes: in the Mets’ case, the nipping new – if numbingly-named – Citi Field. It’s a similar story in the Bronx, except that one’s shit because it’s where the Yankees play.

Nevertheless, we’re talking $2.5billion worth of brick, limestone and granite here, brimming with improved facilities and concessions for match-goers: merchandise stores, multiple bars, restaurants, food and beer stands. Two goldmines of box office, catering and hospitality.

Once the FA realised it was going to be costly enough without any of Ken Bates’ further input, Wembley was developed along similar lines. If it’s accommodation you’re after at his raison d’être, the stadium hotel, there’s plenty of rooms at hotbeds of mediocrity like Bolton, Reading, Coventry and Oxford.

In recent years, three of the Premier League’s top four clubs have extended, or made plans to extend, ground capacities to cater for the sort of attendances that the fourth – Chelsea – are prevented from matching because someone left two empty hotels and a nightclub in the way.

It’s a complex that his successor as chairman, Bruce Buck, admits they wouldn’t have built as “all a football fan wants, really, is football.” And that’s from an American.

They may openly refer to fans as ‘guests’ in New York, but Citi Field’s no midweek doss-house for hoover reps. There wasn’t a single check-in desk, water feature or Corby trouser press in sight – and they hadn’t even the wit to include a basement nightclub. The schmucks.

Digital hardcore

MICHAEL Lewis’ brilliant book Moneyball is the real-life tale of startling sporting success on a shoestring. When baseball stattos demonstrated that the nitty-gritty players who actually win matches were greatly undervalued, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane sat up and took note. Out went the scouts, in came a Wall Street bean counter who signed a bunch of apparent no-marks for peanuts, and the cut-price A’s started to mix it with Major League Baseball’s big spenders.

billybeaneThe book makes the compelling case that much baseball wisdom is wrong, and for a brief period its football stock was rising too. But with Moneyball‘s leading UK practitioner, Aidy Boothroyd, now out of work alongside fellow number crunchers Sam Allardyce, Iain Dowie and Alan Pardew, football’s proving to be a rather different ball game.

Beane’s own attempts to shake up the San Jose Earthquakes, with the help of one-time Leeds United meltdown egghead Bill Gerrard and ‘English Legend’ Darren Huckerby, have left the side dead last in Major League Soccer’s western conference with only 8 wins from 30.

In the east, Red Bull New York finished just two wins better off, but in a development more goofball than moneyball, they face Columbus Crew in tonight’s final – and nobody, not even the geeks, know how they did it.

rbny011How come, they’re all asking, a sub .500 side – that is, one which won less than half its regular season games – can earn a shot at winning the whole damn caboodle? With a win percentage almost identical to last season’s West Ham, it would be as zany as Alan Curbishley winning the Premier League. Any other team, said MLS commissioner Don Garber to the New York Times, and this ‘would be heralded as an incredible sports story. But when the Red Bulls do it people think it’s a joke.’

It’s a joke that’s already wearing thin. Only Red Bull’s North American scum standing on the brink of success could have Americans doubting the single thing that underpins their team sports. Red Bull New York suck. If they succeed, then the playoffs suck too.

They may well be badged up like the Village People, but a victory for fellow first-time finalists Columbus Crew at LA’s Home Depot Center tonight is the only hope for reason. According to New York’s official site, should the unthinkable happen a celebration will occur at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday. They’d better get a move on with it, then. Here’s hoping they don’t have to bother.