| Leeds United’s manager Terry Venables watches his team play Bolton Wanderers Monday. (Reuters)
As poisoned chalices go, it ranks somewhere between Master of Foxhounds at the Quorn and personal orthodontist to Hannibal Lecter.
Did nobody tell Terry Venables that Leeds have been looking for a replacement for Don Revie since 1974' It was and is an impossible act to follow.
You either adopt Brian Clough’s SAS approach and risk innocent bystanders being caught in the crossfire, in which case 44 days is top whack — or you take the more academic route favoured by Howard Wilkinson and get banished to Sunderland for sending the population into a bottomless coma. The choice is yours.
Latest from the old boys’ newsletter, by the way, is that the Christmas reunion has been cancelled on the advice of UN weapons inspectors who were alerted by noxious fumes escaping from Jimmy Armfield’s pipe. In any case the psychiatric unit has already been booked — by the Darren Gough fan club.
Without a character reference from Lee Bowyer, I had no chance of joining Leeds United fans at the Reebok Stadium last night so I had to take a ringside seat at the Viaduct, a popular Leeds city centre watering hole where ‘Very Terribles’ — as the independent fan club, Maverick Whites, have been calling him — would stage his own trial by television.
The first 15 minutes strayed wildly from the script. One or two customers were still ordering their half-time chilli con carne for the interval when Danny Mills discovered a left foot no one realised he had. The place was in uproar. Tammy the landlady was nervous.
You could tell by the way she hid behind the fruit machine. When Robbie Fowler made it 2-0, then Paul Robinson saved a penalty, Viaduct regulars could not conceal their jubilation. There were confusing messages everywhere. They had come to bury Venables, not to worship him, so why were they punching the clouds of cigarette smoke'
Tammy’s husband, Les, had delegated his bar duties to witness the expected execution at Bolton with his own eyes. I got him to conduct a lightning poll on his mobile phone as the supporters’ coach headed across the Pennines.
Did anyone believe Venables should stay' “No!” came the unanimous roar. What if Leeds won' “That would keep us above Sunderland but only delay the inevitable.” With the eagerly anticipated transfer window only a fortnight away, delays would be counter-productive. Whichever replacement ‘Publicity’ Pete Ridsdale had earmarked for the job would need to be wheeling and dealing as soon as possible.
As the tension subsided and the food arrived, we got down to more serious debate. “He only came for the money,” was tempered with the grudging acknowledgement that the fabric of Leeds United had begun to decay long before Venables took out his earpiece in the ITV studio. What a doddle that job must seem to him now.
If Terry had bothered to study the evidence more closely, he might have seen that the writing was on the wall when Newcastle United completed the double over Leeds last January. “Although we were top of the table, we had that sinking feeling,” chorused a group of 40-somethings. A combination of the Bowyer/Woodgate trial and David O’Leary’s confidence-betraying book buried morale so deeply that even with your ear pressed close to the ground you still couldn’t detect a murmur.
A certain amount of sympathy, then, for Venables. Though a top-class coach and man-motivator, they argued, should be able to get his message across better than this.
I touched base again with Les and the boys at the Reebok. They were unrepentant. “It’s a stay of execution, nothing more. We can’t forgive him for what he did to David Batty. Tel has got to go.”
In the background I could hear away fans chanting the name of Eddie Gray, another old boy. Mick McCarthy was the word at the Viaduct, even as Jason Wilcox was thundering home the third goal, and Venables’ relief filled the giant screen. Barely a cheer now because most of the viewers had disappeared into the night.
There’s no pleasing some people. The few who were left did at least point out that, should Venables stay in this fickle city long enough to turn things around, it would be a story to compare with Howard Kendall at Everton, and Sir Alex Ferguson himself.