In the before times, when footballs were leather and kits were skimpier, wackier outfits, there was a team hated across the English plains. Under the tutelage of Don Revie, ‘Dirty Leeds’ were at the top of every fans’ hitlist. Winning eight trophies across a 13-year spell, Revie’s men were renowned for their rough style.
Nowadays Leeds fans have a new God to worship, Marcelo Bielsa, on the opposite end of the football spectrum. Thanks to their free-flowing, exciting football, they are now regarded as many peoples’ ‘second team’. Yet, despite this newfound endearment, Leeds have managed to bring back their Sixties ‘dirtiness’, this time to the digital space.
The Whites ended a successful 2020 in emphatic fashion, thumping West Bromwich Albion 5-0. In the wake of their performance, Karen Carney uttered words she may now regret, attracting Leeds fans like sharks smelling blood. Her contention that “Leeds were promoted because of Covid[-19]” quickly led to ridicule online, most significantly from Leeds’ own Twitter page. Carney has subsequently deleted her account in light of the abuse.
But therein lies an important question: did Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani do anything wrong? On the face of it, the club were out of line posting that tweet; anyone with a brain would know the effect it would have on Carney herself. Going after her publicly would always encourage a vocal minority online. Now, what may have seemed like a funny joke at first, poking fun at an expert getting it wrong, has led to undeserved vitriol.
There are, however, two sides to this coin. Claims that the abuse highlighted gendered double standards in football punditry are false. Leeds’ Twitter account already boasts a history in the field of online putdowns. This season, they targeted Gabriel Agbonlahor, using a popular meme to refute his ‘myth’ opinions after beating Aston Villa. Even as far back as 2019, Leeds were battling with One Direction’s Niall Horan and even Pizza Hut (Lord knows why).
They have a history of Twitter tête-à-têtes and the Carney tweet was no different. There was no mention of the fact that she is a female pundit, or anything to do with gender. In that sense, you could argue that any pundit, regardless of gender or race, needs to be thick-skinned and ready to take response to their misjudgements on the chin. As long as responses are purely related to football, and nothing personal, they should be allowed.
Of course there is an important threshold where playful jokes turn into clear attacks. But that was not a line that Leeds crossed with their tweet. Perhaps that was the danger of it all; opting for a more implicit covert strategy as opposed to attacking her outright. However, questioning Leeds’ intentions with the tweet is pure speculation.
What is shameful is that initially Carney made a valid point: Bielsa sides are renowned for high intensity play, which often leads to the so-called ‘Bielsa Burnout’ deep into the season. Obviously, having a break in the season will give players’ poor legs a chance to rest, no matter how great Leeds’ form was before Covid-19 came along. But now, what started as a critique, albeit slightly poorly articulated, has turned into further evidence of sexism in the sport.
This is not the first time social media has been called into question this: Liverpool defender Neco Williams was subjected to death threats after one mistake in a cup game this season. Social media can always be a vile and venomous place; it is home to thousands of people who will bully and taunt, all behind a technological shield.
This only highlights how social media sites need to do more to put a stop to these ‘keyboard warriors’. Greater moderation through verifying the identity of anonymous users, or immediately banning those who are abusive could be a large steps toward a less hate-filled future where gender needn’t enter our minds when is comes to punditry.
The hatchet between Leeds and Karen Carney has now been buried; it is how we choose to learn from it that will affect future generations of players and pundits.
Image: El Loko via Creative Commons