Crumbs of comfort from Steve Evans in Leeds ‘pie tax’ row

Massimo Cellino, trying to keep warm with a QPR blanket wrapped around him.Massimo Cellino, trying to keep warm with a QPR blanket wrapped around him.
Massimo Cellino, trying to keep warm with a QPR blanket wrapped around him.
Much about Leeds United is beyond the control of a head coach. “Pie tax”, as it has come to be known, falls into the category of things Steve Evans would rather not embroil himself in.

“I don’t get involved in setting ticket prices,” Evans said yesterday, in response to 24 hours of ire about contentious charges in Elland Road’s South Stand.

“If I did get involved and we were in the Premier League I’d let (the supporters) in for nothing because there’s enough money in the game.”

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Conciliatory words but Evans is worried that Hull City might arrive at Elland Road tomorrow “in front mentally in the game”.

The fall-out from the introduction of “pie tax” has seen threats of protests against that policy and Massimo Cellino’s management of a strained Championship club.

For the visit of Hull, Leeds have imposed a mandatory charge of £5 on top of the normal price of adult South Stand tickets, offering in return a voucher for refreshments.

Fans group South Stand SS5 plan to vent their anger by conducting a walk-out from the stadium for 17 minutes in the 17th minute; 17 being a number that the superstitious Cellino considers to be unlucky.

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United’s Italian owner reappeared at Queens Park Rangers last Saturday, less than a month after saying publicly that he would not be attending any games due to criticism of him from Leeds’ support.

It remains to be seen if Cellino shows up to Elland Road tomorrow. All Evans knows, with his players out of form and 17th in the table, is that Hull do not need the helping hand of a club at each other’s throats.

“I’ve said since I first came in that the Leeds United supporters are known worldwide,” Evans said. “We took almost 3,500 fans (to QPR) last week and gave them short change but the one thing we need them to do is to be with us.

“Collectively you can be successful against Hull. Separately, divided, you don’t have a chance. We don’t want Hull City to arrive at Elland Road believing there’s already a chance that they’re in front mentally in the game.

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“We need to pull in the same direction. We never played any football at QPR until the last 10 minutes but when we did, the QPR fans rose loud and proud to see their team over the line.

“We had that a few weeks ago against Cardiff, our first win at home in eight months. I have to stay away from everything and hope that in the 17th minute, our fans are in the ground on the back of a good performance.”

The idea to impose the “pie tax” in the South Stand is understood to have come directly from Cellino, though the reason behind the policy is not clear.

The club said this week that they wanted to “encourage supporters to use the facilities and catering offerings on match-days” but Cellino had a self-confessed habit of messing with ticket prices during his time as owner of Cagliari. Back in April 2014, he talked about how he liked to “play games” with the fans depending on his mood.

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Most of the criticism of Cellino during a 2-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers last month – the match which prompted his brief, self-imposed ban from fixtures – came from the South Stand crowd. Asked if the increased cost of tickets there might be a reaction to that abuse, Evans said: “I’m not aware of it. When you’re watching the game, you’re not always aware of where the singing comes from.

“I don’t know if it’s the South Stand or any other part of the ground.

“I just focus on the grass. That’s what I promised myself I’d do when I came in.”

On the grass, Leeds have lost both of their last two fixtures. Their home record is the worst in the Championship and they are stuck in the bottom half of the division.

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Hull are fourth and Evans said that at meetings of the League Managers’ Association, the consensus was that Steve Bruce’s side would win promotion this season. “He comes with a wealth of talent on his team coach,” Evans said.

Evans himself came under attack from United’s crowd at Loftus Road last weekend, subject to chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” after he replaced Mirco Antenucci with Lee Erwin towards the end of a 1-0 defeat.

The Scot admitted that the treatment of him had “hurt” but called again for judgement of his tenure to be delayed until he had been given the chance to make fundamental changes to his squad in January.

“Everyone’s got feelings,” Evans said. “You could say ‘I didn’t hear it’ but I heard it. It hurts and not just for one or two days. All you can do to affect that is win matches.

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“All I ask the fans to give me is time. Let’s go through a transfer window and see if I improve the team. If I’ve not (improved the team) they won’t need to sing because I won’t be there. I wouldn’t be there on personal pride. I’m here because I desperately want this club to be successful.

“You never draw a line under games whether you win or lose. You have to analyse them. There’s a whole range of statistics and it wouldn’t be a surprise to the Leeds United faithful that our statistics at Loftus Road were way down, even compared to other defeats.

“We had players who didn’t look like they wanted to be on the front foot, pass the ball or be creative. If you don’t deliver on those attributes you don’t win matches.”