New Striker for Leeds United; Cani, Pavoletti or Even Zamora? – by Rob Atkinson

Leonardo Pavoletti - another Italian Job for Leeds?

Sassuolo’s Leonardo Pavoletti – another Italian Job for Leeds?

With loan deals for Sol Bamba and Granddi Ngoyi done and dusted – both with a view to permanence at the end of the season – attention will now turn to the identity of United’s proposed new striker. It’s a minor shake-up for the squad as a whole with the two lads in from the Italian league and Noel Hunt  and Steven Warnock already having departed for Ipswich and Derby respectively. Ngoyi inherits Hunt’s number ten jersey and Bamba will take the number 3 left available by Warnock, despite the fact that there’s an imminent vacancy at the traditional centre-back’s number five, with Jason Pearce seemingly on the verge of joining Wigan Athletic – allegedly for an actual transfer fee, too – which is nice.

Whilst many out here in fanland appear to be of the opinion that a left-winger is needed as a priority, the club’s view seems to be that existing squad members can be trusted to provide better service from out wide on either wing, with the deployment of more effective team shapes now that the late, unlamented diamond is no longer forever. The question remains: who will be the main beneficiary of this anticipated more generous service? Will there be a new lease of life for Mirco Antenucci, who was in such sparkling good form earlier in the season? Will it be Billy Sharp‘s belated chance to shine, now that the threat of being banished to Ipswich has receded? Either or both of these happy events could come to pass, but it does seem more likely than not that more competition is to be introduced in the attacking department of the team.

The two most likely candidates seem to be the Albanian beanpole/battering ram Edgar Cani from Catania, or – more attractively, perhaps – Sassuolo forward Leonardo Pavoletti. It may even be that Leeds are particularly focused on Pavoletti, a target so nearly signed in the summer, with rumoured interest in Cani no more than a smoke-screen. It now appears that Cagliari’s attempts to sign Pavoletti are stalling – could he yet end up at Leeds?

The wild card in the mix is the QPR man Bobby Zamora who, at the age of 34, might just be looking for a final run of first team action before his batteries finally run flat. Zamora’s name has been mentioned on that notoriously less than reliable “source” Twitter; I mention his name here only for completeness.

Of the three striking possibilities, this blog would be happiest with the signing of Pavoletti – a striker who seems to have something about him and who would add something different to the options already at the club.

With the January window due to shut next Monday, the next few days should provide the answers we seek – either that, or it’ll be “don’t worry, the emergency window will be open soon….” We must hope for a happier outcome than that.

‘Mad’ Max Gradel Points Bamba to Home Comforts at Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

Striking success - Gradel scores his second for Leeds against QPR

Striking success – Gradel scores his second for Leeds against QPR

By common consent, one vital ingredient missing from the Leeds United recipe over recent years has been a class act on the wing. Somebody exciting, with the gift of pace and the trickery to go past people as if they were not there. Somebody with a goal or two in him; someone to terrify the opposition. Such a man was and is Mad Maxi Gradel, a raw talent when he was foolishly discarded by Leicester City, but a talent that blossomed – and how – at Elland Road.

Now, even after a few years away from Leeds, Mad Max is demonstrating that he still has deep feelings for the club where he strutted his stuff briefly, but to such effect. The Ivorian international, it’s been revealed, texted his countryman Sol Bamba – another former Leicester man – and recommended the Leeds move to the huge defender. “He text me two days ago and said he’d heard about my move and he was happy,” said Bamba. “He said I will love it here. He said the fans will be good with me if I do the business. He told me all the good things about the club and that gives me even more positive things about the club. He said only good things. I’m happy to be here and I cannot wait to get started.”

Could such enthusiasm for our beloved Leeds hold out any hope that we may yet see Gradel himself back in a United shirt? Maxi’s return to LS11 has been mooted many a time and oft, but for various reasons it’s never quite happened up to press. That’s surely not to say that the player wouldn’t be up for it, though. The feeling during Maxi’s too-brief time at Leeds was that he formed a strong attachment to the club and to the fans. This was despite his occasional red-mist moments – notably of course the one that so nearly upset United’s promotion clincher at home to Bristol Rovers back in 2010. Leeds fans have always been partial to the presence of a certifiable nutter in the team – but it’s probable that tolerance would have snapped had Gradel’s insane reaction and sending-off cost his team dear that day. Happily, as we know, it all came right – and Max survived to demonstrate that he was a force in the Championship during Leeds’ first season back, when we briefly threatened to charge through the second tier and into the top flight at the first time of asking.

Sadly, the executive management of the club was deeply flawed at that time, and a succession of managers found themselves hamstrung by the dodgy policies of the bearded menace in the boardroom. Gradel was one casualty of a bizarre transfer ethos which seemed to identify any player with real potential to take the club forward as a priority sale item. We lost a lot of good players, and the best we have done since, really, is tread water in the Championship – nowhere near good enough for a club like Leeds.

Now, current crises notwithstanding, there may be a glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel – certainly as far as player recruitment goes. The club has managed to secure the services of some genuinely exciting players, without (so far) revisiting the past – although there have always been calls for the likes of Beckford, Snoddy and even Howson to return and fulfil their destiny at Elland Road. The Cellino policy (when he has been allowed to get on with his running of the club) has been to seek out good prospects at the right price, supplementing the signings with an injection of talent from the youth and development squads. Against this background, the re-signing of Gradel would buck the trend somewhat – then again, trends are there to be bucked.

The difference with Gradel is that you feel he needs to be at a club where he’s loved and believed in; he seemed a player who would give of his best most reliably with a vociferous crowd behind him to light the blue touch paper. For this reason above all, the feeling at Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything is that – if there is just one past player Leeds should be looking at re-engaging, then Mad Max Gradel is that man. His ability and pace out wide – something still notably absent in this group – could open up new dimensions for the likes of Sharp, Antenucci, even Doukara and – as we fondly remember – he had a hell of a finish on him as and when he got a sight of the target. His goals against Notts Forest in a pulsating victory at Elland Road (the one where TV commentators tried to excuse a two-footed challenge by a Florist player to claim he shouldn’t have been sent off) will stay long in the memory. The feeling was that Max loved Leeds and that Leeds loved Max – why shouldn’t such a reciprocal passion be re-ignited?

Allowing for whatever may yet happen in the remainder of this window, a move for Gradel could kick-start a survival push this season. It’s a season that few really expected to bring concrete rewards – although you had hopes. But even as part of a rescue mission for a squad that could challenge more confidently next time around, the addition of Max would be an exciting and potentially productive development. As far as this blog is concerned, he would be the top choice should Leeds after all look to bring back just one old favourite.

Maxi for Leeds – yes please. Let’s have a bit of Gradel madness for the rest of this turbulent season.

Cantona Kung Fu Anniversary Evokes Memories of Eric’s English Bow – by Rob Atkinson

Look back in anger: Eric enters the fray

Look back in anger: Eric enters the fray

One notable landmark this weekend was the 20th anniversary, yesterday, of Eric Cantona’s infamous kung-fu kick at Selhurst Park – the original and definitive case, it has been said, of the shit hitting the fan. It took me straight back, not to that martial arts debacle, but over two years earlier to February 8th, 1992 and a Leeds United match I’d attended in the hopes of seeing us make another stride towards becoming champions of England. The venue was Boundary Park, Oldham and the occasion was the day that enfant terrible Cantona made his bow in Football League, Division One. 

It was a day of significance for Leeds United and, in a broader sense, for English football as a whole.  Cantona would shine briefly and fitfully at Leeds, winning an authentic League Championship medal with United before going on to collect several pale imitations on the wrong side of the Pennines.  But on that day of his début, all of the triumphs and controversies of his English career lay unsuspected in the future.  Despite the clamorous press attention – and the spectacle of the excited French hacks and cameramen clustering around the United bench was highly unusual, to say the least – this was an inauspicious start for the mercurial Frenchman. Leeds lost 2-0 to a goal in each half from an Oldham side that usually gave us problems. We witnessed proceedings glumly from the open end behind the goal and Cantona’s introduction as a second-half sub for Steve Hodge did not greatly influence the scrappy nature of the game.

Eric the Champ

Eric the Champ

It says a lot that one of my clearest memories from that game is not of Eric’s bow, but of a lethally noisome fart released by somebody in the tightly-packed mass of Leeds fans. It was a minor masterpiece, rank and ripe – it made you think of condemned cheese stacked in a neglected pig-pen, and it also had you sincerely worrying for the perpetrator’s health. “Christ, fetch the medics!” a plaintive voice was heard to demand, drawing nods of sympathy from fellow sufferers whose eyes were watering as their nostrils tried to run away. To cause that kind of stench on an open terrace in blustery Lancastrian conditions was a notable feat. No slouch in that field of endeavour myself, I could only shake my head in awe and wonderment. I would have been rightly proud of that one.

That Cantona’s entry into English football should be marked by the memory of a fart seems somehow appropriate now. Mention his name to any Leeds fan, and their nose will wrinkle with involuntary disgust; it’s as if the ghost of that legendary flatulent outburst is still summoned by the memory of Eric’s bitter-sweet time with Leeds.

Eric was not, after all, a taste instantly acquired. Thinking back, the English press were not initially that impressed at all. They would refer to him as “Contonaah”, emphasising his relative obscurity outside of France, and I remember one radio summariser reporting on his contribution in a 1-1 draw at Everton: “He doesn’t seem to jump his height or pull his weight,” he mused, blissfully ignorant that he was referring to a man who was but one cut-price transfer away from becoming a press hack’s icon, compulsorily revered. But he was well on his way already to cult status at Elland Road – when he abruptly departed in the most horrific circumstances imaginable.

That infamous transfer has been done to death as various hacks linger lovingly over alleged details of phone calls between Elland Road and the Theatre of Hollow Myths. My own take on it is that Eric and the Pride of Devon were made for each other, but not in a particularly good way.  They naturally set about “imagifying” him as is always their wont, intent on marketing him to their credulous and glory-hungry fans as “moody and magnifique“. So we got the trademark stubble and the turned-up collar – but Eric’s behaviour also changed, markedly for the worse, accumulating a flurry of red and yellow cards in stark contrast to his time with Leeds – and culminating in that notorious “kung-fu” incident.  But even that wasn’t the worst of it, not from a Leeds United point of view.

Whilst I acknowledge the Man U truism that club and player had matching conceit and arrogance such that they belonged together, I still feel that Leeds let Eric go far too cheaply – a huge and unforgivable mistake.  Man U were desperate for a striker at the time and had done their best to prise David Hirst from Sheffield Wednesday. They’d been prepared to go to £5m for him, and it’s to Wednesday’s credit that they told Taggart where to stick his money. But really, that offer should have set the benchmark; Leeds United should have opened negotiations at £5 million and seen what happened from there. They’d have paid up, or gone elsewhere. Either would have been preferable to what actually happened, for in letting Cantona go to Man U on the cheap, Leeds provided a catalyst for the sickening era of Devonian dominance that followed. That’s a terrible, terrible thing for any club to have on its conscience.

Twenty-three years on, that dominance seems finally to be at an end.  Cantona actually lasted only four years or so in England, departing the scene with some proper silver and plenty of fools’ gold. He has since made a career of sorts in films and adverts, having considerably less impact than United’s other footballer-turned-movie star, Vinnie Jones. It all seems such a terribly long time ago now, and for far too much of the period in between the game was in thrall to a choleric Glaswegian who bullied his way, aided initially by his talismanic Eric le Dieu, to far too much success for the liking of any real football fan. Strange to think, it all started on that blustery and smelly afternoon in Oldham, when we were all innocently wondering if this new foreign star could salvage a point for us, and maybe even help us win the last proper League Championship. At least, in the final analysis of that last pre-Murdoch season, it all came right in the end.

The verdict of history on the Cantona move from Leeds, to what is now seen as his spiritual home, has to be that it was the ultimate betrayal of supporters by their club. Leeds United and the men behind the deal were derelict in their duty towards passionately involved fans, both for sanctioning the move in the first place and for failing to extort a far higher price from a club desperately searching for some devil up front. It was a crass piece of business that showed a want of empathy with fans, a lack of the vision that separates devotees from mere functionaries and businessmen.

A few years later, United refused to sell Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to a rival English club and held out for a six-fold profit in Spanish doubloons into the bargain. That was more like it, surely. Had Leeds United chosen to up the ante when Man U came a-calling at the Champions’ door, it’s doubtful that the path of history would have been altered much, if at all. But at least we might have salvaged some precious self-respect from the whole sorry situation – and we’d have been better-placed to laugh at the beginning of the end that night when Eric sailed studs-first into the crowd. Just imagine – if he’d done that whilst at Leeds…

The Top Three Leeds United Transfer Rumours Ever – by Rob Atkinson

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Well, another transfer window is flapping wide open in LS11 just as it is in less crisis-torn football outposts and, embargo notwithstanding, a couple of Serie A fringe performers have breezed into Elland Road and signed for Leeds. Possibly there are more to come, maybe an outgoing or two as well. It’s certainly different, in a good way too, from some of the depressingly inert United transfer markets of the unlamented Bates era – but it hardly compares with the wheeling and dealing we did in more halcyon days. And, if anything, some of the rumours that never came to fruition down the years were more exciting and entertaining than certain signings that actually did happen (take a bow, Messrs. Sharpe & Brolin).

There have been so many players linked with transfers to Leeds United over our chequered history and, in the nature of these things, only a small proportion ever actually pulled on the famous white shirt.  Of those who never arrived, it would probably be easy to name at least two world-class International sides comprising players who were rumoured to be signing for United, but missed out on that pinnacle of honours and finished their careers tragically unfulfilled – apart from the odd cartload of silverware. The likes of Tomáš Skuhravý, Rainer Bonhof, Peter Shilton, Trevor Francis and even Dean Saunders have all, at one time or another, been tipped as Leeds United players, only to remain trapped in dreadful anonymity at the likes of Liverpool, Bayern Munich or Nottingham Forest.  Here – in time-honoured reverse order – are my top three exciting but unrealised rumours – you may well have candidates of your own, so please feel free to comment.

3. Duncan Ferguson
In 1994, it really did look as though this one might happen. The wonderfully talented if ever so slightly thuggish Scottish Imagestriker, looking to move south to England from then mighty Rangers FC, seemed nailed-on for a transfer to Leeds in the region of £4million, but ended up at Everton where he prospered before moving on to Newcastle.  Ferguson had a bit of a “reputation” on and off the field as a nutter – in fact he did time in Barlinnie for over-generous use of that nut in a dispute with Raith Rovers defender John McStay.  A little prone to over-exuberance when he’d had a drop or two (he was known as Drunken Ferguson or alternatively Duncan Disorderly) he had previous convictions for nutting a policeman and punching and kicking a supporter on crutches. Nice.

2. Peter Beardsley
This was one of those “definitely happening, mark my words and get your money on it” rumours Imagethat you’d have so loved to be true.  Beardsley was a wonderful player, class, poise and jinking speed all rolled into one dynamite package of energy and skill. I’d first noticed him in rather abbreviated TV highlights of a Cup game he played for Carlisle United, when he stood out as the real deal among a load of dross.  After a spell in Vancouver, he moved briefly to Man U – but the other thing about Beardsley was that he was such a nice, modest guy – not really the type of player for the Theatre of Hollow Myths at all.  Leeds could have signed him whilst he was at Vancouver – Peter Lorimer recommended that they do just that – but we couldn’t raise the cash (some things never change).  Beardsley made his name at Newcastle, in the same side as a veteran Kevin Keegan and emerging Chris Waddle. From there, a big money move to Liverpool, and it was whilst unaccountably out of favour at Anfield that the Leeds rumour surfaced again – he was buying a house locally, he’d been seen at Elland Road – there really did seem to be something in it. Sadly, Beardsley was The One Who Got Away – Twice.  A great shame, as any club would have been improved by the addition of Beardsley, a phenomenal talent you could have built a team around.

1. Diego Maradona
Surely the craziest rumour ever, bar none. In 1987, Leeds had just missed out, under Billy ImageBremner, on an FA Cup Final and promotion to the top flight in the first-ever play-offs. We were doomed to a hangover season in 87-88 and the fans’ mood and expectations were dulled. Then sensational whispers emerged that managing director Bill Fotherby, a larger-than-life used-car-salesman of a bloke, had managed to persuade the agent of Diego Armando Maradona to enter into talks with Leeds United over the proposed signing of the Argentine superstar. This was only just a year after Maradona had just about single-handedly (geddit?) won the World Cup for the Argies, and his stock could hardly have been higher on the global football scene. Strangely, he had very nearly signed for Sheffield United as a youngster, and for a measly £250,000 at that. The Blunts got Alejandro Sabella instead, who actually did end up briefly at Elland Road. But Maradona was different – astoundingly different to just about anyone else – people compared him favourably to Pele. He was even compared – unfavourably, and by the ever modest and unassuming George Best himself – to self-proclaimed greatest player ever, G. Best. It was a signing that was never going to happen, and surely the Number One Daft Rumour of all time.

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It’s tempting to wonder how the history of Leeds United might have differed if we’d signed Trevor Francis and Peter Shilton in 1974, or Peter Beardsley in 1990, or even the “Hand of God” himself in 1987. The story of any major club is littered with “what ifs” and this certainly applies to our beloved Leeds. Of course our sights are set lower these days – although we’re now roughly about where we were in ’87 when an enterprising director started that Diego rumour, with a view to putting us back on the map.

Perhaps somebody in the Elland Road corridors of power will try to get the excitement going this time around with an audacious loan-with-a-view-to-permanent swoop for the undeniably promising prospect Lionel Messi? Watch this space…

All in Good Leeds Fun: a Short “Man U Joke” Compendium – by Rob Atkinson

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Too much serious stuff is bad for a blog. So let’s have some good, healthy anti-scum humour:

A Leeds United fan was digging at the bottom of his garden, and he unearths an old green bottle.  As it’s very dirty from being in the ground, and because it looks old and possibly valuable, he gets a rag and starts to rub it clean.  All of a sudden, there’s a big cloud of smoke from the neck of the bottle, and out pops this great big Genie.

“Greetings!” says the Genie.  “As you have summoned me, I must grant you three wishes.”

“Great!” says the Leeds fan.  “Can I make my wishes now?”

“You may,” says the Genie, “But be warned: anything you wish for, every Man Utd fan in the world will receive, but twofold.  So if you wish for a million pounds, every Man U fan gets 2 million, if you ask for a mansion, they all get two mansions, and so on.”

“Hmmmm,” says the Leeds fan. “Well, that’s a bit of a downer, but what the heck – I’m not petty. If I’m getting three wishes, I don’t care if they all get double.”

“Very well,” says the Genie.  “Make your first wish!”

“I wish for £10 million in my bank account.” says the Leeds fan.

“Granted!!” says the Genie. “But remember, that means every Man U fan gets £20 million.”

“That’s OK, good luck to them,” the Leeds fan smiles.  “My second wish is for a 25 bedroom mansion in 40 acres of parkland with a lake with an island in it, and all furnished with no regard for expense.”

“Your wish is granted,” says the Genie, “But remember…”

“I know, I know – all the scummers get two mansions, that’s fine!” says the Leeds fan. “Can I make my third and final wish?”

“You may,” says the Genie.  “Just remember the ‘Double’ rule.”

“I’ve remembered,” says the Leeds United fan. “For my third wish, I would like to donate a kidney.”

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A Leeds-supporting white van driver used to amuse himself by running over every man u fan he would see strutting down the side of the road, dressed in their hideous red colours. He would swerve to hit them and there would be a loud “THUMP” and then he would swerve back onto the road.

One day, as the driver was driving along, he saw a priest hitch-hiking. He thought he would do a good turn and pulled the van over. He asked the Priest, “Where are you going, Father?”

“I’m going to say mass at St. Joseph’s church, about two miles down the road,” replied the priest.

“No problem Father! I’ll give you a lift. Climb in!”

The happy priest climbed into the passenger seat and the van continued down the road. Suddenly the driver saw a man u fan walking down the road and instinctively swerved to hit him. But, just in time, he remembered the bloody priest, so at the last minute he swerved back to the road, narrowly missing the man.

However, even though he was certain he’d missed the glory-hunting specimen, he still heard a loud “THUD”. Not understanding where the noise came from, he glanced in his mirrors and when he didn’t see anything he turned to the priest and said, “I’m sorry Father, I almost hit that man u fan, just swerved to miss him!”

“Never fear, my son,” replied the priest. “I got the bugger with the door…”

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Q: What has Old Trafford on a Saturday afternoon at 4:45 pm got in common with Wormwood Scrubs Prison?
A: They are both full of cockneys trying to get out.

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A man u fan dies on match day and goes to heaven in his man u shirt. He knocks on the old pearly gates and out walks St. Peter wearing a Leeds United top.

“Hello mate,” says St. Peter, “I’m sorry, no man u fans in heaven.”
“What?” exclaims the man, astonished.
“You heard, no man u fans.”
“But, but, but….. I’ve been a good man,” replies the aghast man u supporter.
“Oh really,” says St. Peter. “What have you done, then?”
“Well,” said the guy, “Three weeks before I died, I gave £10 to the starving children in Africa.”
“Oh,” says St. Peter. “Anything else?”
“Well, two weeks before I died, I also gave £10 to the homeless.”
“Hmmm. Anything else?”
“Yeah. A week before I died I gave another £10 to the Albanian orphans.”
“Okay,” said St. Peter, “You wait here a minute while I have a word with the governor.”

Ten minutes pass before St. Peter returns. He looks the bloke in the eye and says, “I’ve had a word with God – actually, He lets me call him Don.  Anyway, He agrees with me. Here’s your thirty quid back – now bugger off.

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Top tip for Manchester United fans: don’t waste money on expensive new kits every season. Simply strap an inflatable penis to your forehead, and everyone will immediately know which team you support…

Please feel free to contribute your own anti-scum jokes in the comments to this article.  Times are hard and friends are few – it’s our solemn duty to laugh at the scum.

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DOH!!!!

Man U to Appeal to FA Over “Cooler” Leeds United Nicknames – by Rob Atkinson

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“The Damned United” – über-cool nickname for The Last Champions

In a shock move designed to placate millions of loyal and bewildered fans across the world, some of whom have even visited the Theatre of Hollow Myths, Man U – famously celebrated as the “Pride of Devon” – are to appeal directly to the Football Association in the matter of what they see as a gross injustice, whereby Leeds United have far cooler nicknames than Manchester’s second/third club.

The matter is being taken very seriously due to an outcry from distressed armchair owners the length and breadth of Cornwall and clear across to Milton Keynes.  A spokesman for Man U was quoted as saying “Some of our fans are very upset indeed.  They’ve heard Leeds United being referred to as “the Damned United” and even as “the Last Champions”, and they fear that these nicknames have a ring of cool credibility that our own branding sadly lacks.” But what about the traditional nicknames for Man U such as the Red Devils? “That’s a problem too,” said the spokesman, glumly. “Too many football fans from other clubs have sussed out that we originally nicked that from Salford RL when we re-branded and stopped being Newton Heath.  The realisation that we’re not the only, nor even the first United – that’s also come as a blow to many of our faithful Sky TV followers. There’s a lot of disillusion out there, especially now the team is so crap…”

The protest to the FA will contain a number of key proposals, including but not limited to new “Branding Fair Play” regulations.  “We’ll also be asking for a right of veto as to nicknames being applied to other clubs,” said our Man U contact. “Nicknames deemed by us as just too cool for anyone but our own Man U will be appropriated and patented as Man U copyright. Sadly, it’s too late for that with the two Leeds nicknames, they’re already solidly identified with that lot from Elland Road.  It’s not fair, it’s not right – but there’s not a lot even we can do about it.  But you tell me how we’re going to convince even our fans that we’re the biggest and greatest in the world when we don’t have the biggest stadium, the most fans, the most money, a winning team – and now we don’t even have the coolest nicknames??  It’s JUST NOT FAIR. Time was we could do what we wanted…”

At this point, the spokesman tailed off, sobbed a little and flounced off tearfully for a lie down – but an FA source was able to confirm for us that an Official Whinge had indeed been lodged.  “We are considering the matter,” the FA stated. “Frankly, we feel we should help Man U in this, if at all possible.  We’re aware that our referees haven’t perhaps been as co-operative this season as they have been in the past – and we’ve all been a bit at sea since S’ralex stepped down as Supreme Commander.  We’ll certainly look sympathetically on whatever representations are made to us.”

A Man U supporters group had been prepared to talk to us, but changed their intentions at the last minute after we advised them we’d have to reveal they are based in Kent.  They issued a short statement which read: “We have quite enough people taking the piss out of us already without all this, thanks very much.”

When we contacted Leeds United, they were slightly more forthcoming: “We have no objection to being known as “The Damned United” if that’s what people out there want to do,” we were told. “Furthermore, we can confirm that, as everyone knows, we are the Last Champions and that we’re also the only Damned United worth bothering about, my friend.”

Ticket tout Bobby Charlton is 103.

Top Five Leeds United Injustices (and the Guilty Refs…) – by Rob Atkinson

Webb:  Not as Bent as Michas or Kitabdjian

Webb: A Sad Loss to the Pride of Devon – Yet Not as Bent as Michas or Kitabdjian

By way of diversion while I try to get the creative juices flowing again after an extended break from blogging, I thought I’d highlight some famous instances where Leeds have signally failed to get the rub of the green over the years – just to get myself into the requisite angry and resentful frame of mind.  Despite the fact that, currently, it’s the elderly and bewildered dotards of the Football League itself girding their withered loins to deal our club a death blow, the focus here is on referees rather than those clueless suits at the top – and I’ve had no compunction about naming and shaming.

Here, then, in reverse order of spectacular bentness and/or incompetent buffoonery, are the Top Five candidates for “Injustice of the 20th Century”:

No. 5:  Wolves 2, Leeds 1  –  8th May 1972  (Ref: Bill Gow)

I’ve placed this as least serious from a refereeing point of view because – in the crucial penalty incident – Mr Gow was unsighted and badly let down by his linesman J C Collins of Macclesfield, an inexperienced official who apparently “froze”.  It does seem to have been a blatant handball and a definite penalty though – in a match where Leeds would win the Title and therefore the “Double” if they could avoid defeat.  Tellingly, Mr Gow got home that night to be greeted by his wife saying “It looked a penalty on the telly.”  My main culprits for this game are the callous officials of the FA and Football League, who insisted a tired team should play a title decider a mere two days after a gruelling FA Cup Final against Arsenal.  Leeds did not even get to celebrate their Cup triumph, heading straight off to Wolverhampton with their battered and wounded bodies and their missing heroes.  It was a shoddy affair that you could not envisage these days. Respected “Guardian” writer Eric Todd described the uncaring treatment of a gallant Leeds side as “scandalous”.

No. 4:  Leeds United 1, West Brom 2  –  17 April 1971  (Ref: Ray Tinkler)

No doubts about the culprit here.  Ray Tinkler’s face as he walked off the Elland Road pitch after this display wore a tellingly apprehensive expression; that of a man who knew he was walking out of a storm and into a typhoon.  The game turned on an offside call – or more accurately, two of them.  Already one down against opponents they’d been expected to beat easily, Leeds were pressing hard.  A victory was vital in the race for the Title, anything less would pass the advantage to Arsenal.  Then Norman Hunter gave the ball away on halfway with most of the Leeds side committed forward.  The ball bounced off Tony Brown into the Leeds half where a clearly-offside Colin Suggett is loitering as the linesman flags for the free-kick.  Tony Brown continues his run when Tinkler fails to blow in response to the flag, passes the ball to Astle – also in an offside position – who scores.  A season’s work, in the words of Don Revie, is undone in a few mad moments.  Barry Davies, commentating for the BBC, memorably remarked “…and Leeds will go mad.  And they’ve every right to go mad..”  Strong stuff from a sober professional.  In the wake of the crowd disturbances that ensued, Leeds were forced to play their first home games of the following season away from Elland Road, a sanction that led to points being dropped, and probably contributing to their narrow failure to win the 1972 title as well.  So Mr. Tinkler may well have done us for two Championship crowns.  Cheers, Ray.

No. 3:  Chelsea 1, Leeds United 0  –  FA Cup Semi-final at Villa Park  29 April 1967  (Ref:  Ken Burns)

The classic FA Cup Semi: two fine teams, not at all fond of each other – the fashionable Kings Road fancy dans of Chelsea against Don Revie’s battle-hardened stormtroopers.  Or so the Press would have it.  Chelsea were ahead late on, a fine goal from Tony Hateley being the difference.  Leeds thought they’d drawn level when Cooper scored, but the effort was chalked off for offside, despite vociferous complaints from the Leeds players who swore blind that Cooper had come from an onside position.  Then, a free kick 25 yards out.   The ref took some seconds organising Chelsea’s defensive wall, and then caught the eye of John Giles – a commonly-accepted signal for the free kick to be taken.  Giles rolled the ball to Lorimer, who smashed it into Bonetti’s net.  Leeds were joyful, Chelsea despaired – but referee Burns ruled the goal out, ordering a retake because Chelsea’s wall was not far enough back – a technical offence against Leeds.   As the commentator declared, “They’ll have to look through the rule book backwards to find a reason.” The retaken free-kick came to nothing, and Leeds were out of the Cup in the cruellest circumstances.

No. 2:  Bayern Munich 2, Leeds United 0 – European Cup Final, Parc des Princes, Paris May 28 1975 (Ref: Michel Kitabdjian)

38 years on, this still sticks in the collective craw of Leeds United fans.  38 years on, we still sing “We are the Champions, Champions of Europe” in ritual protest.  Two blatant penalty shouts in the first half, the guilty man on both occasions was Der Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer.  First he handled blatantly in the area, and then a “scissors” tackle on Allan Clarke – you wondered how anyone could fail to give either.  Leeds were completely outplaying Bayern, drawing sympathy even from the English TV commentator who was bemoaning the lack of a more even contest.  Then in the second half the ball falls perfectly for Peter Lorimer just outside the Bayern penalty area.  Lorimer times his volley superbly, and it flies into the net, beating Sepp Maier all ends up.  Then confusion as the goal seems to be given, until Beckenbauer urgently directs the ref to speak to his linesman.  More confusion, then the goal is disallowed.  Bayern score twice against a demoralised Leeds near the end, and the European Cup is snatched from the hands of Revie’s old guard; the triumph that was to crown their careers torn away in the most dubious fashion imaginable.

No. 1:  Leeds United 0, AC Milan 1 – ECWC Final, Salonika, Greece 16 May 1973 (Ref: Christos Michas)

This is the Grand-daddy of bent matches, a game almost universally acknowledged to have been as straight as a corkscrew, allegations of bribery, the referee banned by UEFA afterwards – and still the 1973 Trophy is written into the extensive honours list of AC Milan.  Justice, as they say, is a gag.  Peter Lorimer on the match: “It was wholly, indisputably and wretchedly bent…”  Johnny Giles was out with an injured hamstring, but he’d been working for the media and had heard that the ref was “in Milan’s pocket”.  His gloomy view before the game was that it was one Leeds United wouldn’t be allowed to win.  Three minutes gone, and Milan are awarded a free-kick, a decision that could charitably be described as dodgy.  A weak shot takes a cruel deflection on its way into the Leeds net, and it’s 1-0 early on.  From then onwards, it was a story of United pressure thwarted by thuggish challenges from the Milanese, decision after decision going against the increasingly frustrated and demoralised Leeds team, two, possibly three good penalty shouts waved away by Michas, and inevitably the game finished with Milan leading by that early goal, collecting the trophy to hoots of anger and derision from the outraged Greek crowd who cheered the defeated Leeds side as they limped round on a lap of honour “after this most dishonourable of matches.”

There has been a petition to UEFA with a view to overturning the result in this wretched blot on the history of the game, awarding the trophy and medals retrospectively to Leeds.  UEFA did nothing.  I even started a second petition myself as, since the original effort in 2009, Christos Michas has died and is therefore not in a position to have his tender feelings wounded by justice being done.  So it seemed appropriate to try to revive the matter – why should UEFA be permitted to sit complacently on such a scandalously unfair outcome?  That petition can still be supported here.

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Leeds have frequently been the victims of poor decisions and examples of prejudice against them over the years.  They are still, to the best of my knowledge, the only team to concede a goal to the background of the referee punching the air in celebration – supposedly of a good advantage decision, but really?  Would it happen if the victims had been Man U?  In 1987, an FA black-tie junket broke out into cheers of joy when news arrived of Leeds’ Play-off Final replay defeat against Charlton.  We appear to be hated by prats everywhere.

These are the five most blatant examples I could find of occasions when “The Damned United” have suffered at the hands of officialdom, referees in particular.  I’m sure there are many less famous instances, and I’d be interested to hear the recollections of others. More recent examples could include retrospective action against Lee Bowyer which ruled what was our star man that season out of a Champions League semi-final against Valencia (check out a blatant handball for the first goal in the away leg, too) plus a dodgy re-examination of an incident involving Jermaine Beckford at home to Millwall in a vital League One game as we were going for promotion.

It’s a well-known saying in the game that bad decisions, like bad luck, tends to even out over time so that all teams are more or less equal in the long run.  I think any Leeds fan who has even a passing acquaintance with the club’s history would have a wry grin at that one.

Be the Judge: the Top Ten Leeds United Goals? – by Rob Atkinson

Now, this is not my personal selection of the top ten Leeds United goals – I suspect that I’m older than the compiler of this excellent video, so I’d have had some of my favourites from further back in there – then again, you could easily end up with a Top 20 or 30 that way. Fifty or a hundred, even – there’s a rich seam to be mined if your memory’s long enough. Off the top of my head, I’d go for David Batty‘s goal drought-ending effort against Man City – for the crowd reaction as much as anything else. And I’d have Tony Currie‘s famous “banana shot” for sheer quality. Both goals scored in games I saw from the Kop, at that end of the ground – which perhaps explains my bias.

I’m sure there are many, many more goals that could or should merit inclusion in a top ten that goes back further than this one – I’d love to hear your nominations too – but I reckon that this guy has done a pretty fair job all round. I agree with the order of his top two, for a start – I’ve always thought that Yeboah’s thunderbolt at Wimbledon was better than his goal of the season effort at home to Liverpool.

In the course of this video, Liverpool come in for a fair bit of punishment, actually. All four of Viduka’s famous quartet are there – even the offside winner, which seems a little harsh. And of course Yeboah picked on the Scousers too, with that wondrous dipping volley.

Speaking of “Goals of the Season, there’s one in there that should have been a winner – but it wasn’t, due to the clueless ineptitude of Andy Gray. Long before he got sacked for his sexist pig double-act with his hirsute mate Richard Keyes, Gray used to apply his “expertise” to the Sky version of MoTD‘s annual beauty contest for goals. He passed over little Rodders’ effort against Spurs, saying that the Spurs defence had basically stood aside and politely waved Wallace through. Andy – yooouu PLONKER. And, to add insult to injury, he actually chose a bog-standard far-post header by Alan Shearer against Leeds. Clueless Scottish git.

Anyway, see what you think if you have a few spare minutes. It’s a video well worth watching – and you can decide for yourselves about the goals left out, and what order these ten should have been in according to your own preferred favourite.  But most of all, just enjoy these mainly fabulous goals all over again. 

£104 for a Standing Season Ticket at Leeds United? Ja, Danke! – by Rob Atkinson

Uli Hoeneß in happier times

Uli Hoeneß in happier times

A stunning quote from a couple of years back drifted randomly across my desktop earlier today – and it fair brought me up sharp. It all had to do with the stark distinction between admission prices in the Premier League as compared with those charged for Bundesliga clubs in Germany. Across the board, the English clubs charged prices well towards the rip-off end of the scale, whereas their German counterparts had a much more enlightened view of match-day revenue – summed-up extremely neatly by this quote, which was not so much food for thought as a veritable banquet for a delegation of philosophers.

Before I go any further into that, I should highlight a couple of salient points. The person being quoted is Uli Hoeness, famously and unforgivably the wearer of the number 10 shirt when Bayern Munich cheated Leeds United out of the European Cup in 1975. Hoeness it was, incidentally, after that match, who described Terry Yorath’s early challenge on Björn Andersson as the “most brutal foul I think I have ever seen” – clearly, he was unaware of the thuggish prowess of one Norbert “Nobby” Peter Stiles. Andersson was so badly injured in fact, that he had to quit football and join Abba – just kidding. Anyway, I digress.

Hoeness made this quote, the one that’s belatedly struck me only today, when he was the Bayern Club President – a role he later had to relinquish on account of a conviction for tax evasion, for which he was sentenced to three and a half years in jail. However, I do not accept that either his recent criminal conviction, or his part in the swindling of Billy’s Boys in 1975, constitute any reason to dispute the fact that Uli Hoeness was responsible for the most earth-shatteringly sensible statement in the entire history of football.

So, without any further ado, let’s just look at that quote. Commenting on Bayern’s advertised price at the time for “safe standing” season tickets, Hoeness said:

‘We could charge more than £104. Let’s say we charged £300. We’d get £2m more in income but what’s £2m to us?

‘In a transfer discussion you argue about that sum for five minutes. But the difference between £104 and £300 is huge for the fan.

‘We do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody.

‘That’s the biggest difference between us and England.’

Just sit back and take that in. Have you ever heard a simpler, more concise statement of good sense and unarguable logic? The man is stating that, in England, the fans are treated as cattle, to be milked for what they can give – and simply herded from pillar to post the rest of the time. He’s utterly right, indisputably and brilliantly spot-on. The fact of his links to Paris in 1975 – something the mere mention of which can still make a Leeds fan’s ears bleed – is neither here nor there. His tax-evasion and subsequent conviction and incarceration are likewise irrelevant. The guy is simply right – and it’s just as undeniably true today, as we face another football season here and in the newly-crowned leading football nation in the world, Germany.

What’s more, although the figures from the time, two years back, are a comparison between Bundesliga and Premier League, that comparison applies with almost equal impact to the English second tier, the Championship – and this is most certainly true of my beloved but obscenely pricey Leeds United. Have a gander:-

Rip-off England v Value Germany

Rip-off England v Value Germany

Remember, all of these figures are from a couple of years ago – but there are no grounds to suspect that the comparison is any less eye-watering today. The central point that Hoeness was making – that the actual benefit to clubs of higher prices is minimal, as compared to the burden it puts upon hard-pressed fans – is just as valid now as it has always been, and it’s unaffected by the sad fall from grace of the man himself.

Just think of it – what would be the effect if, for instance, Leeds United were able and willing to charge a lower rate of maybe £120 per season for a season ticket – said ticket to be for admission to one or more vast safe-standing areas? The first thing you’d get would be a years-long waiting list for those tickets – the demand would be incredible. Secondly, differentials would have to reduce in proportion, making higher-price seating tickets relatively cheaper. Again, demand would rocket; the stadium would in all likelihood be over-subscribed for every home game. A bigger stadium would become necessary. Leeds United would also be pioneers, the club that broke the mould and stopped ripping their fans off. Didn’t Big Mass himself say something along those lines just the other day?

The fact is that, with increased attendances, everything else improves – including profit margins. Incidental match expenditure would be a much bigger revenue item, as souvenirs, food, drinks, programmes – everything – sold in much higher numbers. Safe standing is, of course, a whole separate argument, with uneasy connotations for anyone who remembers Hillsborough ’89 – but it’s a case that is slowly gathering momentum as the policy is seen to work well elsewhere. The atmosphere under such conditions would improve out of all recognition. The “safe standing” areas would give back an area of the stadium to the fans who always used to generate that atmosphere: the singers, the shouters, the passionate and involved people that really got behind the team. 

Football would, at least in part, be returned to the working man and woman, from whom it has been so rudely snatched in the Sky/Murdoch era. It would be returned to the children too, the raw material for the next generation of hard-core fanatics. Football would be regaining its present and its future. The whole thing would be so incredibly better and more entertaining and inclusive, that people would be scratching their heads and wondering – why had nobody thought of this before? But somebody did, or at least they summarised the philosophy behind it. A former German international footballer, currently languishing in Landsberg Prison.

The current situation in English football is ridiculous when looked at in these terms. The seeds of disillusion for many Leeds fans – and I know this for a fact – were sown long before the club’s dramatic fall from grace from 2004 onwards. For many, the last straw came with the ending of the “East Stand Bond” arrangement, whereby bond-holders, who had contributed £500 each to the construction of the Magnificent New East Stand, had their season tickets pegged at early-nineties prices, and adjusted only for inflation. When that deal ended, those bond holders faced a dramatic rise in the cost of their season tickets because, in the real world outside of the “bond bubble”, match-day and seasonal costs had risen so dramatically. Many were sickened by the sharp elevation in their football expenses, and disappeared off the club’s radar.

The reason for the sharp rise can be divined from a glance at the bottom line on a Premier League player’s wageslip – but as Hoeness said, there’s no real logic to it. Look at that quote again – a club can get a few million quid extra with higher prices – which amounts to a haggling point in one major transfer deal, at the cost of inflicting debt and misery on their loyal supporters. Where’s the sense, or indeed the justice, in that?

As in so many things since the end of the Second World War, Germany gets it right where we get it spectacularly wrong. It just keeps happening time and time again, in industry, culture, sport in general and football in particular – on and off the field. The difference in pricing policy between the two countries’ league structures is not down to Hoeness, of course. It’s a function of logic and common sense on the one side, as opposed to greed, short-sightedness and muddled thinking on the other. It’s just that Hoeness came up with that memorable quote, that devastating logic. You’d think that even a complete fool, a purblind ass, a clueless ditherer without the first idea of how to organise inebriation in a brewery, would be made to see sense by the sheer rightness of his summary.

And on that note, gentlemen of the Football League, the FA and the EPL – it’s over to you.

 

 

Are Chelsea Wreckers Bradford City Heading for Another Glorious Wembley Battering? – by Rob Atkinson

A Bratfud fan with a typically creative solution to the problem of Fido's funeral

A Bratfud fan with a typically creative solution to the problem of Fido’s funeral

It’s been a pretty good year so far in the domestic cups, for some of Yorkshire’s minnow teams. Sheffield United, the Brave Little Blunts of Bramall Lane, are in the League Cup semis (don’t ask me to remember the sponsors, for heavens’ sake). In the same competition, Bradford City enjoyed one of their finest hours in an earlier round, with an only slightly fortuitous win over our own beloved ten-man Leeds United, celestially anointed Kings of the Broad Acres. Even poor old Sheffield Wendies managed to keep the aggregate tally against them down to single figures in losing twice in two competitions at Manchester City.

In the FA Cup, even more than usually for such a notoriously minnow-friendly institution, this was a weekend of genuine shocks, all over the shop. Again, Yorkshire’s tiddler clubs were to the fore in the tragic but not unexpected absence of Super Leeds – who had reprised their 1973 defeat at the hands of the Dirty Mackems, first time of asking. So it was left to the little guys again, the Blunts for one; they will take Simon Grayson’s Preston to a replay in Sheffield (good luck, SG).

Without any doubt at all though, the star turns of this 4th round so far are those battling Bantams from Valley Parade. In a performance they must treasure nearly as much as beating Leeds for the first time since the end of rationing, they went down to London and bearded the English title favourites Chelsea in their own lair. Feinting craftily to go two behind and thus lull the Rentboys into a false sense of half-time security, they emerged from their interval cuppas to seize the game by the throat – and proceeded mercilessly to throttle Jose’s troops to death with a four goal salvo that quite simply took their beastly breath away.

Last year’s League Cup Final achievement ended amusingly in a highly creditable (if you listened to the media) 0-5 defeat for the ten-man Bantams at the hands of Swansea City – who spent most of their time that Wembley afternoon trying to look as if it wasn’t just too, too easy. After a result like their defeat of Chelsea, though – where they made a whole nation laugh themselves weak-bladdered by slaying a far better team – plucky Bratfud must fancy their chances of at least matching last season’s feat. Maybe they can even cherish hopes of improving on it, by holding out for a 0-3 Final defeat against a Liverpool or a Palace or similar. Less of a thrashing against more illustrious opponents – that’d be progress. And you never know – it could happen.

Watching the richly comic spectacle of Mourinho’s Millionaires buckle and collapse against a genuine two-bob West Yorkshire pub team, it was impossible – despite the vitriolic hatred all Bratfud fans nurse in their bosoms where Super Leeds are concerned – quite impossible not to share in the joy and the laughter. After all, this was Chelsea, worshippers at the Altar of Mammon, for whom no trophy is beyond their Mafia-funded purse, stumbling to utter, shambolic humiliation against the rankest of rank paupers – whose team cost precisely zilch. It was beyond funny and, in the midst of all that comedy and Schadenfreude, it’s really easy to forget such little local difficulties as Bratfud’s Leeds United complex.

Anyway, as any knowledgeable Leeds fan will confirm, and as those few Bratfud fans who don’t exist in a state of permanent denial will admit, the Bantams/Whites hate affair is strictly a one-way street. We’ve always been the chip on their bitterly resentful shoulder – but, historically, we’ve had bigger, uglier, much more intrinsically detestable fish to fry. Leeds have never really gone in for hating on spurious grounds of mere proximity – it’s a sterile waste of time and passion. So, from our point of view, we have no real local rivalry, whereas every little club in Yorkshire (and elsewhere, it should be said) cordially, rabidly detests Leeds United. ‘Twas ever thus and, doubtless, ’twill ever be.

The best we can really do for those Bratfud fans who so desperately wish us to reciprocate their passionate and unrequited hatred is – well, to condescend to be pleased for them for a time, when a day like this Chelsea tie rolls around. And – as good, God-fearing, Chelsea-hating Leeds United fans – we are pleased for them. Very pleased. Really we are. It stands to reason. And besides, the Bantams actually deserved their victory, certainly far more than the faintly lucky Middlesbrough side did at Man City. It has indeed been Cup Shock Saturday, with big, shiny bells on.

So – Bradford march proudly on, perhaps even unto another deeply gratifying Wembley humiliation. Good luck to them, and to all the other Yorkshire small fry as they progress, against all sense and logic, in the cups. It’s all good as far as this Leeds fan is concerned. Why, I’ll even be rooting for the Blunts against Spurs on Wednesday – but then I’ll be after another enjoyable dose of Capital punishment for fellow Tykes at that there Wembley, just to help them remember their lowly place in the scheme of things. It wouldn’t do otherwise, would it? It would reflect badly on the region’s only proper football club.

After all – charity begins at home. And, nice guy and warm-hearted softy though you may be; you can really only take your faintly patronising condescension towards scruffy, unappreciative neighbours so far…