Back to School for the “Class of ‘92” as Bielsa’s Leeds Master Salford – by Rob Atkinson

The Last Champions – Masters of 1992

As anyone who has watched the entertaining Class of 92 TV series will attest, Salford City have come a long, long way in a short, short time, gaining multiple promotions from what was their virtual grass roots status, and picking up a spiffy new stadium along the way. All very admirable, even if some insist on pointing out that this progress has been courtesy of many more millions in funding than you commonly see so far down the football pyramid. It would seem that Financial Fair Play has a different meaning at this thud and blunder stratum of the game, though you’ll likely be accused of poor taste by those behind the Salford/media love-fest if you’re presumptuous enough to point this out.

Still, the TV programmes have been entertainment gold for all of us who like to be flies on walls in tantrum-riven half time dressing rooms, or even post-defeat boardrooms, when things are going awry. It’s a vicious as well as vicarious sort of amusement but, for the past few days leading up to our own Leeds United heroes’ Cup tie appointment with Salford, it’s helped fill the void that opened up in the wake of being scurvily robbed of victory against Nottingham Forest. There was drama aplenty and some unwitting comedy too, particularly in the moment of fulfilment as Salford gained promotion to the Football League at Wembley, with co-owner Gary Neville’s high-pitched Mancunian squeaks of celebration disappearing off the audible scale and becoming something only dogs or Huddersfield fans could hear.

So much for Salford’s mundane but latterly meteoric history prior to last night. For the Leeds United home tie was where their new era truly began, after one victory and one defeat at League Two level, with the visit of the biggest club in the entire Football League. Anticipation was quite naturally at fever pitch and the new stadium, whose corporate name I entirely forget, was packed to its Meccano rafters. All was ready – and the scene was set, so Sky Sports clearly and fervently hoped, for a juicy giant-killing, with S’rAlex and his erstwhile footballing sons, together with the legendary Lawman, clustered eagerly in the main stand to witness the deeply desired humbling of Leeds United.

Alas, these things so often fail to work out as planned, something any random sample of mice and men will confirm. Before kick-off, over-excited Salford fans were issuing predictions of a 3-1 victory, and even the normally pragmatic Gary Neville so far forgot himself as to join in with such ill-advised optimism. Gary is prone to the odd mental aberration where Leeds United are concerned, somehow contriving to have entirely forgotten, despite pictorial evidence of him looking dismayed in the background while Jermaine celebrated his goal at the Beckford End, United’s 1-0 FA Cup victory at the Theatre of Hollow Myths in 2010. Gary had thought that Leeds were back in his life for the first time since 2004 – but he is getting on a bit, bless him, and these lapses are understandable.

The match started with both sides in wary, probing mode, and with Salford managing to prevent Leeds getting behind them whilst launching a few raids of their own on the counter-attack. This was enough, despite United’s domination of possession, for the Sky commentary team, featuring ever-reliable Leeds-hater Don Goodman, to proclaim that the home team had been the better side – and the coverage featured numerous cutaway shots of the strangely named “Class of 92” looking resolutely happy whenever Salford did anything remotely competent. But reality bit ravenously at Lancastrian jugulars just before the interval, with Helder Costa making a quicksilver dart for the byline to be found by a beautiful Jamie Shackleton pass inside the full-back. Costa laid a devastating ball across the six yard box to find fellow debutant Eddie Nketiah emerging between two bamboozled centre-backs to finish decisively into an empty net. Salford had been cut asunder by a moment of class from a higher sphere, and all of a sudden, those lovingly lingering shots of the ersatz Class of 92 were a thing of the past. Don Goodman talked hopefully about Nketiah being offside and of how Salford could now capitalise on their good play after the interval, but his hope and his enthusiasm were waning. And, happily, worse was to come.

In the second half, Leeds piled on that lovely agony with a near post flick from Berardi and a sumptuous finish from Klich which topped off a sweeping, length of the pitch break from a Salford corner. It was “job done”, and the disgruntled Sky guys knew it, opting now to talk instead of United’s draw at home against Forest in a vain attempt to rekindle the Leeds crisis atmosphere they’d worked so hard to generate pre-match. For the rest, there were a couple of elbows to Leeds heads, dismissed by Goodman as unintentional, and the standard stonewall penalty not given when Shacks was hauled back in the box. 3-0 and finis, a tricky tie safely negotiated.

A look around other results last night will show you that Sky’s hopes for a Salford victory had been not all that unrealistic. This stage of this competition has upsets as the norm, not the exception. Among the more amusing outcomes were Barnsley’s 0-3 capitulation to Carlisle, with ex-United man Aapo Halme having a ‘mare, and Huddersfield losing at home to a single goal by Lincoln City to cries from literally dozens of dog-botherers for their new manager to get him hence. So the processional nature of United’s progress would have been a matter of bitter regret to Goodman and Co, who surely must have reflected that they should have looked elsewhere for their longed-for upset.

What else can be taken away from this tie, what lessons are there to be learned? One is that the myth of Leeds’ shallow squad is just that; with the likes of Shackleton, Davis and young Alfie McCalmont looking ready to supplement the established stars, we seem comfortably well-off for squad depth to this blogger’s eye. Also, the myth of The Class of 92 can now finally be scotched. The Last Champions were the real Class of 92 and, if you’re looking for winners in the clash of emerging talents, let’s not forget that the Nevilles, the Scholes the Beckhams et al, while victorious in the Youth Cup of 92, comprehensively bit the dust in the Final of 93, beaten in both legs by the boys from Elland Road.

All in all, then, a most satisfactory evening, with United enjoying the fruits of victory and Fergie, along with his protégés, choking on some well-earned humble pie. Which really is exactly as it should be.

Marching On Together

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Steady Away as Leeds United’s Home Season Gets Off to a Stuttering Start – by Rob Atkinson

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Best view in the house – West Stand gantry

It was a close and steamy morning at Elland Road last Saturday as I arrived at the ground in good time to see the atmosphere build towards the start of another Leeds United home season. The wind was up in more ways than one as I sat in blustery conditions outside what used to be Sheila’s Cafe, opposite the West Stand car park gates. In the past, you would often see United stars in there, gathered around one of Sheila’s tables, winding down after a Fullerton Park training session. Now, the cafe was chock-a-block with nervous fans, trying to control those butterflies in the stomach with fry-ups and copious draughts of hot tea, and relegating me to that outside table.

The nerves were understandable; every Leeds fan was keenly aware of the need for a win to build on a great start to the season down at Bristol City. The prospect of Nottingham Forest, always awkward opponents for United, made the pre-match atmosphere crackle with tension, even at 9:30 before a half past twelve kick-off. From here on in, that tension would build and build. 

A welcome end to the summer hiatus was marked by the sight of match-going friends being reunited with a hug and a slap on the back. “Happy New Year”, they greeted each other, only half in jest, acknowledging that we football fanatics observe a different, seasonal calendar. After the hellos and the hugs, the talk was all of the squad changes over summer: how much would we miss Pontus and Roofe? Would this Arsenal kid (Eddie Nketiah) be able to fill Kemar’s talented boots? Could Patrick Bamford finally hit form and rip up the Championship? It was a buzz of excited talk, reflecting the hope and optimism of a season hardly started, with three precious points already in the bank.

Inside the ground, fresh from a welcome sausage butty outside that packed cafe, I find that the press lounge matchday fare is… a sausage butty. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. So I chew away happily, read the programme, try to put some names to new faces and collect a bottle of water to take aloft to the West Stand gantry and gape anew at the best view in the house. From here, the ground looks like a perfect bowl, the asymmetrical East Stand upper tier hidden by the West Stand fascia, with the scoreboard and gap at the south-west corner almost invisible somewhere to my right. In the first half, I position myself towards the south end of the gantry, next to the BBC Radio Nottingham commentators who are busy with their match preview piece. Looking straight down, I’m almost directly above the tunnel from which the gladiators are emerging in dribs and drabs, to go through the pre-match warm up. In the second half, I’ll move north, towards the Revie Stand, the Kop. Meanwhile, the Forest fans below are trading insults with the South Stand, and the atmosphere ramps up another notch.

Now it’s nearly kick-off, and the teams run out for real to a clamour of rival welcomes. Below me, the Forest substitutes pick their way through the Leeds technical area, being politely careful not to kick Bielsa’s bucket. All is ready, it’s now time for the hostilities to commence.

United, as expected, dominate throughout, but their superior possession yields only one goal and, near the end, they are punished by the classic sucker punch. But they’ve played well, and have legitimate complaints about the standard of refereeing. That’s an all too frequent lament, something that Leeds, yet again, will simply have to overcome. All the signs are that this squad has the potential and the ability to do just that. In the end, I’m left regretting not only the undeserved loss of two home points, but also my unforgivable failure immediately to recognise the guy sitting next to me in the second half as United legend Andy Hughes, a stalwart in the League One promotion team of 2010. Sorry, Andy. I’m clearly not worthy. 

So, another season has started at Elland Road. And who can really know what’s in store for us in the next nine or so months? Maybe tonight’s League Cup tie at newly-arrived Salford City will provide some clues, as a few signings and some fringe players seek to stake their claims. But all we have right now are fervent hopes and the optimism that somehow still infects those who have been let down so sorely and so often. Come on, Leeds, let’s really make it happen this time around…

Marching On Together.

Leeds Fans Must Now be United Behind Club and Team – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Fans United

Every Leeds United fan knows that following the Whites automatically includes you as part of the most fanatical and vociferous band of supporters anywhere. In short, the greatest fans around. This is an article of faith with United fans, not even a matter for debate. So mote it be. 

How very odd, then, to find yourself shaking your head in baffled disbelief at some of the social media output from the massed keyboards of this elite cadre of support. Clearly, with an online presence that probably runs into the millions worldwide, not everybody is going to agree all the time, for instance, on the vexed subject of United’s transfer policy. Still, the why-oh-why stance of a small but loud minority of the virtual support is hard to stomach for those of us who were brought up on the credo of “my club, right or wrong”.

It’s not only a transfer window thing, either. In fact, compared to the negative attitude of some “supporters” towards players struggling for form and confidence, Victor Orta and his transfer team are being afforded a relatively easy ride. Even so, the amount of uninformed criticism surrounding United’s recruitment efforts, during this and other transfer windows, tends to make Twitter an area of the Internet it’s wiser to avoid, especially for those who prefer their blood pressure to remain at a good safe level. Needless to say, that’s not a luxury in which I can indulge, being of the blogger/columnist persuasion, and my hypertension suffers accordingly.

Transfers are complex matters, due to all manner of factors: finances, agents, rival clubs, media and so on. I don’t envy the United officials trying to negotiate such choppy waters while being assailed and vilified on all sides by a section of online fans not overly burdened with any knowledge of what they’re talking about, and even less so by any tact, restraint or decorum. It can’t make the job any easier and, every now and again, you do see a faintly exasperated comment from the club along the lines of “we’re doing our best, we all want good outcomes, please be patient”. Sadly, such assurances usually fall on deaf ears; there are those out there, it seems, who wallow in negativity and relish any chance to have a moan or offer their unqualified opinions. 

It’s the carping criticism of certain players, though, that really offends and annoys. Take Patrick Bamford, for instance. Now, some of the criticism he receives has been fairly gentle and possibly even merited, though his record at United is good, taking into account last season’s injury woes. His milder critics peddle a ruefully humorous line, referring to Patrick as “Lord Bamford of Beeston” and wondering, tongue in cheek, if he shouldn’t delegate his goal-scoring duties to his butler. That’s the kind of thing that, reaching a player’s ears, might make him smile and redouble his determination to succeed. It’s harmless fun and, if the line is drawn there, nobody could really complain. 

But the more serious and malicious abuse is blatantly counter-productive, a classic case of a pistol levelled directly at our own collective foot. Players, and strikers in particular, thrive on confidence and encouragement. It makes little sense to hurl abuse and ill-founded criticism at a player such as Bamford, who will not be assisted by suggestions that he couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo, or that he’s worth less than a written-off, wheel-less banger rusting in a ditch. All that and worse has been flung at Bamford.

Fortunately and thankfully, the lad has a resilient character and a cold determination to succeed. His goal at Bristol City, the movement and the finish from that aristocratic forehead, testify to that. Long may his ability to rise above the howling of the mob continue.

Now, the window is closed until January, and it’s been a far better one than the usual suspects referred to above would wish you to believe. The squad has been purged of certain disruptive elements as identified by Marcelo Bielsa himself and, despite FFP strictures, the overall quality is arguably higher. In any event, we go with what we’ve got; if the performance at Ashton Gate can be maintained or even improved upon, it’ll take a fabulous opposing performance to stop us in any given match.

Whether you’re a matchgoing, raucous fanatic, or confined to long distance support, the message from here is the same. Get behind the team, get behind the club. We’re all on the same journey. Marching On Together.

Leeds to Get £190k EFL Fine Rebate by Claiming Spygate was Actually Racism? – by Rob Atkinson

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Dirty nasty foreign spies Leeds United – and lovely cuddly adorable racist granny Millwall

Leeds United may well have found a loophole, courtesy of the Football League, in the flimsy legal basis for the £200,000 fine levelled against them last season over the so-called “Spygate” furore. It now turns out that, compared to the heinous matter of viewing a rival team training, from a public footpath, through a wire fence, in contravention of absolutely no current rules whatsoever, out-and-out racism is viewed by the Football League as twenty times less serious. This is made clear by the amount Millwall FC have been fined for the racist chanting of some of their fans, a comparatively measley £10,000.

The logic behind United’s next step is now inescapable. If the Elland Road outfit were simply to hold their hands up and reveal that the man on the public footpath was not merely an innocent observer of a training event being held in plain sight, but was actually hurling racist abuse and invective towards certain of the Derby players, then it will be seen that the fine of £200,000 was wrongly set too high by a factor of 2000%. The Football League, by virtue of the precedent they themselves have set, would be forced to refund 95% of United’s fine, in order to demonstrate their commitment to even-handedness and egalitarianism.

In point of fact, the Leeds fine was paid personally by manager Marcelo Bielsa, who assumed full responsibility for the whole situation as far as Leeds United’s involvement was concerned. It is thought that United would not wish to detract from this admirable gesture on their manager’s part, and so will add the refunded amount of £190,000 to club coffers in case they wish to pay up the contracts of any unwanted players they’ve not been able to flog so far.

The Football League is happy to confirm that Millwall Football Club are chirpy, cheery, charming (if a little racist but let’s not hammer them for it) cockneys, which isn’t nearly as bad as nasty horrible Leeds spying on Fwank.

Leeds United Reveal Plans for “Beckford Square” Development at Old Trafford – by Rob Atkinson

Jermaine the Legend scoring at the Beckford End

Following the success of the Bremner Square project at Elland Road, and with a further “Centenary Square” in the offing, there are now audacious plans for a similar development outside the Beckford End at Old Trafford, home of Manchester’s lesser football club.

It’s anticipated that there will be keen interest among Leeds fans in purchasing stones to be laid in the shadow of the Beckford End. The granite squares will feature the LUFC club crest, with a variety of inscriptions available, including the iconic “January the 3rd, remember the date“. It is even suggested that a statue will be commissioned as the central feature of Beckford Square, based on a famous picture of the United striker celebrating his legendary winner, with a disconsolate Gary Neville in the background.

A Leeds spokesperson commented: “We feel that, as we’re running out of space for commemorative squares at Elland Road, it’s time to look further afield and fully exploit the commercial potential of these tribute features because, as we all know, there are Leeds fans everywhere. Old Trafford is a big site with not a vast amount going on so, if this Beckford Square project goes as well as we expect, we may consider a further project in the area known locally, as well as in Torquay, Milton Keynes, Singapore and other such hotbeds of Man U support, as the Forecourt. This would provisionally be named “Last Champions Square“. We’re all quite excited by these innovative ideas”.

It is confidently predicted that, by the year 2050, most of the north of England will be paved in Leeds United commemorative granite stones, realising profits for the club well into the tens of billions of pounds. At this point a takeover bid for Paris Saint-Germain could well be on the cards, with PSG henceforth known as “le petit frère de Leeds United“.

More news as we get it, here at Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. These are exciting times for our great club.

 

Pontus Jansson is the Big Loser in the Latest Leeds United Transfer Shocker – by Rob Atkinson

Pontus Brentford

Pontus Jansson – a sheepish grin

“It started off so well”, sang Freddie Mercury at the beginning of the Queen classic Save Me. “They said we made a perfect pair”. In the early stages of Pontus Jansson’s Leeds United career, it really did seem as though player and club belonged together. Pontus epitomised the United spirit on the field, he was hailed for forging a link between team and supporters, in a passionate and empathetic manner that hadn’t been seen at Elland Road, maybe since the days of the legendary and iconic Vinnie Jones, whose recent tragic bereavement reminds us all that he remains very close to our collective heart. Pontus “got” Leeds, so we thought – he understood the character of the club and the viscerally emotional nature of the fans’ connection to their heroes on the field. Surely, here was a swashbuckling hero of a never-say-die defender, who could lead us back to the promised land, repelling all challengers, wearing his magic hat with pride.

And then, not quite out of the blue, but in a manner both shocking and unexpected, it was all over. Pontus was gone, suddenly he was no longer Leeds; he had departed for the unlikeliest of destinations in Griffin Park, Brentford. Behold an object lesson, as if Leeds fans really needed one, in the fleeting and deceptive nature of fan/player relationships. It’s all happened before, of course – so many of our United icons have been there one day, sporting an opposition shirt and a sheepish grin the next. Cantona, Batty, Snodgrass, Howson, Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. It’s like a roll call of grief and loss so, in many ways, Jansson’s departure should be no real surprise, simply because it confirms this distressing trend.

Nevertheless, shock and surprise have been among the most common reactions on social media, as the virtual Leeds United presence attempts to come to terms with this latest wrench. A lot of the most heartfelt reactions appear to stem from frank disbelief that it could happen to us yet again. Supporter incredulity, though, always seems to be rooted in a basic misunderstanding of exactly what motivates professional football players. For all that we’d sing to Pontus about his magic hat whenever he went to the crowd after a hard-earned victory, for all the fervour and the feeling of mutual love and a common cause, deep down we should really be aware that this passion and apparent rapport is actually a one-way street. Players, at the end of the day, will have their minds on their careers and the bottom line. And clubs, including Leeds United, will be totally lacking in sentimentality when it comes to decisions on the continuing usefulness of a player to the squad and the team. Once we accept this, the shock of parting – even with yet another terrace hero – should be less.

Clearly, United manager Marcelo Bielsa had come to the conclusion that the net effect of Pontus at Leeds was negative, for all his occasional heroics on the field. Incidents like the one at the end of the QPR league game towards the end of the season, and Jansson’s reaction to the unopposed Villa goal at Elland Road, seem to have made up Bielsa’s dispassionate mind. Pontus was now seen as a negative influence on the squad as a whole. Much the same had been said about Samu Saiz, with the identical result. Those who aren’t on board end up overboard; the team is the thing. If we put our faith in Bielsa, as we really must do, then we simply have to accept this – and move on.

In Save Me, Freddie went on to lament “The years of care and loyalty were nothing but a sham it seems…” Perhaps that’s going too far. But it’s Pontus who is the biggest loser here – not Leeds United.

Merciless Leeds Make Mincemeat of Mismatched Minstermen – by Rob Atkinson

York away

York City (0) 0, Leeds United (4) 5

I’ve seen enough of Leeds United‘s pre-season friendlies over the past several campaigns to know that I need to adjust my expectations to the context of a glorified training exercise, with about as much bite and passion as an elderly and feeble slug. Usually, this streak of realism (not to say cynicism) allows me to watch such games without actually ending up chewing my office carpet. But an enjoyable experience it is invariably not. Until last night, that is.

Last night, Leeds United bypassed the the usual bland, disinterested and frankly boring or humiliating prepupal chrysalis stage of their habitual pre-season development, and emerged as a shimmeringly gorgeous, fully formed aristocratic butterfly, glorious in its multi-hued splendour, dancing with the delight of effortless superiority before our dazzled and incredulous eyes and putting on an irresistibly skillful show to bamboozle the lumpen proletarians of York City.

This time last year, at the same venue, the earliest incarnation of Bielsa’s United were more like moths than butterflies, fluttering hopelessly around a candle flame, somewhat fortunate to escape with a 1-1 draw. Twelve months on, and the difference is remarkable – despite a complete change of outfield personnel around the hour mark, United’s dominance continued unabated, and the youngsters were rather unlucky not to add to the five goal tally of their senior colleagues.

5-0, in the end, flattered York rather than Leeds and, although allowances must be made for the humble station of the opposition, nevertheless, United’s utter control and mastery of proceedings was deeply impressive. Helder Costa was nowhere to be seen, nor yet was there a sign of Jack Clarke, Luke Ayling or (whisper it) Kalvin Phillips – although we are told that the latter will feature in tonight’s fixture at Guiseley, amid confident whispers that he’ll be staying at Elland Road. In the absence of these luminaries, we had instead the Jack Harrison show, ably supported by the likes of Bamford, Hernandez and Roofe, with young Alfie McCalmont prominent and proficient also.

Harrison rattled in a couple of goals, the second a sumptuous finish from outside the box, and we were also treated to a sublime Pablo strike and one of Roofe’s fox in the box contributions – all before half time. After the interval, a resurgent Adam Forshaw dinkily wrapped up the scoring before the youngsters took over, with the style of football remaining the same despite the lack of further goals. The undoubted star of the show was Jack Harrison, a stronger and more effective version of last season’s flatterer to deceive, evidently determined to build upon his improved showing at the back end of our abortive promotion bid. It would seem on last night’s evidence that we can expect great things of Harrison this time around. Amen to that.

All in all, the first match of United’s pre-season has to be counted a thorough success, a performance replete with both style and substance which is hopefully a sign of even better things to come. It will be interesting, to say the least, seeing how the rest of the squad, supplemented by more hugely promising U-23s no doubt, perform later on at Guiseley. Many United fans will be eager, after last night’s extravaganza, to tune into another LUTV free live stream – and see for themselves.

Marching On Together

Diary of a Championship Fan Part Three; SUMMERTIME BLUES, 2019 – by Patrick Hogan

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England v Cameroon: Ladies! The brutality!!

I’m a gonna make a fuss, I’m a gonna make a holler,
‘Cause I ain’t got no team for the summer I can a’foller…’

It might be sunny. It might not be. Whatever, it’s raining in your heart. You’re in that dead zone. You know. The one where the Championship season has finished – and in disappointment – again. The play-offs are over. The annual date ends in an odd number so there’s no World Cup or European Championships to feed your addiction.

So what are you going to do? Other than scour the internet daily while the agents are busy and rumours abound about your players. You of course have your own ideas about which Leeds players should be ditched and which positions need strengthening. But you know that you’ll have to wait until the big boys have done their transfer business and maybe settled on their twenty-five men squads before the trickle down will happen and your team can scrap for the pickings, or maybe land some promising young players on loan.

Meanwhile there will always be rumours of a takeover if you’re a Leeds fan. The press just love inciting and milking them, and then glorying in the daily confusion thus engendered. But you are hardened to this. You’ve endured enough TOMAs in the past. It’s what’s happening with the team that concerns you most. And frustratingly you have to put that curiosity on hold.

So you come home from work tired and with an urge to throw a microwave meal down your neck and get out to the pub early so it’ll be quiet in there; and you can be in peace to work out your Championship odds and predictions for the new season. You need to nail a definitive top six teams for your accumulator. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never been successful before – the studied interest, intense scrutiny, and the possible anticipation of being right for once are the thing. Of course Leeds are always in the list despite the fact that you suspect such bias might have been a cause of your undoing in previous seasons. They just couldn’t not be. And now a recent third place finish has strengthened your optimism despite your complete denial of the frustration and disappointment at the end of the 2018-19 season tempered only slightly by Derby’s apposite demise in the final. You refuse to enter into debate with fellow sufferers, and instead only want to look forward.

‘Sit down,’ she says. ‘Your tea’s nearly ready. It’s shepherd’s pie. You’ll find a beer and an iced glass in the living room, and we’ll eat on our knees so we can watch the TV.’

Flummoxed you think, beer = tick; home made meal of shepherd’s pie = check, but TV? Not bloody soaps again surely? So you wander in to the living room and sit down consoled slightly by the cold bottle of lager on the coffee table followed by herself who says, ‘We’re going to be a proper couple and watch something together.’ She sees your downcast look and the possibility that you’re going to say, ‘But I was off out to the…’ and she adds, ‘It’s football.’

Your eyes light up. Has she dug out a re-run from The Glory Years? Or is there an international tournament on you didn’t know about?

‘Women’s football,’ she adds. ‘World Cup no less.’

Your heart sinks. Women can’t play football. It’s not sexist: just a fact. They’re bound to sprain their ankles if they run too fast like they do in the films, or worse, cry if they got a ball blasted into their faces. And what if their make-up gets smudged if it rains? Mind you that could equally apply to a few Premier League prima donnas. Oh well, you sigh inwardly with resignation, at least it’s football. And it’ll probably only be thirty minutes for each half. Women won’t be fit enough to do the full ninety so there’ll still be time for the pub.

So you watch dutifully. And gradually have to admit that there’s some skill there, so much so that at times you want to forget yourself and get involved, even though it’s women playing, and yet you do.

‘What do you think?’ she asks at half-time.

‘All right,’ you reply condescendingly. ‘They certainly know the rules and how to pass and that,’ you trail off, and with fresh inspiration, add, ‘but there’s no real contact happening.’

She nods noncommittally as you continue to watch. But curiously you’re ready for more on another night. And your words come back to haunt you when you witness the England Lionesses, who you now support, face Cameroon! The brutality!  My God, the opposition was cynical. Not many Premiership players would’ve fancied facing that. And where was a strong referee when you needed one? But the girls took it all in their stride.

Not long after you’re already in front of the TV of an evening with the pause button active and urging your missus to get a move on and schlep her arse in sharpish to watch the action. When she looks pleased at this you realise that it could be a great result: not the game, but her finally taking an interest in football.

And then the heartbreak of England going out to the USA having been denied a goal for a contentious offside and then having failed to convert a late penalty. ‘Just like the bloody men’s team!’ you moan with genuine disappointment. You’ve said the right thing. Though she’s slightly down, not almost hysterical like you after the offside decision, she gives you a warm kiss.

But there can always be a bright dawn even after the most challenging disappointments. Pre-season is underway and Bielsa’s staying. Time to turn your attention to loftier matters and the LUFC transfer comings and goings and speculations and to get your accumulator on after all that deliberation. And to admit that inside, the Women’s World Cup filled a great sporting hole. They may be women but it is football after all. And the great thing was – they were fit! In all senses! And you could ogle them while your missus looked on appreciatively, and if she caught you looking too closely or doing too many replays with the remote you could claim it was to check out the incident, or appreciate that bit of skill etc. And some of the players did have long eyelashes, or wore make-up, or had their hair tied back in interesting ways – not, you noticed, too dissimilar from some Premiership players you’d seen recently. And Gareth Bale’s topknot? Well at least it hadn’t caught on with the women yet.

Anyway you couldn’t hold the women’s appearances against them could you? That would be sexist. You were interested in the game not their looks. Something you tended to point out at length to the missus when she questioned how many close up replays you needed to watch.

In conclusion you decide that the experiment was a win-win situation. She was starting to appreciate your love of football, and trying to join in with you in the enjoyment of watching it. She’d finally ‘got it’. That is, you and your obsession, and you could now be obsessed together. So with a slightly suppressed smile and inner warmth you think why not? Hang the expense. It’s time to push the boat out and feed your other half’s new interest.

And with that in mind you get your debit card out and prepare to pay for… hold it…two tickets for you and her to witness your beloved Leeds take on the might of Guiseley FC at Nethermoor. She’ll be over the moon. Live football and the two of you there to soak in the atmosphere, with an added bonus: it’ll a lot easier and quicker to get pies there at half time.

Many thanks to talented wordsmith PATRICK HOGAN for yet another quality contribution to Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. MOT

My Bremner Square Tribute to my late, Leeds-supporting Dad – by Rob Atkinson

Dad and me – part of the fabric of Elland Road

Just over 44 years ago, my dad ensured that I’d be saddled with a hopeless devotion to Leeds United for the rest of my life. He did this by the simple expedient of purchasing tickets for “the two biggest games of the season”. There they were, these seemingly innocuous but actually life-changing pieces of paper, artlessly displayed on the dining room table – my initiation to the Elland Road experience. Liverpool first, on Saturday April the 5th 1975 and then, the following Wednesday, I’d see Leeds United take on the mighty Barcelona, Cruyff, Neeskens and all, in the European Cup semi final.

 

As I’d never even shown the remotest interest in attending a football match, it’s fair to say that my dad was taking a bit of a punt on me enjoying myself. For all he knew, I could have sulked through both matches; certainly he could never have foreseen the extent to which this sudden treat would alter my outlook and priorities.

 

Strangely, just as Dad was introducing me to a lifetime of United fanaticism, his own passion for the club was about to decline. It’s almost as if he was preparing to hand over the responsibility for supporting the club he’d loved since he was a teenager, even though my first few years of being a proper Leeds fan were spent in his company. Dad didn’t seem to handle the waning of the club’s fortunes too well – after all, he’d seen the flowering of John Charles’ genius in the fifties, then he’d gone all the way through the Revie era of Super Leeds as United carried all before them, winning everything to become football legends.

 

Those were pretty tough acts to follow, and my dad became perhaps a little impatient with the lesser breed of players who were my new heroes. Eventually, I started to go to Elland Road on my own, and I’d come back waxing lyrical about Tony Currie, Arthur Graham, Brian Flynn or Ray Hankin. For me, it was all still bold and new, and I savoured the unique atmosphere as I graduated from Lowfields with my dad, via the Boys’ Pen to the Gelderd End Kop. I’d inherited the mantle of the family’s United fanatic, and Dad seemed almost eager to trade terrace for armchair and take a more passive role.

 

Still, he stuck with it for the first few seasons of my Leeds United worship. This was pretty considerate of him, as I brought Leeds United no luck at all. In that first game, we lost at home to Liverpool 2-0 and, although I saw us beat Barcelona on that memorable Elland Road night, with Billy Bremner scoring my first ever “live” Leeds United goal, my record in the league was dismal over the next couple of seasons. Dad must have thought of me as a Jonah – I never even saw United score another goal, let alone avoid defeat, until I started going to the match on my own in August 1976. In the meantime, we lost to the likes of Liverpool (again), Norwich and Sheffield United, all of which defeats I assumed to be my fault, and I think Dad agreed. But I was not discouraged; I was hooked and that was it. When I eventually saw us win in the league, 2-0 against Derby with goals from Eddie Gray and Trevor Cherry, I was delirious with joy and, to this day, every detail of that game is sharp and clear in my memory.

 

I know that Dad often regretted making a Leeds fan out of me, he was even on about it on my wedding day. He thought I could have spent my time more productively, maybe in playing him in the fiercely competitive Scrabble sessions which he adored – and, on the odd occasion, I’ve found myself agreeing. But overall, it’s been wonderful and, having journeyed from a milk crate vantage point in the middle “shelf” of Lowfields to my present perch on the West Stand Press gantry, I can’t imagine a life without United.

 

Now, over four years since Dad passed away, I’ve finally managed to make him a permanent part of Elland Road with a “Father and Son” stone in Bremner Square, as pictured above. It’s taken me a while, but at last I think I’ve found the most fitting and enduring way to say “thanks, Dad”. MOT, wherever you may be.

No Need for Leeds to Worry About Spygate-Obsessed Lampard at Chelsea – by Rob Atkinson

Fwankie and Marcelo, student and master

It’s the silly season, and the media’s favourite target, Leeds United, is – as usual – the subject of ever more ridiculous attempts at sensationalism designed to sell gutter rags or attract clicks on gutter websites. Among the more laughable lately have been the suggestions that United are after various superannuated Italian football pensioners, along with the perennial line that always comes out when a club with a Leeds chip on its shoulder signs a player. Yes, you know, the angle where said club has “beaten Leeds United to the signature” of whoever. Invariably, it’s one of the rare players we’ve not been linked with, have never heard of, and wouldn’t touch with the proverbial bargepole.

That mention of pensioners brings me on to the subject of Chelsea, who are hotly tipped to snatch media darling Fwankie Lampard from the clammy grasp of Derby County. The media line being peddled here is that Lampard’s move to Stamford Bridge would result in him having a Spygate-provoked tantrum at the merest suggestion that Dirty Leeds might have a Chelsea player under the covetous gaze of their transfer market binoculars. Fwankie just would not allow this, screech the media, because, you know, Spygate. And Bielsa. So it won’t happen and Leeds are doomed, these desperate hacks smugly conclude, before settling down to lick Fwankie’s boots and judiciously selected parts of his anatomy.

All very petty, all very predictable. And all, as usual, completely untrue. The fact of the matter is that any Chelsea player good enough to excite the interest of Bielsa would simply not be available. The reason for this is that Chelsea are subject to a two window transfer ban that will see them having to rely, to an extent, on youngsters they’d normally have farmed out on loan to assist in their development. But now these kids will be needed by Chelsea, so there’s little chance of anyone worthwhile being made available, QED. The only remotely plausible bit of this media fantasy – that Fwankie would be spoilt and petulant enough to block a transfer to Leeds because he’s basically a bitter child – need not concern us. Anyway, the Tearful One is going to have bigger problems on his plate, happily enough, through being hopelessly out of his depth in the top flight.

Roll on August, when the silly season makes way for the actual football season. Not that this will stop the media hating and sniping at Leeds – but at least we’ll have the odd game or two to distract us.

Marching On Together