Leeds Denied Stonewall Penalty Week After Struijk Sent Off For Nowt. Is it a Vendetta? – by Rob Atkinson

“These things even themselves out over the course of a season” is a phrase beloved of many bland and beige football pundits and commentators as they seek to dismiss blatantly criminal refereeing decisions as marginal calls. I’ve sat there and seethed many a time after yet another complacent attempt to put into soft focus yet another massively unfair travesty of justice perpetrated on my long-suffering football club, aptly dubbed “The Damned United”.

It’s been a bit different over the past week or so though, certainly last night at Newcastle, when the decision to deny United new boy Dan James a penalty, when he was blatantly chopped down in the area with the ball nowhere near (picture above) was met with incredulous derision and explicit criticism. To hear this from respected ex-pros almost provided an atom or two of comfort after witnessing the latest in a long, long line of “We wuz robbed” situations for the Whites (or the Lilacs, on this occasion). So often, as a Leeds fan, you catch yourself thinking, bloody hell, how on Earth did he make THAT decision? And words like “conspiracy” and phrases like “bent as a nine bob note” start whirling around your possibly paranoid brain. Then a Carragher or even a Neville (Don forgive me, I’m even forgetting how to hate Neville) chirps up to agree that said decision ranks alongside Brexit for sheer mind numbing stupidity – and, for once, you feel the tiniest bit validated. And, given our history with referees and pundits, that really is a bizarre and novel feeling.

It was the same last week, with several luminaries making it very clear that they found the decision to send off Pascal Struijk utterly wrong. Again, there was an oddness to the incident, with the ref initially appearing to wave play on – even though Leeds were in possession, so clearly it wasn’t a standard advantage call. The inescapable conclusion is that the ref didn’t feel it was a foul, so it follows that his decision to show a red card must have been prompted by his realisation that the young Liverpool lad was badly injured. And THAT really does open a can of worms.

Even so, hard on the heels of the usual feelings of frustration and downright resentment, there came a minuscule crumb of comfort that people were seeing what’s happening with Leeds, and that they’re prepared to speak out about it. Once that starts happening, it’s surely not long before people other than rabidly biased Leeds fans start to wonder what’s going on. Would van Dijk have been sent off if he’d been the one making the challenge for which Struijk saw red? (Answer: no – he’s made an identical challenge and not even a yellow resulted). Would Cristiano Ronaldo have been awarded a penalty kick if it was him being chopped down playing for the Pride of Devon, instead of Dan James of Leeds? (Answer: of course he would, don’t be so deuced naive).

Once those questions start being asked on a regular basis, and assuming that the likes of Mike Dean will continue to hand Leeds the crappy end of the stick, then a pattern will eventually form, and the scales will start dropping from complacent eyes. And then, it may not be just us Leeds fans who are asking: is the game actually pursuing a vendetta against Leeds United? And, with myriad similar incidents burned into our brains going back the thick end of fifty years, we all know the answer to THAT one. What will be fascinating to behold is what will happen when others realise it too.

Marching On Together

Challenge for Leeds United Fans: What Does “FA” Actually Stand For? – by Rob Atkinson

In Victorian times, “FA” stood for “Fanny Adam’s” a young murder victim of 1867 whose name, by some bizarre twist of nautical humour, came to be synonymous with – well, nothing.

These days, the two letters are supposed to evoke thoughts of an august ruling body for our national game. But, clearly, that’s nonsense, for as we all know, and as has been proved yet again only today, that ruling body is characterised by arrogance and complacency, together with a bumbling inability to get anything right, and further soured by their implacable hatred of Leeds United.

I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the red card saga here. It’s clearly pointless raising issues of precedent; the FA don’t care about such issues, they’re simply focused on dispensing injustice liberally around LS11, and if that makes them look ridiculous and foolish, well, so be it.

So I’ll just ask for suggestions as to what “FA” stands for, to us Leeds fans, here and now. I’ve à few choice ideas of my own, so it would be inappropriate to ask you to keep it clean. Let’s just stick it to them and carry on…

Marching On Together

Leeds United and the Premier League Outright Betting Markets – by Rob Atkinson

With just two rounds of the 2021/22 Premier League season played, we take a look at some of the outright betting markets that are available along with seeing if there is any value in backing Leeds United for any early-season bets. Several bookmakers are running promotions for Premier League betting markets for the new season and some of the best free bets sites are paying out early on bets, offering enhanced odds and more which can add value to your bets.

Premier League Winner

Leeds are the bookies eighth-favourites to win the league this coming season and are priced at 150/1. It’s an extremely unlikely scenario and although Leicester managed to do it in the 2015/16 league at much greater odds of 5,000/1, not many will be taking the punt at 150/1. 

  • Man City 4/5 
  • Chelsea 5/1
  • Liverpool 13/2
  • Man Utd 9/1
  • Tottenham 60/1
  • Leeds 150/1

To Be Relegated

Bookies have Leeds priced at 12/1 to drop down into the Championship come the end of the season but following a top-half finish from Marcelo Bielsa’s side and points being picked up against the top sides such as Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Leicester and Man Utd, there doesn’t seem to be much value in those odds. The three newly-promoted sides are favourites to make the drop straight back down and there are several more likely contenders than Leeds who are expected to have a relatively good season in the top-flight again.

  • Norwich 1/1
  • Watford 1/1
  • Brentford 1/1
  • Crystal Palace 7/4
  • Burnley 5/2
  • Leeds 12/1

Top Goalscorer

Patrick Bamford found the net 17 times for Leeds in the Premier League last season, although it wasn’t enough to beat Harry Kane’s tally of 23. He’s 28/1 to pick up the Golden Boot this term and although he’ll do well to score more than the likes of Kane, Salah, Sterling and Jesus, he could be a good shout for an each way bet which would pay out if he is one of the four top scorers which he achieved last season. Watch out, too, for Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku!

  • Harry Kane 10/3
  • Mohamed Salah 9/2
  • Raheem Sterling 20/1
  • Sadio Mane 22/1
  • Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 25/1
  • Patrick Bamford 28/1

Without The Big 6

Several online bookmakers allow customers to bet on the league winner without the ‘Big 6’ teams. These include Man City, Chelsea, Tottenham, Man Utd, Arsenal and Liverpool. Therefore, whichever team finishes highest from the rest of the league, wins. Leicester are currently favourites in this market priced at 13/8 with Leeds next on the list at 6/1. There are of course several other teams which could do well this season including Everton, West Ham and Aston Villa but it is a more appealing market for Leeds than say the outright league winner.

  • Leicester 13/8
  • Leeds 6/1
  • Everton 6/1
  • West Ham 8/1
  • Aston Villa 9/1
  • Brighton 20/1

To Finish In The Top Half

This will most likely be the most popular betting market for anyone backing Leeds. They’re currently priced at 4/5 to finish in the top half of the table which is a strong possibility going off their performances last season. 

A strong end to last season meant that Marcelo Bielsa’s side finished in 9th place, tied on points with Everton below them and 4 points clear of 11th-placed Aston Villa.

  • Man City 1/1000
  • Man Utd 1/200
  • Liverpool 1/100
  • Chelsea 1/100
  • Leicester 1/5
  • Leeds 4/5 

Team To Score The Most Goals

With teams such as Manchester City perfectly capable of putting 5 goals past the best of goalkeepers, it may be a tough ask for Leeds to be challenging in this market. However, they did manage to bag an impressive 62 goals last season with only Tottenham (68), Liverpool (68), Man Utd (73) and Man City (83) scoring more. With a little more precision, they could be challenging for an each way place this season which may be a bet worth considering, especially at odds of 150/1.

  • Man City 4/11
  • Liverpool 13/2
  • Man Utd 8/1
  • Chelsea 10/1
  • Arsenal 50/1
  • Leeds 150/1

Some unexpected early results, with some fancied clubs having difficulties in their opening two fixtures, may already have seen some of these odds shifting, so it’s as well to keep an eye on the markets. Still, as we Leeds United fans know, things can change pretty quickly – and, when Bielsa’s men hit their stride, some of the achievement prices shown above could end up looking more than generous. The “Without the Big 6” market looks particularly attractive, especially with Leicester coming a cropper at West Ham last night. It’s all to play for, and the game’s afoot!

Marching On Together

Lionel Messi To Leeds? Was it Ever Likely to Happen? – by Rob Atkinson

Ok, so in the end – despite a flurry of excitement on the #LUFC Twitter hashtag – it wasn’t to be. Although, some online bookmakers like the ones found on WhichBookie.co.uk seemed to think that there was a chance, once it was revealed that Barcelona superstar, Lionel Messi, would be leaving the Spanish giants; a club that he had been with for 21 years.

Since being introduced into Barca’s senior team in 2003, Messi has played 778 games, provided 305 assists and scored 672 goals; a record that is unlikely to be beaten at the club anytime soon. However, despite the club and Messi agreeing a new 5-year contract for him to remain at Camp Nou, which would have meant a 50% reduction in his wages, the deal fell through due to “financial and structural obstacles”.

A statement from the club read:

“Despite FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi having reached an agreement and the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, this cannot happen because of financial and structural obstacles (Spanish Liga regulations).

“As a result of this situation, Messi shall not be staying on at FC Barcelona. Both parties deeply regret that the wishes of the player and the club will ultimately not be fulfilled.

“FC Barcelona wholeheartedly expresses its gratitude to the player for his contribution to the aggrandisement of the club and wishes him all the very best for the future in his personal and professional life.”

Lionel Messi is considered to be one of the best footballers to grace the pitch and his departure from the club he has been with for over two decades is possibly the biggest move in football history. Messi was a free agent when his contract with Barcelona expired at the end of June, so whichever club picked the six-time Ballon d’Or winner up, it was always going to be all about his wage demands.

So, which clubs were in the running to sign the 34-year old superstar?

Paris Saint Germain (13/20)

Ligue 1 side PSG were justifiably favourites to put pen to paper with Messi and bring him to France to play alongside the likes of Neymar, Mbappe and Sergio Ramos. The attraction to Paris eventually proved enough of a temptation to Messi, along with being reunited with ex-teammate Neymar and crucially the funds were available to afford him.

Manchester City (7/1)

With a string of world-class players and the finances to meet Messi’s wage demands, Premier League title holders Manchester City were the top choice of English clubs if Messi had decided to play in England. City’s style of play would likely have suited Messi given that he is 34 years old and manager Pep Guardiola would surely have been a reason for him to consider the move. However, City signed Jack Grealish for £100m from Aston Villa and have had their eyes on England number 9 Harry Kane, who would set them back even more. Even for City, splashing out for Messi’s wages would have been a push, albeit not out of the question.

Manchester United (20/1)

Our old friends and foes from just outside Manchester might have expected to be in the running for his signature maybe a decade ago, but they were outsiders to attract Messi in their state today. They would no doubt be interested but the club has had to dig deep in their pockets for new signings Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane and although they may have tried to show some intent, the move was always unlikely to materialise.

Lionel Messi Next Club Odds Were:

  • PSG: 13/20
  • To stay at Barcelona: 13/5
  • Manchester City: 7/1
  • Any MLS Club: 16/1
  • Manchester United: 20/1
  • Newells Old Boys: 20/1
  • Liverpool: 25/1

So what about Leeds United?

Bookies had Leeds United as 19th favourites to sign Messi in the summer transfer window with online bookmaker Sky Bet offering odds of 50/1, doubtless influenced by Messi’s well-known adoration of Marcelo Bielsa.

So, Messi to Leeds? Well, in the end, money talked, so this was just a beautiful and short-lived pipe dream, but the United Twitteratti certainly enjoyed the entertainment while it lasted. Although, let’s face it – at 34, Lionel may never even have survived the first Murderball session, so it may well turn out that we’re better off with Lewis Bate after all…

Marching On Together

“Reformed” VAR Still Persecuting Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

Any Leeds fans with nightmare memories of the number of occasions last season, when Leeds United had ridiculously tight VAR calls go against them, might have gone into today’s game against the Pride of Devon hoping for better, or at least fairer, things. It’s fair to say those hopes were dashed, and thrice dashed, making an opening day defeat at the Theatre of Hollow Myths an even bitterer than usual pill to swallow.

Let’s start with an admission – Leeds deserved nothing better than defeat on the day. It’s the scale and manner of that defeat I’m taking issue with, and although I’m probably going to be accused of blinkered bias, I’ll say here and now that two of Devon’s goals were as dodgy as a seven pound note – AND we should have had a penalty near the end. As ever, I’ll welcome comments that disagree or agree with my not entirely objective view – but I’d be grateful to see reasons, pro or con.

The first goal came directly from our young keeper’s less than habitually accurate kick out, gifting possession to the Devonians and allowing Bruno Fernandez to score. No quibbles here. In the second half, Ayling’s howitzer of an equaliser was a thing of beauty and a joy for a few minutes, until Greenwood managed to get by Pascal and score. 2-1 to the European Super League wannabes – and that’s where the game started to go bent. For the third home goal, I remain unconvinced that the whole of the ball crossed the line. Where was the computer graphic of last season, showing clearly the position of the ball relative to the line? All I saw was an unconvincing and blurry freeze frame, and my dander was well and truly up from that point onwards.

The fourth goal looked offside to me in real time, and again I was unconvinced by replays – the lines so often drawn last season seemed to be on leave of absence, and it felt as though justice was not seen to be done. I’d heard the lines were supposed to be thicker, not AWOL. As I said earlier, I’d welcome other views on both of these “goals”, perhaps I’ve missed something while tearing my hair and gnashing my teeth.

The fifth goal was down to lax and demoralised defending, too much room in our box, ‘nuff said. But then we should have had a penalty (yes, I know that’s unrealistic at Old Toilet, but this was a stonewall penalty). Contact was demonstrably made with Tyler Roberts’ trailing leg, and a commentator mouthed something along the lines of “not enough to make him go down”. But Roberts was moving at speed, and any contact was going to be enough to put him on the deck. I guarantee that, if the incident was in the other area, with a Franchise player measuring his length on the turf, the ref would have whistled long and hard.

So, there we have it. No complaints about the result, but there was some devil in the detail, and those injustices were salt rubbed into a raw and painful wound. At least I’ve got this off my chest, so now maybe I can look ahead to other battles where perhaps we’ll acquit ourselves rather better. It’s just that, after one game, admittedly against opponents who notoriously always get the benefit of any doubt, I have this feeling that Leeds United will not benefit from this supposedly fairer application of VAR. I guess we’ll see over the next 37 games.

Marching On Together

Vacancy at Leeds United for Endearing, Adorable Lunatic; Quote Ref: MadAlioski – by Rob Atkinson

Gjanni Alioski – unique

Sometimes, you lose more than a useful squad member of talent and ability when a player moves on. The appeal of a certain type of player transcends their actual skill or other technical qualities. Sometimes it’s the uniqueness of the personality departing your club that you’ll miss, above and beyond a penchant for stinging volleys or crunching tackles. We’ve loved and lost a few of these mad, maverick types at Elland Road over the decades – Vinnie Jones springs to mind, for instance, as one of a special breed who “got” Leeds, seeming to absorb the singular personality of this uncommon club into their own DNA. When someone like that moves on, they leave a big hole behind them.

One such departure, regretfully anticipated for some time, but finally confirmed only now, is that of Gjanni Alioski, North Macedonian international, versatile left-sided performer, behind the scenes motivator and card-carrying nutter. Gjanni is one of those players in the famous colours of Leeds United whose loss will be felt for much more than his on-field contribution to United’s recent spectacular success. His ability to wind up opponents in the Leeds United cause is legendary enough, but it’s his episodes of pre-match tunnel-based insanity that I’ll most fondly recall in years to come. Gjanni may well be replaced by a player of superior ability, but surely it’s too much to expect a similarly vivid personality to take his place. Whatever the positives brought to the table by incoming players this window, I do feel we’ll have lost a certain je ne sais quoi with the departure of the Macedonian madman. No more will the corridors echo with “Peppa Peeeg!”, and that’s got to be a cause for some regret.

The really sad thing is that we didn’t even get to say “goodbye”. It seemed fairly clear in the final game of last season, as Leeds comfortably saw off West Brom, that this would be Alioski’s last hurrah – but it wasn’t confirmed at that point, so the farewells were for the certain departures, and Alioski seemed content to stay in the background while the spotlight played on Pablo and Gaetano in their final United appearances. That’s quite poignant, really, especially as Elland Road actually had a crowd inside for the first time in ages. It would have been nice to have been able to say farewell to Gjanni, alongside the other two heroes.

There are so many memories of Gjanni Alioski over his few years in United white, yellow and blue. Goals – my favourites are a blistering effort at Forest and that fulminating volley at Huddersfield. Assists, too, by the barrowload, and the boundless energy required by Bielsaball. Gjanni always put in a shift, and always had a terrific rapport with the fans. He even interacted with and acknowledged the cardboard cutouts on the Kop at the height of COVID, one of the myriad bizarre, off the wall memories associated with a player of whom you always expected the unexpected.

Goodbye then, Gjanni – or is it only au revoir? You never know with a guy like that and, though he’s heading for pastures new, he always seemed at home in LS11. He’ll be missed, of course, as we’ve missed so many crowd favourites before him. But Gjanni was that bit different, and replacing him will not just be a matter of importing an equal or superior talent. For the squad as a whole to retain its character and edge, we’re going to need to find another adorable madman, somebody with a screw just loose enough to merit the assumption of the Alioski mantle.

Let’s face it, that would be a remarkable feat. If Victor Orta can pull that one off, then we’re going to have to allocate space at Elland Road for his thoroughly deserved statue.

Marching On Together

Hard-Bitten, but Totally Smitten: Leeds Fans Celebrate Marcelo Bielsa Day – by Rob Atkinson

God

Three years ago today, Leeds United made a managerial appointment that must rank as one of the top three strokes of genius in their entire century-and-a-bit history. In context, the recruitment of Marcelo Bielsa is right up there with those of Don Revie and Howard Wilkinson. All three men came to a club in dire straits, and all three performed miraculously to transform the fortunes of an archetypal sleeping giant. As to who can be judged First Among Equals, history will judge the best. From my contemporary standpoint, what I will say is that the answer to that conundrum is by no means as clear-cut as many might suppose.

It might seem like sacrilege to even contemplate placing Bielsa in a position of pre-eminence over the Don, or even Sgt. Wilko. Both of those former club servants brought the ultimate domestic accolade to Elland Road, an achievement that is unlikely to be matched in today’s vastly different game where a super-powerful, massively entitled group of fat cat plutocrats rule; moreover, as we have recently seen, they are determined to maintain their dominance, by hook or by crook, and devil take the hindmost. In that context, the achievements of Marcelo Bielsa in his three year tenure (the longest period he has ever stayed in a club job) bear comparison with anything the other two of that legendary triumvirate managed.

That’s as may be, and I’m not setting out to ruffle the feathers of those veteran fans who remember Revie’s Super Leeds, or even (as I do) Sgt. Wilko’s Barmy Army. But these are different days, and in the current climate, with the game’s tangible rewards being hogged by that gluttonous cartel, it’s status that now assumes more importance for The Rest. Leeds United had been away from the Top Table for 16 years, far too long for a club of our pedigree. Both Revie and Wilkinson took control after much shorter periods of exile – Bielsa, by comparison, was looking to restore to the spotlight a club that the top level of our game had almost forgotten. And he’s done this with an endearing mixture of style, humility, stubbornness, quixotic idealism and – let’s not mince words here – sheer, unadulterated genius.

In effect, Bielsa has accomplished the fashioning of a silk purse from the tattiest of sow’s ears. In the last game of the season just completed, as Leeds secured a ninth place finish in their comeback season, most of their matchday combatants were also on duty in Marcelo’s first game, back in 2018 as pre-season Championship favourites Stoke City rolled up to Elland Road, took a fearful battering, and headed back to the Potteries sadder and wiser for the experience. Looking further back, the bulk of the squad that finished dismally mid-table in the second tier the season before were still around as Leeds rattled off four victories in the last four games of last season. This is heady stuff, again, given the context, and you can well understand the esteem in which Bielsa is now held by the Leeds faithful. Let’s face it, we’re talking here about an esteem which goes far beyond respect, which transcends even adulation. Some say Bielsa is revered, as you might revere a god. Some simply refer to him as God. This is not mere respect or adulation, this is The Real Thing. Let’s not bandy words. This is Love.

When I was younger, I was probably guilty of falling in love too lightly and too often. I was a sucker for a pretty face or a maverick football club – though I was too young, and too untutored in the ways of Leeds, to fall for Don Revie. I do worship him as a historical icon for the club I’ve adored for almost half a century, and I’m immensely proud of our dominance under Don in that golden era. By the late eighties, though, I was desperate for something to love about a diminished Leeds, particularly in the aftermath of King Billy’s reign and the traumatic way it ended. When Wilkinson moved in, it quickly became clear that here was a man who would give us back our pride, restore our status after eight years in the doldrums and enable us all to look the game in the eye again. And yet, I never quite fell for Wilko, despite the fact that he exceeded our wildest dreams in that glory year of 1992. You don’t make choices about who you love and who you’re fond of on a less ardent basis. I was grateful beyond words for what Howard did for Leeds, but with the best will in the world, it never translated to love, and I assumed then that people come and go, but my heart belonged to the club. Thinking about it, that’s not a bad philosophy; most likely it’s one that could see me through a dread time to come, when our latest Messiah decides his work is done and it’s time to call it a day.

Here and now, though, I know that my previous sang-froid will be of no use to me when the current incumbent of the Elland Road hot seat finally goes to pastures new, or maybe just home. I’m going to find it so hard to bear, because I literally love Marcelo Bielsa, and I know I’m not alone in this. It may even be that, when Marcelo does go, it’ll be time for me to take a step back, find other stuff to write about, view the game more dispassionately, concentrate on home and hearth, wait for grandchildren to come along. I can’t put it any more plainly than that. For me, Marcelo Bielsa is God – and once there’s no more God, then there’ll be precious little point in continuing to worship.

I don’t know, maybe I’m being a tad over dramatic, as we ageing thespians tend to be. Maybe, when the blow falls, I’ll be able to rationalise it – don’t be sorry He’s gone, just be glad He was here. It’ll be an exercise in managing how I feel, that’s for sure. I just hope it’s a situation that I’m still a couple of years away from having to deal with. For the time being, let’s just accept that we have been blessed indeed these past three years and, on this Bielsa Day anniversary, simply be glad of that. And, who knows? The best may well be yet to come.

Marching On Together

Man Utd Fans Show Why Everybody Laughs at Them With Leeds’ Phillips Transfer Demand – by Rob Atkinson

They used to say that the only two things you can rely on in life are death and taxes. Those were more innocent times though, and the list has perhaps grown a little since – you can add Tory lies and elite greed, for instance, to life’s acknowledged certainties. And one more that I will advance with no fear of contradiction is the comical and deluded sense of entitlement exhibited by just about any and every fan of Manchester’s second club – the one that used to be half-decent when they had a manager everybody was scared of. Despite the fact that Fergie is long gone, with the current incumbent of the manager’s office best known for his failure at Cardiff City, these innocents – encouraged, it must be said, by a complaisant media – still believe they follow the biggest and best club in the world, and they do not hesitate to allow this delusion to lead them into flights of fantasy that are guaranteed to make proper football fans dissolve into helpless fits of laughter.

They’ve been at it again today, all over Twitter in the wake of Kalvin Phillips’ midfield masterclass throughout England’s victory over Croatia in their opening game of Euro 2020. Phillips was at his imperious best, supporting Declan Rice in the protection of England’s defence, but also surging forward to add bite and purpose to the Three Lions’ attacking endeavours. In the first half, Kalvin was the only player to complete every attempted pass, and he also had England’s only shot on target. And in the second period, the Yorkshire Pirlo provided the assist for the game’s only goal, with a deliciously weighted through ball for Raheem Sterling to score.

All of this was far too much for the supporters of the club I still – despite the rival claims of Chelsea, Spurs, Galatasaray and Bayern – despise the most. I hate them, not for any geographical rivalry, nor even from any misplaced envy. I detest them because they’re inherently detestable, and their legions of armchair supporters around the globe, frantically tapping away at keyboards in their eagerness to perpetuate their most fondly-held delusions, continually demonstrate the truth of this. Within an hour of Kalvin Phillips’ triumphant Wembley display, these tragic devotees of football’s funniest club were reminding us all of just why, despite all they’ve won over the years since Sky bought the game for them, they are routinely mocked and laughed at. “Sign Phillips!”, they were tweeting in their hundreds and thousands. And, the thing is, they truly believe that all they have to do is wish a thing, and Lo, it shall come to be. It seems to have passed them by that the game’s moved on, and that they’re no longer the Fergie-fuelled power of years gone by. They sit in their Devon armchairs and weave their fantasies, certain in their long-outdated belief that the club they worship from afar can still have anything they want.

Money talks, of course, and Leeds United – in the past – have too often listened to its siren song. But ask yourself – would you willingly swap the tutelage of Marcelo Bielsa for the year or two before the Glazers sack Solskjaer? I doubt that Kalvin, a lad with his feet firmly on the ground, would commit such an act of folly, even if Leeds were tempted to countenance what would be a disastrous PR decision. Phillips will be only too well aware of exactly who has realised his potential and guided him towards his current state of midfield mastery. I feel that there’s a fair way to go yet on that journey, and any club with realistic ambitions of recruiting the Yorkshire Pirlo will have to have deep, deep pockets.

Meanwhile, let’s all give thanks for those hilariously deluded Pride of Devon Twitteratti – it’d be a duller game without ’em. And now that Leeds United are seemingly embracing a new reality of competence and ambition – well, we need something to laugh at – don’t we?

Marching On Together

Leeds United’s Premier League Return Has Been a MASSIVE Disappointment (To all But Those Who Matter) – by Rob Atkinson

God

At the start of the Premier League campaign so recently completed, one of the big issues for discussion and debate was: how will Leeds United, 16 years exiled from the elite, fare on their long-delayed return? The battle lines were drawn, with Leeds haters, wishful thinkers, embittered ex-pros and various other pond life on one side – and Those Who Matter on the other.

The views were starkly polarised. For the various factions who, for one reason or another, wished Yorkshire’s only giant club nothing but misery, there was a fairly unanimous feeling that United’s tenure in the top flight would last for three seasons: autumn, winter and spring. The predicted final tables from back then make for amusing reading now, with Leeds appearing in many forecast bottom threes and with the likes of the previous season’s miracle club Sheffield Utd going from strength to strength.

My own forays into social media at this time were seen as baselessly optimistic, bordering on drug-fuelled delusion. One Arsenal fan of tender years, and even tenderer grey matter, could not believe that I refused to accept United’s inevitable fate with meek submissiveness. The poor lad got quite hot under the collar at my refusal to acquiesce, and eventually blocked me in a fit of outraged pique, promising to re-establish contact around Easter, when our fate was sealed. Still waiting on that one.

Then there was the Brighton fan who was so sure that we’d zero chance of survival without Ben White, condescendingly explaining as if to a child that sadly no deal was possible as we’d be direct rivals in the struggle against the drop. Haven’t heard from him lately, either.

On the other side of the coin, the optimism and positivity that characterised the online output of many prolific Leeds writers must have seemed mere bravado to the uninitiated. But we’d just witnessed two miraculous seasons in the Championship during which we’d proved we were the best outside the game’s elite. In the first season, we suffered a late attack of stage fright, and failed to get over the line – but in the second, we walked the league by ten points, to a background of wailing, gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair from the anti-Leeds fraternity who were witnessing their worst nightmare come true. They’d forecast another late season blow up and the departure of Marcelo Bielsa back to the Argentine, tail between legs. But we knew better – we knew that Bielsa is God incarnate, brought to God’s own county to return the chosen people to the Promised Land. So mote it be.

And thus it has come to pass, with yet more amusement in store for us as the haters refused to let the evidence of their own eyes divert them from their predictions of misery falling upon Elland Road. Karen Carney brought the undeserved ridicule of unreconstructed misogynists down upon the heads of female football pundits, with her silly theory that Leeds’s promotion was down to the COVID break. But this was never about gender – male pundits game out with theories just as daft if not dafter, proclaiming that Bielsa was a myth (Gabby “Gobby” Agbonlahor) and other exercises in mental frailty and lack of perspicacity from the likes of Andy Hinchliffe, Kris Boyd et al.

Overall, opinion has remained polarised. There was early encouragement for the nay-sayers when results were poor during a spell where Leeds were deprived by injury of the international defenders they’d signed in lieu of poor Ben White. That chorus of “we told you so” turned sulkily quiet with the emergence of Pascal Strujik and the recovery of Diego Llorente. Since those two were deployed in harness, United’s defensive performance has improved markedly, with Sky’s beloved graphic highlighting Leeds’s weakness from set pieces becoming more redundant with every passing week.

In the last ten games of the season (over a quarter of the campaign, let’s not forget), Leeds were second only to a resurgent not to say desperate Liverpool in the form table, and came within a short head of challenging for some form of European qualification – a “failure” which may well turn out to be a blessing in disguise. But that late season charge, unaided by any COVID break (sorry, Karen) has surely dispelled another myth beloved of Leeds-haters, the oft-mooted “Bielsa Burnout”. Sorry, lads (and lasses), but – like so many of your pet theories – the burnout was just so much pie in the sky, meaning you’ve had to gorge on the humble variety instead.

So, what of the future? Inevitably, there will be departures, and we’ve already bid a tearful farewell to two of our favourite sons in the Lion and the Magician. Thank you, thank you to Gaetano and Pablo, your legend status is secure and you’ll never be forgotten. Success elsewhere, lads, but you’ll always be welcome home anytime. There will inevitably be additions over the summer, and we’ve learned to trust the judgement and acumen of Victor Orta. He won’t let us down – and of course Marcelo Bielsa, or “God” as he’s fondly known hereabouts, will continue the biggest and best project of his incredible life.

I foresee more progress, a clear path ahead to establishment as a giant amongst the elites as Marcelo continues to build his legacy, and not least of all, more bitter disappointment for those whose happiness is entirely dependent on Leeds failing and falling. Let it be.

Marching On Together

Let’s Not Have England’s Best Interests Get in the Way of Hating Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

Lord Bamford

I will say here and now that there is very little chance of England winning the delayed Euro ’20 tournament being held this summer. I hope I’m wrong about this, after all, I was nobbut five years old when the Three Lions actually won owt, and it’s become increasingly clear over the intervening decades that the chances of it happening again while I remain above ground to see it are slim and dwindling towards non-existent.

That’s not to say we don’t have a fine crop of players – we do. Yet that’s been equally true in the past, but we’ve always somehow contrived to fall short each and every time. I expect this depressing trend to continue from next month onward to the climax of the event on my 60th birthday.

The reason for my pessimism is best summed up thus; the football establishment in this country hates Leeds United, and that hatred is to the fore whenever decisions are being made that could perhaps reflect some credit on the Elland Road pariahs. The latest example is the frankly ridiculous choices made today regarding the England squad’s offensive depth. As ever, the claims of Patrick Bamford have been overlooked – despite the fact that he’s just enjoyed an outrageously productive Premier League season during which he has scored 17 goals, provided his share of assists, been victimised by VAR, run the gonads off some of the best defenders in the best league in the world, and has generally shown himself to be the nearest thing to Harry Kane that would potentially be available to England in the unfortunate circumstance of the boy Harry doing himself an unthinkable mischief.

I would say that, of course – I’m a Leeds United fan and I wear my yellow, white and blue blinkers accordingly. But it’s a view held outside the fold as well. One caller in to one of the football chat stations earlier today voiced the identical opinion – Bamford is the best Plan B we have should England find themselves Kaneless and bereft. And this was a Leicester City fan, doubtless still traumatised by Paddy’s world class finish at the King Power stadium a few months back, to go alongside his two assists in that 3-1 Leeds victory. But, regardless of what Bamford brings to the table, Mr. Southgate has opted to do without – a decision I feel will come back to haunt him. And I reiterate: I hope I’m wrong.

If anyone can explain to me a rationale behind the decision to exclude Paddy that doesn’t amount to bog-standard Leeds-hating, then I’d be very interested to hear it. Yes, I know our Kalvin has been selected – and I hope that he will recover from his worrying shoulder injury in time to play his part for the nation. Even so, the stirrings in the sewer end of the Press are currently to the effect that, with Rice and possibly Henderson available, Kalvin may just be superfluous. This despite the fact that the lad hasn’t put a foot wrong for England, even though he’s been used in a role far different from the one that’s allowed him to be the prime mover for Leeds. So I won’t hold my breath expecting Kalvin to enjoy England glory this summer.

On the face of it, Lord Bamford‘s exclusion from the squad defies all logic and reason and, in his place, I’d be distinctly miffed. And yet we may take some consolation from the fact that our aristocratic striker will benefit greatly from some rest over the summer, and will certainly be motivated by his exclusion to do even better for Leeds next time around.

There’s a case to be made too for Jack Harrison, who must surely have felt that he’d played himself to within an ace of England recognition. But the same problem presents itself – he’s just too Leeds. And for as long as the powers that be in the England setup continue to show a willingness to cut off their noses just to spite their smug faces, then our consistent record of failure over the past 55 years is likely to continue being extended into the forseeable future. And that’s a great shame.

Marching On Together