Posh Patrick Has Become Paddy the Baddy, and Leeds Fans Just Love It – by Rob Atkinson

Paddy the Baddy advising angry Reading fans to pipe down

There may well still be a small section of Leeds United fans who don’t quite “get” Patrick Bamford, although they’ve been noticeably quieter of late – as the majority of Whites fans seem finally to have cottoned on to our number nine’s value to the team. But there’s mounting evidence to suggest that Mr. Bamford certainly does “get” Leeds United, football’s perennial pantomime villains and the club opposing fans just love to hate. Bamford seems to have bought into United’s “the world’s against us and they can get stuffed” mindset, and just lately he’s been feeding off that siege mentality vibe, fanning the flames of opposition hate, thriving on all of that negative energy. It’s been a joy to witness for any Leeds fan who glories in that old maxim “Our history makes us strong, your hatred makes us stronger still”.

Perhaps Bamford’s more defiant and in your face attitude has its roots in his much tougher and more durable physicality this season. He seems to have developed a core of steel, giving as good as he takes in terms of the rough stuff while still retaining his cultured approach and all round ability. Bamford is certainly no soft touch nowadays, and his opponents will know they’ve been in a game after the ninety minute nightmare of trying to cope with his relentless work rate and intelligent movement. But, although this factor is appreciated by the more knowledgeable Leeds fans, it’s that extra edge, that emerging nasty streak and accompanying tendency to rub the noses of opposing players and fans well and truly in it, that has really caught the eye of his admirers this season. Football fans have a word for this phenomenon, but it’s not one that I’d want to use in a family-friendly blog, so I’ll move swiftly on.

But, whatever you want to call it, it’s certainly working wonders for Bamford, in terms of his effectiveness on the field as well as the esteem in which he’s held off it. Recent manifestations of Paddy the Baddy have been sighted at Luton and at Reading, where he has made a point of winding up frustrated home fans after United’s winning goals. Add this to his heartwarming tendency to give direct opponents a physically difficult battle, and you’ve got the kind of striker that will always find a place in Leeds United fans’ affections. Bamford himself admitted recently that he’s “feeling the love” from the fans, a happy situation for a hard-working and committed striker who doesn’t always get the breaks his application and skill deserve in the attacking third of the pitch.

The thing is, even when all this effort fails to reap a goals dividend, it’s becoming clear that Bamford’s contribution is vital to United’s season. On Tuesday night, right at the end of a hard-fought win over Hull City, we saw a neat demonstration of how our Patrick puts in a shift for the team, and is not discouraged when luck is not with him in terms of goals – which, let’s face it, are the life-blood of any striker. And it was somebody else’s match-clinching goal after 86 minutes on Tuesday that summed up the Bamford effect, as he combined with keeper Kiko Casilla to scramble clear a goal-bound effort from a Hull corner. The ball was immediately played upfield, and Bamford put in a lung-bursting run to the opposite penalty area to thud a shot against the visitors’ post. Luckless again, but his narrow miss rebounded to Gjanni Alioski, who buried the chance from a narrow angle to end the Tigers’ resistance.

And that, my fellow Leeds United fans, is the Bamford effect in a nutshell, and long may it continue to manifest itself to our advantage. Because, whether it’s Posh Patrick or Paddy the Baddy we’d rather cheer from the stands, both will have a big part to play if we really are finally going to go up to the Premier League.

 

Ben White Would be a Double Your Money Bargain for Leeds at ANY Price – by Rob Atkinson

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Ben White – limitless potential and a bargain at any price

Without any doubt, the revelation of the Leeds United season so far has been a young man called Ben White, a lad with no previous experience above League One level, having made zero appearances for his parent club Brighton. The challenge at Leeds for this comparative novice was a stern one. Signing on loan for the season, he came in the Elland Road players’ entrance almost as the iconic Pontus Jansson was making his exit with a shock move to Brentford. Among the United faithful, eyebrows were raised so high that they threatened to wind up on the backs of their owners’ necks. Teeth were gnashed and clothes rent asunder in biblical displays of grief and dismay. Pontus was gone, and we had this tyro no mark in his place, an almost comical proposition that had a section of the Whites support writing off Leeds’ promotion chances before a ball had been kicked. Oh, we of little faith.

Now, just nineteen games into a season that has seen White play every single minute of league action for Leeds so far, the doubters are having to gorge themselves on humble pie, to the extent that there may well be no room for the Christmas turkey in just a few short weeks. Mostly, they are happy to do this, because seeing this young colossus form a vital part of the Championship’s best defence has been a joyous experience. Bloggers such as yours truly have had to reach deeper and deeper into their bag of superlatives each week, and still it’s difficult to overstate just how integral to United’s success Ben White has been. I’ve seen him described as a latter-day Paul “Rolls Royce” Madeley, and it would be difficult around these parts to come up with a more flattering comparison than that. Others see a resemblance to Alan Hansen of Liverpool fame, still others point to the young Jonathan Woodgate, who saw at first hand last weekend just what United and White could do, as his Middlesbrough charges were swatted aside 4-0.

My own view is that White, who will doubtless face far sterner tests than the Boro men managed to set last Saturday, may well end up in a category entirely by himself – he has the potential to become truly peerless. Ben seems to have the lot – skill, composure, tenacity and that innate ability to read the game which is given only to the special few. My nearest comparison out of all the footballers I’ve seen in my 44 years as a fan, would be Franz Beckenbauer, the legendary Bayern Munich and West Germany icon of the seventies. In fact, if you could just graft a bit of moral compass onto der Kaiser, who was not above a bit of skulduggery as Leeds United fans are only too well aware, then you’d have a pretty close match. Ben White deserves to be mentioned in such company, he’s simply that good. He can play for and captain England, he can lift a World Cup, he can win titles, cups and Champions Leagues. Absolutely nothing is beyond this lad.

All of which is why I would say to Leeds United: whatever else you do recruitment-wise over the next couple of transfer windows, move heaven and earth to get Ben White. There is no price too high to make his capture anything but a thief’s bargain; whatever you pay, you could at least double your money five years down the line. It’s a Rio Ferdinand type scenario, buy for £18m, sell for £30m plus – but the return would inevitably be higher still. Never mind Financial Fair Play; dig deep and do whatever you have to do in order to get this player.

You know it makes sense.

Echoes of the Last Champions in Leeds United’s Late Winner at Reading – by Rob Atkinson

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Lee Chapman and Jack Harrison, years apart but similarly great goals

There was something about Leeds United‘s winning goal at Reading on Tuesday evening that awoke golden memories of Sergeant Wilko’s Warriors of 1992 as they upped the ante one January Sunday afternoon to ignite a title charge. On that long ago day Leeds, marking Wilkinson’s return to Hillsborough to face his old charges Sheffield Wednesday, were utterly irresistible and ran riot, emerging winners by six goals to one. The display at Reading this week, nearly 28 years later, was not of the same vintage. And yet Jack Harrison’s emphatic far-post finish bore a remarkable similarity to the second Lee Chapman goal of his Hillsborough hat-trick all those years ago.

If you can cast your mind back that far, you may remember that Leeds, 2-0 up and cruising, had just suffered the most outrageous penalty decision when Gordon Watson of the Wendies did a somersault with half-pike and triple twist with Chris Whyte nowhere near him in the Leeds box. The ref eagerly fell for it and, though John Lukic saved John Sheridan’s spot kick, the former Leeds man buried the rebound. So it was 2-1 and Leeds were seething over Wednesday’s fraudulent route back into a game that had looked lost to them.

Lesser teams may have been discouraged, but not Wilko’s United. Showing the mettle that would see them crowned Champions just a dozen or so weeks later, Leeds bit back, putting together a devastating length of the pitch move as the first half drew to a close, to re-establish a two goal cushion going into the interval.

This is where the similarity is so obvious, in the fluency and sweeping nature of both moves, with a bullet header finishing each off to perfection. Back then, Lukic rolled the ball out to left back Tony Dorigo, who instantly played a beautifully weighted pass down the left for Gary Speed. Speedo took one touch, looked up, and delivered the perfect cross which was met mid-air by a hurtling Chapman to bury the ball unanswerably into the Wednesday net. It was a rapier thrust down the left, the ball moving from goal to goal in mere seconds to kill off Wednesday hopes.

Fast forward to this week, and the resemblance is remarkable. After a Kiko save from Reading’s free kick 25 yards out, the ball squirted out to the left where Jack Harrison played a neat reverse pass to Stuart Dallas. The Irishman immediately hit a fine, first-time crossfield ball to find sub Gjanni Alioski in space on the right. Two touches from Alioski, and he fed a great ball forward for Helder Costa, who didn’t have to break stride or take a touch before delivering a great far post cross, which took a slight deflection and was met by the onrushing Harrison – the man who had started the move seconds earlier at the other end of the pitch. Harrison’s finish was just as emphatic as Chapman’s had been, all those years before, with the reaction of the United fans behind the goal just as ecstatic.

One sweeping, end-to-end goal redolent of a similar effort almost three decades ago does not, of course, a team of champions make. And yet the winner at Reading, just as beautiful in its construction and just as devastating in its execution as Chapman’s effort at Hillsborough, may just be a sign of what Marcelo Bielsa’s team are beginning to be able to do – impose their style, stifle resistance, and then apply the coup de grâce to exhausted opponents. That happy knack could well lead to many more such victories where United haven’t played all that brilliantly – and maybe, just maybe, finally lead us back to the Promised Land.

Opportunity Knocks for Leeds United After International Break – by Rob Atkinson

Forshaw hip injury

Adam Forshaw – hip trouble

There are no easy games in the Championship, as any windswept and cynical pundit will tell you; it’s a highly competitive, dog-eat-dog league, a marathon and not a sprint, a nine month war of attrition where every point is won only via the lavish expenditure of blood, sweat and tears. Add in the fact that the division’s undoubted aristocrats, Leeds United, bring out the very best in their opponents due to the fact that the Whites are every other team’s bi-seasonal Cup Final, and you can begin to comprehend why the men from Elland Road are not striding miles clear at the top of the league. Even so, United are right up there, only two points off the top and rightly ruing the three daft defeats so far this term that have stopped them turning their regular domination of games into an even healthier position in the table.

So far, so good then, as we head into yet another International break. It’s quite timely, really, as the injuries are starting to niggle a bit, with skipper Liam Cooper having to withdraw from the Scotland squad to nurse a troublesome groin. The two week hiatus in the league programme might also nudge the likes of Jamie Shackleton (hamstring), Adam Forshaw (hip) and Ezgjan Alioski (side) nearer to a first team return. And it’s a fortnight-long chunk out of Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah’s regrettable absence, as he recovers from what looks like a medium term abdominal muscle problem.

The United path to promotion never runs smooth; it’s in the DNA of the club to do things the hard way. But maybe, just maybe, there’s good reason to be cautiously optimistic about the Whites’ league programme in the period following this two week festival of representative football. The reason behind such an upbeat attitude is to be found in the fact that, so far this season, Leeds have faced mainly rival teams towards the top end of the league, still managing to remain in a challenging position. When league competition resumes, though, the picture changes slightly, with United facing four teams currently placed 21st, 17th, 22nd and 19th. Meanwhile, league leaders West Bromwich Albion have to face the sides currently 2nd, 4th, 7th and 8th – clearly there is the potential for Leeds to pick up points against notionally weaker sides while simultaneously the Baggies have to face some of the cream of the division, including Preston North End, who sit in second a mere one goal ahead of Leeds who are tied on the same points total.

Dog-eat-dog always means there will be losers; teams in the top four who have to play each other face the mathematical certainty that points will be dropped, and it’s likely that none of United’s rivals will be able to reap maximum rewards from a difficult run. So, if Leeds can take full advantage of their relatively less demanding quartet of games, then the prospect of creating a nice cushion at the summit of the table must be a realistic one.

Of course, this is Leeds United, which means things probably won’t work out according to such blatant wishful thinking. On paper, of course, there’s no reason why our heroes shouldn’t take full advantage of the unusually promising hand the fixture computer has dealt them. But sadly, football isn’t played on paper, and our old friend the Imp of the Perverse could well dash our top of the league aspirations, as he’s done so many times before. As ever, we just have to wait and hope, with fingers firmly crossed for an improved injury list and twelve lovely league points from those four “easier” games.

Marching On Together

Birmingham Zulus Prove Bravery by Assaulting Female Leeds Steward – by Rob Atkinson

On the field, this clash of Whites and Blues eventually went the way you might expect, with Leeds United edging out Birmingham City 1-0, thanks to a second half goal from home town boy Kalvin Phillips.

So much for that sideshow. The real business of the day, for a section of the visiting support anyway, was to respond to the party atmosphere surrounding Leeds United’s centenary celebrations in their own inimitable way. For these are the Birmingham City “Zulus“, legends in their own minds, always ready to prove their essential masculinity and courage by beating up target individuals carefully selected for being unlikely to hit back.

The spoils of battle on this occasion were claimed by the Zulus as, drunk on testosterone and utterly fearless when confronted by a woman in a high-vis jacket, they counted coup on a Leeds United lady steward. Never mind the fact that their team lost, never mind that at all. These boys showed their own take on pride and passion in bravely overcoming a formidably female foe.

Not much more needs to be said. With the shenanigans in Bulgaria preceding yesterday’s Zulu campaign, it’s been a significant week for those of a racist turn of “mind” and for courageous mobs motivated by a desire to pick on the most vulnerable target at hand. What a triumph this was for those Zulus. How proud of them their mothers must be. Revel in it, lads. You really are quite unique.

Leeds Robbed at Millwall by a Blatant Dive and an Incompetent Ref – by Rob Atkinson

Clear daylight, but the ref saw contact and a foul

We knew it would be tough at Millwall, it’s always tough at Millwall. We accept this every time we go there, without necessarily being able to deal with it. Under normal circumstances, the failure to deal with it is down to us and, unpalatable though the usually inadequate results are when we play at the New Den, we just have to take it on the chin.

Defeat, after all, is part of the game, something we have to accept if not exactly relish. What no club should be expected to accept, certainly not on the regular basis that is the experience of Leeds United, is defeat as a result of blatant cheating by the opposition, backed up by incompetence verging on idiocy by a succession of referees and assistants. It’s a factor thrown under a merciless spotlight at the moment, because of the use of VAR in the Premier League. A few days back, man u looked set, for the umpteenth time, to escape an equaliser by their opponents to win an undeserved three points. I literally cannot count the number of times I’ve seen this happen in favour of that particular establishment-beloved club, but this time it was different. The goal was shown to be onside by a margin of at least a yard, with the original call exposed as criminally incompetent – and, lo, man u had to settle for a point, all thanks to VAR.

At Millwall, it was a decision – or rather, two decisions – of comparable incompetence by referee James Linington that cost Leeds the match. Up against a team that habitually treats this fixture as a cup final, Leeds had to hope at least for a level playing field. Instead, they got a referee who saw a foul where there was none, and compounded his mistake by sending off the non-offender Gaetano Berardi, even though Kalvin Phillips was in a covering position to negate an obvious goalscoring opportunity. It was a situation in which the ref had to lean over backwards to rule against United, but he willingly contorted himself, as so many have done before him. After that, Leeds had a mountain to climb, a goal and a man down against highly-charged opponents.

It’s just the latest in a long line of similarly sickening situations for Leeds, a thought clearly in the mind of owner Andrea Radrizzani when he later tweeted his frustration about “wrong decisions”. United goalkeeper Kiko Casilla was also in evidence on social media, angry and frustrated as he posted on Instagram the image at the head of this piece. These are not sour grapes, they are the legitimate complaints of professional men who know they’re not getting a fair shake. I’ve been told that this particular referee has sent off United players on the last three occasions he’s officiated us, all defeats. If that’s true – and I’m just too heart-sick to check – then it would appear there’s some sort of case for Linington, the EFL, or both to answer.

What happens next will be interesting to say the least. Will the Millwall swallow-diver be held to account for “simulation” (cheating)? Will he be accused of successfully deceiving a referee, even if one might argue that said referee was quite open, nay eager, to be so deceived? Will Berardi’s red card be rescinded as it certainly should be? On none of these issues will I be holding my breath for justice from a Football League bang to rights on incompetence, complacency and corruption.

It’s difficult to see how things are going to improve. To secure the possible protection of VAR, we need to be in the Premier League – but in order to get there, when the Football League seems determined to hold us in its clammy embrace, we would probably need VAR to spare us the serial incompetence of the League’s officials. So it’s apparently a Catch-22 situation for United.

The strange thing is, I’m not really all that keen on VAR, having always been of a traditionalist point of view, believing that a bit of controversy here and there is a necessary spice for our football fare. But, when that spice is unevenly sprinkled, with Leeds in particular being almost smothered by controversy as victims of half-baked decision making – well, what can you say or do?

If VAR can actually stop, or at least reduce, an endless torrent of dodgy decisions in favour of the Media-Beloved United, then maybe it could also mitigate the decades-long suffering of the Damned United.

And, for that alone, I’d be willing to embrace the technology. Yes, even at the cost of a little bit of football’s soul.

Leeds United Need to Reproduce Tuesday Night’s Grit Down at Millwall – by Rob Atkinson

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Not a happy hunting ground – Millwall’s New Den

It was a different sort of game at Elland Road last Tuesday evening, with Leeds United‘s opponents, for once in a very long while, actually shading possession over the ninety-four minutes. All credit to West Bromwich Albion for that notable feat, though it would probably have been cold comfort for the Baggies as they made their weary way home pointless, having sustained a 0-1 defeat for their first reverse of the season. Leeds, on the other hand, will take plenty of encouragement from getting the job done despite a rare failure to dominate. It was a gritty display by United, necessarily more so the longer the game went on, with Albion trying their hardest to salvage something. That they were kept out, and made to suffer a season’s first defeat, reflects immense credit upon Leeds, who’d had to make do without injured skipper Liam Cooper for the last hour of a fierce contest.

A look beyond the possession statistic is instructive, for all the post match talk of United being dominated. In reality, it wasn’t quite like that, with the Whites carving out more chances than Albion, with more on target as well. Leeds’ chances were also more clear-cut, with Sam Johnstone in the Baggies goal being far busier than Kiko Casilla at the other end. Overall, United did what was needed, coming back from a disappointing display in London, for the second season on the trot, to beat West Brom and get back on track.

Now, it’s time for another daunting away appointment this weekend, with a trip to Millwall – never an easy task for Leeds. There’s something about the place which seems to sap United’s morale; doubtless it’s because the locals do not exactly hold our heroes in high esteem, a fact they make vociferously clear at every possible opportunity. Millwall’s team and fans just love to get stuck into what they clearly see and resent as the division’s aristocrats. They style themselves “the biggest small club in the world” down there, and revel in their repeated refrain of “No one likes us, we don’t care”.

That particular sentiment will strike a chord with many a Leeds United fan, but for us it’s repeated plaintively, with a sense of grievance. At Millwall, it’s a battle cry, and there’s no other club that has the Lions sharpening their claws with quite the same bloodthirsty zest as they do for our lads – this is Millwall’s cup final, make no mistake. 

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Millwall’s manager, local legend Neil Harris, parted company with the club on Thursday. The effect of this is hard to predict; Harris epitomised Millwall’s chip on the shoulder approach to eagerly-anticipated games like their clash with Leeds. But that approach is unlikely to be ameliorated by the departure of Harris; rather, it’s in the fabric of the club, so it’s highly unlikely that Leeds will find their path smoothed by a managerial upheaval, even though the timing might be seen as unhelpful to Millwall, only two days before United roll into town.

In summary, the grittiness of Leeds United’s showing against their peers in West Brom will certainly need to be reproduced for the looming clash with notional inferiors Millwall. Any failure to do just that could easily be punished; that’s happened before against opponents United take lightly at their peril.

Last season, Leeds escaped The New Den with a precious point earned by Jack Harrison‘s late equaliser – and even then, they had to weather a late storm from the nettled Lions. I’d be a lot more confident against many other opponents – as it is, I’d love a win but wouldn’t be too upset with another draw.

Spymaster Marcelo Bielsa Offers to Help Out Derby County for a Mere £200,000 – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Boss Bielsa – ready to help ailing Derby

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything understands that, despite the acrimonious relationship between Leeds United and Derby County last season, culminating in the infamous “Spygate” storm, United coach Marcelo Bielsa is nevertheless dismayed at the state in which Derby, under new coach Philip Cockup, have found themselves this season. Rivals or not (let’s face it, they’re not), the acknowledged Best Coach in the World is less than happy to see a fellow Championship club shooting themselves in the foot, over and over again. Marcelo being Marcelo – and let’s not forget, we’re talking about a FIFA Fair Play Award winner here – he wishes to help if that’s at all possible.

To that end, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything understands that Bielsa is willing to brief one of his staff to keep an eye on Derby’s miscreant players and make sure that they’re walking the straight and narrow from now on. Already this season, Derby players Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett have been charged with drink driving offences, while the club’s

Richard Keogh – simian and out for the season

simian defender Richard Keogh is now out for the season due to a knee injury sustained in an “alcohol related incident” understood to be not entirely unrelated to the drink-drive scandal. Mason Bennett’s embarrassment is sufficiently acute that he has deleted a tweet in which he attempted to mock Bielsa’s FIFA award. It’s no exaggeration to say that Direby’s season, despite their comically blagged point at Elland Road, is turning into a disaster.

In order to help, Bielsa is willing to loan County the services of a member of his staff “well versed in surveillance techniques”, in order to help Mr. Cockup keep tabs on his recalcitrant playing staff. Bielsa has assured his opposite number that the experienced Leeds man’s approach would be “subtle, discreet and almost undetectable”. Naturally, Leeds United will expect to receive a fee from Derby for this service, and it is understood that a figure in the region of £200,000 has been mentioned.

Mr. Cockup is understood to be delighted at the prospect of assistance from such a well-respected source, and he is now confident that he’ll be able to keep the remainder of his squad out of custody for most of the rest of the season.

Lucky Leeds Boss Bielsa Has Thousands of Experts to Tell Him What to Do – by Rob Atkinson

Marcelo Bielsa – lucky man

Marcelo Bielsa really can count himself truly blessed in his current situation at Leeds United. He’s in charge of a club of global pedigree and immense potential, and he’s assembled a squad rich with talent and promise. On top of that, Bielsa himself is lauded by some of the game’s foremost coaches as the granddaddy of them all, the guru, the one who’s influenced the best of the rest. Bielsa, in short, has a heck of a lot going for him.

But it doesn’t end there. For Bielsa, lauded as the Master by football’s movers and shakers, has a massive army of armchair experts behind him, poised ready to bestow upon him the benefits of their tactical acumen at the first sign of the smallest problem or misfortune. Some of the experts would replace Bamford with Nketiah, others would play both as a twin spearhead. Still others would replace Harrison with Costa, and there are also those who would drop Hernandez and play Harrison/Roberts/Costa in that role. This group include those who praised Hernandez as the best in the league following a masterclass late last season, but no matter. Drop him now, they say, for they know best.

In fact, it’s odd that these sedentary experts are all so sure that they know best as, though they all reckon they know better than Bielsa, still there’s great disagreement between them as a group. Surely, they can’t all be right? Is there even the glimmer of a possibility, then, that Bielsa actually does know best about the group of players he works with, day in and day out?

United are, after all, top of the Championship, having won five games and having failed to win the other three when they most certainly should have. But they’re firmly on course to win the league if they can maintain even this slightly less than perfect form. Still, that’s not good enough for the “Dave from Beeston” types out there, nor yet the Twitter tendency. From the way these “supporters” carry on, you might imagine they know more about the game than poor old Marcelo.

Here’s a thought, though. What if we all just let Bielsa get on with it, just on the off-chance that Pep Guardiola, and other super coaches, are right about him. Why don’t we all get off Bamford’s back as well, just in case the sports psychologist chaps have a point about mass criticism having an adverse effect on confidence and performance. You never know, it might just work, this controversial idea of letting the pros get on with it.

Who knows – maybe, at the end of the season, with the league title on the sideboard, we’ll all be saying, well, who’d have thought it. That global legend Marcelo Bielsa really did know what he was on about, after all.

On a slightly less acidly sarcastic note, how good it was to see United and Bielsa get a FIFA fair play award for gifting Villa a goal after Leeds had taken the lead in, ahem, controversial circumstances. I actually don’t agree that there was anything amiss with the Leeds goal that day, but Marcelo obviously felt uncomfortable about it, and what he says goes, as I’ve been hinting all column long. But this FIFA award has been particularly enjoyable for the distress it has caused among certain figures in the game who have a nosebleed if forced to give United any credit for anything. I won’t name names, let’s just say that the anti-Leeds brigade are many in number if slightly short of charm – and they’ve been distinctly rattled by this FIFA award thing. All of which is – let’s be honest – distinctly satisfactory.

Ultimately, What IS the Point of Tottenham Hotspur? (To Give Us Leeds Fans a Laugh) – by Rob Atkinson

Arsenal, London's PrideArsenal, London’s Pride

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything is celebrating the Carabao Cup exit, at the hands of League Two Colchester United, of Tottenham Hotspur FC – by reprinting this highly popular, and not completely out-of-date, anti-Spuds article.

Thank you.

As a Leeds fan, I’m quite familiar with the whole big club/small club debate – who qualifies as “big”, what are the qualifying criteria? If you currently have a crap team, does that mean you’re suddenly a crap club? And so on and so forth, ad nauseam. It’s not really a question that preoccupies me too much – certainly not to the extent of the Freudian fixation with size that afflicts the plastic followers of a certain Salford-based franchise fallen upon hard times – but it can be annoying if you follow a club like Leeds United, with all the rich tradition of the Revie era and even allowing for the fact that our history before those great days was a bit of a void. But what I’d normally argue is that, look – we’ve been Champions three times in my lifetime, we have a global fanbase and a worldwide notoriety (I won’t call it adoration), a massive web presence which show how many people count the Whites as a big part of their lives – and absolutely no significant local rivals at all. Ergo, we are big. End of.

But what of certain other clubs who are routinely referred to as “big” – not to say massive or even as a “mega-club”? Tottenham Hotspur are a bit of a peculiar animal in this respect. From some points of view, they are certainly a club of significant size.  They have a decent stadium in a major city. They deal towards the top end of the transfer market and they’ve been a steady member of the top-flight since the mid-seventies, picking up the odd trinket here and there. But Spurs have two major problems: the first is that they haven’t been Champions since 1961 – a major flaw for a club with any pretensions to size and a place in the forefront of the game. The second problem may be succinctly summed-up as “Arsenal FC”, their fierce local rivals and the team that undeniably thwarts them at every turn.

Arsenal have been stomping all over poor old Spurs for a good while now – and of course, they’ve been and gone and done it time and time again in terms of Champions League qualification, edging the hapless Spuds out repeatedly over the past few seasons. The presence of Arsenal as Tottenham’s neighbours, rivals and perennial bêtes-noires is a major obstacle to their chances of ever being regarded as a mega-club, a status that Arsenal wear casually, as of right.  Arsenal, after all, have generally been top dogs in North London, certainly over the past fifty years. They’ve had stability in the managerial chair since the mid-nineties and not that long before Wenger it was George Graham importing large quantities of silverware into the stadium graced by the famous marble halls.

Even the Gooners’ recent potless run, terminated by last May’s FA Cup success, has not detracted from Arsenal’s ability to regard Tottenham from a lofty position of pre-eminence. In the fallow period, the Gooners nevertheless played football of a sumptuous beauty and brilliance, and just as importantly they managed the transition from a famous old home to a spectacular and world-class new one. The financial burden that went with this is steadily being seen off – and yet it’s a process that Spurs have yet to embark upon. Will they negotiate it as well as the Arse have? Highly doubtful. (This bit is really starting to ring true this season).

The sad fact as far as Tottenham are concerned is that this continued subordination to a comparatively humble status will always be a glass ceiling that they will find impossible to break through, certainly if Arsenal now blossom into one of their title-winning incarnations, capable of dominating the domestic scene for years at a stretch. And Spurs need to be up there with the big boys if they are to come anywhere near the kind of status their fans expect and desire.

The youngest of those fans who can remember the last Spurs team to be champions will be coming up for retirement any time now. It was the year that I was born. That’s a hell of an indictment for a so-called “big club” – not really elite form at all. Consider all the other clubs who have any real pretensions to this elevated status in the game. They’ve all been Champions at some point in the last 40 years – even Man U, who couldn’t win the real thing after 1967, have gorged on the post-Murdoch pale imitation. Spurs can’t realistically claim to belong in this exclusive company of Champions – they’re really just a slightly inflated West Ham.

Perennial Champions League qualification is a great advantage for Arsenal, but being on the wrong end of that equation is proving to be a major disaster for Spurs. They lost the jewel in their crown to Real Madrid, and however many millions Gareth Bale brought in, it’s difficult to see where Tottenham, despite their own transfer spree, have a replacement on their books of anything like the same quality, young Master Kane notwithstanding (and he’s not as good as Lewis Cook…) All the best players get routinely gobbled up by the Champions League cartel and Tottenham are in very real danger of becoming the richest club to have their noses pressed up against the window of the House of Quality, yearning to be inside but kept out of the spotlight by their more illustrious neighbours.

That has to be a scary prospect for the proud fans of White Hart Lane, but it’s entirely realistic. Spurs may, with their serial Champions League exclusion and the still-painful loss of their talisman Bale (however ineffective he was against Sam Byram in that FA Cup tie at Elland Road), have blown their chances of ever again being thought of as a genuinely BIG club.

And if that’s the case – then, really… what IS the point of Tottenham Hotspur?