Even Sheffield Wednesday Fans Must Accept Leeds United as Yorkshire’s Top Club – by Rob Atkinson

The Wednesday victorious in the century before last

The Wednesday, victorious in the century before last

Leading up to the Yorkshire derby at Elland Road this weekend, there is one issue that needs to be put to bed once and for all, for the sake of all right-minded Leeds United fans, deluded Sheffield Wednesday fans – and Yorkshire people everywhere.

If you hang around long enough as a football fan, it can’t escape your notice that self-delusion is extremely high on the list of characteristics defining your average club supporter. It’s quite probably a defence mechanism of sorts, helping hapless fanatics deal with the many disappointments their heroes will visit upon them as they faithfully follow their club’s fortunes through thin and, most likely, thinner.

Whatever the cause, this tendency to delude oneself is powerful indeed, and rare is the football fan who hasn’t, at some time or another, managed to fool themselves completely. Bobble hats and scarves have become slightly passé as part of the fan’s wardrobe essentials – but it seems that, for most, a massive pair of blinkers is still de rigueur, whoever you support.

Two of the very biggest pairs of blinkers undoubtedly belong to the supporters of a couple of clubs in the north of England, one on the wrong side of the Pennines, and one on the wrong side of the West/South Yorkshire civilisation threshold. Man U have long been famous for the eagerness with which their notoriously insecure and needy body of support will lap up obvious myths like “Biggest Club in the World” and so on. Even to this day, new signings must chant the mantra upon entering in the portals at the Theatre of Hollow Myths – “I’ve signed for the Biggest Club in the World” they intone, dutifully, and the Man U faithful smile happily in their Devon armchairs, whilst the denizens of Madrid and Barcelona, not to mention Milan and Munich, howl helplessly with laughter. Nobody is fooled and this, more than any other, is the reason why Man U fans, despite their club’s impressive honours roll, are routinely laughed at and dismissed as clueless glory-hunters.

Back in the rightly famed Broad Acres, there exists a lesser but still highly risible Band of the Deluded, bringing me to the real point of this article. These people live, move and have their being in Sheffield, an industrial graveyard of ruined splendour and very little current appeal. They wear blue and white, they have local rivals who wear red and white – and yet they measure their every success or failure in terms of the history and achievements of Leeds United, a club 35 miles to the north, which is known around the world as the Pride of Yorkshire. But the fans of Sheffield Wednesday, known semi-affectionately as “Wendies” to amused Leeds fans, will hotly deny accusations of obsession. That, in itself, is funny – given the Leeds-centric nature of the online output from virtual Owls. But more hilarious yet is the earnest and curiously innocent belief of the average Wendy in the street that he or she follows “Yorkshire’s Most Successful Club“.

The rationale, if such it can be called, behind such a bizarre belief is based upon a crude count-up of trophies won since the dawn of time. Sheffield Wednesday is among the oldest clubs in the professional game – Leeds United, at just under a hundred years old, is a comparatively youthful spring chicken. That being the case, it will be of no surprise that the Wednesday honours list goes back rather further than the Leeds one. And it is the sheer, epochal size of that time difference that really matters here.

Leeds United had endured a depressingly uneventful existence until the arrival and masterly stewardship of a certain Don Revie. Since that time, coinciding uncannily with my own date of birth, Leeds have been the club in Yorkshire, beyond any dispute or fanciful wishful thinking from the south of that county. From a position of never having won so much as an egg cup beyond one solitary second division title in the twenties, Leeds suddenly started to dominate the English game, accruing honours in the modern era to a degree and after a fashion hitherto unknown elsewhere.

The period after Revie has been comparatively barren – and yet the Whites have still been far more successful in those forty years than any Yorkshire “rival”. The fact of the matter is that, in the post-war period from 1946 onwards, and allowing for a 15 year wait for Revie to turn up, it’s been Leeds first and the rest nowhere, all the way, barring one solitary League Cup success for the Wendies – the goal sweetly scored against man u, almost inevitably, by a Leeds United product in John Sheridan.

For Sheffield Wednesday’s tangible rewards, apart from that single League Cup, you have to go way, way back. Not since 1935 has the FA Cup come to Sheffield. The two triumphs before that were in the pre-Wembley era, when the likes of Bury were winning FA Cups (and when Leeds United didn’t even exist). In those days, Sheffield Wednesday were simply “The Wednesday“, and they were a power back in the 20th century’s “Noughties”. They won two league titles, and added two more at the end of the 1920s. Their last honour before the ’91 League Cup was that mid-thirties FA Cup win against West Bromwich Albion. And then – nothing, until Shez popped up with the winner at modern-day Wembley against man u – the year before Leeds United became the Football League’s Last Champions.

Comparisons between eras are rarely helpful and often invidious – they’re mainly useful for disproving old-wives’ tales or, come to that, young Wendies’ tales. There can be no doubt at all that, in the years and decades since the bulk of the Sheffield honours were won, Football as a whole moved on massively; it became far more competitive and professional, broadened its scope to include European competition as standard and widened its appeal as the number one sport in the entire world. It goes without saying that Sheffield Wednesday have never won a European honour – but, significantly they’ve won only one trophy since the advent of colour TV, and their next most recent success came when George the Fifth was on the throne and a certain Herr Hitler was flexing his muscles for his own forthcoming European campaigns. Leeds prospered and dominated in a ruthless era that would see the strolling performers of the early 20th century melt like wax figures in a furnace.

For the question of who the world regards as Yorkshire’s number one – well, that isn’t even a question, really. In the eyes of the world, Yorkshire football is Leeds United first and foremost, plus sundry other outfits who tend to blur anonymously into each other. It’s certainly true to say that Wednesday would be the only even halfway meaningful rivals – Huddersfield Town have done nothing outside of the 1920s, and the rest are an embarrassment, a motley collection of failure and woe.

But even Wednesday, with their comparatively honour-laden (if ancient) history, cannot possibly hold a candle to Leeds United. Wendies rail angrily against this self-evident fact; they will produce any old trophy they can dig up in support of their hopeless position – The Late Victorian Garland for Services to Hacking and Scrimmaging, perhaps – or the Pathé News Cockerel Award for Monochrome Achievements of the Thirties. But the modern supremacy of Leeds United eclipses any or all of that, together with anything more genuine, with effortless ease.

The brutal fact of the matter is that anyone who can now remember Wednesday as Champions is currently looking down the barrel of their 100th birthday and a telegram from the Queen. The Owls have simply not been successful enough in the modern era to be compared favourably with a club in Leeds who have not only won the lot, but won it within the lifetime of one of its foremost fans (that’s me, folks). Wednesday have a proud history, and their fans rightly take pride in the very venerability of that history. But more recent arid failure denies them the right to be held as successful, or even that big. Big clubs win League Titles, and the Wendies haven’t done that since Ena Sharples was a lass.

Delusions aren’t necessarily bad things. They can comfort the insecure and bolster those who need to be bolstered. But they’re there to be shot down too, especially when the deluded are crowing that bit too busily over their false pretensions to size, success and status in England’s finest county. Those honours rightfully belong to Leeds United, as is widely and correctly acknowledged around the world – and this piece is simply here to set that record straight.

So – there is no doubt at all that Leeds United rule Yorkshire football still, as they have done now for well over half a century. It’s a bitter and unwelcome truth for the Wendies – but they really do need to suck it up.


Lasogga and Saiz the key to Leeds United promotion push

With Leeds sitting just outside of the top half of the Championship, it’ll take a big push to get the fans dreaming of promotion to the Premier League.

Nine teams are vying for the four slots in the end of season lottery, although Aston Villa and Derby would appear to have two sewn up. That leaves two from seven; Leeds United being one of those seven.

Paul Heckingbottom might have his work cut out in achieving Leeds fans’ dreams, but being unbeaten in the last three matches is a great basis for a late surge. The recent 1-0 win against Brentford was a huge morale boost, given the Bees are close rivals in the play off hunt.

Despite defender Liam Cooper scoring the only goal of the game, it was the partnership of Samu Saiz and Pierre-Michel Lasogga that really got fans pulses racing. In that combination lies Leeds’ best hope of putting together some end of season form and maybe, just maybe stealing sixth spot from under rivals’ noses.


Pierre-Michel Lasogga By Amy.Leonie – Eigenes Foto; aufgenommen beim Training von Hertha BSC Berlin, CC BY 3.0,

Lasogga is on loan from Hamburger SV and currently has ten goals to his name. It’s not been a great season by his own high standards; spells injured and on the bench have disrupted his momentum. What could he have achieved though if he’d stayed fit and in Thomas Christiansen’s plans?

Lasogga had five goals from seven matches going into March, a run of form that will be crucial to any lingering hopes of promotion.

If him hitting form wasn’t enough, Samu Saiz is also back in the starting line up after a horrible start to 2018. His dismissal in the FA Cup defeat against Newport might have been controversial, but Christiansen cites it as one of the reasons he was dismissed. The Spaniard might be unpredictable, but on his game he’s unplayable. Saiz has five goals and five assists this season, the second highest number of assists in the squad after Pablo Hernandez, having played six matches fewer.

The odds are not in Leeds’ favour, they’re a long way down the list for promotion, priced as 50/1 for a long-awaited return to the top table, well behind next best bets Brentford and Preston on 14s and 20s respectively.

It might still be worth looking at the bet £10 get £30 888sport betting offer, though, as Lasogga can be found at a generous price to finish as the league’s highest scorer. He’s seven behind in the charts at the moment, but with Saiz providing the bullets he might be a long-shot to storm up the table.


Pablo Hernandez By Juan Fernández – flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0,

It is looking increasingly like another year in the second tier for Leeds United, something fans will lament with one breath and praise in the other. After the torrid Cellino years, any sort of stability should be welcomed and, although Paul Heckingbottom isn’t a manager to set pulses races, one or two of his stars are. Lasogga is due back at Hamburger SV in May, but Saiz remains contracted to the club beyond this season. The former will likely not be back next season, so replacing him will be incredibly important, but Samu Saiz should be retained because, in him, Leeds have a player that can change a game in a instant.

Who knows, with a little bit of luck and hard work, it might just happen as early as this season. Miracles do happen every day in football and Leeds United are undoubtedly due one soon

Liam Cooper Emerges from Leeds Undergrowth to Earn Win Over Brentford – by Rob Atkinson


Hecky settling in nicely at Elland Road

Dean Smith, Brentford’s Head Coach, was not a happy man after his side’s defeat to Paul Heckingbottom’s increasingly resolute Leeds United at Elland Road yesterday. Careless of “sour grapes” accusations, he complained on several fronts: the grass was too long, the goal was offside and the referee and assistants were in thrall to the Elland Road crowd. In truth, criticism of the officials was justified, but you’d have needed to stagger past Specsavers and into a lamppost to be dazed enough for a claim that they favoured Leeds. It was that kind of press conference though. Fortunately, Mr. Grumpy was followed by Mr. Happy.

Paul Heckingbottom breezed into the room as you’d expect with a man basking in the afterglow of his first win in the job. The fact that he’d also got his first clean sheet – something that had looked highly improbable during most of the first half – served to put an even broader smile on the face of a coach who appears to be settling in nicely and feeling at home. He dealt briskly and good-humouredly with the gripes of his Brentford counterpart: the grass was too long? It played better than on Sunday against Bristol, it were too short after t’rugby. Offside for the goal? I’ve only seen it on the small monitor, we’ll take it apart and look at it later. But (twinkly grin) I don’t care. And the referee? Another grin – and Paul states that he doesn’t talk about referees – “After a few weeks, you’ll probably stop asking me about them”.

All in all, it was a post-match conference of two halves, but Smith had lost and Hecky had won, so perhaps that’s understandable. What did come across, as it increasingly does with every passing game into the Leeds job, is Heckingbottom’s self-assurance and confidence, together with a no-nonsense yet engaging style of explaining his take on matters relating to the task he’s taken on. He seems very comfortable in his own skin, and you get the feeling that this is an air that will instil confidence into players who had, perhaps, begun to lack that valuable commodity. And that could be half the battle; so much of the professional game, with its fine margins between success and failure, is about confidence.

Asked about the prospects of the play-offs, Hecky said he was taking the remainder of the season one game at a time, and see where that gets us. But he added that he’d be happy if people were still asking him that question for a good while – it’d mean we were still in with a shout, just maybe. And you can see that’s the case. Courtesy of Cardiff‘s late win over Bristol City, we’re just five points off. Win at Boro on Friday night, at a venue that Leeds have found quite amenable over the years, and things could be getting quite interesting.

Either way, Hecky will most likely be content with his lot, happy to take anything that might come along this season, but equally prepared to play a longer game and put his stamp on the club in time for next time around. I’ve had Barnsley-supporting mates tell me that we’ve bought ourselves a pup, but, from what I’ve seen so far, I can’t help being impressed with the new guy. There’s just an air of “I’ve got this” about him. He clearly sees Leeds United as a massive opportunity, one he’s determined to make the most of. Daft considerations like who he supported and who he hated as a kid don’t come into it, as all of us should be grown-up enough to figure out for ourselves. Paul Heckingbottom is Leeds now, and he’ll be just as set on restoring the club to its rightful place as any Leeds-fan-since-birth you could name.

Can he, will he succeed at Elland Road, where so many others have failed before him? By Heck, it feels like a risky thing to say, but you know what? He just might. 


What Happens When a Huddersfield Fan Writes a Book About Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

Books can be long.  Sentences can be short.  Repetition beats inspiration.

Books can be long. Sentences can be short. Repetition beats inspiration for commercial success. I’m David Bloody Peace.

As any avid reader will know, it’s frequently the second or subsequent reading of a book that gives you a real insight into what it’s all about. Equally, giving up on a book part-way through tells you all you need to know about that work. But all too often, you’ll read a book just the once and walk away with an experience that might actually be quite misleading. Such, I suspect, is the case with David Peace’s “The Damned United”.

I read this once, seduced by the subject matter and what sounded a suspiciously extravagant claim to “get inside the head of Brian Clough”. The prose style was – well, let’s say ‘different’. But it survived a one-off read and, give or take some fanciful fictionalising together with a legion of liberties taken with history, it got me through three or four evenings tolerably riveted. And I got a perverse jolt out of the title. The Damned United. That’s us, that is. I guessed there and then that Leeds fans would take it up as a badge of honour. I guarantee that is not what was intended.

Then a short time ago I heard that Peace had written a similar book on Bill Shankly and I read some distinctly lukewarm verging on unimpressed reviews. Intrigued, I asked my wife what she’d thought of the author’s bleak crime series set in West Yorkshire in the seventies, at the time the Ripper was active. She pulled a face that spoke a thousand words. So, I decided to revisit “The Damned United”.

Many will be familiar with the storyline. Some from this book, others less helpfully from the lamentable film of the same name. Then there are those lucky few who actually lived through the events described, or who are students of Leeds United history; they will be the best informed of all.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the narrative, whatever injustices were done to the likes of Johnny Giles, Don Revie and Clough himself, whatever the departures from historical accuracy – it is the style, for want of a more appropriate word, that I want to address here. So let’s see if we have any more success in getting inside the head of David Peace than the author enjoyed in his attempt to read the character of Brian Clough. As a task, it should be a lot less complex.

Into the office, sit at the desk, boot the computer.

I sit staring at the screen and wait for inspiration. No ideas. No Clough speaking to me. Not here. Not today. It’s the first day of a project. The first day. Of how many days? The project is Clough. But he’s not speaking to me. Not here. Not today.

I write down some random sentences. Pick them up later, use them where I can. Use them again and again. It’ll do.

Don’s office, Don’s bloody desk, Don’s chair. Brown envelopes stuffed with cash. Whispering in the corridors of Elland Road. Elland bloody Road. Under ugly Yorkshire skies, an ugly Yorkshire stadium. There I am. Don’s office, Don’s bloody desk, Don’s chair. Brown envelopes stuffed with cash.

That’ll do, I can use that. I just need to get inside Cloughie’s head now.

But Cloughie’s dead. He’s not speaking to me. Not here. Not today.

I have a break. Clear my head, make room for Cloughie, if he decides to talk. Out into the garden, breathe some clean air. Then it’s back to it. Back to the project. Back to that damned United, waiting for Cloughie, though Cloughie is dead. Back to it.

Into the office, sit at the desk, boot the computer. Brian is in my head. Brian is swearing. He’s the Leeds United manager but he hates it. Hates it. Hates Leeds United. I can hear him. Hating Leeds United, hating Don bloody Revie. There he is. Don’s office, Don’s bloody desk, Don’s chair. Brown envelopes stuffed with cash. Whispering in the corridors of Elland Road. Elland bloody Road. Under ugly Yorkshire skies, an ugly Yorkshire stadium.

I can do this. I’m David Peace. David bloody Peace. Author. Huddersfield Town fan. Hate Leeds United, hate, hate, hate. Hate them for what they were, for what they are. Cloughie is the same as me, like that. But Cloughie is dead. And now he’s gone out of my head for the day. But there’s always another day. Always. Always one more bloody day.

Into the office, sit at the desk, boot the computer. No ideas. No Clough speaking to me. Not here. Not today….

And so it goes on, that style. In parodying it, I actually cut down on the repetition, minimised the number of stock phrases, decimated the profanity count. But it gives some idea, I feel, of David Peace’s formulaic approach to establishing his own “style”. There, that troublesome word again, “style”. Some authors have an inimitable style because it’s genuinely unique to them, it can’t effectively be reproduced by other writers. Some authors’ styles should be inimitable because nobody would really want to imitate them – except in parody. Mr Peace falls into the latter camp.

On first reading, it’s something you can live with and the narrative bumbles along, reinforced, it seems, by the constant repetition, the continual use of pre-packaged standard buzz-phrases.  It’s meant to convey the turmoil inside Clough’s head, the way he continually questions, cajoles, reassures himself. At first glance it appears to do that. But on revisiting this book, I found myself irritated by the repetition, wearied by the recurrence of the buzz-phrases, disillusioned with it all.

In “The Emperor’s New Clothes” everyone marvels at the Head Honcho’s wonderful new invisible costume, right up until the little boy, unhindered by years of training in subservience and hypocrisy, calls out “But that man’s bare naked!” – and the illusion is shattered. One re-reading of “The Damned United” was enough to shatter the illusion created by my first reading, and I know now what David Peace is all about.

I’d be interested to learn how long the book would be without all the padding. Not exactly of epic length, I suspect. If you were also to subtract the ubiquitous profanity in Clough’s speech – in real life he was not, apparently, a profane man – then Peace’s Meisterwerk would be shorter still. Honest, Brian – it’d be none the worse for that.

Twitter Fans to Demand Leeds Only Sign Players Who Don’t Get Injured – by Rob Atkinson

LUFC Twitter

A Leeds United tweeter, yesterday

Storms in teacups and mountains made out of molehills. These are both specialities of the whinging, petulant, spoilt toddler types that appear to make up an uncomfortably large proportion of the Leeds United Twitter brigade. Time and time again, we see them launching into yet another rant when anything goes wrong at Elland Road. The latest mass tantrum is over Tyler Roberts‘ reported training ground injury from earlier in the week, with some suspecting that a knock the young striker was carrying when he moved from West Brom was actually something more sinister.

Whatever the facts of the case, the over-reaction from United’s more hysterical social media mouthpieces has been little short of embarrassing. And it’s a phenomenon not confined to injuries – anything negative is immediately seized upon and criticised with what almost amounts to a masochistic glee. This is no exaggeration. Certain alleged Leeds fans appear to like nothing more than a bit of a crisis, anything that shows the club in a bad light. They can then flap their virtual gums, competing with each other, so it appears, for the title of who can be the most pessimistic and ridiculously over-the-top negative. It inevitably degenerates into a why-oh-why session, with the usual suspects hurling abuse at the club they purport to follow. Naturally, the more moderate fans get sick of it, and a war of words ensues. It’s all so pointless, and it makes you wonder what other clubs’ fans think of our numerous bad apples – to say nothing of the Leeds players themselves, who must sometimes look on aghast.

It’s got to the point where I honestly feel we’d be better off without a large proportion of our social media “fans”. A lot of them seem to be there wholly or mainly to seek attention, or start an argument from the safely anonymous position of behind their keyboards. I swear that, in the days before so many virtual platforms were available – and when there was a lot more to moan about – there was less of this constant, dreary carping and moaning. Too much of that in the real, physical world of the terraces or the post-match pub would see persistent offenders in receipt of a thick ear, if they were lucky. But the virtual world is a safer place, and these needy types sally forth with impunity.

Some day, somebody will come up with an alternative word for a football adherent to the currently used “supporter” – and it won’t be a day too soon. Because what we see far too regularly on Twitter, Facebook etc etc, cannot be called support. It’s divisive, unhelpful, disloyal – the very antithesis of what football support used to be all about. My dearest wish is that a few of these discontented, attention-seeking, incognito inadequates should seek out other interests in life, and let the rest of us have a debate that hasn’t been dipped and soaked through in the Slough of Despond. Perhaps they could get hobbies, or girlfriends, or boyfriends, or whatever. I suspect that Twitter‘s gain has been a loss to the formerly popular pastimes of stamp-collecting or train-spotting. At least the Twatteratti would meet a few kindred spirits in those areas.

If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. I’ve no choice but to plough through the LUFC hashtag daily, I rely on it as a source of information, or at least as a pointer for where information might be found. To have the Twitter feed clogged with such gloom and doom merchants, who clearly relish and rejoice in their own negativity, is annoying to say the very least. It makes an ordeal out of what should be a useful online repository of fact and opinion.

Let’s be clear: players do get injured, it’s an unfortunate fact of life. For an injury such as that suffered by Tyler Roberts to cause such an explosion of witless whinging is simply unacceptable. Man up and support the club, for Don’s sake. And if you can’t bring yourself to do that, then at least have the grace to stop whining – and get that stamp album out. After all, philately could get you anywhere. Preferably, far away from anything to do with Leeds United.

Lasogga and Ekuban Would Give Leeds New Attacking Dimension – by Rob Atkinson

Ekuban Lasogga

Caleb Ekuban – ideal strike partner for Pierre-Michel Lasogga?

If I can be a little upbeat, without offending the Leonard Cohen drones and clones that infest the LUFC Twitter hashtag, I have to say I saw more positives in one slightly unlucky defeat at Sheffield United than I have in perhaps half a dozen victories we’ve eked out this turbulent season. There just seemed to be that little bit extra about some of the players, a bit of desire and composure, especially in the second half, that has been lacking since the earliest part of this Championship campaign. It wasn’t enough, after a disastrous start at Bramall Lane, to get any tangible reward from the clash of the two Uniteds – but, in the final analysis, Leeds were maybe a couple of highly debatable decisions away from getting Paul Heckingbottom‘s tenure as Head Coach off to the best possible start.

Still, that’s history now, and we’re left seeking to take what encouragement we can from an improved display, albeit in defeat, from Leeds United. One noticeable element fairly late on was the introduction of Caleb Ekuban, who was lively and threatening up front as he worked away, making his runs and contesting every ball. One thing this blogger would love to see over the rest of the season is a good run of games where Leeds play with a front two. It would take a better tactician than me to suggest the ideal formation behind a twin strike-force, but I do feel that Pierre-Michel Lasogga, despite his fairly impressive goal-scoring record, has not been used to the team’s best advantage when asked to fulfil a lone striker role. It doesn’t seem to me that this solitary workhorse thing  is his forte, and yet, on the occasions when he’s had some support in attack – usually in a crisis, such as 0-2 down to Millwall at Elland Road – Lasogga has suddenly looked full of menace. Ekuban, such a willing worker, appears to be the ideal foil for the big German, probably more so than the misfiring Kemar Roofe – and it’s surely only a matter of time before he, too, chips in with the goals. It would be well deserved; Ekuban’s current drought is not for the want of effort in his rare appearances between injuries so far.

Any input from the team shape experts out there would be genuinely welcome. 3-5-2? A diamond in midfield with Samu Saiz (when available) at the front of it, operating just behind Pierre and Caleb? It was a very wise man who once said that attack is the best form of defence, and I’m sure I’m not alone in my desire to see United go fully onto the offensive, making opponents too busy trying to stem our attacking tide, even to consider mounting a threat of their own. Yep, that would be nice.

So, what do others think? Do we have the personnel to play two up front? What’s the best balance for the team in that situation? Let’s have a heated debate. The play-offs pressure is largely off, now – unless the team suddenly gets its act together and moves up towards the top six. And, I’d venture to suggest, if that were to happen, it’d most likely be as a result of just such an attacking change of policy as I’ve suggested here.

Am I simply deluded? Do let me know.

Aggression, Consistency & Intensity: Heckingbottom’s Ethos is Leeds Through & Through – by Rob Atkinson


Paul Heckingbottom: happy and honoured to be here

Paul Heckingbottom‘s performance as Head Coach in the first few days since his whirlwind move from Barnsley to Leeds United could hardly have gone better. Of course he’s only been talking the talk so far; the serious stuff, the walking of the walk, starts on Saturday, High Noon at Bramall Lane, with a Yorkshire Derby against Sheffield United. Still, in advance of that baptism of fire, the new Leeds boss has excelled as he set out his stall to players, press and fans, hammering home his message to great effect.

Let’s be in no doubt: for a Royston lad who grew up as a Barnsley fan hating Leeds United, Paul gets what our club is all about. His emphasis on qualities such as consistency, aggression and intensity could be taken from Page One of any United fanatic’s Leeds-supporting handbook. These are the ideals we hold dear, the characteristics we love and expect to be hated for. Without these principles, forged through blood, sweat and tears, there would be no modern Leeds United. They’re written into the DNA of the club – and now we have a man who appears to have the same list of attributes carved upon his heart.

It’s no mealy-mouthed recitation of what he knows we want to hear, either. The qualities espoused by Heckingbottom don’t fall from his mouth like lazy platitudes, but as the solid structure behind his footballing philosophy. Aggression with and without the ball. Consistency being the golden key to league success. Intensity, the way to the fans’ collective heart. These are the principles that can lead to success for what is a talented squad. How long it will take to establish such a pattern is another matter entirely.

For the time being, though, the task of showing us all exactly what we’ve got in Heckingbottom is well under way. Already, social media doubters and naysayers are swinging into line and declaring themselves won over. That’s not a bad start before a ball is kicked. The new Leeds boss has a disarming manner about him too, when asked about the pressure that goes with working at what is perceived as a sack-happy club, he gives us the anecdote of how he tells his kids not to worry about Dad getting the sack as, if he does, they’ll all be going on holiday. We even understand his childhood hatred of United; having seven shades kicked out of you in the field behind your Mam’s house by bigger, older Leeds fans is not calculated to endear a lad to that lot up the M1. But now, those same Leeds fans are ringing to wish him luck and success at Elland Road. It’s gone full circle, and – so far, at any rate – it feels right.

I’ve certainly not heard a better Leeds United philosophy since the early, heady days of Sergeant Wilko, who breezed into a troubled Elland Road from South Yorkshire thirty years ago, and did really quite well. As a precedent, the Wilko example is not a bad one for Paul Heckingbottom to emulate, though he appears happily to be very much his own man. But he has the same air of confidence and self-assurance about him; the same conviction that his way is the right way, hopefully with the same ability to carry others along on the path he treads.

It’s early days, and the sadness that accompanied the departure of Thomas Christiansen, a genuinely nice guy, has barely begun to dissipate. But in football, you always look forward, even when making comparisons with former Leeds legends. In Hecky, a coach who sets so much store by “getting on the grass” to work with his players, we might well have found at last a round peg for the round hole that is Elland Road. This is a bloke who was doing too much at Barnsley of what he didn’t really want to be doing – now he has the chance, in this Leeds United structure, of concentrating on what he does best.

It should work well; let’s all get behind the guy in the fervent hope that it will.

Max Gradel Signals Desire for Leeds United Return – by Rob Atkinson


Mad Max Gradel wants to come home

Rule One of Social Media is that high profile sports stars say or do nothing without a reason – they don’t need to seek attention in their goldfish bowl existence; quite the contrary, if anything. So when, in the aftermath of the recent change of Head Coach at Leeds, former United attacking sensation Maxi Gradel comes out with a loved-up tweet about the Yorkshire giants, including the obligatory MOT hashtag, you can be tolerably sure that he’s not just passing the time of day. Max can see that Leeds United are about to buckle down and get serious about restoring elite status and, this blog believes, he wants to be a part of it.

Maxi Tweets

Max – still loves Leeds

Whether and when that might happen is a matter of conjecture, but it would be highly surprising if Gradel were not to be linked to an Elland Road return again in the summer. Given the current league position of the club, with a new coach feeling his way into the job and a brutal run of fixtures ahead, almost all of which are under the spotlight of live TV coverage, it seems more than likely that United will still be a Championship outfit next season. Should that be the case, then they will be looking for proven performers to displace some of their misfiring fringe players, and wide attack is one area that could stand some enhancement.

I believe that Leeds will be the likely destination for Ivory Coast international Gradel’s next career move; he has plenty left to offer, and still enjoys cult hero status among United fans. Moreover, it seems clear that he would relish a return to Elland Road – otherwise, why the pointed social media comments?

All in all, it seems that the prospect of Max back in the white yellow and blue of Leeds United next season could well morph into reality before too long, and most United fans will extend a warm welcome home to the talented forward. I’d give this one a good 8.5 out of 10 on the likeliness scale and, while some will say it’s merely wishful thinking, there are sound reasons on all sides to believe that a Gradel return to Leeds is going to happen.

If Max – currently on loan at Toulouse from Premier League AFC Bournemouthdoes come back, it’d be a massive step towards helping us hit the ground running for a promotion campaign next time around. He’d be that much of a shot in the arm for a club that has underachieved for too long now. Fingers crossed that Gradel’s social media output next season will reflect his contribution towards United’s return to the top.

AC Torino and Superga: Football’s Forgotten Air Disaster – by Rob Atkinson

Today, February 6th, is the 60th anniversary of theMunich Air Disaster, a seminal event in English football history – in more ways than one. The shockwaves were felt worldwide as the heart was ripped out of a Manchester United team of massive potential, one that had already achieved much, and promised to go on and dominate at home – and possibly abroad, too. The casualty list is well-known, and especially fondly-remembered isDuncan Edwards, a young colossus of immense presence and ability with a glittering future ahead of him. He hung on to life for almost a fortnight after the accident, before succumbing to his injuries on February 19th 1958. The team’s manager, Matt Busby, was also left fighting for his life, and twice received the Last Rites, but thankfully he pulled through and went on to build another great team.

This is the story that everyone is familiar with. The name of Manchester United is synonymous in the minds of football fans everywhere with Munich, and the disaster which decimated the Busby Babes.  The event has such iconic status that it has helped garner the club a worldwide fan base, and certainly in the period preceding the last twenty years of their dominance, Man Utd were often regarded as everyone’s second-favourite team, based largely on the legacy of Munich.


Superga Air Disaster, May 4th 1949

It may surprise a lot of people then, to hear that Munich was not the only, nor yet the worst disaster of this nature to strike a major football club. On Wednesday 4th May 1949, the Torino football team were returning home from a friendly match in Lisbon, when their aeroplane crashed into the hill of Superga near Turin, killing all 31 people on board including 18 players. The Torino football team, popularly known as Il Grande Torino, were a legendary outfit. They won the last Italian league title before World War II, and when the competition resumed after the hostilities, they won four consecutive post-war titles too. At the time of the crash, Torino was leading the title race with four games to go. They fielded a youth team in each of those games, and as a mark ofrespect, their opponents did the same. The youth team, Primavera, won those four games to claim theScudetto.

The disaster had hit Torino, and indeed Italian football, very hard indeed. Only three of the Champions’ squad were left, each having missed the fatal flight for one reason or another. The national team was also seriously weakened, as the players who died made up the bulk of the Italian squad. The Torino club itself failed to win another national title until 1976, fully 27 years after Superga. The crash was arguably the worst of its kind, in terms of the number of fatalities, the lack of survivors, and the impact on club and national football. Yet there have been other calamities, some much more recent than either Munich or Superga. In 1993, almost the entire national squad of Zambia died in an air crash. Virtually the whole of the Russian ice hockey team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl perished in similar disaster in 2011. There are at least four more comparable incidents.

Why, then, are we so familiar with the story of Munich, but not – for instance – with the terrible loss suffered by Torino AC in 1949? We may think it’s because Manchester United are an English football club, and maybe there is some parochialism going on here. But the fame and infamy of Munich is a worldwide phenomenon, and the modern Manchester United owes much of its current global fan base to the legend that arose around theBusby Babes. Perhaps it’s because news media had progressed in the nine years between the two events, but as we have seen, much more recent tragedies remain relatively obscure.

Munich Memorial with AIG logo highlighted

Munich Memorial with AIG logo highlighted – tacky

The club itself, it must be said, have not been shy about keeping the memory of the disaster very much to the forefront of the public mind, whilst being curiously reticent and some would say callous in their treatment of some of the bereaved and of the survivors. Many felt that the decision toincorporate a sponsor’s logo into the Munich memorial outside Old Trafford was somewhat tacky. And “tacky” is a term that could easily be applied to the treatment of Munich survivor Jackie Blanchflower, for instance, who was severely injured in the crash, yet was removed from his club house shortly afterwards, with virtually no compensation.

Jeff Connor, in his sensitively-written and excellent bookThe Lost Babes, draws an illuminating contrast between the club welcoming publicity about Munich, whilst seeming somewhat uncaring about the consequences for the families left bereaved, and living a reduced existence. The bitterness felt by many people close to the Munich victims does not form a part of the legend as perpetuated by Manchester United FC. It has also frequently been claimed in popular culture that the Manchester United club owes a lot of its current and recent standing to the events of 60 years ago – a famousclip fromJimmy McGovern’s “The Street” features a rant delivered by actor Jim Broadbent, his character in the BBC drama voicing just this sentiment.

Torino AC, the club so devastated by the Superga Disaster all those years ago, did not place the same emphasis on the continual commemoration and reminiscing employed by Manchester United and its fans worldwide. Perhaps this is why they struggled for so long to regain any sort of pre-eminence, whereas it was only ten years after Munich that Matt Busby was knighted in the wake of his club’s European Cup triumph. What seems certain is that the mystique surrounding Munich, which seems to suggest that the 1958 disaster stands pre-eminent in the pantheon of sporting tragedy, does not hold up to closer examination, and should instead perhaps be marked to the credit, for want of a more appropriate word, of those who have worked so feverishly over the years to promote Man Utd as the world’s premier football club.

It is right and proper that the dead of any disaster should be remembered with respect and reverence, for their achievements in life, and to mourn their loss and the sadness of potential unfulfilled. But that should apply to all such tragedies and there has been undue emphasis on the tragedy and themarketability of Munich for far too long now.

If you offer up a thought for the Lost Babes today – I’m right there with you. But come the 4th of May – let’s also light a candle, on the 69th anniversary of that disaster, for the dead of Superga.

Millwall Fan’s Employers Distance Themselves from Hurtful Leeds Jibes – by Rob Atkinson

Millwall “fan” Jamie Brinkley has had to make a humiliating and grovelling apology after


Brinkley: heartfelt grovel

a September 2017 tweet in which he mocked the tragic murders of Leeds supporters Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight, who were killed in Istanbul almost 18 years ago. Foolishly, Brinkley omitted to hide his personal details, including the identity of his employers, Excel Currencies – an oversight that appears to have got the self-confessed “young immature man” into some hot water at work.

Recently, the apology reproduced on the right here appeared in social media, making it abundantly clear that young Brinkley had been hauled over the coals by his horrified bosses at Excel Currencies. Understandably, the company do not wish to be associated with the kind of online sickness perpetrated by their employee, and it is almost certain that the climbdown was at Excel’s behest, with some observers suggesting that the text of the apology was provided by the company.

Whether or not Brinkley’s grovel will be enough to save his job must remain, for now at least, a matter of conjecture. They say that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but this sort of thing shows that to be a complete fallacy; it is blindingly obvious that Excel Currencies wish to distance themselves as far as they possibly can from the bad taste of their hapless and clueless hireling.

The pity of it is that this episode could be seen to detract from a very positive aspect of the recent league game at Elland Road between Leeds United and Millwall. There had been some controversy over the ticket prices charged for away fans and, in the days after the fixture, it was revealed that Millwall would issue a partial refund to their fans who had travelled to see the Lions’ 4-3 victory – this was because Leeds had been found to be in breach of League regulations. Fair enough – but some of the Millwall fans then took the extraordinary and heartwarming step of donating their refunded ticket money to the Toby Nye neuroblastoma treatment appeal, to help the five year old Leeds fan in his fight against the rare cancer.

As football stories go, it just doesn’t get much better than that, and it’s very welcome positive news coming out of what has been one of football’s more strained and fraught relationships as Leeds and Millwall have maintained a mutual enmity over the years. Fair play to the Millwall fans who have made such a handsome gesture, and who have simultaneously shown that there are positives as well as negatives emerging out of even the bitterest rivalry. I won’t remember the two Millwall defeats this season with any fondness, but – of the two examples of fan behaviour cited here – I know that most Leeds fans will dismiss Jamie Brinkley as one sick and humiliated individual, whilst applauding the generosity of the over-charged Millwall faithful who decided to help a brave little boy instead of getting their money back.

Well done to all who have contributed towards young Toby’s medical care and treatment. Perhaps Mr. Brinkley himself might care to make a donation. After all, talk is cheap – especially a forced apology. Maybe if he put his money where his mouth is, people, including his disgusted employers, might think differently of him. The same applies to Danny Baker, who has managed to make and then inexplicably repeat a very tasteless tweet since the Leeds game, with no apology from him or his BBC employers. He’s not short of a bob or two surely – so, why not follow the good example of those travelling Lions, Danny? Anyone wanting to tweet Mr. Baker some encouragement to do just that will be able to reach him on @prodnose – let’s get him shelling out.


Young cancer patient Toby Nye with Leeds skipper Liam Cooper