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Marching On Together
They say that the first casualty of war is truth, and history tells us that there’s a lot of merit in those telling words. Certainly, in the war that the football authorities appear to have been waging against Leeds United for well over half a century now, the truth seems to be rather less than welcome as far as the aggressors are concerned.
This is most recently evidenced by the fact that the Football League and the good old sweet FA have not reacted well to a spontaneous outburst of truth from United colossus Pontus Jansson straight after the Brentford game. In a match full of incidents that arguably merited further examination and possible punishment, the guardians of the game have made what might be termed an odd choice in order to assert their own powers of judgement.
Many who watched the Brentford match – and this includes myriad fans of other clubs who were at pains to point out that they normally had no time for the Whites – were up in arms about what was an appalling display of rank bad refereeing. Quite what the Sky interviewer, who collared Pontus straight after the final whistle, expected to hear from him must be open to question. What he got was the man’s sincere gut reaction, delivered in Anglo-Saxon idiom; a blunt expression of what so many were thinking, namely that the ref had had a ‘mare and that Leeds had been robbed blind.
The most surprising thing to me about the post-match interview was Jansson’s rigid self-control. To be buttonholed directly after a game, with the frustration of losing two points still raw and the adrenaline still pumping, must be a difficult experience to say the least. When the Sky guy patronisingly warned Pontus to watch his language, like some pettifogging lackey to Mary Whitehouse, I honestly feared for his safety. I thought perhaps the forehead of Jansson, well renowned for its ability to head bricks away, might make a sudden and calamitous impact upon the interviewer’s nose. After all, the afternoon’s other example of the art of the nut was destined to go unpunished. But no. Pontus kept his cool and confined himself to a withering criticism of an awful referee who deserved no better. It was a masterpiece of self-restraint.
Leeds United fans are wise in the ways of the football mandarins’ dealings with their beloved club. Despite the fact that the Pontus incident would normally pale into insignificance beside the butting of Alioski or the swallow dive that “earned” Brentford their penalty, Whites devotees were soon expressing their opinions that the Brentford sinners would get off scot free, while Pontus would have the book chucked at him, with a warning not to head it back. And so, seemingly, it has now come to pass, with the FA announcing today that Jansson is to be charged.
In the administration of a game where a club, with tricky forwards who have plenty of touches in the opposition box, somehow fails to be awarded a penalty kick in FIFTY consecutive matches, something is far wrong. When that same club concedes NINE penalties over the same period, with some really dodgy ones in there like the joke decisions against Stoke and Brentford, something clearly stinks. And when the only disciplinary action taken, after a game including a head-butt and a laughable dive, is to level a charge at a man who merely told the truth in the heat of the moment, then you’re suddenly all too aware of what that stink actually is. It’s the stench of corruption, of a governing body rotten to the core who have made no secret over fifty-plus years that they absolutely hate, loathe and detest Leeds United.
People are suggesting that Pontus might cop for a fine. I saw a particularly attractive idea on Twitter; that Leeds fans should subscribe to a fund to pay the fine, and that United owner Andrea Radrizzani, on behalf of the club, should match the amount raised and donate it to the treatment fund for young Toby Nye. Pressure could then be applied to the FA to donate Jansson’s fine to the same worthy cause. I think this would be extremely fitting.
Mind you, it’ll probably be a ban, because those be-suited buffoons rarely miss a chance to deal a blow to Leeds United. What we really need right now is the fostering of a siege complex, so that the players know it’s us against the world, and react accordingly. We are all well aware that, whoever was the identifiable villain of the piece in the United v Brentford game, it was not Pontus Jansson. But this will cut no ice with the FL or the FA, so we’ll just have to get on with it – in the growing hope that our final position at season’s end can deliver an emphatic middle finger salute to those enemies of the truth who now seek to hang our Pontus out to dry.
I saw a video clip the other day of right-wing demagogue Tommy Robinson/Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon/Andrew McMaster/Paul Harris (delete as applicable) declaring his love for and affiliation to the football club I’ve loved, for better or for worse, through thin and thinner, for over 43 years. Yes, folks, Tommy Robinson, or whatever you might care to call him, is apparently a Leeds United fan – at least he was, anyway, at some time in the past. Some reading this will be delighted to hear such tidings. Far more, I sincerely hope, will be horrified and disgusted.
I’ve had plenty to say about “Tommeh” (as his acolytes are wont to refer to him) in other places than this blog, at various times in the past. His views are anathema to me, not simply because I’m a socialist, or because I believe in equality, or because I’m against randomly opportunist racial stereotyping – but because I can see the blindingly obvious defects in his character, as could anyone who’s not utterly in denial as to what truly motivates this deeply silly and reprehensible excuse for an “activist”. To have him associate himself with Leeds United, a club once itself mired in the filth of racism, is deeply repugnant to anyone who witnessed the collaboration between club and fans in the Eighties to rid Elland Road of the racists and clear the fascist stench that had polluted the atmosphere of LS11.
Back in those dismal bad old days, the club and the players representing it on the field were going through bad times. Suffering from a post-Super Leeds malaise, languishing in the second tier and playing to dismally small crowds, United had problems enough of its own, without being exploited by far right groups as a vehicle for their perverted views. And yet it was so, as anyone who walked up and down Lowfields Road every match day could confirm. Right wing snotrags like The Flag were sold openly while the police looked on disinterestedly, the stadium echoed to the sound of massed morons chanting songs of hatred and intolerance, black players ran the gauntlet of ignorance and prejudice. These were times when the likes of Tommeh felt most at home down Elland Road way, although Robinson, being born in 1982, was destined to miss out. Because things were changing for the better at Leeds, both on the pitch and off.
The advent of the fanzine culture, with its more egalitarian outlook, together with a proliferation of football-affiliated anti-Nazi groups, made a real difference to the ambience at Leeds. Gradually, the right-wing cretins and thugs were marginalised, and the club played its part, actively discouraging any racist presence and making a crop of signings who were not only committed and talented – they were black. The likes of Vince Hilaire and Noel Blake ventured where many black footballers had understandably feared to tread by joining Leeds United, and they found themselves feted as heroes by a newly-dominant type of Leeds fan, bringing a revolutionary tone to what was still the most vociferous and committed crowd in football. All of a sudden, the racists were in full retreat at Elland Road, and the foundations were laid for a brighter and more successful future. Soon after Hilaire and Blake, Chris Fairclough, Chris Whyte and the Wallace twins arrived and, only a few years after some of the worst times in United’s history, they were once again England’s Finest; the Last Champions.
That’s a proud legacy, a positive tale of enlightenment banishing ignorance and prejudice to bring success and transform a previously moribund football club. It’s the kind of legacy that Tommy Robinson, and those others of his nasty ilk, would love to trample back into the noisome slime from which it emerged. Well, no thanks. Leeds United has been a far better club, even in our most difficult days on the pitch, than the complacent and decadent outfit the racists seized for their own thirty-odd years ago. Even now, as we struggle back to the top with memories of Super Leeds far in the past, we’re in a much better place, simply because the whole outlook of the place is brighter and more intelligent than it used to be. We still have the minority of sick individuals clinging on and claiming to be Leeds fans, but they’re out of the mainstream now, regarded as oddities by proper football fans, irrelevant to United and football in a broader sense. And that’s how it should stay.
I’m open to a discussion about this, because I know Robinson divides opinion (although my view is that the division is between enlightenment and ignorance). Still, I’m not here to close down debate, and any comment that isn’t abusive will be published. But the fact is that we don’t need the likes of Tommeh down at Elland Road. Let him spout his weasel words about how it was his club, it’s certainly not the case now. It might have been at one time, but he was born too late for that. We’ve moved on, Tommeh. We’ve got no time for you, or your perverted world view.
Kindly go away – and stay away.
Somebody, somewhere, reading this or some other recent blog post on Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything, will become the three millionth hit on my labour of love. Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything has progressed from humble beginnings, when articles attracted maybe a few dozen readers, on through several successful years where one article topped 30,000 hits all on its own.
Because of the demands of other work, I cannot now devote as much attention to what is still a one man operation. That’s why each successive million hits has taken longer to achieve, with this third one dragging on, seemingly for ages. But here we are at last, with that three millionth hit imminent. Maybe the fourth million will be easier and quicker, especially if Leeds United can achieve the higher status we’re all hoping and praying for.
Whatever happens in the future, I’m grateful to everyone who has ever clicked on an article in this blog, to all those who have written in with their viewpoints on various issues, for the debates, both serious and funny, and for those who have supported this undertaking financially. For every hit, right from number one up until that golden three millionth, and for those yet to come, I am profoundly thankful. A blog is nothing without readers and clearly, I have the best of the best.
Onwards and upwards now for both blog and club. Marching On Together.
In a shock move designed to placate millions of loyal and bewildered fans across the world, some of whom have even visited the Theatre of Hollow Myths, Man U – famously celebrated as the “Pride of Devon” – are to appeal directly to the Football Association in the matter of what they see as a gross injustice, whereby Leeds United have far cooler nicknames than Manchester’s second/third club.
The matter is being taken very seriously due to an outcry from distressed armchair owners the length and breadth of Cornwall and clear across to Milton Keynes. A spokesman for Man U was quoted as saying “Some of our fans are very upset indeed. They’ve heard Leeds United being referred to as “the Damned United” and even as “the Last Champions”, and they fear that these nicknames have a ring of cool credibility that our own branding sadly lacks.” But what about the traditional nicknames for Man U such as the Red Devils? “That’s a problem too,” said the spokesman, glumly. “Too many football fans from other clubs have sussed out that we originally nicked that from Salford RL when we re-branded and stopped being Newton Heath. The realisation that we’re not the only, nor even the first United – that’s also come as a blow to many of our faithful Sky TV followers. There’s a lot of disillusion out there, especially now the team is so crap…”
The protest to the FA will contain a number of key proposals, including but not limited to new “Branding Fair Play” regulations. “We’ll also be asking for a right of veto as to nicknames being applied to other clubs,” said our Man U contact. “Nicknames deemed by us as just too cool for anyone but our own Man U will be appropriated and patented as Man U copyright. Sadly, it’s too late for that with the two Leeds nicknames, they’re already solidly identified with that lot from Elland Road. It’s not fair, it’s not right – but there’s not a lot even we can do about it. But you tell me how we’re going to convince even our fans that we’re the biggest and greatest in the world when we don’t have the biggest stadium, the most fans, the most money, a winning team – and now we don’t even have the coolest nicknames?? It’s JUST NOT FAIR. Time was we could do what we wanted…”
At this point, the spokesman tailed off, sobbed a little and flounced away tearfully for a lie down – but an FA source was able to confirm for us that an Official Whinge had indeed been lodged. “We are considering the matter,” the FA stated. “Frankly, we feel we should help Man U in this, if at all possible. We’re aware that our referees haven’t perhaps been as co-operative this season as they have been in the past – and we’ve all been a bit at sea since S’ralex stepped down as Supreme Commander. We’ll certainly look sympathetically on whatever representations are made to us.”
A Man U supporters group had been prepared to talk to us, but changed their intentions at the last minute after we advised them we’d have to reveal they are based in Kent. They issued a short statement which read: “We have quite enough people taking the Michael out of us already without all this, thanks very much.”
When we contacted Leeds United, they were slightly more forthcoming: “We have no objection to being known as “The Damned United” if that’s what people out there want to do,” we were told. “Furthermore, we can confirm that, as everyone knows, we are the Last Champions and that we’re also the only Damned United worth bothering about.”
Ticket tout Bobby Charlton is 103.
All this talk of how everybody hates Leeds United, of how we’re the pariahs of the football world. What utter nonsense. If you look at the evidence, at a set of statistics that quite frankly beggar belief, you’re forced to conclude that what’s going on here is anything but hate. It’s got to be love, an unrequited adoration on the part of the Football League for its most famous member.
How else do you explain the fact that Leeds United has now gone 50 (FIFTY) league games in almost exactly one calendar year, without being awarded a penalty? And the closely related fact that, in the same span of time, NINE penalties have been awarded against us, culminating in the one against Brentford which resulted from a dive of which Tom Daley would have been justly proud. It must be love – because, evidently, the Football League just can’t bear to see us go. Not in an upwards direction, anyway.
Some cynics will say that money is at the root of this heartfelt longing to keep United where they are. Certainly, various clubs’ coffers would ring dolefully hollow without the annual visit of the White Army. Apparently, 8,000 of our number will travel for a rare untelevised trip to Blackburn after the international break. Let’s face it, that’ll keep them in hotpots for years.
Whatever the cause or motivation, the League policy of “no penalties for you, Leeds” is starting to provoke comment. Yesterday’s referee, Jeremy Simpson, was actually the last official to award Leeds a spot kick, against Reading early last season. The fact that we missed that penalty and lost the game clearly cut no ice with an outraged Football League. No penalties have been awarded to us since, and Mr. Simpson was required to atone for his sin and thereby make a fool of himself at the Brentford match, by awarding a penalty to the Bees which could charitably have been described as farcical.
The League might regard yesterday’s shenanigans as in some way making up for the penalty we got twelve or so moons ago, but, in adding a laughably one-sided refereeing display to the joke penalty, with a dubious injury-time red card thrown in for good luck, they really are letting their motives show. Perhaps a rethink is needed?
At the end of the day, if this Leeds squad under Bielsa performs to the levels of which it’s capable, it will be beyond the powers of the League and its whistle-happy henchmen to keep us down, unless they’re prepared to get really silly about this Leeds love-sickness of theirs. Perhaps sanctions will be applied in the wake of that Pontus outburst of honesty just after the final whistle? Who knows.
However much the League adores us and hotly desires to keep us within their slimy embrace, it seems likely that we will be leaving, moving onwards and upwards. It’s probably not going to be an amicable separation. These unrequited love things usually end in acrimony and bitterness. But the League will just have to suck it up and look for a new love. They’ll probably have Newcastle back next year, if that helps.
Not that I care how they feel. This was always a one-sided love. After 15 years, I’ll be happy to say goodbye and move on without a backward glance. Sorry, FL, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles. Ultimately, you’ll find, we’re simply out of your league.
Apparently, Leeds United has played 49 league games, over a full season’s worth, without being awarded a penalty kick. And, apparently, the man who awarded that long-ago penalty kick (one Jeremy Simpson) is in charge of tomorrow’s meeting with Brentford at Elland Road – so maybe the odds on United completing an unwanted half-century of league games without being awarded a spot kick are not quite as hefty as we would otherwise suppose. But if Mr. Simpson DOES repeat the trick, pointing to the spot, don’t get too excited about the prospect of history repeating itself. When he awarded that last one, nearly a year ago, Pablo Hernandez missed it.
During this past year, however, the referees for our fixtures have not been entirely unemployed in terms of penalty awards. Despite their obvious reluctance to give our lads anything in response to opposition penalty area transgressions, it’s been a different story when it comes to our own 18 yard box. There, the “strictly impartial” officials have been comparatively eager to emit a shrill peep of their Acme Thunderer whistles, followed by the fickle finger of fate indicating that Leeds had conceded yet another penalty. It’s happened, so I’m given to understand, eight times since the last time we got a penalty. That’s eight for the opposition, and none for us. Call me biased, but it seems to me that the cause of fair play is not particularly well served by that record. And this is before we even get into the legitimacy of some of the decisions against United.
Take for example the penalty awarded to Stoke City in the opening league game of this season. I’ve been scratching my head over that one ever since. Having played the incident over and over, to the point where I’ve almost worn out my hard drive, I’m still clueless as to why it was given. Even the TV commentators seemed a little short of the enthusiasm with which they normally greet decisions against Leeds. They seemed bemused, and it’s my guess that they could see no more justification for the decision than I could. The relative lack of protest from United players was also curious, though this was possibly due to disciplinary guidelines laid down by new manager Marcello Bielsa. Still, having seen the clip literally hundreds of times, at normal speed and in slow motion, forwards and backwards and every which way except upside down and inside out, I’m no nearer to spotting the remotest justification for that penalty award.
Of course, that’s history now, just as with the other seven spot kicks conceded since Leeds last got the benefit of the referee’s whistle. If you’re not sure why it should still bother me so much – consider how the two sides of this penalty conundrum are so blatantly loaded against our beloved Whites. It really is difficult to escape a feeling that we’re on the wrong end of far too many dodgy calls. Apologists for the men in the middle will argue that – warning, here comes a cliché – “these things even themselves out over the course of a season”. But they patently don’t, and there are ample statistics to prove that they don’t. As someone who sat in tears of frustration and rage when Leeds were denied two stonewall penalties in the 1975 European Cup Final, of course I’m still bothered by such injustice.
I won’t get my hopes up for a Leeds penalty tomorrow, especially as we’d probably miss it anyway. I fully expect the 50th game to go by without an award, and we may well continue on and on, unrewarded and unawarded, heading towards the century mark. Already, the penalty-less run has reached ridiculous proportions, I’m confident that no other club in the Football League has to look back anything like as far into history for their last spot kick. But that’s simply how life is for Leeds, and has been for much longer than I can remember. Luckily, we seem to be doing alright at the moment, even without getting the breaks, which in its own way is the sweetest path to success and making all our dreams come true. Perhaps, after all, we should collectively grit our teeth and just be grateful for small mercies.
The odd thing about Millwall fans is that it’s such a point of honour with them to be hated and not to be bovvered about it – their main anthem is “No one likes us, we don’t care” – and yet, whenever anyone is slightly critical of their notorious Lions, they turn all petulant and start to bleat piteously. This behaviour probably displays a deep-seated need to be loved – but, let’s be honest, that’s never going to happen.
The fallout from today’s hard-fought 1-1 draw between United and their chip on the shoulder rivals from darkest Bermondsey will probably centre around the touchline spat between Marcelo Bielsa and Millwall manager Neil Harris. The latter showed some balls, in defiance of his medical history, to face up to el Loco, and Harris will probably be glad, on reflection, that Bielsa left his grenade back home in Yorkshire. Shortly after this isolated flashpoint, justice was served as young Jack Harrison opened his Leeds United account with a sweetly-struck equaliser for Leeds, ensuring that Yorkshire’s top club would have something to show for their dominance of possession and all-round classier play.
Millwall, as ever, had put everything into a game that pitted them against their most bitterly-hated opponents. This blogger sees an opportunity for QPR on Wednesday, as Millwall invested two matches’ worth of blood, sweat and tears in an effort to beat United. That they came so close and yet failed will rankle with them, and I’d possibly venture a moderate wager on them not being able to reproduce their gutsy performance in Shepherd’s Bush.
Leeds will take much from this game, both the deserved point and the nature of the performance against hyped-up, frenziedly motivated opponents. The same fixture last season was where the rot set in; psychologically, then, the fact that they came back and got the point by which they now lead the division will be money in the bank in terms of morale and self-belief.
So now it’s on to two consecutive home games that provide the chance for Leeds, even shorn as they are of a group of major players, to consolidate their position as Championship favourites. Neither Preston nor Birmingham will roll over, but even this undeniably weakened United side has the defensive solidity and attacking verve to deal with the challenges from Lancashire and the Midlands.
Leeds are now the only remaining unbeaten side in the Championship, and it goes without saying that this proud record is down to Marcelo Bielsa and his staff. The next few games, without the likes of Roofe, Hernandez and Berardi, will be further tests of the Bielsa Effect, of the Argentinian’s ability to get the most out of depleted resources. If he proves able to guide Leeds through these choppy waters, then the words “In Bielsa we trust” will become even more resonant.
Marching On Together.
As if tonight’s top of the table Championship summit clash between Leeds United and Middlesbrough wasn’t sufficiently loaded with potential flashpoints, one above all others had the potential to affect both the result and the disciplinary responsibilities of the match officials at Elland Road.
With a full house expected and the electronic eyes of the Sky TV cameras ever on the lookout for controversy as well as action, the atmosphere will be edgy and intense right from the start. Both clubs have playing staff previously on the books of their opponents, and there is a long-standing rivalry between the Kings of Yorkshire and the club best known for being Yorkshire rejects.
One potential source of strife and controversy stands out above most others though, with the likely presence in the Boro side of Daniel Ayala, a man with recent form in this fixture. Last season, with Leeds two goals to the good, Mr. Ayala blatantly wrestled Luke Ayling to the floor in the United box, an action somehow missed by match officials. Understandably outraged, Ayling sprang up to remonstrate, and in the subsequent kerfuffle, Ayala, with a look of saucer-eyed innocence on his face, contrived to have his team awarded an unlikely penalty.
Not all match officials, of course, are as visually challenged as the assistant referee on that occasion appeared to be. We must give him the benefit of the doubt, after all, and assume that it was his eyesight to blame, and not the presence of the Middlesbrough away support just behind him. But Ayala’s initial assault on Ayling was crude and obvious, and it’s reasonable to say that the incident was not one in which justice was served. Fortunately, Leeds hung on deservedly to win the game 2-1.
Mr. Ayala is still up to his nasty little tricks though, and still managing somehow to be blatant about it, and yet escape the notice of the men with the whistle and the flags. The recent Boro v West Brom game was a case in point, with Ayala clearly offending and completely getting away with it. How he does this is a mystery; we can only hope that forewarned is forearmed, and that – if Ayala does play this evening – the nastier parts of his game are spotted by the officials.
Here’s hoping for a good game and a fair outcome. MOT.
We’re very nearly at the point now when we can knock all of the transfer talk on the head, at least until January. It all comes to a halt on Friday, and the word is that Leeds will be bringing at least one new face in, many tipping Chelsea’s Izzy Brown to arrive on loan.
But there exists another interesting (to say the least) possibility, with the news that free agent Yaya Touré, late of champions Manchester City and still a stellar talent, has passed a medical in London, prior to a move to a mystery club.
Yaya has let it be known that he’s not concerned with earning megabucks, and is more interested in a challenging project. It’s well-known that anybody who goes to Leeds, and is instrumental in the awakening of that sleeping giant, will be accorded lifelong “Legend” status. So, from that point of view, the move is not only possible, it would undeniably fit the bill for both parties.
Yaya would be immense for Leeds United – if he joined up, you might as well deliver him to Elland Road as a bargain bundle to include the League Championship trophy. Whether or not English football’s new Godfather, Marcelo Bielsa, would see him as a good addition to his squad has to be another matter – and, as we know, Marcelo knows best.
But Yaya Touré is still world class, he’s cheap (ish) and he’d be an amazing coup even for a major club like Leeds. It’d be a capture in the same class as that of Gordon Strachan thirty years ago. I’d like to think that this is one of those unlikely rumours that actually has legs.