Daily Archives: 31/08/2013

Leeds’ First Defeat a Timely Reminder for Owners GFH Capital

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The first defeat of any season is always a bitter pill to swallow, and when that defeat ends a decent unbeaten run which had created a bit of a feelgood factor and some useful confidence, then the taste is all the sourer still. There can be little doubt that QPR deservedly edged the game at Elland Road – they came north with a game plan as they had done to Bolton’s Reebok Stadium, and they went away having done the job. Rangers had been rather unlucky to see Joey Barton’s first half goal disallowed for a clearly inappropriate offside flag, just as in the end they enjoyed some good luck when Rudy Austin’s fulminating howitzer hit the angle and bounced to safety. It was a game of fine margins, as reflected by the scoreline.

As depressing as a home defeat is, however, there can be long-term benefit if the lessons of that defeat are learned and acted upon. This match was under the Sky TV microscope, but it is an open secret that the Leeds United squad is defined more by the gaps in it than by the several excellent players it boasts for this level of football. Another striker is still needed, at least one winger is still needed. At the moment, there is a lot right with any team that Brian McDermott puts out, but the vital missing ingredients are making it very difficult for that team to be as effective as it needs to be in the attacking third of the field. Impotence in attack has its consequences further back; there is more pressure on ball retention in midfield because the options up front are not what they should be.

Brian McDermott is a downy bird, and he knows what is needed. It is the growing urgency of that need which, with the end of the transfer window looming ever closer, is giving cause for concern if not alarm. From the outside, we just have to take it on trust that work is going on behind the scenes to secure the additional players which are clearly needed in order to give Leeds a chance of sustaining some sort of competitiveness this season. If not, then it could just be a long and depressing struggle, despite the best efforts of a manager who has said all the right things and has also done so much that is right since coming to the club – as indeed have the new owners GFH-C.

Monday could be a very significant day in this season for Leeds United, and maybe even in their history as a whole. Getting the ingredients right is that important when you’re looking for the recipe for success. The QPR game has demonstrated very clearly for us just where the areas of need are – if we don’t secure some decent wide options, then surely we’ll be placing too much reliance on the likes of Diouf, who showed in his cameo performance that he’s currently far and away the best we have where quality service from the wing is concerned. After Diouf we have Ryan Hall, who still seems to be struggling to make a real impression at this level.

As is often said in too many American TV shows of a dubious standard: “OK. You got 48 hours”. That’s about the size of it for Leeds United right now, and the clock is running down. Tick tock.

Why Liverpool Are Still the Greatest Champions

Liverpool: Champions of Champions

Liverpool: Champions of Champions

Liverpool entertain Man U at Anfield tomorrow (Sunday) in the latest meeting between clubs who, to say the least, aren’t exactly fond of each other.  Rivalry of that depth and bitterness tends to polarise opinion – there aren’t many fence-sitters when one of these fixtures crops up.  OK, so I’m a Leeds United fan – so what has this got to do with me?

Well, I’d have to start by declaring an interest – as a die-hard supporter of the One True United from the right (Yorkshire) side of the Pennines, I’m not exactly enamoured of Man U.  I never had much time for them, even before that awful, whisky-nosed Govan Git came down to pour his choleric bile all over what had, until then, been a relatively civilised (give or take Brian Clough and nearly all the fans) English football scene.  There was always an air of spurious arrogance about them, as well as this “you’ve got to love us because of the Busby Babes” thing – which all the media seemed to lap up so eagerly, much to the disgust of real fans everywhere.  So clearly, I don’t like them – never did.  That’s in my Leeds United DNA.  But I’m not just a Leeds fan, I’m a fan of football in its widest sense – and I mourn the game we once knew which seems to be gone forever, swept away by a grotty tide of filthy lucre

Time was when Man U were grudgingly respected, other than by determined haters like me and my fellow Whites.  Since Sir Alex Taggart landed at the Theatre of Hollow Myths though, they’ve gone from “quite easy to dislike” to “impossible to stand the sight of” faster than you could say “Envious of Liverpool”.  The Purple-Conked One made it clear from the off that he was determined to “knock Liverpool off their perch”.  What we didn’t realise when he started his vendetta in 1988, showing no immediate sign of being any more successful than any of the other post-Busby failures, was that the whole face of football would have to change to realise Ferguson’s warped dream.

In 1967, Man U won their last ever proper League Title, making seven in total – quite respectable.  Then – nothing, for 26 years.  Since 1993, when a greedy Aussie bought the game and gift-wrapped it for a curmudgeonly Scot, the title “race” has been more of a procession.  The honour has ceased to be about virtuosity on the field; now it’s mainly about money and markets, and Man U have had much more of both during the whole Murdoch era.  Result: thirteen plastic titles.

Football is now a tacky, merchandise-driven, unseemly drive for profit over pride, and the dominance by Man U of such a grubby era is undeniably apt.  But we are still close enough in time to the pre-greed days for those of us of a certain age to remember when the game was about glory, not greed; when the aim was winning, not wonga, when the important people were supporters, not shareholders.  In those days, the distribution of wealth was far more even, and the field of possible title-winners was far wider; the competition (over a grueling 42 match course, with un-manicured pitches and un-pampered pros) was far more fierce.  And yet, even in this environment of white-hot combat and intense rivalry, Liverpool reigned supreme, not for months, not years, but for literally two decades.  By 1992, they had compiled an honours list that seemed likely to see them at the top of the game for many years to come – unless someone sneaked in and moved the goalposts.  Cue Uncle Rupert.

Man U fans can crow all they want about 20 titles.  The evidence to confound them is there for all to see, like some geological stratum separating the dinosaurs from the mammoths.  That schism dividing the game up to ’92, from the showbiz shenanigans of ’93 onwards, stands out like a Tory at a Foodbank, exposing Man U as the wealth-backed, monopolising opportunists that they are.  And it has all been done with such bad grace, another indictment of this new and joyless age we’re plodding through.  No gentle wisdom of the Bob Paisley variety – instead we had the sour bile of Ferguson and now seemingly a Fergie-Lite clone in the newly growly and grouchy David Moyes.  No loveable old-style hard-man Desperate Dan type like Tommy Smith – we just had the manufactured machismo of Roy Keane, a supposed tough-guy with an assumed snarl and trademark glower, whose typical party trick was to sneak up behind wee Jason McAteer and fell that not-exactly-scary individual with a sly elbow.

The comparisons could go on all day, but the bottom line is that Liverpool at their peak – and it was a hell of a peak – typified all the values of football that some of us remember from a pre-Sky, pre-glitz, pre-greed age when it really was all about a ball.  Now, it’s all about money, and contracts, and egos, and snide bitching to the media if you don’t get all your own way – and lo, we have the champions we deserve.  In the home game against Chelsea towards the end of last season, they displayed a lack of respect for the Premier League competition, and discourtesy to other clubs who stood to gain or lose depending on whether Chelsea  won or lost, by fielding a much changed and weakened side, going down to a meek defeat and imperiling the Champions League prospects of Spurs and Arsenal.  Such is the measure of their attitude to the game where their own immediate interests are not affected.

To apply a conversion rate which sums up all the anger and disgust I feel for the way our game has been degraded – I’d say each Premier League (or Premiership, or whatever else it’s been marketed as) is worth maybe half – at the very most – of each proper Football League Championship from the days when the game still belonged to us and the world was a happier and more carefree place.

At that rate, Man U are still a good long distance behind Liverpool, which – judging by the paucity of spirit and sportsmanship they displayed against Chelsea – is precisely where they belong.  On the eve of the latest meeting between these two long-standing Lancashire rivals, it should be emphasised once and for all – Liverpool are still The Greatest.

Masterblaster Yeboah’s Best Goal for Leeds United

Yeboah Almighty

Yeboah Almighty

Mention the name Tony Yeboah to any Leeds fan – in fact to any football fan with a memory long enough to stretch way back to the mid-nineties, and you can bet that a faraway look will come into their eyes, and they’ll say “Ah, yes – that incredible goal against Liverpool.  Goal of the season, that.”  It’d be difficult to find anyone to argue the point.  But as a fanatical Leeds United fan who has a very special place in his Hero File for Anthony Yeboah, I’m going to try.

The Liverpool goal certainly was a brilliant technical piece of finishing; volleys from outside the box against a class goalkeeper invariably have to be.  At Leeds over the years, we’ve been lucky enough to see a fair few of these bazookas, and Yeboah’s late effort against the Anfield men stands comparison with any of them.  The fact of the goal being at the Kop End of Elland road was of some assistance to the spectacle, but any way you look at it, this was a hell of a strike.  It wasn’t the first goal of this type in front of the Leeds Kop and against the Reds though.  A few years before, Gary MacAllister, a future Anfield hero, scored another fizzer, the ball being played to him in mid air from the left; he let it go across his body before wrapping his right foot round it to thunderous effect, the ball scorching into the net before the ‘keeper (the same David James beaten by Yeboah) could even move.

Yeboah’s strike though was probably marginally better, it came from a headed knock-down forcing the Ghanaian to adjust his body shape slightly as the ball descended towards him, and he caught it so sweetly and with such velocity that James was probably slightly lucky he didn’t get a hand to it; broken wrists have been known in similar situations.  It was a violent, arcing shot, the ball dipping slightly in its trajectory and just clipping the underside of the crossbar before bouncing down to rest, relieved, in the back of the net.  David James can perhaps count himself unlucky to have been beaten by two of the finest volleys I’ve ever seen at Elland Road, then again he might reflect they’d probably have beaten any two keepers on Earth.

The thing is though – tie me up and burn me for a heretic, but I don’t think Yeboah’s howitzer against Liverpool that balmy August night was his best goal for Leeds.  In my humble opinion, that came a few weeks later at Selhurst Park, temporary home of Wimbledon FC.  I am supported in this by Guardian writer Dominic Fifield who, writing in 2011, saw this as his favourite Premier League goal.  He described it thus:

“Watching the ball cannon up from a series of scrappy headers and attempted clearances clearly tested the Ghanaian’s patience. Yeboah snapped on to the loose ball, controlled it on his chest then instep, exploded away from an opponent and lashed a glorious half-volley in off the underside of the bar from distance. It is the ferocity which is most impressive; a blistering effort.”

Sadly, I only saw this goal on television, though I’d planned to attend the match at Selhurst as I was due to be in London that weekend.  Four days previously though, I’d seen a pallid performance against Notts County in a 0-0 League Cup draw – and I just thought, well sod it, I’m not wasting my London time and money watching that sort of crap.  So I was exploring the delights of Selfridges when Yeboah broke Sky TV’s velocity-measuring equipment, and serve me right for a lapse of faith.  At least my wife found it funny, but I was understandably not amused.  Leeds won 4-2 as well, with Yeboah completing a hat-trick, and Carlton Palmer scoring a goal that might well have been Goal of the Month most of the time, but paled into insignificance next to the awesome might of Yeboah.

There are several YouTube videos devoted to paying tribute to Tony’s goals in his too-brief stay at Elland Road, and I’d heartily recommend a search, they’re well worth watching over and over.  I’d be interested to know what others think – I suspect that most will feel his effort against Liverpool was the best; it was a late winner after all, and scored in front of a packed Kop.  I should think this really, because I was actually there, stood right behind the line of the shot as it ripped past the startled James.  But I just can’t help harking back to what I think was an even greater goal, albeit in humbler surroundings.  How I wish that I’d been there for that one.  Tony Yeboah: thanks for the memories.