Daily Archives: 23/11/2013

Alan Smith: Saint or Sinner? The Smudger Debate – by Rob Atkinson

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Smudger – one of our own?

It’s over nine years now since Alan Smith, the Rothwell lad with Leeds United in his DNA (although there are rumours that he was a Liverpool fan as a cherubic little boy), broke with an on-the-record vow and signed for Them.  From THERE.  It was impossible to believe, but it was true.  Smudger had sold his soul to the Devil.  Our Alan was a scummer.

Ever since then, the debate has raged off and on.  Is Smithy more sinned against than sinning?  What were his choices back in 2004?  Is he still our golden boy, famous for scoring with his first touch in front of the Anfield Kop, for putting Anderlecht’s formidable home record to the sword, for that Cruyff turn when he scored against Southampton at home?  Or is he the living embodiment of Judas Iscariot, selling himself and prostituting his talent for a few (million) pieces of silver?

There is evidence on both sides of the argument, and plenty of ill-informed, scurrilous comment as well.   No less an impeccable source than Peter Lorimer tells us that Smudge had little choice in the matter; that Man U was the only offer on the table that suited our dire financial predicament; that the lad even waived a rather large payment so that the Club could gain maximum advantage from the deal.  My own crib at the time was a TV interview immediately after relegation when Smith confirmed he’d be leaving as he was “not a first division player”.  Well excuse me, son – I brooded – but you are.  You’ve just earned that status by being part of a team that got relegated.  But it was all a long time ago.

So I thought I’d ask people to vote for how they see our former striker (38 goals in 172 appearances).  Is he a goodie or a baddie?  Saint or Sinner?  Is he Leeds, or is he not? Please give your view below.  We might as well do this now; the lad is way past his best and let’s face it – after all the years of rumours and sightings – he’s not coming back.  So let’s nail this one now.

Comments are equally welcome.  If you MUST insist on a democratic right to vote, even if you’re a Man U fan – then at least have the decency to admit it.  I could of course protect the integrity of the process by filtering out I.P. addresses in Devon – but what the hell.

Lethal Lampard Back Again to Hammer Upton Park Boo Boys – by Rob Atkinson

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Chelsea Pensioner Lampard: Hammers torturer-in-chief

After this stroll in Upton Park from an effortlessly superior Chelsea side, West Ham boss Sam Allardyce must be preoccupied by one burning question: are there three worse teams in the Premier League than his punchless, impotent Hammers?  Because, make no mistake, West Ham’s short term future revolves entirely around that one issue.  If three teams even less creative, even less error-prone and ineffective, can be found to occupy the dreaded drop zone – then the Hammers may survive another season.  If not, it’s back on the downward path for one of the classic yo-yo clubs.

Even at 3-0, this scoreline hardly flattered Chelsea.  Rather, it was an indictment of some profligate finishing on their part – they could and should have had at least a couple more, and Frank Lampard will consider himself rather let down, not having completed his hat-trick.  As for the Hammers – they’re as lightweight up front as the famously under-endowed Olive Oyl.  To their eternal credit, they did finally muster a shot on target – in the 94th minute.  If only that could have gone in, it would have made …. absolutely no difference at all. Meanwhile, at the other end, the poor old ‘Ammers goal was ready to collapse after a ninety minute shelling during which it had sustained enough enemy fire to scuttle a fleet.  Again, one wonders how it ended up at only three.  West Ham, for their part, were a bit lucky to get nil.

It’s the fashion in these tender-hearted and sentimental times for returning old-boys to show a bit of class and decorum, should they happen to have the bad taste and ill manners to score against the alma mater.  This is an admirable convention in many ways, and it’s probably saved a few hot-headed pitch invasions.  But really, it would be too much to expect of the Hammers fans’ least-favourite Lampard, the junior Frank of that ilk.  When he was a Hammer, he got hammered as a daddy’s boy.  When he left for Chelsea, he was castigated for greed and disloyalty.  On the numerous occasions since then, when he’s rippled the Barrow Boys’ net, he’s taken vile abuse and snarling hatred – simply for doing his job.  These ‘Appy ‘Ammers boys have a chirpy cockney reputation, but anyone who’s walked from the Boleyn back to the tube after a tidy little away win for their team might beg leave to doubt the sincerity of all this alleged good-natured bonhomie.  The truth is that are about as charming as a bucket of cold jellied eels, as friendly as Dirty Den in a taxi.  So when Frank Lampard pops another one in against the Iron, you can forgive the lad a bit of a celebration.  He looked nearly as happy as those who had backed him as an any time goalscorer at betting site bwin.com!

Lamps’ two displays of triumphant joy today, either side of a slide-rule finish from Brazilian Oscar, will not have gone down well with the Upton Park clientele.  But they had better brace themselves for more of the same, because although they won’t meet the class of Chelsea every week, there aren’t too many teams which will be troubled by an attack so lacking in penetration that a belting prescription of Viagra looks the least that will be needed to inject a bit more oomph.  This brings us back to the question of whether enough teams can reasonably be expected to finish below Sam’s droopy troops, to give them a fighting chance of securing another campaign.  On today’s evidence, that looks rather doubtful.

Leeds In Playoff Zone After Edging Out Boro – by Rob Atkinson

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Skipper Jason Pearce soars above the defence to score Leeds’ winner

A captain’s contribution saw Leeds United recover from the disappointment of conceding an equaliser to ten-man Middlesbrough to emerge winners in a tense but entertaining clash before over 30,000 at Elland Road, Jason Pearce thumping home a great header at the Gelderd End after 57 minutes.  This third consecutive league victory – a feat not achieved in over a year – also sees United lodged just inside the playoff zone, a position they will be hoping to maintain or improve on over the remaining thirty games of the season.

Leeds had taken the lead after 35 minutes of the first half with a close-range header from in-form Ross McCormack, a summer transfer target for Boro.  It was a deserved lead, and it might have been more before half time.  A long ball deceived the Middlesbrough defence and, with McCormack and Blackstock looking to have the time to decide which of them was to score the second, Boro keeper Jason Steele raced outside his area to demolish Dexter, concede a free-kick – and end his own involvement in the game.  The red card was indisputable, and the ten men of Middlesbrough would, it seemed, face a long and difficult second half trying to keep the score down.

In the event, Middlesbrough initially put up a rather better show with ten men than they had with a full complement, winning more possession in Leeds territory and posing a much greater threat.  The danger signals were obvious, and it was unwelcome but no real surprise when the visitors leveled after 52 minutes, Carayol scoring after good work from Adomah.  It’s a test of a home team’s mettle to be pegged back against a team with “only ten men” as the Boro fans could suddenly be heard singing.  Heads can go down, frustration can set in.  But Leeds responded well, with Austin charging forward and showing good determination against a team who, having got back onto equal terms, clearly fancied packing the area behind the ball and, even though a man short, making life difficult for the Whites.

Happily, it didn’t take long for United to reassert themselves, with Pearce’s header a cue for Elland Road to erupt with mingled joy and relief.  Even then, it wasn’t easy for the home side, Boro attacking and battling for possession all over the park and, while they created little of note, the pressure was on and Leeds could never relax.  It could have been a different story – a more comfortable story – if United had taken a couple more of the quite presentable chances they had created – but in the end the odd goal in three was sufficient to guarantee Leeds the three point haul – and that is very much what it is all about, especially given some of the cheap points thrown away earlier in the season.

Leeds now find themselves inside the playoff zone instead of looking enviously upwards. It should be all about consolidation from here; knowing Leeds though, nothing is ever simple.  But Leeds United is a much happier place now than it was quite a short time ago, and the supporters have shown that they will respond to effort and commitment.  30,000 plus today tells its own story, and the atmosphere generated by the greater numbers is a genuine influence in a tight and competitive game.  If Leeds maintain their challenge, these fans will continue to get behind them with powerful support that unnerves opponents and inspires those in a white shirt. On the field, off the field and between the two areas it is, after all, a matter of teamwork and pulling together.

Birthday Celebrations For Leeds Stars Worthington and Haaland – by Rob Atkinson

It’s a BOGOFF deal on ‘Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything‘ today.  Two birthdays for the price of one – and as the price is nowt, you’re doing pretty nicely, aren’t you?

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Frankly Leeds

First up, we have Frank Worthington, one of the maverick superstars of the Seventies and briefly a cult figure in LS11. Frank picks up his pension book today, attaining the age of 65 years.  He already had a terrific career behind him by the time he rolled up for a short but spectacular stay at Elland Road, initially with a rescue mission in mind.  Spells with Huddersfield, Leicester, Bolton and Birmingham may not have put any undue strain on the Worthington medal cabinet, but he had a reputation as a fine footballer, for whom the term “flamboyant” could easily have been coined – and as a deadly striker.  Missing out on a move to then-mighty Liverpool was an undoubted low-point in his footballing life – his medical had revealed high blood pressure – but it was still a long and varied career, with eight England caps and two goals for his country along the way – not bad for a flair player in an era of pragmatism.

The deal that brought Worthington to Elland Road was a straight swap, with the late Byron Stevenson heading the other way to Birmingham City. At Leeds, Frank came into a team suffering a prolonged goal-scoring drought which had dragged them deep into the relegation mire. Worthington immediately set about putting that right, scoring the winner at Sunderland and going on to notch a total of 15 goals in 35 appearances for Leeds.  Especially memorable was his contribution to a stunning 4-1 win at Aston Villa, who were only a matter of weeks from becoming European Champions.  Sadly, the team just wasn’t able to string enough results together to save United, who were relegated to Division Two despite the best efforts and goal-scoring feats of Mr Worthington.

Frank started the following season still in the white shirt, and scored a memorable double as Leeds won 3-2 at Sheffield Wednesday.  Soon, however, he was on his way for £50,000 to Sunderland and he went on to appear for pretty much every other club in the league after that, retiring eventually in his early forties – pretty good for a man with a “blood pressure problem”.  Many Happy Returns, Frank – and thanks for the memories.

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Get up Keane, you big girl

Another Elland Road cult star was Alf-Inge Haaland, a man whose terrific relationship with the fans survived his unfortunate lapse in returning with Man City and scoring a purler of a goal against us.  Alfie was one of those rare players who really “got” what playing for Leeds United was all about.  A passionate performer, he related to the crowd as few others before or since, picking up on their likes and hates and going with the flow of commitment and fight for the shirt.  This was epitomised in his attitude towards Man U – he made no bones of the fact that he disliked the club and their players.  This was particularly the case as regards Roy Keane – a man regularly and inexplicably bigged-up to this day by a fawning media, in the shape of cushion-faced anchorman Adrian Chiles, as a “hard man”. Haaland seemed to view Keane as a coward, claiming that the Irishman didn’t dare look him in the eye.  The nature of Keane’s eventual retribution would seem to bear this out.

In an incident during the United v Man U game at Elland Road in 1997, Keane injured himself attempting to foul Haaland from behind, rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament, an injury which put Keane out of the game for almost a year.  Famously, Haaland had stood over the prone Royston, accusing him of feigning injury so as to avoid being punished for the foul.  Harsh, but funny.  Keane was booked as he left the field on a stretcher, Man U lost 1-0, and a grudge was sparked that would last over three years for payback.  In April 2001, Haaland – by now a Man City player – was fouled by Keane in the local derby, the Irishman going over the ball to stamp on Haaland’s right knee.  Keane was initially punished lightly, but later admitted in his typically over-the-top autobiography that the foul had been a pre-meditated act of revenge.  It was in character for Keane to plan his long-delayed retaliation so as not to risk being hit back; one of his other famous fouls was an elbow to the head of notoriously non-tough little Jason McAteer, when Keane snuck up from behind to launch his assault unseen before running away.

Alfie Haaland, 41 today, is remembered by fans of Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Man City as the type of player every team needs, one who will give his all and never give up, a professional footballer who comes as close as any to thinking and caring like a fan. For Leeds fans, Alfie’s oft-expressed antipathy towards Man U is enough to guarantee that he remains loved at Elland Road, though he can be magnanimous too.  He bears no grudge regarding Keane’s act of thuggish cowardice, expressing the hope that by now the Irish assistant manager will have grown up enough to set a better example to the players in his charge.  Many happy returns, Alfie.

Both Frank Worthington and Alf-Inge Haaland contributed in their different ways to widely-differing eras at Leeds United, and both are fondly remembered to this day.  Let’s raise a glass to both of them, two great servants who are both a year older today.  Cheers, lads!

Old Man Bates Spotted at Elland Road Shock Horror – by Rob Atkinson

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Uh-oh. Bates is back, yesterday

Oh dear. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Elland Road, and maybe even to part with a few hard-earned shekels in the club Megastore, or in purchasing an ambitiously-priced match ticket for the visit of the Smoggies this weekend – watch out.  Bates is back, and it’s not Norman of that ilk, but the supposedly departed and definitely unlamented Kenneth William.

Now, I’ve no desire to be unnecessarily alarmist, so if that opening paragraph sounded like a revolting mixture of recycled blurb from the publicity materials of Jaws and Psycho – then I humbly apologise.  But it’s been a bit of a shock, you see – such a graphically horrible picture. It’s not what you expect or need to see, large as life and twice as hideously old, strutting about outside our sacred stadium as if – well, as if he owned the place. Gulp.

Theories abound as to the possible reasons for the return of Papa Smurf’s reptilian presence to LS11.  None of them are much good.  This is understandable; people are reacting viscerally, out of disgust and horror at such an awful apparition, they need comfort, reassurance – some reason for this ultimate unwelcome surprise, just when we all thought the old get was consigned to the dustbin of history.  It’s a bit like waking from a nightmare of truly terrifying proportions, bathed in sweat and shaking like a palsied trauma victim, relishing that initial feeling of blessed relief that the shadowy horrors were only a bad dream – and then reaching out to touch some slimy monster by your bedside, poised to sink its slavering fangs into your neck and drink your blood dry.  It’s just not nice, not nice at all.

Some of our more mischievous brethren have already been upping the ante in the nightmare stakes, breezily speculating that Papa Smurf is the eminence grise behind The Chief’s alleged consortium.  But this surely has to be the most tasteless of wind-ups. Lucas is a nice guy and Lucas loves us.  He would not – I am certain of this – have anything to do with such a recent and reprehensible piece of flotsam from the arse-end of United’s history.  Lucas would be about renewed hope and fresh starts, concepts as far away from Bates and all he stands for as the average Man U fan is from the Theatre of Hollow Myths itself.  Any coincidence of Lucas Radebe and Kenneth William Bates in the environs of Elland Road must be just that – a coincidence, if a particularly unnerving and distasteful one.

Others have suggested that rumours of Bates’ departure were greatly exaggerated, and that he never really went away at all, but lurked in some dark corner of his restructured East Stand, like a rat under the sink.  Again, this seems unlikely – his proclaimed severing of ties with the club (and vice versa) was acrimonious and was also followed as day follows night by somewhat of a renaissance at the club; players were signed for actual money, ticket prices became marginally less insane – it was a whole new, brave new world.  Still others have suggested that the being in the picture is not The Dark One himself, but some unfortunate looky-likey, doomed to tread the earth in the guise of Beelzebub, lacking only a 666 tattooed beneath his hairline.

By far the most mundane possibility – and therefore the most probable one – is that this is merely something to do with the Regional Members Club conference.  Apparently, the Beast’s consort Suzannah still has loose ties with the RMC’s – and whither she goeth, so the Dark One will be slithering along not far behind.  It is also bruited about though that Bates has offices over the Subway fast food outlet near the stadium.  All in all, it would appear that he’s not quite so completely departed as we would ideally like to think.

Maybe it’s just that not-so-cuddly Uncle Ken still has loose ends to tie up with GFH, against whom, it was said at the time he left Leeds United, he was plotting one of his forays into litigation.  Perhaps this manifestation – loathsome and unwished-for though it may be – is simply to facilitate some sort of agreement over vexed questions such as private jets and withdrawn Presidential privileges.  It is earnestly to be hoped that this is so; that the whole thing is a hell of a lot more innocent than a picture of Kenneth William Bates could possibly ever look.

The fact is as well that, courtesy of the Taxman (may his name be ever blessed), Ken can still only spend so many days a year in this Sceptred Isle, and has to pass the bulk of his time basking on a rock in the Mediterranean, like the reptile he is.  So, nasty though this has been, his presence about the place must be strictly temporary, and there are likely to be ever fewer reasons for it to be repeated, as time goes on and the stench continues to clear.

And one day, of course, he’ll be as gone as gone can be – by which time we might be back in the Promised Land of the Premier League and acting like a big club again.  And for that glorious day, near or far, we all await in pleasurable anticipation – and with an ever-increasing confidence that sooner or later it must surely dawn..

Customised Xmas Gifts Ideal For the Discerning Leeds Fan – by Rob Atkinson

ImageThere’s nothing like the run-up to Christmas to have people scratching heads and worrying over exactly what they can buy for their significant other, doting parent, hopeful child – or just a good mate.  Or some maybe even seeking inspiration for how to pamper themselves a little, with some seasonally-gifted dosh to spend.  It’s a dilemma likely to be a little easier to solve this year than last – IF you have a Leeds United fanatic on your “to buy for” list – and more especially if that Leeds-mad person is one who likes to stand out a little from the crowd.

ImageA relatively new Facebook venture, LUFC Custom, has come to my notice recently – and it’s something I’ve found worthy of looking at time and again as I ponder the question how to bring some Christmas cheer to the Elland Road devotees of my acquaintance.  It’s not an easy task, normally.  Do you go for megastore stuff and risk duplicating the efforts of others? That’s all good for the club and all that – but come on – this is Christmas.  We’re allowed to think of what we really want instead of concentrating on how best to enrich the source of all our many frustrations.

The thing about this LUFC Custom venture is that it does exactly what it says on the tin. Have a glance and see for yourselves.  There is a range of basic products – all the usual type of stuff – but here’s the thing. You actually get to embellish your purchase of choice with a range of enhancements: badges, colours, slogans, your own name or that of a gift recipient – you end up with a custom-designed item that’s truly personal to the person it’s intended for.  Now, tie me to a stake and burn me for a heretic, but I consider that to be a superior sort of choice.  Those relying on the various commercial outlets of the club itself, or on those retailers operating under licence, are likely to find that whatever Santa brings them, he’s also going to have brought for quite a few of their mates, relatives, fellow match-day sufferers, and so on.  It’s all well and good, and it helps Leeds United, and we should definitely do it.  But there is, perhaps, room for a little individuality of expression too. This is where Custom Leeds might just be able to make that important bit of difference.

Don’t listen to me – really, just have a click and a gander at what this guy has to offer. I’m simply making a recommendation here – because it strikes me as a good idea, a worthy venture and potentially something that will add to the options for showing your colours with pride.  The pride will be that bit more keenly felt if you’re sporting something that no-one else is parading around in – just something that bit different and individual to the person who’s designed it.

I’m probably set to take my own advice, as it goes.  I’ve got all the replica shirts, most of the t-shirts and sundry other items of apparel and other memorabilia.  I don’t have the drawer space or the incentive to add to all that.  My next investment may well be something that says something about me and my support for Leeds United – it may even reflect the image of this blog now that it has a respectable number of followers.  The possibilities are limited only by my imagination and the by the impoverished contents of my flea-bitten wallet.

Besides, I deserve a treat – and who knows, I could do a little shopping for others too.  It is nearly Christmas, after all.