Monthly Archives: December 2013

That Was The Leeds United 2013 That Was – by Rob Atkinson

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A look back before we look forward…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  January 2013 at Elland Road saw Leeds United in the throes of transition from the misery of life under Bates to a newly-budding optimism surrounding what was still technically, for the time being, life under Bates.  The long-awaited takeover had finally happened, but many were unable to see beyond the strings which were clearly attached.  After daring to dream, it seemed as though the old nightmare still had its final act to play out.  We were stuck with Ken Bates until the end of the season as Chairman – and then for three years beyond that as President, threatening to sully an office previously held with honour by the late Earl of Harewood.  Still, it was better than Bates owning the club.  So, modified rapture.

January was a mixture of indifferent league form relieved by significant Cup success.  Neil Warnock’s charges had ended the old year with a thorough drubbing at Hull; though the final score was only 2-0, the Whites had been taught a sobering lesson in how the game should be played at this level, and the score-line distinctly flattered them.   Sadly, another 2-0 defeat at Barnsley on January 12 showed that the lesson had not been learned.  How a team so humbled in two league fixtures could possibly knock out the mighty and Bale-inspired Spurs from the FA Cup was puzzling to say the least.  But that’s what happened – Spurs went the way of Birmingham whom United had beaten after a replay in Round Three, and we were through to face the daunting task of playing Champions Man City away in Round Five.

Leeds took an uninspiring single point from the opening three league games of February and then bowed out of the FA Cup at the Etihad, the 4-0 spanking again not really reflecting the lopsided balance of play in City’s favour.  Able to, as they say, “concentrate on the league”, Leeds beat Blackpool 2-0 and played out a goal-less draw at Blackburn to enter March, which turned out to be the last full month under Neil “Colin” Warnock.

Colin had looked ever less capable of fulfilling the United dream of promotion, and March was the month that broke the back of that ambition.  A scratchy win over Millwall was followed by three draws and then two defeats and, as April rolled around, Colin’s tenure ended after two further losses – at home to Derby and then at the Valley against Charlton Athletic.  And then, it all changed – though too little and too late.  By this time, the hopeful peering upwards at the playoff zone had been replaced by anxious glances over our shoulders at the relegation tussle.  When Brian McDermott was appointed, he immediately said all the right things as new managers tend to do – except he managed to imbue his words with a sincerity and meaning that marked him as somebody we might actually want at the helm.

Brian’s first match was a 2-1 defeat of Sheffield Wednesday, a badly-needed and richly satisfying victory after the previous chelpings of then Wednesday manager David Jones.  A win over Burnley followed, hoisting Leeds to mid-table security before two successive defeats re-awakened those nagging worries.  But all was well by the last day of the season as we travelled to Watford and won 2-1, successfully pooping their intended promotion party and sending Hull up instead.  Ah, well.

So that was it for the season.  During the summer, big changes were afoot at boardroom level, including the welcome early termination of Bates’ connections with the club, a £1 million-ish signing for the first time in absolutely yonks, and generally increased optimism and morale.

The story of this season so far has been “steady as she goes” with new players bedding in, plenty of our familiar flaws still in evidence, but overall a much brighter and happier atmosphere about the whole place under Brian McDermott, who has continued to forge a great relationship with the fans as he displays a quiet determination to succeed in this job, regardless of distractions elsewhere – the Ireland job, for instance.  McDermott is known to have ambitions in this direction, but he swiftly distanced himself from speculation, stating firmly that he had a job to do at Elland Road.  In fact, McDermott’s hand on the tiller has resulted in an identical position at the turn of the year as compared with previous seasons.  Leeds have fallen away in the past – can they now build on what looks certain to be yet another fresh start under the Haigh-led consortium?

2014 looks as richly promising as any year in recent memory.  Our arguably top performer over recent games, with due deference to the prolific Rossco, has been Marius Zaliukas, signed initially on a short-term deal.  That deal has now been improved and extended to the end of the 2014/15 season – surely a cause for celebration.

More signings are promised in this window following the expected ratification of the takeover by the Football League.  There is the possibility of a winger, maybe another striker too to take some of the burden of McCormack.  These could at last be exciting times.  2013 was a year in which we have moved from one takeover watershed to another, with no great change in league position but with a massive improvement in the whole atmosphere of the club since Bates was shown the door.  What we have now is a solid foundation to build upon, with a club that seems likely to be relatively well-funded, ahead of Financial Fair Play regulation, and able to exert some buying power in the transfer market to supplement the good players we already have at the club – including promising youngsters such as Byram and Mowatt as the Academy production line continues to flourish.  It’s impossible of course to speculate about what an article penned next New Year’s Eve would say – will it reflect on solid achievement, steady progress or dashed hopes?  All are possibilities.  That story will unfold in the next twelve months.

Meanwhile, let’s raise a glass to 2014 and all it might bring to fans of Leeds United AFC in terms of progress, excitement, maybe even glory.  Happy New Year to #LLUUE readers everywhere, to all Leeds United fans and to everybody else.  Let’s see where it takes us!

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Feliz Cumpleaños a Ti, Luciano Becchio. Por Favor, Vuelve a Leeds Utd! – by Rob Atkinson

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Wishing you a Happy Return

As any fule kno, the title means Happy Birthday to you, Luciano – please come back to Leeds United. The birthday wishes are standard; Becchio is 30 today which is a watershed in anyone’s life – and all the more so for a professional footballer, for whom the thirties are old-man, retirement territory.

Naturally, any article which even hints at the possible return of our former hero and regular goalscorer will be pounced upon by those who love to be seen pouring scorn on any such common sense.  Loads of goals, total commitment, rapport with the crowd and unstinting bravery amid the flying boots of a crowded opposition penalty area – these are things that some people simply hate and can’t abide the thought of.  The hostility which ensues whenever anybody suggests that Becchio could still be a Leeds United asset has to be seen to be believed.  There are some angry and immature people out there, and I expect I shall receive some abusive feedback from a few of them.  Who knows, I may even allow the odd one through?

The fact is of course that a Luciano type player is exactly what we need to increase the options for how our team might be set up and deployed.  If El Hombre himself were to arrive as a returning prodigal son, with a quality winger in tow – perhaps the French Ligue 1 might be a good place to look – then so much the better.  It seems obvious to me that we would carry much more of a threat over the course of a game with such a significant augmentation of the options, both in the starting line-up and on the bench.  At our level, with the aspirations we have, you can’t have too many decent Championship players.  Becchio may not have made the grade, quite, at top level – though he’s hardly been given a chance – but in the second tier, he’s proven quality.  What’s more, he would be absolutely champing at the bit.  Post 30 years old, he will hear the clock ticking – and he will wish to make his mark while he can.  Familiar surroundings at Elland Road would most likely bring out the best of Becchio.

Happy 30th birthday, Luci’.  Here’s hoping we see you back to your best in the famous white shirt again soon.  Now bring on those scornful dismissive comments, do your worst.  But please – let me hear from those of you who know what you’re talking about too…

Leeds Held as Ref Mathieson Observes “St. Tinkler’s Day” – by Rob Atkinson

Tinkler - immortality beckons

Tinkler – immortality beckons

Former referee Ray Tinkler has been venerated by generations of match officials in this country and further afield ever since his one moment of real fame, way back on 17th April 1971.  On that spring afternoon, the man from Boston, Lincs managed with one crass decision to rob Leeds United of not just one but two Football League titles, thereby elevating himself to demigod status with the powers that be in English football.  The missed offside call which allowed West Brom to score a decisive second that day made the difference at the end of the season, costing United the title by one point.  Further, the resulting crowd invasion of the pitch (And Leeds will go mad! And they’ve every right to go mad!! – BBC Commentator Barry Davies) saw Elland Road closed for the first few home league games of the following season; the points dropped in playing those fixtures elsewhere saw Leeds condemned to second place behind Derby instead of comfortably Champions as they otherwise certainly would have been.

In a country where Leeds have been at odds with the football establishment for over half a century, Tinkler’s little moment in the limelight is quite enough to see his name worshiped by modern-day officials who can only dream, under the all-seeing eye of today’s blanket TV coverage, of making a similarly blatant “mistake” to the disadvantage of the Damned United.  It’s a deep, dark secret – but there is a highly-movable feast known as “St Tinkler’s Day” which is there to be celebrated by any ref who does get the chance to drop a real clanger that will cost the Whites precious points.  Generally speaking, it’s been foreign refs who have most famously “done a Tinkler” – the European Finals of 1973 and 1975 are testimony to this – but the chance will still be grasped eagerly to this day, if there is the least possibility of getting away with it.  What other explanation can there be, after all, for the kind of glaring mess-up made by Scott Mathieson in the Blackpool v United match on Boxing Day?

With the score at 1-1, the game was finely poised going into the last twenty minutes or so.  Lee Peltier had given United a first half lead with a terrific far-post header, only for the Tangerines to equalise somewhat fortuitously, Ince’s shot being deflected away from Paddy Kenny’s reach by the attempted clearance of Marius Zaliukas.

Shortly after this, Leeds’ lethal striker Ross McCormack received a ball outside the area and turned brilliantly to leave a path clear through on goal.  Defender Kirk Broadfoot has little choice but to haul the Scot back just outside the 18 yard box.  It was clearly not a penalty, but – with Broadfoot undeniably the last man – it was just as clearly a red-card offence.  Everyone could see it, Broadfoot himself seemed resigned to it.  And this is where Mathieson saw his golden chance to do a Tinkler.  With the air of a man who was thinking “I’ll be famous for this”, he produced and brandished a mere yellow, to the amazed delight of Broadfoot and the outraged horror of everyone in the United camp.  The free-kick came to nothing, and the game was destined to be a draw.  Maybe United would have overcome ten men, and maybe they wouldn’t – but referee Scott Mathieson, establishment man and Tinkler protege, had done his bit to deny them.

This was not a marginal decision, nor was it at all difficult to get right.  Mathieson’s weak excuse afterwards was that he didn’t think McCormack had the ball under control.  This opens a whole new can of worms, as Ross was being fouled and yet still looked favourite to score – but the warped logic of Mathieson’s position seems to be: Defenders! Make sure your man is incapable of proceeding on goal by whatever foul means possible – just make sure he can’t control the ball, and you won’t be dismissed!  Utter rubbish of course, but a man has to try and justify his Tinkler Tribute by any means possible.

Leeds emerge from the Blackpool game frustrated but with the knowledge of a job well done.  They looked the likelier throughout, and had the game tactically in their grasp from the word go.  An unlucky deflection and a truly woeful refereeing performance stood between United and a deserved victory.  Broadfoot was ironically dismissed in the last few minutes; a straight red for an awful tackle on Marius Zaliukas.  That’s the second time in two games that an opposition player has seen red when faced with the mighty Marius – it seems we have a good’un there, and we’ll just have to hope he remains in one piece.

Onwards to Forest now, and here’s hoping that Leeds can perform just as resolutely as they did at Bloomfield Road.  We’ll have to trust to luck as well, and make a wish that whoever the ref is at the City Ground, he’s not looking for a chance to pay his own tribute to refs’ patron saint Ray Tinkler.

Barnsley Pay the Price Against Bolton for Leeds “Cup Final” Exertions – by Rob Atkinson

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Barnsley’s biggest star

Both Huddersfield Town and Millwall have enjoyed league victories over the Mighty Leeds United this season – classic David and Goliath tales of tiny, grubby backwoods clubs enjoying their moment in the limelight as they contrive to overcome a world-famous footballing superpower.

Now, little Barnsley have got in on the “David” act, making their annual pilgrimage to Elland Road and managing to escape with a point clutched gratefully in their hot, sweaty little hands. The fallout was similar to that in the earlier two cases – joy unconfined, celebration and jubilation in excelsis, dancing and cavorting in the cobbled streets and who knows what other forms of primitive festivity.  It’s anticipated that there will be a sharp spike in the birth-rate nine months hence – though sadly the limited gene pool means it’s unlikely we’ll see any such augmentation of the average IQ figure.

All of this is quite understandable, given the chip on the collective shoulders of each respective band of David fans, where this Leeds United “Goliath” is concerned.  It’s probably most acute in Huddersfield, whose fans have had to live their lives in the long shadow of Big Brother from Elland Road on the one side, and of the Pennines on the other, their only protection from the barbaric hordes of Lancashire.

But Barnsley nurse their own local-envy grudge against Leeds, seeming to feel that they must succeed in this game at any cost.  A red card is deemed a fair price to pay as evidenced by the clogging of Marius Zaliukas

Whatever motivates these quaint if rustic people to nurse such savage hatred in their bosoms – and really, who could ever tell what goes on inside those misshapen heads? – there is certainly a galvanising effect on the team they support.  Those guys can be relied upon to play well above their usual form and give even superior Leeds sides a terrible time.  The motivational aspect is undeniable and, sadly, it costs an unwary United points that should be there for the taking.  This happens time and time again – every time a Leeds fixture is in the offing, the drums start to beat, the blood stirs and an atavistic glitter is to be seen in the eyes of otherwise placid and useless players.  We Leeds fans refer to it ruefully as “Cup Final Syndrome” – much to the annoyance of the unwashed hordes in opposition camps.   The Barnsley lot, for instance, would have you believe that Leeds is “just another game”.  But this is demonstrably not so.

Quite apart from the annoying regularity with which these dingy little clubs raise their performance levels against Leeds, another noticeable factor is the slump in performance immediately afterwards.  It’s as if the players, egged on by their desperate fans, have given every last drop of blood, sweat and tears and then gone on to draw on hidden reserves to complete the job, leaving them shattered and drained.  What inevitably happens next time out is that a team of pale wraiths take the field, wave and smile wanly at the applause due to them for the Leeds display, and then capitulate to whoever they are playing, simply too shagged-out from post Cup Final Syndrome to offer any resistance. After the Leeds v Barnsley game, I predicted that it would be defeat next time around for an exhausted set of Cup Final heroes.  “It’s quite probable now that Barnsley will go on to collapse to defeat against their next opponents,” I wrote.  Naturally, I was right – the Tykes slumped to a 1-0 home reverse against Bolton Wanderers yesterday, thus further proving the point I’ve been making – which is basically that Leeds have to show equal desire against these fired-up teams.  Their superior ability will do the rest.

The truth of the matter is, of course, that this “Cup Final Syndrome” is a real factor, one that can distort results and affect the whole season.  As I’ve previously written, Leeds suffer more than most from the phenomenon – not that this is any reason for sympathy.  It’s something Leeds have to sort out and overcome, if they are to achieve anything in the foreseeable future.  It’s just the loud and indignant denials you get – from the clubs who experience Cup Final Syndrome – that amaze me. They’re prepared to swear blind that there’s no such factor at play, and yet the figures speak for themselves – as you can plainly see if you look at the results for Huddersfield and Millwall in the wake of their hard-won victories over Leeds.

The managers of those clubs concerned might see things in a different light; they might argue that if their team can reach such heights and expend such effort when they play Leeds, then they could and should do it all the time.  But that’s the point – they can’t. They almost literally do give that hackneyed 110% against Leeds.  It is their cup final. They try and they try – and they come off the field, maybe victorious, but shattered and run down, their batteries as flat as the top of Wayne Rooney’s head.  They’ve nothing left to give, with predictable consequences next time out as they succumb, knackered.  It’s all there, in those results.

Maybe the Millwall and Huddersfield fans, Barnsley supporters too, would rather have a more consistent level of performance – and in that case, maybe they’d tolerate a less superhuman level of effort against the arch-enemy Leeds United.  But do you know, I somehow doubt it?  I have this sneaking suspicion that they’d rather continue to settle, grumpily maybe, but settle nonetheless, for mediocrity and runs of defeats for most of the season – just as long as they can have those wins against Mighty Leeds.  That, for them, is what it’s all about.  It’s not as if they’re going to go up anyway – so they need those Cup Final victories, they’re a validation of sorts.  It’s a defining characteristic of the type of club they are, with the type of fans they have.

So, you small-time, small club, small-minded envious pariahs – next time you hear Leeds United fans singing to you about “your Cup Final”, and feel moved to utter an offended bleat of protest – just bite your lips, and pause a second or two.  Think on.  You might just realise that what we’re singing to you is almost literally true.

Sherwood an Aptly Mediocre Appointment for Fading Spurs – by Rob Atkinson

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Hmm, I’ve got the job, then. Now what?

The news of Tim Sherwood‘s appointment as Tottenham manager, some say until the end of next season, will come as a surprise to many, a shock to some and confirmation of Spurs’ continuing decline to the knowledgeable few.  To say that the response of the White Hart Lane faithful is unenthusiastic is to be extremely charitable.  The Spurs fans are trying to put a brave face on the whole matter, trying to understand what is going on behind Daniel Levy‘s petulantly dissatisfied expression – but you can tell that deep down inside, they’re glumly watching the big clubs disappearing over a distant horizon which, not so long ago, represented the tantalisingly attainable Promised Land for North London’s second club.

As I’ve previously written, the failure of Spurs to pip Arsenal to Champions League qualification was the death-knell to their immediate ambitions of being a truly big club themselves.  It wasn’t an easy opportunity to miss; Spurs had been in a great position – seemingly almost home and dry.  And yet, against the odds, they managed to achieve failure from out of the very jaws of success.  They contrived somehow to squander their best chance of dining at the top table, and thereby put the tin lid on any chance of Gareth Bale (or “Spurs” as he was widely known last season) wasting any more of his meteoric career yearning for a team to suit his talent.  So it’s likely to be a diet of crumbs for Spurs from now on, especially if they manage to miss out on Europe altogether next season – a distinct possibility for the envious mid-table outfit.  It’s this kind of losing habit that has seen an allegedly major club fail to win a League Title for over half a century.

There is, it appears, a subtext behind the appointment of Sherwood, and the gist of what’s to be read between the lines is: “Louis van Gaal (nod, wink) … after the World Cup, of course … keep it under your hat, old fellow.”  Quite why a coach with the reputation of van Gaal would want to move from a post with one of Europe’s better national sides, to take up the reins of a London club in the perpetual shadow of giants Arsenal, is not explained.  The additional niggle that Spurs will probably be Champions League onlookers again, with all the top players studiously avoiding eye contact when a move to N17 is mooted, is hardly likely to help turn fanciful ambition into blessed reality.  World-class coaches are hard to recruit for urchin clubs who have their noses permanently pressed up against the sweet-shop window, whilst the rich kids gorge inside.

Spurs may after all find themselves having to grant Tim Sherwood his desired longer-term contract, something that is currently causing Daniel Levy to wear an expression even more pained and long-suffering than usual.  Levy’s desire for a cheap stop-gap appointment, prior to a high-profile swoop after the summer’s shenanigans in Brazil, may well be thwarted by circumstances beyond even his control.  How ironic it would be if it turned out that AVB had been made to walk the plank, only for it to transpire that the newly-promoted 3rd mate can’t even navigate, causing the ship to founder for want of an experienced presence on the bridge.  3rd Mate Sherwood’s total lack of impressive top-level qualifications, or indeed any real experience, is worrying more than a few with the club’s best interests at heart – and I find it rather puzzling, too.

What seems certain is that Sherwood, for all his fighting talk of wanting to be at the helm for ten years, is in Levy’s confused mind very much of a short-term, dodgy quality option for the here and now – with the indistinct future more a subject for wishful thinking.  After all, a slightly scratchy win at Southampton seems an odd basis for what is a crucial appointment; there is an air of the knee-jerk about it, a feeling of sticking plasters being applied to an arterial gusher that threatens to bleed Tottenham’s season dry.  Arsenal’s current minor stumble is but cold comfort to any Spurs fan with clear vision and a nose for stormy weather approaching.   The Gunners still seem set fair for a continuation of their top four habit at the very least, whilst there is no sign of any significant improvement in Spurs’ own more modest possibilities.  Sherwood as boss is no more and no less than a chilling confirmation of those uncomfortable, unpalatable facts.  It’s not going to be a very Happy New Year for the fans of North London’s also-rans.

Can Brian McDermott Emulate Leeds Utd Hero Simon Grayson? – by Rob Atkinson

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Simon Grayson: became United manager 5 years ago

Being the realistic and fair-minded character he undoubtedly is, United manager Brian McDermott would doubtless acknowledge the task he faces in matching the achievements of his last-but-one predecessor at Elland Road, Simon Grayson.

Grayson moved into the United hot-seat just before Christmas of 2008 after an acrimonious parting of ways with his former employers Blackpool – coincidentally United’s next opponents on Boxing Day.  His record at Bloomfield Road had been one of success, attaining promotion to the second tier for a famous old club which had been in the doldrums for far too long.  If that sounds familiar, it’s because the description could just as easily have been of Leeds United, and Grayson was destined to repeat his promotion feat at Elland Road, dragging comatose giants Leeds out of their humiliating third division berth in his first full season – despite having to work under the strictures imposed by a certain Master Bates.

There are some who seek now to belittle the scale of Grayson’s achievements, preferring to point at the lows of life in the Championship where Leeds had started so brightly.  But they haemorrhaged talent, failed to strengthen and fell rapidly by the wayside over the next couple of seasons, amid a welter of huge defeats.  That looks bad on any manager’s CV – but account has to be taken of the way in which Simon Grayson’s hands were tied in terms of his ability to improve the squad.   His career after Leeds has encompassed a third promotion from the third level of English football as he took Huddersfield up at the first time of asking.  Currently, he looks to be on course for a fourth such success, his current charges Preston North End lodged comfortably in the play-off zone despite a heavy loss to rivals Brentford at the weekend.

But it is for his success in reviving a moribund Leeds United, despite the Bates factor, for which Simon Grayson remains best-known.  To turn around a situation of seemingly terminal decline – after a succession of managers had failed to impose a big-club resilience on a lowly league – is the jewel in the crown of Grayson’s coaching career, especially as his promotion success was gilded with the fantasy-football type achievement of dismissing the champions from the FA Cup, at their own ground, in the third round.  For this alone, he would merit a prominent place in Leeds United’s turbulent but occasionally glorious history.

Simon Grayson lifted Leeds out of League One, elevating us to the Championship, in only his first full season.  It’s the only promotion he’s achieved outside of play-off football (note to Messrs Haigh and McDermott: Leeds United just don’t do play-offs) – and it’s clearly something still very close to his heart.  To win promotion with your boyhood favourites as well as slaying that club’s most despised dragon in its own lair – that’s the stuff of Boys’ Own fiction, made reality by a man as modest and dedicated as any we’ve been lucky enough to have associated with Leeds United AFC.

If Brian McDermott is to emulate Grayson’s first-full-season achievement, then it would have to be this season.  That. perhaps, would be unrealistic – given the fact that Brian has had his own problems of ownership and finances to deal with since moving in at United last April.  Clearly, whenever McDermott manages to guide Leeds back into the top flight, he will be hailed a hero and rightly so.  Until that happens, Simon Grayson remains, for me anyway, the third-greatest Boss at Elland Road behind the unassailable Don and his nearest rival Sergeant Wilko.  Some will disagree with that assessment – but really, the job of hoisting Leeds back from their lowest ebb was so massively important to us all that the person who managed it deserves appropriate recognition.

As Brian McDermott heads towards his first anniversary as Leeds boss in April, he might reflect that by then he’ll have a very good idea of what is possible in this current campaign.  A lot will depend on the currently-mooted takeover being approved by the Football League in time for Leeds to strengthen ahead of the run-in.  If they do that, and if the admirable “McDermott effect” continues to guide the club’s progress, then maybe – just maybe – he pull off a promotion that would see him elevated into the company of United’s greatest managers: Revie, Wilkinson – and Simon Grayson.

“Cup Final Syndrome” Inspires Barnsley to Thwart Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

Marius Zaliukas - clogged by Tudgay

Marius Zaliukas – clogged by Tudgay

On the day that we lost David Coleman, the man who so memorably commentated on Leeds United’s only FA Cup Final success, it was the Cup Final mentality of smaller Yorkshire rivals which, yet again, intervened to make a liar of the formbook.  That nagging chip on the underdogs’ shoulders acted to dispense with the gulf in class, which is evident from a glance at the league table, and to produce a result nigh-on as daft as the Barnsley fans apparently celebrating some sort of trophy success at the final whistle.  Such evident confusion is perhaps understandable – it’s 101 years since their only piece of real silverware, and even that was upstaged by the loss of the “Titanic”.

It was one of those games, a bad day at the office, a match where nothing dropped for Leeds.  Choose your cliché and go with it.  Ultimately, it all boils down to the same thing: dropped points for Leeds against inferior opposition who simply dared not give less than heart and soul plus blood, sweat and tears, urged on as they were by the rabid hatred their fans bear for the Elland Road club.  For Leeds, Matt Smith missed a hat-trick of reasonable chances, and the game rather passed their other recently effective performers by.

This enhanced desire on the part of smaller clubs against United is something I’ve written about before, and far too many of the “Yorkshire derby” games follow this same, frustrating pattern for Leeds, costing valuable points that add up to a significant dent in the team’s potential over the season.  Huddersfield benefited from the same thing; even Doncaster performed well above themselves last week in losing to United at home.  Barnsley, though, are a case in point.  This disappointing (for Leeds) goalless draw was actually one of our better results against the men from Oakwell, who apparently view the two games against United as the main part of the season, with the other 44 matches a chance for some not all that well-earned relaxation.

The type of performance that Barnsley, as well as several other hotly-resentful Yorkshire clubs, manage to produce against Leeds leaves them open to charges of dishonesty and cheating their manager with the poverty of their displays in other games.  Barnsley have been pathetic for most of this season, but you just knew they’d be bang up for it against Leeds.  That said, it’s a thing that the Whites simply have to learn to deal with – there can be no excuses, whatever the lop-sided motivation of the opposition, for failing to take full advantage of a poor team.

It’s quite probable now that Barnsley will go on to collapse to defeat against their next opponents.  After all, that’s what normally happens – look at Huddersfield’s next few results after their 3-2 success earlier in the season.  Unless new manager Danny Wilson can inspire his team to repeat today’s determined effort, the delighted Tykes fans can look forward to some Christmas and New Year misery as their knackered heroes ease off into post-Cup Final torpor.  None of which helps Leeds; it simply serves further to illustrate the annoying nature of this extremely annoying and inconvenient phenomenon.

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Ouch!! Red card for Tudgay

There were no real winners today; Barnsley’s point leaves them rooted to the foot of the table, whilst Leeds’ failure to grab all three dents their hopes of consolidating a play-off position – even though the league position improved slightly from 6th to 5th.  United will hope to get back on track in front of the live TV cameras at6 Blackpool on Boxing Day.  It is to be hoped that central defender Marius Zaliukas will be fit enough to play after being clogged by Tudgay, a challenge that saw the Barnsley man receive a straight red card.  Leeds will already be without Luke Murphy, suspended after his 5th yellow of the campaign.

Allan Clarke, the man who scored that Wembley goal to win the Cup for Leeds in 1972, played for and managed both of these clubs.  His presence in either forward line today would probably have resulted in at least one goal, with his clinical ability making some sense out of the hurly-burly in either penalty area.  As for David Coleman, the iconic commentator who intoned “Clarke…..one-nil!” on that day over 41 years ago – well, even he would have found it hard to enthuse about this one.  A very unmemorable and disappointing day for United  – but yet more faux “Cup Final” joy for plucky little Barnsley.

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Clarke……One Nil! Hear the Late, Great David Coleman as Leeds Utd Win the Cup

David Coleman died today, and with him went another piece of our youth for all those of my generation who grew up listening to him describe Cup Finals, historical athletics achievements and so much more, all in that distinctive, much imitated voice – the voice of the seventies, surely.

This video shows highlights of the Centenary FA Cup Final at Wembley on 6th May 1972, a game whose only goal will forever be remembered in terms of Coleman’s memorably laconic description. As the ball winged in from the right, crossed by Mick Jones, Coleman simply intoned: “Clarke ……… one-nil!” There was the implication that a goal followed such a chance for Sniffer as surely as night follows day – and so it most usually did. But this was a special, historic day, the only time to date that Leeds have ever won the FA Cup, and so the commentary has a special resonance, much as Kenneth Wolstenholme‘s did for the World Cup Final of 1966. As Coleman recapped the Clarke goal at Wembley that day, he added that it was “an example of the Leeds one-two”. He usually had the right words for any occasion, and his unique voice always enhanced whatever game he was describing.

A marvellous commentator and a giant of sports coverage over many years, he even saw a new term introduced into the language courtesy of Private Eye magazine. “Colemanballs” was an affectionate reference to his occasional lapse – and it’s as much a tribute to him as anything else that will be said on this sad day of his death at the venerable age of 87.

David Coleman, 1926 – 2013 RIP  A sad loss who will be much missed – thanks for the memories.

The Lesson of Leeds United: Sort Out These Tyrant Owners – by Rob Atkinson

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Bates: Irrelevant

Many times over the past few years I despaired of the future of my beloved Leeds United.  It was a club dying under the not-exactly benevolent rule of one Kenneth William Bates, a man who had taken control at Elland Road almost 21 years after declaring his avowed intent to see the club banished from the Football League and sent into oblivion.  This perhaps wasn’t the best recommendation for the supposed saviour of United (we heard repeatedly later of how he had saved Leeds at least once, and possibly two or three times).

The next seven years made you wonder whether the Bates reign had started with the breaking of a mirror in the Elland Road boardroom, although what followed was not so much bad luck as bad management, bad PR, bad taste – just every shade of bad you could possibly think of.  Ken’s method of “saving” Leeds, involving as it did relegation to the club’s lowest ever league status, did not inspire confidence.  Administration ensued, with record points deductions which saw an institution of the game in this country being hounded by their fellow league clubs who snarled and slavered as they were ranged against a hapless and helpless United.  It was like watching a mortally-wounded lion being snapped at by a pack of degraded hyenas – or standing by, powerless and frustrated, as a beloved family member was beaten up by snarling thugs.  It was simply horrible.

All in all, then, Bates’ potential as saviour looked more like that of a man who was determined to compass the demise of the club – and many were the reminders of his 1984 Chelsea-owning vow:  ”I shall not rest until Leeds United are kicked out of the football league. Their fans are the scum of the earth, absolute animals and a disgrace. I will do everything in my power to make sure this happens.”  Seven years under a Ken Bates thus motivated is a hell of a long time; for much of that period, things were bleak, grim and joyless around LS11.  The peaks of success were achieved in spite of Bates, not because of him; promotion and a famous win at the home of the Champions in the FA Cup came against a background of player sales, transfer market impotence and managers hamstrung into a frustrated inability to do their jobs properly and effectively.  Ken Bates was to Leeds United what Myxomatosis had been to the rabbit population of Australia; if he’d been left unchecked, the club may well have died.  It was that serious.

Now of course, despite the odd white-bearded apparition seen slithering around in the vicinity of Elland Road, Ken Bates is gone from the club.  It’s safe to pick up a programme again (and even a bit cheaper) – without having to bear the embarrassment of reading his latest rants against the fans (morons) or his business associates, nearly all of whom were either suing him or being sued by him – but at the club’s expense.  No more Radio Bates FM, no more silly bloody notions of a Northern take on Chelsea Village.  Gone and irrelevant, unlamented and destined (we devoutly hope) to leave no long-term mark on our beloved Leeds.

The legacy of Bates now is more intangible than material.  Sure, there’s the cladding on the East Stand and a few vanity projects elsewhere in the stadium.  But the true impact is on the fans; as a body we are now suspicious of owners, investors, saviours – yes, especially saviours.  The fans know what they want, but for the current owners of Leeds United it’s a slow process winning their unqualified trust – even if their aims really are absolutely parallel to those of the frustrated and long-suffering United support.  I write this with feeling; I’ve been as guilty as the next man of occasionally expressing doubts and reservations about where we’re heading under GFH, or under whatever the Consortium apparently on the brink of another takeover will call themselves.  It’s just not easy to lose that suspicion which amounts almost to paranoia; it’s not easy to trust men who are, after all, businessmen wanting to show some return on their money.  Trust will come, but more solid proof may be needed before everything in the garden is rosy.

Double jeopardy: Allam and Tan

Double jeopardy: Allam and Tan

Still, relative to certain other clubs, things are pretty good at Leeds United.  We could be Hull, struggling against an embarrassing change of name being foisted by owner Assem Allam on unwilling supporters who want to be Hull City and not Hull Tigers (cringe).  We could be Cardiff City, already suffering in red after they’ve been Bluebirds these many years.  Of course these two clubs are in the Premier League, and that will mean a lot to their fans.  But at what price?  Would Leeds United fans accept an elevation which comes at such a premium?  Red instead of White, or being known as Leeds Red Bulls even?  What price tradition, pride, identity?  I know how I’d feel – I’d fight such scandalous iniquities to my dying breath, and whatever the feelings of certain complaisant short-term glory seekers, I’m sure there’d be many thousands fighting with me.  As things stand, we have to trust that our current and future owners do not intend to follow a Hull or a Cardiff route.  If that trust were to be breached, things could get pretty hot for those gentlemen.

At times during the Bates era, I used to wish that something official could be done about him, to have him forcibly excised from our club.  “Fit and proper?”, I’d think to myself, unable to understand how any governing body could accept this of such a transparently villainous and malicious, self-serving old curmudgeon.  I saw managers depart and I knew they’d not had a fair chance.  I used to hope that maybe the League Managers Association (LMA) would advise its members not to work for Bates, and force the issue that way.  I doubt it would ever have come to that – too many peace-at-any-price merchants in those particular corridors of power.  But that’s how desperate I felt, that’s how much I wanted rid.  It’s just a year ago since the beginning of the end of Bates.  What a very much happier year it has been.

Now, with things so much more positive around Elland Road, and with the promise of better things yet to come, I can feel some sympathy for fans – and managers – who are suffering under tyrants, much as we did.  Particularly, I feel sympathy for Malky Mackay, the manager of Cardiff City who got them at last into the Premier League and whose reward is that he probably won’t be their manager for much longer.  He’s been issued with a “resign or be sacked” ultimatum by owner Vincent Tan, a man whose football knowledge adds up to precisely zero.  Still, having ruined the Bluebirds image, he feels qualified to criticise the coaching, tactics and transfer policy of a football man, a solid professional and a man of dignity and restraint in Mackay.  This manager is a dead man walking and he must know it – but still, he’s travelled to Anfield with his team, hoping against hope that he can coax a performance out of what must be a bewildered, angry and confused group of players – at the daunting home of a formidable Liverpool side.  And then, he’ll be gone.  I fervently hope he sticks to his guns and refuses to walk, and I hope too that every penny of his contract is paid up to him.  He will emerge with massive credit for a job well done; he will not be out of work for long.

If there are any hitches with the terms of his dismissal, though, the LMA should show it does have some teeth – and withdraw their members from availability for the Cardiff manager’s position.  Maybe they should do that anyway, to show some solidarity and to demonstrate to Tan and the others like him that the cadre of football professionals will not be made to jump through hoops at the petulant whim of wealthy but clueless, spoiled and egotistical individuals who are just looking for a shiny toy to play with.  I would love to see Tan in the position of having to manage his own football affairs.  His players wouldn’t be able to perform for laughing.  And after all, why should any honest professional, player, coach or manager want to work for such a man?  Let him paddle his own canoe, and let him sink without trace.  In the long run, it would even be better for the fans that way.

English football stands today in real danger of being dragged down to the level of certain other leagues throughout the world, where petulance and tantrums rule over sober judgement and the sanctity of professionalism.  This is something that should be resisted, tooth and nail.  As Leeds United fans, we feel a rivalry with pretty much any other set of fans anywhere, and an antipathy with several groups who don’t need naming here – but decidedly, Cardiff would be among that number.  However, in this situation, I believe that solidarity and the greater interests of the game as a whole should transcend any mere club or fan rivalry.  I’d be happy to stand alongside any Cardiff fans who wanted to protest about Tan and his treatment of a manager who has delivered a lifelong wish for them.  I would be proud to stand four square with them, and chant and sing as lustily as any.  Ultimately, no club is an island, and what can happen to one could happen to any or all.  We have the thin end of an almighty big wedge here, and if something is not done soon, then we might be surprised at some of the changes that will be imposed on clubs that might appear impervious to such interference.  And, of course, more good, honest managers like Malky Mackay will be humiliated in the press, and will lose their jobs at the whim of a megalomaniac who isn’t fit to run a pub quiz.

We at Leeds United should be as conscious of all this as anybody else.  We were nearer to disaster than many would care to admit when the first rumblings of a takeover were heard halfway through 2012.  And who knows what the future yet holds for Leeds?  At the end of the day, the notorious truculence and militancy of the Leeds United support may yet be its biggest asset – especially if, as usual, the game’s various governing bodies turn out to be about as much use as a pet rock.  So we need to stand ready at all times to look out for the interests of our club, which is so close to the hearts of so many of us.  And in the meantime, we cannot afford to ignore the plight of our counterparts at other clubs.  Solidarity and the will to organise and resist are immensely powerful forces if wielded wisely – as we found in our own fight against Bates, the will of the fans being, I believe, instrumental in giving impetus and direction to the takeover.

Let’s support the Hull and Cardiff fans where and how we can.  Let’s see if we can’t apply some pressure, as an organised and cosmopolitan movement of fans, to bodies like the FA, the Football League, the Premier League, the PFA and last but not least the LMA.  Maybe then the message would be brought home to Vincent Tan and similar tyrants that the game is bigger than them – bigger by far – and that their actions if seen to undermine the foundations of that edifice, will not be tolerated.

Time to Do Away With Megabucks Ownership and Let Fans Run Clubs – by Rob Atkinson

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Vincent Tan: clueless

The time is fast approaching when the people who know what the game in this country is all about, are going to have to stand up and be counted.  I mean, of course, the fans – and I write in the full awareness that too much standing up can lead to you being evicted from some of the more authoritarian clubs in the various leagues.  But this type of standing up would be symbolic.  It would send out a signal that we, the fans, have had enough of clueless owners and chairmen manking about with our game.

In the last week or so, it’s been carnage in the Premier League alone.  Steve Clarke of West Bromwich Albion has been sacked, a decision that makes lighting that extra boiler to get a few more leagues of speed out of the “Titanic” seem like a model of sober judgement.  Andre Villas-Boas has gone too, a victim of his club’s failure to hang on to their star performer from last season, Gareth Bale.  Anyone who saw the look on the face of Danial Levy during Spurs’ 5-0 demolition by Liverpool would not have given much for AVB’s chances of avoiding the pre-Christmas axe.  Meanwhile, up in Hull, battle-scarred old warhorse Steve Bruce is having to hide behind a sickly grin and pretend that it’s OK that Hull’s megalomanic owner, Assem Allam, is planning to trample all over the finer feelings of City’s support by forcing through a name change to Hull Tigers whilst inviting those who vociferously object to “die as soon as they like”. Tigers, Tigers, rah, rah, rah!

And now we have the news that Cardiff City’s clueless owner Vincent Tan has told his successful manager Malky Mackay – a hero to the Cardiff fans, and rightly so – to either resign, or be sacked.  Presumably Mr Tan feels that Mackay has been interfering too much in team affairs, and not listening to the vast wisdom of one V. Tan Esquire.  Who does this jumped-up little pro think he is, after all? Doesn’t he know whose toy Cardiff City is??

In truth, it’s beyond a joke already.  Good, honest pros are at the mercy of clueless amateurs whose only qualifications to be where they are in the football hierarchy are a stuffed wallet and a fool’s ego.  It’s way past time that somebody, somewhere, got a few people of common sense and influence together – or failing that, the likes of Bobby Charlton and Trevor Brooking would do – and set to discussing an alternative model for the game in England – before these spoiled, rich-kid charlatans ruin it beyond repair.

You wouldn’t have to look far to find that alternative model.  Go East, young man – cast your eye and focus your thoughts across the North Sea and look how things are run in the Bundesliga of good old Deutschland. Wonderful stadia with safe standing, reasonable ticket prices, a fantastic league nurturing a successful national team – and the fans involved at every level, helping make the decisions that ultimately affect them, for the good of all – not just some bloated plutocrat with a brain full of damp rot and the arrogant belief that wealth justifies autocracy.

Football in this country has a long history of being in thrall to a clutch of well-to-do local businessmen, but at least there was a hint of democracy in the old-style board of directors.  Now it’s CEO’s here and Directors of Football there, and all frantically knuckling their brows to whichever barmy billionaire sits on top of the whole creaky edifice.  They say with power comes responsibility, but not in English football.  No, sir.  These people delegate the responsibility whilst hanging on to the power.  They hire and they fire and then they do it all over again.  As the process goes on, so the credibility of the game diminishes – what’s the reaction of the fan in the street when he hears that an excellent coach like Steve Clarke has been sacked before the season is half-over?  Why, they laugh derisively, clearly unaware of the respect due to some stockbroker and investment banker who happens to own most of West Brom – despite being unburdened by any knowledge of the game.

Sadly, it looks nigh-on impossible to transform our game into anything resembling its efficiently-successful German counterpart.  Too many vested interests, too much money involved – and far too many tender, fat, sleek egos which demand to be stroked and adored whilst being party to amateurish decisions that would shame a Tory minister.  So it looks as though we’ll have to put up with what we’re reluctantly witnessing happen – and resign ourselves to the game here become ever more like the franchise system of American Football.  Yay.

When’s the next home Ashes series, anyone?