Daily Archives: 02/12/2013

Happy Birthday to Batts, Leeds United’s 90s Midfield Enforcer – by Rob Atkinson

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‘Ave it

Many Happy Returns to David Batty, who celebrates his 45th birthday today and who is fondly remembered by his fans as one of Leeds United’s very favourite sons of the recent past.  Batts was the archetypal Yorkshire Terrier of a midfielder, snapping away in the tussle for possession of the ball, exploiting seemingly endless reserves of energy as he harried his opponents, closing down and chasing – and when he got the ball, he could certainly use it too.  Best remembered for those ferocious challenges, Batty was no mean interceptor of the ball either, and I well remember one time when he nipped in to take the ball neatly off the toes of an opponent, sliding it first time to a White shirt in the enemy area to set up another goal for Leeds.  The creative side of his game was frequently under-estimated by those who saw him as merely a demolition man, but his fellow pros knew better.  Batts commanded respect for his technical ability as much as the granite-hardness of his approach to the game.

ImageIt has to be said that goals weren’t exactly David’s business, although he had a ferocious shot on him with the ability to strike the ball cleanly – “pinging it” as they say in the game.  This talent was sadly seen most often on the training ground, but occasionally he’d catch one in a real game – and when he hit the ball properly, it stayed hit.

The goal I best remember him for was not a spectacular strike, nor did it involve him in an Eddie Gray-style mazy dribble through bewildered opposition defenders.  But it was nonetheless memorable when it happened, because it came at the end of an epic goal drought that had lasted fully four seasons since his last goal for Leeds, ironically against the same opposition in Manchester City.  This gave rise to my favourite Batts quote: “I don’t score many,” he remarked laconically, “but against Man City, I’m prolific.”

The goal that broke the drought saw possibly the wildest celebration for any one goal at Elland Road for many years – with the possible exception of Gordon Strachan’s fabulous and crucial strike against Leicester City in the promotion run-in of 1990.  Even then, Strachan’s goal did not carry the injury toll of Batty’s, the celebration of which reputedly caused broken ankles and concussions as the Gelderd End completely lost its collective head in disbelief. It was simply enough executed: Strachan on the right played a short pass inside to Batty, who was probably only in the area because we were already comfortably in front – and he took one touch to control before finishing clinically to take the roof off the stadium.

ImageThe man himself remarked afterwards that he was taken aback at the sheer intensity of the celebrations – he was mildly chuffed to have scored, of course, but the joy of the Kopites at seeing their long wait ended and their local hero get one at last – it was something to behold.  It’s worth a moment or two to watch it again – click here to do just that. Tony Dorigo’s sumptuous connection on the half-volley for a top-class, top-corner first goal is almost forgotten now, but in any other context we’d still be raving about it. Just look at the crowd behind the goal when Batty’s effort goes in – no wonder there were injuries, and yet you can bet that the afflicted weren’t feeling any pain. Happy memories.

Batts went on to serve with distinction at Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United after leaving Elland Road; under the misguided transfer policy of the time we replaced him, in effect, with Carlton Palmer – not the best deal ever done.  He came back eventually of course.  It’s widely-known that towards the end of his Newcastle days his team-mates there would point at Elland Road as the coach passed by on the way back to the frozen north, and ask Batts when he was off “home”.  It didn’t last long enough, but it felt good to have the prodigal return.

Happy Birthday, Batts and thanks for the memories of a local lad who made good and wore the colours of Leeds United with pride and passion – a top professional and a Leeds legend.

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Spurs Pay the Usual Penalty for Failing to Finish Off Man U – by Rob Atkinson

Look ref - here's what you do...

Look ref – here’s what you do…

Yesterday’s entertaining draw at White Hart Lane featured a Spurs team trying to recover from their six-goal hiding at Man City last time out, and a Man U team which featured Wayne Rooney, who should have been absent suspended after his wild kick at Cardiff last week, the type of foul for which only a Man U shirt will exempt the offender from a richly-deserved red card.  Rooney, let us not forget, scored twice at Cardiff when he should by rights have been wallowing in self-pity and an early bath.  And he scored twice again at Spurs, one of them a traditionally dodgy penalty as Welbeck somehow managed to hit the arm of keeper Lloris with his trailing leg and collapse like a house of cards – as per the kind of training drills they’ve provided at Carrington and the Cliff for years now.

The four goals Rooney has scored, when he shouldn’t have been on the pitch at all, have garnered the Pride of Devon 2 points that might well otherwise have been none.  David Moyes therefore has the nervousness of referees to thank for there not being a great deal more pressure on him this morning.  It was a factor that had often come to the aid of his curmudgeonly predecessor.  Plus ça change…

Spurs had taken the lead twice, firstly from a zippy Kyle Walker free-kick blasted along the ground under the defensive wall.  The Man U defenders had jumped in anticipation of something quite different, ending up politely letting Walker’s effort through to beat an unsighted de Gea.  The second Tottenham goal was a real beauty, Sandro looking up and striking a violent shot which soared into the net under the angle of post and crossbar, leaving the keeper rooted to the spot.

In between the two Tottenham strikes, Walker had gone from hero to zero when a cross ball into the Spurs area hit him too briskly for him to control it and bounced fortuitously into the path of Rooney (who shouldn’t have been playing).  Sandro’s goal was worthy of deciding any match, any time, anywhere. It was so good that Man U should really have put their hands up and said, ok – fair enough.  Instead, spoilsports that they are, they waited only three minutes before playing their penalty joker.  As Welbeck hit the ground, referee Dean had already sprung eagerly into life, risking muscle injury in his haste to sprint towards the penalty spot where he stood, quivering with virtue and resolution as he pointed for the award that was a foregone conclusion.  And Rooney – who should have been back home in Manchester – blasted his penalty down the middle to deny Spurs the win they probably deserved.

After the match, AVB – a man who has been under the cosh all week – was a mixture of defiant and philosophical.  He dismissed the rantings of the gutter rags with admirable contempt, not being drawn into any discussion of the scorn heaped upon his head since the disaster at the Etihad.  As for the Man U penalty, he simply shrugged and pointed out that he’s seen their players hang a leg out to win penalties before.  He knows, as we all do, that these are the penalties refs will always give at the end Man U are attacking, just as the ones they give in the area they’re defending are as common as hens’ teeth.  It’s the way of the world – and you could empathise with the Spurs manager’s wearily resigned acceptance of it. But rival managers must surely be heartily sick of this ridiculous quirk of the game by now. It’s been over twenty years, and the wonder is that, even with such a helpful wind at their backs, Man U have somehow contrived not to be champions on several occasions. That’s like tossing a double-headed coin and calling “tails”.

For all that it could have been worse for Man U, had Rooney been dismissed last week as he should have been, and had Welbeck been booked for deliberately tripping over the keeper’s hapless arm yesterday, as he should have been – still, two points from two away games is not vintage stuff.  But it’s two more than they should have had, and those nicked points might just count at the end of the season – even if it’s only to get Man U into the Europa League ahead of the likes of Newcastle.

Managers come and go, but some things never change, it seems – and so the fading champions are “only” nine points behind Arsenal, who looked irresistible at Cardiff.  There’s a long way to go yet – and surely there won’t be a defender’s gift and a soft penalty for Man U every week?  Watch this space.