Leeds Humbled in Cup: The “Soccer Saturday” Experience – by Rob Atkinson

Merse at the back, looking “fick”

So, it was FA Cup time again – a competition where we’ve actually done OK these past few years, as a bit of light relief from generally mediocre league form. This year, the Cup Magic was to be non-existent, the Cup run very short and not so sweet. Out we went, humbled by League Two Rochdale, of whom it must be said: they deserved it. 5-0 would hardly have flattered them. Leeds played like a side who felt they had only to turn up to win; the thing is, they didn’t really even turn up.

But are we downhearted? Well, yes – some of us are. But not me. I’ve grown out of disappointment at cup exits. They’ve happened every year, twice a year – sometimes more in really good seasons when we’ve qualified to be beaten by some continental team – for all of the forty-odd years that I’ve actually cared. You become immune – and that helps, especially when our league status argues that we’re never going to have a chance of winning the bloody thing anyway. Let’s worry about cups when, on form, we should beat pretty well anybody. When those days return, the cups will look a lot more likely and a lot more attractive.

Today, without a match ticket and with no live TV coverage, I gave myself over to the tender mercies of the Sky Sports “Soccer Saturday” team.  It was an enlightening experience, confirming for me that, yes, we played terribly and that, yes, they still hate us.  We’re still the Damned United.  At one point, Jeff Stelling told us that he’d been told to stop referring to us as “the Mighty Leeds”.  He didn’t say by whom – I had it narrowed down to Phil Thompson (still bitter over some ribald jibes at his Manilowesque nose from the Gelderd End back in the day) and Paul Merson who, as the token Fick Cockney, simply doesn’t know any better.

Stelling got more excited as the afternoon went on, returning frequently to Spotland for reassurances that Leeds weren’t threatening to get back into the game (we weren’t, either).  His references to our glorious Cup history, for the purpose of contrasting today’s dismal display, seemed a little forced as we’ve only won it once – 42 years ago.  But Jeff wanted this to be the Marquee Giant-Killing, and he bigged it up accordingly.

It’s not as if there weren’t other shocks.  Villa lost at home to third division Sheffield United, much to the joy of their Cup-hating manager Paul Lambert.  Donny lost to little Stevenage – and the excitement of this game was enough to bring on earache, as the reporter at the Keepmoat was one John Gwynne.  He has one of those “rich north country” voices which sound like a goose farting through a foghorn, and many were the updates he loudly bawled, with scant regard for the sensitivities of the more delicate viewer.

Soccer Saturday sets its stall out to entertain as well as inform – which is presumably why they employ clowns like Merson (How’s it going Merse?  Still free-nil, Jeff.)  One of their comedy themes lately has been the appalling record of Hyde in the Skrill Premier League.  They’ve gained only three points all season and have a goal difference of minus 51.  Today, they lost 4-0 at Gateshead – one of their better results of this campaign.  But on this FA Cup day, the chance was missed to mention that Hyde are record breakers themselves, having once lost 26-0 to Preston in the 1887-88 competition.  Surely, they could have got a bon mot or two out of that?  But no, sadly they were too ill-informed – unless I missed it in listening out for a Leeds recovery.

Back at Spotland, it was becoming ever more obvious that our beloved United were merely going through the motions and that the mighty Rochdale were having it easy.  A richly-deserved second goal arrived, and we were well and truly Out – much to the malicious satisfaction of the United-Damning hacks in the Sky studio.  The Leeds fans packed behind the goal at Rochdale’s ground took it all in good part.  “We’re shit, and we’re sick of it,” they bellowed, displaying a keen sense of observation as well as a powerful collective ability to convey angst.  Sad to report, they gave Brian McDermott a pretty frosty reception at the end of the game.  It is to be hoped that the resolve of that gentleman was stiffened, rather than shattered.  My money is on him; he’s a never-give-up type.  He’ll have to be.

Worse things happen at sea – or, indeed, at Histon.  Rochdale have done well at home this season and in Keith Hill they have a manager who’s used to slaying the Whites with a nominally inferior team – he did it all the time at Barnsley.  His side played football today that put to shame the more direct approach of Leeds, but there is a lesson to be learned and it’s to be hoped the players learn it.  No league points were lost today, as Brian McDermott, looking for scraps of consolation, ruefully remarked.  And of course it seems likely that big changes are afoot.  For all the hysterical reaction over this defeat, you’d think that people out there actually thought we might have gone on to win the Cup.  Truly, that was never going to happen.  So, what have we lost, after all?  Only the chance to be beaten in the next round or two, possibly by someone against whom we’d simply hate to lose.  What should we do, then?  Why, we should draw a line under it sharpish, and move on.

This season is not going to be a season of on-field achievement – I will confidently predict that here and now.  The progress made this season will be mainly off the field, as a hideously-neglected scouting network comes online, and investment makes possible the instigation of a more progressive transfer policy.  Plans are afoot for Elland Road too, to brush up some of the tired old fabric of the place.  It’s long overdue – and I know people will say “Get the team sorted first”.  But there’s no reason why both areas can’t be addressed at the same time, if the right levels of investment are – as rumoured – shortly to be available.

The baseline requirement for this season, football-wise, is not to go down.  Making the play-offs would be a massive bonus; actually going up, little short of a miracle.  We’re currently just too far behind the teams that have invested properly for this level – they will likely pull away as the months go by.  Going up next season, on the other hand, is a reasonable ambition; there are three transfer windows to do the necessary work.  I would happily settle for that as the immediate aim – if next season is to be the Big Push, then there’s a lot of excitement in store.

Who knows?  Perhaps in a year or two, we really will be “Mighty Leeds” again, and maybe Jeff Stelling will even be allowed to admit it.  Won’t that be a glorious day?  And as for Paul Merson – well, he can bladdy-well stick his hard-of-finking objections where the sun don’t shine, squire.

25 responses to “Leeds Humbled in Cup: The “Soccer Saturday” Experience – by Rob Atkinson

  1. You can’t blame the morons on Sky Sports for mocking Leeds United. Bates did it for 8 years, supported by Harvey and we continued to hope. Well, how low can we get, because today we must have hit rock bottom with this team! Time for a clear out at every level, me thinks (slur at Merse). Nothing good will come of this, we are on our way down.


    • Now then, Bluesman. Keep the faith, man. “The darkest hour is just before the dawn” – though that’s actually bollocks, as the sun casts some light from just below the horizon. But you get my drift 😉


  2. Counte Of Monte Fisto

    I was there and this was possibly our worst ever performance, the aggro the players got at the end was deserved.
    Only Paddy comes out with any credit, it was the first time the fans have turned on McD and today he deserved it.
    The formation was mind boggling, our midfield was non existent, Austin in particular was abysmal again and only Wooton was worse than him.
    Defensively we were utterly inept but we seemed to lack any heart. Bad form is something we are used to but it really did look like the players were going through the motions.
    Everyone around me were surprised when the same 11 came out to start the second half and why it took 75 minutes for the first change only Brian can answer.
    Unless something changes quickly starting with the godawful formation and tactics (long punts to smiths head) we are in serios trouble.
    We need to stick with Brian but he needs to have a total rethink as this just wasn’t good enough.


    • It sounded every bit as awful as that, I must say. Commiserations on a bad trip. Onwards and upwards – MOT


      • Were you actually not there then Rob? That explains much. Nothing against people missing games, I can’t get to all of them myself (my daughter supports Arsenal, you can’t imagine how I suffer). But if you’d seen Saturday’s ‘performance’ I don’t think you’d be so optimistic.

        Personally I’ve had my own rethink and changed my mind. We’re in a window, we have money. If Hall’s contract can be cancelled, away with Pearce, Peltier and Austin for lack of ability. We have a winger lined up, so now go through the lists of out-of-contract players that are neing circulated and get a RB, CB and midfielder on short-term contracts. Almost anyone will do, tell them they have short-term work and might earn more. That alone will improve things. (This is if we can’t get the players we really want, whoever they are. Not more Hunts, I hope.)

        As I’ve said before, if we view playing for Leeds as normal employment those 3 should be in trouble. Imagine if the ground staff performed like them. I own a business (don’t worry Rob, I’m not a Tory – I hate them just as much as you) and I wouldn’t put up with it. I couldn’t, it would cost me a fortune to have staff like them!

        Just in case I haven’t made it clear, I don’t mind being giant-killed in the Cup. (Well I do, but it’s one of those things.) I wouldn’t even mind if we were 21st in the League with our inherited players. I’m not demanding instant success. What I can’t bear is a/ players being clueless cloggers, week-in-week-out and/or not trying (Aww, diddums feel sad when the nasty manager said we needed a few new players? Well fcuk off then) and b/ a manager who refuses to try to fix things when a game goes wrong.


      • I wasn’t there, no. Praise be!


  3. I expected McD to play a weaker side and not the “tired legs” he complained about at Ney Years – instead he uses Austin, Pierce and Pugh amongst others. No points were lost today but the squad most be demorilized. Better use of other subs could have been done rather than waiting until the 75th minute and to bring on Hunt was a mistake.
    I turned off the commentary when Dale went 2 up in disgust but later saw the uproar in the Leeds fans – they should have their money refunded!


  4. maggerwhite

    Surprised that you could not watch it live Rob, I watched it here in West Australia on espn live and from what i saw they were awful, Rochdale should have won by more…..maggerwhite


  5. The team has been poor all season, even when we have gained points.
    The fans were so angry after the game:-


  6. I was at the game and it was a terrible performance all round. We could pick out individuals, as being good bad or plainly indifferent in some cases, but what’s the point. The bottom line is we are a
    club re-building from a low point, not just on the pitch but off it as well, after years of shameful neglect driven mainly by Bates lack of investment in the playing side of the club. To get rid of deadwood lingering contracts who are contributing nothing is the problem. I can understand everyone’s frustration but we need to hold our nerve and plan longer term. The hire em / fire em attitude is not going to attract better players,coaches or managers to this club. Apart from the game we had a good day out, a few beers on the way, met up with some old buddies and generally a good crack. MOT to Wednesday and beyond.


  7. john palmer

    false hope in brian, anyone who makes Austin capt.prefers Warnock and pugh to white pays out theonly money we had on mur(phy( and almost as bad as Austin) wootton can’t have much ideal lees and peltier c.backs like we already had is the first thing to do


    • I don’t think McD made the choice to spend all our cash on Murphy. I believe he thought there’d be more money available. I also think Austin was probably the least-worst choice for captain – at the time. Now the players are down anyway we should change to Zaliukas.

      I reckon Murphy and Wootton to the development squad, tell them to work their way up. Peltier, no more chances. Plenty of unemployed journeymen with no less ability and a better attitude out there.


  8. Spongenose

    With regards to the Soccer Saturday team I have a little game I play to myself and it’s this…… see how many times the thickos (Merse, Thompson, Nicholas et al) change the tense in sentences they are using to describe as a ‘past’ event. It’s hilarious! For example: ‘He’s went and headed it and then he passes to…..’. Utter grammatical slaughter of the most offensive level ever!

    I’m too cross to comment on out performance yesterday….



  9. It was amusing watching sky sports pundits reduced to crapping on about Northampton V Newport etc. As for stelling,he wears a wig, supports hartlepool and has a face full of botox. The rest of the hangers on make Adrian Chiles look like George Clooney. At least it keeps paul(beans on toast)merson out of the bars. As for the result,i half expected it,but i’m still gutted. The supporters have a perfectly good right to give the team and management grief, i reckon. They’ve been superb this season following the team up and down the country in vast numbers. Credit to BM for the way he’s accepted the flak. Now it really is time for the talking to stop,even my patience is wearing thin now. I like BM but his signings so far have hardly been inspiring and the fact that colins deadwood still makes up a third of the squad is worrying. I’m looking forward to and expecting a purge this window. BM needs to stand up and admit he got it wrong signing Hunt especially. If he had an injury he shouldn’t have been playing. The studious and thoughtful image projected by BM doesn’t sit well with the style of football we play either,the nation fell for that con with Sven.


    • Thanks Mick for one of a few really thought-provoking comments which touch upon BMcD in particular. The jury appears to be out as far as he’s concerned and, with big changes afoot at the club, he needs to beware of any really big money men who might come in as a new broom. I’m sure the name of Malky Mackay will crop up sooner or later.


  10. sniffers shorts

    Keep the faith ….. Been a bad week I’ve been away under blue sky’s …. Great weather bad results but hey we have a new year get behind your team …. They deserved the abuse at the end yesterday by all accounts I’ve seen and read …. But give it up and get behind your team …. Read an issue about st Pauli hamburg team on plane win or loose they support their team 100 percent …. New year new faces we will be fine. He who laughs last laughs longest we could follow west ham …. That knob won’t have a thing to say for weeks ha ha ha brilliant forest were fantastic have to say MOT


  11. The honeymoon period is well and truly over with bmc.Playing Hunt yesterday was simply ridiculous.Make Nahki Wells your no.1 target Brian, for £2 million he could be your job saver.If the board dont back you then at least show some passion and ambition….another one of your ex-reading strikers just dont cut the mustard for this lifelong white.


  12. Its a strange one this ,, just before Christmas we were in 5th position with the promise of new owners who bmac had given 4 names he wanted to chase,, what the hell has gone wrong in such a short space of time rob ??


    • I’d give a lot to know what’s really going on behind the scenes, Mr O.


      • I am not surprised at all.
        We have been poor all season, getting points our football did not deserve.
        We have been found out – AGAIN!!
        I was hoping we could hang on until reinforcements arrived.
        Bad players do not become good players overnight.


  13. john palmer

    you’ve got it henrymoui but we could build on lees,white,mowatt,mccormack,poleon,byram,diouf,smith and kenny


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