Daily Archives: 05/01/2014

Time For True Leeds United Fans to Get Positive and Support the Club – by Rob Atkinson


Elland Road packed with the faithful

Sometimes, a good old-fashioned cliché is the only thing to resort to, especially when things seem bleak and morale is low.  So I have a couple to offer that may help at this uneasy time when Leeds United stand on the brink of yet another new beginning and we’re all questioning what’s wrong in the club after one of the worst results in our entire history.  The two that spring to mind are “The darkest hour is the one just before the dawn” and “Let your faith keep you strong“.  There may well be others equally applicable.

The thing about clichés is that they wouldn’t be quite so hackneyed and frequently-quoted if they didn’t have that element of truth and common sense about them.  The central message of any such quotation as related to Leeds United right now must be that the club needs positive support in bad times even more than in good.  This is no time to spread despair and linger over the agony and humiliation – for such it surely is – of a defeat to an inspired but much lowlier team.  What we have to do now, as a massive collective of followers for one of the world’s most famous and fanatically-supported football clubs, is: stick with it.  Tough it out.  We’ve had bad times before, and ultimately they’ve helped make the good times even sweeter.

Rochdale was a bad experience, worst of all for the fans who made the journey and backed their men to put on a professional display for the shirts they were wearing and the badge on those shirts.  The fans that make these trips are the single most notable thing about the Leeds United of today.  They are a modern phenomenon, supporting a mediocre team with almost unfailing good humour and vociferous enthusiasm.  Fans of clubs we visit are in awe of the sheer passion these fantastic fans generate.  But clearly, any group of football followers will have a collective breaking-point.  That point was reached at Rochdale; the fans had had enough and they said so.  They expressed their anger and their pain in terms that even the most complacent and overpaid player could easily understand.  The manager was brave enough to emerge after the game and take his share.  He has expressed no disagreement, but has remained dignified and determined.  When success comes, Brian McDermott is the kind of man who will think back to yesterday at Rochdale so that he will not be carried away in the flush of achievement.  Brian is a steady man, and he will take on board the disappointment and suffering of those loyal fans.

But we’ve had our moan now.  It was a message that had to be sent out, and our representatives at Spotland duly obliged.  It’s done; let’s move on.  We stand on the brink of – quite possibly – a major upturn in the fortunes of Leeds United.  Just as efforts over the past year in team building are very much a work in progress, so the achievements behind the scenes and the changes wrought there are possibly slightly under-appreciated.  But Leeds United today as a club is a very different entity than the one labouring under the yoke of Bates’ last few months in charge.  This is something for which we should all be truly grateful.

Rochdale is gone, just as Histon disappeared into the past.  Not so long after Histon, we were winning at Man U – and this was at a time when that was quite a hard thing to do.  Rochdale will be remembered as a low point, but the highs which will follow are apt to be all the sweeter for that bitter experience.  Such are the slings and arrows of outrageous Leeds United.

Now we wait for the tangible results of all the backroom activity currently going on at the club and at the Football League.  We can justifiably wait with some excitement; the signs are good that the club is about to commence operations on a whole new level.  The FA Cup meant little to us this season, in reality.  The pride and feelings of the fans, granted.  But as a competition, it is one that we can manage without – just as long as our progress in the right direction is maintained.  That’s the cause in which we should be lending our support.  What’s about to happen might just be a massively significant time in the history of our club, and we must be seen to be behind the teams – the ones off the field as well as on it.  And we’re a team ourselves, a massive united group of fanatical supporters who all wish to be involved in the success of United.  Any team needs to pull together, and that’s just what we need to be doing, right now and going forward.

So please – put Rochdale behind you and get your chin up.  We’re Leeds and we’re proud even in those times when the team give us little reason to show that pride.  Players come and go, teams evolve.  Even management and owners aren’t forever.  But the club and the fans are bound together in perpetuity, and we must seek to go forward as a united force.

We Are Leeds, Marching on together.  We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re going to stay with them forever – at least until the world stops going round.  Let’s remember that.

Just As Things Seem Bleak, Moyes’ Man U Cheers Up Leeds Fans – by Rob Atkinson


Moyes – just not scary enough

There’s a new factor in play this season – something that can cheer you up, relieve the pain of a defeat, make things seem brighter in dark hours.  It’s a beautiful thing, a gift from divine providence – the kind of phenomenon that can make you believe that there is some benign quality to whoever it is that’s running things in this crazy world.  It only really applies to football so far – but maybe it’s the kind of thing we need to act more generally in a country suffering under the cosh of the coalition.  But it’ll do for the moment – it’s certainly made me feel better.  The name of this feel-good factor?  It’s David Moyes’ Man U.  What a wonderful Man U manager Moyes is making.  Long may he reign.  Today, his latest gift to me is a last-minute defeat at home to Swansea, knocking the media darlings out of the FA Cup – and a tasty red card into the bargain.  Delicious.

I’m not being wise after the event here.  I am on record as predicting that Moyes would not be able to carry off the Fergie act that brought Man U far more success than their various teams’ qualities merited.  It looks very much as though I was right as a veritable dynasty – albeit one founded on fear and oppression – is fading away, and we can but hope it will be replaced by something more admirable.  Yes, Arsenal, I mean YOU.  But the main thing is that the Evil Empire appears to be on the wane.  I thought that a failure to qualify for the Champions League was too much to hope for, but it looks as though even this may well be about to happen.  And if it does – then the shift in power at the top of the game will be of seismic proportions.

For a Leeds fan, the current problems afflicting Man U come as balm in Gilead.  For many years now, the state of our club has been a matter for concern and occasionally despair.  The odd calamity for Man U came as an infrequent but welcome relief from this pain.  Now – even at a time when disasters like Rochdale can happen, the comical collapse of the edifice Fergie built on foundations of threats and bullying, acts to cheer the soul of anyone with Leeds in their heart.  It’s a tonic, it really is.  At a time like this when the Leeds team is misfiring but there appear to be exciting developments off the field, this latest flop by the Pride of Devon has come like a ray of sunshine on a stormy day.  Believe me, I’m not ungrateful.

There’s quite a lot of this season still to go, and it is of course possible that – with the help of the usual outside forces – Man U may yet struggle back and secure at least a top four place to save themselves from meltdown.  And yet it’s difficult to see how even a return to form for the likes of Howard Webb can see them overhaul any of what are looking like the natural occupiers of those top four places, City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.  All look streets ahead of Man U so far – and below that fantastic four, there are the not inconsiderable merits of Spurs and Everton.  Both of these latter two have won at the Theatre of Hollow Myths this season, and both would currently back themselves to finish above the ailing and seemingly plastic champions.

For a Leeds United fan such as myself, this was shaping up as a weekend to be crying into our beer and staying inside to sulk.  Thank you Swansea for your help and what you’ve done to the myth today.  Thank you Mr Moyes for essaying a Fergie-Lite style of management that appears to be working just as we anti-Dark Side sympathisers might wish.  Most of all thanks to the Man U owners for such an enlightened appointment.  Stick by Agent Moyes; hopefully he has much more to achieve yet in the dismantling of Man U.

Happy 49th Birthday to Leeds Legend Vinnie Jones – by Rob Atkinson


‘Aaaaaaave it!!!!!

Happy Birthday today to former Leeds United star Vinnie Jones, who revealed recently that he has had several small tumours removed since being diagnosed with melanoma – the most potentially serious form of skin cancer.  Jones, an integral part of Leeds’ 1990 promotion squad, initially discovered a small lump underneath his eye back in February, but had thought it was simply “a blackhead or a wart”.  However, a check-up revealed the seriousness of the situation. Jones at first feared for his life, but swiftly resolved to fight “with everything I’ve got”.  Melanoma kills some 1,300 men and 900 women every year, but is treatable if caught early enough.

If anyone is equipped for battle against such an insidious disease, it’s our Vinnie.  Nobody in the whole club at the time of that Leeds United promotion campaign epitomised guts and drive, as well as sheer fist-clenched, vein-throbbing commitment and fight, better than Mr Vincent Peter Jones.  His influence on the club, his rapport with the fans and his driving, compelling example on the field must make him one of the best transfer bargains in United’s history.  And yet at the time he was signed it was, if not a shock, then at least a major surprise – and not in a particularly good way.

I’d been aware of Vinnie, of course – who hadn’t?  His Crazy Gang antics were legendary and he’d lifted the FA Cup, but he was regarded as a maverick – still more hod-carrier than footballer, famous for a ten-second dismissal and for his promise to Kenny Dalglish before the 1988 Cup Final against Liverpool to “tear off his ear and spit in the hole”.  Still, despite these immaculate credentials, marking him out as a potential Gelderd End hero, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine him as a signing for Leeds United, where stirrings had been going on ever since Sergeant Wilko marched in and started shaking the place up.  The “marquee signing” – you didn’t actually hear that phrase in those days – was Strachan, plucked from under the nose of his old Man U mentor Ron Atkinson at Sheffield Wednesday to provide the quality at the heart of the Leeds engine room. Now that was the sort of signing I’d hoped and prayed for, and with the likes of Chris Fairclough joining Gordon at Elland Road it seemed to bode well for a real challenge as the close season wore on and 1989-90 loomed closer.

I was in a caravan on the east coast when I heard on the radio that Vinnie was signing for Leeds for around £650,000.  I frankly didn’t believe it, but when the reality sank in, my initial reaction was to think – bloody hell, Wilko, what are you playing at?  The signings of John Hendrie and Mel Sterland reassured me somewhat, but I was still having trouble seeing what the Jones Boy would bring to the United table, although our lunatic-fringe fans seemed well suited.  The early signs were not encouraging.  Strachan tells of an incident in a pre-season game against Anderlecht, where he saw an opposing player go down with his nose spread halfway across his face and blood greatly in evidence.  Vinnie had casually “done” him en passant before sidling off looking innocent, and Strach recalls thinking: my God – what have we signed here?

Vinnie himself remembers his early days at the club, and being moved to violence by the negative attitudes of some of the players being edged out as Wilko’s new broom started to sweep clean.  Among this disaffected few was John Sheridan, something of a Leeds legend – but Jones stood for no nonsense, and there were punches thrown and people seized by the scruff of the neck as he explained his views on solidarity and team spirit.  Vinnie was obviously going to be a kill or cure measure – there were signs he might have much to contribute to the collective effort, but equally that he might turn out a loose cannon which could blow up in all our faces.  Yet Wilko had a magic touch in those early years, and generally it was proved that he knew what he was doing.

In the event, and despite an uncertain beginning, Vinnie played a massive part in our promotion that year.  The fans took to him from the start – the sight of him coming on as a sub in the first home game against Middlesbrough will live long in my memory.  I can see him now, in the middle of the park with the game poised at 1-1, shouting and screaming as he conveyed encouragement and instruction in equal measure, arms pumping in an ungainly, baboon-like way, team-mates and opponents alike staring at him aghast.  And then he frightened a Boro’ defender into scoring a late, fluky own-goal and we had won, setting us on our way after a disastrous opening-day defeat at Newcastle.

Vinnie just carried on making a difference.  He worked and worked, encouraged and exhorted, fought for the cause and put the fear of God up the enemy wherever he encountered them.  He scored spectacular goals, important goals.  He showed flashes of genuine ability and some of his passing was sublime.  He avoided disciplinary trouble to an amazing degree, given his lurid past.  He sold himself to no less a judge than Strachan as an honest performer who could “play a bit”.

Vinnie also created this amazing rapport with the crowd, the kind I’ve rarely seen before or since, chilling and joking with the wheelchair-users at the front of the West Stand before games, and smoking imaginary cigars as he took the plaudits of the adoring masses after finding the net against Ipswich.  In the warm-up before the Wolves match at Elland Road, he provided one of the great moments of humour in a tense campaign, bringing down five year-old mascot Robert Kelly in the area with a signature sliding tackle, much to the delight of the Kop – and of young Robert himself.

Young Robert getting scythed down by Vinnie, and loving it

Young Robert getting scythed down by Vinnie, and loving it

Vinnie loved Leeds, the players and fans loved Vinnie and the partnership proved fruitful.  Up we went, and when Vincent Jones finally took his leave for the humbler surroundings of Bramall Lane and Stamford Bridge, it was with a tattoo: “LUFC Division Two Champions” proudly inked onto his expensive leg, a partner for the “Wimbledon FA Cup Winners” one on the other limb.  He was a Leeds United legend in only a little over a year at the club, a larger-than-life personality of massive ebullience and impact – and he is held in the highest of esteem in LS11 even to this day, when he mixes effortlessly in the rarefied, glitzy atmosphere of Hollywood.

At a time of intense transfer speculation, the question could be asked: what do we need more right now than another Vinne type, as we hope to secure another long-overdue return to the top table?  Those Jonesy ingredients of passion and power, guts and gumption, are just as important in this league today as they were in those far-off times as the eighties became the nineties.

It’s really difficult to say who if anyone could now play the Vinnie part – but if it were possible, in this transfer window, to distil essence of Jones, or to clone him right from his bloodstained boots and tattooed ankles up to his fearsomely-shaven head, then I’d do it, and I’d present the result gift-wrapped for Brian McDermott to deploy as he saw fit.

A man in the mould of Vinnie Jones would be just the shot in the arm our club needs right at this point in time, just after the major disappointment of the Rochdale non-performance.  It would provide the incentive for the crowd to roll up its sleeves, having vented some spleen at the players and manager, and get behind the team again for the remaining battles in this 46 game-long war of attrition.

Just imagine the fillip that our season, our whole club would receive – if only we could have him or his like in our ranks now.  Happy Birthday to the one and only Vinnie Jones, honorary Yorkshireman and Leeds Hero First Class.  Good health to you – and many happy returns.