Daily Archives: 26/04/2014

Forget Man U “Class of ’92” – Salute the Leeds MASTERS of ’92 – by Rob Atkinson

Super Jon Newsome

Super Jon Newsome

There’s been a lot of talk this past couple of days about the “Class of ’92”, a somewhat disingenuous reference to Man U’s FA Youth Cup winners of that year, what with Giggsy Wiggsy taking over as temp. manager at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, with Scholesy Wolsey and Butty Wutty on board as well.

The media, bless ’em, love this sort of thing – and they’re seemingly eager to ignore the fact that 1992 was, actually, all about another United – Leeds United, the one and only United – as they won the last ever proper Football League Championship, four points clear of you-know-who and their rabidly frothing Scotch git of a manager.

It all happened 22 years ago today, actually – so let’s have a nostalgic look back and, while we’re at it, set the record straight about all of this “Class of ’92” crap. Because we’re not talking pupils here, we’re talking masters.

The 26th April 1992 was not just a normal Sunday morning like any other; for all fans of Leeds United it would turn out to be a date with destiny, the unlikely culmination of a footballing journey that had started in October 1988.  Howard Wilkinson’s move from First Division Sheffield Wednesday to take over as boss at Second Division strugglers Leeds United had been – perhaps unwisely – summed up by the Sheffield Wednesday chairman as “a chance we couldn’t deny Howard to better himself.”   That must have fallen like rocks on the ears of the Wednesday fans who nevertheless could not have envisaged their rivals’ subsequent meteoric rise at a time when the Wednesday star was on the wane.  Such is life.

History will show that Wilkinson breezed into Leeds United, seized the place by the scruff of its neck and shook it up good and proper.  Remnants of his legacy are still visible in the club’s world-class Academy and training complex not to mention the gigantic East Stand, but it is for the phoenix-like resurrection of The Whites that the fanatical Leeds support will best remember Sergeant Wilko.  Leeds were promoted in 1990 after Wilkinson’s first full season, trading places with Sheffield Wednesday as they dropped into the Second Division – bittersweet irony there.  A season of consolidation followed, and then the full-on assault on the Football League Championship itself, a challenge unexpectedly sustained right to the sweetest of ends.  By April 20th 1992, Leeds were still clinging on in the title race, but Man U were clear favourites with a points lead and a match in hand.  That day though was the start of the turning of the tide in Leeds’ favour.  As fans gathered on the Kop for the late afternoon visit of Coventry City, radios were clamped to anxious ears as news was awaited from Man U’s home game against Nottingham Forest.  Two explosions of joy from the swelling Elland Road crowd signalled two Forest goals and a defeat for the leaders that Leeds were to capitalise on, beating Coventry 2-0 in front of a live TV audience.

Now it was game on in earnest, and I vividly remember a nervous evening at home that midweek as West Ham played host to Man U who were finally playing their remaining game in hand.  Win, and they would be in the box seat – but, as I frantically tidied and re-tidied my bedside table drawer to save myself from chewing my nails down to my elbows, they lost, wonderfully, miraculously lost to leave Leeds in charge of their own destiny. Choleric Man U manager Alex Ferguson must have bitterly tasted the sourest of grapes as he described the already-relegated Hammers’ effort levels in beating his charges as “obscene”.  His lack of grace drew a stark contrast with the phlegmatic Wilko, who was calmly reminding the world that Leeds had secured a place in Europe, his main aim for the season, and that anything more would be “a bonus.”

But Leeds now knew that if they won their last two games – away at Sheffield United and at home to Norwich City – they would be English Champions in the last old-style Football League programme – a signal honour.  Everybody thought it would go down to the last game of the season, that Norwich would be the big game.  Yet if Leeds were to win at Bramall Lane, Man U would then face the formidable task of winning at Anfield to take the Title race to its last day.

Back to April 26th, and as I walked up the hill into Wakefield that mid-morning, I saw cars trailing the colours of Leeds United, the scarves fluttering bravely – and I felt a sense of occasion but still could not quite comprehend that this might just be The Day.  I met up with my mate Dave, and we shared a tense journey to Sheffield, not much said, both knowing that this was a Sunday that could equally easily end up being triumph or disaster.  Parked up in the scruffy environs of Bramall Lane, just about the first thing Dave did as we walked to the ground was to drag me back out of the path of a careering van as I stepped out to cross a road, oblivious of traffic, lost in thought.  We both grinned at my narrow escape and agreed: good omen.  And then we were high up in the seats of the upper tier behind the goal at the away end of Sheffield United’s quaintly ill-designed stadium.  The day was gusty, and so the football would prove to be.  It was a match of ebb and flow, the Sheffield faithful eager to deny Leeds their chance of clinching the title, Leeds fans loud and defiant with self-belief.

If you’re a Leeds supporter, you’ll have seen the goals from that game hundreds, thousands of time.  It plays through now, all these years later, in the Football Highlights studio of my mind; joy for the home side as Alan Cork, gleaming of bald pate, pokes the ball home to give Sheffield the lead.  Then, a midfield tussle in the swirling wind, as Leeds try valiantly to come back.  A late first-half free kick, which Gordon Strachan races to take before the home defence can set themselves, he finds Rod Wallace in the area who tips the ball past home keeper Mel Rees’s attempt to save, defenders scramble to clear, only to hit Gary Speed who pings the ball back to ricochet off Wallace – into the net.  Pandemonium in the away end.   Level at half time, we’re breathless with drama and the hurly-burly of it all, raucous with United anthems, nervous of what’s yet to come.

In the second half, though we don’t know it, human tragedy unfolds: Sheffield ‘keeper Mel Rees, injured in the melee leading to Leeds’ leveller, his thigh heavily strapped, can hardly move and is hampered for the second Leeds goal as Jon Newsome stoops to head in at the far post.  Mel Rees, who was due an international call-up for Wales the next day but has to pull out because of his injury.  Mel Rees, who would never play football again because he was to develop cancer and die a year later, tragically young at 26.  RIP Mel Rees.

The crazy game continues crazily.  A dangerous ball across the Leeds box is retrieved by home defender and future Leeds man John Pemberton, who turns it back towards the goal-line where Lee Chapman sticks out a leg for an own-goal greeted with horrified stupefaction by the Leeds fans behind the goal and we’re level again.  Then enfant terrible Eric Cantona enters the fray, and within a few minutes he is chasing a loose ball into the Sheffield half, with Rod Wallace scampering alongside and home defender Brian Gayle lumbering back in a desperate attempt to clear the danger.  And it’s Gayle, former Man City man, who finally slays Man United.  From my vantage point at the opposite end of the ground I see him get his head to the ball, and the action is suddenly slow motion.  Gayle has headed the ball, poor Mel Rees is stranded far out of his goal, the ball goes over his head in a slow, slow loop, and bounces tantalisingly towards the unguarded net…

Then I’m watching at full speed from the far end as Cantona and Wallace raise their arms in triumph, wheeling away in delight, and even as I wonder what they’re up to I realise that the ball has nestled in the Sheffield United net.  A red mist descends, and I am utterly outside of my skull and beside myself in delirious joy and fevered madness, looking around me, roaring like a demented bull, face congested with blood, eyes bulging; I grab a tiny and helpless St John’s Ambulance man by his lapels and scream beer and spittle into his terrified face “Get me some oxygen!!!”, I bellow. “I’m going to have a bloody heart attack!!!”  The mad moment passes, I drop the ashen medic and some measure of sanity returns, but we’re still cavorting and diving all over each other, a seething, sweating mass of Leeds, because we know it’s over, we know that Sheffield are beaten, and we know that Man U don’t have an earthly at Anfield, not a prayer.  We were going to be Champions; on that windiest and gustiest of days, a Gayle from Manchester City has blown the Scum away and decided in an instant the fate of all three Uniteds from Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

And so, of course, it panned out.  Later I watched mesmerised on TV as Liverpool beat a demoralised Man U, Denis Law and Ian St John trying to put a brave face on it, Elton Welsby’s foot bobbing away in thwarted anger as the script turned out just as none of them wanted.  Ian Rush scored his first ever goal against Them, and it was settled late on as Man U conceded a second.  “And now the title goes to Leeds without any doubt at all” intoned Brian Moore in the ITV commentary as I sat there with tears of joy streaming down my unashamed face.  Gary Lineker had called into the studio earlier to complain that Rod Wallace’s goal had been offside (it was).  St John and Moore bemoaned that Man U had had no luck at all, and Welsby ground his teeth in the studio as the Man U fans outside hurled abuse at him, heedless of the fact that he shared their bitter disappointment.  All was frustration in the media and the rest of football and Leeds fans everywhere utterly failed to give a toss.

Twenty-two years on from that nutty day, when Leeds reached the summit of the game, the images are all still vivid and clear for me.  I’ve worn out four video tapes and at least three DVD’s, but I don’t need them, I don’t need YouTube, I can see it all any time I choose just by relaxing and closing my eyes.  Mel Rees is no longer with us, nor is Gary Speed and Brian Moore has passed away too.  Rest in peace, all.  And my mate Dave who shared that memorable day with me, he’s gone as well, taken far too young by cancer in 1999.  I have a picture of us both, taken before the home game with Norwich a week after we’d won the league, triumphant in our freshly-purchased “Champions” t-shirts, happily blind as to what the future would bring.  RIP, Dave mate.  We celebrated hard that day as little Rod Wallace won that last game with a sublime goal, rounding off our greatest season.  We’d earned it, me and Dave, tramping around the second division grounds of the eighties as Leeds struggled to come back.  Thousands of us had earned it.  Now we were top dogs, and boy did we enjoy it while it lasted.

United were back, as Champions of England.  The Last Real Champions. One of our unique, unbeatable accolades, like being at the top of the League when the Millennium clicked its four digits over.  Something that can never be taken away from us: Immortality, pure and simple.  Happy Memories, Champs.

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Giggs Named ‘Manager of the Year’ After Norwich Walkover – by Rob Atkinson

Those vile Giggs accusations

Those vile Giggs accusations

The football world was “United” on Saturday evening as the Mighty Man U proved that they are still the best team in the Universe – as long as they are guided by a true soccer genius and all-round nice guy, such as Ryan “Giggsywiggsy” Giggs.  It was a day of triumph for Giggs, who never put a foot wrong as he showed that, as well as being the greatest winger in the history of the game, he is also the finest coach quite literally ever.

This 4-0 walkover was started in the best traditions of the Pride of Devon with a penalty, as Welbeck went down over a non-existent foot inside the Canaries area.  Rooney gleefully converted with what must have been the finest penalty ever seen in the history of the game, to give the Rampant Reds a well-deserved half-time lead.  Second-half goals followed with Rooney completing his brace and sub Mata – introduced by Giggs in a stroke of managerial genius – also notching two.  The crowd at the Theatre of Hollow Myths thrilled to a display of attacking football, the like of which had never been seen before and put the legendary Brazilian team of the 1970 World Cup to shame.  On this evidence, it is impossible to dispute the wisdom of the Football Writers electing gorgeous, pouting Ryan as the best manager ever, even given his relative lack of experience at only 90 minutes.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Giggs has not had it easy on his path to becoming the Greatest Coach in the Universe.  He’s had to fight for most of what he’s got in life – just ask ex-girlfriend, former Hollyoaks starlet and sometime punchbag Davinia Murphy.  Now, the media are right behind Giggs as he takes on the task of restoring Man U to their former winning ways.  His loyalty and commitment cannot be questioned – except possibly by his cuckolded brother Rhodri – and we can be sure that Our Ryan will stop at nothing to restore his beloved club to the Champions League at the earliest possible opportunity – by next week in fact, if UEFA know which side their bread is buttered.

Meanwhile, Man U fans from Torquay to Bangkok will be relieved that a man whose essential character so closely matches that of their favourite club is finally in charge and ready to oversee a return to more familiar methods of winning games and titles.  To this end, Giggs has inherited the Fergie Stopwatch and is prepared to have his face dyed puce with that distinctive purple nose detail made famous by the gruff Glaswegian Taggart lookalike.  It seems as though the good times will be back sooner rather than later down Trafford way – and the English press will have something to celebrate from this season after all.

Bad taste Giggs jibes

Bad taste Giggs jibes

Despite the fact that some hold a less-than-flattering view of the Welsh Genius – brother Rhodri for instance has labelled him “a worm, a weasel and a bottler” – true football fans will be well aware that the Quorn-munching superstar, the deserving winner of a BBC Sports Personality Award despite not possessing one, has what it takes to rise above all that and prove himself to be the Greatest Person in Creation, following Ferguson and Busby before him.

So let’s hear it for that nice guy, football genius – and now proven world-class coach – Ryan Giggsy Wiggsy!!

A Leeds View of Barnsley’s Demise: Karma’s a Bitch – by Rob Atkinson

The traditional relegation image, Barnsley variety

It’s true, then. What goes around really does come around – and Barnsley FC, whose primitive fans were so gleefully happy at the plight of Leeds United just a few weeks back, have now dropped into the lower league abyss which is their natural environment.  They can expect neither sympathy nor comfort from LS11 – the home of Leeds United who, just a few short weeks ago, had problems of their own that threatened to cast them ignominiously into administration and League One.  At that point, the internet rang with glee from the usual suspects, prominent among them the fans of that small club from the back streets of a former pit town in the Republic of South Yorkshire.

The Barnsley fans of my acquaintance were highly active on Facebook and the like, nudging each other in a virtual sense and snickering like excited schoolboys.  “Leeds are going into admin!” chortled one.  “Really?” spluttered his little friend. “Is that for definite?”  And so they went on, speculating about the level of the points deduction (15 at least, I reckon. Ooh no, I hope it’s 20.)  It was unedifying stuff, but sadly it’s exactly what you might have expected from a bunch of fans with such a large chip on their collective shoulder.  They “hate Leeds scum”, you see.  They couldn’t tell you why, though they might possibly remember something their dad once said about Billy Bremner or Norman Hunter.  Anyway, they were chuffed to bits at the thought of our misery and the crisis we were in, and they cavorted accordingly.

It was similar at the end of last season.  Back then, Barnsley were in relegation trouble again, come the last day of the season.  So were Huddersfield; and the two played each other, knowing that the loser would go down.  It ended up as a draw and results elsewhere saved both lesser Yorkshire clubs.  You might have expected celebration, maybe even mutual congratulation and some clog dancing in the cobbled streets with, perhaps, a spike in the troglodyte birth-rate nine months later.  But no – the sole thought in these yonners’ tiny minds was to join in with a combined chorus of Huddersfield and Barnsley as they regaled us with loud and tuneless anti-Leeds United songs.  They were bang to rights on a charge of hating us more than they loved their own dismal little clubs, even at the moment of their greatest triumph – because for Huddersfield and Barnsley, avoiding relegation from a sphere higher than their natural comfort zone is as good as it ever gets.

But now, a mere few weeks on from Leeds United’s nadir of crisis and despair, when those Toby Tykes were so happy and optimistic, things have changed and the pit boot is on the other foot.  Leeds United are safe – and apparently minted, with the potential to rebuild and ascend once more into the Promised Land. Meanwhile, Barnsley have gone, back into obscurity where they undeniably belong.  No more Cup Finals against Leeds United – they will have to settle for playing second fiddle to Sheffield’s junior club. They will face a new and bleaker financial reality as their already tiny crowds (except when Leeds came to town) dwindle even further.  Some gloomy and pessimistic “Tarn” fans are already predicting that it’ll take years to come back.  Let’s hope so.  Sentimental hypocrites aside, Barnsley will not be missed.

All their fans can do now is to prepare themselves for existence at a lower level, with fixtures against the likes of Rochdale, Scunny and perhaps York City. Those fans will still “hate Leeds scum”, but they will miss the brief taste of the big time that our visits provided, and they will yearn for the day that they might play us again.  From a Leeds United point of view, one less Cup Final Complex opponent will do us no harm next season – and it’s probable that we’ll have moved on up, long before Barnsley can hope to slither out of the lower league mire.  It’s all very satisfactory and enjoyable – and if that sounds cruel, then just cast your minds back to the fun the Tykes were having, quite recently, at our expense.

What goes around, comes around – and karma is indeed a bitch.  Suck it up, Barnsley fans.  You deserve it.