To be more accurate, it was a tale of two alleged Uniteds – plus one City and what might politely be termed a franchise as Milton Keynes Dons and Bradford City saw off the ‘disuniteds’ of Manchester and Leeds respectively. On the face of it, the similarities in the two cases are striking. The Pride of Devon were condemned by English football’s only even more plastic club to a pre-Christmas period of plain and simple League fare, unrelieved by any spicy Cup-tie delicacies. They must concentrate on recovering, under new management, from a wobbly start to that bread-and-butter marathon, and forget all about knock-out glamour until it’s time to get knocked out of the FA Cup.
Leeds have likewise been dragged down to the level of that other United from ovver t’hills. They, too, will be stuck with repairing a dodgy league position until the new year rolls around. They, too, are in transition, rebuilding under a new regime. But there the similarities end – in terms of the manner in which the two Uniteds departed this season’s League Cup competition, anyway. Leeds, for the umpteenth time this season, were reduced to ten men, due on this occasion to foolhardy rashness on the part of Luke Murphy, who gave the ref every opportunity to brandish a second yellow. Murphy let down his team-mates, his coach and indeed his club, all of whom were relying on a united performance. The remaining ten stalwarts delivered though, and in the end Leeds were somewhat unfortunate to lose, as was pointed out by coach Hockaday afterwards – to depressingly predictable storms of social media abuse – about which more anon.
Man U, for their part, had no dismissals to cope with. They were simply out-played, out-fought, out-thought, thrashed out of sight by a team nominally two leagues inferior. Their much-vaunted manager, the former World Cup coach of the Netherlands, left out some supposed big-hitters, despite the lack of European distractions. Man U contributed in full measure to their own downfall, but the wretched MK Dons, a club whose origins leave the nastiest of nasty tastes in the mouth, nevertheless thoroughly deserved their crushing victory.
So the two Uniteds are no more, in this Cup competition at least. Life and the League Cup will go on without them, though there will be a few regrets on all sides about a third round draw that could have been a Roses clash at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, or which could have seen either minnow land a big fish instead of nibbling away at each other. Such is Cup football.
What remains to be said, other than that, in summary, Leeds were slightly unlucky and Man U got exactly what they deserved? Well, quite a bit, actually.
I’ve been rather quiet this season so far, due to some family health problems and various other slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, all of which – I’m glad to say – are being properly addressed. But I’ve still been keeping an eye on things, shaking my head gloomily at times, brightening up at bits of exciting transfer news at other times – and tut-tutting away as a middle-aged fan who remembers better times is wont to do. It’s been quite a good and exciting season, really – except for those pesky occasions when some fool has blown a whistle and we’ve actually tried to play a game of football. Big mistake, that. But the over-riding impression of this season so far, for me anyway, has been the clatter and clash of bandwagons being jumped on, over and over again, by far too many people who really should know a lot better.
The people I’m talking about, for the most part, manifest themselves in social media – Twitter being a particular offender in this respect. Some alleged Leeds United fans out there need to take a long, hard look at themselves after some of the unprecedented abuse being heaped on the head of a man in Dave Hockaday who is totally unable to defend himself and has managed to weather an ongoing storm with what can only be described as impeccable dignity. Hockaday has copped for the lot, from school playground stuff like the oh-so-clever plays on his name (Whackaday, Hockalot, Shockaday – and all the other dismally unfunny variants), to far more serious abuse from the kind of people who feel free to say what they like from what they gleefully feel to be safely unaccountable positions. I’ve seen fans freely expressing a hope that we would lose at Bradford, so that Hockaday might be sacked. Some of the bile and spleen vented has been utterly disgusting and degrading; some has been frankly laughable. The other day, there was a veritable Twitter-storm because Hockaday mentioned that Leeds would “inevitably” be back in the Champions League some day. He expressed a desire to be involved in that. And the world and his scabby dog seemed to join in an unseemly scramble to pour contempt on those innocent and sincere words.
Now, just imagine. What if Hockaday had faced the interviewer’s mike and had said “There’s not an earthly of Leeds ever getting into Europe again, not unless there’s a war. As for the Champions League – don’t make me laugh. And if they did, well – I wouldn’t want any part of it. Stuff that for a game of soldiers!” Would he have been applauded for his disarming frankness? Would the various social media have been abuzz with praise for his words of wisdom? No, of course they bloody wouldn’t. The fans would be outraged at such defeatist nonsense, and quite right too. So why go for the guy’s jugular when he expresses the naked ambition and belief in a brighter future that should be burning hot in any true fan’s heart? It makes no sense, and it reflects even less credit on those who, mindlessly sheep-like, follow the masses onto that overloaded bandwagon. For heaven’s sake, it’s nothing less than pathetic. And it grieves me to say this – but after what’s been said and written lately, I’m thoroughly ashamed of many, many Leeds fans right now.
It’s already been the same in the wake of the Bradford defeat. A few saner souls have pointed out that Murphy was an idiot getting himself sent off, that we battled well for an hour when a man down, took the lead and were only undone by a worldie and then a crap header that zipped through our keeper’s legs. AND we should have had a penalty when Poleon was taken out by the keeper – no, don’t listen to Don Goodman, he’s rabidly anti-Leeds and spouts nonsense. So, a few have broken the ranks of the silent majority – and they’ve highlighted the positives of the Bradford match. But many, many more of that knee-jerk faction of jerks have simply resorted to more abuse, more insults, more demands for the sacking of a guy who’s been there five minutes, and has spent that short time coping with the least helpful circumstances imaginable. That’s disgusting, ridiculous and completely unforgivable.
I’m old enough to remember demonstrations in the West Stand car-park when the fans had had enough and wanted Adamson Out, or on another occasion, Eddie Gray Back. I’ve seen little if any of that this time around. It’s mainly those big, brave Twitter types, sniping away from the safe anonymity of their keyboards, pouring their brainless vitriol onto the head of a man who probably will be gone soon, and who should, anyway, probably walk of his own accord – because he’s up against more than the opposition in the other dressing room every day of his working life. I’ll not comment on whether he’s a good enough coach – there hasn’t been the time or the proper circumstances in force to make a reliable judgement on that. But the players seem to like him – and aren’t they the best ones to ask, normally?
Back to the Bradford game. Once Luke “Stupid Boy” Murphy signed his own dismissal warrant, there were three possible objectives for Leeds United. In ascending order of importance, least important first: get to the next round of the Cup. OK, we didn’t make it, so what. We weren’t far off, in the end. Secondly; secure local bragging rights. I’d argue we managed that, making a good fist of a rearguard action against a spirited and motivated Bradford, and taking the lead against those formidable odds. Relative to the Man U debacle, we’ve no need to be ashamed of the effort and commitment of our ten warriors at Bradford. But the most important objective was to use an adverse situation to kick-start the bonding and gelling of this new group, under a new coach. The hour of battle against superior numbers in a hostile atmosphere will have gone a long way towards getting that process under way – and that really IS important, with the vast bulk of this nascent season still ahead of us.
In truth, I’m sick of the current situation, sick of the poisonous atmosphere in that odd virtual world, which is so much less apparent in the more old-fashioned world where fans still go to the match and get behind the shirts – I’m sick to death of so many of Leeds United’s yappier, dafter and more deluded fans – a vociferous but less than cerebral group I can only describe, rather impolitely, as the Gobshite Tendency. It’s a toxic mix, for anyone who loves the club, and I really am less than happy with it right now – so I shall return for the time being to looking after my family and parents as they struggle with real problems, far more intimidating than the daft footballing ones which seem to provoke such nastiness in some people. I’ve had enough, for the moment. So, as on a few occasions before, I shall take refuge in the past. I’ll write some nostalgia pieces, starting with one I promised a while back to my good mate Andy Gregory, of the excellent “We All Love Leeds” blog. We beat Southampton 7-0 in that one – but if Twitter had been around then, I’m sure there’d have been some eejits moaning that it should have been eight or nine and calling for the Don to be sacked. Just now, it really is that daft and annoying.
So – see you back in the Seventies, maybe.