Monthly Archives: November 2014

White Saturday Follows Black Friday as Leeds Slam the Rams – by Rob Atkinson

Antenucci at the double: United's bearded wonder celebrates

Antenucci at the double: United’s bearded wonder celebrates

Leeds United 2, Derby County 0

There had been a definite feeling of optimism – the kind of optimism where you’re not really sure what it’s based on – ahead of this clash between Leeds United and league leaders Derby County. Whether it was a sort of pre-Yuletide glass-half-full ebullience, or merely good old Yorkshire blinkered pig-headedness, the vibe in the ether had been remarkably positive. There were a lot of “funny feelings” that Leeds could – would – win. And sure enough, by the final whistle, the joke was very much on the Rams, our one-time rabbits but more recently an irritating nemesis. Leeds had won decisively, 2-0, with current pin-up boy Mirco Antenucci scoring either side of half time to give us our first success over the sheep since 2005.

The game started with the visitors as the more measured side, as befitting their lofty status. Derby had that ever so slightly arrogant air about them, redolent of aristocrats pitched against peasants in a village cricket match. Their early play suggested a blithe expectation of victory – but they failed to capitalise on this brief superiority and, when the young midfield guns of Leeds started to blaze in and around “Schteve” McClaren’s bewildered officer class, the writing was very much on the wall. In the end, for all their occasionally threatening encroachment into the United defensive third, Derby were sunk without a trace and subsided with barely a whimper, never mind any truly threatening signs of defiance. No shots on target over the whole piece is a damning indictment of supposed promotion favourites and ultimately the White tide simply swept poor County away.

Antenucci the Adored

Antenucci the Adored

Antenucci’s two goals were deft finishes of contrasting types, one tucked neatly away from a quality low cross from Mowatt, the other a precise finish after the luxury of a touch on the ball to set up the strike, following more good work, firstly from Mowatt. He prepared the way for a fine pass from Warnock to the Bearded Wonder, who languidly scored the clincher. Two goals and a clean sheet might appear to have been ample reward for Redders’ improving unit but, in truth, United could and should have had more. Still, after a nine year famine against these opponents, enough was as good as a feast, with subsequent near-misses providing the lightest of desserts for discerning Leeds palates.

We’re often told that we’re “not famous any more”; we’ve even been known to throatily echo that sentiment as the Elland Road Kop indulges in a little post-modern irony. But defeat at the hands of Leeds really does hurt Derby; in a rivalry going back even before the feuding of Hunter and Lee, we’ve always been a desperately desirable scalp for the ovine followers of the Rams – right up there with Forest in that respect. So a long overdue victory against them is all the sweeter for the pain etched so deeply across County faces, souls, and indeed the entire #DCFC Twitter feed. Schadenfreude has a flavour all of its own and, like revenge, is a dish best served cold. It’s been cooling away nicely for nine years and it tasted just right yesterday.

So what now for Leeds? As the Redfearn touch continues to mould the youth, talent, Latin flair, vigour and experience of this squad into an ever more cohesive unit, there are grounds for guarded optimism. We’re not there yet, not by a long chalk. There are still worrying deficiencies, vulnerabilities that might have been exploited by a team with more stomach for battle than this somewhat effete Derby side. But the Leeds work in progress is starting to show signs that progress is indeed being made. Those signs were there also in rather unlucky defeat at Blackburn last week; seven days on, they were stronger and still more promising. One pundit in the Leeds blogosphere dared to speak the word relegation yesterday morning; he may now conclude that he was being needlessly, almost treacherously, pessimistic. Defeats are hard enough to swallow, surely there’s no call for defeatist talk.

Make no mistake, Leeds beat a fine side yesterday and beat them well. Derby will play worse and win in the face of less gutsily determined opposition. Leeds for their part will have to strive to maintain at least the standards they set on Saturday afternoon; in fact, they will need to raise the bar still further if any real upward momentum is to be generated. If a young side of such rich potential can do this, then they will expect to win more than they’ll lose – a verdict that the defeated Mr McClaren might well now be prepared to endorse.

Noel Hunt Scores to Leave Leeds Boo-Boys Red-Faced – by Rob Atkinson

Ipswich Hero Noel - not good enough for 15th placed Leeds

Ipswich Hero Noel – not good enough for 15th placed Leeds

Really, you had a feeling it might happen. After a barren spell at Leeds United, Noel Hunt has made the loan switch to high-flying Ipswich Town – and has become an instant Tractor Boys hero with a last-gasp winner at Charlton Athletic.

No Tractor Boys at Elland Road – but boo-boys aplenty. Sadly, ’twas ever thus. I go back as far as Terry Yorath, who was routinely slaughtered by those on the terraces with size 12 gobs to accommodate their size 12 bovver boots – and with a size zero brain ostensibly directing things from somewhere in the pelvic region.

Yorath was a Welsh international who went on to have a fine career with Coventry and then Spurs. He was just one of too many players chased out of LS11, confidence in tatters, by the hard-of-thinking masses whose idea of motivational support amounts, it seems, to monosyllabic, visceral abuse. Great way to back the lads, lads.

Two of Cloughie’s imports in the autumn of ’74, John McGovern and John O’Hare, suffered ignorant abuse and were likewise sent packing from Leeds, doubtless grateful to get away. Instead of pining for what might have been in the White shirt, they settled for an English Champions medal, two European Cups, sundry Wembley triumphs and a bucketload of glory down Nottingham way. The bright lads on the Gelderd, unabashed, continued to hold that they were “roobish. Not good enough for Leeds, like”. Our talent as fans for shooting ourselves in the collective foot was honed as sharp as a knife in the back, even then.

This level of expertise as assessors of footballing talent is still manifesting itself among the Leeds United faithful. A small but loud minority will concede nothing to the pros in terms of their ability to label a player as “crap”. Even in the immediate aftermath of Hunt’s late winner at Charlton, there were many rather defensive tweets in the ether, insisting that Noel is “still crap”. After all, what does his manager know? Or his fellow pros??

Several United players down the years have been unable to give of their best with this sort of “support” ringing in their ears. Unaccountably, a goodly proportion of these hopeless, useless articles have gone on to do well elsewhere – at clubs whose fans embrace old-fashioned and out-dated practices, like cheering on whoever wears the shirt. That’s far too naïve and unsophisticated position for the bright sparks in the Leeds crowd, though. Of course it is. We’re Leeds and we know best – right?

It could be that Noel Hunt might still have a future at Elland Road. It’s hardly unknown for a player, his confidence holed below the water line, to be buoyed up by the experience of a run in some other club’s side, a chance to play his way back into form. Perhaps Hunt will be an example of that kind of renaissance. But equally, he may prefer to pursue his career elsewhere. You could hardly blame him.

Players are a valuable asset for any club. Those assets may appreciate over time, given success and the adoration of the fans. But some may sink without a trace and feel no option but to start again elsewhere, if anyone will take a punt on them. Ipswich boss and Leeds United fan Mick McCarthy must be pleased right now that he took a punt on Hunt.

Leeds fans are as self-congratulatory a mob as you’d find anywhere in football. They are prone to applauding themselves as the best supporters around. Taking an army of 7,000 to Blackburn as well as frequently following Leeds in numbers for midweek games away on the south coast – this speaks volumes for the fanaticism of the United support. But support is about more than just turning up in numbers, and sadly Leeds fans in my experience are frequently lacking in the aspect of support that involves actually being supportive. And that’s a significant fault that can have real consequences for players’ careers and, by extension, the club’s prospects of success.

Good luck to Noel Hunt in his loan spell at Ipswich, and beyond – wherever that might be. It’s difficult to envisage him back at Leeds, but I for one would be delighted to see him return, confidence restored. But confidence is a fragile flower, easily blown away by the scorching wind of spectator scorn in a white-hot cauldron like Elland Road with its mad up. The question Hunt might be asking himself in January, with a successful loan at Portman Road behind him, is: “Do I really need that??

The answer to that question might well result in Noel Hunt bearing down on the Leeds goal in some other team’s shirt in the not-too-distant future, to score against us and condemn the Whites to a possibly costly defeat. It’s happened before, it’ll almost certainly happen again. And you know what? We’ll bloody deserve it.

Three Pivotal Moments in Leeds United’s FA Cup History

The FA Cup is undoubtedly the premier competition of its type in the world, despite the fact that it may have been marginalised by leading Premier League clubs since the advent of the lucrative European Champions League. Its history can be traced back over 140 years of football and it continues to deliver thrills, spills and excitement to this day. There are some clubs that have a greater affinity with the competition than others, however, with Leeds United providing an example of a team that has lived through both heartache and triumph in the pursuit of cup glory.

3 Major Moments that have Shaped Leeds’ FA Cup History

With this in mind, let’s take a look at three of the most inspirational moments that have shaped Leeds United’s cup history:

1.  Jermaine Beckford Scores the Winner Against Manchester United, 2010

FAC Beckford

After their heroic exploits at the turn of the century when Leeds reached the dizzying heights of the European Champions League semi-finals, few would have expected the club to by plying their trade in League One less than a decade later. This, though, was the situation that Leeds United found themselves in during 2010, as they headed to Premier League champions Manchester United for an FA Cup third round tie. Despite being huge underdogs and with 9,000 travelling fans providing fanatical backing, yet fearing a thrashing at the hands of their bitterest rivals, Leeds pulled off one of the proudest moments in their cup history as Jermaine Beckford’s first half goal was enough to send Man U to their earliest exit from the competition since 1984.

2.  Ray Crawford Stuns Leeds as Colchester Utd Record Huge Upset, 1971

FAC Crawford

In 1971, Leeds United were on the way to becoming the best and most combative team in the English League under the managership of Don Revie. Hailed far and wide as “Super Leeds”, the Whites were therefore overwhelming favourites when they visited an ageing, lower league Colchester side for the fifth round of the FA Cup in February, 1971. Nicknamed ‘Dad’s Army’ by the press, few gave the home side a chance but a brace from striker Ray Crawford and a deceptively narrow pitch, together with some typically bizarre goalkeeping from Sprake, helped Colchester earn a stunning 3-0 lead early in the second half. Although Leeds recovered with two late goals, they eventually lost 3-2 as Colchester recorded a significant act of an FA Cup giant killing.

3.  Alan Clarke Wins the Cup for Leeds United, 1972

FAC Clarke

From the ridiculous low of their defeat at Layer Road the previous year, Leeds United recovered admirably to beat the cup holders and the previous seasons’ double winners Arsenal and lift the cup at Wembley in 1972. The game was a hard-fought and at times brutal affair, but it was decided by a flash of brilliance and what has to be the finest moment in Leeds United’s outstanding cup history. Allan Clarke was the match-winner, as he dived at full length to head home Mick Jones’ accurate cut-back. Although Leeds United were to fall victim to another act of giant-killing against Sunderland in the following years’ final, nothing could dampen the enthusiasm surrounding the clubs’ first and, to date, only FA Cup win.

These are just three historic moments in a long history of FA Cup football for Leeds. Perhaps you have different favourites – it would be interesting to hear from you with your own FA Cup memories of Leeds United.

 

 

Will Istanbul Hooligans Get Away with Murder Yet AGAIN?? – by Rob Atkinson

RIP Marko Ivkovic, latest victim of the Istanbul cowards

RIP Marko Ivkovic, latest victim of the Istanbul cowards

As any Leeds United fan knows, Istanbul is a dodgy place to be if you’re identifiable as a follower of any team pitted against a local side, whose fans tend to glory in a reputation for bloodthirstiness with “Welcome to Hell” banners, throat-slitting gestures and other manifestations of their complete lack of civilised conduct and behaviour. Leeds fans know this better and more painfully than most after the savage murder in 2000 of two of their number on the eve of a UEFA Cup semi final between Galatasaray and United. Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight were knifed to death in Taksim Square – the amount of justice meted out since then for their senseless slaughter would fit comfortably, disgracefully, inside a peanut.

The body of the killed Serbian basketball fan is taken to the Forensics Institute

The body of the killed Serbian basketball fan is taken to the Forensics Institute

Now the madmen of Istanbul are at it again, as another supporter of a team visiting from outside Turkey has met an untimely death at the hands of lunatic cowards armed with knives. Marko Ivkovic was stabbed and killed on November 21 in Istanbul in front of the venue where a Turkish Airlines Euroleague game between Galatasaray Liv Hospital and the visiting side was being played. The name of the game is unimportant – basketball or football. Once again, as in 2000, the message has been sent out that Istanbul is not a safe or a civilised place for supporters of visiting teams to be seen or heard. And once again, local authorities in Turkey are leaning over backwards to blame the murdered rather than the murderers – Istanbul police saying that the killing was the result of a fight between Red Star’s supporters. The Serbian club Liv Hospital claimed in a written statement that the 25-year-old Marko Ivkovic was “killed by Galatasaray hooligans” and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic voiced “outrage over the monstrous murder,” according to a government statement on November 22. Vucic also said that Galatasaray coach Ergin Ataman would not be welcome in Serbia after he “accused the killed young man and all other Red Star fans of terrorism,” the Serbian government statement said.

All of this harks uncomfortably back to the murder of the two Leeds supporters, when a campaign of misinformation aimed to heap blame on Leeds fans as a group, labelling the Turkish murderers as sturdy patriots. Such is the warped sense of right and wrong, the utter absence of any sense of justice, in a city and a country which appears to embrace the knife culture as something to be proud of.

UEFA acted like a timid old woman in 2000 – in that it failed to act at all, in any meaningful or effective way. On a few occasions since then, when the animal fans of an animal club have acted to bring further disgrace on the game, the buffoons at UEFA have continued to cower behind their desks, afraid, seemingly, of any risk of upsetting the cowards and thugs of Istanbul, be they on the streets or in the local corridors of power.

Will anything happen now? Probably not. Istanbul is a blind spot for sporting authorities, it seems. Will still more innocent visitors to “Hell” have to die, before anything effective is done? Sadly, that is quite probably going to be the case.

It’s way past time for severe action. Individuals should be brought to justice by local powers who are more inclined, it seems, to make excuses and protect the guilty, the murderers. If the authorities in Istanbul are unable or unwilling to do this, then the teams, in whatever sport, that represent that city should be banned, forthwith and sine die, from competition outside the borders of Turkey. Let them slake their thirst for blood and violence on each other, let them be a local difficulty. They should not be welcome in civilised countries, neither should teams from nations which don’t routinely harbour tawdry killers be expected to visit such a very backward part of the world.

Sport and the rest of the world can do without Galatasaray and the thugs and cowards of Istanbul who wear their colours and stain their reputation with the blood of fans who simply wanted to watch a game, but ended up losing their lives. How many more will die before this simple truth will be recognised by the simpering fools of UEFA and the other European sports governing bodies?

RIP Chris and Kev – and now sadly also Marko Ivkovic.

 

Nine Years Ago Today: Leeds Storm Back to Bury Saints – by Rob Atkinson

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Leeds set about imposing their class

When the going gets tough, the tough get going – or so they say. It’s arguable that, given the frenetic nature and relentless pace of English professional football, the going is always tough. League games are fought out with bitter intent, and there are few easy results – that’s what makes the best of our game such compulsive viewing. But there’s tough and then there’s really tough. What do you do, for instance, when you’re three down with less than a quarter of the game to go, hundreds of miles from home and with an atrocious first-half performance nagging away guiltily at you? That’s when the going is really tough. If you have the necessary character, you “Keep Fighting”, reviving the spirit of the Don Revie days when that maxim was prominent on the dressing-room wall at Elland Road; when every man knew that giving up was simply not an option. And that is precisely what a Leeds United team of a much lesser vintage did, nine years ago today. Seemingly dead and buried at St Mary’s Stadium Southampton, they somehow jolted back to life, hauled themselves out from six feet under and bounced back emphatically to leave Harry Redknapp’s Saints battered and bewildered.

It can’t have been of any comfort at all to the shattered Southampton team that their erstwhile coach Simon Clifford, sacked only the week before this game, had marked his departure by labelling his former charges “unfit” – as well as prone to “letting games slip in the last five to 10 minutes”.  If they had set out to prove him right, this late capitulation to a Leeds side they seemed to have had beaten out of sight would certainly have done the trick.  Shocked Saints manager Redknapp was at a loss for a reaction immediately afterwards. “Unbelievable, I don’t know what to say. One of the worst results of my career,” he mumbled. You got the feeling he will have expressed himself rather more vividly to his defeated and deflated troops.

It had all started out so promisingly for the home side.  The first half was strictly no contest, a flood tide of red and white stripes threatening to sink Leeds’ away colours without trace.  Traditionally strong at home, Southampton boasted the likes of jet-heeled Theo Walcott in their ranks as well as tricky Latvian Marian Pahars, not to mention future Leeds manager Dennis Wise, who was subbed at half time and therefore escapes the blame for what eventually happened.  After 27 minutes, a corner from the right was headed goalwards by Svensson and there was Pahars at the far post to head past Leeds’ Neil Sullivan from point-blank range.  Then it was a pre-Arsenal vintage Theo Walcott, hurtling down the right with a breathless Matt Kilgallon left hopelessly beaten in his slipstream, cutting a neat ball back to the edge of the area where Nigel Quashie was waiting to plant a first time shot into the United net.  2-0 after 35 minutes, and Leeds were playing for half-time and trying to avoid further concessions.  Vain hope.  A cross ball from the left found Matt Oakley in space on the right of the area and he headed into the box where the ball struck Dan Harding’s upraised arms.  The penalty was just about fair and Quashie dispatched it to end the half in a manner reflecting the utter dominance of the home side.

The second period began with the travelling army of Leeds fans in boisterous and seemingly clairvoyant form.  “We’re gonna win 4-3”, they bellowed, not a man jack of them actually believing it.  Southern ale just isn’t that strong.  But at least Leeds were contriving to limit the damage now, playing for pride alone as they thought they were – they hadn’t let their heads go down.  Sullivan’s point-blank save from Brett Ormerod maintained United’s fingernail hold on the game and then, with twenty minutes to go, Leeds manager Kevin Blackwell had one of his all too few inspired moments, bringing on David Healy to push a third man into attack.  Redknapp, on the other hand, had used all his subs by half-time, though he denied suggestions that he was resting players with the game apparently won as “disrespectful”.

Whatever the motivations of the managers, the introduction of Healy worked. Only a minute later, Gary Kelly’s corner from the right found skipper Paul Butler rising majestically from left of the penalty spot to head home with great power and accuracy into the top right hand corner.  The mood of the match changed; Southampton were still playing the better football and forcing plenty of corners, but Leeds had made a mark now, and some nerves were exposed in the home ranks. After 77 minutes, a poor headed clearance found its way to Healy outside the area on the right and he fed the ball low and firmly into the six yard box where Robbie Blake was on hand to deliver a first-time finish inside the near post of Anti Niemi’s goal.  And incredibly, with six minutes to go, United were level when it was their turn to benefit from a penalty award.  This time it was Saints defender Danny Higginbotham who was guilty of handball and David Healy seized the chance to score the equaliser, blasting his spot kick into the roof of the Saints net.

The match had now turned into the classic “game of two halves”, with neutral observers looking narrowly at the St Mary’s pitch for any sign of a marked right-to-left slope.  The momentum was solidly with Leeds after their unlikely recovery, and the Saints defensive clearances began to smack of desperation and lost belief.  For Leeds, the tough had got well and truly going and they were in the mood to finish their hosts off.  The man who would administer the coup de grâce was a Man U loanee who had been anonymous for much of the game, but cometh the hour, cometh Liam Miller.  When the ball deflected into his path from a Rob Hulse cut-back, Miller swung his left boot, connected and – as if it had been pre-ordained – the ball found its way into the Southampton goal for the winner.  The United fans packed behind the goal exploded with joy and disbelieving wonder that their raucous predictions of 45 minutes earlier could have come so wonderfully true.  Any goal is enhanced by a passionate, celebrating section of support to appreciate it, and all four Leeds goals that day were scored right in front of those inspiring, fantastic supporters – four peaks of jubilation punctuating the half to form a piece of pure football theatre.

Peter Drury’s commentary in the lead-up to that decisive goal has become a minor classic: “They wouldn’t dare win it would they, Leeds, they wouldn’t dare win it….here is Rob Hulse for Leeds United – and Hulse plays it in – and Miller’s hit it! It’s staggering!  They HAVE won it!!”  Spine-tingling, gooseflesh-raising stuff if you’re Leeds – and I can certainly never tire of hearing that clip.  Thanks Peter. And thanks to the players who fought back that day eight years ago to provide one of the brighter moments in the long dark era since we dropped out of the top flight. It’s times like this that restore the faith – that remind you what it feels like when the lads knuckle down and do it for the shirts and for the fans. The essence of Leeds, encapsulated in one twenty minute spell of dreamland fantasy football, nine years ago today – pure magic.

Referendum Result Confirmed: England Still Own Scotland – by Rob Atkinson

Sorry boys - you were OWNED

Sorry boys – you were OWNED

For your average Leeds United fanatic – or even for an iconic one such as myself – the sight of a club legend in Gordon Strachan having his nose well and truly rubbed in it can rarely be pleasant viewing. Equally, for a devotee of all things righteously White, to behold the over-rated and grossly over-hyped Mr Wayne “Shrek” Rooney filling his boots at the expense of said legend would normally be an uncomfortable not to say painful experience. But last night at Celtic Park, both circumstances came to pass – and yet it was an evening of unalloyed pleasure for any England fan who grew up to a background of Auld Enemy rivalry.

Back in the day, the England versus Scotland mini-war was an annual fixture, alternating between Hampden Park in Glasgow and Wembley, the latter drenched in Tartan every other year as the unwashed made the pilgrimage south. It was the perpetuation of the original and best International Football rivalry; the very first ever match between two countries was Scotland v England on 30 November 1872. 4,000 people saw a 0-0 draw on that occasion – the great days of this fixture were still to come.

The great days of Leeds United also lay far in the future – and in that era of Revie’s Super Leeds, the club boasted a cadre of fine Scottish international players (see picture above) who I and thousands of other United fans worshipped as footballing Gods. But once a year, when England met Scotland, they were The Enemy – and I for one wanted nothing more than to see the likes of Alan Ball, Mike Channon and Kevin Keegan stamp the Sweaties into the turf, North or South of the border. Sometimes it happened, sometimes we were disappointed. I remember regarding Gordon McQueen with a particularly baleful eye after his two goals sank England at Wembley, on a day when the Scots appropriated the crossbars as souvenirs of a memorable win.

Over the years, the two nations battled nip and tuck for historical supremacy, each having periods of dominance. In the almost 142 years since that first fixture, England have edged it. Last night’s victory by 3-1 was the Three Lions’ 47th such triumph, with Scotland trailing in at 41. This latest success must have been one of the most convincing by England, certainly in recent times. Scotland had a job done on them, big time. England’s performance was emphatic, conclusive, and the boys in blue had no answer to the white tide which engulfed them.

This tone had been set right from the first minute with Woy’s Warriors setting a pattern of dominance in the early stages they would maintain throughout. The breakthrough was half an hour coming and somewhat overdue when Oxlade-Chamberlain, somewhat lacking in delivery with the ball at his feet, found a sublime headed touch from Wilshere’s laser-accurate deep cross, finding the corner of the Scottish net. So it remained at the interval but, despite the narrowness of the margin, Scotland had been on the end of a footballing lesson.

The consensus of agreement among the half-time pundits was that the hosts could not afford to go two down if they were to salvage anything from the encounter. This, however, they proceeded to do a mere 90 seconds into the second half as England took a vice-like grip on proceedings. The origin of what proved to be a killer goal was in a crude and stupid foul from Mulgrew who cynically took out the stampeding Ox as the Arsenal youngster raced down the right. Mulgrew was a little fortunate to escape with a mere yellow, but the fallout was to prove fatal for the Tartan Army. From the free kick, the ball was half-cleared and then bobbled about in the Scottish area before sitting up for Rooney to flex his neck and direct a fine header past helpless sub goalkeeper Gordon.

True to the intense rivalry of this fixture, Scotland did appear to fight their way back into the match with a goal after good work between Robertson and Russell ended with the former squeezing the ball between Forster and his near post. England, rather than quailing and succumbing to late nerves, simply appeared to be provoked into further action. The ball was played down the right from the restart and, from a throw in, the visitors contrived a spell of consummate possession under pressure on the Scottish left flank, before Lallana was released into the area to set up a sitter for Rooney’s second of the night.

3-1 and finis. England were probably worth a goal or two more; despite the creditable battling of the Scots, they had in truth been completely outclassed and outplayed. The most jarring note of the whole night was struck by England coach Roy Hodgson in his post-match remarks, when he saw fit to apologise for any offence caused to anyone who might have had their feelings hurt by some anti-IRA chanting from the England support. Things have come to a pretty pass, surely, when a football man in the afterglow of a fine victory should seek to soothe the wounded sensibilities of those negatively affected by anti-terrorism sentiments. It was an odd end to a fine night for England. Scotland, fresh from a run in which results and performances have been positively encouraging, will have a new awareness this morning of their actual place in the scheme of things.

Gary Neville asks Manchester City fan Noel Gallagher to sign guitar, ends up defaced

Gary Neville got sort of what he asked for – but really more than he bargained for – when he asked City fan Noel Gallagher to sign his guitar. Wherever your sympathies might lie – it was rather a dumb thing to ask for, wasn’t it??

As a Leeds fan and self-confessed Neville-hater, I confess to a juvenile level of snortling amusement.

Three Down, But Leeds Won 4-3: Derby Beaten 17 Years Ago Today – by Rob Atkinson

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Gorgeous George

For many football fans, the words George, Graham and dour go together like fish, chips and vinegar. Yet I look back very fondly on Stroller George’s too-brief reign at Elland Road, not least for the reason that it did a lot to put right the problems surrounding the latter part of the Howard Wilkinson era. Wilko’s dismissal in the early part of the previous campaign had brought a dapper Mr. Graham through the West Stand doors with a promise to steady the ship and to “sort things out at the back.”

What followed was an exercise in football austerity, tight in defence, almost completely impotent up front, yet surviving quite comfortably despite the paucity of attacking product. He even managed a 1-0 Cup win at his first love Arsenal’s Highbury fortress, but for the rest of the season it was very meagre fare indeed. “We’ll score again, don’t know where, don’t know when” was the fans’ refrain as the league programme died of boredom. But if we thought it would be more of the same next time around – and quite frankly, we did – we were to be happily surprised.

Season 1997-98 saw a turnaround in the composition of the first-team squad, Carlton Palmer and Brian Deane departing, one south, one north, both relatively unlamented. The in-comings included David Hopkin, who would provide a traditionally ginger influence in midfield; Bruno Ribeiro, a tin-type of a mid-sixties era John Giles; Alf-Inge Haaland, who became a cult hero for his abuse of Royston Keane, and is still fondly remembered for it today; and the exotically-named, unexpectedly lethal Jerrel Floyd Hasselbaink.

All in all they seemed to promise much in terms of increased effectiveness of the side as a unit, and it was the two lesser-known signings from the Portuguese League who made the most initial impact. Hasselbaink in particular got off to a flyer, scoring against Arsenal at home on his debut, and displaying a turn of pace and a rocket shot that inspired cautious optimism even among the cynical Leeds fans, who had starved for such thrills the previous year. By the time the Derby game came around the self-branded “Jimmy” was not quite a first team fixture but whenever he was involved, there was that air of threat about him. And so it would prove on this day.

Leeds had in fact produced a couple of decent home wins on their last two Elland Road outings, beating Man U 1-0 and cruising to a 4-1 win against Newcastle, both in front of near-40000 crowds. Derby was a slightly less attractive prospect, but there were still 33572 in the ground as the teams came out that November afternoon. Derby, to be honest, were not expected to prove too much of a problem. Most teams have their “rabbit side” – opposition who always seemed quite straightforward to deal with – and Derby had been this type of easy meat for Leeds for some little time now, a situation sadly reversed these days. So the atmosphere was one of anticipation if not exactly complacency; there was this definite air of expectation that the recent home success would continue.

It was with bemusement turning to anger and outrage then, that Leeds fans beheld the scene which had unfolded by the 33rd minute. Without ever looking massively inferior on the field, United had contrived to trail 0-3, uncharacteristic goalkeeping howlers from Nigel Martyn gifting Derby striker Dean Sturridge the chances to score twice, and then the concession of a stonewall penalty which was gleefully converted by Aljosa Asanovic – all at the fanatical Gelderd End of the ground. As the penalty hit the back of the net, and the Derby players celebrated, there was a loud explosion from the Kop as someone let off an extremely noisy “banger” firework which had somehow survived Bonfire Night three days before. At the time, this concussive detonation seemed the only response a speechless home support could muster, but the crowd noise and vehemence of encouragement were to reach more positive levels before the break.

It was the kind of situation that required a determined fight back immediately; failing that, Derby could well have gone on to assume complete control and finish up winning with embarrassing ease. Embarrassing for us, anyway – at this point the away fans were enjoying life and looking forward to more goals. Leeds got the message loud and clear; the Kop roared support as they pressed forward, and the belief seemed to be there that there was still plenty of time to retrieve something from this disastrous situation.

The first dent was made in Derby’s lead only four minutes after their third goal, Ribeiro gathering possession around thirty yards out and hammering a left foot shot into the penalty area. It was a powerful effort, but probably destined to be harmless – until Rodney Wallace got the merest of touches to it, diverting the ball past Mart Poom in the Derby goal. 1-3 now and better was to come by half-time.

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Harry, Harry Kewell

Young Harry Kewell was being hailed as the latest Wunderkind around this time; he’d been the quicksilver inspiration of the previous year’s FA Youth Cup-winning team, and was precociously, extravagantly gifted as he had already demonstrated at first team level.  This was obviously some years before he disgraced himself, first by holding the club to ransom over his transfer to Liverpool and then – infinitely worse – by signing for that scumbag Turkish outfit Galatasaray. His contribution to this match, however, was embellished by a clinical finish to draw Leeds to within one goal of Derby before the interval. The ball came over from the right to find Kewell in space beyond the far post but at such an acute angle that there was hardly any of the goal to aim at. No matter; Kewell met the ball as sweetly as I’ve ever seen anyone connect with a left-foot volley, the ball flying with tremendous pace and power past a startled Poom and into the far corner of the net. We were back to 2-3, and it was so nearly all square right at the end of the half when a snap shot from Haaland was just scrambled off the line. The situation at half-time was bizarre; the away team was leading but it was the home team feeling upbeat and with the momentum behind them as the game restarted.

Leeds were attacking the Kop now, and the second half swiftly set itself into a pattern of relentless pressure on the away defence, the addition of half-time substitute Lee Bowyer adding extra energy to the midfield thrusts forward. Derby defended well, desperately at times, yet effectively – and managed somehow to weather a 30 minute storm to bring themselves within sight of holding out for an unlikely victory. But then it was time for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to enter the fray.

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Jimmy, Jimmy

With 15 minutes to go, it was a timely substitution by George Graham, who took Hopkin off, and moved Kewell to play behind a front two of Hasselbaink and Wallace. Suddenly Derby had different problems to deal with, and it was to prove, finally, just too much for them. With under ten minutes to go, defender Christian Dailly, challenged in the air by David Wetherall, was pressured into a blatant handball, and the whistle sounded for the second penalty of the afternoon. Hasselbaink immediately stepped up to the plate, leaving no one in any doubt that he was up to the job of equalising from the spot. I remember hardly daring to look from my vantage point on the Kop, but Jimmy was coolness personified as he placed the ball before calmly walking up and rolling it with precision into the right hand corner as Poom started to go the other way. 3-3, and to be frank, I’d have settled for that with grateful thanks when we were three behind, but now team and crowd were after Derby’s blood in harness, and both could scent victory.

In the greatest traditions of the very best comeback wins, the decisive moment was saved until time was all but up. It was to be a combination of the two substitutes that finally undid Derby, Hasselbaink getting hold of the ball on the right and, going rapidly through the gears, scorching past a helpless defender into the box before pulling the ball back from the dead ball line. Jimmy could not have picked a better pass, the ball arriving just at the edge of the penalty area, where the onrushing Bowyer met it beautifully first-time with his left foot, sending his shot hurtling past the Derby ‘keeper high into the left-hand side of the net for a sensational winner. It was the cue for the Leeds fans behind the goal on the Kop, and indeed all around the stadium, to go deliriously potty as the players celebrated in an ecstatic knot just below them, and the lonely figure of Mart Poom, surely the man with the biggest lower lip in football, gazed skywards in bewilderment that such a seemingly impregnable lead could have yielded only defeat.

My last memory of this game is of the anthemic Chumbawamba hit “Tubthumping” blasting over the PA system, and the jubilant fans almost bouncing towards the exits, hands clapping above their heads and the raucous refrain “We get knocked down, but we get up again, you’re never gonna keep us down” being sung over and over as the stadium slowly emptied. There can’t be many feelings to compare with victory snatched from the jaws of such a poor start and the despair that accompanies going three behind at home. The buzz of this one took a long time to fade into what is still a pleasurable glow, and it’s a memory I cherish whenever I hear that anarchic Tubthumping sound. After the match, Jimmy was interviewed for the TV highlights, and demonstrated his mastery of English as he tried to sum up a surreal afternoon, commenting sagely: “The ball is round, and sometimes it goes in unexpected ways.” Indeed.

Leeds went on to rub salt into the Derby County wounds, easily winning the reverse fixture at their inaptly-named Pride Park, 5-0. And in the aftermath of this 4-3 comeback, there were two further victories from a losing position, beating West Ham 3-1 after trailing 1-0, and then in the pouring rain at Barnsley, running out 3-2 winners from two down. For a short while, Leeds United were the Comeback Kings, and it was probably the real purple patch of George Graham’s time at Elland Road, which was to end amid controversy early the following season. But it is for games like this that I fondly remember George and, despite some of the successes of the David O’Leary years, I still wish he’d stayed longer and seen the job through.

Stroller – thanks for the memories.

 

How Yesteryear’s Thugs Have Become Today’s Sad Old Men in LUFC Cyberspace – by Rob Atkinson

Aggressive (but well-disguised) - the archetypal old-time Leeds thug

Aggressive (but well-disguised) – the archetypal old-time Leeds thug

The idea of some “glory era” of football hooliganism is, of course, a contradiction in terms. Football hooliganism, as practiced by adherents of many football clubs around the world, was never about glory. Rather it was an outlet of sorts for testosterone-fuelled negative energy among mainly younger men, who delighted in the potential for a physical confrontation loosely based on sporting rivalry. There was nothing glorious about it; usually in fact there was a dependence upon an element of surprise and the advantage of greater numbers to emerge as “winners”. It was a pain in the neck for authorities both inside and outside of football; for the public who just wanted to support their team – and for what might be called innocent bystanders, who just happened to be in the vicinity when these idiots met looking for savage fulfilment. Football thugs were scary only to each other, really. To those above such primitive displays of attention-seeking, they were no more or less than anti-social pests.

The problem with any mob is the impressionable and easily-led types attracted by the feeling of “belonging” and the adrenalin rush induced by the thought of being pitched against an opposing force. One theory is that those involved will, in time, grow out of what is basically an extension of unruly little boys fighting in a playground. Bewilderingly, though, some people show no signs of wanting to abandon childish pursuits, and are still attempting to demonstrate machismo and aggression well into beery middle-age. There’s an obvious element of compensation going on; the individuals concerned know that their youth and vigour has gone, but – lacking any alternative outlet due to inadequate intelligence – they can’t let themselves admit it.

Today's Service Crew hoolie

Today’s Service Crew hoolie

Comically, the main outlet for such types – in these days of omnipresent CCTV, anyway – is the internet. Cyberspace is, it turns out, a peculiarly friendly environment for those who wish to continue espousing anti-social and violent sentiments, even at an age when they should have grown up and moved on to more adult preoccupations. The capacity of the internet for preserving the anonymity of an individual or group with negative intentions towards society at large is a gift for your average ageing ex-thug. There are several benefits of such a very incognito way of carrying on, which play into the hands and cater for the needs of overgrown playground warriors.

The main thing today’s ex-hooligan turned internet tough old man needs is the presence of a good few like-minded chaps of sufficiently feeble intellect and, ideally, that yearning need to recapture those long-ago days when they could scare people in real-life physical confrontation. Then, as now, the important thing will be the ability to identify with a cadre of “lads”, sticking together in the face of authority and anyone who might wish to challenge such an outdated point of view. It goes back to that urgent need to belong, so characteristic of those who always did feel unable to stand alone and plough their own furrow. It’s the herd instinct carried over into the virtual world: don’t mess with us, we are many and you are few. So it was back in the day, and so it is today – only, with advancing years the ability to either absorb or dish out any genuine punishment has dwindled away to nothing. But advancing age doesn’t seem to encourage the overgrown “lad” to wish to grow up and act as an adult. The former thug has become, against his own will and self-image, what is essentially a sad old man – and there’s a great deal of mutual reassurance from other desperate, sad, internet tough-guys needed to salve that particular wound.

Disappointingly, my own club has as many of these pensionable hooligan types acting in its name as any other. In days gone by, Leeds United had this “firm” (that’s what they called themselves, with no apparent appreciation of irony) who were known as the “Service Crew“, due to their predilection for raising hell after being conveyed to away games via rail and other services, knocking on for forty years ago. At that time, the Service Crew were one of many notorious “firms” who used the occasion of their respective football clubs playing each other, to meet and anthropologically posture at each other. Actual explosions of violence were by no means the norm, although such incidents as did occur naturally made the headlines. But so much of it was the kind of ritual aggression-displays you see on David Attenborough documentaries, where mindless animals, driven by raging hormones, act ridiculously from the onlooker’s point of view – simply to establish territorial or sexual claims. The parallels to be drawn between hooligan and ape are almost irresistible – but it’s important to remember that, while the ape is exhibiting instinctive behaviour vital to establishing itself within a peer group, your average yob is showing no more than a weak intellect and an inability to take on board more than a few pints without descending to the level of dumb beasts.

In this regard, the Leeds Service Crew were no better and no worse than many others. Their claims of predominance notwithstanding, the Crew were just another bunch of pests making life a misery for other sections of society on regular Saturday afternoons around the country. The tragedy of today is that – although football hooliganism has been marginalised by surveillance technology, almost to the point where, as a phenomenon, it is dead – nevertheless, some ageing boneheads refuse to let go of the compulsion to identify themselves as “lads”. In middle-aged men, that’s not only bizarre – it’s laughably embarrassing. But the fact remains that, even nowadays when their former exploits have been just about stamped out, the Service Crew still feels the need to identify itself as a collective which misses what it would term as the “good old days” of football violence. So, they have this forum, where they can chortle about those old days, swap memories both real and apocryphal, share their hideously outdated political and social positions and generally carry on like a gang of anti-social kids even though many of them are well into physical dissolution and should be doing something healthy like sorting the garden out.

The Service Crew forum actually used to serve a purpose not all that long ago. Like its slightly watered-down counterpart WACCOE, it used to be a half-decent source of Leeds-related news and gossip, although obviously there was still that element of tough talk, threats and posturing going on in the background. Boys, after all, will be boys – even old, fat, bald ones.

These days – and this applies equally to the Service Crew forum and WACCOE – the useful content has almost disappeared. Both sites have degenerated into what might best be described as a virtual “peeing highest up the wall” contest, as the usual crowd of insecure inadequates strive to out-do each other, whether that be in the context of weak jokes, fascist propaganda, or simply ganging up on any contributor who doesn’t conform to the group ethos. The surprises come in the lengths to which some will go in order to seek the approval of their bone-headed peers. Desperate for kudos, some middle-aged or elderly morons will happily transgress boundaries of behaviour that an adolescent would think twice before crossing – and will receive the sniggering approval of his fellow reprobates. You find yourself having to shake your head, reminding yourself that some of these people are grandparents. The mind boggles.

From some points of view, of course, all of the above represents progress. Football violence has died an unlamented death as a major player in modern fan culture. It rears its ugly head so rarely today, and is confined to just a few notorious clubs – so as a social irritant, it’s more or less disappeared – which at least makes the match-going experience that bit more pleasant for the grown-ups. But the price for all this would seem to be an insidious process whereby formerly quite readable fan sites are becoming hackneyed examples of mass attention-seeking, virtual posturing, recurrent cyber-bullying and the expression of views and standards deemed unacceptable in this century. It’s a pity – for anyone who might wish to trawl the net for anything useful in connection with their favourite football club.

For myself, as a moderate Leeds United fan with left-wing views, some areas of the net are becoming almost no-go areas – always allowing for the fact that I find it amusing to wind up some fairly hard-of-thinking and gullible types who find their refuge on the more extreme, FV-nostalgic boards – the Service Crew Forum being probably the most obvious example. On such occasions as I do engage with these less-than-able types, it’s usually a salutary reminder that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. But the sad thing is that another formerly usable site has become useless – and there aren’t enough truly well-informed and worthy places on the web for that to be something we can afford.

Some consolation may be derived from the thought that, just as actual hooligans have decayed and become too old to indulge in the physical stuff, so too will this middle-aged and elderly generation of virtual thugs eventually pass by and disappear into doddering senility – some self-evidently, earlier than others. The general trend is one of progress towards enlightenment, towards a time when the negative factors are removed, one by one, from the game that most of us can love without feeling the need to kick somebody’s head in, or even indulge in a little cyber-posturing. Such a desirable state of affairs would probably imply the demise of the Service Crew forum, of WACCOE, and of a couple of other havens for the insecure and deluded latterday “lads”. And that – as any intelligent recent visitor to either of the sites referred to above might agree – would be no bad thing.