Monthly Archives: January 2015

Huddersfield Complete Hat-Trick of Cup Final Defeats – by Rob Atkinson

2-1 in yer latest Cup Final...

2-1 in yer latest Cup Final…

Almost exactly a year ago, Huddersfield Town rolled up to Elland Road confident of easy pickings against a Leeds United side traumatised by the events of “Black Friday” – the eve of the local derby when a new owner-in-waiting sacked the manager and all of a sudden moves were afoot among the media to get our captain to declare he wanted out.

Bad times, as anyone would agree. Could the Whites bounce back and do a job on their mad-keen neighbours Huddersfield? For lowly Town, this was always one of the big fixtures – their fans demanded a victory over the Goliath from the big city. At first all seemed well for the minnows – they were ahead and, in one corner of the stadium their small pack of fans yapped and barked gleefully, prominent among the songs being a taunt about Captain McCormack not wanting to play for Leeds.

Prescient as that appears now, at the time it was a joke too far and McCormack, with the help of his team-mates in white, rammed the quip back down those doggy throats as the Terriers were eclipsed 5-1 in a stunning comeback. McCormack scored three, and it was a silent and bedraggled pack of hounds that sloped off back to their kennels that night.

Poor Huddersfield fared no better on their next visit to Elland Road, earlier this season, when Leeds put three past them without reply and could easily have had more. Again, the away support was silenced early as Rudy Austin slammed home an opener in front of the South Stand. Then Bellusci struck a sublime chip against the Town bar, the rebound dispatched firmly by Antenucci – and it was Antenucci again to complete the scoring after the interval. For me, the day was embellished by corporate hospitality and selfies with Terry Yorath and Massimo Cellino himself. It was a particularly good day for Leeds – but for Town it was their second Cup Final trouncing in just a few months. Surely, things could only get better for our canine friends?

Sadly for dog-lovers everywhere, today illustrated the fact that there has been no improvement in the fortunes of West Yorkshire’s poor relations – dogged though their efforts may be, they are seemingly doomed to failure. At their Meccano stadium, Town must have been hoping it would be third time lucky after two fruitless trips to Elland Road. But Leeds set about them early, hounding the poor pups for every ball, and were soon rewarded with a neat finish from Sam Byram to give the visitors the lead.

Town rallied, scoring from a corner before the interval and it was a fairly scruffy battle in the second half, decided late on when sub Billy Sharp hurled himself at a cross ball to bury his header in the Huddersfield net. With time about up, it seemed a certain winner, but a nasty-looking injury to Town’s Tommy Smith delayed the end of the game as Leeds held out through an interminable period of added time. The final whistle eventually signalled United’s third successive victory over their humble neighbours and, with better news of the stricken Smith coming later on, the day had ended well for Leeds at least.

So, despite all that desperate doggy desire, despite those troublesome chips on Town shoulders where Leeds are concerned, it’s been business as usual today, with Leeds taking the spoils – and so, the poor dogs had none. These are bleak times for Town fans, for whom each season is all about whether they can possibly snatch a rare victory over Leeds. That’s gone for another year – so what now for the Huddersfield breed? Can they bounce back? Will their manager survive yet another Cup Final defeat? Will any of them watch the highlights on the BBC?

Never mind any of that. Leeds won. Again. So who really gives a toss?

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Celtic, Rangers and The Old Firm: the Enlightenment of a Leeds Fan – by Rob Atkinson

Old Firm - healthy rivalry?

Old Firm – healthy rivalry?

Following on from yesterday’s Old Firm piece which was provoked by an advert placed by Celtic fans in the Scottish Sunday Herald, I find myself one day on having taken quite a lot on board. I’m somewhat bewildered by the strength of feeling on both sides of the argument, considerably better informed as to the legal position insofar as it defines the status and existence of Glasgow Rangers FC – and not one whit persuaded away from my original position that trying to wish or argue a rival football club out of existence is just plain wrong.

I’ve been accused of many things by those outraged over yesterday’s piece. Some of these people have been Leeds fans – the very last people I would expect to support the idea of football fans wishing the worst that can happen to rivals – to lose their very history. One Leeds guy asked me why I was speaking up for the Rangers end of things “as Leeds have far more links with Celtic”. It’s difficult to know whether to take people seriously at times. Am I really to be guided by the irrelevant fact of which clubs are closest or more nearly linked to my own team?

I should say yet again that I am not a Rangers fan. I’ve never really been able to decide who to back in Old Firm games, but I’ve always watched them for the sheer spectacle. So I’ve tended to hope that whichever team seems currently to be playing the better and more attractive should prevail. I’ve generally enjoyed the blood and thunder of these fixtures. From now on, though, I’ll probably be hoping (vainly, I’m sure, on Sunday) for Rangers success whenever these two meet. I’ve just been so shocked and horrified by the sheer spite and malicious venom displayed by the majority of Celtic fans who responded.

The thing is, I know what it is truly to hate another football club. I find it hard to describe the depths of my loathing for Manchester United. I despise them and all they stand for – I feel they’ve been instrumental in bending our game completely out of shape this past two decades. But wish them out of existence? No, not at all. I want that rivalry, I want them there so that I can carry on hating them. I’ve published articles decrying their debatable achievements since Murdoch bought the game and skewed it in their favour – but I wouldn’t want to be without them. They’re the gift that keeps on giving for someone who relishes a bit of sporting hatred.

So the attitude of so many Celtic fans simply baffles me, as well as leaving me a bit cold. I can’t relate to such dog-in-the-manger lack of empathy with fellow fans, it is alien to me – and I hope to most proper fans of the game. I’m also persuaded by a lot of what I’ve read in an extensive comments thread that not only do Rangers have a tradition and history case for claiming to have survived as a club – this appears to be the legal position too – despite the wishful thinking clung to, against all logic and precedent, by so many Celtic fans.

I hope the Old Firm game tomorrow is a good one. I expect Celtic to win – and it will be interesting to see the fans’ reaction when they score, against what they are claiming is a new club with no history and no tradition of rivalry with the Celts. And yet I’m willing to bet there’s not a ticket to be had with a sold-out Celtic allocation – and that they’ll celebrate with joyful abandon any goals scored against a team they now deny makes up the Old Firm of glorious tradition.

Hypocrisy, a lack of feeling for the game and what it means to be a fan – and rank, vicious hatred not just for Rangers FC, but for their history and the fact that they have out-performed Celtic over the century-plus of the Scottish League. That sums up what I’ve gleaned of the green and white psyche this past twelve hours or so. It’s not something I’d have thought anyone could be proud of – whereas everything I’ve heard from Rangers fans has rung with pride and passion – despite their long fall and slow climb back.

Enjoy the match tomorrow, may the best team win. And may we have many more Old Firm games in the future.

Gotcha!! Football League Torpedo Enemy Ship “General Massimo” – by Rob Atkinson

The sinking of the "Massimo" - as reported by "The Scum"

The sinking of the “Massimo” – as reported by “The Scum”

In a terse communique issued at 0001 hours Saturday 31 January 2015, the Football League spokesman Herr M. Thatcher confirmed that the enemy Italian vessel known as the General Massimo has been torpedoed, with eye-witness reports saying that the stricken ship has sunk without trace.

This military attack was ordered at the highest level, Obergruppenführer Harvey himself having authorised the strike personally. It has been confirmed by the Football League High Command that the Massimo was seen and photographed well inside a pre-defined 200 mile exclusion zone drawn around the Leeds United team. Claims that the Massimo was in fact steaming away from the team at the time the torpedo was launched have been dismissed as frivolous. Herr Thatcher insisted: “In our opinion, the Massimo still presented a clear and present danger of positive motivation to the Leeds team – we had no choice other than to strike hard and decisively in order to obviate this deep peril.”

Sadly, the League have also confirmed that a more covert operation, whereby a special agent was infiltrated into the Huddersfield v Leeds game in the guise of a referee, has failed to bear fruit. The despicable Leeds side tragically struck in the 90th minute to score what turned out to be the winner – despite Agent Foy adding on 55 minutes of overtime.

To add insult to injury, it is now being reported that the Commander of the General Massimo, one Captain Cellino, has escaped the wreck and was last seen heading for safety aboard the lost ship’s principal life-yacht, the Nélie.

More on the Huddersfield v Leeds game will follow later.

 

Celtic Fans Open to Ridicule Over Rangers “Old Firm” Claims – by Rob Atkinson

At Leeds United, we’re no strangers to the unwelcome feeling and experience of your club in crisis. We’ve seen our beloved Whites pushed to the brink of actual expiry and ejection from the league; we’ve seen administration and League sanctions. Spectacular collapse and the plummet from the heights of the game to the depths of despair was a process raised almost to a perverse art form by United – to the point that it became known as “doing a Leeds”. So we know what crisis, despair and poverty are all about – the only thing that can really surprise a Whites fan these days is to see a club in straits even more dire.

Which brings me on to Glasgow Rangers FC. There is no need for me to re-hash here exactly what has happened to them over the past few years. In short, it was a precipitous fall, and an unprecedented reduction in status. From being permanent members of a top two cartel, Rangers were sent spinning into the gloom and obscurity of Scotland’s lowest major league. The journey back is well under way, but problems beset them still. On Sunday, for the first time since their fall from grace, Rangers face Celtic in the Scottish League Cup semi-final at Hampden Park. The Old Firm rivalry is back, right? Well, not according to the hardly unbiased fans of Celtic FC. Take a moment to look at the rationale espoused by a group of their fans in an advert placed recently.

Celtic fans - are they kidding?

Celtic fans – are they kidding?

Now, surely – these Celtic fans cannot be serious? It’s a wind-up, right? Are they quite barking mad, these loose-lipped Bhoys? What are they worried or insecure about, that they should resort to this? The whole “argument” stated above smacks of trying too hard, a mean-spirited attempt to cast back down a club trying to recover from an almost terminal decline. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Rangers’ fall – and without declaring any particular affiliation on either side of the Old Firm divide – this blog has to state in the strongest possible terms that what we have here is a bunch of partisan yet clueless fans talking fluent rubbish.

Whatever arguments you might summon, whatever contortions you might go through, leaning over backwards to show that black is white – surely the one thing any set of football fans must agree on is the major factor in any football club’s identity. It is the fans, it has to be. The fans embody the tradition and continuity of any club. Football shirts might change colour, as with Cardiff. Ground moves are commonplace these days and have never been unknown. Players, directors, managers and staff come and go, without necessarily having any real connection to the clubs they serve for a time.

So what is the one thread that runs right through a club’s very soul and being? It is the fans, the loyal supporters who follow, follow, through thick and thin, passing on the supporting tradition down the generations, wedded to their club in good times and bad. And it is those Rangers fans, the ones who have stuck by the Rangers FC as they sank to the depths and rose again – they embody Glasgow Rangers and in so doing, they give unquestionable continuity to the institution that is Glasgow Rangers FC. They also make a total mockery of this laughable stance from a set of fans who feel just as passionately about their club – and who have thus allowed themselves to go out on a limb, in trying to kick a club when it’s down, succeeding only in making arrant fools of themselves.

I wouldn’t particularly care, normally, who wins on Sunday at Hampden. I miss the Old Firm games for their passion and spectacle, it’s for those reasons that I always tune in to watch and would one day like to attend one of these occasions. The tradition of atmospheric support from both sets of fans, with tempers frequently running high on the park and referees praying for the final whistle to come with as little as possible actual violence – that’s so much of what football should be about. These are factors which are gradually being marginalised in the modern game as a whole, with increasing gentrification everywhere and a diminution of the raucous passion we of a certain age remember. But all of that is still present at certain fixtures – Leeds against Man U is one, Newcastle versus Sunderland bears a mention – there is el Clásico, of course. But the grand-daddy of them all is the Old Firm game – even if a lot of the cause and reason behind this fact isn’t of a particularly savoury or relevant nature.

So where do these Celtic fans get off, trying to defuse, deflate, diminish all of this? Don’t they realise how much the game north of the border needs its return, and in full rude health at that? For goodness’ sake, Celtic need it. Surely, these pompous, paragraph-quoting fools are kidding. If they’re not, then they deserve the ridicule that should be coming their way. And, for the record, against my normal neutral Old Firm stance – I would say to them “If you really do mean this – then you’re idiots; and I hope you get stuffed out of sight on Sunday”. 

Crazy Gang Visit Kennel Club as Terriers Seek Revenge Against Loopy Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

Mirco scores against the DBs

Mirco scores against the DBs

A return to league action after the traditionally blank FA Cup 4th Round weekend for Leeds sees United attempt to complete a second successive league double, in the wake of that unlikely but welcome achievement against high-flyers Bournemouth. On paper, completing the six-point tally against Huddersfield should be an easier task – but as usual in local derbies, Leeds will have to deal with the Cup Final complex felt to a particularly acute degree by our canine friends from down t’road.

The fact that Bournemouth, so effective in the Championship this season, have been dismissed twice by Leeds’ stuttering and inconsistent performers says much about the topsy-turvy nature of this second tier. Anyone, it seems, can beat anyone else – Leeds have also beaten Derby at Elland Road, yet have contrived to lose to some awfully mundane teams too – and this must be the fear as far as Saturday’s game at Town’s Meccano-inspired stadium is concerned. Elland Road has hardly been a fortress for the Whites this term, and arguably their most complete performance came in the 3-0 demolition of Huddersfield back in September. Revenge will be high on the agenda for Chris Powell’s men – not that this David normally needs any added incentive to try and best their own particular Goliath.

Leeds are this years Football League Crazy Gang, mad as a box of frogs from top to bottom, with the management crying out for proven Championship performers whilst selling such men by the job lot. Warnock and Pearce have left, with the addition of the impressively huge Sol Bamba, of whom we must hope he will also be hugely impressive. Bamba has been kicking his heels as a Serie A outcast and is likely to see his first action in a Leeds shirt in this derby encounter. Fellow Italian league loanee Granddi Ngoyi is also likely to be pushing for inclusion and should at least make the bench. Steve Morison, nursing a hip problem, should be fit to continue his sole striker role.

For Huddersfield, midfield man Jonathan Hogg is a doubt due to a knock, new loan signing David Edgar stands by to deputise. Huddersfield’s bark has been worse than their bite this season, but there will be the usual rabid desire to put one over on the hated foes from Elland Road – so we can expect a terrier-like showing as they doggedly hound their opponents for every ball.

Allowing for the Cup Final factor, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything can see a draw as the most likely reward for Leeds United this weekend. An annoying defeat, however, would also be quite in character – especially after the high of defeating the league pace-setters last time out.

On balance, a 1-1 draw seems a fairly good bet – though with Chris Foy in charge anything at all is possible. In the highly-charged atmosphere of these Yorkshire derby occasions it’s probably more likely than not that one or both teams will suffer dismissals, especially with a temporarily demoted Premier League flop ref looking to regain some credibility. On the plus side, he did OK at the Theatre of Hollow Myths five years back, when Leeds slew the Pride of Devon in their own back yard.

This blog will stick its neck out, more in hope than expectation, and plump for a 2-1 success for Leeds. The character shown in the 4-2 victory at this venue a few years back would do admirably – and, indeed, nothing less should be acceptable where Yorkshire bragging rights are at stake. Three points here, with maybe another signing or two to come by close of business on deadline day – and it will have been another decent week for the Crazy Gang, our beloved Loopy Leeds.

 

New Striker for Leeds United; Cani, Pavoletti or Even Zamora? – by Rob Atkinson

Leonardo Pavoletti - another Italian Job for Leeds?

Sassuolo’s Leonardo Pavoletti – another Italian Job for Leeds?

With loan deals for Sol Bamba and Granddi Ngoyi done and dusted – both with a view to permanence at the end of the season – attention will now turn to the identity of United’s proposed new striker. It’s a minor shake-up for the squad as a whole with the two lads in from the Italian league and Noel Hunt  and Steven Warnock already having departed for Ipswich and Derby respectively. Ngoyi inherits Hunt’s number ten jersey and Bamba will take the number 3 left available by Warnock, despite the fact that there’s an imminent vacancy at the traditional centre-back’s number five, with Jason Pearce seemingly on the verge of joining Wigan Athletic – allegedly for an actual transfer fee, too – which is nice.

Whilst many out here in fanland appear to be of the opinion that a left-winger is needed as a priority, the club’s view seems to be that existing squad members can be trusted to provide better service from out wide on either wing, with the deployment of more effective team shapes now that the late, unlamented diamond is no longer forever. The question remains: who will be the main beneficiary of this anticipated more generous service? Will there be a new lease of life for Mirco Antenucci, who was in such sparkling good form earlier in the season? Will it be Billy Sharp‘s belated chance to shine, now that the threat of being banished to Ipswich has receded? Either or both of these happy events could come to pass, but it does seem more likely than not that more competition is to be introduced in the attacking department of the team.

The two most likely candidates seem to be the Albanian beanpole/battering ram Edgar Cani from Catania, or – more attractively, perhaps – Sassuolo forward Leonardo Pavoletti. It may even be that Leeds are particularly focused on Pavoletti, a target so nearly signed in the summer, with rumoured interest in Cani no more than a smoke-screen. It now appears that Cagliari’s attempts to sign Pavoletti are stalling – could he yet end up at Leeds?

The wild card in the mix is the QPR man Bobby Zamora who, at the age of 34, might just be looking for a final run of first team action before his batteries finally run flat. Zamora’s name has been mentioned on that notoriously less than reliable “source” Twitter; I mention his name here only for completeness.

Of the three striking possibilities, this blog would be happiest with the signing of Pavoletti – a striker who seems to have something about him and who would add something different to the options already at the club.

With the January window due to shut next Monday, the next few days should provide the answers we seek – either that, or it’ll be “don’t worry, the emergency window will be open soon….” We must hope for a happier outcome than that.

‘Mad’ Max Gradel Points Bamba to Home Comforts at Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

Striking success - Gradel scores his second for Leeds against QPR

Striking success – Gradel scores his second for Leeds against QPR

By common consent, one vital ingredient missing from the Leeds United recipe over recent years has been a class act on the wing. Somebody exciting, with the gift of pace and the trickery to go past people as if they were not there. Somebody with a goal or two in him; someone to terrify the opposition. Such a man was and is Mad Maxi Gradel, a raw talent when he was foolishly discarded by Leicester City, but a talent that blossomed – and how – at Elland Road.

Now, even after a few years away from Leeds, Mad Max is demonstrating that he still has deep feelings for the club where he strutted his stuff briefly, but to such effect. The Ivorian international, it’s been revealed, texted his countryman Sol Bamba – another former Leicester man – and recommended the Leeds move to the huge defender. “He text me two days ago and said he’d heard about my move and he was happy,” said Bamba. “He said I will love it here. He said the fans will be good with me if I do the business. He told me all the good things about the club and that gives me even more positive things about the club. He said only good things. I’m happy to be here and I cannot wait to get started.”

Could such enthusiasm for our beloved Leeds hold out any hope that we may yet see Gradel himself back in a United shirt? Maxi’s return to LS11 has been mooted many a time and oft, but for various reasons it’s never quite happened up to press. That’s surely not to say that the player wouldn’t be up for it, though. The feeling during Maxi’s too-brief time at Leeds was that he formed a strong attachment to the club and to the fans. This was despite his occasional red-mist moments – notably of course the one that so nearly upset United’s promotion clincher at home to Bristol Rovers back in 2010. Leeds fans have always been partial to the presence of a certifiable nutter in the team – but it’s probable that tolerance would have snapped had Gradel’s insane reaction and sending-off cost his team dear that day. Happily, as we know, it all came right – and Max survived to demonstrate that he was a force in the Championship during Leeds’ first season back, when we briefly threatened to charge through the second tier and into the top flight at the first time of asking.

Sadly, the executive management of the club was deeply flawed at that time, and a succession of managers found themselves hamstrung by the dodgy policies of the bearded menace in the boardroom. Gradel was one casualty of a bizarre transfer ethos which seemed to identify any player with real potential to take the club forward as a priority sale item. We lost a lot of good players, and the best we have done since, really, is tread water in the Championship – nowhere near good enough for a club like Leeds.

Now, current crises notwithstanding, there may be a glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel – certainly as far as player recruitment goes. The club has managed to secure the services of some genuinely exciting players, without (so far) revisiting the past – although there have always been calls for the likes of Beckford, Snoddy and even Howson to return and fulfil their destiny at Elland Road. The Cellino policy (when he has been allowed to get on with his running of the club) has been to seek out good prospects at the right price, supplementing the signings with an injection of talent from the youth and development squads. Against this background, the re-signing of Gradel would buck the trend somewhat – then again, trends are there to be bucked.

The difference with Gradel is that you feel he needs to be at a club where he’s loved and believed in; he seemed a player who would give of his best most reliably with a vociferous crowd behind him to light the blue touch paper. For this reason above all, the feeling at Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything is that – if there is just one past player Leeds should be looking at re-engaging, then Mad Max Gradel is that man. His ability and pace out wide – something still notably absent in this group – could open up new dimensions for the likes of Sharp, Antenucci, even Doukara and – as we fondly remember – he had a hell of a finish on him as and when he got a sight of the target. His goals against Notts Forest in a pulsating victory at Elland Road (the one where TV commentators tried to excuse a two-footed challenge by a Florist player to claim he shouldn’t have been sent off) will stay long in the memory. The feeling was that Max loved Leeds and that Leeds loved Max – why shouldn’t such a reciprocal passion be re-ignited?

Allowing for whatever may yet happen in the remainder of this window, a move for Gradel could kick-start a survival push this season. It’s a season that few really expected to bring concrete rewards – although you had hopes. But even as part of a rescue mission for a squad that could challenge more confidently next time around, the addition of Max would be an exciting and potentially productive development. As far as this blog is concerned, he would be the top choice should Leeds after all look to bring back just one old favourite.

Maxi for Leeds – yes please. Let’s have a bit of Gradel madness for the rest of this turbulent season.

Cantona Kung Fu Anniversary Evokes Memories of Eric’s English Bow – by Rob Atkinson

Look back in anger: Eric enters the fray

Look back in anger: Eric enters the fray

One notable landmark this weekend was the 20th anniversary, yesterday, of Eric Cantona’s infamous kung-fu kick at Selhurst Park – the original and definitive case, it has been said, of the shit hitting the fan. It took me straight back, not to that martial arts debacle, but over two years earlier to February 8th, 1992 and a Leeds United match I’d attended in the hopes of seeing us make another stride towards becoming champions of England. The venue was Boundary Park, Oldham and the occasion was the day that enfant terrible Cantona made his bow in Football League, Division One. 

It was a day of significance for Leeds United and, in a broader sense, for English football as a whole.  Cantona would shine briefly and fitfully at Leeds, winning an authentic League Championship medal with United before going on to collect several pale imitations on the wrong side of the Pennines.  But on that day of his début, all of the triumphs and controversies of his English career lay unsuspected in the future.  Despite the clamorous press attention – and the spectacle of the excited French hacks and cameramen clustering around the United bench was highly unusual, to say the least – this was an inauspicious start for the mercurial Frenchman. Leeds lost 2-0 to a goal in each half from an Oldham side that usually gave us problems. We witnessed proceedings glumly from the open end behind the goal and Cantona’s introduction as a second-half sub for Steve Hodge did not greatly influence the scrappy nature of the game.

Eric the Champ

Eric the Champ

It says a lot that one of my clearest memories from that game is not of Eric’s bow, but of a lethally noisome fart released by somebody in the tightly-packed mass of Leeds fans. It was a minor masterpiece, rank and ripe – it made you think of condemned cheese stacked in a neglected pig-pen, and it also had you sincerely worrying for the perpetrator’s health. “Christ, fetch the medics!” a plaintive voice was heard to demand, drawing nods of sympathy from fellow sufferers whose eyes were watering as their nostrils tried to run away. To cause that kind of stench on an open terrace in blustery Lancastrian conditions was a notable feat. No slouch in that field of endeavour myself, I could only shake my head in awe and wonderment. I would have been rightly proud of that one.

That Cantona’s entry into English football should be marked by the memory of a fart seems somehow appropriate now. Mention his name to any Leeds fan, and their nose will wrinkle with involuntary disgust; it’s as if the ghost of that legendary flatulent outburst is still summoned by the memory of Eric’s bitter-sweet time with Leeds.

Eric was not, after all, a taste instantly acquired. Thinking back, the English press were not initially that impressed at all. They would refer to him as “Contonaah”, emphasising his relative obscurity outside of France, and I remember one radio summariser reporting on his contribution in a 1-1 draw at Everton: “He doesn’t seem to jump his height or pull his weight,” he mused, blissfully ignorant that he was referring to a man who was but one cut-price transfer away from becoming a press hack’s icon, compulsorily revered. But he was well on his way already to cult status at Elland Road – when he abruptly departed in the most horrific circumstances imaginable.

That infamous transfer has been done to death as various hacks linger lovingly over alleged details of phone calls between Elland Road and the Theatre of Hollow Myths. My own take on it is that Eric and the Pride of Devon were made for each other, but not in a particularly good way.  They naturally set about “imagifying” him as is always their wont, intent on marketing him to their credulous and glory-hungry fans as “moody and magnifique“. So we got the trademark stubble and the turned-up collar – but Eric’s behaviour also changed, markedly for the worse, accumulating a flurry of red and yellow cards in stark contrast to his time with Leeds – and culminating in that notorious “kung-fu” incident.  But even that wasn’t the worst of it, not from a Leeds United point of view.

Whilst I acknowledge the Man U truism that club and player had matching conceit and arrogance such that they belonged together, I still feel that Leeds let Eric go far too cheaply – a huge and unforgivable mistake.  Man U were desperate for a striker at the time and had done their best to prise David Hirst from Sheffield Wednesday. They’d been prepared to go to £5m for him, and it’s to Wednesday’s credit that they told Taggart where to stick his money. But really, that offer should have set the benchmark; Leeds United should have opened negotiations at £5 million and seen what happened from there. They’d have paid up, or gone elsewhere. Either would have been preferable to what actually happened, for in letting Cantona go to Man U on the cheap, Leeds provided a catalyst for the sickening era of Devonian dominance that followed. That’s a terrible, terrible thing for any club to have on its conscience.

Twenty-three years on, that dominance seems finally to be at an end.  Cantona actually lasted only four years or so in England, departing the scene with some proper silver and plenty of fools’ gold. He has since made a career of sorts in films and adverts, having considerably less impact than United’s other footballer-turned-movie star, Vinnie Jones. It all seems such a terribly long time ago now, and for far too much of the period in between the game was in thrall to a choleric Glaswegian who bullied his way, aided initially by his talismanic Eric le Dieu, to far too much success for the liking of any real football fan. Strange to think, it all started on that blustery and smelly afternoon in Oldham, when we were all innocently wondering if this new foreign star could salvage a point for us, and maybe even help us win the last proper League Championship. At least, in the final analysis of that last pre-Murdoch season, it all came right in the end.

The verdict of history on the Cantona move from Leeds, to what is now seen as his spiritual home, has to be that it was the ultimate betrayal of supporters by their club. Leeds United and the men behind the deal were derelict in their duty towards passionately involved fans, both for sanctioning the move in the first place and for failing to extort a far higher price from a club desperately searching for some devil up front. It was a crass piece of business that showed a want of empathy with fans, a lack of the vision that separates devotees from mere functionaries and businessmen.

A few years later, United refused to sell Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to a rival English club and held out for a six-fold profit in Spanish doubloons into the bargain. That was more like it, surely. Had Leeds United chosen to up the ante when Man U came a-calling at the Champions’ door, it’s doubtful that the path of history would have been altered much, if at all. But at least we might have salvaged some precious self-respect from the whole sorry situation – and we’d have been better-placed to laugh at the beginning of the end that night when Eric sailed studs-first into the crowd. Just imagine – if he’d done that whilst at Leeds…

The Top Three Leeds United Transfer Rumours Ever – by Rob Atkinson

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Well, another transfer window is flapping wide open in LS11 just as it is in less crisis-torn football outposts and, embargo notwithstanding, a couple of Serie A fringe performers have breezed into Elland Road and signed for Leeds. Possibly there are more to come, maybe an outgoing or two as well. It’s certainly different, in a good way too, from some of the depressingly inert United transfer markets of the unlamented Bates era – but it hardly compares with the wheeling and dealing we did in more halcyon days. And, if anything, some of the rumours that never came to fruition down the years were more exciting and entertaining than certain signings that actually did happen (take a bow, Messrs. Sharpe & Brolin).

There have been so many players linked with transfers to Leeds United over our chequered history and, in the nature of these things, only a small proportion ever actually pulled on the famous white shirt.  Of those who never arrived, it would probably be easy to name at least two world-class International sides comprising players who were rumoured to be signing for United, but missed out on that pinnacle of honours and finished their careers tragically unfulfilled – apart from the odd cartload of silverware. The likes of Tomáš Skuhravý, Rainer Bonhof, Peter Shilton, Trevor Francis and even Dean Saunders have all, at one time or another, been tipped as Leeds United players, only to remain trapped in dreadful anonymity at the likes of Liverpool, Bayern Munich or Nottingham Forest.  Here – in time-honoured reverse order – are my top three exciting but unrealised rumours – you may well have candidates of your own, so please feel free to comment.

3. Duncan Ferguson
In 1994, it really did look as though this one might happen. The wonderfully talented if ever so slightly thuggish Scottish Imagestriker, looking to move south to England from then mighty Rangers FC, seemed nailed-on for a transfer to Leeds in the region of £4million, but ended up at Everton where he prospered before moving on to Newcastle.  Ferguson had a bit of a “reputation” on and off the field as a nutter – in fact he did time in Barlinnie for over-generous use of that nut in a dispute with Raith Rovers defender John McStay.  A little prone to over-exuberance when he’d had a drop or two (he was known as Drunken Ferguson or alternatively Duncan Disorderly) he had previous convictions for nutting a policeman and punching and kicking a supporter on crutches. Nice.

2. Peter Beardsley
This was one of those “definitely happening, mark my words and get your money on it” rumours Imagethat you’d have so loved to be true.  Beardsley was a wonderful player, class, poise and jinking speed all rolled into one dynamite package of energy and skill. I’d first noticed him in rather abbreviated TV highlights of a Cup game he played for Carlisle United, when he stood out as the real deal among a load of dross.  After a spell in Vancouver, he moved briefly to Man U – but the other thing about Beardsley was that he was such a nice, modest guy – not really the type of player for the Theatre of Hollow Myths at all.  Leeds could have signed him whilst he was at Vancouver – Peter Lorimer recommended that they do just that – but we couldn’t raise the cash (some things never change).  Beardsley made his name at Newcastle, in the same side as a veteran Kevin Keegan and emerging Chris Waddle. From there, a big money move to Liverpool, and it was whilst unaccountably out of favour at Anfield that the Leeds rumour surfaced again – he was buying a house locally, he’d been seen at Elland Road – there really did seem to be something in it. Sadly, Beardsley was The One Who Got Away – Twice.  A great shame, as any club would have been improved by the addition of Beardsley, a phenomenal talent you could have built a team around.

1. Diego Maradona
Surely the craziest rumour ever, bar none. In 1987, Leeds had just missed out, under Billy ImageBremner, on an FA Cup Final and promotion to the top flight in the first-ever play-offs. We were doomed to a hangover season in 87-88 and the fans’ mood and expectations were dulled. Then sensational whispers emerged that managing director Bill Fotherby, a larger-than-life used-car-salesman of a bloke, had managed to persuade the agent of Diego Armando Maradona to enter into talks with Leeds United over the proposed signing of the Argentine superstar. This was only just a year after Maradona had just about single-handedly (geddit?) won the World Cup for the Argies, and his stock could hardly have been higher on the global football scene. Strangely, he had very nearly signed for Sheffield United as a youngster, and for a measly £250,000 at that. The Blunts got Alejandro Sabella instead, who actually did end up briefly at Elland Road. But Maradona was different – astoundingly different to just about anyone else – people compared him favourably to Pele. He was even compared – unfavourably, and by the ever modest and unassuming George Best himself – to self-proclaimed greatest player ever, G. Best. It was a signing that was never going to happen, and surely the Number One Daft Rumour of all time.

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It’s tempting to wonder how the history of Leeds United might have differed if we’d signed Trevor Francis and Peter Shilton in 1974, or Peter Beardsley in 1990, or even the “Hand of God” himself in 1987. The story of any major club is littered with “what ifs” and this certainly applies to our beloved Leeds. Of course our sights are set lower these days – although we’re now roughly about where we were in ’87 when an enterprising director started that Diego rumour, with a view to putting us back on the map.

Perhaps somebody in the Elland Road corridors of power will try to get the excitement going this time around with an audacious loan-with-a-view-to-permanent swoop for the undeniably promising prospect Lionel Messi? Watch this space…

All in Good Leeds Fun: a Short “Man U Joke” Compendium – by Rob Atkinson

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Too much serious stuff is bad for a blog. So let’s have some good, healthy anti-scum humour:

A Leeds United fan was digging at the bottom of his garden, and he unearths an old green bottle.  As it’s very dirty from being in the ground, and because it looks old and possibly valuable, he gets a rag and starts to rub it clean.  All of a sudden, there’s a big cloud of smoke from the neck of the bottle, and out pops this great big Genie.

“Greetings!” says the Genie.  “As you have summoned me, I must grant you three wishes.”

“Great!” says the Leeds fan.  “Can I make my wishes now?”

“You may,” says the Genie, “But be warned: anything you wish for, every Man Utd fan in the world will receive, but twofold.  So if you wish for a million pounds, every Man U fan gets 2 million, if you ask for a mansion, they all get two mansions, and so on.”

“Hmmmm,” says the Leeds fan. “Well, that’s a bit of a downer, but what the heck – I’m not petty. If I’m getting three wishes, I don’t care if they all get double.”

“Very well,” says the Genie.  “Make your first wish!”

“I wish for £10 million in my bank account.” says the Leeds fan.

“Granted!!” says the Genie. “But remember, that means every Man U fan gets £20 million.”

“That’s OK, good luck to them,” the Leeds fan smiles.  “My second wish is for a 25 bedroom mansion in 40 acres of parkland with a lake with an island in it, and all furnished with no regard for expense.”

“Your wish is granted,” says the Genie, “But remember…”

“I know, I know – all the scummers get two mansions, that’s fine!” says the Leeds fan. “Can I make my third and final wish?”

“You may,” says the Genie.  “Just remember the ‘Double’ rule.”

“I’ve remembered,” says the Leeds United fan. “For my third wish, I would like to donate a kidney.”

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A Leeds-supporting white van driver used to amuse himself by running over every man u fan he would see strutting down the side of the road, dressed in their hideous red colours. He would swerve to hit them and there would be a loud “THUMP” and then he would swerve back onto the road.

One day, as the driver was driving along, he saw a priest hitch-hiking. He thought he would do a good turn and pulled the van over. He asked the Priest, “Where are you going, Father?”

“I’m going to say mass at St. Joseph’s church, about two miles down the road,” replied the priest.

“No problem Father! I’ll give you a lift. Climb in!”

The happy priest climbed into the passenger seat and the van continued down the road. Suddenly the driver saw a man u fan walking down the road and instinctively swerved to hit him. But, just in time, he remembered the bloody priest, so at the last minute he swerved back to the road, narrowly missing the man.

However, even though he was certain he’d missed the glory-hunting specimen, he still heard a loud “THUD”. Not understanding where the noise came from, he glanced in his mirrors and when he didn’t see anything he turned to the priest and said, “I’m sorry Father, I almost hit that man u fan, just swerved to miss him!”

“Never fear, my son,” replied the priest. “I got the bugger with the door…”

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Q: What has Old Trafford on a Saturday afternoon at 4:45 pm got in common with Wormwood Scrubs Prison?
A: They are both full of cockneys trying to get out.

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A man u fan dies on match day and goes to heaven in his man u shirt. He knocks on the old pearly gates and out walks St. Peter wearing a Leeds United top.

“Hello mate,” says St. Peter, “I’m sorry, no man u fans in heaven.”
“What?” exclaims the man, astonished.
“You heard, no man u fans.”
“But, but, but….. I’ve been a good man,” replies the aghast man u supporter.
“Oh really,” says St. Peter. “What have you done, then?”
“Well,” said the guy, “Three weeks before I died, I gave £10 to the starving children in Africa.”
“Oh,” says St. Peter. “Anything else?”
“Well, two weeks before I died, I also gave £10 to the homeless.”
“Hmmm. Anything else?”
“Yeah. A week before I died I gave another £10 to the Albanian orphans.”
“Okay,” said St. Peter, “You wait here a minute while I have a word with the governor.”

Ten minutes pass before St. Peter returns. He looks the bloke in the eye and says, “I’ve had a word with God – actually, He lets me call him Don.  Anyway, He agrees with me. Here’s your thirty quid back – now bugger off.

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Top tip for Manchester United fans: don’t waste money on expensive new kits every season. Simply strap an inflatable penis to your forehead, and everyone will immediately know which team you support…

Please feel free to contribute your own anti-scum jokes in the comments to this article.  Times are hard and friends are few – it’s our solemn duty to laugh at the scum.

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DOH!!!!