Monthly Archives: March 2017

Reading Hoping to Repeat Their Dominant Defeat at Leeds Utd? – by Rob Atkinson

Monk laugh

Garry Monk, reacting with good humour to the suggestion that Reading and Leeds are “rivals”

Reading FC seem intent on showing that they talk a good game ahead of Saturday evening’s return clash against Leeds United at the Madejski Stadium. Royals manager Jaap Stam as well as striker Yann Kermorgant have both had their say in the run up to this fixture, and the general message from the Berks. area is that they’re none too impressed with what many are saying is the finest Leeds team for at least a decade.

It’s always interesting to hear what opposition players have to say about your team as they’re preparing for 90 minutes combat, but Kermorgant’s view is especially intriguing – given that his experience at Elland Road, during the Royals’ 0-2 defeat in December, consisted largely of an hour sat on the Reading bench, during which time he watched his team-mates dominate possession by playing a side-to-side passing game mainly inside their own defensive third. Leeds, a goal to the good after 19 minutes courtesy of Chris Wood, then faced a final twenty minutes when their opponents finally discovered a route across the halfway line, but – despite Kermorgant’s introduction after 62 minutes, they failed to pierce the United defence. Souleymane Doukara then settled matters with an injury time penalty, as if to emphasise that Leeds do have other goalscorers apart from the prolific Wood.

Reading’s tactics that night were more than a little baffling, though manager Stam was well pleased with his side’s display. Perhaps he and the Reading team, together with their fans, would be happy with a similar showing on Saturday. I know I would, and I suspect United manager Garry Monk might be fairly content as well. If both the display and the result are replicated, Reading can crow about two masterclass displays of possession football, with consummate lateral passing and all the offensive threat of a sickly lamb – and Leeds can retire back to their northern fortress, tight-lipped and grim of face, with six points and a seasonal double in the bag.

I’m not qualified to talk about the psychology of pre-match posturing, but I do feel that perhaps Mijnheer Stam, aided and abetted by the boy Kermorgant, has contributed a great deal towards Mr. Monk’s motivational team-talk. Let us hope so, and let us hope and trust that our boys will be heading out onto the park determined to shove certain words down certain throats. It may be, of course, that Reading will get an actual result this time, instead of just boring everybody half-way to sleep and letting the opposition do the business of scoring goals. If so, all credit due to them – you have to be grown-up about these things. Still, given this daft little war of words, sparked off by the losers of that Elland Road match in December – I can’t help hoping that we stuff them again, big time.

The subtext to all of this is an apparent desire on the part of Stam’s players, fans, the Reading FC club itself, to be perceived as having some sort of peer rivalry with our own favourite Yorkshire giants. And, really, that’s almost too ridiculous for words. Are we honestly expected to accept that Dirty Leeds, that northern powerhouse, should be viewed in terms of an actual rivalry with – I don’t know, what’s an appropriate prefix for Reading? Plucky? Upstarts? Little? Plucky little upstarts just about sums it up. However you describe them, it’s a laughable idea, as our Garry demonstrates above. 

Still, it’s got the Twitterati section of their fan-base all a-froth with excitement, and they’ll be hoping and praying for a home win, prior to bigging it up on social media. Those are the kind of aspirations you have, I guess, when you’re a Reading fan. We all know that the idea of a “rivalry” between our respective clubs is marginally more ridiculous than one between Sheffield Wednesday and, say, Barcelona. And we’ll just have to bear that in mind, whatever the result on Saturday, and whatever the provocation on Twitter and elsewhere.

Let’s just look forward to Saturday’s result possibly shutting up a few virtual loudmouths, good and proper. Wishing good luck and a fair ref to Garry and the lads; the White Army expects – now, do your duty.

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Why Leeds United Should Rescue Arsene Wenger from Ungrateful Arsenal – by Rob Atkinson

Arsene

If Arsenal turn their backs on Arsène – should Leeds pounce?

Let me say straight away that I hold Arsenal in the very highest esteem; after my beloved Whites, this is the club whose results I look for first. And, before I go on to extol the virtues of a Leeds United move to employ Arsène Wenger if his relationship with the Gunners does break down irretrievably, let me confirm that I feel we already have the right man for the job of United manager. Garry Monk is the man, he’s the right age, the right type, he’s proved his worth, and his position at Elland Road should be unassailable.

But still, Arsène Wenger would be a magnificent capture for Leeds. It would be, in transatlantic parlance, a no-brainer. If The Professor became available, he’d be just the man for a club like Leeds. And Wenger, at this stage of the game, might find that a project such as Leeds United would the very thing to bring down the curtain upon a glittering career. Because the role I see for Wenger at Leeds would be one that taps into his immense knowledge of the global game and of uncut diamonds in youth teams everywhere. It would be to work as a resource for a young manager developing in Wenger’s own image, a man who wants to play football the right way, someone that the old master Arsène could help develop into a world class coach and man manager.

I would consider that, after Arsenal, Wenger might be looking for something other than a front-line position as he seeks to remain involved in football. He’s been in North London, shaping and developing the capital’s premier football club, for two decades, encompassing some glorious success and producing football at times of breathtaking beauty. The challenge at Leeds would, initially at least, be different – and yet the aims would be comparable. It would be an ideal project for Wenger, something whereby he could wield his influence over the whole culture of a football club, without having to be involved in the nitty-gritty of day to day first team matters. Sure, he might expect to have an input, and Garry Monk is far too wise a man not to avail himself of such knowledge and experience. But there can be only one boss, and Monk is the right man for a long time to come. Still, some of the best of managers have benefited from that elder statesman, that éminence grise behind the scenes. Malcolm Allison had his Joe Mercer, Brian Clough his Peter Taylor. Neither of those two legends were quite so effective as a solo act, both needed that wise presence behind them to find true success.  After Arsenal, that kind of role would be a respectable and dignified option for Arsène at Elland Road – and he could just be the difference for Garry Monk between being a very good manager – and a great one.

And what, we have to ask ourselves, of Arsenal FC? Do they ideally want to keep Wenger, or are they considering a further year’s contract for their greatest ever boss merely as an obvious stop-gap until the real target becomes available? The truth is that the relationship between Wenger and many of the Arsenal fans is verging on the toxic. It’s a distressing situation for a great football man who genuinely loves his club; it’s a shoddy way to be winding down a stellar career. So, perhaps, for the sake of all concerned, a clean break between Arsenal and Arsène would be for the best. And, in that case – though I doubt it would actually happen – an opportunistic Leeds United should pounce. They should do whatever it takes to import the wisdom and status of one of the world’s foremost football people, someone who would have the class to respect boundaries and exercise his influence from a more detached position.

Leeds United’s gain would most definitely be Arsenal’s loss – but perhaps the situation for Wenger at the Emirates, with the Spurs-loving media pack slavering for blood, is already beyond recall. So Arsenal might appear ungrateful in dispensing with Arsène, if that’s what ends up happening – but it may just be their best option, even if results and performances were to dip in the short term.

But that’s not Leeds United’s concern – they, for their part, should be looking at what Wenger could bring to the Elland Road table, without unduly rocking the boat, if I might be permitted a mix of metaphors. The answer to that question is: plenty. Wenger has presided over a revolution at Arsenal, and in the wider English game as a whole. His ideas about diet, nutrition, the maintenance of the human machine, were revolutionary but demonstrably sound. He’s the kind of influence any forward-thinking club could do with, quietly influencing the whole setup with improvement and the maximisation of potential in mind. As somebody to stand behind Garry Monk, outside of the immediate first-team picture but always available as a consultant, his value to a club on the way up, a true giant of the game like Leeds, looking to re-establish itself as a major force, could be immeasurable.

So when I say “Wenger for Leeds”, I’m not joking, I’m deadly serious. As ever, I’d be interested in the views of others – but don’t be too quick, please, to leap into a dismissive posture. Consider. The question is – if a man like Wenger were to appear on the market and prepared to accept a different role – could we really afford to overlook him?

Leeds and The Pontus Mystery: Was Jansson Believing His Own Publicity? – by Rob Atkinson

jansson-and-co

After such a very impressive result as Leeds United earned against Brighton yesterday, it’s quite perplexing to see quite so many virtual furrowed brows across social media today. The reason, of course, is The Mystery of the Missing Pontus – why, oh why was Jansson benched?

In a way, it’s an irrelevant question – Leeds won, so all is well. The margins between victory and defeat, though, are narrow – and we were only a slip or two from what might have turned into a full scale post mortem, had Rob Green not saved Liam Cooper from a spectacular own goal, for example. Or had Brighton capitalised on a couple of other defensive wobbles, and emerged winners. They say that being a lucky manager is at least as important as being a good manager. Garry Monk has shown over this season that he is arguably both – and it was certainly vital for United to do well and win, after what was, to say the least, a bold decision to drop his talismanic defender.

All we were told was that the decision made was the “best for the group”. That’s pretty much in line with what we are coming to know and love as the Monk Mantra; everything is done for the good of the team, the good of the group, the good of the club. The issues underlying this particular decision were not gone into – Garry is inviting us to accept that he knows what’s best and can be relied upon to act for the good of Leeds United. But still, we can speculate.

I’ve been as impressed as anyone by the startling effect, the galvanising influence Pontus Jansson has had on Leeds United since his arrival in the first team. He’s been a colossus, endlessly effective at both ends of the field, a giant unit of a bloke fit to fill that famous shirt. But, as a relatively young man (for a central defender), and as a mere mortal besides, Jansson is prey to human failings just as anyone else. And the truth is that there have been signs lately of the guy starting to believe his own publicity; buying into, perhaps, the “legend” status accorded him by so many, so soon. There have been times when Jansson has made challenges when perhaps he could have backed off, times when he’s dived in and then been found out of position and unable to recover. Huddersfield away springs to mind. All in all, the more recent Pontus performances have not been quite of the same vintage as those that went before, and it’s difficult not to wonder whether the lad’s got a bit carried away with that early success, to the detriment of his finer judgement.

Leeds can be a difficult place to perform; for players of doubtful character, it can be a veritable snakepit. Once the crowd gets on a player’s back, you can sometimes see that player shrink and shrivel – and you know that the player will then have the devil’s own job restoring the fans’ faith in him. But, on the other side of the coin, the adulation of our crowd can have its downside too. Such a very vociferous set of fans we are, that – when we take a player to our hearts – it’s a real production number. The player is levitated to hero status, then rapidly proceeds to be worshiped almost as a god. Jansson has had this treatment, since his amazing early impact and given his undeniable rapport with the crowd. He’s had his own song, he’s enjoyed his own one-on-thousands encounters with delirious fans in the wake of victories he’s helped win. Perhaps – just perhaps – he’s started to believe that he really could head that brick back. Perhaps the time had come to get the boy’s feet back on the ground.

Some say he failed to acknowledge the fans yesterday, a very un-Pontus-like thing to do. But we don’t know what’s been said to him. In the ultra-professional, hyper-focused environment of Garry Monk’s Leeds United, maybe Pontus has been told to cool off the love affair with the fans, stop believing in his own legend, concentrate on doing the simple things well, and get his mind set on the team and the three points up for grabs. That seems likely to me, and appropriate, given the recent slightly diminished level of the Swede’s performances.

There’s also the issue of a forthcoming suspension for Jansson, depending upon further bookings ahead of an approaching deadline. From a pragmatic point of view, that might justify taking the lad out of the firing line in order to avoid losing him for a couple of games later on. But a vital match against the second in the league seems an odd time to be quite that pragmatic – and so I tend to favour the view that Pontus is being, in a reasonably gentle and fatherly way, taken down a peg or two.

I hope it works, and I hope that Jansson can come back stronger and wiser, fiercely focused on the team and its aims. Because, on his day, and along with fellow juggernaut Kyle Bartley, he’s by far and away the best this league has to offer at centre-back. Liam Cooper did well yesterday, being slightly lucky to be saved from a calamitous misfortune by his own keeper. It’s starting to look as though, with Ayling and Jansson to return, we have a decent four from six perm for our back line, with Coyle and Denton showing potential to raise that six to eight. Not bad for a “paper-thin squad”.

Jansson will be back, we will all sincerely hope, as good and commanding as ever. But, for the time being, if he learns that he’s not utterly indispensable – if he can absorb the truly legendary Billy Bremner‘s maxim of “Side before self, every time” – then this will be a lesson well learned, and we’ll be getting back a better and more grounded hero. 

Memories of a Kings School Kipper Leeds United Fan – by Rob Atkinson

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The Kings School, Pontefract – this blogger’s alma mater from 1972-78

For some reason, an inner voice is telling me it’s high time for a nostalgic trawl through some school memories. Mine take me back to the seventies, when I attended a school of mellow, weathered brick atop Mill Hill in Pontefract. For I was, in local parlance, a “Kings School Kipper” – and the teachers I met there were a mixed assortment of individuals, the like of which I suspect you do not encounter these days. It was in these years that my passion for Leeds United flowered and bloomed – sometimes I think it was my nascent love for football that saved me from despairing about the dusty and cheerless environment of a soon-to-be ex-grammar school. It was all boys, of course, no feminine distractions apart from some dragon-like dinner ladies with moustaches that outdid anything in the sixth form as well as most of the whiskery efforts among the hairier masters.

In order to protect the not-quite innocent, I’ll refer to the following erratic examples of the teacher’s art by their commonly-used nicknames. That should be enough for my contemporaries, those lucky enough to go through the KSP experience at around the same time. But, even without nicknames, many of the masters are recognisable by their individual quirks of personality. The teaching staff at Kings School were remote and forbidding figures for the most part, who used to prowl the corridors cloaked academically, like a horde of demented bats. They were as motley and weird a bunch as you’ll find outside the walls of Billy Bunter’s Greyfriars.

My own favourite remains the man with the unforgettable drawling delivery; a French master and perennial form teacher known to us all as “Jack”, because his surname rhymed with that of the bandleader Jack Parnell. Jack was notorious for a series of stock phrases delivered in a characteristic nasal drawl. We’d dread the sound of “Get a move on, get some work done!”, or the doom-laden “Right, lad; fifty lines.” Jack was fanatical about his Chess Club and also his support for the gruelling coast-to-coast Lyke Wake Walk. His finest hour, for me, came when he was delivering sentence on a classmate with the surname Grace. Jack’s nickname for him was “Amazin’”, and when Grace annoyed him this one time, Jack came out with “Right lad. Fifty times in French, backwards: it’s amazin’ what raisins can do”. As the youngsters are wont to say: how random is that?

There was another Jack too, a scary character in the maths department, whose party-trick was to make his voice grow deceptively gentle, lulling a drowsy class off to sleep. Then, when he could see heads nodding, he’d give the blackboard an almighty clout with a board ruler, making a sound they must have heard down at Carleton Secondary Boys’ School. The shock effect of this ensured our wakeful attention and our sadistic teacher was plainly delighted each time he thus traumatised us.

Among the many other odd characters on the staff, there was a music teacher commonly referred to as “Tramp”, for his lack of sartorial elegance; an English master known for some obscure reason as “Bungee” – and a fearsome character whom we dubbed “Chopper”, for the swinging axe-like nature of his disciplinary methods. When another, younger teacher of the same surname joined the staff, he was immediately christened “Chipper”, in a neat tribute to a couple of popular Raleigh bikes of the day. Another English master was a man of rotund aspect, who spoke with an accent straight out of Golders Green, and was also an enthusiastic spare-time football coach. One day, an inspired member of our form looked out of the window and saw “Fat Ron” wheezing up and down as he reffed a game on the pitch just in front of the main building. “Oh look, sir,” he piped up. “There’s a heavy dew on the grass”. It took a moment only to catch his double meaning, and then the lesson dissolved into fairly malicious but honestly not anti-Semitic laughter. As a memorable bon mot, this one passed straight into Kings School legend and was much admired for years afterwards. I remember it more fondly than perhaps I should, as it was “Fat Ron”, the interfering git, who later grassed me up for being an underage member of a local club where I’d often pleasantly wasted time drinking lager and playing snooker or pool.

In the science department, we had a tall, thin physics master of amiable disposition who, although afflicted with a speech impediment, was often called upon to read the lesson in assembly. This seemed harsh enough, but the cruelty of us boys went a stage further; we called the poor bloke “Splut”, often to his face. Then there was another physics teacher, of Lancastrian origin, known as “Mad Brad”. He used to say to me, “Atkinson lad, this homework is di-A-bolical” (as it invariably was). His colleague in the chemistry lab, nicknamed Taff in tribute to his origins in the valleys, would doubtless have agreed – when he wasn’t lifting us by our sideburns, that is, to an anguished protest of “Sir, sir, sir, gerroff, it kills!” And don’t even get me started on the nasty little punishment habits of the games masters…

Given the suffering occasionally inflicted upon us by these out-dated brutes, it’s surprising how almost-fondly I now look back on my time as a Kipper. Distance lends enchantment, of course, to those dear old golden rule days – but my only truly positive memories are of the jam roly-poly in the dinner hall and playing football with a tennis ball on the basketball court. Most of us were Leeds fans, but there were a few renegade scummers and one lad who insisted on supporting Arsenal or Derby for no apparent reason. The teachers, meanwhile, were diverse in their football affiliations. One of the English masters was a Burnley fan who I remember engaged me in a serious discussion about the pros and cons of Ray Hankin – and there was a Coventry fan in the Sports department whose chief disciplinary trick was to hand out impositions of ten lines at a time – trouble was, the lines were about three pages long. I honestly can’t recall any Leeds-supporting teachers; perhaps life would have been more pleasant for some of us, if there had just been that little bit of common ground.

It strikes me that there must be readers of this blog out there who were Kings School Kippers, just as I was in the seventies. Please feel free to share your memories of the place and its barmy inhabitants – I’d be really interested to read the recollections of others who went through that particular institution and emerged more or less unscathed. Or just recount your own school memories – all contributions welcome subject to the usual moderation…

Agony for Leeds but Ecstasy for Sky’s Jeff Stelling as Fulham Snatch Late Draw – by Rob Atkinson

Stelling celebrates

“And there’s bad news for Leeds United, ring out the bells, rejoice!!”

We all know that Leeds United aren’t exactly the pin-up golden boys for various shallow media types and embittered ex-footballers turned pundits. It comes as no surprise, therefore, when every now and then some be-suited eejit just can’t help himself, and goes into an ecstasy of raucous celebration when some misfortune befalls the mighty Whites. It happened again, last night on Sky TV’s soccer special – Fulham scored a last-gasp equaliser against a dogged but tiring Leeds, and the world’s most famous monkey-hanger, Jeff Stelling, almost literally exploded with joy.

It was actually quite worrying on an empathetic level, once you got past the bleak realisation that two points were drifting away from Leeds at the very last minute. Poor Jeff looked to be on the point of apoplexy, his face swelling almost to bursting point and veins throbbing in his temples. His eyes were those of a man on the edge of Hartlepudlian hysteria – you’d have feared for the life of any simian in the vicinity had Mr. Stelling a convenient length of noosed hempen rope handy. From his demeanour, you might have thought that Hartlepool United had just clinched the Champions League by battering Bayern Munich – and all of this because Leeds conceding a late leveller completely robbed a so-called professional of any poise and impartiality. It’s a rum old world.

Of course, Sky Sports as an entity has form for this kind of thing. Seasoned watchers of their rolling scoreline programme on a Saturday afternoon or weekday evening will be aware of familiar signs allowing them some prior awareness of what’s going on in Leeds United games. It works like this: once you know who is watching the Whites in action, you listen for that voice. An exultant yelp in the background while Jeff is waffling on about Man U means the Whites have conceded; a despairing punctured gasp of dismay signals a Leeds goal. I’ve seen it happen any number of times.

Getting past my possibly paranoid take on Stelling & Co, it also has to be said that Leeds United were at least partially the authors of their own misfortune last night. Once again, as in times past, they allowed a situation to develop that bore more than a passing resemblance to the siege of the Alamo, in attempting to defend a one goal lead for nigh on ninety minutes. The occasional chance to put the game to bed was spurned, for the rest it was all about facing a huge majority of possession for Fulham, while retreating deeper and deeper into defence. As the finish line came into sight, Leeds were down to ten men after a fairly soft sending-off for Kalvin Phillips, who then took an inordinate amount of time to leave the field of play. And, naturally, it was in the extra minutes added on for that sluggish exit from the arena, when Fulham at last beat Rob Green with one of the worldy strikes we seem to concede far too often.

At the end of the day, Brian, it was a good point gained at a difficult venue against worthy opponents – though it did rather feel more like two dropped. But these things happen, and not just to Leeds. We all suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune from time to time, after all. It’s just that – when it does happen to Leeds – I’d rather not have my nose rubbed in it by some joke of a TV presenter who can’t maintain his thin veneer of professionalism due to an all-too-typical hatred of Leeds United. That really does grind my gears.

Even Stelling himself appeared to realise he might have gone too far, once the red mist cleared and his face reduced to a more normal size. “The Leeds fans won’t thank me for that,” he quavered accurately. Well, you got that right, didn’t you. Shriek with joy as a battling team sees two vital promotion points disappear, to the frustration of their legions of supporters everywhere? It’s more than just a little unprofessional, that – it’s unbelievable, Jeff.