A few decades back, a couple of rival footballers were daft enough to upset Leeds United‘s beanpole, World Cup-winning centre-half Jack Charlton. Perhaps they over-estimated the man’s capacity for forgiveness, but that would have been a terrible mistake. Although somebody once rightly said of the Charlton brothers, that Bobby was twice the player but Jack was ten times the bloke, our legendary number five knew how to nurse a grudge, alright. He had this to say of those unwise enough to rile him:
“I have a little black book with two players in it, and if I get a chance to do them, I will. I will make them suﬀer before I pack this game in. If I can kick them four yards over the touch line, I will.”
Chilling stuff, you might agree and, really, very Leeds United at that time. This was a team that bore grudges and looked after themselves and each other – famously, the attitude was “If you cut one of us, we all bleed”. With the subtext to that being “…and we’ll all be lining up to pay you back, so watch it”. But Jack rarely needed back-up.
Some might say that, although the great United team is a far-off memory now, and although Big Jack himself has long since retired into a mellow north country affability, the cold, hard core of steel persists around Elland Road. As a club, and reflected also in their redoubtable fans, Leeds United excels still in bearing a grudge; it neither forgives nor forgets. Big Jack’s little black book is still a thing in LS11, and there have been a couple of new entries made this season.
Given the nature of football, such accounts frequently have to remain unsettled for a considerable period of time, what with rival teams usually meeting but twice a year. But these days, it’s a little bit different and – intriguingly for those who keep an eye on slow-burning feuds – the two clubs who have most offended White sensibilities this season are both likely play-off opponents in the near future.
It’s fairly well-documented that Huddersfield Town, those perennial Yorkshire bridesmaids, have got themselves a little over-excited at times in this campaign. It’s perhaps understandable – after all, they’ve contrived two narrow victories against the club that, more than any other, is responsible for their long-standing inferiority complex. What’s more, they’re looking well-placed to finish higher in the league than those hated rivals, for the first time since 1961.
Still, understandable or not, Huddersfield have transgressed the unwritten law about not pissing Leeds United off. So they’re in the modern day little black book – and they’ve been joined over the past week or so by fellow tiny upstarts Reading FC, who have had so much to say for themselves in the run-up to Saturday’s match at the Madejski Stadium. The phenomenon of small clubs gobbing off in the press about bigger outfits fallen upon hard times is one that has gained some currency in recent years. As the ultimate sleeping giant, Leeds United has had to suffer slings and arrows from some fairly surprising directions, given the large size and glittering status of our more accustomed rivals. But lately we cop it in the neck from the likes of Bradford, Barnsley, Millwall and so on. And now Reading. Saucy little gits of clubs, all, that revel in the golden chance to show disrespect to their betters. It’s distasteful, but we’ve just had to grimace and bear it. And yet that doesn’t mean that we forget, nor indeed should we forgive. And, by God, we don’t; we bear a grudge and vow to have our own back. That’s what little black books are for.
Call it motivation, psyching-up, or the naked desire for revenge – the outcome is likely to be the same. If, as expected, Leeds United figures in the end-of-season lottery we know as the play-offs, then our beloved club could well be playing with the dice loaded marginally in our favour. At home, Elland Road will be a wall of sound, an arena of passion and hostility fit to blow away those used to a more placid atmosphere. Away, the travelling army will invade and conquer; enemy territory will ring to the noise of locals being out-shouted and sung into silence. At Wembley, if such is our destiny, the stadium will look like a rhapsody in white, yellow and blue, with a massive majority of raucous Yorkshire voices demanding victory and a return to our rightful level. On the park, the shirts will be occupied by snarling warriors, snapping into tackles, giving no quarter, harrying the enemy to exhaustion. Such will be the case, whoever we happen to meet.
But, if and when we meet Huddersfield, and/or Reading – as we almost inevitably will – then that extra-keen edge may well be evident in the attitude of both team and fans. United in all senses of the word, the boys on the park and the fans in the stands will remember past offences and will be eager for payback. Promotion via the play-offs is its own incentive; many say there is no better way to go up, and no worse way to stay down. But that little extra few percent in performance and support, added into the mix by foes ill-advised enough to find their way into Leeds’ little black book – that extra few percent might just make all the difference.
Huddersfield, Reading – it’ll be good to see you again. We’ll be waiting, with long memories, but short on patience and the milk of human kindness. We’ll go about it hard but fair, just like Big Jack – but with an intensity and passion you might find hard to deal with. You’ve had your moments this season, at our expense too, and you’ve earned your places in the book. Beware, payback time approaches. It’s time to settle up.