As alternative sporting histories go, this is The Big One. Every Leeds United supporter knows that we are the Champions, Champions of Europe – we sing about it virtually every week. It’s not self-delusion, nor yet is it hubris; it’s a 42 year old sense of outraged injustice and the knowledge that if our victory in 1975 was merely moral, Bayern’s was emptily pyhrric. The WACCOE song is a continuing protest against the conspiracy of circumstances that, aided and abetted by lavishly bent referee Michel “Corkscrew” Kitabdjian and Bayern Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer, robbed United of their rightful final accolade. But now, in a well-written and entertaining reimagining of history, author Simon Turner has provided us with a taste of karmic retribution.
The book is called “If Only – an Alternative History of the Beautiful Game” and at least that one chapter is indeed beautiful, for Leeds fans of a wistful or maybe vengeful disposition. Simon doesn’t go for the easy option of “if onlying” the 1975 Bayern robbery, perhaps with a “what if Lorimer’s goal had stood” device; he leaves that sad chapter of history to stand as the injustice it was, opting instead to imagine revenge as a dish served cold 26 years later in 2001. I’ll avoid too many spoilers, because this is a book well worth reading and enoying and I hope you’ll do just that. But imagine the sweetness of Bayern losing out despite being the better side and because, in large measure, of refereeing “blunders”. A mirror image of ’75, in other words – and that works so much better than simply making believe Billy Bremner‘s boys had won as they undoubtedly deserved to.
I must admit, I bought the book for that Bayern/Leeds rematch alone; but I did read the first chapter (Scotland as World Champions in 1930) as a sort of hors d’oeuvre before skipping on to my main course of Schadenfreude mit Sauerkraut, as O’Leary‘s babies vanquished the Whites’ teutonic arch-nemesis. After that feast, even I didn’t need dessert, so the rest of the book is still awaiting my attention. But, having read those two chapters, I’m confident that the rest of the fare will be of like quality, and I’m looking forward to it very much.
Alternative histories are usually entertaining, whatever the variable quality of the writing, but this one really is a tour de force – well researched, brilliantly imagined and, at least in the case of the Leeds chapter, deftly using the actual history of one era to spice the alternate version in another. It’s a fine piece of work, and I strongly recommend it. Clicking on the link above will provide purchase details; the book is also available for Kindle devices (that’s the format I’ve got).
I’ll quote in full the “about the author” paragraph: “As a long-suffering supporter of Walsall Football Club, Simon Turner has witnessed countless ‘if only’ moments over the years. He lives in Lichfield with his wife Val, daughter Ellie, who has the good sense to follow athletics rather than football, and son Edward, who deliberately annoys him by supporting Aston Villa“
For a Walsall fan to have written such a therapeutic piece, as far as Leeds fans with long memories are concerned anyway, is praiseworthy indeed. I certainly wish I’d written it, but reading it – and getting just that tantalising hint of feeling just how it would be if we really could get revenge for an ancient robbery – well, that was definitely the next best thing.