Monthly Archives: December 2017

Happy New Year 2018 & MOT to Leeds Fans Around the World – from Rob Atkinson

Happy New Year!

2017 has seen our great club move out of the darkness and back towards the light that has been at the end of a long tunnel for many years. It’s been a year of progress off the field, with new ownership and the re-acquisition of Elland Road. There has been consolidation on the pitch, with the signing of some exciting talent, and signs that we have a squad with the potential to be competitive at the top end of the Championship. All in all, on the whole, taken all round – it’s been a good year.

2018 is the first full year for this new Leeds United. It can be the year when the modern Whites era really takes off. If the trend continues of progress on the field and increasing crowd numbers in the stands, we can have high hopes of real success. Who knows if 2018 will see Leeds return to the top? But we’re having a go, and – even if this is not our year, we can construct a solid platform to get back where we belong in 2019, the Centenary Year for Yorkshire’s Premier club.

A very Happy New Year to all readers of Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything the world over – and indeed to all Leeds United fans and lovers of this great game, wherever you may be. Let’s hope 2018 brings us all everything we would wish for ourselves and our loved ones – including a certain football club in Leeds 11!

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England International Defender Seeks Fresh Start, Leeds Would be Ideal – by Rob Atkinson

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Steven Caulker, England cap

What do you do if you’re an ambitious Championship club with a thrifty approach to recruitment – and an English international central defender aged just 26 suddenly becomes available, and for nowt? Why, you snap him up, of course, if you’ve not been trampled flat in the rush. Players of this quality normally command 8 figure fees, but here we have a lad in Steven Caulker who is looking for a fresh start after facing up to issues with his mental health, allied to gambling and alcohol problems. His most recent employers, Queens Park Rangers, have just released him, so he is currently without a club. Caulker is currently occupying what the professionals term, with some feeling, last chance saloon. He needs someone to show some faith in him, and he needs the best possible care and rehabilitation. For the club willing to take a calculated risk, a diamond of a player is waiting to be rescued.

For several reasons, not all of them football-related, I’d love to see my club Leeds United be the one to make this move and show this faith. It would be a dreadful shame for football and for the lad himself, if such a promising career were to be allowed to fizzle out. You’d worry for Caulker, in the long and barren future ahead, and you’d wonder if the game itself was perhaps derelict in its duty to look out for a young man battling with personal demons that have ruined so many young men before.

At Elland Road, there’d be a unique challenge waiting for Steven Caulker – if the club wish to offer him the chance, and if he’s prepared to get in, get his head down, and resurrect his career and his chances of life-affirming success. It’s not too late for Caulker; he just needs that chance. I’d like to think that Leeds United are progressive enough to reach out and provide the support and faith needed.

It’s common knowledge that Leeds could do with some strengthening of the defensive ranks; Kyle Bartley is still much missed and, despite the sterling performances of Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper, a player of Caulker’s quality would represent an improvement in United’s rearguard. The lad was on loan at Liverpool not so long back, and was brought up at Tottenham; his pedigree is indisputable. Coming to the end of the road at QPR does not mean he’s a busted flush; some club is likely to benefit from the renaissance of a major talent, should the requisite support and understanding be available.

Let that club be Leeds United. In doing some real good for a troubled player, they may well do themselves a power of good too. And all for nothing more than wages. 

That’s got to represent a good deal, even up here in Yorkshire. And a chance surely well worth taking. 

Isn’t it Time TV Stopped Pandering to the “We All Hate Leeds” Brigade? – by Rob Atkinson

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Burton Albion & Sky Sports v Leeds United

Watching Leeds United on the telly has health implications for your standard Whites fanatic, the kind with the iconic LUFC running through them like a stick of rock. Football devotees in general, and Leeds fans in particular, are hardly known for their Zen-like state of calmness, and it frequently seems to me that the telly people are doing their utmost to wind me up with their continual sniping at Yorkshire’s Number One football club. Because, whenever I’m stuck with TV coverage as opposed to being there, I always end up feeling as though my blood pressure has spiked, and I’m left foaming at the mouth, longing to give some smug pundit the baseball bat treatment.

The Burton Albion game on Boxing Day was a case in point. The Championship minnows had enjoyed two victories on the trot, and Sky Sports were all a-flutter to see them make that three against Big Bad Leeds. When the Brewers took the lead with a narrowly offside goal, the commentators glossed over it – Ronaldo Vieira shouldn’t have stepped out, their logic ran, so it was bad defending. If Vieira had stayed put, the lad would have been onside – but the pundits weren’t in any mood to let facts interfere with their “Chuffed that Leeds are losing” position. For the time being, they were as happy as a scum fan with a new easy chair (though that had changed by the time Ronnie, living up to both his names, put Kemar Roofe in for the winner).

Right at the end of the first half, Leeds defender Gaetano Berardi sailed into a challenge on Burton man Sean Scanell, and what followed was highly instructive. It was the kind of tackle that, when perpetrated by some media darling in a Man U shirt, elicits a roguish chuckle from the commentators, with the remark “That would have earned you a new contract back in the day, but now it’s a wee bit naughty”. The fact is that Berardi won the ball – with both feet, admittedly. But only the ball suffered, no blood was shed and no bones were broken. Still, the pundits were all pursed lips and sanctimony; their outraged verdict was that our man could and should have seen red.

In the second half, it was yours truly seeing red, as Albion’s goalscorer Tom Naylor, delivered the classic over-the-top leg-breaker on Vieira, studs into Ronnie’s standing leg, an absolutely atrocious challenge. From the Sky gantry, there was only the most sheepish of reactions – “Ooh, that’s another bad one” etc. There was none of the red card bloodlust, none of the hysteria that Berardi’s comparatively innocuous challenge had prompted. On the day, both incidents resulted in yellow cards – harsh in Berardi’s case, and a gross under-reaction to the Naylor assault on Vieira. But it was the Sky reaction that was the most disgusting aspect of the whole matter; they even edited the Naylor foul out of their highlights package, focusing the disciplinary spotlight firmly on the Berardi challenge. Sky TV do seem to have a heavy hand in editing Leeds highlights – the other week, they even edited Gjanni Alioski’s sumptuous winning goal right out of their Barnsley v United clip, which is a tad harsh, even by their anti-Leeds standards.

The thing is, these are not isolated examples. It happens time and again, most weeks in fact. There’s usually some dedicated Leeds-hating has-been in the co-commentary seat, and always an anti-United spin on the description of pivotal events. It’s no mystery as to what’s behind it – hating the Elland Road boys is still a national preoccupation, a good four decades after the Super Leeds era that got them all in such a resentful froth. So it’s in broadcast media’s commercial interests to hype up the hate, just as it is for them to view Man U through sentimentally rose-tinted glasses, catering to their tragic legions of armchair TV subscribers. Both attitudes are commercially sensible – but it doesn’t make them right.

Let’s face it, Leeds United are big box office for Sky’s Championship coverage, and it’s about time a little bit more respect was shown, if not outright gratitude. That’s only right and just, not that these are words figuring prominently in any broadcaster’s lexicon. But, for the sake of my blood pressure if nothing else, and to prevent me hurling something at my costly flat-screen technology – it’s time for the TV companies to wise up, grow up, and lay off my beloved Leeds.

Managerial Merry-go-Round: is Garry Monk Heading Back to Leeds? – by Rob Atkinson

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Garry Monk – a second return to Elland Road?

With the appointment of failed Wendies manager Carlos Carvalhal as the new Swansea boss, that particular route back into football for the increasingly slithery Garry Monk has been well and truly blocked off. Attention now turns to whose will be the next hapless posterior to occupy the Hillsborough Hot Seat, with Anglo-Dutch Leeds United fan Schteve McClaren being touted as a candidate in some quarters.

Another possibility, though, is that Monk himself could be interesting Sheffield’s second club – which raises the tantalising prospect of a second return this season for the scaly one to Elland Road. Garry rocked up to LS11 as recently as November of course, in charge of the Bonny Boro – but it wasn’t a good day for the fork-tongued former centre-half, as goals from Pablo Hernandez and Gjanni Alioski put Leeds two up, before a visually-impaired linesman gave a penalty against Luke Ayling for being wrestled to the ground by Daniel Ayala.

The 1-2 reverse at his former place of employment must have been a bitter pill to swallow for Monk, who had hoped to be the centre of attention for a more palatable reason – though he characteristically attempted to put a positive sheen on another defeat: “It wasn’t about me. It’s about my team and the players on the pitch and we’re disappointed with the result and should have got more”.

Garry had a fair bit of practice in his brief time in Smogland, dreaming up similar platitudes to deflect any blame from himself after each disappointing result for his expensively-assembled squad. Could it possibly be that he’ll be mouthing similar excuses after the visit of Wednesday to Leeds in mid-March? It would be a deeply satisfying reprise of his crestfallen demeanour after the Middlesbrough game, but it’s probably too much to hope for.

Surely, after all, even Wednesday can’t be that daft.

A Merry Leeds Utd Christmas And a Double Birthday Bonus – by Rob Atkinson

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Merry Christmas from The Best English Club Team Ever

First things first; a very Merry Christmas and/or Holiday Greetings to all readers of Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. I hope that you’re having a great day, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. Many of us will already be focusing on tomorrow’s live TV date at Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion, the victims of an outstanding home performance from United earlier this season, when we recorded a 5-0 win, Pierre-Michel Lasogga scoring a rather lovely brace.

On Christmas Day it’s always worth sparing a thought or two for those unfortunates who share their birthday with a world-wide splurge of significant consumerism and therefore rather disappear into the background when it comes to celebrating their own special personal anniversary. Still, they’ve never known any different – and they’ve only got their parents to blame for being bored, cold, or just plain randy the March before. We have two of these Christmas Birthday sideshows in Leeds United‘s recent history, two midfielders who, each in his own way, made telling contributions to our last two Championship titles, one of the second division and the other of the entire Football League itself.

Chris Kamara

Chris Kamara

First then, a Happy Birthday to Chris Kamara, who is better known these days for his Lionel Richie tribute act as he banters his way through various Sky TV football shows, not least Soccer Saturday where he crops up every two minutes to utter the immortal words “Unbelievable, Jeff!” Unbelievable it certainly is that Kammy is actually 60 today, and you have to say he’s taken damned good care of himself. He still looks fit enough to play, and the memories are vivid of the days in which he used to strike fear into opposition hearts wearing the white shirt of Leeds United. Kammy it was who, famously, bent an outside of the foot pass into the run of the late great Gary Speed for the youngster to get the fourth against Sheffield United as we stamped our authority on the promotion race of 1990. Kamara’s contribution that season was a highly positive influence in midfield, breaking up play, finding a fellow United man with accurate passes and cropping up with the odd goal. As with all of those heroes who ended the Eighties Exile, Kammy is a true Leeds Legend.

Gary McAllister

Gary McAllister

Today’s other birthday celebrant is Gary McAllister. Gary first came to my notice as I stood on the Kop watching Leeds play Leicester City in a vital promotion game in that 1989/90 season. We were 1-0 up through Mel Sterland‘s powerful cross shot, when McAllister decided to do his best to ruin things. First he blasted home a terrific equaliser that left Elland Road stunned – then he threatened to inflict further damage, hitting a shot of equal brilliance which – fortunately – thudded against the woodwork, leaving us weak with relief. Leeds won eventually through Gordon Strachan‘s legendary strike near the end (Have you ever seen a better goal?  Or one better timed??) – but Gary McAllister had single-handedly come close to shattering our hopes and destroying our season. As I gazed balefully at his departing back, I hoped it would be a while before we saw him again.

History tells us, of course, that Gary Mac went on to become one of the greatest Leeds United midfielders of all, in one of the game’s truly great midfield quartets, the legendary Fantastic Four of Strachan, Macca, Batty and Speed. It’s also worth remembering that he turned down a move to Clough’s Notts Forest in favour of joining Wilko’s Leeds revolution. The memories are many of Gary’s superbly-struck goals and fine performances in a Leeds shirt. He went on to serve Liverpool with equal distinction, as well as starring for Scotland, before returning to Elland Road for an initially-promising stint as manager. Sadly, labouring under the merciless regime of Bates, Gary’s spell in charge of Leeds was not to be a success – but his place in the United Hall of Fame is assured.

Gary is 53 today and is now involved in media work connected to football after several unsuccessful attempts to return to football management. Surely, he still has much to offer – although I’d have willingly seen him far from Elland Road on that day we played Leicester City with so much at stake, Gary has proved himself to be one of the game’s nice guys. Always a professional down to his toes, he had to overcome personal tragedy with the loss of his wife Denise to cancer in 2006. In an age when there are so many in the game who are impossible to admire, it’s sad that a man like McAllister is not more involved.

Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas to our two midfield legends – and Seasonal Greetings to everybody.  Cheers!

Hull Well and Truly Pablo’d as Leeds Grind Out Three More Points – by Rob Atkinson

Genius: Pablo Hernandez

For the third home game in succession, Leeds United managed just a solitary goal at Elland Road – and for the second time on the trot, it was enough to take the three points on offer. Although Aston Villa salvaged a draw after falling behind, the last two visitors to Elland Road, the Cities of Norwich and Hull, have departed without troubling the scorers – despite making the Whites weather some heavy pressure. It’s been a less than convincing run of home games for Leeds, but the ends have justified the means, with only the United fans’ bitten down nails telling the story of how nervy the performances have, by and large, been. But Leeds are starting to rise to the challenge of exploiting Elland Road’s cauldron-like atmosphere, something they’ve too often failed to do in the past.

Against Hull yesterday, a pre-match hammer-blow turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The absence of talisman Samu Saiz caused a collective groan among the 35,000 faithful who had congregated to worship United’s brightest star. It was a groan that rippled throughout social media, sending a frisson of apprehension through the virtual Leeds universe, all we of little faith wondering if we’d have the creativity to deal with our rivals from Humberside. But the enforced rest for Samu (tight calf, didn’t feel right, should be back for Burton away) meant a start for United’s Pablo Hernandez, and it was the little Latin genius who provided the decisive moment almost half an hour into a first half that Hull had threatened to dominate.

After the visitors had put Leeds on the back foot for the most part, creating presentable chances while the hosts huffed and puffed to no great effect, Hernandez seized upon a shockingly poor clearance from City’s previously untroubled keeper Allan McGregor; swiftly sizing up the situation, Pablo snapped up possession, moved forward and produced an outrageous dinked chip over the advancing McGregor, the ball dropping sweetly under the bar and into the net to give United an advantage that, after the Norwich game the previous week, you thought they might well hold onto.

In truth, Hull were less of a threat after the goal than before, just as their fans were largely silent once behind, having exhausted their repertoire of songs about dead perverts and cities of culture – an ironic enough playlist while it lasted. Afterwards, Hull manager Nigel Adkins bemoaned the lack of reward for his team’s industry, estimating a 3:1 ratio in his team’s favour on chances created. Leeds boss Thomas Christiansen was disarmingly honest: “We were lucky to take the three points,” he acknowledged.

One big reason behind that win was much-maligned Leeds keeper Felix Wiedwald, who produced a string of fine saves before United took the lead, one great example being a full-stretch tip around the post in the very first minute. Felix looked solid throughout, and it was reassuring to see him looking so confident and self-assured, without those occasional Sprake-esque howlers.

It was Hernandez who made the crucial difference, though, with Leeds creating little else of note other than a good effort from Gjanni Alioski as the interval approached. At the end of this derby, Leeds could reflect upon another gritty home performance and three points to see them back in the playoff zone. As for Hull, they had positives to take from their early domination, but departed for their City of Culture disappointed, chastened – well and truly Pablo’d.

Karma Bites the Snake as Monk Gets the Chop at Boro – by Rob Atkinson

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Where now for Garry “Snake” Monk?

It’s difficult for a Leeds United fan to feel any sympathy for Garry Monk. No, let me rephrase that. It’s impossible for any Leeds fan to feel sympathy for Garry Monk. Our feelings will range from mild amusement to deep satisfaction, as the ex-Whites manager who earned the soubriquet of “snake” found himself rattled, bitten and discarded.

Monk is another, seemingly, from the O’Leary School of Ego and Self-aggrandisement. The recipient of a good press for the job he was doing at Swansea City, Monk’s tender treatment from the media survived even his decision to take the Leeds job – something that would normally make a pariah out of any Fleet Street blue-eyed boy. When he upped sticks and left Elland Road, just as United seemed set for a bright new start, you could feel the hacks aching for him to do well in Smogland. Sadly – well, comically actually – it wasn’t to be. And now the Myth of Monk appears to have exploded. Really, you’d have to be made of stone not to laugh uproariously.

You’ll have to forgive my high spirits. This is news I’ve looked forward to laughing at since summertime, and it’s come just as Leeds have eked out another home win, while Man U have hilariously thrown away two points at Leicester, to follow up their capitulation at Bristol City (where Leeds won 3-0). Is it any wonder I’m a bit giddy??

Whatever comes next for Monk – and we all know we cordially wish him the worst – tonight’s news has been music to our United-loving ears. So, we’ll relish it a bit, along with the discomfiture of the Pride of Devon, and then look ahead to Burton on Boxing Day.

After all, it doesn’t do to dwell on the misfortunes of others, much less to glory in them…

Ah, Schadenfreude – like revenge, you’re a dish best served very, very cold.

The Ego Has Landed: David O’Leary Back at Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

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O’Leary, and the book that earned him the sack

Amid the muck and bullets of an attritional battle between Leeds United and Norwich City last weekend, word was received that the club was being visited by the Ghost of Seasons Past. Former Whites manager David O’Leary was back at Elland Road, holding court in the Legends Lounge – some unintentional irony there – and dispensing his own particular brand of faux humility to anyone who would listen.

That’s what always got me about O’Leary, even at the height of his success in the post-George Graham period – this tendency of his to peddle a “Love me, I’m just a novice manager doing the best I can” line. Backed by good results from a young and thrilling team, it was an engaging enough act for a while anyway – but any such act, whether it be the blarney of Erin, or just plain old self-serving bullshit, wears thin eventually. In O’Leary’s case, that process of disillusionment was accelerated by his own actions as financial crisis and the Bowyer/Woodgate court case hit the club hard. When the solids hit the air-conditioning, poor David was liberally splattered by the noxious fallout, his strained relationship with local press figures meaning there was precious little sympathy or protection for him there.

O’Leary was quite literally the author of his own misfortune. “United on Trial”, his controversial book in the wake of the long, drawn-out court case, was an ill-judged attempt to dissociate himself from any blame for the storm clouds gathering over Elland Road. Players from a squad he’d previously dubbed his “babies” were callously thrown to the wolves, who had scented blood in LS11, and were voraciously snapping away at the heels of a wounded and foundering giant. It had all looked so good for Leeds in the campaign leading up to the Champions League last four, but the fall from those rarefied heights was precipitous; weak leadership in the boardroom had given O’Leary too free a hand in the transfer market, with results that have become notorious in the history of a club that tried to live the dream but entered instead into a ten year nightmare. So unprecedented was this fall from grace that a new phrase, describing the suicidal self-immolation of any football club, entered the language: “Doing a Leeds”.

O’Leary got the Leeds job at a particularly propitious time; able to build on the foundations laid by the cautious and meticulous approach of George Graham, he also benefited from a crop of youthful talent coming through, the like of which had not been seen at Leeds since the early sixties. It was a recipe for success, requiring only a steady hand at the tiller and a fair share of good luck. Sadly for United, after a bright start to the Irishman’s tenure, neither of these requirements were fulfilled, and the club embarked on a downhill slide that a greased pig would have found hard to emulate.

Despite all of this, some United fans have fond memories of O’Leary – which, when you consider some of the football played and some of the results achieved, is reasonably understandable. But the idyll was deceptive; some of the players grew disillusioned, to say the least, with a manager whose genial demeanour masked what at times was a chilling ruthlessness, allied to a preoccupation with being seen always in the most favourable light. His popularity with certain squad members declined to the point where at least one refused to sign a book for a fan, simply because the manager’s picture featured on the cover. And his attitude towards respected local press members – summed up briefly as “I don’t really need you” was seen as so wilfully arrogant that those press members felt under no obligation to pull their punches when things tuned sour.

Even now, O’Leary will use his characteristic self-effacing delivery to mask what amounts to relentless self-promotion; he’s always after the printing of the legend, untainted by inconvenient facts. In and around his Elland Road appearance last weekend, the former United manager revealed the question he’s most often been asked by Leeds fans since his departure. Predictably, it redounds to his credit – what O’Leary soundbite does not? “It’s ‘When are you coming back to Leeds’“, he revealed, adding that he found such a question “embarrassing really. I’m so privileged that they still remember me”.

Continuing this apparently diffident self-homage, O’Leary gushed “It’s just so nice and I always knew that I had their support, and I appreciate their support even more now. Twenty years and they still remember me – I can’t believe that!”

It’s not that difficult to believe, though. United fans, especially those who don’t habitually sport the rose-tinted glasses of fond recollection, will be unlikely to forget the man who inherited a dressing room of such vast potential and then proceeded to lose it through his own crass and self-serving actions. The answer to the question of “When are you coming back, David?” must surely be “Next time Leeds United needs the spirit of the club shattered almost beyond repair – next time we wish to plunge into a new dark age and threaten our very existence”. It really was as bad as that.

So David, you can quote your admirers all you like – we’re never going to hear the other side of that coin from your self-aggrandising lips. But remember, some of us see you for what you are – and we’re glad and relieved that you’re history now as far as Leeds United is concerned.

When Wilko’s Leeds Ruined Christmas For Fergie and Man United – by Rob Atkinson

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Masterblaster Tony Yeboah gets the second for Leeds to ruin the Man U Christmas

As Yuletide approaches, it seems fitting to strike a seasonal note and invoke the Spirit of Christmas Past for a nostalgic revisiting of one particular December 24th many moons ago. All the ingredients for happiness came together that day: we ate, drank and were merry; we were uplifted and raised our voices in chorus amid a mighty throng; and we experienced and passed on goodwill to all men – except for a select few in the red shirts of Manchester United.

It was Christmas Eve 1995, and I awoke unusually early for a home match because Leeds United were due to face that other United from across the Pennines in a late morning kick-off at Elland Road. I’d stayed at a mate’s house, the plan being to gather at a local hostelry and wait for the supporters’ bus, fortified by a breakfast of bacon butties and bottled beer, whilst perusing the morning papers, unanimously predicting some away-day Christmas cheer for Fergie and his not-altogether-likeable Manchester United team. Those journalists’ anticipation of my team’s likely demise left me feeling queasy, a sensation not lessened by the pre-breakfast intake of alcohol. By the time we left for the stadium, I was feeling fairly poorly, with an uncomfortable sense that I was not going to enjoy my day. And, although Man U were recovering from a poor result at Liverpool, the boys and girls at Betulator would probably have endorsed my pessimism; it felt like very long odds against a home win to gladden the hearts of the faithful.

How wrong could I have been? Leeds were coming off the back of a humiliating thrashing at Hillsborough, and the feeling among our partially inebriated band of United faithful was that we’d either be getting more of the same, to cast a pall over Christmas itself – or that we’d mount a spectacular recovery and return to form, sending the enemy back to Lancashire beaten and subdued. And lo, it came to pass. Our heroes in White rose to the holiday occasion and rewarded the Elland Road congregation by granting their dearest wish, outclassing the invading Mancunians and recording a 3-1 victory that guaranteed we’d be opening our gifts and engulfing our turkey dinners the following day in the very highest of spirits.

There was even a Christmas miracle as, against the normal rules of these occasions, Leeds were awarded and dispatched an early penalty, much to the disgust of apoplectic Red Devils captain Steve Bruce, clearly not used to that sort of treatment. We had a brief scare as Andrew Cole notched a leveller against the run of play, but then Tony Yeboah provided a majestic finish before Brian Deane sealed the win late on with a precise header from a Tomas Brolin cross. At the end, the home fans celebrated raucously, revelling in the Yuletide spirit and the discomfiture of the away fans, that gloomy and huddled bunch, as they departed on their long and dispirited trek back to Devon.

If it sounds as though I can remember all this in vivid detail across the intervening years, well – that would be somewhat deceptive; it’s just that I’ve watched and re-watched the highlights so many times since. My main memories are of the spectacular hangover I experienced in the remainder of that Yuletide Eve; the feeling that, nevertheless, all was right with the world and that Christmas would be merry indeed – and the look of relief on the faces of my wife and infant daughter, who had feared I’d be grumpy in defeat and not inclined to carouse. It’s ridiculous of course that a mere game of football should so influence my mood at such a time of year, but that’s the way it was – and I suspect it still would be.

Perhaps that’s why they don’t tend to have football on December the 24th any more, such intense rivalry being out of keeping with festive good cheer. I can quite see that – but believe me, when you beat your biggest rivals the day before Christmas, there’s no better way to ensure the happiest of holidays.

Have a great Christmas, one and all.

Don Revie and Leeds Could Have Saved the Life of Man United’s Tragic George Best – by Rob Atkinson

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The late, not so great George Best

In George Best, the football world lost a massive talent if not a truly great player, when the maverick Irishman died prematurely at only 59 in 2005. In the twelve years since his tragic death, the debate has continued over his place in football, his ranking among the legends of the game. Best was a genius technically, blessed with the skills to enable him to do pretty much whatever he wanted on the football field. But he was also a flawed and addictive personality, less able than most professionals to deal with the pressures of professional football, more likely to be swayed from the straight and narrow by the temptations that would face any rich and over-hyped young man.

That being the case, Best could hardly have suffered a worse fate than to be taken onto the books of Manchester United as a callow youth, there to develop as a skillful footballer, but also to be lost in the maelstrom of hype and self-aggrandisement that has dogged the Old Trafford club since the start of the Matt Busby era and, particularly, since the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. For Best, it was the wrong club at the wrong time; he needed a different approach and a less relentlessly goldfish bowl existence. Stronger, less easily-led personalities than George Best prospered at Old Trafford, but the combination of George’s skill, personal attractiveness and extreme marketability made him ripe to be chewed up and spat out by the Man Utd/media publicity machine. Therein, the seeds of his eventual destruction were sown; Best was doomed by the unfortunate circumstance of becoming a Man United prodigy, his downhill path plotted even while he was enjoying such spectacular, early success.

It could all have been so different for George Best. What he needed was a better and more professional environment, somewhere his stellar talent could have been harnessed for the benefit of a crack team of inseparable brothers. Somewhere with a “Side before self, every time” mentality, with a manager who treated his players like sons and their wives and girlfriends like daughters-in-law, a place and a club where press flattery did not venture, but where instead a siege complex was fostered that strengthened the squad from within. George Best, had he but known it, needed Don Revie and Leeds United; if history had worked out differently, and Best had grown up alongside the likes of Billy Bremner, Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer and ex-Man Utd star John Giles, then I would venture to suggest that his development and indeed his whole existence would have been along such radically different lines, he may well have been still alive today.

George was let down by his football club, its management and the surrounding hype and worldwide acclaim. He was considered by many to be the greatest of all time, a view he would publicly endorse on his own behalf on many occasions. And that says a lot about George, about his inadequate standards and lack of humility. It’s something that would have been ironed out of him swiftly and early at Elland Road. Such conceit was frowned upon in the ultra-professional environment at Leeds, where individual skill was fostered and encouraged mainly within the pattern and demands of team requirements. Those were of paramount importance in Revie’s blueprint, so you had world-class talents like Gray, Bremner and Giles willing, nay, eager to devote their own brand of genius to securing the optimum team results. They’d have kept young George’s feet on the ground alright, and the Leeds backroom staff would have been there every step of the way, nurturing Best’s talent, inculcating the team ethic, bringing him down when that was needed, boosting him when necessary. The fact that Eddie Gray succeeded at Leeds was proof that a properly motivated and disciplined Best could have succeeded as well – and he’d have a had a long career, a longer life, if only that could have been the case.

It’s such a shame about George. The Manchester scene was all wrong for him, as would most probably have been that of London. Moreover, the club where he landed, at such a tender age, was in the business of producing legends, media stars to feed the delusions of their fans and meet the post-Munich hype and voracious desire to be the biggest, the best, the most glamorous. It takes a hardy seedling to prosper and grow in a hothouse like that and, despite early promise and a devastating few years of gaudy brilliance, George was doomed to wither and fade far too soon. The scars of that traumatic fall – he won his last club honour at only 22 – affected him for the rest of his life, leaving him easy prey for unscrupulous advantage takers, and for the buzz and temporary relief provided by alcohol. Who can deny that the more focused atmosphere and environment of Leeds United would have kept Best on the right path, providing him with a stage on which his technical genius could flourish, giving him the tangible rewards his prime deserved and yet never received?

In the public consciousness, Best was the Best – because we’ve been relentlessly told that’s the case, which has a lot to do obviously with the media circus and public adulation surrounding such an over-hyped football club. But sober analysis identifies Best as a genius footballer who was not a team player, not a very professional player and certainly not, over the span of his career, a world-class performer. Best, for all his talents, was not in the top twenty of all-time greats – but he should have been. He could perhaps have been right up there, among the best of the best. That he wasn’t and isn’t is something revisionists will deny, but a look at the facts and stats tells its own damning story.

George Best could gave been a much greater footballer, and he could still have been with us today. If only he’d been lucky enough to have started out, under Don Revie, at Leeds United, just as the Super Leeds legend was being born in the early sixties. What a different and infinitely happier story his might then have been.