Monthly Archives: December 2018

Something Very Special is Happening in Leeds, Sporting Capital of England – by Rob Atkinson

Just champion: Josh Warrington and Leeds United

World Champion boxer and Leeds fan extraordinaire Josh Warrington is sharing top billing right now with Leeds United as the city of Leeds re-establishes its sporting pre-eminence, putting the likes of Manchester, Liverpool and London in the shade by the sheer diversity of its competitive prowess. Warrington’s great victories against Lee Selby in May at Elland Road, and Carl Frampton the other night in Manchester neatly bracket a phenomenal first half of the Championship season for leaders Leeds United. The Whites’ sensational comeback win at Aston Villa on Sunday topped off a 23 game run in which they have shown power, guts and consistency to emerge as front runners. Unfancied United have defied the critics just as Josh Warrington has, besting two supposedly superior fighters when all the experts predicted he’d be brushed aside.

Those two phenomenal boxing performances were as bookends to the incredible renaissance of Leeds United under Marcelo Bielsa in the first half of the current Championship football season. As Josh Warrington was recovering from his May demolition of Lee Selby, Bielsa was setting about putting his unique stamp on a club that had been failing, for a lack of identity and leadership, to realise its immense potential. Bielsa’s mission was to provide that leadership, create that identity, and see an underachieving club become much more than the sum of its parts. At the halfway point of the season, fresh from a defining performance at Aston Villa when the United warriors fought back from two down to clinch an unlikely victory out of extreme adversity, Leeds stand proudly top of the Championship, with a handy gap between them and the play-off pack. To describe Bielsa’s record so far as merely a success would be to make a molehill out of a mountain.

Just as Josh Warrington has succeeded against all the expert opinion that rated him as a passionate but limited fighter, so Leeds United are making a mockery of those who suggested that Bielsa’s methods could not possibly bear fruit with such a comparatively thin squad, boasting only a couple of major additions to last season’s also-rans. The major transfer acquisition of the summer, Patrick Bamford, has seen his season so far disrupted by injury, and has hardly been able to contribute to the cause. So it’s been the squad as was, plus bargain steal from Wolves Barry Douglas, supplemented by some precocious talent from the development level of the club, that has carried all before it in the league so far. What can United achieve if the injuries clear up, and if they can make some judicious purchases during the January window? It’s a question to tantalise the Whites support, which is already rubbing its eyes in delighted disbelief at the way the campaign has unfolded.

The Leeds claim to be the nation’s sporting capital is well founded. The football club has global support dating from the days when it boasted the finest club side of the post war era, a team that was respected and feared throughout Europe. The Yorkshire county cricket club is historically the best in the game as a matter of record, and the Rugby League outfit that shares Headingley is the biggest in the northern hemisphere bar none. Add in a gutsy fighter in Warrington who has worn his club colours with massive pride to become a true ambassador for the city, and it’s clear to see that Leeds has an embarrassment of sporting riches together with a vast potential to build on – and the signs are there that the building process is well under way. The revolution at Leeds United, the remarkable transformation of Headingley cricket and rugby arena and of course the fighting whirlwind that is Warrington, all combine to give the capital of West Yorkshire a growing status as the place where it’s all happening in the world of sport.

We can look ahead with some confidence now, a confidence that was only a dream prior to the big fight at Elland Road a few short months ago in May, to further progress and maybe concrete achievement in the first half of 2019. And this, of course, brings us nicely up to scratch just in time for the centenary celebrations of Leeds United, one of the truly great clubs in the English game. It’s all looking so good right now, and it’s all come about in such a short time – but the foundations are there for a new golden era across the whole City of Leeds.

With that in mind, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything bids everybody out there, whatever their sporting allegiance, a very Merry Christmas, and the Happiest of New Years for 2019. The future, we’re confident in saying, is very bright. The future, we fervently hope and believe, is yellow, blue and white. 

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The real reason the smaller parties are pressuring Labour to table a Motion of No Confidence in the Government

TheCritique Archives

by Martin Odoni

I see a lot of people on social media at the moment – especially supporters of the Scottish National Party – have still not figured out the real reason many of the smaller parties are pushing for Labour to call a Motion of No Confidence in the Government. Jeremy Corbyn did call a Motion of No Confidence in the Prime Minister last night, but only such a Motion in the whole Government can trigger a General Election.

Some are trying to argue that Corbyn is being either cowardly or indecisive, and that he lacks the courage of the leaders of the smaller parties, like Nicola Sturgeon, Vince Cable, Caroline Lucas et al. In reality, these other leaders are being no braver or more decisive at all, and nor are they, on this evidence, noticeably honest. That is a particularly sad reflection in Lucas’ case, who historically…

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What a clever move by Corbyn!

TheCritique Archives

by Martin Odoni

Jeremy Corbyn tonight tabled a Parliamentary Motion of No Confidence in the leadership of the Prime Minister. The timing and the wording of the move were just brilliant.

Brexit VONC motion tabledCorbyn tables a Motion of No Confidence in the Prime Minister

Corbyn appeared to have veered away from such a Motion during the course of today’s debate over Theresa May’s failed Brexit discussions in Brussels late last week. He appeared to use it as a threat at first today, in case May continued to resist setting a date for the vote on her (obviously-already-doomed) Brexit deal. After she set the date (sort of) for the week commencing the 14th of January, the threat appeared to have been withdrawn. However, just as the media were heading on a very predictable tirade of Corbyn chickens out! headlines, right at the end of the debate, he went and tabled the Motion anyway…

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Football League Considering Treason Charge for Ref Who Gave Leeds a Penalty – by Rob Atkinson

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Peter Bankes – professional suicide?

Peter Bankes, the referee who has defied the Football League party line to award Leeds a controversial first penalty kick in well over a year, leading to their 2-1 victory over Queens Park Rangers, could now face being sent to Coventry for his sins (they play Luton Town at the Ricoh Arena next Saturday).

Games without a penalty for Leeds United now…

Worse, it is being suggested in some quarters that the errant official could be charged by the ruling body with high treason, an offence that carries a maximum punishment of “a fate worse than death”. When asked what that fate might be, a Football League spokesman would only grimace and shake his head in a deeply ominous fashion whilst mouthing the dread word “Millwall”.

Mr Bankes was not available for comment after the game, it being understood that he was closeted with QPR manager Schteve McClaren and being grilled about what Schteve was sarcastically calling his “X-ray vision”. A Leeds source told us that the referee’s room was closed and locked for an hour after the final whistle, with Mr Bankes eventually being spirited away to Football League headquarters where he is expected to face brutal interrogation over the next 72 hours.

A Leeds source told Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything “Our only regret is that we were hoping to have a joint celebration of our centenary in 2019 with maybe a timely penalty late in the season – today’s totally unexpected award has clearly scuppered that. But we’ll take it gracefully and move on. We’d been a bit worried about the actual penalty conversion, there was a bit of chat on the pitch because nobody could remember how it’s done. Every time Marcelo has suggested practising penalties in training, the lads have just fell about laughing. Luckily, Kemar stepped up and sent the lad the wrong way, but he admitted afterwards that he’d been a bit tempted to head it”.

Rumours that United are planning to place a Tourist Information sign on the penalty spot at the Kop End, denoting a site of major historical interest, cannot, as yet, be confirmed.

Historical

Leeds United penalty – historically remarkable

Would VAR Get Man United Relegated and Leeds United Promoted? – by Rob Atkinson

LUFC red card

Referees just love Leeds United

I’ve never really been in favour of the intrusion of modern technology into professional football. I was generally supportive of the view that the game needs its bits of controversy, things to talk about and argue over in the pub or, as years went on, via social media. And that, ideally, the game at its elite level should stay as close as possible in its essential character to the thud and blunder affairs fought out on parks pitches every Sunday morning.

But the old maxim of “the referee’s decision is final” has started to wear a bit thin, as with that other cliche “these things tend to even themselves out”. We were always asked to believe that, yes, referees made mistakes alright, but that they were honest mistakes, human errors. We were told that, over time, all clubs would get roughly the same amount of good and bad decisions, and that, ultimately, ability and fitness would be the decisive factors. And for a long time, many of us would believe these fables, we’d even repeat them to each other, wanting our beloved game to be straight.

The worm of doubt for Leeds United fans crawled out of the bad apples among the refereeing fraternity as far back as the sixties. I’ve written an article on this blog about the very worst decisions my club has been on the wrong end of – even limiting myself to the truly appalling travesties of justice, it it could have been a much longer list, space permitting. Leeds fans started giving wry smiles when referees were defended as honest Joes who were bound to make the odd mistake. We knew better, out of bitter experience. We knew exactly who would get the breaks and the dodgy calls, and we knew just as well that it wouldn’t be us.

The situation has never really improved for Leeds as far as getting a fair go from referees and the game in general is concerned. As I write, it’s 58 games since we last got a penalty kick awarded, during which time ten have been given against us, including some proper howlers. You get used to it, you come to expect it, but naturally, you never really accept it as your lot. I well remember Thomas Christiansen‘s ashen face after one match early last season; he was unable to credit what he’d seen with his own eyes, and I just thought, welcome to Leeds, mate – welcome to our world.

Things are different for other teams, of course, and it goes without saying that life at the non-crappy end of the stick is best exemplified by Manchester United, or the Pride of Devon, as I fondly refer to them. Their long penalty runs are matches without conceding one; it’s frequently said that nothing short of the cynical murder of an opposition player in their own penalty box will lead to a spot kick being awarded against them. One referee from the nineties, Graham Poll, frankly admitted that the best a ref could hope for when taking a Man U game during the tyrannic reign of Alex Ferguson, was to get the thing over, with as little controversy as possible, and ideally with Man U having won. That’s a mindset which must have yielded many victories in a game of fine margins; Man U were the beneficiaries of intimidated referees who wanted to avoid the Fergie treatment in the press, with a subsequent blacklisting from big matches.

This was a situation that applied throughout the Ferguson reign at Old Trafford, a period in which there was really no excuse for Man U failing to win the league in any one year. With everything in their failure, and the media vicariously lapping up the glory, Man U went from strength to strength. The learning curve their players were on under Ferguson was more than simply curved – it was totally bent.

But now, Fergie is long gone, and the major silverware eludes Manchester’s second-best football club. And yet still the “controversial” decisions accrue in their favour. Last night’s home game against Arsenal demonstrated both manifestations of the modern game; the old fashioned “lino’s call” for offside which resulted in Man U’s first goal, and the beginnings of modern technology ensuring that a goal stood which you would never see given against Man U in the days when eyesight alone judged whether the ball was over the line. Goal line technology, for a side that have seen so many narrow decisions go in their favour, is bad news for Man U. How much worse for them will it get when the video assistant referee (VAR) comes in for the Premier League next season, presumably taking away from the hapless Red Devils the marginal decisions they invariably get now?

It’ll be interesting to see what actually happens. My theory is that a club which has always suffered under the naked eye method of making decisions will be bound to do better when such a fallible system is superseded by state of the art cameras. And, equally, clubs that have always tended to get the rub of the green under “human error” will find themselves suffering disproportionately as those errors start to vanish from the game.

Could such a revolution actually result in the previously favoured club losing their exalted status, while the erstwhile pariahs come to the fore? Well, that’s probably just my over-active tendency towards wishful thinking. Still, it would be vastly entertaining and deeply satisfactory, if it ever came to pass. But the whole culture of the game and its supporting media is ranged against anything so unthinkable. During the Man U v Arsenal game last night, BT Sport‘s resident ex-referee “expert” Phil Dowd acknowledged that Man U’s first goal was narrowly offside. “But it was so close,” he demurred, “it would have been very harsh to give it. So, good goal.” That type of Man U-centric thinking still takes my breath away, even after decades of hearing stuff just like it. And it makes me think that, technology notwithstanding, the Old Trafford team will probably still be getting that annoying rub of the green for some time to come.

That’s not really any of my concern, though I’d like to think it vexes a few of you out there just as it does me. But my priority is Leeds United, and – eventually – we’re going to be playing our games under the electronic eye of VAR. And maybe then, if not before, we might actually get the odd penalty, or at least not have so many utterly crap ones given against us. And, if that proves to be the case, then I’ll happily declare myself a convert to this new technological approach. After all – who can afford to go down to the pub for an argument these days?

Can Wonderkid Jack Clarke Make Miraculous History for Leeds United? – by Rob Atkinson

…league games since United got a penalty kick

Leeds United’s teenage wonder and rumoured Manchester City target Jack Clarke is already making a considerable name for himself, on the back of a string of cameo performances that have seen him lend a new dimension to the Whites’ attacking play. No less a football authority than Clarke’s Elland Road manager, Marcelo Bielsa, has acknowledged the youngster’s potential to be a game changer, and it may even be that Clarke is destined to write himself into the history of Yorkshire’s No. 1 club by winning for them – whisper it in hushed tones – a penalty kick.

Some, of course, will dismiss this as fanciful in the extreme. There’s some justification for such cynical pessimism too – teams don’t go 58 games without a penalty (and having ten awarded against them over the same period) without some pretty determined referees being prepared to turn a blind eye and cock a deaf ear to all appeals, however much merit they may have. So why should a fleet-footed wide man, with consummate control and more tricks up his sleeve than you could shake a stick at, make any real difference?

The reason for guarded optimism lies in young Jack’s engaging ability to receive the ball in space out wide, in an onside position (unlike Alioski) and then jink and trick his way past his full back before making inroads into the opposition area (unlike Alioski). Keep doing this, and you’ll get chopped down in the box, sure as eggs are eggs. And keep getting chopped down in the box – well, surely you’re bound to get a decision sooner or later, even if you’ve got a Leeds United badge on your shirt.

And when that momentous penalty kick is awarded, maybe even this season, we might even manage to convert it, unless we’ve actually forgotten how it’s done. In which case, I do hope that the squad occasionally watch the video of last season’s shootout at Burnley in the Carabao Cup, when we made taking penalties look as easy as shelling peas. With that encouragement, anything is possible – but maybe I should just stop wishing for penalties, and enjoy how our heroes seem to be managing perfectly well without any.

Still – it would be nice. So make those runs, young Jack, commit those defenders and just hope that, when the referee does blow his whistle, it’s not just to book you for “diving”.

Heroic Leeds Overcome Sheffield United, the League AND a Disgraceful Referee – by Rob Atkinson

Pablo celebrates after scoring United’s winner at Bramall Lane

There’s no such thing as a bad win away in a Yorkshire derby, but this 1-0 success for Leeds United at Bramall Lane was particularly sweet, and for reasons that transcended three very welcome points.

I might even go so far as to say that today’s win was every bit as satisfying as our last victory at this stadium, way back on 26th April 1992. Victory over the Blunts on that far-off Sunday proved sufficient for United to clinch the title of Last Champions, eventually finishing 4 points clear of what is now Manchester’s junior club. That was a great day – today’s result, fashioned out of adversity and good old-fashioned Football League corruption, had a savour all of its own.

As delighted as I was on the final whistle, I’d been snarling and raging at a lot of what had unfolded before me during the game, particularly a first half notable for the most abysmally atrocious refereeing performance you’ll see outside of United’s last two European finals. Referee Oliver Langford was so bad, you thought it had to be a joke or some surreal and paranoid dream. He looked on as McGoldrick of the Blunts stamped down on Mateusz Klich‘s shin in a classic over the ball challenge normally earning the perpetrator an early bath. Langford waved neither yellow nor red, he didn’t even blow for a foul. Whatever his agenda, such dereliction of duty exposed him as, at best, an incompetent fool; far more likely, given United’s treatment so far this season, he was simply as bent as any other corrupt official of this corrupt Football League, a body that seems to view its Last Champions not with veneration, but with cold hatred.

Langford wasn’t finished with Leeds in this comically bad first half display of persecution. Having booked Sheffield’s Enda Stevens after 25 minutes, he then contented himself with a mere warning for another blatantly bookable challenge; by this time I was chewing the carpet with frustration. The home side should have been reduced to 9 men by the interval, and could easily have been behind as a very decent penalty shout was ignored when Kemar Roofe was pushed and pulled out of the way in the Blunts box. And, just to add insult to injury, Kemar himself received a yellow for the heinous crime of turning his back to avoid a head to head collision. It was a Tinkleresque performance by the laughably bent Langford, and fans of a certain age will know exactly what I mean by that.

By half time, it seemed clear that I was going to get nothing out of watching this game apart from a headache, dangerously raised blood pressure and rear molars ground to powder. It’s fair to say I wasn’t looking forward to the second half.

And yet, it all came right in the end. Having endured yet more injury woe when losing skipper Liam Cooper after 21 minutes, to add to the various injustices listed above, United thoroughly deserved the two pieces of good fortune that eventually came their way. First, on 82 minutes, an overhit backpass had Blunts keeper Dean Henderson scrambling to stop the ball going out for a corner. All he managed to do was present sub Jack Clarke with an opportunity to put an open goal on a plate for Pablo Hernandez, a chance the Spanish wizard snapped up with relish, to the delight of the massed Whites in the stand behind.

And, as time ran out, Dame Fortune, that fickle jade, smiled on Leeds a second time, as a Conor Washington overhead effort beat United keeper Peacock-Farrell all ends up, but crashed against the crossbar instead of pegging Leeds back. So, we got the three points that one of the worst refs I’ve ever seen had tried so hard to deny us, and the very best of hard cheese to him, to Sheffield United and to the corrupt clowns of the Football League.

As for Leeds – the heartiest of congratulations on a win that showed character and guts in the measure needed by any team that knows it will have to battle against the odds to get anywhere. Based on today’s gritty and committed display, this Leeds United team might be about to sample a bit more of that title-winning glory that followed, with a little help from Liverpool, our previous success at Bramall Lane. Let it be.