Monthly Archives: August 2019

Pure Filth From Leeds United as Baffled Stoke City get Taken to the Cleaners – by Rob Atkinson

Sometimes, only the argot of the young and clued-up will do when you’re trying to sum-up something extraordinary that has you rooting around for appropriate metaphors.

Advertisements

Why Leeds United Should Already be Planning for the Premier League – by Rob Atkinson

img_3382

Leeds fans – fervent hopes and great expectations

A combination of Leeds United’s positive start to the Championship campaign, along with the fact of some rivals’ struggles when promoted to the Premier League, might give rise to doubts among our number as to how United would cope with our own longed-for elevation to the elite – should it finally happen. It’s a fair question, even at this early stage of the season – counting no chickens and not wanting to sound too arrogant, it still is very definitely something we’ve every right to ponder. After all, we’ve built up such momentum as a club this past year or so, with Elland Road packed every home game and thousands following the lads all over the country. There’s no denying it’s been a blast, we even surpassed some of the expectations and odds provided by the best pundits of the Sports betting and news sites, even given last season’s ultimate disappointment. Do we really relish the idea of trading all of that for the negativity of a long, grim relegation struggle in the Premier League next year? But that train of thought, logical and realistic though it might be, flies in the face of Leeds United’s urgent need for a return to where it truly belongs.

In considering our chances of survival if this season did see us making a successful promotion challenge, we’d do well to take with a pinch of salt the current club response to rumours of a possible takeover somewhere down the line. The Leeds owner’s position is given as being willing to consider more inward investment, while refusing to contemplate an actual sale of the club. But many fans, as well as many seasoned football pundits, feel that Leeds would have to change hands if they were to have a chance of competing towards the higher echelons of the Premier League. Even then, there’d be the strictures of Financial Fair Play to be negotiated; some of the club’s biggest challenges in a higher sphere would, it appears, be off the field of play. But the likes of Wolves have shown it’s possible to operate to a model that permits more than just a struggle to survive, and this is the type of example that United must follow, should they finally escape the clutches of the Football League.

Huddersfield struggled feebly for two seasons and then meekly surrendered. Hull City did well for a while, but now they’re back down. It will be interesting to see how Sheffield United fare in the top flight, after their steady start. But surely Leeds United, given the right type of ownership and structure, should be able to envisage a more secure foothold at a higher level than any of these Yorkshire rivals were able to achieve.

Clearly, we have to focus on promotion first and foremost, but it’s as well to have plans in place a long way in advance of any realisation of our current ambitions. So now really is the time to be wondering how we’d cope – and I firmly believe that those questions are already echoing around the corridors of power inside Elland Road. What the answers will be, who can say? But Leeds fans, who will remember how United set about the top flight on our previous two promotions in 1964 and 1990, are unlikely to settle for a weak approach next time. They will want to see us challenging as of old – and I believe it’s in this club’s DNA to do just that.

Back to School for the “Class of ‘92” as Bielsa’s Leeds Master Salford – by Rob Atkinson

The Last Champions – Masters of 1992

As anyone who has watched the entertaining Class of 92 TV series will attest, Salford City have come a long, long way in a short, short time, gaining multiple promotions from what was their virtual grass roots status, and picking up a spiffy new stadium along the way. All very admirable, even if some insist on pointing out that this progress has been courtesy of many more millions in funding than you commonly see so far down the football pyramid. It would seem that Financial Fair Play has a different meaning at this thud and blunder stratum of the game, though you’ll likely be accused of poor taste by those behind the Salford/media love-fest if you’re presumptuous enough to point this out.

Still, the TV programmes have been entertainment gold for all of us who like to be flies on walls in tantrum-riven half time dressing rooms, or even post-defeat boardrooms, when things are going awry. It’s a vicious as well as vicarious sort of amusement but, for the past few days leading up to our own Leeds United heroes’ Cup tie appointment with Salford, it’s helped fill the void that opened up in the wake of being scurvily robbed of victory against Nottingham Forest. There was drama aplenty and some unwitting comedy too, particularly in the moment of fulfilment as Salford gained promotion to the Football League at Wembley, with co-owner Gary Neville’s high-pitched Mancunian squeaks of celebration disappearing off the audible scale and becoming something only dogs or Huddersfield fans could hear.

So much for Salford’s mundane but latterly meteoric history prior to last night. For the Leeds United home tie was where their new era truly began, after one victory and one defeat at League Two level, with the visit of the biggest club in the entire Football League. Anticipation was quite naturally at fever pitch and the new stadium, whose corporate name I entirely forget, was packed to its Meccano rafters. All was ready – and the scene was set, so Sky Sports clearly and fervently hoped, for a juicy giant-killing, with S’rAlex and his erstwhile footballing sons, together with the legendary Lawman, clustered eagerly in the main stand to witness the deeply desired humbling of Leeds United.

Alas, these things so often fail to work out as planned, something any random sample of mice and men will confirm. Before kick-off, over-excited Salford fans were issuing predictions of a 3-1 victory, and even the normally pragmatic Gary Neville so far forgot himself as to join in with such ill-advised optimism. Gary is prone to the odd mental aberration where Leeds United are concerned, somehow contriving to have entirely forgotten, despite pictorial evidence of him looking dismayed in the background while Jermaine celebrated his goal at the Beckford End, United’s 1-0 FA Cup victory at the Theatre of Hollow Myths in 2010. Gary had thought that Leeds were back in his life for the first time since 2004 – but he is getting on a bit, bless him, and these lapses are understandable.

The match started with both sides in wary, probing mode, and with Salford managing to prevent Leeds getting behind them whilst launching a few raids of their own on the counter-attack. This was enough, despite United’s domination of possession, for the Sky commentary team, featuring ever-reliable Leeds-hater Don Goodman, to proclaim that the home team had been the better side – and the coverage featured numerous cutaway shots of the strangely named “Class of 92” looking resolutely happy whenever Salford did anything remotely competent. But reality bit ravenously at Lancastrian jugulars just before the interval, with Helder Costa making a quicksilver dart for the byline to be found by a beautiful Jamie Shackleton pass inside the full-back. Costa laid a devastating ball across the six yard box to find fellow debutant Eddie Nketiah emerging between two bamboozled centre-backs to finish decisively into an empty net. Salford had been cut asunder by a moment of class from a higher sphere, and all of a sudden, those lovingly lingering shots of the ersatz Class of 92 were a thing of the past. Don Goodman talked hopefully about Nketiah being offside and of how Salford could now capitalise on their good play after the interval, but his hope and his enthusiasm were waning. And, happily, worse was to come.

In the second half, Leeds piled on that lovely agony with a near post flick from Berardi and a sumptuous finish from Klich which topped off a sweeping, length of the pitch break from a Salford corner. It was “job done”, and the disgruntled Sky guys knew it, opting now to talk instead of United’s draw at home against Forest in a vain attempt to rekindle the Leeds crisis atmosphere they’d worked so hard to generate pre-match. For the rest, there were a couple of elbows to Leeds heads, dismissed by Goodman as unintentional, and the standard stonewall penalty not given when Shacks was hauled back in the box. 3-0 and finis, a tricky tie safely negotiated.

A look around other results last night will show you that Sky’s hopes for a Salford victory had been not all that unrealistic. This stage of this competition has upsets as the norm, not the exception. Among the more amusing outcomes were Barnsley’s 0-3 capitulation to Carlisle, with ex-United man Aapo Halme having a ‘mare, and Huddersfield losing at home to a single goal by Lincoln City to cries from literally dozens of dog-botherers for their new manager to get him hence. So the processional nature of United’s progress would have been a matter of bitter regret to Goodman and Co, who surely must have reflected that they should have looked elsewhere for their longed-for upset.

What else can be taken away from this tie, what lessons are there to be learned? One is that the myth of Leeds’ shallow squad is just that; with the likes of Shackleton, Davis and young Alfie McCalmont looking ready to supplement the established stars, we seem comfortably well-off for squad depth to this blogger’s eye. Also, the myth of The Class of 92 can now finally be scotched. The Last Champions were the real Class of 92 and, if you’re looking for winners in the clash of emerging talents, let’s not forget that the Nevilles, the Scholes the Beckhams et al, while victorious in the Youth Cup of 92, comprehensively bit the dust in the Final of 93, beaten in both legs by the boys from Elland Road.

All in all, then, a most satisfactory evening, with United enjoying the fruits of victory and Fergie, along with his protégés, choking on some well-earned humble pie. Which really is exactly as it should be.

Marching On Together

Steady Away as Leeds United’s Home Season Gets Off to a Stuttering Start – by Rob Atkinson

thumbnail

Best view in the house – West Stand gantry

It was a close and steamy morning at Elland Road last Saturday as I arrived at the ground in good time to see the atmosphere build towards the start of another Leeds United home season. The wind was up in more ways than one as I sat in blustery conditions outside what used to be Sheila’s Cafe, opposite the West Stand car park gates. In the past, you would often see United stars in there, gathered around one of Sheila’s tables, winding down after a Fullerton Park training session. Now, the cafe was chock-a-block with nervous fans, trying to control those butterflies in the stomach with fry-ups and copious draughts of hot tea, and relegating me to that outside table.

The nerves were understandable; every Leeds fan was keenly aware of the need for a win to build on a great start to the season down at Bristol City. The prospect of Nottingham Forest, always awkward opponents for United, made the pre-match atmosphere crackle with tension, even at 9:30 before a half past twelve kick-off. From here on in, that tension would build and build. 

A welcome end to the summer hiatus was marked by the sight of match-going friends being reunited with a hug and a slap on the back. “Happy New Year”, they greeted each other, only half in jest, acknowledging that we football fanatics observe a different, seasonal calendar. After the hellos and the hugs, the talk was all of the squad changes over summer: how much would we miss Pontus and Roofe? Would this Arsenal kid (Eddie Nketiah) be able to fill Kemar’s talented boots? Could Patrick Bamford finally hit form and rip up the Championship? It was a buzz of excited talk, reflecting the hope and optimism of a season hardly started, with three precious points already in the bank.

Inside the ground, fresh from a welcome sausage butty outside that packed cafe, I find that the press lounge matchday fare is… a sausage butty. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. So I chew away happily, read the programme, try to put some names to new faces and collect a bottle of water to take aloft to the West Stand gantry and gape anew at the best view in the house. From here, the ground looks like a perfect bowl, the asymmetrical East Stand upper tier hidden by the West Stand fascia, with the scoreboard and gap at the south-west corner almost invisible somewhere to my right. In the first half, I position myself towards the south end of the gantry, next to the BBC Radio Nottingham commentators who are busy with their match preview piece. Looking straight down, I’m almost directly above the tunnel from which the gladiators are emerging in dribs and drabs, to go through the pre-match warm up. In the second half, I’ll move north, towards the Revie Stand, the Kop. Meanwhile, the Forest fans below are trading insults with the South Stand, and the atmosphere ramps up another notch.

Now it’s nearly kick-off, and the teams run out for real to a clamour of rival welcomes. Below me, the Forest substitutes pick their way through the Leeds technical area, being politely careful not to kick Bielsa’s bucket. All is ready, it’s now time for the hostilities to commence.

United, as expected, dominate throughout, but their superior possession yields only one goal and, near the end, they are punished by the classic sucker punch. But they’ve played well, and have legitimate complaints about the standard of refereeing. That’s an all too frequent lament, something that Leeds, yet again, will simply have to overcome. All the signs are that this squad has the potential and the ability to do just that. In the end, I’m left regretting not only the undeserved loss of two home points, but also my unforgivable failure immediately to recognise the guy sitting next to me in the second half as United legend Andy Hughes, a stalwart in the League One promotion team of 2010. Sorry, Andy. I’m clearly not worthy. 

So, another season has started at Elland Road. And who can really know what’s in store for us in the next nine or so months? Maybe tonight’s League Cup tie at newly-arrived Salford City will provide some clues, as a few signings and some fringe players seek to stake their claims. But all we have right now are fervent hopes and the optimism that somehow still infects those who have been let down so sorely and so often. Come on, Leeds, let’s really make it happen this time around…

Marching On Together.

Leeds Fans Must Now be United Behind Club and Team – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Fans United

Every Leeds United fan knows that following the Whites automatically includes you as part of the most fanatical and vociferous band of supporters anywhere. In short, the greatest fans around. This is an article of faith with United fans, not even a matter for debate. So mote it be. 

How very odd, then, to find yourself shaking your head in baffled disbelief at some of the social media output from the massed keyboards of this elite cadre of support. Clearly, with an online presence that probably runs into the millions worldwide, not everybody is going to agree all the time, for instance, on the vexed subject of United’s transfer policy. Still, the why-oh-why stance of a small but loud minority of the virtual support is hard to stomach for those of us who were brought up on the credo of “my club, right or wrong”.

It’s not only a transfer window thing, either. In fact, compared to the negative attitude of some “supporters” towards players struggling for form and confidence, Victor Orta and his transfer team are being afforded a relatively easy ride. Even so, the amount of uninformed criticism surrounding United’s recruitment efforts, during this and other transfer windows, tends to make Twitter an area of the Internet it’s wiser to avoid, especially for those who prefer their blood pressure to remain at a good safe level. Needless to say, that’s not a luxury in which I can indulge, being of the blogger/columnist persuasion, and my hypertension suffers accordingly.

Transfers are complex matters, due to all manner of factors: finances, agents, rival clubs, media and so on. I don’t envy the United officials trying to negotiate such choppy waters while being assailed and vilified on all sides by a section of online fans not overly burdened with any knowledge of what they’re talking about, and even less so by any tact, restraint or decorum. It can’t make the job any easier and, every now and again, you do see a faintly exasperated comment from the club along the lines of “we’re doing our best, we all want good outcomes, please be patient”. Sadly, such assurances usually fall on deaf ears; there are those out there, it seems, who wallow in negativity and relish any chance to have a moan or offer their unqualified opinions. 

It’s the carping criticism of certain players, though, that really offends and annoys. Take Patrick Bamford, for instance. Now, some of the criticism he receives has been fairly gentle and possibly even merited, though his record at United is good, taking into account last season’s injury woes. His milder critics peddle a ruefully humorous line, referring to Patrick as “Lord Bamford of Beeston” and wondering, tongue in cheek, if he shouldn’t delegate his goal-scoring duties to his butler. That’s the kind of thing that, reaching a player’s ears, might make him smile and redouble his determination to succeed. It’s harmless fun and, if the line is drawn there, nobody could really complain. 

But the more serious and malicious abuse is blatantly counter-productive, a classic case of a pistol levelled directly at our own collective foot. Players, and strikers in particular, thrive on confidence and encouragement. It makes little sense to hurl abuse and ill-founded criticism at a player such as Bamford, who will not be assisted by suggestions that he couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo, or that he’s worth less than a written-off, wheel-less banger rusting in a ditch. All that and worse has been flung at Bamford.

Fortunately and thankfully, the lad has a resilient character and a cold determination to succeed. His goal at Bristol City, the movement and the finish from that aristocratic forehead, testify to that. Long may his ability to rise above the howling of the mob continue.

Now, the window is closed until January, and it’s been a far better one than the usual suspects referred to above would wish you to believe. The squad has been purged of certain disruptive elements as identified by Marcelo Bielsa himself and, despite FFP strictures, the overall quality is arguably higher. In any event, we go with what we’ve got; if the performance at Ashton Gate can be maintained or even improved upon, it’ll take a fabulous opposing performance to stop us in any given match.

Whether you’re a matchgoing, raucous fanatic, or confined to long distance support, the message from here is the same. Get behind the team, get behind the club. We’re all on the same journey. Marching On Together.

Leeds to Get £190k EFL Fine Rebate by Claiming Spygate was Actually Racism? – by Rob Atkinson

LeeMill2

Dirty nasty foreign spies Leeds United – and lovely cuddly adorable racist granny Millwall

Leeds United may well have found a loophole, courtesy of the Football League, in the flimsy legal basis for the £200,000 fine levelled against them last season over the so-called “Spygate” furore. It now turns out that, compared to the heinous matter of viewing a rival team training, from a public footpath, through a wire fence, in contravention of absolutely no current rules whatsoever, out-and-out racism is viewed by the Football League as twenty times less serious. This is made clear by the amount Millwall FC have been fined for the racist chanting of some of their fans, a comparatively measley £10,000.

The logic behind United’s next step is now inescapable. If the Elland Road outfit were simply to hold their hands up and reveal that the man on the public footpath was not merely an innocent observer of a training event being held in plain sight, but was actually hurling racist abuse and invective towards certain of the Derby players, then it will be seen that the fine of £200,000 was wrongly set too high by a factor of 2000%. The Football League, by virtue of the precedent they themselves have set, would be forced to refund 95% of United’s fine, in order to demonstrate their commitment to even-handedness and egalitarianism.

In point of fact, the Leeds fine was paid personally by manager Marcelo Bielsa, who assumed full responsibility for the whole situation as far as Leeds United’s involvement was concerned. It is thought that United would not wish to detract from this admirable gesture on their manager’s part, and so will add the refunded amount of £190,000 to club coffers in case they wish to pay up the contracts of any unwanted players they’ve not been able to flog so far.

The Football League is happy to confirm that Millwall Football Club are chirpy, cheery, charming (if a little racist but let’s not hammer them for it) cockneys, which isn’t nearly as bad as nasty horrible Leeds spying on Fwank.