Tag Archives: Barcelona

My Bremner Square Tribute to my late, Leeds-supporting Dad – by Rob Atkinson

Dad and me – part of the fabric of Elland Road

Just over 44 years ago, my dad ensured that I’d be saddled with a hopeless devotion to Leeds United for the rest of my life. He did this by the simple expedient of purchasing tickets for “the two biggest games of the season”. There they were, these seemingly innocuous but actually life-changing pieces of paper, artlessly displayed on the dining room table – my initiation to the Elland Road experience. Liverpool first, on Saturday April the 5th 1975 and then, the following Wednesday, I’d see Leeds United take on the mighty Barcelona, Cruyff, Neeskens and all, in the European Cup semi final.

 

As I’d never even shown the remotest interest in attending a football match, it’s fair to say that my dad was taking a bit of a punt on me enjoying myself. For all he knew, I could have sulked through both matches; certainly he could never have foreseen the extent to which this sudden treat would alter my outlook and priorities.

 

Strangely, just as Dad was introducing me to a lifetime of United fanaticism, his own passion for the club was about to decline. It’s almost as if he was preparing to hand over the responsibility for supporting the club he’d loved since he was a teenager, even though my first few years of being a proper Leeds fan were spent in his company. Dad didn’t seem to handle the waning of the club’s fortunes too well – after all, he’d seen the flowering of John Charles’ genius in the fifties, then he’d gone all the way through the Revie era of Super Leeds as United carried all before them, winning everything to become football legends.

 

Those were pretty tough acts to follow, and my dad became perhaps a little impatient with the lesser breed of players who were my new heroes. Eventually, I started to go to Elland Road on my own, and I’d come back waxing lyrical about Tony Currie, Arthur Graham, Brian Flynn or Ray Hankin. For me, it was all still bold and new, and I savoured the unique atmosphere as I graduated from Lowfields with my dad, via the Boys’ Pen to the Gelderd End Kop. I’d inherited the mantle of the family’s United fanatic, and Dad seemed almost eager to trade terrace for armchair and take a more passive role.

 

Still, he stuck with it for the first few seasons of my Leeds United worship. This was pretty considerate of him, as I brought Leeds United no luck at all. In that first game, we lost at home to Liverpool 2-0 and, although I saw us beat Barcelona on that memorable Elland Road night, with Billy Bremner scoring my first ever “live” Leeds United goal, my record in the league was dismal over the next couple of seasons. Dad must have thought of me as a Jonah – I never even saw United score another goal, let alone avoid defeat, until I started going to the match on my own in August 1976. In the meantime, we lost to the likes of Liverpool (again), Norwich and Sheffield United, all of which defeats I assumed to be my fault, and I think Dad agreed. But I was not discouraged; I was hooked and that was it. When I eventually saw us win in the league, 2-0 against Derby with goals from Eddie Gray and Trevor Cherry, I was delirious with joy and, to this day, every detail of that game is sharp and clear in my memory.

 

I know that Dad often regretted making a Leeds fan out of me, he was even on about it on my wedding day. He thought I could have spent my time more productively, maybe in playing him in the fiercely competitive Scrabble sessions which he adored – and, on the odd occasion, I’ve found myself agreeing. But overall, it’s been wonderful and, having journeyed from a milk crate vantage point in the middle “shelf” of Lowfields to my present perch on the West Stand Press gantry, I can’t imagine a life without United.

 

Now, over four years since Dad passed away, I’ve finally managed to make him a permanent part of Elland Road with a “Father and Son” stone in Bremner Square, as pictured above. It’s taken me a while, but at last I think I’ve found the most fitting and enduring way to say “thanks, Dad”. MOT, wherever you may be.

Advertisements

Beware of ‘Hopeless’ QPR Turning Up as Brilliant Barcelona Against Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

qpr or barcelona

QPR to face Leeds United on Tuesday? Or Barcelona?

We’ve seen both sides of the effect on opposing teams that a match against Leeds United so often has. It happens time and time again – one aspect is that teams who run themselves into the ground to get a result against Leeds then frequently go on to capitulate against lesser opposition next time out. I call this “Post Cup Final Syndrome” and, believe me, it really is a thing.

That’s annoying enough, but the other side of the coin might usefully be dubbed “The Barcelona Effect”. This where a team has experienced a dire run of form, getting thrashed six ways from Sunday by all and sundry – and then, the fixture list sees them turning out against our heroes. All of a sudden, this previously useless team then turns up looking like a cross between Brazil of 1970 and Pep’s all-conquering Barca side – and we get rolled over. It’s happened way too often for me to disregard this as my own personal paranoia, and I must admit – knowing that QPR have lost seven on the spin, the prospect of the same phenomenon doing for us again at Loftus Road is sending my pessimism coefficient through the roof. We need to win, we want to win, and we should win – but would any of us honestly bet on it?

I’m not here to tell a genius like Marcelo Bielsa how to prepare his team psychologically for the challenge presented by any Championship team – he’s forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know. But a lifetime of following the ups and, mostly, downs of Leeds United has taught me that things can and will go wrong for this club, unless absolutely everything is spot on – so if there do happen to be any players wearing the shirt tomorrow who are looking with relish at the dismal recent record of QPR, then please – put these thoughts from your mind.

Otherwise, as sure as eggs are eggs, we’ll end up with egg on our faces.

Leeds United’s Gain Will Be Real Madrid’s Loss as Bielsa Heads to Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

img_3349-2

El Loco

It’s a topsy-turvy football world these days. Huddersfield Town occupy a higher league position than any other Yorkshire club, Manchester City are streets ahead of their Salford neighbours on the wrong side of the Pennines, Spurs are ahead of Arsenal – and Leeds United are set to appoint a coach seriously coveted for their own club by fans of European Champions Real Madrid.

Incredible as it might seem, the odds are ever more, as each hour passes, on Argentinian legend Marcelo Bielsa becoming the latest occupant of the Elland Road hot seat – with some well-placed sources claiming the deal is already done, all bar the work permit. To say that this would be a coup for United is to edge dangerously close to vast understatement. Anybody who can be suggested as the next coach of Real Madrid, as a feasible successor, mark you, to Zenedine Zidane himself – and yet not have that suggestion laughed out of court – must be hot property indeed. And then there’s the small matter of the opinion of Bielsa voiced by none other than Pep Guardiola – lest we forget, former Barcelona coach and current boss at runaway English champions Manchester City. According to Pep, Bielsa is “the best coach in the world”. Who are we to argue with Pep? Indeed, who is anybody to argue with Pep?

So these are heady days around Elland Road. Should the story be true, they’re liable to get even headier. And if the rumours are anywhere near the bullseye that such a coaching appointment also signals a stratospheric soaring of the United transfer ambitions, then the headiness will know no bounds. It’s safe to say that, in these circumstances, we’d be heading into next season on a high.

For the moment at least, it’s enough of a pleasing novelty to be linked with the likes of Bielsa, and of course Claudio Ranieri too. Things appear to be moving fast, though, and Don alone knows where all of our heads will be at in a couple of weeks or so. We could be celebrating, or we could be reflecting that we perhaps aimed too high. But I have a sneaky feeling that it’ll be the former state of affairs.

Roll on next season then, although – what with the World Cup as well as all of this juicy Leeds United speculation – the summer should be a lot more entertaining than usual for those of us with LUFC carved upon our hearts. One way or another, it’s going to be a very interesting next few months. 

“Travel Man” in Barcelona: Channel 4 Sacrifices a Great Idea on the Altar of Cheap Laughs

p027jj9q

Ayoade and his self-adoring comedy face


Barcelona
is a city I love and have visited frequently, my passion for the place surviving even my witnessing of a 4-0 massacre suffered by my beloved Leeds United. This explains the enthusiasm I felt for this Travel Man series opener – and also my deep sense of frustration and annoyance, having endured an hour of irritating ego-tripping and hopefully-funny silliness masquerading as an informative travel programme. Never have I started to watch a TV offering with a greater sense of anticipatory relish – only to end up feeling I’d have been better employed and more fulfilled eating a plateful of dried locusts.

The two presenters – Richard Ayoade and Kathy Burke – promised much initially, but fell woefully short of their supposed brief. This was, ostensibly, to sum up the attractions of a vibrant and wonderful city and maybe have a few laughs along the way. Ayoade, best-known (though not by me) as a presenter of a gadget show called The IT Crowd, was culprit in chief for what I count as this show’s failure. The premise in Travel Man is that “Richard hates travel and holidays – so what will he make of 48 hours away from home?” Sadly, all else was subordinate to this contrived central message, which Adoyade proceeded relentlessly to hammer home in the most unsubtle way imaginable. It was my first taste of his – for want of a better word – style; I shall not be putting myself out to repeat the experience.

From early in the piece, it was clear that Travel Man was to be the vehicle whereby Ayoade might reach a wider audience and give them the benefit of what he fondly imagines is his laconic and laid-back presentational personality. The dreaded “comedy voice” was a frequent intruder into his narrative; that annoying way of introducing ironic quotation marks by vocal inflection, so that the listener will (hopefully) be inescapably aware that here is a windswept and interesting cynic with an edgy and alternative view on pretty much everything he sees. Some people can carry this off and even make some decent entertainment out of it; Ayoade, on this depressing evidence, patently can’t.

In contrast to my zero prior knowledge of Ayoade, Kathy Burke is a performer I’ve always liked and rated – but here, she was drawn into a teeth-curling attempt to create an unlikely comic double-act. Everything of substance was sacrificed in the effort to get as much ironic comedy as possible – frankly, not a lot – out of this incongruous pairing. Whatever the lure of Barcelona’s many and varied points of interest, it all had to be about Richard Ayoade and his reactions to whatever he saw; a self-indulgent and subjective take on each too-hurried item with the twitchily uncomfortable Ms Burke doing her best to play up to her colleague’s self-adoration.

Thus, in the interests of establishing the desired laugh-a-minute feel to the thing, there was an awkward “Ooh, we have to share a hotel suite” moment with Ms Burke seeming to fear some unlikely molestation from her clearly aloof partner in crime; then there was some cringe-worthy banter at the Nou Camp football stadium, magnificent home of CF Barcelona – where Ayoade was at some pains to demonstrate his effete apathy towards the Beautiful Game – and next some frankly repulsive emetic slapstick in a restaurant, to the bemusement of the admirably patient, polite and professional staff. Burke is a highly capable performer, but she was rather dragged down to the level of her colleague, who was clearly preoccupied with projecting his individual personality over the whole undertaking.

So, instead of being treated to Barcelona’s panoply of vivid beauty and unique art, we got a series of laboriously ponderous set-ups culminating in yet another of Ayoade’s hopefully-cutting one-liners – drawled and mannered punchlines that invariably failed to be even a fraction as devastating as they were clearly intended to be. It was bitterly disappointing fare, and Burke did well to hide the embarrassment she must surely have felt. Perhaps she will reflect that, as an accomplished comedienne, she should not be wasting her time playing stooge to a partner who should have stayed at home surrounded by his gadgets – rather than stepping so far out of that comfort zone into the pitiless and unforgiving arena of comedy.

The victim in all of this squalid waste of time and opportunity – apart from the hapless viewer, sat seething with all hopes dashed – is of course the city of Barcelona itself. A feature-length programme could hardly do justice to its many attractions: the beauty and individuality of its Gaudi-dominated architecture; the culture that shines dazzlingly out of every sunlit surface; the cuisine, the sport, the history. It’s all there in one precious jewel of a city, just waiting to be described and marvelled over. But, disgracefully, we got none of that – in fact it is sadly fair to say that by far the most informative aspects of the whole production were the occasional graphics which flashed up, telling us the price of this or that and highlighting one or other sight worth seeing. Meanwhile, Ayoade and Burke were tenaciously flogging away at the dead horse of their joint comedic potential; it was grisly, unrewarding viewing.

What we did learn is that Richard Ayoade loves Richard Ayoade, and is keen to share that passion with a broader interest group than his usual audience of geeks – but that he is guilty of the cardinal sin of any wannabe comedian: that of forgetting to be funny. And we also learned that Kathy Burke, when handed lemons, will do her solid best to make lemonade, bless her. On this occasion, though, she should have thrown those lemons at her partner’s smug countenance – and hopped straight back on the train home. If she had – then maybe I and doubtless thousands of others might have been spared the empty disappointment felt after a production, that could have achieved so much, ended up delivering nothing but resentment. The knowledge that there went an hour of my life I’m never going to get back left me wondering what the effortlessly authoritative Michael Portillo might have done with such a nugget of a travel show idea. He could not, let’s face it, have been worse – and you just know that he’d have been far, far better – by an order of several hundred magnitudes.

This series will tragically continue with what we might dolefully expect to be a similar treatment of Istanbul, but it won’t have me for company. My advice is to stay at home instead of being tempted to go along for the ride and, with all due deference to Richard Ayoade’s forcefully-professed and overtly squeamish dislike of muddied oafs – see if there’s any football on.

How San Siro Dom Matteo Became a Leeds Legend – by Rob Atkinson

Matteo

Dom Matteo scores to become a United legend

However much pedants may argue about when the third millennium started – January 1, 2000, or a year later – the season 2000-01 was the first proper 21st Century season, and it was also my annus mirabilis European campaign; having never seen my beloved Leeds play abroad up to this point, I witnessed them competing at the highest level in three true cathedrals of continental football.  Incidentally, I’ve always favoured the Jan 1, 2000 date as the start of the millennium – that’s when the most spectacular fireworks kicked off, that’s when the magical sight of four numerals clicking over was seen – and most importantly that’s when Leeds United were heading the Premiership table, marking what will probably be football’s only thousand year threshold by sitting proudly at the top of the game – a position that the media had been frantically speculating might have been held by the lesser United from the wrong side of the Pennines.

More about other parts of this memorable season elsewhere, but my European experience started in a “sports bar” on Westgate in Wakefield, watching nervously on a big screen as Leeds negotiated the second leg of a tricky Champions League qualifying tie against 1860 Munich.  We were ahead 2-1 from the first leg in Leeds, and such a narrow lead was never that secure.  In the end though, Alan Smith scored the only goal in Munich to close out the tie 3-1 on aggregate.  The subsequent draw saw United pitted against giants Barcelona and Milan as well as Turkish side Besiktas in an incredibly tough first qualifying group.  I was on holiday with my wife and young daughter on a campsite in the South of France when the first game was played, in Spain.  Callously abandoning my ladies to their fate, I impulsively jumped on a train from St Raphael to Barcelona, installed myself in a hotel with a swimming pool on the roof, bought a ticket from a tout, and watched from the midst of the fanatical home support – the Boixos Nois (Crazy Boys) – as Leeds, fielding a side decimated by injuries, slid to a 4-0 defeat.

If you’d told me then that we were destined for the last four, I’d have laughed long and bitterly, but I did enjoy every moment of my first European away-day in the palatial surroundings of the Camp Nou.  I still have two souvenirs – a plastic seat cushion and a big St Georges flag with LUFC Oxford Whites printed on it, which a group of Barca fans had captured and were waving in triumph at the end.  Stupidly, I approached them, feeling that a 0-4 defeat was humiliation enough, and demanded it back (quite politely).  I was getting snarls and throat-slitting gestures, and I remember mumbling something along the lines of “Barcelona no es Galatasaray”, which they seemed to take to heart.  Some of the lads’ girlfriends were regarding me pityingly, obviously wondering if I was drunk, or mad, or both – and to my relief they urged their men to show restraint.  Luckily for me, the lads seemed to listen – they handed the flag over, anyway – but if they’d known that we were destined to eliminate them from the competition, I doubt they’d have been so conciliatory.

The group then ebbed and flowed – but most results after that first defeat went our way.  We beat Milan at home, courtesy of Lee Bowyer‘s late winner which slithered through the Milan keeper’s grasp like a bar of soap on that soaking wet night.  Interviewed afterwards, Bowyer confessed his surprise and delight in tones of pure Albert Square – he hadn’t expected his shot to count because it “weren’t in the cawner” – but United were firmly back on track.  Then, we came so, so close to beating Barça at Elland Road, denied only at the very death after a world-class display from our inexperienced but brilliant young ‘keeper Paul Robinson – and we absolutely thrashed Besiktas by 6-0.  When it came to the last round of group games, the equation was simple – if we could avoid defeat at the San Siro, we would be through to the next stage, whatever Barcelona did to Besiktas.

And so I found myself on an early-morning flight from Leeds Bradford Airport to Milan Malpensa, along with thousands of other Leeds fans intoxicated at the prospect of a famous evening in a truly magnificent stadium.  We would arrive in Milan with plenty of time to look around the place before meeting up with coaches to the stadium, and it proved an eventful day.  There had been violence the previous night, a Leeds fan had been attacked and wounded in an incident which evoked horrific memories of the awful scenes in Istanbul just a few months before.  The city of Milan had been declared “dry” for the day, so it was extremely difficult to find a bar which would serve an obvious Leeds fan.  I was contented enough though, just wandering around the amazing Cathedral Square where I met legend and Leeds fan Ralph Ineson, of “Harry Potter” movie fame, and also memorably “Finchy” in the BBC’s “The Office”.  He was happy to have a chat and a photo, and then I ambled off to have a peek at the world famous La Scala Opera House, where my wife’s great-grandfather had been a violinist, so that was my passing nod to family history.

Finally, with the afternoon stretching before me, I bumped into an old mate from home – we both exclaimed stupidly “What are you doing here?” – and we managed to find a bar that was open, and spent a couple of hours relaxing and happily anticipating the match ahead.  The bar owner was friendly – so much so that he felt able to pop out on some errand, leaving us in charge.  The fearsome reputation of some Leeds fans had evidently failed to penetrate this far into the bar culture of Milano.

The match itself is so famous that I barely need to recount the action kick by kick.  The Leeds fans at one end of the stadium were in fully, throaty voice for most of the proceedings, drawing incredulous glances from the attendant Carabinieri who were in full-on riot gear but friendly enough, muttering to each other about lunatic English tifosi (hooligans.)  The first half was a decent contest – Milan were through already, but not disposed to give Leeds an easy ride – especially after paranoid noises emanating from Barcelona, who – nervous about their own prospects – had done their best to warn Milan off taking it easy against Leeds.  So Milan pressed in front of a crowd of 52289, and their winger Serginho was causing Gary Kelly plenty of problems.  In the 26th minute, a slightly soft penalty was awarded to Milan at our end of the stadium, and 6000 Leeds fans held their collective breath as Andriy Shevchenko took careful aim only to rap Robinson’s right-hand post, the ball bouncing away to safety as the masses behind our goal celebrated as if we’d actually scored.  And then, miraculously, as the first half ebbed away, we did score.  A Lee Bowyer corner from the right found Matteo rising majestically at the near post to meet the ball with a punchy header which soared high into the net.  Cue utter pandemonium at the Leeds end as all the tension, passion and belief exploded in one almighty roar which almost lifted the hi-tec roof off the famous stadium.

The party went on throughout half-time and into the second half, drawing more bemused glances from the Italian police; there was only a brief hiatus in the 67th minute when the superb Serginho deservedly equalised, but then it was mounting fan fever again all the way to the final whistle and beyond as Leeds held out to qualify for an equally difficult second phase of the competition.  The scenes after the game are at least as famous as the events of the ninety minutes; the team coming back out onto the pitch in response to the demands of the faithful who were held back in the interests of crowd safety.  What followed was described by respected football commentators (plus Alan Green) as the best example of team/fan bonding they’d ever seen.  Fans and players – even a certain Chairman and tropical fish fan – swapped chants and songs in a spontaneous celebration of a joyous night.  The uncertain musical efforts of Lee Bowyer were greeted by a blast of friendly derision as he looked suitably embarrassed.  It was a unique experience, and the Latin cops were clearly by now utterly convinced that these English people were absolutely barking mad.  As football nights go, you’d have to travel a long way to find one more worthy of memory – only a trophy could have improved it, but the spectacle of the game and its aftermath is one I have seen imitated but never repeated.

Dom Matteo, the hero of the hour, was simply a likeable and committed defender before that night, clearly delighted to be Leeds; the kind of player the Kop takes to its heart.  But after that night, he was elevated to demigod status, a true Leeds legend with his own song and a place on a pedestal in the United Hall of Fame.  The choice last season of Dom as a Football Ambassador for the club seemed obvious – but really it was utterly inspired.  This beloved ex-player and respected press commentator, dispensing common sense when all about him has been hysteria, sends out only the most positive of vibes.  He is the sort of person we need to see closely associated with the club, so his involvement in any capacity was a move to be applauded.  Just get Lucas “The Chief” Radebe back on board now, and we’ll be cooking with gas.

Thanks, Dom.  Thanks for being a voice of sanity in the press these past few years, thanks also for coming back to reassert your love of the club.  And thanks most of all for that memorable night in Milan.