Tag Archives: Bolton Wanderers

Gary Speed, the Leeds United Legend Who Ticked All the Boxes – by Rob Atkinson

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Gary Speed of Leeds United

Gary Speed, the Leeds United and Wales star who seemed to everyone who’d witnessed his talent on and off the pitch to have the football world at his feet, left us seven years ago today. Because of the manner of his leaving, and the universal esteem in which he was held, this is a difficult piece to write, even all these years later.

People have described hearing the shocking news of Gary’s death as a “JFK moment”; you’d always remember where you were and what you were doing when the awful reality fell on your unbelieving ears. As a Leeds United fan, I can remember feeling a cold splash of shock at the back of my neck, a sensation I’ve only had on a mercifully few occasions in my life. Even though Gary had left Elland Road for his boyhood love Everton 15 years before, it was a shattering blow, as it would have been for all of those who supported him in the colours of Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United, as well as the fervent ranks of Wales fans. It was so sudden, so unexpected and inexplicable, that a player and manager who seemed to have it all should have died at only 42 years old, and apparently by his own hand.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Gary Speed was loved and admired by just about everyone, fans of his clubs and country, and rival fans alike. Within the game he was revered by his colleagues, team mates, opponents and media operatives, for his likeability and professionalism; he was known as a man without the kind of faults and flaws you so frequently find in young men who have succeeded in their professions at a young age, and who have gone on to become rich and famous. Gary had all that, but he also had a disarming and genial personality that endeared him to those he met in the course of his career. Many were the tears shed, in private and in public too, over the days and weeks following his untimely demise. Nobody who saw it will forget the sight of Shay Given weeping openly after the minutes silence that preceded the Swansea v Aston Villa match only hours after Gary’s death had been announced. Respected reporter Bryn Law, a close friend of Speed, broke down emotionally during a TV interview in which he described his shock and sense of loss. To say that the whole game reeled with the impact of such tragic and unexpected news would not be to overstate the case. Gary’s memory was honoured when Leeds United played Millwall and his fellow midfielders from the 1991–92 title winning side Gary McAllister, David Batty and Gordon Strachan laid wreaths in the centre circle before kick off.

Bewilderment featured high on the list of reactions among those who knew him well, or who had even just known him as a famous footballer. The question of “Why?” has never been completely answered, the inquest stopping short of reaching a verdict of suicide, whilst acknowledging that Gary’s death had been caused by “self suspension”. Several years after Speed’s death, one of the coaches who had been involved with him as a boy footballer, Barry Bennell, was convicted as a serial child sex offender. Speed had been interviewed by police during earlier investigations into Bennell’s behaviour, and had said that he was never harmed by him; the inquest into Speed’s death found no links to Bennell. In February 2018, however, after Bennell’s conviction, an anonymous victim of the coach told Al Jazeera that he had witnessed Speed being abused. It seems unlikely that there will ever be a definitive explanation for the death of a man who had only the previous day conducted himself normally during a BBC Football Focus interview. All we are really left with, even seven years later, is shock, bafflement and a profound sense of loss.

Pg-11s-gary-speed-gettyMy memories of Gary Speed date from around the time of his Leeds United debut in 1989. He swiftly established himself as far more than just another promising midfielder, with his range of passing, awareness, powerful shot and prodigious ability in the air marked him out as a very special player. He served Leeds United well in a period of success second only to the Don Revie era, and he carried the respect and affection of the Leeds fans with him when he departed for Everton in 1996.

If I had to pick out one particular golden memory of Gary Speed, it would probably be the one so many other United fans mention when asked; the final goal of Leeds United’s 4-0 demolition of promotion rivals Sheffield United at Elland Road towards the climax of both clubs’ successful campaigns. It was a crunch game, with Leeds on the front foot from the start and, with the Whites having established a three goal cushion, Speed was released down the left by an astute Chris Kamara pass. I can still see him in my mind’s eye, outstripping the Blades defence and bearing down on Simon Tracey‘s goal at the Kop end of the ground. “Go on, Gary lad, get one yourself,” were the commentator’s memorable words as Speed unleashed a fine left foot shot just inside the far post to wrap up a comprehensive victory. It’s the stuff of which legends are made, and Gary Speed fits the definition of the word “legend” in every conceivable sense.

Seven years on, all of his fans remember him with affection tinged by the regret of a life well spent but over far too soon. Leeds play Reading tonight, and there will almost certainly be tributes paid to one of the club’s greatest servants – one of those rare players you felt could even have challenged for a place in Don Revie’s Super Leeds outfit.

RIP, Gary Andrew Speed, MBE (8 September 1969 – 27 November 2011) – still loved, still missed. 

Speed LUFC

Gary Speed’s complete Leeds United record

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Leeds Icon in Hammer Blow While Wonderkid Waits in the Wings – by Rob Atkinson

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Pontus – wants answers from United

Understandably, attention is switching away from Leeds United‘s slow-motion car crash of a season, as it fizzles out into yet another mid-table mediocrity outcome. But, Leeds being Leeds, there will always be something to talk about – even when the football itself is hardly worthy of mention. The past few days has exemplified this, with two contrasting stories – one rather worrying, the other a beacon of hope for the not too distant future.

On the debit side of the Leeds chat ledger is the perturbing suggestion that defensive colossus Pontus Jansson may be less than contented with the way things are going at Elland Road. It appears that the big Swedish international would like some assurances from the owners and board about plans for next season, with the clear implication that Pontus doesn’t fancy another campaign of under-achievement. And the worry can only increase with rumours that Jansson could be heading for the Elland Road exit door, with West Ham, of all clubs, being a possible destination. The believability of that particular whisper isn’t assisted by the laughable purchase price quoted, somewhere around £5.4 million, which would hardly cover a season’s loan fee and wages. West Ham, it might also be said, would be a strange destination for anybody worried about his current club’s situation; Pontus would probably be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire if a move to the Hammers actually transpired.

A much more positive story is the impressive form of young Jack Clarke in the increasingly dominant Under-23 side, which has now won four on the spin. Clarke gave a breathtaking display in the most recent victory, a 3-0 dismissal of Cardiff City at Thorp Arch. Reports suggested that Clarke was beating his man at will, and – had more clear scoring chances been taken – could have ended up with half a dozen assists. It’s also reported that Jack is a wanted lad, by none other than runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City, no less. But our boy wonder appears to be indifferent to such a move, preferring to stay and learn his trade at Elland Road, which is music to the ears of any United fan feeling starved of good, positive news. It looks as though Jack Clarke could be competing for some first team involvement sooner rather than later, and the feeling is that United have a seriously hot prospect on their hands.

Sadly, the actual football will soon be taking our attention away from these more interesting matters once again, which is a bit of a pain. Leeds do seem set for a bumper crowd against Bolton at the weekend, though, with an attendance of well over 30,000 likely. This is quite extraordinary for a club whose prices aren’t the cheapest, who have been serving up uninspiring dross in their performances since early in the season, and who have been languishing outside the top flight for far too many years now. All of which goes to show that Leeds United are still Number One in terms of their fanatical support, for which much credit is owed to those long-suffering and dedicated Elland Road devotees.

In summary: if Pontus leaves for the Hammers, I shall eat my Leeds United bobble hat; I will also predict here and now a debut and goal for Jack Clarke before the end of this season – and we can still be extremely proud of our club, off the playing field at least.

Marching On Together.

What a Difference 25 Years Makes: Congratulations to AFC Bournemouth   – by Rob Atkinson

Dean Court - Premier League ground

Dean Court – Premier League ground

A few days short of 25 years since Leeds United gained their last promotion to the top flight, AFC Bournemouth – the team we beat that quarter of a century ago to send us up (and them down) – have turned the tables, securing their own place at English football’s top table.

It’s all but mathematically certain – confirmation is a mere formality. For Bournemouth not to be a Premier League side next season, a ridiculous combination of results would be needed – it ain’t gonna happen. Bournemouth are Premier League – and how they deserve it.

The paradox apparent between the Cherries’ fantastic achievement this season, and the Whites triumph on that long-ago May bank holiday afternoon, is one of contrasts and similarities. Then, as now, we beat Bournemouth home and away – back in 1990, our victory at Dean Court secured the Second Division Championship for United; Bournemouth, meanwhile, were condemned by defeat to the drop into the third tier.

This season, it could easily have been Leeds going down as Bournemouth ascended to the Promised Land. Thankfully, things didn’t switch around quite that much. But surely, any Leeds fan watching Bournemouth’s stylish destruction of Bolton Wanderers tonight could not have failed to be impressed by and pleased for a small club that has never before played in the top league. It’s a massive thing for the South coast club – and accomplished in the most exemplary fashion.

Leeds United should take note; this is a small club, but a very well-run one. They have a manager in Eddie Howe who is a round peg in a round hole in that he is obviously happy where he is, benefiting from solid backing and very much in charge of team affairs. Bournemouth even have their own Russian tycoon bankrolling their progress – but this is no Chelski situation where there are billions to chuck around. The Cherries have done it on a budget, done it as a team, done it with style. It’s a blueprint for other clubs of ambition. Leeds can learn from Bournemouth, just as we should have learned from Swansea and Southampton before them.

Leeds United and Bournemouth have had very different seasons; Leeds may have won the battles between the two clubs, but the spoils of a season-long campaign belong very definitely to Watford (who beat us twice) and Eddie Howe’s ebulliently effective, stylishly efficient, irresistible AFC Bournemouth team.

Congratulations to the two promoted sides, and to whoever may join you via the play-offs. May we at Leeds United benefit and prosper by your examples – and may we join you up there sooner rather than later.

Is West Brom’s Graham Dorrans the Best Option for Leeds Utd? – by Rob Atkinson

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Graham Dorrans – career revival needed

West Bromwich Albion midfielder Graham Dorrans has been tipped in some quarters to be the latest loan target for Leeds United as they look to rekindle their fast-disappearing hopes of a late push for this season’s Championship play-off places.  Rumours gathered pace earlier on Saturday when Dorrans was omitted from the Albion squad to face Man U.  The Scottish international has been frozen out of match-day involvement with the Baggies lately, but his quality is undoubted, particularly at Championship level where he made Team of the Year as West Brom won promotion in 2010.  Quality is a big issue at Elland Road just now.  It was a commodity totally lacking in the calamitous reverse to an ordinary Bolton side, along with backbone, nerve, character and grit.  Those are five characteristics any successful side simply cannot do without – Leeds came up with a consistent zero in all areas.  So the addition of pedigree in the shape of a proven creative midfielder would be welcome; though some might pose the question: just why would Dorrans wish to climb aboard what would appear to be a sinking ship?

Leeds are hardly likely to be the only club at this level who might be interested in a loan deal for Dorrans.  Nottingham Forest, as usual, have been heavily linked with the midfield star.  One thing that could possibly influence any decision on the player’s part is his friendship with former United favourite Rob Snodgrass.  The two were team-mates at Livingstone prior to Leeds’ capture of Snodgrass – so we might hope that our former wing wizard would have a quiet word with Dorrans, to our advantage – though what he might actually say is anyone’s guess.

Dorrans of Scotland

Dorrans of Scotland

Dorrans was described in glowing terms by the Guardian in 2010: “Composed, creative, combative and consistent, Dorrans is easily the best all-round midfielder seen at West Brom since Bryan Robson.”  There is little doubt that such a player – if he can recapture the form that saw him so highly-rated only a short time back that Manchester City were reportedly ready to lash out £6m on him – would be a distinct asset to a United midfield notoriously lacking in creativity over the past year or so.

Whatever the current parlous state of things in general around LS11, that quality shortfall has to be addressed at some point and, in meeting United’s need, Dorrans might well be doing himself a big favour.  Elland Road is a high-profile stage upon which a player of sufficient character can re-invent himself at a level where quality will inevitably shine.  If the rumours of Leeds’ interest are true, then a deal would probably benefit all parties.  Albion currently have a depreciating asset on their hands, the player isn’t getting game time – and Leeds are just desperate for straws to clutch at right now.

Graham Dorrans might just be that straw, but Brian McDermott will be hoping it’s not the one that breaks the camel’s back.  If Dorrans, or some other similarly-skilful midfielder were to put pen to paper for United – and then have the impact of a Kebe or a Stewart – that might just be a straw too far for the hapless camels of GFH.  Any short-term loan player arriving at Elland Road right now must be aware that he probably has a longer shelf-life at the club than McDermott himself.

Quality, backbone, grit – all those qualities mentioned above are not apparent at Leeds United right now, and they are urgently needed.  But the one vital commodity the whole place is running out of faster than any other at the moment is patience.  Just how much longer can the current farce carry on without some drastic action being taken?  GFH maintain a sulkily defensive stance.  The players’ Twitter feeds are silent and ashamed.  Signor Cellino is ranting in the Sun.  Watch this space.

Leeds Must Back Brian When the Going Gets Tough – by Rob Atkinson

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Now that Brian McDermott has nailed his colours to the mast in acting swiftly to quash mounting speculation that his immediate future might lie in the Republic of Ireland hot-seat – it’s time to reappraise our manager once again.  Rumours were running hot earlier today, with petrol being poured on the fire by the unscrupulous likes of the Mirror, who took a few random quotes from over the years to the effect that McDermott was keen on the Ireland job, and added two and two to make unlucky 13 – but that’s the Mirror for you.  If Brian McDermott had been in any sort of a quandary over this situation, it could well have run and run, destabilising not only the preparation for this weekend’s game at Bolton, but also the whole platform being built for the season ahead.  That would have been highly unfortunate to say the least, in a massively competitive league where the finest of margins will separate success from failure.

That McDermott has come out at the earliest feasible opportunity and – whilst acknowledging that he does have international ambitions with Ireland – scotched the immediate prospect of this happening by declaring his 100% commitment to Leeds United, reflects massive credit upon him.  The terms in which he has outlined his determination to achieve success with Leeds, speaking of the warmth of his relationship with the fans as well as of the club in general and how it deserves success, will endear him even to any remaining doubters.  If commitment and passion for the job in hand count for anything, then Brian McDermott is surely destined to be a brilliant success at Elland Road.

But the harsh realities of the club’s current, less-than-certain financial situation will dictate the practical extent of his ability to influence matters on and off the field.  For the best coach in the world, results will be a function of resources – you cannot, as they say, polish a turd.  The holes in United’s first team squad, apparent to anyone with any awareness of the demands of league football over 46 gruelling games, threaten to hemorrhage a lot of the possibilities from Leeds’ nascent campaign. However steady and solid the start has been, there is clearly the potential for a bad run which would leave the club playing catch-up on a steamroller as the sleek speedsters of the Championship elite pull away into the distance.  Should this arise – according to normal form at Leeds United – Brian McDermott might well find himself trying to do a difficult job with a tin hat on, dodging brick-bats from know-alls in the stands and on social media too.

That we as a body of support are capable of this type of behaviour is simply a matter of fact; you just have to look at the twitterati campaign of scorn and abuse against Noel Hunt to realise that. McDermott is evidently aware of it too, and he has made a point of defending Hunt, which again is to his credit.  This is a manager who has made all the right noises ever since he’s been at Leeds, and now he’s deferred what is evidently his ultimate professional ambition: to manage the country he feels most closely attached to.  To say that he deserves our unstinting support is a masterpiece of understatement.

So, it may well be that this season might get tougher as it unfolds.  There may well be trouble ahead.  If that happens, then it is devoutly to be hoped that those of the tendency to dive on a keyboard, or chelp from the stands before their grey matter has been warmed up will pause, and reflect a while.  Maybe they will cast their minds back to this week before venting their frustrations on a man who is trying to do what is right for our club, maybe they will have second and better thoughts and actually give loud expression to their support and backing for this man who has so completely devoted himself and his talents to taking Leeds United back where they belong.

Will Brian be given the time and space, the peace from the loud-mouth tendency that other managers have craved and not been afforded?  We can only hope so.  Our manager is inviting us to March On Together, and that should mean something special to any Leeds fan – so let’s do that, even if times get tough.  That way, when United return to the top, perhaps we’ll ALL be able to say “We deserve it.”

No Wins for Bolton, No Goals for Beckford – Banana Skin for Leeds United at the Weekend? – by Rob Atkinson

Beckford - Eager to Get Off the Mark

Beckford – Eager to Get Off the Mark

The game that faces Leeds on Saturday at Bolton’s Reebok Stadium is the kind of fixture guaranteed to bring out the inner pessimism at the core of the Leeds United fans’ collective psyche. Bolton Wanderers prop up the Championship table, winless and apparently hapless. Jermaine Beckford, a man with a permanent place in the affections of the Leeds support, has made only a handful of appearances in the league for his new club, failing to find the net and looking short on confidence as well as long on nerves. It’s the kind of opening to a season which puts Leeds’ own steady if unspectacular start into context – but are Bolton really that bad? And shouldn’t we maybe worry that the script is written here for Beckford to start endearing himself to a new set of fans?

That’s the glass-half-empty view. Really though, this game should provide a brilliant opportunity for the Whites to build upon a respectable away record this season. The victory at Ipswich was a bit of a smash-and-grab raid, with the home side having dominated plenty of the game. The match at Leicester was a battle of attrition, and both sides appeared that evening more intent on not losing, than inspired by any urgent desire to secure all three points. It’s time that Leeds hit the road with the express ambition of bringing home a victory and motivated to put in an emphatic performance to deserve the win. Brian McDermott has spoken this week of the need for Leeds to express themselves a little more; to get on the ball and “do their stuff”. This sounds like the kind of mindset which could start to produce a few more positive results, though obviously the instruction to start taking a few risks needs to be interpreted judiciously – we can’t afford to start shipping goals.

The prospect of facing Jermaine Beckford again is intriguing. He produced one less-than-committed performance against Leeds in Leicester colours, seeming more preoccupied by acknowledging the tributes from the Elland Road fans than by any genuine desire to score against us. Beckford has been a peripheral figure for his new club but – that Leicester performance apart – there is the feeling that he’s the kind of player who could find extra motivation against former employers. The lure of breaking his league duck for Bolton, giving them their first league victory in the process and easing the pressure on his manager, former Leeds loanee Dougie Freedman, might appeal to his striker’s sense of theatre. Fingers crossed that, if he does make an entrance, he’ll obligingly fluff his lines.

The other figure in the Bolton ranks that will interest Leeds fans more than somewhat would be Matt Mills, linked with a sentimental return to the guidance of Brian McDermott for most of the recently-closed transfer window. If anything, he’s even more of a bit-part player for Bolton than Beckford has been, rolled out only in the direst emergency and it seems certain that his future still lies elsewhere.

Leeds will not be too downhearted by the nature of their defeat last time out to likely champions QPR. Against a collection of players costing many times the value of the Leeds squad, they battled well and it would not have been a travesty had Rudy Austin’s late screamer earned them a point instead of careening off the crossbar. If the Whites can take encouragement from that game into the one at the Reebok, then a three-point haul from this game is distinctly possible, and they may well be worth a punt at realistic odds of 5-2. But still there is that hint of the banana skin about the match. McDermott’s exhortations towards more freedom of expression and a few more risks notwithstanding, Leeds will need to be careful and committed to avoid the embarrassment of falling victims to Bolton’s first win and Beckford’s first league goal.

Matt Mills £1m Leeds Target?

Mills:  Leeds-bound?

Mills: Leeds-bound?

The Swindon-born former Reading and Leicester defender has not been an outstanding success at Bolton Wanderers, his last start for them being against Huddersfield on December 8, when he injured a thigh and has managed only one substitute appearance since.  His time at Leicester City was hardly wonderful either, and Mills was a loan target for former United boss Neil Warnock early in his Elland Road tenure.  That failed to happen, and a rumoured £2m fee saw the defender link up with Bolton – but it seems likely his time there is now up, with an offer in the region of £1m being thought sufficient to secure his services.

The player himself – according to the familiar “sources close to…” – is keen on the chance to renew his working relationship with his old Reading boss Brian McDermott.  Central defence is on the list of positions needing to be strengthened at Elland Road, and it may just be that the Old Pals’ Act could secure a reliable performer for United. This optimistic assessment is certainly not based on recent form, but there have been many instances down the years of players in the doldrums being reinvigorated by a reunion with a former mentor.  McDermott’s success at the Madejski throws up a few names, some still at Reading, some that have since moved on – that could be identified as players who would relish another crack of the whip under an old boss at a club like Leeds – enough of a pull in its own right.

Mills has certainly waxed lyrical about his past service under McDermott and assistant Nigel Gibbs. “My first few months at Reading didn’t pan out as the move I expected and wanted, but that all changed when Brian got the job and Gibbo became assistant manager.” the ex-Royal has been quoted as saying. “They gave me a new lease of life, and the opportunity and coaching they gave me has honestly made me the player I am now.”  As fulsome tributes go, this is very much in “come and get me plea” territory, and it has been suggested that Mills is willing to reject overtures from elsewhere in favour of a switch to LS11.

My own view is that, at only 26, Mills has many miles left on the clock, and the class he has undoubtedly displayed in the past will not have deserted him permanently.  A happy player is more likely to be a top-performing player, and the fruitful coaching relationship between Brian, Gibbo and Matt at their former club seems to suggest that its a scenario which could unfold again, to the satisfaction of all parties.

Whether the powers that be are prepared to stump up £1million is of course another matter, and wages are always an issue as well.  But there is some pedigree here, and the chance to build on some good history too.  So I feel there may just be some legs in this rumour, and it’s a move I would love to see happen.  “Lees and Mills” could well be the central defensive partnership on everybody’s lips in the Championship next season.