Tag Archives: CF Barcelona

Could Leeds Have a World Star on Debut at Leicester Tonight?   –   by Rob Atkinson

Kun Temenuzhkov

Kun Temenuzhkov appearing in the colours of Barcelona

Tonight’s Carabao Cup Tie at recent champions Leicester City could just see the first involvement in a senior Leeds United line up of a young international star who already enjoys global acclaim. 

Named as one of The Guardian’s top 60 young talents in the world, teenage sensation Kun Temenuzhkov has made several appearances for United’s under-23s this season after signing for the Whites in summer from Barcelona. It may be that the club see the Carabao Cup as the ideal situation to provide experience at first team level for such a hot prospect. Temenuzhkov’s absence from yesterday’s second-string match at Huddersfield has had fans speculating that his first team squad chance might be imminent. 

Whether the youngster would actually appear in the team, enabling Leeds to rest a regular striker for Friday’s summit meeting with Sheffield Utd has to be open to some doubt. But even travelling with the squad would be a sign of progress for the Bulgarian youth cap, and a mark of the esteem in which such a young player is held. 

It will be interesting to see what tonight’s team news reveals, with Leeds quite possibly looking to prioritise the sharing out of first team involvement. With a lad like Kun on the books, so highly regarded on the world stage in his age group, it might make sense to take a chance on broadening his experience. 

Two games in a few days will always test the club’s playing resources, and cup ties are increasingly seen as testing grounds for untried talent. An away clash at last season’s Champions League quarter-finalists would be a case of “in at the deep end” for Temenzhukov but, as the old saying goes, if they’re good enough, they’re old enough. 

Tonight might just be the first opportunity for Leeds fans to judge whether the latest wonderkid could actually have what it takes to succeed at Elland Road

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“If You Give Leeds the Ball, They Will Make You Dance” RIP Johan Cruyff   –   by Rob Atkinson

Two late greats: Bremner and Cruyff

On April 9th, 1975, four days after my Elland Road debut as a match-going Leeds fan, I was given my first taste of a European night under those towering floodlights, as United faced the cosmopolitan might of Barcelona. The occasion was the European Champions Cup Semi-Final first leg. The challenge for English champions Leeds United was to overcome the Catalan artistry of Barça, the Spanish title holders, who were inspired by the presence in their ranks of more than one Dutch master. The headline act though, without a doubt, was a slim genius by the name of Johan Cruyff.

In the build-up to the game – and having seen United beaten by a Keegan-inspired Liverpool on my “home debut” the Saturday before – I was gripped with fear as to what the Barcelona stars, Cruyff in particular, might do to my heroes in white. Despite the talents of fellow Dutch star Johan Neeskens, Cruyff’s was the name on everybody’s lips, his consummate skill, his ability to “read” the game, the world-record price tag (almost a million pounds!) on his head. The advance publicity was scary, to say the least. But there was also the warmth of respect from the man himself towards Leeds United, a club more usually reviled at home and abroad. Cruyff’s warning to his team-mates and fans about the threat from Elland Road was concise and lyrical. “If you give Leeds the ball,” he remarked, “they will make you dance”.

Leeds dance

This phrase has passed into Leeds United fan folklore, coming as it did from a true world star and a man to strike fear into the heart of any opponent. In the event, United prevailed over two legs of this semi-final, winning the home game by 2-1 and hanging on with ten men for a 1-1 draw in the Nou Camp. But the class of Cruyff was evident to the 50,000 fans inside Elland Road that April evening, as well as to millions more who saw highlights later on TV. He just seemed to have so much time, and I vividly remember him bringing the ball down the centre of the pitch, with the air of a man walking unchallenged on his own back lawn. I saw my first ever “live”Leeds goal that night, fittingly scored by the other late legend in that picture above, Billy Bremner. Sniffer Clarke provided the winner in the second half, and we had that narrow advantage to defend a fortnight later. But few who were there would ever forget the privilege they had of seeing Holland’s – indeed Europe’s – finest ever player, strutting his stuff in grim old West Yorkshire.

Johan Cruyff died last week at the age of 68. A lifelong smoker, until heart problems forced him to quit in the early nineties, it was lung cancer that finally claimed a true legend. His career encompassed great clubs, World Cups, success as a player and a coach. He will always be remembered for his bearing on the pitch, for the élan with which he plied his trade and scored his goals – and, maybe above everything else, for that sublime “Cruyff turn”, so brilliantly and appropriately replicated, as if in tribute, by England’s Harry Kane in the national team’s victory over Germany on Saturday in Berlin. And as this fine young England side prepare to face Cruyff’s Holland on Tuesday night at Wembley, it seems highly apt, if rather poignant and sad, to be paying tribute now to the Netherlands’ greatest ever star.

The memories recalled above are the kind of memories left behind only by players of the very highest quality and reputation. Cruyff was finally awarded the accolade of Europe’s greatest ever player in 1999, and there can be few who would dispute that title even 16 years into the succeeding century. But, as far as Leeds United fans are concerned, we shall remember him above all as the genius who knew that we still had a team to reckon with at Elland Road, kitted out all in white and having long ago superceded Real Madrid. A team who were indeed the real deal, a team of all talents worthy of a place right at the top of football’s Hall of Fame. A team who, given the ball… would make you dance.

Johan Cruyff (1947 – 2016) – RIP

Forty Years Ago Today: Getting Bitten by the Leeds United Bug – by Rob Atkinson

Billy and CruyffAuthor

When I was just a little boy I asked my mother, what should I be? Should I be Chelsea? Should I be Leeds? Here’s what she said to me…

Of course, it wasn’t like that, not for me – nor was it for thousands of others like me. For the vast majority of us, Mum was blameless; our Dads were the ones to thank – or blame – for starting an obsession that would run through the rest of our lives. Yeah, cheers, Dad. Every time you took the mick after another grisly home defeat, or rolled your eyes and intoned: “Never again”, I felt like snapping back and reminding you that it was your bloody fault in the first place. All those dreadful defeats and Cup exits. But there were also some good times…

Football support is such an individual thing, yet there are themes which are surely common to all football supporters. Over a period of years, seasons, decades of loving a football club, there will have been hot-blooded highs, and there will equally have been the coldest of despairing lows.  This will be so, whatever the size of the club we love, however successful or otherwise they may be.  It’s certainly the case for me – I can look back over my forty year love/hate affair with Leeds United, and there they are, all the memories, all the feelings, all the good and the bad that an obsession can visit upon a hapless fanatic. My Dad didn’t quite make it to my 40 year anniversary – he died in February, just in time to avoid a home defeat against Watford. But I will still have him to thank, when the good times roll around again. So, watch this space, Dad.

My Leeds United era started on April 5th 1975, timed to perfection for me to witness the death agonies of what was then still Don Revie’s great team, which had dominated English football for over a decade – albeit now under new management in the urbane form of Jimmy Armfield. This says all anyone needs to know about my fatally flawed sense of timing. During those years of success and near-success, when I could have been sharing the roller-coaster ride with my younger brother as he accompanied Dad on so many Saturday afternoons at Elland Road – what was I doing?  Why, I was curled up with a book, or watching some elderly MGM musical on BBC2 with Mum, completely unaware of the appeal, the magnetic attraction of Leeds United. How could this be?

In retrospect, it seems amazing that I should have missed out completely on the most sustained period of success United ever knew. But I was always a bookish lad, and I leaned far enough towards home and hearth, and far enough away from the Big Lads’ Club relationship between our kid and my Dad, to be happy with my nose in the goings-on at Greyfriars, or sampling the adventures of dare-devil astronauts on a Journey to Jupiter. On the day in 1972 that Leeds United won their only FA Cup, I was at the Town Hall in Pontefract winning second prize for poetry at the annual Music Festival. I wuz bloody robbed out of first place, too – on one of the few occasions when United weren’t.  But them’s the breaks, and it’s not as if I was straining at the leash to be off to t’match.  I just had no idea of what I was missing, and my treacherous brother and father didn’t see fit to enlighten me.

I really should be bitter about this – even now, my brother seeks to claim the moral high-ground as the one who saw Big Jack and Top Cat Cooper play, the one who saw us torturing Southampton with a cruel bout of possession at 7-0 up, the one who saw, for whatever it was worth, Georgie Best – on the few occasions he emerged from Paul Reaney’s back pocket. But the fact is, I’m not that bitter. I’d have liked to have seen for myself some of the vintage Glory Years stuff, and some of the Osgoods, Laws, Greaves and St Johns of the opposition; but it seems to me now that so many who witnessed all that were spoiled by it, and lacked the character to see it through when the good times stopped.  It was never easy to be a Leeds fan – even then in what we may fairly call glory, glory days, we had far more than our fair share of disappointment and defeat, and we reaped the bitter fruits of hatred, from all sections of the game, not least the referees – as I’ve ranted about elsewhere.

So, it was clearly no cakewalk even at its best, but still a time to be envied and marvelled at by those of us who came afterwards, and who had to starve for success until Sergeant Wilko stomped through the door. The thing is – not having seen the hits and near-misses of those days – I and many more like me were better able to subsist on the poor diet of the late seventies and especially the eighties. Many of the relatively success-sated Revie period fans fell by the wayside during these barren years, my dad and sibling included, and the essential character of the fan base changed from almost complacent to virtually feral.

So, there I was, thirteen years old and still a Leeds United virgin, slouching happily home from school one weekday evening in March 1975, and never a suspicion that my life was about to change.  I’d have had homework on my mind, quite possibly – a French translation to do, or some equations to balance. First it’d be tea: burgers peas and chips or something equally mundane, with Nationwide on in the background, then the homework, then some telly and whatever book I had on the go.  I was a happy and grounded child, in those pre-football angst days.

When I got home on this particular day, though, Dad had a surprise for me.  Off you go upstairs, he said, look in our bedroom and tell me what you find. I was more intrigued than fired with enthusiasm by this – what was I expecting?  A new book, maybe. A tube of Smarties and a Milky Way, perhaps. Anything, I’m sure, but the six oblong pieces of stiff paper on my Dad’s side of the counterpane.  Two tickets each for Dad, me and our kid, Liverpool at home on Saturday, and then – the biggest game on the planet that next Wednesday evening, Barcelona at home, Cruyff, Neeskens  and all, in the semi final home leg of the European Champions Cup.

Dad beamed over my shoulder as I stared at the tickets.  Biggest two games of the season, those are, he said. I remember I nodded my head, the idea not growing on me as yet, but somehow aware that this was a grand gesture on my dad’s part. Unwilling to disappoint him with apathy, I turned, smiled and said, great – thanks Dad. Now, of course, I know that it was a watershed in my life. Then – well, I just wanted to catch the last bit of Hong Kong Phooey, before carrying on with my familiar evening routine. And so, the last few days of my innocence passed, before it was time to get into the car and be taken to Elland Road football ground for the very first time.

It’s surprising what stays with you, years and years later.  So many of the countless games I’ve seen at Elland Road, and at other grounds at home and abroad, have faded into blurry anonymity.  I suppose my first game was special just because it was the first; and the second – that European night – had a magic all of its own, which was apparent even to a rookie such as me.  I can recall little of the Liverpool match itself. The colours were vivid – we didn’t have a colour TV at home at that time, and I think I imagined that football was a grainy experience, a mixture of grey and darker greys.  The Technicolor reality of it hit me with an impact I can readily bring to mind even now.  The field seemed to be vast, and brilliantly green, but the ground itself, viewed from under the pitched roof of the old Lowfields side, wasn’t as huge as I’d imagined it.

The strongest memory is still that of the Bay City Rollers’ “Bye Bye Baby” being played over the tannoy (they were tannoys in those days, none of your fancy PA systems). That one naff record is a massive reminder of that day, even now, and it remains one of the guiltiest pleasures on my nostalgia playlist. The green of the pitch, with the all-white strip of our lads, and the all red of Liverpool, the composite sound, Dad’s loud pessimism against a background of the grumbling roar of the crowd, the smell of tobacco and the taste of hamburgers and onions washed down with Bovril – and the pressure of the crowd behind, in front, everywhere – this was the assault on all my senses that blew away any thought of resistance as I entered a whole new world.

Already, I was hooked, and I knew it. We lost 2-0, but I was far too lacking in cynicism or expert discernment to let that detail bother me. Dad and our kid were sulkily disappointed, having seen it all before, and seen far better, but I loved it, loved the whole thing. If I’d known at that moment that I was in for a string of league defeats, and not even a league goal to cheer until the first day of the 76-77 season – well, would I have wanted to carry on?  I would have, I’m emphatically sure.  I loved Leeds United, completely and uncritically, and I was champing at the bit to get back to Elland Road.  And CF Barcelona, with their galaxy of exotic stars, were just four days away.

Over the next year or so after these initial matchday experiences, I was taken to a few, carefully selected games, something I settled for willingly, rather than going back to being completely excluded. I don’t remember if Dad’s pattern of support was dwindling even then, or if perhaps he still preferred to go as the original dynamic duo with my brother, the anointed “favourite son”. Whatever the reason, it soon became a standing joke that my visits to Elland Road were guaranteed something-nil defeats. I saw the Liverpool game the following season.  We lost, 0-3.  I saw us play Norwich towards the end of that season, when we were actually handily placed near the top of the league, with games in reserve. We lost 0-3 again. There was a growing desperation that I should break my duck, so the next game chosen was Sheffield United, who were already relegated. We contrived to lose that one as well, 0-1 with the grey-haired Alan Woodward scoring for the Blunts.

I was obviously a Jonah, carrying the can for the team’s inability to live up to the recent glorious past. I would never see Leeds win, or even score, not if I went along to Elland Road till I was ninety.  Or that’s how it felt.  Of course things did improve, but I’ve never quite been able to shed the Jonah part of my make-up, and many is the game I’ve cost us, simply by being there and wanting too much for us to win. Or maybe it’s not me, maybe it’s just Leeds. Whatever the case, it was an inauspicious start – in the league at least.

That European campaign though was different.  The whole city, the whole county it seemed, was buzzing with excitement, and the feeling that Don Revie’s Champions of Europe dream was about to be realised was irresistible. After the hors d’oeuvre of the Liverpool game, I was ready for my Catalan main course and, despite my début defeat, I just knew we were going to win. With the all-consuming passion of the new convert, I anticipated the game, how the arena would look under the floodlights, packed to the rafters with hysterically expectant Leeds fans. Cruyff, the Dutch master, the most expensive player in the world (nearly a million pounds!), would not, could not, stand in our way. We beat Barca over the two legs and, in my naivete, I was sure we would now be unstoppable. Bayern Munich were ours for the effortless taking in Paris. We were going to win the European Cup.

And that peak of optimism prior to crushing disappointment was as good as it got for me and for Leeds United, for the next 15 years, anyway. As any Leeds fan of a certain age will be aware, there’s a whole separate blog in what happened next at the hands, not primarily of Bayern, but mainly of a bent French ref acting in the best traditions of the game’s masters. Having hit the heights against Barcelona, we were to be cast down yet again, and it was the end for Revie’s boys. For me, however, it had barely yet begun…