Tag Archives: Champions League

Leeds United Announce Signing of Left Back Laurens De Bock – Rob Atkinson

Not everyone can bank 100k from sports betting. In fact, most bettors never even come remotely close. That said, if you choose your spots wisely, it’s still entirely possible for the average sports bettor to make a pretty penny every now and again.

If you’re betting on the Championship, you’ll know that Leeds United’s chances at finishing the season on top are slim-to-none. LUFC is currently 6th in the league on 43 points, though they’re still 18 points back of league leaders Wolves. Nobody is catching Wolves, but Leeds remains very much alive in the promotion playoff battle.

Leeds got a boost on Wednesday when the club announced the signing of 25-year-old Belgian left back Laurens De Bock. De Bock inked a four-and-a-half year deal with the English side after completing the £3M move from Club Brugge.

United’s new defender made more than 170 appearances for Club Brugge after joining the side from KSC Lokeren in the summer of 2013. He has additionally earned 11 caps with Belgium’s under-21 side, though he has still yet to debut for the country’s high-powered senior national team.

De Bock has made the vast majority of his professional appearances as a left back, though he does have a bit of experience in central defence, as well. The player has been an integral cog with his club over the last several years, though this season Club Brugge switched their formation to one that deploys three centre halves at the back. That move has essentially cost De Bock his spot as a regular first-team starter.

De Bock has moonlighted playing on the left side of the midfield at times this season, but he was reportedly more interested in first-team work at his traditional spot at left back.

Laurens won a league title with Club Brugge, and he’s also played in Champions League and Europa League in the past. That kind of big-game experience should suit the player well with his new side, which is fighting for promotion into the Premier League.

He’ll fill the gaping hole at left back left by Charlie Taylor, who departed Leeds for Burnley last summer. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson was signed on loan from Manchester United to replace Taylor, but the youngster has failed to leave his mark in his brief time with his new club. Vurnon Anita, Gaetano Berardi and Stuart Dallas have also tried to hold down the fort at the position, though none of them have succeeded.

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The Ego Has Landed: David O’Leary Back at Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

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O’Leary, and the book that earned him the sack

Amid the muck and bullets of an attritional battle between Leeds United and Norwich City last weekend, word was received that the club was being visited by the Ghost of Seasons Past. Former Whites manager David O’Leary was back at Elland Road, holding court in the Legends Lounge – some unintentional irony there – and dispensing his own particular brand of faux humility to anyone who would listen.

That’s what always got me about O’Leary, even at the height of his success in the post-George Graham period – this tendency of his to peddle a “Love me, I’m just a novice manager doing the best I can” line. Backed by good results from a young and thrilling team, it was an engaging enough act for a while anyway – but any such act, whether it be the blarney of Erin, or just plain old self-serving bullshit, wears thin eventually. In O’Leary’s case, that process of disillusionment was accelerated by his own actions as financial crisis and the Bowyer/Woodgate court case hit the club hard. When the solids hit the air-conditioning, poor David was liberally splattered by the noxious fallout, his strained relationship with local press figures meaning there was precious little sympathy or protection for him there.

O’Leary was quite literally the author of his own misfortune. “United on Trial”, his controversial book in the wake of the long, drawn-out court case, was an ill-judged attempt to dissociate himself from any blame for the storm clouds gathering over Elland Road. Players from a squad he’d previously dubbed his “babies” were callously thrown to the wolves, who had scented blood in LS11, and were voraciously snapping away at the heels of a wounded and foundering giant. It had all looked so good for Leeds in the campaign leading up to the Champions League last four, but the fall from those rarefied heights was precipitous; weak leadership in the boardroom had given O’Leary too free a hand in the transfer market, with results that have become notorious in the history of a club that tried to live the dream but entered instead into a ten year nightmare. So unprecedented was this fall from grace that a new phrase, describing the suicidal self-immolation of any football club, entered the language: “Doing a Leeds”.

O’Leary got the Leeds job at a particularly propitious time; able to build on the foundations laid by the cautious and meticulous approach of George Graham, he also benefited from a crop of youthful talent coming through, the like of which had not been seen at Leeds since the early sixties. It was a recipe for success, requiring only a steady hand at the tiller and a fair share of good luck. Sadly for United, after a bright start to the Irishman’s tenure, neither of these requirements were fulfilled, and the club embarked on a downhill slide that a greased pig would have found hard to emulate.

Despite all of this, some United fans have fond memories of O’Leary – which, when you consider some of the football played and some of the results achieved, is reasonably understandable. But the idyll was deceptive; some of the players grew disillusioned, to say the least, with a manager whose genial demeanour masked what at times was a chilling ruthlessness, allied to a preoccupation with being seen always in the most favourable light. His popularity with certain squad members declined to the point where at least one refused to sign a book for a fan, simply because the manager’s picture featured on the cover. And his attitude towards respected local press members – summed up briefly as “I don’t really need you” was seen as so wilfully arrogant that those press members felt under no obligation to pull their punches when things tuned sour.

Even now, O’Leary will use his characteristic self-effacing delivery to mask what amounts to relentless self-promotion; he’s always after the printing of the legend, untainted by inconvenient facts. In and around his Elland Road appearance last weekend, the former United manager revealed the question he’s most often been asked by Leeds fans since his departure. Predictably, it redounds to his credit – what O’Leary soundbite does not? “It’s ‘When are you coming back to Leeds’“, he revealed, adding that he found such a question “embarrassing really. I’m so privileged that they still remember me”.

Continuing this apparently diffident self-homage, O’Leary gushed “It’s just so nice and I always knew that I had their support, and I appreciate their support even more now. Twenty years and they still remember me – I can’t believe that!”

It’s not that difficult to believe, though. United fans, especially those who don’t habitually sport the rose-tinted glasses of fond recollection, will be unlikely to forget the man who inherited a dressing room of such vast potential and then proceeded to lose it through his own crass and self-serving actions. The answer to the question of “When are you coming back, David?” must surely be “Next time Leeds United needs the spirit of the club shattered almost beyond repair – next time we wish to plunge into a new dark age and threaten our very existence”. It really was as bad as that.

So David, you can quote your admirers all you like – we’re never going to hear the other side of that coin from your self-aggrandising lips. But remember, some of us see you for what you are – and we’re glad and relieved that you’re history now as far as Leeds United is concerned.

From Top Man to 32 Red – the History of Leeds Utd’s Shirt Sponsorship

Top Man

The iconic, promotion-winning “Top Man” Leeds United away shirt 

Leeds may have started out life playing in a blue and white striped kit but it was not long before the famed yellow and white colour scheme was introduced, coinciding with the club’s rise to prominence. It has often been Leeds’ unconventional and sometimes controversial shirt sponsorship that has helped thrust it into the public eye. Starting in the early 1980s going through to present day sponsor 32 Red, Leeds United have a wealth of shirt sponsors that are definitely worth talking about.

The original reason for Leeds adopting shirt sponsorship was due to the club’s financial situation, which was less than positive to say the very least. This probably shows with the fact that the club ran through a number of sponsors over an initial four-year period, with Lion Cabinets, WGK, Systime, and RFW all making an appearance in the shirt. In 1986 things changed with the club agreeing to a five-year deal with then local – soon to be national – clothing group Burtons Top Man. The chain would become a fixture on the Leeds United shirt, probably its most iconic shirt and the club’s first successful foray into the world of shirt sponsorship.

Following the conclusion of the Burton Top Man deal, the club needed a stopgap sponsor until a pre-agreed deal with Admiral would come into effect. Lucking out on a level that nobody would have ever expected, local newspaper the Yorkshire Evening Post stepped up and would make up a part of one of the most iconic Leeds United kits of all time. With the return of the Division 1 title to Elland Road after an 18-year absence, it’s a kit that holds a special memory for many fans.

Admiral would claim its position on the shirt come the 1992/1993 season, but that would be a short-lived association of just a year, with the season being largely uneventful when it came to league competition. Following a legal dispute, Admiral was in the rear-view mirror, proving that the financial implications of shirt sponsorship were something that no club would be willing to mess around with.

Thistle Hotels – the popular hotel chain – became sponsors for three years following this, accompanying a shirt design overhaul, with a blue and gold hoop across the chest, along with blue collar and cuffs, being implemented. Dark blue and green striped shirts were introduced in 1994, with this – along with following 1995/1996 kit – being remembered fondly by fans.

During the mid to late 1990s, with Leeds experiencing something of a league resurgence, despite not actually claiming any silverware, Leeds adopted its very first international sponsor – computer firm Hewlett Packard.

The first kit featuring the brand’s name is probably one of Leeds United’s most forgettable kits, but what followed in between 1998 and 2000 proved to be iconic. Wearing this particular kit, Leeds secured a UEFA Champions League place and a seat at European football’s top table. Following the conclusion of the Hewlett Packard sponsorship, for Leeds United’s European efforts, Strongbow would adorn the shirt. Accompanying the club’s run to the UEFA Champions League semi-final, just falling short of securing a final place, this shirt is probably the most adored by Leeds United fans, as it represents the most successful time period for the club during the Premier League era.

Post-2002, with Leeds stuck in the financial mire, also saw the conclusion of the relatively popular Strongbow sponsorship deal. From 2003/2004 whisky manufacturers Whyte and Mackay began a three-year association with the club, but they – in common with the fans – had little to cheer about as Leeds slumped to an almost unfathomable relegation.

Further relegation followed of course, with Leeds entering the most troubled time in its history. In a rare bit of good news though, they would break new ground by being one of the first English clubs to adopt a sports betting sponsor – Bet24 for the 2006/2007 season. Following this, two names would take the role of shirt sponsor in NetFlights.com and Enterprise Insurance. Both would be attached a number of kits, all of which have proven to be pretty unmemorable.

The 2015/2016 season saw Leeds doing something particularly noticeable, doing away with a shirt sponsor for a single season. Waiting for the right deal, the kit proved to be rather fresh looking and a hit amongst fans. The shirt sponsor void was eventually filled by 32 Red, a popular UK online casino, that would rubber stamp – initially in red – the club’s resurgence.

However, this would be met with a backlash, red being the colour of Man United. Answering the fans’ concerns and quashing the controversy, the 32 Red logo was changed to blue for the 2016/2017 season and gold for the 2017/2018 season. That being said, no matter the colour, it’s evident that, as Leeds United make a realistic (but bumpy) challenge to return to the Premier League, 32 Red will be backing them every step of the way.

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

Cellino Sells Leeds Utd to Russian Oil Baron in £7.4 Billion Coup   –   by Rob Atkinson

A Russian oil field, yesterday

A Russian oil field, yesterday

NB: This article should be read with extreme cynicism after 12 noon on April 1st. 

Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino is on the point of completing the sale of his holdings in the company that owns Leeds United in a surprise mega-millions deal that will see the club bankrolled into the Champions League, a spokesperson for Eleonora Sports has confirmed. 

The shock deal has been brokered in the last seven days between oil billionaire Aprelya Pervyy and Cellino’s personal representative Avril Primero. While the share purchase price is given as “in the tens of millions”, it is understood that the total deal will be worth almost seven and a half BILLION pounds sterling, with the purchase of Elland Road, the foundation of a new triple A class Academy and the establishment of a new LUTV channel on the Sky platform factored in.

The new owners are believed to be targeting Champions League success within three years, to coincide with the club’s centenary celebrations in 2019. Financial Fair Play restrictions are “unlikely” to be seen as a barrier to success, with infrastructure investment through several specially set-up companies enabling United to compete at the top end of the transfer market.

With the deal due to be completed before the summer transfer window opens, the close season is expected to be a busy time for Leeds, with “significant behind the scenes restructuring” anticipated. Hollywood A-Lister and lifelong Whites fan Russell Crowe is confirmed as being uninvolved at this stage, but is believed to be monitoring the situation from his base in Australia. Crowe has been quoted recently as stating he is “impatient for success” at Leeds; that long wait could now be about to end. 

No further developments are expected today, but Cellino may have a statement to make as early as tomorrow, April the 2nd. 

Happy Birthday to the Last English Champion – by Rob Atkinson

Howard Wilkochamperscap-300x193

Sgt Wilko – Champion

Another Leeds United birthday to mark with an appropriate tribute for all the man did for our great club. This time it’s someone who is a contemporary of those 70-somethings who have celebrated recently – the likes of Paul Madeley, Norman Hunter, Paul Reaney and Johnny Giles – but who was never, by his own acknowledgement, anything more than mediocre as a player himself. In the managerial arena though, Howard Wilkinson – 72 years old today – has outstripped virtually all of the Revie greats, winning the last ever Football League Championship, going down in history as the last Englishman to win the league in the 20th Century and masterminding the second incarnation of a winning Leeds team from a starting point remarkably similar to that which Don Revie inherited in the early sixties.

Wilko’s career after his playing days ended was an upward graph of coaching success from humble beginnings, but he went on to have two stints as caretaker-manager of England, as well as spells with Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday and Notts County. It is for his time at Leeds United, though, that he will be remembered as a football manager who walked into what had become a poisoned chalice of a job, a club with a revolving door on the manager’s office and one which had signally failed to recapture the magic of its one great period at the top of the game. Wilkinson came in with the air of a man who was going to put a stop to all the nonsense and set matters straight. Let the record show that he succeeded, beyond the wildest dreams of any Leeds fan at the time he was appointed.

In TV interviews at that time, he could be seen by the side of chairman Leslie Silver, regarding his coffee cup with little enthusiasm and mildly joking that he hoped we’d be able to afford better crockery when he got us winning. Leeds were treading deep water at the bottom end of the old Second Division, and had been looking more likely to proceed downwards from that point than up; a situation uncannily similar to the one Don Revie found in 1961. Both men would be able to count on the bounteous fruits of a productive academy, though Revie felt able to blood his precocious youths somewhat earlier than Wilko could in his reign. But where Don found his Bobby Collins, so Howard was able to persuade Gordon Strachan to step down a league and be the catalyst for a revival that may not have been as enduring as Revie’s, but was arguably even more meteoric and spectacular.

Wilko joined for the still fairly new 1988-89 season, and spent the rest of that campaign overhauling discipline at the club and bringing about his own type of working environment. The graph spiked upwards from there. In his first full season, with a batch of good, solid recruits added – and after an uncertain start – Leeds went top of the league and hardly faltered until promotion and the Championship were clinched on a sunny day in Bournemouth. A season of high achievement followed as Leeds swiftly found their feet back in the top flight after an eight year absence. United did far more than consolidate, battling away at the top end to finish an eminently respectable fourth, as well as reaching two domestic semi-finals. The following season was the last of the old-style Football League, and Wilko’s Leeds achieved immortality by winning the Title by four clear points to become the Last Champions. Less than four years after joining a club going nowhere but downhill, Howard Wilkinson had restored Leeds United to the very pinnacle of the game. It had taken Don Revie twice as long to win his first League Title.

While all this had been going on, Howard and his staff had been overseeing the development of an Academy setup which would go on to produce many stars towards the end of the century; many players who are still flourishing at the top level had their start in what was rightly famed as a world-class breeding ground for football talent.

One of the main regrets of the Wilkinson era at Leeds is that he did not survive long enough in the job to introduce these home-grown prodigies into the first team himself. But Wilko’s later years at Leeds coincided with boardroom uncertainty and financial mismanagement, both of which had their effect on sales and recruitment policy. So, we lost a Speed here and a Batty there and the likes of Carlton Palmer and Nigel Worthington came in; the club was reduced to offering pre-retirement homes to such as Ian Rush and David O’Leary. O’Leary it was, after a George Graham interregnum, who gained the most from Wilkinson’s enlightened youth development programme. Looking back, it’s clear that things could have worked out differently – quite probably the seeds of our 21st Century disaster were sown in Wilko’s 1996 sacking.

Howard Wilkinson stands alone behind Don Revie as Leeds United’s second-greatest manager, and probably as one of the more wronged men to have lost his job when so much of it had already been done to ensure the club’s own crop of major stars. As before, Leeds lacked the courage and patience to see it through; but these things are always clearer with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight.

Happy Birthday, Sergeant Wilko – you’ll always be remembered fondly at Elland Road, and your place in the history of English football is secure.

Three Top, TOP Leeds United Away Trips – by Rob Atkinson

We all have our favourite LUFC memories, and many will relate to games away from LS11.  Here, in reverse order, are my three favourite road trips following The Whites.

3. Sheffield Wednesday 1, Leeds United 6 12.1.1992

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Sergeant Wilko

This was Sergeant Wilko’s first return to Wednesday since he had quit Hillsborough to become Leeds boss in 1988.  It would also be Lee Chapman’s last game before his season-threatening FA Cup injury, which resulted in the drafting in of one Eric Cantona – with all the long term consequences that would entail.  But Chappy was destined to be sidelined only temporarily, and he went out in the most emphatic style.

There was a crowd of 32228 at Hillsborough, the usual vociferous contingent of travelling Leeds fans rivalling the home crowd for noise from the outset, and completely drowning them as the game went on.  Leeds United were weakened, so it seemed, by the absence of the injured Gordon Strachan and suspended David Batty, half of their legendary midfield Fantastic Four.  Any side, surely, would miss performers of such calibre.  Leeds, though, seemed determined to make light of the problem, and tore into their hosts from the start.  Full-back Tony Dorigo made an early darting run, cutting in from the left and making good progress down the centre of the pitch, before unleashing a right-foot thunderbolt that Wednesday ‘keeper Chris Woods had to tip over.  From the resulting Gary MacAllister corner, Chris Fairclough rose to head downwards, and found Chapman in splendid isolation four yards out; his finish swift and deadly for 1-0.

For a local derby, the contest had been decidedly one-way traffic – Chapman was to send two towering headers just wide before Carl Shutt had a scuffed shot smothered by Woods in the home goal.  Then, a true champagne moment as Mel Sterland fed the ball to Chapman on the right.  In a completely untypical burst of pace and control, Chappy surged between two hapless Wednesday defenders, raced into the area, and unleashed a shot that beat Woods completely, just clipping the frame of the goal to rapturous applause from the Leeds fans at the Leppings Lane End.  I remember thinking at the time that anything was possible now, if Lee Chapman could do something so utterly out of character.  And so it proved as, from a free kick awarded just right of centre some ten yards outside the box, Dorigo stepped up to absolutely hammer a left foot drive past the helpless Woods.  Cue mayhem and cavortings as the Leeds hordes behind the goal, celebrated as clean a strike as you could ever wish to see, the ball a blur as it arrowed into the far corner with deadly precision and power.

At 2-0 down, the home side were making increasingly desperate attempts to gain some sort of foothold in the match.  This desperation was adequately demonstrated when, from a harmless-looking ball into the Leeds area, Wednesday striker Gordon Watson ran in front of Chris Whyte, continued on for another step or two, and then hurled himself into the air, landing in agonised paroxysms of simulation between a bemused Whyte and Leeds ‘keeper John Lukic.  Such obvious fraud and villainy could have only one outcome, and the stadium held its collective breath for sentence to be passed on the miscreant.  Instead – amazingly – referee Philip Don pointed to the spot.  Whether none of the officials had seen the extent of Watson’s ham-acting, or whether they were moved by sympathy for the mauling Wednesday were taking from a rampant Leeds, it’s impossible to tell.  The outcome was the same either way.  Ex-Leeds hero John Sheridan stepped up, saw his penalty brilliantly saved as Lukic tipped it against his right-hand post, and then gleefully belted home the rebound to give Wednesday a massively unmerited lifeline.

This act of base and scurvy treachery required nothing less than a riposte of the utmost nobility and beauty, so we said to ourselves, though probably in more Anglo-Saxon terms.  And, happily, that’s just what came to pass.  Only six minutes after the home side’s ridiculous blagging of a comically unfair route back into the game, Leeds took effortless control again with a goal sublime in both its conception and execution.  Lukic bowled the ball out to Dorigo on the left flank; he sent it first time down the line to Gary Speed, who took one steadying touch before sending a beautiful flighted cross into the Wednesday area.  And there, inevitably, was Chapman, horizontal in mid-air, neck cocked to hammer the ball unanswerably past Woods, the perfect counterpunch to Watson’s knavish low blow.  It was a gorgeous goal, sweeping the length of the left side, taking the entire home team right out of the game, and re-establishing the two goal margin which was the least Leeds United deserved at half-time.

The second half that ensued was simply a story of how a blood-and-thunder Yorkshire derby turned into a stroll in the park for Leeds United.  It seemed as if all the life had been sucked out of the home team – a Wednesday side who, let’s not forget, were unbeaten at home since the opening day of the season, and who would go on to finish third in the table.  So they were no mugs, but Leeds United were absolutely irresistible on the day, and would have hammered far better teams than the hapless, bewildered Owls.

It’s possible that Wednesday were simply embarrassed about that cringe-worthy penalty, possibly they were dog-tired, having been run ragged since the start.  Whatever the case, their heads dropped steadily further and further as the game progressed, and they offered little resistance as Leeds proceeded to throttle the life out of them.  Chapman completed his hat-trick five minutes after the hour, heading in after Speed had struck the bar from a corner.  Poor Speedo was looking the other way, bemoaning his bad luck when the ball hit the back of the net after all, turning his frustration to joy.  Then, perennial bit-part player Mike Whitlow ventured forward, just because he could, and rose unchallenged to meet Rod Wallace’s right-wing cross and head easily over a stranded Woods.  It was left to little Wallace to administer the coup de grâce, striding clear after a shimmering exchange of passes in midfield to dink the ball over the advancing ‘keeper, and put the suffering home side finally out of their misery.  A highly satisfactory awayday slaughter of the Wendies.

2. AC Milan 1, Leeds United 1 8.11.2000

Dom Matteo....Scored A Very Good Goal....In The San Siro...

Dom Matteo….Scored A Very Good Goal….In The San Siro…

This match is so famous that I barely need to recount the action kick by kick.  The Leeds fans at one end of the San Siro 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 (as well as Alan Green) as the best example of team/fan bonding they’d ever seen.  Fans and players – even a certain Chairman – swapped chants and songs in a spontaneous celebration of a joyous night.  Even the uncertain musical efforts of Lee Bowyer were greeted by a blast of friendly derision.  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.

1. Sheffield United 2, Leeds United 3 – 26.4.1992

Jon Newsome, Superstar

Jon Newsome, Superstar

If you’re a Leeds supporter, you’ll have seen the goals from this game hundreds, thousands of time.  It plays through now, all these years later, in the Football Highlights studio of my mind; joy for the home side as Alan Cork, gleaming of bald pate, pokes the ball home to give Sheffield the lead.  Then, a midfield tussle in the swirling wind, as Leeds try valiantly to come back.  A late first-half free kick, which Gordon Strachan races to take before the home defence can set themselves, he finds Rod Wallace in the area who tips the ball past home keeper Mel Rees’s attempt to save, defenders scramble to clear, only to hit Gary Speed who bounces the ball back to ricochet off Wallace – into the net.  Pandemonium in the away end.   Level at half time, we’re breathless with drama and the hurly-burly of it all, raucous with United anthems, nervous of what’s yet to come.

The crazy game continues crazily.  A dangerous ball across the Leeds box is retrieved by home defender and future Leeds man John Pemberton, who turns it back towards the goal-line where Lee Chapman sticks out a leg for an own-goal greeted with horrified stupefaction by the Leeds fans behind the goal and we’re level again.  Then enfant terrible Eric Cantona enters the fray, and within a few minutes he is chasing a loose ball into the Sheffield half, with Rod Wallace scampering alongside and home defender Brian Gayle lumbering back in a desperate attempt to clear the danger.  And it’s Gayle, former Man City man, who finally slays Man United.  From my vantage point at the opposite end of the ground I see him get his head to the ball, and the action is suddenly slow motion.  Gayle has headed the ball, poor Mel Rees is stranded far out of his goal, the ball goes over his head in a slow, slow loop, and bounces tantalisingly towards the unguarded net…

Then I’m watching at full speed from the far end as Cantona and Wallace raise their arms in triumph, wheeling away in delight, and even as I wonder what they’re up to I realise that the ball has nestled in the Sheffield United net.  A red mist descends, and I am utterly outside of my skull and beside myself in delirious joy and fevered madness, looking around me, roaring like a demented bull, face congested with blood, eyes bulging; I grab a helpless wee St John’s Ambulance man by his lapels and scream beer and spittle into his terrified face “Get me some oxygeeeennnn!!!  I’m going to have a heart attaaaack!!!”  The mad moment passes, I drop the ashen medic and some measure of sanity returns, but we’re still cavorting and diving all over each other, a seething, sweating mass of Leeds, because we know it’s over, we know that Sheffield are beaten, and we know that Man U don’t have an earthly at Anfield, not a prayer.  We were going to be Champions; on that windiest and gustiest of days, a Gayle from Manchester City has blown the Scum away and decided in an instant the fate of all three Uniteds from Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

And so, of course, it panned out.  Later I watched mesmerised on TV as Liverpool beat a demoralised Man U, Denis Law and Ian St John trying to put a brave face on it, Elton Welsby’s foot bobbing away in thwarted anger as the script turned out just as none of them wanted.  Ian Rush scored his first ever goal against Them, and it was settled late on as Man U concede a second.  “And now the title goes to Leeds without any doubt at all” intoned Brian Moore in the ITV commentary as I sat there with tears of joy streaming down my unashamed face.  Gary Lineker had called into the studio earlier to complain that Rod Wallace’s goal had been offside (it was).  St John and Moore bemoaned that Man U had had no luck at all, and Welsby ground his teeth in the studio as the Man U fans outside hurled abuse at him, heedless of the fact that he shared their bitter disappointment.  All was frustration in the media and the rest of football and Leeds fans everywhere utterly failed to give a toss.  My finest hour as a Leeds fan, and my greatest ever awayday.

-oO0Oo-

Two from the same season, and one abroad that was “only” a draw – but each had a special appeal for me among the many away games I’ve seen.  I could have chosen so many others, going right back to my first ever away game, a 3-1 League Cup win at Bolton in 1977.  Still in the League Cup, there was that 6-0 win over Leicester City at Filbert Street, on a night when Robbie Savage never gave up, but proved that he was even worse than we thought.  How could we have known that he’d be worse yet as a pundit?

The golden memories are so many, I could possibly have managed a top ten quite easily.  I’d love to hear which away games others rank as their best memories.

Scintillating Arsenal So Nearly “Do a Leeds” (In a Good Way)   –   by Rob Atkinson

Özil - weakest link

Mesut Özil – weakest link in Monaco

In 1995, Leeds United were ‘The Team That Broke the Hearts in Monte Carlo’, courtesy of an unanswered hat-trick from the mighty Anthony Yeboah, striker extraordinaire. United cruised to a 3-0 win at the Stade Louis II, home of AS Monaco – and nothing like that has happened to the Ligue 1 giants again in the almost two decades since. But on Tuesday evening, a massively dominant Arsenal side came so agonisingly close to emulating Wilko’s Warriors and creating history for their club with the biggest Champions League comeback since Leeds themselves recovered from 3-0 down to VfB Stuttgart.

Back in those carefree, pre-meltdown days, Leeds United – three years or so after becoming The Last Champions – still had comfortably enough shots in their locker to give most teams a pretty tough time. A Yeboah-inspired blistering start to that season provided no hint of a clue as to the disappointment that lay ahead, with a pallid Wembley League Cup Final surrender to Aston Villa – where the seeds of Sergeant Wilko’s demise were sown. But in this early season purple patch, United were laying about them to devastating effect, with Masterblaster Yeboah scoring goal after rocket goal. Tony scored more goals of the season in that two or three months than most strikers could dream of in a career.

The assortment against the hapless Monégasques included his usual worldy, sandwiched between two more mortal efforts. That second goal was so typically Tony, instant control in the inside right channel, a sinuous turn past his marker as he progressed to the edge of the area, and a wonderful, curling finish at pace into the far top rigging. Sublime. Things looked really good for Leeds – and just around the corner lay the transfer coup of the year as world superstar Tomas Brolin signed for the Whites from Italian club Parma. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. 

Arsenal’s challenge on Tuesday night was precisely the emulation of that Leeds feat all but twenty years ago. The Gooners had to score three, or they were out of the Champions League – it was as simple as that. In the end, they fell just short – fatally damaged by a clueless performance in defeat at The Emirates – but they could take a lot of pride and encouragement from an utterly dominant return display that, in truth, should have seen the Pride of North London progress, against long, long odds. Little was lacking in a performance better even than the one that ejected Man U from the FA Cup days prior to this Riviera trip. Perhaps the weakest link on the night was Mesut Özil, as quite frankly he has been too often this season. A tendency towards misplacing final balls and running into instead of past defenders in one-on-one situations, may well have been the difference between narrow failure and spectacular success. Perhaps Özil can fill his boots in what remains of the Arse’s bid to retain the FA Cup. On this evidence, he owes his club and fans that much at least. 

The comparison between two European matches, twenty years apart, featuring my beloved Leeds and my much-admired Arsenal, reminds me that one of the young subs for Monaco that night in 1995 was a pre-Juventus youth by the name of Thierry Henry. He went on to do reasonably well for the Gooners and indeed played his part in the Premier League demise of Leeds by blasting several goals past us at Highbury in the early noughties. Henry’s loyalties were probably with Arsenal the other night in Monaco, as were the loyalties of this Leeds United fan, despite my love for and fond memories of the principality of Monaco. 

In the end, though, all of us who were hoping against hope for a Gunners recovery from that pallid home leg defeat, ended up disappointed – and yet thrilled by what had been a fantastic game with a real edge-of-the-seat climax to it. And – cold comfort though this would be to dedicated Arsenal fans – it was a match that revived memories of a golden night long ago when the Whites invaded France and prevailed through the sublime performance of a Ghanaian genius. 

It’s always futile to wish for the impossible – and anyway, while he lasted in England, he was ours – but how Arsenal could have done with Tony Yeboah, as he was in his prime, on Tuesday night.

What IS the Point of Tottenham Hotspur? – by Rob Atkinson

Arsenal, London's PrideArsenal, London’s Pride

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything is celebrating the FA Cup exit, at the hands of Leicester City, of Tottenham Hotspur FC – by reprinting this highly popular anti-Spuds article.

Thank you.

As a Leeds fan, I’m quite familiar with the whole big club/small club debate – who qualifies as “big”, what are the qualifying criteria? If you currently have a crap team, does that mean you’re suddenly a crap club? And so on and so forth, ad nauseam. It’s not really a question that preoccupies me too much – certainly not to the extent of the Freudian fixation with size that afflicts the plastic followers of a certain Salford-based franchise fallen upon hard times – but it can be annoying if you follow a club like Leeds United, with all the rich tradition of the Revie era and even allowing for the fact that our history before those great days was a bit of a void. But what I’d normally argue is that, look – we’ve been Champions three times in my lifetime, we have a global fanbase and a worldwide notoriety (I won’t call it adoration), a massive web presence which show how many people count the Whites as a big part of their lives – and absolutely no significant local rivals at all. Ergo, we are big. End of.

But what of certain other clubs who are routinely referred to as “big” – not to say massive or even as a “mega-club”? Tottenham Hotspur are a bit of a peculiar animal in this respect. From some points of view, they are certainly a club of significant size.  They have a decent stadium in a major city. They deal towards the top end of the transfer market and they’ve been a steady member of the top-flight since the mid-seventies, picking up the odd trinket here and there. But Spurs have two major problems: the first is that they haven’t been Champions since 1961 – a major flaw for a club with any pretensions to size and a place in the forefront of the game. The second problem may be succinctly summed-up as “Arsenal FC”, their fierce local rivals and the team that undeniably thwarts them at every turn.

Arsenal have been stomping all over poor old Spurs for a good while now – and of course, they’ve been and gone and done it time and time again in terms of Champions League qualification, edging the hapless Spuds out repeatedly over the past few seasons. The presence of Arsenal as Tottenham’s neighbours, rivals and perennial bêtes-noires is a major obstacle to their chances of ever being regarded as a mega-club, a status that Arsenal wear casually, as of right.  Arsenal, after all, have generally been top dogs in North London, certainly over the past fifty years. They’ve had stability in the managerial chair since the mid-nineties and not that long before Wenger it was George Graham importing large quantities of silverware into the stadium graced by the famous marble halls.

Even the Gooners’ recent potless run, terminated by last May’s FA Cup success, has not detracted from Arsenal’s ability to regard Tottenham from a lofty position of pre-eminence. In the fallow period, the Gooners nevertheless played football of a sumptuous beauty and brilliance, and just as importantly they managed the transition from a famous old home to a spectacular and world-class new one. The financial burden that went with this is steadily being seen off – and yet it’s a process that Spurs have yet to embark upon. Will they negotiate it as well as the Arse have? Highly doubtful.

The sad fact as far as Tottenham are concerned is that this continued subordination to a comparatively humble status will always be a glass ceiling that they will find impossible to break through, certainly if Arsenal now blossom into one of their title-winning incarnations, capable of dominating the domestic scene for years at a stretch. And Spurs need to be up there with the big boys if they are to come anywhere near the kind of status their fans expect and desire.

The youngest of those fans who can remember the last Spurs team to be champions will be coming up for retirement any time now. It was the year that I was born. That’s a hell of an indictment for a so-called “big club” – not really elite form at all. Consider all the other clubs who have any real pretensions to this elevated status in the game. They’ve all been Champions at some point in the last 40 years – even Man U, who couldn’t win the real thing after 1967, have gorged on the post-Murdoch pale imitation. Spurs can’t realistically claim to belong in this exclusive company of Champions – they’re really just a slightly inflated West Ham.

Perennial Champions League qualification is a great advantage for Arsenal, but being on the wrong end of that equation is proving to be a major disaster for Spurs. They lost the jewel in their crown to Real Madrid, and however many millions Gareth Bale brought in, it’s difficult to see where Tottenham, despite their own transfer spree, have a replacement on their books of anything like the same quality, young Master Kane notwithstanding (and he’s not as good as Lewis Cook…) All the best players get routinely gobbled up by the Champions League cartel and Tottenham are in very real danger of becoming the richest club to have their noses pressed up against the window of the House of Quality, yearning to be inside but kept out of the spotlight by their more illustrious neighbours.

That has to be a scary prospect for the proud fans of White Hart Lane, but it’s entirely realistic. Spurs may, with their serial Champions League exclusion and the still-painful loss of their talisman Bale (however ineffective he was against Sam Byram in that FA Cup tie at Elland Road), have blown their chances of ever again being thought of as a genuinely BIG club.

And if that’s the case – then, really… what IS the point of Tottenham Hotspur?

Simeone’s Tantrum Must Have Been Real-ly Sweet for Beckham – by Rob Atkinson

Mr. Angry "Cholo" Simeone

Mr. Angry “Cholo” Simeone

Atlético Madrid 1, Real Madrid 4 (aet) – Champions League Final 2014

David Beckham must have permitted himself the slightest of malicious smiles in the wake of his former club Real Madrid’s Champions League triumph over city rivals Atlético, who were coached by Beckham’s World Cup ’98 nemesis Diego Simeone. Those of a certain age will readily remember how the wily Argentinian fouled Beckham, who petulantly kicked out at his antagonist instead of getting up and getting on with it.

Beckham was foolish, but Simeone had exploited the situation to his best advantage, admitting later that he feigned injury from the kick in order to get the England player sent off.  That’s exactly what happened, and the gallant ten men of England ended up going out on penalties in a familiar hard luck story. The unfortunate if misguided Beckham was vilified at home for his immature reaction to Simeone’s deliberate provocation, something he took years to live down.  Surely he must have harboured some resentment ever since?

If he has, then that resentment might just have had the edge taken off it at the end of the Champions League Final in Lisbon at the weekend.  Leading 1-0 deep into stoppage time, Simeone’s Atlético team were cruelly pegged back by an equaliser in the 93rd minute.  In extra time, Real’s class told as they ran out 4-1 winners – all of which proved a touch too much for the temperamental Simeone, who completely lost it on the touchline and appeared to be trying to get at the referee or others on the pitch who had offended his sensibilities.

For Beckham, it must have felt like the ultimate pay-off.  He’d had quite a bit of his own back for the disaster of ’98 by scoring a penalty against Argentina to defeat them 1-0 in the group stages of the 2002 World Cup, which would prove to be Simeone’s last appearance on that exalted stage. But to see one of his former clubs in Real inflict such a hammer-blow on his old enemy must have been a moment of great satisfaction – human nature being what it is.

Simeone, who has had great success this season as his team won la Liga, consigning Real to the ignominy of third spot, felt this reverse as a bitter blow to which he clearly reacted bitterly.  It’s almost certain that he will face UEFA sanctions for his unseemly display as Atlético’s defeat was confirmed – and the way in which the baser end of his nature was revealed will long be remembered by those who were queuing up to praise him in advance of the Lisbon final.

It had even been suggested in that run-up to the game that a film should be made of the rise of the Madrid underdogs, with Burt Lancaster playing the part of coach “Cholo” Simeone.  Quite apart from the fact that Lancaster would find this a difficult role to play, on account of having been dead these past 20 years, it may now be felt that he wasn’t in any case an appropriate actor to portray Cholo’s complex mixture of passion, slyness and thuggery.

Vinnie & Eric

United old boys Vinnie & Eric

As to who possibly could play this demanding role – a cross between former Leeds United stars turned film actors Vinnie Jones and Eric Cantona might just be ideal, if impossible to find outside of this blog’s imagination.  It’s just a thought, after all – but apart from the errant Argie portraying himself, I just can’t think of a better candidate.