Tag Archives: Champions

DIARY OF A CHAMPIONSHIP FAN – PART TWO: WHEN LEXIT MEANS LEXIT – by Patrick Hogan

Families, communities, a whole nation divided over LEXIT

It’s April 2019 and it’s been going on too long now. The people have spoken and yet have had to suffer interminable setbacks; delays, long drawn out negotiations, broken promises, missed deadlines, and things are still not resolved. In your darkest moments you imagine it going on forever. The issue has divided the nation. And yet still you’re living in this impasse. 

It’s time for Leeds to leave the EFL! LEXIT IS LONG OVERDUE!

There was the time you’d outlined in bitter tones to your bitter other half that though LUFC were big other lesser teams had been acquired and funded by billionaires who virtually bought them entrance to the hallowed portals of the Premiership. Look at Wolves in the 2017-18 season you’d said. Loans to buy of top international players through the workings of an agent on the board! And then the skewed distribution of TV money. Relegated teams coming down with huge parachute payments. An outrage that unlevelled the playing field in all sorts of ways. 

‘Well other teams seem to manage to get promotion,’ she’d come back with. 

And for the reasons you’d outlined you’d answered. And what had been her rejoinder? ‘There is no magic money tree! You reap what you sow!’ 

‘And we’d sown Bates had we?’ you’d replied.

‘Who? You live according to your means,’ she’d added. 

You‘d been feeling quite proud of that little snippet of repartee about Bates that hadn’t earned you any points till only later in the pub in your retelling of the spat to friends. The clarity of the scene lived in your mind. It wasn’t when you’d told her that she’d sounded like Theresa May but when you’d added with deliberate vitriol that she was starting to look like her that your missus had packed her bags and left again.

You’ve been a fan of Championship football for years although not through choice. And you’ve praised its qualities of honesty, speed, intensity, and so on that you’d outlined to disinterested pseudo Arsenal, Spurs (add a team) fans who’d never been to any of the grounds of the teams they purported to follow whilst they’ve waxed lyrically about their ‘support’ at work or at the pub watching Sky Sports. The Championship was beneath them. Unless of course they’d picked one of the ‘wrong’ teams like West Ham, WBA, (insert suitable name again) and were then doomed to explore the delights of ‘yo-yo-ness’; until they realised their mistake quickly and bought a Liverpool shirt, etc. backing it up with a flaky reason for their sudden change of allegiance.

But it isn’t as easy as that for you. You loyalties lie in whatever sphere your club happens to find itself. This brings you to another sad memory about the currently departed missus. You’d told her often enough that Leeds would get out of that division – and then it had happened. But not how you wanted. It had been almost unthinkable but only one year on from a play-off final Leeds were in League One! And a brief glance at a map showed you that Swansea and Yeovil were a long way away. And oh she had laughed. And without a word you’d walked out and not come back for three days while you licked your wounds and studied a road atlas looking for places like Cheltenham only to find she’d gone. 

Well she’s not laughing now. Or she might be but not at home. Your bet is she’ll come back contrite when your forecasted Lexit proves to be right. And when she does she’ll find you looking at next season’s fixture list and wondering how much places like Old Trafford, Goodison, and Anfield have changed since you were last there. And also Highbury – scrub that. Arsenal were now at a ground you’d never been to. Add to that list White Hart Lane. And no longer would you have to trek to the old Boleyn ground, a loss you’re prepared to bear stoically if Lexit finally happens.

The truth is though you’ve extolled the virtues of the Championship for years; how it’s more exciting, and harder for overpaid non-performers dropping from the Premiership who just want the bright lights of places like London, and the TV coverage you’re tired of being a Championship fan. Or rather you’re tired of Leeds being a Championship team. And if Leeds are now geared up to be a Premiership team again, you, who has served his penance for past owners’ misdemeanours, feel you’re more than ready to be a Premiership fan again. Admittedly Bournemouth, Brighton and Southampton are further than the likes of Reading, Stoke and Derby but you’ll take that. And in leaving wish all Championship fans luck in the future – obviously not those in places like Bermondsey and Sheffield.

And the delicious irony is that the EFL will have to struggle along without its prize asset and cash cow once Leeds have left despite their best efforts to keep you in their league. At this moment you feel there’s light at the end of a long tunnel even if that glorious light is slightly overshadowed by the spectre of Shaun Harvey following you to the Premiership and getting a top job. You will not let him be the black dog Cerberus chasing you in your dreams. And surely after Lexit there’ll be better referees and kick-off times, less biased commentary and punditry, and the ability to attract top talent – in short, all the things that Lexiteers have promised you.

But back to the mythical magic money tree for a moment. The one you’d yearned for so long and that other teams had seemed to conjure up to get promotion. The amazing thing was that so far the missing missus had been proved right. Fifteen players loaned out; and the few incoming loans and couple of money signings not having played a major part in the process this season. If Lexit is achieved it will be by organisation, dedication, planning and commitment. All the qualities you’ve brought to bear in your support. 

And the club will have played its part too of course.

So there you are. Still waiting and praying for Lexit but this time with genuine hope of an early deliverance. You long to say to the EFL (and Shaun Harvey in particular) ‘In the name of God go!’

Yes, the LUFC fraternity (and of course sisterhood) have spoken with one voice and their combined wish is this: ‘Lexit means Lexit! And it has to happen soon!’

And with that thought constantly in mind you retire to the pub with fellow minded fans to feel the consolation and solidarity of their emotions as they empathise with what you’re going through. And for a short while you can relax as one of them retells your favourite Man U joke. You may know it word for word but there is a comfort in repetition and usually a new pair of ears to take in its poignancy – 

‘The wife decided to wear a Manchester United top for a week to see the public reaction. On The 1st morning she was spat on, swore at, punched in the face twice, kicked up the arse and received 3 death threats……..Don’t know how she’ll get on when she leaves the house.’

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Stumbling Blocks Hardly Unknown on Leeds United’s Historic Success Trail – by Rob Atkinson

All White Champions

Champions 1973/74 – despite a late blip

There can be no denying that Leeds United were more than a little unfortunate to emerge from Saturday’s Yorkshire derby clash with Sheffield United empty-handed. Given ordinary luck, with just a break or two going the way of the Whites, it could have been a very different story; even a draw would have seen Leeds two points clear of third place. But little went right on the day and that, sadly, is a feeling that every Leeds fan down the years knows all too well. 

As it is, we had to take an undeserved defeat on the chin, with the woodwork, injuries and just about every factor you could name ranged against us. United are now a point off the automatic promotion places, when they could have been five points clear of third. Loud and woeful has been the wailing, rending of garments and gnashing of teeth among the United faithful, as the fates seem determined to conspire against Yorkshire’s Number One club.

But wait just a minute. Calm yourselves, fellow Leeds devotees, and be of good cheer. It’s all happened before, you see, at about this time of year too – and it’s rarely been fatal to our chances of success. When you look at our most recent landmark seasons, right back to when I was nobbut a lad, you’ll see that a late stumble or two, with United there or thereabouts and the tension mounting, is much more the rule than the exception.

Going as far back as 1974, when Don Revie‘s Super Leeds were stumbling somewhat along the title path, having at one stage been nine points clear, Burnley visited Elland Road and departed with two points from a 4-1 victory. It was hailed as nearest challengers Liverpool‘s great chance to overhaul United, but Leeds ended up as Champions and by a decisive margin.

Then, in 1990, Barnsley were the visitors on a night when nothing went right for Leeds. Centre back Chris Fairclough was absent for 13 first half minutes having seven stitches in a head wound. He rejoined the fray in time to plant a brave and bloody header into the Barnsley net, giving Leeds a well-deserved interval lead, to the massive relief of a huge Elland Road crowd. Surely, nothing could go wrong now?

In truth, we battered Barnsley throughout the ninety minutes but, in a sickening second half turnaround, two subs for the Tykes scored in quick succession, gifting the Reds an extremely unlikely win. Again, doom and gloom stalked the streets of Leeds – but United still went up as champions.

And then, two years on, Leeds were engaged in an almighty battle with Them from There for the last ever Football League Championship. The media were all agog for the Devonians to win the league – how fitting it would be, they purred. When Leeds lost heavily away, twice in a short space of time, it looked as though the script was written, with Leeds cast as fall guys. A 1-4 defeat at QPR had been followed in short order by a 0-4 reverse at Manchester City, and the Leeds-hating nation celebrated. But it was the Whites who held their nerve and mustered their resources to clinch the title of Last Champions by four points, while Manchester’s second club amusingly choked on the dry ashes of defeat.

So nil desperandum, all you devoted Whites out there. We’ve tripped up, recovered and gone on to win many a time before, in accordance with this great club’s motto of “Keep Fighting” – and there’s no reason we can’t do it again. Have faith in Marcelo Bielsa‘s boys, who really do have that fighting spirit that typified Super Leeds of old, and simply trust that all will come right in the end. Believe.

Marching On Together

You Can Be Angry, You Can Be Critical, and Yet STILL Be a Loyal Leeds Fan – by Rob Atkinson

leeds-fans

Leeds fans United behind team and club


In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s irritating (not disastrous) defeat at QPR, I wrote in anger about what I thought of Leeds United‘s performance – saying that, although we didn’t get the breaks, we also lacked bottle and class. I’d still stand by that, but possibly with the slight amendment that we seemed to lack bottle and class because we failed to show bottle and class. It’s a small but important difference.

In my heart of hearts, I know that this Leeds United squad is not short of courage or quality – they’ve demonstrated on many occasions this season, though not so much lately, that they possess both attributes. The comeback win at Aston Villa, hunting down a lone Wigan attacker like a pack of hungry wolves, late levellers in adverse circumstances as at Middlesbrough. Many such moments. I know all this and I’m proud of it. But I’m sure that no group of professional footballers would expect the fans to take this as read. It’s their job to go out and prove that they have the guts and the skill, game after game, over and over again, all season long. That determination to prove they’ve got the bottle and the class was missing at QPR. And it was right, even in post-defeat anger and hurt, to point that out.

I say this, because there are different schools of thought among Leeds fans, both in physical groups, in the pub post-game, perhaps, and online. Some feel they have a right to say what they like, however harsh, having paid their money – even to the extent of dismissing this or that player as “useless” or “should never wear the shirt again”. You see those tweets collected to make articles that purport to be the feelings of the fans as a whole but, in reality, it’s more representative of an extreme group of hypercritical malcontents.

Others hold the view that any criticism is A Bad Thing, and that we should all be totally positive as a condition of support, unwilling to hear or tolerate a bad word about anything to do with Leeds. Again, this is quite extreme, though in the opposite way – and it’s probably almost as unhelpful as the rabid critics referred to above. For me, there has to be the possibility of feeding back to the club when you honestly feel that standards are dropping. Some fans are knowledgeable, some are not – and some appear to feel they know better than the pros, be they on the playing staff or responsible for coaching and team selection.

But I firmly believe that the vast majority of fans know and love the game well enough, and have enough of a passion for their club, to be able to steer a useful middle path between the extremes, and vociferously support their club, defending them against attacks from outside, while reserving judgement when on-field performance dips.

I’m confident enough in my own regard for “my” club that I feel able to launch into them occasionally, without being thought of as negative or hostile. I wouldn’t be writing about Leeds United in the first place if I didn’t feel the highs and lows with as much pleasure and pain even as the players who trot out to the crowd’s applause. Like thousands of others, I was supporting United many years before any of those lads in the yellow shirts at QPR were born. So I wouldn’t like to think that anyone – players, staff, fellow fans or anybody else – would read what I wrote just after the final whistle last night, and think that I’m not a true fan, or that I’m disloyal or habitually negative. I’m not – anyone who knows me will know that I’m virtually defined by my abiding love for Leeds United.

It’s always a difficult situation after a disappointing defeat, especially in these circumstances, with the carrot dangling of going back top, and taking on a tired team who’d just reeled off seven straight defeats. But that’s no reason to hold back, so I said what I thought needed saying – and yes, I said it feeling bitterly angry. But that’s not to say I’m not a loyal and committed supporter – I went into print precisely because I am loyal and committed and because, loving the club and believing in the players and management, I have great expectations.

For what it’s worth, I believe that the players will be angrier and more disappointed in themselves than even the most gutted fan, and I think they will use that to bounce back at Elland Road on Friday against West Brom. I hope and believe that will happen.

But, if it doesn’t, and if we all have another bitter pill to swallow – then please don’t doubt my loyalty and commitment when, choking on that pill, I write another angry and critical piece. Because I really would be doing it for what I honestly see as the very best of reasons – to show that I care deeply. As we all do.

MOT

Leeds United Must Beware Ending Up With an Earful of Rotherham Cider – by Rob Atkinson

Marcelo Bielsa – wily

In the great Broadway show Guys and Dolls, a young gambler sets out on his career with the following advice from his father: “One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you’re going to wind up with an ear full of cider.’

There is much wisdom to be found in classic scripts such as those produced from the tales of Damon Runyon, upon whose writings Guys and Dolls was based. Runyon’s name has even passed into the language as a byword for witty, pithy dialogue which is pleasing to the ear, has street wisdom undertones and is reminiscent of the shady world of the Broadway hood. If something is described as “Runyonesque”, you can be sure it will be clever, plausible and not lightly to be ignored or treated with anything but close attention and respect.

So when Rotherham United manager Paul Warne waxes lyrical about tomorrow’s opponents Leeds United, whilst simultaneously bemoaning his own club’s injury and sickness lists, the wise devotee of Elland Road, be they player, fan or even globally-renowned coach, will instantly be on the alert. Mr. Warne sounds full of respect for his opponents and equally full of world-weariness at the paucity of his own resources, but he is to be treated with caution, even as Runyon’s card sharp or – more classically – Greeks bearing gifts. The Rotherham boss has spoken sweetly about the Leeds United style of play, hinting at similarities with Manchester City. He has spoken dolefully of the Millers’ injuries and of a minor plague of illness affecting his squad. Already, I can almost feel the Strongbow trickling past my auricle and on towards my eardrum.

Fortunately, wily Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa will be well-prepared for such unctuous softening-up – and for him, it will just be a matter of making sure his team, named once again on Thursday to give opposition spies an even break, are similarly prepared. Leeds certainly can and should win this game, but going into it in a complacent frame of mind is a sure way of ending up pointless and leaking cider from both ears. Still, as Runyon also memorably said, “The race may not always be to the swift nor the victory to the strong, but that’s how you bet.”

Bielsa, for his part, has merely commented that both teams have their own way of playing, and that they will both go ahead and perform according to those differing plans. It’s worthy of note that the Millers have been far stronger at home than away this season, but also that they fell on their own turf to Brentford last week by four goals to two. All of which, plus Leeds’ own patchy recent form, makes this one difficult to call.

Still, in Bielsa we trust. His cards are on the table at least in part, with the starting eleven for Leeds named yesterday, though the make up of his substitute’s bench is as yet unknown. Perhaps it is from there that a jack of spades may yet emerge to squirt cider into Rotherham’s unsuspecting ears, turning the mind-game tables on that nice Mr Warne. In the topsy turvy world of Runyonland, otherwise known as the English Championship, anything is possible.

Something Very Special is Happening in Leeds, Sporting Capital of England – by Rob Atkinson

Just champion: Josh Warrington and Leeds United

World Champion boxer and Leeds fan extraordinaire Josh Warrington is sharing top billing right now with Leeds United as the city of Leeds re-establishes its sporting pre-eminence, putting the likes of Manchester, Liverpool and London in the shade by the sheer diversity of its competitive prowess. Warrington’s great victories against Lee Selby in May at Elland Road, and Carl Frampton the other night in Manchester neatly bracket a phenomenal first half of the Championship season for leaders Leeds United. The Whites’ sensational comeback win at Aston Villa on Sunday topped off a 23 game run in which they have shown power, guts and consistency to emerge as front runners. Unfancied United have defied the critics just as Josh Warrington has, besting two supposedly superior fighters when all the experts predicted he’d be brushed aside.

Those two phenomenal boxing performances were as bookends to the incredible renaissance of Leeds United under Marcelo Bielsa in the first half of the current Championship football season. As Josh Warrington was recovering from his May demolition of Lee Selby, Bielsa was setting about putting his unique stamp on a club that had been failing, for a lack of identity and leadership, to realise its immense potential. Bielsa’s mission was to provide that leadership, create that identity, and see an underachieving club become much more than the sum of its parts. At the halfway point of the season, fresh from a defining performance at Aston Villa when the United warriors fought back from two down to clinch an unlikely victory out of extreme adversity, Leeds stand proudly top of the Championship, with a handy gap between them and the play-off pack. To describe Bielsa’s record so far as merely a success would be to make a molehill out of a mountain.

Just as Josh Warrington has succeeded against all the expert opinion that rated him as a passionate but limited fighter, so Leeds United are making a mockery of those who suggested that Bielsa’s methods could not possibly bear fruit with such a comparatively thin squad, boasting only a couple of major additions to last season’s also-rans. The major transfer acquisition of the summer, Patrick Bamford, has seen his season so far disrupted by injury, and has hardly been able to contribute to the cause. So it’s been the squad as was, plus bargain steal from Wolves Barry Douglas, supplemented by some precocious talent from the development level of the club, that has carried all before it in the league so far. What can United achieve if the injuries clear up, and if they can make some judicious purchases during the January window? It’s a question to tantalise the Whites support, which is already rubbing its eyes in delighted disbelief at the way the campaign has unfolded.

The Leeds claim to be the nation’s sporting capital is well founded. The football club has global support dating from the days when it boasted the finest club side of the post war era, a team that was respected and feared throughout Europe. The Yorkshire county cricket club is historically the best in the game as a matter of record, and the Rugby League outfit that shares Headingley is the biggest in the northern hemisphere bar none. Add in a gutsy fighter in Warrington who has worn his club colours with massive pride to become a true ambassador for the city, and it’s clear to see that Leeds has an embarrassment of sporting riches together with a vast potential to build on – and the signs are there that the building process is well under way. The revolution at Leeds United, the remarkable transformation of Headingley cricket and rugby arena and of course the fighting whirlwind that is Warrington, all combine to give the capital of West Yorkshire a growing status as the place where it’s all happening in the world of sport.

We can look ahead with some confidence now, a confidence that was only a dream prior to the big fight at Elland Road a few short months ago in May, to further progress and maybe concrete achievement in the first half of 2019. And this, of course, brings us nicely up to scratch just in time for the centenary celebrations of Leeds United, one of the truly great clubs in the English game. It’s all looking so good right now, and it’s all come about in such a short time – but the foundations are there for a new golden era across the whole City of Leeds.

With that in mind, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything bids everybody out there, whatever their sporting allegiance, a very Merry Christmas, and the Happiest of New Years for 2019. The future, we’re confident in saying, is very bright. The future, we fervently hope and believe, is yellow, blue and white. 

Could Yaya Toure REALLY Sign for Leeds United? – by Rob Atkinson

We’re very nearly at the point now when we can knock all of the transfer talk on the head, at least until January. It all comes to a halt on Friday, and the word is that Leeds will be bringing at least one new face in, many tipping Chelsea’s Izzy Brown to arrive on loan.

But there exists another interesting (to say the least) possibility, with the news that free agent Yaya Touré, late of champions Manchester City and still a stellar talent, has passed a medical in London, prior to a move to a mystery club.

Yaya has let it be known that he’s not concerned with earning megabucks, and is more interested in a challenging project. It’s well-known that anybody who goes to Leeds, and is instrumental in the awakening of that sleeping giant, will be accorded lifelong “Legend” status. So, from that point of view, the move is not only possible, it would undeniably fit the bill for both parties.

Yaya would be immense for Leeds United – if he joined up, you might as well deliver him to Elland Road as a bargain bundle to include the League Championship trophy. Whether or not English football’s new Godfather, Marcelo Bielsa, would see him as a good addition to his squad has to be another matter – and, as we know, Marcelo knows best.

But Yaya Touré is still world class, he’s cheap (ish) and he’d be an amazing coup even for a major club like Leeds. It’d be a capture in the same class as that of Gordon Strachan thirty years ago. I’d like to think that this is one of those unlikely rumours that actually has legs.

A Merry Leeds Utd Christmas And a Double Birthday Bonus – by Rob Atkinson

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Merry Christmas from The Best English Club Team Ever

First things first; a very Merry Christmas and/or Holiday Greetings to all readers of Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. I hope that you’re having a great day, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. Many of us will already be focusing on tomorrow’s live TV date at Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion, the victims of an outstanding home performance from United earlier this season, when we recorded a 5-0 win, Pierre-Michel Lasogga scoring a rather lovely brace.

On Christmas Day it’s always worth sparing a thought or two for those unfortunates who share their birthday with a world-wide splurge of significant consumerism and therefore rather disappear into the background when it comes to celebrating their own special personal anniversary. Still, they’ve never known any different – and they’ve only got their parents to blame for being bored, cold, or just plain randy the March before. We have two of these Christmas Birthday sideshows in Leeds United‘s recent history, two midfielders who, each in his own way, made telling contributions to our last two Championship titles, one of the second division and the other of the entire Football League itself.

Chris Kamara

Chris Kamara

First then, a Happy Birthday to Chris Kamara, who is better known these days for his Lionel Richie tribute act as he banters his way through various Sky TV football shows, not least Soccer Saturday where he crops up every two minutes to utter the immortal words “Unbelievable, Jeff!” Unbelievable it certainly is that Kammy is actually 60 today, and you have to say he’s taken damned good care of himself. He still looks fit enough to play, and the memories are vivid of the days in which he used to strike fear into opposition hearts wearing the white shirt of Leeds United. Kammy it was who, famously, bent an outside of the foot pass into the run of the late great Gary Speed for the youngster to get the fourth against Sheffield United as we stamped our authority on the promotion race of 1990. Kamara’s contribution that season was a highly positive influence in midfield, breaking up play, finding a fellow United man with accurate passes and cropping up with the odd goal. As with all of those heroes who ended the Eighties Exile, Kammy is a true Leeds Legend.

Gary McAllister

Gary McAllister

Today’s other birthday celebrant is Gary McAllister. Gary first came to my notice as I stood on the Kop watching Leeds play Leicester City in a vital promotion game in that 1989/90 season. We were 1-0 up through Mel Sterland‘s powerful cross shot, when McAllister decided to do his best to ruin things. First he blasted home a terrific equaliser that left Elland Road stunned – then he threatened to inflict further damage, hitting a shot of equal brilliance which – fortunately – thudded against the woodwork, leaving us weak with relief. Leeds won eventually through Gordon Strachan‘s legendary strike near the end (Have you ever seen a better goal?  Or one better timed??) – but Gary McAllister had single-handedly come close to shattering our hopes and destroying our season. As I gazed balefully at his departing back, I hoped it would be a while before we saw him again.

History tells us, of course, that Gary Mac went on to become one of the greatest Leeds United midfielders of all, in one of the game’s truly great midfield quartets, the legendary Fantastic Four of Strachan, Macca, Batty and Speed. It’s also worth remembering that he turned down a move to Clough’s Notts Forest in favour of joining Wilko’s Leeds revolution. The memories are many of Gary’s superbly-struck goals and fine performances in a Leeds shirt. He went on to serve Liverpool with equal distinction, as well as starring for Scotland, before returning to Elland Road for an initially-promising stint as manager. Sadly, labouring under the merciless regime of Bates, Gary’s spell in charge of Leeds was not to be a success – but his place in the United Hall of Fame is assured.

Gary is 53 today and is now involved in media work connected to football after several unsuccessful attempts to return to football management. Surely, he still has much to offer – although I’d have willingly seen him far from Elland Road on that day we played Leicester City with so much at stake, Gary has proved himself to be one of the game’s nice guys. Always a professional down to his toes, he had to overcome personal tragedy with the loss of his wife Denise to cancer in 2006. In an age when there are so many in the game who are impossible to admire, it’s sad that a man like McAllister is not more involved.

Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas to our two midfield legends – and Seasonal Greetings to everybody.  Cheers!

Tottenham as Champions? Even Leeds United Would be More Authentic – by Rob Atkinson

Spuds

Spuds – boiled twice until soft and mushy

If Tottenham Hotspur finish this season in a Champions League qualification place and – more importantly, in the eyes of many of their fans – above loathed North London rivals Arsenal, then this season will be deemed by the vast majority of those fans to have been a resounding success. This, despite the fact that, having failed last year to take their most realistic chance in over half a century to finish as Champions of England, they are about to repeat that failure. And that is why Spurs, despite their superficial glamour and appeal, cannot be regarded as a big club.

This might sound strange coming from a fan of 21st Century also-rans Leeds United. But, for all their recent woes and the chaos that characterises life at Elland Road under Bates, GFH and Cellino, Leeds remains a big club. The expectations are still there, the voracious hunger and imperious demand to be up there with the best. At some point, those demands will be met – because the expectations and desire of the fans are what, ultimately, define the size and potential of a football club. Leeds have all that – Tottenham simply don’t. A cursory scan of their Twitter feed, when Spurs capitulated last season, was ample illustration of this.

I was really expecting to find anger, dismay and deep, deep hurt among the Spurs Twitteratti, at the careless throwing away of a once in a lifetime chance. It wasn’t there. I thought too – equally erroneously – that there would be angst and an abiding sense of betrayal. I based this on an empathetic knowledge of how I or most other Leeds supporters would feel – how it would leave us bereft and fuming to see such a rare opportunity passed up. But then – we’re Leeds, and these people were merely Spurs. There’s a big difference.

Last time Leeds joined the big time, back in 1990 – and the time before that, in 1964 – the Whites wasted no time merely admiring their surroundings or being overawed by their new peers. They took a brief, almost scornful look around, allowed themselves the barest of minimum settling-in periods, won their opening fixture back at this new, rarefied level – and proceeded to dominate proceedings thenceforth. Don Revie’s wonders went within a whisker of the double first time out, and were the best team in Europe within five years. Sergeant Wilko’s Warriors were Champions inside twenty months. This is the mettle and appetite of a big club. “Keep Fighting” was and remains the motto. There is no fear and mighty little respect in the staff and players. There is an abounding self-belief and naked ambition among the fans. So it was with Leeds United. So it will be again.

There is none of this with Spurs, not last season and not this one either. Despite the excellence of their squad, they lack the inner conviction and the aspirations of Champions. At its heart, the club is effete and decadent, content to play pretty football while perceived lesser mortals – the Leicester City of last season being an excellent example – scrap and fight, working hard, giving no quarter, exerting every fibre of their being in the pursuit of victory. In a game of fine margins, it is this muck and bullets approach that can close the quality gap and make the difference when the prizes are handed out.

On the evidence of social media reaction, the Spurs fans are as much to blame as the soft centre of their club. It’ll be nice to finish second, they trilled last season (they actually finished third in a two-horse race, surrendering runners-up spot meekly to Arsenal with a thrashing at relegated Newcastle). We’d have snatched your hands off for the chance of finishing higher than Arsenal, they simpered (maybe this season then, lads). We’ll be favourites next year, they crooned, hopefully. But next year never comes – not when the real big boys can be counted on to wake up from their one season slumber.

Thinking back to the early nineties, when Leeds were the hungry new kids on the block – we hoped and craved for a chance to be the best again. Whether we really expected it to come along so soon is a moot point. But we were raucously demanding of it. And when that chance presented itself – especially at the expense of our most hated foes – there was no suggestion of “well, it’d be nice, but second wouldn’t be too bad either”. We’d have been gutted to the depths of our very souls, if our heroes in White hadn’t seized the day. It would have been impossible to express the wretchedness we would have felt.

The Spurs fans by contrast, with their mealy-mouthed acceptance of failure and honeyed words of congratulations to conquerors Leicester, betrayed their club and showed themselves, as well as their beloved club, unworthy of being regarded as champion material. It was a sickening sight to see, a betrayal of that competitive spirit that gives a vital edge to proper contenders.

In the end, any league gets the champions it deserves and, barring last-gasp miracles or Chelsea calamity, it’ll be no different this year. Spurs will have shown again why they haven’t been The Best since 1961, when JFK was president, the Beatles were playing beery dives in Hamburg and I was only just seeing the light of day. Chelsea, with their juggernaut self-belief and determination to make the most of every opportunity under the brilliant guidance of Antonio Conte, will thoroughly have deserved their Premier League Title. They will be deserving Champions, by far the best team in the land.

Leicester City, Chelsea, Leeds United – Champions of England. Each has a ring of authenticity to it that’s been hard fought for and deeply merited when it’s come about. Whereas “Champions Spurs”? – well, it just doesn’t sound right. It sounds instead faintly ridiculous, like cheap fiction; and, as long as the club and the fans retain their current losers’ mindset, that’s just how it will remain.

Leicester City Are on the Brink of Doing a Leeds… In a Good Way   –   by Rob Atkinson

 

The Last Champions


The Premier League season, which has been simmering away for the past eight months or so, is now coming nicely to the boil – and it looks set fair to produce quite the most appetising and satisfying feast of the Murdoch era so far. Not for over twenty years have we seen such unlikely and thrilling Title winners as Leicester City would be. Back in 1995, Blackburn narrowly won the crown of Champions, just pipping Manchester United. But they did it by out-spending the big spenders – and it was their third year back in the big time. Leicester are threatening to be top dogs on a budget – and in only their second season at the top table.

Many pundits are going back years before Blackburn’s success in an effort to find a precedent for what the Foxes seem likely to achieve in this momentous campaign. As far back as 1978, the Nottingham Forest of Clough and Taylor won the old Division One title in their first season after promotion. Forest took the league by storm, with a thrilling brand of football based on neat passing, hard work, collective responsibility and a pulsating team ethic. The parallels with this Leicester side are easily drawn – but again the timescale was different for Forest, as was the whole vista of English football compared to the moneybags Premier League of today.

The closest resemblance to the scenario now panning out for Leicester was the very last Football League Championship campaign in 1991/92, when Leeds United took the title in their second season after promotion, precisely the situation that Claudio Ranieri’s men are now attempting to bring to fruition. Leeds had gained promotion in 1990, and had finished a respectable 4th in their first elite season. Leicester, on the other hand, struggled badly first season up, and were bottom of the Premier League exactly a year ago. But they performed spectacularly to avoid the drop, and they have carried that form over into what appears more and more likely to be their debut season as English Champions.

The similarities between Leeds of 1992 and the modern day Leicester are persuasive. Leeds relied on a fast-paced approach, closing down the opposition to win the ball back quickly, creating mayhem with a strong and talented midfield and reaping the rewards of some lethal strikers up front. Most of Leeds’ strength 24 years ago was in their midfield, where Strachan, MacAllister, Batty and Speed were a potent engine room. In Leicester’s case, Vardy up front has been a revelation, and not only for his goals. This is a player who has shone in Leicester’s hard-working team plan, running the channels tirelessly, never giving defenders any peace, always pulling them around and disrupting many a rearguard for the benefit of his team-mates – and to show off his own clinical finishing.

Both Leeds and Leicester were unfancied for title success (Leicester were 5000-1 against at the start of this season) – both faced main rivals of historical pedigree who had yet failed to win the top prize for far too long. In Leicester’s case, they are looking to deny Spurs, a club with no titles to its name since 1961, the same year Don Revie began his masterful process of creating a Super Leeds machine. Spurs have won a few cups since then, but have never threatened to top the poll. Now, just as they seem better equipped than for decades past to do just that, they could be fated to fail again, as a nerveless Leicester side simply keep on grinding out the results that are inching them towards the ultimate success. Leeds performed similarly in 1992, appearing destined to lose out to a Man U side looking for their first title in 25 years. But Leeds hung in there, waited for the weaknesses of their rivals to show – and then mercilessly exploited the situation to emerge winners by four clear points.

As a Leeds United fan with vivid memories of that last old-style title campaign, I can easily understand the feelings of all connected to Leicester City right now. I remember turning up for games towards the sharp end of that season with nerves stretched taut, utterly unable to enjoy myself until the points were won. And I remember being glued to the radio, waiting and hoping for news of a slip-up for the boys in red. It was exhausting, exhilarating, devastating and miserable by turns; for every upturn on that roller-coaster of a run-in, there was a downturn that had you tearing your hair out. When I watch the Leicester games now, all of them under the microscopic gaze of the Sky cameras, I see the close up shots of fans suffering those same agonies and exulting just as we did when things go well. The animated faces are the faces I remember from almost a quarter of a century ago; the despair is the same, as is the delight.

Whether the outcome will be the same remains in the lap of the Gods – or, at least, the Spurs. But I wish Leicester well, as they try to finish off the job I can so well remember my heroes in White doing all those years back. It would be wonderful for the game if Leicester could do it – just as I understandably feel it was brilliant for English football that Leeds United were the last old-style champions. Not many agreed with me back then; we celebrated riotously, but in a vacuum of indifference and resentment. Then again, Leeds never were everybody’s cup of tea. And that’s one major difference with Leicester. The whole country outside of North London is rooting for them to secure the first League title in their 132-year history.

Doing a Leeds” has negative connotations, more to do with a precipitous fall from grace and financial collapse than any sporting success. So, if Leicester can close out this season as Champions, perhaps we can rightly say that they’ve “done a Leeds” in a good way – as no club has really managed since those dear, daft days of the early nineties. If anything, Leicester’s achievement would be even greater, a marvellous, unprecedented thumbing of a poor man’s nose at all the sleek moneybags types they’ve left struggling in their wake.

All the very best to the Foxes, who could conceivably find themselves a whopping ten points clear with only 5 games to play after this weekend. We’ll look forward to raising a celebratory glass to you, when you can finally call yourselves Champions.

Birthday Boy Strachan’s Crucial Rocket for Leeds United Against Leicester – by Rob Atkinson

"Have you ever seen a better goal?  Have you ever seen one better timed??" John Helm, YTV

“Have you ever seen a better goal? Have you ever seen one better timed??” John Helm, YTV

On the occasion of Gordon Strachan’s 59th birthday – and by the way, many happy returns, Sir – I thought I’d look back to what was possibly his defining moment as the man who did more than just about anyone to reinvent Leeds as a post-Revie force in English football.

It had been a long time coming since Don’s Glory Boys dispersed to pastures new and a Golden Era faded into the dim haze of memory. We had been eight years in the second division doldrums and had almost forgotten what it was like to be a top team. But – finally! – it looked as though the nightmare was ending as Sergeant Wilko and Captain Strachan were set to lead United back to the Promised Land at long last. A home fixture against Leicester City was the penultimate hurdle to overcome, and expectations were soaring at Elland Road.

Twelve days before the Leicester game, United had appeared to strike a decisive blow, battering closest rivals Sheffield United 4-0 at Elland Road. But any hope that promotion could be clinched early was dashed over the next two fixtures, a draw at Brighton where the lead was squandered to sacrifice two points, and then a home defeat to a relegation-threatened Barnsley who even then had the ability to put one over on us with an inferior team. So the nerves were jangling for this home date with the Foxes.

Leicester breezed into town with no pressure on them at all as they bobbed about serenely in mid-table, but Leeds just had to win. A victory could possibly clinch promotion; anything else and we would be relying on others to give us that final leg-up – not an attractive prospect. The atmosphere at Elland Road that day was something to behold as 32597 packed the stands and terraces, the Kop a seething mass of bodies, a solid wall of sound. If the weight of support counted for anything, then it seemed Leicester might just as well turn around and go home – but to their eternal credit they fought the good fight and played their part in a memorable afternoon.

It all started well. Leeds pressed hard – this had been their preferred approach all season long. No opponent was allowed the luxury of untroubled possession as Leeds snapped at ankles and harried the enemy, hungry for the ball and well able to use it productively. At their best, United had proved a match for any team in the Division; as ever though it was the off days that had let us down. On this particular occasion, attacking the Kop End in the first half, the forward momentum seemed irresistible. Before long, the overlapping Mel Sterland fastened on to a ball at the right corner of the penalty area and fired low and hard into the net to open the scoring. The overwhelming relief was as evident as the unconfined joy around the packed stadium; surely now United would go on to consolidate their advantage and seal the promotion we’d wanted for so long.

Frustratingly, it was not to be. Despite further pressure, Leeds failed to make another breakthrough before half-time and Leicester – relaxed and pressure-free – were looking more and more ominously like potential party-poopers. These fears solidified in the second half as the away side pressed an increasingly nervous Leeds back, and eventually – inevitably – they drew level. The blow when it came was struck by a rumoured transfer target for Leeds, promising young Scot Gary McAllister. He proved that he packed some punch by belting a fine strike past veteran Mervyn Day to shock the Kop rigid and momentarily silence Elland Road.

Worse was so nearly to follow as McAllister almost did it again, another superb shot coming within an ace of giving Leicester the lead, something which would doubtless have produced the unedifying spectacle of grown men crying in their thousands. It may well be that McAllister sealed his move to Leeds with this performance and those two efforts, but I could have seen him far enough from LS11 that day. Leeds were rocking, looking at each other, scratching heads and clenching fists in the time-honoured “come on, let’s bloody sort this out” gesture. Slowly, by sheer force of will, the lads in White regained the initiative and it looked at least as though the danger of further damage was receding. The football was still nerve-shredding stuff, all urgency and little fluency, a desperate battle to eke out the extra two points that would make promotion so much more likely.

Time was ebbing away fast now, as Leeds hurled themselves time and again into the defensive barrier of red Leicester away shirts. Panic was setting in, the biggest enemy of constructive football. It was looking like a draw, which would not be enough. Then, a throw halfway inside the Leicester half in front of the West Stand, under the eyes of a bleakly worried Wilko. Sterland gathered himself and hurled a massively long throw deep into the away penalty area, only for it to be headed out from around the near post. McAllister attempted to complete the clearance with an overhead effort to get rid, but the ball hit Gordon Strachan to bounce back into the box. And there was Gary Speed to lay that ball back instantly to the still-lurking Strachan who simply lashed it, left-footed, into the net. The ball had gone in like a bullet; Strachan – too tired to control it and try to work a yard of space to dink one of those cute little far-post crosses as he might normally – settled instead for catching the ball right on the sweet spot and it arrowed home to a positive explosion of noise from all around Elland Road – the sudden release of what had been unbearable tension produced a massive roar to buffet the ear drums of innocent bystanders miles away.

It was one of those occasions when several things seem to happen at once. The crowd behind the goal at the South Stand end seemed to boil with passion and relief, a maelstrom of delighted celebration which was echoed across the whole stadium. Strachan himself ran to the byline, face contorted, weary limbs pumping in triumphant exultation as he took the plaudits of the faithful. A lone copper is visible on the TV footage between Strach and the cavorting hordes, a grin on his face as he moves to quell any ambitious pitch-invaders. In the commentary box, John Helm unwittingly propelled himself into immortality, not for the last time that afternoon. “Have you ever seen a better goal?” he demanded. “And have you ever seen one better timed?” It was a good question, and right then, right there, I doubt you’d have found a Leeds fan to answer “yes” to either part of it. The rest was a blur; Leeds held out, and we had won – and seemingly gained promotion. Rumours were flying around that Newcastle had failed to win, sending us up. But John Helm was at it again, more iconic words: “Is that confirmed…?” When the confirmation arrived, it was of a late Toon win; we still had it all to do at Bournemouth the following week. But Strachan’s late cracker had kept us in a race that we were ultimately destined to win.

My final memory of that day is of walking down off the Kop and onto the pitch as the masses there were starting to disperse. We crossed the hallowed turf from goal-line to goal-line, eventually exiting the ground into Elland Road at the south-west corner, where the big screen now stands. I can still remember the heady scent of stud-holed mud and trodden turf, my head was still buzzing as I walked over the spot where wee Gordon had made that perfect half-volley contact to send us all into delirium. It had been an atmosphere the like of which I have rarely seen before or since, only the mayhem at Bramall Lane when Gayle scored that own-goal title-clincher coming anywhere near, or maybe that ankle-busting semi-riot of a celebration when Dave Batty broke his long goal drought against Man City in 1991.

For the sheer relief of it however – the absolute nerve-shredding, tension-breaking release of it – this was definitely THE one. Without Strachan’s sublime strike, we could well have missed out on automatic promotion, and we all know only too well that there’s a law against us succeeding in the play-offs. Gordon’s Golden Goal had kept the dream alive and made possible all that followed up to the League Championship triumph two years later. Make no mistake – it was THAT important.

Thanks, wee man, for the brilliant memories. Have a brilliant birthday.