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Marching On Together
Tag Archives: Champions
There was something about Leeds United‘s winning goal at Reading on Tuesday evening that awoke golden memories of Sergeant Wilko’s Warriors of 1992 as they upped the ante one January Sunday afternoon to ignite a title charge. On that long ago day Leeds, marking Wilkinson’s return to Hillsborough to face his old charges Sheffield Wednesday, were utterly irresistible and ran riot, emerging winners by six goals to one. The display at Reading this week, nearly 28 years later, was not of the same vintage. And yet Jack Harrison’s emphatic far-post finish bore a remarkable similarity to the second Lee Chapman goal of his Hillsborough hat-trick all those years ago.
If you can cast your mind back that far, you may remember that Leeds, 2-0 up and cruising, had just suffered the most outrageous penalty decision when Gordon Watson of the Wendies did a somersault with half-pike and triple twist with Chris Whyte nowhere near him in the Leeds box. The ref eagerly fell for it and, though John Lukic saved John Sheridan’s spot kick, the former Leeds man buried the rebound. So it was 2-1 and Leeds were seething over Wednesday’s fraudulent route back into a game that had looked lost to them.
Lesser teams may have been discouraged, but not Wilko’s United. Showing the mettle that would see them crowned Champions just a dozen or so weeks later, Leeds bit back, putting together a devastating length of the pitch move as the first half drew to a close, to re-establish a two goal cushion going into the interval.
This is where the similarity is so obvious, in the fluency and sweeping nature of both moves, with a bullet header finishing each off to perfection. Back then, Lukic rolled the ball out to left back Tony Dorigo, who instantly played a beautifully weighted pass down the left for Gary Speed. Speedo took one touch, looked up, and delivered the perfect cross which was met mid-air by a hurtling Chapman to bury the ball unanswerably into the Wednesday net. It was a rapier thrust down the left, the ball moving from goal to goal in mere seconds to kill off Wednesday hopes.
Fast forward to this week, and the resemblance is remarkable. After a Kiko save from Reading’s free kick 25 yards out, the ball squirted out to the left where Jack Harrison played a neat reverse pass to Stuart Dallas. The Irishman immediately hit a fine, first-time crossfield ball to find sub Gjanni Alioski in space on the right. Two touches from Alioski, and he fed a great ball forward for Helder Costa, who didn’t have to break stride or take a touch before delivering a great far post cross, which took a slight deflection and was met by the onrushing Harrison – the man who had started the move seconds earlier at the other end of the pitch. Harrison’s finish was just as emphatic as Chapman’s had been, all those years before, with the reaction of the United fans behind the goal just as ecstatic.
One sweeping, end-to-end goal redolent of a similar effort almost three decades ago does not, of course, a team of champions make. And yet the winner at Reading, just as beautiful in its construction and just as devastating in its execution as Chapman’s effort at Hillsborough, may just be a sign of what Marcelo Bielsa’s team are beginning to be able to do – impose their style, stifle resistance, and then apply the coup de grâce to exhausted opponents. That happy knack could well lead to many more such victories where United haven’t played all that brilliantly – and maybe, just maybe, finally lead us back to the Promised Land.
David Prutton, now a Sky Sports pundit but nicknamed “Jesus” by Leeds fans once upon a time, due to his startling resemblance to the alleged Son of God, might therefore be wryly amused by the fact that United’s automatic promotion hopes appeared to die on Good Friday. As yet, and with a barren Easter Monday visit to Brentford answering no prayers originating in and around LS11, there seems to be nary a sign of any resurrection for what was probably a misplaced optimism that we might find a straightforward path out of the EFL wilderness. Barring a miracle on a par with the loaves and fishes gig, it’s likely that Leeds United will, after all, have to settle for a play-offs lottery that has served them so ill on so many occasions in the past.
But, soft. Perhaps the time for despair is not yet nigh. Any neutral observer looking at the twists and turns taken by this season’s Championship promotion race will note that it’s been a consistently inconsistent affair, predictable only in its inscrutable unpredictability. You couldn’t have made it up, such observers would say, possibly gasping and throwing their hands in the air to signify outraged disbelief. If you were writing a script, they might add, you wouldn’t have dared include so many plot twists, for fear of being dismissed as some lunatic sensationalist with a bevy of bats in the belfry. Why, then, should we assume that all is done and dusted with two games yet to be played for each interested party? Why on earth would we now presume to predict an outcome that has from day one been so capriciously impossible to foresee?
Out of such perverse logic might appear the odd straw for fans of Leeds United eagerly to clutch with a fierce defiance born of pure desperation. Could Ipswich get a point at Bramall Lane while a depleted Leeds triumph over the division’s form team Aston Villa, leaving things on a last day knife-edge? Of course not. But then again, you might have argued as dismissively about ten man Wigan’s chances of overcoming a one goal deficit to beat the Championship’s best home ground team in Leeds. And you’d surely have bet against a QPR side that had lost seven on the bounce somehow defying the match stats to see our heroes off 1-0 the other week. All of which proves the truth of the old saw about not counting chickens before they’ve hatched.
Of course, in public, I’m maintaining a front of stoical resignation and predicting yet more play-off disappointment for my beloved Whites. My perceived sanity and any remaining shreds of credibility probably depend upon this outward display of common sense. But this little blog is my private fantasy land – and here, all things are possible until the actual point at which it can be shown they haven’t actually happened. So, just between you and me, gentle reader, I will cling on to my faint but still flickering hopes that a miracle could yet occur, and that we might yet see our favourites ascend to the Promised Land as of right, instead of having to trust to that fickle and Leeds-hating jade Lady Luck. You never know, it could still just happen.
Hell fire, friends – we might yet even win the Championship. The kind of roller-coaster script this year’s League has apparently followed might actually demand a properly daft denouement like that. Keep the faith.
Marching On Together
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.’
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!