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Three Down, But Leeds Won 4-3: Derby Beaten 17 Years Ago Today – by Rob Atkinson

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Gorgeous George

For many football fans, the words George, Graham and dour go together like fish, chips and vinegar. Yet I look back very fondly on Stroller George’s too-brief reign at Elland Road, not least for the reason that it did a lot to put right the problems surrounding the latter part of the Howard Wilkinson era. Wilko’s dismissal in the early part of the previous campaign had brought a dapper Mr. Graham through the West Stand doors with a promise to steady the ship and to “sort things out at the back.”

What followed was an exercise in football austerity, tight in defence, almost completely impotent up front, yet surviving quite comfortably despite the paucity of attacking product. He even managed a 1-0 Cup win at his first love Arsenal’s Highbury fortress, but for the rest of the season it was very meagre fare indeed. “We’ll score again, don’t know where, don’t know when” was the fans’ refrain as the league programme died of boredom. But if we thought it would be more of the same next time around – and quite frankly, we did – we were to be happily surprised.

Season 1997-98 saw a turnaround in the composition of the first-team squad, Carlton Palmer and Brian Deane departing, one south, one north, both relatively unlamented. The in-comings included David Hopkin, who would provide a traditionally ginger influence in midfield; Bruno Ribeiro, a tin-type of a mid-sixties era John Giles; Alf-Inge Haaland, who became a cult hero for his abuse of Royston Keane, and is still fondly remembered for it today; and the exotically-named, unexpectedly lethal Jerrel Floyd Hasselbaink.

All in all they seemed to promise much in terms of increased effectiveness of the side as a unit, and it was the two lesser-known signings from the Portuguese League who made the most initial impact. Hasselbaink in particular got off to a flyer, scoring against Arsenal at home on his debut, and displaying a turn of pace and a rocket shot that inspired cautious optimism even among the cynical Leeds fans, who had starved for such thrills the previous year. By the time the Derby game came around the self-branded “Jimmy” was not quite a first team fixture but whenever he was involved, there was that air of threat about him. And so it would prove on this day.

Leeds had in fact produced a couple of decent home wins on their last two Elland Road outings, beating Man U 1-0 and cruising to a 4-1 win against Newcastle, both in front of near-40000 crowds. Derby was a slightly less attractive prospect, but there were still 33572 in the ground as the teams came out that November afternoon. Derby, to be honest, were not expected to prove too much of a problem. Most teams have their “rabbit side” – opposition who always seemed quite straightforward to deal with – and Derby had been this type of easy meat for Leeds for some little time now, a situation sadly reversed these days. So the atmosphere was one of anticipation if not exactly complacency; there was this definite air of expectation that the recent home success would continue.

It was with bemusement turning to anger and outrage then, that Leeds fans beheld the scene which had unfolded by the 33rd minute. Without ever looking massively inferior on the field, United had contrived to trail 0-3, uncharacteristic goalkeeping howlers from Nigel Martyn gifting Derby striker Dean Sturridge the chances to score twice, and then the concession of a stonewall penalty which was gleefully converted by Aljosa Asanovic – all at the fanatical Gelderd End of the ground. As the penalty hit the back of the net, and the Derby players celebrated, there was a loud explosion from the Kop as someone let off an extremely noisy “banger” firework which had somehow survived Bonfire Night three days before. At the time, this concussive detonation seemed the only response a speechless home support could muster, but the crowd noise and vehemence of encouragement were to reach more positive levels before the break.

It was the kind of situation that required a determined fight back immediately; failing that, Derby could well have gone on to assume complete control and finish up winning with embarrassing ease. Embarrassing for us, anyway – at this point the away fans were enjoying life and looking forward to more goals. Leeds got the message loud and clear; the Kop roared support as they pressed forward, and the belief seemed to be there that there was still plenty of time to retrieve something from this disastrous situation.

The first dent was made in Derby’s lead only four minutes after their third goal, Ribeiro gathering possession around thirty yards out and hammering a left foot shot into the penalty area. It was a powerful effort, but probably destined to be harmless – until Rodney Wallace got the merest of touches to it, diverting the ball past Mart Poom in the Derby goal. 1-3 now and better was to come by half-time.

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Harry, Harry Kewell

Young Harry Kewell was being hailed as the latest Wunderkind around this time; he’d been the quicksilver inspiration of the previous year’s FA Youth Cup-winning team, and was precociously, extravagantly gifted as he had already demonstrated at first team level.  This was obviously some years before he disgraced himself, first by holding the club to ransom over his transfer to Liverpool and then – infinitely worse – by signing for that scumbag Turkish outfit Galatasaray. His contribution to this match, however, was embellished by a clinical finish to draw Leeds to within one goal of Derby before the interval. The ball came over from the right to find Kewell in space beyond the far post but at such an acute angle that there was hardly any of the goal to aim at. No matter; Kewell met the ball as sweetly as I’ve ever seen anyone connect with a left-foot volley, the ball flying with tremendous pace and power past a startled Poom and into the far corner of the net. We were back to 2-3, and it was so nearly all square right at the end of the half when a snap shot from Haaland was just scrambled off the line. The situation at half-time was bizarre; the away team was leading but it was the home team feeling upbeat and with the momentum behind them as the game restarted.

Leeds were attacking the Kop now, and the second half swiftly set itself into a pattern of relentless pressure on the away defence, the addition of half-time substitute Lee Bowyer adding extra energy to the midfield thrusts forward. Derby defended well, desperately at times, yet effectively – and managed somehow to weather a 30 minute storm to bring themselves within sight of holding out for an unlikely victory. But then it was time for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to enter the fray.

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Jimmy, Jimmy

With 15 minutes to go, it was a timely substitution by George Graham, who took Hopkin off, and moved Kewell to play behind a front two of Hasselbaink and Wallace. Suddenly Derby had different problems to deal with, and it was to prove, finally, just too much for them. With under ten minutes to go, defender Christian Dailly, challenged in the air by David Wetherall, was pressured into a blatant handball, and the whistle sounded for the second penalty of the afternoon. Hasselbaink immediately stepped up to the plate, leaving no one in any doubt that he was up to the job of equalising from the spot. I remember hardly daring to look from my vantage point on the Kop, but Jimmy was coolness personified as he placed the ball before calmly walking up and rolling it with precision into the right hand corner as Poom started to go the other way. 3-3, and to be frank, I’d have settled for that with grateful thanks when we were three behind, but now team and crowd were after Derby’s blood in harness, and both could scent victory.

In the greatest traditions of the very best comeback wins, the decisive moment was saved until time was all but up. It was to be a combination of the two substitutes that finally undid Derby, Hasselbaink getting hold of the ball on the right and, going rapidly through the gears, scorching past a helpless defender into the box before pulling the ball back from the dead ball line. Jimmy could not have picked a better pass, the ball arriving just at the edge of the penalty area, where the onrushing Bowyer met it beautifully first-time with his left foot, sending his shot hurtling past the Derby ‘keeper high into the left-hand side of the net for a sensational winner. It was the cue for the Leeds fans behind the goal on the Kop, and indeed all around the stadium, to go deliriously potty as the players celebrated in an ecstatic knot just below them, and the lonely figure of Mart Poom, surely the man with the biggest lower lip in football, gazed skywards in bewilderment that such a seemingly impregnable lead could have yielded only defeat.

My last memory of this game is of the anthemic Chumbawamba hit “Tubthumping” blasting over the PA system, and the jubilant fans almost bouncing towards the exits, hands clapping above their heads and the raucous refrain “We get knocked down, but we get up again, you’re never gonna keep us down” being sung over and over as the stadium slowly emptied. There can’t be many feelings to compare with victory snatched from the jaws of such a poor start and the despair that accompanies going three behind at home. The buzz of this one took a long time to fade into what is still a pleasurable glow, and it’s a memory I cherish whenever I hear that anarchic Tubthumping sound. After the match, Jimmy was interviewed for the TV highlights, and demonstrated his mastery of English as he tried to sum up a surreal afternoon, commenting sagely: “The ball is round, and sometimes it goes in unexpected ways.” Indeed.

Leeds went on to rub salt into the Derby County wounds, easily winning the reverse fixture at their inaptly-named Pride Park, 5-0. And in the aftermath of this 4-3 comeback, there were two further victories from a losing position, beating West Ham 3-1 after trailing 1-0, and then in the pouring rain at Barnsley, running out 3-2 winners from two down. For a short while, Leeds United were the Comeback Kings, and it was probably the real purple patch of George Graham’s time at Elland Road, which was to end amid controversy early the following season. But it is for games like this that I fondly remember George and, despite some of the successes of the David O’Leary years, I still wish he’d stayed longer and seen the job through.

Stroller – thanks for the memories.

 

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Looking Back – the Last Time Leeds United Won at Barnsley – by Rob Atkinson

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Classic 97-98 away shirt – the “Barnsley Special”

In the early part of season 1997/98, Leeds United under the guidance of George Graham became known for a brief but glorious three-match spell as “The Comeback Kings”.  It was a title hard-earned with victories against three fellow Premiership members after going behind – from one down against West Ham, for whom a young Frank Lampard had scored and then reprised his Dad’s 1980 semi-final jig around the corner flag at the south-east corner – and from three down at home to Derby County, a match I’ve already described elsewhere.

The third game in this sequence was away to Barnsley, destined to be one-season wonders in the Premiership, but always to be relied upon to raise their game against the hated Big Brother from up the road, Leeds United. Many was the time I had made the short journey to Oakwell during our second division spell in the eighties, only to see us perform scratchily, as if influenced by the humble surroundings, dragged down and ultimately defeated.  We had the odd success there, but overall it was a dire place to visit, both for itself and for the ashen taste of defeat that often accompanied the cobbled-street and pit-stack atmosphere.  This was in my mind as I contemplated the Premiership away game, in an Oakwell tarted up and much improved since the decade before.  But, in truth, the match turned out to be one of my most satisfying away trips ever.

Indeed, this article nearly copped for the title “My Greatest Awayday” before I decided it wasn’t quite that good.  But honestly – it was right up there with the best of them for sheer excitement and the joy of being able to throw a friend’s kindness back in his face as I crowed over a remarkable victory.  Let me set the scene.  A mate from the luvvie world, as we theatrical types like to call it, had won a local competition for which the prize was a ticket in the main stand to see Barnsley v Leeds.  This lad – let’s call him Martin, because that’s his name – is a rabid Barnsley fan who already had a season ticket, so he had no personal use for his prize.  He could have sold it, but out of the kindness of his heart, he passed it on to me.  It would be too, too cynical of me to speculate that he was hoping to rub my nose in another win for his Reds over my Whites – but in the event, how he was to regret that noble gesture.

The 29th November 1997 – coming up for seventeen years ago now (how that time has flown by) was not merely a damp and dismal affair.  It was not merely wet.  It absolutely teemed it down, threatening to dissolve proud civic buildings of centuries standing, promising to wash Barnsley away completely and return South Yorkshire to the marsh from which it should never have emerged.  It was a flood of biblical proportions, promising extinction on a scale that would have terrified Noah.  It really was a bitch of a nasty day.  And therein lies some of the satisfaction I derived from my spot of luck.  Redeveloped though Oakwell was relative to the dark days of Football League, Division Two – it was still a fairly spartan affair when compared to a proper football stadium.  The away end, especially, offered all the facilities of an open field without any of the rustic charm.  It was roofless, open to the elements – and that was a mighty elemental day.  If I had taken my place on that open terrace, I would surely have drowned.  As it was, I had the cosily malicious pleasure of watching my Leeds-supporting comrades drown, and looking forward to regaling those that survived with the comfy tale of my own toasty, warm and dry experience.  The keenly-anticipated pleasure of Schadenfreude is a dish best served cold – as I’m sure you’re always reminding yourselves.

So there I was, tucked up nice and warm in Barnsley’s version of a Main Stand, sat among the very poshest of the local yokels, thrilled to bits that I wasn’t out there in the open, dissolving away.  I had my complimentary programme and my hot Bovril plus obligatory pie – all free, an experience to warm any Yorkshireman’s cockles.  I was well happy.

Then the match started, and – at first – it was a depressing process of that happiness steadily waning and draining away.  Leeds were playing against the tide in the first half, and struggling to make much of it, despite vastly superior personnel.  Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink – later to be rechristened Judas Floyd Piggybank after his money-motivated departure to pastures Spanish – had briefly lifted my hopes by striking the Barnsley woodwork on five minutes.  I knew that this was a bogey ground (Leeds have a few of these) – but that early strike had given me some encouragement – soon, alas, to be brutally dashed away.

After eight minutes, Barnsley – playing with a 140 mph gale at their backs – pressed into the Leeds half and scored.  One of their frankly half-decent players, Andy Liddell, had tested Nigel Martyn with a stinging shot that the Leeds keeper could only parry out. Following up, Liddell was able to make his second effort count, and Leeds were behind. At Oakwell.  Again.  Bloody hell.

As Barnsley warmed to their task and Leeds found it increasingly difficult to repel the home attacks while playing into the teeth of a gale, the Reds had chances to double that lead.  First Liddell and then Joso Bosancic tested Martyn, but failed to beat him. Barnsley were not to be denied their second goal though, and on 28 minutes it was again a matter of our Nige in the Leeds goal being unable to do much about an initial shot in those horrible conditions.  As with the first goal, the rebound was snapped up – this time by Martin Bullock – and there we were, 2-0 down and looking likely to ship more goals as our defence became ever leakier.  It should be remembered that I had just witnessed two Leeds comebacks, and maybe this should have filled me with optimism – but it was poxy bloody Barnsley, it was a horrible day and I felt my luck – and the team’s – had run out.  I expected no third miracle.

It was with an involuntary shout of delight then, that I saw us peg back the arrears ten minutes short of half-time.  It was Hasselbaink again, blasting a fierce shot towards the Barnsley goal, only to see their keeper Lars Leese turn the ball around the post.  From the resulting corner though, Alf-Inge Haaland rose to power home a header at the home fans’ “Ponte End”. Pessimistic as I had been moments before, now renewed hope gripped me. My triumphant bellow had revealed me to the Main Stand as The Enemy, and hundreds of eyes swivelled to regard me balefully – but these were posh Barnsley folk, some of whom would actually have indoor plumbing and electricity in their hovels.  I was in no danger from these relatively civilised specimens.  United saw out the remainder of the first half, and I sat nice and warm through the break, reading my programme, sneaking occasional glances at the Leeds hordes bobbing about in the deep end and fighting over the few available lifebelts – but mostly looking forward to seeing what United could do playing with the current.

In the event, the first thing we did in the second half was go perilously close to conceding a third goal that would probably have finished us off.  Liddell, that thorn in our side, went far too close for comfort and then had a shot cleared off the line by the usually useless David Robertson.  As the half wore on, it was looking more and more as though Leeds were once again going to have to slink away from Oakwell pointless.  They pressed when possible, but Barnsley were defending better in the second half than we had in the first. A mere eleven minutes from time, though, a long clearance from Big Nige found nippy Rod Wallace in space on the right.  Hot Rod had a run on goal, and once clear, he was nigh-on impossible to catch, even though he was having to wade rather than sprinting as normal. Rodney finished competently, and we were back from the dead at 2-2 – to my loud relief. More hostile stares from the indignant aboriginals.

The stage was now set for a dénouement – and it was Leeds United who struck the decisive blow to complete yet another fine turnaround.  Wallace was involved again, his run down the right culminating in a tasty cross into the Tykes’ penalty area – and there was Derek Lilley for his one and only moment of glory in a Leeds shirt a mere five minutes after entering the fray from the bench.  Fastening onto Rod’s quality wide delivery, Lilley set his sights and delivered the perfect finish to put Leeds 3-2 up, much to the delight of the thousands of drowned rats behind Lars Leese’s goal.  My own joy was flavoured with an illuminating thought: how appropriate it was, I mused while cavorting around in celebration, that – on such a very wet and sodden day, with Barnsley’s quaint little ground virtually under water – it had taken a sub to settle the matter.

I didn’t see poor old Martin after the game – I was caught up in the crowd heading back to the railway station where – just to complete a Yorkshireman’s perfect day – the throng was such that I was never asked to pay my fare and got a free ride home on top of all the other freebies I’d enjoyed that day.   I was contentedly counting my blessings; Leeds were in the top four, Barnsley had taken a decisive step towards their eventual relegation (helped along by another defeat to Leeds in the return at Elland Road) – and I’d had the immense pleasure of seeing all this, of being a part of it all – and all for nowt.  Perfect. The rain had even thoughtfully abated during my walk back to the station.  I was the only dry man on the train as the away fans sat in their puddles, soaked and steaming, but giddily happy at the events of the afternoon.

Three comeback wins on the trot – and people recall George Graham’s reign as one of austerity.  It was anything but, especially in this 97/98 season, and I have a few more happy memories from that time, so I still think quite fondly of George.  It was a shame he deserted us for Spurs though, the treacherous Scottish git.  But that was in the future, and I had a victory to celebrate – and a rehearsal to look forward to the next day when I would be able to repay Barnsley fan Martin’s kindness by taking the mick and making of his life a complete misery.

It’s a sweet and wonderful thing to be a Leeds fan sometimes, which will be something to remind ourselves of whichever way this coming weekend’s match against the Tykes ends up going.  It’s about time we had another win there, but frankly I’m not holding my breath, despite Ross McCormack’s tweeted battle-cry.  But you never know – and if we did snatch the three points, that might well seal another relegation for plucky Barnsley, a “Cup Final complex” outfit we could well do without meeting next season.  Fingers crossed.