Tag Archives: commitment

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


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.


“Completely Lacking Spirit and Passion”: Leeds Owner Radrizzani Issues Stern Rebuke – by Rob Atkinson

In a complete departure from his usual urbanely diplomatic stance, Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani has taken to Twitter and bemoaned the “lowest moment for me since I joined” in what are, for him, harshly critical terms.

Normally, Radrizzani confines himself to what amounts to a supportive and broadly positive stance, preferring to exhort the fans to greater heights of support rather than issue any direct criticism. This tweet, though, utterly abandons any such diplomacy, and instead hits hard – striking right to the heart of any football professional‘s self-image. In accusing the players of lacking spirit and passion, he is levelling about the most serious charge imaginable. Let nobody doubt the anger and frustration behind such frank and revealing words.

It may be that Andrea has been rattled by the spitting storm that threatens to engulf the club, depriving Leeds of their best attacking player Samu Saíz for maybe up to six games – if the charge is proven. That would be enough to unsettle the most sanguine of club owners but, even so, Radrizzani’s words are pointed in the extreme. Tweeted to the entire Leeds United Universe, the criticism is scathing, devastating. Anybody on the Leeds United payroll will disregard this at their extreme peril.

It looks as though the owner is a long way short of happy. To an extent, the remedy is in Radrizzani’s own hands, with most of the January transfer window remaining available to him. It’s fair to surmise that, as the owner has seen fit to be so very publicly critical, and about areas of the game that form the basis of professional pride too, then much harsher words will be spoken in private behind the scenes at Elland Road. And what might come of that – well, it’s anyone’s guess. But the gloves are off now, the owner has broken cover and the game’s afoot.

There has, as yet, been no dreaded “vote of confidence”, for which small mercy Thomas Christiansen, our likeable Head Coach, may perhaps breathe a small sigh of relief. But a warning shot has definitely been fired across the bows of the Leeds staff, both playing and coaching. Once the top man identifies a deficiency in the Spirit and Passion Department, then something most definitely has to be done. The only one of the Holy Trinity of pro qualities not identified was “commitment” and, based on the Cup showing at Newport, that was most probably an oversight on Andrea’s part.

One way or another, the mood around the club has just been amply clarified in resoundingly emphatic terms; following momentous words like that, some sort of decisive action can usually be anticipated. It should be an interesting next few weeks down LS11 way.

Can Darko’s Leeds Cope with the “Cup Final” Mentality of Local Rivals Rotherham? – by Rob Atkinson


Huddersfield’s low-key celebrations after edging out Leeds

In the wake of Leeds United’s recent failures on the road against inferior local opposition, it’s well past time to take stock of the problem behind this unwelcome phenomenon, which is set fair to drag us down and keep us away from the top level –  if it continues as it has in past campaigns. It’s to be hoped that, in the new Darko Milanic era, things might be different. There were some promising signs against the Wendies the other week, but away from home against pumped-up (yet lower-class) opposition, some fight is what’s sorely needed.

Firstly, let’s put to bed any foolish suggestion that the local opposition aren’t inferior. They are – by definition.  Leeds do not and never have in living memory played local derbies where they are the underdog in terms of club size and history.  We’ve been the biggest club in Yorkshire – by far the biggest, and the only one with a global profile – for the last fifty years plus. Whatever the relative squad merits – and for 90% of the time, Leeds have possessed demonstrably more accomplished players too – any meeting between Leeds and a smaller Yorkshire club has seen the Elland Road outfit cast as Goliath to some horrible, backstreet David. The real question is – does such superiority of status confer any advantage at all?  The answer to that would appear to be a resounding No, and a reminder that, horrible and provincial though David might have been, he still gave Goliath one in the eye.

The extent of the problem may be brought into focus simply by comparing two different sets of results over the past few years.  If you look at league games against other Yorkshire teams, together with a selection of upstarts around the country who have a similar chip on the shoulder, as compared with our reasonably regular Cup meetings with Premier League clubs over the past three or four years, the contrast is startling – and it says a lot about what it has taken to motivate our white-shirted heroes.

Taking league games first, and looking at the locals – the likes of Barnsley, the Sheffield clubs, Huddersfield and Hull, together with self-appointed rivals like Millwall – the results have been unacceptably bad.  Barnsley in particular have visited embarrassment upon us in match after match, often by a significant margin, whilst keeling over to most other clubs and usually only escaping relegation by the skin of their teeth, prior to their welcome demise last year.  Our relatively close West Yorkshire neighbours Huddersfield are nearly as bad for our health. The other season, these two clubs met on the last day, and over the course of ninety minutes, first one and then the other seemed doomed to the drop.  In the end, both escaped because of events elsewhere – and what did both sets of fans do to celebrate their shared reprieve?  Why, they joined together in a rousing chorus of “We all hate Leeds scum” of course.  This tells you all you need to know about what motivates such dire and blinkered clubs – but at least the motivation is there.

And the motivation is there for Leeds United, too – just not, seemingly, on those bread-and-butter league occasions when we need it.  What seems to turn your average Leeds United player on over the past few years, is the glamour of the Cup – either domestic cup will do, apparently.  Results and performances in these games have left bewildered fans scratching their heads and wondering how such high achievers can then go on to perform so miserably against the envious pariahs from down the road in Cleckhuddersfax.  Look at the results – going back to League One days.  A narrow home defeat to Liverpool in the League Cup when by common consent we should have won and Snoddy ripped them up from wide areas.  The famous win at Man U when we went to the Theatre of Hollow Myths and showed neither fear nor respect in dumping the Pride of Devon out of the FA Cup.  Draws at Spurs and Arsenal, beating Spurs, Gareth Bale and all, at Elland Road.  Beating other Premier League sides such as Everton and Southampton in games that had you wondering which was the higher status club.  Great occasions – but of course we haven’t the squad to go through and win a cup, so these achievements ultimately gain us little but pride. And, naturally, when we draw a Yorkshire “rival” away in a Cup, we contrive to lose embarrassingly as per Bratfud earlier this season. It’s just not good enough.

Often we will sing to daft smaller clubs’ fans about the Leeds fixtures being their Cup Finals, but this is becoming a joke very much against us.  The teams concerned seem to take the Cup Final thing literally, they get highly motivated, roll their metaphorical sleeves up, the veins in their temples start to throb and the battle cry is sounded.  Their fans, normally present in miserable numbers, are out in force – and they are demanding superhuman endeavour.  Faced with this, too many Leeds teams over the past few years have simply failed to find a comparable level of commitment and effort.  There’s no excuse for that – it has meant we’re almost starting off a goal down – even when we swiftly go a goal up.

The sheer number of local derbies will count against a team which allows itself to suffer this disadvantage, this moral weakness.  For Leeds, since we came back to the second tier, there has usually been one Sheffield or another, usually Barnsley or Huddersfield or Hull, Middlesbrough perhaps – even the just-over-the-border outfits like Oldham and Burnley feel the same ambition and desire to slay the Mighty Leeds.  It amounts to a sizeable chunk of a season’s fixtures – if you fail to perform in these, then you’re struggling.  The pressure is then on to get results against the better teams at the top end of the table, and we don’t fare too well there either.

It’s easy to say that it’s a matter of getting better players.  Largely that’s true.  But we’ve usually had better players than these annoying little Davids, and yet the slingshot has still flown accurately right into Goliath’s eye and knocked us over. Professional football is a game of attitude, motivation, mental readiness to match the opposition and earn the right to make your higher quality tell.  This, over a number of years, is what Leeds United have signally failed to do.

Can it change?  Well, so far this season we’ve played Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield at home  – plus Millwall, who qualify as a southern member of the chip on the shoulder brigade, away.  We’ve four points out of nine to show from that little lot, which is the difference between our current position and sixth – in the play-off zone.  Even three of those lost five points would see us just a point off the top six places.  And the thing is, ALL of those games were distinctly winnable, so it’s no pipe-dream to look at where we might have been.  The difference is down to attitude; our opponents have had it and – with the notable exception of the Huddersfield performance – we simply haven’t.

It’s a sobering message at this stage of the season, with only three such games played – and plenty more to come.  But it’s a message that should be heeded, or the effect on our season will become more profound as it goes on.  The potential is there for us to take advantage of games against inferior but highly-motivated opposition, to match the attitude of these teams and to reap our rewards.  The failure to do this will see us endure yet another season of under-achievement. We have to overcome the “Cup Final Mentality” of certain other clubs, mainly those in Yorkshire but elsewhere too.

The Rotherham game next Friday night is an ideal opportunity for this new, tougher mental attitude to kick in. Again, we have small local rivals who nurse a fierce and unrequited hatred of Leeds United – and they have the odd old boy in their ranks as well as a wily manager who has been busily bigging us up. Our heroes will include a number of quite new foreign signings, who may still be a little wide-eyed and naive on occasions like this. So the ingredients are all there for the relative big boys of Leeds to turn up, find the environment not to their liking – and roll over once again in abject surrender. Please, let it not be so.

Leeds United –  you just need to get psyched-up and go out to win some of these pesky and troublesome “Cup Finals”.  Darko can inculcate his principles and make a pretty pattern of play – but when blood and guts are needed, some fight and some grit – then it really is up to you lads who wear the shirt we’d all of us out here be willing to walk on hot coals for. 

Postcard From a Leeds Fan to Our Boys in Brazil – by Rob Atkinson

England's vital Leeds United connection

England’s vital Leeds United connection

Well – this is it, chaps. Our World Cup starts today and literally millions of us Back Home will be glued to TV sets tonight as you take the field (mostly sand and earth painted a tasteful shade of grassy green) against those troublesome Eye-ties. Much is expected of you, as ever. And, as ever, some of you will probably fail to deliver. Not to worry. It’s only a game, after all.

As those of you with a spark of intelligence may have surmised, the last two sentences of that first paragraph are utter bollocks. Of course it matters. And “only” a game?? Get out of here. It’s the biggest game on the planet tonight. Billions of eyes will be on you, courtesy of HD cameras poking at you from every conceivable angle. Every facial expression will be noted, amateur body-language experts by the barrowload will be analysing every twitch and every kick. Scary, eh?

But don’t worry too much. Try to relax and enjoy it, go out there and express yourselves. There’s pressure, of course there is. But you’re a well-remunerated group of young men in the peak of physical fitness, enjoying the privilege of wearing your country’s badge over the heart; something most of us out here would give their eye-teeth for. So think of all those people, the ones who wish they were in your boots tonight. And after all, it’s not exactly like huddling in a bivouac in Afghanistan, is it?

All you have to do is what each of you is extremely well equipped to do – apply an immense talent with a 100% level of graft and commitment. Doubtless Woy has already hammered this message home. If not, he should have done. Nobody in an England shirt tonight should take for granted the right to play. It has to be earned.

I can only speak for us Leeds fans, but we certainly do love and warmly applaud a trier. Then again, we’re not as spoiled as some fans, enjoying as they do a galaxy of lavishly-gifted stars in their clubs’ colours, used to witnessing technically excellent football. At Leeds, we take to our hearts the lad who’ll run his guts to water, who’ll “get stuck in”. Some level of talent is necessary, of course – but you have to be born with that and it has to be honed by good coaching. But the graft, the application, the determination to work hard from start to finish – they’re choices. The players who choose to put the graft in are loved at Leeds, and the same should be true of any England fan – though, as I said, some of them are spoiled.

You lads in the England shirts tonight – you should have all of the qualities I’ve mentioned, and more – just to get where you are today as you prepare for such a massive game with the world watching you. Talent and ability are there in abundance, as they are for your opponents. The willingness to graft and fight for your country must also be in the DNA of every man who walks out there tonight with the Three Lions on his chest. The sense of pride you must have should be immense, something you can feel burning inside you. Talent, graft and pride. That’s the magic mix.

At Leeds, we count ourselves lucky if we have a few players who can show two out of these three qualities. An England international must have the lot, and it must show, it should seep from every pore. In other years, in other tournaments, that’s not always been apparent in every England player. Are you listening, Mr. Rooney? You’re under the microscope tonight, lad.

Just wear the shirt with pride, work your balls flat, be aware of the privilege and the responsibility of being an England man – and show no fear, have no regrets when the final whistle blows. Make that choice to give your all, to keep giving, as long as you’re on the field of conflict with your nation’s hopes and expectations on your shoulders.

England – and her finest fans here in Leeds – expects that every man this day will do his duty. More we cannot ask. Enjoy it, and win.

Failure Varney Joins the “Couldn’t Handle Playing for a Big Club” Army – by Rob Atkinson

Andy Hughes, Leeds United Warrior

Andy Hughes, Leeds United Warrior

On any decent scale, there tend to be two well-defined extremes.  No scale can be effective without this; you need to know the Alpha and the Omega before you can properly ascribe values to what lies in between.  This useful little principle is identified by the scale which measures the worth to us Leeds fans of players leaving Elland Road for whatever reason.  What memories do they leave behind them?  What emotions do they evoke, now that they are gone?  In terms of recent departures, we’ve been looking for the negative end of this scale.  We’re talking outgoing players on the permanent staff here, not loans – otherwise the claims of Andros “Klingon” Townsend would be hard to dispute.  The positive, top end of the scale, I would humbly submit, is occupied by Andy Hughes, for reasons which will be clear to many, but which I shall nevertheless sum up below.  The arse-end of this scale, the epitome of negativity and bad grace, has just been claimed for his very own by the recently departed and very much unlamented Luke “Reg” Varney.

Everything you need to know about Andy Hughes is contained within the video interview linked to his name in the paragraph above.  For a player late of this great club to speak with such passion – let’s face it, such love – of his time at Leeds United, would bring a tear to a glass eye.  It’s inspirational, emotion-wracking stuff.  Andy Hughes was not the greatest nor the most talented player ever to wear the white shirt.  But he has a heart the size of the East Stand, and he always, always gave his all for the cause.  You can tell how he loved playing for the club, for the badge, for the fans.  He’s in a very small and exclusive group of players from the recent past who truly “get” what it is to be Leeds.  The fans at Elland Road have always loved a trier, someone prepared to go the extra mile and run his knackers flat for Leeds.  Hughes was such a player, is such a man.  He joined at an historical low ebb and felt privileged to do so, determined to do his bit and much more, to restore the club to a higher level.  He was part of many great performances and his commitment was the stuff of legend.  All hail Andy Hughes;  he is in the exclusive Alpha group of my recent ex-players scale, top dog with the likes of the Chief among the elite of this century.

On the other hand, there’s Varney.  Oh, dear.  He didn’t have the best of times at Elland Road, but then, it’s a tough place to perform for all but the most gifted or determined of players.  Varney was found wanting on both counts.  And yet, people did try to give him a chance, we tried to like him.  This man might score us some goals, we thought.  And if it doesn’t happen, maybe he’ll get his head down, work hard – earn our respect and regard that way.  Sadly, the Reg approach was more of the “OK, it’s not going for me, they don’t like me – I’m going to sulk” variety.

"Reg" Varney

“Reg” Varney

There were highlights,  A goal against Spurs in the Cup, for instance.  But by that time, the relationship between player and fans was already quite toxic; you felt he was at least as likely to flick two fingers at the crowd, after scoring, as he was to celebrate with them.  He seemed to have the respect and support of his peers; his team-mates at the club – but then again, football is a close-knit business, and the dynamics within the group have little to do with how the fans relate to a player, or vice versa.  But Varney never gave himself the chance to be a real part of the Elland Road experience – and the likes of Andy Hughes could teach him an awful lot about that.  Varney, though, since before his recent departure, has shown that he is incapable of understanding what it takes to play for a big club with passionate support.  Since our decline, sad to say, we have had far too many players like this – which explains why Leeds United have struggled.  We simply haven’t had enough of the big players, the big hearts.  It’s a salutary lesson for the future which is about to open before us.  Worthy of note too is the fact that Noel Hunt, another player who hasn’t exactly grabbed the fans’ imaginations, is quietly waiting and working for his chance.  Credit to him.

Varney finally cooked his own goose when his desire to get away first persuaded him to refuse to play against Ipswich – for fear of injury – and now has led him to giving the classic “bitter ex-player” interview to the first eager hack he’s tripped over in Lancashire.  The refusal to play for the club which was paying him thousands a week for a privilege that is but a dream for the legions of Leeds fans out here – something we’d be ecstatic to do for free – marked Varney down as a selfish mercenary, someone who put his own narrow interests ahead of his club, his contract, his team-mates and last – and very much least in his eyes – the supporters.  It’s difficult to imagine greater treachery; one can only hope that his pay packet ended up empty after that episode.

The interview doing the rounds today does Varney no credit either.  It’s all “me, me, me” apart from the word turmoil, which he has evidently only just learned and was eager to use as often as possible.  As a piece, it was designed to endear himself to his new club, and it dripped with indifference to the old.  He seemed to be trying to justify his decision to refuse to play – what his new fans and his new manager/team-mates will make of that is anybody’s guess.

Two ends of the same stick – the end with the golden ornament, and the crappy end.  Alpha and Omega, Andy Hughes and Luke Varney.  That’s the scale that any future player departing our great club can be judged against.  Are you more of a Reg, or more towards the Hughsie, top end of things.  Most will come somewhere in between.  Thankfully, there aren’t all that many Varneys.  But oh, how we could use a player or two more with the heart and soul of Andy Hughes.

Brian McDermott’s “100% Commitment to Leeds” Puts the Onus on GFH to Back Their Man – by Rob Atkinson

Brian - Aiming High at Leeds United

Brian – Aiming High at Leeds United

This week’s speculation, in the wake of Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s sacking, that Leeds United boss Brian McDermott might be the anointed replacement, could so easily have turned into a lengthy “will he, won’t he” saga. Quite possibly, this might have ended in more grief and disillusionment for Leeds and its fans, who have been through this sort of thing before. What actually happened was that Brian used the earliest possible opportunity, his pre-match press conference ahead of the Bolton fixture this weekend, to confirm his 100% commitment to the Leeds United cause, his appreciation of the relationship he enjoys with the fans and his acute awareness and pride that he’s in charge of one of English football’s true giants. Carlsberg don’t do affirmations of faith, but if they did….

There is absolutely no reason to doubt one iota of McDermott’s sincerity in anything he said at that press conference. He went beyond the strict dictates of frankness by acknowledging that yes, he would love one day to be Ireland manager. He has always, he admitted, regretted his decision to align himself with England as a player. His family connections to the Emerald Isle are strong; you get the distinct impression that, if he were not already committed heart and soul to the restoration of Leeds to the game’s Top table, Brian McDermott would be quite willing, eager and even able to swim the Irish Sea in order to secure the honour of being Republic manager. But Brian is so committed; indeed, heart and soul would seem to be a masterly understatement of the depth of that commitment. This confirmation that he’s at Elland Road to do a job, along with his earlier, only half-joking, thanks to Reading FC for sacking him and thus affording him the chance to reign at Leeds, sends out a massively positive message to all with a love of Yorkshire’s sole giant. At last we have a man who talks the talk, seems equipped to walk the walk, and will not be deflected even by the call of his lifelong ambition. It was a banquet of a press conference for Leeds fans, a veritable feast of reassurance.

But after the feast comes the reckoning – and Brian has not been slow to nail down the advantage his stated position has given him. This is not to say that, Rooney style, he’s seeking further to enhance his own remuneration on the back of turning down overtures from elsewhere. Instead, he’s been swift to speak out in the press and beseech the ongoing support of owners GFH. Brian’s version of putting the squeeze on is strictly altruistic, totally dedicated to securing the tools he needs to tackle the job in hand. He doesn’t want a cushier position, he just wants to be able to look at the possibilities – currently limited to the loan market – and shop around with an unerring eye for a player or two and the enhancement of his squad the only objective in mind.

GFH must be well aware of the extreme impracticality of keeping a want-away manager against his will. Contracts, in those situations, are about as much use as a penalty spot in the Man U 18-yard area. The fact of the matter is that, had McDermott wanted to head off to Ireland to take up any offer made to him, then he would almost certainly have been able to do so. It would simply have been a matter of haggling over compensation, a scenario that’s been played over time and time again as managers and players theoretically tied down to a deal basically proceed to do as they like. That Brian McDermott has chosen to stick to his current task, running the possible risk of losing any chance of fulfilling his heart’s desire in the future, speaks volumes for the man and for his honesty. GFH should be looking at the leader they’ve got at the helm, and asking themselves what possible excuse there could be for failing to stretch a point or two, for failing to make the effort to dig down the back of the settee and find a few bob to fund his recruitment drive. Principles like “shipping one out before you can bring one in” are all very well when you’re talking to an accountant, but not likely to cut much ice with the Leeds support, who see their manager nobly keeping his mind on the job – and who will want to see him given every chance of succeeding.

Brian McDermott has played this very, very well indeed – which is not to say he is being sly or exploitative. He’s simply made his mind up to succeed at Leeds, and has made his position clear: that he expects everybody to pull together in achieving that end. Strong as his position at Elland Road may have been a week ago, it is now very much stronger; the Leeds owners would do well to respect that, respect their manager’s professional judgement – and dig deep for victory.