Tag Archives: Cup Final Syndrome

Doncaster and Barnsley Chop Means Four Fewer Cup Finals for Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

Donny down

Donny down

As Leeds United’s season came to a brighter than expected end, with a battling draw against play-off hopefuls Derby, events lower down the table in the tawdry scrap of the relegation dogfight may well have already had an effect on the Whites’ prospects for next time around.

Leeds did undeniably well in what was a dead rubber against Derby.  After going behind early and suffering a couple of further scares, United pressed their higher-placed opponents hard for the bulk of the remaining time in the game and the season; they had a couple of penalty claims turned down, Ross McCormack was slightly unfortunate to see a vicious free-kick punched out by County keeper Grant – and Michael Brown put in an all-action, give-me-another-year’s-contract performance that included a Cruyff turn which had you thinking suspiciously about the origins of those mushrooms you had for breakfast.

The equaliser, when it came after 50 minutes, was another high point in the productive season of Matt Smith, one of the few real bright spots of a blighted campaign.  Leeds could well have won the game, but the level of performance was encouraging in itself.  It is likely, though, to be a case of “too little, too late” for many of the squad, as plans will already be afoot for a hiring and firing summer as Cellino’s Italian Job gets under way.

Next season, when it comes, will see a marked reduction in one of those irritating factors which have impeded Leeds United’s progress far too often and for far too long.  I refer of course to “Cup Final Syndrome”, whereby a number of smaller clubs try their little hearts out when facing the Whites – and often end up thrashing us.  It’s a phenomenon particularly noticeable in local derbies yet, thanks to the ineptitude of our fellow Yorkshire clubs, not only have we ended up as top dogs in the county yet again, but we have also contrived to see the back of two of those annoying and inconvenient pests in the shape of Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers.

Barnsley bit the dust last week with a 1-3 defeat at Middlesbrough – helped along the way, I like to think, by the rare dropped points (five of them) in their games against Leeds, points they would normally have nicked in previous seasons.  So, we did our bit to see off the Tykes and, even though Donny won at Elland Road recently, our 3-0 win at their council ice-rink early in the season has helped to dispatch them.  Which is nice.

Doncaster’s relegation was, if anything, a lot funnier than even Barnsley’s, coming as it did right at the death of the season when they were on the very brink of being safe.  They were happily settling for a narrow defeat at Champions Leicester in the secure knowledge that Birmingham were two down at Bolton and surely doomed.

But then Lady Luck did one of those graceful pirouettes for which she is rightly notorious, and Brum battled back – scoring through Zigic and then laying siege to the Wanderers goal.  Three minutes into stoppage time, and they pulled that last rabbit out of the hat to equalise and achieve an unlikely late escape, simultaneously sealing Donny’s fate – much to the horror of the Rovers fans and much to the amusement of anyone in Leeds colours who harbours unpleasant memories of Wembley, that day when the concourse was lop-sided with United fans, but when the minnows perversely triumphed.

There are a few reasons for hoping that next season will be better for Leeds – prominent among them of course being our understanding that we are no longer operating on Skid Row, having moved across town to Easy Street. Whether that works out, and to what extent we might now be competing at the plusher end of the transfer market, remains to be seen.  But the lessening of the intensity of competition in local derby terms can do nothing but good, as Leeds have generally speaking made really hard work of these matches, to the detriment of the overall league picture.

Even though we have ended up on top of the Yorkshire standings, our results against Huddersfield and the Wendies have left much to be desired this season as in many before.  At least there will be a little less of this unseemly parochial skirmishing next season – even given that we will have Cardiff City to add to the unsavoury attractions of Millwall.

And so, another season ends, bleak and disappointing from a Leeds United perspective, but with distinct compensations elsewhere in the form of the enjoyable suffering of others.  As I write, Man U have just slipped to their umpteenth home defeat this season – even under the peerless guidance of Sir Ryan Giggs – and Cardiff’s brief flirtation with the top flight is over. There may well be a bonus in the form of relegation for Norwich Bleedin’ City later this weekend.

Wolves and Fulham will be with us next season – always attractive fixtures – and the games against Cardiff and Norwich should be spicy, too.  We must hope that the Leeds squad can be reshaped and re-motivated, to such a pitch that we will be truly competitive next time around.  Allowing for all the distractions and side issues, we weren’t that far short this time – but it all went wrong when events off the field took over.  Next season should be slightly more peaceful – or is that hopelessly naive?  And, if all else fails – well, we might still have Old Man Browneh, weaving his elderly magic and pulling off Cruyff turns aplenty to bedazzle the opposition.

It certainly is a funny old game.

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A Leeds View of Barnsley’s Demise: Karma’s a Bitch – by Rob Atkinson

The traditional relegation image, Barnsley variety

It’s true, then. What goes around really does come around – and Barnsley FC, whose primitive fans were so gleefully happy at the plight of Leeds United just a few weeks back, have now dropped into the lower league abyss which is their natural environment.  They can expect neither sympathy nor comfort from LS11 – the home of Leeds United who, just a few short weeks ago, had problems of their own that threatened to cast them ignominiously into administration and League One.  At that point, the internet rang with glee from the usual suspects, prominent among them the fans of that small club from the back streets of a former pit town in the Republic of South Yorkshire.

The Barnsley fans of my acquaintance were highly active on Facebook and the like, nudging each other in a virtual sense and snickering like excited schoolboys.  “Leeds are going into admin!” chortled one.  “Really?” spluttered his little friend. “Is that for definite?”  And so they went on, speculating about the level of the points deduction (15 at least, I reckon. Ooh no, I hope it’s 20.)  It was unedifying stuff, but sadly it’s exactly what you might have expected from a bunch of fans with such a large chip on their collective shoulder.  They “hate Leeds scum”, you see.  They couldn’t tell you why, though they might possibly remember something their dad once said about Billy Bremner or Norman Hunter.  Anyway, they were chuffed to bits at the thought of our misery and the crisis we were in, and they cavorted accordingly.

It was similar at the end of last season.  Back then, Barnsley were in relegation trouble again, come the last day of the season.  So were Huddersfield; and the two played each other, knowing that the loser would go down.  It ended up as a draw and results elsewhere saved both lesser Yorkshire clubs.  You might have expected celebration, maybe even mutual congratulation and some clog dancing in the cobbled streets with, perhaps, a spike in the troglodyte birth-rate nine months later.  But no – the sole thought in these yonners’ tiny minds was to join in with a combined chorus of Huddersfield and Barnsley as they regaled us with loud and tuneless anti-Leeds United songs.  They were bang to rights on a charge of hating us more than they loved their own dismal little clubs, even at the moment of their greatest triumph – because for Huddersfield and Barnsley, avoiding relegation from a sphere higher than their natural comfort zone is as good as it ever gets.

But now, a mere few weeks on from Leeds United’s nadir of crisis and despair, when those Toby Tykes were so happy and optimistic, things have changed and the pit boot is on the other foot.  Leeds United are safe – and apparently minted, with the potential to rebuild and ascend once more into the Promised Land. Meanwhile, Barnsley have gone, back into obscurity where they undeniably belong.  No more Cup Finals against Leeds United – they will have to settle for playing second fiddle to Sheffield’s junior club. They will face a new and bleaker financial reality as their already tiny crowds (except when Leeds came to town) dwindle even further.  Some gloomy and pessimistic “Tarn” fans are already predicting that it’ll take years to come back.  Let’s hope so.  Sentimental hypocrites aside, Barnsley will not be missed.

All their fans can do now is to prepare themselves for existence at a lower level, with fixtures against the likes of Rochdale, Scunny and perhaps York City. Those fans will still “hate Leeds scum”, but they will miss the brief taste of the big time that our visits provided, and they will yearn for the day that they might play us again.  From a Leeds United point of view, one less Cup Final Complex opponent will do us no harm next season – and it’s probable that we’ll have moved on up, long before Barnsley can hope to slither out of the lower league mire.  It’s all very satisfactory and enjoyable – and if that sounds cruel, then just cast your minds back to the fun the Tykes were having, quite recently, at our expense.

What goes around, comes around – and karma is indeed a bitch.  Suck it up, Barnsley fans.  You deserve it.

Barnsley Pay the Price Against Bolton for Leeds “Cup Final” Exertions – by Rob Atkinson

Image

Barnsley’s biggest star

Both Huddersfield Town and Millwall have enjoyed league victories over the Mighty Leeds United this season – classic David and Goliath tales of tiny, grubby backwoods clubs enjoying their moment in the limelight as they contrive to overcome a world-famous footballing superpower.

Now, little Barnsley have got in on the “David” act, making their annual pilgrimage to Elland Road and managing to escape with a point clutched gratefully in their hot, sweaty little hands. The fallout was similar to that in the earlier two cases – joy unconfined, celebration and jubilation in excelsis, dancing and cavorting in the cobbled streets and who knows what other forms of primitive festivity.  It’s anticipated that there will be a sharp spike in the birth-rate nine months hence – though sadly the limited gene pool means it’s unlikely we’ll see any such augmentation of the average IQ figure.

All of this is quite understandable, given the chip on the collective shoulders of each respective band of David fans, where this Leeds United “Goliath” is concerned.  It’s probably most acute in Huddersfield, whose fans have had to live their lives in the long shadow of Big Brother from Elland Road on the one side, and of the Pennines on the other, their only protection from the barbaric hordes of Lancashire.

But Barnsley nurse their own local-envy grudge against Leeds, seeming to feel that they must succeed in this game at any cost.  A red card is deemed a fair price to pay as evidenced by the clogging of Marius Zaliukas

Whatever motivates these quaint if rustic people to nurse such savage hatred in their bosoms – and really, who could ever tell what goes on inside those misshapen heads? – there is certainly a galvanising effect on the team they support.  Those guys can be relied upon to play well above their usual form and give even superior Leeds sides a terrible time.  The motivational aspect is undeniable and, sadly, it costs an unwary United points that should be there for the taking.  This happens time and time again – every time a Leeds fixture is in the offing, the drums start to beat, the blood stirs and an atavistic glitter is to be seen in the eyes of otherwise placid and useless players.  We Leeds fans refer to it ruefully as “Cup Final Syndrome” – much to the annoyance of the unwashed hordes in opposition camps.   The Barnsley lot, for instance, would have you believe that Leeds is “just another game”.  But this is demonstrably not so.

Quite apart from the annoying regularity with which these dingy little clubs raise their performance levels against Leeds, another noticeable factor is the slump in performance immediately afterwards.  It’s as if the players, egged on by their desperate fans, have given every last drop of blood, sweat and tears and then gone on to draw on hidden reserves to complete the job, leaving them shattered and drained.  What inevitably happens next time out is that a team of pale wraiths take the field, wave and smile wanly at the applause due to them for the Leeds display, and then capitulate to whoever they are playing, simply too shagged-out from post Cup Final Syndrome to offer any resistance. After the Leeds v Barnsley game, I predicted that it would be defeat next time around for an exhausted set of Cup Final heroes.  “It’s quite probable now that Barnsley will go on to collapse to defeat against their next opponents,” I wrote.  Naturally, I was right – the Tykes slumped to a 1-0 home reverse against Bolton Wanderers yesterday, thus further proving the point I’ve been making – which is basically that Leeds have to show equal desire against these fired-up teams.  Their superior ability will do the rest.

The truth of the matter is, of course, that this “Cup Final Syndrome” is a real factor, one that can distort results and affect the whole season.  As I’ve previously written, Leeds suffer more than most from the phenomenon – not that this is any reason for sympathy.  It’s something Leeds have to sort out and overcome, if they are to achieve anything in the foreseeable future.  It’s just the loud and indignant denials you get – from the clubs who experience Cup Final Syndrome – that amaze me. They’re prepared to swear blind that there’s no such factor at play, and yet the figures speak for themselves – as you can plainly see if you look at the results for Huddersfield and Millwall in the wake of their hard-won victories over Leeds.

The managers of those clubs concerned might see things in a different light; they might argue that if their team can reach such heights and expend such effort when they play Leeds, then they could and should do it all the time.  But that’s the point – they can’t. They almost literally do give that hackneyed 110% against Leeds.  It is their cup final. They try and they try – and they come off the field, maybe victorious, but shattered and run down, their batteries as flat as the top of Wayne Rooney’s head.  They’ve nothing left to give, with predictable consequences next time out as they succumb, knackered.  It’s all there, in those results.

Maybe the Millwall and Huddersfield fans, Barnsley supporters too, would rather have a more consistent level of performance – and in that case, maybe they’d tolerate a less superhuman level of effort against the arch-enemy Leeds United.  But do you know, I somehow doubt it?  I have this sneaking suspicion that they’d rather continue to settle, grumpily maybe, but settle nonetheless, for mediocrity and runs of defeats for most of the season – just as long as they can have those wins against Mighty Leeds.  That, for them, is what it’s all about.  It’s not as if they’re going to go up anyway – so they need those Cup Final victories, they’re a validation of sorts.  It’s a defining characteristic of the type of club they are, with the type of fans they have.

So, you small-time, small club, small-minded envious pariahs – next time you hear Leeds United fans singing to you about “your Cup Final”, and feel moved to utter an offended bleat of protest – just bite your lips, and pause a second or two.  Think on.  You might just realise that what we’re singing to you is almost literally true.