Outgoing Wigan chairman Dave Whelan became the second club figurehead in a matter of weeks to make the mistake of speaking in haste before repenting at leisure. Not so long back, Middlesbrough owner Steve Gibson saw fit to poke fun at the Massimo Cellino situation, by sanctioning the display of a huge banner displaying his own none-too-attractive mug above the legend “Fit and Proper“. In associating himself with other “fit and proper” Football League types like convicted rapist Owen Oyston, Gibson perhaps did himself no favours. But he committed a greater sin in winding up the Whites, who promptly scored a smash and grab win against the Smoggies. Thanks for the motivation, Steve. And for the three – no, sorry – six points. Very kind, if not all that clever.
Then yesterday at Wigan‘s DW Stadium, Dave Whelan, a bluff old cove who some think of as anti-semitic due to rather unwise and ill-considered comments in the wake of appointing Malky Mackay as manager, just couldn’t resist having a pop at visitors Leeds United. When he made his valedictory address to Wigan’s tiny and scattered band of home supporters, old Whelan reflected on a tenure that had seen his club reach and stay for a while in the Premier League, as well as enjoying an unlikely Wembley success against Manchester City. But then he simply had to permit himself an FA Cup jab at the Whites that must have made his manager hold his head in his hands. “Leeds haven’t won the Cup in 25 years“, huffed the old gent, inaccurately (whisper it, but it’s actually 43 years and counting). The travelling United faithful who made up a fair proportion of the crowd and nearly all the noise, were not impressed – and proffered some loud and anatomically impossible advice, in a raucous chorus, as to what Whelan should forthwith do with himself. The players, for their part, merely rolled up their sleeves and prepared for battle.
The result was another 1-0 away win, not quite as Alamo-esque as the Boro one, but still defying the possession and total shots on goal statistics. The Whites’ winner, when it arrived early in the second half, was a fine strike from the increasingly deadly Alex Mowatt, who wrapped his right foot around the ball on the edge of the area to send it hurtling mightily beyond a helpless Scott Carson in the Pie-eaters’ goal. It was a sublime strike – particularly when you remember that Mowatt is supposed to be left-footed (as evidenced by a series of clinical recent free-kick goals). The presence of Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers in the stands will have worried those keen to see United hang onto their young stars; as Eddie Gray apparently murmured, “Well, he’s not here to watch any Wigan players”. Leeds duly hung on to see the match out and complete another welcome victory, all the more satisfactory for that sense of having put a bigmouth in his place.
It’s probably too much to hope for that any other club owner or departing chairman will be so kind as to do Redders’ team talk for him, but really, you never know. The irony with which the Leeds crowd so regularly sing “We’re not famous any more” is calculated to a nicety. The fact is that some of the clubs at this level are still pinching themselves at the privilege they have in regularly hosting an outfit with such a global reputation. And some individuals are simply so carried away with the excitement and glamour of this, that they just can’t refrain from a little unwise counting of chickens before hatching time. How their harassed managers must silently damn their folly when the points then slip away, West Yorkshire-bound.
So much for silly old Mr Dave Whelan then. On the day, as on so many days this season, the one and only Whelan of the moment was Noel David of that ilk, a former United hero who had an endearing habit of scoring against Man U in his playing days, and who – although he now earns a footballing crust elsewhere in the Championship – remains Leeds to the core, wearing his heart on his sleeve and utterly failing to remain impartial. How the Leeds fans love him for it; for his “GET IINNNNNN!!!” when Leeds score and his wit and caustic humour in commentary with Adam Pope on Radio Leeds. It’s such a treat to listen to – that victory cry of Snowy Whelan’s when Leeds score is just something else; you can virtually hear the veins in his neck bulging. It’s fantastic stuff, and a marked contrast to the rather more low-key commentary available elsewhere.
So Leeds march on and it’s been another satisfactory weekend with three points for the Whites, and losses for some of those we love to despise, notably Millwall, who are beginning to look ever more comically doomed to the drop. Next week it’s a resurgent Nottingham Forest at Elland Road and another stiff test for Redders’ Leeds. But it’s fair to say the pressure is all but off now; we’re looking cautiously upwards instead of back at the dog-eat-dogfight.
More on Forest – and Snowy Whelan – during the coming week here on Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. Stay tuned…