Tag Archives: Don Revie

Leeds United, Club and Fans, Could Have Done Better Over Jay-Roy Grot – by Rob Atkinson

The Don – fostered family atmosphere at Leeds

In a week hardly short of news stories about Leeds United, one in particular stands out for any fan of the Elland Road club who remembers how the first faltering steps to greatness were taken under Don Revie in the sixties; how, in short, football’s greatest family club was built. So, while I could have written this week about the arrivals at Elland Road of quality recruits for the campaign ahead, I will resist that temptation.

Instead, let’s look at Joe Urquhart’s recent Yorkshire Evening Post revelations about the struggles in his Leeds career so far of a young man called Jay-Roy Grot who, at the tender age of 20, is going for a year on loan at Dutch side VVV-Venlo. Grot, a young colossus of a man at 6’4”, arrived at United last summer from NEC of Nijmegen, snatched from under the noses of Italian giants Fiorentina. Sadly, the lad’s first year at Leeds did not go well, and his confidence has suffered. The loan away from United is designed to remedy that, in the hope of seeing him return stronger in the future.

All well and good, but a look at the role of club and supporters in this less than creditable tale might be instructive. The Elland Road support has been notorious since well before Revie’s time as “a hard crowd to play for”. They’re a crowd of extremes. They can get right behind their team, lifting them to peaks of effort and attainment. But, for the individual who is struggling to put a foot right, it can feel much less encouraging, with the terrace critics sometimes launching in even before a ball has been kicked. Young players of great potential can nevertheless find themselves dismissed as “crap”, and persecuted accordingly, should they fail to hit the ground running. Such was the shattering experience of Jay-Roy Grot.

Back in Revie’s day, before the term “pastoral care” had gained much currency, it was nevertheless a big part of the foundations of the Super Leeds side that grew up as a band of brothers to carry all before them. Revie saw to it that off-field problems would not get in the way of his team’s success on the park; his charges were looked after and nurtured. When the boo-boys got to a young and cherubic Billy Bremner, Revie supported and shielded him. If a player’s wife had a baby, there would be flowers from the Don, or a box of chocolates to celebrate a girlfriend’s birthday. No detail was too small, no problem too trivial. Revie looked after his lads and their families, and they repaid him by becoming legends.

Now, with the constant recent managerial changes at Elland Road, there seems to be no such continuity of care. The sad loss of Lucy Ward from her health and welfare role a few years back created a gap in the Leeds United system that remains arguably unfilled. These heartbreaking words from young Grot make for uneasy reading: “I am not someone who makes friends easily. And that also broke me up in England. Cooking, I had no problems with that. But coming home every day to an empty house, I had a hard time. I did nothing, nobody knew. I also had little contact with the other boys in the beginning”. The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that both fans and club could and should have done better in the case of Jay-Roy Grot and, going forward, they need to take this on board.

We must aim for less of the destructive booing from fans, less ignorant haranguing on Twitter, with more awareness and support coming from the club. This is not rocket science, and it’s simply not acceptable for a young player to feel as isolated as Grot evidently did. Maybe Leeds United should just ring Lucy Ward and beg her to come back? In the sad absence of the late, great Don Revie, Lucy is probably the best option.

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RIP Paul Madeley, the Rolls Royce Footballer who Only Wanted to Play for Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

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RIP Paul Madeley, Leeds United’s “Rolls Royce” legend

Another star from the Super Leeds galaxy has left us, with the sad death of Paul Madeley at 73. Paul was the archetypal Mr Versatile, a man whose ability to excel in a number of diverse roles possibly even counted against him as he was less likely to pin down a regular starting berth in a team of superstars that carried all before them. For a team like that to be able to call on a man like Madeley was a godsend – we can only be thankful that “the eleven Pauls” were never far away whenever a gap appeared in the ranks due to injury or suspension.

Really, after that,  there are few words. We all know what Paul was all about, we know he’d have walked into just about any other side at that time, we know that he was preoccupied above all else with playing for Leeds United – to the extent that he told his manager he’d be happy to sign a blank contract and let his boss fill in the amounts and the term of the agreement. Contrast that with the prevailing attitude today, and it’s clear that we were lucky enough to have a real diamond for so long in Paul – and clear also  that we have just lost a genuine legend.

It’s appropriate really that we should take a short break from wondering which football mercenaries we might be recruiting for the season ahead, in order to raise a glass to the memory of Paul Madeley and his legacy of decency, service and loyalty. A better servant to the club he loved you will not find, and I say this in the full knowledge that his team-mates were from the elite end of the stars of that time. That Madeley’s name is a watchword for the qualities listed above, when his contemporaries at Elland Road could also be described thus, says so much about his status in the pantheon of Leeds United legends.

Versatile, dedicated, unselfish – irreplaceable.  RIP Paul Madeley, 1944 – 2018

What Happens When a Huddersfield Fan Writes a Book About Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

Books can be long.  Sentences can be short.  Repetition beats inspiration.

Books can be long. Sentences can be short. Repetition beats inspiration for commercial success. I’m David Bloody Peace.

As any avid reader will know, it’s frequently the second or subsequent reading of a book that gives you a real insight into what it’s all about. Equally, giving up on a book part-way through tells you all you need to know about that work. But all too often, you’ll read a book just the once and walk away with an experience that might actually be quite misleading. Such, I suspect, is the case with David Peace’s “The Damned United”.

I read this once, seduced by the subject matter and what sounded a suspiciously extravagant claim to “get inside the head of Brian Clough”. The prose style was – well, let’s say ‘different’. But it survived a one-off read and, give or take some fanciful fictionalising together with a legion of liberties taken with history, it got me through three or four evenings tolerably riveted. And I got a perverse jolt out of the title. The Damned United. That’s us, that is. I guessed there and then that Leeds fans would take it up as a badge of honour. I guarantee that is not what was intended.

Then a short time ago I heard that Peace had written a similar book on Bill Shankly and I read some distinctly lukewarm verging on unimpressed reviews. Intrigued, I asked my wife what she’d thought of the author’s bleak crime series set in West Yorkshire in the seventies, at the time the Ripper was active. She pulled a face that spoke a thousand words. So, I decided to revisit “The Damned United”.

Many will be familiar with the storyline. Some from this book, others less helpfully from the lamentable film of the same name. Then there are those lucky few who actually lived through the events described, or who are students of Leeds United history; they will be the best informed of all.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the narrative, whatever injustices were done to the likes of Johnny Giles, Don Revie and Clough himself, whatever the departures from historical accuracy – it is the style, for want of a more appropriate word, that I want to address here. So let’s see if we have any more success in getting inside the head of David Peace than the author enjoyed in his attempt to read the character of Brian Clough. As a task, it should be a lot less complex.

Into the office, sit at the desk, boot the computer.

I sit staring at the screen and wait for inspiration. No ideas. No Clough speaking to me. Not here. Not today. It’s the first day of a project. The first day. Of how many days? The project is Clough. But he’s not speaking to me. Not here. Not today.

I write down some random sentences. Pick them up later, use them where I can. Use them again and again. It’ll do.

Don’s office, Don’s bloody desk, Don’s chair. Brown envelopes stuffed with cash. Whispering in the corridors of Elland Road. Elland bloody Road. Under ugly Yorkshire skies, an ugly Yorkshire stadium. There I am. Don’s office, Don’s bloody desk, Don’s chair. Brown envelopes stuffed with cash.

That’ll do, I can use that. I just need to get inside Cloughie’s head now.

But Cloughie’s dead. He’s not speaking to me. Not here. Not today.

I have a break. Clear my head, make room for Cloughie, if he decides to talk. Out into the garden, breathe some clean air. Then it’s back to it. Back to the project. Back to that damned United, waiting for Cloughie, though Cloughie is dead. Back to it.

Into the office, sit at the desk, boot the computer. Brian is in my head. Brian is swearing. He’s the Leeds United manager but he hates it. Hates it. Hates Leeds United. I can hear him. Hating Leeds United, hating Don bloody Revie. There he is. Don’s office, Don’s bloody desk, Don’s chair. Brown envelopes stuffed with cash. Whispering in the corridors of Elland Road. Elland bloody Road. Under ugly Yorkshire skies, an ugly Yorkshire stadium.

I can do this. I’m David Peace. David bloody Peace. Author. Huddersfield Town fan. Hate Leeds United, hate, hate, hate. Hate them for what they were, for what they are. Cloughie is the same as me, like that. But Cloughie is dead. And now he’s gone out of my head for the day. But there’s always another day. Always. Always one more bloody day.

Into the office, sit at the desk, boot the computer. No ideas. No Clough speaking to me. Not here. Not today….

And so it goes on, that style. In parodying it, I actually cut down on the repetition, minimised the number of stock phrases, decimated the profanity count. But it gives some idea, I feel, of David Peace’s formulaic approach to establishing his own “style”. There, that troublesome word again, “style”. Some authors have an inimitable style because it’s genuinely unique to them, it can’t effectively be reproduced by other writers. Some authors’ styles should be inimitable because nobody would really want to imitate them – except in parody. Mr Peace falls into the latter camp.

On first reading, it’s something you can live with and the narrative bumbles along, reinforced, it seems, by the constant repetition, the continual use of pre-packaged standard buzz-phrases.  It’s meant to convey the turmoil inside Clough’s head, the way he continually questions, cajoles, reassures himself. At first glance it appears to do that. But on revisiting this book, I found myself irritated by the repetition, wearied by the recurrence of the buzz-phrases, disillusioned with it all.

In “The Emperor’s New Clothes” everyone marvels at the Head Honcho’s wonderful new invisible costume, right up until the little boy, unhindered by years of training in subservience and hypocrisy, calls out “But that man’s bare naked!” – and the illusion is shattered. One re-reading of “The Damned United” was enough to shatter the illusion created by my first reading, and I know now what David Peace is all about.

I’d be interested to learn how long the book would be without all the padding. Not exactly of epic length, I suspect. If you were also to subtract the ubiquitous profanity in Clough’s speech – in real life he was not, apparently, a profane man – then Peace’s Meisterwerk would be shorter still. Honest, Brian – it’d be none the worse for that.

Don Revie and Leeds Could Have Saved the Life of Man United’s Tragic George Best – by Rob Atkinson

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The late, not so great George Best

In George Best, the football world lost a massive talent if not a truly great player, when the maverick Irishman died prematurely at only 59 in 2005. In the twelve years since his tragic death, the debate has continued over his place in football, his ranking among the legends of the game. Best was a genius technically, blessed with the skills to enable him to do pretty much whatever he wanted on the football field. But he was also a flawed and addictive personality, less able than most professionals to deal with the pressures of professional football, more likely to be swayed from the straight and narrow by the temptations that would face any rich and over-hyped young man.

That being the case, Best could hardly have suffered a worse fate than to be taken onto the books of Manchester United as a callow youth, there to develop as a skillful footballer, but also to be lost in the maelstrom of hype and self-aggrandisement that has dogged the Old Trafford club since the start of the Matt Busby era and, particularly, since the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. For Best, it was the wrong club at the wrong time; he needed a different approach and a less relentlessly goldfish bowl existence. Stronger, less easily-led personalities than George Best prospered at Old Trafford, but the combination of George’s skill, personal attractiveness and extreme marketability made him ripe to be chewed up and spat out by the Man Utd/media publicity machine. Therein, the seeds of his eventual destruction were sown; Best was doomed by the unfortunate circumstance of becoming a Man United prodigy, his downhill path plotted even while he was enjoying such spectacular, early success.

It could all have been so different for George Best. What he needed was a better and more professional environment, somewhere his stellar talent could have been harnessed for the benefit of a crack team of inseparable brothers. Somewhere with a “Side before self, every time” mentality, with a manager who treated his players like sons and their wives and girlfriends like daughters-in-law, a place and a club where press flattery did not venture, but where instead a siege complex was fostered that strengthened the squad from within. George Best, had he but known it, needed Don Revie and Leeds United; if history had worked out differently, and Best had grown up alongside the likes of Billy Bremner, Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer and ex-Man Utd star John Giles, then I would venture to suggest that his development and indeed his whole existence would have been along such radically different lines, he may well have been still alive today.

George was let down by his football club, its management and the surrounding hype and worldwide acclaim. He was considered by many to be the greatest of all time, a view he would publicly endorse on his own behalf on many occasions. And that says a lot about George, about his inadequate standards and lack of humility. It’s something that would have been ironed out of him swiftly and early at Elland Road. Such conceit was frowned upon in the ultra-professional environment at Leeds, where individual skill was fostered and encouraged mainly within the pattern and demands of team requirements. Those were of paramount importance in Revie’s blueprint, so you had world-class talents like Gray, Bremner and Giles willing, nay, eager to devote their own brand of genius to securing the optimum team results. They’d have kept young George’s feet on the ground alright, and the Leeds backroom staff would have been there every step of the way, nurturing Best’s talent, inculcating the team ethic, bringing him down when that was needed, boosting him when necessary. The fact that Eddie Gray succeeded at Leeds was proof that a properly motivated and disciplined Best could have succeeded as well – and he’d have a had a long career, a longer life, if only that could have been the case.

It’s such a shame about George. The Manchester scene was all wrong for him, as would most probably have been that of London. Moreover, the club where he landed, at such a tender age, was in the business of producing legends, media stars to feed the delusions of their fans and meet the post-Munich hype and voracious desire to be the biggest, the best, the most glamorous. It takes a hardy seedling to prosper and grow in a hothouse like that and, despite early promise and a devastating few years of gaudy brilliance, George was doomed to wither and fade far too soon. The scars of that traumatic fall – he won his last club honour at only 22 – affected him for the rest of his life, leaving him easy prey for unscrupulous advantage takers, and for the buzz and temporary relief provided by alcohol. Who can deny that the more focused atmosphere and environment of Leeds United would have kept Best on the right path, providing him with a stage on which his technical genius could flourish, giving him the tangible rewards his prime deserved and yet never received?

In the public consciousness, Best was the Best – because we’ve been relentlessly told that’s the case, which has a lot to do obviously with the media circus and public adulation surrounding such an over-hyped football club. But sober analysis identifies Best as a genius footballer who was not a team player, not a very professional player and certainly not, over the span of his career, a world-class performer. Best, for all his talents, was not in the top twenty of all-time greats – but he should have been. He could perhaps have been right up there, among the best of the best. That he wasn’t and isn’t is something revisionists will deny, but a look at the facts and stats tells its own damning story.

George Best could gave been a much greater footballer, and he could still have been with us today. If only he’d been lucky enough to have started out, under Don Revie, at Leeds United, just as the Super Leeds legend was being born in the early sixties. What a different and infinitely happier story his might then have been.

From Milk Crate to Press Box, 42 Years at Leeds United’s Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

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Sitting where Frannie Lee wouldn’t dare – within right-hook range of Big Norm

My Elland Road history is one of a gradual progression that has seen me following the varied fortunes of Leeds United from many different vantage points within that famous old stadium. I started out in the much-lamented Lowfields Road stand, its venerable roof famously braced by cross wires to stop it being blown away by anything above a stiff breeze. My spectating debut was in the funny little “shelf” area that ran the length of the stand between the terraces below and the seats above. I attended a good few games there, with our Gray and, solemnly in charge, my Dad – who saw that our match-day equipment included milk crates for us kids to stand upon, thus enjoying some sort of view.

When I first started going to Elland Road independently, I stood on the Lowfields terraces, but found the passion and buffeting of that experience a little too much – softie that I was. So the next move was to the Boys’ Pen, in the North-East corner of the ground. I stayed there until a ticket mix-up meant that I faced a choice between missing a League Cup tie against Everton, and braving the rigours of the Kop. I screwed up my courage to make my debut on that mighty and cacophonous hill – and never looked back. From that time on, I was a dedicated Gelderd-Ender and the Kop years represent my golden era of United support.

When the Kop went all-seater in the wake of Hillsborough and the Taylor Report, it never felt quite the same to me, and I sympathise with those who never experienced the thrill and surge of a packed Gelderd. One moment I’ll always remember is when Dave Batty scored against Man City early in our League Title season of 1991/92. As Batty himself later admitted, he was never much of a goal-scorer “but, against City, I were prolific”. Over a hundred games after his previous goal, at City in the late 80s, Batts hit the back of the net against the same opponents in ’91 – and at the Gelderd End, too. The whole stadium erupted in joy unconfined; I believe injuries were sustained on the Kop that day but, trust me, nobody felt any pain. It was a magical moment, the stuff from which legends are woven.

When my time on the Kop came to an end, my attendance at Elland Road growing less frequent, I became something of a nomad, taking in the view from the South, West and East of the stadium.  I was getting older and more curmudgeonly, less able and willing to tolerate the stresses of a packed crowd, or of bored kids making me get up and sit down all the time as they passed to and fro. I was becoming my grumpy Dad and, frankly, it had ceased to be fun. I was even considering a flirtation with Ponte Collieries, though my heart and soul belong to Leeds and always will. I just couldn’t hack it any more; I’d never got over the loss of the terraces, not that I’d last five minutes there, these days.

But now I’m back, a habitué of the press area courtesy of semi-regular Leeds United newspaper columns and, though I say it myself as shouldn’t, what has become a pan-global blog. Finally, I’m finding myself somewhat cossetted in experiencing an environment a bit kinder to middle-aged sensibilities. Last Saturday, I watched the Ipswich Town match beside one of my heroes, Norman Hunter, a legend of the Don Revie era at Leeds. I was utterly star-struck, but Big Norm was chatty and amiable – until the game started. Then he was kicking every ball, totally absorbed in the action, grievously upset at every United mistake (and there seemed to be a lot). It was an education for me in terms of what an old pro expects of the current crop, with the desk in front of us taking some punishment as Norm fulminated away. On my other side was erstwhile press-box doyen Don Warters, former Leeds United correspondent for the Yorkshire Evening Post. As Norman stumped off just before full-time, on his way to do his corporate bit in one of the lounges, I remarked that he didn’t seem too happy. Don grinned and replied, “He never is”.

I guess such hyper-involvement and the severely critical outlook goes with the territory for those guys who’ve been there and done it, especially at the level Norman, Billy and the rest played. But still, looking on the bright side – we did win on the day to stay top and, despite a couple of awayday blips recently, we’re still doing quite well overall. The football has been genuinely exciting so far this campaign, a real pleasure to watch and even to write about. What’s more, it’s a great view among all the scribes, the club kindly provides sandwiches, coffee and other such civilised comforts – and the company is amazing. All in all, just when I thought I was coming to the end of my Leeds United journey, it’s really wonderful to be back at Elland Road.

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Lowfields Road

Lowfields Road stand, towards the end of its life – but with the “Shelf” easily identifiable

Taken 28 Years Ago Today, Leeds Legend Don Revie Was THE Greatest   –   by Rob Atkinson

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The Don of Elland Road – 28 years gone, but never forgotten

They say that great players don’t always make great managers, and Bobby Charlton is a stand-out example of that essential truth. His brother Jack, by common consent not anything like the player Bobby was, but ten times the bloke, was by far the more successful manager. Then again – he learned from the best.

And they will twist the argument around to show that average players can make great managers. We’re usually invited by a brainwashed and indoctrinated media to take Alex Ferguson as an example of this; my own choice would be Arsene Wenger, a deeply average player but a highly superior coach, tactician and innovator who made a significant dent in the Man U monopoly of the Premier League – despite the vast off-field advantages of the Salford club. Remember Wenger’s “Invincibles”?

But there are a select few examples of truly great players who went on to be truly great managers – the likes of Busby and Dalglish, for instance – and I will argue passionately to my last breath that the best of the best was Donald George Revie, who died of Motor Neurone Disease 28 years ago today.

Don Revie was an innovative, thinking footballer, the pivot of the famous “Revie Plan” at Manchester City when he was the first to exploit deep-lying centre-forward play to great effect as City hit the heights in the mid to late fifties. He was instrumental in the Wembley defeat of Birmingham City in the FA Cup Final of 1956, and also helped restore English pride after two batterings by Hungary – the Magnificent Magyars having trounced England 6-3 at Wembley and 7-1 in Budapest. Revie’s adapted attacking role helped the National team annihilate Scotland 7-2 and his reputation was made as a selfless team player who was adept at making the ball do the work while team-mates found space as he dropped deep, baffling the defences of the time.

Revie was clearly a thinker, and developed very definite ideas about the game during his playing career, ideas he would later put into practice to devastating effect as a club manager. It is undeniable that, during his thirteen years in charge at Leeds, he elevated them from simply nowhere in the game to its very pinnacle, preaching togetherness and the team ethic above all else. Respected judges within the game have described the football played by Leeds at their peak as unmatched, before or since. In the eyes of many, that Leeds United team were the finest English side ever, a unit of grisly efficiency and teak-hardness yet capable of football which was outstandingly, breathtakingly beautiful, intricate in its conception and build-up, devastating in its effect.

Here is the scale of Revie’s achievement: in an era before the advent of lavish sponsorship and advanced commercial operations, he built a club from the ground upwards – a club with an apathetic support, which had hardly two ha’pennies to rub together, and whose prime asset was a group of raw but promising youngsters. The way that Revie nurtured those youngsters, moulding them into a team of supreme talent and majestic ability, is the stuff of legend. In some cases, he had to ward off the threats of homesickness: a young Billy Bremner was determined to go home to his native Scotland and Revie arranged for his girlfriend to move to Leeds, helping the lad settle down. Sometimes he had to adapt a player from one position to another – Terry Cooper was an indifferent winger who was made into a world-class overlapping full-back. Examples of his inspirational and man-management skills are many; he wrote the modern managerial manual from scratch.

Revie raised almost an entire squad from the junior ranks through to full international status, but he also had an unerring eye for a transfer market bargain. He took Bobby Collins from Everton, and saw the diminutive veteran midfielder produce the best form of his career. He lured a disaffected John Giles from Old Trafford where he was an under-rated performer. Giles swore that he would “haunt” Matt Busby, the manager who let him go, and Revie enabled this vow to be realised, converting Giles to a more central role after the end of Collins’ first team career. Giles and Bremner would form an almost telepathic central midfield partnership for Leeds, carrying all before them over the muddy battlefields of Division One. Revie later described his recruitment of Giles from Man U as “robbery with violence”.

As the sixties wore on, the Don would add Mick Jones and Allan Clarke to his formidable squad while it grew up together in a family atmosphere at Elland Road. Rarely if ever before or since can a manager have been so involved in his team’s welfare and well-being; no mere tracksuit manager this. There would be flowers and chocolates when a player’s girlfriend or wife celebrated a birthday, a listening ear and helping hand whenever problems threatened to affect a man’s form. Revie was a father figure to his players for over a decade, forming a bond of mutual loyalty and respect that still sets the standard for enlightened management today.

Don Revie has been described in scornful terms by the ignorant, as a dossier-obsessed and over-superstitious manager, then again as a coaching genius by some people of insight and judgement, and as simply the best by his players who still survive from that amazing period of Leeds United’s dominance at home and abroad. He was perhaps too reliant on lucky suits and the lifting of gypsy curses, and other such supernatural preoccupations. He could maybe have let his team “off the leash” a little earlier than he did – when given full rein, they were next door to unstoppable. But it’s hard to hold the caution and superstition of the man against him; this was a time unlike today when livelihoods depended on a bounce of the ball, when results mattered in a bread and butter way. There were no cossetted millionaires then, no examples of young men who could pack it all in tomorrow and live in luxury for the rest of their lives. It all meant so much more in those days and the word “pressure” had real resonance.

The modern coaches have greats among their number, there’s no doubt about that. It would be invidious to single out names; after all, the media in a misguided fit of uncritical and commercially-motivated hero-worship have been busily engaged for most of the last three decades in dubbing “S’ralex” as the greatest ever. But the legend that is Don Revie can sit comfortably on his laurels, the man who – more than any other – took a sow’s ear of a football club and made of it a purse of the very finest silk which yet concealed a core of Yorkshire steel.

On the day after a manager who will merit, at best, a tiny footnote in Leeds United history, shamefully walked out on the club – it’s fitting that we can remember with fondness and immense pride a true managerial giant.

Donald George Revie (1927 – 1989). Simply The Best.

Tottenham as Champions? Even Leeds United Would be More Authentic – by Rob Atkinson

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Spuds – boiled twice until soft and mushy

If Tottenham Hotspur finish this season in a Champions League qualification place and – more importantly, in the eyes of many of their fans – above loathed North London rivals Arsenal, then this season will be deemed by the vast majority of those fans to have been a resounding success. This, despite the fact that, having failed last year to take their most realistic chance in over half a century to finish as Champions of England, they are about to repeat that failure. And that is why Spurs, despite their superficial glamour and appeal, cannot be regarded as a big club.

This might sound strange coming from a fan of 21st Century also-rans Leeds United. But, for all their recent woes and the chaos that characterises life at Elland Road under Bates, GFH and Cellino, Leeds remains a big club. The expectations are still there, the voracious hunger and imperious demand to be up there with the best. At some point, those demands will be met – because the expectations and desire of the fans are what, ultimately, define the size and potential of a football club. Leeds have all that – Tottenham simply don’t. A cursory scan of their Twitter feed, when Spurs capitulated last season, was ample illustration of this.

I was really expecting to find anger, dismay and deep, deep hurt among the Spurs Twitteratti, at the careless throwing away of a once in a lifetime chance. It wasn’t there. I thought too – equally erroneously – that there would be angst and an abiding sense of betrayal. I based this on an empathetic knowledge of how I or most other Leeds supporters would feel – how it would leave us bereft and fuming to see such a rare opportunity passed up. But then – we’re Leeds, and these people were merely Spurs. There’s a big difference.

Last time Leeds joined the big time, back in 1990 – and the time before that, in 1964 – the Whites wasted no time merely admiring their surroundings or being overawed by their new peers. They took a brief, almost scornful look around, allowed themselves the barest of minimum settling-in periods, won their opening fixture back at this new, rarefied level – and proceeded to dominate proceedings thenceforth. Don Revie’s wonders went within a whisker of the double first time out, and were the best team in Europe within five years. Sergeant Wilko’s Warriors were Champions inside twenty months. This is the mettle and appetite of a big club. “Keep Fighting” was and remains the motto. There is no fear and mighty little respect in the staff and players. There is an abounding self-belief and naked ambition among the fans. So it was with Leeds United. So it will be again.

There is none of this with Spurs, not last season and not this one either. Despite the excellence of their squad, they lack the inner conviction and the aspirations of Champions. At its heart, the club is effete and decadent, content to play pretty football while perceived lesser mortals – the Leicester City of last season being an excellent example – scrap and fight, working hard, giving no quarter, exerting every fibre of their being in the pursuit of victory. In a game of fine margins, it is this muck and bullets approach that can close the quality gap and make the difference when the prizes are handed out.

On the evidence of social media reaction, the Spurs fans are as much to blame as the soft centre of their club. It’ll be nice to finish second, they trilled last season (they actually finished third in a two-horse race, surrendering runners-up spot meekly to Arsenal with a thrashing at relegated Newcastle). We’d have snatched your hands off for the chance of finishing higher than Arsenal, they simpered (maybe this season then, lads). We’ll be favourites next year, they crooned, hopefully. But next year never comes – not when the real big boys can be counted on to wake up from their one season slumber.

Thinking back to the early nineties, when Leeds were the hungry new kids on the block – we hoped and craved for a chance to be the best again. Whether we really expected it to come along so soon is a moot point. But we were raucously demanding of it. And when that chance presented itself – especially at the expense of our most hated foes – there was no suggestion of “well, it’d be nice, but second wouldn’t be too bad either”. We’d have been gutted to the depths of our very souls, if our heroes in White hadn’t seized the day. It would have been impossible to express the wretchedness we would have felt.

The Spurs fans by contrast, with their mealy-mouthed acceptance of failure and honeyed words of congratulations to conquerors Leicester, betrayed their club and showed themselves, as well as their beloved club, unworthy of being regarded as champion material. It was a sickening sight to see, a betrayal of that competitive spirit that gives a vital edge to proper contenders.

In the end, any league gets the champions it deserves and, barring last-gasp miracles or Chelsea calamity, it’ll be no different this year. Spurs will have shown again why they haven’t been The Best since 1961, when JFK was president, the Beatles were playing beery dives in Hamburg and I was only just seeing the light of day. Chelsea, with their juggernaut self-belief and determination to make the most of every opportunity under the brilliant guidance of Antonio Conte, will thoroughly have deserved their Premier League Title. They will be deserving Champions, by far the best team in the land.

Leicester City, Chelsea, Leeds United – Champions of England. Each has a ring of authenticity to it that’s been hard fought for and deeply merited when it’s come about. Whereas “Champions Spurs”? – well, it just doesn’t sound right. It sounds instead faintly ridiculous, like cheap fiction; and, as long as the club and the fans retain their current losers’ mindset, that’s just how it will remain.

Jansson to Leeds for £3.5m is, Quoting Mr. Revie, “Robbery With Violence”   –   by Rob Atkinson

Pontus Jansson, Superstar

It’s difficult to overplay the impact this season of Pontus Jansson on Leeds United. Since a relatively low-key debut at Luton in the EFL Cup, the big Swedish defender has barely put a foot wrong, becoming a talisman for the Whites. He’s been almost equally effective at either end of the field, and his headed clearances have formed the basis of a highly effective central defensive partnership with Kyle Bartley. Those clearances are paid ample tribute in Jansson’s very own song, the United support having waxed creative in a witty ditty featuring magic hats and hurled bricks. It’s a hymn of praise that could hardly be better deserved.

When legendary United manager Don Revie signed John Giles from a smallish club near Manchester in 1963, for a paltry £33,000, he was exultant enough to describe the deal as “robbery with violence”. The selling manager, one Matthew Busby, later described the sale of Giles, who went on to fashion an unparalleled midfield partnership with Billy Bremner, as his “greatest mistake”. This coup of capturing Jansson for maybe 25% of his actual value, puts you in mind of that earlier robbery. I don’t know who mans the central defence for Torino – but they must be bloody good players. 

As long as Jansson doesn’t now go all Lubo Michalik on us, Leeds have pulled of one hell of a capture here. We currently have a defence that looks rock solid, and that sort of thing has proved the foundation for many a promotion charge. And both Bartley and Jansson offer so much more than defensive excellence. Organising and cajoling the back line, motivating and inspiring all over the park and still finding time to create havoc in attacking set pieces, they both influence the game positively more or less the full 95 minutes. That’s invaluable for any team with pretensions to success. 

Robbery with violence sums it up nicely. May we also mug Swansea with a similar deal for Bartley. Both players have what it takes to be United legends for several seasons to come. 

Welcome to the ranks of the greatest club in the world, Pontus, and all the very best as you go on to confirm legend status by helping us back to the top. 

For Evans Sake, Leeds Utd Have the Right Man. Now Stick With Him – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United Manager Steve Evans

Leeds United Manager Steve Evans

The unseen benefit of the scattergun, hire ’em and fire ’em recruitment approach adopted by Leeds United since the takeover of il Duce Cellino, is that at some point, unwittingly, you’re probably going to stumble haphazardly upon the right man for the job. And one of the obvious drawbacks of such an amateurish policy is that you’re all too likely then to dismiss him, either in a fit of Latin pique, or because you’ve been replaced by new owners who want their own man.

The evidence of the first few weeks of the Steve Evans era at Elland Road would seem to suggest that United have, for once in a very long while, got a square peg for their square hole. Having been lucky enough to do that, Leeds must not now, under whatever ownership, retreat back into their accustomed suicidal self-destruct mode – and dispense with a man and manager who might just be the best fit our maverick club could possibly wish or hope for.

The Steve Evans track record speaks for itself in both the best and worst of times. His human fallibility is evident from a brush with the law earlier in his career – but lessons learned from negative episodes in life can be instructive in the making of a highly effective professional. And it is this image that emerges from the Evans record of achievement at his previous clubs. It is an enviable record of unprecedented success at those clubs, by virtue of what the man himself succinctly refers to as “winning football”. He has no need or desire to elaborate on that two-word summary. He simply promises the fans just that – winning football. He knows and we know that everything good will flow from that.

The complexity and effect of the man is emerging little by little as a picture Leeds United fans have been wanting to behold for many, many years. There are echoes of the early Sergeant Wilko in the way Evans has breezed into the club with no fear on his own account, and the clear intention of doing things his way. Though not afraid himself, he appears to rule partly through fear – and partly by employing the encouraging “arm around the shoulder” approach. We hear that he can hand out rollickings to those who need it, as well as boosting those in need of a boost. It’s not rocket science – just horses-for-courses man-management, the type of thing that has produced results for the enlightened since time immemorial. The proof of the pudding, though, will be in the eating – but early indications are that certain Leeds United players, who had been under-performing, are now walking about with a new spring in their step. Long may that continue.

The danger now apparent is of yet another change; this one unwanted, unnecessary and foolish, with talk in various sections of the media that any possible new owner – a prospect widely perceived among Leeds fans as A Good Thing – could bring with him a change of manager, with Pride of Devon flop David Moyes touted as a likely contender for a job that really should be flagged up as unavailable. It may of course be that this is largely the not exactly Leeds-loving media being their usual mischievous and unhelpful selves. We can but hope.

What we have here is not yet a recovery, nor yet even a definite upward swing in the fortunes of our beloved Leeds United. The general stability of the club is far too fragile to make extravagant claims like that. But what we do seem to have are tentative green shoots emerging from what has too long been an arid desert of hopelessness. Little buds of confidence are emerging that just might flourish and bloom into full-on optimism – given the chance. Everywhere I’ve looked in the virtual world of Leeds United lately, I’ve seen surprised, almost bemused comments along the lines of “this bloke is really growing on me!” about our new manager. And one of the most noticeable things about Steve Evans is that he openly lays claim to that title. Leeds United manager – there’s a ring to it which the half-baked “head coach” thing lacks. It’s as if Evans knows he has ventured into shark-infested waters, and that he’ll have to be brave, bold and confident if he’s to succeed. He’s certainly making all the right noises, so far.

In Steve Evans – a man who swiftly acknowledged that he wouldn’t have been the first choice among Leeds fans (adding that he doubted he’d have been in the top ten) – we may just have the ideal candidate for the next holder of the Mr. Leeds United accolade. Steve Evans genuinely could be Mr. Leeds United, in a manner akin to earlier greats like Wilko, or even the as yet incomparable Don Revie. He reflects the club as those legends did – unprepossessing to outsiders, with a tendency to inspire fear and dislike among enemies. But there’s a steely determination there also, an unshakeable belief in his own ability that is likewise redolent of Leeds at its very best. That extra spring in the step of some of the young stars, those early results as they start to pick up – they’re down to that brash, ebullient presence rocking around the corridors of Elland Road and Thorp Arch. There seems little doubt of that.

I had my doubts too, at the start, though I was mainly preoccupied with being dismayed at yet another abrupt change of management. I heard of Steve Evans discussing his appointment to take over with no great enthusiasm. But first impressions are rarely all that reliable,  and I’ve never been so thrilled to have it demonstrated to me that, like thousands of others with the colours of this club running through their veins, I have good cause to believe team affairs are at last in safe hands. And, having accepted that – by hook or by crook and more by luck than good judgement – a bona fide appointment has at long last been made, I’m now in the same position as so many other fans, of being desperately concerned that – this time – we should stick with our man and see it through. See what kind of Leeds United Steve Evans can build. Hope that he will be given the time and the tools to finish the job, as he’s so successfully done elsewhere.

If, in a few weeks or months time, I’m writing another blog in bitter frustration and helpless anger, bemoaning yet more self-harming short-termism on the part of this crazy club – if, in short, Leeds United have lost their nerve yet again, and prematurely sacked yet another manager – then it’ll be with a sense of baffled despair about our club’s chances of ever making it back to the level of the game where they assuredly belong. It’s for Leeds now to stick with their man, back him through whatever high-level changes may be in the offing and try to ensure that, on the playing side of things at least, there is some stability and confidence. Those two advantages will come only with the security of a man in charge being given ample opportunity to do his job and earn success. For all our sakes, let this come to pass.

And if not – why then, the fans of this club will know for sure that they are the only stable and worthwhile thing about the place. They’ll know that the club can’t be trusted or relied upon to do anything but periodically make of itself a laughing stock before lesser clubs and lesser fans. It would be the only conclusion we could possibly draw – who could really blame us? The powers that be at Leeds United (whoever they might be on any given day) had better take warning; our faith in the direction of the club can only take so many hits before it crumbles into pieces. So don’t screw this up, guys.

Steve Evans has made it clear that he regards himself as privileged to be the Leeds United manager. He’s made it clear that he regards the fans as an asset unmatched elsewhere (If we played a five-a-side in Asia at three in the morning, they’d be there). Evans “gets” Leeds. He can see what the club – and the fans – are all about. You have the impression that he can sense a kinship – that he feels at home and wants beyond anything else to restore Leeds United to greater days. This blogger could listen to him talk about Leeds all day long – it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

You just can’t put a price on that feeling, and – for the first time in such a long time – I and many others believe we might just have a real Leeds United manager on our hands. Someone who appeared as a match summariser on Sky Sports Saturday earlier today, and made a point of giving the Leeds salute when on camera. I could barely believe my eyes. Now, that’s a real candidate for the next Mr. Leeds United.

So, for Evans’ sake – and for the sake of all of us and our turbulent love affair with football’s craziest club – let’s please see it through this time and go marching on together, back towards the top, behind a man who – given an even chance – just might make it all happen for us once again.

Happy Birthday Johnny Giles, the Greatest Manager Leeds Never Had – by Rob Atkinson

Johnny Giles - the Brains

Johnny Giles – the Brains

Another day, another birthday celebration for a United legend. This time it’s Johnny Giles, 75 today and famously one half of the best central midfield partnership of the last century. If Billy Bremner was the heart of Don Revie’s peerless team of stars, then surely John Giles was the brains and the vision, dictating and switching play, spraying passes all over the park with laser-guided accuracy and combining with Bremner in a way that many described as “telepathic”.

Johnny Giles was recruited by the wily Don Revie from under the nose of the great Matt Busby at Man U. He had shown his quality there, despite never really being played in the position where he could best influence matters on the field. Even at Leeds, his transformation from good winger to great schemer came about almost by accident, injury to the existing midfield general Bobby Collins influencing Revie’s thinking. Man U’s loss though was most definitely Leeds United’s gain over more than a decade as they rose to the top. Don Revie referred to his capture of Giles from Man U for a mere £33,000 as “robbery with violence”. Busby called it simply “my greatest mistake”.

Giles brought so much to Leeds United that it’s difficult to find the space to describe his impact. Put in on-field control of the play, he pulled strings and evolved strategy as each game progressed. His range of passing was legendary – TV commentators used to admire his latest pinpoint delivery by comparing it to the appropriate golf shot (that was the six iron). His ability on the ball, whether passing or shooting, was well-known and much admired; Gilesy was the acknowledged master.

What was often overlooked by the uninitiated was his steely efficiency in looking after himself in the warlike atmosphere of combat at home and abroad. Peter Lorimer tells the story of how Giles inflicted summary justice on a Turkish player who had persistently fouled him in the away leg of a European tie, and was then daft enough to crow in his face at the final whistle. John was miffed, and advised the Turk that he would see him in a fortnight at Elland Road. This was no idle threat.

Two weeks later, Giles asked Norman Hunter to drop the game’s first pass a couple of yards short – what is known as the “suicide ball” in football circles. Norman did as he was asked, the Turk eagerly jumped in to dispute possession – and Giles pounced, leaving his foot in to reduce his tormentor of the previous game to a grievously-injured heap, swiftly off on an urgent journey to the nearest hospital.

After the game, there was some puzzlement over how promptly the ambulance had arrived to assist Giles’ victim. The Elland Road switchboard operative swore blind that Giles had booked it for him before kick-off, something Johnny always denies. But the message was stark: mess with Giles or any other Leeds player at your peril. They looked after themselves and each other, and the bond thus forged endures to this day.

When Don Revie left for the England job, it was an open secret that he had nominated John Giles as his successor. The board were set fair to act on this recommendation, before backing down for fear, it is said, of upsetting Billy Bremner. It was an appointment that clearly should have been made, to ensure the kind of continuity Liverpool enjoyed after Bill Shankly stepped down. Who knows what the subsequent history of the club might have been? Giles had already had managerial experience with the Republic of Ireland and he went on to great success with the revival of West Bromwich Albion. In the event, he played on at Leeds for one more season under Brian Clough and then Jimmy Armfield. His last game for United should have crowned a glorious career with the top honour in club football. Sadly, thanks to the atrociously crooked display of referee Michel Kitabdjian for the 1975 European Cup Final in Paris, this was not to be.

Johnny Giles went on to enjoy a successful career after Leeds United, both as a manager and later in the media, where his eloquence and vast knowledge of the game served him well and earned him enormous respect in his native Ireland and further afield. He has gone down in Leeds United history as one of the true legends of the club – a great among greats. In terms of value transfers for Leeds, he has to be the top capture, despite the rival claims of Bobby Collins, Lucas Radebe and Gordon Strachan. It was a thief’s bargain, possibly the buy of the century.

Thanks for the memories, Johnny Giles, and a very happy birthday indeed.