Tag Archives: Doncaster Rovers

The Day We Lost Billy Bremner, a Superstar to Eclipse Any Today – by Rob Atkinson

The more I see of football these days, with all of its allegedly “world class” stars, the more I think of the guy who scored the first goal I ever saw Leeds United score – in the flesh, so to speak. His hair was red and fuzzy and his body black and blue, and his name was Billy Bremner. God alone knows what he’d be worth today – sadly, he hasn’t been around since that awful time, 21 years ago exactly, when football was deprived of a legend and Leeds United began to come to terms with the loss of a man who embodied everything that the Last Champions were all about, at their very, very best.

On the 7th December 1997, two days short of his 55th birthday, our greatest captain Billy Bremner died following a heart attack after a bout of pneumonia. The Leeds United world was plunged into shock and mourning at the death of a true hero, and the game’s great and good attended his funeral in Edlington. The tiny church, packed to the rafters with household names, was resounding testimony to the respect in which the wee man was held by all who knew the legend. Old comrades and old foes alike were there to say goodbye to an icon who had left us tragically young, but who had emblazoned his name across an era not wanting for stars.

Image Scoring for Leeds

Billy Bremner was quite simply a phenomenon. From the earliest days of his Leeds United career, once he had recovered from a bout of home-sickness for his native Stirling in Scotland, he was an automatic selection for the first team, unless injury or suspension ruled him out. He was a warrior, despite his diminutive size, but he was blessed with all the other attributes needed for a central midfielder on the battlegrounds of the English First Division. Skill, courage, “workrate” – as it’s known these days – were combined with sheer guts, tenacity, will to win – and that indefinable x-factor that ultimately set him apart from other gifted performers. A ball-winner, a talented user of the ball once won, a relentless harrier of the opposition for the full ninety minutes plus of each gruelling game – and a scorer of great goals too. Bremner was a big occasion man, a serial winner of semi-finals (Man U being his favourite victims), a man who unfailingly stepped up to the mark when his team-mates and fans needed him. He was utterly self-effacing in the interests of what was best for the team. Side before self, every time was his motto, and he lived up to those words for as long as he was involved in football.

Some called him dirty. And he was as capable as most other combative central midfielders of a bit of feisty skullduggery – but to define him by his occasional sins would be short-sighted in the extreme and would display, moreover, a lack of awareness of exactly what his game was all about. A consummate passer of the ball – with the neat reverse pass a speciality, flummoxing and wrong-footing many an international-class opponent – Bremner was the epitome of Don Revie‘s Leeds United, a team who said “If you want to play, we’ll out-play you; if you want to battle, we’ll out-battle you.” They usually out-thought and out-psyched the opposition as well. Many a visiting player was artfully allowed a glimpse as they passed by of the sign on the home team dressing room wall at Elland Road. “Keep Fighting”, it said – which was what Leeds United, guided by Don Revie off the field and Billy Bremner on it, did – and they did it better than just about anybody else.

Image Leeds United hero

The Sunday Times perhaps summed-up Billy Bremner as well and as succinctly as anyone. “Ten stone of barbed wire” they called him – the image of a spiky, perilous bundle of energy conjured up in five telling words. I saw an old clip on YouTube recently, grainy black and white footage of some or other game back in the day, and there had been an incident that set the players en masse at each other’s throats. Bremner – unusually – must have been some way off when the flashpoint occurred, for he was nowhere to be seen with the melée already well established. And then, from the right-hand margin of the screen, came this white-clad, unmistakable figure, tiny but fierce, hurtling towards the centre of the conflict with the desire to weigh in on behalf of the team writ large in every line of his being. He was a frenetic mixture of Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil, plunging into the fray like some one-man whirlwind, wreaking his own inimitable brand of havoc. Bremner was famous, even notorious, for this – for his battle-cry of “cut one of us, and we all bleed.” Billy shed blood in the United cause – usually, it must be said, not his own. But a thug he was not, and any team, any time, anywhere in the world would break the bank to have a Billy Bremner in his prime among their number. Fortunately for Leeds United, he loved the club and served it for sixteen years, becoming synonymous with the famous Whites of Elland Road. As Leeds fans, we could nominate no better candidate for the honorific title of “Mr. Leeds United”. Only the great John Charles, operating in a much less successful era at Leeds and destined to win his medals on foreign fields, could come anywhere near.

My second match as a Leeds United supporter was the European Cup semi-final, first leg against CF Barcelona, Johann Cruyff, Johann Neeskens and all. Those two Dutch masters, with all the other glitterati of the Catalans’ world-class line-up were expected to have too much for a United side on the cusp of just dipping over the hill.  The previous Saturday, I’d made my first visit to Elland Road and had seen us lose to Liverpool. I was all agog at the atmosphere, and didn’t really care about the result – I just wanted more.

BBC Commentary, Leeds Utd v Barcelona 9.4.75

So it was that my first ever Leeds United goal came to be scored by Billy Bremner himself, the greatest player in the greatest team United ever had. A long ball from Johnny Giles, headed down by Joe Jordan, found King Billy in enough space on the edge of the area at the South Stand end. He measured the situation, took aim and rifled the ball superbly, well wide of the helpless keeper, into the top left-hand corner. The din was deafening, like nothing I’d ever heard before, and rarely since. “Elland Road erupts” intoned David Coleman for the BBC, when he could make himself heard. The image of the small, red-headed giant belting that ball home will live with me to my last day. I’ve always been proud that my first goal was scored by King Billy. I feel as though, in a funny way, I own that goal.

Image of the significance of the occasion. “Nine men and Billy….we’ve got nine men and Billy!“, they sang, loud, proud and raucous. “Billy Bremner’s barmy army” got many a refrain as well. The fans had said farewell to the Captain of the Crew in a manner hugely identifiable with the man himself and with the fighting traditions of the great side he led with such distinction. As far as these things can be, it was deeply fitting, and those who remembered Billy gave a knowing nod of appreciation.

RIP  Billy Bremner. Departed far too soon, and greatly missed still. It’s unlikely we’ll ever have another quite like you.

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Coach Rösler “To be Stripped of German Nationality” Following Leeds Penalty Debacle? – by Rob Atkinson

Chris Wood's penalty, spotted in low Earth orbit yesterday

Chris Wood’s penalty, spotted in low Earth orbit yesterday

Leeds United‘s ignominious exit from the Capital One Cup at Doncaster on Thursday night seems likely to have far-reaching consequences way beyond the effects on Yorkshire’s leading club this season, with dire sanctions being proposed against the Leeds Head Coach Uwe Rösler.

United’s failure to progress hung on an abysmal performance in the penalty shoot-out following a draw after extra time. It is well-known in football circles that progress is the rule rather than the exception for teams coached by Germans in these sudden death tie-breakers. German efficiency in penalty competitions is of legendary proportions, as Gareth Southgate, Chris Waddle and sundry other defeated English footballers could testify.

However, on this occasion, the Head Coach’s Teutonic origins were of no help to his team, who displayed all the deadly accuracy and cool nerve of a bunch of baby hippos trying to perfect an ice-skating routine. First Sam Byram and then Chris Wood lashed penalties over the bar, with the Doncaster keeper sagging against a goalpost, helpless with laughter. Wood’s penalty, in particular, seemed to be headed into orbit, though rumours that it caused alarm aboard the International Space Station are thought to be nearly as wide of the mark as the penalty kick itself.

All of this has been received with a distinct lack of enthusiasm back in Rösler’s native land. Germans rightly pride themselves on their legendary accuracy from the penalty spot – they even have a regular football publication called Elfmeter, the German word for “penalty kick”. The fact that a team coached by a German could show such an alarming lack of ability when it comes to putting a ball somewhere in the 192 square feet of space under the bar and between the posts, is seen as genuinely shameful. There are, allegedly, even calls for Rösler to be stripped of his German nationality and regarded henceforth as English – the ultimate in nationalist insults, with the possible exception of being branded Polish.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself a passionate football fan who has been known to listen to games while on official business in the Bundestag, was tight-lipped when asked to comment on the matter of Rösler’s ongoing status as a German citizen. “This is a matter for the relevant department of government”, she said, through tight lips. “However, I can certainly say that Herr Rösler would not be welcome anywhere near my team, FC Energie Cottbus. Now, don’t bother me – go and ask your Herr Cameron whether he follows Aston Villa, Burnley or West Ham this week.”

The Auswärtiges Amt, or German Foreign Office, was somewhat more helpful, pointing out that a German citizen who voluntarily serves in a foreign army (over and above compulsory military service) from 1 January 2000 may lose German citizenship unless permission is obtained from the German government. Their spokesperson went on: “This Department is now looking into the situation of Herr Rösler and his involvement with what is known as the YRA, or ‘Yorkshire’s Republican Army‘. A further statement may be issued when those investigations are complete.”

Franz Beckenbauer is 94.

It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times, for Leeds Starlet Cook   –   by Rob Atkinson

 
For any lad that grows up supporting his local club, nursing the dream of one day turning out in that sacred shirt – and who actually makes that dream come true – there can be no sweeter moment than that precious first goal for the team he loves. Tonight, in the humble surroundings of Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium, that longed-for moment arrived for Lewis Cook, when he stabbed home a rebound of the Donny ‘keeper to notch his first senior goal for Leeds United.

Sadly, the fairytale would have no happy ending. Leeds had already been pegged back thanks to Scott Wootton‘s agricultural challenge in the United area, leading to a Rovers penalty that stand-in guardian Ross Turnbull narrowly failed to save. And then came Cook’s moment of misery to erase his earlier joy. Surging down the right on a mazy run, the youngster took a slightly heavy touch, overstretched in his attempt to keep possession – and walked for a resulting foul that looked even worse than it was. Thanks to that mad moment, it would be ten-man Leeds for the rest of the piece, and a Yorkshire derby cup tie was ruined as a spectacle. 

The Doncaster fans in the crowd, eager to see the home team compass the demise of local favourites Leeds, were suitably encouraged and filled with hope – but for the remainder of ninety minutes plus extra time, Rovers showed no real sign of being able to dispatch their numerically weakened opponents. Indeed, for much of the rest of the tie, it was Leeds looking marginally more effective going forward. But in what became a war of attrition, neither side was able to land the telling blow, and the game trudged its inevitable way to deadlock and the dreaded shoot-out.

Ironically, Leeds’ two eventual lottery losers were the second half substitutes who had done most to rekindle some hope among the Leeds faithful that United could yet emerge winners. Chris Wood and Sam Byram had given an extra dimension to United’s stubborn rearguard action, and both showed plenty going forward to suggest how vital they will be in the season ahead. But their two penalties in the shootout – Byram’s only mildly awful, but Woods’ truly abysmal – cost Leeds a real chance of victory,  an unlikely chance that had been so ruggedly earned in the ten-man struggle following Cook’s first-half indiscretion.

So, Leeds are out of this competition again, to lower league opposition again, with ten men after having taken the lead, again – and in another derby as last season’s farce in Bradford was reprised only a little less farcically in Doncaster. And, really, what the hell. We were no more likely to win the League Cup than Rovers are now.

Few United fans will mourn such an early exit. It was not the defeat that rankled, more the manner of it. Another long struggle with ten men, with energy cruelly sapped ahead of a far more important game at the weekend. Head Coach Uwe Rösler had spoken prior to the match of taking the game to Rovers, an approach that is “in our DNA”. Fair enough, but it is the suicidal part of United’s genetic makeup that needs to be addressed, that fatal tendency to give away daft penalties and lose players to red cards through rash tackles. Herr Rösler has his work cut out to eliminate such innate, self-destructive traits. 

After the dust has settled on a night to forget, we must spare a thought for young Lewis Cook, for whom a magical moment, eagerly awaited for literally all his life, was so swiftly eclipsed by a rash and reckless lunge he’ll long regret. Fortunately, there is ample time and opportunity for redemption where one of United’s brightest prospects is concerned.

Lewis Cook undeniably has the talent and character that ensures he can and will bounce back, to forget tonight’s temporary woe and enjoy many more of the best of times, in the Leeds shirt he promises – transfer follies permitting – to grace for many years to come. 

Goalden Boy Billy Sharp: Bound for Leeds United at Last? – by Rob Atkinson

...and you'd do for Leeds, mate

…and you’d do for Leeds, mate

The article that follows first saw light of day last September, when it seemed possible that Billy Sharp might be a loan-window option for Leeds. Sadly, it didn’t happen – but as the text shows, I was all for it at the time. Now, the Sharp to Leeds rumours are back, and stronger than ever. Could Leeds United finally get their man – the right man to provide the goals we’ll surely need in the season ahead?

Never one to get carried away by mere Twitter rumours, I am nevertheless fairly happy not to say excited at the loan window prospect – however remote – of Leeds United signing Southampton’s Billy Sharp, who spent most of last season on loan at Forest, but who certainly deserves a bigger move than that.

This is one that’s been mentioned in the past, and it’s always seemed like a good fit for all parties concerned, yet it’s never quite happened.  At first glance, Billy does seem an unlikely striker signing for United – he’s only 27 for a start, and we have historically looked to the superannuated end of the market – though things have improved in this respect under Brian McDermott.  And he scores goals.  My, does he score goals.  At Championship level, he’s a pretty reliable provider of that most valuable and sought-after commodity.  Billy Sharp just loves to hit the back of the net.

Any player – and most especially any striker – joining Leeds United needs to have one quality over and above the obviously desirable playing skills, fitness and application.  He needs to be strong-minded, a good character who’s resilient enough to step up to the demands of playing for a very demanding and sometimes unforgiving crowd.  This is a test that’s been failed by some pretty decent-looking performers over the years.  Elland Road has been something of a graveyard for strikers who have arrived with big reputations, but have failed to deliver and have ended up slinking off, beaten and broken men, into anonymous obscurity – or even worse, in the tragic case of Billy Paynter, into the first team at Doncaster Rovers.

Billy Sharp though seems to be a man of different mettle.  It’s impossible to comprehend a more tragic and shattering blow for a parent than the death of a baby.  Sharp, and his girlfriend Jade, suffered this awful calamity in November 2011 and the striker could readily have been excused if he’d felt unable to play professional football in the immediate aftermath of such a shattering bereavement.  Yet a mere two days after the death of his baby son Luey, Sharp played against Middlesborough and scored a brilliant volley, raising his Doncaster shirt to reveal the message “That’s For You, Son” (Pictured above). Thankfully, a more than usually understanding referee decided not to book the emotional Sharp, when normally a yellow card would have been applicable. Such a very courageous and professional response to tragedy speaks of a very strong character indeed, and this would seem to be the type of man that many a club would seek to have among their playing staff, not only for footballing reasons, but for the example of courage in adversity that will be set by such amazing resilience and fortitude.

I don’t know if Sharp will end up in a Leeds United shirt, but I’d love it if he did. He’s demonstrably what people used to call “The Right Stuff”, and his goal-scoring credentials are fully in order too.  I could see him being a massive part of any play-off push this season, and really it’s good to be linked with any player of this character and calibre. Twitter rumours towards the end of last season said he’s “in talks and a deal looks likely”. Well, we know that these stories float about and are often without foundation, but they seem to be surfacing again – and it’s definitely a case of fingers crossed for this one.  It might just be a match made in heaven, and the kind of signing which could see us challenging for a long-overdue return to the top table of English football.

The sticking-point could be wages – Sharp is rumoured to be on £15000 a week at Southampton, and it’s likely that the Saints would be reluctant to subsidise any of this. Often though, doing a deal is all about reaching an agreeable compromise even when one party is initially unwilling to play ball.

So, almost a year on, the Billy Sharp story still refuses to go away. The equation seems simple enough; Leeds need a hit-man, Sharp wants to return to Yorkshire, he’s the right age, the price looks right – could it finally all come together??

Fingers crossed here.

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.

Donny Fans Clutch at Straws as Leeds Cruise to Easy Win – by Rob Atkinson

Image

Three-sy does it for The Beast

One of the perennial bonuses of a nice solid away win at one of Yorkshire’s lesser clubs is the comical, toxic fallout via Twitter and other social media – as the fans of whichever pit-village team it is we’ve put to the sword go into a bitter meltdown of tears, tantrums and recriminations, spiced with protestations of how they’d been the better team and were – wait for it – “unlucky”.  Doncaster yesterday was a typical example of this as their deluded supporters drank deep of the bitter whine produced by the sourest of grapes.

These were the kind of balanced observations you get from having a chip on both shoulders.  The more you read – and it really was worth a good old peruse of the Twittersphere in the wake of yesterday’s routine 3-0 stroll – the funnier it got.  If you gave it an hour, you could actually feel the health benefits kicking in.  The scientific basis of the theories surrounding the endorphins produced by hearty laughter must be beyond all doubt.  After sixty minutes or so trawling those dank corners of the internet where Donny fans could be found chewing away at the virtual carpet, I felt positively wonderful.  They really do build themselves up for these meetings with Big Brother from up the road – but then if it all goes wrong, they simply can’t handle it – and it’s just so funny to see the teddy bears come flying out of those paltry few thousand cots.  Laughter really is the best medicine.

A few gems:  “We played by far the better football”.  “The goal was miles onside and if it had counted things would of (sic) been different”.  “We dominated the match but they had a goalscorer.”  And much, much more in this bottomless pit of comedy gold.  All of them did their little bit to prove the one central truth in the relationship between Leeds United and those lost souls who support other clubs in Yorkshire: namely that they hate us with a passion, while we can hardly be bothered to notice them – unless we have to soil our studs with the indignity of actually playing them.

This is a deeply painful fact of life for your average envious pariah in Bratfud, Donny, Cleckhuddersfax or in that city of warring pigs, Sheffield.  Barnsley, too – they will roll up at Elland Road next weekend suffering from an appalling run that sees them rooted to the bottom of the league – but if they can eke out a win (as they usually do in their Cup Final), it’ll be banquets and open-top bus parades agogo, with souvenir clogs, whippets and flat caps on sale and doing a roaring trade.

Barnsley aside, the intense need to do well against Leeds has often worked against us in the past; our record in Yorkshire derbies is hardly the best.  But it’s not too healthy for the tiny but defiant likes of Huddersfield either – they tend to psyche themselves up for the Golden Occasion, all passion and hard, unstinting effort, roared on by their desperate fans – and if they win, they then embark on a miserable run, knackered by the superhuman effort it took to beat the Damned United.  Look at Huddersfield’s results since that 3-2 win over Leeds.  Classic case of “after the Lord Mayor’s Show”.

I’ve often said that, if United can overcome this frailty against inferior but massively determined opposition, they will prosper.  Yesterday’s win at Donny, apart from reducing their hopeful home crowd to bitter tears and tantrums at the scale of the defeat, went a long way to confirming this.  On the back of generally improved form lately, United produced a classic away “derby” performance against motivated opposition, taking the lead, weathering the inevitable storm without undue alarm and then smoothly going through the gears after the introduction of a midfield enforcer in Brown.  The two late goals emphasised the effectiveness of the approach rather than flattering Leeds; they simply had too much all-round for a committed but out-classed Doncaster side.

If a similar display can be produced against a fired-up Barnsley side next weekend – and this is a game which may well take place on the back of some long-overdue good news for the club – then surely three more points can be expected to send everybody with yellow white and blue blood coursing through their veins into Christmas in a state of good humour bordering on exultation.  We’ve said it before – we’ve dared to dream before – but the rest of this season might just be the best time to be a Leeds United fan for a generation.

MOT