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Marching On Together
Tag Archives: England
Without any doubt, the revelation of the Leeds United season so far has been a young man called Ben White, a lad with no previous experience above League One level, having made zero appearances for his parent club Brighton. The challenge at Leeds for this comparative novice was a stern one. Signing on loan for the season, he came in the Elland Road players’ entrance almost as the iconic Pontus Jansson was making his exit with a shock move to Brentford. Among the United faithful, eyebrows were raised so high that they threatened to wind up on the backs of their owners’ necks. Teeth were gnashed and clothes rent asunder in biblical displays of grief and dismay. Pontus was gone, and we had this tyro no mark in his place, an almost comical proposition that had a section of the Whites support writing off Leeds’ promotion chances before a ball had been kicked. Oh, we of little faith.
Now, just nineteen games into a season that has seen White play every single minute of league action for Leeds so far, the doubters are having to gorge themselves on humble pie, to the extent that there may well be no room for the Christmas turkey in just a few short weeks. Mostly, they are happy to do this, because seeing this young colossus form a vital part of the Championship’s best defence has been a joyous experience. Bloggers such as yours truly have had to reach deeper and deeper into their bag of superlatives each week, and still it’s difficult to overstate just how integral to United’s success Ben White has been. I’ve seen him described as a latter-day Paul “Rolls Royce” Madeley, and it would be difficult around these parts to come up with a more flattering comparison than that. Others see a resemblance to Alan Hansen of Liverpool fame, still others point to the young Jonathan Woodgate, who saw at first hand last weekend just what United and White could do, as his Middlesbrough charges were swatted aside 4-0.
My own view is that White, who will doubtless face far sterner tests than the Boro men managed to set last Saturday, may well end up in a category entirely by himself – he has the potential to become truly peerless. Ben seems to have the lot – skill, composure, tenacity and that innate ability to read the game which is given only to the special few. My nearest comparison out of all the footballers I’ve seen in my 44 years as a fan, would be Franz Beckenbauer, the legendary Bayern Munich and West Germany icon of the seventies. In fact, if you could just graft a bit of moral compass onto der Kaiser, who was not above a bit of skulduggery as Leeds United fans are only too well aware, then you’d have a pretty close match. Ben White deserves to be mentioned in such company, he’s simply that good. He can play for and captain England, he can lift a World Cup, he can win titles, cups and Champions Leagues. Absolutely nothing is beyond this lad.
All of which is why I would say to Leeds United: whatever else you do recruitment-wise over the next couple of transfer windows, move heaven and earth to get Ben White. There is no price too high to make his capture anything but a thief’s bargain; whatever you pay, you could at least double your money five years down the line. It’s a Rio Ferdinand type scenario, buy for £18m, sell for £30m plus – but the return would inevitably be higher still. Never mind Financial Fair Play; dig deep and do whatever you have to do in order to get this player.
You know it makes sense.
There are no easy games in the Championship, as any windswept and cynical pundit will tell you; it’s a highly competitive, dog-eat-dog league, a marathon and not a sprint, a nine month war of attrition where every point is won only via the lavish expenditure of blood, sweat and tears. Add in the fact that the division’s undoubted aristocrats, Leeds United, bring out the very best in their opponents due to the fact that the Whites are every other team’s bi-seasonal Cup Final, and you can begin to comprehend why the men from Elland Road are not striding miles clear at the top of the league. Even so, United are right up there, only two points off the top and rightly ruing the three daft defeats so far this term that have stopped them turning their regular domination of games into an even healthier position in the table.
So far, so good then, as we head into yet another International break. It’s quite timely, really, as the injuries are starting to niggle a bit, with skipper Liam Cooper having to withdraw from the Scotland squad to nurse a troublesome groin. The two week hiatus in the league programme might also nudge the likes of Jamie Shackleton (hamstring), Adam Forshaw (hip) and Ezgjan Alioski (side) nearer to a first team return. And it’s a fortnight-long chunk out of Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah’s regrettable absence, as he recovers from what looks like a medium term abdominal muscle problem.
The United path to promotion never runs smooth; it’s in the DNA of the club to do things the hard way. But maybe, just maybe, there’s good reason to be cautiously optimistic about the Whites’ league programme in the period following this two week festival of representative football. The reason behind such an upbeat attitude is to be found in the fact that, so far this season, Leeds have faced mainly rival teams towards the top end of the league, still managing to remain in a challenging position. When league competition resumes, though, the picture changes slightly, with United facing four teams currently placed 21st, 17th, 22nd and 19th. Meanwhile, league leaders West Bromwich Albion have to face the sides currently 2nd, 4th, 7th and 8th – clearly there is the potential for Leeds to pick up points against notionally weaker sides while simultaneously the Baggies have to face some of the cream of the division, including Preston North End, who sit in second a mere one goal ahead of Leeds who are tied on the same points total.
Dog-eat-dog always means there will be losers; teams in the top four who have to play each other face the mathematical certainty that points will be dropped, and it’s likely that none of United’s rivals will be able to reap maximum rewards from a difficult run. So, if Leeds can take full advantage of their relatively less demanding quartet of games, then the prospect of creating a nice cushion at the summit of the table must be a realistic one.
Of course, this is Leeds United, which means things probably won’t work out according to such blatant wishful thinking. On paper, of course, there’s no reason why our heroes shouldn’t take full advantage of the unusually promising hand the fixture computer has dealt them. But sadly, football isn’t played on paper, and our old friend the Imp of the Perverse could well dash our top of the league aspirations, as he’s done so many times before. As ever, we just have to wait and hope, with fingers firmly crossed for an improved injury list and twelve lovely league points from those four “easier” games.
Marching On Together
‘I’m a gonna make a fuss, I’m a gonna make a holler,
‘Cause I ain’t got no team for the summer I can a’foller…’
It might be sunny. It might not be. Whatever, it’s raining in your heart. You’re in that dead zone. You know. The one where the Championship season has finished – and in disappointment – again. The play-offs are over. The annual date ends in an odd number so there’s no World Cup or European Championships to feed your addiction.
So what are you going to do? Other than scour the internet daily while the agents are busy and rumours abound about your players. You of course have your own ideas about which Leeds players should be ditched and which positions need strengthening. But you know that you’ll have to wait until the big boys have done their transfer business and maybe settled on their twenty-five men squads before the trickle down will happen and your team can scrap for the pickings, or maybe land some promising young players on loan.
Meanwhile there will always be rumours of a takeover if you’re a Leeds fan. The press just love inciting and milking them, and then glorying in the daily confusion thus engendered. But you are hardened to this. You’ve endured enough TOMAs in the past. It’s what’s happening with the team that concerns you most. And frustratingly you have to put that curiosity on hold.
So you come home from work tired and with an urge to throw a microwave meal down your neck and get out to the pub early so it’ll be quiet in there; and you can be in peace to work out your Championship odds and predictions for the new season. You need to nail a definitive top six teams for your accumulator. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never been successful before – the studied interest, intense scrutiny, and the possible anticipation of being right for once are the thing. Of course Leeds are always in the list despite the fact that you suspect such bias might have been a cause of your undoing in previous seasons. They just couldn’t not be. And now a recent third place finish has strengthened your optimism despite your complete denial of the frustration and disappointment at the end of the 2018-19 season tempered only slightly by Derby’s apposite demise in the final. You refuse to enter into debate with fellow sufferers, and instead only want to look forward.
‘Sit down,’ she says. ‘Your tea’s nearly ready. It’s shepherd’s pie. You’ll find a beer and an iced glass in the living room, and we’ll eat on our knees so we can watch the TV.’
Flummoxed you think, beer = tick; home made meal of shepherd’s pie = check, but TV? Not bloody soaps again surely? So you wander in to the living room and sit down consoled slightly by the cold bottle of lager on the coffee table followed by herself who says, ‘We’re going to be a proper couple and watch something together.’ She sees your downcast look and the possibility that you’re going to say, ‘But I was off out to the…’ and she adds, ‘It’s football.’
Your eyes light up. Has she dug out a re-run from The Glory Years? Or is there an international tournament on you didn’t know about?
‘Women’s football,’ she adds. ‘World Cup no less.’
Your heart sinks. Women can’t play football. It’s not sexist: just a fact. They’re bound to sprain their ankles if they run too fast like they do in the films, or worse, cry if they got a ball blasted into their faces. And what if their make-up gets smudged if it rains? Mind you that could equally apply to a few Premier League prima donnas. Oh well, you sigh inwardly with resignation, at least it’s football. And it’ll probably only be thirty minutes for each half. Women won’t be fit enough to do the full ninety so there’ll still be time for the pub.
So you watch dutifully. And gradually have to admit that there’s some skill there, so much so that at times you want to forget yourself and get involved, even though it’s women playing, and yet you do.
‘What do you think?’ she asks at half-time.
‘All right,’ you reply condescendingly. ‘They certainly know the rules and how to pass and that,’ you trail off, and with fresh inspiration, add, ‘but there’s no real contact happening.’
She nods noncommittally as you continue to watch. But curiously you’re ready for more on another night. And your words come back to haunt you when you witness the England Lionesses, who you now support, face Cameroon! The brutality! My God, the opposition was cynical. Not many Premiership players would’ve fancied facing that. And where was a strong referee when you needed one? But the girls took it all in their stride.
Not long after you’re already in front of the TV of an evening with the pause button active and urging your missus to get a move on and schlep her arse in sharpish to watch the action. When she looks pleased at this you realise that it could be a great result: not the game, but her finally taking an interest in football.
And then the heartbreak of England going out to the USA having been denied a goal for a contentious offside and then having failed to convert a late penalty. ‘Just like the bloody men’s team!’ you moan with genuine disappointment. You’ve said the right thing. Though she’s slightly down, not almost hysterical like you after the offside decision, she gives you a warm kiss.
But there can always be a bright dawn even after the most challenging disappointments. Pre-season is underway and Bielsa’s staying. Time to turn your attention to loftier matters and the LUFC transfer comings and goings and speculations and to get your accumulator on after all that deliberation. And to admit that inside, the Women’s World Cup filled a great sporting hole. They may be women but it is football after all. And the great thing was – they were fit! In all senses! And you could ogle them while your missus looked on appreciatively, and if she caught you looking too closely or doing too many replays with the remote you could claim it was to check out the incident, or appreciate that bit of skill etc. And some of the players did have long eyelashes, or wore make-up, or had their hair tied back in interesting ways – not, you noticed, too dissimilar from some Premiership players you’d seen recently. And Gareth Bale’s topknot? Well at least it hadn’t caught on with the women yet.
Anyway you couldn’t hold the women’s appearances against them could you? That would be sexist. You were interested in the game not their looks. Something you tended to point out at length to the missus when she questioned how many close up replays you needed to watch.
In conclusion you decide that the experiment was a win-win situation. She was starting to appreciate your love of football, and trying to join in with you in the enjoyment of watching it. She’d finally ‘got it’. That is, you and your obsession, and you could now be obsessed together. So with a slightly suppressed smile and inner warmth you think why not? Hang the expense. It’s time to push the boat out and feed your other half’s new interest.
And with that in mind you get your debit card out and prepare to pay for… hold it…two tickets for you and her to witness your beloved Leeds take on the might of Guiseley FC at Nethermoor. She’ll be over the moon. Live football and the two of you there to soak in the atmosphere, with an added bonus: it’ll a lot easier and quicker to get pies there at half time.
Many thanks to talented wordsmith PATRICK HOGAN for yet another quality contribution to Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. MOT
The likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are not the most likely participants in next season’s Championship, but other current PSG might be beating a path to the Elland Road players’ entrance if there’s anything in the Twitterstorm surrounding possible investment by Qatar Sports Institute in Leeds United.
For the time being, it’s all smoke and mirrors. But I’ve been dreaming of linking Mbappe to Leeds for ages now – so ‘ave it.
More to follow, without a doubt.
It was the third Steel City Derby scoreless draw on the trot, much to the deflated disappointment of the Sky TV commentators who required a Blunts win to see Leeds United drop out of the Championship top two.
Instead, they saw a gritty if punchless performance from the Wendies, who managed to blunt Sharp’s cutting edge whilst stifling the threat from elsewhere in the away team’s attack. The whole game was more perspiration than inspiration and, in the end, a draw seemed a fair result.
For Leeds fans, this was highly satisfactory, putting a two point cushion between themselves and the play off pack. Once again, the Whites’ fate is in their own hands, and their challenge must now be to reproduce the Premier class performance that saw West Bromwich Albion sent packing last Friday evening.
There was some amusement, too, in listening to the morose men behind the mics as they strove to take some comfort from what was a disappointing night for them. All in all, as goalless draws go, this one put the cherry on the icing of one of Leeds United’s better weekends.
There were so many highlights from Leeds United‘s sparkling demolition of West Bromwich Albion, that it’s really difficult to pick out any notably outstanding element of what was the classic “statement victory”. There were a couple of coolly-taken goals from Iceman striker Patrick Bamford, there was another defensive juggernaut performance from skipper Liam Cooper, and of course we had Pablo Hernandez, our own Spanish wizard, back to his best with a sublime, world-class strike and so much more as he twinkled brightly all over the pitch.
But the abiding memory I will take away from a highly memorable evening is that of young Tyler Roberts, late of the Sandwell parish but now very definitely Leeds, striding forward from an unaccustomed deeper position to cause havoc in the defensive ranks of his hapless former club.
Tyler was a revelation on the night. Surging through midfield and beating baffled Baggies with sinuous, snake-hipped ease, he was a continual threat to West Brom and helped himself to a couple of juicy assists for the Iceman’s brace of goals. The first of these reminded me of Kemar Roofe‘s round the corner pass to Gjanni Alioski to score at Norwich early in the season. Roberts’ ball through to Bamford was part of a beautifully-worked goal that began with an intelligent ball into the area from Mateusz Klich, and was finished beautifully by our number 9 as he held off a challenge from behind to finish clinically.
On this form, Tyler Roberts should have a major part to play in the run-in to the end of the season. His work rate and decision-making on Friday were different class and, on a night when every man in a white shirt did himself immense credit, Tyler emerged as the clear Man of the Match.
Honourable mention too for Alioski, who combines tireless running with that annoying nuisance value which is so handy in demoralising the opposition. The Macedonian Marvel deserved his last-gasp clincher, put on a plate for him by sub Jamie Shackleton after more good work from Pablo and Klich.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of all about last night’s performance was its inherent topsy-turvydom, with the Whites murdering a WBA side that had won nine of its previous ten away games, just days after falling to defeat against a QPR team that had lost seven on the spin. Go figure. But the upshot was that all is forgiven from Tuesday night, in the sheer joy of seeing the real Leeds turn up to send a promotion contender packing.
The sixty-four thousand dollar question now must be: with a tough game at Bristol City coming up next weekend, can United replicate this level and standard of performance? If they’re to do that, it may well be because Tyler Roberts has now found both his niche in the team and the secret of his maximum effectiveness in this new, deeper role.
In which case, Leeds United might just have discovered the golden key to the Premier League‘s Promised Land.
If Leeds United can just see Tuesday’s fixture at Queens Park Rangers as an opportunity to be seized, rather than an obstacle to be wary of, then they could and should go into next weekend on top of the pile and conscious of having their fate in their own hands.
Even a draw would see Leeds leapfrog Sheffield United into the automatic promotion places, a mere point behind Norwich City. Both the Blades and the Canaries have put together fine, consistent runs and their exalted league positions are no fluke. On the other hand, just as Leeds are surely due to click into gear and give somebody a proper leathering, so must it be high time for a wheel or two to come off at Carrow Road and/or Bramall Lane.
As I wrote earlier, Leeds will need to be on their mettle against a bit of a wounded beast in Rangers. The Hoops have lost seven on the trot, and a lot will depend on how the game starts as to whether QPR are encouraged or demoralised. If Leeds can start fast and dominate possession from the off, as they’re quite capable of doing, then Rangers heads might drop – although that sounds like wishful thinking and probably is.
The fact remains that Leeds United have a clear run at top spot tomorrow, a chance to lay down a marker as the season gets to its business end. It will be Rangers’ third game in eight days, whereas Leeds had ten days off prior to Saturday’s defeat of Bolton at Elland Road. These are all good, positive vibes and normally they’d reduce me to a quivering mass of pessimism – but there’s nothing normal about this Championship League
Besides, after my earlier article pointing out that Leeds will need to avoid complacency despite Rangers’ bad run, some of the responses have lifted my mood towards cautious optimism. There’s some wise old heads among the readers of this blog, and many of them seem quite upbeat about United’s West London appointment – so who am I to pour cold water on such positivity?
A win is needed. A big win would be nice, but any win will do. In the spirit of optimism and possibility, I take Leeds to prevail by one or two goals. Now please, just for once, let me be right.
It should probably be a convention in football, rather than just common sense, to do your best to refrain from taking the mick out of the opposing team boss – especially if there’s a snooping TV camera in the vicinity. The trouble with getting caught doing this, even though it might be good for a giggle at the time if you’re sufficiently immature, is that you end up looking a prat to hundreds of thousands of unsympathetic types like opposing fans. And you look even more of a prat if your team loses the game as well as coming off second best in a touchline bench fracas.
Such was the fate that befell the Bolton Wanderers goalkeeping coach Lee Butler at the Elland Road meeting of Leeds United and the Trotters on Saturday. The pre-match courtesies were under way and Leeds Boss Marcelo Bielsa, with characteristic Latin politeness, walked over to his Bolton counterpart for the traditional handshake.
Doubtless it’s a cultural thing, much like paying close attention to rival clubs’ preparation, but the Bielsa handshake is something above and beyond the restrained English version, as it incorporates a little bow into the gesture of offering the hand to shake. All very dignified and stately, you might think, and you’d surely be right. But apparently, in Bolton at least, it’s regarded as funny and something to mock. As Bielsa turned and headed for his upturned bucket, the silver-haired Mr Butler, resplendent in a red tracksuit that emphasised his less than athletic paunch, clearly mimicked and then mocked the Bielsa handshake, before having a good old laugh about it with one of his Wanderers chums, as can clearly be seen in this tweet from Leeds fan Gibbo.
Now, I’m sure that Marcelo himself, being above such schoolboy antics, would dismiss it as simply one more of those inexplicable English quirks, or more accurately, that classic contradiction in terms Lancastrian manners – and nothing to shake him out of his polite inscrutability. But I can testify, having seen the moment live, that it annoyed me and made me even more keen to see Bolton depart with nowt. Thankfully, after a bit of a struggle, the lads saw to it that this was so.
It wasn’t just me getting a bit offended though. Quite a few of the Leeds Twitter community were somewhat less than pleased too, and understandably so. Possibly certain members of the Leeds United staff, who perhaps are blessed with slightly less of the sang froid that Bielsa enjoys, might also have been annoyed, had they seen what Butler obviously hoped was a private moment. A bit daft then, really, to have it in front of the camera and 35,000 fans.
Later in the match, things kicked off in front of the West Stand dugouts; Gjanni Alioski, who was down injured, got some unasked for and unwelcome help from a Bolton player, and his Leeds team-mates took exception; Mateusz Klich saw fit to cool down an over-excited opponent by squirting water down his collar, Bolton coach Phil Parkinson unwisely squared up to Pontus Jansson and got sent off for his troubles – things were becoming very unfriendly on and off the pich. But it would be fair to say that the Trotters got the worst of it, as they did with the match itself, departing back over to the wrong side of the Pennines hurt and pointless.
Really, it served them right. You reap what you sow and, with that casual moment of pre-match disrespect, Lee Butler ensured that his club secured the moral low ground and got exactly what they deserved – nothing. I don’t know what the Football League would make of such a blatant display of rudeness and mockery – would they decide it’s a shining example of “acting in utmost good faith”?
You know what – I think they probably would.
At long last, the Football League investigation into the so-called Spygate affair has been concluded, and it can now be revealed that the delay in considering and pronouncing upon a relatively simple matter was caused by an almighty internal wrangle within the Football League.
It turns out that the matter was pretty much done and dusted some time ago, with the League reluctantly concluding that, as no specific rules had been broken, it was not possible to impose a points deduction. Instead, the League had to settle for dressing up the matter of a man standing on a public highway and looking through a wire fence as “a breach of good faith”, enabling action under regulation 3.4 – but even this has proved problematic.
A League spokesperson confirmed that the League was struggling to make even the “good faith” provisions stick due, he said, to a number of far more serious breaches during the time that Spygate had been current. “We’ve had blatant diving, clubs clearing one penalty area of snow but not the other, clubs reneging on transfer deals at the last minute, all sorts of stuff going on. But we had to do this to Leeds, because it was the only way we could get them. And that was a very cruel blow to Shaun Harvey, who had been determined to deal a fatal blow to that club’s promotion chances”.
It appears that Mr. Harvey has indeed taken the outcome of Spygate very hard indeed, as he had hoped it would be instrumental in keeping Leeds United down in the Championship. So depressed is he by the thwarting of his dearly held hopes, that he has now announced he’ll be stepping down at the end of the season. “Shaun is a broken man”, confirmed our source. “He feels that he just can’t go on, so he’s going to retire to a smallholding in Little Sodbury. We at the League feel that the least we can do is to give him a good send off, so we’re fining Leeds enough to send him off in style”.
When it was pointed out that two hundred grand was quite steep for a leaving do, we were told “We’re pulling out all the stops here, because Shaun really needs cheering up. So we’ve booked his favourite acts, Kylie, Jason and we’ve even arranged a personal appearance by Shaun’s hero Frank “Fwankie” Lampard. I imagine they’ll be commiserating together”.
Leeds United’s only comment was “We’ve fully cooperated with this whole fiasco from start to finish, and all we can say is that we’re satisfied with the outcome. It’s well worth a couple of hundred grand to get rid of that oily little sod Harvey.
Frank Lampard is a bitter, thwarted little man.