Tag Archives: England

Germany the Authors of Their own World Cup Misfortune, but Leeds Hero Pontus is Smiling – by Rob Atkinson

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The Germans have a word for it, as they usually do. And, since the reigning champions were toppled out of the World Cup on Thursday, it’s a word that has gained a great deal of currency in the UK and pretty much everywhere else, really. Schadenfreude – the concept of pleasure and gratification arising out of somebody else’s misfortune – neatly sums up the national mood since South Korea applied the coup de grace to Germany’s limp 2018 World Cup campaign. To say that the nation rejoiced in the wake of this sensational result is not to understate the case. Even sober journalists and media types joined in the euphoric jollity. Everybody was queuing up to poke fun at the demise of the German national football team.

It’s tempting to suggest that there is some historical element in this tendency of ours to wish misfortune on the Germans. Two world wars during the twentieth century might lend some credence to this point of view; especially where our most senior citizens are concerned. But for people of more tender years, the motivation is less martial, more sporting. Put simply, most of us are just sick of Germany’s traditional efficiency in amassing trophies on fields of sporting conflict, especially as compared to the meagre hauls of the home countries. We are sick of losing to them on penalties, sick of them going on to beat the teams we might otherwise have beaten, lifting the trophies we might otherwise have lifted. And, much as we would love to see our own teams strut around a lap of honour, we’re sick of seeing them do that, too. As Manchester United would confirm, nobody loves a perennial winner. It’s just boring for the rest of us.

So, the German exit from Russia 2018 had its novelty value, but it gave us all a laugh too, with the comical nature of their defeat to South Korea. For once, their goalkeeper was not batting away our penalty shots to win yet another shootout for the Fatherland – instead, he was making an idiot of himself on the left wing as his team-mates desperately chased late goals; then he had to watch helpless as the Koreans streaked downfield to pop the ball into an empty net to seal Germany’s doom. Oh, how we laughed. It was as comical as it was richly satisfactory, with the commentators in tucks and everybody taking the mick. Days like this come around all too rarely; we have to make the most of them. And, oh boy, did we ever.

The thing is as well, for those feeling any slight twinge of sympathy for a beaten and ridiculed German team, they really have asked for this. If you cast your mind back to the game that Germany actually won, beating Sweden at the very last gasp, they proved themselves to be most ungracious in victory, taunting the Swedish bench and provoking an angry reaction. Our own Pontus Jansson was involved, leading the charge and looking as if he wanted to take on the whole of the German backroom staff by himself. At that point, it looked as though Sweden had suffered a fatal blow in terms of their World Cup chances; surely, Germany would now steamroller its way into the knockout phase. But a few days on, Germany are bottom of their group and have gone home, while Sweden finished top to progress. Germany’s display of arrogant triumphalism had earned them the bitter fruits of karma, and it seemed the rest of the world felt a deep sense of justice served.

Pontus is happy too. On his Instagram account, he observed after the German exit “Warm up done. Now let’s start World Cup!” The German view, though, is terse and chilling – “Yes, we deserved to go out. We are not good enough. Enjoy this while you can”.

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Leeds Should Pull Out All Stops to Sign Haaland Jr. Ahead of Man Utd – by Rob Atkinson

Erling Braut Haaland, the 17 year old son of former Elland Road favourite Alf-Inge Haaland, is shaping up as quite the boy wonder in Norway’s top flight. His latest exploit is to score four goals for Molde in the opening 21 minutes of an away fixture at league leaders Brann. Interestingly, young Erling is a fanatical fan of Leeds United, whose declared dream is to play for the Whites in the Champions League.

Worryingly, though, it might just be that Haaland Junior’s European fantasy could be played out via a short cut with that lesser United from over the hills. Manchester’s second club had scouts at the Brann – Molde game, and the whisper is that covetous eyes are watching from the Theatre of Hollow Myths, with Alfi’s son having impressed the talent spotters at the Pride of Devon.

We must hope that our old favourite Alf-Inge would not allow anything so unsavoury as his son signing for Them to happen. Alfi will surely have vivid memories of being assaulted by faux hard-man Royston Keane at Old Toilet, and of the career threatening injury he sustained in that cowardly assault. This alone should persuade Haaland senior to advise his lad to steer well clear of Salford.

And, on the positive side, the young star’s development would definitely be assisted by a spell with Marcelo Bielsa, the man Pep Guardiola hails as the best coach in the world. That’s the kind of upbringing any boy wonder should be looking for – naturally, though, there would first have to be some interest from Leeds United.

But why would there not be interest? Already, Erling is being spoken of as “better than his dad”, who, we will recall, was no mean player himself. What we have here is a situation begging for the only natural outcome, which would be the boy Haaland signing for his dad’s old club Leeds. Especially as Erling is such a fan. It’s the perfect match.

Come on, Mr Radrizzani – let’s get the lad signed and snatch him from the dark forces gathering around him. You know it makes sense.

Elland Road’s England Extravaganza Proves Premier League Needs Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

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Southgate’s England win at a vibrant and atmospheric Elland Road

England‘s last stopping-off point before their Russian quest for World Cup glory was at a vibrant and atmospheric Elland Road – and the occasion told us plenty, some of it even about our national team and its chances this summer.

Talking about England first, this was a competent and dominant performance against a slightly jet-lagged Costa Rica team who were still nobody’s mugs. England pretty much won as they liked though, with Marcus Rashford, looking much more effective with better players around him, making a persuasive case for inclusion in the opening game of England’s group, ahead, perhaps, of Raheem Sterling. Rashford’s spectacular 13th minute opener brought generous cheers from the Kop, despite the lad’s day job, with Danny Welbeck‘s close range header near the end greeted equally warmly by the South Stand. In between the two decisive strikes, England passed prettily, defended well enough to leave their keeper Jack Butland largely unemployed, and a lively attack gave the Costa Rican defence plenty to think about.

But the signature note of the evening was struck by the occasion’s real star – Elland Road itself. For once in a very long while, the muted, apathetic atmosphere of Wembley was replaced by a thrillingly raucous fervour to urge on the national team, courtesy of one of football’s genuine, old-style cauldrons of white-hot atmosphere. That’s done nowhere quite so well as it is in this part of Leeds; the crowd lifted the England players to a degree that was obvious to anybody who’s suffered through some of those dreary friendlies in North London. This was dutifully acknowledged by commentators and pundits alike; Clive Tyldesley for ITV noted that the attendance was around 36,000, “but sounds like twice as much”. Indeed. Old Trafford, it’s worth mentioning, can do a similar trick – only the other way around.

Lee Dixon in his punditry role was fired with enthusiasm afterwards. This is what you need, he exulted, thumbing over his shoulder at the arena behind him. Let’s take England on the road. It’s a good idea, one that’s been around for years now, but the commercial lure of Wembley has usually won the day. Perhaps there will now be a rethink. It’s no coincidence that this was one of the better England “friendly” performances; the team responded to the crowd, the occasion, the unique atmosphere. Above all, tonight showed beyond doubt that the Premier League – currently stuffed with pedestrian acts like Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Watford – positively needs the return of Leeds United. The stadium, the club and the fanatical support are all wasted on anything less than the elite group, and the so-called Premier League has been diluted too far and for too long by elements of mediocrity. The return of United cannot come too soon, for the sake of all parties concerned.

For Leeds United fans, it was a taste of what might be to come, the stadium packed out and cheering on some top class footballers who may even be destined for great things. How the fans of Yorkshire‘s top club would like to sample that atmosphere, and witness this style of performance, on a more regular basis. It’s a dream, something to hope for and aspire to. And, you never know – those dreams do occasionally come true.

England International Defender Seeks Fresh Start, Leeds Would be Ideal – by Rob Atkinson

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Steven Caulker, England cap

What do you do if you’re an ambitious Championship club with a thrifty approach to recruitment – and an English international central defender aged just 26 suddenly becomes available, and for nowt? Why, you snap him up, of course, if you’ve not been trampled flat in the rush. Players of this quality normally command 8 figure fees, but here we have a lad in Steven Caulker who is looking for a fresh start after facing up to issues with his mental health, allied to gambling and alcohol problems. His most recent employers, Queens Park Rangers, have just released him, so he is currently without a club. Caulker is currently occupying what the professionals term, with some feeling, last chance saloon. He needs someone to show some faith in him, and he needs the best possible care and rehabilitation. For the club willing to take a calculated risk, a diamond of a player is waiting to be rescued.

For several reasons, not all of them football-related, I’d love to see my club Leeds United be the one to make this move and show this faith. It would be a dreadful shame for football and for the lad himself, if such a promising career were to be allowed to fizzle out. You’d worry for Caulker, in the long and barren future ahead, and you’d wonder if the game itself was perhaps derelict in its duty to look out for a young man battling with personal demons that have ruined so many young men before.

At Elland Road, there’d be a unique challenge waiting for Steven Caulker – if the club wish to offer him the chance, and if he’s prepared to get in, get his head down, and resurrect his career and his chances of life-affirming success. It’s not too late for Caulker; he just needs that chance. I’d like to think that Leeds United are progressive enough to reach out and provide the support and faith needed.

It’s common knowledge that Leeds could do with some strengthening of the defensive ranks; Kyle Bartley is still much missed and, despite the sterling performances of Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper, a player of Caulker’s quality would represent an improvement in United’s rearguard. The lad was on loan at Liverpool not so long back, and was brought up at Tottenham; his pedigree is indisputable. Coming to the end of the road at QPR does not mean he’s a busted flush; some club is likely to benefit from the renaissance of a major talent, should the requisite support and understanding be available.

Let that club be Leeds United. In doing some real good for a troubled player, they may well do themselves a power of good too. And all for nothing more than wages. 

That’s got to represent a good deal, even up here in Yorkshire. And a chance surely well worth taking. 

England’s Iceland Showing Would Have Disgraced Leeds United   –   by Rob Atkinson

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Woy, wesigned to the wepurcussions of failure

As a Leeds United fan over the course of the past decade or so, you need to have developed a certain gallows sense of humour. The ability to have a laugh at yourself, or at least a reluctantly tolerant smile when the pain is just too intense, has seen many of us through many an agonising and humiliating moment. And this forms a mindset where, faced with some setback or disappointment unconnected with our beloved Whites, we might grimace cynically and say through gritted teeth “That were just like watching Leeds” – a wry inversion of the “just like watching Brazil” hymn of praise. When one of us says that something was “just like watching Leeds”, you can tell it’s not been an enjoyable experience.

So it came to pass that, as England‘s abject, shameful performance against Iceland unfolded, the Facebook statuses and the Tweets started, on my Whites-centric feed mostly with that common theme. That was just like watching Leeds. Wow, you thought. That bad, eh?

The thing is, though – it was actually so much worse than watching Leeds. Because our national side gave a performance of staggering ineptitude, incredible cluelessness. England were nervous and anxious at best, simply incompetent and bumbling the more the game went on. Rooney, supposedly reinvented as a deeper midfielder, spraying accurate passes about, could hardly hit a ten yard ball. His passes were off target, his services in from wide were over-hit (as were “quality delivery merchant” Harry Kane’s). It was, in short, a typical Rooney, typically English international finals performance. 

For the rest, they nearly all seemed afflicted by the same nightmare conviction that, whatever they attempted, it simply wouldn’t come off. Only when Marcus Rashford came on, with the innocence and arrogance of his youth, did England look remotely like getting anywhere. The men in white lacked the belief, the character and the guts to seize the game by the scruff of the neck. In the context of nightmares again, it was as if they needed to get moving, but found themselves wading through a foot of treacle, their energy drained, their heads empty. The longer it went on, the worse it got. It was a shameful embarrassment of a performance. After their early penalty joy, England could have played from now until Christmas, and still might have failed to score. 

Over forty-odd years, I’ve seen many abject performances from Leeds United. I’ve seen lack of effort punished, lack of pride and commitment bringing their inevitable dread reward. I’ve seen it all as far as bad times go, and – lest we forget – some good times too. But as far as the awful side of things is concerned – well, with hand on heart and with God as my witness, I’ve never, ever seen anything as bad from a Leeds team as I saw from that Three Lions shower last night. Just like watching Leeds? We should be so lucky.

People keep on coming out with the fact that Iceland has a population less than that of Leicester, but that – hur, hur – Leicester has been able to spring its own surprise lately. Very good. Apparently, it’s also true to say that Iceland has more volcanoes than professional footballers. On last night’s evidence, that could be true of England too. The bottom line is that such a performance – for want of a more appropriately descriptive word – goes way beyond unacceptable and plumbs greater depths than anything even the most unfortunate of us will have seen from our club sides, where work-rate and a bit of fight are the very least we demand and expect.

Just like watching Leeds? Not on this occasion. Leeds would have given that Iceland side a decent game. Leicester would almost certainly have beaten them. Perhaps, this coming season, when the performance levels of our lads in White dip below our meagre expectations, some terrace wit might start off a rendition of “England – it’s just like watching England…”

That, at least, would have the comparison the right way around.

England Will Need True Warriors Against Wales   –   by Rob Atkinson


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Any Leeds United fan worth his or her salt will nod and give the thumbs-up to a player prepared to shed blood in the United cause. It’s in the DNA of the club; such players are an integral part of our history. The blood shed will preferably be that of an opponent, but your archetypal Elland Road patron warmly appreciates the warrior who leaves the field of battle liberally bespattered with his own gore. It’s a mark of commitment, and that goes down well with us northern folk.

Down the years, we’ve been lucky enough to have many such doughty battlers gracing the white shirt. Hunter, Giles, Vinnie, Billy, the list is long and impressive. Sadly, the standard is lower these days, the commitment less nakedly obvious. The same appears to apply to the national team, also. I was reminded of this when I received a t-shirt from my good friends at The Art of Football, an online firm with a difference, specialising in quality prints to adorn the proudest chest.

The shirt I received, pictured above, bears the unmistakable figure of Stuart “Psycho” Pearce, a player I for one would have absolutely loved to have seen in a Leeds United shirt. His commitment was exemplary, he was a man who’d have been an asset to any team, anywhere at any time. England, like Leeds United, have had a few of these over the years. Terry Butcher, so famously pictured with a pint or two of his own blood soaked into his England shirt – another image available in this Euro ’16 range. Tony Adams, neck veins bulging as he bellowed the National Anthem before every International of his career. Pearce himself, stepping up to the plate in a penalty shoot out, exorcising the ghost of a previous miss by belting the ball past the Spanish keeper at Euro ’96, at one with the fans as he ran to them, his pride and fight written all over his face. 

Where are these players now? John Terry might have been the last for England, though maybe Cahill can succeed to his crown. I have to confess, I can’t remember the last Leeds player in this warrior category. And United will need someone of that ilk to challenge next season. But England need a man like that as soon as Thursday – because the Welsh will have their war paint on, there’s no doubt about that. 

Perhaps if the existing England players can channel some of that Psycho Pearce spirit in time for their next test, we might overcome a Welsh team with much commitment but relatively few world-class performers. The fans, too, could do worse than embody the Pearce approach, focusing on getting behind the shirts instead of acting like idiots in the pubs and bars. The atmosphere will be fierce on Thursday, the stakes high. We will need warriors on the pitch and the pride and passion of supporters in the stands if we’re going to match Wales in either arena. 

Let players and fans be inspired by the image of Stuart Pearce at his most committed, with the flag of St. George behind him. Given that, we can succeed despite the famous bravery and desire of the Welsh. 

England Expects!

What Is Moneybags Football Doing to Save Gazza? – by Rob Atkinson

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Gazza in his heyday

Sometimes in your football-supporting life, you see a player in the opposition ranks who is simply different gravy. Partisanship or no, you just have to acknowledge genius when you see it and, if you’ve any appreciation at all for the Beautiful Game, you simply applaud talent and ability the like of which we see all too rarely.

As a Leeds United fan, I’ve had this bittersweet experience uncomfortably often. Bitter, because – let’s face it – you’re there above all to see the white shirts prevail, and some pesky genius in the other camp can be a big problem. But sweet, because we all know, deep down, that this is what football is all about; a talent that eclipses more mundane performers and makes your soul sing for what this game can be.

I’ve seen a few of these over the years at Elland Road. Johan Cruyff, so recently taken from us, lit up my first evening match at Elland Road in 1975, albeit in a losing cause. Sadly, I never saw George Best play (and he spent most games against Leeds in Paul Reaney‘s back pocket anyway) – but I did see a man who could match him for talent and for that mystical ability to take a game away from you. Sadly, he also matches the late George for the tendency to self destruct. And, if the current situation isn’t checked sooner rather than later, we shall tragically see Paul Gascoigne – Gazza of blessed daft-as-a-brush memory – follow Georgie Best into a needlessly early grave.

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Troubled Gazza now – road to disaster?

There isn’t much doubt that Gazza’s potentially fatal weakness for the booze makes him the lead author of his own misfortune. It’s also true to say that anyone in that downward spiral of addictive behaviour really needs to find, if possible, the willpower to break out of the prison they’re building for themselves. But that’s frequently easier said than done, and some of the brightest stars, the most transcendent genius performers, are eggshell personalities, lacking the intrinsic strength and resilience to fight the demons inside their own skulls. In that situation, outside care and intervention is needed; somebody needs to help. So who can, or should, help Gazza?

The former star is not without support. He has friends in the game, people who stay in touch with him and worry about him. But I can’t help feeling that the wider entity of football in this country could be seen to be doing more, for Gazza, and for less illustrious but comparable cases. The tragedy of Best is still clear in the memory, but there have been others who used to bask in the sunshine of fame and worship from the terraces who, once their star fell, found the world a bleak and friendless place they simply wanted to quit. Hughie Gallacher, like Gazza a former Newcastle star, was another who felt lonely and hopeless enough to walk, in a boozy stupor, in front of a train in 1957, rather than face what his life had become after football.

The thing about Gazza is that the current, wealth-laden state of the game he entered as a chubby lad in the early eighties owes much to the way he lit up the Italia ’90 World Cup. That tournament, with Gascoigne’s flashes of genius and iconic tears, did much to redeem the game of football from what had been a decade of disaster in the 1980s. Football, ably assisted by the Geordie genius, recovered from virtual social unacceptability to become once more the game everyone was talking about. Everyone wanted a piece of soccer, and its stars. And no star shone brighter in the football firmament than Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne.

Such was the new appeal and cachet of football that it was judged ripe for rebranding in this country. It became A Whole New Ball Game as Murdoch and Sky bought the TV rights to a massive chunk of it and, 25 years on, the money is still rolling in unabated. A lot of that is down to that period of Gazzamania in the early 90s, and that – as much as anything beyond common humanity – is the reason why football, and the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Rangers and Everton in particular, must be seen to be doing more to help.

So money-stuffed is the game that was once a working-class opera, that ticket prices have become almost incidental to club income at the top level. And yet still, the matchgoing public pays through the nose. They, too, have a right to see some of their money devoted to former stars fallen on hard times or, indeed, in danger of complete dissolution. Surely any Spurs or Newcastle fan would feel it appropriate for their club, served so well back in the day by a man now in crisis, to step in and provide real help, a safe environment and a solid support network for somebody in such imminent danger of sinking out of sight.

Everyone knows that there’s only so much you can do for a person seemingly plummeting towards self-destruction. But the duty to try as hard as possible, to do as much as possible, remains, whatever the chances of success. Especially for someone like Gazza, who gave so much pleasure in his heyday, who made so many smile or laugh with his hare-brained nuttiness, who helped so much to enable the rude health of the game today by the display of his peerless genius for clubs and country.

It’s not too late to save Gazza, surely. But it may well soon be. Over to you, football.

History Shows A Strong Leeds United is Needed For a Strong England Team – by Rob Atkinson

Art of Football remembers England's - and Leeds' - glory day at Wembley '66

Art of Football remembers England’s – and Leeds’ – glory day at Wembley ’66

Long-standing and esteemed Friends of the Blog Art of Football have been kind enough to send me another quality example of their fine work, something I can defiantly wear close to my heart, to emphasise my status as a proud Englishman. This is a helpful state of mind at a time when, as not infrequently happens, all is chaos and confusion in the world of Leeds United. England have just booked a place at a major tournament in Euro ’16, with a flawless performance in the qualification group, winning ten out of ten matches. That, in itself is a cause for pride, whichever club team you might happen to support. In these cosmopolitan times, national pride and club pride have little in common with each other; most clubs are predominantly staffed by players from beyond these shores – you really do have to look to the England team if you’re a devotee of St. George and fancy stoking up any latent feelings of nationalist fervour.

Time was, of course, when our top clubs were much more parochially inclined. Any League team with pretensions to success would boast its clutch of current England internationals, and Leeds United was no exception in the days when the national team was a real force to be reckoned with. Harking back to the glory days of 1966 – as my Art of Football product clearly does in the picture above – Leeds fans will be proud to recall that our own Jack Charlton played his part on the day, ensuring that Leeds would go down in history with the likes of West Ham, Liverpool and even Fulham and Blackpool, as clubs that contributed players to England’s finest hour. For Leeds, there was also Norman Hunter in that legendary squad – and it’s good to know that his presence was belatedly acknowledged when he was finally awarded a World Cup winners medal in 2009.

The fact that the World Cup Final in July 1966 remains England’s solitary impact on World Football’s honours board, though, is a more sobering thought. The decisive moment reproduced on the front of Art of Football‘s evocative product could fairly be described as England’s last real mark on Football history. Next summer, when the current crop of national heroes are doing battle in France, it will be 50 years since the late, great Kenneth Wolstenholme so memorably remarked on Wembley pitch invaders thinking it’s all over – adding “It is now!”, as Geoff Hurst‘s late thunderbolt hit the back of the German net. Half a century on, it’s really difficult to imagine such a moment happening again, with almost every major nation having long since overtaken us in terms of international honours.

Still, that’s probably a bit too carpy and whingey, considering that the current wearers of those Three Lions shirts have breezed so effectively to qualification for next year’s finals – and especially when you consider that Scotland have maintained their recent form by failing yet again to make it to the party. And the fact that, if England by some miracle did succeed in France, it will be without the involvement of any Leeds United personnel – well, I’m not going to let that bother me either. I’d be chuffed, delighted, flown with patriotic pride if the lads did it, even given that some of those lads, and at least one past-it striker, ply their trade for that lot over the Pennines whom I shall not dignify by mention of their name. What the hell, after all. When they play and win for England, they’re English – petty matters of club rivalry are for less momentous occasions.

The fact remains for the moment, though – and barring that unlikely miracle I was talking about for our lot in France next year – that England only wins a cup with at least one Leeds lad involved, and another in the background. That, in itself, is a matter of unshakeable pride for long-suffering Leeds United fans. So I’ll wear my iconic design proudly, as a tribute to those lads of so long ago – but most especially with a glow of pride for our Jack and our Norm, who did their country proud – and immortalised themselves in the process.

Could Spurs Flop Andros Townsend Benefit From Another Spell at Leeds United? – by Rob Atkinson

Andros, doing it for the (England) shirt

The boy Andros, doing it for the (England) shirt

Andros Townsend, former loan flop at Leeds and current first-team pariah and occasional sub at Tottenham Hotspur, scored a fine goal for England last night in Italy, bringing him bobbing briefly to the surface of the public consciousness from which he sank out of view some time back. Showing a characteristically warped sense of priorities, one of Townsend’s first moves after he emerged from the England shower/bath/jacuzzi/pampered poodle parlour – was to engage in a bit of social media one-upmanship, tweeting former England star and fellow fickoe Paul Merson to say “Not bad for a player that should be ‘nowhere near the squad’ ay?” Stinging repartee and worldie bantz, we would probably concede.

The thing is, young Mr Townsend really needs to concentrate on establishing himself in a first team somewhere, rather than making occasional cameo appearances in the Three Lions shirt, scoring the odd blinder and then promptly disappearing again. There’s a disagreeable odour about Andros, the oddly pungent stench of “attitude problem”. Talent he surely has in abundance; his approach to establishing himself as an indispensable part of a team is more open to doubt. The talent will serve to get him the odd spectacular goal in an international friendly; it is not on its own enough to make him a vital cog in a league machine. The conclusion we might reluctantly be forced to draw is that Merse – for once in a very long while – might actually have a point.

Perhaps a change of scene might benefit the boy Townsend. He’s been to Elland Road before and failed – would he have the character to try again? Could he bury that treacherous pride, buckle down and try to earn a berth for himself at a lower level, but somewhere subject to notoriously harsh pressures? Townsend wasted his time at Elland Road, seeming a dilettante type of player; one who flatters to deceive and lacks the bottle to cut it when the chips are down. When the going got tough, Andros shipped out, to the less demanding environment of Birmingham City, there to sulk and send petulant tweets to scornful Whites fans.

Then there was a brief golden period at Spurs, some sort of momentary redemption epoch when everything came easy to him – a situation you suspect Andros prefers, to actually having to graft and battle. And then he was suddenly in the England fold, and the sky was, it seemed, the limit. But his star fell as swiftly as it had risen; he has been superseded at Spurs by talents at least equal to his own and attitudes far superior – take a bow, Harry Kane. He’s still somehow in the Three Lions arena, but his hold on that status must be tenuous at best.

Could Townsend actually still cut it at Leeds – where wingers are required for the run-in, players to bring out the best of the youthful talent that is blossoming at Elland Road? Leeds United is, after all, a club of comparatively recent Champion pedigree, something that Spurs have to look back 54 years to recall. So, self-regarding Andros wouldn’t exactly be slumming it – and at the moment, he’d have a fighting chance of actually forcing his way into a developing United team.

It’s an intriguing thought. Well, I think it is. Perhaps I just want to see the lad humiliated again, after his unforgivably casual attitude when he had the chance and that iconic United shirt before. But, from Townsend’s point of view – if he really wanted to shove Paul Merson’s opinion back down his throat – then a stint somewhere like Leeds and a bit of consistency would do a lot more to that end than one sweetly-struck shot against what was a second-string Italian team.

As the Merse himself might say – “Fink abaht it, Andros – fink abaht it.”

Referendum Result Confirmed: England Still Own Scotland – by Rob Atkinson

Sorry boys - you were OWNED

Sorry boys – you were OWNED

For your average Leeds United fanatic – or even for an iconic one such as myself – the sight of a club legend in Gordon Strachan having his nose well and truly rubbed in it can rarely be pleasant viewing. Equally, for a devotee of all things righteously White, to behold the over-rated and grossly over-hyped Mr Wayne “Shrek” Rooney filling his boots at the expense of said legend would normally be an uncomfortable not to say painful experience. But last night at Celtic Park, both circumstances came to pass – and yet it was an evening of unalloyed pleasure for any England fan who grew up to a background of Auld Enemy rivalry.

Back in the day, the England versus Scotland mini-war was an annual fixture, alternating between Hampden Park in Glasgow and Wembley, the latter drenched in Tartan every other year as the unwashed made the pilgrimage south. It was the perpetuation of the original and best International Football rivalry; the very first ever match between two countries was Scotland v England on 30 November 1872. 4,000 people saw a 0-0 draw on that occasion – the great days of this fixture were still to come.

The great days of Leeds United also lay far in the future – and in that era of Revie’s Super Leeds, the club boasted a cadre of fine Scottish international players (see picture above) who I and thousands of other United fans worshipped as footballing Gods. But once a year, when England met Scotland, they were The Enemy – and I for one wanted nothing more than to see the likes of Alan Ball, Mike Channon and Kevin Keegan stamp the Sweaties into the turf, North or South of the border. Sometimes it happened, sometimes we were disappointed. I remember regarding Gordon McQueen with a particularly baleful eye after his two goals sank England at Wembley, on a day when the Scots appropriated the crossbars as souvenirs of a memorable win.

Over the years, the two nations battled nip and tuck for historical supremacy, each having periods of dominance. In the almost 142 years since that first fixture, England have edged it. Last night’s victory by 3-1 was the Three Lions’ 47th such triumph, with Scotland trailing in at 41. This latest success must have been one of the most convincing by England, certainly in recent times. Scotland had a job done on them, big time. England’s performance was emphatic, conclusive, and the boys in blue had no answer to the white tide which engulfed them.

This tone had been set right from the first minute with Woy’s Warriors setting a pattern of dominance in the early stages they would maintain throughout. The breakthrough was half an hour coming and somewhat overdue when Oxlade-Chamberlain, somewhat lacking in delivery with the ball at his feet, found a sublime headed touch from Wilshere’s laser-accurate deep cross, finding the corner of the Scottish net. So it remained at the interval but, despite the narrowness of the margin, Scotland had been on the end of a footballing lesson.

The consensus of agreement among the half-time pundits was that the hosts could not afford to go two down if they were to salvage anything from the encounter. This, however, they proceeded to do a mere 90 seconds into the second half as England took a vice-like grip on proceedings. The origin of what proved to be a killer goal was in a crude and stupid foul from Mulgrew who cynically took out the stampeding Ox as the Arsenal youngster raced down the right. Mulgrew was a little fortunate to escape with a mere yellow, but the fallout was to prove fatal for the Tartan Army. From the free kick, the ball was half-cleared and then bobbled about in the Scottish area before sitting up for Rooney to flex his neck and direct a fine header past helpless sub goalkeeper Gordon.

True to the intense rivalry of this fixture, Scotland did appear to fight their way back into the match with a goal after good work between Robertson and Russell ended with the former squeezing the ball between Forster and his near post. England, rather than quailing and succumbing to late nerves, simply appeared to be provoked into further action. The ball was played down the right from the restart and, from a throw in, the visitors contrived a spell of consummate possession under pressure on the Scottish left flank, before Lallana was released into the area to set up a sitter for Rooney’s second of the night.

3-1 and finis. England were probably worth a goal or two more; despite the creditable battling of the Scots, they had in truth been completely outclassed and outplayed. The most jarring note of the whole night was struck by England coach Roy Hodgson in his post-match remarks, when he saw fit to apologise for any offence caused to anyone who might have had their feelings hurt by some anti-IRA chanting from the England support. Things have come to a pretty pass, surely, when a football man in the afterglow of a fine victory should seek to soothe the wounded sensibilities of those negatively affected by anti-terrorism sentiments. It was an odd end to a fine night for England. Scotland, fresh from a run in which results and performances have been positively encouraging, will have a new awareness this morning of their actual place in the scheme of things.