Tag Archives: EPL

Crazy Gang Visit Kennel Club as Terriers Seek Revenge Against Loopy Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

Mirco scores against the DBs

Mirco scores against the DBs

A return to league action after the traditionally blank FA Cup 4th Round weekend for Leeds sees United attempt to complete a second successive league double, in the wake of that unlikely but welcome achievement against high-flyers Bournemouth. On paper, completing the six-point tally against Huddersfield should be an easier task – but as usual in local derbies, Leeds will have to deal with the Cup Final complex felt to a particularly acute degree by our canine friends from down t’road.

The fact that Bournemouth, so effective in the Championship this season, have been dismissed twice by Leeds’ stuttering and inconsistent performers says much about the topsy-turvy nature of this second tier. Anyone, it seems, can beat anyone else – Leeds have also beaten Derby at Elland Road, yet have contrived to lose to some awfully mundane teams too – and this must be the fear as far as Saturday’s game at Town’s Meccano-inspired stadium is concerned. Elland Road has hardly been a fortress for the Whites this term, and arguably their most complete performance came in the 3-0 demolition of Huddersfield back in September. Revenge will be high on the agenda for Chris Powell’s men – not that this David normally needs any added incentive to try and best their own particular Goliath.

Leeds are this years Football League Crazy Gang, mad as a box of frogs from top to bottom, with the management crying out for proven Championship performers whilst selling such men by the job lot. Warnock and Pearce have left, with the addition of the impressively huge Sol Bamba, of whom we must hope he will also be hugely impressive. Bamba has been kicking his heels as a Serie A outcast and is likely to see his first action in a Leeds shirt in this derby encounter. Fellow Italian league loanee Granddi Ngoyi is also likely to be pushing for inclusion and should at least make the bench. Steve Morison, nursing a hip problem, should be fit to continue his sole striker role.

For Huddersfield, midfield man Jonathan Hogg is a doubt due to a knock, new loan signing David Edgar stands by to deputise. Huddersfield’s bark has been worse than their bite this season, but there will be the usual rabid desire to put one over on the hated foes from Elland Road – so we can expect a terrier-like showing as they doggedly hound their opponents for every ball.

Allowing for the Cup Final factor, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything can see a draw as the most likely reward for Leeds United this weekend. An annoying defeat, however, would also be quite in character – especially after the high of defeating the league pace-setters last time out.

On balance, a 1-1 draw seems a fairly good bet – though with Chris Foy in charge anything at all is possible. In the highly-charged atmosphere of these Yorkshire derby occasions it’s probably more likely than not that one or both teams will suffer dismissals, especially with a temporarily demoted Premier League flop ref looking to regain some credibility. On the plus side, he did OK at the Theatre of Hollow Myths five years back, when Leeds slew the Pride of Devon in their own back yard.

This blog will stick its neck out, more in hope than expectation, and plump for a 2-1 success for Leeds. The character shown in the 4-2 victory at this venue a few years back would do admirably – and, indeed, nothing less should be acceptable where Yorkshire bragging rights are at stake. Three points here, with maybe another signing or two to come by close of business on deadline day – and it will have been another decent week for the Crazy Gang, our beloved Loopy Leeds.

 

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What IS the Point of Tottenham Hotspur? – by Rob Atkinson

Arsenal, London's PrideArsenal, London’s Pride

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything is celebrating the FA Cup exit, at the hands of Leicester City, of Tottenham Hotspur FC – by reprinting this highly popular anti-Spuds article.

Thank you.

As a Leeds fan, I’m quite familiar with the whole big club/small club debate – who qualifies as “big”, what are the qualifying criteria? If you currently have a crap team, does that mean you’re suddenly a crap club? And so on and so forth, ad nauseam. It’s not really a question that preoccupies me too much – certainly not to the extent of the Freudian fixation with size that afflicts the plastic followers of a certain Salford-based franchise fallen upon hard times – but it can be annoying if you follow a club like Leeds United, with all the rich tradition of the Revie era and even allowing for the fact that our history before those great days was a bit of a void. But what I’d normally argue is that, look – we’ve been Champions three times in my lifetime, we have a global fanbase and a worldwide notoriety (I won’t call it adoration), a massive web presence which show how many people count the Whites as a big part of their lives – and absolutely no significant local rivals at all. Ergo, we are big. End of.

But what of certain other clubs who are routinely referred to as “big” – not to say massive or even as a “mega-club”? Tottenham Hotspur are a bit of a peculiar animal in this respect. From some points of view, they are certainly a club of significant size.  They have a decent stadium in a major city. They deal towards the top end of the transfer market and they’ve been a steady member of the top-flight since the mid-seventies, picking up the odd trinket here and there. But Spurs have two major problems: the first is that they haven’t been Champions since 1961 – a major flaw for a club with any pretensions to size and a place in the forefront of the game. The second problem may be succinctly summed-up as “Arsenal FC”, their fierce local rivals and the team that undeniably thwarts them at every turn.

Arsenal have been stomping all over poor old Spurs for a good while now – and of course, they’ve been and gone and done it time and time again in terms of Champions League qualification, edging the hapless Spuds out repeatedly over the past few seasons. The presence of Arsenal as Tottenham’s neighbours, rivals and perennial bêtes-noires is a major obstacle to their chances of ever being regarded as a mega-club, a status that Arsenal wear casually, as of right.  Arsenal, after all, have generally been top dogs in North London, certainly over the past fifty years. They’ve had stability in the managerial chair since the mid-nineties and not that long before Wenger it was George Graham importing large quantities of silverware into the stadium graced by the famous marble halls.

Even the Gooners’ recent potless run, terminated by last May’s FA Cup success, has not detracted from Arsenal’s ability to regard Tottenham from a lofty position of pre-eminence. In the fallow period, the Gooners nevertheless played football of a sumptuous beauty and brilliance, and just as importantly they managed the transition from a famous old home to a spectacular and world-class new one. The financial burden that went with this is steadily being seen off – and yet it’s a process that Spurs have yet to embark upon. Will they negotiate it as well as the Arse have? Highly doubtful.

The sad fact as far as Tottenham are concerned is that this continued subordination to a comparatively humble status will always be a glass ceiling that they will find impossible to break through, certainly if Arsenal now blossom into one of their title-winning incarnations, capable of dominating the domestic scene for years at a stretch. And Spurs need to be up there with the big boys if they are to come anywhere near the kind of status their fans expect and desire.

The youngest of those fans who can remember the last Spurs team to be champions will be coming up for retirement any time now. It was the year that I was born. That’s a hell of an indictment for a so-called “big club” – not really elite form at all. Consider all the other clubs who have any real pretensions to this elevated status in the game. They’ve all been Champions at some point in the last 40 years – even Man U, who couldn’t win the real thing after 1967, have gorged on the post-Murdoch pale imitation. Spurs can’t realistically claim to belong in this exclusive company of Champions – they’re really just a slightly inflated West Ham.

Perennial Champions League qualification is a great advantage for Arsenal, but being on the wrong end of that equation is proving to be a major disaster for Spurs. They lost the jewel in their crown to Real Madrid, and however many millions Gareth Bale brought in, it’s difficult to see where Tottenham, despite their own transfer spree, have a replacement on their books of anything like the same quality, young Master Kane notwithstanding (and he’s not as good as Lewis Cook…) All the best players get routinely gobbled up by the Champions League cartel and Tottenham are in very real danger of becoming the richest club to have their noses pressed up against the window of the House of Quality, yearning to be inside but kept out of the spotlight by their more illustrious neighbours.

That has to be a scary prospect for the proud fans of White Hart Lane, but it’s entirely realistic. Spurs may, with their serial Champions League exclusion and the still-painful loss of their talisman Bale (however ineffective he was against Sam Byram in that FA Cup tie at Elland Road), have blown their chances of ever again being thought of as a genuinely BIG club.

And if that’s the case – then, really… what IS the point of Tottenham Hotspur?

Leeds United’s Rivals, Please Note: Lewis Cook is RUBBISH – by Rob Atkinson

So, you know – look elsewhere in the transfer window, OK? Rumours that this lad is the real deal and will play for England are as wide of the mark as a Billy Paynter volley. Trust me, you Premier League predators – you’d be wasting your time.

Oh, and – don’t be fooled by the pseudonym either. His real name is MICHAEL TONGE.

Thank you, and goodnight.

Super Leeds and “The Last Real Champions” – by Rob Atkinson

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Big Jack Scores Against Sad Saints

If you should happen to be a football fan – as I am, and have been these many years, since days of yore with short shorts, middling ability and long sideburns – then you may well be in the habit of switching on the TV occasionally to watch the glitzy offerings of the munificently funded Premier League. With its incomparable array of prima donnas and fabulously wealthy superstars, prancing athletically around a pristine and manicured football pitch in the very latest state-of-the-art stadium (constructed courtesy of Meccano Inc.) – it’s a far cry from the heyday of The Football League, Divisions One to Four.

Back then, men were men, refs were nervous and physios routinely cured ruptured cruciates or shattered thighs with a damp sponge and hoarse exhortations to “gerron with it” – or so it seemed. Full-backs with legs of the type more usually to be found on billiard tables would careen through the mud at Elland Road or Anfield, some flash, quivering, overpaid at £200 a week winger in their merciless sights, destined to be afflicted with acute gravel-rash. Centre-backs with foreheads like sheer cliffs would head muddy balls clear to the halfway line, get up out of the mire, groggily shake their mighty frames, and then do it all over again – for the full 90 minutes, Brian. The good old days, without a doubt.

There is little that the modern game has in common with those far-off, non-High Definition times when some top-flight games weren’t even covered by a local TV camera for a brief clip on regional news. Now, every kick of ball or opponent is available in super slow-mo for in-depth analysis by a battery of experts, from a dozen different angles. The game today is under the microscope seven days a week, where then it was viewed only from afar, limited to highlights from a select few stadia every Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Even now, the smell of hot ironing and roast beef with Yorkshire Pud will take me back to Sabbath afternoons sat contentedly before “Sunday Soccer” as Bremner, Giles & Co dismantled the hapless opposition.

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Super Leeds

Leeds United was the team, back then. On their day, the lads would toy with their rivals as a particularly cruel cat might do with a half-dead mouse. Many will recall the spectacle of a mortally-wounded Southampton side – already seven goals to nil down near the end of the game – trying all they knew to get a touch of the ball as their tormentors in white passed it effortlessly between themselves, brazenly flaunting their catalogue of flicks, reverse balls and sublime long passes. The game was long since won and all Leeds’ energies were palpably focused on a very public humiliation of their exasperated victims. Some thought it was in poor taste, a shoddy way to treat fellow professionals. Leeds fans remember it 40 years on as the ultimate statement of an undeniably top team, proclaiming to the nation “Look at us. We are the best.”

This was 1972, when Leeds might well have won pretty much everything, but had to settle in the end for their solitary FA Cup triumph, missing out on the Title right at the death in typically controversial circumstances. Leeds won far less than they should have done; a combination of official intransigence, their own inherent self-doubt on certain big occasions, Don Revie’s crippling caution and superstition – together it must be said with some shockingly bad luck – limited their trophy haul to a mere trickle when it should have been a flood. But those flickering images of arrogant dominance and untouchable skill revealed also an unbreakable brotherhood and grisly determination that spoke of a very special team indeed. The resonance even today of that oft-repeated tag “Super Leeds” says far more about the status of Revie’s side than any mundane tally of trophies possibly could.

In those days, of course, the gulf in ability between Leeds United and Southampton, described by Match of the Day commentator Barry Davies as “an almighty chasm”, was just that. The gap in class was achieved on merit. It wasn’t backed up by any such gulf in the relative earnings of the men in white and the demoralised Saints, or players of any other club. The playing field back then was very much more level than it is now, when the top few clubs – in an apt metaphor for society at large – cream off the bulk of the income, leaving the rest to feed on scraps. The pool of possible Champions was consequently greater – Derby County won it that year of Southampton’s ritual humiliation, as Leeds faltered when required to play their last League game a mere two days after a gruelling Cup Final. Imagine the outcry if one of the major teams had to do that today! And ask yourself if a Derby County or a Nottingham Forest are likely to be Champions again in the near future, blocked off as they are from that status by the oligarchy at the Premier League’s top table.

There aren’t many more hackneyed phrases than “The Good Old Days” – but for those who like their sporting competition to have a wide and varied base, with the possibility of a good proportion of the participants actually having a chance to win in any given season – then the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s take some beating. Leeds United fans like to refer to their team of 1992 as “The Last Real Champions”, and a convincing case can be made for this, looking at the transformation which took place shortly thereafter, the explosion in finances for the chosen few, and the small number of clubs – invariably backed by mega-millions – who have been Champions since. Even the once-mighty Liverpool FC has been affected. Despite Leeds United’s current problems, they have been Champions more recently than the Anfield Reds.

It’s perhaps fitting that Leeds have a claim to the accolade of Last Real Champions. As Super Leeds, they dominated English Football for a decade, without ever winning their due. Now that we can look back to a turning point for the game 23 years ago when the Premier League broke away, and the cash registers started to make more noise than disillusioned fans, we can possibly consider those 1992 Champions, nod to ourselves, and say yes; they were the last of the old guard, the final Champions of the Good Old Days.

As epitaphs go, it’s not a bad one.

Leeds United Glory Game – No 2: West Ham 1, Leeds 5 – May 1st, 1999

The 'Ome of the 'Appy 'Ammers, Innit

The ‘Ome of the ‘Appy ‘Ammers, Innit

The second in the “Glory Game” series features loveable, chirpy cockneys West Ham United, usually obliging victims for Leeds teams of most eras, and notable as lenders of a helping hand towards the end of the title run-in of 1992 when they defeated Man U in a game that turned Alex Ferguson the deepest shade of exasperated purple I’ve ever seen.  It’s fitting that I should write a little about the ‘Appy ‘Ammers; at least one irritatingly chirpy blog which claims to support them spends most of its time obsessing over our own beloved United, so perhaps here I can redress the balance a little.

This Mayday fixture in front of a packed Boleyn Ground crowd of 25997 found Leeds United in a rich run of form, ten games unbeaten since an early February reverse to Newcastle at Elland Road, after which they had reeled off seven consecutive league victories followed by three draws on the trot.  The Whites’ determination to get back to winning ways after those six dropped points was exemplified by the fastest possible start.  A mere twenty seconds had ticked by when the ball nestled in the West Ham net, put there emphatically by the ebullient Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who ran at a retreating Neil Ruddock before finishing neatly with a left-foot shot past Shaka Hislop.  And then the game went ever so slightly mad.

Jimmy’s goal apart, the first 15 minutes had seen both sides engaging in tackles which verged on the thuggish side of enthusiastic.  West Ham’s Eyal Berkovic was a victim early on, and Lee Bowyer was on the end of a clattering as the home side sought revenge.  Then Ian Wright, no stranger to controversy and the disciplinary attentions of referees, led with his elbow when challenging for a high ball, and copped for a yellow card that looked a lot more justified than the second yellow he got after only 15 minutes, following an altercation with Ian Harte, Harte, Harte.  So Wright was on his way back to the stand after a mere quarter of an hour, loudly protesting the injustice of the case and hell-bent, as it turned out, on venting his frustrations on the décor of the ref’s room.

For the next half-hour, leading up to the interval, Leeds proceeded to make a one man advantage look anything but as West Ham pressed them back, causing panic in the away defence as the promptings of Berkovic and Paolo di Canio created some decent chances to possibly level the game.  Leeds had managed to be distinctly the poorer side in that first half, and yet – as if to prove once again what a daft game football can be – they hit West Ham with a sucker punch in first half stoppage time.  David Batty appeared to have committed a foul in midfield which might well have justified a booking had the ref not totally ignored it and waved for play to continue.  Harry Kewell obliged, picking the ball up wide on the left and mesmerising the overstretched Hammers defence before cutting the ball back from the by-line for Alan Smith to convert gleefully.  2-0 at half time and – for once – it had pretty much all gone Leeds way.  They had been outplayed for most of the first forty-five minutes, but were somehow two goals and one man to the good; courtesy, it has to be said, of some not exactly even-handed refereeing.

The second half began much as most of the first had been spent, with Leeds on the back foot and defending precariously.  Straight away, the dangerous Berkovic bamboozled Jonathan Woodgate, turning him inside out before supplying di Canio with the perfect chance to pull a goal back.  2-1 to the visitors then, but the balance of the play had been with West Ham, and maybe now the momentum was theirs too.  None of us could feel over-confident despite a man and a goal advantage, because all of us could recall Leeds blowing such enviable positions many times in the past.  This time, for once, we were not to be let down.  A rare defensive slip just after the hour from the otherwise excellent Marc-Vivien Foé saw Hasselbaink sprint clear to round Hislop, who then brought him down.  Penalty to Leeds and, despite the presence of defensive cover, Hislop was sent off. It was a slightly unfortunate second red card for West Ham, who felt compelled to replace Berkovic with reserve keeper Craig Forrest as the calamities mounted for the home team.  Forrest’s first act was to pick Harte’s penalty out of the back of the net, and Leeds were 3-1 up and cruising against 9 men.  Foé, we will remember, sadly died four years later at the tragically young age of 28, from an unsuspected heart condition whilst representing his country in the FIFA Confederations Cup.

Now at last Leeds started to dominate as a two-man advantage would suggest they should.  The best goal of the game arrived on 78 minutes, Bowyer hitting an unstoppable right-footed shot from twenty-five yards, which curved slightly as it found the corner of Forrest’s net.  Just a minute later, Alf-Inge Haaland sprinted on to a Hasselbaink pass into a massive amount of space on the right hand side.  Unchallenged, he was able to advance into the penalty area and beat Forrest with an accurate shot just inside the far post.

The eight outfield players in claret and blue were clearly finding the pace too hot, and suddenly there was room aplenty all over the pitch for Leeds to exploit, and exploit it they did.  Aided by the fact that the Hammers – to their eternal credit – were still trying to attack Leeds in spite of their depleted resources, Leeds were granted the licence to ping the ball about, always able to find a man or two in space, making the tired home players work overtime to chase possession as the Upton Park faithful bayed their hate at the referee.  Truth to tell, we could easily empathise with the ‘Arrassed ‘Ammers; far too many times down the years had we been in their shoes, watching impotently enraged as some git of a ref casually destroyed our afternoon.  It was somewhat bizarre to watch the situation unfold in reverse – but what the hell.  We made hay while the sun was shining, and happily the team was doing the same.

The game had long been over as a contest and, at 5-1 up with no credible opposition to deal with, Leeds seemed intent solely on playing out time.  Smith still managed to miss a passable chance to make it 6-1 and Clyde Wijnhard contrived to get himself booked, eliciting gleefully ironic chants of “Who’s the bastard in the black” from the jubilant Leeds fans, displaying a gallows humour not altogether appreciated by the home supporters.  Finally, hothead Irons defender Steve Lomas allowed his mounting frustration to get the better of him, launching an agricultural challenge in the direction of Harte and duly collecting his marching orders to reduce the hapless, helpless Hammers to eight at the death.

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Dirty Den 1, Dirty Leeds 5

It had been a strange game, a romp for the Whites on the face of it – judging by the lop-sided score line anyway.  But it had never been quite like that; not that our awareness of having been outplayed for long stretches diluted our joy one tiny bit.  5-1 away wins do not come along every day, and we enjoyed this one to the full.  We enjoyed it for the whole of the slightly perilous walk back to the tube station, and we were still enjoying it when we beheld the distinctly pissed-off figure of Leslie Grantham heading down the stairway to the platform where we were celebrating noisily.  Leslie Grantham, soap-opera legend as Eastenders’ Dirty Den, Leslie Grantham who had done time for killing a German taxi-driver, Leslie Grantham, Hammers fanatic, who – despite being accompanied by his two young boys – bore a grim aspect which looked rather as if he wouldn’t mind adding a couple of Leeds fans to that record. 

Tactful and understanding to the last of private grief, we wisely kept our distance and refrained from seeking autographs.  It had been a memorably bizarre day for Leeds United and an equally happy summer evening awaited us in the sinful fleshpots of London, crap cockney beer and semi-hostile natives notwithstanding.

Dirty Den 1, Dirty Leeds 5. 

New Life in Madrid for Bale as Spurs Face Old Realities Nearer Home

Bale Bails Out

Bale Bails Out

The least surprising transfer of the summer has finally been completed as Gareth Bale secured his longed-for move to the Bernebeu to become Real Madrid’s latest galáctico and thus deprive Spurs of roughly 50% of last year’s total team effectiveness.  The price varies according to which source you read, but it’s an eye-watering figure which Spurs have already spent on half a dozen or so players in the hope that quantity may in some measure replace quality.  It remains to be seen how Bale will fare at a big club, but his is a spectacular talent which arguably deserves a much bigger stage.

Spurs meanwhile, having resigned themselves some time ago to the loss of their talisman, turned out at The Emirates yesterday with their friends in the media explaining to anyone who would listen that – despite their Bale-less attacking threat – they were now much better placed than opponents Arsenal to achieve success this season.  The new definition of success in these commercialised Murdoch days is, of course, a top four finish: gone are the days when fans might argue about who will win what trophy.  Now it’s all about whether your favourite club can qualify for the Champions League, and how many millions that will net.  That those millions will for the most part disappear into the bank accounts of their overpaid heroes is a point that apparently does not faze today’s Premier League fan.

The media as an entity appears to have a problem with Arsenal, and they seem disposed to address this by making more of a fuss of Tottenham than such a pallid power really merit.  The BBC in particular sound almost plaintive when they reflect on the fact that Arsenal’s recent Champions League qualifications have been at the expense of Spurs and their assertions that things might now be different – with a new-look Tottenham transcending tired old Arsenal – tend to be accompanied by a collective stamp of the foot and sullen pout. But all the media posturing in the world will not change a thing on the field, and it was on the immaculate turf of the magnificent home of Arsenal that Spurs yesterday received a lesson in how little things have changed where the balance of power in North London is concerned.

After an adrenalin-fueled bright opening, Spurs were never really at the races in this latest derby.  Once Arsenal had ridden out that initial flurry their own game took effortless control – helped by the fact that they had taken the lead while the tide was still slightly against them.  A gorgeous move from centre midfield across to the right found Tomas Rosicky in acres of space and he used it to full effect with a penetrating low cross into the box.  And there was Olivier Giroud darting towards the near post to beat Hugo Lloris with a sweet finish from the outside of his left foot, finding the tiniest gap between the hapless ‘keeper and the upright to give Arsenal the lead.

For the rest of the first half, Arsenal threatened to increase their advantage against a Spurs side knocked out of their early, optimistic stride.  After the interval, the away side began to make their presence more effectively felt, pressing Arsenal back in search of a point at least.  But although there were alarms, and despite quite intense late pressure as the the home team defended in depth, the breakthrough failed to appear.

Tottenham could have no real complaints about the result, and may reflect by way of consolation that at least they didn’t ship five this time, as on the last two visits to The Emirates.  Arsenal have an altogether more positive world view today; three derby points in the bag, ahead of Spurs in the table as they finished last season, and today they appear to have made a transfer statement as well, with the pending capture of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid – a transfer that may, ironically, have been made possible by Tottenham’s failure to hang on to Bale.

Players come and players go as millions upon millions change hands in the transfer market.  But a happy Arsene Wenger may well reflect today that some things are less susceptible to change, Arsenal’s dominance of North London being one among them.  Ozil will add considerably to the Gunners’ ammunition and firing power, just as the loss of Bale will inevitably weaken Spurs.  It’s been a good weekend after all for the Gooners.

Why Liverpool Are Still the Greatest Champions

Liverpool: Champions of Champions

Liverpool: Champions of Champions

Liverpool entertain Man U at Anfield tomorrow (Sunday) in the latest meeting between clubs who, to say the least, aren’t exactly fond of each other.  Rivalry of that depth and bitterness tends to polarise opinion – there aren’t many fence-sitters when one of these fixtures crops up.  OK, so I’m a Leeds United fan – so what has this got to do with me?

Well, I’d have to start by declaring an interest – as a die-hard supporter of the One True United from the right (Yorkshire) side of the Pennines, I’m not exactly enamoured of Man U.  I never had much time for them, even before that awful, whisky-nosed Govan Git came down to pour his choleric bile all over what had, until then, been a relatively civilised (give or take Brian Clough and nearly all the fans) English football scene.  There was always an air of spurious arrogance about them, as well as this “you’ve got to love us because of the Busby Babes” thing – which all the media seemed to lap up so eagerly, much to the disgust of real fans everywhere.  So clearly, I don’t like them – never did.  That’s in my Leeds United DNA.  But I’m not just a Leeds fan, I’m a fan of football in its widest sense – and I mourn the game we once knew which seems to be gone forever, swept away by a grotty tide of filthy lucre

Time was when Man U were grudgingly respected, other than by determined haters like me and my fellow Whites.  Since Sir Alex Taggart landed at the Theatre of Hollow Myths though, they’ve gone from “quite easy to dislike” to “impossible to stand the sight of” faster than you could say “Envious of Liverpool”.  The Purple-Conked One made it clear from the off that he was determined to “knock Liverpool off their perch”.  What we didn’t realise when he started his vendetta in 1988, showing no immediate sign of being any more successful than any of the other post-Busby failures, was that the whole face of football would have to change to realise Ferguson’s warped dream.

In 1967, Man U won their last ever proper League Title, making seven in total – quite respectable.  Then – nothing, for 26 years.  Since 1993, when a greedy Aussie bought the game and gift-wrapped it for a curmudgeonly Scot, the title “race” has been more of a procession.  The honour has ceased to be about virtuosity on the field; now it’s mainly about money and markets, and Man U have had much more of both during the whole Murdoch era.  Result: thirteen plastic titles.

Football is now a tacky, merchandise-driven, unseemly drive for profit over pride, and the dominance by Man U of such a grubby era is undeniably apt.  But we are still close enough in time to the pre-greed days for those of us of a certain age to remember when the game was about glory, not greed; when the aim was winning, not wonga, when the important people were supporters, not shareholders.  In those days, the distribution of wealth was far more even, and the field of possible title-winners was far wider; the competition (over a grueling 42 match course, with un-manicured pitches and un-pampered pros) was far more fierce.  And yet, even in this environment of white-hot combat and intense rivalry, Liverpool reigned supreme, not for months, not years, but for literally two decades.  By 1992, they had compiled an honours list that seemed likely to see them at the top of the game for many years to come – unless someone sneaked in and moved the goalposts.  Cue Uncle Rupert.

Man U fans can crow all they want about 20 titles.  The evidence to confound them is there for all to see, like some geological stratum separating the dinosaurs from the mammoths.  That schism dividing the game up to ’92, from the showbiz shenanigans of ’93 onwards, stands out like a Tory at a Foodbank, exposing Man U as the wealth-backed, monopolising opportunists that they are.  And it has all been done with such bad grace, another indictment of this new and joyless age we’re plodding through.  No gentle wisdom of the Bob Paisley variety – instead we had the sour bile of Ferguson and now seemingly a Fergie-Lite clone in the newly growly and grouchy David Moyes.  No loveable old-style hard-man Desperate Dan type like Tommy Smith – we just had the manufactured machismo of Roy Keane, a supposed tough-guy with an assumed snarl and trademark glower, whose typical party trick was to sneak up behind wee Jason McAteer and fell that not-exactly-scary individual with a sly elbow.

The comparisons could go on all day, but the bottom line is that Liverpool at their peak – and it was a hell of a peak – typified all the values of football that some of us remember from a pre-Sky, pre-glitz, pre-greed age when it really was all about a ball.  Now, it’s all about money, and contracts, and egos, and snide bitching to the media if you don’t get all your own way – and lo, we have the champions we deserve.  In the home game against Chelsea towards the end of last season, they displayed a lack of respect for the Premier League competition, and discourtesy to other clubs who stood to gain or lose depending on whether Chelsea  won or lost, by fielding a much changed and weakened side, going down to a meek defeat and imperiling the Champions League prospects of Spurs and Arsenal.  Such is the measure of their attitude to the game where their own immediate interests are not affected.

To apply a conversion rate which sums up all the anger and disgust I feel for the way our game has been degraded – I’d say each Premier League (or Premiership, or whatever else it’s been marketed as) is worth maybe half – at the very most – of each proper Football League Championship from the days when the game still belonged to us and the world was a happier and more carefree place.

At that rate, Man U are still a good long distance behind Liverpool, which – judging by the paucity of spirit and sportsmanship they displayed against Chelsea – is precisely where they belong.  On the eve of the latest meeting between these two long-standing Lancashire rivals, it should be emphasised once and for all – Liverpool are still The Greatest.