Tag Archives: Everton FC

Leeds United Fans Savouring the Unfamiliar Taste of Optimism – by Rob Atkinson

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After the owner from Hell – is Andrea Radrizzani Heaven-sent?

The usual pre-season mood around Leeds United over the past few years has been an unlovely mixture of frustration and pessimism, both usually to be justified by subsequent events. Squad investment, the close-season preoccupation of the serious promotion contenders, was noticeable only by its relative absence down at Elland Road. Pre-season programmes were put together hurriedly if at all, the club more often than not being engaged in the search for another doomed occupant of the United managerial hot-seat. The fans looked on aghast, as the recipe for mediocrity was written anew each season before their horrified eyes. It was depressing, it was annoying – it was getting properly boring.

How things have changed since the recent shift of power at the helm of this famous old football club. The new owner, Andrea Radrizzani, seems able and determined to engage with the supporters, impishly keeping us in the loop as he sets about a recruitment spree the like of which we’ve not seen since the second millennium was brand new. All of a sudden, after the thin gruel of recent years, we’re being fed a solid diet of proper signings, players for whom a fee has been demanded, players we’ve had to compete for against other clubs of equal or even higher rank, players of pedigree who should be able to handle the pressure that comes with the famous white United shirt. It’s all most novel and unaccustomed but, by gum, it makes a very welcome change.

Now, Twitter is abuzz with incredulous Leeds fans rapidly running out of fingers to tally up the roster of new additions. The mood is bordering upon happy hysteria all over the vast world of Leeds United social media, fans are getting ecstatically greedy, wanting more presents from Santa Andrea before they’ve even unwrapped the latest quality playmaker with a distant but enthralling Real Madrid connection. It’s heady stuff. Not all United fans are easily pleased, of course. Many, having watched on breathless as the attacking options have multiplied, are urging Radrizzani to make the case for the defence. But you sense that the Italian has it in hand; his responses are urbanely tantalising, but the intent and ambition behind those responses are palpable.

Here is a guy who has no intention of pulling the wool over our eyes, nor yet of leading us up the garden path. His promises have been terse, almost – but then swiftly fulfilled. To say that it’s been refreshing is hopelessly inadequate; single-handedly, Radrizzani has galvanised a massive body of support, with the effect of a powerful stimulant running through the veins of a formerly moribund subject. The followers of sleeping giant Leeds United have been administered a welcome shot in the arm; eyes are sparkling and sinews are stiffened for the challenge ahead. The general mood after so many seasons of “meh” is a decidedly positive “bring it on”.

Stern tests await in the remainder of the pre-season programme and, of course, in the campaign itself. More recruitment is necessary in the defensive third, especially in the likely and regrettable absence of Kyle Bartley, sadly confined to barracks in Swansea. Matthew Pennington‘s season-long loan arrival from Everton won’t be the end of that process, as at least one more experienced head will be required. But you have the feeling in any case that all areas of the club are relishing those tests, ready for the challenge, welcoming the task ahead. The attitude and morale of the whole place is radically different from the gloominess of other pre-seasons, and the old Leeds United fighting spirit seems to be reasserting itself. And not before time, with a historic moment fast approaching.

In two years time, Leeds United FC celebrates its centenary, a watershed in the existence of any football club. Where will we be in the game, when those three numerals tick over? I know what I wish for this great club, and I’m sure thousands upon thousands feel the same way. Let’s celebrate that centenary where we belong, marching on together in the top flight. That fervent hope might just have become a lot nearer being realised.

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Jonny Howson Back to Leeds United, But NOT Jermaine Beckford – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United v Bristol Rovers

Jermaine and Jonny during THAT Bristol Rovers game

A headline this morning screams that Leeds United should bring Jonny Howson and Jermaine Beckford, the two League One promotion goal heroes, back to Elland Road. As pre-transfer window speculative press advice goes, it’s nearer the mark than 90% of the rubbish out there – but it’s still only half right at best.

Judged on their merits, the two cases are miles apart. Howson is still the real deal, coming up to his 29th birthday, a mature goal-scoring midfielder who has performed creditably in the Premier League. He thrived at Leeds before the environment around LS11 turned toxic, at which time his best move was out. If he’s now available to bring back into the fold, it would be a very good option for a United midfield sorely in need of top-level experience and the kind of commitment that comes with a player who is also a fan.

Beckford, on the other hand, shows all the signs of having put the best of his playing career far behind him. I still believe that he should have given himself a chance of securing a second successive promotion with Leeds United, after helping get the club out of League One in 2010. Obviously, there were compelling financial reasons for his move to Everton, and he did make a mark of sorts at Goodison Park. But thereafter, it’s been a case of each successive move leading to a diminution of his reputation, and the signals have always been there that he left his heart and soul behind at Elland Road – he’s perhaps the opposition player best known for his ongoing rapport with our crowd, complete with Leeds salute. I can’t help thinking that he has his regrets, but realistically he’s not a viable option for a United squad on the way up (we hope). The rule of thumb here is, since he’s been released by Preston, there’s not too much – sadly – that he can now offer to Leeds United.

Many more names will be bandied about over the coming weeks, some of them formerly of this parish, and many more who might be new and exciting additions to the club. But if I could have one choice for a player to return, I wouldn’t look much further (with the honourable exception of Rob Snodgrass) than Jonny Howson, who I feel really could add that winning spark to next years United squad.

 

Sun ‘Newspaper’ Confirms New Manager Contract By Reporting Leeds Have Sacked Monk – by Rob Atkinson

The Scum

Leeds United fans can rest assured that a new contract is on the table for manager Garry Monk, with notorious lie-sheet The Scum reporting that the Whites boss is on the point of dismissal.

Wapping’s most odious piece of bogroll, a publication so mendacious that it has people checking their calendars if it reports on Friday that tomorrow will be Saturday, launched into an orgy of wishful thinking after Leeds’ home draw with with Norwich ended their play-off aspirations. Those familiar with The Scum‘s record for inaccuracy and fabrication will see this as a cast-iron indication that Monk’s future is at Elland Road.

Recent achievements at the notorious Murdoch rag have included the comparison of Everton’s Ross Barkley to a gorilla, and the assertion that the only other people on Merseyside earning Barkley’s level of remuneration are drug barons. This piece of “journalism” saw well-known moron Kelvin MacKenzie suspended pending an investigation, and also the complete disappearance of The Scum as a Merseyside football resource, with Everton applying the blanket ban that Liverpool FC instituted some decades ago, following the disgraceful Hillsborough reportage. It is now thought that Tranmere Rovers FC benefits from an army of Scum correspondents 37 strong.

Current Leeds United co-owner Massimo Cellino commented “You know I’mma dodgy character, my friend, and even I don’ read that sheet”.

Rupert Murdoch is 142.

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.

Leeds, Liverpool Fans: Demand New Contract for Man Utd Hero van Gaal   –   by Rob Atkinson

 
Times are hard for Man United and their beleaguered Dutch genius of a manager Louis van Gaal. Following their latest defeat, at old rivals Liverpool, rumours persist that the axe is poised to terminate the former Holland coach’s tenure at Old Trafford. This would be a tragic turn of events for fans of some of England’s premier clubs, who are united in their conviction that Louis van Gaal is doing a fantastic job at Manchester United.

Fans of some of the country’s foremost clubs, as well as Newcastle United, West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur, have been invited to sign and share a petition calling upon Malcolm Glazer, the Man U CEO, to recognise the folly of a managerial change at this point, and immediately award van Gaal a new and improved five year contract, during in which he would hopefully be able to see through the job he’s started so promisingly to a conclusion that most football fans would wholeheartedly welcome. 

Fans of Liverpool, Manchester City, Leeds United and Arsenal, among others, are invited to sign and share the Change.org petition in support of van Gaal’s retention with the Premier League also-rans.

We at Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything are so impressed with the job van Gaal is doing, that we have no hesitation in endorsing this petition. We would urge our readers to sign it at once and share it as widely as possible. 

For the good of the game and the contentment of millions of people outside of Devon, Cornwall and the Home Counties, the success of this campaign is vital. 

Louis van Gaal must stay at Man U!

Four Years On, the Late, Great Gary Speed is Still So Much Missed – by Rob Atkinson

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The three left behind pay tribute to the one who went before

So, here we are then. It’s been four years today since the awful day that Speedo died. Forty-eight months down the line, and where has the time gone? It seems like five minutes since, driving to my parents house after running a few errands, the bleak words came out of the car radio and fell like a hail of rocks into my unwilling mind. Gary Speed – that smiling boy, that shock of dark hair, the towering presence in attack and all over the park in the white shirt of Leeds United, our home-grown and beloved Speedo – was dead, and apparently by his own hand. It’s no exaggeration to say that this was a “JFK moment”, one where you’d forever remember where you were and what you were doing when the shocking blow fell. What about you? What were you doing when you heard that Gary Speed was dead?

We remember him in many different ways. He was an exuberant quarter of that magnificent United midfield of a quarter-century ago. It was the best around, the engine room of the early nineties United team that swaggered back into the First Division after an eight year absence, had a little look around, decided that “there were nowt to fear” – and won the League in 1992, by four clear points. Decent at the back, productive up front, that team was powered by the four guys in the middle of the park; energetic leader Gordon Strachan, robust and implacable David Batty, elegant and creative Gary MacAllister – and, of course, the late, great Gary Speed.

What can we possibly say of Speedo that will give us the remotest chance of doing his memory justice? Bursting from his own half to score that fourth, decisive, hammer-blow goal against Sheffield Utd when we were battling each other for promotion and the second division title in 1990 – “Go on, Gary lad, get one yourself, son.  And he has!” Leaping salmon-like in that favoured inside-left channel (as we old’uns used to call it) – meeting accurate long diagonal passes to head dangerously goalwards for the likes of Chappy, Shutt, Varadi, Wallace – even Cantona… Blasting home from thirty yards against Southampton at the Dell, volleying in at the South Stand against Stuttgart and Man U, powering home a header at Crystal Palace, arm raised in salute, broadly grinning as he celebrated another goal for Leeds United – and always, always doing his bit for that fabulous midfield foursome.

Ridiculously good-looking was the boy Gary, a real pin-up type with the artfully-tousled hair, the chiselled bone structure and the hundred megawatt smile – and yet the kind of down-to-earth lad you didn’t mind your girlfriend fancying, or perhaps your daughter bringing home. In fact, it gave you that warm glow of affirmation – she fancies our Speedo. None of that Giggsy rubbish. You didn’t just not mind – you were flattered, by proxy. Greater love hath no fan.

If you had told me in 1992, when we saw that great midfield play and win, going on to collect that historic last-ever Football League Championship trophy, that a mere 19 years later we’d see three of them gather again to lay a wreath for the fourth – I’d never have believed something so awful could happen. It would have seemed like a sick, horrible, unfunny joke. Back then, it was still five years before we would lose Billy Bremner, twelve before we would say goodbye to another iconic Welsh hero, Gentle Giant and fifties legend John Charles.

Three years earlier we had shed tears in isolation as Don Revie succumbed to motor neurone disease, and most of football stood by indifferently save for his glory, glory boys and a select few others. It seemed, back in 1992, that losing the Don would be enough of sorrow and grieving for a long time. The Super Leeds side were all still alive and kicking, and we had this new team of Champions to salute. They were happy days; we were all that much younger and more innocent then. It’s a good job that you can’t see what’s coming at you, just around the corner.

Gary Speed holds a place still in the hearts of football fans everywhere, but especially perhaps in his adopted West Yorkshire home. That much is evidenced by the depth and sincerity of the tributes that have been paid to him by Leeds United, the club and even more so the fans, since that tragic day four years ago. In the very next game after Gary’s death, the travelling army of Leeds fans at Nottingham Forest chanted his name from the 11th minute, for 11 minutes, for our former number 11. It was a chant broken only briefly by ear-shattering celebrations as the modern Leeds team scored the opening goal. They went on to win 4-0 with a dominant performance. It was that kind of evening; they dared do no less.

But Gary had other fans, in other clubs – he was a boyhood Evertonian and had a spell at Goodison Park from 1996. That didn’t work out too happily in the end, but he served his childhood favourites well. The reasons underlying Speed’s departure from the Toffees were never revealed. He told the Liverpool Echo: “You know why I’m leaving, but I can’t explain myself publicly because it would damage the good name of Everton Football Club and I’m not prepared to do that.” On he moved to Newcastle and found a new legion of adoring fans, appearing in two successive FA Cup Finals for the Toon. He served Bolton Wanderers with distinction as player and coach and finished up as a player and then coach at Sheffield United – almost full circle from that match-clinching goal he’d scored against the Blades in 1990.

Then of course he went on to manage Wales and, proud Welshman and distinguished international footballer that he was, he was making a fantastic success of that job, putting pride and passion back into the Red Dragon. His last game in charge was a 4-1 friendly success over a classy Norway team on 12th November 2011 – and that sadly was Gary’s final curtain. But a few weeks after his death, on 21 December 2011, the day of the final FIFA rankings of the year, Wales were awarded the title of ‘Best Movers’, having gained more ranking points than any other nation in 2011. A fitting tribute to the impact a talented young coach was having in his tragically brief spell in charge of his country’s national squad. Since then, of course, Wales have qualified for Euro ’16, their first major tournament in well over half a century. They did it by building on the solid foundations laid by Gary Speed.

Four years ago today since the tragic death of Gary Speed. Four years without one of the first of my Leeds United heroes to be younger than I was when he starred in the Whites first team. He was a novelty – I’d always looked up to men older than me in the white shirt, and worshipped them as a boy does a man. But Gary was “nobbut a lad” to me, someone I looked up to whilst realising I was beginning to get old myself. He’s a lad to me still, four years after we lost him.

We’ll never know what was in Gary Speed’s mind on that awful day in 2011. It remains shrouded in mystery, and all we can tell ourselves now is, it was so needless, so unnecessary. Someone who had helped as many people as Speedo did in the course of a long and distinguished career, must surely have known that, at need, there would have been help for him. People would have been queuing up to help him, surely. If the days of unbelieving sorrow immediately after his death showed anything – they showed that here was a man loved by his peers and by his fans in a way that very few have been, before or since. I wonder if he really knew that? We can only hope he did.

Gary Speed MBE (8 September 1969 – 27 November 2011) You remain very much still in our hearts, minds and memories, Speedo. RIP

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Leeds Show Streak of Quality to Beat Flaccid Everton   –   by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United 2, Everton 0

A mixed pre-season programme, having consisted previously of draws against humble local opposition and narrow defeats against pedigree Bundesliga outfits, came to an encouraging climax for Leeds United with a well-deserved victory over Everton at Elland Road.

The Toffees, it’s true, fielded a side that owed more to youth than experience; still there was enough Premier League know-how in the Blue ranks to provide a stern test for a Leeds team some tipsters reckon will struggle to avoid the drop this season. Surely that, at least, is unthinkable on the evidence of this spirited display by the home side, dominating their nominally higher-class opponents. 

The signing of Chris Wood from Leicester, reportedly for a fee that could reach £3m with add-ons, can be taken as a sign of the naked ambition in the air at Elland Road. Now that Leeds have got Wood, they can be expected to show far more penetration up front, with the striker able both to hold it up well and be effective in the box. Wood’s all-round display promised much for the coming season and the coup de grâce he delivered before his late withdrawal was fitting reward for his potent contribution on the day. 

The highlight though, as far as the actual football was concerned, was Alex Mowatt‘s opener for United, coming as it did at the end of a shimmering bout of passing which followed Giuseppe Bellusci‘s initial surge forward from defence. The ball was switched about among the yellow shirts with speed and precision, before a sublime one-two saw young Mowatt with the time and space to score from the right angle of the six yard box.

Alex Mowatt finishes a sublime move

Wood’s clincher looked more spectacular at first sight, though his fine shot appeared to be aided in its looping flight into goal by a slight deflection. But both goals were well-taken and the overall performance of this reshaped Leeds team perhaps even merited the third that so nearly arrived near the final whistle, a mad goalmouth scramble somehow preserving some respectability for the well-beaten scousers.  

New hero Chris Wood takes the plaudits for his clincher against Everton

New hero Chris Wood takes the plaudits for his clincher against Everton

Naturally, the Internet being the Internet, a disproportionate amount of attention was paid in the wake of this match to a chap who decided that his own undraped physique was what was really needed to top proceedings off. As a spectacle, the sight of such an undue amount of pale and naked skin, which would self-evidently have been better kept under wraps, proved to be a case of Much Ado About Not Very Much. Well, it’s been a chilly summer of late.

Unlike the nude intruder, however, Leeds can hold themselves erect with pride at a highly encouraging display which will see them start the season proper hopefully in fine fettle – and ready to batter more Lancastrians in the shape of Burnley. Fittingly for Yorkshire Day, the honours from this friendly Roses clash belonged very firmly on the right side of the Pennines. And while there have been no 16-0 victories in this pre-season, there’s a very definite feeling that we’re in much better shape now, then we were twelve months ago.

Byram Is a Realisable Asset, NOT a Leeds United Necessity – by Rob Atkinson

Boy Wonder Byram

Boy Wonder Byram

Everywhere you look within the Leeds United blogosphere at the moment, people are gnashing their teeth, tearing their hair, rending their clothes and exhibiting other biblical signs of anguish and angst – and all over one slip of a lad. Sam Byram was an unknown to 99% of the support three short years ago. Then he had a dream pre-season, started off the Championship campaign in the first team – and stayed there, producing displays of a maturity and confidence far in excess of his tender years.

Naturally, being Leeds, this seeming success story is a double-edged sword. The presence of a boy wonder in the first team (otherwise known in LS11 as “the shop window”) more usually produces feelings of rampant insecurity among the Leeds faithful, rather than the warm glow that should accompany the sight of a youthful prodigy in the famous white shirt. We know our place in today’s scheme of things, and it is very much that of “feeder club”. Each successive hero has played his way into our hearts, prospered briefly in front of our adoring eyes and then departed for pastures greener, or more likely Canary yellow, with no sign of any adequate replacement.

It’s happened with Beckford, Howson, Snoddy, Becchio and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all.  Local hero status is no protection from the Lure of Elsewhere. Howson supposedly had Leeds tattooed on his heart, but it seems to have been erased easily enough, and our last sight of him was as he wheeled away after scoring a winner against us. Byram could so easliy have followed the well-trodden path out of Elland Road a year ago; Southampton, awash with Liverpudlian money from their fire sale of last summer, were rebuffed after an offer of £4.5 million or so for Byram – but there are now rumours that more serious suitors might be willing almost to double that sum.

Sam is quite possibly the jewel in the crown of the Leeds Academy production line. Despite an injury-affected and form-blighted last year or so, he really is that good. It’s natural then that worries over his short-term future should be particularly unwelcome at a time when a maverick owner and the latest in a long and dismal line of “head coaches” are supposed to be building for the club’s eventual re-admission to the Promised Land of the Premier League. But really – should we be worrying at all?

We need to take a long, hard look at what is necessary to get us out of this division in the desired, upwards, direction. That list will include strikers who know where the goal is (Chris Wood?) and are proficient at sticking the ball therein; midfielders and wingers – all very much according to the prescription of our former gaffer Dr. McDermott, who had seen this treatment work wonders at Reading. We also need tough, all-action ball winners who are preferably not in the superannuated class (Tom Adeyemi??), and a solid defence who will be mean enough at the back to make sure that increased productivity up front results in a net force taking us a lot higher up the league.  What we probably don’t actually need, and won’t until it’s time to start plotting our approach to the top flight, is a potentially world-class performer on the right flank. It’s superfluous to our current requirements; we’re casting pearls before swine.

It would be OK, of course, if Sam did stick around.  It might even be better for the lad himself – too many fledgling superstars have gone up a level and struggled to stay afloat, look how Fabian Delph initially struggled at Villa.  He’s only now beginning to look the player that seemed likely to be evolving under the guidance of Gary McAllister – and he may be about to disappear into the black hole that is the fringes of City’s 1st team squad.  Byram might well benefit from another season at least of learning his trade at Leeds, or so the conventional wisdom goes. 

Looking at things realistically though – if there WAS an offer of £8 million for the youthful and richly promising Sam, and if that £8 million were to be made (don’t laugh, now) available for the construction of a team that would challenge strongly this season – might not that be a good option for Leeds? It’s the kind of money that, as was said about the fortune we mugged Fulham out of for McCormack, could easily fund the four or five quality additions that we realistically need to propel us into the very top echelons of the Championship. Whether such investment would actually be made is, of course, another matter entirely – but that still doesn’t make the case for hanging onto a valuable, possibly wantaway player. Once promoted, it’s a different ball game, but in the here and now the priority is actually getting there, and a lavishly-gifted Byram in a team consisting otherwise largely of uninspiring plodders doesn’t look like being enough to realise the dream.

A lot will depend on the attitude of the lad himself, and historically no sentimental feelings of attachment to the club that has nurtured their talent have persuaded previous uncut diamonds to hang around and be polished at Elland Road. So if Sam wanted to go to a Premier League club, would we, could we, should we, stand in his way?  My view is that you don’t sacrifice a lad’s ambition and desire to mix it with the best, on the altar of narrow club interests – such a policy is liable to blow up in your face, leaving you with a disaffected and depreciating asset on your hands. No, if Byram does want out – especially as his current deal is fast running down – we’re better off gritting our teeth, securing the very best deal for Leeds United – don’t forget that sell-on clause, Massimo! – and getting on with reinvesting the loot in a team that will do the job at this level. We can leave worries about how we cope in the Premier League for such time as it becomes a live issue, rather than the distant prospect it is right now.

We need to cast off that “Feeder club” image as the mortally humiliating insult it is. We Are Leeds, after all. But in order for that to happen, we may need to embrace the unwelcome label in the shorter term, and speculate to accumulate. And at least these days we seem of a mind to drive a very hard bargain, unlike previous years when the attitude has been disgustingly meek and humble as we accepted pittances for valued assets. If the departure of Sam were to provide the funds to finish the job, then that sad loss will turn out to have been a worthy sacrifice.

The ugly truth of the matter is that a stubborn desire to keep a luxury we can’t afford, and frankly don’t really need in our current situation, could turn out to be the ultimate example of short-termism, to the detriment of our longer-term prospects of life at the top.

The Top Three Leeds United Transfer Rumours Ever – by Rob Atkinson

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Well, another transfer window is flapping wide open in LS11 just as it is in less crisis-torn football outposts and, embargo notwithstanding, a couple of Serie A fringe performers have breezed into Elland Road and signed for Leeds. Possibly there are more to come, maybe an outgoing or two as well. It’s certainly different, in a good way too, from some of the depressingly inert United transfer markets of the unlamented Bates era – but it hardly compares with the wheeling and dealing we did in more halcyon days. And, if anything, some of the rumours that never came to fruition down the years were more exciting and entertaining than certain signings that actually did happen (take a bow, Messrs. Sharpe & Brolin).

There have been so many players linked with transfers to Leeds United over our chequered history and, in the nature of these things, only a small proportion ever actually pulled on the famous white shirt.  Of those who never arrived, it would probably be easy to name at least two world-class International sides comprising players who were rumoured to be signing for United, but missed out on that pinnacle of honours and finished their careers tragically unfulfilled – apart from the odd cartload of silverware. The likes of Tomáš Skuhravý, Rainer Bonhof, Peter Shilton, Trevor Francis and even Dean Saunders have all, at one time or another, been tipped as Leeds United players, only to remain trapped in dreadful anonymity at the likes of Liverpool, Bayern Munich or Nottingham Forest.  Here – in time-honoured reverse order – are my top three exciting but unrealised rumours – you may well have candidates of your own, so please feel free to comment.

3. Duncan Ferguson
In 1994, it really did look as though this one might happen. The wonderfully talented if ever so slightly thuggish Scottish Imagestriker, looking to move south to England from then mighty Rangers FC, seemed nailed-on for a transfer to Leeds in the region of £4million, but ended up at Everton where he prospered before moving on to Newcastle.  Ferguson had a bit of a “reputation” on and off the field as a nutter – in fact he did time in Barlinnie for over-generous use of that nut in a dispute with Raith Rovers defender John McStay.  A little prone to over-exuberance when he’d had a drop or two (he was known as Drunken Ferguson or alternatively Duncan Disorderly) he had previous convictions for nutting a policeman and punching and kicking a supporter on crutches. Nice.

2. Peter Beardsley
This was one of those “definitely happening, mark my words and get your money on it” rumours Imagethat you’d have so loved to be true.  Beardsley was a wonderful player, class, poise and jinking speed all rolled into one dynamite package of energy and skill. I’d first noticed him in rather abbreviated TV highlights of a Cup game he played for Carlisle United, when he stood out as the real deal among a load of dross.  After a spell in Vancouver, he moved briefly to Man U – but the other thing about Beardsley was that he was such a nice, modest guy – not really the type of player for the Theatre of Hollow Myths at all.  Leeds could have signed him whilst he was at Vancouver – Peter Lorimer recommended that they do just that – but we couldn’t raise the cash (some things never change).  Beardsley made his name at Newcastle, in the same side as a veteran Kevin Keegan and emerging Chris Waddle. From there, a big money move to Liverpool, and it was whilst unaccountably out of favour at Anfield that the Leeds rumour surfaced again – he was buying a house locally, he’d been seen at Elland Road – there really did seem to be something in it. Sadly, Beardsley was The One Who Got Away – Twice.  A great shame, as any club would have been improved by the addition of Beardsley, a phenomenal talent you could have built a team around.

1. Diego Maradona
Surely the craziest rumour ever, bar none. In 1987, Leeds had just missed out, under Billy ImageBremner, on an FA Cup Final and promotion to the top flight in the first-ever play-offs. We were doomed to a hangover season in 87-88 and the fans’ mood and expectations were dulled. Then sensational whispers emerged that managing director Bill Fotherby, a larger-than-life used-car-salesman of a bloke, had managed to persuade the agent of Diego Armando Maradona to enter into talks with Leeds United over the proposed signing of the Argentine superstar. This was only just a year after Maradona had just about single-handedly (geddit?) won the World Cup for the Argies, and his stock could hardly have been higher on the global football scene. Strangely, he had very nearly signed for Sheffield United as a youngster, and for a measly £250,000 at that. The Blunts got Alejandro Sabella instead, who actually did end up briefly at Elland Road. But Maradona was different – astoundingly different to just about anyone else – people compared him favourably to Pele. He was even compared – unfavourably, and by the ever modest and unassuming George Best himself – to self-proclaimed greatest player ever, G. Best. It was a signing that was never going to happen, and surely the Number One Daft Rumour of all time.

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It’s tempting to wonder how the history of Leeds United might have differed if we’d signed Trevor Francis and Peter Shilton in 1974, or Peter Beardsley in 1990, or even the “Hand of God” himself in 1987. The story of any major club is littered with “what ifs” and this certainly applies to our beloved Leeds. Of course our sights are set lower these days – although we’re now roughly about where we were in ’87 when an enterprising director started that Diego rumour, with a view to putting us back on the map.

Perhaps somebody in the Elland Road corridors of power will try to get the excitement going this time around with an audacious loan-with-a-view-to-permanent swoop for the undeniably promising prospect Lionel Messi? Watch this space…

Can Darko’s Leeds Cope with the “Cup Final” Mentality of Local Rivals Rotherham? – by Rob Atkinson

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Huddersfield’s low-key celebrations after edging out Leeds

In the wake of Leeds United’s recent failures on the road against inferior local opposition, it’s well past time to take stock of the problem behind this unwelcome phenomenon, which is set fair to drag us down and keep us away from the top level –  if it continues as it has in past campaigns. It’s to be hoped that, in the new Darko Milanic era, things might be different. There were some promising signs against the Wendies the other week, but away from home against pumped-up (yet lower-class) opposition, some fight is what’s sorely needed.

Firstly, let’s put to bed any foolish suggestion that the local opposition aren’t inferior. They are – by definition.  Leeds do not and never have in living memory played local derbies where they are the underdog in terms of club size and history.  We’ve been the biggest club in Yorkshire – by far the biggest, and the only one with a global profile – for the last fifty years plus. Whatever the relative squad merits – and for 90% of the time, Leeds have possessed demonstrably more accomplished players too – any meeting between Leeds and a smaller Yorkshire club has seen the Elland Road outfit cast as Goliath to some horrible, backstreet David. The real question is – does such superiority of status confer any advantage at all?  The answer to that would appear to be a resounding No, and a reminder that, horrible and provincial though David might have been, he still gave Goliath one in the eye.

The extent of the problem may be brought into focus simply by comparing two different sets of results over the past few years.  If you look at league games against other Yorkshire teams, together with a selection of upstarts around the country who have a similar chip on the shoulder, as compared with our reasonably regular Cup meetings with Premier League clubs over the past three or four years, the contrast is startling – and it says a lot about what it has taken to motivate our white-shirted heroes.

Taking league games first, and looking at the locals – the likes of Barnsley, the Sheffield clubs, Huddersfield and Hull, together with self-appointed rivals like Millwall – the results have been unacceptably bad.  Barnsley in particular have visited embarrassment upon us in match after match, often by a significant margin, whilst keeling over to most other clubs and usually only escaping relegation by the skin of their teeth, prior to their welcome demise last year.  Our relatively close West Yorkshire neighbours Huddersfield are nearly as bad for our health. The other season, these two clubs met on the last day, and over the course of ninety minutes, first one and then the other seemed doomed to the drop.  In the end, both escaped because of events elsewhere – and what did both sets of fans do to celebrate their shared reprieve?  Why, they joined together in a rousing chorus of “We all hate Leeds scum” of course.  This tells you all you need to know about what motivates such dire and blinkered clubs – but at least the motivation is there.

And the motivation is there for Leeds United, too – just not, seemingly, on those bread-and-butter league occasions when we need it.  What seems to turn your average Leeds United player on over the past few years, is the glamour of the Cup – either domestic cup will do, apparently.  Results and performances in these games have left bewildered fans scratching their heads and wondering how such high achievers can then go on to perform so miserably against the envious pariahs from down the road in Cleckhuddersfax.  Look at the results – going back to League One days.  A narrow home defeat to Liverpool in the League Cup when by common consent we should have won and Snoddy ripped them up from wide areas.  The famous win at Man U when we went to the Theatre of Hollow Myths and showed neither fear nor respect in dumping the Pride of Devon out of the FA Cup.  Draws at Spurs and Arsenal, beating Spurs, Gareth Bale and all, at Elland Road.  Beating other Premier League sides such as Everton and Southampton in games that had you wondering which was the higher status club.  Great occasions – but of course we haven’t the squad to go through and win a cup, so these achievements ultimately gain us little but pride. And, naturally, when we draw a Yorkshire “rival” away in a Cup, we contrive to lose embarrassingly as per Bratfud earlier this season. It’s just not good enough.

Often we will sing to daft smaller clubs’ fans about the Leeds fixtures being their Cup Finals, but this is becoming a joke very much against us.  The teams concerned seem to take the Cup Final thing literally, they get highly motivated, roll their metaphorical sleeves up, the veins in their temples start to throb and the battle cry is sounded.  Their fans, normally present in miserable numbers, are out in force – and they are demanding superhuman endeavour.  Faced with this, too many Leeds teams over the past few years have simply failed to find a comparable level of commitment and effort.  There’s no excuse for that – it has meant we’re almost starting off a goal down – even when we swiftly go a goal up.

The sheer number of local derbies will count against a team which allows itself to suffer this disadvantage, this moral weakness.  For Leeds, since we came back to the second tier, there has usually been one Sheffield or another, usually Barnsley or Huddersfield or Hull, Middlesbrough perhaps – even the just-over-the-border outfits like Oldham and Burnley feel the same ambition and desire to slay the Mighty Leeds.  It amounts to a sizeable chunk of a season’s fixtures – if you fail to perform in these, then you’re struggling.  The pressure is then on to get results against the better teams at the top end of the table, and we don’t fare too well there either.

It’s easy to say that it’s a matter of getting better players.  Largely that’s true.  But we’ve usually had better players than these annoying little Davids, and yet the slingshot has still flown accurately right into Goliath’s eye and knocked us over. Professional football is a game of attitude, motivation, mental readiness to match the opposition and earn the right to make your higher quality tell.  This, over a number of years, is what Leeds United have signally failed to do.

Can it change?  Well, so far this season we’ve played Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield at home  – plus Millwall, who qualify as a southern member of the chip on the shoulder brigade, away.  We’ve four points out of nine to show from that little lot, which is the difference between our current position and sixth – in the play-off zone.  Even three of those lost five points would see us just a point off the top six places.  And the thing is, ALL of those games were distinctly winnable, so it’s no pipe-dream to look at where we might have been.  The difference is down to attitude; our opponents have had it and – with the notable exception of the Huddersfield performance – we simply haven’t.

It’s a sobering message at this stage of the season, with only three such games played – and plenty more to come.  But it’s a message that should be heeded, or the effect on our season will become more profound as it goes on.  The potential is there for us to take advantage of games against inferior but highly-motivated opposition, to match the attitude of these teams and to reap our rewards.  The failure to do this will see us endure yet another season of under-achievement. We have to overcome the “Cup Final Mentality” of certain other clubs, mainly those in Yorkshire but elsewhere too.

The Rotherham game next Friday night is an ideal opportunity for this new, tougher mental attitude to kick in. Again, we have small local rivals who nurse a fierce and unrequited hatred of Leeds United – and they have the odd old boy in their ranks as well as a wily manager who has been busily bigging us up. Our heroes will include a number of quite new foreign signings, who may still be a little wide-eyed and naive on occasions like this. So the ingredients are all there for the relative big boys of Leeds to turn up, find the environment not to their liking – and roll over once again in abject surrender. Please, let it not be so.

Leeds United –  you just need to get psyched-up and go out to win some of these pesky and troublesome “Cup Finals”.  Darko can inculcate his principles and make a pretty pattern of play – but when blood and guts are needed, some fight and some grit – then it really is up to you lads who wear the shirt we’d all of us out here be willing to walk on hot coals for.