Tag Archives: FA Cup

Leeds Vibrant Attacking Brand Outshining Most of Premier League   –   by Rob Atkinson


One thing we often hear presented as fact, when it’s actually merely one of those little pieces of fiction so beloved of corporate marketing types, is the alleged “gulf in class” between the Championship league and the more glittery and relentlessly hyped English Premier League. As with most of these glib generalisations, there’s an element of truth in there but – as is so often the case – it just ain’t as simple as that. 

In reality, the top teams in the Championship in any given season will give the bulk of the Premiership a good game and a run for their money a fair chunk of the time. The real gulf in class is between the Premier League élite – an exclusive band of five or six major, moneyed giants of the game – and the rest of the top flight who simply can’t hold a candle to the brilliance of the billionaires. Between these Premier League also-rans and the major contenders at the top end of the Championship, the margins are far finer. 

This weekend just gone has been a case in point. After witnessing Leeds United’s virtuoso 5-0 demolition of Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion, I then sat through two televised Premier League games on Sunday, of quite mind-numbing boredom and ineptitude, where the standard of play was palpably inferior to the fare served up by Thomas Christiansen’s troops on Saturday. First Burnley edged out Crystal Palace through a Chris Wood gift goal, then Newcastle shaded a turgid contest at Swansea. Currently, I’m watching West Ham struggle against newly-promoted Huddersfield, in a game of barely better quality than the first two. It wasn’t a Super Sunday in the EPL, and so far it’s not exactly a Magic Monday either. Despite the propaganda of the EPL, this is anything but unusual. 

Of course, most fans will already be aware that talk of uniform excellence in the top flight is merely wishful thinking with a view to selling The Brand. A glance at the EPL odds on any given weekend will show that those in the know expect the Newcastles and Huddersfields of the Premier League to be soundly sorted out anytime they play one of the real big boys, or even some of the secondary pack such as Southampton or Everton. The Premier League is really two mismatched leagues in one, and it can be carnage when excellence meets mediocrity. The same is not true when Championship contenders play top flight strugglers. 

The essential truth that has emerged from the opening part of the season is that this year’s emerging Championship aristocrats, our own Leeds United, have produced football to surpass anything Sky has shown live these past few days. I looked at the two Sunday games in the warm afterglow of that scintillating Elland Road display, and I knew – I just knew – that United could have seen off any of those four teams. The same applies to tonight’s combatants, on the evidence of the first half. 

And it’s not only this season, either. The overblown myth of Premier League superiority has been pierced and deflated on a few occasions in LS11 these past few years, by United sides with much less swagger than the current squad. Spurs, Gareth Bale and all, fell at Leeds in the FA Cup, the same season Everton were beaten in the League Cup. Lesser manifestations of Leeds than our heroes of Saturday have faced nominally higher-grade opposition, and have generally done OK. Other Championship clubs can report similar successes. It doesn’t fit in with the Premier League “we are da BEST” narrative, but it’s a fact nonetheless.

The proof of the pudding, of course, is in the eating – and my contention will be put to the test at Burnley in the Carabao Cup shortly. But I honestly expect us to give a good account of ourselves, due to my conviction that Leeds United’s football this term has been a cut above much of what we’ve seen from the middle and lower echelons of the so-called “élite”. 

We shall see. But, whenever you can bear to tear your eyes away from the spectacular style and verve of Leeds United’s current performance levels, take a look at some of the Premier League dross being shown live by satellite. I’m pretty sure any objective judge, as well as we blinkered Whites fanatics, would concede that I’ve got a point. 

                                       -o0o-

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Leeds Graduate With a 2:1 At Cambridge, But At a Price – by Rob Atkinson

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Mowatt – winner

When the story of this season is written, the worth of last night’s narrow squeak FA Cup victory at Cambridge United will be capable of objective assessment. As things stand right now, you’d have to say it’s unlikely to be of much if any intrinsic value; it may even be that the net effect upon our campaign will be decidedly negative.

On the credit side of the ledger, yet another fine second-half performance to paper over the cracks of yet another slow start, and this time it was the shadow squad that proved itself able to pick up its game. The downside is there for all to see; a tenth booking of the season for the iconic Pontus Jansson will deprive Leeds United of his services for two vital and rather tricky league games in Derby at home and Barnsley away. Jansson’s obvious deputy, Liam Cooper, also picked up an injury that may well see him sidelined for Friday. Given those painful drawbacks, the “reward” of a fourth round trip to past Cup opponents Wimbledon or Sutton United seems more of a booby prize than anything to exult over. Last night’s may have been a Pyrrhic victory – although at least it cut the rest of the footballing world off in mid-gloat.

The first half of any Leeds game is becoming a matter of some concern. Whatever team takes the field for United appears unable to come out of the blocks in full-on battle mode, and manager Garry Monk is having to do some sterling work in his half-time team talks. So far, that interval helping of bollockings/encouragement has more often than not done the trick; certainly last night Leeds were a different team in the second half and Cambridge were duly blown away after dominating the first 45 minutes. Some wags have suggested only half jokingly that Monk should deliver his half-time peroration before the team trots out at the start of the match, and you can sort of see why. But, looking at the positives of the manager’s input, it would seem he is adept at diagnosing the faults in a first-half performance and then remedying those faults, rather than deficient in his timing. The next step, presumably, is to eliminate the faults from the start – but that’s all part of the learning curve necessary for any “young group”.

In the event, goals from Stuart Dallas and Alex Mowatt saved United’s blushes, or at least postponed them till later in the competition. Now, with the serious business of accumulating more league points a priority, Leeds have to address the imminent problem of an in-form Derby County side managed by our bogeyman coach Schteve “Dutch” McClaren. In the certain absence of Jansson, whose weird pending permanent transfer has now been put back until perilously late in the window, and the probable absence of dead leg victim Cooper, it may be a case of asking Luke Ayling to slot in next to Kyle Bartley in central defence, with Coyle and/or Denton stepping up to one or both of the full-back berths. Not ideal against stiff opposition.

We will know more fully after the next two Pontus-less Championship games at what price this FA Cup progress has been secured, and we’ll just have to hope that it was a price worth paying. Four points out of Derby and Barnsley, two highly-motivated, Leeds-hating, chip-on-the-shoulder obstacles, and we’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to the next round for the fascination of revisiting Cup opponents past. Fingers crossed that last night’s damage really can be limited to the loss of a mere two points. 

Leeds’ Oxford Graduate Roofe Can Take Cup Honours at Cambridge   –   by Rob Atkinson

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The trouble with FA Cup ties, for clubs challenging for league honours in particular, is that the kind of side which will take the field for the knockout game is a matter of some uncertainty. It’s the kind of match a wise manager will use to “give game time to fringe players” or “fully utilise the squad”. In other words, don’t be surprised if the eleven on duty for the Cup is significantly weaker than the team to contest that vital promotion six-pointer.

All of which means that it’s difficult to predict Garry Monk‘s intentions for Leeds United‘s 3rd Round FA Cup clash away at Cambridge United. We might speculate that Rob Green will get the evening off, and doubtless there will be other changes from league normality. But one player most Leeds fans would love to see involved, with the aim of continuing his Elland Road settling-in process, is summer signing from Oxford United, Kemar Roofe.

Roofe shone at Oxford last season in the less demanding surroundings of League Two, scoring for fun and generally tearing the division apart. He finished as League Two Player of the Year. At Leeds, in the hurly-burly of the Championship, Kemar didn’t find his feet straight away – but just lately, he’s shown what a class act he undoubtedly is, with more than a few signs of the kind of explosive talent that made him such a hot property last year.

Against lower league opposition in the Cup, a side in Cambridge who will surely be up for it, and who are in rather good form themselves, it would be a golden chance for Roofe to persecute the kind of defence he was making hay against last term. As a confidence booster – and assuming all goes to plan – this sort of tie could be ideal. It might also be a chance to have a longer look at how Roofe could combine with the likes of Marcus Antonsson, a £2m striker who has been so peripheral to Leeds’ recent success story. That kind of Plan B assessment is vital, when the main men could be struck down by injury at any time.

This season more than most, the FA Cup will be running a poor second to the league in United’s priority list. Promotion has to be the aim that eclipses all others, and the sparkling Whites form has put them into a position where they’re ideally placed to challenge, not just for a play-off spot, but even (whisper it) for automatic promotion. This being the case, it will almost certainly be the task of the less regular league performers to dispose of Cambridge. Nevertheless, out of respect for worthy opponents if for no other reason, there will have to be a sprinkling at least of first teamers. The case for making Roofe one of these is strong; he’s young, fit and just beginning to look like a real prospect. If he can help put Cambridge to the sword, then that would be a significant step on the way to being a big hit in what could be a very big season for Leeds.

There’s still a magic to the Cup, despite the shoddy way it tends to get treated by certain clubs these days. It’s up to Leeds to make use of their resources in such a way that progress in the competition can be secured by beating a very competitive Cambridge side. The United squad has shown already that it can cope with knockout football, even succeeding in a couple of penalty shootouts. The foundations are in place for another cup run if we show we want it badly enough; those foundations just need to be topped off by defensive walls, windows of attacking opportunity which could open the door to the 4th round, and – last, but not least – that all-important Roofe.

The Hillsborough Disaster Warnings That Weren’t Heeded – by Rob Atkinson

Hillsborough - an Anfield tribute

Hillsborough – an Anfield tribute

Incredibly, 27 years have flashed past already, since that awful spring day in 1989, when 96 football fans turned up to follow their team towards Wembley – and never came home again. I was one of a paltry 14,915 at Elland Road that day, watching Leeds United eke out a 1-0 home win over Brighton as Sgt. Wilko’s first half-season meandered to an uneventful close. When the news filtered through that there had been “trouble” in the semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, the initial reaction was as predictable as it was wide of the mark: “the scousers are at it again.” Heysel was still fresh in the memory, English clubs were still banned from Europe – and nobody judges football fans quite like other football fans (or, at least, so we thought until the Sun got going). We were tolerably certain, as a bunch of Leeds supporters, that the Liverpool fans had caused more bother, and we glumly predicted another indiscriminate backlash that would envelop us all.

As we were on our way out of Elland Road, though, the full, awful impact started to hit home. There were deaths – people had actually died at an English football stadium – something that hadn’t happened on anything like this scale before. Apart from the Bradford fire – a very different disaster – the only comparable event in England had been the Burnden Park tragedy at Bolton, when 33 had lost their lives in a crush at a hopelessly inadequate ground with over 85,000 attending an FA Cup quarter final. That had been well over a generation before, in 1946. Surely, it couldn’t really be happening again, on an even greater scale, in the shiny bright late eighties?

But as we looked on in horror, the TV and radio news brought increasingly sombre statistics while the death toll steadily mounted – and later the sheer ghastliness of the event would be magnified as the tale of criminal incompetence and official negligence was revealed – and as the filthy end of the press, abetted by weaselling functionaries in Government and the Civil Service, jumped on the “blame the fans” bandwagon that other football supporters had vacated as soon as the scale and nature of the catastrophe became apparent.

If you were a Leeds United fan, a chill ran through you when you thought about what had happened; when you realised that this had, indeed, been a disaster waiting to happen. The Hillsborough Stadium was so oriented that the organising authorities found it easier, more convenient, to allocate stands to the fans of opposing semi-finalists based on where the bulk of those fans were travelling from. So, in 1989, Forest got the large Kop End, while the much larger Liverpool contingent were shovelled into the Leppings Lane End behind the opposite goal. It was the same the year before, when the same two teams contested the 1988 semi-final. And, similarly, in 1987, when Coventry of the Midlands faced Leeds United of the North, the greater Leeds numbers found themselves packed tight in Leppings Lane, while the smaller Coventry band enjoyed the wide open spaces on the Hillsborough Kop.

So two years prior to the Hillsborough Disaster, I and thousands of others were packed into the smaller Leppings Lane End on that April the 12th of 1987. The atmosphere was electric; it was United’s first FA Cup semi for ten years and Billy Bremner‘s men had been in terrific form as they challenged for a double of the Cup and promotion to the old Division One. We were jammed in like sardines on that terrace; looking up you could see fans climbing out of the back of the crowd, up over the wall and into the upper tier of the stand where space was more freely available.

Down on the packed terrace, it was swaying, singing fever pitch from before the kick-off right through to the heart-breaking climax of extra time. You weren’t an individual, you were part of a seething mass that moved as one, shouted and sang as one and breathed – when it could – as one. When Leeds scored their two goals, it was mayhem in there – you couldn’t move, you couldn’t breathe, you just bobbed about like a cork on stormy waters, battered by the ecstasy of the crowd, loving it and, at the same time, just a bit worried about where your next gulp of oxygen was coming from. Leeds took the lead early, David Rennie scoring down at the far end. That shattering celebration was topped when, having gone 2-1 behind, Leeds clawed it back right in front of us as Keith Edwards headed an equaliser and the United army exploded with joy. It was the single most jubilant and yet terrifying moment of my life to that point.

Later, after the match was over, as we trailed away despondently from the scene of an heroic defeat, there was time to reflect on what had been an afternoon of highs and lows, with the physical reaction of that epic few hours inside a pressure cooker swiftly setting in. With the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight, it’s easy enough now to look back over twenty-nine years and think: “Yes, we were lucky.” Lucky that the incompetence threshold wasn’t passed that day when we were there. Lucky that enough of the terrace fans got into the upper tier to relieve the pressure ever so slightly – was that a factor?  So lucky that it wasn’t us, when it easily could have been. Lucky, ultimately, to be alive and kicking still. The warning signs were there – they just weren’t perceived by those of us – the fans – for whom it had just been another somewhat uncomfortable but thrilling spectator experience. That those signs weren’t recognised or heeded by the people responsible for public safety is a far more damning fact.

Poignantly enough, the luck we’d had that day wasn’t shared by 96 Liverpool supporters two years later. They set off happily, to support their heroes – and, tragically, they never returned. Twenty-seven years on, the wait for justice has been torturous for all concerned. The families and friends left behind, veterans of over a quarter of a century of grief and loss, have never given up their courageous fight, despite cover-ups and official brick walls, despite scurrilous press coverage which reached an obscene and disgusting low point with the Sun – that vanguard of the gutter press – and its sickening lies. 

Now, there is an inquest verdict at last. We have the official findings of unlawful killing and, surely there is finally justice for The 96. And indeed for all of the friends and family they left behind. Yet, even now, with the South Yorkshire Police Force unreservedly accepting the inquest findings, we still have the likes of Thatcher aide Bernard Ingham refusing to apologise for his own scandalous remarks in the wake of the disaster, now utterly discredited as he himself has been. There is no remorse or regret from Ingham, who stands as a symbol of official ignorance and deceit. All he is good for now, this bitter, bigoted old man, is sitting at home and growing his comedy eyebrows.

Twenty-seven years is far too long for anyone bereaved of their loved ones to wait – but justice is worth waiting for, if only so that the dead can sleep more peacefully and the living can have closure of a sort – and move on with the business of being alive. And – as a footnote – how appropriate it would now be if Liverpool FC could go on to win the Europa League after that thrilling victory over Borussia Dortmund – just for the families, the friends and those that were lost on that fateful day and in its aftermath..

There could be no finer or more fitting tribute to The 96, surely, than this long-awaited justice that has been served today – and the return of the Champions League football to Anfield.

Let it be.

Leeds Fans’ Cellino Out Campaign Gathering Momentum – by Rob Atkinson

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Cellino – what is he up to?

Mounting unrest among the unblinkered majority of the Leeds United support is seeing the pressure grow on maverick owner Massimo Cellino to pack up and ship out. After talk of an aeroplane fly-past during the Nottingham Forest home game, the object being to trail a suitably discouraging message to the Cellino regime across the sky, the more mundane method of posters on lamp-post billboards outside Elland Road has garnered media attention in the last 24 hours. For this, all possible credit is due to the people at WACCOE.com, a site I’ve had issues with over the past couple of years – but they’ve undeniably played a blinder here. Given Liverpool fans’ recent success in bringing their owners to heel, someone had to take up the baton for Leeds – nice one, WACCOE. It’s an unerring shot that has hit its mark, alright – when local reporter Adam Pope contacted the beleaguered Italian, who is still under the threat of Football League sanctions, to put him on the spot over the poster’s “Time to go” message, Cellino’s texted reply was “I agree !!!!”

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Message from WACCOE for Mr. Cellino

It would be easy and yet probably incautious to read into all of this that the Cellino Out movement is heading towards a successful endgame. It should, after all, be remembered – especially in the context of the owner’s surprisingly frank text to Mr. Pope – that the old maxim of “believe nothing until it has been officially denied” has particular relevance where the King of Corn is concerned. What he says and what he does tend to be wildly differing matters, and predicting his behaviour from one day to the next could lead the most canny gambler to ruin in short order. But the increasing visibility of the fans’ discontent, the fact that Steve Parkin has recently realised over £10m worth of assets into cash – and the whole mood around the club after yet another dreadful anti-climax of a transfer window, with the additional important factor of dreadful performances on the pitch – all of these factors combine towards a growing feeling that the wind of change is blowing in sharp gusts in the LS11 locality.

The next few weeks could see matters clarify themselves somewhat, both on and off the park. There is still talk that the quality of the squad might be improved via the loan market – a possibility which may not be totally unrelated to Mr. Parkin’s newly-enhanced liquidity – and, unusually for Leeds, the club is still in the FA Cup at the 5th round stage, giving some temporary meaning to an otherwise moribund season. With a high profile home match against promotion contenders Middlesbrough to come, live on Sky TV after a last-minute rearrangement which represents many fans’ only area of agreement with an angry Cellino, it could be that events on the field will either add to or detract from the intensity of the pressure being experienced by il Duce at the moment, and possibly in a decisive manner. The cruel reality is that success for United in Cup or League over the next month or so could come at the price of a bounceback factor for a man most of us would rather see bounce away. On the other hand, the bitter pills of a cup exit and continued poor form in the league could come with a sweetener in the shape of self-imposed exile for football’s nuttiest owner. 

It’s a sad indictment of the nature of Cellino’s reign that circumstantial evidence is usually a better guide to his intentions than the word of the man himself. For all practical purposes, we can dismiss his probably tongue-in-cheek text to Adam Pope as yet another example of his casual attitude towards communication with the fans – and the truth in general. But other signs would seem to indicate that dark clouds are gathering for a storm which may yet blow Massimo, his family and his notorious yacht Nélie back over the sea to Florida and away from football to a quieter, less notorious life.

That, ultimately, would be the best result for all concerned.

Is It Really “Tinpot” to Celebrate Anniversary of Leeds’ FA Cup win at Man U? – by Rob Atkinson

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That goal at the Beckford End

January 3rd, remember the date…

…so the song goes, and enough Leeds United fans still sing it loud and proud, even six years on, to make you realise that most of us see the famous FA Cup win at the Theatre of Hollow Myths as an occasion well worth commemorating. Which, of course, is just as it should be. We went to the home of the champions as a third tier team, unwisely dismissed by Man U’s own official website as “minnows”, with the general opinion among the gloryhunters from all across the south of England being that here was a good chance to play a few kids, enjoy the day and still give Leeds United a damned good thrashing. And we won. 1-0 it was courtesy of Jermaine, but it could so easily have been three; Beckford again and Snodgrass going agonisingly close in the second half. The Pride of Devon were beaten fair and square in one of the biggest shocks for years. It remains one of Leeds United’s comparatively few genuine giant-killings, with us having more usually been the giants.

It seems natural that such an achievement, against such despised foes who had been so confident of brushing us aside, should be celebrated as a beacon in our history – and especially so in such a very murky and depressing part of that history. We’d come through administration, points deductions and the experience of having the whole of the game trying to kick us while we were down (this sounds very familiar over half a decade later). We’d recovered, somewhat, from the very brink of extinction. We were at a low ebb, but still in there and fighting. These are experiences that no Man U fan has ever had, or ever will, the kind of episodes in your club’s existence that makes you realise what it truly is to be a fan. Of course we were right to celebrate such an iconic victory and of course we are right to mark its anniversary. It goes without saying – or so you’d have thought.

Incredibly, though, there is a small but vociferous minority who appear to cringe away from any reference to the whole January 3rd thing. They don’t like it, and they can be seen in small pockets everywhere across social media, yapping unhappily that it’s “tinpot” to mark the occasion. These are the people, of course, who feel that they know what’s right and what’s wrong and never hesitate to tell others what to do and think. When they see anyone taking pride in a past achievement, it rubs them up the wrong way – and then their instinct for being killjoys and trying to suppress this celebration really kicks in. They crop up on Facebook and in the various Leeds United forums. They are evident on Twitter, trying to pack their desire to control how others act into 140 characters. They are everywhere, and they are quite vocal – because they hate the thought that people out there are getting any pleasure out of remembering a great day. It really does get their backs up.

Well, good. I’m delighted every year to see January 3rd marked with pride and joy. It gives me a buzz when people post the text of the commentary to Jermaine’s goal at the Beckford End, or if they put up the video to enjoy all over again. It’s a feel-good thing, and something to relish when Christmas and the New Year are done and dusted. And it’s all the more enjoyable if it offends the killjoys – that certainly eggs me on to make sure I get full value out of the anniversary of the day we became the Ultimate Scum-busters. Don’t forget, because of the “Biggest in the Universe” accolade they award themselves, the gloryhunters will never experience the fierce pride and joy of going into a match as such rank underdogs – and emerging victorious. It’s a pleasure they have denied themselves, and the very best of hard cheese to them. And, believe me, they hate it when their noses are rubbed in this humbling defeat every 3rd of January. They absolutely loathe it.

So tell me, what better reason than that for making sure that we really go overboard about it? A famous General once advised that, if in doubt, do what you know your enemy doesn’t want you to do. In this case, the inescapable conclusion is that January the 3rd should be shoved down the throat of the scum fan in your life, mercilessly and as often as possible. There’s no comeback for them from that. A League Cup victory at Elland Road a couple of years back isn’t even in the same ballpark, and they know it. The giant-killing honours and bragging rights are ours for as long as we want them, so those of us who wish to should continue to celebrate as we see fit. It won’t please the “Tinpotters”, of course. But, really – who gives a toss?

Six Years Ago Today: “Cup Minnows” Jibe Returns to Haunt Man U – by Rob Atkinson

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Jermaine scores at the Beckford End

As a result of the famous encounter between Man U and Leeds United in the FA Cup 3rd round of 2010, the Pride of Devon famously won yet another honour when a national newspaper awarded their incautious webmaster the “BIGGEST HOISTING BY YOUR OWN PETARD” accolade. When Man U drew Leeds or Kettering in the FA Cup third round, their official website’s headline was: ‘United To Face Cup Minnows’ – a banner that could just possibly have referred to Kettering, who still faced a second round replay at Elland Road. The sly intent of a dig at Leeds United escaped nobody though and, unlikely as it seemed that the United of Elland Road could pull off a shock at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, there must have been one or two wiser heads who were groaning at the sight of such crass bumptiousness – and wondering how anyone could possibly wish to tempt fate so. As we all know, the events of that day resulted in an almighty shock, joy for the fans of the Damned United and the renaming of one end of the Man U ground as “The Beckford End”.

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Not what she’d been led to expect of “minnows”

Such unwise overconfidence had been seen before in the name of Britain’s least modest and unassuming club. Back in 1992, one of the many commercial outlets which swarm around the Salford-based franchise like flies around steaming ordure, were guilty of a comparably embarrassing cock up. Tasteful sets of lovingly crafted Man U candles, unsuitably inscribed with the legend “Football League Champions 1992″ were offered for sale at an enticing price with the confident slogan “To commemorate our forthcoming title success”. Sadly for the manufacturers, demand turned out to be low for these attractive souvenirs, due to the fact that Leeds United had the poor taste to win the league by four clear points. There is a warehouse somewhere in a dingy area of a dingy city that houses these unwanted reminders of failure, along with “Champions” t-shirts, flags, banners and other associated Man U tat that was at least twelve months ahead of its time. The overweening desire to win the last proper League Championship was evidently far too strong for mere considerations of caution, humility and wisdom to stand much of a chance, and so it was that Man U chalked up yet another example of chickens being counted before the formality of hatching was complete.

A picture also exists of a humble functionary hastily dismantling a Man U “Champions 2012” banner, which had become abruptly redundant when Sergio Aguero scored in the dying moments of Man City v QPR to clinch the title for City and leave the Devon and Home Counties half of Manchester crying into their prawn butties.  The tendency towards the assumption of success before it’s actually been earned appears to be a recurrent problem at The Greatest Football Club In The World™ (Copyright © Most of the Gutter Press Including BSkyB). Most football fans would find this sort of thing humiliating enough to make their teeth curl up and die, but the Man U bunch are curiously insensitive to such feelings, buffered as they are by relentless “Biggest and Best” propaganda to perpetuate their comfy if mythical self-image. The odd cold dash of reality is never quite enough to quell this methane-fuelled flame of hype and self-aggrandisement so, apart from the odd uncomfortable wriggle in armchairs all over the south of England, Man U fans continue quite happily in their own little pink fog of Freudian delusion.

The flip side of this excruciating coin, though, is the fierce, intense joy and satisfaction of a pompous bubble satisfyingly burst for the fans of whichever club is on the other half of the equation. In the examples quoted above, Leeds (twice) and Man City have found the joy of achievement considerably enhanced by the fact that the complacent hordes of glory-hunters had clearly expected victory to come about as of right. This is an exquisite refinement of Schadenfreude – the pleasure of achievement by virtue of bursting a despised rival’s over-inflated balloon is sweet indeed.  The fact is as well, it’s not just the fans of this ridiculous club just outside Manchester who assume success will be theirs – the moguls of the media are right in there as well, wanting and expecting. The shattered expressions of Elton Welsby and Denis Law, after Leeds won that title in 1992, told their own story. The cameras lingered mournfully on the shocked faces of Phil Jones and S’ralex Ferguson at the Stadium of Light in 2012. There was a distinct lack of the enthusiasm you might expect of news-hungry hacks, in the wake of the defeat of the champions by a third division club in the FA Cup in 2010. The media have their markets to think of; replica shirts, newspapers and satellite dishes must be sold in Devon and Cornwall, Milton Keynes and Kent.n These not-so-impartial hacks really want Man U to win, and their confusion and misery in the event of a shock is just bloody wonderful to behold.

To be the agents who have brought about misery of this order – for such wholly unattractive and unadmirable institutions – is to know a defiant and glorious joy of virtuous achievement. In the long run, largely due to off-field pressures, Man U will win trophies and the assembled lapdogs in the press will yap their hymns of praise and ram the whole charade down the throats of the rest of us. But every now and then, it all goes wrong for the anointed favourites – and then there are good times for all right-thinking people, the ones who want to see a more level playing field and some even-handed competition as we used to have it. Leeds United drew that era to a close by becoming the Last Real Champions, but there have been the occasional reminders of it even during the Murdoch Man U dynasty, when the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, City and – yes, Leeds United too, have stood up to be counted and have given the establishment club a bloody nose. It’s times like those that keep the old spirit of the great old game feebly flickering away, that stop it sputtering out altogether. Long may these rays of light continue to shine through the boring gloom and procession of the modern game.

Howard Wilkinson, Sergio Aguero, Jermaine Beckford, Arsene Wenger, Simon Grayson – and all the other heroes – we salute you.

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Sergeant Wilko – last English Champion, Last Real Champion

Man Utd to Sue Arsenal’s Welbeck for “Mental Cruelty” of Goal Celebration   –   by Rob Atkinson

Hands off, van Gaal

Hands off, van Gaal

In the wake of Man U’s tragicomic FA Cup exit – sorry, that should read simply “comic” – it has emerged that Manchester’s second club are prepared to go to law over hurt feelings, following former Theatre of Hollow Myths hero Danny Welbeck having the brass neck to actually celebrate his winning goal. Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything has learned that swift court action is likely, and that hopes are high throughout the West Country and the Home Counties that their favourites will still be stepping out for Wembley‘s showpiece occasion, the F.A. Cup Final.

The Pride of Devon’s tame legal firm – Messrs. Sue, Grabbitt & Runne – has issued a brief statement in the immediate aftermath of this calamitous upsetting funny defeat. “Mr Welbeck will be hearing from us.” it read. “His unwarranted celebrations were a knife to the heart of every true football fan, the grand traditions of the game and any real prospect of world peace itself. This evil must be stopped. Danny Welbeck must die moderate his behaviour henceforth.”

Attention has also fallen upon the unprecedented display of referee Michael Oliver, who remained scrupulously honest throughout, penalising foul play from both sides and, in particular, making a point of whistling for and punishing the earnest efforts of Man U players to dive for penalties. Mr. Oliver even sent Devon’s Angel di Maria off the field of play for diving and then pushing the ref during the tantrum that followed the refusal of a penalty.

A Man U spokesman admitted “We acknowledge as a club that this behaviour is simply unacceptable. We shall never be seen to tolerate that sort of thing at this fantastic club, officially the greatest club in the Universe and all four dimensions of space-time. We have that reputation to uphold and we are keenly aware of our responsibilities. The referee’s frankly obscene levels of honesty and consistency have left us all simply horrified and deeply petulant. Michael Oliver must die moderate his behaviour henceforth…. no, as you were – die.”

Welbeck bravely hides his utter grief

Arsenal’s reluctant hero Danny Welbeck bravely hides his utter grief

Questioned afterwards about his winning goal and the turbulent maelstrom of conflicting emotions that must surely be raging in a careening torrent through his tormented psyche and devastated mind, Welbeck merely commented, “‘S’all good, man, chill. I’ve never liked Man U all that much anyway. Did you clock them tekkers after nipping in ahead of de Gay? Quality that, man.”

Louis van Gaal, 83, has denied in the past few minutes that he is to take over as manager of the England cricket team.  Wayne Rooney, 19 stone, is fat.

Villa Fans ‘Celebrate’ WBA Victory by Biting Skipper Delph   –   by Rob Atkinson

Delph mauls West Brom - and then the biter was bit

Delph mauls West Brom – and then the biter was bit

Leeds United fans will have had a familiar sensation over the weekend when absorbing news of the shenanigans on the pitch at Villa Park; a few collywobbles in the pit of the stomach and that nervous, recurrent thought: “Crumbs – what if that had been us?”

Depending upon what you’ve read this morning, the – count them – two pitch invasions during Villa’s 6th Round FA Cup win over West Brom were either harmless if boisterous high spirits – or an almost literal attempt to go for the jugular of former Leeds star Fabian Delph, who commented memorably afterwards that he had “felt teeth” as he tried to escape his fans’ voracious adulation. Despite claims in other quarters that the mood had been merely celebratory, young Fab confessed that he’d found it “very, very scary”. And it takes a lot to scare a lad who’s shared a dressing room with the likes of Richard Naylor and Enoch Showumni, so it’s a statement to take with due respect.

“My armband got nicked, someone got my left boot, but I could appreciate the relief the fans are feeling after a result like that,” Delph recalled, adding though: “It was dangerous. Someone tried to take my boot off. People tried to kiss me and were biting me. It was scary.”

Being bitten by a horde of success-starved Villa fans might be enough to frighten anyone, but some are attempting to make rather lighter of the situation, conscious, inevitably, that the investigative processes of the FA are about to grind into motion. There is some fear out there among the Villa faithful that serious sanctions might be applied, maybe even to the extent of being chucked out of the FA Cup altogether – which seems to me to be a fear too far.

Now, if it had been Leeds – then that part of the internet which revolves around all things White would have been in a frenzy of semi-satirical pessimism by now, predicting fifteen or thirty point deductions, dissolution of the club and having Massimo Cellino hanging upside down by piano wire from a convenient lamp-post on Elland Road, I shouldn’t wonder. All good knockabout stuff, but reflective of that inner conviction in most Leeds fans’ hearts that every other bugger gets away with stuff that would see our own beloved club violently hammered – whilst the gutter press slaver away approvingly in the background, like the pack of jackals they are.

In a fine piece which appears in the excellent online magazine Sabotage Times, Emma Flowers has leapt to the defence of her adored Villa, cogently arguing that what unfolded after the match (and a bit before the final whistle too) was more a “rediscovery of Villa Park’s soul” than anything too nasty. Ms Flowers is clearly appalled by what she terms sanctimonious bleating from all parts of the media; to someone unaccustomed to seeing their club eviscerated in print and online, it really must seem a little thick. But Emma, trust me – you ain’t seen nothing. The Leeds fans’ lament that we always cop it tougher than other clubs is not mere hollow paranoia – it’s grounded in bitter experience, and plenty of it.

For instance, the demands for public shaming in the cases of Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate stopped not all that far short of an Emergency Debate in the House of Commons. The furore over one idiot choosing to jump on to the pitch at Sheffield Wednesday and pole-axe their goalkeeper was a veritable tsunami of hatred and persecution, compared to the mere ripples Villa are feeling now. The Bowyer and Woodgate thing never really died down until both players had left Elland Road and had therefore ceased to be natural targets. Woodgate in particular is viewed far more sympathetically now than when he was convicted of affray whilst on the strength at Leeds. But of course, he played for the sainted Spurs and it would have been dam’ bad form to maintain a Leeds level of scorn and horror for a lad plying his trade at Tottenham. And ever since the Hillsborough scandal, Leeds fans have been branded as vile animals – initially by the self-important Wendies manager at the time, Dave Jones – but it’s sort of stuck as a label too (not least because some Leeds fans do rather wear it as a badge of perverse honour).

Whether Villa fans will be plastered with such epithets as “vile” has to be a matter for some doubt. There’s just not the same baseline level of national hatred as exists for poor old Leeds, so it’s highly unlikely that this fledgling storm will find its way far out of the teacup. I’d be massively surprised if swingeing sanctions were applied, though its always difficult to tell which way the FA and the game’s other authorities will jump. But I’m a lot less worried for Villa – hated by Birmingham and West Brom, but largely ignored elsewhere – than I would have been for Leeds. And if that’s paranoia, then I’ll hold my hands up and insist you’re out to get me.

Let’s not make light of this Villa thing though. There are serious issues if a victorious skipper can’t get off the pitch without his own fans trying to sink their teeth into him. The truth of this matter is somewhere in between the hand-wringing of the sanctimonious and Ms Flowers’ hopeful dismissal of the matter as boyish high jinks. But players are any club’s most valuable and fragile assets, and the likes of Delph and his fellow Villans must be protected against any repetition of what does sound a rather disturbing experience. If the FA can find a way of inflicting a suitable punishment without taking the draconian step of removing Villa from the Cup (and without deducting points from Leeds United), then that would probably best fit the bill.

And perhaps then we could then be spared the likes of Mark Lawrenson crying into his coffee about what a disgrace it all is, a throwback to the eighties, and all that breast-beating rubbish. Because, let’s face it – and I’m with Ms Flowers all the way here – some people’s over-reactions really do make your teeth curl. 

 

Man United Cup Penalty Sheds Light on Leeds Failed Spot Kick Claims – by Rob Atkinson

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Last night’s Deepdale judges panel, deeply impressed by a flawless Rooney dive

The Man U victory over Preston North End in the FA Cup 5th Round (Jubilate Deo – FL) has not only disappointed all right-thinking Leeds fans, who had hoped for a slice of history to be served up once again, reheated yet still as delicious – it has also highlighted the technical deficiencies of the recent spate of failed Leeds United penalty claims.

Leeds players, management, staff and fans – everybody, in fact, right down to Mrs Miggins in the players’ canteen – have been unanimous in their outrage and disbelief, as well as outraged disbelief and disbelieving outrage, over a series of penalty box incidents in which Leeds players have been either hacked down, sent flying, half-murdered, knouted, burned at the stake, keelhauled, kneecapped, scalped, napalmed, beaten about the head, given the Chinese burn or flayed alive – and yet no penalties have been given. It’s been nigh on unbelievable, said a Whites official disbelievingly. There’s been a couple of blatant handballs in there too, as well as an attempted coup by a well-known former chairman and something well dodgy involving hedge funds, traceable to the same source. Not once has the whistle sounded for a spot kick, despite the local casualty ward being overrun by near fatally injured Leeds players, all assaulted in the box, or something similarly embarrassing and painful.

But now new and highly convenient information has come to light regarding a little-known but currently preferred method of assessing penalty claim validity. The new guidelines are amply illustrated by the penalty awarded to Man U at Deepdale in last night’s cup tie. A top football administrator was kind enough to explain: “Firstly, as we can see on the TV replay, no contact whatsoever was made by the defender with the diving player, Sir Wayne Rooney of England and St George. This is a vital point – we can’t risk injury to England’s top diver. Secondly, the player not fouled was wearing a Manchester United shirt – again, this is absolutely pivotal to the success of these claims. And thirdly, we were drawing a ga… Ahem. I mean Mighty Man U were drawing a game we – they – needed to win. A combination of these factors will always mean a nailed-on penalty award, especially if Sir Wayne feels that he wants to score a goal. In cases of doubt, an independent panel can rule in favour of Sir Wayne using our extraordinary, super-special “TCP” – Tantrum Containment Protocol  – (see picture above)”

“Clearly, the recent claims by Leeds United for penalties have fallen down when assessed by any and all of these three scrupulously fair indices. Furthermore, an examination of the penalties awarded against Leeds will reveal that no contact has been made in the majority of those cases, constituting an obvious prima facie case for penalty awards under the “It’s OK Cos It’s Against The Damned United” Provisions, 2007 (and ibid.) In most of those cases where Leeds were correctly penalised, these were technical matters where the ref simply had to award a penalty, or he may have had to caution the diving player – and risk handing an advantage to Leeds in contravention of prevailing League policy. You see? This was the clinching factor in Sir Wayne’s beautiful dive and claim at Preston – we were well aware of the strong desire among Leeds fans for Preston to win, and thus revive memories of that tragic occasion on January 3rd 2010. It was just Hobson’s choice, as you can’t fail to appreciate.”

Having got the nagging penalty mystery cleared up, it is still hoped, in some quarters at Elland Road, that an explanation may yet be forthcoming over apparent “fit and proper” anomalies. These are seemingly straightforward instances of perverse judgement whereby rapists, grand larcenists, porn barons and jailed money launderers are somehow deemed “squeaky clean”, technically speaking, instead of – as one might expect – “a right nasty, evil bunch of bent bastards who should be doing hard labour on bread and water at Devil’s Island Penitentiary, without the option” – to use another esoteric legal term. Our Football Administration source declined to comment on this point, explaining that he had an appointment for new glasses and his head polishing.

Shaun Harvey is bald and half blind.