Tag Archives: Football League Champions

Three Top, TOP Leeds United Away Trips – by Rob Atkinson

We all have our favourite LUFC memories, and many will relate to games away from LS11.  Here, in reverse order, are my three favourite road trips following The Whites.

3. Sheffield Wednesday 1, Leeds United 6 12.1.1992

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Sergeant Wilko

This was Sergeant Wilko’s first return to Wednesday since he had quit Hillsborough to become Leeds boss in 1988.  It would also be Lee Chapman’s last game before his season-threatening FA Cup injury, which resulted in the drafting in of one Eric Cantona – with all the long term consequences that would entail.  But Chappy was destined to be sidelined only temporarily, and he went out in the most emphatic style.

There was a crowd of 32228 at Hillsborough, the usual vociferous contingent of travelling Leeds fans rivalling the home crowd for noise from the outset, and completely drowning them as the game went on.  Leeds United were weakened, so it seemed, by the absence of the injured Gordon Strachan and suspended David Batty, half of their legendary midfield Fantastic Four.  Any side, surely, would miss performers of such calibre.  Leeds, though, seemed determined to make light of the problem, and tore into their hosts from the start.  Full-back Tony Dorigo made an early darting run, cutting in from the left and making good progress down the centre of the pitch, before unleashing a right-foot thunderbolt that Wednesday ‘keeper Chris Woods had to tip over.  From the resulting Gary MacAllister corner, Chris Fairclough rose to head downwards, and found Chapman in splendid isolation four yards out; his finish swift and deadly for 1-0.

For a local derby, the contest had been decidedly one-way traffic – Chapman was to send two towering headers just wide before Carl Shutt had a scuffed shot smothered by Woods in the home goal.  Then, a true champagne moment as Mel Sterland fed the ball to Chapman on the right.  In a completely untypical burst of pace and control, Chappy surged between two hapless Wednesday defenders, raced into the area, and unleashed a shot that beat Woods completely, just clipping the frame of the goal to rapturous applause from the Leeds fans at the Leppings Lane End.  I remember thinking at the time that anything was possible now, if Lee Chapman could do something so utterly out of character.  And so it proved as, from a free kick awarded just right of centre some ten yards outside the box, Dorigo stepped up to absolutely hammer a left foot drive past the helpless Woods.  Cue mayhem and cavortings as the Leeds hordes behind the goal, celebrated as clean a strike as you could ever wish to see, the ball a blur as it arrowed into the far corner with deadly precision and power.

At 2-0 down, the home side were making increasingly desperate attempts to gain some sort of foothold in the match.  This desperation was adequately demonstrated when, from a harmless-looking ball into the Leeds area, Wednesday striker Gordon Watson ran in front of Chris Whyte, continued on for another step or two, and then hurled himself into the air, landing in agonised paroxysms of simulation between a bemused Whyte and Leeds ‘keeper John Lukic.  Such obvious fraud and villainy could have only one outcome, and the stadium held its collective breath for sentence to be passed on the miscreant.  Instead – amazingly – referee Philip Don pointed to the spot.  Whether none of the officials had seen the extent of Watson’s ham-acting, or whether they were moved by sympathy for the mauling Wednesday were taking from a rampant Leeds, it’s impossible to tell.  The outcome was the same either way.  Ex-Leeds hero John Sheridan stepped up, saw his penalty brilliantly saved as Lukic tipped it against his right-hand post, and then gleefully belted home the rebound to give Wednesday a massively unmerited lifeline.

This act of base and scurvy treachery required nothing less than a riposte of the utmost nobility and beauty, so we said to ourselves, though probably in more Anglo-Saxon terms.  And, happily, that’s just what came to pass.  Only six minutes after the home side’s ridiculous blagging of a comically unfair route back into the game, Leeds took effortless control again with a goal sublime in both its conception and execution.  Lukic bowled the ball out to Dorigo on the left flank; he sent it first time down the line to Gary Speed, who took one steadying touch before sending a beautiful flighted cross into the Wednesday area.  And there, inevitably, was Chapman, horizontal in mid-air, neck cocked to hammer the ball unanswerably past Woods, the perfect counterpunch to Watson’s knavish low blow.  It was a gorgeous goal, sweeping the length of the left side, taking the entire home team right out of the game, and re-establishing the two goal margin which was the least Leeds United deserved at half-time.

The second half that ensued was simply a story of how a blood-and-thunder Yorkshire derby turned into a stroll in the park for Leeds United.  It seemed as if all the life had been sucked out of the home team – a Wednesday side who, let’s not forget, were unbeaten at home since the opening day of the season, and who would go on to finish third in the table.  So they were no mugs, but Leeds United were absolutely irresistible on the day, and would have hammered far better teams than the hapless, bewildered Owls.

It’s possible that Wednesday were simply embarrassed about that cringe-worthy penalty, possibly they were dog-tired, having been run ragged since the start.  Whatever the case, their heads dropped steadily further and further as the game progressed, and they offered little resistance as Leeds proceeded to throttle the life out of them.  Chapman completed his hat-trick five minutes after the hour, heading in after Speed had struck the bar from a corner.  Poor Speedo was looking the other way, bemoaning his bad luck when the ball hit the back of the net after all, turning his frustration to joy.  Then, perennial bit-part player Mike Whitlow ventured forward, just because he could, and rose unchallenged to meet Rod Wallace’s right-wing cross and head easily over a stranded Woods.  It was left to little Wallace to administer the coup de grâce, striding clear after a shimmering exchange of passes in midfield to dink the ball over the advancing ‘keeper, and put the suffering home side finally out of their misery.  A highly satisfactory awayday slaughter of the Wendies.

2. AC Milan 1, Leeds United 1 8.11.2000

Dom Matteo....Scored A Very Good Goal....In The San Siro...

Dom Matteo….Scored A Very Good Goal….In The San Siro…

This match is so famous that I barely need to recount the action kick by kick.  The Leeds fans at one end of the San Siro were in fully, throaty voice for most of the proceedings, drawing incredulous glances from the attendant Carabinieri who were in full-on riot gear but friendly enough, muttering to each other about lunatic English tifosi (hooligans.)  The first half was a decent contest – Milan were through already, but not disposed to give Leeds an easy ride – especially after paranoid noises emanating from Barcelona, who – nervous about their own prospects – had done their best to warn Milan off taking it easy against Leeds.  So Milan pressed in front of a crowd of 52289, and their winger Serginho was causing Gary Kelly plenty of problems.  In the 26th minute, a slightly soft penalty was awarded to Milan at our end of the stadium, and 6000 Leeds fans held their collective breath as Andriy Shevchenko took careful aim only to rap Robinson’s right-hand post, the ball bouncing away to safety as the masses behind our goal celebrated as if we’d actually scored.  And then, miraculously, as the first half ebbed away, we did score.  A Lee Bowyer corner from the right found Matteo rising majestically at the near post to meet the ball with a punchy header which soared high into the net.  Cue utter pandemonium at the Leeds end as all the tension, passion and belief exploded in one almighty roar which almost lifted the hi-tec roof off the famous stadium.

The party went on throughout half-time and into the second half, drawing more bemused glances from the Italian police; there was only a brief hiatus in the 67th minute when the superb Serginho deservedly equalised, but then it was mounting fan fever again all the way to the final whistle and beyond as Leeds held out to qualify for an equally difficult second phase of the competition.  The scenes after the game are at least as famous as the events of the ninety minutes; the team coming back out onto the pitch in response to the demands of the faithful who were held back in the interests of crowd safety.  What followed was described by respected football commentators (as well as Alan Green) as the best example of team/fan bonding they’d ever seen.  Fans and players – even a certain Chairman – swapped chants and songs in a spontaneous celebration of a joyous night.  Even the uncertain musical efforts of Lee Bowyer were greeted by a blast of friendly derision.  It was a unique experience, and the Latin cops were clearly by now utterly convinced that these English people were absolutely barking mad.  As football nights go, you’d have to travel a long way to find one more worthy of memory – only a trophy could have improved it, but the spectacle of the game and its aftermath is one I have seen imitated but never repeated.

1. Sheffield United 2, Leeds United 3 – 26.4.1992

Jon Newsome, Superstar

Jon Newsome, Superstar

If you’re a Leeds supporter, you’ll have seen the goals from this game hundreds, thousands of time.  It plays through now, all these years later, in the Football Highlights studio of my mind; joy for the home side as Alan Cork, gleaming of bald pate, pokes the ball home to give Sheffield the lead.  Then, a midfield tussle in the swirling wind, as Leeds try valiantly to come back.  A late first-half free kick, which Gordon Strachan races to take before the home defence can set themselves, he finds Rod Wallace in the area who tips the ball past home keeper Mel Rees’s attempt to save, defenders scramble to clear, only to hit Gary Speed who bounces the ball back to ricochet off Wallace – into the net.  Pandemonium in the away end.   Level at half time, we’re breathless with drama and the hurly-burly of it all, raucous with United anthems, nervous of what’s yet to come.

The crazy game continues crazily.  A dangerous ball across the Leeds box is retrieved by home defender and future Leeds man John Pemberton, who turns it back towards the goal-line where Lee Chapman sticks out a leg for an own-goal greeted with horrified stupefaction by the Leeds fans behind the goal and we’re level again.  Then enfant terrible Eric Cantona enters the fray, and within a few minutes he is chasing a loose ball into the Sheffield half, with Rod Wallace scampering alongside and home defender Brian Gayle lumbering back in a desperate attempt to clear the danger.  And it’s Gayle, former Man City man, who finally slays Man United.  From my vantage point at the opposite end of the ground I see him get his head to the ball, and the action is suddenly slow motion.  Gayle has headed the ball, poor Mel Rees is stranded far out of his goal, the ball goes over his head in a slow, slow loop, and bounces tantalisingly towards the unguarded net…

Then I’m watching at full speed from the far end as Cantona and Wallace raise their arms in triumph, wheeling away in delight, and even as I wonder what they’re up to I realise that the ball has nestled in the Sheffield United net.  A red mist descends, and I am utterly outside of my skull and beside myself in delirious joy and fevered madness, looking around me, roaring like a demented bull, face congested with blood, eyes bulging; I grab a helpless wee St John’s Ambulance man by his lapels and scream beer and spittle into his terrified face “Get me some oxygeeeennnn!!!  I’m going to have a heart attaaaack!!!”  The mad moment passes, I drop the ashen medic and some measure of sanity returns, but we’re still cavorting and diving all over each other, a seething, sweating mass of Leeds, because we know it’s over, we know that Sheffield are beaten, and we know that Man U don’t have an earthly at Anfield, not a prayer.  We were going to be Champions; on that windiest and gustiest of days, a Gayle from Manchester City has blown the Scum away and decided in an instant the fate of all three Uniteds from Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

And so, of course, it panned out.  Later I watched mesmerised on TV as Liverpool beat a demoralised Man U, Denis Law and Ian St John trying to put a brave face on it, Elton Welsby’s foot bobbing away in thwarted anger as the script turned out just as none of them wanted.  Ian Rush scored his first ever goal against Them, and it was settled late on as Man U concede a second.  “And now the title goes to Leeds without any doubt at all” intoned Brian Moore in the ITV commentary as I sat there with tears of joy streaming down my unashamed face.  Gary Lineker had called into the studio earlier to complain that Rod Wallace’s goal had been offside (it was).  St John and Moore bemoaned that Man U had had no luck at all, and Welsby ground his teeth in the studio as the Man U fans outside hurled abuse at him, heedless of the fact that he shared their bitter disappointment.  All was frustration in the media and the rest of football and Leeds fans everywhere utterly failed to give a toss.  My finest hour as a Leeds fan, and my greatest ever awayday.

-oO0Oo-

Two from the same season, and one abroad that was “only” a draw – but each had a special appeal for me among the many away games I’ve seen.  I could have chosen so many others, going right back to my first ever away game, a 3-1 League Cup win at Bolton in 1977.  Still in the League Cup, there was that 6-0 win over Leicester City at Filbert Street, on a night when Robbie Savage never gave up, but proved that he was even worse than we thought.  How could we have known that he’d be worse yet as a pundit?

The golden memories are so many, I could possibly have managed a top ten quite easily.  I’d love to hear which away games others rank as their best memories.

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A Premier League Leeds United: What Can They Really Achieve? – by Rob Atkinson

The Last Champions

The Last Champions

Here’s a conundrum for you.  What have Liverpool, Ipswich Town, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest got in common?

Give up?

Well, some of the better-informed anoraks out there (and it’s a noble fraternity of which I’m proud to be a member) tend to have the solution to riddles like this pretty much at their fingertips.  For the rest, the answer is that all of those clubs, since what I will loosely term the “modern era” of football started around 1960, have gained promotion to the top-flight and then gone on to win the actual title of Champions of England within a space of a mere one or two years.

Imagine that, if you will – a truly phenomenal achievement.  Arguably, Leeds are the ace in the pack, having achieved similar heights twice.  Revie’s promotion-winners of 1964 took five years to be Champions, but were contenders on all fronts from their very first season in the First Division.

Both Forest and Ipswich, some 16 years apart, stormed the First Division citadel in their very first season up. Leeds United, in 1992 and Liverpool, way back in 1964, each took just one year longer.  Leeds are not known as the Last Champions for nothing; their 1992 Title success marked a watershed in the English game.  Whatever the merits of the few Premier League era champions, it’s certainly true that Leeds will stand as the last club to muscle its way into the top flight as if they owned the place, breezing to the ultimate prize in such a very short time.  Since the Murdoch revolution, only Blackburn have come close to matching such a quick-fire achievement, and they followed the “spend, spend, spend” path to success in taking three seasons after promotion to edge their first title since before the Great War.

One thing that’s virtually certain about all of these achievements is that they won’t be emulated anytime soon.  And that regrettable fact is at the centre of everything that’s wrong with football today.  What we have now, as opposed to those exciting years when some batch of pretenders would upset the top-flight applecart, is a mere procession – with the cast varying only slightly from year to year.  The Premier League is often referred to as three divisions within one league, and that’s very difficult to argue with.

Firstly, there’s a cartel of the super-rich at the top, where the finances of the game dictate that a few established clubs will fight it out for the major honours every year.  Such are the favourable conditions for these elite clubs that it’s really very difficult for any of them to slip out of contention – it would take something approaching incompetent management for such a calamity to happen – yes, Mr Moyes, I mean YOU.  Take a bow, you’re a hero to thousands.

Then, of course, there’s the “dog-eat-dog” league at the bottom, where the same few clubs every year are hoping to finish just above last season’s promoted clubs and thus avoid relegation. Exciting – but not in a good way.

Lastly, in the middle, there’s that awful, bleak hinterland occupied by the likes of Stoke, Aston Villa, Newcastle and West Ham; clubs unlikely to affect the picture at the top or at the bottom, and who – you suspect – are happy just to continue making up the numbers, banking those Premier League payments year after year and settling for last spot on Match of the Day.  They’re happily riding the gravy train with no thoughts or ambitions for glory – and their fans appear to accept this.  But what a monochrome, depressing existence it must be. Is this what we want for Leeds United?

The fact is that, if and when United DO go up – and especially if we have a few quid in the bank courtesy of Signor Cellino – then this twilight, neither-here-nor-there, average, mediocre middle bit of the Premier League is likely to be the realistic upper limit of our ambitions. That’s if we’re rich and clever enough to haul our way clear of the grim struggle at the bottom, of course. Maybe also, there might be a run in the Capital Fizzy Carlsberg Milk Cup (or whatever it’s called) to look forward to with sweaty palms and fevered brow. Oh, the excitement of that – IF we don’t get knocked out early doors by the Under-17’s of Arsenal FC.

This question of how things would be when we finally gain entrance to the Promised Land is a relevant one that’s all too easy to overlook in our current mood of frustrated aspiration.  We’ve been wanting to get back up there for so long – and we’ve suffered so many setbacks and disappointments along the way – that the reality of what might await us once promotion is secured has not really occurred to us.  Sure, there have been some saying, well, we’ll budget for relegation, pick up the parachute payments and come back stronger – but look how often that’s actually worked.  Look at Wolves, look at Middlesbrough. They’ve come down rich and never really looked like getting back.  And how enjoyable is it up there if you’re sinking?  Do the fans of those struggling clubs look as if they’re enjoying themselves, shipping six goals here at Arsenal and maybe seven there at Man City?  It doesn’t look fun at all, not to me.  But these depressing scenarios have been off our radar, all the time we’ve been fighting vainly to make our mark one level below, thinking of the Premier League as the Holy Grail.   It hasn’t truly occurred to us that it might not be fun when we do get there.  It’s as if, preoccupied with our second-tier travails, we haven’t really thought about it too much.

Around twenty-five years ago, the feeling of anticipation generated by a run to promotion for Sgt. Wilko’s boys was a very much more positive thing. Sure, we looked at those opening fixtures with a slightly tremulous smile, noting that Everton away and then Man U at home was a rather stiffer proposition than the likes of Port Vale and Oxford.  But we girded our loins, so to speak, and went in with spirits and expectations high and – thanks to our redoubtable heroes in white – we were not disappointed.  But how optimistic would we be now about, say, Man City at home followed by a trip to Liverpool? Thanks to Mr Murdoch, it’s a case of lambs to the slaughter for any club going up against these top-end clubs – unless you have a lot of cash to splash out.  And even then, along comes Financial Fair Play to clip the wings of the “new money” boys, protecting the interests of those with established income streams from global markets.  The Cartel certainly intends to remain the Cartel.

For all of this, I blame one man above all others.  Mr Murdoch, je t’accuse.  At the time he bought the game, Man U hadn’t been champions since the days of black & white TV, and yet their careful marketing and packaging of their history – particularly the lucratively tragic parts – had garnered them a worldwide support and the status of everybody’s second-favourite club, along with massive overseas markets.  The restructuring of the game at the start of the 90s, with its abandonment of trickle-down economics, was a godsend for such a cash cow – despite its solid and consistent record of under-achievement since 1967.  Man U were the archetypal Premier League champions, a figurehead brand to lead the new League to the forefront of global sport and merchandising.  It was all so glitzy, glamorous and tacky, a festival of fireworks, cheerleaders and the twin misogynists who so aptly summed-up the spirit of the whole thing: overgrown guffawing schoolboys Andy Gray and his hairy  chum Richard Keyes.  All that glitter, all that sniggering sexism, all that tawdry scrambling for profit – and invariably champions to embody it all, except in those seasons when the likes of Arsenal stood up for the game’s soul. It was indeed a ‘whole new ball game’, as the marketing men would have it – but somewhere in the making of this revolution, a golden dream died – killed by Murdoch and buried under a vulgar heap of branded tat.

It is that golden dream we’re still missing today, nearly a quarter of a century on. Many thousands of football fans have grown up watching a game enslaved to this artificial agenda, shorn of the fiery ambitions which used to propel rejuvenated clubs from obscurity to the very top of the game. That type of overnight success almost literally cannot happen now; the bleak reality for promoted clubs is of a bitterly hard struggle before them, with survival the best prize they can really hope for. Should Leeds United succeed in gaining promotion, this season or next, then that is very much the reality that awaits us.  And, because we’re Leeds – because we’ve scaled the heights and reached the stars before – we’ve a duty to ask ourselves: is this really what we’re going to settle for – or can we (because we’re Leeds) expect and demand better?

The answer to much of this almost certainly lies with the man currently awaiting the League’s pleasure, as they mull over the question of whether he’s a fit and proper person (or at least as fit and proper as some of the crooks the League has previously sanctioned). If Massimo Cellino knows his history, and if he’s managed to suss out the character of the support while he was imprisoned inside Elland Road on that turbulent Transfer Deadline night, then he should by now have some awareness of the demands likely to be placed on his ownership post-promotion.  He should know that Leeds fans are never going to be childishly grateful just to be a part of things; that mere survival and the acceptance of regularly being ripped a new one by the Premier League big beasts – that’s never going to be enough.  If he does know all of that – if he takes it all on board and still wants to be the force behind the club going forward – if, moreover, he has a plan which will blow away all of the worries and fears of promotion in the Murdoch era – then every single Leeds fan must surely get right behind him.  These are very big ifs, as we all know – but it’s an apt enough time to raise all of this – because the new era of Massimo the First could well start as soon as Monday.  The Middlesbrough game could possibly be the last of this period of twitching uncertainty.  There are some signs pointing that way – the social media twitterings of the younger Cellinos and the fact of the signing (on loan) of a quality keeper in Butland, for instance.  Great changes may just be afoot.

Whether those changes are great enough to buck the trend of Premier League history and see us gatecrash the top end of the big time, remains to be seen. The summer between any promotion and our return to top-level action will be very interesting indeed and will tell us a lot about whether we’re going to make an all-out assault on success. It’s a very hard ask indeed.   But we are Leeds – and so that’s what we should expect and demand.