Thousands of Leeds fans will have gone to bed last night, feeling that the world is a slightly sadder place following a sobering 4-1 reverse at home to an efficient Leicester City side. The defeat will have been the first thing many will have thought about on waking up this morning. And yet we all know deep down that, compared to real loss and tragedy, alongside the immensely unfair and indiscriminate habit life has of abruptly handing out shattering blows to innocents, football and its petty travails and setbacks means nothing at all.
This essential truth has hit home hard again today with the awful need that a 14 year old Leeds fan who has bravely and uncomplainingly battled leukaemia for the past two years – a big chunk of his young life – has now found out that there is no more that can be done for him, and that he has just a matter of three weeks to live.
The heartbreaking story of young Louie Jones, from Poulton-le-Fylde in Lancashire, was told today here on the Leeds Live website, and has been shared on Twitter along with a plea to Leeds United Football Club to do something for the teenage Leeds fanatic in his last few weeks. That’s the kind of request United are normally very receptive to, and I sincerely hope that will be the case for Louie, even in these testing lockdown times.
Beyond that, though, I simply haven’t the words to describe how terribly sad this story is. Courage of the type Louie is now showing, as he faces up to such a horrific certainty, is absolutely beyond my ken, so all I can do in this blog is take off my hat to the lad and reiterate my hope that maybe he’ll hear from his beloved United at what is a devastating time for him and his family.
Life still transcends football, as is right and proper. I know for sure that those who read this will hold Louie in their thoughts and, where appropriate, their prayers.
Nobody does weird like Leeds United, that’s understood. However, with the news that the seemingly 99.99% complete transfer of Michael Cuisance may well have fallen through, it seems possible that the Whites may have out-weirded even themselves.
So strange does this apparent conclusion seem, after “done deal” was flagged up across the various social media platforms over the past twenty-four hours, that we at Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything decided to dispatch our intrepid investigative reporter Rob Schreibermann to Munich, and find out what’s really going on.
Armed only with his passport, bus pass and a vacuum-wrapped Schnitzengruben in case he felt peckish, our man set forth, determined to find out the truth. And, already, we can report that the stumbling block seems to be a long-standing feud between Leeds and Bayern dating back 45 years to 1975.
Astounding as it may seem, it was Leeds United’s insistence that Bayern finally hand over the European Cup, of which they have always maintained they were robbed in the 1975 Final at the Parc des Princes in Paris, that finally killed the deal, as Bayern steadfastly refuse to make a gesture that would expose them as cheats. Although this explanation verges on the very outer limits of credibility, it must be said that it’s many times more likely than the bizarre Daniel James from Swansea fiasco repeating itself quite so soon.
Whatever the background to this development, the Cuisance deal seems to be dead, and Leeds are now faced with having to find a suitable alternative target. Unless, that is, cash-strapped Udinese have decided their bluff has been called, and have made a phone call along the lines of “Let’s talk de Paul for £25m, Victor”? Stranger things have happened, after all.
A prominent feature of the radio coverage Leeds United have enjoyed over the past several years has been the joyously raucous goal celebrations of former United player Noel Whelan, as he greeted each goal the Whites have scored with what has become his signature – GET IIIIINNNNNNN!!! – coming at us over the airwaves courtesy of BBC Radio Leeds.
But now, alas, it seems that Whelan is being forced to tone down his celebrations for fear of upsetting other radio stations, some of whom have complained about the noise and passion of Noel’s on-air outbursts. This po-faced attitude seems to be getting more and more common among the various broadcasters that cover our national game – they seem to picture us all sitting at home, covering our ears for fear of hearing a naughty word or an over-exuberant ejaculation, if I may use that hijacked word in its original sense. I’ve had cause myself to rant at Sky TV for frequent apologies during their otherwise half-decent coverage. “Sorry if you heard any bad language there” a seemingly shocked commentator will intone during some passionate encounter, while over on Channel 4, other passionate encounters will be accompanied by wall-to-wall effing and jeffing, without so much as a “by your leave”. It’s odd, and a bit annoying – and now it appears to threaten the natural partisanship of one of our own.
Noel, with whom I’ve had the privilege of the odd chat now and then, seems to be taking his admonition philosophically, and has confirmed he’ll be winding down the volume and the passion “from this Saturday”, though whether there’ll be much cause for any such celebrations against City has to be doubtful. On the other hand, if there was to be a Patrick Hat-trick to make our Bam Bam Bamford the first Leeds player to score in four consecutive Premier League games, it’s difficult to see how Mr Whelan could restrain himself. These things are spontaneous and visceral, after all; perhaps Popey will be standing by with a gag, or maybe a Leeds branded non-medical face mask, just to avoid giving offence to the delicate sensibilities of those “other radio stations”.
It really is such a daft situation, and those within the media and indeed the game itself should be wary of draining away what passion and enthusiasm remains in our football during these months of crowdless competition. It appears they’d rather rely upon canned cheering, some of which starts and then abruptly cuts off if there’s a near miss, depending on the skill of the person on the button. Surely that bizarre phenomenon can’t really be preferable to a bit of honest, gutsy over-celebration from a guy who bleeds white, yellow and blue? (Or maybe even plum or wine, given our new third kit).
It’s a funny old game, alright. But I’m not sure I’m laughing too much right now. Far be it from me to proffer advice to so august an institution as the BBC – but, if I could make just one small suggestion: why don’t they belt up and mind their own business?
Each of Leeds United’s three old-style Football League Championship titles was clinched at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC and, appropriately enough, United’s destination on Saturday as they make their long overdue return to the top flight. In 1992, the Reds were good enough to beat a demoralised Man U 2-0 which, added to Leeds’ earlier triumph at Bramall Lane, saw the Whites as Champions by 4 points in the last ever pre-Premier League competition – which, after Man U had been such solid favourites only a week or so earlier, would have qualified any first time Leeds pundit for a well deserved best bet365 welcome bonus.
In 1974, Liverpool obliged at Anfield again, losing at home to Arsenal to ensure that they couldn’t overhaul Leeds at the top. I remember a TV programme going to an ad break and then an information board coming up which read “Football result: Liverpool 0, Arsenal 1 – LEEDS UNITED ARE THE CHAMPIONS”That simple memory still sends a tingle down my spine, even forty-six years on.
And of course – probably best of all – Leeds United’s first ever title success at the top level of the game came after a showdown between the two deadly but mutually respectful rivals on April 28 1969. Leeds had come to Anfield knowing that a point would clinch the league, and they set out their stall as only they could to obtain that point, in the toughest place possible. They would go on to beat Nottingham Forest in the last game of that season to reach a record 67 points – a mark that wasn’t beaten until Liverpool themselves recorded 68 points, ironically with a 3-0 win at Elland Road, in their fabulous 1978/79 Championship year.
That legendary Leeds United squad of the sixties and seventies hung on Don Revie’s every word, they would follow him into the pit of Hell itself and they trusted him implicitly. This was the cornerstone of the relationship between team and boss; the unit thus formed was formidable indeed and, on their day, there was no-one to touch them. It was often said of that Leeds side that if you cut one, they all bled – and then you’d better watch out, because they’d be after you as one man to seek retribution. They would do anything for each other and anything for the legendary Don – but on that historic night at Anfield over half a century ago, they must have come as near as they ever came to saying “You what, gaffer? Are you sure??”
On the final whistle, as the Leeds players cavorted with joy in front of their delirious fans at this first delightful taste of being The Best – and as the weary Liverpool troops, having given their all in vain, sportingly congratulated the new Champions – Revie came over to Billy Bremner and confirmed to him that he was to lead his team over to the Kop. This, remember, was at a time when crowd violence was becoming very fashionable. A similar gesture at a certain stadium down Trafford way, and sundry other less-than-welcoming grounds around the country, might very well have got you a crack on the head with a pool ball. It did rather seem to be pushing things a bit – but Revie was insistent, and he was very definitely The Boss.
So it was that Billy Bremner, captain of champions Leeds United, gathered his players together and led them on a long, slow walk to the legendary Anfield Kop. When it was realised what was happening, a hush fell on the ground. In near-silence, the heroes in white walked on, nearer and nearer to the most iconic terrace of them all.
As the triumphant yet apprehensive Leeds warriors finally neared the Kop, the long silence was finally broken as the first cry of “Champions!” went up, swiftly echoed by others on the still-packed terrace – until finally the whole 27,000 population of that mighty hill were acclaiming the title-winners with the same shout, over and over again: “Champions! Champions! Champions!!”
Later, in the dressing room, Leeds celebrated anew with champagne provided by Bill Shankly, whose quote was short and to the point: ‘Leeds United are worthy champions,’ he said. ‘They are a great side.’ Revie responded by praising Liverpool, the club, the fans and their fine team. ‘The reception given us by the sporting Liverpool crowd was truly magnificent,’ he acknowledged, ‘and so, for that matter, was our defence tonight. They were superb in everything.’ It was a night of triumph and disaster, as these decisive nights tend to be, depending on whether you were White or Red; but it was also, let us not forget, a night of dignity, respect and utter, unalloyed class – not least from those 27,000 Liverpool fans on the Anfield Kop.
For ten years, Leeds United has been the jewel in the EFL crown, a gem of a club amid the various also-rans, has-beens and nonentities which made up the Football League roster in any given season. Leeds was the fixture they all looked out for, everybody’s Cup Final, the club they just couldn’t stop talking about. That jewel in the crown status was always undeniable, everybody knew that United represented the biggest asset in the sub-Premier League game.
But Leeds were a diamond that was neither treasured, valued nor lovingly polished – instead they were continually chipped away at, treated with little or no respect, sniped at routinely, whenever the opportunity presented itself. Minus 15 and the golden share, Spygate, over-celebrating. The trumped-up charges kept on coming, a run of 59 games without a penalty exemplified a corrupt organisation’s determination to cling on to its biggest asset and favourite whipping boy. For the EFL, it was good while it lasted. With perennial TV stars Leeds United as its most famous, infamous and notorious member, the League retained a certain cachet, despite the sparkling allure of the Premier League.
Now Leeds United has disappeared from the English Football League and, bereft of its biggest draw, that sorry organisation must now reflect on what it has left to recommend it. And, whatever efforts might be made to talk up the spectator and viewer appeal of Derby County, Nottingham Forest or even, comically, Brentford, the inevitable conclusion will be that, without Leeds, the cupboard is pretty bare.
There was a certain karmic satisfaction, inevitably, in seeing United celebrate at the home ground of one of their most envious and resentful rivals. Binoculars of the mime variety were brandished by Leeds personnel on the pitch after United’s 3-1 success at Derby confirmed that our hungover reserves were more than a match for anything the EFL has to offer, with the pressure off and the title in the bag. Off the pitch, a jubilant Victor Orta had thoughtfully sourced some actual binoculars to help him cavort with the unrestrained joy of winners against the odds, for this title success has been the story of a club winning a league that wished them anything but success. How teeth must have been gritted, how bile must have been swallowed in the corridors of power as those scenes unfolded at Pride Park.
A guard of honour had been reluctantly formed prior to the game, with the Derby players, who had gleefully rubbed United’s noses in play-off defeat a year before, now having to applaud the Champions. The attitude of “we’ve got to do this, but we hate it” was exemplified by one silly young man in the Rams line-up who thought it cool and edgy to slow-time his clapping. He came across as a sulky kid, but his demeanour neatly summed up the attitude of the whole organisation that Leeds were now, gladly, leaving. A charge of “over-celebrating” followed, petty but typical. We reflected that, a year previously, Derby had escaped censure despite one of their number defecating on the Elland Road dressing room floor in a typically disgusting gesture of disrespect. One rule for Leeds, another for the rest. The game’s rulers were staying true to type right up to the bitter end.
Derby, of course, went on to play-off defeat against Villa, leaving that solitary win at Elland Road, after three previous defeats in the same season, as the highlight of their recent history. It’s still celebrated across their social media with unconscious irony, a determined focus on winning a battle before losing the war. A turd on the dressing room floor is such an apt symbol for that club.
But will I now feel moved to gloat over the reduced status of the Championship? Will I laugh triumphantly over the fact that Derby are currently preparing to host Barrow as United look forward to a visit to Anfield? If you think I’d be ready, willing and able to indulge in such blatant Schadenfreude – then you’d be absolutely, one hundred percent spot-on correct.
It’s a real tragedy that fan participation is missing from the current euphoria surrounding Leeds United’s magnificent achievements this season. Sadly, though, this is the world we’re currently living in, our rights and privileges suspended for now by a nasty little virus (no comparison with Frank Lampard intended).
It’s clearly very tempting to defy the current protocols and just get out there to lead as normal a life as possible anyway, consequences be damned. You can see this everywhere you look, with packed beaches all over the place, apparently populated almost exclusively by compulsive litter bugs. But in these instances, only the generality of selfish idiots can be identified, so the focus of scorn and retribution is diffuse. That is not the case with tribal football celebrations, and most particularly not where the fans of Leeds United are concerned.
As ever, critical and unfriendly eyes will be on Leeds United, watching beadily for any chance to have a go at the club, or at its fans; there is the usual eagerness to drag the name of Yorkshire’s finest through the mud wherever possible. The next obvious opportunity to present itself is United’s final match of a triumphant season, at home to Charlton Athletic tomorrow. The game is not selected for live Sky coverage, as the remaining promotion issues will be settled elsewhere. But you can bet your mortgage that cameras aplenty will be focused on the roads and areas outside the stadium, hoping to record scenes that will drop Leeds, both club and city, right in it yet again.
It’s sadly inevitable that some will turn up, ill-advised and careless of consequences, still intoxicated on the heady wine of long-awaited success. It’s going to be a matter of scale – will it be an “understandable” turnout that can be condemned but lightly given the circumstances? Or will it be a massive breach of the safety measures in place, leading to public outrage and the usual suspects calling for United to be demoted to the National League Division 5? I hope for the former, but I fear the latter.
Please exercise your discretion tomorrow, always the better part of valour. Don’t be one of the people who turn up, selfishly disregarding the potential effect on the club. Stay away from Elland Road tomorrow, carry on your celebrations safely in your homes. If the worst case scenario pans out, we can expect neither understanding nor sympathy from those who are always champing at the bit to do us down. They’ll seize the day if we give them the chance, have no doubt about that. Don’t be one of the thoughtless ones who afford them that chance.
Remember: actions have consequences, and Leeds United rarely get away with anything. Stay home tomorrow, save your celebrations for the time when we can all celebrate without let or hindrance. It’ll feel just as good – and we won’t be risking sanctions for a great club emerging from dark times into the sunlit uplands of public approbation and the Premier League. You know it makes sense.
I make no apology to Sky Sports for nicking their “Leeds Promoted” image above. They owe us, I feel, for their snide and needless overlay of “Leeds Are Falling Apart Again” during their live lockdown coverage of a recent home game. Ultimately, Sky were wrong about the falling apart thing, as United clinched automatic promotion and the Championship Title, with two games to spare. A more apt motif for this season would be Angus Kinnear’s remark to the effect that we wouldn’t be dicking about with playoffs this season, and so we didn’t. Other teams have that nightmare before them, and they’re welcome to it.
Thanks go to Huddersfield and Stoke, both of which clubs I love very much, for making this weekend a riot of celebration and alcohol-based dissolution. You’ve been as wonderful for my spiritual well-being as you’ve been disastrous for my short term health; on balance, I’m deeply grateful.
All I need to do now is to add “As Championship Champions” to the above image, by dint of some PhotoShop type wizardry which is currently beyond me due to the effects of grain and grape. But I can do all that when I sober up, maybe sometime toward mid-August. In the meantime, I love all of you too, you’re my best mates, honest you are, salt of the earth to the very last Jack & Jill of you. Hic!!
I’ve never been fond of the whole huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ scene myself, not have I ever been enamoured of blood sports – it seems perverse to me that entertainment should be had at the expense of some poor creature’s life. Still, it takes all sorts and, like most people, I tend to afford my sporting heroes a bit of latitude where their tastes differ from my own. Thus, I never had any problem with Vinnie Jones, who is frequently to be found at the less harmful end of a gun as he pursues his countryside recreation. It’s just one of those things I file under inexplicable, and move on, minding my own business.
Another Leeds United legend who enjoyed a spot of sporting mayhem was Jack Charlton, lost to us at 85 on Friday after a long illness. Big Jack was beloved by many for his extraordinary contribution to the football world as player, club manager, international manager and as a pungent pundit who was never at a loss for a bon mot or two. He was larger than life, massively successful, utterly likeable and revered accordingly. It’s certainly not for me to pick faults with a man of that stature and a legend in the history of the club I love.
However, there’s always the odd person who is willing – nay, eager – to abandon any such scruples and weigh in on the attack even against a beloved public figure, just as soon as they are safely dead and unable to defend themselves or retaliate. In the case of York councillor and former City Mayor Dave Taylor, we’re talking about a very odd person indeed, with a particularly lousy sense of timing. Councillor Taylor chose to bray his delight at the news of Big Jack’s passing, barely 24 hours after that sad event. For a person in public life to put into print on social media such very tasteless comments as Taylor did must surely indicate supreme self-confidence or profoundly arrogant stupidity. I offer no verdict on that point, beyond noting that the offending Facebook status was removed when poor Dave became aware he’d upset folk with his crass comments.
Sadly for those of a reckless demeanour and possessed of mouths that flap without brain being engaged, nothing ever disappears from the Internet, and Taylor’s unwise and tasteless remarks are quite easy for anyone to find. I shall not reproduce them here, I wouldn’t wish to sully this blog with such crass idiocy and, after all, the necessary details are indelibly out there. Suffice to say that the initial remark was along the lines of I hear Jack Charlton is dead. Good – later toned down to some weasel words about having no sympathy and finally deleted altogether. But it may be that some of Jack’s legions of fans and friends will choose to pursue and harry Councillor Taylor, who might well pay the price so many public figures pay when they choose to chelp not wisely, but too well. And there’d be some justice in that, along with maybe some comfort for those appalled by Taylor’s sheer lack of taste and respect. Who knows? The Green Party are unlikely to welcome the publicity that their York councillor is attracting, and they will have a decision to make as to what, if any, disciplinary action is appropriate.
Councillor Taylor, pictured above, looks like the kind of chap who seeks and welcomes attention. But it seems that, in the matter of his attack on the late and deeply lamented Jack Charlton, he may already be regretting the attention he’s attracted. He might just have bitten off more than he can chew. I do hope so.
There’s no better motivation than self-interest so, while you’d never normally expect Derby County to be caught doing any good turns for Leeds United, the Rams’ next two fixtures present exactly that possibility.
The fact is that, if Derby’s season is to bear any fruit at all, then they will have to win points from games at West Bromwich Albion and at home to Brentford. From a Leeds United point of view, draws in those two fixtures would be almost as valuable as Derby victories – always supposing that the Whites do their bit and dispose of Stoke and Swansea. But, for their own aspirational reasons, Derby will need to go for the wins. Ambition is all, and the Rams, along with their bitterly Leeds-phobic support, will reluctantly set aside their morbid fear of doing United a favour, if the upshot is that they once more end up in the play-offs.
Derby’s rancid hatred of Leeds has always puzzled me slightly, with a tinge of amusement in there too. It’s largely a one-way affair, though last season’s play off debacle hardly warmed the cockles of United hearts as far as our view of those sheepish rivals was concerned. Possibly, quite probably, the animosity towards Leeds is down to the Brian Clough factor, as is so much else in the tripartite history of Leeds, Derby and Nottingham Forest. In those latter two footballing communities, Clough is revered as a god; Derby and Nottingham sometimes forget to hate each other in their shared adoration of Old Big ‘Ed. But Clough’s Brief tenure at Elland Road exposed the fact that, without his significant other Peter Taylor, Cloughie hardly emerges from the ranks of the ordinary. Unlike legends such as Revie, Shankly and Busby, who stood alone with their assistants in the background, Clough and Taylor were much more interdependent, the whole being rather more than the sum of the two parts. Maybe it was this exposure of their idol as being stood upon feet of clay that both East Midlands clubs find it impossible to forget or forgive.
Whatever the causes and history, Derby County, the club and its supporters alike, have cordially hated Leeds United for decades now. So how ironic would it be, a year on from that freaky, fluky night at Elland Road that saw last season expire in a White haze of misery, if it now fell to the Rams to butt our two main rivals out of our path, leaving the road to glory clear before us? Irony probably doesn’t do it justice, this would be Schadenfreude as cold and sweet as a classic Riesling, leaving a tingling aftertaste to thrill the jaded palate of any Leeds fan.
The cherry on the icing on the top of the cake, though, would be the chance to clinch promotion or even the Championship title itself on Derby’s home soil, administering that ungrateful serpent’s bite in the wake of the Rams having given us a reluctant leg up. Or is that simply too much to ask? Possibly it is, but a bit of gluttony for glory is understandable right now.
It all starts later this afternoon, with Derby’s visit to WBA. They should be fired up and ready to do or die. For once in a very long while, the blog wishes them the very best of luck, and a solid victory to build on with Brentford next in their sights. Come on you Rams!
Yesterday was just one of those bad days at the office, that curious and frustrating Leeds United mixture of dominance and fallibility that so often gifts three points to inferior yet hard and determined opponents. That’s nine defeats this season now and, as one of the commentators remarked during the match at Cardiff, United have arguably been the better side in all nine. Whatever is behind this phenomenon, it’s the kind of thing to induce the collywobbles in even the most unflappable Whites fan, along with the predictable epilogue of clueless moaners having a field day on Twatter and Farcebook. All in all, it was a day to forget, but that’s easier said than done.
And yet, after reading one particular tweet, I was inspired to take my own steps with the aim of either staving off disaster on a cosmic level, or of assuring myself a little fiscal compensation if the worst should come to the worst. In short, I had a punt at 12/1 against on Leeds United failing to go up. I’d set aside £50 so that I could be treated to a new LUFC top in sparkling Adidas for my birthday – but instead, I lumped it all on the worst case scenario, and that breaks a lifetime non-gambling record, as I’d never previously had so much as a flutter on the National.
I have to say, it’s immediately made feel better, having been in a foul mood straight after the final whistle in Wales. I had expected to be able to take defeat philosophically, thanks to the efforts of Brentford and Birmingham at Fulham and West Brom respectively. But I was gutted, given the dominant nature of our performance, to see Leeds sustain two self-inflicted and fatal wounds. It was just such a poxy way to lose, and such a poxy team and club to lose against. Anyway, whatever the pros and cons, or swings and roundabouts, I was down in the dumps until this tweet inspired me to lump on Leeds missing promotion. As I’m a perennial loser in games of chance, I’m pretty sure I’ve just made United’s elevation to the Promised Land a stone cold certainty. As a stereotypical Yorkshireman, I could never normally have imagined being so eager to lose £50, with that slight dread of winning £600. But I do feel I’ve got the bases covered now, and I’ll be happy to miss out on a new LUFC shirt, if it means being back where we belong.
I’m not trying to induce anyone to start gambling here. It’ll be a cold day in hell, or at least a dry day in Manchester, before I repeat the exercise. I’m just glad I’ve done it this once, as it’s lifted my mood considerably. And I have high expectations of an outcome worth a lot more than 600 lousy quid.
Incidentally, I should mention at this point that I’ve not felt moved to write here since my brother and fellow lifelong United fan Graham died suddenly and unexpectedly in April. I’m really not quite sure why that is; maybe beside our Gray’s death and this whole lockdown thing, football suddenly seemed pretty small beer. But it’s back now, and so am I – and this is my first chance to say thank you for all the kind and sympathetic messages I received after I wrote my brotherly tribute two months back. They were all much appreciated and greatly helpful.