Leeds United are officially the filthiest team in Premier League history. That’s a matter of record – we’re the first EPL club to record a century of combined yellow and red cards over a season, with still two games to go. However, it’s a statistic that may well surprise some observers of the game – well, at any rate, those who aren’t inclined to parrot “dirty Leeds, dirty Leeds” at every opportunity. After all, for most of this season, Leeds have had Marcelo Bielsa, of blessed memory, in charge – and he’s hardly an advocate of clogging. Something stinks here – and it’s not the away dressing room floor, as Derby County are no longer on our radar.
In the wake of an inept, abject home defeat to Chelsea, it’s looking ever more likely that United will be back in the Championship next time around, and whatever your opinion on the late-season replacement of Marcelo Bielsa by Jesse Marsch, in this blog’s opinion it is far more important at this juncture to look forward than back.
This is not about blame or recrimination. It’s not even about whether, in the end, Leeds actually do end up relegated. It’s simply a matter of stick or twist – given the nature of the performances, would we be better off sticking with the likeable but untried in English football Marsch, or should we be looking at a specialist in restoring fortunes, whether that be a proven promotion winner, or a man able to keep an ailing club away from a relegation scrap.
That being the case, I’m just going to seek answers to the binary choice of keeping or sacking Jesse Marsch. Opinions as to who, if anyone, should replace him are also welcome in the comments.
At this point in mind, I must admit I’m a bit numb, and not sure of the answer to my own question. Perhaps I’m still traumatised by the brutal expulsion of Marcelo, or “God”, as I like to refer to him. I know for a fact that many Leeds fans are still grieving.
So, I’ll just leave it at the simple question of whether Marsch should stay or go. I’m not even bothering with a poll. My fellow sufferers – it’s over to you.
The other day, still reeling from the loss of my latest and probably last Leeds United hero, Marcelo Bielsa, I was indulging in some gastronomic therapy in a cafe in Horbury, as I waited for Mrs. Rob to have her hair appropriately marcelled at the local salon. As I tucked into my sausage butties, I noticed a copy of Rupert Murdoch’s withered and flaccid organ on the next table, saw that it had a story about new United manager Jesse Marsch, and thought I’d have a quick and free read – as, obviously, nobody actually buys this degraded gutter rag.
I really should have known better, shouldn’t I. The piece was written (scrawled in crayon) by a hack with the unlikely name of Oscar Paul, clearly a graduate of the scumbag school of “journalism”. Swiftly bored with the task of covering the Marsch story, and aware that United’s army of fans were already hurting over the traumatic loss of Marcelo Bielsa, ‘Orrible Oscar was clearly looking for a chance to smear a Leeds legend, preferably one who had passed away and couldn’t hit back. That’s the way of things at the Super Soaraway S*n after all – find and exploit a hapless victim for the pursuit of its own disgusting agenda. Murdoch’s base bogroll has form for this going way back, as those who remember its disgraceful lies in the wake of Hillsborough will be all too well aware.
In the article I was idly perusing, the calumny was of a lesser order than the Hillsborough lies, but nonetheless gratuitously offensive and untimely for that. Stretching for a legend’s memory to daub with his masters’ own particularly noisome brand of excrement, this moronic S*n hack decided that a random reference to Leeds icon Don Revie was just what he needed, and wielded his crayon accordingly: “such is the influence Ralph Rangnick has had on (Marsch), do not expect a team of brawlers like Don Revie’s”. There. Job done, and Oscar must have been hugging himself with glee, having brown-nosed the current boss at the Pride of Devon, while simultaneously if ungrammatically dancing on Revie’s grave. It doesn’t get any better than that for an ambitious if illiterate Murdoch scribbler, surely promotion into the front ranks would follow.
Let’s consider the team that Oscar was scribbling his rubbish about – the likes of Eddie Gray and Paul Madeley having their illustrious names blackened, despite their singular lack of any inclination to “brawl”. A team of brawlers? This is lazy and glib even by the standards of the dregs of Wapping. The Revie boys could look after themselves and they stood together, as a top team should. Super Leeds operated in a brutal era, but they were not solely or even mainly about brutality. Those lads, all of them, could play, brilliantly. On their day, and there were many of them, they were peerless, incomparable. For them now to be invoked whenever some talentless purveyor of Murdoch malice is at a loss for his next sentence is harsh and unjustified in the extreme.
Let’s not forget some of the other big beasts on the prowl in that era. Arsenal with Peter Storey. Chelsea with “Chopper” Harris. Liverpool, Tommy Smith and Emlyn Hughes. Even Devon, with Stiles and Crerand. All thugs and brawlers on their day, and none of them could hold a candle to Hunter, Bremner or Giles. But none of that found a place in Oscar’s empty head, he was far too eager to perpetuate the myth of Dirty Leeds (now an ironic badge of honour among United fans weary of the 60 year old lie).
Rant over. I’ve had my say, and we all know what the Oscars of this world are all about. And what lesson can we take from this? Well, the obvious one is “Don’t buy the S*n”. But we all already knew that, too.
In Victorian times, “FA” stood for “Fanny Adam’s” a young murder victim of 1867 whose name, by some bizarre twist of nautical humour, came to be synonymous with – well, nothing.
These days, the two letters are supposed to evoke thoughts of an august ruling body for our national game. But, clearly, that’s nonsense, for as we all know, and as has been proved yet again only today, that ruling body is characterised by arrogance and complacency, together with a bumbling inability to get anything right, and further soured by their implacable hatred of Leeds United.
I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the red card saga here. It’s clearly pointless raising issues of precedent; the FA don’t care about such issues, they’re simply focused on dispensing injustice liberally around LS11, and if that makes them look ridiculous and foolish, well, so be it.
So I’ll just ask for suggestions as to what “FA” stands for, to us Leeds fans, here and now. I’ve à few choice ideas of my own, so it would be inappropriate to ask you to keep it clean. Let’s just stick it to them and carry on…
Three years ago today, Leeds United made a managerial appointment that must rank as one of the top three strokes of genius in their entire century-and-a-bit history. In context, the recruitment of Marcelo Bielsa is right up there with those of Don Revie and Howard Wilkinson. All three men came to a club in dire straits, and all three performed miraculously to transform the fortunes of an archetypal sleeping giant. As to who can be judged First Among Equals, history will judge the best. From my contemporary standpoint, what I will say is that the answer to that conundrum is by no means as clear-cut as many might suppose.
It might seem like sacrilege to even contemplate placing Bielsa in a position of pre-eminence over the Don, or even Sgt. Wilko. Both of those former club servants brought the ultimate domestic accolade to Elland Road, an achievement that is unlikely to be matched in today’s vastly different game where a super-powerful, massively entitled group of fat cat plutocrats rule; moreover, as we have recently seen, they are determined to maintain their dominance, by hook or by crook, and devil take the hindmost. In that context, the achievements of Marcelo Bielsa in his three year tenure (the longest period he has ever stayed in a club job) bear comparison with anything the other two of that legendary triumvirate managed.
That’s as may be, and I’m not setting out to ruffle the feathers of those veteran fans who remember Revie’s Super Leeds, or even (as I do) Sgt. Wilko’s Barmy Army. But these are different days, and in the current climate, with the game’s tangible rewards being hogged by that gluttonous cartel, it’s status that now assumes more importance for The Rest. Leeds United had been away from the Top Table for 16 years, far too long for a club of our pedigree. Both Revie and Wilkinson took control after much shorter periods of exile – Bielsa, by comparison, was looking to restore to the spotlight a club that the top level of our game had almost forgotten. And he’s done this with an endearing mixture of style, humility, stubbornness, quixotic idealism and – let’s not mince words here – sheer, unadulterated genius.
In effect, Bielsa has accomplished the fashioning of a silk purse from the tattiest of sow’s ears. In the last game of the season just completed, as Leeds secured a ninth place finish in their comeback season, most of their matchday combatants were also on duty in Marcelo’s first game, back in 2018 as pre-season Championship favourites Stoke City rolled up to Elland Road, took a fearful battering, and headed back to the Potteries sadder and wiser for the experience. Looking further back, the bulk of the squad that finished dismally mid-table in the second tier the season before were still around as Leeds rattled off four victories in the last four games of last season. This is heady stuff, again, given the context, and you can well understand the esteem in which Bielsa is now held by the Leeds faithful. Let’s face it, we’re talking here about an esteem which goes far beyond respect, which transcends even adulation. Some say Bielsa is revered, as you might revere a god. Some simply refer to him as God. This is not mere respect or adulation, this is The Real Thing. Let’s not bandy words. This is Love.
When I was younger, I was probably guilty of falling in love too lightly and too often. I was a sucker for a pretty face or a maverick football club – though I was too young, and too untutored in the ways of Leeds, to fall for Don Revie. I do worship him as a historical icon for the club I’ve adored for almost half a century, and I’m immensely proud of our dominance under Don in that golden era. By the late eighties, though, I was desperate for something to love about a diminished Leeds, particularly in the aftermath of King Billy’s reign and the traumatic way it ended. When Wilkinson moved in, it quickly became clear that here was a man who would give us back our pride, restore our status after eight years in the doldrums and enable us all to look the game in the eye again. And yet, I never quite fell for Wilko, despite the fact that he exceeded our wildest dreams in that glory year of 1992. You don’t make choices about who you love and who you’re fond of on a less ardent basis. I was grateful beyond words for what Howard did for Leeds, but with the best will in the world, it never translated to love, and I assumed then that people come and go, but my heart belonged to the club. Thinking about it, that’s not a bad philosophy; most likely it’s one that could see me through a dread time to come, when our latest Messiah decides his work is done and it’s time to call it a day.
Here and now, though, I know that my previous sang-froid will be of no use to me when the current incumbent of the Elland Road hot seat finally goes to pastures new, or maybe just home. I’m going to find it so hard to bear, because I literally love Marcelo Bielsa, and I know I’m not alone in this. It may even be that, when Marcelo does go, it’ll be time for me to take a step back, find other stuff to write about, view the game more dispassionately, concentrate on home and hearth, wait for grandchildren to come along. I can’t put it any more plainly than that. For me, Marcelo Bielsa is God – and once there’s no more God, then there’ll be precious little point in continuing to worship.
I don’t know, maybe I’m being a tad over dramatic, as we ageing thespians tend to be. Maybe, when the blow falls, I’ll be able to rationalise it – don’t be sorry He’s gone, just be glad He was here. It’ll be an exercise in managing how I feel, that’s for sure. I just hope it’s a situation that I’m still a couple of years away from having to deal with. For the time being, let’s just accept that we have been blessed indeed these past three years and, on this Bielsa Day anniversary, simply be glad of that. And, who knows? The best may well be yet to come.
At the start of the Premier League campaign so recently completed, one of the big issues for discussion and debate was: how will Leeds United, 16 years exiled from the elite, fare on their long-delayed return? The battle lines were drawn, with Leeds haters, wishful thinkers, embittered ex-pros and various other pond life on one side – and Those Who Matter on the other.
The views were starkly polarised. For the various factions who, for one reason or another, wished Yorkshire’s only giant club nothing but misery, there was a fairly unanimous feeling that United’s tenure in the top flight would last for three seasons: autumn, winter and spring. The predicted final tables from back then make for amusing reading now, with Leeds appearing in many forecast bottom threes and with the likes of the previous season’s miracle club Sheffield Utd going from strength to strength.
My own forays into social media at this time were seen as baselessly optimistic, bordering on drug-fuelled delusion. One Arsenal fan of tender years, and even tenderer grey matter, could not believe that I refused to accept United’s inevitable fate with meek submissiveness. The poor lad got quite hot under the collar at my refusal to acquiesce, and eventually blocked me in a fit of outraged pique, promising to re-establish contact around Easter, when our fate was sealed. Still waiting on that one.
Then there was the Brighton fan who was so sure that we’d zero chance of survival without Ben White, condescendingly explaining as if to a child that sadly no deal was possible as we’d be direct rivals in the struggle against the drop. Haven’t heard from him lately, either.
On the other side of the coin, the optimism and positivity that characterised the online output from Premier League betting sites and many prolific Leeds writers must have seemed mere bravado to the uninitiated. But we’d just witnessed two miraculous seasons in the Championship during which we’d proved we were the best outside the game’s elite. In the first season, we suffered a late attack of stage fright, and failed to get over the line – but in the second, we walked the league by ten points, to a background of wailing, gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair from the anti-Leeds fraternity who were witnessing their worst nightmare come true. They’d forecast another late season blow up and the departure of Marcelo Bielsa back to the Argentine, tail between legs. But we knew better – we knew that Bielsa is God incarnate, brought to God’s own county to return the chosen people to the Promised Land. So mote it be.
And thus it has come to pass, with yet more amusement in store for us as the haters refused to let the evidence of their own eyes divert them from their predictions of misery falling upon Elland Road. Karen Carney brought the undeserved ridicule of unreconstructed misogynists down upon the heads of female football pundits, with her silly theory that Leeds’s promotion was down to the COVID break. But this was never about gender – male pundits game out with theories just as daft if not dafter, proclaiming that Bielsa was a myth (Gabby “Gobby” Agbonlahor) and other exercises in mental frailty and lack of perspicacity from the likes of Andy Hinchliffe, Kris Boyd et al.
Overall, opinion has remained polarised. There was early encouragement for the nay-sayers when results were poor during a spell where Leeds were deprived by injury of the international defenders they’d signed in lieu of poor Ben White. That chorus of “we told you so” turned sulkily quiet with the emergence of Pascal Strujik and the recovery of Diego Llorente. Since those two were deployed in harness, United’s defensive performance has improved markedly, with Sky’s beloved graphic highlighting Leeds’s weakness from set pieces becoming more redundant with every passing week.
In the last ten games of the season (over a quarter of the campaign, let’s not forget), Leeds were second only to a resurgent not to say desperate Liverpool in the form table, and came within a short head of challenging for some form of European qualification – a “failure” which may well turn out to be a blessing in disguise. But that late season charge, unaided by any COVID break (sorry, Karen) has surely dispelled another myth beloved of Leeds-haters, the oft-mooted “Bielsa Burnout”. Sorry, lads (and lasses), but – like so many of your pet theories – the burnout was just so much pie in the sky, meaning you’ve had to gorge on the humble variety instead.
So, what of the future? Inevitably, there will be departures, and we’ve already bid a tearful farewell to two of our favourite sons in the Lion and the Magician. Thank you, thank you to Gaetano and Pablo, your legend status is secure and you’ll never be forgotten. Success elsewhere, lads, but you’ll always be welcome home anytime. There will inevitably be additions over the summer, and we’ve learned to trust the judgement and acumen of Victor Orta. He won’t let us down – and of course Marcelo Bielsa, or “God” as he’s fondly known hereabouts, will continue the biggest and best project of his incredible life.
I foresee more progress, a clear path ahead to establishment as a giant amongst the elites as Marcelo continues to build his legacy, and not least of all, more bitter disappointment for those whose happiness is entirely dependent on Leeds failing and falling. Let it be.
Karen Carney, TV Sport’s super pundit, has issued a solemn warning over the likely consequences for football should another blanket lockdown be imposed with all fixtures suspended indefinitely. Carney is worried that such a measure would inevitably lead to Leeds winning the Premier League title, just as the lockdown of early 2020 was solely responsible for United winning the Championship title last season.
“Make no mistake about it”, frothed Carney. “Leeds United would end up as Champions – and we all know that nobody wants that. Look what happened last year, Leeds had lost every game before lockdown due to the well-known Bielsa blowup meltdown crackup tiredness thingy, they were rock bottom of the Championship and certs for relegation, then, after they’d had a good rest – a much better rest than any other team – they go on this amazing run, winning every game 7-0, and end up ten points clear of West Brom, who we know for a fact are a much better team.”
When asked about elements of her theory, including the “much better rest” part, as well as WBA being much better than a team against whom they’ve just suffered a 5-0 battering, Ms Carney merely curled her lip and said “Wibble”.
Leeds United were approached by our Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything roving reporter for their response, and guardedly commented “Well, what else can you expect from the Karens of this world? But, let’s face it, she’s not half as thick as Merson, Wilder and Agbonlahor…”
Sam Allardyce is 66, and has had enough of football for this season.
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?