Tag Archives: Football

Leeds United’s Promotion Has Ripped the Life Out of the Football League – by Rob Atkinson

The Champions celebrate at the home of the play-off losers

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.

Marching On Together

Messi to Leeds, Just a Pipe Dream? Transfer Request Submitted by Superstar – by Rob Atkinson

Bielsa and Messi – is it meant to be?

Superstar Lionel Messi is on record as declaring that he’d love to play for Marcelo Bielsa. In this blogger’s humble opinion, his recent plea for El Loco to join him on the Nou Camp stage at Barcelona was the wrong way to go about fulfilling that desire to experience the guidance of the man they call the best coach in the world. Messi should be looking at the reverse proposition, and consider the prospect of doing for Leeds United what Diego Maradona did for Napoli many years ago.

It’s always tempting in these cases to add together two and two, ending up with 1919 or so. When the signs align as they appear to do in this case, it’s hard not to clutch at a passing straw and reach a highly desirable conclusion. But there is that precedent involving Diego Maradona, a man who coincidentally figured in an even more outrageously unlikely rumour back in the dark days of pre-Wilko United’s second division tenture in the eighties. Then, affable MD Bill Fotherby was telling everyone who would listen that this deal could be done, and you began to understand how this plausible man had succeeded in life. It didn’t happen, of course, but Maradona did eventually make a move from his storied career at the Nou Camp to a Napoli outfit that had seen no Serie A success in far too long. The rest is history, Maradona proved to be the magic ingredient in the revival of the Naples club. He was also destined to feature briefly for Newell’s Old Boys later in his career, a club of significance to any student of Bielsaball.

So, could history repeat itself? It’s unlikely, but it’s also, tantalisingly, well short of impossible. The received wisdom is that Lionel Messi would love to play for Bielsa, and there is also the rumour that the new Adidas deal provides for the possibility of a marquee signing, the kind of player who would raise even the profile of a global giant such as Adidas a notch or two. As for the player himself, could he perhaps be tempted at this stage of his career to help complete the return to the global stage of a former player in Leeds United, just as Gordon Strachan did thirty years ago, and just as Maradona did at Napoli?

As rumours go, it’s not a bad one. And at least we’re not speculating about the likes of Wayne Rooney, who found the task of revitalising Derby County a step too far. At a time when Messi’s Barcelona adventure is showing signs of turning a bit sour, maybe – just maybe – he might be looking for an inspirational challenge elsewhere – and under his favourite coach, too.

Marching On Together

Tactful Ben White Unable to Give Real Reason He Wants Leeds Move – by Rob Atkinson

Potter or Bielsa? Tact is needed to answer that

Certain things in life just aren’t done, usually for very good reasons. “Never draw to an inside straight” is an old poker aphorism which has entered the wider language with the approximate meaning of “don’t take unnecessary or unwise risks”. Away from the gaming table and into polite society, etiquette demands (inter alia) that port should only be passed to the left, and the fellow who has the bad breeding to do otherwise is marked down as a low cad. These are situations to be avoided; common sense in the former case and fine table manners in the latter mean there is no other choice, if you wish to be accepted as a person who knows what’s what.

Similarly, in other walks of life, behaviour is dictated by what can be accepted as exemplary upbringing, good sense, respect for your elders and betters and – by no means least – tact. Tact is extraordinarily important, for anybody who wishes to get ahead without ruffling too many feathers along the way, always bearing in mind the need to be nice to people on the way up, lest you meet them in a vengeful mood on the way back down again.

It will be a good few years before Brighton’s promising young defender Ben White has to worry about what will happen to him when he’s over the hill and on the slippery downhill slope that awaits us all. Ben’s best years are ahead of him, years in which he will wish to realise his massive potential and maximise the rewards he can hope to gain from what should be a stellar career. In order to do that, White must surely realise the importance of getting the best he possibly can in terms of education and experience in the formative phase of his football life. His magnificent season as a loan star in the colours of Leeds United will have brought it home to Ben that what he can gain under at least one more year of Marcelo Bielsa’s tutelage, combined with the guarantee of playing time that would not apply at a “top six club”, is highly unlikely to be replicated elsewhere. In short, right now, Ben White needs Bielsa’s Leeds just as much as Bielsa’s Leeds needs Ben White. But, sadly, it is impossible, for reasons of tact, to put out of joint the nose of Graham Potter, the coach at White’s parent club Brighton.

Egos, self image, prickly sensitivity and envy – all of these play a part in any competitive environment, professional football more than most. The last thing Mr. Potter will wish to hear from young Ben is that he feels his professional development will be better served under Bielsa at Leeds than in his current situation in Sussex. As admirable a club as Brighton undoubtedly are, and whatever the merits of the manager who has seen fit to put a price tag of £40 million on the head of a young lad he deems unworthy of a top contract “until he sees him in training”, you can’t blame Ben White for identifying Bielsa and the culture he’s nurtured at Elland Road as the prime mover behind what has been a meteoric rise to prominence since his United debut at Bristol just over a year ago. Clearly, Ben wants to prolong the experience, that’s utterly understandable. But how do you go about explaining this to current employers who have you in a contractual bind? Tact forbids being too pointed about such a business, and that’s the dilemma facing Ben White.

Ben White, still hoping to remain Ben of the Whites

Those of us with the best interests of Leeds United and Ben White at heart – and those interests are arguably identical – will hope that a way can be found through this maze of conventions and manners, tactfully of course, towards a solution acceptable to all parties. And Graham Potter’s feelings needn’t end up too bruised, it’s just a matter of him being able to accept that, whatever his talents, he’s no Marcelo Bielsa. After all, who is? Perhaps White’s agent can find some tactful way of making the situation as perceived by his client crystal clear – without ruffling those seagulls’ feathers too much.

Marching On Together

Leeds Target Ben White Can Win Everything at Brighton, says Legend Potter – by Rob Atkinson

The legendary Graham Potter

Managerial maestro Graham Potter has revealed that Leeds United target Ben White is an essential component of his masterplan for Brighton to achieve global domination by the end of the coming season, using their inimitable brand of attacking football, now rightly revered as “Potterball”, to crush all opposition.

A Brighton insider enlarged on the Seagulls’ plans to conquer football: “We are aiming to win the league and then the Champions League over the next two years, or sooner if possible. Ben White is vital to these plans, so much so that he might even get the odd game. His value to us is summed up by a price tag well into the billions, certainly more than a small club, a really really tiny, insignificant club by the way, such as Leeds could afford. And to show our commitment to Ben, we’re willing to pay him double what he was getting on our Youth Opportunities Scheme before we farmed him out to Newport”.

Asked if perhaps Brighton as a club have something of a chip on their shoulder where Leeds United and particularly Marcelo Bielsa are concerned, our man would only say “Well, you know how it is with Seagulls and chips”.

Meanwhile, the concept of “Potterball” is gaining momentum among the club’s dozens-strong supporter base. “These are exciting times”, said one drooling resident of Hove. “Potterball is where it’s at, and Ben White knows this. That’s why he’d prefer to stay and compete with seventeen other centre-backs, rather than return for another season under some Argentinian nobody. The world is at the lad’s feet – he’s incredibly lucky to have the greatest coach in the universe and £150 a week into the bargain. Read it and weep, Leeds!”

Marching On Together

If You Love Leeds United, PLEASE Stay Away From Elland Road Tomorrow – by Rob Atkinson

Deserted Elland Road

A deserted Elland Road

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.

Marching On Together

Leeds United Celebrate Not Dicking Around With Playoffs, as Promotion is Sealed With Two Games to Spare – by Rob Atkinson

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!!

Marching On Together

Leeds Legend Big Jack Attacked by Former York Mayor the Day After Passing Away – by Rob Atkinson

York Councillor Dave Taylor (Green Party)

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.

Marching On Together

Are Leeds Haters Derby County About to Do Bielsa’s Boys TWO Massive Favours? – by Rob Atkinson

                            Derby County love to hate Leeds United

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!

Marching On Together

I’m Backing Leeds United (To MISS OUT on Promotion) – by Rob Atkinson

Fancy a flutter?

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.

Marching On Together

Death of a Leeds United Fan II – by Rob Atkinson

Younger brother Graham (left) with yours truly in happier times

Five years ago, I found myself in the unhappy position of having to pen a tribute to my Dad, a lifelong Leeds United fan, after he passed away due to complications of Alzheimer’s Disease a few months short of his 88th birthday. I remember that writing the article helped me come to terms with the fact that Dad really had gone from us; even though he’d been ill for a long time, I found it hard to comprehend that I’d never see him again, and it didn’t really sink in until a few months later, long after his funeral. I’m just not very good, I suppose, at accepting finalities.

This failing on my part to acknowledge or accept ultimate loss has been brought home to me again this last week or so, with the news that my brother Graham had died suddenly, over the weekend before last, at the age of only 56. Gray was actually two years younger than me and, although his health had been poor since a major illness about fifteen years back, he’d seemed to have made a recovery of sorts. Certainly the last thing any of us expected was to hear that he’d passed away, and again, I’m struggling to get my head around it. This feeling of disbelief is hardly helped by the fact that, like many brothers, we weren’t particularly close for long periods, and our disagreements and quarrels were many. Sibling rivalry, fraternal friction, call it what you will there was usually some strife. So, this sense of sudden loss is tinged with regret and a certain amount of guilt too – as if the death of a younger brother wasn’t bad enough already. The last year or so of his life was one of those extended mutual stand-off times, something I’ll clearly never be able to put right. It is what it is, sadly. Our Gray could be an awkward bugger at times – but, then again, so can I.

One thing that Gray and I always had in common was Leeds United; despite being two years younger, he started going to Elland Road a good few years before I did, and was privileged to see Don Revie’s Super Leeds in action, whereas I had to make do initially with Armfield’s Aces in 1975. And, as we all know, it was all downhill from there until Sergeant Wilko turned up 13 years later. But over those first few seasons of my fanaticism, Gray and I shared many trips to see the Whites play, especially at home games, when we’d board the old Ponte supporters bus on Horsefair in town and set off, more in hope than expectation. On one memorable occasion, I leaned too heavily on the emergency exit at the back of the bus as we pulled into the Elland Road car park, and fell out. I was left sprawling in the dust as my brother and his mates wet themselves laughing at my humiliation. It was a story he recounted with evident relish and amusement as best man at my wedding years later. He also mentioned the frequent occasions we’d return home after some dire defeat, to be met by our Dad with his doom-laden verdict of “Never again”. Dad had had enough of Leeds United by the eighties – I don’t think he’d ever really forgiven them for selling John Charles – and he assumed that we’d have had enough too, after each successive disappointment. I’d like to think that they’re continuing that argument somewhere right now, Dad and Gray, perhaps over some heavenly pint in the company of a few lost heroes.

Gray didn’t die as a result of the current COVID-19 crisis, it was his existing health problems that caught up with him. Still, lockdown has its effect on everything these days and, sadly, Graham’s funeral next Tuesday at Pontefract Crematorium will be a severely restricted affair, limited to ten mourners in the building itself. But funerals are mainly for those left behind, and the priority on the day for my remaining brother Mike and myself will be to support our Mum, who’s 83, as well as Gray’s two sons Stuart and Matthew, and of course his partner Julie. The idea is that, as and when this virus situation eases and we regain at least a measure of freedom, we’ll be able to organise something whereby Gray’s life can be celebrated properly, with a few drinks being sunk and a few hoary old anecdotes retold, as he’d most certainly have wanted.

Clearly, in the context of this blog, one particularly bitter regret is that Gray will never get to see Leeds United back in the top flight. I have a feeling that the achievement of promotion would have enabled us both to overcome our recent differences and disagreements, to mark the return of the club we’ve both loved for decades now, finally back to where they belong. It’s a milestone we’d doubtless have marked in a suitably drunken manner, which after all is how most reconciliations occur. That’s just a futile dream now, but still I hope that the club will be able to get over the line somehow, despite this awful bug and what it’s done to us all. It’s just such a shame that, when it does happen, Gray won’t see it.

It was my Dad and Graham who flew the flag for Leeds United in our family, long before I got hooked, so it’s somehow fitting that they’re now reunited as the club’s on the verge of a new era. It lends a new level of meaning for me to “Marching On Together”, and I shall definitely be raising a glass to them both when that glorious day finally arrives.

RIP Graham Atkinson.  10th August 1963 – 19th April 2020  MOT WAFLL WACCOE LUFC