Tag Archives: France

Happy Birthday Cantona, Bit-Part Player for the Last Champions – by Rob Atkinson

cantonalastchampion

Eric the Last Champion

Birthday wishes today to one-time United reserve player Eric Cantona, who has attained the grand old age of 49.  Cantona joined Leeds United in 1992, just in time to qualify for a last-ever Football League Championship medal, although his involvement in the actual winning of the famous old trophy was peripheral at best.

Cantona managed to make a few appearances and score a few goals for the Last Champions.  Some of the goals were things of beauty; his effort against Chelsea at Elland Road sticks in the memory for some amazing sleight of foot which preceded a thunderous finish into the top corner.  But United were 2-0 up at the time and it is a fact that none of Cantona’s goals that season were decisive, game-changing strikes.  His major contribution towards the winning of that last-ever level-playing-field title was probably his action, in tandem with Rod Wallace, of frightening Brian Gayle into scoring a pivotal own-goal at Bramall Lane.  But the Cantona role that season was a cameo – all of the hard work had been done by the real principal players such as Strachan, Chapman, MacAllister, Speed and the rest of Wilko’s core warriors – the players he turned to late in the season after deciding that Cantona was a luxury player.

The Frenchman’s move to the Theatre of Hollow Myths was decidedly well-timed from the point of view that it coincided with an end to championships being won on merit in a competitive league.  From 1993 onwards, it would be the richest club that finished on top, so – having won one league title in the original format, Cantona had a few more bought for him in the first few years of Murdoch’s “Greed is Good” league.  In the process, the slightly brooding and insular Frenchman that Leeds fans knew was re-branded into Eric the Red by the Pride of Devon marketing machine, complete with turned-up collar, pseudo-macho stubble and the trademark strut so beloved of the insecure and needy type of fan attracted to the commercially- obsessed Man U franchise.

Cantona was a relatively brief phenomenon even at Man U.  By 1997 he was gone, taking a surprisingly early retirement and aiming for a career in films – something he was destined to be overshadowed in by another ex-United player, far more influential in Elland Road history and far better regarded in Whites folklore; one Vinnie Jones.

Ultimately, it is the Man U incarnation of Eric that will be remembered by a selective media – the chest sticking out and the collar raised as he did his best to play the part defined for him by the remorseless publicity team at the Theatre of Hollow Myths.  But we Leeds fans remember a different bloke, certainly in terms of his relationship with the crowd; one who illuminated his walk-on appearances with special goals and that Gallic touch and control; one who flickered briefly but brilliantly at the end of the successful 1992 season and the start of the next one, especially with his hat-tricks against Liverpool at Wembley and Spurs at Elland Road.  This was Eric “Ooh-Ah” Cantona, an enigma who I can still see on the balcony of Leeds Town Hall, holding the last League Championship trophy and telling us “Why I love you, I don’t know why – but I love you“.

Fickle as footballers tend to be, he walked away from the love and into the hype; he became a man and a player for the Murdoch era of money and media.  But in remembering that Cantona, the moody and petulant Kung-Fu practitioner, it’s still important to recall the more diffident and less arrogant bloke that briefly, sporadically – but still memorably – played for Leeds.

Happy Birthday, Eric – and thanks for those few, bright, pre-Murdoch memories.

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Scintillating Arsenal So Nearly “Do a Leeds” (In a Good Way)   –   by Rob Atkinson

Özil - weakest link

Mesut Özil – weakest link in Monaco

In 1995, Leeds United were ‘The Team That Broke the Hearts in Monte Carlo’, courtesy of an unanswered hat-trick from the mighty Anthony Yeboah, striker extraordinaire. United cruised to a 3-0 win at the Stade Louis II, home of AS Monaco – and nothing like that has happened to the Ligue 1 giants again in the almost two decades since. But on Tuesday evening, a massively dominant Arsenal side came so agonisingly close to emulating Wilko’s Warriors and creating history for their club with the biggest Champions League comeback since Leeds themselves recovered from 3-0 down to VfB Stuttgart.

Back in those carefree, pre-meltdown days, Leeds United – three years or so after becoming The Last Champions – still had comfortably enough shots in their locker to give most teams a pretty tough time. A Yeboah-inspired blistering start to that season provided no hint of a clue as to the disappointment that lay ahead, with a pallid Wembley League Cup Final surrender to Aston Villa – where the seeds of Sergeant Wilko’s demise were sown. But in this early season purple patch, United were laying about them to devastating effect, with Masterblaster Yeboah scoring goal after rocket goal. Tony scored more goals of the season in that two or three months than most strikers could dream of in a career.

The assortment against the hapless Monégasques included his usual worldy, sandwiched between two more mortal efforts. That second goal was so typically Tony, instant control in the inside right channel, a sinuous turn past his marker as he progressed to the edge of the area, and a wonderful, curling finish at pace into the far top rigging. Sublime. Things looked really good for Leeds – and just around the corner lay the transfer coup of the year as world superstar Tomas Brolin signed for the Whites from Italian club Parma. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. 

Arsenal’s challenge on Tuesday night was precisely the emulation of that Leeds feat all but twenty years ago. The Gooners had to score three, or they were out of the Champions League – it was as simple as that. In the end, they fell just short – fatally damaged by a clueless performance in defeat at The Emirates – but they could take a lot of pride and encouragement from an utterly dominant return display that, in truth, should have seen the Pride of North London progress, against long, long odds. Little was lacking in a performance better even than the one that ejected Man U from the FA Cup days prior to this Riviera trip. Perhaps the weakest link on the night was Mesut Özil, as quite frankly he has been too often this season. A tendency towards misplacing final balls and running into instead of past defenders in one-on-one situations, may well have been the difference between narrow failure and spectacular success. Perhaps Özil can fill his boots in what remains of the Arse’s bid to retain the FA Cup. On this evidence, he owes his club and fans that much at least. 

The comparison between two European matches, twenty years apart, featuring my beloved Leeds and my much-admired Arsenal, reminds me that one of the young subs for Monaco that night in 1995 was a pre-Juventus youth by the name of Thierry Henry. He went on to do reasonably well for the Gooners and indeed played his part in the Premier League demise of Leeds by blasting several goals past us at Highbury in the early noughties. Henry’s loyalties were probably with Arsenal the other night in Monaco, as were the loyalties of this Leeds United fan, despite my love for and fond memories of the principality of Monaco. 

In the end, though, all of us who were hoping against hope for a Gunners recovery from that pallid home leg defeat, ended up disappointed – and yet thrilled by what had been a fantastic game with a real edge-of-the-seat climax to it. And – cold comfort though this would be to dedicated Arsenal fans – it was a match that revived memories of a golden night long ago when the Whites invaded France and prevailed through the sublime performance of a Ghanaian genius. 

It’s always futile to wish for the impossible – and anyway, while he lasted in England, he was ours – but how Arsenal could have done with Tony Yeboah, as he was in his prime, on Tuesday night.

Cantona Kung Fu Anniversary Evokes Memories of Eric’s English Bow – by Rob Atkinson

Look back in anger: Eric enters the fray

Look back in anger: Eric enters the fray

One notable landmark this weekend was the 20th anniversary, yesterday, of Eric Cantona’s infamous kung-fu kick at Selhurst Park – the original and definitive case, it has been said, of the shit hitting the fan. It took me straight back, not to that martial arts debacle, but over two years earlier to February 8th, 1992 and a Leeds United match I’d attended in the hopes of seeing us make another stride towards becoming champions of England. The venue was Boundary Park, Oldham and the occasion was the day that enfant terrible Cantona made his bow in Football League, Division One. 

It was a day of significance for Leeds United and, in a broader sense, for English football as a whole.  Cantona would shine briefly and fitfully at Leeds, winning an authentic League Championship medal with United before going on to collect several pale imitations on the wrong side of the Pennines.  But on that day of his début, all of the triumphs and controversies of his English career lay unsuspected in the future.  Despite the clamorous press attention – and the spectacle of the excited French hacks and cameramen clustering around the United bench was highly unusual, to say the least – this was an inauspicious start for the mercurial Frenchman. Leeds lost 2-0 to a goal in each half from an Oldham side that usually gave us problems. We witnessed proceedings glumly from the open end behind the goal and Cantona’s introduction as a second-half sub for Steve Hodge did not greatly influence the scrappy nature of the game.

Eric the Champ

Eric the Champ

It says a lot that one of my clearest memories from that game is not of Eric’s bow, but of a lethally noisome fart released by somebody in the tightly-packed mass of Leeds fans. It was a minor masterpiece, rank and ripe – it made you think of condemned cheese stacked in a neglected pig-pen, and it also had you sincerely worrying for the perpetrator’s health. “Christ, fetch the medics!” a plaintive voice was heard to demand, drawing nods of sympathy from fellow sufferers whose eyes were watering as their nostrils tried to run away. To cause that kind of stench on an open terrace in blustery Lancastrian conditions was a notable feat. No slouch in that field of endeavour myself, I could only shake my head in awe and wonderment. I would have been rightly proud of that one.

That Cantona’s entry into English football should be marked by the memory of a fart seems somehow appropriate now. Mention his name to any Leeds fan, and their nose will wrinkle with involuntary disgust; it’s as if the ghost of that legendary flatulent outburst is still summoned by the memory of Eric’s bitter-sweet time with Leeds.

Eric was not, after all, a taste instantly acquired. Thinking back, the English press were not initially that impressed at all. They would refer to him as “Contonaah”, emphasising his relative obscurity outside of France, and I remember one radio summariser reporting on his contribution in a 1-1 draw at Everton: “He doesn’t seem to jump his height or pull his weight,” he mused, blissfully ignorant that he was referring to a man who was but one cut-price transfer away from becoming a press hack’s icon, compulsorily revered. But he was well on his way already to cult status at Elland Road – when he abruptly departed in the most horrific circumstances imaginable.

That infamous transfer has been done to death as various hacks linger lovingly over alleged details of phone calls between Elland Road and the Theatre of Hollow Myths. My own take on it is that Eric and the Pride of Devon were made for each other, but not in a particularly good way.  They naturally set about “imagifying” him as is always their wont, intent on marketing him to their credulous and glory-hungry fans as “moody and magnifique“. So we got the trademark stubble and the turned-up collar – but Eric’s behaviour also changed, markedly for the worse, accumulating a flurry of red and yellow cards in stark contrast to his time with Leeds – and culminating in that notorious “kung-fu” incident.  But even that wasn’t the worst of it, not from a Leeds United point of view.

Whilst I acknowledge the Man U truism that club and player had matching conceit and arrogance such that they belonged together, I still feel that Leeds let Eric go far too cheaply – a huge and unforgivable mistake.  Man U were desperate for a striker at the time and had done their best to prise David Hirst from Sheffield Wednesday. They’d been prepared to go to £5m for him, and it’s to Wednesday’s credit that they told Taggart where to stick his money. But really, that offer should have set the benchmark; Leeds United should have opened negotiations at £5 million and seen what happened from there. They’d have paid up, or gone elsewhere. Either would have been preferable to what actually happened, for in letting Cantona go to Man U on the cheap, Leeds provided a catalyst for the sickening era of Devonian dominance that followed. That’s a terrible, terrible thing for any club to have on its conscience.

Twenty-three years on, that dominance seems finally to be at an end.  Cantona actually lasted only four years or so in England, departing the scene with some proper silver and plenty of fools’ gold. He has since made a career of sorts in films and adverts, having considerably less impact than United’s other footballer-turned-movie star, Vinnie Jones. It all seems such a terribly long time ago now, and for far too much of the period in between the game was in thrall to a choleric Glaswegian who bullied his way, aided initially by his talismanic Eric le Dieu, to far too much success for the liking of any real football fan. Strange to think, it all started on that blustery and smelly afternoon in Oldham, when we were all innocently wondering if this new foreign star could salvage a point for us, and maybe even help us win the last proper League Championship. At least, in the final analysis of that last pre-Murdoch season, it all came right in the end.

The verdict of history on the Cantona move from Leeds, to what is now seen as his spiritual home, has to be that it was the ultimate betrayal of supporters by their club. Leeds United and the men behind the deal were derelict in their duty towards passionately involved fans, both for sanctioning the move in the first place and for failing to extort a far higher price from a club desperately searching for some devil up front. It was a crass piece of business that showed a want of empathy with fans, a lack of the vision that separates devotees from mere functionaries and businessmen.

A few years later, United refused to sell Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to a rival English club and held out for a six-fold profit in Spanish doubloons into the bargain. That was more like it, surely. Had Leeds United chosen to up the ante when Man U came a-calling at the Champions’ door, it’s doubtful that the path of history would have been altered much, if at all. But at least we might have salvaged some precious self-respect from the whole sorry situation – and we’d have been better-placed to laugh at the beginning of the end that night when Eric sailed studs-first into the crowd. Just imagine – if he’d done that whilst at Leeds…

Murderers Don’t Execute People. Murderers MURDER People – by Rob Atkinson

Nous sommes tous Charlie

Nous sommes tous Charlie

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo atrocity in Paris earlier this week, and amidst all of the horror and the inevitable soul-searching that follows any such tragic event, an old and unwelcome misuse of terminology has reared its ugly head again and – in its own subtle and insidious way – could be set to play its part in undermining the fight against terrorism and mass murder. The word being misused is “execution”. It’s being wheeled out all over the media to refer to the acts of the cowards guilty of these foul crimes – and the danger is that, to some, it might just lend a false air of dignity and gravitas to what is more accurately just another disgusting act of terrorism. cowardice and callous rejection of all that is civilised.

The Charlie Hebdo story is everywhere at the moment, and rightly so. It’s a high-profile atrocity, the terrorists’ answer to the maxim of peaceful people everywhere that “the pen is mightier than the sword”. It is because of this context that it’s so important we get our terminology right, and don’t risk succouring the enemy by portraying its actions in an unrealistic, even flattering, light. If we are to match the pen against the sword with any hope of ultimately winning, then we have to give an appropriate name to the criminal acts we are opposing. This is not merely a matter of semantics, it’s far, far more important. As a first principle, let’s call murder precisely that. Let’s speak of cowardly attacks, let’s talk of helpless and innocent victims. Let’s not use a legal term whose meaning has been perverted far beyond its original application.

The word “execution” in a capital punishment context, refers to application of a death warrant consequent upon judicial proceedings. It is the warrant, properly speaking, that is executed – not the miscreant at the end of the rope. Whether you’re pro or anti the death penalty wherever it might still apply, you are surely aware that it is a culmination of this lengthy legal process. It is not a random killing perpetrated by a random individual or group who have accorded themselves the right to make their own rules and enforce their own penalties, without regard for law, justice or the sanctity of life, and devil take the hindmost. When we use the word “execution” in connection with events like the chilling murders in Paris, we run the very real risk of planting incorrect impressions in uncritical minds. We are in danger of depicting the thugs and terrorists as having some kind of moral or even legal force behind their heinous actions. We must not do this. Murder is murder, and should be scorned and met with horror and outrage. Any language which seems even slightly to suggest that such an action can be mentioned in the same breath as the outcome of due process must be suppressed in the interests of preserving the truth of the matter. Murderers don’t execute people. Murderers murder people.

I was listening to the radio only a little while after the attack, and a BBC Five Live reporter was talking about some video pictures from the scene in Paris, deemed too graphic to broadcast, of “a terrorist executing a policeman.” Wrong! That policeman was not executed. He was murdered, the victim of a cowardly and tawdry act that has nothing to do with civilisation, nothing to do with the judiciary or the forces of law and justice. His family have been deprived of this man, not by a legal warrant, but by a hooded coward, a murderous thug wielding an illegal weapon. That is the fact of the matter. Use of the word “execution” can only give a false, misleading and utterly unhelpful impression.

The pen is mightier than the sword – and words (even cartoons) properly used and artfully aimed, can strike home where an arsenal of missiles might fail to reach. What more graphic proof of that than the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a visceral reaction to the wounding power of high-class satire? Given that, let us not play into the enemy’s hands by dignifying their actions with the wrong words. Let their cowardly attacks be described with scorn, derision and condemnation. Let’s not succour the thugs by appearing to admit some moral compass in their grisly world of terror and intimidation.

May the victims of this cowardly and barbaric attack rest in peace. Aujourd’hui, je suis Charlie. Demain, et dans l’avenir, nous sommes tous Charlie.

Thierry Henry to Fire Leeds United to Promotion? – by Rob Atkinson

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Thierry Henry – short term deal with Leeds?

Twitter didn’t exactly go into meltdown last night but, on the basis of one optimistic tweet from Phil Hay, the respected local journalist with his finger on the pulse of Leeds United, it did start to get decidedly warm.  The gist of it was that good things were being heard about the imminent takeover of Leeds United and that good times might just be about to roll.  A couple more juicily-tantalising snippets were added into what became a heady mix, with David Haigh tweeting that he couldn’t wait to be at the Barnsley match next weekend as Elland Road would be “rocking”.  We heard also that Haigh is over in Austria, a country linked strongly to Red Bull who have in turn been linked strongly with Leeds United.

Now, it would be all too easy to take these morsels of information and add them up to make something totally unrealistic.  Then again, the elements do seem to combine of themselves into the oft-talked about “Dare to Dream” scenario.  One particularly exotic rumour that arises out of such an optimistic outlook is the possibility that one of Red Bull’s most marketable assets, Thierry Henry, might be on the point of jumping on board at Leeds United to provide the sort of boost that even a pair of Red Bull wings could hardly hope to emulate.  Even at the age of 36, the French superstar could inflict massive damage in this league, even if mainly from the bench.  Could there be anything in it?

On the face of it – why not?  The team is in good shape at the moment; there are a couple of obvious areas where improvement is needed and all Leeds fans will be hoping to see those addressed in January.  But with the current doubt over the fitness and commitment of El-Hadji Diouf, there may well be a vacancy in the squad for someone who can do something special, someone who can add a touch of class and elevate the profile of the club at the same time.

The combination of Diouf and Warnock was an unlikely one – but it happened.  Let’s not forget either that Dioufy was something of a star with World Cup heroics behind him and a global profile.  Thierry Henry is all this, and more – and at this stage of his career, what could be more of a challenge to him than the task of reviving a sleeping giant, a club where he would catch the imagination of the fans and raise the atmosphere that extra notch or two, giving the whole place a lift and the team new impetus?  That’s a scenario well known to Leeds fans with long enough memories as the “Gordon Strachan factor”.

This week promises to be very interesting indeed.  If those tweets from Hay and Haigh carry what I believe they do in between their lines, then it’s fair to say we might expect some significant news before the Barnsley game.  Just how significant that news might be is anyone’s guess – but my guess is that an announcement is distinctly possible  of further takeover details making that “Dare to Dream” scenario burst into reality.  And what was on David Haigh’s mind when he was talking about “Elland Road rocking” on the pre-Christmas weekend when football crowds are notoriously thinned out by last-minute shopping?  It does make you wonder.

Thierry Henry in a Leeds shirt?  Bizarre.  But how wonderful it would be, what an incredible boost.  It seems too good to be true, of course – but if you’re going to dare to dream, then why not be extravagant about it?  A legend like Henry in the famous white shirt – that’d be a hell of a good dream as far as I’m concerned, but could it actually happen?  You just never know – it possibly could.

San Siro Dom the Perfect LUFC Ambassador

Memory Match No. 9: AC Milan 1, Leeds United 1   8.11.2000

Dom Matteo - Scored a Flippin' Great Goal - In The San Siro....

Dom Matteo – Scored a Flippin’ Great Goal – In The San Siro….

This week’s appointment of United legend Dom Matteo as a club ambassador inevitably brings back fond memories of a November night in Milan in the year 2000 when the defender wrote himself indelibly into Leeds folklore with one emphatic near-post finish.

However much pedants may argue about when the third millennium started – January 1, 2000, or a year later – this season 2000-01 was the first proper 21st Century season, and it was also my annus mirabilis European campaign; having never seen my beloved Leeds play abroad up to this point, I witnessed them competing at the highest level in three true cathedrals of continental football.  Incidentally, I’ve always favoured the Jan 1, 2000 date as the start of the millennium – that’s when the most spectacular fireworks kicked off, that’s when the magical sight of four numerals clicking over was seen – and most importantly that’s when Leeds United were heading the Premiership table, marking what will probably be football’s only thousand year threshold by sitting proudly at the top of the game – a position that the media had been frantically speculating might have been held by the lesser United from the wrong side of the Pennines.

More about other parts of this memorable season elsewhere, but my European experience started in a “sports bar” on Westgate in Wakefield, watching nervously on a big screen as Leeds negotiated the second leg of a tricky Champions League qualifying tie against 1860 Munich.  We were ahead 2-1 from the first leg in Leeds, and such a narrow lead was never that secure.  In the end though, Alan Smith scored the only goal in Munich to close out the tie 3-1 on aggregate.  The subsequent draw saw United pitted against giants Barcelona and Milan as well as Turkish side Besiktas in an incredibly tough first qualifying group.  I was on holiday with my wife and young daughter on a campsite in the South of France when the first game was played, in Spain.  Callously abandoning my ladies to their fate, I impulsively jumped on a train from St Raphael to Barcelona, installed myself in a hotel with a swimming pool on the roof, bought a ticket from a tout, and watched from the midst of the fanatical home support – the Boixos Nois (Crazy Boys) – as Leeds, fielding a side decimated by injuries, slid to a 4-0 defeat.

If you’d told me then that we were destined for the last four, I’d have laughed long and bitterly, but I did enjoy every moment of my first European away-day in the palatial surroundings of the Camp Nou.  I still have two souvenirs – a plastic seat cushion and a big St Georges flag with LUFC Oxford Whites printed on it, which a group of Barca fans had captured and were waving in triumph at the end.  Stupidly, I approached them, feeling that a 0-4 defeat was humiliation enough, and demanded it back (quite politely).  I was getting snarls and throat-slitting gestures, and I remember mumbling something along the lines of “Barcelona no es Galatasaray”, which they seemed to take to heart.  Some of the lads’ girlfriends were regarding me pityingly, obviously wondering if I was drunk, or mad, or both and they urged their men to show restraint.  Luckily for me, they seemed to listen – they handed the flag over, anyway – but if they’d known we were destined to eliminate them from the competition, I doubt they’d have been so conciliatory.

The group then ebbed and flowed – but most results after that first defeat went our way.  We beat Milan at home, came so, so close to beating Barca at Elland Road, denied only at the very death after a world-class display from our rookie ‘keeper Paul Robinson, and we thrashed Besiktas 6-0.  By the last round of group games, the equation was simple – if we could avoid defeat at the San Siro, we would be through to the next stage, whatever Barcelona did to Besiktas.

And so I found myself on an early-morning flight from Leeds Bradford Airport to Milan Malpensa, along with thousands of other Leeds fans intoxicated at the prospect of a famous evening in a truly magnificent stadium.  We would arrive in Milan with plenty of time to look around the place before meeting up with coaches to the stadium, and it proved an eventful day.  There had been violence the previous night, a Leeds fan had been attacked and wounded in an incident which evoked horrific memories of the awful scenes in Istanbul just a few months before.  The city of Milan had been declared “dry” for the day, so it was extremely difficult to find a bar which would serve an obvious Leeds fan.  I was contended enough though, just wandering around the amazing Cathedral Square where I met legend and Leeds fan Ralph Ineson, of “Harry Potter” movie fame, and also memorably “Finchy” in the BBC’s “The Office”.  He was happy to have a chat and a photo, and then I ambled off to have a peek at the world famous La Scala Opera House, where my wife’s great-grandfather had been a violinist, so that was my passing nod to family history.  Finally, with the afternoon stretching before me, I bumped into an old mate from home – we both exclaimed stupidly “What are you doing here?” – and we managed to find a bar that was open, and spent a couple of hours relaxing and happily anticipating the match ahead.  The bar owner was friendly – so much so that he felt able to pop out on some errand, leaving us in charge.  The fearsome reputation of some Leeds fans had evidently failed to penetrate this far into the bar culture of Milano.

The match itself is so famous that I barely need to recount the action kick by kick.  The Leeds fans at one end of the stadium 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.

Dom Matteo was simply a likeable and committed defender before that night, clearly delighted to be Leeds; the kind of player the Kop takes to its heart.  But after that night, he was elevated to demigod status, a true Leeds legend with his own song and a place on a pedestal in the United Hall of Fame.  The choice of Dom as a club ambassador seems obvious but is actually inspired, especially in light of the fact that Ken Bates’ malign shadow will remain for up to three years yet.  Just as Ken sends out all the wrong messages, so Dom – beloved ex-player and respected press commentator, dispensing common sense when all about him has been hysteria, sends out only the most positive of vibes.  He is the sort of person we need to see closely associated with the club, and his involvement in any capacity is a move to be applauded.  Just get Lucas “The Chief” Radebe back on board now, and we’ll be cooking with gas.

Thanks, Dom.  Thanks for being a voice of sanity in the press, thanks for coming back to reassert your love of the club.  And thanks most of all for that memorable night in Milan.

Next:  Memory Match No. 10: Leeds United 2, Leicester City 1.  The last home game of the 1989-90 Promotion season, and things were on a knife edge.  Relive that tense and unforgettable afternoon at Elland Road, as a future United hero came close to derailing our return to the big time – and our archetypal diminutive red-haired midfield powerhouse, in the best traditions of King Billy Bremner, stepped up to the plate to provide the decisive moment, cementing his own status as a Leeds Legend.