Tag Archives: Gordon Strachan

Ready to Meet Up Again With Leeds United Legend Gordon Strachan – by Rob Atkinson

StrachanLeicester

That Strachan goal against Leicester City

I go back a fair way with Gordon Strachan, as it happens. Not that he’ll remember a thing about it, naturally. That’s the way it goes with star footballers and star-struck fans; it’s a strictly one-way relationship, which is quite right and proper.

Nevertheless, I can mark out the last 28 years of my Leeds United love affair in some golden Strachan moments, including one meeting (with another hopefully imminent), some landmark performances and goals from the wee maestro and, latterly, many a laugh as I’ve watched him perplexing post-match interviewers with a rapier-like wit to match his dazzling displays as a player.

I remember being aware of Strachan as a young star at Aberdeen under the guidance of a grumpy Glaswegian manager called Ferguson (whatever happened to him?) who was out to upset the Old Firm monopoly in Scotland. I had a senior lecturer at Hull University at that time, who shared Gordon’s surname, but when I used it on him, as it were, he frostily informed me that it was pronounced “Strawn”. Well, that was all he knew. The name Strachan, pronounced as both Gordon and I know it should be, was to earn worldwide fame over the next decade and a half.

I looked on with jaundiced eye as the clear heir to Billy Bremner‘s throne made the wrong move south from Scotland, winding up in a title vacuum at Old Trafford. He was followed thence by his old manager at Aberdeen (that’s where he got to) and, for Strachan, the writing was on the Old Trafford wall, as the great Alex concluded that Gordon’s days as a top-flight performer were numbered. These were the early days of Sergeant Wilko‘s reign at Leeds, and I yearned for Strachan to become our King Billy reincarnate, as he was unmistakably fitted to be. But it looked as though he was destined to be a Ron Atkinson capture at Sheffield Wednesday, rather than a Rob Atkinson hero at Elland Road.

As we know, things worked out incredibly well; an ambitious Leeds trumped the Wendies’ offer and Strachan settled for being the driving force behind the Wilko revolution. I was working in Leeds the day the deal was done, and I saw it announced on a Yorkshire Evening Post billboard. Happy and delighted doesn’t do it justice, I walked home on air that day. Strachan was not only a marquee signing in himself, he was the statement of intent required to pave the way for other quality recruits at Elland Road. For Leeds, the only way was up – and up we duly went.

Near the climax of that promotion season was Strachan’s memorable rocket-shot winner against Leicester at Elland Road, possibly the most vital goal Leeds had scored on their home turf since Allan Clarke’s winner against Barcelona in the European Cup semi-final of 1975. That Leicester goal, securing a crucial win after a goal from one Gary MacAllister had threatened to poop our promotion party, was met with one of the loudest and most frantic celebrations I can remember. Gordon Strachan attained Leeds Legend status in that moment – and he would go on to confirm it many times over.

In the next couple of years, Leeds impressively consolidated their First Division status and then took the crown of Champions of England from under the noses of Strachan’s former club, Man United. As sweet as that was for all of us, the man himself still regards the Second Division title of 1990 as his greatest Leeds achievement – but his record at Elland Road cannot be classed as anything other than an outstanding success, with Strachan himself in the role of on-field Messiah.

My support for Leeds was punctuated by his goals and his masterly midfield displays. That pea-roller winner at Bramall Lane early in United’s top-flight comeback, with the mighty atom celebration sitting on an advertising hoarding behind the goal. His winner at Man City, in a live TV game that had me transfixed. So many goals, so much quality. Perhaps the culmination was in the vital game at Sheffield United as the 1992 League Title battle came to a final boil. One down and in trouble near the end of the first half, Leeds were awarded a free kick and Gordon, thinking faster than anyone else, took it quickly to cause chaos in the Blades’ box. Leeds equalised, and went on to win in the second half, breaking Man U hearts and setting up that Last Champions triumph.

I first met Strachan in 1995, at an event at Headingley, the same night Leeds lost at PSV in the UEFA Cup. He’d moved on from Leeds by then, but he was personable and entertaining, showing a love for the club that endured still, and giving very positive answers to questions about the possibility he might one day return to Elland Road. I got a picture with the wee man that evening and, twenty-one years on, I’m hoping to repeat the experience on Friday at Elland Road.

This is when Strachan will return to LS11 for an evening of entertainment and reminiscence. Although it’s the night before Bonfire Night, we can expect some fireworks, as the Scot is notoriously almost as entertaining behind a microphone as he was with a ball at his feet. Organisers Events in the City could also be said to have selected the right man as the centrepiece for a Mischief Night event; Strachan’s play was usually replete with that particular commodity – and he’s never been afraid to speak his mind as a manager either.

So, on Friday, I’ll hope to meet one of my two greatest United heroes for the second time, and maybe get another picture to add to the many memories he’s provided over the years. It’s a close thing for me, between Strachan and Bremner, the obvious similarities nicely balanced out by their few important contrasts. I only met King Billy once, and I was utterly tongue-tied in the presence of greatness. If I do get the chance to talk to wee Gordon on Friday, I shall hope to do a lot better. Watch this space. 

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United Legend Strachan on Radio Leeds Tonight Ahead of Elland Road Return   –   by Rob Atkinson


Scotland coach Gordon Strachan can be heard by Leeds fans before they have a chance to see him in the flesh again, when he graces the studios of BBC Radio Leeds this evening at 6:00 pm. It’s expected that the one-time Whites skipper, a pivotal figure in the club’s success story of the late eighties and early nineties, will be talking about his Leeds career and memories – as well as his current responsibilities with the Scottish national team, who meet Auld Enemy England in a World Cup qualifier shortly. 

The radio feature will be backed by a splash article in the Yorkshire Evening Post over the next few days. Strachan’s return to Elland Road, at an evening dinner organised by Events in the City for the evening of November 4th, is being seen as an exciting prospect for those with memories of the glory days of Sergeant Wilko, Lee Chapman, the late Gary Speed, Strachan himself, and the rest. United won promotion back to the old First Division after eight years in the wilderness, and were Champions of England only two short years later. As achievements go, that’s hard to beat for any club – and even at Leeds, it’s a period outshone only by Don Revie‘s team of all talents. 

United fans would do well to listen to Radio Leeds tonight, as well as making sure they catch the YEP article when that appears. Strachan is always good value, with his forthright views, biting wit and of course his memories of the major role he played in Wilko’s United revolution.

Tickets for the Evening With Gordon Strachan event are still available at £55 each, to include a three course meal and a full programme of entertainment. A table for ten can be booked for £500 to see in person a man who has rightly gone down in United history as one of the club’s true heroes. 

Leeds United Legend Gordon Strachan in Elland Road Return – by Rob Atkinson

StrachanLeicester

Wee Gordon’s iconic strike against Leicester City in 1990

The word “legend” is bandied about all too freely in matters showbiz and sporting, but there are a handful of performers in both spheres who truly merit the accolade. One such, in the context of Leeds United Football Club at least, is current Scotland manager and former United captain and hero Gordon Strachan.

It’s twenty-five years now since the red-headed Scottish dynamo lifted the last old-style Football League Championship for the Elland Road outfit, completing a miraculous revival in the space of four years from the bottom of the old Division Two to the very pinnacle of the game. Such on-field leadership and achievement had not been seen in Leeds since the time of that other red-headed firebrand from north of the border, Billy Bremner. It is a massive tribute to Strachan that his name can justifiably be mentioned in the same breath as that of the late, great King Billy. In a world of so many sham legends, both stand proud as the genuine article.

To help mark the silver jubilee of that memorable last Championship, Strachan is due to return to Elland Road on Friday 4th of November for an evening of reminiscence at a dinner event organised by Events in the City. It’s fair to say that the Scot will be revisiting the scene of his greatest triumph, although Strachan’s own take on that might surprise a few people. As far as Gordon is concerned, the greatest achievement of his time at Elland Road was not that “Last Champions” success, but rather the Second Division Championship of two seasons earlier.

When Strachan was signed for Leeds by Howard Wilkinson in 1988, his brief was to be the on-field inspiration behind United’s longed-for return to the top flight. It was the fulfillment of that ambition, so keenly felt in the club itself and more widely in the city of Leeds and beyond, that really fired the former Manchester United man with pride. The fact that he went on to deny his ex-manager at Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson, a first English Title in 1992 ranks modestly second, for Strachan if not for the massed Leeds fans, to that initial achievement. But it must surely have added a piquant tang to the flavour of success that he savoured throughout his Leeds career.

Anybody who followed Gordon Strachan’s career will be aware of this diminutive man’s towering presence on the football field. Feisty, committed and skillful, he embodied all of the qualities that had been lacking in the Leeds midfield since the departure of Bremner over a decade before. The similarities between the two are obvious; but, if anything, Strachan was perhaps slightly more restrained on the field and somewhat more waspish off it. His performances in post-match interviews as a manager have become the stuff of legends in themselves, much admired and retold. After one defeat during his spell as Southampton manager, Strachan was collared in the players’ tunnel and asked by a reporter in what areas his team had been inferior. “Mainly that big green one out there,” was the laconic response. Gordon Strachan was still providing value and entertainment long after his playing career was done, and he continues to do as much to this day.

So it should be a memorable evening at Elland Road on November the 4th. Strachan will be assured of a warm reception in a place where he is rightly revered and, if he operates according to form, he should be well worth listening to. As the event takes place just a week before his Scotland team are due to take on the “Auld Enemy” England, in a World Cup Qualifier, there is also the prospect of some heartfelt cross-border banter to enhance and add an edge to the entertainment.

Whatever the outcome of the clash between the two oldest footballing rival nations, it’s guaranteed that Gordon Strachan will always be welcomed anywhere in England, where he gave sterling service to the Uniteds of Leeds and Manchester, plus Coventry City, as a player – as well as managing both Coventry and Middlesbrough. And the warmest welcome of all, in a city fiercely proud of its legends, will always await him at Elland Road, home of Leeds United FC.

Leeds Legend Gordon Strachan Prepares for Elland Road Return   –   by Rob Atkinson

That’s Champion: Leeds Legend Strachan Returns to Elland Road


LEEDS UNITED fans will have a unique opportunity to relive the glory days when club legend Gordon Strachan returns to Elland Road for a glittering dinner that will mark the 25th anniversary of the team winning the title during the 1991-92 season.

Both individual tickets and tables are already selling fast for the event, which will be held in The Centenary Pavilion at Elland Road on Friday 4th November 2016, just a week before the current Scotland manager prepares to take on England in a World Cup qualifying match. 

During the event, Gordon will talk about the special times he enjoyed captaining Leeds United to the league title and what it felt like to deny the team’s arch-rivals Manchester United, as well as his former boss Alex Ferguson, who finished as runners-up. 

There will also be a three course dinner served, followed by entertainment by a renowned comedian.

A spokesperson from event organiser Events in the City, said: “It’s hard to believe 25 years have passed since Leeds United last lifted a trophy and this will be a great opportunity for Leeds fans to relive lots of the memorable moments with Gordon from that amazing season. 

“The fact it takes place a week before the England vs Scotland game will also make it a special occasion and I’m sure the Leeds fans will have plenty to say about that as well!”

The event starts at 7pm, with dinner served at 8pm. The remaining tickets are £55 per person or £500 for a table of 10. Anyone wanting to reserve places should call 07585 002386 or email office@eventsinthecity.co.uk.

Scotland Coach Strachan In Sly Dig at Leeds Owner Cellino?   –   by Rob Atkinson

 
Two things we know well about one past and one present Elland Road personality: firstly that erstwhile Leeds United hero and current Scotland coach Gordon Strachan has a dry sense of humour that spares few, especially those who stick unqualified noses into professional football matters. And secondly, that current owner and self-styled captain of the United ship Massimo Cellino is a mess of superstitions and old wives’ tales, allowing his personal and business life to be dictated by a random mix of crazy fears and whimsical beliefs.

It’s difficult not to have a wry smile, then, at the player number allocated for the first Scotland squad featuring Leeds defender Liam Cooper. Coops was handed the 17 shirt, a number that has Cellino climbing the walls to end up in the belfry with like-minded bats. That figure 17 is anathema to il Duce, along with the colour purple and various other perceived supernatural threats. It would be so in character for Strachan, that ultimate professional and put-down merchant, to use the chance to stick a metaphorical needle into Cellino’s quivering hide.

Cellino is not the first superstitious character in Leeds United‘s history of course – though it goes without saying that he bears no comparison with gypsy curse-fearing and lucky blue suit-clad United legend Don Revie. But Don’s beliefs were of a gentler sort; he didn’t press them into the very fabric of the club, inviting derision from within and without. Cellino’s Leeds published a matchday programme for the visit of 17th home league opponent Notts Forest – it was numbered 16b. Beside that, Don’s worn-out blue suit, and his regular pre-match walk down to the corner near the team hotel, seem positively lovable.

Gordon Strachan occupies his own special,  permanent niche in Leeds history. He’s moved on, as heroes do, but I have good reason to believe he retains a love of the club. I met him briefly at a function at Headingley in 1995, and he was quite clear then that he could see a return to Elland Road as United manager one day. It’s not something you can envision happening, however, under Cellino’s loco stewardship.

The thing is, despite the schism that Cellino has caused in the ranks of Leeds fans – some obstinately supporting the Italian in the face of opposition from the majority – there is hardly a good word to be heard for the current United owner among professional football people. People who really know their stuff, such as John Giles, have attacked Cellino’s regime bitterly. The more deluded fans in the street aside, il Presidente doesn’t enjoy much informed support – unsurprisingly, given his track record. 

It’s unlikely that Liam Cooper will have raised as much as a peep of protest at his dark blue No. 17 shirt. Rookie international players know which side their bread is buttered, and the Scotland dressing room will be well aware of the Boss’s waspish tongue. Once, when asked in the tunnel in the wake of a heavy defeat, “In what areas were your players inferior to the opposition?”, Strachan looked the TV man straight in the eye and replied “Mainly that big green one out there”. Wee Gordon yields to no man in the bandying of words, there’s a book to be filled with his famous and devastating put-downs. 

All of this leads me to believe that the issuing of that number 17 to Liam Cooper was no coincidence; that Strachan, with the pro’s resentment of the mess Cellino is making of a great club he loves, has casually aimed a barbed arrow in the Italian’s direction. 

I do hope it’s true, and I hope that barb has hit home to fester. The more the game can show its rejection of chancers like Cellino, the better we will all be – including the flat-earth tendency obstinately talking him up. 

Good on you, Gordon, let’s have more. It’s believed, however, that rumours the Scotland shirt is to change its colour to purple… are wide of the mark. 

Birthday Boy Strachan’s Crucial Rocket for Leeds United Against Leicester – by Rob Atkinson

"Have you ever seen a better goal?  Have you ever seen one better timed??" John Helm, YTV

“Have you ever seen a better goal? Have you ever seen one better timed??” John Helm, YTV

On the occasion of Gordon Strachan’s 59th birthday – and by the way, many happy returns, Sir – I thought I’d look back to what was possibly his defining moment as the man who did more than just about anyone to reinvent Leeds as a post-Revie force in English football.

It had been a long time coming since Don’s Glory Boys dispersed to pastures new and a Golden Era faded into the dim haze of memory. We had been eight years in the second division doldrums and had almost forgotten what it was like to be a top team. But – finally! – it looked as though the nightmare was ending as Sergeant Wilko and Captain Strachan were set to lead United back to the Promised Land at long last. A home fixture against Leicester City was the penultimate hurdle to overcome, and expectations were soaring at Elland Road.

Twelve days before the Leicester game, United had appeared to strike a decisive blow, battering closest rivals Sheffield United 4-0 at Elland Road. But any hope that promotion could be clinched early was dashed over the next two fixtures, a draw at Brighton where the lead was squandered to sacrifice two points, and then a home defeat to a relegation-threatened Barnsley who even then had the ability to put one over on us with an inferior team. So the nerves were jangling for this home date with the Foxes.

Leicester breezed into town with no pressure on them at all as they bobbed about serenely in mid-table, but Leeds just had to win. A victory could possibly clinch promotion; anything else and we would be relying on others to give us that final leg-up – not an attractive prospect. The atmosphere at Elland Road that day was something to behold as 32597 packed the stands and terraces, the Kop a seething mass of bodies, a solid wall of sound. If the weight of support counted for anything, then it seemed Leicester might just as well turn around and go home – but to their eternal credit they fought the good fight and played their part in a memorable afternoon.

It all started well. Leeds pressed hard – this had been their preferred approach all season long. No opponent was allowed the luxury of untroubled possession as Leeds snapped at ankles and harried the enemy, hungry for the ball and well able to use it productively. At their best, United had proved a match for any team in the Division; as ever though it was the off days that had let us down. On this particular occasion, attacking the Kop End in the first half, the forward momentum seemed irresistible. Before long, the overlapping Mel Sterland fastened on to a ball at the right corner of the penalty area and fired low and hard into the net to open the scoring. The overwhelming relief was as evident as the unconfined joy around the packed stadium; surely now United would go on to consolidate their advantage and seal the promotion we’d wanted for so long.

Frustratingly, it was not to be. Despite further pressure, Leeds failed to make another breakthrough before half-time and Leicester – relaxed and pressure-free – were looking more and more ominously like potential party-poopers. These fears solidified in the second half as the away side pressed an increasingly nervous Leeds back, and eventually – inevitably – they drew level. The blow when it came was struck by a rumoured transfer target for Leeds, promising young Scot Gary McAllister. He proved that he packed some punch by belting a fine strike past veteran Mervyn Day to shock the Kop rigid and momentarily silence Elland Road.

Worse was so nearly to follow as McAllister almost did it again, another superb shot coming within an ace of giving Leicester the lead, something which would doubtless have produced the unedifying spectacle of grown men crying in their thousands. It may well be that McAllister sealed his move to Leeds with this performance and those two efforts, but I could have seen him far enough from LS11 that day. Leeds were rocking, looking at each other, scratching heads and clenching fists in the time-honoured “come on, let’s bloody sort this out” gesture. Slowly, by sheer force of will, the lads in White regained the initiative and it looked at least as though the danger of further damage was receding. The football was still nerve-shredding stuff, all urgency and little fluency, a desperate battle to eke out the extra two points that would make promotion so much more likely.

Time was ebbing away fast now, as Leeds hurled themselves time and again into the defensive barrier of red Leicester away shirts. Panic was setting in, the biggest enemy of constructive football. It was looking like a draw, which would not be enough. Then, a throw halfway inside the Leicester half in front of the West Stand, under the eyes of a bleakly worried Wilko. Sterland gathered himself and hurled a massively long throw deep into the away penalty area, only for it to be headed out from around the near post. McAllister attempted to complete the clearance with an overhead effort to get rid, but the ball hit Gordon Strachan to bounce back into the box. And there was Gary Speed to lay that ball back instantly to the still-lurking Strachan who simply lashed it, left-footed, into the net. The ball had gone in like a bullet; Strachan – too tired to control it and try to work a yard of space to dink one of those cute little far-post crosses as he might normally – settled instead for catching the ball right on the sweet spot and it arrowed home to a positive explosion of noise from all around Elland Road – the sudden release of what had been unbearable tension produced a massive roar to buffet the ear drums of innocent bystanders miles away.

It was one of those occasions when several things seem to happen at once. The crowd behind the goal at the South Stand end seemed to boil with passion and relief, a maelstrom of delighted celebration which was echoed across the whole stadium. Strachan himself ran to the byline, face contorted, weary limbs pumping in triumphant exultation as he took the plaudits of the faithful. A lone copper is visible on the TV footage between Strach and the cavorting hordes, a grin on his face as he moves to quell any ambitious pitch-invaders. In the commentary box, John Helm unwittingly propelled himself into immortality, not for the last time that afternoon. “Have you ever seen a better goal?” he demanded. “And have you ever seen one better timed?” It was a good question, and right then, right there, I doubt you’d have found a Leeds fan to answer “yes” to either part of it. The rest was a blur; Leeds held out, and we had won – and seemingly gained promotion. Rumours were flying around that Newcastle had failed to win, sending us up. But John Helm was at it again, more iconic words: “Is that confirmed…?” When the confirmation arrived, it was of a late Toon win; we still had it all to do at Bournemouth the following week. But Strachan’s late cracker had kept us in a race that we were ultimately destined to win.

My final memory of that day is of walking down off the Kop and onto the pitch as the masses there were starting to disperse. We crossed the hallowed turf from goal-line to goal-line, eventually exiting the ground into Elland Road at the south-west corner, where the big screen now stands. I can still remember the heady scent of stud-holed mud and trodden turf, my head was still buzzing as I walked over the spot where wee Gordon had made that perfect half-volley contact to send us all into delirium. It had been an atmosphere the like of which I have rarely seen before or since, only the mayhem at Bramall Lane when Gayle scored that own-goal title-clincher coming anywhere near, or maybe that ankle-busting semi-riot of a celebration when Dave Batty broke his long goal drought against Man City in 1991.

For the sheer relief of it however – the absolute nerve-shredding, tension-breaking release of it – this was definitely THE one. Without Strachan’s sublime strike, we could well have missed out on automatic promotion, and we all know only too well that there’s a law against us succeeding in the play-offs. Gordon’s Golden Goal had kept the dream alive and made possible all that followed up to the League Championship triumph two years later. Make no mistake – it was THAT important.

Thanks, wee man, for the brilliant memories. Have a brilliant birthday.

Referendum Result Confirmed: England Still Own Scotland – by Rob Atkinson

Sorry boys - you were OWNED

Sorry boys – you were OWNED

For your average Leeds United fanatic – or even for an iconic one such as myself – the sight of a club legend in Gordon Strachan having his nose well and truly rubbed in it can rarely be pleasant viewing. Equally, for a devotee of all things righteously White, to behold the over-rated and grossly over-hyped Mr Wayne “Shrek” Rooney filling his boots at the expense of said legend would normally be an uncomfortable not to say painful experience. But last night at Celtic Park, both circumstances came to pass – and yet it was an evening of unalloyed pleasure for any England fan who grew up to a background of Auld Enemy rivalry.

Back in the day, the England versus Scotland mini-war was an annual fixture, alternating between Hampden Park in Glasgow and Wembley, the latter drenched in Tartan every other year as the unwashed made the pilgrimage south. It was the perpetuation of the original and best International Football rivalry; the very first ever match between two countries was Scotland v England on 30 November 1872. 4,000 people saw a 0-0 draw on that occasion – the great days of this fixture were still to come.

The great days of Leeds United also lay far in the future – and in that era of Revie’s Super Leeds, the club boasted a cadre of fine Scottish international players (see picture above) who I and thousands of other United fans worshipped as footballing Gods. But once a year, when England met Scotland, they were The Enemy – and I for one wanted nothing more than to see the likes of Alan Ball, Mike Channon and Kevin Keegan stamp the Sweaties into the turf, North or South of the border. Sometimes it happened, sometimes we were disappointed. I remember regarding Gordon McQueen with a particularly baleful eye after his two goals sank England at Wembley, on a day when the Scots appropriated the crossbars as souvenirs of a memorable win.

Over the years, the two nations battled nip and tuck for historical supremacy, each having periods of dominance. In the almost 142 years since that first fixture, England have edged it. Last night’s victory by 3-1 was the Three Lions’ 47th such triumph, with Scotland trailing in at 41. This latest success must have been one of the most convincing by England, certainly in recent times. Scotland had a job done on them, big time. England’s performance was emphatic, conclusive, and the boys in blue had no answer to the white tide which engulfed them.

This tone had been set right from the first minute with Woy’s Warriors setting a pattern of dominance in the early stages they would maintain throughout. The breakthrough was half an hour coming and somewhat overdue when Oxlade-Chamberlain, somewhat lacking in delivery with the ball at his feet, found a sublime headed touch from Wilshere’s laser-accurate deep cross, finding the corner of the Scottish net. So it remained at the interval but, despite the narrowness of the margin, Scotland had been on the end of a footballing lesson.

The consensus of agreement among the half-time pundits was that the hosts could not afford to go two down if they were to salvage anything from the encounter. This, however, they proceeded to do a mere 90 seconds into the second half as England took a vice-like grip on proceedings. The origin of what proved to be a killer goal was in a crude and stupid foul from Mulgrew who cynically took out the stampeding Ox as the Arsenal youngster raced down the right. Mulgrew was a little fortunate to escape with a mere yellow, but the fallout was to prove fatal for the Tartan Army. From the free kick, the ball was half-cleared and then bobbled about in the Scottish area before sitting up for Rooney to flex his neck and direct a fine header past helpless sub goalkeeper Gordon.

True to the intense rivalry of this fixture, Scotland did appear to fight their way back into the match with a goal after good work between Robertson and Russell ended with the former squeezing the ball between Forster and his near post. England, rather than quailing and succumbing to late nerves, simply appeared to be provoked into further action. The ball was played down the right from the restart and, from a throw in, the visitors contrived a spell of consummate possession under pressure on the Scottish left flank, before Lallana was released into the area to set up a sitter for Rooney’s second of the night.

3-1 and finis. England were probably worth a goal or two more; despite the creditable battling of the Scots, they had in truth been completely outclassed and outplayed. The most jarring note of the whole night was struck by England coach Roy Hodgson in his post-match remarks, when he saw fit to apologise for any offence caused to anyone who might have had their feelings hurt by some anti-IRA chanting from the England support. Things have come to a pretty pass, surely, when a football man in the afterglow of a fine victory should seek to soothe the wounded sensibilities of those negatively affected by anti-terrorism sentiments. It was an odd end to a fine night for England. Scotland, fresh from a run in which results and performances have been positively encouraging, will have a new awareness this morning of their actual place in the scheme of things.

How Leeds Could Do With a Season or Two of Frank Lampard – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds? Up norf, innit??

Leeds? Up norf, innit??

Cast your mind back to the genesis of Leeds United’s last promotion charge out of the second tier and back into the Promised Land.  In Sergeant Wilko, we had the man to lay down the rules and ensure that the work ethic was in place. Howard Wilkinson had turned up at Elland Road to be interviewed for the vacant managerial post at Leeds – and had ended up turning the tables on the bemused board members when he started interviewing them. The upshot was that he not only got the job, but also a cast-iron commitment to doing that job the way he wanted to, as opposed to the shoestring budget poor Billy Bremner had been stuck with.  It’s safe to say that the Leeds bosses were impressed by their new man, and they supported him accordingly.

The master-stroke came early.  Wilkinson beat off interest from Ron Atkinson at his old club Sheffield Wednesday to sign Man U’s mercurial play-maker Gordon Strachan.  This was some coup; not only were the Wendies still in the top flight, but Big Ron had been Strachan’s mentor from their days at the Theatre of Hollow Myths.  But Strachan was the right man at the right time in the right circumstances for Leeds; the battle ahead was tailor-made for his combative style and world-class ability, leadership and dedication.  The rest is history – we thought we might get a good year or two out of Strachan, yet we ended up with arguably the best eight years of his career, harvesting the Championships of the top two divisions in a three-season spell and establishing United as a top-flight power for fifteen years.

Wind forward over a quarter of a century from the capture of wee Gordon, and we find Leeds marooned once again in the shadowy hinterland of second-tier football. Morale is low, relegation to a humiliating second spell of League One football remains a faint but nightmarish possibility, the club has just been shaken up with yet another change of ownership and – just to put the tin lid on it – we have a sulky Football League, licking their QC-inflicted wounds and wondering how best to stitch us up in the weeks and months ahead.  What we need right now is inspiration on a par with that provided by our second-greatest ginger Scottish captain way back in the late 80’s.

This blog is open to suggestions here, but it’s difficult to think of a more likely candidate to play the elder statesman role so badly needed in an ineffective and inexperienced midfield than Frank Lampard of Chelsea. The man is a legend, but his ongoing career at Stamford Bridge must surely be in doubt as this season reaches a climax.  He might, of course, feel that he can stay on and fight for a continued place with Mourinho’s winning combination.  He may well end up with a double of League and Champions League this season, after all.  But if he were to decide that he wanted one last challenge – could his mind possibly be led in the same direction as Strachan’s was in 1989?  Could he decide that he wants to be instrumental in reviving the fortunes of a veritable sleeping giant?

Lampard would bring goals, class and composure to our midfield and – while he’d hardly cost the earth in a transfer fee – he would justify what would doubtless be high wages by forming a statement of intent as regards Leeds United’s transfer and team-building plans.  That was exactly the effect the Strachan coup had, back in the day.  Suddenly, Leeds was a possible destination for players of class and ambition.  That one signing made us high-profile again.  Lampard – or someone in his mould – would be the ideal “statement” signing for the summer of 2014.  If Frank doesn’t make the plane to Brazil, it’s more than likely that his England career would be over.  The legs aren’t quite what they used to be, but as part of a midfield which includes younger players to do his running for him, Lampard could be a major success in the Championship.

It remains to be seen, of course, what the summer will bring for Leeds – assuming that we do stay up.  There will be other issues to resolve – will Cellino still be in danger from the more detailed judgement in the Nélie case – or indeed from other cases yet pending?  Will the implications of Financial Fair Play on the back of a year or so’s mismanagement by GFH lead to a cautious transfer policy, despite the fact that Massimo is minted? It all remains to be seen.

For the time being, though – with the Football League temporarily at least chained up and impotent – we can indulge ourselves in a little daring to dream.  The next transfer window should be a lot more interesting than the last few, when the only real debating point was how many lies we were going to be told to flog a few more season tickets.  The signs are that Cellino will not be treading the path of deception, valuing the biggest asset of Leeds United as he does.  “Fans are not for sale, they have feeling and you don’t buy feeling,” he has said. “You can buy a bitch for one night, but you don’t buy the love my friend.”  The man has the soul and spirit of a poet, his fluency of expression promises to be a highlight of the Leeds United soap opera for as long as we’re allowed to keep him. Perhaps such a poet, someone who thinks so clearly and expresses himself so fluently, can look back at history for inspiration and then act on it to provide Elland Road with a new talisman.

If he does, he’s odds-on to have ideas of his own – and who knows, perhaps even Brian will get a say in the matter.  But just while we are daring to dream, my ideal situation would be for the name of Lampard to crop up, and then for Leeds to be audacious enough to ask the question.  Stranger things have happened – two months before Strachan arrived in LS11, any suggestion of that calibre of recruit for Leeds would have led you to a sojourn in a rubber room with the old back-to-front jacket on.  Wind back a further thirty years, and the signing of Bobby Collins from Everton would have appeared equally as outlandish a possibility.

Lampard for Leeds as the latest springboard to success and renaissance? Unlikely perhaps.  But, where Leeds United and Massimo Cellino are concerned, never say never.

Watford Gap is an Almighty Chasm for Dreadful United – by Rob Atkinson

Another day, a new era, another defeat

Another day, a new era, another defeat

The two main commodities Massimo Cellino will be looking to import into his new project, Leeds United, will come free of charge – but are nevertheless very difficult to obtain.  Pride and Passion – anyone out there remember those two old friends?  I do.  Anybody old enough and fortunate enough to have seen Sergeant Wilko’s White Juggernaut blast its way out of the old second division in 1990 will also nod reminiscently, as the vision of those relentless troops is conjured up by their mind’s eye.  The energy, the commitment, the refusal to give in.  One game at Elland Road, Sunderland kicked off at the start and within five seconds, they had been dispossessed and were defending desperately as the white tide washed over them.  Those were the days.  This lot?  There’s simply no comparison.

In 1990, Gordon Strachan was the jewel in the United crown.  We have our jewel today in Ross McCormack, but it’s not set in a crown – more like a pile of the stuff well-fed pigs leave behind.  Leeds have some good players, but team spirit seems non-existent and there appears to be no identifiable ethic of getting out there and getting stuck in for the shirt, the badge and the fans.  In 1990, Strachan was ably supported by the likes of Vinnie Jones, Mel Sterland, Chris Fairclough and a pugnacious young midfield Rottweiler called David Batty, together with the nascent elegance of Gary Speed. McCormack in today’s shower has the air of a man who knows that, if the job’s going to get done, he’s going to have to do it largely by himself.

This latest United match at Vicarage Road marked the start of a new era, the beginning of a time when off-field worries, such as deferred wages and the lack of clarity over ownership, could be forgotten.  What better time to roll up the sleeves and run out with a snarl on the lips and fire in the belly, determined to get some blood on their boots?  But no.  It was, if anything, an even more pallid performance than the ones United fans have witnessed and raged over at far too many points in the last few months.  Leeds United are running out of time, running out of excuses (though they manage to recycle and re-use those) – and running out of the patience their sorely-tried yet still magnificent support is prepared to afford them.

The gap between Leeds and the relegation pack is now down to a mere eight points.  Another win and maybe a draw should be enough to see them safe – and safety is clearly the upper limit of ambition for a team as devoid of application and bottle as this one. Where those points will come from is anyone’s guess – that’s assuming they come at all.  Blackpool at home next weekend seems the best chance, but the Seasiders are also embroiled in the dog-eat-dog struggle at the bottom.  Everybody is aware of the current malaise at Leeds and teams are facing us expecting to win.  Blackpool will be disappointed with anything less than three points from their visit to LS11.

Barnsley away?  Forget it.  We always lose there, usually by a good few goals.  Barnsley might be less than world-class, but they are fighters.  Then it’s two home games against Forest and Derby, with an away date at Birmingham sandwiched in between.  One point out of nine from those three, maybe. If Leeds do escape relegation, it will be by less than a comfortable margin, and we’ll have done the deed by virtue of performances prior to Christmas – before the wheels fell off.

Whatever the rest of the season holds for us, it’s impossible to be anything other than pessimistic.  There is simply no reason for any belief that things might suddenly improve – and if the current attitude and form carries on, then our points total now may well not have changed by close of play on the first weekend in May.  And if that’s the case, we’ll have to rely on three of the teams below us failing to overhaul our meagre points total.  Dear me, I’m becoming rather depressed.

Still, tomorrow night it’s hopefully cheer-up time with Man U hosting an end of era party.  I shall be watching and hoping that they crash out of Europe because that would restore my spirits considerably.  But it’s a sad thing when Schadenfreude (no, that’s not a Bayern centre-back) is all that you have to rely on for your jollies, your own team being so utterly and lamentably crap.  If Massimo Cellino is going to restore the good times to Elland Road – aided by those long-lost, much-missed allies Pride and Passion – well, it still promises to be a long and arduous, slow climb back up to the heights I remember Wilko’s Warriors attaining.  Then again, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  I wonder if that step might be taken sometime this week??

Buona fortuna, Massimo.

25 Years Today Since Gordon Strachan Signed for Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

"Have you ever seen a better goal?  Have you ever seen one better timed??" John Helm, YTV

Amazingly, for those of us who remember the breaking of the news so well, it’s a quarter of a century today since Leeds United made the historic signing of Gordon Strachan from a minor club over the Pennines.  Over the next seven seasons as the Whites skipper, there were many, many memorable occasions for United’s second-most famous ginger Scottish captain.  Not least among these, of course, was hoisting the last ever Football League Championship Trophy, as well as scoring the first goal in the Stuttgart play-off at the Nou Camp in 1992.

But, as I’ve done before, I thought I’d look back to the famous Leicester City game in 1990 and what was probably Strachan’s defining moment as the man who did more than just about anyone to reinvent Leeds as a post-Revie force in English football.  It had been a long time coming since Don’s Glory Boys dispersed to pastures new and a Golden Era faded into the dim haze of memory.  We had been eight years in the second division doldrums and had almost forgotten what it was like to be a top team.  But – finally! – it looked as though the nightmare was ending as Sergeant Wilko and Captain Strachan were set to lead United back to the Promised Land at long last.  A home fixture against Leicester City was the penultimate hurdle to overcome, and expectations were soaring at Elland Road.

Twelve days before the Leicester game, United had appeared to strike a decisive blow, battering closest rivals Sheffield United 4-0 at Elland Road. But any hope that promotion could be clinched early was dashed over the next two fixtures, a draw at Brighton where the lead was squandered to sacrifice two points, and then a home defeat to a relegation-threatened Barnsley who even then had the ability to put one over on us with an inferior team.  So the nerves were jangling for this home date with the Foxes.

Leicester breezed into town with no pressure on them at all as they bobbed about serenely in mid-table, but Leeds just had to win. A victory could possibly clinch promotion; anything else and we would be relying on others to give us that final leg-up – not an attractive prospect. The atmosphere at Elland Road that day was something to behold as 32,597 packed the stands and terraces, the Kop a seething mass of bodies, a solid wall of sound. If the weight of support counted for anything, then it seemed Leicester might just as well turn around and go home – but to their eternal credit they fought the good fight and played their part in a memorable afternoon.

It all started well. Leeds pressed hard, this had been their preferred approach all season long. No opponent was allowed the luxury of untroubled possession as Leeds snapped at ankles and harried the enemy, hungry for the ball and well able to use it productively. At their best, United had proved a match for any team in the Division; as ever though it was the off days that had let us down. On this particular occasion, attacking the Kop End in the first half, the forward momentum seemed irresistible. Before long, the overlapping Mel Sterland fastened on to a ball at the right corner of the penalty area and fired low and hard into the net to open the scoring. The overwhelming relief was as evident as the unconfined joy around the packed stadium; surely now United would go on to consolidate their advantage and seal the promotion we’d wanted for so long.

It was not to be. Despite further pressure, Leeds failed to make another breakthrough before half-time and Leicester – relaxed and pressure-free – were looking more and more ominously like potential party-poopers. These fears solidified in the second half as the away side pressed an increasingly nervous Leeds back, and eventually – inevitably – they drew level. The blow when it came was struck by a rumoured transfer target for Leeds, promising young Scot Gary McAllister. He proved that he packed some punch by belting a fine strike past veteran Mervyn Day to shock the Kop rigid and momentarily silence Elland Road. Worse was so nearly to follow as McAllister almost did it again, another superb shot coming within an ace of giving Leicester the lead, something which would doubtless have produced the unedifying spectacle of grown men crying in their thousands. It may well be that McAllister sealed his move to Leeds with this performance and those two efforts, but I could have seen him far enough from LS11 that day. Leeds were rocking, looking at each other, scratching heads and clenching fists in the time-honoured “come on, let’s bloody sort this out” gesture. Slowly, by sheer force of will, the lads in White regained the initiative and it looked at least as though the danger of further damage was receding. The football was still nerve-shredding stuff, all urgency and little fluency, a desperate battle to eke out the extra two points that would make promotion so much more likely.

Time was ebbing away fast now, as Leeds hurled themselves time and again into the defensive barrier of red Leicester away shirts. Panic was setting in, the biggest enemy of constructive football. It was looking like a draw, which would not be enough. Then, a throw halfway inside the Leicester half in front of the West Stand, under the eyes of a bleakly worried Wilko. Sterland gathered himself and hurled a massively long throw deep into the away penalty area, only for it to be headed out from around the near post. McAllister attempted to complete the clearance with an overhead effort to get rid, but the ball hit Gordon Strachan to bounce back into the box. And there was Gary Speed to lay that ball back instantly to the still-lurking Strachan who simply lashed it, left-footed, into the net. The ball had gone in like a bullet; Strachan – too tired to control it and try to work a yard of space to dink one of those cute little far-post crosses as he might normally – settled instead for catching the ball right on the sweet spot and it arrowed home to a positive explosion of noise from all around Elland Road – the sudden release of what had been unbearable tension produced a massive roar to buffet the ear drums of innocent bystanders miles away.

It was one of those occasions when several things seem to happen at once. The crowd behind the goal at the South Stand end seemed to boil with passion and relief, a maelstrom of delighted celebration which was echoed across the whole stadium. Strachan himself ran to the byline, face contorted, weary limbs pumping in triumphant exultation as he took the plaudits of the faithful. A lone copper is visible on the TV footage between Strach and the cavorting hordes, a grin on his face as he moves to quell any ambitious pitch-invaders. In the commentary box, John Helm unwittingly propelled himself into immortality, not for the last time that afternoon. “Have you ever seen a better goal?” he demanded. “And have you ever seen one better timed?” It was a good question, and right then, right there, I doubt you’d have found a Leeds fan to answer “yes” to either part of it. The rest was a blur; Leeds held out, and we had won – and seemingly gained promotion. Rumours were flying around that Newcastle had failed to win, sending us up. But John Helm was at it again, more iconic words: “Is that confirmed…?” When the confirmation arrived, it was of a late Toon win; we still had it all to do at Bournemouth the following week. But Strachan’s late cracker had kept us in a race that we were ultimately destined to win.

My final memory of that day is of walking down off the Kop and onto the pitch as the masses there were starting to disperse. We crossed the sacred turf from goal-line to goal-line, eventually exiting the ground into Elland Road at the south-west corner, where the Jumbotron big screen now stands. I can still remember the heady scent of stud-holed mud and trodden turf, my head was still buzzing as I walked over the spot where wee Gordon had made that perfect half-volley contact to send us all into delirium. It had been an atmosphere the like of which I have rarely seen before or since, only the mayhem at Bramall Lane when Gayle scored that own-goal title-clincher coming anywhere near, or maybe that ankle-busting semi-riot of a celebration when Dave Batty broke his long goal drought against Man City in 1991.

For the sheer relief of it however – the absolute nerve-shredding, tension-breaking release of it – this was definitely THE one. Without Strachan’s sublime strike, we could well have missed out on automatic promotion, and we all know only too well that there’s a law against us succeeding in the play-offs. Gordon’s Golden Goal had kept the dream alive and made possible all that followed up to the League Championship triumph two years later. Make no mistake – it was THAT important. Thank you, wee man – 25 years on, Leeds United have yet to make another signing so vital and important in the history of a great club. Chances are, they never will.