Karen Carney, TV Sport’s super pundit, has issued a solemn warning over the likely consequences for football should another blanket lockdown be imposed with all fixtures suspended indefinitely. Carney is worried that such a measure would inevitably lead to Leeds winning the Premier League title, just as the lockdown of early 2020 was solely responsible for United winning the Championship title last season.
“Make no mistake about it”, frothed Carney. “Leeds United would end up as Champions – and we all know that nobody wants that. Look what happened last year, Leeds had lost every game before lockdown due to the well-known Bielsa blowup meltdown crackup tiredness thingy, they were rock bottom of the Championship and certs for relegation, then, after they’d had a good rest – a much better rest than any other team – they go on this amazing run, winning every game 7-0, and end up ten points clear of West Brom, who we know for a fact are a much better team.”
When asked about elements of her theory, including the “much better rest” part, as well as WBA being much better than a team against whom they’ve just suffered a 5-0 battering, Ms Carney merely curled her lip and said “Wibble”.
Leeds United were approached by our Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything roving reporter for their response, and guardedly commented “Well, what else can you expect from the Karens of this world? But, let’s face it, she’s not half as thick as Merson, Wilder and Agbonlahor…”
Sam Allardyce is 66, and has had enough of football for this season.
As so often with Leeds United, a fine win capping a great performance is possibly going to be overshadowed by a storm in a teacup, and on this occasion the person brewing up the trouble is a pundit on the lamentable Amazon Prime live coverage of United’s game at West Brom. Let’s get one thing straight before we go any further. The gender part of this argument is sod all to do with my opinion of what’s been said in the wake of Leeds’ impressive 5-0 demolition of WBA. The pundit concerned, one Karen Carney, is self-evidently a woman, but that has nothing at all to do with the vacuously stupid remark she made after the match, to the effect that Leeds United probably secured promotion last season thanks to the initial COVID lockdown, which interrupted football for around three months. The break gave us a rest, you see – just us, nobody else, apparently. I’ve heard some crackpot theories in my time, but that one really takes the biscuit.
At the risk of introducing a few facts into this issue, when facts appear to be anathema to Ms Carney, Leeds United, after an earlier rocky spell, had just reeled off five successive wins immediately prior to the cessation of the league programme, recording clean sheets in all of them. When football resumed, with Leeds nicely rested according to Karen’s world view, United proceeded to lose their first game back 0-2 at Cardiff. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, with the more pessimistic Leeds fans bemoaning the COVID break, which seemed to have robbed us of the impetus we’d generated before lockdown. Happily, Leeds hit form again, and that Cardiff defeat was our last, as United recorded seven further wins (two of them with a blistering post-title winning hangover) and one solitary draw to win the league by ten clear points. Ms Carney’s enormous intellect seems to have missed the fact that this was the levellest of level playing fields, with each club having had the same “break” in their programme; it was always going to be down to which club handled such an extraordinary, unprecedented situation with the most resolution and professionalism. Let the record show that that was Leeds United, beyond any shadow of a doubt.
Given the above – and I’d be interested or more likely amused to hear any counter arguments – Karen Carney’s comments on Tuesday night were a hymn to rank amateurism, lazy, inaccurate punditry, and gross stupidity. And yet various people are screeching in horror, because the official Leeds United Twitter account had the nerve to mock this hapless woman’s ridiculous comments. To his eternal credit, Leeds owner Andrea Radrizanni took ultimate responsibility for the club’s tweet, rejecting any criticism of it on the grounds that Carney’s comments were “completely unnecessary and disrespectful to our club”. Well, quite. And well said, sir.
As usual, though, various parties are leaping on the misogyny bandwagon and claiming that it is so, so wrong to out Carney as a fool in this way. There are various problems with this. Firstly, Carney is not the only person to have been berated or mocked by possibly the most laconically witty and barbed club Twitter account of them all. Gabby Agbonlahor has had some this season, and quite rightly so, for his various inane remarks before and since United’s 3-0 dismissal of his beloved Villa. I’m acutely aware of this, because I had my say about that one, as I did more recently (on Twitter) when another inept pundit, Andy Hinchliffe, spoke fluent rubbish in and around Unted’s home game against Burnley the other day. For some reason, Messrs Agbonlahor and Hinchliffe did not immediately have the distaff side flocking to their defence – I wonder why?
Speaking rubbish on a public platform and then having people of any gender defend you because you happen to lack a Y chromosome is hardly unknown. But it’s not healthy and it’s not helpful – I’d go so far as to argue that it’s absolutely inimical to the cause of equality which I, for one, happen to hold dear. If you’re prepared to stand up and voice controversial (ie crap) opinions, then you have to be equally prepared to be held accountable for them. Either that, or we’re heading down a slippery slope whereby people who dress neither right nor left are able to say what they like with absolute impunity, as long as it’s merely crass and stupid, and not actually actionable.
Personally, I’m sick to the back teeth of lazy, amateurish comment as applied to my beloved club, particularly hoary old myths like Marcelo Bielsa‘s teams “always blowing up”. It winds me up beyond belief, whatever the provenance. When I saw Karen Carney spouting such arrant crap tonight, that was the flavour of my resulting ire – that here was another clueless pundit nicking a living by peddling easily disposed of myths about Leeds United. The only time her gender struck me was when I thought to myself, you’ve done the other female pundits no favours there, lass. I truly believe that it’s harder for a woman to make a mark in an area such as football punditry than it should be, because of the preponderance of men, some of them pretty poor fish like Agbonlahor and Hinchliffe. That being the case, a woman really should try to avoid the same lazy and cliched approach of her male counterparts, lest she strengthen the argument of those Neanderthals who hold that women should have no place in football. I certainly don’t hold that view, and that is why, when I hear the likes of Carney talking rubbish and being disrespectful of honest professionals, I will call it out – just as I have with equivalent male idiots. Gender is no excuse, and it’s no magic shield either. Those who argue that it should be need to radically rethink their own view of exactly what equality is all about.
Let’s face it, it’ll be a bit of a shock if there isn’t a penalty awarded against Leeds United today. The media darlings of man u seem to be able to rack up the spot kicks if any opposing player so much as glances at Rashford & Co in the box, and with today’s ref being a mancunian from a family of Old Trafford season ticket holders, it would hardly be a surprise to see at least one awarded today.
Leeds, we understand, are going to venture into the swamp playing their normal game, which tends to give knowledgeable Whites fans the collywobbles, thinking of all that space for St Marcus to sprint into, prior to doing the half pike with double twist once in our area. The concentration from Leeds today will have to be exemplary if we’re to avoid that scenario, along with the adjacent one of having somebody vital red carded early doors. Both of these doom-laden outcomes have come about in my recent nightmares, and they could so easily translate into reality against the Pride of Devon later this afternoon.
Whatever happens, we will doubtless carry on as per the instructions of our deity incarnate, Marcelo Bielsa. And that’s just as it should be, as he’s long ago earned the right to our unquestioning trust and confidence. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that we can acquit ourselves well against the fourteen men of Manchester, and that our eleven lads will walk out there with heads held high and do battle as we’d all wish them to.
The FA, after a short session of head-scratching, have responded to accusations that Liverpool’s first penalty award against Leeds United at Anfield yesterday was in direct contravention of the latest guidance on handball via deflection. The relevant passage, shown below, appears to state unequivocally that, when the ball touches a player’s arm or hand directly from another part of their body, a penalty will not be given.
In the Liverpool v Leeds United game on Saturday, however, when the ball deflected upwards from Robin Koch’s leg onto his arm, referee Michael Oliver almost spat his whistle out in his eagerness to blow for a spot kick after only four minutes. From that moment onwards, United were on the back foot, eventually losing by the odd goal in seven, despite coming back from behind three times.
Even Liverpool stalwart turned Sky pundit Jamie Carragher bemoaned the rank unfairness of that early penalty, making particular reference to the fact that VAR failed to overturn the decision, despite the obvious deflection before the ball struck Koch’s arm. Given the clear and undeniable nature of the injustice, surely the FA would not be able to defend the decision making process from the referee and VAR perspectives?
After a brief but agonised period of reflection, during which the “Official FA Manual on Defending the Indefensible” was intensively consulted, the following statement was issued.
“The FA wish to point out that the guidance referred to specifically mentions “Premier League players” and therefore its effect is limited to that group. In the instance of Liverpool versus Leeds United on the 12th September, the penalty was awarded only four minutes into the first game of the season, which was also Leeds United’s first Premier League game since 2004. In these circumstances, the referee and the VAR officials decided that no Leeds United player could, at the time of the incident in question, yet be regarded as a Premier League player. We would also point out that referee’s decisions, subject to VAR ratification, are final – so really, it’s a bit cheeky of you to question this point.”
It is further understood that the FA, concerned that this explanation might not be acceptable to all, made a specific request to the BBC Match of the Day programme, to the effect that any discussion of the first penalty award should be omitted, with Alan Shearer nominated to make a brief remark to the effect that it was the right decision before going on to heap platitudinous praise on the plucky performance of the Premier League newcomers. The FA are confident that this further measure will effectively put the issue to bed.
Leeds United declined to comment on the matter, beyond a terse statement to the effect that, at this rate, they expect to concede 76 penalties this season. Match Referee Michael Oliver was unavailable for comment, having been advised by the Professional Game Match Officials Limited(PGMOL) not to make himself look any dafter.
Some unlikely candidates have put themselves forward as “rivals” to Leeds United over the last decade and a half, as Yorkshire’s finest have languished in the middle two tiers of English football’s four division structure. Some, such as Barnsley and Huddersfield, have had few pretensions to be compared size or history wise with United, but feel a tribal enmity based on geographical proximity, which is understandable enough. The same might be said of the two Sheffield clubs, or even Bradford City.
All these local clubs, together with the likes of Reading, Millwall, Derby etc etc have sought to exploit the reduced circumstances of Leeds for as long as their top flight exile lasted, to suggest that genuine two-way rivalries were in place. That bubble of delusion popped with United’s overdue elevation to the Premier League, and the realisation that the traditional enmities would now be cordially resumed. In the hearts and minds of Leeds fans, it was always about the likes of man utd and Chelski, with those clubs reciprocating the extreme dislike, even during our long absence from actual competitive involvement.
But, even in the Premier League, there are lesser clubs who clearly yearn to carry the mantle of “Leeds United’s rivals”, however ridiculous such a claim seems in the absence of any reciprocal antipathy, or indeed any real interest on the part of the Leeds fan base. Still, that hasn’t stopped certain clubs from fondly imagining there’s a rivalry there, and one in particular is extremely reluctant to give up on even such an outlandish notion.
For Brighton and Hove Albion – not so much the club itself, more their fans and adherent local press – the time since the end of last season seems to have been a prolonged and unaccustomed spell in the spotlight, due entirely to Leeds United’s pursuit of Ben White, who spent a gloriously successful Championship campaign on loan at Elland Road and was now wanted by United on a permanent basis. The move never happened, despite repeated efforts on the part of Leeds, and despite the player himself being widely regarded as wanting a return to West Yorkshire. In the end, Brighton stood firm, and Leeds, after making three offers and having them all turned down, reluctantly looked elsewhere and signed a German international for around half what they’d been willing to pay for White, who lacks any experience at all of top flight football, let alone the international arena. So Brighton kept their player, Leeds got a more than adequate replacement in Robin Koch, and Ben himself, at long last, got a contract acceptable to him, given the value placed upon him by his parent club. Case closed, so you’d have thought.
But no. The Brighton support and the local press for the region were not willing to give up so much delicious attention, and set about trying to force an unlikely rivalry with a club and support base hundreds of miles to the north, both of which habitually looked west to the red quarter of Manchester for its chief object of dislike and derision.
For Brighton, the Ben White tranfer saga evidently represented their biggest day in the sun since a Cup Final appearance (coinciding with relegation) 37 years ago. Looking further back, their only other real mark on history was a Charity Shield triumph sometime prior to the Great War of 1914-18, so it’s reasonably understandable that their fans should wish to prolong any spell in the public eye. But the ridiculousness of their efforts to talk up a “rivalry” is to be found in the fact that such efforts persisted even after Leeds ended their interest in Ben White, with the local press tagging Leeds in any tweets relating to his eventual new contract, and the Brighton fans on Twitter eagerly attempting to troll bemused Leeds United fans, who remained preoccupied with more traditional rivals and only thought of Brighton when Quadrophenia was on the telly.
It was all most unedifying, and it’s a stark warning that we can’t expect much more by way of dignity and restraint in the Premier League than we ever found at lower levels. I got drawn into the slanging match myself at various points before it became clear that, despite his wishes in the matter (confirmed today by his agent), Ben White would not be sold to Leeds at any price. At that point, I stopped taking the mick about Bielsaball versus Potterball, and moved onto more pressing matters – such as how the EFL would survive without Leeds United. But the Brighton fans persisted, becoming more evidently needy and utterly ridiculous with each passing day. Abandoning any sense of irony or perspective, they’re vying with each other to label United a small club, heading straight back down, which is insolence if you like, and pretty foolhardy stuff to boot. But the relentless tagging of LUFC by the Brighton tweeters and the Sussex Bugle, or whatever it’s called, continues unabated. This is a club unused to such attention, and clearly its supporters are desperate to prolong the experience as far and as long as possible.
The whole thing reflects pretty poorly on the Brighton support, certainly of the online variety, which has been encouraged in its collective acts of self-ridicule by a local press clearly cottoning onto the fact that tagging Leeds in any published piece will increase the number of hits exponentially. Again, I’ll exclude the club itself from those remarks, due to their determination in resisting offers from a bigger club, which you have to applaud. They also showcased Ben White in a video allowing him to express his appreciation of his time at Leeds, and to thank the fans for the support and adulation he received here. That was classy stuff, and there was no real need for Brighton to do it, so fair play.
Perhaps – just perhaps – Brighton & Hove Albion still remember that Leeds United helped save them financially when they were enduring hard times, by signing goalkeeper Mark Beeney for a significant sum, which went a long way towards alleviating a threatening situation at the time. That’s a factor that the local press down there, and the eager-beaver online fans might do well to take into account before bringing down even more ridicule upon themselves. However recent Leeds United’s elevation to the top level, it’s an undeniable fact that the Elland Road outfit is by far and away a bigger club than Brighton could ever dream of being, with a far more illustrious history, a fan base that spans the globe and (let’s face it) a much better coach and the makings of a squad that will compare well even with such an – ahem – established Premier League force as Brighton.
The moral of this tale is probably: choose your rivals well, and don’t punch above your weight – something the over-enthusiastic Brighton fans have flouted, thereby making themselves look several shades of daft. There’s a perfectly good south coast rival in Southampton, not an incongruously bigger beast as Leeds are, and therefore much less likely to reflect poorly on and embarrass the Brighton club. From here on in, it’s to be hoped that the Seagulls, fans and hacks alike, will conduct themselves in a more seemly and less cringeworthy manner – but I suppose we’d better not hold our breath.
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.
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.
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.
It’s a real tragedy that fan participation is missing from the current euphoria surrounding Leeds United’s magnificent achievements this season. Sadly, though, this is the world we’re currently living in, our rights and privileges suspended for now by a nasty little virus (no comparison with Frank Lampard intended).
It’s clearly very tempting to defy the current protocols and just get out there to lead as normal a life as possible anyway, consequences be damned. You can see this everywhere you look, with packed beaches all over the place, apparently populated almost exclusively by compulsive litter bugs. But in these instances, only the generality of selfish idiots can be identified, so the focus of scorn and retribution is diffuse. That is not the case with tribal football celebrations, and most particularly not where the fans of Leeds United are concerned.
As ever, critical and unfriendly eyes will be on Leeds United, watching beadily for any chance to have a go at the club, or at its fans; there is the usual eagerness to drag the name of Yorkshire’s finest through the mud wherever possible. The next obvious opportunity to present itself is United’s final match of a triumphant season, at home to Charlton Athletic tomorrow. The game is not selected for live Sky coverage, as the remaining promotion issues will be settled elsewhere. But you can bet your mortgage that cameras aplenty will be focused on the roads and areas outside the stadium, hoping to record scenes that will drop Leeds, both club and city, right in it yet again.
It’s sadly inevitable that some will turn up, ill-advised and careless of consequences, still intoxicated on the heady wine of long-awaited success. It’s going to be a matter of scale – will it be an “understandable” turnout that can be condemned but lightly given the circumstances? Or will it be a massive breach of the safety measures in place, leading to public outrage and the usual suspects calling for United to be demoted to the National League Division 5? I hope for the former, but I fear the latter.
Please exercise your discretion tomorrow, always the better part of valour. Don’t be one of the people who turn up, selfishly disregarding the potential effect on the club. Stay away from Elland Road tomorrow, carry on your celebrations safely in your homes. If the worst case scenario pans out, we can expect neither understanding nor sympathy from those who are always champing at the bit to do us down. They’ll seize the day if we give them the chance, have no doubt about that. Don’t be one of the thoughtless ones who afford them that chance.
Remember: actions have consequences, and Leeds United rarely get away with anything. Stay home tomorrow, save your celebrations for the time when we can all celebrate without let or hindrance. It’ll feel just as good – and we won’t be risking sanctions for a great club emerging from dark times into the sunlit uplands of public approbation and the Premier League. You know it makes sense.
I make no apology to Sky Sports for nicking their “Leeds Promoted” image above. They owe us, I feel, for their snide and needless overlay of “Leeds Are Falling Apart Again” during their live lockdown coverage of a recent home game. Ultimately, Sky were wrong about the falling apart thing, as United clinched automatic promotion and the Championship Title, with two games to spare. A more apt motif for this season would be Angus Kinnear’s remark to the effect that we wouldn’t be dicking about with playoffs this season, and so we didn’t. Other teams have that nightmare before them, and they’re welcome to it.
Thanks go to Huddersfield and Stoke, both of which clubs I love very much, for making this weekend a riot of celebration and alcohol-based dissolution. You’ve been as wonderful for my spiritual well-being as you’ve been disastrous for my short term health; on balance, I’m deeply grateful.
All I need to do now is to add “As Championship Champions” to the above image, by dint of some PhotoShop type wizardry which is currently beyond me due to the effects of grain and grape. But I can do all that when I sober up, maybe sometime toward mid-August. In the meantime, I love all of you too, you’re my best mates, honest you are, salt of the earth to the very last Jack & Jill of you. Hic!!
I’ve never had much time for Sunderland, despite the fact that the Wearside club have never featured among the top echelons of rivalry with my beloved Leeds United. And really, how could they – when their sole claim to fame since the war amounts to one distinctly fluky Wembley success against Don Revie‘s overwhelming FA Cup Final favourites in 1973?
The thing is, though, that while Leeds United have generally had bigger fish to fry, the barren nature of Sunderland’s last three quarters of a century has meant that they’ve had to harp on and on about Stokoe, Porterfield, Montgomeryet al ever since that freak cup final, which found Leeds well short of their normal imperious form, while Sunderland rode their luck into a page of history. It was a major shock, alright – bigger than Southampton‘s success against the Pride of Devon in 1976, and much bigger than the Crazy Gang beating the Culture Club in 1988. And, naturally, the Leeds hating media waste no opportunity to rub our collective nose in what was really a day of humiliation for a club of United’s historic standing. But them’s the breaks, and we’ve had to live with that embarrasment ever since, just as Sunderland’s needy fan base have found it a straw to clutch at for nigh on 47 years.
There are compensations, though, and Netflix came up with a beauty just this week, screening the second series of Sunderland Till I Die, which features the Mackems in familiar self-destruct mode, contriving to lose not one, but two Wembley finals as the 2018/19 season reached its climax. That’s funny enough, but the fact that this serial disaster of a club gave their fans some false hope in both matches, contriving to take the lead before capitulating, raised the comedic levels to sublime. And the nature of the Wembley occasions is also rather funny, a Checkatrade Final (whatever that is) against Portsmouth, followed by the League One play-off against Charlton Athletic, managed by our old alumnus Lee Bowyer. In both games the Mackems were ahead, prompting feverish celebrations among their hopeful but dim support – and in both games, Sunderland lost at the last gasp, on penalties against Pompey and in the very last minute of injury time against Charlton. Just as the so-called Roker Roar dissolved into tears, so Leeds United fans with long enough memories had tears of mirth rolling down cheeks that ached with laughter. It was a double dose of Schadenfreude at the time, making up in some small degree for our own less than successful climax to last season – and now Netflix have produced a comedy epic out of the ashes of Mackem hopes, almost as if they wished to entertain us Whites all over again.
This double HA9 disaster was actually made up of the two most recent helpings of Wembley Karma for Sunderland, who have contrived to lose every single Wembley appearance since 1973, including another play off defeat to Charlton in 1998, on penalties, which is always a gratifyingly painful way to get beat for any club that you don’t particularly like. Towards the end of the Netflix Laughter Show, a tearful Mackem lady is showing sobbing “Why isn’t it ever us?” in response to their latest Wembley surrender. I’ll tell you why, love. It’s payback for 1973 and that git Stokoe prancing across the Wembley pitch to hug that git Montgomery. Lovely stuff, thank you Netflix and I shall look forward to the next series of this laughter-strewn classic.
As I said earlier, it’s not a full blown rivalry, and I wouldn’t want anyone to get me wrong on this. My negative feelings about Sunderland have more to do with their intrinsic lack of charm, than any real feeling of competitive dislike. The fact that they’ve been paying in installments of misery for the joy they felt on that long ago Wembley day simply makes me feel justified in celebrating their decades of unhappiness – it’s as if they’ve suffered all that pain and angst just for us. Which is most kind of them, when you think about it. And revelling in their last two disastrous seasons has certainly provided me with plenty of chuckles and entertainment during this annoying hiatus in the current campaign. In fact, it’s put me in such a good mood that I think I’ll nip off downstairs and watch Manchester United 1, Manchester City 6, and give my chorlte muscles another brisk workout.