Tag Archives: hero

Leeds Fans Know How You Feel Ross, But Now is the Time to Man Up – by Rob Atkinson

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More of this, please, Ross

It’s been a shocking and distressing day for all of us – many out here are thinking back to this morning when we were grumbling about another dull deadline day in prospect.  And now – we’re wishing we could turn the clock back.

The last couple of hours have been depressing and humiliating.  For God’s sake, even Gary bloody Neville feels sorry for us.  Brian McDermott, the voice of reason in the Elland Road asylum, has been sacked – although there isn’t the courtesy of a statement from the club to confirm this.  A couple of hours before this, the club turned down a bid from Cardiff for captain and top scorer Ross McCormack.  Ross then gave a statement to pisspoor TV station Sky Sports, saying he was happy at Leeds and looking forward to playing for McDermott. A tinge of alarm there, that solidified into an icicle of dread when the axe fell on poor Brian’s honest head.

The thing is – you don’t just play for the manager.  With all due respect, Ross, you play for the fans, for the shirt, for your team-mates, for the club. Managers come and go as we all know.  It’s sad – tragic, sometimes.  But it happens – and when it does, then the senior players are under a moral obligation to stand up and be counted.  That is what the Leeds fans out here now desperately need of the Ross McCormack they’ve watched scoring goals and kissing that badge this season.  Don’t take the easy road and opt out.  Don’t lose that fight and defiant professionalism that has marked you out as star man this season.  There’s a derby match tomorrow against Huddersfield, and as usual they will play it as a Cup Final.  For once – instead of succumbing to that smaller-club chip-on-the-shoulder motivation, the Leeds players need to respond in kind.  They will need their skipper and talismanic striker to lead them in this.  They will need YOU, Ross.  And the fans will need you, too.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.  They don’t come over all prima donna and let themselves be persuaded by the disgraceful Sky TV that the only option is to flounce in and demand a move.  It’s been such a horrible, horrible day – but Captain Ross McCormack and the rest of the lads in those shirts – shirts that any of us fans out here would give a year’s salary to wear – can start the fightback tomorrow.  That’s what the big players do.  That’s the professional thing to do.  You have a contract, guys, but what’s more than that – you have a duty of trust to the fans that have stuck by you through a decidedly average season.  They kept the faith after Rochdale and after Sheffield Wendies, and they cheered you to the rafters as you lost unluckily to Leicester.  Please don’t abandon them against Huddersfield.  Pride is at stake here, and it’s about much, much more than an individual player’s unhappiness.  Rise above it, fight and win, if at all possible.

The time to sit down and think things over is in the summer.  Things may be clearer by then.  Now, in the heat of the moment, is not the time to act in haste.  It’s not a time to forget the fans who worship you, and head off to the the very bottom of the Premier League, where Vincent Tan awaits.  Out of the frying pan, and into the fire?  Bite your lip, Ross, and roll those sleeves up.  You can be the hero we need in very dark times.

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Get that shirt on, go out and fight

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Leeds Boss McDermott a Welcome Beacon in the Fans’ Gloom – by Rob Atkinson

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Brian McDermott looking for the best for Leeds United – with or without him

There’s a video clip doing the rounds today – it could easily be entitled “Strife of Brian”, but this is no Pythonesque spoof.  This is tragedy, pure and simple – it’s got all the necessary ingredients.  We have an embattled hero, dark and inimical forces grappling away in the background, mystery and intrigue – and most of all, the grim prospect of a very unhappy ending.  And all in a mere 2 minutes and 38 seconds.  For all its brevity, no-one could fail to be moved by the passion and courage, the honesty and unselfishness that shine through in this isolated bubble of truth and openness in the gathering murk surrounding Elland Road.  The hero is, of course, Brian McDermott and he has earned that title by his struggles to carry on in circumstances that would have seen a lesser man give up and head for the hills.

In this blog’s opinion, McDermott has also earned the respect, trust and unstinting support of everyone out here who would claim to be a Leeds United fan.  Brian has stuck his head above the parapet with the contents of that interview, not in his own best interests, but in those of the club – which he clearly equates with the fans.  He stands out in these dark and dismal times as the one real ray of light – along with maybe one or two of the playing staff.  His anger, his passion and his determination to see right done by Leeds United and its legions of supporters are an apt counterpoint to the anodyne platitudes which are all we occasionally get from the suits behind the scenes, those grey little men who argue about pounds and pence while the club slides ever backwards.  It would be hard to imagine more of a contrast than the one which distinguishes Hero Brian from the corporate clowns humiliating us as they squabble behind the scenes.

I saw a tweet today which sums up perfectly the Strife of Brian.  It invited us to imagine the situation of a man facing a tennis match against a Grand Slam champion, but having to face this virtuoso without a racquet – and with his hands tied behind his back.  This is how hamstrung our Brian has been, for pretty much all of his tenure as Leeds United boss.  Just as we’ve been made promises and have been let down, so has he – and when he is let down it’s more than just a personal disappointment – it’s his professional reputation on the line.  Matters appear to have come to a head in these last few days, as we approach the final week of a transfer window where so much was promised, so much was expected.  Brian talked of getting business done early – but he’s been betrayed in his trust.  It was all lies, yet again.  The carpet has been yanked from beneath his feet, and ours.

It seems odd then, that – with so many deserving targets for their anger and disappointment to be justly poured out – some Leeds fans are actually choosing to have a go at the man who represents our best hope of forcing some kind of breakthrough in this tiresomely endless impasse.  Some fans are absolutely calling for Brian’s head, citing tactics, transfer policy, substitutions – even his gloriously bald pate.  They portray him as an egg  or as a thumb, and they seem to think it’s funny.  Yet this is the man who is speaking out and calling for an end to all the uncertainty, all the fruitless quibbling in the boardroom, all the selfish machinations between opposing interests – and he’s doing it with dignity and professionalism.  Brian wants it sorted, and for us to start moving onwards and upwards – and isn’t that what we all want, all of us helpless and impotent bystanders out here?  Plenty of managers would refrain from comment, knowing that being too outspoken would land them a swift P45.  Plenty more would walk, leaving us to suffer without any leadership.  Still others would seek to follow a party line, cravenly hoping they’d backed the right horse.  But not Brian.  He’s stuck his neck out, to lay his head defiantly on the block.  He seems to be half-resigned to being a casualty of whatever change might finally occur – but he’s saying it’s not about his own interests.  He’s asking for a swift resolution to the takeover saga, for the club and for the fans.  Greater love hath no man…

For those who are preoccupied with details of his team selections, or substitutions, or certain of his transfer acquisitions, I would say – forget it.  We know nothing of his working conditions and the promises made and broken, except for the broad hints in that direction contained in this alarmingly frank and angry interview.  It’s impossible for us to judge the man – he’s been trying to build a house without tools, and with bricks of straw.  All we can say of him is that he’s there for us, the fans, and for the club we all love.  How can we currently ask more of him than that?  For the moment, tactics, substitutions and transfers  are irrelevant.  Football is irrelevant.  The season is a dead duck – it’s the very future of our club which is at issue here.  That’s what McDermott is telling us, and we need to listen.  In a crisis on stormy seas, the last thing you do is tip your friends overboard – and right now, Brian is the only friend we have.

Against Huddersfield at the weekend, all of the Leeds fans should be bellowing their support for this man.  We should be sending the clearest possible message to all the factions currently wrangling over our club; we should be making sure that they’re aware we have heard Brian’s message loud and clear and that we have taken it to heart.

In any conflict, it’s of the first importance to know your enemy.  We should be utterly clear on this – Brian McDermott is not the enemy here.  He speaks for us, because he cares and because he has the courage and resolve – along with the insider’s knowledge – to speak with the voice of a man who knows that what’s happening is not good for the club.  We have Brian to thank for the fact that we now know that too.  Let’s not be blind enough, naïve enough, to ignore it.  We must show our support for Brian McDermott, loud and proud – because quite frankly, he’s the only chance we’ve got.

Happy 49th Birthday to Leeds Legend Vinnie Jones – by Rob Atkinson

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‘Aaaaaaave it!!!!!

Happy Birthday today to former Leeds United star Vinnie Jones, who revealed recently that he has had several small tumours removed since being diagnosed with melanoma – the most potentially serious form of skin cancer.  Jones, an integral part of Leeds’ 1990 promotion squad, initially discovered a small lump underneath his eye back in February, but had thought it was simply “a blackhead or a wart”.  However, a check-up revealed the seriousness of the situation. Jones at first feared for his life, but swiftly resolved to fight “with everything I’ve got”.  Melanoma kills some 1,300 men and 900 women every year, but is treatable if caught early enough.

If anyone is equipped for battle against such an insidious disease, it’s our Vinnie.  Nobody in the whole club at the time of that Leeds United promotion campaign epitomised guts and drive, as well as sheer fist-clenched, vein-throbbing commitment and fight, better than Mr Vincent Peter Jones.  His influence on the club, his rapport with the fans and his driving, compelling example on the field must make him one of the best transfer bargains in United’s history.  And yet at the time he was signed it was, if not a shock, then at least a major surprise – and not in a particularly good way.

I’d been aware of Vinnie, of course – who hadn’t?  His Crazy Gang antics were legendary and he’d lifted the FA Cup, but he was regarded as a maverick – still more hod-carrier than footballer, famous for a ten-second dismissal and for his promise to Kenny Dalglish before the 1988 Cup Final against Liverpool to “tear off his ear and spit in the hole”.  Still, despite these immaculate credentials, marking him out as a potential Gelderd End hero, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine him as a signing for Leeds United, where stirrings had been going on ever since Sergeant Wilko marched in and started shaking the place up.  The “marquee signing” – you didn’t actually hear that phrase in those days – was Strachan, plucked from under the nose of his old Man U mentor Ron Atkinson at Sheffield Wednesday to provide the quality at the heart of the Leeds engine room. Now that was the sort of signing I’d hoped and prayed for, and with the likes of Chris Fairclough joining Gordon at Elland Road it seemed to bode well for a real challenge as the close season wore on and 1989-90 loomed closer.

I was in a caravan on the east coast when I heard on the radio that Vinnie was signing for Leeds for around £650,000.  I frankly didn’t believe it, but when the reality sank in, my initial reaction was to think – bloody hell, Wilko, what are you playing at?  The signings of John Hendrie and Mel Sterland reassured me somewhat, but I was still having trouble seeing what the Jones Boy would bring to the United table, although our lunatic-fringe fans seemed well suited.  The early signs were not encouraging.  Strachan tells of an incident in a pre-season game against Anderlecht, where he saw an opposing player go down with his nose spread halfway across his face and blood greatly in evidence.  Vinnie had casually “done” him en passant before sidling off looking innocent, and Strach recalls thinking: my God – what have we signed here?

Vinnie himself remembers his early days at the club, and being moved to violence by the negative attitudes of some of the players being edged out as Wilko’s new broom started to sweep clean.  Among this disaffected few was John Sheridan, something of a Leeds legend – but Jones stood for no nonsense, and there were punches thrown and people seized by the scruff of the neck as he explained his views on solidarity and team spirit.  Vinnie was obviously going to be a kill or cure measure – there were signs he might have much to contribute to the collective effort, but equally that he might turn out a loose cannon which could blow up in all our faces.  Yet Wilko had a magic touch in those early years, and generally it was proved that he knew what he was doing.

In the event, and despite an uncertain beginning, Vinnie played a massive part in our promotion that year.  The fans took to him from the start – the sight of him coming on as a sub in the first home game against Middlesbrough will live long in my memory.  I can see him now, in the middle of the park with the game poised at 1-1, shouting and screaming as he conveyed encouragement and instruction in equal measure, arms pumping in an ungainly, baboon-like way, team-mates and opponents alike staring at him aghast.  And then he frightened a Boro’ defender into scoring a late, fluky own-goal and we had won, setting us on our way after a disastrous opening-day defeat at Newcastle.

Vinnie just carried on making a difference.  He worked and worked, encouraged and exhorted, fought for the cause and put the fear of God up the enemy wherever he encountered them.  He scored spectacular goals, important goals.  He showed flashes of genuine ability and some of his passing was sublime.  He avoided disciplinary trouble to an amazing degree, given his lurid past.  He sold himself to no less a judge than Strachan as an honest performer who could “play a bit”.

Vinnie also created this amazing rapport with the crowd, the kind I’ve rarely seen before or since, chilling and joking with the wheelchair-users at the front of the West Stand before games, and smoking imaginary cigars as he took the plaudits of the adoring masses after finding the net against Ipswich.  In the warm-up before the Wolves match at Elland Road, he provided one of the great moments of humour in a tense campaign, bringing down five year-old mascot Robert Kelly in the area with a signature sliding tackle, much to the delight of the Kop – and of young Robert himself.

Young Robert getting scythed down by Vinnie, and loving it

Young Robert getting scythed down by Vinnie, and loving it

Vinnie loved Leeds, the players and fans loved Vinnie and the partnership proved fruitful.  Up we went, and when Vincent Jones finally took his leave for the humbler surroundings of Bramall Lane and Stamford Bridge, it was with a tattoo: “LUFC Division Two Champions” proudly inked onto his expensive leg, a partner for the “Wimbledon FA Cup Winners” one on the other limb.  He was a Leeds United legend in only a little over a year at the club, a larger-than-life personality of massive ebullience and impact – and he is held in the highest of esteem in LS11 even to this day, when he mixes effortlessly in the rarefied, glitzy atmosphere of Hollywood.

At a time of intense transfer speculation, the question could be asked: what do we need more right now than another Vinne type, as we hope to secure another long-overdue return to the top table?  Those Jonesy ingredients of passion and power, guts and gumption, are just as important in this league today as they were in those far-off times as the eighties became the nineties.

It’s really difficult to say who if anyone could now play the Vinnie part – but if it were possible, in this transfer window, to distil essence of Jones, or to clone him right from his bloodstained boots and tattooed ankles up to his fearsomely-shaven head, then I’d do it, and I’d present the result gift-wrapped for Brian McDermott to deploy as he saw fit.

A man in the mould of Vinnie Jones would be just the shot in the arm our club needs right at this point in time, just after the major disappointment of the Rochdale non-performance.  It would provide the incentive for the crowd to roll up its sleeves, having vented some spleen at the players and manager, and get behind the team again for the remaining battles in this 46 game-long war of attrition.

Just imagine the fillip that our season, our whole club would receive – if only we could have him or his like in our ranks now.  Happy Birthday to the one and only Vinnie Jones, honorary Yorkshireman and Leeds Hero First Class.  Good health to you – and many happy returns.

13 Years Ago Today, Leeds United Edge Out Liverpool With “The Duke” At His Best – by Rob Atkinson

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The bare facts hardly do credit to a stunning afternoon at Elland Road on November 4th 2000.  An injury-hit Leeds United faced old enemies Liverpool in Premier League game which saw Liverpool take a two-goal lead, get pegged back at 2-2, take the lead again – and then finally succumb 4-3 in the archetypal see-saw football match.  Leeds had won, and Australian centre-forward Mark Viduka had gone one better than the traditional striker’s dream of a hat-trick in a high profile victory.  Viduka – the Duke – had scored all four, single-handedly breaking the hearts of the Reds whose manager Gerard Houllier was left speechless with shock and disappointment.

In truth, Liverpool were well-set for victory as they cruised to an early two goal lead through Hyypia and Ziege, taking advantage of slapdash Leeds defending.  The home team were weakened by the absence of regulars like Nigel Martyn, Lucas Radebe, Harry Kewell, Danny Mills, Michael Duberry and Michael Bridges.  Bit-part player Jacob Burns started and Danny Hay would come on as one of only four fit subs – this was very much a patched-up United side.  After such a start heads might have gone down in the Leeds ranks, but Alan Smith was still up for the battle, chasing every cause and closing down in his unique combative style.  It was a typically aggressive piece of Smithy harrying that saw Leeds back in the game after 25 minutes, as he blocked a Ziege clearance and saw the ball bounce right into the path of an onside Viduka in the Liverpool area.  No further invitation was needed; the burly Aussie executed the most delicate of chips to beat Reds keeper Sander Westerveld all ends up.  The teams went in at the interval with Liverpool ahead 2-1 – but some of the momentum was back with Leeds.

Shortly after the start of the second half, United were level – and this was a goal to remember.  Gary Kelly broke swiftly down the right, looked up and delivered a pinpoint cross which Viduka met with a towering near-post header, sending the ball arrowing high into the net for a fantastic equaliser.  The effervescent Smith then missed a clear chance to put Leeds ahead, and that looked a costly error when Liverpool surged back in front just after the hour.  Berger crossed from the left to find Vladimir Smicer who cleverly worked himself the space to slide his shot past a despairing Paul Robinson and into the net.  A bitter blow for a makeshift Leeds side that had hauled itself, against long odds, back into the game.

Many indeed would have expected Leeds to crumble at this point, but to their eternal credit they stayed competitive and kept fighting.  The next goal was always going to be crucial; a fourth for Liverpool would certainly have finished Leeds off.  However, the game’s sixth and best goal saw Mark Viduka complete his hat-trick with a finish of amazing artistry for such a big man. Former Evertonian Olivier Dacourt saw a powerful shot blocked by Ziege, but managed to feed the rebound first time through to Viduka at the right edge of the penalty area.  Most strikers would have tried to get a shot off, but Viduka, spinning unpredictably through 360 degrees, threw off the attentions of the Liverpool defence and finished sublimely into the far corner.

At this stage, the overjoyed Leeds support would probably have settled for a draw that had, at one point, looked like being more than they could dream of.  But Viduka was not finished yet.  Only three minutes later, he finally ended Liverpool’s chances with a fourth goal which, it must be said, owed as much to a generous linesman as it did to the Duke’s skill and lethal finishing.  The Leeds striker was surely offside as the ball reached him yet again in a threatening position inside the Liverpool area – but he didn’t hang around to see if a flag went up or a whistle blew.

In the event, neither happened and Mark Viduka produced yet another delicately-crafted finish, the ball arcing beautifully over a committed Westerveld and dropping into Liverpool’s net.  4-3 now and pandemonium as Leeds led for the first time, as unlikely a scenario as you could possibly have imagined after only 20 minutes of this incredible game.  Liverpool fought to the last, but so did Leeds to hang on grimly to their hard-won advantage.  Dacourt finished the game barely able to move, the Liverpool players finished it hardly able to believe what had happened to them.  The contrasting body language of the jubilant United manager O’Leary and his crestfallen Liverpool counterpart told the story of this result and of a game that will always be a part of the folklore surrounding this long-standing rivalry.

Liverpool had fought gallantly and lost.  Leeds had defied the odds and their injury toll to win.  But the undoubted hero of the hour, thirteen years ago today, was beyond any shadow of a doubt the United centre-forward Mark Viduka.  The Duke – Leeds United legend with his own permanent place in Elland Road history.