Any Leeds fans with nightmare memories of the number of occasions last season, when Leeds United had ridiculously tight VAR calls go against them, might have gone into today’s game against the Pride of Devon hoping for better, or at least fairer, things. It’s fair to say those hopes were dashed, and thrice dashed, making an opening day defeat at the Theatre of Hollow Myths an even bitterer than usual pill to swallow.
Let’s start with an admission – Leeds deserved nothing better than defeat on the day. It’s the scale and manner of that defeat I’m taking issue with, and although I’m probably going to be accused of blinkered bias, I’ll say here and now that two of Devon’s goals were as dodgy as a seven pound note – AND we should have had a penalty near the end. As ever, I’ll welcome comments that disagree or agree with my not entirely objective view – but I’d be grateful to see reasons, pro or con.
The first goal came directly from our young keeper’s less than habitually accurate kick out, gifting possession to the Devonians and allowing Bruno Fernandez to score. No quibbles here. In the second half, Ayling’s howitzer of an equaliser was a thing of beauty and a joy for a few minutes, until Greenwood managed to get by Pascal and score. 2-1 to the European Super League wannabes – and that’s where the game started to go bent. For the third home goal, I remain unconvinced that the whole of the ball crossed the line. Where was the computer graphic of last season, showing clearly the position of the ball relative to the line? All I saw was an unconvincing and blurry freeze frame, and my dander was well and truly up from that point onwards.
The fourth goal looked offside to me in real time, and again I was unconvinced by replays – the lines so often drawn last season seemed to be on leave of absence, and it felt as though justice was not seen to be done. I’d heard the lines were supposed to be thicker, not AWOL. As I said earlier, I’d welcome other views on both of these “goals”, perhaps I’ve missed something while tearing my hair and gnashing my teeth.
The fifth goal was down to lax and demoralised defending, too much room in our box, ‘nuff said. But then we should have had a penalty (yes, I know that’s unrealistic at Old Toilet, but this was a stonewall penalty). Contact was demonstrably made with Tyler Roberts’ trailing leg, and a commentator mouthed something along the lines of “not enough to make him go down”. But Roberts was moving at speed, and any contact was going to be enough to put him on the deck. I guarantee that, if the incident was in the other area, with a Franchise player measuring his length on the turf, the ref would have whistled long and hard.
So, there we have it. No complaints about the result, but there was some devil in the detail, and those injustices were salt rubbed into a raw and painful wound. At least I’ve got this off my chest, so now maybe I can look ahead to other battles where perhaps we’ll acquit ourselves rather better. It’s just that, after one game, admittedly against opponents who notoriously always get the benefit of any doubt, I have this feeling that Leeds United will not benefit from this supposedly fairer application of VAR. I guess we’ll see over the next 37 games.
At the start of the Premier League campaign so recently completed, one of the big issues for discussion and debate was: how will Leeds United, 16 years exiled from the elite, fare on their long-delayed return? The battle lines were drawn, with Leeds haters, wishful thinkers, embittered ex-pros and various other pond life on one side – and Those Who Matter on the other.
The views were starkly polarised. For the various factions who, for one reason or another, wished Yorkshire’s only giant club nothing but misery, there was a fairly unanimous feeling that United’s tenure in the top flight would last for three seasons: autumn, winter and spring. The predicted final tables from back then make for amusing reading now, with Leeds appearing in many forecast bottom threes and with the likes of the previous season’s miracle club Sheffield Utd going from strength to strength.
My own forays into social media at this time were seen as baselessly optimistic, bordering on drug-fuelled delusion. One Arsenal fan of tender years, and even tenderer grey matter, could not believe that I refused to accept United’s inevitable fate with meek submissiveness. The poor lad got quite hot under the collar at my refusal to acquiesce, and eventually blocked me in a fit of outraged pique, promising to re-establish contact around Easter, when our fate was sealed. Still waiting on that one.
Then there was the Brighton fan who was so sure that we’d zero chance of survival without Ben White, condescendingly explaining as if to a child that sadly no deal was possible as we’d be direct rivals in the struggle against the drop. Haven’t heard from him lately, either.
On the other side of the coin, the optimism and positivity that characterised the online output of many prolific Leeds writers must have seemed mere bravado to the uninitiated. But we’d just witnessed two miraculous seasons in the Championship during which we’d proved we were the best outside the game’s elite. In the first season, we suffered a late attack of stage fright, and failed to get over the line – but in the second, we walked the league by ten points, to a background of wailing, gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair from the anti-Leeds fraternity who were witnessing their worst nightmare come true. They’d forecast another late season blow up and the departure of Marcelo Bielsa back to the Argentine, tail between legs. But we knew better – we knew that Bielsa is God incarnate, brought to God’s own county to return the chosen people to the Promised Land. So mote it be.
And thus it has come to pass, with yet more amusement in store for us as the haters refused to let the evidence of their own eyes divert them from their predictions of misery falling upon Elland Road. Karen Carney brought the undeserved ridicule of unreconstructed misogynists down upon the heads of female football pundits, with her silly theory that Leeds’s promotion was down to the COVID break. But this was never about gender – male pundits game out with theories just as daft if not dafter, proclaiming that Bielsa was a myth (Gabby “Gobby” Agbonlahor) and other exercises in mental frailty and lack of perspicacity from the likes of Andy Hinchliffe, Kris Boyd et al.
Overall, opinion has remained polarised. There was early encouragement for the nay-sayers when results were poor during a spell where Leeds were deprived by injury of the international defenders they’d signed in lieu of poor Ben White. That chorus of “we told you so” turned sulkily quiet with the emergence of Pascal Strujik and the recovery of Diego Llorente. Since those two were deployed in harness, United’s defensive performance has improved markedly, with Sky’s beloved graphic highlighting Leeds’s weakness from set pieces becoming more redundant with every passing week.
In the last ten games of the season (over a quarter of the campaign, let’s not forget), Leeds were second only to a resurgent not to say desperate Liverpool in the form table, and came within a short head of challenging for some form of European qualification – a “failure” which may well turn out to be a blessing in disguise. But that late season charge, unaided by any COVID break (sorry, Karen) has surely dispelled another myth beloved of Leeds-haters, the oft-mooted “Bielsa Burnout”. Sorry, lads (and lasses), but – like so many of your pet theories – the burnout was just so much pie in the sky, meaning you’ve had to gorge on the humble variety instead.
So, what of the future? Inevitably, there will be departures, and we’ve already bid a tearful farewell to two of our favourite sons in the Lion and the Magician. Thank you, thank you to Gaetano and Pablo, your legend status is secure and you’ll never be forgotten. Success elsewhere, lads, but you’ll always be welcome home anytime. There will inevitably be additions over the summer, and we’ve learned to trust the judgement and acumen of Victor Orta. He won’t let us down – and of course Marcelo Bielsa, or “God” as he’s fondly known hereabouts, will continue the biggest and best project of his incredible life.
I foresee more progress, a clear path ahead to establishment as a giant amongst the elites as Marcelo continues to build his legacy, and not least of all, more bitter disappointment for those whose happiness is entirely dependent on Leeds failing and falling. Let it be.
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.
Manchester United, reeling from their 1-6 home defeat to Spurs on Sunday, and frustrated by Dortmund’s refusal to budge on top target Jadon Sancho’s £100m+ price, have admitted that their move to sign 33 year old free agent Edinson Cavani was prompted by the threat of losing a fan in the wake of their stuttering start to the season.
The once mighty Pride of Devon have been out of sorts so far in this new campaign. The season opened with a 1-3 home reverse to Crystal Palace, with neutral observers claiming that Palace could have had six. Then, the ailing media favourites had to rely on a penalty given after the final whistle to beat Brighton in their first away fixture, with neutral observers claiming that the Seagulls could have had eight. Most recently, it was back to the Theatre of Hollow Myths, where a first minute penalty was not enough to stop Tottenham Hotspur rattling in six, with neutral observers claiming that Spurs could have had ten.
In the wake of that second home defeat, Steve, a Leeds-based plastic armchair man u fan of forty years, shocked the football world by claiming that he’d had enough and was no longer a glory-hunting disciple of the ironically-dubbed “biggest club in the world”. Steve pulled no punches in his withering assessment of Manchester’s second club, ranting as follows:
“I’ve been a Man U fan for over 40 years and I’m afraid I’m looking for a new club to support after today’s shambles. I’m done with them. They are not a big club anymore, they’re an absolute shambles and it starts from the top. Until Woodward and the board go, they’ll have no success. I live in Leeds so I’ll probably support Leeds United. They’ve got one of the best managers in the business, their players are hungry for it, and they play great football.”
Sadly for Steve, the reaction among proper Leeds fans has not been particularly positive, with several commenting that they “would rather chew wasps” than accept a renegade Devonian as one of their number. It appears, then, that there is no welcome for Steve at Elland Road, and so hopes will burn bright from Milton Keynes to Singapore that he will keep the faith and maintain his front room devotion to Ole’s boys, however dire and dismal they are under the hapless Norwegian “demon pixie”.
The Trafford based club have reiterated their determination to retain fans like Steve, by making any signings necessary, regardless of the benefit or lack thereof to the team itself. “We mean business”, stated one man u insider, “and we’ll show our intent by the end of this window. If Cavani doesn’t do the trick, we’ll be approaching Derby for their star forward Rooney. Don’t rule us out yet, we’re going to do great things.”
Terry Christian, well-known Salford scally and professional man u fan, was unavailable for comment, as he’s hiding behind his sofa until Woodward and the Glasers are gone.
At various times over the past few years, since Leeds United’s well-documented “fall from grace”, there have been those in the media who have been all too eager to drone on about how the Whites are no longer Yorkshire’s top club. At one point, some local TV hack – it may or may not have been Harry Gration, I simply can’t recall – almost salivated over his autocue in his eagerness to get out the obviously pre-prepared line “Yorkshire’s top club Hull City”, showing no outward trace of the embarrassment he must surely have felt. It was all so cringeworthy, as if any temporary arrangement of league placements could ever alter the immutable fact that Leeds United are Yorkshire’s number one, as they have been for well over half a century.
Now, one game into United’s first top flight season since 2004, even those who thrive on bare, soulless statistics are left without an argument, as Leeds’ only fellow Premier League Yorkshire club fell to a routine home defeat at the hands of Wolves. This left Leeds, despite their thrillingly gallant defeat by the odd goal in seven at Anfield, as the highest placed Yorkshire club, further reinforcing their historically predominant status in God’s Own County.
For Sheffield United, it may well be that “second season syndrome” will blight their campaign which, judging by their Blunt attack, could well develop into a struggle for survival. It’s early days, obviously, but there could hardly have been more of a contrast in the first game performances of the two Yorkshire clubs. It’ll be interesting indeed to see how their respective fortunes progress from here on in – but, for now, it’s good to see the league table confirming what we all know was always the case; Leeds United are Yorkshire’s Number One.
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.
Each of Leeds United’s three old-style Football League Championship titles was clinched at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC and, appropriately enough, United’s destination on Saturday as they make their long overdue return to the top flight. In 1992, the Reds were good enough to beat a demoralised Man U 2-0 which, added to Leeds’ earlier triumph at Bramall Lane, saw the Whites as Champions by 4 points in the last ever pre-Premier League competition – which, after Man U had been such solid favourites only a week or so earlier, would have qualified any first time Leeds pundit for a well deserved best bet365 welcome bonus.
In 1974, Liverpool obliged at Anfield again, losing at home to Arsenal to ensure that they couldn’t overhaul Leeds at the top. I remember a TV programme going to an ad break and then an information board coming up which read “Football result: Liverpool 0, Arsenal 1 – LEEDS UNITED ARE THE CHAMPIONS”That simple memory still sends a tingle down my spine, even forty-six years on.
And of course – probably best of all – Leeds United’s first ever title success at the top level of the game came after a showdown between the two deadly but mutually respectful rivals on April 28 1969. Leeds had come to Anfield knowing that a point would clinch the league, and they set out their stall as only they could to obtain that point, in the toughest place possible. They would go on to beat Nottingham Forest in the last game of that season to reach a record 67 points – a mark that wasn’t beaten until Liverpool themselves recorded 68 points, ironically with a 3-0 win at Elland Road, in their fabulous 1978/79 Championship year.
That legendary Leeds United squad of the sixties and seventies hung on Don Revie’s every word, they would follow him into the pit of Hell itself and they trusted him implicitly. This was the cornerstone of the relationship between team and boss; the unit thus formed was formidable indeed and, on their day, there was no-one to touch them. It was often said of that Leeds side that if you cut one, they all bled – and then you’d better watch out, because they’d be after you as one man to seek retribution. They would do anything for each other and anything for the legendary Don – but on that historic night at Anfield over half a century ago, they must have come as near as they ever came to saying “You what, gaffer? Are you sure??”
On the final whistle, as the Leeds players cavorted with joy in front of their delirious fans at this first delightful taste of being The Best – and as the weary Liverpool troops, having given their all in vain, sportingly congratulated the new Champions – Revie came over to Billy Bremner and confirmed to him that he was to lead his team over to the Kop. This, remember, was at a time when crowd violence was becoming very fashionable. A similar gesture at a certain stadium down Trafford way, and sundry other less-than-welcoming grounds around the country, might very well have got you a crack on the head with a pool ball. It did rather seem to be pushing things a bit – but Revie was insistent, and he was very definitely The Boss.
So it was that Billy Bremner, captain of champions Leeds United, gathered his players together and led them on a long, slow walk to the legendary Anfield Kop. When it was realised what was happening, a hush fell on the ground. In near-silence, the heroes in white walked on, nearer and nearer to the most iconic terrace of them all.
As the triumphant yet apprehensive Leeds warriors finally neared the Kop, the long silence was finally broken as the first cry of “Champions!” went up, swiftly echoed by others on the still-packed terrace – until finally the whole 27,000 population of that mighty hill were acclaiming the title-winners with the same shout, over and over again: “Champions! Champions! Champions!!”
Later, in the dressing room, Leeds celebrated anew with champagne provided by Bill Shankly, whose quote was short and to the point: ‘Leeds United are worthy champions,’ he said. ‘They are a great side.’ Revie responded by praising Liverpool, the club, the fans and their fine team. ‘The reception given us by the sporting Liverpool crowd was truly magnificent,’ he acknowledged, ‘and so, for that matter, was our defence tonight. They were superb in everything.’ It was a night of triumph and disaster, as these decisive nights tend to be, depending on whether you were White or Red; but it was also, let us not forget, a night of dignity, respect and utter, unalloyed class – not least from those 27,000 Liverpool fans on the Anfield Kop.
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.