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.
A combination of Leeds United’s positive start to the Championship campaign, along with the fact of some rivals’ struggles when promoted to the Premier League, might give rise to doubts among our number as to how United would cope with our own longed-for elevation to the elite – should it finally happen. It’s a fair question, even at this early stage of the season – counting no chickens and not wanting to sound too arrogant, it still is very definitely something we’ve every right to ponder. After all, we’ve built up such momentum as a club this past year or so, with Elland Road packed every home game and thousands following the lads all over the country. There’s no denying it’s been a blast, we even surpassed some of the expectations and odds provided by the best pundits of the Sports betting and news sites, even given last season’s ultimate disappointment. Do we really relish the idea of trading all of that for the negativity of a long, grim relegation struggle in the Premier League next year? But that train of thought, logical and realistic though it might be, flies in the face of Leeds United’s urgent need for a return to where it truly belongs.
In considering our chances of survival if this season did see us making a successful promotion challenge, we’d do well to take with a pinch of salt the current club response to rumours of a possible takeover somewhere down the line. The Leeds owner’s position is given as being willing to consider more inward investment, while refusing to contemplate an actual sale of the club. But many fans, as well as many seasoned football pundits, feel that Leeds would have to change hands if they were to have a chance of competing towards the higher echelons of the Premier League. Even then, there’d be the strictures of Financial Fair Play to be negotiated; some of the club’s biggest challenges in a higher sphere would, it appears, be off the field of play. But the likes of Wolves have shown it’s possible to operate to a model that permits more than just a struggle to survive, and this is the type of example that United must follow, should they finally escape the clutches of the Football League.
Huddersfield struggled feebly for two seasons and then meekly surrendered. Hull City did well for a while, but now they’re back down. It will be interesting to see how Sheffield United fare in the top flight, after their steady start. But surely Leeds United, given the right type of ownership and structure, should be able to envisage a more secure foothold at a higher level than any of these Yorkshire rivals were able to achieve.
Clearly, we have to focus on promotion first and foremost, but it’s as well to have plans in place a long way in advance of any realisation of our current ambitions. So now really is the time to be wondering how we’d cope – and I firmly believe that those questions are already echoing around the corridors of power inside Elland Road. What the answers will be, who can say? But Leeds fans, who will remember how United set about the top flight on our previous two promotions in 1964 and 1990, are unlikely to settle for a weak approach next time. They will want to see us challenging as of old – and I believe it’s in this club’s DNA to do just that.
West Bromwich Albion, one of the pre-season Championship promotion favourites, have been distinctly off-colour lately, sinking to seventh in the table after defeat at Hull City became the latest example of points carelessly dropped by a talented squad that should be doing much better. This miserable run of form has put Leeds United‘s own recent blip into sharp perspective; despite injuries and a number of, shall we say, controversial decisions against them, the Whites have contrived to stay top of an extremely competitive league, and will head to The Hawthorns aiming to consolidate that position.
Yes, the misfiring Baggies have had their own injury worries, but manager Darren Moore will not be looking for any excuses ahead of a mouth-watering clash with Yorkshire’s finest. In point of fact, Moore should be able to welcome back a number of key players ahead of Saturday’s evening kick off, including the prolific (at this level) striker Dwight Gayle, who would certainly need a close eye keeping on him by a Leeds defence slightly unbalanced by the injury absences of Luke Ayling and Gaetano Berardi. Certainly, more problems can be expected from the Albion attack than the meagre threat posed by Wigan last weekend, and United will need to be wary of what is essentially a wounded and therefore dangerous animal in West Brom.
It’s a classic situation of a team bouncing back to the top of the league after a slightly difficult period, going to visit a team on the crest of a slump. So often, the confidence of the higher-placed outfit turns out to be misplaced as the home side is inspired by the challenge and comes sailing out of the doldrums to win. This is the potential banana skin waiting in the path of the Leeds juggernaut, and club, players and fans alike would do well to be extremely wary of the challenge that faces them on Saturday.
Of course, the world’s best coach isn’t likely to be all wide-eyed and unknowing, and will have his men adequately prepared. Even so, and having witnessed a win at Wigan that was a lot less convincing than it should have been, I have a slightly nervous feeling about this one. Really, a side settling well into the Bielsaball concept should be looking to deal with any and all resistance – but we know that, in the real world of dog eat dog Championship football, it frequently doesn’t work out quite so tidily clear-cut. If Leeds can add a clinical edge to their finishing, and retain the ability to dominate possession, create chances and cover back in numbers, then three points at West Brom is distinctly achievable.
Anything less than that level of performance, though, and we could well slip up on that banana skin. Fingers crossed that, with yet another international break looming, Leeds are ready to sign off this segment of the season with a performance that ticks all the necessary boxes.
I’m sure this idea is out there, in light of what appears to be a sea-change of recruitment policy at Leeds United. It’s probably just that I haven’t seen it. But, surely, I can’t be alone in thinking that the time and circumstances are ripe for securing the return – even if only on loan initially – of former United talisman Robert Snodgrass.
It seems so obvious. West Ham don’t really want him. Villa definitelycan’t afford him. And it would upset those Norwich and Hull upstarts, quite apart from adding significantly to the skill factor and firepower at Elland Road. It’s a proper no-brainer to me and, for the first time in years, it seems feasible – the kind of quality we should be looking to add.
I’m interested to know what readers of this blog think. Please feel free to comment as usual, giving your thoughts – but do also answer the poll below – a simple Yea or Nay.
The frenzied scenes of celebration among Huddersfield fans, as their club narrowly avoided relegation from the Premier League, served mainly to put into sharp focus all that is wrong with Yorkshire football. And, much to the chagrin of any fan from the right side of the Pennines, there’s plenty wrong. Huddersfield saved their top-flight existence in much the same way as they’d earned it in last season’s play-offs – by hanging on grimly for draws and relying on slip-ups from others. It was a glory-free spectacle but, sadly, it’s the best the Broad Acres currently has to offer, which is a stinging indictment of the current state of all things football in God’s Own County.
When you look elsewhere in the county, the Sheffield clubs attained differing degrees of mediocrity, Leeds flattered to deceive and then reverted to type, Barnsley went down not with a bang but with a whimper – and the less said about the rest, the better. Perhaps Rotherham United might earn some glory for Yorkshire; that remains to be seen. The point is, the football performance of the Yorkshire area has been much the same as usual: when Leeds aren’t doing well, there’s nowt much going on. And so, while United remain in the doldrums, the best we can offer is the occasional play-off success or relegation escape. Compared to the fare being served up in parts of the lesser county to our west, where Manchester’s finest has emerged as the best team in Premier League history, this is a humiliating state of affairs.
The fact of the matter is that just about all of Yorkshire‘s footballing pedigree, such as it is, resides in LS11. The last two times that Leeds United have gone up to the top division, survival has been the last thing on their mind. On both occasions, they’ve gone up, had a brief and not exactly respectful look around to gauge the lie of the land, and then set about winning the thing, elbowing lesser mortals out of the way and imposing themselves brilliantly, much to the annoyance of media and rival fans alike.
This is the responsibility that Leeds United carries, nothing less than the pride and honour of the greatest county in the land. Nobody else will pick up that baton; nobody else can. It’s down to Leeds – if they can’t do it, it won’t be done. Things are different now as compared to those two previous promotions in 1964 and 1990. That twenty-six year span – the same gap, ironically, that now separates us from our most recent League Title – was the last hurrah of old style, ultra-competitive, strength in depth professionalism, when there wasn’t a six team cartel at the top of the league, monopolising the glory. To dominate in that era, as the Revie Boys did, when there was much less of a financial divide between the great and the not so great, was an achievement indeed. The way things are now, Leeds – in order to fulfil their destiny of salvaging Yorkshire pride – will have to place themselves on a comparable financial footing to the current behemoths of the game. To say that won’t be easy is to fall into the trap of hopeless understatement – yet, if United can just barge their way into the Premier League, there would be few if any juicier investment opportunities than a one club city of enormous prestige and illustrious history.
So, there’s the challenge. And only at Elland Road, as far as Yorkshire is concerned, is there even the remotest expectation, never mind demand, that such a challenge should be accepted. Because at no other club in Yorkshire will it even occur to the fans or the directors that such a thing is possible. The ultimate aspiration for them is to survive at the top table, hoping to lick up some rich men’s crumbs. This is the lesson of the unbridled joy with which Huddersfield’s survival was greeted. For Leeds, this would be a humiliation they could not countenance; when United do go up, the demand and expectation will be for so much more. And rightly so, for that is our proud legacy.
However hard the task, however unlikely the chance of gatecrashing that elite group, it’s the hungry and imperious expectation of success, written into the DNA of the club and its fans, that makes Leeds United the only candidates to bring some football honour and respect back to Yorkshire. If Leeds United can’t deliver, then nobody will – and we must hope that Leeds Rhinos in Rugby League, and Yorkshire County Cricket Club too, can fulfil that urgent desire for honour and success. In White Rose football, it’s United first and the rest nowhere, just as much as it has always been; that’s the grave responsibility we carry, just by virtue of being Leeds.
With the club’s centenary approaching, it’s time to deliver on that responsibility. As the Great White Hope of an entire county, let’s grit our teeth, and get on with it.
For the third home game in succession, Leeds United managed just a solitary goal at Elland Road – and for the second time on the trot, it was enough to take the three points on offer. Although Aston Villa salvaged a draw after falling behind, the last two visitors to Elland Road, the Cities of Norwich and Hull, have departed without troubling the scorers – despite making the Whites weather some heavy pressure. It’s been a less than convincing run of home games for Leeds, but the ends have justified the means, with only the United fans’ bitten down nails telling the story of how nervy the performances have, by and large, been. But Leeds are starting to rise to the challenge of exploiting Elland Road’s cauldron-like atmosphere, something they’ve too often failed to do in the past.
Against Hull yesterday, a pre-match hammer-blow turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The absence of talisman Samu Saiz caused a collective groan among the 35,000 faithful who had congregated to worship United’s brightest star. It was a groan that rippled throughout social media, sending a frisson of apprehension through the virtual Leeds universe, all we of little faith wondering if we’d have the creativity to deal with our rivals from Humberside. But the enforced rest for Samu (tight calf, didn’t feel right, should be back for Burton away) meant a start for United’s Pablo Hernandez, and it was the little Latin genius who provided the decisive moment almost half an hour into a first half that Hull had threatened to dominate.
After the visitors had put Leeds on the back foot for the most part, creating presentable chances while the hosts huffed and puffed to no great effect, Hernandez seized upon a shockingly poor clearance from City’s previously untroubled keeper Allan McGregor; swiftly sizing up the situation, Pablo snapped up possession, moved forward and produced an outrageous dinked chip over the advancing McGregor, the ball dropping sweetly under the bar and into the net to give United an advantage that, after the Norwich game the previous week, you thought they might well hold onto.
In truth, Hull were less of a threat after the goal than before, just as their fans were largely silent once behind, having exhausted their repertoire of songs about dead perverts and cities of culture – an ironic enough playlist while it lasted. Afterwards, Hull manager Nigel Adkins bemoaned the lack of reward for his team’s industry, estimating a 3:1 ratio in his team’s favour on chances created. Leeds boss Thomas Christiansen was disarmingly honest: “We were lucky to take the three points,” he acknowledged.
One big reason behind that win was much-maligned Leeds keeper Felix Wiedwald, who produced a string of fine saves before United took the lead, one great example being a full-stretch tip around the post in the very first minute. Felix looked solid throughout, and it was reassuring to see him looking so confident and self-assured, without those occasional Sprake-esque howlers.
It was Hernandez who made the crucial difference, though, with Leeds creating little else of note other than a good effort from Gjanni Alioski as the interval approached. At the end of this derby, Leeds could reflect upon another gritty home performance and three points to see them back in the playoff zone. As for Hull, they had positives to take from their early domination, but departed for their City of Culture disappointed, chastened – well and truly Pablo’d.
Every now and then a new story emerges from that part of the rumour mill labelled boldly “Too Good to be True”. Some you can dismiss out of hand as slightly less likely than Elvis appearing at the Batley Frontier Club. Diego Maradona to Division Two Leeds in the 80s would be an example of this. Others – well, you can’t help wondering. Sometimes, circumstances out of the ordinary can lend credence to whispers you normally wouldn’t even dare whisper.
The circumstances right now are out of the ordinary for Leeds United. Change is afoot, right at the top of the club and, not exactly coincidentally, things are going well on the field too. With new ownership a distinct probability, any incoming regime will be looking to stamp their mark on a slowly awakening giant of a club. The approved method is to make signings that materially improve first team options and, at the same time, send out an unmistakable message that these guys mean business. They’re called “statement signings” and they say, hey – look who we’ve got on board. This club is going places. Does the name Gordon Strachan ring a bell?
The news is that Rob Snodgrass, formerly of this parish but latterly plying his trade in the colours of a fishing village on the Humber, has turned down a new contract with his current club. This has been enough to set eyebrows twitching and tongues wagging around LS11 as well as further afield. What a signing he would be, if he could be persuaded to give Elland Road another try. And what a bold statement by the club’s new powers that be. As rumours go, this one is just so sexy you want to buy it dinner and then take it home to have your wicked way with it. Unlike some rumours, you might even find you still respect it in the morning.
Could it happen? Well, almost anything could happen in the wake of our beloved Whites being freed from ownership that has ranked highly on the lunacy scale. If new chiefs wanted to come in and say to the United support: “Here you are. It’ll all be OK now” – then this would be one way of doing it. Manager Garry Monk would probably be quite pleased as well, adding an experienced head to his young group.
This blog feels that some sort of transfer coup next month is more likely than not. A statement of intent needs to be made and a statement signing is an excellent way of making it. Snodgrass alone would not address all of the issues facing Monk and his squad – a backup striker is needed, for a start, and other areas call for attention. But Snodgrass, who embellished Leeds before, could do so again – he could be the X-Factor in a genuine promotion push as well as putting bright lights around a new owner’s name.
If Leeds United are to have a fresh start in 2017, then the recapture of Rob Snodgrass would be the ideal way to get it off the ground.
In the end, it was a 1-0 landslide at Wembley as Humberside’s finest totally eclipsed a bedraggled set of Owls in the first of this season’s playoff showpieces. But for the admirable Westwood in the Sheffield Wednesday goal, the scoreline could have been an embarrassing rout. Hull City would not have been flattered by a 5-0 scoreline, utterly out-playing the South Yorkshire pretenders.
The Sky commentators made much of the travelling throng of Wendies who packed out their end of Wembley and made themselves heard until all hope was gone. But how well do we at Leeds United know that promotions are won on the turf at the national stadium, not in the stands. The crowd contest when we played Donny in that League One playoff was even more lopsidedly unequal, with Whites fans massively dominating the spectacle. But it was Rovers who got the goal – and a similar scenario played itself out today.
So it’s well done to Hull City and Rob Snodgrass, and the very best of hard cheese to the Wendies, who also had their very own ex-White in the team. Tom Lees was the man who gave the ball away to give Hull the decisive goal, and what a strike it was. Congratulations, Agent Lees. You made it look like an accident.
Leeds United, then, even in their current chaotic incarnation, remain top dogs in Yorkshire. Local derby hostilities will resume next time around, despite all the confident rhetoric from certain big mouths down Sheffield way. Those mouths can munch away on some humble pie while Yorkshire’s finest at Elland Road try to get their act together.
See you next season, Wendies. So glad you’re still with us.
The more I see of football these days, with all of its allegedly “world class” stars, the more I think of the guy who scored the first goal I ever saw Leeds United score – in the flesh, so to speak. His hair was red and fuzzy and his body black and blue, and his name was Billy Bremner. God alone knows what he’d be worth today – sadly, he hasn’t been around since that awful time, 21 years ago exactly, when football was deprived of a legend and Leeds United began to come to terms with the loss of a man who embodied everything that the Last Champions were all about, at their very, very best.
On the 7th December 1997, two days short of his 55th birthday, our greatest captain Billy Bremner died following a heart attack after a bout of pneumonia. The Leeds United world was plunged into shock and mourning at the death of a true hero, and the game’s great and good attended his funeral in Edlington. The tiny church, packed to the rafters with household names, was resounding testimony to the respect in which the wee man was held by all who knew the legend. Old comrades and old foes alike were there to say goodbye to an icon who had left us tragically young, but who had emblazoned his name across an era not wanting for stars.
Billy Bremnerwas quite simply a phenomenon. From the earliest days of his Leeds United career, once he had recovered from a bout of home-sickness for his native Stirling in Scotland, he was an automatic selection for the first team, unless injury or suspension ruled him out. He was a warrior, despite his diminutive size, but he was blessed with all the other attributes needed for a central midfielder on the battlegrounds of the English First Division. Skill, courage, “workrate” – as it’s known these days – were combined with sheer guts, tenacity, will to win – and that indefinable x-factor that ultimately set him apart from other gifted performers. A ball-winner, a talented user of the ball once won, a relentless harrier of the opposition for the full ninety minutes plus of each gruelling game – and a scorer of great goals too. Bremner was a big occasion man, a serial winner of semi-finals (Man U being his favourite victims), a man who unfailingly stepped up to the mark when his team-mates and fans needed him. He was utterly self-effacing in the interests of what was best for the team.“Side before self, every time“was his motto, and he lived up to those words for as long as he was involved in football.
Some called him dirty. And he was as capable as most other combative central midfielders of a bit of feisty skullduggery – but to define him by his occasional sins would be short-sighted in the extreme and would display, moreover, a lack of awareness of exactly what his game was all about. A consummate passer of the ball – with the neat reverse pass a speciality, flummoxing and wrong-footing many an international-class opponent – Bremner was the epitome of Don Revie‘s Leeds United, a team who said “If you want to play, we’ll out-play you; if you want to battle, we’ll out-battle you.” They usually out-thought and out-psyched the opposition as well. Many a visiting player was artfully allowed a glimpse as they passed by of the sign on the home team dressing room wall at Elland Road. “Keep Fighting”, it said – which was what Leeds United, guided by Don Revie off the field and Billy Bremner on it, did – and they did it better than just about anybody else.
The Sunday Times perhaps summed-up Billy Bremner as well and as succinctly as anyone. “Ten stone of barbed wire” they called him – the image of a spiky, perilous bundle of energy conjured up in five telling words. I saw an old clip on YouTube recently, grainy black and white footage of some or other game back in the day, and there had been an incident that set the players en masse at each other’s throats. Bremner – unusually – must have been some way off when the flashpoint occurred, for he was nowhere to be seen with the melée already well established. And then, from the right-hand margin of the screen, came this white-clad, unmistakable figure, tiny but fierce, hurtling towards the centre of the conflict with the desire to weigh in on behalf of the team writ large in every line of his being. He was a frenetic mixture of Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil, plunging into the fray like some one-man whirlwind, wreaking his own inimitable brand of havoc. Bremner was famous, even notorious, for this – for his battle-cry of “cut one of us, and we all bleed.” Billy shed blood in the United cause – usually, it must be said, not his own. But a thug he was not, and any team, any time, anywhere in the world would break the bank to have a Billy Bremner in his prime among their number. Fortunately for Leeds United, he loved the club and served it for sixteen years, becoming synonymous with the famous Whites of Elland Road. As Leeds fans, we could nominate no better candidate for the honorific title of “Mr. Leeds United”. Only the great John Charles, operating in a much less successful era at Leeds and destined to win his medals on foreign fields, could come anywhere near.
My second match as a Leeds United supporter was the European Cup semi-final, first leg againstCF Barcelona, Johann Cruyff, Johann Neeskens and all. Those two Dutch masters, with all the other glitterati of the Catalans’ world-class line-up were expected to have too much for a United side on the cusp of just dipping over the hill. The previous Saturday, I’d made my first visit to Elland Road and had seen us lose to Liverpool. I was all agog at the atmosphere, and didn’t really care about the result – I just wanted more.
BBC Commentary, Leeds Utd v Barcelona 9.4.75
So it was that my first ever Leeds United goal came to be scored by Billy Bremner himself, the greatest player in the greatest team United ever had. A long ball from Johnny Giles, headed down by Joe Jordan, found King Billy in enough space on the edge of the area at the South Stand end. He measured the situation, took aim and rifled the ball superbly, well wide of the helpless keeper, into the top left-hand corner. The din was deafening, like nothing I’d ever heard before, and rarely since. “Elland Road erupts” intoned David Coleman for the BBC, when he could make himself heard. The image of the small, red-headed giant belting that ball home will live with me to my last day. I’ve always been proud that my first goal was scored by King Billy. I feel as though, in a funny way, I own that goal.
of the significance of the occasion. “Nine men and Billy….we’ve got nine men and Billy!“, they sang, loud, proud and raucous. “Billy Bremner’s barmy army” got many a refrain as well. The fans had said farewell to the Captain of the Crew in a manner hugely identifiable with the man himself and with the fighting traditions of the great side he led with such distinction. As far as these things can be, it was deeply fitting, and those who remembered Billy gave a knowing nod of appreciation.
RIP Billy Bremner. Departed far too soon, and greatly missed still. It’s unlikely we’ll ever have another quite like you.
Steve Bruce has this deceptive public image – he’s cultivated an on-screen interview demeanour which has convinced many that here is a nice, self-effacing guy. There’s a modest smile in there, or a resigned shrug, depending on how the match has gone for his team. There’s certainly none of the congested face with furious snarl surmounting a taut neck in which veins bulge with petulant fury – not these days. Perhaps the old boy’s blood pressure makes such displays inadvisable – he’s not as young as he used to be and, maybe, not in the best nick.
That Steve Bruce of old is well-remembered by Leeds fans who hold dear in their hearts the Whites’ Boxing Day 1995 beating of Man U at Elland Road. The breakthrough goal that day came from a rare penalty awarded against the Pride of Devon, duly converted with his usual classy panache by Gary MacAllister. But in the aftermath of the penalty award – a routine decision which would have been free of any controversy if it had been given against any other team – it was Steve the Bruce’s choleric reaction which grabbed the attention of onlookers from all sides. His face turned puce and seemed to swell until you feared the skin might split and pour blood and bile in equal measure onto the Elland Road pitch. He had to be restrained bodily from getting at the ref; the notion that he wanted to seize and throttle the official was hard to avoid. It took MacAllister himself to reduce Bruce’s temperature to below the critical meltdown mark – Scotland’s captain seemed to be reminding the England reject of the rules of the game where handling the ball in the area is concerned.
The guilty party, meanwhile, had slunk away without much protest at all. Nicky Butt had raised an arm and handled the ball – aside from his initial “hang on, you can’t give a pen against US” reaction, he seemed resigned that it was a fair cop. Only Bruce – and, after the match, Ferguson – had seriously seemed prepared to claim that what had in fact happened – hadn’t. But this was Steve Bruce the arrogant, bad loser – in the best traditions of the Theatre of Hollow Myths. Such behaviour was almost expected as part of the usual process of intimidation and aggression towards match officials.
Almost twenty years on, only the demeanour has mellowed – the determination and ruthlessness inculcated by Ferguson is a part of the Bruce DNA, as is a pathological unwillingness to accept that defeat, even from two goals ahead, was merited. The delivery is smoother, the visage less suffused with hate and resentment, but the message remains the same – we wuz robbed. He was singing that song at Elland Road that long-ago Christmas Eve, and he was singing it again at Wembley in the wake of Cup Final defeat. He can’t help it, it’s bred into him.
Bruce’s remarks in his post-match interview were described by cabbage-patch doll lookalike Adrian Chiles as “churlish”. That’s one word for the litany of grievances and excuses that preceded his laughable punchline “This isn’t the time to whinge”. Bruce had whinged long and hard, following the script that’s always been in his head, and his skewed reasoning and blinkered selectiveness were features hanging over from his Man U years. Arsenal’s first two goals were called into question – the first came from a free kick that Bruce felt shouldn’t have been given (wrong, Steve); the second resulted from a corner wrongly awarded (right – but you could see how ref Probert had been deceived). Bruce made no mention of the fact that Hull’s second goal came from a free kick taken 9 yards forward of the foul which led to it. Neither did he refer to the two clear penalties Arsenal could and should have been awarded. It was the one-eyed, wrong-headed Bruce of old; only the Man U shirt and the throbbing temple veins were missing.
Whatever the sulky reaction of Hull’s manager, Arsenal thoroughly deserved their victory, which owed much to resilience and bottle that many had thought the Gunners lacked. Many’s the time that the Arse have found it easy going against inferior opposition they have blown away with sumptuous football; this time, they faced a mountain no Cup Final side had ever before had to contemplate – two down in eight minutes and their game plan in tatters.
That they successfully climbed that mountain reflects immense credit on the Arsenal players and staff, together with their relatively long-suffering fans. Less credit is due to referee Probert – it was a great final despite, not because of, his slipshod efforts.
And – it has to be said, despite the gallant efforts of the underdogs and the fact that they fought to a particularly bitter end – least credit of all to the Hull City camp. That, though, is down to the ungracious reaction of their manager, a man who – despite that Ferguson upbringing – really should have known better.