“These things even themselves out over the course of a season” is a phrase beloved of many bland and beige football pundits and commentators as they seek to dismiss blatantly criminal refereeing decisions as marginal calls. I’ve sat there and seethed many a time after yet another complacent attempt to put into soft focus yet another massively unfair travesty of justice perpetrated on my long-suffering football club, aptly dubbed “The Damned United”.
It’s been a bit different over the past week or so though, certainly last night at Newcastle, when the decision to deny United new boy Dan James a penalty, when he was blatantly chopped down in the area with the ball nowhere near (picture above) was met with incredulous derision and explicit criticism. To hear this from respected ex-pros almost provided an atom or two of comfort after witnessing the latest in a long, long line of “We wuz robbed” situations for the Whites (or the Lilacs, on this occasion). So often, as a Leeds fan, you catch yourself thinking, bloody hell, how on Earth did he make THAT decision? And words like “conspiracy” and phrases like “bent as a nine bob note” start whirling around your possibly paranoid brain. Then a Carragher or even a Neville (Don forgive me, I’m even forgetting how to hate Neville) chirps up to agree that said decision ranks alongside Brexit for sheer mind numbing stupidity – and, for once, you feel the tiniest bit validated. And, given our history with referees and pundits, that really is a bizarre and novel feeling.
It was the same last week, with several luminaries making it very clear that they found the decision to send off Pascal Struijk utterly wrong. Again, there was an oddness to the incident, with the ref initially appearing to wave play on – even though Leeds were in possession, so clearly it wasn’t a standard advantage call. The inescapable conclusion is that the ref didn’t feel it was a foul, so it follows that his decision to show a red card must have been prompted by his realisation that the young Liverpool lad was badly injured. And THAT really does open a can of worms.
Even so, hard on the heels of the usual feelings of frustration and downright resentment, there came a minuscule crumb of comfort that people were seeing what’s happening with Leeds, and that they’re prepared to speak out about it. Once that starts happening, it’s surely not long before people other than rabidly biased Leeds fans start to wonder what’s going on. Would van Dijk have been sent off if he’d been the one making the challenge for which Struijk saw red? (Answer: no – he’s made an identical challenge and not even a yellow resulted). Would Cristiano Ronaldo have been awarded a penalty kick if it was him being chopped down playing for the Pride of Devon, instead of Dan James of Leeds? (Answer: of course he would, don’t be so deuced naive).
Once those questions start being asked on a regular basis, and assuming that the likes of Mike Dean will continue to hand Leeds the crappy end of the stick, then a pattern will eventually form, and the scales will start dropping from complacent eyes. And then, it may not be just us Leeds fans who are asking: is the game actually pursuing a vendetta against Leeds United? And, with myriad similar incidents burned into our brains going back the thick end of fifty years, we all know the answer to THAT one.What will be fascinating to behold is what will happen when others realise it too.
In Victorian times, “FA” stood for “Fanny Adam’s” a young murder victim of 1867 whose name, by some bizarre twist of nautical humour, came to be synonymous with – well, nothing.
These days, the two letters are supposed to evoke thoughts of an august ruling body for our national game. But, clearly, that’s nonsense, for as we all know, and as has been proved yet again only today, that ruling body is characterised by arrogance and complacency, together with a bumbling inability to get anything right, and further soured by their implacable hatred of Leeds United.
I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the red card saga here. It’s clearly pointless raising issues of precedent; the FA don’t care about such issues, they’re simply focused on dispensing injustice liberally around LS11, and if that makes them look ridiculous and foolish, well, so be it.
So I’ll just ask for suggestions as to what “FA” stands for, to us Leeds fans, here and now. I’ve à few choice ideas of my own, so it would be inappropriate to ask you to keep it clean. Let’s just stick it to them and carry on…
Karen Carney, TV Sport’s super pundit, has issued a solemn warning over the likely consequences for football should another blanket lockdown be imposed with all fixtures suspended indefinitely. Carney is worried that such a measure would inevitably lead to Leeds winning the Premier League title, just as the lockdown of early 2020 was solely responsible for United winning the Championship title last season.
“Make no mistake about it”, frothed Carney. “Leeds United would end up as Champions – and we all know that nobody wants that. Look what happened last year, Leeds had lost every game before lockdown due to the well-known Bielsa blowup meltdown crackup tiredness thingy, they were rock bottom of the Championship and certs for relegation, then, after they’d had a good rest – a much better rest than any other team – they go on this amazing run, winning every game 7-0, and end up ten points clear of West Brom, who we know for a fact are a much better team.”
When asked about elements of her theory, including the “much better rest” part, as well as WBA being much better than a team against whom they’ve just suffered a 5-0 battering, Ms Carney merely curled her lip and said “Wibble”.
Leeds United were approached by our Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything roving reporter for their response, and guardedly commented “Well, what else can you expect from the Karens of this world? But, let’s face it, she’s not half as thick as Merson, Wilder and Agbonlahor…”
Sam Allardyce is 66, and has had enough of football for this season.
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.
A prominent feature of the radio coverage Leeds United have enjoyed over the past several years has been the joyously raucous goal celebrations of former United player Noel Whelan, as he greeted each goal the Whites have scored with what has become his signature – GET IIIIINNNNNNN!!! – coming at us over the airwaves courtesy of BBC Radio Leeds.
But now, alas, it seems that Whelan is being forced to tone down his celebrations for fear of upsetting other radio stations, some of whom have complained about the noise and passion of Noel’s on-air outbursts. This po-faced attitude seems to be getting more and more common among the various broadcasters that cover our national game – they seem to picture us all sitting at home, covering our ears for fear of hearing a naughty word or an over-exuberant ejaculation, if I may use that hijacked word in its original sense. I’ve had cause myself to rant at Sky TV for frequent apologies during their otherwise half-decent coverage. “Sorry if you heard any bad language there” a seemingly shocked commentator will intone during some passionate encounter, while over on Channel 4, other passionate encounters will be accompanied by wall-to-wall effing and jeffing, without so much as a “by your leave”. It’s odd, and a bit annoying – and now it appears to threaten the natural partisanship of one of our own.
Noel, with whom I’ve had the privilege of the odd chat now and then, seems to be taking his admonition philosophically, and has confirmed he’ll be winding down the volume and the passion “from this Saturday”, though whether there’ll be much cause for any such celebrations against City has to be doubtful. On the other hand, if there was to be a Patrick Hat-trick to make our Bam Bam Bamford the first Leeds player to score in four consecutive Premier League games, it’s difficult to see how Mr Whelan could restrain himself. These things are spontaneous and visceral, after all; perhaps Popey will be standing by with a gag, or maybe a Leeds branded non-medical face mask, just to avoid giving offence to the delicate sensibilities of those “other radio stations”.
It really is such a daft situation, and those within the media and indeed the game itself should be wary of draining away what passion and enthusiasm remains in our football during these months of crowdless competition. It appears they’d rather rely upon canned cheering, some of which starts and then abruptly cuts off if there’s a near miss, depending on the skill of the person on the button. Surely that bizarre phenomenon can’t really be preferable to a bit of honest, gutsy over-celebration from a guy who bleeds white, yellow and blue? (Or maybe even plum or wine, given our new third kit).
It’s a funny old game, alright. But I’m not sure I’m laughing too much right now. Far be it from me to proffer advice to so august an institution as the BBC – but, if I could make just one small suggestion: why don’t they belt up and mind their own business?
The FA, after a short session of head-scratching, have responded to accusations that Liverpool’s first penalty award against Leeds United at Anfield yesterday was in direct contravention of the latest guidance on handball via deflection. The relevant passage, shown below, appears to state unequivocally that, when the ball touches a player’s arm or hand directly from another part of their body, a penalty will not be given.
In the Liverpool v Leeds United game on Saturday, however, when the ball deflected upwards from Robin Koch’s leg onto his arm, referee Michael Oliver almost spat his whistle out in his eagerness to blow for a spot kick after only four minutes. From that moment onwards, United were on the back foot, eventually losing by the odd goal in seven, despite coming back from behind three times.
Even Liverpool stalwart turned Sky pundit Jamie Carragher bemoaned the rank unfairness of that early penalty, making particular reference to the fact that VAR failed to overturn the decision, despite the obvious deflection before the ball struck Koch’s arm. Given the clear and undeniable nature of the injustice, surely the FA would not be able to defend the decision making process from the referee and VAR perspectives?
After a brief but agonised period of reflection, during which the “Official FA Manual on Defending the Indefensible” was intensively consulted, the following statement was issued.
“The FA wish to point out that the guidance referred to specifically mentions “Premier League players” and therefore its effect is limited to that group. In the instance of Liverpool versus Leeds United on the 12th September, the penalty was awarded only four minutes into the first game of the season, which was also Leeds United’s first Premier League game since 2004. In these circumstances, the referee and the VAR officials decided that no Leeds United player could, at the time of the incident in question, yet be regarded as a Premier League player. We would also point out that referee’s decisions, subject to VAR ratification, are final – so really, it’s a bit cheeky of you to question this point.”
It is further understood that the FA, concerned that this explanation might not be acceptable to all, made a specific request to the BBC Match of the Day programme, to the effect that any discussion of the first penalty award should be omitted, with Alan Shearer nominated to make a brief remark to the effect that it was the right decision before going on to heap platitudinous praise on the plucky performance of the Premier League newcomers. The FA are confident that this further measure will effectively put the issue to bed.
Leeds United declined to comment on the matter, beyond a terse statement to the effect that, at this rate, they expect to concede 76 penalties this season. Match Referee Michael Oliver was unavailable for comment, having been advised by the Professional Game Match Officials Limited(PGMOL) not to make himself look any dafter.
Some unlikely candidates have put themselves forward as “rivals” to Leeds United over the last decade and a half, as Yorkshire’s finest have languished in the middle two tiers of English football’s four division structure. Some, such as Barnsley and Huddersfield, have had few pretensions to be compared size or history wise with United, but feel a tribal enmity based on geographical proximity, which is understandable enough. The same might be said of the two Sheffield clubs, or even Bradford City.
All these local clubs, together with the likes of Reading, Millwall, Derby etc etc have sought to exploit the reduced circumstances of Leeds for as long as their top flight exile lasted, to suggest that genuine two-way rivalries were in place. That bubble of delusion popped with United’s overdue elevation to the Premier League, and the realisation that the traditional enmities would now be cordially resumed. In the hearts and minds of Leeds fans, it was always about the likes of man utd and Chelski, with those clubs reciprocating the extreme dislike, even during our long absence from actual competitive involvement.
But, even in the Premier League, there are lesser clubs who clearly yearn to carry the mantle of “Leeds United’s rivals”, however ridiculous such a claim seems in the absence of any reciprocal antipathy, or indeed any real interest on the part of the Leeds fan base. Still, that hasn’t stopped certain clubs from fondly imagining there’s a rivalry there, and one in particular is extremely reluctant to give up on even such an outlandish notion.
For Brighton and Hove Albion – not so much the club itself, more their fans and adherent local press – the time since the end of last season seems to have been a prolonged and unaccustomed spell in the spotlight, due entirely to Leeds United’s pursuit of Ben White, who spent a gloriously successful Championship campaign on loan at Elland Road and was now wanted by United on a permanent basis. The move never happened, despite repeated efforts on the part of Leeds, and despite the player himself being widely regarded as wanting a return to West Yorkshire. In the end, Brighton stood firm, and Leeds, after making three offers and having them all turned down, reluctantly looked elsewhere and signed a German international for around half what they’d been willing to pay for White, who lacks any experience at all of top flight football, let alone the international arena. So Brighton kept their player, Leeds got a more than adequate replacement in Robin Koch, and Ben himself, at long last, got a contract acceptable to him, given the value placed upon him by his parent club. Case closed, so you’d have thought.
But no. The Brighton support and the local press for the region were not willing to give up so much delicious attention, and set about trying to force an unlikely rivalry with a club and support base hundreds of miles to the north, both of which habitually looked west to the red quarter of Manchester for its chief object of dislike and derision.
For Brighton, the Ben White tranfer saga evidently represented their biggest day in the sun since a Cup Final appearance (coinciding with relegation) 37 years ago. Looking further back, their only other real mark on history was a Charity Shield triumph sometime prior to the Great War of 1914-18, so it’s reasonably understandable that their fans should wish to prolong any spell in the public eye. But the ridiculousness of their efforts to talk up a “rivalry” is to be found in the fact that such efforts persisted even after Leeds ended their interest in Ben White, with the local press tagging Leeds in any tweets relating to his eventual new contract, and the Brighton fans on Twitter eagerly attempting to troll bemused Leeds United fans, who remained preoccupied with more traditional rivals and only thought of Brighton when Quadrophenia was on the telly.
It was all most unedifying, and it’s a stark warning that we can’t expect much more by way of dignity and restraint in the Premier League than we ever found at lower levels. I got drawn into the slanging match myself at various points before it became clear that, despite his wishes in the matter (confirmed today by his agent), Ben White would not be sold to Leeds at any price. At that point, I stopped taking the mick about Bielsaball versus Potterball, and moved onto more pressing matters – such as how the EFL would survive without Leeds United. But the Brighton fans persisted, becoming more evidently needy and utterly ridiculous with each passing day. Abandoning any sense of irony or perspective, they’re vying with each other to label United a small club, heading straight back down, which is insolence if you like, and pretty foolhardy stuff to boot. But the relentless tagging of LUFC by the Brighton tweeters and the Sussex Bugle, or whatever it’s called, continues unabated. This is a club unused to such attention, and clearly its supporters are desperate to prolong the experience as far and as long as possible.
The whole thing reflects pretty poorly on the Brighton support, certainly of the online variety, which has been encouraged in its collective acts of self-ridicule by a local press clearly cottoning onto the fact that tagging Leeds in any published piece will increase the number of hits exponentially. Again, I’ll exclude the club itself from those remarks, due to their determination in resisting offers from a bigger club, which you have to applaud. They also showcased Ben White in a video allowing him to express his appreciation of his time at Leeds, and to thank the fans for the support and adulation he received here. That was classy stuff, and there was no real need for Brighton to do it, so fair play.
Perhaps – just perhaps – Brighton & Hove Albion still remember that Leeds United helped save them financially when they were enduring hard times, by signing goalkeeper Mark Beeney for a significant sum, which went a long way towards alleviating a threatening situation at the time. That’s a factor that the local press down there, and the eager-beaver online fans might do well to take into account before bringing down even more ridicule upon themselves. However recent Leeds United’s elevation to the top level, it’s an undeniable fact that the Elland Road outfit is by far and away a bigger club than Brighton could ever dream of being, with a far more illustrious history, a fan base that spans the globe and (let’s face it) a much better coach and the makings of a squad that will compare well even with such an – ahem – established Premier League force as Brighton.
The moral of this tale is probably: choose your rivals well, and don’t punch above your weight – something the over-enthusiastic Brighton fans have flouted, thereby making themselves look several shades of daft. There’s a perfectly good south coast rival in Southampton, not an incongruously bigger beast as Leeds are, and therefore much less likely to reflect poorly on and embarrass the Brighton club. From here on in, it’s to be hoped that the Seagulls, fans and hacks alike, will conduct themselves in a more seemly and less cringeworthy manner – but I suppose we’d better not hold our breath.
For ten years, Leeds United has been the jewel in the EFL crown, a gem of a club amid the various also-rans, has-beens and nonentities which made up the Football League roster in any given season. Leeds was the fixture they all looked out for, everybody’s Cup Final, the club they just couldn’t stop talking about. That jewel in the crown status was always undeniable, everybody knew that United represented the biggest asset in the sub-Premier League game.
But Leeds were a diamond that was neither treasured, valued nor lovingly polished – instead they were continually chipped away at, treated with little or no respect, sniped at routinely, whenever the opportunity presented itself. Minus 15 and the golden share, Spygate, over-celebrating. The trumped-up charges kept on coming, a run of 59 games without a penalty exemplified a corrupt organisation’s determination to cling on to its biggest asset and favourite whipping boy. For the EFL, it was good while it lasted. With perennial TV stars Leeds United as its most famous, infamous and notorious member, the League retained a certain cachet, despite the sparkling allure of the Premier League.
Now Leeds United has disappeared from the English Football League and, bereft of its biggest draw, that sorry organisation must now reflect on what it has left to recommend it. And, whatever efforts might be made to talk up the spectator and viewer appeal of Derby County, Nottingham Forest or even, comically, Brentford, the inevitable conclusion will be that, without Leeds, the cupboard is pretty bare.
There was a certain karmic satisfaction, inevitably, in seeing United celebrate at the home ground of one of their most envious and resentful rivals. Binoculars of the mime variety were brandished by Leeds personnel on the pitch after United’s 3-1 success at Derby confirmed that our hungover reserves were more than a match for anything the EFL has to offer, with the pressure off and the title in the bag. Off the pitch, a jubilant Victor Orta had thoughtfully sourced some actual binoculars to help him cavort with the unrestrained joy of winners against the odds, for this title success has been the story of a club winning a league that wished them anything but success. How teeth must have been gritted, how bile must have been swallowed in the corridors of power as those scenes unfolded at Pride Park.
A guard of honour had been reluctantly formed prior to the game, with the Derby players, who had gleefully rubbed United’s noses in play-off defeat a year before, now having to applaud the Champions. The attitude of “we’ve got to do this, but we hate it” was exemplified by one silly young man in the Rams line-up who thought it cool and edgy to slow-time his clapping. He came across as a sulky kid, but his demeanour neatly summed up the attitude of the whole organisation that Leeds were now, gladly, leaving. A charge of “over-celebrating” followed, petty but typical. We reflected that, a year previously, Derby had escaped censure despite one of their number defecating on the Elland Road dressing room floor in a typically disgusting gesture of disrespect. One rule for Leeds, another for the rest. The game’s rulers were staying true to type right up to the bitter end.
Derby, of course, went on to play-off defeat against Villa, leaving that solitary win at Elland Road, after three previous defeats in the same season, as the highlight of their recent history. It’s still celebrated across their social media with unconscious irony, a determined focus on winning a battle before losing the war. A turd on the dressing room floor is such an apt symbol for that club.
But will I now feel moved to gloat over the reduced status of the Championship? Will I laugh triumphantly over the fact that Derby are currently preparing to host Barrow as United look forward to a visit to Anfield? If you think I’d be ready, willing and able to indulge in such blatant Schadenfreude – then you’d be absolutely, one hundred percent spot-on correct.
Huddersfield Town – self-proclaimed “best of breed”
Leeds United have been dealt a potentially devastating blow to their promotion hopes, in the event of the current, COVID-19 affected season proving impossible to complete, as officials at the English Football League (EFL) appear set to accept the opinion of a rival club that they have better players, man for man, than the Elland Road club.
The controversial claim comes from Huddersfield Town chairman Phil Hodgkinson – pictured here 🤡 – who stated recently that the Terriers squad is superior to United’s on a man for man basis. Now, the EFL look likely to accept this as fact, given that Hodgkinson is a born and bred Town fan, being a member of the Young Terriers when he was but a pup, and that one of his companies is called PURE Legal Limited. EFL spokesperson Avril Primero, who admits to being a registered whippet fancier, was enthusiastic about the League’s likely endorsement of Hodgkinson’s opinion. “How can you doubt a man with those credentials?” gushed Ms Primero, waving a blue and white scarf above her head. “Phil is one of the good guys, certainly compared to certain shady foreigners we could name, operating as they do at a club without Huddersfield’s glorious record of success in the 1920s”.
Leeds continue to maintain that their only wish is to see the season completed, so that they can prove on the field of play which Championship team is the best over 46 games. Our reporter ventured to ask if the Elland Road stance would be informed by the fact that Leeds have murdered Huddersfield in both league games this season, but that query was met only with a polite reply to the effect that promotion and the league title would be decided over the full league programme, not by results against a so-called rival, and certainly not by recourse to any half-baked and embarrassing opinions offered when the person concerned was evidently high on Bob Martins Vitamin Pills.