Tag Archives: Johnny Giles

Jansson to Leeds for £3.5m is, Quoting Mr. Revie, “Robbery With Violence”   –   by Rob Atkinson

Pontus Jansson, Superstar

It’s difficult to overplay the impact this season of Pontus Jansson on Leeds United. Since a relatively low-key debut at Luton in the EFL Cup, the big Swedish defender has barely put a foot wrong, becoming a talisman for the Whites. He’s been almost equally effective at either end of the field, and his headed clearances have formed the basis of a highly effective central defensive partnership with Kyle Bartley. Those clearances are paid ample tribute in Jansson’s very own song, the United support having waxed creative in a witty ditty featuring magic hats and hurled bricks. It’s a hymn of praise that could hardly be better deserved.

When legendary United manager Don Revie signed John Giles from a smallish club near Manchester in 1963, for a paltry £33,000, he was exultant enough to describe the deal as “robbery with violence”. The selling manager, one Matthew Busby, later described the sale of Giles, who went on to fashion an unparalleled midfield partnership with Billy Bremner, as his “greatest mistake”. This coup of capturing Jansson for maybe 25% of his actual value, puts you in mind of that earlier robbery. I don’t know who mans the central defence for Torino – but they must be bloody good players. 

As long as Jansson doesn’t now go all Lubo Michalik on us, Leeds have pulled of one hell of a capture here. We currently have a defence that looks rock solid, and that sort of thing has proved the foundation for many a promotion charge. And both Bartley and Jansson offer so much more than defensive excellence. Organising and cajoling the back line, motivating and inspiring all over the park and still finding time to create havoc in attacking set pieces, they both influence the game positively more or less the full 95 minutes. That’s invaluable for any team with pretensions to success. 

Robbery with violence sums it up nicely. May we also mug Swansea with a similar deal for Bartley. Both players have what it takes to be United legends for several seasons to come. 

Welcome to the ranks of the greatest club in the world, Pontus, and all the very best as you go on to confirm legend status by helping us back to the top. 

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“If You Give Leeds the Ball, They Will Make You Dance” RIP Johan Cruyff   –   by Rob Atkinson

Two late greats: Bremner and Cruyff

On April 9th, 1975, four days after my Elland Road debut as a match-going Leeds fan, I was given my first taste of a European night under those towering floodlights, as United faced the cosmopolitan might of Barcelona. The occasion was the European Champions Cup Semi-Final first leg. The challenge for English champions Leeds United was to overcome the Catalan artistry of Barça, the Spanish title holders, who were inspired by the presence in their ranks of more than one Dutch master. The headline act though, without a doubt, was a slim genius by the name of Johan Cruyff.

In the build-up to the game – and having seen United beaten by a Keegan-inspired Liverpool on my “home debut” the Saturday before – I was gripped with fear as to what the Barcelona stars, Cruyff in particular, might do to my heroes in white. Despite the talents of fellow Dutch star Johan Neeskens, Cruyff’s was the name on everybody’s lips, his consummate skill, his ability to “read” the game, the world-record price tag (almost a million pounds!) on his head. The advance publicity was scary, to say the least. But there was also the warmth of respect from the man himself towards Leeds United, a club more usually reviled at home and abroad. Cruyff’s warning to his team-mates and fans about the threat from Elland Road was concise and lyrical. “If you give Leeds the ball,” he remarked, “they will make you dance”.

Leeds dance

This phrase has passed into Leeds United fan folklore, coming as it did from a true world star and a man to strike fear into the heart of any opponent. In the event, United prevailed over two legs of this semi-final, winning the home game by 2-1 and hanging on with ten men for a 1-1 draw in the Nou Camp. But the class of Cruyff was evident to the 50,000 fans inside Elland Road that April evening, as well as to millions more who saw highlights later on TV. He just seemed to have so much time, and I vividly remember him bringing the ball down the centre of the pitch, with the air of a man walking unchallenged on his own back lawn. I saw my first ever “live”Leeds goal that night, fittingly scored by the other late legend in that picture above, Billy Bremner. Sniffer Clarke provided the winner in the second half, and we had that narrow advantage to defend a fortnight later. But few who were there would ever forget the privilege they had of seeing Holland’s – indeed Europe’s – finest ever player, strutting his stuff in grim old West Yorkshire.

Johan Cruyff died last week at the age of 68. A lifelong smoker, until heart problems forced him to quit in the early nineties, it was lung cancer that finally claimed a true legend. His career encompassed great clubs, World Cups, success as a player and a coach. He will always be remembered for his bearing on the pitch, for the élan with which he plied his trade and scored his goals – and, maybe above everything else, for that sublime “Cruyff turn”, so brilliantly and appropriately replicated, as if in tribute, by England’s Harry Kane in the national team’s victory over Germany on Saturday in Berlin. And as this fine young England side prepare to face Cruyff’s Holland on Tuesday night at Wembley, it seems highly apt, if rather poignant and sad, to be paying tribute now to the Netherlands’ greatest ever star.

The memories recalled above are the kind of memories left behind only by players of the very highest quality and reputation. Cruyff was finally awarded the accolade of Europe’s greatest ever player in 1999, and there can be few who would dispute that title even 16 years into the succeeding century. But, as far as Leeds United fans are concerned, we shall remember him above all as the genius who knew that we still had a team to reckon with at Elland Road, kitted out all in white and having long ago superceded Real Madrid. A team who were indeed the real deal, a team of all talents worthy of a place right at the top of football’s Hall of Fame. A team who, given the ball… would make you dance.

Johan Cruyff (1947 – 2016) – RIP

Cover Your Goolies, Lads! Lash Lorimer is Back on the Ball – by Rob Atkinson

90 miles an hour

90 miles an hour

One of the most distressing things about being a Leeds United fan over the past decade or so has been to witness former heroes not exactly covering themselves in glory as, one after another, they’ve been wheeled out by local and national media to give their opinions or reactions to the ups and downs of the roller-coaster Elland Road soap opera. Even erstwhile midfield maestro Johnny Giles was at it recently, venturing into print to savage the man many see as Leeds United’s saviour, Massimo Cellino.

But perhaps the biggest let-down was the apparent disintegration of the legend that was Peter Lorimer as he seemed to be reduced from his godlike status as Mr Ninety Miles per Hour into a yes man for the then chairman and despot Ken Bates. However angry the fans got over Bates and his loathsome little tricks, Lorimer always seemed to be there, trying to pour oil on troubled waters, seeking to portray Bates as a positive factor around LS11. We weren’t fooled, and Lorimer’s pedestal crumbled into dust as he was perceived more and more as Papa Smurf’s creature.

And yet today, we have had the clearest sign to date that maybe Lash is back to something like his old form, blasting howitzer-like missiles at our enemies rather than attempting to persuade folk of Ken’s essential cuddliness. Lorimer’s article in Thursday’s Yorkshire Evening Post showed an appreciation of the fears so many Leeds fans feel at this latest crass decision by the Football League buffoons against il Presidente Cellino. The piece is full of good sense and, in a very welcome return to the old-style Leeds United siege complex, Lorimer also reflects on the historical fact that the League have taken every opportunity over the past half-century to berate, impede and generally get in the way of the Elland Road club. Peter certainly doesn’t pull his punches whatever the target, and more than one rocket shot is directed at the very vitals of those bastions of the Press who seem to have it in for the Whites.

Lorimer makes it clear that he has no time for any part of the Fourth Estate with its knife into Leeds. “For many years now,” says Lash, “I’ve refused to buy certain newspapers because in my opinion, they push an anti-Leeds agenda. They seem to take great joy for having a go at us. I’m not naming names but I think they know who they are.” I think we all do, Lash.

The former Leeds hero is clear in his own mind that Big Mass will not be taking the League’s machinations lying down. “Knowing what I do about the man, I expect Massimo to fight this move. I don’t see him walking away – not least because whatever happens, he’s allowed to regain control of the club in March. I think it’s safe to say that he’s finding out that Leeds aren’t the most popular club in the world (away from their own supporters, of course) and he must be pretty bemused by the negative attention we get.” This is classic stuff, the sort of opinionated stance you might expect from any committed Leeds fan, but all the more punchy and effective coming as it does from one of Revie’s Super Leeds Supermen. It’s the sort of thing, this blog would venture to suggest, that might well see an old hero’s reputation and status restored to him, and not before time. Lorimer is speaking for many, many United fans in this latest article; at long last he appears to be on the right side of the argument.

The Evening Post piece ends with our former Number 7 striking an ominous note for United. Reflecting on the decades-long struggle and war of attrition between Leeds and the game’s authorities, he concludes: “It was like this when I was a player and it never seems to change – when the opportunity to stick the boot in comes, there’s always someone waiting to take it. This time it’s the Football League’s turn.”

That’s a forbidding final phrase. But Lorimer may just have struck the first blow on behalf of our old heroes towards fighting back against those in the corridors of power who so devoutly wish to “stick the boot in”. The importance of a legend saying what the fanbase is thinking can hardly be over-stated. People listen; the fans feel vindicated; resistance and protest could thus be galvanised. A protest is planned for January 6th between 10 am and 12 noon outside the Football League offices in Preston. Several hundred Leeds fans are already promising to attend, Lancashire police are aware and media interest is growing. Who’s to say there won’t be a banner advertising the metaphorical shooting prowess of Peter “Lash” Lorimer at such an event?

After all, if the Cannonball Man himself really is back onside, then his could be a powerful voice raised against the pallid mandarins of the League who seem so arrogantly convinced of their own case, in defiance of all evidence to the contrary. Maybe it really is the Football League’s turn now; to suffer as Leeds United have suffered for a half a century. Cellino can be counted upon to put up firm resistance in his own style, the fans can be counted upon to stand behind him in numbers. Maybe now, at last, we can also rely upon the old guard, the old Leeds United heroes – and Peter Lorimer might just have lit the blue touchpaper on that particular rocket. It could with undeniable justice be aimed right up the self-satisfied backsides of those clueless gentlemen of the League.

Are you listening, Johnny Giles?

NB: Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything would like to make it clear to female readers and lady supporters of Leeds United everywhere that this article does not imply either disrespect or disregard for the proportion of the Leeds fanbase who lack the physical attribute of goolies. Goolies in this context should be taken in an entirely symbolic sense; please be assured that this blogger is 100% respectful of the women in the Leeds United family – and he certainly does not wish to get on your tits.

Happy Birthday to Tony, Tony Currie – by Rob Atkinson

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Currie for England

Very happy birthday wishes today for one of my late seventies heroes, probably still one of my favourite ever United players, though his stay was relatively brief and the team he graced was not of that vintage which lit up Elland Road only a few years earlier.  Tony Currie had been the idol of the Sheffield United fans at Bramall Lane, making over 300 appearances for the Blades in a nine-year spell after starting out at Watford.  But he played arguably his best football at Elland Road between 1976 and 1979, winning the bulk of his England caps in that period and inspiring a declining team in Leeds to three semi-finals.  What an option he would have been as part of the great Revie squad – one of the few players I can think of from the post-Revie era who could have held his own in that auspicious company.

Currie made his debut for Leeds United on a sunny August afternoon at Elland Road against newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion.  Coincidentally, Johnny Giles – whose mantle Currie was meant to assume as the creative heartbeat of Leeds – was in the opposition side that day as a 2-2 draw was played out, United coming back from two goals down.  It was my first solo trip to Elland Road and I was right at the front of the Lowfields as over 40,000 packed the ground.  I can vividly remember Paul Reaney right in front of me, looking up and shouting “Tony!” as he played a perfect ball up the line towards the Kop End for Currie – it was the first time I’d realised what a shouty place a professional football field was.  For some reason, that image is burned on my mind; it could have been yesterday.

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Currie of Leeds

As his Elland Road career progressed, Currie achieved cult status with the Leeds fans.  The chant of “Tony, Tony Currie” was a hymn of adulation to a flamboyant and gifted star – you always thought he was just about to do something special and unforgettable and, of course, he frequently did. One speciality was the volleyed pass out to the wing, invariably finding a wide player in space, the ball dropping perfectly into his path and United were on the attack.  To watch Currie run with the ball, doing that deceptive little shimmy of his to take him past a defender, leaving the guy for dead as he moved upfield, is not something that any Currie fan will forget.  Whilst he was at Leeds, he scored a couple of his most spectacular goals in an England shirt, to my intense pride.  But he frequently had his shooting boots on for United too – who can forget that legendary “banana shot” against Southampton in 1978?  For my money though, one of his finest goals was against Arsenal at Highbury on the opening day of that season, a searing shot into the far top corner from wide right, struck with the outside of his foot and giving the startled keeper no chance at all.  Liam Brady had already scored a wonder goal for the Gunners, but Currie’s superb strike took the honours on the day in another 2-2 draw.

Three losing semi-finals are all that Tony Currie had to show for his time at Leeds, but he provided so many golden memories and is rightly regarded as a legend by those of a certain age who were fortunate enough to see him strutting his stuff for Leeds.  He was an imperious player, a character on the park and a genuine, massive talent who really deserved to play for a team right at the top to crown his career with trophies and medals.  I wouldn’t have begrudged him that, but I was crushed when, with his wife wanting a move back to London, Currie left for QPR in 1979.  It was a bad move for him, though he did get to play in a Cup Final, even captaining Rangers in their losing replay against Spurs in 1982.  But his marriage didn’t survive anyway, and you just wonder how things might have turned out if Currie has stayed at Leeds – although that late seventies decline may have been too steep even for the talented Tony to prevent.

Tony Currie at Leeds was the classic example of the right man at the wrong time; in a better United side, he’d have shone even more because the gifts he had were tailor-made to complement those of the stars that had started to fade or had left the club by the time TC joined.  As it was, we may well have had the best of him during that golden three-year spell, although Sheffield United fans still hail him as their best-ever player.  It was to Bramall Lane that he eventually returned after his playing days were over, working in community roles for the club he’d served so well before moving to Leeds – and even starring as himself in the movie “When Saturday Comes” alongside Blades fanatic Sean Bean.

Tony Currie: maverick entertainer, sumptuously-talented midfield general, movie star and all-round good guy.  Thanks for the memories and a very happy 64th birthday.

Scott Wootton Can Become the Latest to Leave Man United For “The Damned United” – and Find Success

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This week’s signing of young defender Scott Wootton has reminded us all that the transfer history between the two Uniteds of Leeds and Manchester is notable mainly for its scarcity – understandably so, considering the bitterness of the rivalry between the two clubs.  A mutual antipathy still festers among the fans on either side despite the rarity of actual meetings of the respective Reds and Whites on the field of play.  Anyone who has witnessed the poisonous atmosphere which prevails at such meetings will appreciate the difficulties which can arise for players who have sought to serve both clubs.  Accusations of betrayal are far more common than warm welcomes back when a player swaps one shirt for the other.

Revisionists who count their history from the founding of the Premier League might not appreciate that, in the comparatively few direct deals between Elland Road and Old Trafford, Leeds have come out not at all badly.  Two transfers in particular can be said to have sparked the Whites’ greatest historical successes, but the focus in more recent years has been on the move of a certain iconic Frenchman, and the kick-start that appeared to give to Man United, a club that had starved for title success for over a quarter of a century.

The fact remains, however, that Leeds can thank the management at Old Trafford for their generosity – or misjudgement – in two different eras, firstly when John Giles (pictured above) made the move to Elland Road in the sixties, sparking the Glory Years of Don Revie’s reign, a transfer later described by Revie as “robbery with violence”.  Gordon Strachan then arrived in LS11 to complete the renaissance of Leeds under Howard Wilkinson in the late 80’s and early 90’s, cementing their position as the Last Real Champions by finishing the pre-Sky era at the pinnacle of the domestic game.

Enfant terrible Eric Cantona did much to redress the balance of transfer success between the two clubs, but there are strong grounds for suspecting that Man U’s era of domination would have happened anyway, so favourable were the conditions for a global franchise in the Murdoch-funded Premier League.  Giles and Strachan, then, stand out as the two most influential transfers between the two clubs, and there are also a few memorable if slightly lesser transfers worthy of mention: Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen left Leeds for Man U in the 70’s, but found limited success, as did Arthur Graham a few years later; while Brian Greenhoff and Danny Pugh were journeyman additions to the Leeds squad from the also-rans of the Man U gene pool.  The less said about Lee Sharpe, “Plug” Ferdinand and Alan Smith, the better.

It’s asking a lot of youngster Wootton to turn his career at Elland Road into anything like the glorious impact of a Strachan or a Giles, but there are grounds for supposing that he may have a significant contribution to make and maybe – just maybe – cause the fans of Man U to regret his departure.  Already there are wistful noises emanating from the hotbeds of support in Milton Keynes and Torquay.  One fan remarked that Wootton might have developed into “another Johnny Evans” – surely a case of being damned by faint praise. Another stated that if Wootton was to be denied his chance at Old Trafford, he might as well play for a proper club, which seems quite a generous attitude in the circumstances. Leeds fans don’t appear to hold the boy’s past against him – he seems to be regarded as a prospect rich in potential, and after all he’s made a career choice of which we can all heartily approve.

Above all, we have to respect Brian McDermott’s increasingly acute eye for a player, especially of the young, there-to-be-coached-and-improved variety.  Like it or not, Man U deal in an entirely different transfer sphere to Leeds, and it’s much more difficult for a rough diamond to be polished up for the first team there, when so many crown jewels are bought in every season.  They are bound to lose the odd star-to-be, and on this occasion we at Leeds may just be the beneficiaries of this kind of overspill.   We can certainly hope so, and hope also that this latest cross-Pennine import enjoys a long and successful career at Elland Road, returning frequently to Old Trafford to haunt those who have seen fit to let him go this week.  With our vivid memories of Gilesy and Wee Gordon, we’re certainly entitled to such a dream.