Tag Archives: karma

Corona Lockdown: How Sunderland’s Wembley Disasters Are Keeping Leeds Fans Entertained – by Rob Atkinson


Mackems not enjoying Wembley – yet again

I’ve never had much time for
Sunderland, despite the fact that the Wearside club have never featured among the top echelons of rivalry with my beloved Leeds United. And really, how could they – when their sole claim to fame since the war amounts to one distinctly fluky Wembley success against Don Revie‘s overwhelming FA Cup Final favourites in 1973?

The thing is, though, that while Leeds United have generally had bigger fish to fry, the barren nature of Sunderland’s last three quarters of a century has meant that they’ve had to harp on and on about Stokoe, Porterfield, Montgomery et al ever since that freak cup final, which found Leeds well short of their normal imperious form, while Sunderland rode their luck into a page of history. It was a major shock, alright – bigger than Southampton‘s success against the Pride of Devon in 1976, and much bigger than the Crazy Gang beating the Culture Club in 1988. And, naturally, the Leeds hating media waste no opportunity to rub our collective nose in what was really a day of humiliation for a club of United’s historic standing. But them’s the breaks, and we’ve had to live with that embarrasment ever since, just as Sunderland’s needy fan base have found it a straw to clutch at for nigh on 47 years.

There are compensations, though, and Netflix came up with a beauty just this week, screening the second series of Sunderland Till I Die, which features the Mackems in familiar self-destruct mode, contriving to lose not one, but two Wembley finals as the 2018/19 season reached its climax. That’s funny enough, but the fact that this serial disaster of a club gave their fans some false hope in both matches, contriving to take the lead before capitulating, raised the comedic levels to sublime. And the nature of the Wembley occasions is also rather funny, a Checkatrade Final (whatever that is) against Portsmouth, followed by the League One play-off against Charlton Athletic, managed by our old alumnus Lee Bowyer. In both games the Mackems were ahead, prompting feverish celebrations among their hopeful but dim support – and in both games, Sunderland lost at the last gasp, on penalties against Pompey and in the very last minute of injury time against Charlton. Just as the so-called Roker Roar dissolved into tears, so Leeds United fans with long enough memories had tears of mirth rolling down cheeks that ached with laughter. It was a double dose of Schadenfreude at the time, making up in some small degree for our own less than successful climax to last season – and now Netflix have produced a comedy epic out of the ashes of Mackem hopes, almost as if they wished to entertain us Whites all over again.

This double HA9 disaster was actually made up of the two most recent helpings of Wembley Karma for Sunderland, who have contrived to lose every single Wembley appearance since 1973, including another play off defeat to Charlton in 1998, on penalties, which is always a gratifyingly painful way to get beat for any club that you don’t particularly like. Towards the end of the Netflix Laughter Show, a tearful Mackem lady is showing sobbing “Why isn’t it ever us?” in response to their latest Wembley surrender. I’ll tell you why, love. It’s payback for 1973 and that git Stokoe prancing across the Wembley pitch to hug that git Montgomery. Lovely stuff, thank you Netflix and I shall look forward to the next series of this laughter-strewn classic.

As I said earlier, it’s not a full blown rivalry, and I wouldn’t want anyone to get me wrong on this. My negative feelings about Sunderland have more to do with their intrinsic lack of charm, than any real feeling of competitive dislike. The fact that they’ve been paying in installments of misery for the joy they felt on that long ago Wembley day simply makes me feel justified in celebrating their decades of unhappiness – it’s as if they’ve suffered all that pain and angst just for us. Which is most kind of them, when you think about it. And revelling in their last two disastrous seasons has certainly provided me with plenty of chuckles and entertainment during this annoying hiatus in the current campaign. In fact, it’s put me in such a good mood that I think I’ll nip off downstairs and watch Manchester United 1, Manchester City 6, and give my chorlte muscles another brisk workout.

Marching On Together

Karma Nails Steve Evans as Leeds Win on a Cold Day at Rotherham – by Rob Atkinson

A succinct message to Steve Evans, late of Peterborough United

Sometimes, revenge is just so ridiculously sweet, it could honestly give you diabetes. Today is one of those days when the karmic wheel turned and stopped in just the right place for Leeds United – and on the worst possible outcome for their one-time coach Steve Evans.

Having failed to be the success at Leeds that he’d confidently expected, Steve was perhaps predictably less than enthusiastic when asked to comment on the prospects of success for the latest occupant of the hot seat from which he’d been so unceremoniously turfed out a few managers ago. The upshot was that poor Steve – although unable to deny that Marcelo Bielsa has a well-deserved global reputation as a genius – felt impelled to accentuate the negative. Would Bielsa be able to get a result when the going got tough and winter had us in its icy grip, he wondered out loud. Would he, to quote the classic example, be able to succeed on a cold day in Rotherham? How Steve must have congratulated himself on that conundrum, dreamed up as we all basked in late summer sunshine. He couldn’t have been any more pointed if he’d mentioned that these foreigners don’t like it up ’em.

Marvel, then, at the delicious irony of today’s events in Leeds United land. It was a cold day – not a Tuesday, as Steve had specified, but still, cold. And Leeds United were due at Rotherham where, glory be, in arduous circumstances against a fighting foe, they did indeed get a result, the 2-1 from behind win putting them three points clear at the Championship summit. So far, so good – but, taken in isolation, not Karma.

So let’s look at the other side of this deliciously fateful equation. What was Steve doing today? Well, the former Leeds coach was in charge of a struggling Peterborough United, at home in League One to Charlton Athletic, coached, with yet another succulent morsel of irony, by Leeds legend Lee Bowyer. The result was a 0-0 draw and evidently the last straw for the Posh powers that be. So, on the very same day that Bielsa did what Steve gleefully doubted he could, Evans was sacked, gone, unemployed. Sadly, he just couldn’t do it on a cold day at London Road, and he paid the ultimate price, with that little extra surcharge of karmic humiliation.

It’s a hard life, Steve, but forgive us if we have zero sympathy to spare. If you’d been just a little less smug in predicting failure for Bielsa, there might have been some compassion around LS11 when your own chickens chose the very same day Leeds won at Rotherham to come home to roost. Perhaps you should have been more circumspect, but that’s not really your style, is it. So I’m afraid it’s a case of, in the late, great Windsor Davies‘ immortal words: “Oh dear, how sad, never mind”.

Leeds go marching on, then, and their future looks bright, though nobody should expect United fans to be as smug as poor Steve Evans was. Maybe he’ll think twice in future? And maybe he’ll be in work again soon enough – though it’s highly doubtful if that would be at a high enough level for him to have to worry about getting a result on a cold day at Rotherham United.

When Leeds United Beat Bayern Munich to Become Champions of Europe – by Rob Atkinson

If Only

As alternative sporting histories go, this is The Big One. Every Leeds United supporter knows that we are the Champions, Champions of Europe – we sing about it virtually every week. It’s not self-delusion, nor yet is it hubris; it’s a 42 year old sense of outraged injustice and the knowledge that if our victory in 1975 was merely moral, Bayern’s was emptily pyhrric. The WACCOE song is a continuing protest against the conspiracy of circumstances that, aided and abetted by lavishly bent referee Michel “Corkscrew” Kitabdjian and Bayern Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer, robbed United of their rightful final accolade. But now, in a well-written and entertaining reimagining of history, author Simon Turner has provided us with a taste of karmic retribution.

The book is called “If Only – an Alternative History of the Beautiful Game” and at least that one chapter is indeed beautiful, for Leeds fans of a wistful or maybe vengeful disposition. Simon doesn’t go for the easy option of “if onlying” the 1975 Bayern robbery, perhaps with a “what if Lorimer’s goal had stood” device; he leaves that sad chapter of history to stand as the injustice it was, opting instead to imagine revenge as a dish served cold 26 years later in 2001. I’ll avoid too many spoilers, because this is a book well worth reading and enoying and I hope you’ll do just that. But imagine the sweetness of Bayern losing out despite being the better side and because, in large measure, of refereeing “blunders”. A mirror image of ’75, in other words – and that works so much better than simply making believe Billy Bremner‘s boys had won as they undoubtedly deserved to.

I must admit, I bought the book for that Bayern/Leeds rematch alone; but I did read the first chapter (Scotland as World Champions in 1930) as a sort of hors d’oeuvre before skipping on to my main course of Schadenfreude mit Sauerkraut, as O’Leary‘s babies vanquished the Whites’ teutonic arch-nemesis. After that feast, even I didn’t need dessert, so the rest of the book is still awaiting my attention. But, having read those two chapters, I’m confident that the rest of the fare will be of like quality, and I’m looking forward to it very much.

Alternative histories are usually entertaining, whatever the variable quality of the writing, but this one really is a tour de force – well researched, brilliantly imagined and, at least in the case of the Leeds chapter, deftly using the actual history of one era to spice the alternate version in another. It’s a fine piece of work, and I strongly recommend it. Clicking on the link above will provide purchase details; the book is also available for Kindle devices (that’s the format I’ve got).

I’ll quote in full the “about the author” paragraph: “As a long-suffering supporter of Walsall Football Club, Simon Turner has witnessed countless ‘if only’ moments over the years. He lives in Lichfield with his wife Val, daughter Ellie, who has the good sense to follow athletics rather than football, and son Edward, who deliberately annoys him by supporting Aston Villa

For a Walsall fan to have written such a therapeutic piece, as far as Leeds fans with long memories are concerned anyway, is praiseworthy indeed. I certainly wish I’d written it, but reading it – and getting just that tantalising hint of feeling just how it would be if we really could get revenge for an ancient robbery – well, that was definitely the next best thing.

Karma for the Kaiser as FIFA Ban Beckenbauer (39 Years Too Late) – by Rob Atkinson


Der Kaiser – justice delayed is justice denied

The news that FIFA has imposed a temporary ban from all football activities on “der KaiserFranz Beckenbauer will come as pretty cold comfort to Leeds United fans of a certain age.  They will remember all too well the massive effect that Beckenbauer, now 69 years old, had on the 1975 European Cup Final at the Parc des Princes, Paris.  Beckenbauer, then as now, was a massively-influential figure in the game, having captained West Germany to World Cup success only the summer before.  He certainly seemed to have an intimidating effect on French referee Michel Kitabdjian, who failed to give two seemingly clear-cut penalties to Leeds in the first half, and then quailed before the furious protests of der Kaiser – and, after a short delay, his Bayern Munich team-mates – having initially seemed to allow a Peter Lorimer volley in the 67th minute.

The rest, sadly for United – who had completely outplayed the defending European Champions up to that point – was history.  Leeds, demoralised and feeling cheated of an advantage which would have been well-merited, subsided to two goals from Roth and Muller, putting an end to their dreams of being top dogs in Europe.  It was difficult to overlook the undue influence that Beckenbauer had wielded over the course of the match, and the Leeds fans who remember the occasion still feel that the German’s standing in the game made it far too easy for him to alter the course of events in Bayern’s favour.

If the English club concerned had played in red, the protests from home might have been more vehement.  As it was, the focus was more on the subsequent actions of disgruntled Leeds fans than on any perceived injustice.  Beckenbauer had got away with two penalty claims, and he’d seemingly managed to sway an incompetent – at best – ref.  It’s little wonder that the very mention of his name gives Leeds United supporters the conniptions to this day.

The fact that Beckenbauer is now in some bother with World Football’s governing body might give rise to a few quiet nods of satisfaction in LS11 and considerably further afield – although of course those old wounds will remain raw until the last Leeds fan to remember that night is long past caring.  The current issue is nothing to do with the 1975 Final – it’s a different matter and it’s thirty-nine years too late anyway.  It’s just that, when someone seems to have got away with such a blatant buggering-up of justice for so long, it’s nice to see them called to account for anything at all. You’re almost reminded of Al Capone’s notorious career, bloodstained and terror-strewn – when he finally went down it was for the white-collar crime of tax evasion.  Hardly reflective of his undoubted crimes, but still.  Justice – of a sort.

So we Leeds fans will hope that Beckenbauer’s current problems don’t go away any time soon.  The man himself doesn’t seem unduly concerned though – and his continuing influence will more than likely see him walk out from under yet again.  He wasn’t the first footballer to get away with on-field dodginess, and he won’t be the last – but the injury he helped inflict on Leeds that night bit deep and it took us a long, long time to recover – while Bayern continued to flourish.

Justice?  It’s a gag, we all know that.  But for a while at least, we might hope and dream that it’s finally caught up with der Kaiser.

A Leeds View of Barnsley’s Demise: Karma’s a Bitch – by Rob Atkinson

The traditional relegation image, Barnsley variety

It’s true, then. What goes around really does come around – and Barnsley FC, whose primitive fans were so gleefully happy at the plight of Leeds United just a few weeks back, have now dropped into the lower league abyss which is their natural environment.  They can expect neither sympathy nor comfort from LS11 – the home of Leeds United who, just a few short weeks ago, had problems of their own that threatened to cast them ignominiously into administration and League One.  At that point, the internet rang with glee from the usual suspects, prominent among them the fans of that small club from the back streets of a former pit town in the Republic of South Yorkshire.

The Barnsley fans of my acquaintance were highly active on Facebook and the like, nudging each other in a virtual sense and snickering like excited schoolboys.  “Leeds are going into admin!” chortled one.  “Really?” spluttered his little friend. “Is that for definite?”  And so they went on, speculating about the level of the points deduction (15 at least, I reckon. Ooh no, I hope it’s 20.)  It was unedifying stuff, but sadly it’s exactly what you might have expected from a bunch of fans with such a large chip on their collective shoulder.  They “hate Leeds scum”, you see.  They couldn’t tell you why, though they might possibly remember something their dad once said about Billy Bremner or Norman Hunter.  Anyway, they were chuffed to bits at the thought of our misery and the crisis we were in, and they cavorted accordingly.

It was similar at the end of last season.  Back then, Barnsley were in relegation trouble again, come the last day of the season.  So were Huddersfield; and the two played each other, knowing that the loser would go down.  It ended up as a draw and results elsewhere saved both lesser Yorkshire clubs.  You might have expected celebration, maybe even mutual congratulation and some clog dancing in the cobbled streets with, perhaps, a spike in the troglodyte birth-rate nine months later.  But no – the sole thought in these yonners’ tiny minds was to join in with a combined chorus of Huddersfield and Barnsley as they regaled us with loud and tuneless anti-Leeds United songs.  They were bang to rights on a charge of hating us more than they loved their own dismal little clubs, even at the moment of their greatest triumph – because for Huddersfield and Barnsley, avoiding relegation from a sphere higher than their natural comfort zone is as good as it ever gets.

But now, a mere few weeks on from Leeds United’s nadir of crisis and despair, when those Toby Tykes were so happy and optimistic, things have changed and the pit boot is on the other foot.  Leeds United are safe – and apparently minted, with the potential to rebuild and ascend once more into the Promised Land. Meanwhile, Barnsley have gone, back into obscurity where they undeniably belong.  No more Cup Finals against Leeds United – they will have to settle for playing second fiddle to Sheffield’s junior club. They will face a new and bleaker financial reality as their already tiny crowds (except when Leeds came to town) dwindle even further.  Some gloomy and pessimistic “Tarn” fans are already predicting that it’ll take years to come back.  Let’s hope so.  Sentimental hypocrites aside, Barnsley will not be missed.

All their fans can do now is to prepare themselves for existence at a lower level, with fixtures against the likes of Rochdale, Scunny and perhaps York City. Those fans will still “hate Leeds scum”, but they will miss the brief taste of the big time that our visits provided, and they will yearn for the day that they might play us again.  From a Leeds United point of view, one less Cup Final Complex opponent will do us no harm next season – and it’s probable that we’ll have moved on up, long before Barnsley can hope to slither out of the lower league mire.  It’s all very satisfactory and enjoyable – and if that sounds cruel, then just cast your minds back to the fun the Tykes were having, quite recently, at our expense.

What goes around, comes around – and karma is indeed a bitch.  Suck it up, Barnsley fans.  You deserve it.

Play-Off Karma Drama as Watford Sink Leicester to Book Wembley Berth

Happy Gianfranco Zola

Happy Gianfranco Zola

Given the incredible outcome of this game, it would be tempting to dismiss the first 94 of the 97 minutes as irrelevant. That would of course be the greatest injustice to a fine game which had already yielded three wonderful goals; first a brilliant finish from Matej Vydra as the ball dropped from behind him over his left shoulder for a terrific left-foot volley past the helpless Schmeichel. Then the reliable Nugent found space at the far post to rise and guide a great header just out of Almunia’s reach to level the match and put Leicester back ahead, 2-1 on aggregate. Half time, and it was “as you were” with City retaining the lead they’d gained in the first leg at the King Power Stadium.

As the second half progressed, Watford were hammering away and Leicester – although pressed back constantly – seemed to be coping relatively well. Home manager Gianfranco Zola knew he had to change things, and he acted to replace Lloyd Doyley with Fernando Forestieri. Within a matter of minutes, Watford produced a quite excellent team goal, Vydra playing an immaculate one-two with Troy Deeney to score his second from just inside the area. So, we were all square again, and the nearer the match edged to full-time, the more it looked as if an extra 30 minutes were inevitable.

The full ninety had already ticked by and the match was well into six minutes injury time when Anthony Knockaert made his fateful move down the Watford left flank. Showing trickery and strength, he shrugged off a foul challenge outside the box, but then as he progressed into the area, a much lighter touch felled him. As if in slow motion, referee Michael Oliver assessed the situation, failed to call it for the dive it was and pointed to the spot. Watford players were anguished and amazed, Zola on the touchline was clearly stunned, showing with every line of his being that he could see a whole season’s work going up in smoke right at the death. Knockaert placed the ball on the spot as Leicester’s travelling hordes prepared to celebrate Wembley, the penalty was hit low and down the middle but not with great force – and there was Almunia’s trailing foot to stop the ball. Still, Knockaert was closing in on the rebound, surely poised to hammer the ball into the net and finish the matter, but Almunia did it again, rising to his knees to flail an arm at the loose ball, deflecting it to a defender who gratefully belted it out of the area.

And now Lady Luck performed one of those graceful pirouettes for which she is rightly famed. As the Leicester players were still coming to terms with their failure to seal the tie, Watford showed no such distraction, playing the ball out to the right and flooding support into Leicester’s own penalty area. The ultimate end-to-end finale was playing out now, as the ball was crossed from near the right hand corner flag, beyond the far post where sub Jonathan Hogg beat Schmeichel in the air to head down precisely for the onrushing Deeney, who slammed the ball gleefully, unanswerably, into the Leicester net. 3-1 on the day, when it could so easily have been 2-2. 3-2 to Watford on aggregate, when that score had looked like being reversed in City’s favour. The Leicester players stood waiting for the restart as the pitch was cleared of jubilant Hornets fans, transfixed and disbelieving at the turn of events which had seen certain victory turn to catastrophic defeat. A few more seconds, and it was over.

Ironically, of course, if Knockaert had stayed honest and stayed on his feet instead of going down so easily, the game would probably have gone into extra time, and who knows what might then have happened. On such twists of fate are whole seasons decided, and karma had come to Knockaert in its cruellest form, landing the most clinical of knockout blows. He ended up in tears, wandering around the pitch after the whistle, uncomprehending as his desolate team-mates tried in vain to comfort him. Over the two games of this tie, it’s fair to say that Watford deserved to progress, so for once justice was done, and seen by millions to be done in the most dramatic and entertaining manner. But spare a thought for the hapless Anthony Knockaert, hero (albeit with feet of clay) to villain in the space of a few seconds as his world turned upside down. That’s life – and Leicester will continue their life in the Championship next season. Watford, meanwhile, march on con brio – full of confidence. They will now be optimistic of completing their Italian Job and winning promotion at Wembley.