Tag Archives: League One

Who’ll Be the Next League One Club to Overtake Leeds United?   –   by Rob Atkinson

Time's running out for Leeds United

Time’s running out for Leeds United

Leeds United are now in danger of becoming a perennial Championship club: just a bit too well-resourced and well-supported to repeat the disaster of relegation to League One – or so we all hope and trust – but nowhere near good or competently-run enough to make the life-saving jump into the Premier League. And believe me, the clock is ticking on that jump. It’s an elevation that will become more and more of a formidable mountain to climb over the next few seasons.

The problem is, among many other Leeds United problems, that the reward for Premier League failure is about to go through the roof. Soon, clubs relegated from the élite top flight will be able to bank ‘parachute payments’ of around £100m pounds, allowing them a clear head start on their unsubsidised second tier competitors.

The clear implication of this is that we may shortly have what amounts to a closed shop, consisting of the usual permanent Premier League members, plus a small pool of hinterland dwellers, bobbing up and down between the top two divisions. The so-call Financial Fair Play rules will make it difficult for even wealthily-owned Championship clubs of long standing to break into this yo-yo fringe group, never mind the band of true aristocrats.

For the likes of Leeds United, and even Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday and a few other genuinely sizable members of the new underclass, this could represent the start of a living death of perpetual mediocrity.

So it follows that Leeds really must get its act together, and get up there in time to be the beneficiaries of parachute payments, as opposed to being marginalised by their galvanising effect on others. Sadly, there is no real sign that our heroes are remotely well-equipped enough to move on up anytime soon. It seems more likely at this stage that we will be overtaken by lesser clubs, who will happily make hay while the sun shines everywhere except, it seems, over LS11. This is not an unnecessarily gloomy or unrealistic prediction. It’s already happened too many times. 

Look at the Premier League membership right now. It makes for worrying study. You will find five of our former League One opponents there, mostly well-established top flight members now, while we remain as strugglers one step above our historical low point. Behold the success stories of clubs Leeds United should leave gasping in their wake. Swansea City, promoted from League One in our first season at that level, have added a League Cup to their mantelpiece and have generally done well. Southampton, European qualifiers now after emerging from the third tier a year after we did, and looking to consolidate and hammer on that Champions League door. Even new arrivals Bournemouth are looking reasonably well able to hold their own among the giants, as are Norwich City. And look at Leicester City, promoted from League One in our second season at that level. As I write, they are sitting proudly at the summit of English football, Premier League leaders, for the moment at least, and looking thoroughly at home in such exalted company. 

Leeds could and should have done better than any of these clubs, each of them recent denizens of League One. All of them are far smaller than the Whites, but have benefited from positive commercial and football strategies, not shying away from the speculative investment it takes to accumulate league points. They are well run for the most part and demonstrably scornful of any perceived glass ceiling. What they have accomplished should have been far easier for a club the size of Leeds. But our five years in the Championship have been a story of abject failure and serial incompetence, all underpinned by a total lack of vision and ambition. It’s no wonder we’ve been left trailing by the likes of Southampton and Leicester, and it would sadly be no surprise to see other clubs of similar size, currently below us in the pecking order, overhauling and leaving us behind in the near future.

So, which clubs currently languishing in the murk of League One might yet beat us to the sunny lower slopes of the Premier League? Two obvious candidates are Coventry City and Sheffield United, both doing reasonably well in the league below us, both tolerably well-run now after hard times – and both the kind of club that would, you suspect, see promotion to the Championship as a signal to kick on, invest, and make the most of their upward momentum. Which is just exactly what Leeds United threatened briefly to do in that momentous first season back at second tier level, before the fire sales started and the club began to lose its heart if not quite yet its soul.

For too long, Leeds United has appeared more complacent than hungrily ambitious; more disposed to “manage” its supporters’ expectations, rather than seek to fulfill them. With clubs all around us – smaller but more beadily focused clubs – avid for success, recognition and, yes, those Premier League millions too, Leeds simply can’t afford to tread water for much longer. The Premier League is a top table positively groaning under the weight of good things, even for those forced to leave the party early. With the increasing likelihood that victims of relegation will be fortified by that generous parachute for resurrection almost immediately, it’s only going to get harder and harder for the less-privileged to gatecrash the feast.  The likes of Sheffield United and Coventry will be well aware of this, as will more immediate dangers like Forest and Wednesday at our own current level. Leeds United just seems to be drifting along, more concerned with internal crises than the need to better themselves, waiting perhaps for some divine right to assert itself and convey the club back to the Promised Land.

Well, it ain’t gonna happen, guys – as any long-suffering and knowledgeable supporter would be well able to confirm. They say the spectator sees most of the game, and it’s the Leeds United fans, as opposed to those entrusted with the running of the club, who appear most acutely worried about exactly how and when we are going to find ourselves back where we assuredly belong – and able to capitalise on the undoubted potential of the club in a much more financially conducive environment. For a true giant like Leeds – by far and away the biggest club below the Premier League (and bigger than most inside it) – the opportunity is there for the taking to re-establish itself as one of the big, swaggering kids on the block.

It will take bravery, audacity, sufficient investment, nerve and some cool heads to achieve this – all currently noticeable by their absence around Elland Road. But if we don’t sort ourselves out soon – and start making some serious steps forward – we may yet get trampled in the rush by our smaller, meaner rivals – each of whom provides in effect a blueprint for the approach we should have been taking all along.

Tick tock, Leeds United. Get your act together. Time is running short.

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Leeds United Bids a Fond Farewell to Doomed Millwall   –   by Rob Atkinson

 

Millwall’s “Leeds away” supporters’ bus will be in use full-time next season

When you bid a fond farewell to someone, it normally means you regret they’re going; that you’ll miss them and eagerly await their return. Leeds United fans have made that kind of farewell often enough – various Elland Road heroes have left us over the years, with varying degrees of regret or relief on both sides.

The fond farewell we’re bidding to Millwall FC, however, is a horse of a different colour. This farewell is one we’re glad to be making. It’s a case of “off you go, chaps, and don’t hurry back”. The Lions probably will be back at some point; we shall have to hope that by that time we’ve moved onwards and upwards ourselves, so avoiding the need to sully our boots in competition with such a very horrible club.

For Millwall, let’s face it, have been a blight on the Championship ever since they dragged themselves up to this level. They have conducted themselves in a less than admirable fashion, certainly off the field and in the stands, where they continue to be followed by a rag-tag bunch of racists and knuckleheaded thugs, who disgrace themselves at every possible opportunity. We at Leeds are familiar with the sickening glee that has accompanied their Turkish favours, so blatantly – even proudly – displayed, every time Leeds have been visitors to their Meccano ground.

This eager desire to make fun of murder and loss is what has distinguished Millwall fans from almost every other set of supporters in the country – Man U being one possible and unsurprising exception. Maybe it’s a southern thing, then – but you don’t get that sort of stuff from many other southern sets of fans – not even Spurs.

Millwall’s visits to Leeds haven’t been anything like as troublesome, mainly as they’ve largely bottled that particular trip North, turning up in dribs and drabs that make an embarrassing mockery of their much-vaunted F-troop reputation. The excuse always offered is that those fixtures have been “bubble matches” events heavily policed with fan travel controlled and tickets issued in return for vouchers. It’s the kind of arrangement that makes away support more difficult, certainly – but not impossible by any means.

Leeds have been affected by such measures – but it hasn’t stopped us taking the usual large numbers to places like Cardiff. Millwall’s recent average at Leeds has been in the order of a couple of dozen who sit shivering, high up in the stand – a sad indictment of a supposedly scary away support. The flip side of this coin is the effect on a game’s atmosphere; on the other hand, it’s preferable to having buses smashed up and your stadium befouled by some fairly uncivilised visitors.

Twitter last night was aglow with supporters of other clubs, jubilant at Millwall’s fall from grace. That says a lot about the way their particular brand of “support” is distasteful to other fans. It was somehow appropriate that it should be Rotherham United who hammered home the final nail in the Millwall coffin by beating Reading and ensuring their own safety – despite a three point deduction that has made Millwall’s failure look narrower than it really is. But Rotherham will take keen pleasure in administering the fatal blow to a club whose fans reverted to type when, shortly after a tiny band of them witnessed defeat at Leeds, a rather larger mob rioted as their favourites lost at Rotherham’s New York Stadium.

Millwall’s relegation is entirely deserved on merit; they’ve clearly been one of the three worst teams in the league, and their demotion is probably a week or so overdue. Their fans also do not deserve to be mixing it with some of the elite clubs in the game; their proper level is where they’re now returning to, and the likes of Barnsley, Burton Albion and Shrewsbury must be wished the very best of luck in dealing with the invading reprobates.

Millwall will not be missed by Leeds United, nor, I believe, by most other clubs in the Championship. May their stay at a lower level be long and unrewarding – and may their supporters reflect that, in the misery and hurt of relegation, they are reaping now what they have been sowing for far too long. 

Sacked Millwall Boss Holloway’s Decline and Fall Summed Up by Two Cup Finals Against Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

Where did I go wrong?

Where did I go wrong?

Ian Holloway‘s sacking by Millwall Football Club did not come as a great surprise to anyone who has witnessed – albeit from afar – the manager’s gradual disintegration as the season has worn on. Sad though this might also look at first sight, the parting of ways may well ultimately have a happy ending, with the man heading upwards into a more acceptable appointment – and the club plummeting downwards to nearer their natural level.

The season could hardly have started on a more positive note for Holloway or Millwall. The club had one of its two seasonal Cup Finals to look forward to as an opening fixture, with a chance to break out the Turkish flags and some really disgusting football shirts in order to mock the dead, as Leeds United – crisis torn and makeshift – rolled into town. The outcome was predictable on the field; less so off it. Millwall cruised to a routine 2-0 win over a Leeds team that hardly knew each other and played accordingly – and, as naturally happens in this neck of the woods, sections of the home crowd lost no opportunity to have endless fun over the murder of two Leeds fans 14 years previously.

After the game, and after giving due credit to his victorious troops, Ian Holloway was the very epitome of sportsmanship, making no attempt to gloss over the reprehensible behaviour of some Millwall fans and expressing his disgust at the nature of the chants and songs he had heard. It was a surprising but heart-warming departure from the normal “my club right or wrong” managerial line, and Holloway’s stock rose accordingly within the precincts of God’s Own County, as respect was duly accorded.

Wind forward a few months and now we’re heading towards the sharp end of the season. Millwall have declined steadily from their exhilarating start, and they’re in big trouble – and facing another Cup Final, this time at Elland Road. Leeds United have mounted a recovery of sorts, despite a mangled season of coaching staff upheaval and crises further up in the club as owner Massimo Cellino was hunted mercilessly by a pack of slavering Football League hounds.

After ending the August fixture at Millwall three points behind the Lions, United are now five points ahead, and the home game for Leeds is a genuine six-pointer. As ever with these fixtures, it’s what the fans call a “bubble match“. Away fan travel is strictly regulated under this tactic; the Millwall fans have to collect match tickets, exchanging pre-purchased vouchers for them at a service station in Yorkshire – the better for them to be kept an eye on in the hope that maybe they will not wreck any buses this time. For the past few seasons, this measure has kept the size of the ‘Wall away following down to tiny and inoffensive proportions – and so it would be today, something that would end up as an irritant thorn in manager Holloway’s tender hide.

This time, crucially, the honours went to Leeds, creating an eight point gulf between the two side that has grown steadily ever since. Leeds should, by the end of the season, be comfortably clear of the relegation zone – the gap is currently a luxurious 16 points – but it was this result that really started to relieve those nightmarish worries. Had Millwall won, Leeds would have been a scant two points ahead and the nerves would have been seriously twanging as squeaky bum time drew on. In the event, the Lions have signally failed to recover from that Elland Road defeat, currently sitting mired in the drop zone, a full eight points from safety. All quite satisfactory, and certainly a welcome change from the season opener – but how would Ian Holloway’s post-match performance compare to the heights he hit back then in sunny August?

The answer, as we all know is – not well. Not well at all. Depressingly, Holloway seized on the paucity of the Millwall away support, claiming that such restrictions made for an unfair atmosphere and that this had been a major factor in his side’s defeat. He didn’t appear to consider that no away ban was in place – that the Millwall fans had been at liberty to attend – if they could be bothered using the voucher and collect scheme. He didn’t reflect either that Leeds fans face similar sanctions at certain grounds, which doesn’t prevent them from being followed by thousands of fanatics everywhere they go. None of this penetrated Holloway’s head; he was looking for a scapegoat and he had the West Yorkshire Police in his sights, just ahead of pretty much everyone else.

Disastrously – a short while after Holloway had insisted that Millwall fans could be trusted and shouldn’t be subjected to “special measures”, so to speak – they showed their true colours with a typically disgraceful display of bad behaviour at Rotherham, in considerably greater numbers than they had mustered at Leeds. How Holloway must have wished he’d simply kept his mouth shut after the Elland Road defeat.

With the benefit of hindsight, the two games between Leeds and Millwall this season were each a barometer of the now former Lions manager’s standing at the time. As the season started, he had overseen a fairly miraculous escape from relegation the campaign before – and memories were still fresh of his impact on the Premier League as Blackpool manager a season or two earlier. He was eloquent in his post-match press call; there was a lot to admire in what he said – as I wrote at the time.

But as the Elland Road return rolled around, a different picture had emerged. Now Holloway was looking snatched and hunted; his team were embroiled in another relegation battle and, although they had snatched two unlikely wins in the previous two away games, their awful home form threatened to drag them down. Holloway arrived at the home of Leeds United desperately in need of another away win. He got nothing, and was unable to restrain his bitterness and frustration afterwards. His lack of class in seeking to blame matters on a body of men and women charged with keeping the peace in the presence of a notorious away crew did him no credit. The contrast between the Holloway defeated at Elland Road and the one so magnanimous in victory back in August was stark. This was now a man heading rapidly for the buffers, the brakes having failed.

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything called upon Ian Holloway to apologise, after the Millwall disgrace at Rotherham, for the unwise things he’d said at Leeds about what have been shown to be sensible precautions over away travel for certain sets of fans. But there’s no pleasure in seeing a genuine character brought low – and I both hope and expect that Holloway will be back, in a better situation and also a better frame of mind. It seems likely as I write that interim Millwall manager Neil Harris has a bit too much on his hands to rescue the toothless Lions this time around. And, as any regular reader will know, this blog will shed no tears as and when they drop to League One. But nobody – no club – is all good or all bad, and to the decent Millwall fans, some of whom have contacted me with reasoned comments before now, I wish you well in what will probably be a season of League One consolidation next season. And I’m sure that Millwall, too, will be back.

It’s just that I hope, by then, Leeds are mixing it in the big league against appropriately big clubs. Nothing personal, chaps.