Tag Archives: Leicester City

Could Leeds Have a World Star on Debut at Leicester Tonight?   –   by Rob Atkinson

Kun Temenuzhkov

Kun Temenuzhkov appearing in the colours of Barcelona

Tonight’s Carabao Cup Tie at recent champions Leicester City could just see the first involvement in a senior Leeds United line up of a young international star who already enjoys global acclaim. 

Named as one of The Guardian’s top 60 young talents in the world, teenage sensation Kun Temenuzhkov has made several appearances for United’s under-23s this season after signing for the Whites in summer from Barcelona. It may be that the club see the Carabao Cup as the ideal situation to provide experience at first team level for such a hot prospect. Temenuzhkov’s absence from yesterday’s second-string match at Huddersfield has had fans speculating that his first team squad chance might be imminent. 

Whether the youngster would actually appear in the team, enabling Leeds to rest a regular striker for Friday’s summit meeting with Sheffield Utd has to be open to some doubt. But even travelling with the squad would be a sign of progress for the Bulgarian youth cap, and a mark of the esteem in which such a young player is held. 

It will be interesting to see what tonight’s team news reveals, with Leeds quite possibly looking to prioritise the sharing out of first team involvement. With a lad like Kun on the books, so highly regarded on the world stage in his age group, it might make sense to take a chance on broadening his experience. 

Two games in a few days will always test the club’s playing resources, and cup ties are increasingly seen as testing grounds for untried talent. An away clash at last season’s Champions League quarter-finalists would be a case of “in at the deep end” for Temenzhukov but, as the old saying goes, if they’re good enough, they’re old enough. 

Tonight might just be the first opportunity for Leeds fans to judge whether the latest wonderkid could actually have what it takes to succeed at Elland Road

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Ranieri Should Be Top Target for Leeds United After Monk Shock   –   by Rob Atkinson

Claudio Ranieri – is the Tinkerman next through the Elland Road revolving door?

In the light of Garry Monk‘s shock departure from Leeds, an intriguing name has cropped up as a possible candidate for the hotseat at Leeds United, and I make no apology for rehashing what was only a speculative article four weeks ago. 

The possibility of Claudio Ranieri fancying a crack at the Elland Road job was raised by a contributor to a recent article on this blog. NickB, 50 years a Leeds fan, ended a long and entertaining comment by asking “When does Ranieri’s gardening leave come to an end ?!” Another regular contributor, Leeds Mick, agreed with Nick, stating that Ranieri “would be a damn good appointment”. But what do other Leeds fans think?

Leaving aside the vexed question of whether Ranieri would touch us with the proverbial barge pole, the prospect of the Tinkerman would indeed be fascinating. With a recent Premier League title on his CV, Claudio is a very likeable man who seems to have a magic managerial touch in the right situation. It’s no exaggeration to say that what he pulled off at Leicester City qualifies as the biggest football miracle of all time, bar none. So, could Leeds United benefit from a touch of diddly-ding, diddly-dong?

I still feel that Monk has acted precipitately. And I do also feel that chairman Andrea Radrizzani deserves the faith and belief of Leeds United fans in his hunt for a new man. 

Still – Ranieri. Likeable, credible, available Ranieri. It is interesting – isn’t it? Would it be feasible, a welcome sign of ambition – or aiming too high? Your thoughts, as ever, would be appreciated. 

Tottenham as Champions? Even Leeds United Would be More Authentic – by Rob Atkinson

Spuds

Spuds – boiled twice until soft and mushy

If Tottenham Hotspur finish this season in a Champions League qualification place and – more importantly, in the eyes of many of their fans – above loathed North London rivals Arsenal, then this season will be deemed by the vast majority of those fans to have been a resounding success. This, despite the fact that, having failed last year to take their most realistic chance in over half a century to finish as Champions of England, they are about to repeat that failure. And that is why Spurs, despite their superficial glamour and appeal, cannot be regarded as a big club.

This might sound strange coming from a fan of 21st Century also-rans Leeds United. But, for all their recent woes and the chaos that characterises life at Elland Road under Bates, GFH and Cellino, Leeds remains a big club. The expectations are still there, the voracious hunger and imperious demand to be up there with the best. At some point, those demands will be met – because the expectations and desire of the fans are what, ultimately, define the size and potential of a football club. Leeds have all that – Tottenham simply don’t. A cursory scan of their Twitter feed, when Spurs capitulated last season, was ample illustration of this.

I was really expecting to find anger, dismay and deep, deep hurt among the Spurs Twitteratti, at the careless throwing away of a once in a lifetime chance. It wasn’t there. I thought too – equally erroneously – that there would be angst and an abiding sense of betrayal. I based this on an empathetic knowledge of how I or most other Leeds supporters would feel – how it would leave us bereft and fuming to see such a rare opportunity passed up. But then – we’re Leeds, and these people were merely Spurs. There’s a big difference.

Last time Leeds joined the big time, back in 1990 – and the time before that, in 1964 – the Whites wasted no time merely admiring their surroundings or being overawed by their new peers. They took a brief, almost scornful look around, allowed themselves the barest of minimum settling-in periods, won their opening fixture back at this new, rarefied level – and proceeded to dominate proceedings thenceforth. Don Revie’s wonders went within a whisker of the double first time out, and were the best team in Europe within five years. Sergeant Wilko’s Warriors were Champions inside twenty months. This is the mettle and appetite of a big club. “Keep Fighting” was and remains the motto. There is no fear and mighty little respect in the staff and players. There is an abounding self-belief and naked ambition among the fans. So it was with Leeds United. So it will be again.

There is none of this with Spurs, not last season and not this one either. Despite the excellence of their squad, they lack the inner conviction and the aspirations of Champions. At its heart, the club is effete and decadent, content to play pretty football while perceived lesser mortals – the Leicester City of last season being an excellent example – scrap and fight, working hard, giving no quarter, exerting every fibre of their being in the pursuit of victory. In a game of fine margins, it is this muck and bullets approach that can close the quality gap and make the difference when the prizes are handed out.

On the evidence of social media reaction, the Spurs fans are as much to blame as the soft centre of their club. It’ll be nice to finish second, they trilled last season (they actually finished third in a two-horse race, surrendering runners-up spot meekly to Arsenal with a thrashing at relegated Newcastle). We’d have snatched your hands off for the chance of finishing higher than Arsenal, they simpered (maybe this season then, lads). We’ll be favourites next year, they crooned, hopefully. But next year never comes – not when the real big boys can be counted on to wake up from their one season slumber.

Thinking back to the early nineties, when Leeds were the hungry new kids on the block – we hoped and craved for a chance to be the best again. Whether we really expected it to come along so soon is a moot point. But we were raucously demanding of it. And when that chance presented itself – especially at the expense of our most hated foes – there was no suggestion of “well, it’d be nice, but second wouldn’t be too bad either”. We’d have been gutted to the depths of our very souls, if our heroes in White hadn’t seized the day. It would have been impossible to express the wretchedness we would have felt.

The Spurs fans by contrast, with their mealy-mouthed acceptance of failure and honeyed words of congratulations to conquerors Leicester, betrayed their club and showed themselves, as well as their beloved club, unworthy of being regarded as champion material. It was a sickening sight to see, a betrayal of that competitive spirit that gives a vital edge to proper contenders.

In the end, any league gets the champions it deserves and, barring last-gasp miracles or Chelsea calamity, it’ll be no different this year. Spurs will have shown again why they haven’t been The Best since 1961, when JFK was president, the Beatles were playing beery dives in Hamburg and I was only just seeing the light of day. Chelsea, with their juggernaut self-belief and determination to make the most of every opportunity under the brilliant guidance of Antonio Conte, will thoroughly have deserved their Premier League Title. They will be deserving Champions, by far the best team in the land.

Leicester City, Chelsea, Leeds United – Champions of England. Each has a ring of authenticity to it that’s been hard fought for and deeply merited when it’s come about. Whereas “Champions Spurs”? – well, it just doesn’t sound right. It sounds instead faintly ridiculous, like cheap fiction; and, as long as the club and the fans retain their current losers’ mindset, that’s just how it will remain.

Ready to Meet Up Again With Leeds United Legend Gordon Strachan – by Rob Atkinson

StrachanLeicester

That Strachan goal against Leicester City

I go back a fair way with Gordon Strachan, as it happens. Not that he’ll remember a thing about it, naturally. That’s the way it goes with star footballers and star-struck fans; it’s a strictly one-way relationship, which is quite right and proper.

Nevertheless, I can mark out the last 28 years of my Leeds United love affair in some golden Strachan moments, including one meeting (with another hopefully imminent), some landmark performances and goals from the wee maestro and, latterly, many a laugh as I’ve watched him perplexing post-match interviewers with a rapier-like wit to match his dazzling displays as a player.

I remember being aware of Strachan as a young star at Aberdeen under the guidance of a grumpy Glaswegian manager called Ferguson (whatever happened to him?) who was out to upset the Old Firm monopoly in Scotland. I had a senior lecturer at Hull University at that time, who shared Gordon’s surname, but when I used it on him, as it were, he frostily informed me that it was pronounced “Strawn”. Well, that was all he knew. The name Strachan, pronounced as both Gordon and I know it should be, was to earn worldwide fame over the next decade and a half.

I looked on with jaundiced eye as the clear heir to Billy Bremner‘s throne made the wrong move south from Scotland, winding up in a title vacuum at Old Trafford. He was followed thence by his old manager at Aberdeen (that’s where he got to) and, for Strachan, the writing was on the Old Trafford wall, as the great Alex concluded that Gordon’s days as a top-flight performer were numbered. These were the early days of Sergeant Wilko‘s reign at Leeds, and I yearned for Strachan to become our King Billy reincarnate, as he was unmistakably fitted to be. But it looked as though he was destined to be a Ron Atkinson capture at Sheffield Wednesday, rather than a Rob Atkinson hero at Elland Road.

As we know, things worked out incredibly well; an ambitious Leeds trumped the Wendies’ offer and Strachan settled for being the driving force behind the Wilko revolution. I was working in Leeds the day the deal was done, and I saw it announced on a Yorkshire Evening Post billboard. Happy and delighted doesn’t do it justice, I walked home on air that day. Strachan was not only a marquee signing in himself, he was the statement of intent required to pave the way for other quality recruits at Elland Road. For Leeds, the only way was up – and up we duly went.

Near the climax of that promotion season was Strachan’s memorable rocket-shot winner against Leicester at Elland Road, possibly the most vital goal Leeds had scored on their home turf since Allan Clarke’s winner against Barcelona in the European Cup semi-final of 1975. That Leicester goal, securing a crucial win after a goal from one Gary MacAllister had threatened to poop our promotion party, was met with one of the loudest and most frantic celebrations I can remember. Gordon Strachan attained Leeds Legend status in that moment – and he would go on to confirm it many times over.

In the next couple of years, Leeds impressively consolidated their First Division status and then took the crown of Champions of England from under the noses of Strachan’s former club, Man United. As sweet as that was for all of us, the man himself still regards the Second Division title of 1990 as his greatest Leeds achievement – but his record at Elland Road cannot be classed as anything other than an outstanding success, with Strachan himself in the role of on-field Messiah.

My support for Leeds was punctuated by his goals and his masterly midfield displays. That pea-roller winner at Bramall Lane early in United’s top-flight comeback, with the mighty atom celebration sitting on an advertising hoarding behind the goal. His winner at Man City, in a live TV game that had me transfixed. So many goals, so much quality. Perhaps the culmination was in the vital game at Sheffield United as the 1992 League Title battle came to a final boil. One down and in trouble near the end of the first half, Leeds were awarded a free kick and Gordon, thinking faster than anyone else, took it quickly to cause chaos in the Blades’ box. Leeds equalised, and went on to win in the second half, breaking Man U hearts and setting up that Last Champions triumph.

I first met Strachan in 1995, at an event at Headingley, the same night Leeds lost at PSV in the UEFA Cup. He’d moved on from Leeds by then, but he was personable and entertaining, showing a love for the club that endured still, and giving very positive answers to questions about the possibility he might one day return to Elland Road. I got a picture with the wee man that evening and, twenty-one years on, I’m hoping to repeat the experience on Friday at Elland Road.

This is when Strachan will return to LS11 for an evening of entertainment and reminiscence. Although it’s the night before Bonfire Night, we can expect some fireworks, as the Scot is notoriously almost as entertaining behind a microphone as he was with a ball at his feet. Organisers Events in the City could also be said to have selected the right man as the centrepiece for a Mischief Night event; Strachan’s play was usually replete with that particular commodity – and he’s never been afraid to speak his mind as a manager either.

So, on Friday, I’ll hope to meet one of my two greatest United heroes for the second time, and maybe get another picture to add to the many memories he’s provided over the years. It’s a close thing for me, between Strachan and Bremner, the obvious similarities nicely balanced out by their few important contrasts. I only met King Billy once, and I was utterly tongue-tied in the presence of greatness. If I do get the chance to talk to wee Gordon on Friday, I shall hope to do a lot better. Watch this space. 

Leicester City, the Example That Puts Cellino’s Leeds Utd to Shame   –   by Rob Atkinson

Today or tomorrow, this week or next week, sometime soon, anyway – Leicester City will become Champions of England. Premier League Title winners and Champions League top seeds. Read, mark and inwardly digest. It could have been, perhaps should have been Leeds United.

Leicester’s fantastic achievement is the explosion of the theory of an “Elite Cartel”. They’ve simply ripped up the rule book and imposed themselves irresistibly on a League that regarded them merely as cannon fodder. What the Foxes are doing self-evidently could be done by any club of reasonable size and support, properly run and adequately funded. There is no better proof that something can be done, than going out there and doing it.

All of which begs the question: why have Leeds United so shamefully under-achieved in the six years since escaping League One? The Whites’ track record in that time pales in comparison, not only to champions-elect Leicester, but also Southampton and Swansea City (who, as I write, are taking Liverpool to the cleaners). This trinity of clubs, reborn and reinfused with competitive vigour, are all considerably smaller than Leeds and lack anything like a comparable tradition or pedigree. All of them were fellow strugglers along with us in our third-tier lowest ebb. All are living proof of United’s utter and culpable failure since 2010. 

That’s the significant year, really. Prior to that, we’d been almost a decade in intensive care, a chronically ill football club doing its best to regain some sort of health. That was achieved, despite the dodgiest of ownerships – and the FA Cup victory over Man U, together with a scrambled promotion back to the second level, could and should have created a platform from which to build a bright future. That it didn’t is our tragedy, but there are no excuses. Again, look at where three smaller clubs are now, clubs that shared our League One doldrums with us. Their example puts Leeds United to shame.

Whatever the Cellino apologists might say – and they’re as stubborn a bunch as I’ve ever come across outside of a field of donkeys – it’s very difficult, surely, for them to argue he’s been any sort of success when you see what’s been achievable elsewhere, and at clubs with far less potential. Perhaps – just perhaps – making and breaking promises, serially hiring and firing managers, interfering in team affairs, insulting the support base, treating staff abominably with sexist attitudes and a desire to humiliate professional football people by making them clean up around the place – perhaps all of this isn’t the way to carry on after all? It’s just a thought.

Maybe this is at the root of why we’re where we currently are while our former League One rivals are comfortably established in the Premier League – with one of them poised to become Champions. It could so easily have been us – and that’s not just glib wishful thinking. Hard work, a professional setup, enlightened ownership – all that old-fashioned stuff – they’re why Leicester are now on the edge of a miracle of historic proportions. Instead of which, the day after we lost at home to a team already relegated from the Championship, we have to look upwards and crane our necks to see the success of others.

Good luck to Leicester City, I’m genuinely pleased for them. I have my memories of 24 years ago, and I know – as so many of us will – exactly how those Foxes fans will be feeling right now. But I just can’t help wishing that it was us again; with the frustration kicking in hard when it’s so clear that it could – and perhaps should – have been.

Spurs as Champions? It Would Have Seemed Silly   –   by Rob Atkinson

Spuds

Spurs – still no Title pedigree

If Tottenham Hotspur finish this season in a Champions League qualification place and – more importantly, in the eyes of many of their fans – above loathed North London rivals Arsenal, then this season will be deemed by the vast majority of those fans to have been a resounding success. This, despite the fact that they will have failed to have taken their most realistic chance in over half a century to finish as Champions of England. This is why Spurs, despite their superficial glamour and appeal, cannot be regarded as a big club.
 
This might sound strange coming from a fan of 21st Century also-rans Leeds United. But, for all their recent woes and the chaos that characterises life at Elland Road under Bates, GFH and Cellino, Leeds remain a big club. The expectations are still there, the voracious hunger and imperious demand to be up there with the best. At some point, those demands will be met – because the expectations and desire of the fans are what, ultimately, define the size and potential of a football club. Leeds have all that – Tottenham simply don’t. A cursory scan of their Twitter feed, since Spurs capitulated against West Brom on Monday, is ample illustration of this. 

I was really expecting to find anger, dismay and deep, deep hurt among the Spurs Twitteratti, at the careless throwing away of a once in a lifetime chance. It wasn’t there. I thought too – equally erroneously – that there would be angst and an abiding sense of betrayal. I based this on an empathetic knowledge of how I or most other Leeds supporters would feel – how it would leave us bereft and fuming to see such a rare opportunity passed up. But then – we’re Leeds, and these people were merely Spurs. There’s a big difference.

Last time Leeds joined the big time, back in 1990 – and the time before that, in 1964 – the Whites wasted no time merely admiring their surroundings or being overawed by their new peers. They took a brief, almost scornful look around, allowed themselves the barest of minimum settling-in periods, won their opening fixture back at this new, rarefied level – and proceeded to dominate proceedings thenceforth. Don Revie‘s wonders went within a whisker of the double first time out, and were the best team in Europe within five years. Sergeant Wilko‘s Warriors were Champions inside twenty months. This is the mettle and appetite of a big club. There is no fear and mighty little respect in the staff and players. There is an abounding self-belief and naked ambition among the fans. So it was with Leeds United. So it will be again. 

There is none of this with Spurs. Despite the excellence of their squad, they lack the inner conviction and the aspirations of Champions. At its heart, the club is effete and decadent, content to play pretty football while perceived lesser mortals – the Leicester Citys of this world – scrap and fight, working hard, giving no quarter, exerting every fibre of their being in the pursuit of victory. In a game of fine margins, it is this muck and bullets approach that can close the quality gap and make the difference when the prizes are handed out. 

On the evidence of social media reaction since West Brom killed off their hopes, the Spurs fans are as much to blame as the soft centre of their club. It’ll be nice to finish second, they trill. We’d have snatched your hands off for the chance of finishing higher than Arsenal. We’ll be favourites next year, they croon, hopefully. But next year never comes – not when the real big boys, the Citys, the Arsenals, the Chelseas and the Liverpools, will be waking up from their one season slumber. 

Thinking back to the early nineties, when Leeds were the hungry new kids on the block – we hoped and craved for a chance to be the best again. Whether we really expected it to come along so soon is a moot point. But we were raucously demanding of it. And when that chance presented itself – especially at the expense of our most hated foes – there was no suggestion of “well, it’d be nice, but second wouldn’t be too bad either”. We’d have been gutted to the depths of our very souls, if our heroes in White hadn’t seized the day. It would have been impossible to express the wretchedness we would have felt. The Spurs fans this week, with their mealy-mouthed acceptance of failure and honeyed words of congratulations to conquerors Leicester, have betrayed their club and shown themselves, as well as Tottenham Hotspur, unworthy of being regarded as champion material. 

In the end, any league gets the champions it deserves and, barring last-gasp miracles or calamity, it’ll be no different this year. Spurs will have shown why they haven’t been The Best since 1961, when JFK was president, the Beatles were playing beery dives in Hamburg and I was only just seeing the light of day. Leicester, with their indomitable self-belief and determination to make the most of every opportunity under the brilliant guidance of one-time “Tinkerman” Claudio Ranieri, will thoroughly have deserved their Premier League Title. They will be Champions every bit as deserving, and more, than the Leeds United tyros of 1992. 

Leicester City, Champions of England. It has a ring of authenticity to it that’s been hard fought for and deeply merited. Whereas “Champions Spurs” – well, it just doesn’t sound right. It sounds instead like cheap fiction; and, as long as the club and the fans retain their current losers’ mindset, that’s just how it will remain. 

Leicester City Are on the Brink of Doing a Leeds… In a Good Way   –   by Rob Atkinson

 

The Last Champions


The Premier League season, which has been simmering away for the past eight months or so, is now coming nicely to the boil – and it looks set fair to produce quite the most appetising and satisfying feast of the Murdoch era so far. Not for over twenty years have we seen such unlikely and thrilling Title winners as Leicester City would be. Back in 1995, Blackburn narrowly won the crown of Champions, just pipping Manchester United. But they did it by out-spending the big spenders – and it was their third year back in the big time. Leicester are threatening to be top dogs on a budget – and in only their second season at the top table.

Many pundits are going back years before Blackburn’s success in an effort to find a precedent for what the Foxes seem likely to achieve in this momentous campaign. As far back as 1978, the Nottingham Forest of Clough and Taylor won the old Division One title in their first season after promotion. Forest took the league by storm, with a thrilling brand of football based on neat passing, hard work, collective responsibility and a pulsating team ethic. The parallels with this Leicester side are easily drawn – but again the timescale was different for Forest, as was the whole vista of English football compared to the moneybags Premier League of today.

The closest resemblance to the scenario now panning out for Leicester was the very last Football League Championship campaign in 1991/92, when Leeds United took the title in their second season after promotion, precisely the situation that Claudio Ranieri’s men are now attempting to bring to fruition. Leeds had gained promotion in 1990, and had finished a respectable 4th in their first elite season. Leicester, on the other hand, struggled badly first season up, and were bottom of the Premier League exactly a year ago. But they performed spectacularly to avoid the drop, and they have carried that form over into what appears more and more likely to be their debut season as English Champions.

The similarities between Leeds of 1992 and the modern day Leicester are persuasive. Leeds relied on a fast-paced approach, closing down the opposition to win the ball back quickly, creating mayhem with a strong and talented midfield and reaping the rewards of some lethal strikers up front. Most of Leeds’ strength 24 years ago was in their midfield, where Strachan, MacAllister, Batty and Speed were a potent engine room. In Leicester’s case, Vardy up front has been a revelation, and not only for his goals. This is a player who has shone in Leicester’s hard-working team plan, running the channels tirelessly, never giving defenders any peace, always pulling them around and disrupting many a rearguard for the benefit of his team-mates – and to show off his own clinical finishing.

Both Leeds and Leicester were unfancied for title success (Leicester were 5000-1 against at the start of this season) – both faced main rivals of historical pedigree who had yet failed to win the top prize for far too long. In Leicester’s case, they are looking to deny Spurs, a club with no titles to its name since 1961, the same year Don Revie began his masterful process of creating a Super Leeds machine. Spurs have won a few cups since then, but have never threatened to top the poll. Now, just as they seem better equipped than for decades past to do just that, they could be fated to fail again, as a nerveless Leicester side simply keep on grinding out the results that are inching them towards the ultimate success. Leeds performed similarly in 1992, appearing destined to lose out to a Man U side looking for their first title in 25 years. But Leeds hung in there, waited for the weaknesses of their rivals to show – and then mercilessly exploited the situation to emerge winners by four clear points.

As a Leeds United fan with vivid memories of that last old-style title campaign, I can easily understand the feelings of all connected to Leicester City right now. I remember turning up for games towards the sharp end of that season with nerves stretched taut, utterly unable to enjoy myself until the points were won. And I remember being glued to the radio, waiting and hoping for news of a slip-up for the boys in red. It was exhausting, exhilarating, devastating and miserable by turns; for every upturn on that roller-coaster of a run-in, there was a downturn that had you tearing your hair out. When I watch the Leicester games now, all of them under the microscopic gaze of the Sky cameras, I see the close up shots of fans suffering those same agonies and exulting just as we did when things go well. The animated faces are the faces I remember from almost a quarter of a century ago; the despair is the same, as is the delight.

Whether the outcome will be the same remains in the lap of the Gods – or, at least, the Spurs. But I wish Leicester well, as they try to finish off the job I can so well remember my heroes in White doing all those years back. It would be wonderful for the game if Leicester could do it – just as I understandably feel it was brilliant for English football that Leeds United were the last old-style champions. Not many agreed with me back then; we celebrated riotously, but in a vacuum of indifference and resentment. Then again, Leeds never were everybody’s cup of tea. And that’s one major difference with Leicester. The whole country outside of North London is rooting for them to secure the first League title in their 132-year history.

Doing a Leeds” has negative connotations, more to do with a precipitous fall from grace and financial collapse than any sporting success. So, if Leicester can close out this season as Champions, perhaps we can rightly say that they’ve “done a Leeds” in a good way – as no club has really managed since those dear, daft days of the early nineties. If anything, Leicester’s achievement would be even greater, a marvellous, unprecedented thumbing of a poor man’s nose at all the sleek moneybags types they’ve left struggling in their wake.

All the very best to the Foxes, who could conceivably find themselves a whopping ten points clear with only 5 games to play after this weekend. We’ll look forward to raising a celebratory glass to you, when you can finally call yourselves Champions.

Birthday Boy Strachan’s Crucial Rocket for Leeds United Against Leicester – by Rob Atkinson

"Have you ever seen a better goal?  Have you ever seen one better timed??" John Helm, YTV

“Have you ever seen a better goal? Have you ever seen one better timed??” John Helm, YTV

On the occasion of Gordon Strachan’s 59th birthday – and by the way, many happy returns, Sir – I thought I’d look back to what was possibly his defining moment as the man who did more than just about anyone to reinvent Leeds as a post-Revie force in English football.

It had been a long time coming since Don’s Glory Boys dispersed to pastures new and a Golden Era faded into the dim haze of memory. We had been eight years in the second division doldrums and had almost forgotten what it was like to be a top team. But – finally! – it looked as though the nightmare was ending as Sergeant Wilko and Captain Strachan were set to lead United back to the Promised Land at long last. A home fixture against Leicester City was the penultimate hurdle to overcome, and expectations were soaring at Elland Road.

Twelve days before the Leicester game, United had appeared to strike a decisive blow, battering closest rivals Sheffield United 4-0 at Elland Road. But any hope that promotion could be clinched early was dashed over the next two fixtures, a draw at Brighton where the lead was squandered to sacrifice two points, and then a home defeat to a relegation-threatened Barnsley who even then had the ability to put one over on us with an inferior team. So the nerves were jangling for this home date with the Foxes.

Leicester breezed into town with no pressure on them at all as they bobbed about serenely in mid-table, but Leeds just had to win. A victory could possibly clinch promotion; anything else and we would be relying on others to give us that final leg-up – not an attractive prospect. The atmosphere at Elland Road that day was something to behold as 32597 packed the stands and terraces, the Kop a seething mass of bodies, a solid wall of sound. If the weight of support counted for anything, then it seemed Leicester might just as well turn around and go home – but to their eternal credit they fought the good fight and played their part in a memorable afternoon.

It all started well. Leeds pressed hard – this had been their preferred approach all season long. No opponent was allowed the luxury of untroubled possession as Leeds snapped at ankles and harried the enemy, hungry for the ball and well able to use it productively. At their best, United had proved a match for any team in the Division; as ever though it was the off days that had let us down. On this particular occasion, attacking the Kop End in the first half, the forward momentum seemed irresistible. Before long, the overlapping Mel Sterland fastened on to a ball at the right corner of the penalty area and fired low and hard into the net to open the scoring. The overwhelming relief was as evident as the unconfined joy around the packed stadium; surely now United would go on to consolidate their advantage and seal the promotion we’d wanted for so long.

Frustratingly, it was not to be. Despite further pressure, Leeds failed to make another breakthrough before half-time and Leicester – relaxed and pressure-free – were looking more and more ominously like potential party-poopers. These fears solidified in the second half as the away side pressed an increasingly nervous Leeds back, and eventually – inevitably – they drew level. The blow when it came was struck by a rumoured transfer target for Leeds, promising young Scot Gary McAllister. He proved that he packed some punch by belting a fine strike past veteran Mervyn Day to shock the Kop rigid and momentarily silence Elland Road.

Worse was so nearly to follow as McAllister almost did it again, another superb shot coming within an ace of giving Leicester the lead, something which would doubtless have produced the unedifying spectacle of grown men crying in their thousands. It may well be that McAllister sealed his move to Leeds with this performance and those two efforts, but I could have seen him far enough from LS11 that day. Leeds were rocking, looking at each other, scratching heads and clenching fists in the time-honoured “come on, let’s bloody sort this out” gesture. Slowly, by sheer force of will, the lads in White regained the initiative and it looked at least as though the danger of further damage was receding. The football was still nerve-shredding stuff, all urgency and little fluency, a desperate battle to eke out the extra two points that would make promotion so much more likely.

Time was ebbing away fast now, as Leeds hurled themselves time and again into the defensive barrier of red Leicester away shirts. Panic was setting in, the biggest enemy of constructive football. It was looking like a draw, which would not be enough. Then, a throw halfway inside the Leicester half in front of the West Stand, under the eyes of a bleakly worried Wilko. Sterland gathered himself and hurled a massively long throw deep into the away penalty area, only for it to be headed out from around the near post. McAllister attempted to complete the clearance with an overhead effort to get rid, but the ball hit Gordon Strachan to bounce back into the box. And there was Gary Speed to lay that ball back instantly to the still-lurking Strachan who simply lashed it, left-footed, into the net. The ball had gone in like a bullet; Strachan – too tired to control it and try to work a yard of space to dink one of those cute little far-post crosses as he might normally – settled instead for catching the ball right on the sweet spot and it arrowed home to a positive explosion of noise from all around Elland Road – the sudden release of what had been unbearable tension produced a massive roar to buffet the ear drums of innocent bystanders miles away.

It was one of those occasions when several things seem to happen at once. The crowd behind the goal at the South Stand end seemed to boil with passion and relief, a maelstrom of delighted celebration which was echoed across the whole stadium. Strachan himself ran to the byline, face contorted, weary limbs pumping in triumphant exultation as he took the plaudits of the faithful. A lone copper is visible on the TV footage between Strach and the cavorting hordes, a grin on his face as he moves to quell any ambitious pitch-invaders. In the commentary box, John Helm unwittingly propelled himself into immortality, not for the last time that afternoon. “Have you ever seen a better goal?” he demanded. “And have you ever seen one better timed?” It was a good question, and right then, right there, I doubt you’d have found a Leeds fan to answer “yes” to either part of it. The rest was a blur; Leeds held out, and we had won – and seemingly gained promotion. Rumours were flying around that Newcastle had failed to win, sending us up. But John Helm was at it again, more iconic words: “Is that confirmed…?” When the confirmation arrived, it was of a late Toon win; we still had it all to do at Bournemouth the following week. But Strachan’s late cracker had kept us in a race that we were ultimately destined to win.

My final memory of that day is of walking down off the Kop and onto the pitch as the masses there were starting to disperse. We crossed the hallowed turf from goal-line to goal-line, eventually exiting the ground into Elland Road at the south-west corner, where the big screen now stands. I can still remember the heady scent of stud-holed mud and trodden turf, my head was still buzzing as I walked over the spot where wee Gordon had made that perfect half-volley contact to send us all into delirium. It had been an atmosphere the like of which I have rarely seen before or since, only the mayhem at Bramall Lane when Gayle scored that own-goal title-clincher coming anywhere near, or maybe that ankle-busting semi-riot of a celebration when Dave Batty broke his long goal drought against Man City in 1991.

For the sheer relief of it however – the absolute nerve-shredding, tension-breaking release of it – this was definitely THE one. Without Strachan’s sublime strike, we could well have missed out on automatic promotion, and we all know only too well that there’s a law against us succeeding in the play-offs. Gordon’s Golden Goal had kept the dream alive and made possible all that followed up to the League Championship triumph two years later. Make no mistake – it was THAT important.

Thanks, wee man, for the brilliant memories. Have a brilliant birthday.

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.

EXCLUSIVE: Police Fears of Betting Fix Allayed by Spurs Result – by Rob Atkinson

Police alert!

Police alert!

Police in Manchester, as well as detectives in London’s Metropolitan Police, were all geared up for a full-scale investigation into a possible betting sting earlier today, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything understands. Concerns were raised as news came in of some “incredibly unlikely” scores in the 4th Round FA Cup games around the country, as well as in certain league games.

The matches under the spotlight were Chelsea versus non-league Bratfud City, Manchester City at home to smog-bound Middlesbrough Ironopolis and the Southampton v Crystal Pulis game at the St Mary’s Stadium. All three encounters ended in highly unlikely away wins, and alarm bells were ringing. Asked whether nefarious activity by a Far East betting syndicate was suspected, a Police spokesman confirmed “That was very much the case. We were looking at a branch of BetFred in Scarborough.”

The police were on high alert towards the end of the afternoon fixtures. “We were looking for a pattern and starting to see one,” said DCI Ivor Truncheon of the Yard. “One more dodgy scoreline, and the boys and I were going to swoop.”

The game that might have tipped the balance from what could just have been an unlikely sequence of results, into a full-scale betting scandal, took place at White Hart Lane. “At one point, Tottenham Hotspuds were actually winning,” we were told. “Yes, things were getting that bizarre. But then Leicester got the digit out, imposed their superiority – and in the end, they won. Thankfully, that was enough to convince us that everything was legit. But if Spuds had actually won – along with all those other frankly ridiculous results – well, you can well imagine that we’d have had to take it all very seriously indeed.”

Asked whether the Watford v Blackpool game (where the away team led 2-0 at the interval, only to lose 7-2) came under any scrutiny, our police source was dismissive. “Nah, that’s just Blackpool being crap, isn’t it. We understand the FL might look at the slope at Vicarage Road, but that’s not a criminal matter.”

The FA Cup is 143.