“These things even themselves out over the course of a season” is a phrase beloved of many bland and beige football pundits and commentators as they seek to dismiss blatantly criminal refereeing decisions as marginal calls. I’ve sat there and seethed many a time after yet another complacent attempt to put into soft focus yet another massively unfair travesty of justice perpetrated on my long-suffering football club, aptly dubbed “The Damned United”.
It’s been a bit different over the past week or so though, certainly last night at Newcastle, when the decision to deny United new boy Dan James a penalty, when he was blatantly chopped down in the area with the ball nowhere near (picture above) was met with incredulous derision and explicit criticism. To hear this from respected ex-pros almost provided an atom or two of comfort after witnessing the latest in a long, long line of “We wuz robbed” situations for the Whites (or the Lilacs, on this occasion). So often, as a Leeds fan, you catch yourself thinking, bloody hell, how on Earth did he make THAT decision? And words like “conspiracy” and phrases like “bent as a nine bob note” start whirling around your possibly paranoid brain. Then a Carragher or even a Neville (Don forgive me, I’m even forgetting how to hate Neville) chirps up to agree that said decision ranks alongside Brexit for sheer mind numbing stupidity – and, for once, you feel the tiniest bit validated. And, given our history with referees and pundits, that really is a bizarre and novel feeling.
It was the same last week, with several luminaries making it very clear that they found the decision to send off Pascal Struijk utterly wrong. Again, there was an oddness to the incident, with the ref initially appearing to wave play on – even though Leeds were in possession, so clearly it wasn’t a standard advantage call. The inescapable conclusion is that the ref didn’t feel it was a foul, so it follows that his decision to show a red card must have been prompted by his realisation that the young Liverpool lad was badly injured. And THAT really does open a can of worms.
Even so, hard on the heels of the usual feelings of frustration and downright resentment, there came a minuscule crumb of comfort that people were seeing what’s happening with Leeds, and that they’re prepared to speak out about it. Once that starts happening, it’s surely not long before people other than rabidly biased Leeds fans start to wonder what’s going on. Would van Dijk have been sent off if he’d been the one making the challenge for which Struijk saw red? (Answer: no – he’s made an identical challenge and not even a yellow resulted). Would Cristiano Ronaldo have been awarded a penalty kick if it was him being chopped down playing for the Pride of Devon, instead of Dan James of Leeds? (Answer: of course he would, don’t be so deuced naive).
Once those questions start being asked on a regular basis, and assuming that the likes of Mike Dean will continue to hand Leeds the crappy end of the stick, then a pattern will eventually form, and the scales will start dropping from complacent eyes. And then, it may not be just us Leeds fans who are asking: is the game actually pursuing a vendetta against Leeds United? And, with myriad similar incidents burned into our brains going back the thick end of fifty years, we all know the answer to THAT one.What will be fascinating to behold is what will happen when others realise it too.
In Victorian times, “FA” stood for “Fanny Adam’s” a young murder victim of 1867 whose name, by some bizarre twist of nautical humour, came to be synonymous with – well, nothing.
These days, the two letters are supposed to evoke thoughts of an august ruling body for our national game. But, clearly, that’s nonsense, for as we all know, and as has been proved yet again only today, that ruling body is characterised by arrogance and complacency, together with a bumbling inability to get anything right, and further soured by their implacable hatred of Leeds United.
I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the red card saga here. It’s clearly pointless raising issues of precedent; the FA don’t care about such issues, they’re simply focused on dispensing injustice liberally around LS11, and if that makes them look ridiculous and foolish, well, so be it.
So I’ll just ask for suggestions as to what “FA” stands for, to us Leeds fans, here and now. I’ve à few choice ideas of my own, so it would be inappropriate to ask you to keep it clean. Let’s just stick it to them and carry on…
The delight of witnessing Leeds United’s 3-0 demolition of Aston Villa was reserved mainly for those willing to fork out an extra fifteen quid over and above normal subscriptions, as well as a few discerning types who found other, less official methods. Doubtless those who did cough up will consider their money well spent – the chance to see the Villans, who recently demolished Liverpool seven goals to two, themselves getting royally stuffed by our own heroes was one not to miss.
Happily, many who might otherwise have paid the price were so disgusted by the cynical exploitation of fans’ desire to see their team, that they chose to miss out, preferring instead to donate the £15 to a local food bank in the wake of our disgraceful government’s refusal to help feed poor kids who risk a hungry holiday without public support. I was proud to donate myself, and would urge others to do so. Last time I looked, the total raised was over £83,000.
So in the end, it may well be that Villa’s slaughter at the eager hands of “myth club” Leeds was even less visible than you might have thought, given its PPV status. But, over on Sky Sports News, the humiliation of Villa Rentamouth Gobby Agbonlahor, who had provided so much unintentional motivation for the United lads in the run-up to the game, was all too cruelly public.
Gobby, who had described Bielsa’s Leeds as a “myth”, and who had then made various other unwisely provocative statements, can be seen in the image above, clearly wilting and finally appalled as his beloved Villa were dismantled in a one-way second half at Villa Park. Realising, perhaps, that he’d effectively delivered Bielsa’s pre-match motivational talk for him, Gobby had admitted on his Twitter account that he needed a Villa win last night, or he’d have to deactivate his account in craven embarrassment. Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything understands that the former Villa striker now plans to add a personal disappearance to his virtual one, joining the French Foreign Legion “to forget”.
Whatever the feelings of the crushed and humiliated Agbonlahor, we must not forget that Gobby’s not the only one who’ll be ordering several portions of humble pie – though it’s the crestfallen TalkSport pundit who’s taking the brunt of Villa fans’ frustration and disapproval on Twitter. But the likes of Dean Smith and John Terry have had this experience coming to them, ever since the match at Elland Road when Villa histrionics in the wake of a perfectly legal goal led Bielsa, realising that the media would be all over the incident, to order his team to allow the Villans of the piece a walk-in equaliser. Terry in particular was still mouthing off at Bielsa after this gesture (later recognised with a FIFA Fair Play Award), and it gives me immense pleasure to contemplate the current misery of that deeply unpleasant man. Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold, so United’s victory, and especially the manner of it, was sweeter and more delectable than the finest iced dessert.
It’s been a fabulous start to another sporting weekend, seeing Leeds United outrun, outplay, outthink and thoroughly outclass opponents who had prevailed in every previous match this season. I’d thought perhaps we might match if not exceed Liverpool’s feat of scoring twice at Villa Park, but – with skipper Cooper and midfield fulcrum Phillips both missing – I never suspected we’d concede seven fewer than the Champions.
Of course, we’re Champions too, albeit in a slightly less grand manner, and last night we produced a performance worthy of that title. Villa fans on Twitter were acknowledging at half time that Leeds had been the better side – with the scoreline blank, they hoped for and seemingly expected better things after the interval. But once Leeds had survived a mazy run and shot from Grealish, they were utterly irresistible and thoroughly deserved a victory that could easily have been a lot more emphatic, as even Dean Smith was heard to admit. It was a fabulous win and an unmistakeable message to the football world that United are back.
On a final note of exultation, we can now consider one particular debt repaid in full. Patrick Bamford’s last hat-trick was against Leeds a few years back, for Middlesbrough. Now, he’s repeated the feat, but in our colours and at a higher level. Patrick’s hat trick has raised his seasonal tally to six, and this likeable and increasingly lethal lad appears at last to be finding his confidence and enjoying himself in exalted company. All of which pleases me immensely as a long-time supporter of our No. 9.
As for Gobby – better luck next time, son. And maybe you’ll engage brain before opening mouth before we meet again. Though, given your astounding lack of judgement and discretion this time, I won’t be holding my breath…
The FA, after a short session of head-scratching, have responded to accusations that Liverpool’s first penalty award against Leeds United at Anfield yesterday was in direct contravention of the latest guidance on handball via deflection. The relevant passage, shown below, appears to state unequivocally that, when the ball touches a player’s arm or hand directly from another part of their body, a penalty will not be given.
In the Liverpool v Leeds United game on Saturday, however, when the ball deflected upwards from Robin Koch’s leg onto his arm, referee Michael Oliver almost spat his whistle out in his eagerness to blow for a spot kick after only four minutes. From that moment onwards, United were on the back foot, eventually losing by the odd goal in seven, despite coming back from behind three times.
Even Liverpool stalwart turned Sky pundit Jamie Carragher bemoaned the rank unfairness of that early penalty, making particular reference to the fact that VAR failed to overturn the decision, despite the obvious deflection before the ball struck Koch’s arm. Given the clear and undeniable nature of the injustice, surely the FA would not be able to defend the decision making process from the referee and VAR perspectives?
After a brief but agonised period of reflection, during which the “Official FA Manual on Defending the Indefensible” was intensively consulted, the following statement was issued.
“The FA wish to point out that the guidance referred to specifically mentions “Premier League players” and therefore its effect is limited to that group. In the instance of Liverpool versus Leeds United on the 12th September, the penalty was awarded only four minutes into the first game of the season, which was also Leeds United’s first Premier League game since 2004. In these circumstances, the referee and the VAR officials decided that no Leeds United player could, at the time of the incident in question, yet be regarded as a Premier League player. We would also point out that referee’s decisions, subject to VAR ratification, are final – so really, it’s a bit cheeky of you to question this point.”
It is further understood that the FA, concerned that this explanation might not be acceptable to all, made a specific request to the BBC Match of the Day programme, to the effect that any discussion of the first penalty award should be omitted, with Alan Shearer nominated to make a brief remark to the effect that it was the right decision before going on to heap platitudinous praise on the plucky performance of the Premier League newcomers. The FA are confident that this further measure will effectively put the issue to bed.
Leeds United declined to comment on the matter, beyond a terse statement to the effect that, at this rate, they expect to concede 76 penalties this season. Match Referee Michael Oliver was unavailable for comment, having been advised by the Professional Game Match Officials Limited(PGMOL) not to make himself look any dafter.
Each of Leeds United’s three old-style Football League Championship titles was clinched at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC and, appropriately enough, United’s destination on Saturday as they make their long overdue return to the top flight. In 1992, the Reds were good enough to beat a demoralised Man U 2-0 which, added to Leeds’ earlier triumph at Bramall Lane, saw the Whites as Champions by 4 points in the last ever pre-Premier League competition – which, after Man U had been such solid favourites only a week or so earlier, would have qualified any first time Leeds pundit for a well deserved best bet365 welcome bonus.
In 1974, Liverpool obliged at Anfield again, losing at home to Arsenal to ensure that they couldn’t overhaul Leeds at the top. I remember a TV programme going to an ad break and then an information board coming up which read “Football result: Liverpool 0, Arsenal 1 – LEEDS UNITED ARE THE CHAMPIONS”That simple memory still sends a tingle down my spine, even forty-six years on.
And of course – probably best of all – Leeds United’s first ever title success at the top level of the game came after a showdown between the two deadly but mutually respectful rivals on April 28 1969. Leeds had come to Anfield knowing that a point would clinch the league, and they set out their stall as only they could to obtain that point, in the toughest place possible. They would go on to beat Nottingham Forest in the last game of that season to reach a record 67 points – a mark that wasn’t beaten until Liverpool themselves recorded 68 points, ironically with a 3-0 win at Elland Road, in their fabulous 1978/79 Championship year.
That legendary Leeds United squad of the sixties and seventies hung on Don Revie’s every word, they would follow him into the pit of Hell itself and they trusted him implicitly. This was the cornerstone of the relationship between team and boss; the unit thus formed was formidable indeed and, on their day, there was no-one to touch them. It was often said of that Leeds side that if you cut one, they all bled – and then you’d better watch out, because they’d be after you as one man to seek retribution. They would do anything for each other and anything for the legendary Don – but on that historic night at Anfield over half a century ago, they must have come as near as they ever came to saying “You what, gaffer? Are you sure??”
On the final whistle, as the Leeds players cavorted with joy in front of their delirious fans at this first delightful taste of being The Best – and as the weary Liverpool troops, having given their all in vain, sportingly congratulated the new Champions – Revie came over to Billy Bremner and confirmed to him that he was to lead his team over to the Kop. This, remember, was at a time when crowd violence was becoming very fashionable. A similar gesture at a certain stadium down Trafford way, and sundry other less-than-welcoming grounds around the country, might very well have got you a crack on the head with a pool ball. It did rather seem to be pushing things a bit – but Revie was insistent, and he was very definitely The Boss.
So it was that Billy Bremner, captain of champions Leeds United, gathered his players together and led them on a long, slow walk to the legendary Anfield Kop. When it was realised what was happening, a hush fell on the ground. In near-silence, the heroes in white walked on, nearer and nearer to the most iconic terrace of them all.
As the triumphant yet apprehensive Leeds warriors finally neared the Kop, the long silence was finally broken as the first cry of “Champions!” went up, swiftly echoed by others on the still-packed terrace – until finally the whole 27,000 population of that mighty hill were acclaiming the title-winners with the same shout, over and over again: “Champions! Champions! Champions!!”
Later, in the dressing room, Leeds celebrated anew with champagne provided by Bill Shankly, whose quote was short and to the point: ‘Leeds United are worthy champions,’ he said. ‘They are a great side.’ Revie responded by praising Liverpool, the club, the fans and their fine team. ‘The reception given us by the sporting Liverpool crowd was truly magnificent,’ he acknowledged, ‘and so, for that matter, was our defence tonight. They were superb in everything.’ It was a night of triumph and disaster, as these decisive nights tend to be, depending on whether you were White or Red; but it was also, let us not forget, a night of dignity, respect and utter, unalloyed class – not least from those 27,000 Liverpool fans on the Anfield Kop.
Some unlikely candidates have put themselves forward as “rivals” to Leeds United over the last decade and a half, as Yorkshire’s finest have languished in the middle two tiers of English football’s four division structure. Some, such as Barnsley and Huddersfield, have had few pretensions to be compared size or history wise with United, but feel a tribal enmity based on geographical proximity, which is understandable enough. The same might be said of the two Sheffield clubs, or even Bradford City.
All these local clubs, together with the likes of Reading, Millwall, Derby etc etc have sought to exploit the reduced circumstances of Leeds for as long as their top flight exile lasted, to suggest that genuine two-way rivalries were in place. That bubble of delusion popped with United’s overdue elevation to the Premier League, and the realisation that the traditional enmities would now be cordially resumed. In the hearts and minds of Leeds fans, it was always about the likes of man utd and Chelski, with those clubs reciprocating the extreme dislike, even during our long absence from actual competitive involvement.
But, even in the Premier League, there are lesser clubs who clearly yearn to carry the mantle of “Leeds United’s rivals”, however ridiculous such a claim seems in the absence of any reciprocal antipathy, or indeed any real interest on the part of the Leeds fan base. Still, that hasn’t stopped certain clubs from fondly imagining there’s a rivalry there, and one in particular is extremely reluctant to give up on even such an outlandish notion.
For Brighton and Hove Albion – not so much the club itself, more their fans and adherent local press – the time since the end of last season seems to have been a prolonged and unaccustomed spell in the spotlight, due entirely to Leeds United’s pursuit of Ben White, who spent a gloriously successful Championship campaign on loan at Elland Road and was now wanted by United on a permanent basis. The move never happened, despite repeated efforts on the part of Leeds, and despite the player himself being widely regarded as wanting a return to West Yorkshire. In the end, Brighton stood firm, and Leeds, after making three offers and having them all turned down, reluctantly looked elsewhere and signed a German international for around half what they’d been willing to pay for White, who lacks any experience at all of top flight football, let alone the international arena. So Brighton kept their player, Leeds got a more than adequate replacement in Robin Koch, and Ben himself, at long last, got a contract acceptable to him, given the value placed upon him by his parent club. Case closed, so you’d have thought.
But no. The Brighton support and the local press for the region were not willing to give up so much delicious attention, and set about trying to force an unlikely rivalry with a club and support base hundreds of miles to the north, both of which habitually looked west to the red quarter of Manchester for its chief object of dislike and derision.
For Brighton, the Ben White tranfer saga evidently represented their biggest day in the sun since a Cup Final appearance (coinciding with relegation) 37 years ago. Looking further back, their only other real mark on history was a Charity Shield triumph sometime prior to the Great War of 1914-18, so it’s reasonably understandable that their fans should wish to prolong any spell in the public eye. But the ridiculousness of their efforts to talk up a “rivalry” is to be found in the fact that such efforts persisted even after Leeds ended their interest in Ben White, with the local press tagging Leeds in any tweets relating to his eventual new contract, and the Brighton fans on Twitter eagerly attempting to troll bemused Leeds United fans, who remained preoccupied with more traditional rivals and only thought of Brighton when Quadrophenia was on the telly.
It was all most unedifying, and it’s a stark warning that we can’t expect much more by way of dignity and restraint in the Premier League than we ever found at lower levels. I got drawn into the slanging match myself at various points before it became clear that, despite his wishes in the matter (confirmed today by his agent), Ben White would not be sold to Leeds at any price. At that point, I stopped taking the mick about Bielsaball versus Potterball, and moved onto more pressing matters – such as how the EFL would survive without Leeds United. But the Brighton fans persisted, becoming more evidently needy and utterly ridiculous with each passing day. Abandoning any sense of irony or perspective, they’re vying with each other to label United a small club, heading straight back down, which is insolence if you like, and pretty foolhardy stuff to boot. But the relentless tagging of LUFC by the Brighton tweeters and the Sussex Bugle, or whatever it’s called, continues unabated. This is a club unused to such attention, and clearly its supporters are desperate to prolong the experience as far and as long as possible.
The whole thing reflects pretty poorly on the Brighton support, certainly of the online variety, which has been encouraged in its collective acts of self-ridicule by a local press clearly cottoning onto the fact that tagging Leeds in any published piece will increase the number of hits exponentially. Again, I’ll exclude the club itself from those remarks, due to their determination in resisting offers from a bigger club, which you have to applaud. They also showcased Ben White in a video allowing him to express his appreciation of his time at Leeds, and to thank the fans for the support and adulation he received here. That was classy stuff, and there was no real need for Brighton to do it, so fair play.
Perhaps – just perhaps – Brighton & Hove Albion still remember that Leeds United helped save them financially when they were enduring hard times, by signing goalkeeper Mark Beeney for a significant sum, which went a long way towards alleviating a threatening situation at the time. That’s a factor that the local press down there, and the eager-beaver online fans might do well to take into account before bringing down even more ridicule upon themselves. However recent Leeds United’s elevation to the top level, it’s an undeniable fact that the Elland Road outfit is by far and away a bigger club than Brighton could ever dream of being, with a far more illustrious history, a fan base that spans the globe and (let’s face it) a much better coach and the makings of a squad that will compare well even with such an – ahem – established Premier League force as Brighton.
The moral of this tale is probably: choose your rivals well, and don’t punch above your weight – something the over-enthusiastic Brighton fans have flouted, thereby making themselves look several shades of daft. There’s a perfectly good south coast rival in Southampton, not an incongruously bigger beast as Leeds are, and therefore much less likely to reflect poorly on and embarrass the Brighton club. From here on in, it’s to be hoped that the Seagulls, fans and hacks alike, will conduct themselves in a more seemly and less cringeworthy manner – but I suppose we’d better not hold our breath.
Leeds United, big club, great fans. Massive player in any league
On the face of it, any question with the question “do we want Leeds United promoted” in it would always come under the heading of “bleedin’ silly/obvious”. But circumstances alter cases and we are not living in normal times. So, weird as it would normally appear, we’ve seen genuine Leeds United fans genuinely confused and uncertain about what seems to be a genuine possibility that United, along with West Brom, may be invited to join a slightly inflated Premier League next season, with the caveat that they’d have to finish five or six places clear of the bottom in order to stay up – as there could be four or five relegated to redress the imbalance caused by no relegation at the end of this possibly truncated season.
Phew. If that’s all clear to you, we now move on to the even knottier issue of whether or not we’d want promotion this way. Certainly, it’s far from ideal There’d be no carousing on the pitch after an ecstatic final whistle, no tension, no anticipation, probably not even the civic pride of an open-top bus parade from City Square to the Town Hall and onwards to Elland Road. Instead, it would be the meekest, mildest and probably least satisfactory promotion ever – but at least we’d be up.
The other alternatives are scarcely more attractive. Voiding the season simply doesn’t bear thinking about, so I won’t discuss it. Resuming the season in the foreseeable future seems unlikely, unless some way can be found to play behind closed doors without causing riots outside locked stadia. But at least that would permit the possibility of an earned and undisputed promotion (unless we screw up again). Ending the league now, with the positions as they are, would perhaps taint any promotion thus earned. Yes, we’re seven clear of third – but even Liverpool, twenty-five points clear at the top of the Premier League, need two more wins as it stands, for mathematical certainty. Would we really want our many critics to have the open goal of “Yeah, you went up – but it was shoddy”. As Spurs legend Danny Blanchflower famously said, “The game is about glory”. There’s a school of thought that demands any promotion should be glorious, and therefore shrinks away from any antiglorious creative accounting or artifice, whatever the circumstances.
I’m looking for input here, tell me what you think. I must confess that, if we were simply invited up alongside WBA, it would leave a slightly hollow feeling where my yellow, blue and white heart should be. Not that it’d stop me hailing us as Champions. But would any of us stick so closely to noble principles that we’d look a gift horse in the mouth and say, no – I’d rather we stayed down and earned it next year? Not forgetting, of course that – given another year in the Championship – we’d probably be saying goodbye to Marcelo Bielsa (God) and Kalvin Phillips, the Yorkshire Pirlo himself.
I must admit, I slightly lean towards going up any which way, and arguing about it later, with our Premier League status confirmed. But there’s a nagging doubt still, over how I’d actually feel.
Let me know what you think, please. Feel free to add in your own feelings, doubts, arguments. And please don’t think I’m neglecting the seriousness of this COVID-19 crisis. But that’s all over the media – and here in this protective bubble is where we talk about Leeds United, while the world outside goes crazy.
With the suspension of all domestic professional football until at least April 3rd, fans of clubs who occupy highly promising league positions are understandably worried about their favourites’ prospects of success being snatched from them by a nasty little bug – but enough of Shaun Harvey.
Leeds United, of course – along with the likes of Liverpool in the league above and Coventry in the third tier – are among the clubs for whom the future, so apparently bright a bare few days back, now seems uncertain to say the least. Seven points clear of that dreaded third place, United looked nailed-on for promotion – with the Championship title dangling as a temptingly achievable bonus. One pandemic later, and we’re all stressing about still being in this league next season (whenever that might be) sans Bielsa, sans the Yorkshire Pirlo, bereft of hope and considering legal action.
But don’t despair. The seeds of our salvation were sown a few weeks back with the decision handed down from on high that Kiko Casilla, although deemed not to be a racist, would nevertheless be banned for some racist abuse that nobody can be sure actually happened. With a cool £60,000 fine thrown in, along with a date with the FA Re-education and Indoctrination Guild (FRIG) it’s a pretty hefty penalty for something unproven. But the authorities decided they were vindicated by the lower standard of proof applicable in non-criminal cases, and happily threw the book at Kiko, concluding that he dunnit, on balance of probabilities.
This was felt by some at the time to be scandalous as well as draconian, but now it’s a precedent that may well assist Leeds United, as well as the likes of Liverpool and Coventry. All three clubs are so well placed that the half-baked balance of probabilities test would have to find them overwhelmingly likely to clinch promotion. Some bookies have Leeds with a 98% chance of going up, which satisfies even the more stringent “beyond reasonable doubt” test. As for Liverpool, it’s far more likely that Boris Johnson will be hit by a meteorite than that the Reds will fail to become Champions of England for the first time since 1990 – when Leeds United coincidentally last won promotion to the top flight as second tier Champs.
So there you have it. The authorities are hamstrung by their own legal machinations, hoist by their own petard. Even if they want to seize upon this virus crisis to deny Leeds promotion (and I bet they do) – they will find that they can’t. Probably.
Just over 44 years ago, my dad ensured that I’d be saddled with a hopeless devotion to Leeds United for the rest of my life. He did this by the simple expedient of purchasing tickets for“the two biggest games of the season”. There theywere, these seemingly innocuous but actually life-changing pieces of paper, artlessly displayed on the dining room table – my initiation to the Elland Road experience. Liverpool first, on Saturday April the 5th1975and then, the following Wednesday, I’d see Leeds United take on the mighty Barcelona,Cruyff,Neeskensand all, in the European Cup semi final.
As I’d never even shown the remotest interest in attending a football match, it’s fair to say that my dad was taking a bit of a punt on me enjoying myself. For all he knew, I could havesulked throughboth matches; certainly he could never have foreseen the extent to which this sudden treat would alter my outlook and priorities.
Strangely, just as Dad was introducing me to a lifetime ofUnitedfanaticism, his own passion for theclub was about to decline. It’s almost as if he was preparing to hand over the responsibility for supporting the club he’d loved since he was a teenager, even though my first few years of being a proper Leeds fan were spent in his company. Dad didn’t seem to handle the waning of the club’s fortunes too well – after all, he’d seen the flowering of John Charles’ geniusin the fifties, then he’d gone all the way through the Revie era of Super Leeds as United carried all before them, winning everything to become footballlegends.
Those were pretty tough acts to follow, and my dad became perhaps a little impatient with the lesser breed of players who were my new heroes. Eventually, I started to go to Elland Road on my own, and I’d come back waxing lyrical about Tony Currie, Arthur Graham, Brian Flynn or Ray Hankin. For me, it was all still bold and new, and I savoured the unique atmosphere as I graduated fromLowfieldswith my dad, via the Boys’ Pen to theGelderdEnd Kop. I’d inherited the mantle ofthe family’sUnitedfanatic, and Dad seemed almost eager to trade terrace for armchair and take a more passive role.
Still, he stuck with it for the first few seasons of my Leeds United worship. This was pretty considerate of him, as I brought Leeds United no luck at all. In that first game, we lost at home to Liverpool 2-0 and, although I saw us beat Barcelona on that memorable Elland Road night, with Billy Bremner scoring my first ever “live” Leeds United goal, my record in the league was dismal over the next couple of seasons. Dad must have thought of me as a Jonah – I never even sawUnitedscore another goal, let alone avoid defeat, until I started going to the match on my own in August 1976. In the meantime, we lost to the likes of Liverpool (again), Norwich and Sheffield United, all of which defeats I assumed to be my fault, and I think Dad agreed. But I was not discouraged; I was hooked and that was it. When I eventually saw us win in the league, 2-0 against Derby with goals from Eddie Gray and Trevor Cherry, I was delirious with joy and, to this day, every detail of that game is sharp and clear in my memory.
I know that Dad often regretted making a Leeds fan out of me, he was even on about it on my wedding day. He thought I could have spent my time more productively, maybe in playing him in the fiercely competitive Scrabble sessions which he adored – and, on the odd occasion, I’ve found myself agreeing. But overall, it’s been wonderful and, having journeyed from a milk crate vantage point in the middle “shelf” of Lowfields to my present perch on the West Stand Press gantry, I can’t imagine a life without United.
Now, over four years since Dad passed away, I’ve finally managed to make him apermanentpart of Elland Road with a“Father and Son”stone in Bremner Square, as pictured above. It’s taken me a while, but at last Ithink I’ve found the most fitting and enduring wayto say “thanks, Dad”. MOT, wherever you may be.
There can be no denying that Leeds United were more than a little unfortunate to emerge from Saturday’s Yorkshire derby clash with Sheffield United empty-handed. Given ordinary luck, with just a break or two going the way of the Whites, it could have been a very different story; even a draw would have seen Leeds two points clear of third place. But little went right on the day and that, sadly, is a feeling that every Leeds fan down the years knows all too well.
As it is, we had to take an undeserved defeat on the chin, with the woodwork, injuries and just about every factor you could name ranged against us. United are now a point off the automatic promotion places, when they could have been five points clear of third. Loud and woeful has been the wailing, rending of garments and gnashing of teeth among the United faithful, as the fates seem determined to conspire against Yorkshire’s Number One club.
But wait just a minute. Calm yourselves, fellow Leeds devotees, and be of good cheer. It’s all happened before, you see, at about this time of year too – and it’s rarely been fatal to our chances of success. When you look at our most recent landmark seasons, right back to when I was nobbut a lad, you’ll see that a late stumble or two, with United there or thereabouts and the tension mounting, is much more the rule than the exception.
Going as far back as 1974, when Don Revie‘s Super Leeds were stumbling somewhat along the title path, having at one stage been nine points clear, Burnley visited Elland Road and departed with two points from a 4-1 victory. It was hailed as nearest challengers Liverpool‘s great chance to overhaul United, but Leeds ended up as Champions and by a decisive margin.
Then, in 1990, Barnsley were the visitors on a night when nothing went right for Leeds. Centre back Chris Fairclough was absent for 13 first half minutes having seven stitches in a head wound. He rejoined the fray in time to plant a brave and bloody header into the Barnsley net, giving Leeds a well-deserved interval lead, to the massive relief of a huge Elland Road crowd. Surely, nothing could go wrong now?
In truth, we battered Barnsley throughout the ninety minutes but, in a sickening second half turnaround, two subs for the Tykes scored in quick succession, gifting the Reds an extremely unlikely win. Again, doom and gloom stalked the streets of Leeds – but United still went up as champions.
And then, two years on, Leeds were engaged in an almighty battle with Them from There for the last ever Football League Championship. The media were all agog for the Devonians to win the league – how fitting it would be, they purred. When Leeds lost heavily away, twice in a short space of time, it looked as though the script was written, with Leeds cast as fall guys. A 1-4 defeat at QPR had been followed in short order by a 0-4 reverse at Manchester City, and the Leeds-hating nation celebrated. But it was the Whites who held their nerve and mustered their resources to clinch the title of Last Champions by four points, while Manchester’s second club amusingly choked on the dry ashes of defeat.
So nil desperandum, all you devoted Whites out there. We’ve tripped up, recovered and gone on to win many a time before, in accordance with this great club’s motto of “Keep Fighting” – and there’s no reason we can’t do it again. Have faith in Marcelo Bielsa‘s boys, who really do have that fighting spirit that typified Super Leeds of old, and simply trust that all will come right in the end. Believe.