Tag Archives: Liverpool

Five of the Best Inflicted on Harry Kewell as Leeds Wonderkids Batter Notts County – by Rob Atkinson

It’s possibly a little uncool to crow about an U-23 victory, even of the most decisive variety, and away from home too. But allow me to make an exception in the case of the Leeds United second string’s wilful destruction of their Notts County equivalents at Ilkeston this afternoon. Notts County, by their appointment of former Leeds star turned shameless Judas Harry Kewell, have entered my little black book, that symbolic item inspired by big Jack Charlton‘s own record of those who had upset or annoyed him. I wish them nothing but ill, and their disgrace of a coach too.

Kewell was possibly the most talented performer to emerge from the United youth setup since Eddie Gray. He had all the ability in the world, simply oozing technical skill, vision and an unerring eye for goal. Like many another fan, I was seduced by all of this, but there was a nagging doubt from quite early in his Leeds career. I remember in those early days, he scored a sublime narrow-angle volley against Derby County in a game Leeds won 4-3 from being 0-3 down. It was a cracking strike, a sumptuous finish, and any other youngster would have been climbing the floodlight pylons in sheer elation. But not Kewell – he strolled back to the halfway line with the merest, indolent celebratory wave of his arm, as if to say “make way for a genius”. Well, genius he was, on the ball anyway, but something missing in his character, maybe a measure of humility, separated him from the greats like Eddie Gray. It also proved fundamental to his later transgressions.

I won’t recount that degraded fall into infamy and disgrace again here, I’ve done it before in detail. The selfishly-engineered move to Liverpool, depriving a broke Leeds of much-needed cash. His lack of bottle coming off in a Champions League Final with Liverpool 0-3 down, then cavorting uninjured with his unearned winner’s medal after Liverpool had fought back to triumph without him. And the ultimate, calculated insult – the crass insensitivity of his move to that bestial, feral Istanbul club hated with such good reason by all fans of Leeds United. Let’s leave it at merely listing these things, they speak for themselves, after all.

It’s going to take many more incidents like today’s humbling of a team from Kewell’s Notts County, before any United fan will seriously suggest we’ve achieved payback. But it’ll do to be going on with – so well done to Leeds United’s increasingly impressive U-23 side on another outstanding display – one that I’d like to think was inspired by the identity of the opposition boss.

Chalk one item off in my little black book.

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High Time Leeds United Got Serious and Professional about LUTV – by Rob Atkinson

The Twitter hashtag #LUFC on Thursday evening was full of Leeds fans moaning, carping and complaining bitterly. This isn’t exactly an unusual state of affairs but, for once, almost every gripe was well justified. Because, departing from the usual theme of ranting about transfer activity or the lack thereof, Leeds fans on Thursday evening were up in arms about the woefully amateurish “service” provided by LUTV.

To say the service provided is not good enough hardly does justice to what an appalling travesty it is. The club have had the cheek to charge for what is likely to be pretty grim viewing – a series of pre-season friendlies with hardly a new signing to be seen – and they have failed, in the case of the York City game, to fulfil their side of this dubious bargain. The picture constantly froze, and even when there was some visual action, it was miles out of sync with the amateurish commentary. Most of the time though, the picture was pixelated or frozen. It’s not good enough, not when you’re charging folk hard brass. The package of pre-season matches is around fifteen quid, with individual games at £3.99. By comparison with that, the beer I bought at a Broadway Theatre last year, which came in at around $14 for a half pint, was pretty good value.

It’s time Leeds United got serious about their in-house TV station, and sought a satellite platform as other clubs have done, Liverpool and Chelsea being notable examples. It’s difficult to understand why this doesn’t appear close to happening; our owner is a media mogul, for heaven’s sake, and the strength of the Leeds following globally is the stuff of legends. The demand is there, surely the resources are too, and there’s simply no excuse for a club like Leeds to take our money and then provide a service that simply doesn’t work.

So let’s see LUTV on Sky, the interest would be huge if there was a reliable and professional service. Then perhaps the days of buffering, shoddy camera work and joke commentators could be put firmly behind us.

With Bielsa Joining Leeds, Legendary Striker Fernando Torres Cannot be Ruled Out – by Rob Atkinson

Fernando+Torres+Leeds+United+v+Chelsea+Capital+a5U_uColm1Xl

Fernando Torres – on his way back to Elland Road?

SkyBet have suspended betting now on the question of the next Leeds United manager – the last price available on Marcelo Bielsa was, reportedly, a not altogether generous 20-1 on. If the bookies expect you to invest £20 to gain a quid, then you can bet they’re fairly certain of the eventual outcome – and now, even that price is off the table. With other sources reporting that Bielsa has been granted a work permit, it seems nailed-on that “El Loco” will be installed in the Elland Road hotseat in the very near future.

To say that this represents a change in United’s recruitment policy is hopelessly inadequate. It’s like saying that Leicester City‘s 2015 title triumph was mildly surprising, or that Harry Kewell is perhaps lacking slightly in the nobler scruples. Bielsa to Leeds is a seismic event, something that shows the club are getting seriously serious in their approach to achieving promotion to the Promised Land. As the wise Yorkshireman observed when he sampled his neighbour’s parsnip wine, “Owt could ‘appen ‘ere”.

That being the case, other stories in circulation, yarns that would normally be dismissed as too outlandish and fanciful even for Coronation Street, must now be treated a little more respectfully. In layman’s terms: if Bielsa can agree to take over at Leeds, and especially if he’s managed to get the club to grant him a big say in all footballing matters including transfers, then pretty much anything can happen now. We’re entering an alternate reality here, one for which the last decade and a half has left us totally unprepared. It is indeed a whole new ball game.

So, when rumour has it that Leeds United, at Senor Bielsa’s behest, are showing an interest in former Liverpool and Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, now 34 but eminently capable still of tearing the Championship division a new one, then my advice would have to be: Titter ye not. Put aside your initial impulse to scoff, carp and otherwise demonstrate your scorn. A new reality is upon us, and who can say with any certainty what’s possible or probable under these radically different circumstances? Not I, and, I’d respectfully suggest, not you either.

Even now, though, with an improbability field so vast drifting around Elland Road, that you’d be forgiven for demanding a refund on your Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, some possibilities must be counted as less likely than others. Bielsa? Almost certainly. Abel Hernandez? Where else is the lad going to go? Kyle Bartley? Agent Ayling is on the case. But Torres – a legend in the truest football sense of the world – that has to be a bit more of a stretch. SkyBet, supremely confident about Bielsa, regard Torres to Leeds rather more circumspectly at 33-1. They appear to see Japan as his likely destination, with Premier League minnows Newcastle also much more highly fancied than Yorkshire’s Number One, at 12-1.

Then again, it’s at Leeds United where the nigh-on impossible stuff appears to be happening right now. It should be remembered that Torres would be the third ex-Liverpool striker to join Leeds in the last couple of decades, following on from Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler. Could we really see Fernando Torres leading the line for the Whites at Millwall and Rotherham next season? The way things are around LS11 at the moment, you’d better think twice about betting against it.

The Silver Jubilee of Leeds United’s “Last Champions”   –   by Rob Atkinson

Jon Newsome whose goal was so crucial

Twenty-five years ago today, Leeds United became The Last Champions. They became the ultimate winners of the old-style Football League, which was superseded but never surpassed by Sky’s glitzy soccer revolution. There’s even a film about it now, the newly-released Do You Want To Win? Well they certainly did want to win, and I was there that day to see the passing of the old era, and the immortalisation of Wilko’s Warriors.

Parked up in the scruffy environs of Bramall Lane, Sheffield, just about the first thing my mate Dave did as we walked to the ground was to drag me back out of the path of a van as I stepped out to cross a road, oblivious of traffic, lost in thought. We grinned at my narrow escape and agreed: good omen. And then we were high up in the seats of the upper tier behind the goal at the away end of Sheffield United’s quaintly ill-designed stadium. The day was gusty, and so the football would prove to be. It was a match of ebb and flow, the Sheffield United faithful eager to deny Leeds their chance of clinching the title, Leeds fans loud, proud and defiant with self-belief. If we won, and Man U lost at Liverpool later, we were Champions.

You’ll probably have seen the goals from that game hundreds of times. It plays through now, all these years later, in the Football Highlights studio of my mind; joy for the home side as Alan Cork, bald of pate, pokes the ball home to give Sheffield the lead. Then, midfield tussles in the swirling wind, as the Whites try valiantly to come back. A late first-half free kick, which Gordon Strachan races to take before the home defence is ready, finding Rod Wallace who tips the ball past the home keeper’s attempt to save. Defenders scramble to clear, only to hit the late, great Gary Speed who bounces the ball back to ricochet off Wallace – into the net. Cue pandemonium in the away end. Level at half time, we’re breathless with drama and the hurly-burly of it all, raucous with United anthems, nervous of what’s yet to come.  

In the second half, though we don’t know it, human tragedy unfolds: Sheffield ‘keeper Mel Rees, injured in the mêlée leading to Leeds’ leveller, thigh heavily strapped, can hardly move and is hampered for the second Leeds goal as Jon Newsome stoops to head in at the far post. Rees was due a Welsh international call-up the next day, but has to pull out because of his injury. He would never play football again because he was to develop cancer and die a year later, tragically young at 26.

RIP, Mel Rees.

The crazy game continues crazily. A ball across the Leeds box is retrieved by home defender John Pemberton, who turns it back towards the goal-line where Lee Chapman sticks out a leg for an own-goal greeted with horror by the Leeds contingent. We’re level again. But enfant terrible Eric Cantona enters the fray, and within a few minutes he’s chasing a loose ball into the Sheffield half, Wallace scampering alongside and home defender Brian Gayle lumbering back in a desperate attempt to clear the danger. And it’s Gayle, former Man City man, who finally slays Man United. From my vantage point at the opposite end, I see him head the ball, and the action is suddenly slow motion. Poor Mel Rees is stranded far out of goal; the ball is sailing over his head in a slow loop, bouncing tantalisingly towards the empty net…

Then I’m watching at full speed again, as Cantona and Wallace raise their arms in triumph, wheeling away in delight, and even as I wonder what they’re up to, I realise that the ball is nestling in the Sheffield United goal. An ironically red mist descends; I am utterly beside myself in delirious joy, leaping around feverishly, roaring like a demented bull, face congested, eyes bulging, hyperventilating. I grab a helpless wee St John’s Ambulance man by his lapels and scream into his terrified face “Get me some oxygen!!!” The mad moment passes, I drop the ashen medic and some measure of sanity returns, but we’re still cavorting and diving all over each other, a seething, sweating mass of Leeds, because we know it’s over, we know that Sheffield are beaten, and we know that Man U don’t have an earthly at Anfield, not a prayer. We were Champions; on that windiest and gustiest of days, a Gayle from Manchester City has blown Man U away and decided in an instant the fate of all three Uniteds from Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

Leeds United, the undisputed cream of the crop. It all seems so long ago now. Happy silver anniversary, to the heroes – and also to the massive supporting cast of jubilant fans.

Hillsborough 28 Years On, Tribute to Liverpool From a Leeds Fan   –   by Rob Atkinson

Hillsborough: 28 Years On

The bodies laid out on the hard wooden floor
Motionless all, side by side
Robbed of their lives and let down by the law
Give us justice, they silently cried

They came for the football, their heroes in red
Part of a jubilant tide
Who guessed such a day could end up with them dead?
Give us justice, they silently cried

In loud expectation, with glory the goal
They’d sung and they’d shouted their pride
Now shrouded in silence, each newly-fled soul
Give us justice, they silently cried

Betrayed by their guardians, those officers high
While the hacks and the suits squirmed and lied
With family and friends left to ask how and why
Give us justice, they silently cried

Inquest proceedings, foul slurs in the press
The guilty with so much to hide
These innocent victims with naught to confess
Give us justice, they silently cried

And what of the mothers and dads left behind
The sisters and brothers beside
Though months and years passed they were never resigned
Give us justice! they angrily cried

Through decades of struggle, they kept up the fight
Their arguments oft set aside
Yet they never lost hope nor extinguished the light
Give us justice! they angrily cried

Pouring scorn on the tabloids, exposing the Sun
Sharing real Truth far and wide
Politicians and journos and chiefs on the run
Give us justice! they angrily cried

Banners and flags on the Kop all those years
Venting the fury inside
Pressing their point through the veil of their tears
Give us justice! they angrily cried

At last the truth spoken, the guilty revealed
The living and dead unified
In one voice as they ask for their scars to be healed
Give us justice! they angrily cried

Seven and twenty the years that had passed
A lifetime of justice denied
The ones who were lost could be peaceful at last
With the families who stood by their side.

RIP – You’ll Never Walk Alone

 

Rob Atkinson

The Hillsborough Disaster Warnings That Weren’t Heeded – by Rob Atkinson

Hillsborough - an Anfield tribute

Hillsborough – an Anfield tribute

Incredibly, 27 years have flashed past already, since that awful spring day in 1989, when 96 football fans turned up to follow their team towards Wembley – and never came home again. I was one of a paltry 14,915 at Elland Road that day, watching Leeds United eke out a 1-0 home win over Brighton as Sgt. Wilko’s first half-season meandered to an uneventful close. When the news filtered through that there had been “trouble” in the semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, the initial reaction was as predictable as it was wide of the mark: “the scousers are at it again.” Heysel was still fresh in the memory, English clubs were still banned from Europe – and nobody judges football fans quite like other football fans (or, at least, so we thought until the Sun got going). We were tolerably certain, as a bunch of Leeds supporters, that the Liverpool fans had caused more bother, and we glumly predicted another indiscriminate backlash that would envelop us all.

As we were on our way out of Elland Road, though, the full, awful impact started to hit home. There were deaths – people had actually died at an English football stadium – something that hadn’t happened on anything like this scale before. Apart from the Bradford fire – a very different disaster – the only comparable event in England had been the Burnden Park tragedy at Bolton, when 33 had lost their lives in a crush at a hopelessly inadequate ground with over 85,000 attending an FA Cup quarter final. That had been well over a generation before, in 1946. Surely, it couldn’t really be happening again, on an even greater scale, in the shiny bright late eighties?

But as we looked on in horror, the TV and radio news brought increasingly sombre statistics while the death toll steadily mounted – and later the sheer ghastliness of the event would be magnified as the tale of criminal incompetence and official negligence was revealed – and as the filthy end of the press, abetted by weaselling functionaries in Government and the Civil Service, jumped on the “blame the fans” bandwagon that other football supporters had vacated as soon as the scale and nature of the catastrophe became apparent.

If you were a Leeds United fan, a chill ran through you when you thought about what had happened; when you realised that this had, indeed, been a disaster waiting to happen. The Hillsborough Stadium was so oriented that the organising authorities found it easier, more convenient, to allocate stands to the fans of opposing semi-finalists based on where the bulk of those fans were travelling from. So, in 1989, Forest got the large Kop End, while the much larger Liverpool contingent were shovelled into the Leppings Lane End behind the opposite goal. It was the same the year before, when the same two teams contested the 1988 semi-final. And, similarly, in 1987, when Coventry of the Midlands faced Leeds United of the North, the greater Leeds numbers found themselves packed tight in Leppings Lane, while the smaller Coventry band enjoyed the wide open spaces on the Hillsborough Kop.

So two years prior to the Hillsborough Disaster, I and thousands of others were packed into the smaller Leppings Lane End on that April the 12th of 1987. The atmosphere was electric; it was United’s first FA Cup semi for ten years and Billy Bremner‘s men had been in terrific form as they challenged for a double of the Cup and promotion to the old Division One. We were jammed in like sardines on that terrace; looking up you could see fans climbing out of the back of the crowd, up over the wall and into the upper tier of the stand where space was more freely available.

Down on the packed terrace, it was swaying, singing fever pitch from before the kick-off right through to the heart-breaking climax of extra time. You weren’t an individual, you were part of a seething mass that moved as one, shouted and sang as one and breathed – when it could – as one. When Leeds scored their two goals, it was mayhem in there – you couldn’t move, you couldn’t breathe, you just bobbed about like a cork on stormy waters, battered by the ecstasy of the crowd, loving it and, at the same time, just a bit worried about where your next gulp of oxygen was coming from. Leeds took the lead early, David Rennie scoring down at the far end. That shattering celebration was topped when, having gone 2-1 behind, Leeds clawed it back right in front of us as Keith Edwards headed an equaliser and the United army exploded with joy. It was the single most jubilant and yet terrifying moment of my life to that point.

Later, after the match was over, as we trailed away despondently from the scene of an heroic defeat, there was time to reflect on what had been an afternoon of highs and lows, with the physical reaction of that epic few hours inside a pressure cooker swiftly setting in. With the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight, it’s easy enough now to look back over twenty-nine years and think: “Yes, we were lucky.” Lucky that the incompetence threshold wasn’t passed that day when we were there. Lucky that enough of the terrace fans got into the upper tier to relieve the pressure ever so slightly – was that a factor?  So lucky that it wasn’t us, when it easily could have been. Lucky, ultimately, to be alive and kicking still. The warning signs were there – they just weren’t perceived by those of us – the fans – for whom it had just been another somewhat uncomfortable but thrilling spectator experience. That those signs weren’t recognised or heeded by the people responsible for public safety is a far more damning fact.

Poignantly enough, the luck we’d had that day wasn’t shared by 96 Liverpool supporters two years later. They set off happily, to support their heroes – and, tragically, they never returned. Twenty-seven years on, the wait for justice has been torturous for all concerned. The families and friends left behind, veterans of over a quarter of a century of grief and loss, have never given up their courageous fight, despite cover-ups and official brick walls, despite scurrilous press coverage which reached an obscene and disgusting low point with the Sun – that vanguard of the gutter press – and its sickening lies. 

Now, there is an inquest verdict at last. We have the official findings of unlawful killing and, surely there is finally justice for The 96. And indeed for all of the friends and family they left behind. Yet, even now, with the South Yorkshire Police Force unreservedly accepting the inquest findings, we still have the likes of Thatcher aide Bernard Ingham refusing to apologise for his own scandalous remarks in the wake of the disaster, now utterly discredited as he himself has been. There is no remorse or regret from Ingham, who stands as a symbol of official ignorance and deceit. All he is good for now, this bitter, bigoted old man, is sitting at home and growing his comedy eyebrows.

Twenty-seven years is far too long for anyone bereaved of their loved ones to wait – but justice is worth waiting for, if only so that the dead can sleep more peacefully and the living can have closure of a sort – and move on with the business of being alive. And – as a footnote – how appropriate it would now be if Liverpool FC could go on to win the Europa League after that thrilling victory over Borussia Dortmund – just for the families, the friends and those that were lost on that fateful day and in its aftermath..

There could be no finer or more fitting tribute to The 96, surely, than this long-awaited justice that has been served today – and the return of the Champions League football to Anfield.

Let it be.

When the Anfield Kop Saluted our Leeds United Champions – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United's Champions take the tributes of the Liverpool Kop

Leeds United’s Champions take the tributes of the Liverpool Kop

Each of Leeds United’s three Football League Championship titles was clinched at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC.  In 1992, the Reds were good enough to beat a demoralised Man U 2-0 which, added to our earlier triumph at Bramall Lane, saw us as Champions by 4 points in the last ever proper old-style league competition.  In 1974, Liverpool obliged at Anfield again, losing at home to Arsenal to ensure that they couldn’t overhaul us 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 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 – almost exactly 45 years ago. 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 45 years back, they must have come as near as they ever came to saying “You what, gaffer?  Are you bloody 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 the Theatre of Hollow Myths 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 or a dart in the eye. It did rather seem to be pushing things a bit – but Revie was insistent, and he was very definitely The Boss.

So it happened 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.

On the night, Bremner had won the toss for Leeds, and had elected to make the Reds attack the Kop in the first half; a tactical ploy that went against the home side’s preference for a second half onslaught on their favourite end. So the Leeds players had to walk nearly the length of the pitch to approach the massed Liverpool fans behind the Kop goal, and with every passing second, the silence became more loaded – almost a solid thing you might cut with a knife.  Leeds United were asking for it – what would they get?

What they did get is now the stuff of legend and has passed deservedly into United and Liverpool folklore.  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!!”

This was completely unprecedented; a moment unparalleled before or since, something to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, the ultimate acknowledgement of respect and admiration even out of defeat – and a massive credit to the football fans of Liverpool FC.  It was the epitome of true rivalry between two crack teams, forged out of one of the grisliest on-field battles any football ground had witnessed for many a long year.  No finer tribute could have been paid by any fans, anywhere – and the Leeds players stayed out there, in front of the Kop, for a good quarter of an hour or more, paying their respects to both sets of fans.

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. It was superb in everything.’  The conduct and bearing of both managers was a mark of the relationship between the two top clubs in the land – and a marked contrast to the ungraceful reaction of Alex Ferguson at the same venue 23 years later, after the Leeds of 1992 had pipped his charges to the Last Championship Title and he, characteristically, dripped bile and acid all over the occasion.

Looking back from today’s perspective, with managers bitching about each other, players diving, cheating and trying to get each other into disciplinary trouble – and the stench of filthy lucre all-pervading – it seems far longer ago than 45 years to that Anfield night when the competition was so unremittingly fierce; white-hot, with no quarter given or asked for.   And yet after the battle was done, all that remained was respect from the teams for each other, of the staff for their opposite numbers, and of both sets of fans for an epic battle well fought.

Sadly, those days are gone, never to return.  But for those of us lucky enough to be able to remember, those images will never fade, the sound of those tributes can still be heard ringing out across the years.  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.    

Will Everton Make a Title Gift to Liverpool? – by Rob Atkinson

Chelsea’s immaculate win at Anfield sees them hang on in the Premier League title race but, in truth, it’s of more real use to Manchester City than it is to themselves – despite another touchline scamper of triumph from The Poorly One, Jose Mourinho.

Though City won at Palace today, they will still need to get a result at Everton, who are themselves clinging on to receding hopes of Champions League qualification. This is assuming, of course, that Liverpool can now win their last two matches of the season.

It may very well be that, if Everton can deny City at Goodison, they will have gift-wrapped a 19th top division title for their deadly local rivals. How that would go down in the Blue half of Merseyside is anyone’s guess.

I’d still back Liverpool – and I’m sure that if they do need a massive favour from the Blues – then the Reds will be suitably grateful.

Paddy Kenny’s Agent Says “Paddy is Fit” In Touching Romantic Tribute – by Rob Atkinson

Gorgeous, pouting, keeper Paddy Kenny

Gorgeous, pouting, keeper Paddy Kenny

Paddy Kenny’s agent has come out with a disarming statement of his regard for the long-serving goal-keeper, stating that he is “fit”.  In associated news, Frank Lampard’s agent has said that his client is “endearingly chubby” while the representatives of Fernando Torres, Ross McCormack and Steve Gerrard all expressed opinions that could be summed up by the phrase “Let’s face it: you would, wouldn’t you?”

Meanwhile, the agents of Wayne “Shrek” Rooney, Rio “Plug” Ferdinand and Luis “Mr. Ed” Suarez were not available for comment.

Leeds Forever – but Liverpool for the Title Would be a Feelgood Feast – by Rob Atkinson

Liverpool - climbing back onto their perch

Liverpool – climbing back onto their perch

Liverpool, having thrashed Man U at the Theatre of Hollow Myths last week, had to work a bit harder at Cardiff, going behind twice before emerging impressive 6-3 winners.  It will, however, have been the easy triumph over the Pride of Devon that provided the Real Reds with the most pleasure – these are two clubs who, to say the least, aren’t exactly fond of each other.  The last thing either wants to see is the other winning the league – which means that there are a lot of nervous plastics out there, sweating in their Devon armchairs right now; because Liverpool seem to mean business and they are currently rather handily-placed for a late title push.

For the neutral, things could hardly be better, with the tables so dramatically turned in this long-standing battle of Lancastrian one-upmanship.  Rivalry of that depth and bitterness tends to polarise opinion – there aren’t many fence-sitters when Man U and Liverpool meet.  For me, as a true white rose White, if Liverpool were to be Champions again at the end of this season, it would be an outcome second only to seeing my own beloved Leeds back on top.  OK, so I’m a proud Leeds United fan – so what has this got to do with me?

Well, I’d have to start by declaring an interest – as a die-hard supporter of the One True United from the right (Yorkshire) side of the Pennines, I’m not exactly enamoured of Man U.  I never had much time for them, even before that awful, whisky-nosed Govan Git came down to pour his choleric bile all over what had, until then, been a relatively civilised (give or take Brian Clough and nearly all the fans) English football scene.  There was always that irritating air of spurious arrogance about them, as well as this “you’ve got to love us because of the Busby Babes” thing – which all the media seemed to lap up so eagerly, much to the disgust of real fans everywhere.  So clearly, I don’t like them – never did.  That’s in my Leeds United DNA.  But I’m not just a Leeds fan, I’m a fan of football in its widest sense – and I mourn the game we once knew which seems to be gone forever, swept away by a grotty tide of filthy lucre

Time was when Man U were grudgingly respected, other than by determined haters like me and my fellow Whites.  Since Sir Alex Taggart landed at the Theatre of Hollow Myths though, they’ve gone from “quite easy to dislike” to “impossible to stand the sight of” faster than you could say “Envious of Liverpool”.  The Purple-Conked One made it clear from the off that he was determined to “knock Liverpool off their perch”.  What we didn’t realise when he started his vendetta in 1988, showing no immediate sign of being any more successful than any of the other post-Busby failures, was that the whole face of football would have to change to realise Ferguson’s warped dream.

In 1967, Man U won their last ever proper League Title, making seven in total – quite respectable.  Then – nothing, for 26 years, culminating in a deserved last-ever old-style Football League Championship triumph for Leeds United. But since 1993, when a greedy and ruthless Aussie bought the game and gift-wrapped it for a curmudgeonly and ruthless Scot, the title “race” has been more of a procession.  The honour has ceased to be about virtuosity on the field; now it’s mainly about money and markets, and Man U have had much more of both during the whole Murdoch era.  Result: thirteen plastic titles.

Football is now a tacky, merchandise-driven, unseemly drive for profit over pride, and the dominance by Man U of such a grubby era is undeniably apt.  But we are still close enough in time to the pre-greed days for those of us of a certain age to remember when the game was about glory, not greed; when the aim was winning, not wonga, when the important people were supporters, not shareholders.  In those days, the distribution of wealth was far more even, and the field of possible title-winners was far wider; the competition (over a grueling 42 match course, with un-manicured pitches and un-pampered pros) was far more fierce.  And yet, even in this environment of white-hot combat and intense rivalry, Liverpool reigned supreme, not for months, not years, but for literally two decades.  By 1992, they had compiled an honours list that seemed likely to see them at the top of the game for many years to come – unless someone sneaked in and moved the goalposts.  Cue evil Uncle Rupert.

Man U fans can crow all they want about 20 titles (and, true to their loathsome nature, they will).  But the evidence to confound them is there for all to see, like some geological stratum separating the dinosaurs from the mammoths.  That schism dividing the game as it was up to ’92, from the showbiz shenanigans of ’93 onwards, stands out like a Tory at a Foodbank, exposing Man U as the wealth-backed, monopolising opportunists that they are.  And it has all been done with such bad grace, another indictment of this new and joyless age we’ve been plodding through these last twenty-odd years.  No gentle wisdom of the Bob Paisley variety – instead we had the sour bile of Ferguson and now seemingly a Fergie-Lite clone in the newly growly and grouchy, yet undeniably Gollum-esque David Moyes.  No loveable old-style hard-man Desperate Dan type like Tommy Smith – we just had the manufactured machismo of Roy Keane, a supposed tough-guy with an assumed snarl and trademark glower, whose typical party trick was to sneak up behind wee Jason McAteer and fell that not-exactly-scary individual with a sly elbow.

The comparisons could go on all day, but the bottom line is that Liverpool at their peak – and it was a hell of a peak – typified all the values of football that some of us remember from a pre-Sky, pre-glitz, pre-greed age when it really was all about a ball.  Now, it’s all about money, and contracts, and egos, and snide bitching to the media if you don’t get all your own way – and lo, we have generally had the champions we deserve.

Only now, when Taggart has slithered into retirement, are we seeing anything like a level playing-field – and even then, it’s just among the moneyed elite of the Premier League.  Without Ferguson, we suddenly have a new Big Four, sans Man U, and all the better for that.  For all of this season, it has been the thoroughbreds of Liverpool, City, Arsenal and Chelsea dominating at the top, whilst Man U desperately cling to the coat-tails of Everton and Spurs, desperate even for the dubious compensation of Europa League qualification. Clearly, then, the era of Man U domination has been much more a function of the unique personality – to put it politely – of Ferguson, than any real superiority on the pitch.  In a game of fine margins, that crucial factor made such a difference. Hence, the whole record of the past 21 years would appear to have been slewed in one club’s favour, courtesy of one bile-ridden Glaswegian and a covey of co-operative referees.  The records, as they appear to stand, are grossly misleading.

To apply a conversion rate which takes account of the foregoing and sums up all the anger and disgust I feel for the way our game has been degraded – I’d say each Premier League (or Premiership, or whatever else it’s been marketed as) is worth maybe half – at the very most – of each proper Football League Championship from the days when the game still belonged to us and the world was a happier and more carefree place.

At that rate, Man U are still a good long distance behind Liverpool, which – judging by the paucity of ability and bottle they have displayed under Moyes this season – is precisely where they belong.  Now we’re witnessing a resurgence for the club which – under Shankly, Paisley and the other boot-room boys – dominated English football for most of my youth and early adulthood. A Liverpool title victory this season would be the closest we can now get to a return of those good old days.

Because of the Ferguson Factor, history and the record books are poor teachers for the modern student of football.  So as the Reds look to challenge strongly again at the very top of the English game, while a Fergie-less Man U, shorn of their X-factor, languish in their mighty wake – what better time than now to emphasise the simple truth once and for all? Liverpool are still The Greatest.