Tag Archives: Liverpool

My Bremner Square Tribute to my late, Leeds-supporting Dad – by Rob Atkinson

Dad and me – part of the fabric of Elland Road

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 they were, 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 5th 1975 and then, the following Wednesday, I’d see Leeds United take on the mighty Barcelona, Cruyff, Neeskens and 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 have sulked through both 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 of United fanaticism, his own passion for the club 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’ genius in 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 football legends.

 

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 from Lowfields with my dad, via the Boys’ Pen to the Gelderd End Kop. I’d inherited the mantle of the family’s United fanatic, 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 saw United score 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 a permanent part of Elland Road with a “Father and Son” stone in Bremner Square, as pictured above. It’s taken me a while, but at last I think I’ve found the most fitting and enduring way to say “thanks, Dad”. MOT, wherever you may be.

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Hillsborough 30 Years On, Tribute to Liverpool From a Leeds Fan   –   by Rob Atkinson

Hillsborough: 30 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

Farewell to the Anfield Iron, Liverpool’s Tommy Smith, Friend and Foe to Super Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

Tommy Smith

Tommy Smith, Anfield Legend

Tommy Smith, Liverpool’s legendary hard man defender and frequently skipper in the sixties and seventies, passed away today aged 74. With him went another link in the chain that Liverpool and Leeds United forged between themselves in those two decades, for most of which time they were untouchable as the two great powerhouses of English football.

Tommy was an original who became almost a cliché in that he was one of the earliest examples of the “take no prisoners” school of defending as English League football went through a grisly tough phase before and after Alf Ramsey’s World Cup triumph in 1966. In those days, a cult grew up around defenders upon whom you could rely to “kick owt that moves”; most of the top teams had at least one such. Indeed, what possibly set Leeds aside was that they were so richly served on both the constructive and destructive sides of the game. Man United’s George Best famously reminisced “All the top teams had one hard man. We had Nobby Stiles, Liverpool had Tommy Smith, and Arsenal had Peter Storey. Leeds United, by the way, had eleven of them”. That’s the kind of slightly grudging, backhanded compliment that makes a football fan’s heart swell with pride.

Tommy Smith, though, really did stand out. His appearance was almost that of a Desperate Dan in all red, the kind of man you supposed would shave with a blowtorch. Granite jawed and imposing, he struck fear into many a flash striker’s heart, and he neither gave nor asked any quarter when battle was joined. His catchphrase, issued in a Scouse growl whenever he was annoyed by opposition antics, was “Do that again, and I’ll snap yer back”. It was probably safer to assume that Tommy meant it, and behave accordingly.

On one famous occasion, though, when Leeds United visited Anfield, Allan “Sniffer” Clarke had the temerity to upend Tommy, leaving him dazed on the turf. Blinking and shaking his head, Smith enquired of his concerned Liverpool colleagues, in the manner of a road accident victim asking if anyone got the car’s number, “Who did that? I’ll snap his back!” A Liverpool team-mate promptly replied, “It was Clarke. And he’s just gone and kicked Emlyn up in the air as well”. Immediately, Smith’s expression softened. It was well-known on Merseyside that Smith had no time at all for Emlyn Hughes, and that fact clearly saved Sniffer from retaliation, as the Anfield Iron just smiled and got up a little groggily, saying “Ah, let him be. I always knew that fellow Clarkey was a good lad”.

It’s one of those stories linking Bill Shankly’s Liverpool with Don Revie’s Leeds, along

Tommy Billy

Tommy and Billy, Red and White

with the Spion Kop applauding the new Champions in 1969 after Leeds United secured a 0-0 draw at Anfield to win their first title. It was typical of the mutual respect between two great northern clubs, and it was still going on in 1992 when Leeds fans applauded Liverpool off at Wembley after the Reds had been beaten 4-3 in the Charity Shield. United fans hadn’t forgotten that their third title had been confirmed when Liverpool beat Man Utd 2-0 the previous April. It was a fantastic sight to behold, confirming the enduring link between good friends and foes.

Tommy Smith epitomised this fierce but friendly rivalry, and we’re all the poorer for his loss. I’ll never forget his finest hour, powering home a header in the 1977 European Cup Final to help Liverpool become Champions of Europe for the first time. It was a goal that summed the man up: uncompromising and unstoppable, scored by a legend among legends.

Tommy Smith, Liverpool FC Legend.  (5.4.45 – 12.4.19)  RIP

Help Leeds Legend Dom Matteo ID Attacker of Former United Star Gary McAllister – by Rob Atkinson

Former United star Gary McAllister, victim of unprovoked assault

Former Leeds United defender Dom Matteo has made a social media appeal for any information that could lead to the identification and apprehension of the as yet unknown thug who allegedly attacked ex-Leeds skipper and manager Gary McAllister in Leeds city centre at the weekend.

Dom’s appeal is reproduced in part below, and I’m sure that any United fan with any information that could help identify this coward will wish to step forward and help catch him.

*Information required* Can any Leeds/Yorkshire based lads help please? …..

In the early hours of Saturday morning Leeds legend Gary McAllister was attacked in Leeds by an unknown assailant.

The attack was totally unprovoked and very vicious, Gary was hospitalised, lost 3 teeth in the attack and had plastic surgery on his lip needing 12 stitches.

The attacker is thought to be American, and due to the severity of the injuries may have been wearing a ‘knuckle duster’ or similar.

The attacker also assaulted and hospitalised 4 other people including 2 women in further incidents, but as yet has not been caught.

Can you please share, if you know anything, or may know someone who may have seen or know anything that can help find this coward, please contact West Yorkshire Police.

Please help in this matter.

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.

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.

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.