Tag Archives: Millwall

Leeds United End of Term Report: Disappointing, Must do Better – by Rob Atkinson

Wheels fell off at Millwall away

Millwall away – where United’s wheels fell off

Watching Leeds United struggle vainly to perform as you’d expect a big club to do, challenging for honours, winning promotions and all that sort of thing, may quite aptly be compared to banging your head against a brick wall. There’s no sense to it, there’s plenty of pain involved for no gain, and it’s really quite pleasant when it stops. We’re at that stage of blissful hiatus now, with the final whistle having blown on United’s season last Sunday, the main reaction from another bumper crowd at Elland Road being sighs of relief rather than triumphal acclaim.

Fellow under-achievers Queens Park Rangers had rolled up for this last-day clash of mediocrities; as it turned out though, the Londoners didn’t really fancy the prospect of a battle in the heat. So, it was a routine win for United against desultory opposition and, other than some typically promising performances from Leeds’ younger guns, none of us were left any the wiser. But at least the tiresome league programme was over for a couple of months; now for the interesting part of the football calendar, with the World Cup and a transfer window in the offing. There’s also the daft post-season business in Myanmar, but that may usefully be ignored.

The trouble is that transfer window time of year is fast becoming nearly as disappointing for long-suffering Leeds fans as the actual football spectacle, such as it may be. And the reason is that United are competing in an inflated transfer market, against smaller but arguably more ambitious clubs – and they’re denying themselves the chance of being truly competitive at the top end by what is increasingly being exposed as a short-sighted and self-defeating wages policy.

Just as the season recently expired was getting underway, back in August of last year, I wrote an article here entitled The Reason Leeds United Can’t Have Nice Things? Wage Structure. I argued that this ‘hands tied behind the back’ policy of severely capped wages was stopping us from recruiting as we should do, and also from hanging on to the few diamonds we’d managed to polish up. This was just as Chris Wood, the scorer of thirty-odd goals the year before, was being sold to Premier League Burnley, a smaller club that could at least triple Wood’s earnings. I predicted doom and gloom but, for a time at least, it looked as though I was going to be delightfully wrong.

Despite the departure of Wood, who duly followed Charlie Taylor to Dingle-Land, United started the season like a runaway train, barrelling to the top of the league with a flurry of victories, including notable two goal successes at Sunderland and Nottingham Forest. This left me feeling a strange combination of unusually happy and rather daft, due to my seemingly unwarranted pessimism. But then the wheels fell off, at Millwall of all places, and the Whites were never quite the same again. The rest of the season was, quite frankly, a disaster interspersed with the odd calamity, as Leeds at first flattered to deceive, but ended up deceiving nobody. A managerial change and a better than expected January transfer window failed to bring about the necessary transformation, and United’s campaign drifted to a deeply unsatisfactory conclusion.

So, can we now expect a more enlightened wage structure, as befitting one of the game’s true giants? The jury is out, but it’s not counting its chickens as it ponders that vexed question. Leeds, however, must surely know that they can’t expect the extraordinary loyalty of their fans to be maintained without some encouragement in the shape of ambition in the transfer market. To average over 30,000 paying premium prices in such a let-down of a season is truly extraordinary – but will they all be back next season?

Champions Wolves have shown the way: speculate to accumulate. United – it’s over to you.

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Leeds United and the Strange Case of the Migrating Millwall Injury – by Rob Atkinson

There are many who will say that the match between Leeds United and Millwall at Elland Road on Saturday was a strange affair – bordering on the bizarre. How right they would be, for the game’s pivotal incident saw a phenomenon surely unprecedented in the history of sports injuries and physiotherapy.

Injured

Ref! I think he’s broken my left leg!!

With Leeds a goal behind and playing poorly, there was some frustration building for the home side, so when United skipper Liam Cooper sailed into a fearsome-looking tackle on George Saville in midfield – and with the Whites’ recent record of red cards – you feared the worst. Sure enough, the Millwall player collapsed in a stricken heap, clutching his left leg in evident agony. To the momentary relief of the crowd, the referee reached for his yellow card as he walked over – and this is when things took a turn for the surreal.

On the touchline, there was outrage from the Millwall contingent, who clearly expected Cooper to be dismissed – a stance reinforced on the field by former United flop Steve Morison. As the pressure mounted on the referee, the Millwall physio worked urgently to save the life of Saville – evidently a hero to the Millwall fans who sang this name throughout – and the medical situation started to appear grave, with the injury mysteriously migrating from the left leg caught by Cooper’s challenge, to the right leg now being treated intensively by the physio. Left leg or right, the player was clearly mortally wounded, something that may have influenced the ref almost as much as Morison screaming at him.

Treated

Never mind which bloody leg, keep howling with pain son – or it might only be a yellow… 

Fortunately for the expiring Saville, salvation was at hand. From being on the point of passing away, brave George was hauled back from the brink by the sight of the red card being brandished at the Leeds skipper, and promptly hopped back up onto his feet, fully restored to health and vigour. It is understood that the novel technique of healing a fatal left leg injury by treating the right leg may now be adopted as standard practice, due to the spectacular results effected by the expertise of the Millwall medical staff.

All better now

Well done, lad – the ref’s sent him off. Up you get, now

The spontaneous recovery must have come as a deep relief to the travelling Millwall faithful who, judging by their continual songs about Turks and knives, had clearly anticipated the possibility that Saville would require surgery from an Eastern European doctor. Such a miraculous restoration to health for their brave lad was due reward for these fine supporters of Football’s Family Club of the Year 2017 – an accolade surely just as well deserved as Man U’s “Greatest Club in the World”.

How we shall all look forward to next season, and a continuation of this friendly rivalry – if Millwall stay up, that is…

 

 

Leeds United Looking to Bounce Back After Millwall Loss – by Rob Atkinson

Klich

                    Hadi Sacko and Mateusz Klich 

NB: This article also appears in Saturday’s edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Leeds United’s first loss of the season, viewed in the context of what is shaping up to be a momentous campaign, was less painful than might have been expected. The defeat was narrow and yet decisive; United were blown away by the sheer desire and commitment of a Millwall side whose performances against Leeds rarely seem to lack those qualities. In the event, the home side deserved their success, having had an early strike ruled out for a debatable offside call. Even then, there was a hint of offside about the eventual winner, but justice was probably done on the day.

Fortunately for those United fans who felt themselves to have returned to Earth with a bump, there was a chance for redemption at Burnley in the midweek Carabao Cup tie. Sure enough, Leeds dusted themselves down and revealed their gritty side to match higher league opposition, despite nine changes from last weekend. There was a grim satisfaction in ejecting the Clarets from the competition, especially as United were up against two erstwhile heroes in Chris Wood and Charlie Taylor, both of whom saw a brighter, or at any rate, more lucrative future across the Pennines at Turf Moor. Any lingering resentment over those deals was largely dissipated when Stuart Dallas’s decisive shoot-out penalty hit the back of the Burnley net and, with hindsight, the cup tie turned out to be more about current Leeds heroes than it was about Messrs. Wood and Taylor.

The biggest revelation of Tuesday night, for me, was Mateusz Klich, a Polish midfielder who had not been pulling up many trees this season so far – but he certainly seized his chance at Burnley. Klich seemed to be everywhere, closing down, making interceptions, putting in the hard yards with driving forward runs and generally giving as complete a midfield performance as we’ve seen so far this season. On that form, Klich will have given head coach Thomas Christiansen another welcome selection headache going forward; Leeds are particularly well-served in the middle of the park, but it will be difficult to overlook the case for Klich if he maintains the level of performance he showed against the Clarets. The ice-cool and languid penalty he dispatched during the shoot-out topped off his night’s work perfectly; it looks as if United can expect much more from Mateusz.

The other particularly bright spark on Tuesday was Hadi Sacko, who had up until this match been a mercurial and frustrating, hit-and-miss performer – but again, you could see the work going on at Thorp Arch beginning to pay off in terms of the Christiansen ethos sinking in all the way through this squad. Sacko it was who made the initial breakthrough for Leeds, finishing well after bursting onto a Pablo Hernandez pass that found him in space vacated by a badly-positioned Charlie Taylor. A very sweet moment, that. Sacko showed menace every time Leeds got forward after his introduction as substitute and, again, if he can keep that up, there’s another useful iron in United’s attacking fire.

So we move on to Ipswich Town at a sold-out Elland Road today, where Christiansen’s troops will be up against no-nonsense Barnsley lad (and boyhood Leeds fan) Mick McCarthy as Town boss, assisted by former United striker Terry Connor. These two will put aside their Leeds affiliations for the day and their team will provide stern and well-organised opposition. Still, Elland Road will be rocking again and this Leeds squad provides so many options and permutations that you have to fancy United to find a way of dealing with the Tractor Boys. With some difficult games ahead, three points today would be very welcome, consolidating United’s heady occupation of Championship top spot.

These are interesting and exciting times for United fans, who will now be optimistic about seeing the Whites put that Millwall slip-up firmly behind them.

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Millwall Curse Strikes Again as Leeds are Edged Out at the New Den – by Rob Atkinson

ColdBlowLane10

Cold Blow Lane back in the day

My first experience of Millwall was in the mid-eighties at their old ground, the Den, which was a sort of damp and dank above-ground dungeon, only slightly less hospitable. It was also known by its postal address of Cold Blow Lane, as if to emphasise that this was not a place of entertainment; it was a place to get to, take care of business if possible, and then get away from as quickly as possible. On my only visit, the coach got its windows put through by means of a hail of half-bricks in lieu of welcoming ticker-tape and a brass band, and we put up an abject show, losing 3-1. It was a typical Leeds United day out in Bermondsey, a tradition of hostility and defeat that we have, by and large, maintained ever since.

That old name, though, Cold Blow Lane. How apt it was, and still seems now. Today, Leeds found the chill wind of Championship reality gusting around nether regions quivering under black shorts that, combined with white shirts and white socks, gave us a slight but deceptive resemblance to Germany’s national team. Perhaps they were trying to make Herr Lasogga feel at home – but nobody remotely civilised could ever feel cosily welcome in these parts, not even at the relatively shiny New Den.

The pattern of the match was set from the start. I will predict here and now that Millwall will lose their next game, through a combination of fatigue and a feeling of “after the Lord Mayor’s show”. They’ll simply be knackered.  The home team could not have been more hyped-up and super-charged if they’d been playing in, well, a Cup Final. Taking to heart the rabid desire of the home crowd, they tore into Leeds at the first whistle, and they never let up. They could have been ahead early on, but a dodgy-looking offside decision saved Leeds and denied our former striker Steve Morison – yet Millwall were not discouraged. Every time a Leeds player got the ball in any kind of space, two or three Lions pounced hungrily, and a dispossessed United were under pressure again, every minute, all over the field. Getting to half-time on level terms was a notable achievement; getting a 0-0 draw was an expectation too far.

When the goal came, it felt strange – the sight of the ball in our net for a legitimate strike after so long a time since the opening day of the season. It was like the return of a half-forgotten childhood nightmare, and you had the feeling that, on the day, there was no way back. In the end, United tried manfully, having been swimming against a riptide of home pressure for the whole piece, but it was all effort and little penetration. We finished with ten on the park, all three subs having been used when Pontus had to limp out of the fray. It will be interesting (or maybe distressing) to see how many, if any, fit central defenders we have for Burnley in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday, and for Ipswich in the Championship at Elland Road next weekend.

But let us not be downhearted. We’re still top of the League, by virtue of our healthy goal difference – and I’d bet the tax due on Cellino’s yacht that we’d all have taken an impressive P8 W5 D2 L1 record after four home and four away games, if we’d been asked the question at the start of the season. A reminder that we are, after all, but mortal is not a bad thing at such an early stage of the season. There’s plenty of time and scope for us to pick up our heads again, and press on. This was the second “bogey ground” this season, so with the three points gained at Forest, we’re ahead of the game. And we’ll be ready for Millwall when they come to Leeds, with their dozen or so away followers.

Lessons will have been learned; the effect of application and effort on a hard but inferior team will have been noted. Hopefully, Leeds United will not be caught napping again for some little time – because that’s certainly what happened down Bermondsey way today.

Same Old Story For Thug Club Millwall and Its Thug Fans   –   by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United fans above those of most other clubs can give you chapter and verse on the less than savoury nature of Millwall Football Club and some of its Neanderthal adherents. Whites supporters have had to sit there in that prefab, Meccano style stadium, watching as large parts of a crowd, swollen beyond its traditional paltry numbers by the presence of Leeds, have taken the opportunity to revel in murders in foreign parts many years ago. It’s something Millwall fans just won’t let go of, and that tells you all you need to know about the worst and least human fans in football. 

Tonight, Millwall fans were at it again, in the second leg of their playoff semi against Bradford. With minutes remaining, and Bradford pushing forward in dire need of two quick goals, proceedings were disrupted by two small-scale incursions into the field of play. Needless to say, this had a drastic effect upon Bradford’s ability to exert the necessary pressure. At one point, with the ball on the way out for a City throw, one of the local bright boys ran on to the pitch and booted it towards Bradford’s goal. So play had to start with a drop-ball instead of the swift throw Bradford needed.

As the ball was played back to the City keeper, the ref ran close by and clearly advised the Bradford man that the game was up, and to prepare for a quick getaway. The Millwall fans were preparing for a mass invasion, and the ref was chiefly preoccupied with the need to herd the players as near to the tunnel as possible before blowing the last whistle and unleashing an uncivilised horde from the touchlines.

Such has often been the case at Millwall, Old Den or New. It seemed clear in this instance that any late hopes Bradford had of making a last-gasp comeback, together with any hopes the ref had of playing the allotted span without interference, were dashed by the threat the crowd posed to order and safety. It’s not good enough, but it’s situation normal down Bermondsey way. Similar disorder has happened time and time again, while the craven suits at the Football League do nothing. This blog hopes and trusts that Bradford City will complain – not that it’s likely to do them any good. 

So, the upshot is that Millwall and its IQ-minus minority have intimidated their way to the brink of a return to the Championship. Unless Barnsley can intervene at Wembley – where Millwall’s unpleasant mob tends to fight amongst itself rather than facing equal numbers of opposition fans – it looks like we can expect to see them at Elland Road sometime next season. Not that many, though. Timid travellers, they tend to muster only a couple of dozen for the trip to LS11. 

Good luck to Barnsley at Wembley. On a football basis, they should blow Millwall away. We can but hope that they are sent back to their dingy borough, chastened and well-beaten. If not – well, it looks as if we’ll just have to put up with them for one more season.

Police-Basher Holloway Needs to Recognise the Millwall Fan Problem – by Rob Atkinson

Holloway: we'd have done it, too, if it wasn't for those pesky cops

Holloway: we’d have done it, too, if it wasn’t for those pesky cops

If this week had been about which football manager could make the biggest fool of himself, then we might very well have ended up with a dead heat between Millwall boss Ian Holloway and the manager of fallen giants Man U, Louis van Gaal. It was the Theatre of Hollow Myths boss that got off to a flying start, reacting petulantly to the jibes of former Fergie poodle Sam Allardyce that the Pride of Devon had metamorphosed into the Pride of Wimbledon, playing a long ball game to thwart the cultured Hammers.

Even Giggs facepalms at the van Gaal outburst

Even Giggs facepalms at the van Gaal outburst

To say that van Gaal was displeased is somewhat to understate the matter. To say that his production of copious paperwork (which he waved wildly and employed to lecture the assembled press) caused some bemusement and raised eyebrows would be hopelessly inadequate. There were embarrassed mutterings and rolled eyes aplenty, among the press and even in certain of the Man U staff present. It was all excruciatingly, gratifyingly cringeworthy.

So, it’s looking very much as though that club has done it again, making a formerly quite sane person head rapidly for the margins of weirdness. They did it to Cantona, they did it (and how) to the already rabidly eccentric Ferguson; even poor David Moyes in his brief spell went slightly doolally. Surely it’s only a matter of time before van Gaal’s presser consists of a single word, the Dutch equivalent of “Wibble” from a wild-eyed Louis with underpants on his head and pencils up his nose. In a club as distantly separated from reality as Man U, it’s just something that happens, figuratively at least.

Millwall manager Ian Holloway, meanwhile, quite possibly has a head start over the previously rational van Gaal in the craziness stakes. Holloway, after all, has solid form for a bit of casual verbal lunacy, as witness his various pre- and post-match pronouncements – especially during a brief Premier League heyday at Blackpool. And let’s not forget, he was a full week behind the Man U manager in the race for any “Nutter of the Moment” Award – but once he got going, he seemed set fair to surge past the Dutchman into pole position, with an incredible outburst after his team’s defeat at Elland Road on Saturday. Eschewing the normal managerial options of blaming the ref, or the pitch, or Lady Luck, Ian has zoomed straight to the extreme end of the loony scale – and he’s pointed his quivering finger directly at that fine body of men and women, the West Yorkshire Police.

Yes, folks – Millwall slumped to defeat not because they were crap and not because Leeds did well enough to overcome them on the field of play. It was those awful West Yorks coppers, victimising the poor old ‘Wall, insisting that their choirboy-innocent fans should have to obtain match-day vouchers, to be exchanged for tickets at a pre-arranged motorway services meeting point. This naturally resulted – as those evil, plotting police had obviously foreseen – in a reduction in the Millwall away support to a paltry couple of hundred. The main big brave boys stopped at home – as they have done for the last few meetings at Elland Road. And, as ever, there’s at least one pisspoor online news outlet ready to join in with some ill-informed and way off beam Leeds bashing, even when – as in this case – it’s the Police being bashed, for once, instead of the club. “Give Me Sport“? Give me strength… 

Mr. Holloway is clearly not a man to let a few inconvenient truths get in the way of a frankly ridiculous conspiracy theory. The fact that other clubs with notorious fans among their away support have had similar measures imposed, and yet have still managed to take a large and vociferous following on the road, seems to have escaped Ian entirely. Or has he, in his sudden madness, simply chosen not to see it? Leeds at Cardiff is an obvious example. How nice it would be to blame the Welsh Constabulary for our regular defeats in the Principality. But sanity sadly forbids and facts get in the way too. Bubble match or no bubble match, Leeds are out in force at Cardiff, as they always are, everywhere. Millwall included.

Holloway insists that it’s “time to stop tarnishing Millwall supporters with the mistakes of the past” and suggested West Yorkshire police were “too lazy to deal with the situation in a less draconian way”. All well and good – but imagine the row and disastrous fallout if the WY Police had been as complacent as Holloway would seemingly wish. What if the cops had taken a more relaxed and casual attitude, only to find that a numerically stronger set of Millwall fans had travelled without let or hindrance? What if that carefree band had then decided that some mayhem was in order, some provocation of the locals with tasteful references to Turks and knives, perhaps – with ensuing battles and inevitable broken heads and bloodshed? The police would be a bit embarrassed, wouldn’t they? And Holloway himself would have to look elsewhere for his excuses.

I’m not always here to bury rather than praise a man, simply because he has the misfortune to manage Millwall. After Leeds’ opening day defeat at the New Den, I highlighted Holloway’s timely and sensible remarks about the conduct of his club’s animal fans on that occasion. He spoke frankly, and there was no suggestion of the delusion that such a famously degraded bunch of sick thugs had suddenly grown wings and acquired harps. And yet now, here he is – wanting to deflect attention away from defeat, and seemingly ready to deny the reality of Millwall’s gutter-trash fans in order to find any excuse. I’m honestly baffled and, I have to say, he’s gone down in my estimation – as I know he has in many other Leeds fans’ views. He’s possibly tried to come out with something novel and pungent, but has succeeded only in making himself appear ridiculous, which is a shame. Amused and gleeful Leeds fans have been tweeting the West Yorkshire Police, thanking them for their efforts in achieving victory for United. Holloway has basically contrived to hand the irony initiative to the massive on-line Leeds United presence, and who can blame them for proceeding to hang him out to dry in plain view of a global audience? 

It’s high time, in fact, that Holloway recognised and acknowledged exactly what he has on his hands – which is a bunch of supporters who will always let their club down with sick taunts, violent behaviour and a determination to live up to their injured-innocence anthem “No-one likes us, we don’t care“. They’re the worst in football, bar none outside of Istanbul. Millwall the club are complacent and complaisant in the face of this, always ready to minimise the impact of these cretins on the unfortunates they meet along the way, always ready to offer excuses and blame somebody – anybody – else. That’s the situation, and Holloway appears to have shifted from an early season position of recognising and being dismayed by it, to slavishly following his club’s abhorrent line – even to the extent of coming out with such bizarrely ridiculous rubbish as these deeply silly “Policegate” remarks.

A message to Mr. Holloway from Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. You’re a decent man, Ian – and even a half-decent manager. But you work for a scum club with scum fans – as the contents of my email inbox demonstrate every time I have the temerity to write honestly about them. Time to wise up, acknowledge the truth and stop speaking rubbish. If you’re lucky, you’ll be sacked after relegation; perhaps then you can be a proper man at a proper football club again.

Millwall Seek Away Win Hat-Trick in Elland Road Six Pointer – by Rob Atkinson

3-0 .... in OUR cup final??

3-0 …. in OUR cup final??

Had it not been for Millwall’s last two performances away from home, when they have recorded successive 1-0 wins at Notts Forest and at Birmingham, Leeds United might by now be breathing easy – and thinking more of the Championship top half than that worryingly close relegation battle.

The truth of the matter is, it’s only Millwall of the bottom three clubs that are close enough really to worry the Whites, and that’s only because of those six points extorted out of their last two road trips. If they were to complete a hat-trick of away wins in LS11, it would be more than unacceptably embarrassing – it would put our whole season right back into the melting pot, just when we need to be stretching away from the unseemly brawl at the bottom.

Looking at the current league table, there are pesky little Millwall, neck and neck with Brighton as they compete for the honour of not being that third relegated club. As it stands, Blackpool look dead, while Wigan are on the floor and seem to be breathing their last. Those two are a full ten and eight points respectively behind our friends from Bermondsey.

If Millwall had done the decent thing, and had rolled over at Forest and Brum, they would now be making up a neat little relegation trio with the two Lancastrian dead men walking – all of them clustered cosily together on the gallows, all nicely two points apart from each other; and the nearest to us would be a distant eleven points away. Then again, if my auntie had balls she’d be my uncle, wouldn’t she – but Birmingham had been doing so well until lately, and Forest have just slapped Wigan 3-0. Surely, it was not unreasonable to expect Millwall to lose those two. But no, they ignorantly got two unlikely wins, so what should be a comfortable gulf between us is instead a dicey-looking 5 points – though we do have four other clubs between us, as insulation if you like.

All of this means one thing: Leeds must beat Millwall at Elland Road on Saturday. For once, it is nearly as much our cup final as it is for those envious docklands pariahs with their scummy, inbred fans. Not that the away support will be anything to worry about – a few dozen cold and shivering die-hards are expected to negotiate the security curtain in order to attend. That’s all plucky Millwall bring these days. Not that they’re scared, of course.

So the away support won’t add much to the atmosphere, and it’ll be down to the White army to back their heroes or have the game played in a sterile vacuum. Either way, no slip-ups can be tolerated. The last home performance, as well as the showing of that appalling ref, must be forgotten. We have to draw on the positives of the Reading game (and Huddersfield – yes, we’re on an away hat-trick too) and we have to win. Simple as that. Easier said than done, of course. Millwall will fight like the dockland rats they are.

But the prize for Leeds is enticing – an eight point cushion from that dreaded trapdoor. If we were to lose – horror of horrors – it could be down to as little as two points, and that’s when bums start to squeak. Besides which – I don’t want my email inbox clogged with triumphal if illiterate outpourings from my fans down Millwall way. It’d be irksome in the extreme.

One change at least will be enforced on Leeds as Tommaso Bianchi awaits an operation to repair a cruciate ligament injury. It’s never particularly edifying, trawling through the musings of some of the Leeds United Twatterati, but much of the output in the wake of Reading was horrifyingly unimpressive, as several morons so far forgot themselves as to actually celebrate a United player’s serious injury. That’s simply unacceptable; some people need to take a serious look at themselves.

In another area of the team, Redders is backing “unlucky” Steve Morison to end his goal drought and, really, the law of averages if nothing else would seem to be in favour of the coach having a point. The striker’s hard work and application, the way he has led the line, means that his value to the team can be measured other than in terms of goal output (thankfully). But he’s also struck the woodwork on a couple of occasions and has been denied by some decent goalkeeping too. So there has been a bit of bad luck dogging him – and there’d be no better time to bag a couple than against one of his old employers on Saturday.

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything was feeling quite confident after a spot-on prediction for the Huddersfield game. That breezy smugness evaporated after we caught a cold against Brentford, when a 3-1 victory had been politely requested. We kept schtum for Reading, and got our reward. But this is a must win game, so I’m going to direct the jury to find for the home team, to the optimistic tune of 3-0. That would do very nicely indeed, and would also – I suspect – keep my email inbox troglodyte-free for the foreseeable future.

The nil part of the prediction is inspired by the massively reassuring presence of a certain Sol Bamba in the back line. That’s asking for trouble, I know. As for the three goals predicted for Leeds – well, you never know. Luke Murphy seems to have developed a knack for scoring and creating during his recent renaissance. We do have some potential going forward, again partly due to the increased sense of security at the back. So, a solid display against Millwall, plenty of endeavour and hard work, and maybe the odd flash of inspiration too.

And if Mr. Morison could come up with a brace or a hat-trick then, let’s face it, we’d all be extremely happy. Apart, perhaps, from those who’d been looking forward to another good old whinge on Twitter. And who gives a toss what they think?

Can Darko’s Leeds Cope with the “Cup Final” Mentality of Local Rivals Rotherham? – by Rob Atkinson

Image

Huddersfield’s low-key celebrations after edging out Leeds

In the wake of Leeds United’s recent failures on the road against inferior local opposition, it’s well past time to take stock of the problem behind this unwelcome phenomenon, which is set fair to drag us down and keep us away from the top level –  if it continues as it has in past campaigns. It’s to be hoped that, in the new Darko Milanic era, things might be different. There were some promising signs against the Wendies the other week, but away from home against pumped-up (yet lower-class) opposition, some fight is what’s sorely needed.

Firstly, let’s put to bed any foolish suggestion that the local opposition aren’t inferior. They are – by definition.  Leeds do not and never have in living memory played local derbies where they are the underdog in terms of club size and history.  We’ve been the biggest club in Yorkshire – by far the biggest, and the only one with a global profile – for the last fifty years plus. Whatever the relative squad merits – and for 90% of the time, Leeds have possessed demonstrably more accomplished players too – any meeting between Leeds and a smaller Yorkshire club has seen the Elland Road outfit cast as Goliath to some horrible, backstreet David. The real question is – does such superiority of status confer any advantage at all?  The answer to that would appear to be a resounding No, and a reminder that, horrible and provincial though David might have been, he still gave Goliath one in the eye.

The extent of the problem may be brought into focus simply by comparing two different sets of results over the past few years.  If you look at league games against other Yorkshire teams, together with a selection of upstarts around the country who have a similar chip on the shoulder, as compared with our reasonably regular Cup meetings with Premier League clubs over the past three or four years, the contrast is startling – and it says a lot about what it has taken to motivate our white-shirted heroes.

Taking league games first, and looking at the locals – the likes of Barnsley, the Sheffield clubs, Huddersfield and Hull, together with self-appointed rivals like Millwall – the results have been unacceptably bad.  Barnsley in particular have visited embarrassment upon us in match after match, often by a significant margin, whilst keeling over to most other clubs and usually only escaping relegation by the skin of their teeth, prior to their welcome demise last year.  Our relatively close West Yorkshire neighbours Huddersfield are nearly as bad for our health. The other season, these two clubs met on the last day, and over the course of ninety minutes, first one and then the other seemed doomed to the drop.  In the end, both escaped because of events elsewhere – and what did both sets of fans do to celebrate their shared reprieve?  Why, they joined together in a rousing chorus of “We all hate Leeds scum” of course.  This tells you all you need to know about what motivates such dire and blinkered clubs – but at least the motivation is there.

And the motivation is there for Leeds United, too – just not, seemingly, on those bread-and-butter league occasions when we need it.  What seems to turn your average Leeds United player on over the past few years, is the glamour of the Cup – either domestic cup will do, apparently.  Results and performances in these games have left bewildered fans scratching their heads and wondering how such high achievers can then go on to perform so miserably against the envious pariahs from down the road in Cleckhuddersfax.  Look at the results – going back to League One days.  A narrow home defeat to Liverpool in the League Cup when by common consent we should have won and Snoddy ripped them up from wide areas.  The famous win at Man U when we went to the Theatre of Hollow Myths and showed neither fear nor respect in dumping the Pride of Devon out of the FA Cup.  Draws at Spurs and Arsenal, beating Spurs, Gareth Bale and all, at Elland Road.  Beating other Premier League sides such as Everton and Southampton in games that had you wondering which was the higher status club.  Great occasions – but of course we haven’t the squad to go through and win a cup, so these achievements ultimately gain us little but pride. And, naturally, when we draw a Yorkshire “rival” away in a Cup, we contrive to lose embarrassingly as per Bratfud earlier this season. It’s just not good enough.

Often we will sing to daft smaller clubs’ fans about the Leeds fixtures being their Cup Finals, but this is becoming a joke very much against us.  The teams concerned seem to take the Cup Final thing literally, they get highly motivated, roll their metaphorical sleeves up, the veins in their temples start to throb and the battle cry is sounded.  Their fans, normally present in miserable numbers, are out in force – and they are demanding superhuman endeavour.  Faced with this, too many Leeds teams over the past few years have simply failed to find a comparable level of commitment and effort.  There’s no excuse for that – it has meant we’re almost starting off a goal down – even when we swiftly go a goal up.

The sheer number of local derbies will count against a team which allows itself to suffer this disadvantage, this moral weakness.  For Leeds, since we came back to the second tier, there has usually been one Sheffield or another, usually Barnsley or Huddersfield or Hull, Middlesbrough perhaps – even the just-over-the-border outfits like Oldham and Burnley feel the same ambition and desire to slay the Mighty Leeds.  It amounts to a sizeable chunk of a season’s fixtures – if you fail to perform in these, then you’re struggling.  The pressure is then on to get results against the better teams at the top end of the table, and we don’t fare too well there either.

It’s easy to say that it’s a matter of getting better players.  Largely that’s true.  But we’ve usually had better players than these annoying little Davids, and yet the slingshot has still flown accurately right into Goliath’s eye and knocked us over. Professional football is a game of attitude, motivation, mental readiness to match the opposition and earn the right to make your higher quality tell.  This, over a number of years, is what Leeds United have signally failed to do.

Can it change?  Well, so far this season we’ve played Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield at home  – plus Millwall, who qualify as a southern member of the chip on the shoulder brigade, away.  We’ve four points out of nine to show from that little lot, which is the difference between our current position and sixth – in the play-off zone.  Even three of those lost five points would see us just a point off the top six places.  And the thing is, ALL of those games were distinctly winnable, so it’s no pipe-dream to look at where we might have been.  The difference is down to attitude; our opponents have had it and – with the notable exception of the Huddersfield performance – we simply haven’t.

It’s a sobering message at this stage of the season, with only three such games played – and plenty more to come.  But it’s a message that should be heeded, or the effect on our season will become more profound as it goes on.  The potential is there for us to take advantage of games against inferior but highly-motivated opposition, to match the attitude of these teams and to reap our rewards.  The failure to do this will see us endure yet another season of under-achievement. We have to overcome the “Cup Final Mentality” of certain other clubs, mainly those in Yorkshire but elsewhere too.

The Rotherham game next Friday night is an ideal opportunity for this new, tougher mental attitude to kick in. Again, we have small local rivals who nurse a fierce and unrequited hatred of Leeds United – and they have the odd old boy in their ranks as well as a wily manager who has been busily bigging us up. Our heroes will include a number of quite new foreign signings, who may still be a little wide-eyed and naive on occasions like this. So the ingredients are all there for the relative big boys of Leeds to turn up, find the environment not to their liking – and roll over once again in abject surrender. Please, let it not be so.

Leeds United –  you just need to get psyched-up and go out to win some of these pesky and troublesome “Cup Finals”.  Darko can inculcate his principles and make a pretty pattern of play – but when blood and guts are needed, some fight and some grit – then it really is up to you lads who wear the shirt we’d all of us out here be willing to walk on hot coals for. 

Ian Holloway: the Acceptable Face of Gutter Club Millwall – by Rob Atkinson

Holloway: voice of reason

Holloway: voice of reason

We’ve got it over with early this season – our annual trip to the murky bowels of Bermondsey, wherein resides the most singularly awful football club, with the most viciously depraved and uncivilised fans, anywhere outside of Istanbul. Yes, we’ve been there and done that for another year at least – it’s a safe bet that everywhere else we visit, with the possible exception of Huddersfield, will seem like the acme of culture and class by comparison with the degrading experience that is Millwall.

Over the past few seasons, the menu has hardly varied. For starters, a few dribbling morons scattered around their soulless Meccano stadium, Turkish flags waving, idiot leers on ugly faces as they parade their specially-purchased Galatasaray replica shirts. Then the main course of rancid chanting, as the assembled cretins rejoice in the murder of two football fans far from home, over 14 years ago. And for dessert, an insipid performance from our own heroes, who should really be inspired into a defiantly effective performance by such naked hostility, but who seem instead more inclined to surrender meekly.

Then, usually, instead of coffee and After Eight mints, it’s some piteous, whining self-justification and excuses from Millwall staff who wish to avoid criticism of their club for the abject behaviour of its ape-like supporters. By and large, it’s not a good day out for Leeds fans down Bermondsey way.

This season, though, there has been a refreshing change. Most of the pre-ordained programme of events proceeded pretty much as described above – with a slight shift of emphasis from celebrating death to rejoicing over sexual abuse – but the post-match reaction differed from previous years, in one significant and encouraging respect. Ian Holloway, the Millwall manager and a man worthy of admiration both for his achievements and for his freely-expressed and pungent views on the game, actually came out and condemned the rabble that hang like a millstone around the neck of anyone trying to create a better image for the Lions. Reacting to the home fans’ chants about Jimmy Savile (chants that the more self-righteous Millwall fans probably think represent an improvement on the usual ones about Turks and knives), Holloway said:

“I don’t think the chants were right because they’re disrespecting [Savile’s victims]. What he did is an absolute disgrace. Let’s stop and think about what he has actually done, yeah?”

“That’s the most important thing and we don’t see it. ‘Oh it’s a bit of banter’. It isn’t funny, is it? I don’t think so. Nobody likes a laugh more than me but I’m respectful, and that’s what I’m trying to show to Leeds United. They’re a great club, they come here with so many fans and want to be treated the same as anybody else.”

This represents such a departure from what we had come to expect of the Millwall apologists in previous seasons, that you almost have to pinch yourself and read it twice. We’re so used to standard fare of sickeningly tasteless chanting from the Lions’ tiny but viciously-warped home crowd, with obligatory excuses to follow as night follows day, that such a refreshingly honest and candid reaction comes as a massive – albeit pleasant – surprise, even allowing for Holloway’s track record of honesty, common sense and straight talking. The Lions boss went on to say:

“It is a really, really important issue if football supporters think they can go into a ground and sing songs about someone who has had a crash and aren’t here anymore, how disrespectful is that?”

“It goes against what football is about and to me that is obscene. That brings football into disrepute. I’ve been fined for disrepute by the FA God knows how many times. But I try and get people to be respectful and that’s all I want to say.”

“I’ve said it before the game ‘please come to the game, please enjoy yourself, go home safely and here we go let’s have a look at how good our team is’. Surely that’s the way forward.”

Holloway concluded his remarks by referring to Leeds United again as “a great club”, something guaranteed to stick in the craw of any chip-on-the-shoulder home fan. “They’ve got so many fans,” he said. “If I had a chance, I’d have a beer with one or two of them if I could.” That’s a sentiment likely to be reciprocated by many of United’s following, for whom the usual bitterness of defeat at this unwelcoming venue will have been sweetened somewhat by such welcome remarks from the architect of our downfall.

It’s undeniably good to get the Millwall experience over with so early in the piece, and to move swiftly on to the rest of what promises to be a long, hard season for Leeds United. But wherever we might travel during the remainder of the marathon Championship campaign, we’re unlikely to encounter such frankness and candour as Ian Holloway treated us to after this New Den encounter. It’s to be hoped that enough of his club’s fans will listen to and understand what he has said, to maybe make a difference as and when this fixture rolls around again. That has to be doubtful; but the fact that the Lions now have a man in charge who will not subscribe to the usual mealy-mouthed platitudes expressed by his predecessors on other such inauspicious occasions – that has to bode well for the prospects of introducing some primitive level of civilisation to what is a deeply flawed football club with a body of support to match.

Well, anyway – we can always hope. Thanks, Ian – you’re a gentleman

Millwall Defender Dunne Can’t Wait for Cup Final Opener Against Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

Alan Dunne anticipates the visit of Mighty Leeds

Alan Dunne anticipates the visit of Mighty Leeds

Last season’s relegation strugglers Millwall have been granted the best possible reward for their achievement in avoiding the drop back into League One. Despite the undoubted attraction of a local derby against ex-Premier League Fulham in the season’s second week, it is the visit of Leeds United on the opening day of the campaign that has the Lions salivating. There’s nothing like a Cup Final to bring out the fans, and Millwall will confidently be expecting a bumper attendance for what is the biggest home fixture for any club in the Championship.

Millwall veteran Alan Dunne – sent off a record nine times in his Lions career – happily confirmed that the opening game simply could not have been any bigger for the tiny London outfit.  “To start with a game at The Den against Leeds is exciting,” the defender said. “It’s the perfect opening day game. The fans will be there in numbers so it promises to be a cracking atmosphere. As a player you look to all the really big games.”

It’s an attitude that Leeds United will need to be wary of, having slipped to defeat at the New Den last season, despite the fact that Millwall proved themselves over the course of the league programme to be one of the weaker teams in the division.  A tendency to slip up against inferior opposition was a hallmark of United’s failure to make any impact on the promotion race and, along with the lesser Yorkshire clubs, the Pride of Bermondsey have long been a thorn in Leeds’ sides – passionately encouraged by a small but violent following for whom a victory over the Yorkshire giants counts as Christmas, a few birthdays, a knees-up with Mother Brown and a first date with a close relative, all rolled into one.

Taking into account all the factors that normally affect this fixture, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything will predict the following: a score draw at best for the travelling Whites to open the seasonal account; at least a dozen grinning apes proudly wearing the shirt of a club in Turkey which is Millwall’s broad equivalent in terms of sickness and violence; Millwall club officials standing by and doing nothing while this goes on, as the illiterate hacks in the local press turn a blind eye also; and lastly, Millwall’s highest gate of the season as early as this opening day, with a steady decline thereafter as the Cup Final recedes into memory.

Leeds for their part will hope for a win in what should be one of the easier away fixtures on the calendar, but as we have seen, other factors come into play.  A point would be a decent haul, especially as a routine victory can be expected in a St. Valentines Day massacre of an Elland Road return, where the brave Neanderthals who so faithfully follow their team around the country can be expected to muster no more than a dozen or two, against a chorus of the usual excuses about “bubble” fixtures.

So, a new season draws that bit closer – and, even while the World Cup is still being played for in Brazil, thoughts at home are already turning to the league battles ahead.  Just ask Alan Dunne, who simply can’t wait for the massive Leeds United game – and perhaps a chance to hit double figures in his red card tally? Time alone will tell.