Tag Archives: Noel Whelan

Shambolic Display at Middlesbrough… But Would Leeds Coach be ALLOWED to Drop Bellusci? – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino: calling the shots?

Cellino: calling the shots?

By common consent, the main difference between Leeds United and high-flying Middlesbrough at the weekend was the less-than-helpful presence in the Whites back line of one Giuseppe Bellusci, a man to whom the intricacies of central defending appear to be what Rugby League is to Julian Clary.

Bellusci’s laughably weak attempt at a clearance, making barely any contact with a cross-ball well within his reach, led directly to David Nugent‘s opening goal. The Italian then compounded that error by heading past his own keeper under no particular pressure, to double the hosts’ advantage. The game was already as good as over at this relatively early stage, even with Middlesbrough looking rather less than dominant. Leeds – or, more specifically, Bellusci – had thrown it away, far more then Boro having had to earn their decisive lead.

Support for that point of view came from United pundit, ex-striker for the Whites and passionate Leeds fan Noel Whelan, who was particularly scathing in his summing-up, both of the  “shambolic” defender’s performance and, more generally, his suitability to represent Leeds United. Annoyingly for many, the team selection was made in spite of the availability of Liam Cooper, who had been in possession of the shirt, and had hardly disgraced himself. Some pretty fair judges feel that “disgracing himself” just about nails it as far as Bellusci’s performance on Sunday at The Riverside is concerned.

Even Head Coach Uwe Rösler has been somewhat equivocal in the matter, falling some way short of backing a player under heavy fire in the press. “I think it would be unfair after losing 3-0 to go into details of any individual player,” Rosler said, when asked about Bellusci. “I saw the game, you saw the game and that is where we should leave it.” Hardly a ringing endorsement of a squad member Rösler had – apparently – preferred to the evidently steadier and more reliable Cooper.

Or did he?

It does rather beg the question of where the final say rests in team selection matters. Rösler can sometimes appear rather uncomfortable when quizzed about certain decisions, and it’s a matter for some concern as to exactly how far he’s able to go in defending his own picks – or maybe excusing those of people above him in the United hierarchy. In short, many outside the club are concerned that, since the departure of Adam Pearson – who had gently ushered owner Massimo Cellino safely into the background – the Captain may now be back on the bridge again, and chucking his weight about to the detriment of the ship’s safety and smooth passage.

It will be very interesting to see exactly what the shape of the team will be for Leeds’ next game, especially the make-up of the defence. After such a very damning reaction from both press and public to Giuseppe Bellusci’s disastrous showing at Middlesbrough, you feel that some pointed questions will be asked if he survives the chop and keeps his place against Birmingham City. Those questions would almost certainly include loud voices demanding to know who exactly does pick the team, and why certain individuals are selected despite, rather than because of, current form.

Rösler is a professional and, reading between the lines of his comments about what went wrong at The Riverside, it’s clear he wasn’t exactly happy with the showing of a man who gave away Boro’s first goal and scored their second himself. It’s fair enough for us to be asking – will he be allowed to drop Bellusci, if he sees fit so to do? And, if he’s not allowed to make such a decision, with his managerial neck on the line and relying for his continued employment on getting results – then is his position as United’s Head Coach even tenable?

This blog believes that, no, it wouldn’t be. If Rösler doesn’t have full control of team selection – and there are sound reasons for believing that this may be the case – then, quite frankly, he should jump before he’s pushed. Then, clearly, the solids would hit the air-conditioning. But maybe that’s what needs to happen for some clarity to emerge in the vexed question of who really calls the shots in Leeds United’s match-day team selection.

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Get IIIIIIINNN!!! Leeds Legend Noel Whelan is a Cult Radio Star   –   by Rob Atkinson

Get IIIIIIINN!!! Noel, Leeds United hero past and present

Get IIIIIIINN!!! Noel Whelan, Leeds United hero past and present

How bizarre, and yet how typical of this ugly duckling of a Leeds United season, that one of the main cult Whites heroes of the moment should be an employee of Derby County FC. Not that it hasn’t happened before, one way or another. Season 1991/92 threw up a couple of candidates, with Brian Gayle ex-Man City but on the books of Sheffield United, taking the honours as he scored the own-goal that finally turned the race for the last ever Football League Championship firmly Leeds’ way. No such rich prizes are at stake this season, and we have to look off the field of play for the hero I’m talking about. Take a bow Noel David Whelan, Academy Coach at Derby County, lifelong Leeds fan and the best thing to hit the airwaves in these parts for a long, long time.

When you listen to national radio, you want impartiality (not that you get it, not as a Leeds fan). It’s annoying if such an allegedly disinterested broadcaster shows bias, they get phone calls and irate letters. But local radio is a horse of a different colour. What you want then is a bit of parochial loyalty, a touch of blinkered self-righteousness. If the ref’s having a ‘mare – or even if, in truth, he’s just not giving the lads quite as much as he might – you want the regional radio guys to get hot under the collar about it, to have a bit of a rant or moan. It saves you the trouble and it also gives you that warm feeling that maybe you’re not just paranoid, that those buggers really are out to get us. Listen, you splutter to your significant other, I said to you that the ref was bent and the lino was blind or bent or stupid. Thom/Adam thinks so too. Bloody told you, didn’t I?

Sometimes though, the local guys can be a grievous disappointment in this regard. Forgetting that they’re not national commentators with all those boring rules and restrictions, some of our home-based broadcasters and summarisers can make the mistake of being so determined to be fair, that they lean over too far the other way, ending up calling every decision against Leeds, excusing the incompetent git of a ref, justifying the actions of those cheats and animals in the opposition ranks. This is extremely bad news for the fan glued to a crackly radio at home. That, by the way, is perilous stuff at the best of times. Radio commentary is just plain scary. Every shot is arrowing straight for the far top corner of your keeper’s net, every Whites passing move breaks down, we never get the bounce of the ball. It’s horrible and not good for the hypertension at all. And then, on top of all that, you get some ever so reasonable guy who, when the commentator screams, Penalty for Leeds! Surely that was a penalty!! – this laid-back, too-fair ex-pro will simply drawl, nah, never in a million years, he went down too easy, never a pen. Forbye, it wisnae in the area. Thwarted, you grind your teeth anew and feel the blood pounding insistently in your ears. It’s so bad for the health.

I’m not naming any names in that respect (but Eddie, for Christ’s sake get your act together and remember who you’re supposed to be supporting) – what I will say is that Norman Hunter, always reliable in terms of seeing the world through Leeds-tinted specs, is sadly missed from our local airwaves. But happily, the Advent of Noel has brought us a new hero, and he makes even Norman seem like a model of bland neutrality. When play is ongoing, there’s always a bit of Whelan wit and wisdom interspersing the description of the commentator. His Leeds-ness oozes from every pore and permeates everything he says. It’s simply wonderful.

Any Leeds fans will always look forward to any Leeds goal – it’s the longed-for climax to any foray forward and confirmed atheists have been know to offer up sincere prayers for that – ahem – moment of fulfilment. But in these days of Whelan, long may they last, there’s a little extra bonus to any Leeds score. Get IIIINNNNNNN!!!! you hear this demented, exultant voice thundering, rattling the commentary gantry and the windows of nearby houses, and doubtless attracting sidelong looks of disapproval from more ordinary, everyday mortals. Noel Whelan is not here simply to provide the professional’s point of view on the intricacies of play and team-shape. He’s here to see Leeds United win, and he wants it with his very guts. You can hear this in his voice, you can tell he’s kicking every ball and a good few of the opposition. It’s a tremendous feeling; like having your own personal, Leeds-centric representative up there in the commentary box where you’d secretly long to be yourself, instead of being surgically attached to this bloody radio.

Noel Whelan is the fan who really did live the dream, graduating from the terraces to don the Shirt and score goals for the club he loves. As a professional, when his career took him in a different direction, he made the best of it – not without the odd mishap, particularly at Coventry – and carried on scoring goals. Memorably, he scored for Boro against Man U in the Cup, and gave the old Leeds salute to the bitter cockneys who sat in the stand, hating him for his Leeds-ness and for scoring against their favourites. And all the time, he’s been Leeds, down to the very bone – and we’ve loved him for it, largely from afar.

Now his playing days are over, and – ever the pro – he’s earning his living still as part of the game, passing on his knowledge and experience to the Academy of a club other than Leeds. How odd that must feel to a man who so clearly has United in his DNA. But it doesn’t affect his deep and abiding partiality for the Whites; give him a mic, put him up there to watch the lads play – and he’s still passionately Leeds, desperate to see them win, straining every sinew as the Shirts toil away for the cause.

And then – we score. Get IIIINNNNNNN!!!! GET in! If things are going particularly well, a chorus of Marching On Together is not unheard of; though his singing would win few awards, the sentiment is pure gold. A model of impartiality Noel is definitely not – and that has endeared him to thousands of people for whom radio coverage is the only viable option. For those people, Noel is just like being there, or at least the very next best thing – he wants to win as much as you do and he celebrates like the fellow fan he is – as well as feeling the pain just as acutely as we all do when things are bad.

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything cannot help but feel that such passion, such absolute devotion to our one and only, beloved football club, is wasted whenever it’s not being employed in the United cause. Noel is not the first Leeds fanatic to pursue a career elsewhere. It was a standing joke at Newcastle that David Batty just couldn’t wait to be back at Elland Road. Whenever their team coach passed within sight of the stadium, his team mates would be at it, they’d rib Batts, telling him he’d be back there before long. And of course, he was. But when he wore another shirt, Batty fought and battled for that shirt, as a pro always will. I’ve seen Noel Whelan score against Leeds – it was in George Graham’s first game in charge, down at Coventry – and he looked utterly gutted and apologetic. And, naturally, he still got an ovation from the White Army that day.

Maybe Noel Whelan will one day be a part of Leeds United Football Club once more. Surely, he would grab the chance, should it ever arise – even in the sure knowledge that most such returns end in tears. But in the meantime – it’s wonderful to listen to him in his matchday stints on t’wireless, shamelessly biased, proudly Leeds, giving it the full throttle when we score, damning the officials who conspire against us. It’s simply just what is required, just what those fans out here in Radioland need.

Noel Whelan is a tonic. Every club should have one but, happily – and despite what the Derby County payroll people might imagine – he’s ours. And he’s the very Acme of one-eyed, tunnel-visioned, brilliantly biased, raucously supportive presence that any Leeds fan simply loves to hear as part of their commentary experience.

Other, more pallid broadcasters – please take note.

Leeds Ram Wigan Chairman’s Taunts Back Down His Throat as Mowatt Strikes – by Rob Atkinson

Mowatt - poise, polish and a lethal finish in either foot

Alex Mowatt – poise, polish and a lethal finish in either foot

Outgoing Wigan chairman Dave Whelan became the second club figurehead in a matter of weeks to make the mistake of speaking in haste before repenting at leisure. Not so long back, Middlesbrough owner Steve Gibson saw fit to poke fun at the Massimo Cellino situation, by sanctioning the display of a huge banner displaying his own none-too-attractive mug above the legend “Fit and Proper“. In associating himself with other “fit and proper” Football League types like convicted rapist Owen Oyston, Gibson perhaps did himself no favours. But he committed a greater sin in winding up the Whites, who promptly scored a smash and grab win against the Smoggies. Thanks for the motivation, Steve. And for the three – no, sorry – six points. Very kind, if not all that clever.

Dave Whelan yesterday. Not a racist - honest...

Dave Whelan yesterday. Not a racist – honest…

Then yesterday at Wigan‘s DW Stadium, Dave Whelan, a bluff old cove who some think of as anti-semitic due to rather unwise and ill-considered comments in the wake of appointing Malky Mackay as manager, just couldn’t resist having a pop at visitors Leeds United. When he made his valedictory address to Wigan’s tiny and scattered band of home supporters, old Whelan reflected on a tenure that had seen his club reach and stay for a while in the Premier League, as well as enjoying an unlikely Wembley success against Manchester City. But then he simply had to permit himself an FA Cup jab at the Whites that must have made his manager hold his head in his hands. “Leeds haven’t won the Cup in 25 years“, huffed the old gent, inaccurately (whisper it, but it’s actually 43 years and counting). The travelling United faithful who made up a fair proportion of the crowd and nearly all the noise, were not impressed – and proffered some loud and anatomically impossible advice, in a raucous chorus, as to what Whelan should forthwith do with himself. The players, for their part, merely rolled up their sleeves and prepared for battle.

The result was another 1-0 away win, not quite as Alamo-esque as the Boro one, but still defying the possession and total shots on goal statistics. The Whites’ winner, when it arrived early in the second half, was a fine strike from the increasingly deadly Alex Mowatt, who wrapped his right foot around the ball on the edge of the area to send it hurtling mightily beyond a helpless Scott Carson in the Pie-eaters’ goal. It was a sublime strike – particularly when you remember that Mowatt is supposed to be left-footed (as evidenced by a series of clinical recent free-kick goals). The presence of Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers in the stands will have worried those keen to see United hang onto their young stars; as Eddie Gray apparently murmured, “Well, he’s not here to watch any Wigan players”. Leeds duly hung on to see the match out and complete another welcome victory, all the more satisfactory for that sense of having put a bigmouth in his place.

It’s probably too much to hope for that any other club owner or departing chairman will be so kind as to do Redders’ team talk for him, but really, you never know. The irony with which the Leeds crowd so regularly sing “We’re not famous any more” is calculated to a nicety. The fact is that some of the clubs at this level are still pinching themselves at the privilege they have in regularly hosting an outfit with such a global reputation. And some individuals are simply so carried away with the excitement and glamour of this, that they just can’t refrain from a little unwise counting of chickens before hatching time. How their harassed managers must silently damn their folly when the points then slip away, West Yorkshire-bound.

So much for silly old Mr Dave Whelan then. On the day, as on so many days this season, the one and only Whelan of the moment was Noel David of that ilk, a former United hero who had an endearing habit of scoring against Man U in his playing days, and who – although he now earns a footballing crust elsewhere in the Championship – remains Leeds to the core, wearing his heart on his sleeve and utterly failing to remain impartial. How the Leeds fans love him for it; for his “GET IINNNNNN!!!” when Leeds score and his wit and caustic humour in commentary with Adam Pope on Radio Leeds. It’s such a treat to listen to – that victory cry of Snowy Whelan’s when Leeds score is just something else; you can virtually hear the veins in his neck bulging. It’s fantastic stuff, and a marked contrast to the rather more low-key commentary available elsewhere.

So Leeds march on and it’s been another satisfactory weekend with three points for the Whites, and losses for some of those we love to despise, notably Millwall, who are beginning to look ever more comically doomed to the drop. Next week it’s a resurgent Nottingham Forest at Elland Road and another stiff test for Redders’ Leeds. But it’s fair to say the pressure is all but off now; we’re looking cautiously upwards instead of back at the dog-eat-dogfight.

More on Forest – and Snowy Whelan – during the coming week here on Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. Stay tuned…