Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Memories of a Kings School Kipper Leeds United Fan – by Rob Atkinson

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The Kings School, Pontefract – this blogger’s alma mater from 1972-78

For some reason, an inner voice is telling me it’s high time for a nostalgic trawl through some school memories. Mine take me back to the seventies, when I attended a school of mellow, weathered brick atop Mill Hill in Pontefract. For I was, in local parlance, a “Kings School Kipper” – and the teachers I met there were a mixed assortment of individuals, the like of which I suspect you do not encounter these days. It was in these years that my passion for Leeds United flowered and bloomed – sometimes I think it was my nascent love for football that saved me from despairing about the dusty and cheerless environment of a soon-to-be ex-grammar school. It was all boys, of course, no feminine distractions apart from some dragon-like dinner ladies with moustaches that outdid anything in the sixth form as well as most of the whiskery efforts among the hairier masters.

In order to protect the not-quite innocent, I’ll refer to the following erratic examples of the teacher’s art by their commonly-used nicknames. That should be enough for my contemporaries, those lucky enough to go through the KSP experience at around the same time. But, even without nicknames, many of the masters are recognisable by their individual quirks of personality. The teaching staff at Kings School were remote and forbidding figures for the most part, who used to prowl the corridors cloaked academically, like a horde of demented bats. They were as motley and weird a bunch as you’ll find outside the walls of Billy Bunter’s Greyfriars.

My own favourite remains the man with the unforgettable drawling delivery; a French master and perennial form teacher known to us all as “Jack”, because his surname rhymed with that of the bandleader Jack Parnell. Jack was notorious for a series of stock phrases delivered in a characteristic nasal drawl. We’d dread the sound of “Get a move on, get some work done!”, or the doom-laden “Right, lad; fifty lines.” Jack was fanatical about his Chess Club and also his support for the gruelling coast-to-coast Lyke Wake Walk. His finest hour, for me, came when he was delivering sentence on a classmate with the surname Grace. Jack’s nickname for him was “Amazin’”, and when Grace annoyed him this one time, Jack came out with “Right lad. Fifty times in French, backwards: it’s amazin’ what raisins can do”. As the youngsters are wont to say: how random is that?

There was another Jack too, a scary character in the maths department, whose party-trick was to make his voice grow deceptively gentle, lulling a drowsy class off to sleep. Then, when he could see heads nodding, he’d give the blackboard an almighty clout with a board ruler, making a sound they must have heard down at Carleton Secondary Boys’ School. The shock effect of this ensured our wakeful attention and our sadistic teacher was plainly delighted each time he thus traumatised us.

Among the many other odd characters on the staff, there was a music teacher commonly referred to as “Tramp”, for his lack of sartorial elegance; an English master known for some obscure reason as “Bungee” – and a fearsome character whom we dubbed “Chopper”, for the swinging axe-like nature of his disciplinary methods. When another, younger teacher of the same surname joined the staff, he was immediately christened “Chipper”, in a neat tribute to a couple of popular Raleigh bikes of the day. Another English master was a man of rotund aspect, who spoke with an accent straight out of Golders Green, and was also an enthusiastic spare-time football coach. One day, an inspired member of our form looked out of the window and saw “Fat Ron” wheezing up and down as he reffed a game on the pitch just in front of the main building. “Oh look, sir,” he piped up. “There’s a heavy dew on the grass”. It took a moment only to catch his double meaning, and then the lesson dissolved into fairly malicious but honestly not anti-Semitic laughter. As a memorable bon mot, this one passed straight into Kings School legend and was much admired for years afterwards. I remember it more fondly than perhaps I should, as it was “Fat Ron”, the interfering git, who later grassed me up for being an underage member of a local club where I’d often pleasantly wasted time drinking lager and playing snooker or pool.

In the science department, we had a tall, thin physics master of amiable disposition who, although afflicted with a speech impediment, was often called upon to read the lesson in assembly. This seemed harsh enough, but the cruelty of us boys went a stage further; we called the poor bloke “Splut”, often to his face. Then there was another physics teacher, of Lancastrian origin, known as “Mad Brad”. He used to say to me, “Atkinson lad, this homework is di-A-bolical” (as it invariably was). His colleague in the chemistry lab, nicknamed Taff in tribute to his origins in the valleys, would doubtless have agreed – when he wasn’t lifting us by our sideburns, that is, to an anguished protest of “Sir, sir, sir, gerroff, it kills!” And don’t even get me started on the nasty little punishment habits of the games masters…

Given the suffering occasionally inflicted upon us by these out-dated brutes, it’s surprising how almost-fondly I now look back on my time as a Kipper. Distance lends enchantment, of course, to those dear old golden rule days – but my only truly positive memories are of the jam roly-poly in the dinner hall and playing football with a tennis ball on the basketball court. Most of us were Leeds fans, but there were a few renegade scummers and one lad who insisted on supporting Arsenal or Derby for no apparent reason. The teachers, meanwhile, were diverse in their football affiliations. One of the English masters was a Burnley fan who I remember engaged me in a serious discussion about the pros and cons of Ray Hankin – and there was a Coventry fan in the Sports department whose chief disciplinary trick was to hand out impositions of ten lines at a time – trouble was, the lines were about three pages long. I honestly can’t recall any Leeds-supporting teachers; perhaps life would have been more pleasant for some of us, if there had just been that little bit of common ground.

It strikes me that there must be readers of this blog out there who were Kings School Kippers, just as I was in the seventies. Please feel free to share your memories of the place and its barmy inhabitants – I’d be really interested to read the recollections of others who went through that particular institution and emerged more or less unscathed. Or just recount your own school memories – all contributions welcome subject to the usual moderation…

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Yorkshire Derby Joy: Sheffield Wednesday 1, Leeds United 6 – by Rob Atkinson

Take That, Wendies - Hat-Trick Hero Leee Celebrates

Take That, Wendies – Hat-Trick Hero Leee Celebrates

Today, we’re taking a look back to almost exactly 24 years ago to one of Leeds United’s, let’s say, more emphatic performances on their travels. Ahead of the lunchtime kick-off at Hillsborough – a fixture we can hardly anticipate with any pleasure, given current form and the sour mood surrounding Leeds United as a club – this match in January of ’92 provides some particularly happy memories.

As 1991 turned into 1992, there was plenty to look forward to for our great club.  Against many expectations, Leeds had stayed the pace in the first half of the season, to remain Man U’s main challengers for the last ever old-style Football League Championship.  We also retained an interest in both Cups, and there was no European football to muddy the waters, as we’d “only” finished fourth on our top-flight re-entry the season before (a position, it should be noted, that gains entry to the guaranteed riches of the Champions’ League these less demanding days).  So it was the League Cup and the FA Cup that promised to be the distractions from our pursuit of the Title, and guess what?  We were drawn at home in both competitions against The Pride of Devon, our main rivals for the Championship.  You couldn’t, as they say, make it up.

History shows that our beloved neighbours from “ovver t’hill” ended our involvement in both Cups, deservedly 3-1, let it be said, in the 5th Round of the League Cup (then Rumbelows Cup).  By contrast, a distinctly unlucky exit in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup followed, when a dominant Leeds performance brought only the bitter pill of a 1-0 defeat, and a worrying injury to Lee Chapman into the bargain.   Prior to the Cup games, we had played Man U in the league at Elland Road, drawing one each in the first game of what was known at the time as a “Titanic Roses Trilogy” by unimaginative sub-editors everywhere.  So honours were by no means even, but the consequences of this mighty three match series would be felt over the remainder of the season, and – some would argue – far beyond.

The immediate fall-out was that Leeds were “free to concentrate on the League”, as the cliché runs.  Man U, meanwhile, continued on to Wembley in the League Cup, enjoying a victory over Nottingham Forest, but ended up losing amusingly at home to Southampton in the FA Cup.  The fixture congestion they suffered as the season entered its final stages would be significant, if not actually decisive, in the eventual destination of the Title.

As far as the Title went, the lads from the Theatre of Hollow Myths had suffered a shock on New Year’s Day, capitulating 4-1 at home to QPR. Later that January 1st, Leeds won competently 3-1 at West Ham, and remained well in the race for the ultimate domestic honour.  The scene was adequately set, then, for Wilko’s first return to Hillsborough since he had quit Wednesday to become Leeds boss in 1988. This would also be Chapman’s last game before his season-threatening FA Cup injury. He was destined to be sidelined only temporarily, and he went out in emphatic style.

There was a crowd of 32,228 at Hillsborough, the usual vociferous contingent of travelling Leeds fans rivalling the home crowd for noise from the outset, and completely drowning them as the game went on. Leeds United were weakened – so it seemed – by the absence of the injured Gordon Strachan and suspended David Batty, half of their legendary midfield Fantastic Four. Any side, surely, would miss performers of such calibre. Leeds, however, seemed determined to make light of the problem, and tore into the shocked Wendies from the start.  Full-back Tony Dorigo made an early, darting run, cutting in from the left and making good progress down the centre of the pitch, before unleashing a right-foot thunderbolt that home ‘keeper Chris Woods had to tip over.  From the resulting Gary MacAllister corner, Chris Fairclough rose to head downwards, and found Chapman in splendid isolation 4 yards out; his finish was sure and deadly.

For a local derby, the contest had been decidedly one-way traffic – Chapman was to send two towering headers just wide before Carl Shutt had a scuffed shot smothered by Woods in the home goal. Then, a true champagne moment as Mel Sterland fed the ball to Chapman on the right. In a completely untypical burst of pace and control, Chappy surged between two hapless Wednesday defenders, raced into the area, and unleashed a shot that beat Woods completely, just clipping the frame of the goal to rapturous applause from the Leeds fans at the Leppings Lane End. I remember thinking at the time that anything was possible now, if Lee Chapman could do something so utterly out of character. And so it proved as, from a free kick awarded just right of centre some ten yards outside the box, Dorigo stepped up to absolutely hammer the ball past a helpless ‘keeper. Cue raucous jubilation from the White Army behind the goal, celebrating as clean a strike as you could ever see, hurtling into the far corner with precision and power.

At 2-0 down, the home side were making increasingly desperate attempts to gain some sort of foothold in the match. This desperation was adequately demonstrated when, from a harmless-looking ball into the Leeds area, Wednesday striker Gordon Watson ran in front of Chris Whyte, continued on for another step or two, and then hurled himself into the air, landing in agonised paroxysms of simulation between a bemused Whyte and Leeds ‘keeper John Lukic. Such obvious fraud and villainy could have only one outcome, and the stadium held its collective breath for sentence to be passed on the miscreant. Instead – amazingly – referee Philip Don pointed to the spot as Whyte snarled his outraged disbelief.  Whether none of the officials had seen the extent of Watson’s ham-acting, or whether they were perhaps moved by sympathy for the mauling Wednesday were taking from a rampant Leeds, it’s impossible to say.  Ex-Leeds hero John Sheridan stepped up, saw his penalty brilliantly saved as Lukic tipped it against his right-hand post, and then gleefully belted home the rebound to give Wednesday a massively unmerited lifeline.

An act of such base and scurvy treachery required nothing less than a riposte of the utmost nobility and beauty. And, happily, so it came to pass. Just minutes after the home side’s ridiculous blagging of an unfair route back into the game, Leeds effortlessly took control again with a goal sublime in both conception and execution. Lukic bowled the ball out to Dorigo on the left flank; he sent it down the line to Gary Speed, who took one touch to steady himself, before sending a beautiful flighted cross into the Wednesday area.  And there, inevitably, was Chapman, horizontal in mid-air, neck cocked to hammer the ball unanswerably past Woods, the perfect counterpunch to suck a knavish low blow.  It was a gorgeous goal, sweeping the length of the left side of the field, taking the entire home team right out of the game, and re-establishing the two goal margin which was the least Leeds United deserved at half-time.

The second half that day was simply a story of how a blood-and-thunder Yorkshire derby turned into a stroll in the park for Leeds United.  It seemed as if all the life had been sucked out of the home team – a Wednesday side, let’s not forget, who were unbeaten at home since the opening day of the season, and who would go on to finish third in the table.  So they were no mugs, but Leeds United were absolutely irresistible on the day, and would have hammered far better teams than the hapless Owls.

Possibly, Wednesday were simply embarrassed about that cringeworthy penalty, possibly they were tired, having been run rings around since the start.  Whatever the case, their heads dropped steadily further and further as the game progressed, and they offered little resistance as Leeds proceeded to throttle the life out of them.  Chapman completed his hat-trick after the hour, heading in after Speed had struck the bar from a corner.  Poor Speedo was looking the other way, bemoaning his bad luck when the ball hit the back of the net, turning his frustration to joy.  Then perennial bit-part player Mike Whitlow ventured forward, just because he could, and rose unchallenged to meet Wallace’s right-wing cross and head easily over a stranded Woods.  It was left to little Rodney Wallace to administer the coup de grâce, striding clear after a shimmering exchange of passes in midfield to dink the ball over the advancing ‘keeper, and put the suffering home side finally out of their misery.

For Leeds, it had been their biggest away win in over 60 years as they returned to the First Division summit in the best possible manner.  The message had been sent out loud and clear: United were serious about their Championship challenge, and they would surely look back after their eventual success in the League, to identify this sumptuous display as one that defined them as potentially the best team in the land.  For Wednesday it was utter humiliation, and truth to tell it was difficult to sympathise.  Better really to lose 6-0 than to be tainted as they were with such a crass and obvious example of cheating – and it hardly reflected much credit on myopic referee Don, either.

It was a massively impressively performance, a hugely significant victory, and the sweetest possible return for United’s ex-Owls contingent.  Mel Sterland always took great delight in beating the Blades, but this victory over his boyhood favourites would have only happy memories for him, as indeed for Chapman, Shutt and of course the Sergeant himself.  Leeds would march on to the Title, Man U’s quarter-of-a-century wait would extend for another 12 delightful months – and Wednesday would recover to finish impressively, despite another awful trouncing at Highbury.

But January 12th 1992 belonged entirely to Leeds United, who looked like Champions a full four months early with this five star, six of the best Masterclass display.

Super Leeds and “The Last Real Champions” – by Rob Atkinson

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Big Jack Scores Against Sad Saints

If you should happen to be a football fan – as I am, and have been these many years, since days of yore with short shorts, middling ability and long sideburns – then you may well be in the habit of switching on the TV occasionally to watch the glitzy offerings of the munificently funded Premier League. With its incomparable array of prima donnas and fabulously wealthy superstars, prancing athletically around a pristine and manicured football pitch in the very latest state-of-the-art stadium (constructed courtesy of Meccano Inc.) – it’s a far cry from the heyday of The Football League, Divisions One to Four.

Back then, men were men, refs were nervous and physios routinely cured ruptured cruciates or shattered thighs with a damp sponge and hoarse exhortations to “gerron with it” – or so it seemed. Full-backs with legs of the type more usually to be found on billiard tables would careen through the mud at Elland Road or Anfield, some flash, quivering, overpaid at £200 a week winger in their merciless sights, destined to be afflicted with acute gravel-rash. Centre-backs with foreheads like sheer cliffs would head muddy balls clear to the halfway line, get up out of the mire, groggily shake their mighty frames, and then do it all over again – for the full 90 minutes, Brian. The good old days, without a doubt.

There is little that the modern game has in common with those far-off, non-High Definition times when some top-flight games weren’t even covered by a local TV camera for a brief clip on regional news. Now, every kick of ball or opponent is available in super slow-mo for in-depth analysis by a battery of experts, from a dozen different angles. The game today is under the microscope seven days a week, where then it was viewed only from afar, limited to highlights from a select few stadia every Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Even now, the smell of hot ironing and roast beef with Yorkshire Pud will take me back to Sabbath afternoons sat contentedly before “Sunday Soccer” as Bremner, Giles & Co dismantled the hapless opposition.

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Super Leeds

Leeds United was the team, back then. On their day, the lads would toy with their rivals as a particularly cruel cat might do with a half-dead mouse. Many will recall the spectacle of a mortally-wounded Southampton side – already seven goals to nil down near the end of the game – trying all they knew to get a touch of the ball as their tormentors in white passed it effortlessly between themselves, brazenly flaunting their catalogue of flicks, reverse balls and sublime long passes. The game was long since won and all Leeds’ energies were palpably focused on a very public humiliation of their exasperated victims. Some thought it was in poor taste, a shoddy way to treat fellow professionals. Leeds fans remember it 40 years on as the ultimate statement of an undeniably top team, proclaiming to the nation “Look at us. We are the best.”

This was 1972, when Leeds might well have won pretty much everything, but had to settle in the end for their solitary FA Cup triumph, missing out on the Title right at the death in typically controversial circumstances. Leeds won far less than they should have done; a combination of official intransigence, their own inherent self-doubt on certain big occasions, Don Revie’s crippling caution and superstition – together it must be said with some shockingly bad luck – limited their trophy haul to a mere trickle when it should have been a flood. But those flickering images of arrogant dominance and untouchable skill revealed also an unbreakable brotherhood and grisly determination that spoke of a very special team indeed. The resonance even today of that oft-repeated tag “Super Leeds” says far more about the status of Revie’s side than any mundane tally of trophies possibly could.

In those days, of course, the gulf in ability between Leeds United and Southampton, described by Match of the Day commentator Barry Davies as “an almighty chasm”, was just that. The gap in class was achieved on merit. It wasn’t backed up by any such gulf in the relative earnings of the men in white and the demoralised Saints, or players of any other club. The playing field back then was very much more level than it is now, when the top few clubs – in an apt metaphor for society at large – cream off the bulk of the income, leaving the rest to feed on scraps. The pool of possible Champions was consequently greater – Derby County won it that year of Southampton’s ritual humiliation, as Leeds faltered when required to play their last League game a mere two days after a gruelling Cup Final. Imagine the outcry if one of the major teams had to do that today! And ask yourself if a Derby County or a Nottingham Forest are likely to be Champions again in the near future, blocked off as they are from that status by the oligarchy at the Premier League’s top table.

There aren’t many more hackneyed phrases than “The Good Old Days” – but for those who like their sporting competition to have a wide and varied base, with the possibility of a good proportion of the participants actually having a chance to win in any given season – then the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s take some beating. Leeds United fans like to refer to their team of 1992 as “The Last Real Champions”, and a convincing case can be made for this, looking at the transformation which took place shortly thereafter, the explosion in finances for the chosen few, and the small number of clubs – invariably backed by mega-millions – who have been Champions since. Even the once-mighty Liverpool FC has been affected. Despite Leeds United’s current problems, they have been Champions more recently than the Anfield Reds.

It’s perhaps fitting that Leeds have a claim to the accolade of Last Real Champions. As Super Leeds, they dominated English Football for a decade, without ever winning their due. Now that we can look back to a turning point for the game 23 years ago when the Premier League broke away, and the cash registers started to make more noise than disillusioned fans, we can possibly consider those 1992 Champions, nod to ourselves, and say yes; they were the last of the old guard, the final Champions of the Good Old Days.

As epitaphs go, it’s not a bad one.

Nostalgia – Not What It Used To Be

Show me a person who’s never felt that aching, yearning desire for the ‘Good Old Days’, and I’ll show you a twenty-something, or – tops – a thirtyish glass-half-full type.  It’s part of the human condition, and believe me, you youngster nostalgia-heads, the longing for times past only gets worse and more compelling with age.

The thing is, though – it’s all a sham.  Nostalgia has spawned virtually an entire industry, making zillions out of the ever-increasing urge to regress to what we think of as happier times, flogging us kitsch memorabilia and useless antiques at premium prices.  All this, for a concept as hollow and insubstantial as a bubble.  I’ll try to explain what I’m getting at.

The main thing you need to know about The Good Old Days, is that – they don’t exist.  Or, more accurately, from the only perspective that matters – here and now – the memory of The Good Old Days is like a Siren’s song, calling seductively to you, whilst keeping the singer’s essential character hidden.  And the essential character of The Good Old Days may be summed up as follows:  more hardship, less enlightened attitudes, worse public health and life expectancy and just generally a lack of the things in life today we’d find it hard to live without.  I won’t drone on here about smart phones, the internet, flat-screen TV’s and spiffy microwave-grills.  You get the picture.

The late, lamented legend that was Tony Capstick summed up the flip-side of nostalgia very neatly indeed.  In his hilarious pastiche of a famous bread advert, filmed on a steep and cobbled street to the accompaniment of Dvořák’s New World Symphony, Capstick intoned “We had lots of things in them days, they haven’t got today.  Rickets.  Diptheria.  Hitler….. They dun’t know they’re born today”.  As with all the best comedy, there’s a kernel of truth there.

So why this fierce desire to re-live days gone by, through old photographs, maybe, or a TV series set in whichever decade speaks to us of our particular formative years?  Perhaps it’s a desire to meet up again with lost loved ones, which is readily understandable.  But the nostalgic ache affects the vast majority of people, including those lucky enough never to have experienced bereavement.  Maybe it really is just a longing for simpler times, but I truly don’t think so.

My pet theory – and I’ve thought about this a lot, as you tend to on your journey through middle-age – is that it’s not the mythical Good Old Days we’re all missing.  Rather, it’s the Good Young Us.  Everything that seems better in the eye of memory was originally seen through younger, sharper eyes, at a time when we inhabited a younger, more flexible and healthier body, when we mercifully lacked the cares of having to forge a living and look after dependents, when we could take life as it came to us, unafraid of the future and ready for anything.  This, sadly, is not a set of circumstances fully valued or appreciated at the time – only in retrospect, when physical and mental powers are waning and the gaze we cast on the world is more jaundiced, do we really understand what we had, and what we’ve lost.  Small wonder, then, that there’s a hankering to go back and regain our younger selves.

There’s a tendency, as well, for memory to reach further and further back into the distant past as we age.  This means that a lot of older people spend much more of their time delving through their long-term recall, and find happiness in contemplating the days of their youth, a refuge of sorts from a modern world that seems more and more bewildering to them.  It’s the kinder face of nostalgia – a therapy to help people cope with the iniquities of old age.  But again, I would argue that it’s their own younger selves that Gran and Grandad are contentedly revisiting, and that the period setting of those memories is purely incidental.

We associate our golden days of youth with a definite time frame, that’s all, and it’s that association our brains seize on to hook us into yearning for whatever past time.  For some, it’s World War Two, for others it might be the Fab Fifties, or even the Electronic Eighties.  I hark back to the Sensational Seventies myself, but I’ve no real desire to ride a Raleigh Chopper again, or even to come home and watch “Love Thy Neighbour” on a tiny TV.  But I would give a lot for the flat tummy, the sporting prowess, the soundness of wind and limb and the 20-20 vision I enjoyed, but never fully appreciated back then.

That’s what nostalgia is really all about, and we’d do well to face up to it – there’s more chance, after all, of science eventually mitigating the tyranny of old age, with its attendant infirmities, than there is of it building us a Time Machine.  So perhaps we’d all better settle for what we’ve at least some chance of getting, rather than pandering to this hopeless desire for a past to which distance has lent a false enchantment.  But that’s easier said than done – when the nostalgia bug bites, it bites hard.

Now – where did I put that Rubik’s Cube….?