Tag Archives: Nottingham Forest

Leeds Boss Monk Upset That Conceding Goals Can Mean Defeat   –   by Rob Atkinson

Kal Phillips

Kal Phillips – Leeds lone goalscorer at Nottingham Forest


This article also appears in Shoot – The Voice of Football

Events at the City Ground, Nottingham appear to have borne in on Leeds United manager Garry Monk that conceding goals can have an adverse effect on a team’s results. This may not be exactly shocking to many in the game, but Monk – a defender in his playing days – seemed resentful if not outraged in his post-match reaction that the mere act of politely letting the ball enter your own net has the unfortunate outcome of failing to win games. “If not for the goals we conceded we would have won the game, definitely,” lamented our leader after the 3-1 defeat to Nottingham Forest.

It’s difficult to argue with that summary, as we did after all manage to score a goal through young Kal Phillips‘ well-taken free-kick from all of thirty yards. But, sadly, Forest got three – and that’s the way of the world and the rules of the game. We may even have to consider tightening up in defence if we want to avoid harsh realities like the other team rudely presuming to score against us. Only then will we prevail – as we did against Sheffield Wednesday, who had the good taste to somehow avoid notching against our porous back line.

I’m being a little disingenuous, of course. I have no doubt at all that, in reality, Garry Monk is all too aware of the defensive problems we have. Those problems were still evident during two clean-sheet displays at Sheffield and then at Luton Town in midweek – but at least we had new boy Pontus Jansson at Kenilworth Road, tall, commanding and looking as though he would make a good fist of heading away a cruise missile if he had to. Reverting to a central partnership of Bartley and Cooper was a brave call, to put it kindly, after such a convincing display from the Swedish international and, in retrospect, it might not have been the wisest of decisions with a team that reacts like a rabbit caught in the headlights when facing a corner.

If Leeds United need to address defensive frailties, than perhaps their still-new manager could think about trying to sound a little less defensive after defeat. It doesn’t go down too well among the Twitterati, as was clear from the reaction of virtual Leeds fans yesterday, some of whom felt that Monk’s comments had left us open to ridicule. On the other hand, we have to remember that the circumstances prevailing at Leeds United mean any Whites manager is working under more than the usual amount of pressure – and maybe this is what manifested itself in Garry’s post-match interview.

Either way, improvement is essential and soon. It’s perhaps fortunate that we now have an international break in which to regroup and reorganise – though I do recall using similar phrases at this time of the season over the past few years. Hopefully, this time, the desired improvement will occur. It should, because this squad has a lot going for it. That situation might improve again, should talk of further recruitment materialise into something firmer before the transfer window closes this coming week.

Next up, after Mike Bassett’s England have taken and departed centre stage, it’s our old friends with the chip on their shoulders from Huddersfield Town. They’re currently perched incongruously atop the Championship, and it’s our clear duty to put a stop to such nonsense and set about redressing the balance. Huddersfield haven’t finished ahead of Leeds United for well over half a century – and that is one record that certainly should be maintained at the end of this season. In fact – by some distance – that is the very least we Leeds fans expect and demand.

Advertisements

Cellino Content to Delay Leeds Promotion Charge Until 2016b – by Rob Atkinson

cellino-crotch

Leeds owner Cellino, racking his brains

Leeds United owner and all-round-the-bend football nutter Massimo Cellino has confirmed he is content to put back his original target of Premier League football by at least one year, predicting that – despite the evident failure to meet his original target of 2016 – promotion can be achieved by 2016b.

The Italian – so famous for being “one topping short of a pizza” that it’s rumoured he has settled on Barking as his London residence of choice – is a controversial figure for United fans, and has sharply divided opinion among a support whose fanaticism and loyalty are legendary in the game. His crazy insistence on his superstitious whims being given free rein throughout the football club – the programme for our 17th home league game against Nottingham Forest later today will be numbered 16b – is just one manifestation of an owner who puts his own ego first and foremost. It’s stupid and it’s embarrassing but, because Massimo wants it that way, that’s the way it shall be – while the rest of football looks on and laughs at us.

The schism between pro-Cellino supporters and those who want rid of the so-called King of Corn appears to be based broadly upon intellect, or the lack thereof. The more gullible, hard-of-thinking and easily-deluded tend towards a fierce but irrational devotion to Cellino, whereas those fans capable of thinking for themselves (or indeed at all) are largely anti. The Cellino supporters habitually use phrases such as “I would never of thought Evans would be a good manger but to all intensive purposes he’s defiantly doing a job”, whereas those opposed to the Italian are generally able to use their own native language to better effect.

Faced with this bafflingly obdurate (and frequently hostile/aggressive) ignorance, the more rational and thoughtful Leeds fan will doubtless wonder gloomily how Galileo Galilei must have felt when persecuted by those who still believed, against all scientific evidence, that the Earth was the centre of creation. Sadly, we are currently stuck with an owner who seems to hold much the same view about himself – and he’s supported by an uncritical minority who simply can’t seem to see or understand how ridiculous the situation has become.

This grey matter divide in the Whites support is clearly discernible in various Facebook groups, where feelings run high when the less capable “Cellino in” brigade feel themselves out-thought and out-manoeuvred – then resorting to profanity and censorship as their most effective means of coping. In the interests of clarity and transparency, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything frankly acknowledges that it was initially a vocal supporter of Cellino, but thankfully reason and common-sense prevailed. This blog believes that any rational Leeds United fan will weigh-up the evidence, as we have done, and conclude that the Italian is an overwhelmingly negative factor in the club’s quest even to regain a measure of credibility, let alone return to the top-flight. In this, we are supported by the forthright views of ex-United star and erudite football legend Johnny Giles, who believes Leeds will never prosper under such maverick and irrational control.

We’re right with our former midfield maestro – the best manager United never had, let it be remembered – in maintaining that Leeds must be rid of Cellino if we are to have any real chance of once again becoming a proper football club. If the current situation persists, it’ll be closer to 2116b than 2016b before we once again witness top-level football at Elland Road, which is an almost laughably tragic state of affairs.

Those who persist in their ill-conceived support for a man in Cellino, who has made a laughing stock of a once-great club, are now merely part of the problem. It is down to those of us who can see how bad things really are to leave il Duce in no doubt that he’s not required around LS11 any more. Not by anyone with a proper brain in their head, anyway.

 

More Details of That Elland Road Flypast Revealed   –   by Rob Atkinson

 
More details are now available of the proposed “fly past” apparently arranged by a small group of around 30,000 anti-Cellino Leeds United fans for the home fixture against Nottingham Forest this coming weekend.

It would appear, from the illustrative picture that we have been sent, that the protest will use an aircraft the livery of which is calculated to get under il Duce‘s skin. Massimo Cellino is notoriously superstitious, with a particular aversion for the colour purple, the number 17 and adequate investment into the football clubs unfortunate enough to come under his ownership. These are details that have not escaped protest organisers, who have settled on the design pictured. The basic purple colour and the number 17 will be clearly visible from Elland Road, although Cellino himself is unlikely to be present. 

A separate group of up to a dozen Leeds fans have voiced their objections to the planned protest, saying that it is “silly” and the work of “silly people who are too silly to see how Cellino has saved Leeds United nearly as often as Ken Bates did”. To show their opposition to the protest flypast, these pro-Cellino fans will wear specially made blinkers featuring the Italian flag. Pointy hats with a capital D will also figure. “The D stands for Duce”, said a pro-Cellino spokesman, proudly. “Or at least it was something like that…”

 

A pro-Cellino supporter, yesterday

One-time ‘world’s best’ and latterday laughing-stock Leeds United (aged 97) has had enough – and wishes to become a football club again. 

We Hate Nottingham Forest, We Hate Liverpool Too – by Rob Atkinson

Let me start out by saying this: there is a place in football for hate

Now, that might seem rather a provocative, not to say controversial statement, in these happy-clappy days when going to the match is supposed to be all about families, and fun. When oompah bands, high up in the stands, are strategically placed so that the newly-gentrified population in the 48 quid seats should not have to hear anything raucous or profane.

But it’s true, nevertheless. Football is tribal, football is cathartic, football is where you get to let off some steam after gritting your teeth all week.

And, for all of that, you need someone to hate.

Hate is a much misunderstood, possibly demonised word these days. It’s not really to be found in the lexicon of the politically correct. It sends out the wrong message, don’t you know, and speaks of the extreme edges of emotion and feeling, where those of pallid personalities do not wish to be seen.

But hate is a real human emotion, and you can’t simply wish, or indeed legislate it away. Properly expressed, it’s just about the best catalyst for atmosphere at a good old traditional sporting fixture.

The professionals should stay out of it, and get on with the game – it’s not really within their remit to get caught up in the atmosphere a bit of hate generates (although it’s frequently more entertaining than the football when rival teams DO let the passion affect them). However, the real arena is in the stands – or on the terraces, as we used to say in happier times.

Here is where the mutual dislike, felt in extreme measure in some cases, can safely be vented. Two sets of supporters, bound by a common loathing, hurl insults of gloriously inventive vulgarity back and forth, each seeking to outdo the other in a contest outside of the on-field engagement. The feeling is atavistic, and there’s no actual need for it to spill over into physical confrontation for honour to be satisfied. The occasion as a whole is enhanced by these pieces of human theatre.

The modern tendency towards crowd interaction being drowned out by super-powerful P.A. systems, pumping out crap music, has detracted from this phenomenon, as have the silly drums and trumpets they call “bands”. My own beloved Leeds United made an ill-advised decision a few years back to promote a “band”, but the masses behind the goal did not approve. The occasional toot and drumbeat were heard, only to be swiftly squashed by a throaty “stand up, if you hate the band”, and the experiment died an early and unlamented death. Rightly so, too. Bands at football stadia prosper only where the indigenous support lacks the moral fibre to resist such contrived attempts at a “nice” atmosphere. Sheffield Wednesday is the obvious, sad and sorry, example of such cardboard measures.

Sadly, it appears that the good old days of free expression, where a cadre of like-minded fanatics could express their hatred of “that lot from ovver t’hill”, are soon to be behind us for good. Yet there are still football clubs and historically tense fixtures which can conjure up some of that old atmosphere, so deeply do feelings run.

I’m glad to say that dear old Leeds United is one such club, so pathologically hated by so many other sets of fans, and so willingly disposed to return that sentiment with interest, that our matches against a select group of old enemies roll back the years, and set the blood pumping with an almost-forgotten vigour. Long may that remain the case – these are the real football clubs, with the real fans, and it’s this unreconstructed minority which is striving to hold back the tide of plastic, family-orientated, embarrassingly artificial bonhomie that so threatens to dull the palate as the 21st Century progresses.

It’s not P.C. It’s frowned upon by the self-appointed guardians of “The Good Of The Game”. And, admittedly, it too often spills over into taboo references, or actual violence, which is never something to be condoned. But come the day when they finally kill the last wisp of hate-fuelled atmosphere, at the last old dinosaur of a non-modern non-Meccano stadium, they’ll be well on the way finally to reading the last rites over the corpse of the game as we used to know it.

And then – why, I’ll throw in the towel, say my goodbyes to Elland Road, and sulk off to watch Frickley Athletic play those bastards from FC United of Manchester – confident that there will be enough curmudgeonly old reprobates on both sides who will be happy to spit venom at each other for 90 minutes – just for old times’ sake.

Leeds United Beat Nottingham Forest on Away Goals – by Rob Atkinson

Yorkshire mourns the death of a Notts heroine

South Yorkshire mourns the death of a Notts heroine

A “largely forgettable” meeting of the two sub-Premier League giants saw the scoreline remain blank, with Leeds United‘s 1-1 draw at Notts Forest earlier in the season enough for the Whites to claim the honours on away goals.

Largely forgettable may well be right, but there will be a few Leeds fans waking from nightmares for a few weeks yet, hoping against hope that Steve Morison‘s horribly wayward strike was simply an awful dream that they will be able to forget. Sadly, it was all too true and all too symptomatic of the shot-shy striker’s current – ahem – “lean spell”.

A point is not going to be of much help to Forest, with their comically optimistic hopes of a late charge for the play-offs. For Leeds, it makes little difference to what is now a dead rubber of a season. It is to be hoped that Redders will take the opportunity to blood as many of his promising young prospects as possible between now and the time that this campaign peters out.

Young Kalvin Phillips did, after all, figure in his first elite squad, wearing 40 and drinking in the experience of a first team bench spot. We will hope to see more of him over the next couple of months or so.

Meanwhile, getting the seasonal better of the rather too cocky Nottingham Forest – the laughably nicknamed “Tricky Trees” – can at least raise a smile, even if we are depending on an away goals rule that is merely theoretical in league competition. But it’ll do to wind up those sensitive souls from the guilt-ridden Notts coalfields, so we’ll go with it here.

See you next season, Twiglets…

Next Leeds United Wonderkid to Figure in Matchday Squad v Forest? – by Rob Atkinson

Kalvin Phillips - latest Wonderkid to make the grade?

Kalvin Phillips – latest Wonderkid to make the grade?

Vastly promising performances, fulsome praise from the management, a fantastic strike for the development squad at Huddersfield – and now today a non-appearance at that same development level; these progressive steps would seem to be the road by which 19 year old hot prospect Kalvin Phillips will arrive, quite possibly as soon as the Nottingham Forest game on Saturday, as a first team squad member for Leeds United.

It’s never all that easy to say how a promising youngster will cut it at first team level, but all the talk is that young Phillips has as good a chance as anyone, shining at a level not short of promise for Leeds, with several other Academy products either having already made their mark or pushing hard for recognition. Obviously, Neil Redfearn has the advantage of knowing all these kids well, having worked with them before his elevation to Head Coach. He is also quoted as saying that he would like “if possible” to field a full first eleven comprising home-grown players. Now that would be interesting.

A nod is as good as a wink, and such has been the progress of young Kalvin this season, culminating in that blistering strike at Huddersfield Town in a 5-0 stroll, you’d have thought he’d have been among the first names on Friday’s team-sheet for the reserve match against Forest. But no – nary a sign of him, not even on the bench. What other conclusion is there to draw? It seems certain that Phillips, maybe del Fabro also, are in line for at least a bench spot for tomorrow’s meeting of the two Championship giants – a match that is assured of a crowd well in excess of 30,000.

If Phillips does manage to get some game time against Dougie Freedman‘s men, it will be just the latest in a whole string of recent first-team débuts for home-produced stars at Leeds. As this is surely the best and most effective way for the club to guarantee the quality of their first eleven for the foreseeable future, it is reassuring to see the quality that is being produced, time and time again. Such a rich seam of talent means that the Club’s future should be bright, whatever the varying fortunes of owners and directors, or the effects of what is laughably called “Financial Fair Play“.

The last really promising era at Leeds hit the peaks when youngsters were blooded en masse in the first team, the likes of Smith, Kewell, Robinson, McPhail bridging the gap and supplementing the experience already there. Only when the focus shifted to over-rated, overpaid, over-the-hill “stars” did that vast promise start to turn to dust. The lesson is clear enough and, perhaps, even more applicable today than it has ever been. The uncut diamonds in reserve at Leeds could yet form the backbone of our next great team.

Fingers crossed that this is so. It would appear that the path to Premier League glory is via the multi-million pound acquisition of an array of European and South American talent of indisputable skill but all too often dodgy temperament and questionable commitment. Success thus obtained might well be wonderful, if a little nerve-shredding – but does it really taste quite as sweet as watching a team of home-produced lads fighting and winning together, for the shirt they’ve worn since they were kids? I seriously doubt it.

Good luck to all the wearers of those famous white shirts tomorrow, and for the rest of the season. And, of course for the years ahead too – years that suddenly do seem to hold the promise of something really worthwhile, something to be genuinely proud of.

Here’s hoping such rich promise really can be fulfilled. 

Goalden Boy Billy Sharp: Bound for Leeds United at Last? – by Rob Atkinson

...and you'd do for Leeds, mate

…and you’d do for Leeds, mate

The article that follows first saw light of day last September, when it seemed possible that Billy Sharp might be a loan-window option for Leeds. Sadly, it didn’t happen – but as the text shows, I was all for it at the time. Now, the Sharp to Leeds rumours are back, and stronger than ever. Could Leeds United finally get their man – the right man to provide the goals we’ll surely need in the season ahead?

Never one to get carried away by mere Twitter rumours, I am nevertheless fairly happy not to say excited at the loan window prospect – however remote – of Leeds United signing Southampton’s Billy Sharp, who spent most of last season on loan at Forest, but who certainly deserves a bigger move than that.

This is one that’s been mentioned in the past, and it’s always seemed like a good fit for all parties concerned, yet it’s never quite happened.  At first glance, Billy does seem an unlikely striker signing for United – he’s only 27 for a start, and we have historically looked to the superannuated end of the market – though things have improved in this respect under Brian McDermott.  And he scores goals.  My, does he score goals.  At Championship level, he’s a pretty reliable provider of that most valuable and sought-after commodity.  Billy Sharp just loves to hit the back of the net.

Any player – and most especially any striker – joining Leeds United needs to have one quality over and above the obviously desirable playing skills, fitness and application.  He needs to be strong-minded, a good character who’s resilient enough to step up to the demands of playing for a very demanding and sometimes unforgiving crowd.  This is a test that’s been failed by some pretty decent-looking performers over the years.  Elland Road has been something of a graveyard for strikers who have arrived with big reputations, but have failed to deliver and have ended up slinking off, beaten and broken men, into anonymous obscurity – or even worse, in the tragic case of Billy Paynter, into the first team at Doncaster Rovers.

Billy Sharp though seems to be a man of different mettle.  It’s impossible to comprehend a more tragic and shattering blow for a parent than the death of a baby.  Sharp, and his girlfriend Jade, suffered this awful calamity in November 2011 and the striker could readily have been excused if he’d felt unable to play professional football in the immediate aftermath of such a shattering bereavement.  Yet a mere two days after the death of his baby son Luey, Sharp played against Middlesborough and scored a brilliant volley, raising his Doncaster shirt to reveal the message “That’s For You, Son” (Pictured above). Thankfully, a more than usually understanding referee decided not to book the emotional Sharp, when normally a yellow card would have been applicable. Such a very courageous and professional response to tragedy speaks of a very strong character indeed, and this would seem to be the type of man that many a club would seek to have among their playing staff, not only for footballing reasons, but for the example of courage in adversity that will be set by such amazing resilience and fortitude.

I don’t know if Sharp will end up in a Leeds United shirt, but I’d love it if he did. He’s demonstrably what people used to call “The Right Stuff”, and his goal-scoring credentials are fully in order too.  I could see him being a massive part of any play-off push this season, and really it’s good to be linked with any player of this character and calibre. Twitter rumours towards the end of last season said he’s “in talks and a deal looks likely”. Well, we know that these stories float about and are often without foundation, but they seem to be surfacing again – and it’s definitely a case of fingers crossed for this one.  It might just be a match made in heaven, and the kind of signing which could see us challenging for a long-overdue return to the top table of English football.

The sticking-point could be wages – Sharp is rumoured to be on £15000 a week at Southampton, and it’s likely that the Saints would be reluctant to subsidise any of this. Often though, doing a deal is all about reaching an agreeable compromise even when one party is initially unwilling to play ball.

So, almost a year on, the Billy Sharp story still refuses to go away. The equation seems simple enough; Leeds need a hit-man, Sharp wants to return to Yorkshire, he’s the right age, the price looks right – could it finally all come together??

Fingers crossed here.

A Premier League Leeds United: What Can They Really Achieve? – by Rob Atkinson

The Last Champions

The Last Champions

Here’s a conundrum for you.  What have Liverpool, Ipswich Town, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest got in common?

Give up?

Well, some of the better-informed anoraks out there (and it’s a noble fraternity of which I’m proud to be a member) tend to have the solution to riddles like this pretty much at their fingertips.  For the rest, the answer is that all of those clubs, since what I will loosely term the “modern era” of football started around 1960, have gained promotion to the top-flight and then gone on to win the actual title of Champions of England within a space of a mere one or two years.

Imagine that, if you will – a truly phenomenal achievement.  Arguably, Leeds are the ace in the pack, having achieved similar heights twice.  Revie’s promotion-winners of 1964 took five years to be Champions, but were contenders on all fronts from their very first season in the First Division.

Both Forest and Ipswich, some 16 years apart, stormed the First Division citadel in their very first season up. Leeds United, in 1992 and Liverpool, way back in 1964, each took just one year longer.  Leeds are not known as the Last Champions for nothing; their 1992 Title success marked a watershed in the English game.  Whatever the merits of the few Premier League era champions, it’s certainly true that Leeds will stand as the last club to muscle its way into the top flight as if they owned the place, breezing to the ultimate prize in such a very short time.  Since the Murdoch revolution, only Blackburn have come close to matching such a quick-fire achievement, and they followed the “spend, spend, spend” path to success in taking three seasons after promotion to edge their first title since before the Great War.

One thing that’s virtually certain about all of these achievements is that they won’t be emulated anytime soon.  And that regrettable fact is at the centre of everything that’s wrong with football today.  What we have now, as opposed to those exciting years when some batch of pretenders would upset the top-flight applecart, is a mere procession – with the cast varying only slightly from year to year.  The Premier League is often referred to as three divisions within one league, and that’s very difficult to argue with.

Firstly, there’s a cartel of the super-rich at the top, where the finances of the game dictate that a few established clubs will fight it out for the major honours every year.  Such are the favourable conditions for these elite clubs that it’s really very difficult for any of them to slip out of contention – it would take something approaching incompetent management for such a calamity to happen – yes, Mr Moyes, I mean YOU.  Take a bow, you’re a hero to thousands.

Then, of course, there’s the “dog-eat-dog” league at the bottom, where the same few clubs every year are hoping to finish just above last season’s promoted clubs and thus avoid relegation. Exciting – but not in a good way.

Lastly, in the middle, there’s that awful, bleak hinterland occupied by the likes of Stoke, Aston Villa, Newcastle and West Ham; clubs unlikely to affect the picture at the top or at the bottom, and who – you suspect – are happy just to continue making up the numbers, banking those Premier League payments year after year and settling for last spot on Match of the Day.  They’re happily riding the gravy train with no thoughts or ambitions for glory – and their fans appear to accept this.  But what a monochrome, depressing existence it must be. Is this what we want for Leeds United?

The fact is that, if and when United DO go up – and especially if we have a few quid in the bank courtesy of Signor Cellino – then this twilight, neither-here-nor-there, average, mediocre middle bit of the Premier League is likely to be the realistic upper limit of our ambitions. That’s if we’re rich and clever enough to haul our way clear of the grim struggle at the bottom, of course. Maybe also, there might be a run in the Capital Fizzy Carlsberg Milk Cup (or whatever it’s called) to look forward to with sweaty palms and fevered brow. Oh, the excitement of that – IF we don’t get knocked out early doors by the Under-17’s of Arsenal FC.

This question of how things would be when we finally gain entrance to the Promised Land is a relevant one that’s all too easy to overlook in our current mood of frustrated aspiration.  We’ve been wanting to get back up there for so long – and we’ve suffered so many setbacks and disappointments along the way – that the reality of what might await us once promotion is secured has not really occurred to us.  Sure, there have been some saying, well, we’ll budget for relegation, pick up the parachute payments and come back stronger – but look how often that’s actually worked.  Look at Wolves, look at Middlesbrough. They’ve come down rich and never really looked like getting back.  And how enjoyable is it up there if you’re sinking?  Do the fans of those struggling clubs look as if they’re enjoying themselves, shipping six goals here at Arsenal and maybe seven there at Man City?  It doesn’t look fun at all, not to me.  But these depressing scenarios have been off our radar, all the time we’ve been fighting vainly to make our mark one level below, thinking of the Premier League as the Holy Grail.   It hasn’t truly occurred to us that it might not be fun when we do get there.  It’s as if, preoccupied with our second-tier travails, we haven’t really thought about it too much.

Around twenty-five years ago, the feeling of anticipation generated by a run to promotion for Sgt. Wilko’s boys was a very much more positive thing. Sure, we looked at those opening fixtures with a slightly tremulous smile, noting that Everton away and then Man U at home was a rather stiffer proposition than the likes of Port Vale and Oxford.  But we girded our loins, so to speak, and went in with spirits and expectations high and – thanks to our redoubtable heroes in white – we were not disappointed.  But how optimistic would we be now about, say, Man City at home followed by a trip to Liverpool? Thanks to Mr Murdoch, it’s a case of lambs to the slaughter for any club going up against these top-end clubs – unless you have a lot of cash to splash out.  And even then, along comes Financial Fair Play to clip the wings of the “new money” boys, protecting the interests of those with established income streams from global markets.  The Cartel certainly intends to remain the Cartel.

For all of this, I blame one man above all others.  Mr Murdoch, je t’accuse.  At the time he bought the game, Man U hadn’t been champions since the days of black & white TV, and yet their careful marketing and packaging of their history – particularly the lucratively tragic parts – had garnered them a worldwide support and the status of everybody’s second-favourite club, along with massive overseas markets.  The restructuring of the game at the start of the 90s, with its abandonment of trickle-down economics, was a godsend for such a cash cow – despite its solid and consistent record of under-achievement since 1967.  Man U were the archetypal Premier League champions, a figurehead brand to lead the new League to the forefront of global sport and merchandising.  It was all so glitzy, glamorous and tacky, a festival of fireworks, cheerleaders and the twin misogynists who so aptly summed-up the spirit of the whole thing: overgrown guffawing schoolboys Andy Gray and his hairy  chum Richard Keyes.  All that glitter, all that sniggering sexism, all that tawdry scrambling for profit – and invariably champions to embody it all, except in those seasons when the likes of Arsenal stood up for the game’s soul. It was indeed a ‘whole new ball game’, as the marketing men would have it – but somewhere in the making of this revolution, a golden dream died – killed by Murdoch and buried under a vulgar heap of branded tat.

It is that golden dream we’re still missing today, nearly a quarter of a century on. Many thousands of football fans have grown up watching a game enslaved to this artificial agenda, shorn of the fiery ambitions which used to propel rejuvenated clubs from obscurity to the very top of the game. That type of overnight success almost literally cannot happen now; the bleak reality for promoted clubs is of a bitterly hard struggle before them, with survival the best prize they can really hope for. Should Leeds United succeed in gaining promotion, this season or next, then that is very much the reality that awaits us.  And, because we’re Leeds – because we’ve scaled the heights and reached the stars before – we’ve a duty to ask ourselves: is this really what we’re going to settle for – or can we (because we’re Leeds) expect and demand better?

The answer to much of this almost certainly lies with the man currently awaiting the League’s pleasure, as they mull over the question of whether he’s a fit and proper person (or at least as fit and proper as some of the crooks the League has previously sanctioned). If Massimo Cellino knows his history, and if he’s managed to suss out the character of the support while he was imprisoned inside Elland Road on that turbulent Transfer Deadline night, then he should by now have some awareness of the demands likely to be placed on his ownership post-promotion.  He should know that Leeds fans are never going to be childishly grateful just to be a part of things; that mere survival and the acceptance of regularly being ripped a new one by the Premier League big beasts – that’s never going to be enough.  If he does know all of that – if he takes it all on board and still wants to be the force behind the club going forward – if, moreover, he has a plan which will blow away all of the worries and fears of promotion in the Murdoch era – then every single Leeds fan must surely get right behind him.  These are very big ifs, as we all know – but it’s an apt enough time to raise all of this – because the new era of Massimo the First could well start as soon as Monday.  The Middlesbrough game could possibly be the last of this period of twitching uncertainty.  There are some signs pointing that way – the social media twitterings of the younger Cellinos and the fact of the signing (on loan) of a quality keeper in Butland, for instance.  Great changes may just be afoot.

Whether those changes are great enough to buck the trend of Premier League history and see us gatecrash the top end of the big time, remains to be seen. The summer between any promotion and our return to top-level action will be very interesting indeed and will tell us a lot about whether we’re going to make an all-out assault on success. It’s a very hard ask indeed.   But we are Leeds – and so that’s what we should expect and demand.

Super Leeds: The Last Champions – by Rob Atkinson

Stand Up For The Last Champions

Stand Up For The Last Champions

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 heads, and then do it all over again – for the full 90 minutes, Brian, giving it 110%.  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 Billy Bremner and Co dismantled the hapless opposition.

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 passing.  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, Don Revie’s crippling caution and superstitions – 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 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 title of The Last Champions.  As Super Leeds, they dominated English Football for a decade, without ever winning their due.  Now that we can look back with misty eyes to a turning point for the game 21 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.

Memory Match No. 11: Nottm Forest 0, Leeds Utd 4 29.11.2011

Jonny Howson celebrates at the City Ground

Jonny Howson celebrates at the City Ground

Whatever some people may think of Leeds United fans – and who cares, after all, because we all know what fine, upstanding chaps we are – they certainly know the ideal form when it comes to paying full and emotional tribute to a hero lost long before his time.

In the universe of all things Leeds, the news of Gary Speed’s tragic and untimely death came as a JFK moment: you just know that, years later, you’ll recall exactly where you were when you heard the awful, mind-numbing announcement that such a recent Legend in White was dead, and apparently by his own hand.

The images are certainly clear and sharp over a year down the line: the sea of floral tributes around the foot of Billy Bremner’s statue; the crowds that gathered in silent, respectful tribute; the sight of that fine professional Bryn Law, struggling to contain his tears as he reported from Elland Road on the death of his friend, the female anchor in the studio clearly moved to tears herself as she witnessed his distress.  It was a tragic time of shock and grief.

In retrospect, it is clear that the next opponents for Leeds United in their undistinguished Championship campaign were on an absolute hiding to nothing.  Team and fans alike, emerging from that initial shock into a reluctant acceptance, were determined to pay the finest possible tribute to a fallen hero.  Speedo was, after all, a true legend from the most recent era of real legends, a veteran of the Leeds United renaissance of the late eighties and early nineties.  We had previously mourned our dead of that earlier generation of greats; The Don was gone and so was King Billy, neither having lived to grow old.  But the death of Speed was that much more of a shock; that much more distressing for his relative youth, for his contemporary appeal to a younger breed of Leeds support who had not witnessed Revie’s greats, and for the awful circumstances which had compelled a young man with seemingly everything going for him to take his own life.

The thousands of Leeds fans who descended upon the City Ground that November night may well have been pondering the state of mind that leads to such an awfully final act.  They were certainly determined to pay characteristically raucous tribute: this would be no solemn wake, but a vibrant celebration of all that Gary Speed meant to the Barmy Army of Leeds United’s travelling support. The match itself was necessarily a footnote to the real agenda of the evening.  Forest were pitiful in their ineptitude – a team that would later travel to Elland Road and score seven had nothing to offer in the face of United’s determination to mark the first match after Gary Speed’s death with a thumping victory.  The home team seemed out of the running from the start; it was as if they knew, in the face of the emotional momentum behind the Leeds team and fans, that they had no chance at all – and they meekly accepted their fate.

Before kick-off, there had been the now traditional minute’s applause – such a preferable option to the old-style minute’s silence with its potential to be disrupted by a few shandy-slewed idiots.  In the 11th minute, a tribute to Speed’s occupation of the number 11 white shirt, the 4000-strong Leeds United army behind one goal erupted into a chant of his name, a chant that was intended to be maintained for that poignant number of 11 minutes.  The tribute was interrupted for the best of reasons as Robert Snodgrass fired United into a 20th minute lead, a left foot shot into the bottom corner very much in the style of the man himself.  On the stroke of half time, Jonny Howson doubled the lead with an even better strike, the ball sitting up for him to belt a dipping right-footed effort past a helpless Lee Camp.  2-0 at the interval, and the home side had done little to suggest that it had any intention of detracting from the tributes of Leeds fans and players alike.

In the second half the pattern continued unchanged.  Forest remained awful, the home section of support seemed to expect nothing better and Leeds strolled to two further goals towards a comprehensive victory.  First just four minutes into the second half Luciano Becchio met a left wing cross at the near post to glance a fine header across Camp into the far corner.  Then in the 66th minute, the messiest of fourth goals.  The Forest defence conspired in its own destruction, parting like the Red Sea to lay on a clear chance for Howson to score his second, only for the over-worked and under-protected Camp to first save the effort, and then scramble after the loose ball.  His heroics were to no avail however as Adam Clayton picked up on the rebound to find a yard of space and fire into the empty net.

One thing that stands out in the writing of this article is the fact that, in the relatively short time since Forest were humbled, all four of the United scorers that night have left the club.  It’s a rather depressing thought, but they were certainly all Leeds all the way that night, and delighted to be able to help the Whites fans celebrate the life of one of their heroes with their own loud and proud tributes, and with a thumping victory to boot.  Forest’s only real contribution to the evening came late on when the frustrated and already-booked Andy Reid earned himself a second yellow with an agricultural challenge on Aidy White.  “Can we play you every week?” roared the United fans, a sentiment that would not survive the return game at Elland Road – and they would be glad too that it’s not every week they have cause to mark the passing of a United great at such a tragically young age, and in such awful circumstances.

 Gary Andrew Speed MBE (8 September 1969 – 27 November 2011) Leeds United 1988 – 1996, 2nd Division Championship Winner, First Division Championship Winner, Charity Shield Winner. 

Image

RIP

 Next:  Memory Match No. 12:  Real Madrid 3, Leeds United 2.  The late, great Don Revie always longed for his legendary Leeds United side to be pitched against the biggest legends of them all, and to draw CF Real Madrid in European competition.  Sadly, it never happened in The Don’s lifetime, but when a slightly less vintage era of Leeds finally appeared in the amazing Estadio Santiago Bernebeu, they were not disgraced – indeed, I rather think that Sir Don would have been proud.