Tag Archives: play-offs

Football Rivalry Can be Friendly (Even Between Leeds and Derby) – by Rob Atkinson

Good friends and foes: yours truly and Rams fanatic Phil Cole

The very greatest thing about football rivalry has more and more come to transcend the very worst thing about it, and this is the road I have personally travelled since the early seventies, when football itself was more the people’s game, but when a minority of those people disgraced themselves and their chosen clubs by engaging in a pointlessly violent expression of the tribalism most football fans can feel without being silly about it.

So, the very worst of football rivalry, in my humble opinion, is clearly the needless overspill into violence. It solves nothing, proves nothing, and serves only to intimidate those innocent followers of the game, attending the match in the spirit of support and enjoyment, yet dragged helplessly into the ugly vortex of confrontation by mindless thugs. Thankfully, those problems are not so acute in today’s gentrified and sanitised game, proving that every cloud does indeed have its silver lining.

But equally, there’s no doubt the very best of football rivalry is that it can be conducted with deep feeling and extreme partisanship, yet in a spirit of friendship where those rival sentiments give rise to nothing worse than edgy banter, causing mirth rather than mayhem. As my beloved Whites are due to meet the Rams of Derby County on Saturday, this is a particularly relevant point to me just now. Leeds United and Derby were hardly the best of friends last season, what with Spygate and a lopsided record in the meetings on the field, with the outclassed Rams nevertheless having the last laugh. Ill feeling still continues, with Leeds keen to see investigated Derby’s tactic of selling their ground to themselves for a dubiously inflated price, County’s aim clearly being to avoid or evade Financial Fair Play penalties. Evidently there’s little love lost between the clubs or the rival sets of fans, and that’s a situation that’s applied now for many, many years. And yet friendships can thrive, even on such stony ground as this.

I have a mate called Phil Cole who, like me, is an actor. Unlike me, he’s met with considerable success, appearing in many high-profile theatrical productions – notably alongside the late, great Ken Kercheval of Dallas fame, who admirably portrayed the character of Cliff Barnes for many years with realism, style and class. I was sorry to hear of Ken’s sad recent death, as he’s a great loss to the acting profession and was also a good friend of a good friend.

I’m well aware that Phil is on a higher plane than I occupy, in theatrical terms at least. Still, it’s swings and roundabouts in this life, and I’m always reminding him that I’ve been relatively blessed in my choice of club, with Leeds United being perhaps my Dad’s most important bequest to me. In contrast, poor Phil is saddled with his love for Derby County, a burden he bears bravely and well. He loses no opportunity to make my life a misery on the odd occasion that his Rams lord it over Leeds – I had to don my tin hat when we haplessly lost last season’s play-off semi. But I like to think I give as good as I get, with a little interest – and it’s all done against a background of nigh on a quarter of a century’s friendship, which is how it should be.

Whatever Saturday’s result at Elland Road, whatever the ongoing relationship between rival clubs, this fan friendship will survive and prosper. For myself, all I can hope is that it’ll be me taking the mick on Monday, and not vice versa. But, if not, I’ll grin and bear it, with that tin hat on again. That’s what friendship of the football rivalry variety is all about, after all. Cheers, Phil!

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Pure Filth From Leeds United as Baffled Stoke City get Taken to the Cleaners – by Rob Atkinson

Sometimes, only the argot of the young and clued-up will do when you’re trying to sum-up something extraordinary that has you rooting around for appropriate metaphors.

Leeds Fans Must Now be United Behind Club and Team – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Fans United

Every Leeds United fan knows that following the Whites automatically includes you as part of the most fanatical and vociferous band of supporters anywhere. In short, the greatest fans around. This is an article of faith with United fans, not even a matter for debate. So mote it be. 

How very odd, then, to find yourself shaking your head in baffled disbelief at some of the social media output from the massed keyboards of this elite cadre of support. Clearly, with an online presence that probably runs into the millions worldwide, not everybody is going to agree all the time, for instance, on the vexed subject of United’s transfer policy. Still, the why-oh-why stance of a small but loud minority of the virtual support is hard to stomach for those of us who were brought up on the credo of “my club, right or wrong”.

It’s not only a transfer window thing, either. In fact, compared to the negative attitude of some “supporters” towards players struggling for form and confidence, Victor Orta and his transfer team are being afforded a relatively easy ride. Even so, the amount of uninformed criticism surrounding United’s recruitment efforts, during this and other transfer windows, tends to make Twitter an area of the Internet it’s wiser to avoid, especially for those who prefer their blood pressure to remain at a good safe level. Needless to say, that’s not a luxury in which I can indulge, being of the blogger/columnist persuasion, and my hypertension suffers accordingly.

Transfers are complex matters, due to all manner of factors: finances, agents, rival clubs, media and so on. I don’t envy the United officials trying to negotiate such choppy waters while being assailed and vilified on all sides by a section of online fans not overly burdened with any knowledge of what they’re talking about, and even less so by any tact, restraint or decorum. It can’t make the job any easier and, every now and again, you do see a faintly exasperated comment from the club along the lines of “we’re doing our best, we all want good outcomes, please be patient”. Sadly, such assurances usually fall on deaf ears; there are those out there, it seems, who wallow in negativity and relish any chance to have a moan or offer their unqualified opinions. 

It’s the carping criticism of certain players, though, that really offends and annoys. Take Patrick Bamford, for instance. Now, some of the criticism he receives has been fairly gentle and possibly even merited, though his record at United is good, taking into account last season’s injury woes. His milder critics peddle a ruefully humorous line, referring to Patrick as “Lord Bamford of Beeston” and wondering, tongue in cheek, if he shouldn’t delegate his goal-scoring duties to his butler. That’s the kind of thing that, reaching a player’s ears, might make him smile and redouble his determination to succeed. It’s harmless fun and, if the line is drawn there, nobody could really complain. 

But the more serious and malicious abuse is blatantly counter-productive, a classic case of a pistol levelled directly at our own collective foot. Players, and strikers in particular, thrive on confidence and encouragement. It makes little sense to hurl abuse and ill-founded criticism at a player such as Bamford, who will not be assisted by suggestions that he couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo, or that he’s worth less than a written-off, wheel-less banger rusting in a ditch. All that and worse has been flung at Bamford.

Fortunately and thankfully, the lad has a resilient character and a cold determination to succeed. His goal at Bristol City, the movement and the finish from that aristocratic forehead, testify to that. Long may his ability to rise above the howling of the mob continue.

Now, the window is closed until January, and it’s been a far better one than the usual suspects referred to above would wish you to believe. The squad has been purged of certain disruptive elements as identified by Marcelo Bielsa himself and, despite FFP strictures, the overall quality is arguably higher. In any event, we go with what we’ve got; if the performance at Ashton Gate can be maintained or even improved upon, it’ll take a fabulous opposing performance to stop us in any given match.

Whether you’re a matchgoing, raucous fanatic, or confined to long distance support, the message from here is the same. Get behind the team, get behind the club. We’re all on the same journey. Marching On Together.

As Leeds Fanatics, Let’s Get Right Behind Aston Villa on Monday – by Rob Atkinson

Good luck Monday, Dean Smith, you horrible git

As the Bank Holiday fiesta of sudden death football that is the playoff finals finally begins, the thoughts of every Leeds United fan must surely be: it could have been us in that Championship playoff decider. Should have been. But, once you get past that, and also past the essential silliness of a system that will promote one of two clubs that have been proven as inferior to United, both in the regular season and in our meetings on the field, you have to decide which of these two you want to see take the Premier League place that should have been ours. There’s no point in turning a blind eye, or whinging about what’s happened. We all knew the rules, daft though they may be.

So, who do we want to see go up? And, by extension, with whom do we wish to renew hostilities next time around? Both Aston Villa and Derby County have done their darnedest this season to capitalise on incidents surrounding our league meetings; both have cynically attempted to make mountains out of molehills, eagerly assisted by a complaisant and Leeds-hating media. But, for all that I can’t abide Villa manager Dean Smith, and even though I’d cheerfully swing for that annoying little toad Grealish, there can be no real comparison to the serial whingers of Derby County, with all of the Spygate nonsense, that loathsome hypocrite Lampard and all. And it is in a spirit of Frank and honest bitterness and resentment that I wish them despair and heartache at Wembley on Monday – I hope with all my heart that we can meet again next season, just to rub it in again exactly why we’re better than them, in every way, any day of the week. And I hope that Middlesbrough prove to be of some use for a change, and successfully sue Direby’s backside off over the shady Pride Park operation.

So it’s “Up The Villa” for me on Monday. I’d be most interested to hear other views as ever, both agreeing and disagreeing. But please keep it polite, and give your reasons.

Marching On Together

Here’s to Promotion for United (Next Time)

In the end, it was not to be. Leeds United finally bowed out of the Championship playoffs in the most Leeds United way possible, losing at home to a team they’d played and beaten handsomely three times this season, blowing a one goal lead from the first leg, which had been extended to two goals as half time at Elland Road approached. And, again so typically for Leeds, it was a self-inflicted wound in the dying moments of the first half on Wednesday that changed the tone and tempo of what had always been a frantic game of football.

If they had the chance to play that fatal moment again, both Liam Cooper and United’s keeper Kiko Casilla would wish to have made better decisions. But for me, our former Real Madrid man was the more culpable of the two, failing to provide a safe option for the pass back, and then impeding Cooper as he tried desperately to clear the ball away. The ball fell kindly for Derby’s sub Jack Marriott, who had only been on the field for half a minute, and he tucked away a chance that should never have materialised. And so began the painful process whereby the life blood drained out of Leeds United and what had at one time looked like a promotion season.

Immediately after the interval, the tie was level, and the tide had well and truly turned. Then a clear penalty edged Derby ahead before Stuart Dallas scored his second goal of the night to restore parity – but only temporarily. The denouement of this crazy night of dog eat dog football saw Derby regain their lead over two legs, before Gaetano Berardi perpetrated the kind of tackle he’s too often guilty of, to leave the contest courtesy of a second yellow card.

There was still time for Derby to be reduced to ten men, but the damage had been done by that point and Leeds were doomed to become the current longest-serving member of the Championship, much to the delight of just about everybody who doesn’t hold the Elland Road outfit dear.

So there we are and, quite honestly, things could be worse. If we can look forward to another season of Bielsaball, albeit not in the top flight, then that’s an enticing prospect. Because, let’s be honest, this has been a fabulous season, despite its gut-wrenching climax. The pity of it is that Leeds United will not be a Premier League club come its hundredth birthday in October. But there’s still the challenge of celebrating that centenary by mounting an assault on the Championship league title next time around.

To achieve that, some squad improvements will be required, and doubtless there has already been some contingency planning for the eventuality of failing to secure the promotion that had looked so likely for so long. It is also essential to retain the services of Marcelo Bielsa and his staff, so that they can set about building on the massive improvement we have seen in this remarkable season.

What we can’t afford to do – as either a football club or a fan base – is to waste time in mutual recriminations or excessive licking of wounds. Thursday was the first day of planning for next season, and it’s in that positive spirit that we must now move forward. Leeds United is a Premier League club which happens to be marooned in the league below, and all efforts should now be concentrated on resolving that contradictory situation.

In a spirit of positivity, let’s look forward to renewing hostilities with Huddersfield and Barnsley next season. And, just to show there’s no petty bitterness in this blog – good luck to Aston Villa at Wembley.

Lampard Referred for Urgent Memory Tests After Forgetting Leeds Penalty Overrule – by Rob Atkinson

Lampard: memory issues?

Derby County manager Frank Lampard has become the focus of fears within professional football about what stress can do to the memory and mental faculties of even a relatively young man. The latest example of what are suspected to be short-term memory problems in Lampard arises from the overturned penalty in Derby’s first leg semi final play off tie against Leeds United at Pride Park. The ref awarded Derby a penalty, but the award was rescinded after the assistant referee pointed out that Leeds’ Jack Harrison had played the ball instead of fouling the Derby player Bogle.

Lampard was outraged afterwards, claiming that he’d never seen a linesman overrule a referee’s decision, and insisting that, even if it was technically no foul, the award should have stood. Worryingly, Lampard appears to have forgotten the game at Elland Road between Leeds and Derby in January, when Leeds were awarded an early penalty which was subsequently (and wrongly, as it turned out) overturned on assistant referee advice. The fact that Lampard has obviously forgotten this incident completely is a clear sign of memory loss in at least the shorter term, and justifies a level of concern about his mental fitness for a demanding job.

But the problem may not just be affecting poor Frank’s short term memory. Earlier this season, during the “Spygate” furore, Lampard stated unequivocally that he’d never known or been involved with such practices. He had clearly forgotten that, during his time at Chelsea, senior management figures had circumvented an FA ban by being in attendance, concealed in a laundry hamper. Lampard will have been fully aware of this at the time, but again, worryingly, has lost all memory of it.

The gravity of the situation now for Derby is that they must win at Elland Road against an injury-depleted Leeds in Wedneday’s second leg, so County fans must hope that, at the very least, Lampard can still remember his way there.

The memory problems cited must be genuine and therefore a cause for grave concern. The only other explanation would be that Lampard has been lying through his teeth in his protests about Leeds United, in the full awareness that he’s been a party to similar incidents in his favour – and that he is therefore a humbug and a double-dyed hypocrite.

And that surely can’t be true of media darling Frankie Lampard…. can it??

Norwich & Sheffield United Miss Out on Wembley; Leeds Still in the Mix – by Rob Atkinson

This heavily disguised lament is brought to you from deep within the tortured soul of Glass Half Full Productions Inc. Apologies for the late hour. I’ve been speechless with disappointment.

Congratulations though to all Canaries and Blades out there; your teams both did it when it mattered.

Keep the Faith, you mighty White Army – I know it’s not easy.

Marching on Together.

Is There Still One More Twist in Leeds United’s Auto Promotion Bid? – by Rob Atkinson

Jesus

Don’t forget – Jesus once wore the shirt

David Prutton, now a Sky Sports pundit but nicknamed “Jesus” by Leeds fans once upon a time, due to his startling resemblance to the alleged Son of God, might therefore be wryly amused by the fact that United’s automatic promotion hopes appeared to die on Good Friday. As yet, and with a barren Easter Monday visit to Brentford answering no prayers originating in and around LS11, there seems to be nary a sign of any resurrection for what was probably a misplaced optimism that we might find a straightforward path out of the EFL wilderness. Barring a miracle on a par with the loaves and fishes gig, it’s likely that Leeds United will, after all, have to settle for a play-offs lottery that has served them so ill on so many occasions in the past.

But, soft. Perhaps the time for despair is not yet nigh. Any neutral observer looking at the twists and turns taken by this season’s Championship promotion race will note that it’s been a consistently inconsistent affair, predictable only in its inscrutable unpredictability. You couldn’t have made it up, such observers would say, possibly gasping and throwing their hands in the air to signify outraged disbelief. If you were writing a script, they might add, you wouldn’t have dared include so many plot twists, for fear of being dismissed as some lunatic sensationalist with a bevy of bats in the belfry. Why, then, should we assume that all is done and dusted with two games yet to be played for each interested party? Why on earth would we now presume to predict an outcome that has from day one been so capriciously impossible to foresee?

Out of such perverse logic might appear the odd straw for fans of Leeds United eagerly to clutch with a fierce defiance born of pure desperation. Could Ipswich get a point at Bramall Lane while a depleted Leeds triumph over the division’s form team Aston Villa, leaving things on a last day knife-edge? Of course not. But then again, you might have argued as dismissively about ten man Wigan’s chances of overcoming a one goal deficit to beat the Championship’s best home ground team in Leeds. And you’d surely have bet against a QPR side that had lost seven on the bounce somehow defying the match stats to see our heroes off 1-0 the other week. All of which proves the truth of the old saw about not counting chickens before they’ve hatched.

Of course, in public, I’m maintaining a front of stoical resignation and predicting yet more play-off disappointment for my beloved Whites. My perceived sanity and any remaining shreds of credibility probably depend upon this outward display of common sense. But this little blog is my private fantasy land – and here, all things are possible until the actual point at which it can be shown they haven’t actually happened. So, just between you and me, gentle reader, I will cling on to my faint but still flickering hopes that a miracle could yet occur, and that we might yet see our favourites ascend to the Promised Land as of right, instead of having to trust to that fickle and Leeds-hating jade Lady Luck. You never know, it could still just happen.

Hell fire, friends – we might yet even win the Championship. The kind of roller-coaster script this year’s League has apparently followed might actually demand a properly daft denouement like that. Keep the faith.

Marching On Together 

DIARY OF A CHAMPIONSHIP FAN – PART TWO: WHEN LEXIT MEANS LEXIT – by Patrick Hogan

Families, communities, a whole nation divided over LEXIT

It’s April 2019 and it’s been going on too long now. The people have spoken and yet have had to suffer interminable setbacks; delays, long drawn out negotiations, broken promises, missed deadlines, and things are still not resolved. In your darkest moments you imagine it going on forever. The issue has divided the nation. And yet still you’re living in this impasse. 

It’s time for Leeds to leave the EFL! LEXIT IS LONG OVERDUE!

There was the time you’d outlined in bitter tones to your bitter other half that though LUFC were big other lesser teams had been acquired and funded by billionaires who virtually bought them entrance to the hallowed portals of the Premiership. Look at Wolves in the 2017-18 season you’d said. Loans to buy of top international players through the workings of an agent on the board! And then the skewed distribution of TV money. Relegated teams coming down with huge parachute payments. An outrage that unlevelled the playing field in all sorts of ways. 

‘Well other teams seem to manage to get promotion,’ she’d come back with. 

And for the reasons you’d outlined you’d answered. And what had been her rejoinder? ‘There is no magic money tree! You reap what you sow!’ 

‘And we’d sown Bates had we?’ you’d replied.

‘Who? You live according to your means,’ she’d added. 

You‘d been feeling quite proud of that little snippet of repartee about Bates that hadn’t earned you any points till only later in the pub in your retelling of the spat to friends. The clarity of the scene lived in your mind. It wasn’t when you’d told her that she’d sounded like Theresa May but when you’d added with deliberate vitriol that she was starting to look like her that your missus had packed her bags and left again.

You’ve been a fan of Championship football for years although not through choice. And you’ve praised its qualities of honesty, speed, intensity, and so on that you’d outlined to disinterested pseudo Arsenal, Spurs (add a team) fans who’d never been to any of the grounds of the teams they purported to follow whilst they’ve waxed lyrically about their ‘support’ at work or at the pub watching Sky Sports. The Championship was beneath them. Unless of course they’d picked one of the ‘wrong’ teams like West Ham, WBA, (insert suitable name again) and were then doomed to explore the delights of ‘yo-yo-ness’; until they realised their mistake quickly and bought a Liverpool shirt, etc. backing it up with a flaky reason for their sudden change of allegiance.

But it isn’t as easy as that for you. You loyalties lie in whatever sphere your club happens to find itself. This brings you to another sad memory about the currently departed missus. You’d told her often enough that Leeds would get out of that division – and then it had happened. But not how you wanted. It had been almost unthinkable but only one year on from a play-off final Leeds were in League One! And a brief glance at a map showed you that Swansea and Yeovil were a long way away. And oh she had laughed. And without a word you’d walked out and not come back for three days while you licked your wounds and studied a road atlas looking for places like Cheltenham only to find she’d gone. 

Well she’s not laughing now. Or she might be but not at home. Your bet is she’ll come back contrite when your forecasted Lexit proves to be right. And when she does she’ll find you looking at next season’s fixture list and wondering how much places like Old Trafford, Goodison, and Anfield have changed since you were last there. And also Highbury – scrub that. Arsenal were now at a ground you’d never been to. Add to that list White Hart Lane. And no longer would you have to trek to the old Boleyn ground, a loss you’re prepared to bear stoically if Lexit finally happens.

The truth is though you’ve extolled the virtues of the Championship for years; how it’s more exciting, and harder for overpaid non-performers dropping from the Premiership who just want the bright lights of places like London, and the TV coverage you’re tired of being a Championship fan. Or rather you’re tired of Leeds being a Championship team. And if Leeds are now geared up to be a Premiership team again, you, who has served his penance for past owners’ misdemeanours, feel you’re more than ready to be a Premiership fan again. Admittedly Bournemouth, Brighton and Southampton are further than the likes of Reading, Stoke and Derby but you’ll take that. And in leaving wish all Championship fans luck in the future – obviously not those in places like Bermondsey and Sheffield.

And the delicious irony is that the EFL will have to struggle along without its prize asset and cash cow once Leeds have left despite their best efforts to keep you in their league. At this moment you feel there’s light at the end of a long tunnel even if that glorious light is slightly overshadowed by the spectre of Shaun Harvey following you to the Premiership and getting a top job. You will not let him be the black dog Cerberus chasing you in your dreams. And surely after Lexit there’ll be better referees and kick-off times, less biased commentary and punditry, and the ability to attract top talent – in short, all the things that Lexiteers have promised you.

But back to the mythical magic money tree for a moment. The one you’d yearned for so long and that other teams had seemed to conjure up to get promotion. The amazing thing was that so far the missing missus had been proved right. Fifteen players loaned out; and the few incoming loans and couple of money signings not having played a major part in the process this season. If Lexit is achieved it will be by organisation, dedication, planning and commitment. All the qualities you’ve brought to bear in your support. 

And the club will have played its part too of course.

So there you are. Still waiting and praying for Lexit but this time with genuine hope of an early deliverance. You long to say to the EFL (and Shaun Harvey in particular) ‘In the name of God go!’

Yes, the LUFC fraternity (and of course sisterhood) have spoken with one voice and their combined wish is this: ‘Lexit means Lexit! And it has to happen soon!’

And with that thought constantly in mind you retire to the pub with fellow minded fans to feel the consolation and solidarity of their emotions as they empathise with what you’re going through. And for a short while you can relax as one of them retells your favourite Man U joke. You may know it word for word but there is a comfort in repetition and usually a new pair of ears to take in its poignancy – 

‘The wife decided to wear a Manchester United top for a week to see the public reaction. On The 1st morning she was spat on, swore at, punched in the face twice, kicked up the arse and received 3 death threats……..Don’t know how she’ll get on when she leaves the house.’

The Ear-cupping Sign from Leeds’ Patrick Bamford that Spoke Volumes – by Rob Atkinson

Patrick Bamford: what about that then, guys?

As the clock ticked past 61 minutes at Deepdale on Tuesday night, with Leeds hammering away against a 10 man but stubborn Preston side, United’s number 9 Patrick Bamford strode on to a rebound off the wedding tackle of Pablo Hernandez, and absolutely lashed the ball past helpless North End keeper Declan Rudd, to the delight of the massed Whites behind the home goal.

It was that vital breakthrough goal we knew we just had to score. Preston were down to ten men, Norwich and Sheffield Utd would play the following day. Leeds needed to get the three points to put the pressure back on their rivals. Bamford’s lethal finish was spectacular, but it was also a sign of his bravery and self-belief. Some shots hit from that position fly into row Z, some fizz narrowly wide, strike the woodwork or draw a brilliant save from the keeper. Relatively few arrow into the corner, threatening to break the net. Bamford had the confidence to try, and was richly rewarded.

That confidence and bravery brought us the much-needed moment of joy and relief. Bamford’s immediate reaction was telling; he ran to the away support, cupping his ear as if to say “Now what do you think?” It was the action of a man who had had to take some pretty ridiculous criticism and half-baked judgement after missing a few chances during a mini-drought recently. Whatever happened, we may ask, to the old saying about “you have to get there in order to miss ’em”. Half of any good striker’s work is getting into scoring positions. But that clearly means nothing to the armchair experts that make up too big a proportion of United’s support (for want of a more appropriate word). Bamford cupped his ear to the travelling faithful, but the gesture was indirectly aimed at the clueless section of social media Whites.

Clearly, Bamford is a great pro and a decent striker. In his limited contribution to this season, he’s scored some vital goals and, if the season is to be crowned with success, he’ll have done his bit. He also knows the score, and he’s fully aware that the people he can rely on to support and encourage him are inside the club, at Thorp Arch, or lining up beside him on the pitch. For the fans to enter that circle of trust, we would need to eliminate the carping criticism, the petulant knee-jerk reactions and the clueless assumption that the terrace denizens know best. As fans, we have to earn the trust and confidence of the players, in which case we’d all be better placed to succeed.

Will that ever happen? Is it too much to ask? The last few games of an epic season might just give us some sort of an answer to those deeply vexed questions.

Marching On Together