Tag Archives: play-offs

Corona Lockdown: How Sunderland’s Wembley Disasters Are Keeping Leeds Fans Entertained – by Rob Atkinson

sunderland-fans-crying-newcastle-united-nufc-650x400-1

Mackems not enjoying Wembley – yet again


I’ve never had much time for
Sunderland, despite the fact that the Wearside club have never featured among the top echelons of rivalry with my beloved Leeds United. And really, how could they – when their sole claim to fame since the war amounts to one distinctly fluky Wembley success against Don Revie‘s overwhelming FA Cup Final favourites in 1973?

The thing is, though, that while Leeds United have generally had bigger fish to fry, the barren nature of Sunderland’s last three quarters of a century has meant that they’ve had to harp on and on about Stokoe, Porterfield, Montgomery et al ever since that freak cup final, which found Leeds well short of their normal imperious form, while Sunderland rode their luck into a page of history. It was a major shock, alright – bigger than Southampton‘s success against the Pride of Devon in 1976, and much bigger than the Crazy Gang beating the Culture Club in 1988. And, naturally, the Leeds hating media waste no opportunity to rub our collective nose in what was really a day of humiliation for a club of United’s historic standing. But them’s the breaks, and we’ve had to live with that embarrasment ever since, just as Sunderland’s needy fan base have found it a straw to clutch at for nigh on 47 years.

There are compensations, though, and Netflix came up with a beauty just this week, screening the second series of Sunderland Till I Die, which features the Mackems in familiar self-destruct mode, contriving to lose not one, but two Wembley finals as the 2018/19 season reached its climax. That’s funny enough, but the fact that this serial disaster of a club gave their fans some false hope in both matches, contriving to take the lead before capitulating, raised the comedic levels to sublime. And the nature of the Wembley occasions is also rather funny, a Checkatrade Final (whatever that is) against Portsmouth, followed by the League One play-off against Charlton Athletic, managed by our old alumnus Lee Bowyer. In both games the Mackems were ahead, prompting feverish celebrations among their hopeful but dim support – and in both games, Sunderland lost at the last gasp, on penalties against Pompey and in the very last minute of injury time against Charlton. Just as the so-called Roker Roar dissolved into tears, so Leeds United fans with long enough memories had tears of mirth rolling down cheeks that ached with laughter. It was a double dose of Schadenfreude at the time, making up in some small degree for our own less than successful climax to last season – and now Netflix have produced a comedy epic out of the ashes of Mackem hopes, almost as if they wished to entertain us Whites all over again.

This double HA9 disaster was actually made up of the two most recent helpings of Wembley Karma for Sunderland, who have contrived to lose every single Wembley appearance since 1973, including another play off defeat to Charlton in 1998, on penalties, which is always a gratifyingly painful way to get beat for any club that you don’t particularly like. Towards the end of the Netflix Laughter Show, a tearful Mackem lady is showing sobbing “Why isn’t it ever us?” in response to their latest Wembley surrender. I’ll tell you why, love. It’s payback for 1973 and that git Stokoe prancing across the Wembley pitch to hug that git Montgomery. Lovely stuff, thank you Netflix and I shall look forward to the next series of this laughter-strewn classic.

As I said earlier, it’s not a full blown rivalry, and I wouldn’t want anyone to get me wrong on this. My negative feelings about Sunderland have more to do with their intrinsic lack of charm, than any real feeling of competitive dislike. The fact that they’ve been paying in installments of misery for the joy they felt on that long ago Wembley day simply makes me feel justified in celebrating their decades of unhappiness – it’s as if they’ve suffered all that pain and angst just for us. Which is most kind of them, when you think about it. And revelling in their last two disastrous seasons has certainly provided me with plenty of chuckles and entertainment during this annoying hiatus in the current campaign. In fact, it’s put me in such a good mood that I think I’ll nip off downstairs and watch Manchester United 1, Manchester City 6, and give my chorlte muscles another brisk workout.

Marching On Together

Leeds United Can Blast Through Nine Game Mini-Season to Championship Glory – by Rob Atkinson

Bamford

Don’t you know, pump it up etc.

In the light of UEFA‘s statement today, whereby the European Championships have been postponed for a year with the express intent of allowing domestic league programmes to be completed after the COVID-19 delay, there now opens up a window of opportunity for clubs challenging for league success to achieve that goal. UEFA appears to be aiming for a completion of league programmes by the end of June – which may still be slightly optimistic – but at least some prospect of getting the thing done now seems realistic.

It all gets much more interesting and even more encouraging for Leeds United fans when you consider the nature of the club’s league performance in two seasons under Marcelo Bielsa. On both occasions, the team has leapt out of the traps fresh and vigorous, sweeping aside most opposition and roaring straight to the top of the table. Relatively less effective periods have come later in the long and gruelling campaigns – what is sometimes known as Bielsa Burnout due to the notoriously demanding training sessions he requires of his team. The current hiatus in competitive matches due to this pesky virus (and please don’t think I’m making light of it, but this is above all else a football blog and I do believe Corona is covered adequately elsewhere) is giving the Leeds players, and their counterparts at rival clubs, of course, some time to recharge the batteries and regain some of that early season oomph. Meanwhile, the players who were not at peak fitness can make progress towards that happy state of affairs, and even the likes of Adam Forshaw, who underwent surgery that was expected to end his campaign, might now harbour slim hopes of being actively involved.

So, even though all of the Championship rival clubs are in the same boat in terms of an unexpected late season delay, the outcome for Leeds United may be disproportionately favourable, given their recent history of fast starts under Bielsa. With what is, in effect, a nine game mini-season ahead of them, fully rested and with an extra pre-season under their belts, and with squad members previously not up to scratch now hitting the required standards, things should be looking very good for Leeds. Add in the fact that they would be starting this 27 point mini-season with a seven point cushion over Fulham in third place, with all their rivals having a much more difficult (on paper) set of fixtures, and it’s difficult to see much if any cause for pessimism.

For once, it may well be that Leeds United will harvest triumph out of the ashes of a national disaster, and this humble blogger is confident that – come the end of this season, whenever that might be – there will be yellow, blue and white ribbons on that famous old Football League Trophy (yeah, the one we should have been allowed to keep for good in 1992). It’s going to happen, ladies and gentlemen – so, however bleak you may feel right now, be of good cheer. United are going back to the Big Time.

Marching On Together

So, Do We Want Leeds United Promoted by Default … or Not?? – by Rob Atkinson

leeds-fans

Leeds United, big club, great fans. Massive player in any league

On the face of it, any question with the question “do we want Leeds United promoted” in it would always come under the heading of “bleedin’ silly/obvious”. But circumstances alter cases and we are not living in normal times. So, weird as it would normally appear, we’ve seen genuine Leeds United fans genuinely confused and uncertain about what seems to be a genuine possibility that United, along with West Brom, may be invited to join a slightly inflated Premier League next season, with the caveat that they’d have to finish five or six places clear of the bottom in order to stay up – as there could be four or five relegated to redress the imbalance caused by no relegation at the end of this possibly truncated season.

Phew. If that’s all clear to you, we now move on to the even knottier issue of whether or not we’d want promotion this way. Certainly, it’s far from ideal  There’d be no carousing on the pitch after an ecstatic final whistle, no tension, no anticipation, probably not even the civic pride of an open-top bus parade from City Square to the Town Hall and onwards to Elland Road. Instead, it would be the meekest, mildest and probably least satisfactory promotion ever – but at least we’d be up.

The other alternatives are scarcely more attractive. Voiding the season simply doesn’t bear thinking about, so I won’t discuss it. Resuming the season in the foreseeable future seems unlikely, unless some way can be found to play behind closed doors without causing riots outside locked stadia. But at least that would permit the possibility of an earned and undisputed promotion (unless we screw up again). Ending the league now, with the positions as they are, would perhaps taint any promotion thus earned. Yes, we’re seven clear of third – but even Liverpool, twenty-five points clear at the top of the Premier League, need two more wins as it stands, for mathematical certainty. Would we really want our many critics to have the open goal of “Yeah, you went up – but it was shoddy”. As Spurs legend Danny Blanchflower famously said, “The game is about glory”. There’s a school of thought that demands any promotion should be glorious, and therefore shrinks away from any antiglorious creative accounting or artifice, whatever the circumstances.

I’m looking for input here, tell me what you think. I must confess that, if we were simply invited up alongside WBA, it would leave a slightly hollow feeling where my yellow, blue and white heart should be. Not that it’d stop me hailing us as Champions. But would any of us stick so closely to noble principles that we’d look a gift horse in the mouth and say, no – I’d rather we stayed down and earned it next year? Not forgetting, of course that – given another year in the Championship – we’d probably be saying goodbye to Marcelo Bielsa (God) and Kalvin Phillips, the Yorkshire Pirlo himself.

I must admit, I slightly lean towards going up any which way, and arguing about it later, with our Premier League status confirmed. But there’s a nagging doubt still, over how I’d actually feel.

Let me know what you think, please. Feel free to add in your own feelings, doubts, arguments. And please don’t think I’m neglecting the seriousness of this COVID-19 crisis. But that’s all over the media – and here in this protective bubble is where we talk about Leeds United, while the world outside goes crazy.

Marching on Together

“Are We There Yet?” How Leeds Twitter Fans Channel Their Inner Spoilt Children – by Rob Atkinson

Tantrum

The dumb end of the Leeds Twitter feed, in pictures

We’ve probably all had to cope with the tantrums of spoilt kids at one time or another, sometimes in particularly testing circumstances when you just need to get somewhere or accomplish something – and it has to be managed against this irritating background of immature whinging and tantrums. The car scenario is especially annoying, with the petulant classic “Are we there yet??” starting as you turn out of your street and continuing for pretty much the whole journey, as you grit your teeth and turn the radio up. Now, what could be more representative than this tiresome phenomenon, of my current major bugbear, the #LUFC hashtag on Twitter? Especially at this time of the year, when the dreaded January transfer window has these bleating inadequates giving full rein to their endless spoilt brattishness. The resemblance between a car full of screeching spoilt children and the Leeds Twitter feed in January is well nigh inescapable.

It’s embarrassing, too, for those of us who are more inclined to let those who know what they’re doing get on with their jobs. Not for us the tendency to clamour for attention from the likes of Phil Hay or Andrea Radrizzani, addressing them as “mate” or “boss” and demanding to know why United haven’t yet signed this, that or the other multi-million pound striker. There’s plenty who do, though, and – bandwagon jumping being in the nature of the dimmer end of the online Leeds support – more seem to appear with each passing day.

It must surely try the patience of the professionals concerned, just like that harassed Mum trying to drive safely as her infants squall in the back of the car. And yet there seems to be an expectation on the part of each and every clueless tweeter that their particular plea for attention and information will bear fruit – maybe in the form of “Hi, Shane of Beeston, we hadn’t thought of buying Edinson Cavani until you contacted us, but you’ll be glad to know that – because of your message – we’re right on it now. We’ll show PSG your tweet and I’m sure they’ll cave in. Marcelo says thanks.” A greater triumph of hopeless expectation over common sense you could not wish to see, and yet these eager dweebs are queuing up to make themselves look approximately that daft. Well meaning, but dim, just about sums it up.

The other sort are even worse. They don’t bother making suggestions, constructive or otherwise – they move straight on to the conspiracy theories, whereby the Financial Fair Play regulations are just a cunning cover story, so that all of the money invested by fans can go straight into the back pockets of Angus Kinnear, Victor Orta et al, prior to their abrupt disappearance in the direction of Rio de Janeiro. The problem shared by most of the Twatteratti is the apparently certain belief that they know what is going on, better than anybody else. Naturally, they feel the urge to share this superior knowledge with everybody else, repeatedly ad nauseam, until Twitter threatens to make your eyes bleed. It is not an edifying experience.

As I write, we’ve signed a new young goalkeeper, one for the future, and a promising winger from Man City who was courted by Torino of Serie A, and whose prospects of first team involvement may well be more imminent. The reaction of the Twatteratti has been predictably less than positive. The goalkeeper signing was greeted with “Oh, so we need a striker and we sign a keeper, suppose we’ll be playing him up front against Millwall, haw, haw, aren’t I droll”. There is this urgent need among these malcontents to be loved by their similarly-challenged fellow spoilt kids – the desire for lols, likes and retweets supersedes any fleeting thought of keeping their powder dry and seeing what happens.

For those of us with little choice but to trawl through all the Twitter dross in the hope of unearthing the occasional nugget of actual news, or even a Grade A believable rumour, the output of this Legion of the Thick is dispiriting indeed. I guess other clubs suffer from similarly clueless sections among their online support, but that’s quite frankly cold comfort. I’m pretty sure that, if it’s a question of degree, our petulant tendency out-numbers that of most other teams. I suppose that, in a sort of backhanded way, it’s an indicator of the mass appeal of this club. Still, it’s no wonder some call us The Damned United.

As of now, we still need that new striker to provide the competition for Patrick Bamford that any front man needs in order to keep honed the cutting edge of his game. And I’m sure it will happen, sometime in the next few days, barring some other “aren’t we clever” club doing a Swansea on us. But, even if that were to happen, I’m convinced that Leeds United will have done its best during a traditionally difficult window. For what it’s worth, there are some respected voices putting a similar opinion out there, the likes of Hay, Popey etc. So we should perhaps keep the faith, and keep on telling those spoilt kids to pipe down.

Meanwhile, though, it’s really very difficult not to think “Roll on February”…

Could Leeds United Seal Promotion AND Derby’s Relegation on April 25th? – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds derby

Leeds United and Derby County – not exactly the best of pals

Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. If it arrives for Leeds United in the shape of battered mutton cutlets and squarely amid the joy of our own promotion party then, cold or not, the taste of that dish would be exquisite and unforgettable.

Promotion, of course, would be enough and as good as a feast on its own account – but, if we are going to be greedy and demanding, then what could be better than seeing our heroes administer the coup de grâce to Derby County, and watch them spinning into League One, Wazza and all? And just as we finally ascend to the Promised Land, too.

It’s a scenario fit to tempt the palate of any Leeds fan who watched Derby celebrate as if they’d won promotion when our play-off campaign came to an abrupt halt at Elland Road last May. The fact that this represented a false dawn for our sheepish friends was cold comfort, although naturally we did enjoy seeing the Rams fail yet again with defeat to Aston Villa at Wembley. But that Elland Road night and the graceless cavorting of Lampard & Co left a bad taste that took a long time to fade away and, although Fwank has moved on, it’d still be incredibly delicious if Leeds and Derby were to leave the Championship in opposite directions at the end of this campaign.

And, do you know what? It could just happen, if only the football authorities can be trusted to do their bit, with the news today that Derby are being charged with breaches of the Financial Fair Play regulations over their dodgy stadium sale and lease back deal. A decent-sized points deduction for our erstwhile rivals, and they’d be plunged well and truly into the midst of the Championship basement battle – and who knows if they’d have the bottle to survive? Then there’d just be the small matter of Leeds managing not to bottle promotion themselves.

So, I’m beseeching the football gods tonight, not only for a trouble-free run in for my beloved Leeds United towards promotion back to the big time – but also that Derby do suffer the pain of relegation, with their fate finally to be sealed by defeat to the Whites at the incongruously named Pride Park just a day short of the 28th anniversary of us becoming the Last Champions. What with the play offs, Spygate and the Rams’ general “chip on the shoulder” unpleasantness, just how utterly satisfactory and cathartic would that be?

I won’t be counting any chickens, mind, much less any slaughtered sheep. But I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed in the hope of a hefty dollop of Schadenfreude coming the way of all of us three months hence. Almost a year on from that unforgettable night at Elland Road, it’d be the ultimate in revenge for Leeds fans, and the ultimate nightmare for those of a Derby persuasion. Surely, it’s not to much to ask?

Marching On Together – hopefully ever upwards and, fittingly enough, two leagues above those rightly terrified sheep.

Think Leeds Will Blow It? Wake Up and Smell the Costa Coffee – by Rob Atkinson

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!

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