Tag Archives: promotion

Ben White Would be a Double Your Money Bargain for Leeds at ANY Price – by Rob Atkinson

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Ben White – limitless potential and a bargain at any price

Without any doubt, the revelation of the Leeds United season so far has been a young man called Ben White, a lad with no previous experience above League One level, having made zero appearances for his parent club Brighton. The challenge at Leeds for this comparative novice was a stern one. Signing on loan for the season, he came in the Elland Road players’ entrance almost as the iconic Pontus Jansson was making his exit with a shock move to Brentford. Among the United faithful, eyebrows were raised so high that they threatened to wind up on the backs of their owners’ necks. Teeth were gnashed and clothes rent asunder in biblical displays of grief and dismay. Pontus was gone, and we had this tyro no mark in his place, an almost comical proposition that had a section of the Whites support writing off Leeds’ promotion chances before a ball had been kicked. Oh, we of little faith.

Now, just nineteen games into a season that has seen White play every single minute of league action for Leeds so far, the doubters are having to gorge themselves on humble pie, to the extent that there may well be no room for the Christmas turkey in just a few short weeks. Mostly, they are happy to do this, because seeing this young colossus form a vital part of the Championship’s best defence has been a joyous experience. Bloggers such as yours truly have had to reach deeper and deeper into their bag of superlatives each week, and still it’s difficult to overstate just how integral to United’s success Ben White has been. I’ve seen him described as a latter-day Paul “Rolls Royce” Madeley, and it would be difficult around these parts to come up with a more flattering comparison than that. Others see a resemblance to Alan Hansen of Liverpool fame, still others point to the young Jonathan Woodgate, who saw at first hand last weekend just what United and White could do, as his Middlesbrough charges were swatted aside 4-0.

My own view is that White, who will doubtless face far sterner tests than the Boro men managed to set last Saturday, may well end up in a category entirely by himself – he has the potential to become truly peerless. Ben seems to have the lot – skill, composure, tenacity and that innate ability to read the game which is given only to the special few. My nearest comparison out of all the footballers I’ve seen in my 44 years as a fan, would be Franz Beckenbauer, the legendary Bayern Munich and West Germany icon of the seventies. In fact, if you could just graft a bit of moral compass onto der Kaiser, who was not above a bit of skulduggery as Leeds United fans are only too well aware, then you’d have a pretty close match. Ben White deserves to be mentioned in such company, he’s simply that good. He can play for and captain England, he can lift a World Cup, he can win titles, cups and Champions Leagues. Absolutely nothing is beyond this lad.

All of which is why I would say to Leeds United: whatever else you do recruitment-wise over the next couple of transfer windows, move heaven and earth to get Ben White. There is no price too high to make his capture anything but a thief’s bargain; whatever you pay, you could at least double your money five years down the line. It’s a Rio Ferdinand type scenario, buy for £18m, sell for £30m plus – but the return would inevitably be higher still. Never mind Financial Fair Play; dig deep and do whatever you have to do in order to get this player.

You know it makes sense.

Echoes of the Last Champions in Leeds United’s Late Winner at Reading – by Rob Atkinson

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Lee Chapman and Jack Harrison, years apart but similarly great goals

There was something about Leeds United‘s winning goal at Reading on Tuesday evening that awoke golden memories of Sergeant Wilko’s Warriors of 1992 as they upped the ante one January Sunday afternoon to ignite a title charge. On that long ago day Leeds, marking Wilkinson’s return to Hillsborough to face his old charges Sheffield Wednesday, were utterly irresistible and ran riot, emerging winners by six goals to one. The display at Reading this week, nearly 28 years later, was not of the same vintage. And yet Jack Harrison’s emphatic far-post finish bore a remarkable similarity to the second Lee Chapman goal of his Hillsborough hat-trick all those years ago.

If you can cast your mind back that far, you may remember that Leeds, 2-0 up and cruising, had just suffered the most outrageous penalty decision when Gordon Watson of the Wendies did a somersault with half-pike and triple twist with Chris Whyte nowhere near him in the Leeds box. The ref eagerly fell for it and, though John Lukic saved John Sheridan’s spot kick, the former Leeds man buried the rebound. So it was 2-1 and Leeds were seething over Wednesday’s fraudulent route back into a game that had looked lost to them.

Lesser teams may have been discouraged, but not Wilko’s United. Showing the mettle that would see them crowned Champions just a dozen or so weeks later, Leeds bit back, putting together a devastating length of the pitch move as the first half drew to a close, to re-establish a two goal cushion going into the interval.

This is where the similarity is so obvious, in the fluency and sweeping nature of both moves, with a bullet header finishing each off to perfection. Back then, Lukic rolled the ball out to left back Tony Dorigo, who instantly played a beautifully weighted pass down the left for Gary Speed. Speedo took one touch, looked up, and delivered the perfect cross which was met mid-air by a hurtling Chapman to bury the ball unanswerably into the Wednesday net. It was a rapier thrust down the left, the ball moving from goal to goal in mere seconds to kill off Wednesday hopes.

Fast forward to this week, and the resemblance is remarkable. After a Kiko save from Reading’s free kick 25 yards out, the ball squirted out to the left where Jack Harrison played a neat reverse pass to Stuart Dallas. The Irishman immediately hit a fine, first-time crossfield ball to find sub Gjanni Alioski in space on the right. Two touches from Alioski, and he fed a great ball forward for Helder Costa, who didn’t have to break stride or take a touch before delivering a great far post cross, which took a slight deflection and was met by the onrushing Harrison – the man who had started the move seconds earlier at the other end of the pitch. Harrison’s finish was just as emphatic as Chapman’s had been, all those years before, with the reaction of the United fans behind the goal just as ecstatic.

One sweeping, end-to-end goal redolent of a similar effort almost three decades ago does not, of course, a team of champions make. And yet the winner at Reading, just as beautiful in its construction and just as devastating in its execution as Chapman’s effort at Hillsborough, may just be a sign of what Marcelo Bielsa’s team are beginning to be able to do – impose their style, stifle resistance, and then apply the coup de grâce to exhausted opponents. That happy knack could well lead to many more such victories where United haven’t played all that brilliantly – and maybe, just maybe, finally lead us back to the Promised Land.

Leeds Robbed at Millwall by a Blatant Dive and an Incompetent Ref – by Rob Atkinson

Clear daylight, but the ref saw contact and a foul

We knew it would be tough at Millwall, it’s always tough at Millwall. We accept this every time we go there, without necessarily being able to deal with it. Under normal circumstances, the failure to deal with it is down to us and, unpalatable though the usually inadequate results are when we play at the New Den, we just have to take it on the chin.

Defeat, after all, is part of the game, something we have to accept if not exactly relish. What no club should be expected to accept, certainly not on the regular basis that is the experience of Leeds United, is defeat as a result of blatant cheating by the opposition, backed up by incompetence verging on idiocy by a succession of referees and assistants. It’s a factor thrown under a merciless spotlight at the moment, because of the use of VAR in the Premier League. A few days back, man u looked set, for the umpteenth time, to escape an equaliser by their opponents to win an undeserved three points. I literally cannot count the number of times I’ve seen this happen in favour of that particular establishment-beloved club, but this time it was different. The goal was shown to be onside by a margin of at least a yard, with the original call exposed as criminally incompetent – and, lo, man u had to settle for a point, all thanks to VAR.

At Millwall, it was a decision – or rather, two decisions – of comparable incompetence by referee James Linington that cost Leeds the match. Up against a team that habitually treats this fixture as a cup final, Leeds had to hope at least for a level playing field. Instead, they got a referee who saw a foul where there was none, and compounded his mistake by sending off the non-offender Gaetano Berardi, even though Kalvin Phillips was in a covering position to negate an obvious goalscoring opportunity. It was a situation in which the ref had to lean over backwards to rule against United, but he willingly contorted himself, as so many have done before him. After that, Leeds had a mountain to climb, a goal and a man down against highly-charged opponents.

It’s just the latest in a long line of similarly sickening situations for Leeds, a thought clearly in the mind of owner Andrea Radrizzani when he later tweeted his frustration about “wrong decisions”. United goalkeeper Kiko Casilla was also in evidence on social media, angry and frustrated as he posted on Instagram the image at the head of this piece. These are not sour grapes, they are the legitimate complaints of professional men who know they’re not getting a fair shake. I’ve been told that this particular referee has sent off United players on the last three occasions he’s officiated us, all defeats. If that’s true – and I’m just too heart-sick to check – then it would appear there’s some sort of case for Linington, the EFL, or both to answer.

What happens next will be interesting to say the least. Will the Millwall swallow-diver be held to account for “simulation” (cheating)? Will he be accused of successfully deceiving a referee, even if one might argue that said referee was quite open, nay eager, to be so deceived? Will Berardi’s red card be rescinded as it certainly should be? On none of these issues will I be holding my breath for justice from a Football League bang to rights on incompetence, complacency and corruption.

It’s difficult to see how things are going to improve. To secure the possible protection of VAR, we need to be in the Premier League – but in order to get there, when the Football League seems determined to hold us in its clammy embrace, we would probably need VAR to spare us the serial incompetence of the League’s officials. So it’s apparently a Catch-22 situation for United.

The strange thing is, I’m not really all that keen on VAR, having always been of a traditionalist point of view, believing that a bit of controversy here and there is a necessary spice for our football fare. But, when that spice is unevenly sprinkled, with Leeds in particular being almost smothered by controversy as victims of half-baked decision making – well, what can you say or do?

If VAR can actually stop, or at least reduce, an endless torrent of dodgy decisions in favour of the Media-Beloved United, then maybe it could also mitigate the decades-long suffering of the Damned United.

And, for that alone, I’d be willing to embrace the technology. Yes, even at the cost of a little bit of football’s soul.

Leeds United Need to Reproduce Tuesday Night’s Grit Down at Millwall – by Rob Atkinson

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Not a happy hunting ground – Millwall’s New Den

It was a different sort of game at Elland Road last Tuesday evening, with Leeds United‘s opponents, for once in a very long while, actually shading possession over the ninety-four minutes. All credit to West Bromwich Albion for that notable feat, though it would probably have been cold comfort for the Baggies as they made their weary way home pointless, having sustained a 0-1 defeat for their first reverse of the season. Leeds, on the other hand, will take plenty of encouragement from getting the job done despite a rare failure to dominate. It was a gritty display by United, necessarily more so the longer the game went on, with Albion trying their hardest to salvage something. That they were kept out, and made to suffer a season’s first defeat, reflects immense credit upon Leeds, who’d had to make do without injured skipper Liam Cooper for the last hour of a fierce contest.

A look beyond the possession statistic is instructive, for all the post match talk of United being dominated. In reality, it wasn’t quite like that, with the Whites carving out more chances than Albion, with more on target as well. Leeds’ chances were also more clear-cut, with Sam Johnstone in the Baggies goal being far busier than Kiko Casilla at the other end. Overall, United did what was needed, coming back from a disappointing display in London, for the second season on the trot, to beat West Brom and get back on track.

Now, it’s time for another daunting away appointment this weekend, with a trip to Millwall – never an easy task for Leeds. There’s something about the place which seems to sap United’s morale; doubtless it’s because the locals do not exactly hold our heroes in high esteem, a fact they make vociferously clear at every possible opportunity. Millwall’s team and fans just love to get stuck into what they clearly see and resent as the division’s aristocrats. They style themselves “the biggest small club in the world” down there, and revel in their repeated refrain of “No one likes us, we don’t care”.

That particular sentiment will strike a chord with many a Leeds United fan, but for us it’s repeated plaintively, with a sense of grievance. At Millwall, it’s a battle cry, and there’s no other club that has the Lions sharpening their claws with quite the same bloodthirsty zest as they do for our lads – this is Millwall’s cup final, make no mistake. 

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Millwall’s manager, local legend Neil Harris, parted company with the club on Thursday. The effect of this is hard to predict; Harris epitomised Millwall’s chip on the shoulder approach to eagerly-anticipated games like their clash with Leeds. But that approach is unlikely to be ameliorated by the departure of Harris; rather, it’s in the fabric of the club, so it’s highly unlikely that Leeds will find their path smoothed by a managerial upheaval, even though the timing might be seen as unhelpful to Millwall, only two days before United roll into town.

In summary, the grittiness of Leeds United’s showing against their peers in West Brom will certainly need to be reproduced for the looming clash with notional inferiors Millwall. Any failure to do just that could easily be punished; that’s happened before against opponents United take lightly at their peril.

Last season, Leeds escaped The New Den with a precious point earned by Jack Harrison‘s late equaliser – and even then, they had to weather a late storm from the nettled Lions. I’d be a lot more confident against many other opponents – as it is, I’d love a win but wouldn’t be too upset with another draw.

Lucky Leeds Boss Bielsa Has Thousands of Experts to Tell Him What to Do – by Rob Atkinson

Marcelo Bielsa – lucky man

Marcelo Bielsa really can count himself truly blessed in his current situation at Leeds United. He’s in charge of a club of global pedigree and immense potential, and he’s assembled a squad rich with talent and promise. On top of that, Bielsa himself is lauded by some of the game’s foremost coaches as the granddaddy of them all, the guru, the one who’s influenced the best of the rest. Bielsa, in short, has a heck of a lot going for him.

But it doesn’t end there. For Bielsa, lauded as the Master by football’s movers and shakers, has a massive army of armchair experts behind him, poised ready to bestow upon him the benefits of their tactical acumen at the first sign of the smallest problem or misfortune. Some of the experts would replace Bamford with Nketiah, others would play both as a twin spearhead. Still others would replace Harrison with Costa, and there are also those who would drop Hernandez and play Harrison/Roberts/Costa in that role. This group include those who praised Hernandez as the best in the league following a masterclass late last season, but no matter. Drop him now, they say, for they know best.

In fact, it’s odd that these sedentary experts are all so sure that they know best as, though they all reckon they know better than Bielsa, still there’s great disagreement between them as a group. Surely, they can’t all be right? Is there even the glimmer of a possibility, then, that Bielsa actually does know best about the group of players he works with, day in and day out?

United are, after all, top of the Championship, having won five games and having failed to win the other three when they most certainly should have. But they’re firmly on course to win the league if they can maintain even this slightly less than perfect form. Still, that’s not good enough for the “Dave from Beeston” types out there, nor yet the Twitter tendency. From the way these “supporters” carry on, you might imagine they know more about the game than poor old Marcelo.

Here’s a thought, though. What if we all just let Bielsa get on with it, just on the off-chance that Pep Guardiola, and other super coaches, are right about him. Why don’t we all get off Bamford’s back as well, just in case the sports psychologist chaps have a point about mass criticism having an adverse effect on confidence and performance. You never know, it might just work, this controversial idea of letting the pros get on with it.

Who knows – maybe, at the end of the season, with the league title on the sideboard, we’ll all be saying, well, who’d have thought it. That global legend Marcelo Bielsa really did know what he was on about, after all.

On a slightly less acidly sarcastic note, how good it was to see United and Bielsa get a FIFA fair play award for gifting Villa a goal after Leeds had taken the lead in, ahem, controversial circumstances. I actually don’t agree that there was anything amiss with the Leeds goal that day, but Marcelo obviously felt uncomfortable about it, and what he says goes, as I’ve been hinting all column long. But this FIFA award has been particularly enjoyable for the distress it has caused among certain figures in the game who have a nosebleed if forced to give United any credit for anything. I won’t name names, let’s just say that the anti-Leeds brigade are many in number if slightly short of charm – and they’ve been distinctly rattled by this FIFA award thing. All of which is – let’s be honest – distinctly satisfactory.

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.

Why Leeds United Should Already be Planning for the Premier League – by Rob Atkinson

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Leeds fans – fervent hopes and great expectations

A combination of Leeds United’s positive start to the Championship campaign, along with the fact of some rivals’ struggles when promoted to the Premier League, might give rise to doubts among our number as to how United would cope with our own longed-for elevation to the elite – should it finally happen. It’s a fair question, even at this early stage of the season – counting no chickens and not wanting to sound too arrogant, it still is very definitely something we’ve every right to ponder. After all, we’ve built up such momentum as a club this past year or so, with Elland Road packed every home game and thousands following the lads all over the country. There’s no denying it’s been a blast, we even surpassed some of the expectations and odds provided by the best pundits of the Sports betting and news sites, even given last season’s ultimate disappointment. Do we really relish the idea of trading all of that for the negativity of a long, grim relegation struggle in the Premier League next year? But that train of thought, logical and realistic though it might be, flies in the face of Leeds United’s urgent need for a return to where it truly belongs.

In considering our chances of survival if this season did see us making a successful promotion challenge, we’d do well to take with a pinch of salt the current club response to rumours of a possible takeover somewhere down the line. The Leeds owner’s position is given as being willing to consider more inward investment, while refusing to contemplate an actual sale of the club. But many fans, as well as many seasoned football pundits, feel that Leeds would have to change hands if they were to have a chance of competing towards the higher echelons of the Premier League. Even then, there’d be the strictures of Financial Fair Play to be negotiated; some of the club’s biggest challenges in a higher sphere would, it appears, be off the field of play. But the likes of Wolves have shown it’s possible to operate to a model that permits more than just a struggle to survive, and this is the type of example that United must follow, should they finally escape the clutches of the Football League.

Huddersfield struggled feebly for two seasons and then meekly surrendered. Hull City did well for a while, but now they’re back down. It will be interesting to see how Sheffield United fare in the top flight, after their steady start. But surely Leeds United, given the right type of ownership and structure, should be able to envisage a more secure foothold at a higher level than any of these Yorkshire rivals were able to achieve.

Clearly, we have to focus on promotion first and foremost, but it’s as well to have plans in place a long way in advance of any realisation of our current ambitions. So now really is the time to be wondering how we’d cope – and I firmly believe that those questions are already echoing around the corridors of power inside Elland Road. What the answers will be, who can say? But Leeds fans, who will remember how United set about the top flight on our previous two promotions in 1964 and 1990, are unlikely to settle for a weak approach next time. They will want to see us challenging as of old – and I believe it’s in this club’s DNA to do just that.

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.

My Bremner Square Tribute to my late, Leeds-supporting Dad – by Rob Atkinson

Dad and me – part of the fabric of Elland Road

Just over 44 years ago, my dad ensured that I’d be saddled with a hopeless devotion to Leeds United for the rest of my life. He did this by the simple expedient of purchasing tickets for “the two biggest games of the season”. There they were, these seemingly innocuous but actually life-changing pieces of paper, artlessly displayed on the dining room table – my initiation to the Elland Road experience. Liverpool first, on Saturday April the 5th 1975 and then, the following Wednesday, I’d see Leeds United take on the mighty Barcelona, Cruyff, Neeskens and all, in the European Cup semi final.

 

As I’d never even shown the remotest interest in attending a football match, it’s fair to say that my dad was taking a bit of a punt on me enjoying myself. For all he knew, I could have sulked through both matches; certainly he could never have foreseen the extent to which this sudden treat would alter my outlook and priorities.

 

Strangely, just as Dad was introducing me to a lifetime of United fanaticism, his own passion for the club was about to decline. It’s almost as if he was preparing to hand over the responsibility for supporting the club he’d loved since he was a teenager, even though my first few years of being a proper Leeds fan were spent in his company. Dad didn’t seem to handle the waning of the club’s fortunes too well – after all, he’d seen the flowering of John Charles’ genius in the fifties, then he’d gone all the way through the Revie era of Super Leeds as United carried all before them, winning everything to become football legends.

 

Those were pretty tough acts to follow, and my dad became perhaps a little impatient with the lesser breed of players who were my new heroes. Eventually, I started to go to Elland Road on my own, and I’d come back waxing lyrical about Tony Currie, Arthur Graham, Brian Flynn or Ray Hankin. For me, it was all still bold and new, and I savoured the unique atmosphere as I graduated from Lowfields with my dad, via the Boys’ Pen to the Gelderd End Kop. I’d inherited the mantle of the family’s United fanatic, and Dad seemed almost eager to trade terrace for armchair and take a more passive role.

 

Still, he stuck with it for the first few seasons of my Leeds United worship. This was pretty considerate of him, as I brought Leeds United no luck at all. In that first game, we lost at home to Liverpool 2-0 and, although I saw us beat Barcelona on that memorable Elland Road night, with Billy Bremner scoring my first ever “live” Leeds United goal, my record in the league was dismal over the next couple of seasons. Dad must have thought of me as a Jonah – I never even saw United score another goal, let alone avoid defeat, until I started going to the match on my own in August 1976. In the meantime, we lost to the likes of Liverpool (again), Norwich and Sheffield United, all of which defeats I assumed to be my fault, and I think Dad agreed. But I was not discouraged; I was hooked and that was it. When I eventually saw us win in the league, 2-0 against Derby with goals from Eddie Gray and Trevor Cherry, I was delirious with joy and, to this day, every detail of that game is sharp and clear in my memory.

 

I know that Dad often regretted making a Leeds fan out of me, he was even on about it on my wedding day. He thought I could have spent my time more productively, maybe in playing him in the fiercely competitive Scrabble sessions which he adored – and, on the odd occasion, I’ve found myself agreeing. But overall, it’s been wonderful and, having journeyed from a milk crate vantage point in the middle “shelf” of Lowfields to my present perch on the West Stand Press gantry, I can’t imagine a life without United.

 

Now, over four years since Dad passed away, I’ve finally managed to make him a permanent part of Elland Road with a “Father and Son” stone in Bremner Square, as pictured above. It’s taken me a while, but at last I think I’ve found the most fitting and enduring way to say “thanks, Dad”. MOT, wherever you may be.