In the wake of an inept, abject home defeat to Chelsea, it’s looking ever more likely that United will be back in the Championship next time around, and whatever your opinion on the late-season replacement of Marcelo Bielsa by Jesse Marsch, in this blog’s opinion it is far more important at this juncture to look forward than back.
This is not about blame or recrimination. It’s not even about whether, in the end, Leeds actually do end up relegated. It’s simply a matter of stick or twist – given the nature of the performances, would we be better off sticking with the likeable but untried in English football Marsch, or should we be looking at a specialist in restoring fortunes, whether that be a proven promotion winner, or a man able to keep an ailing club away from a relegation scrap.
That being the case, I’m just going to seek answers to the binary choice of keeping or sacking Jesse Marsch. Opinions as to who, if anyone, should replace him are also welcome in the comments.
At this point in mind, I must admit I’m a bit numb, and not sure of the answer to my own question. Perhaps I’m still traumatised by the brutal expulsion of Marcelo, or “God”, as I like to refer to him. I know for a fact that many Leeds fans are still grieving.
So, I’ll just leave it at the simple question of whether Marsch should stay or go. I’m not even bothering with a poll. My fellow sufferers – it’s over to you.
Sometimes, you lose more than a useful squad member of talent and ability when a player moves on. The appeal of a certain type of player transcends their actual skill or other technical qualities. Sometimes it’s the uniqueness of the personality departing your club that you’ll miss, above and beyond a penchant for stinging volleys or crunching tackles. We’ve loved and lost a few of these mad, maverick types at Elland Road over the decades – Vinnie Jones springs to mind, for instance, as one of a special breed who “got” Leeds, seeming to absorb the singular personality of this uncommon club into their own DNA. When someone like that moves on, they leave a big hole behind them.
One such departure, regretfully anticipated for some time, but finally confirmed only now, is that of Gjanni Alioski, North Macedonian international, versatile left-sided performer, behind the scenes motivator and card-carrying nutter. Gjanni is one of those players in the famous colours of Leeds United whose loss will be felt for much more than his on-field contribution to United’s recent spectacular success. His ability to wind up opponents in the Leeds United cause is legendary enough, but it’s his episodes of pre-match tunnel-based insanity that I’ll most fondly recall in years to come. Gjanni may well be replaced by a player of superior ability, but surely it’s too much to expect a similarly vivid personality to take his place. Whatever the positives brought to the table by incoming players this window, I do feel we’ll have lost a certain je ne sais quoi with the departure of the Macedonian madman. No more will the corridors echo with “Peppa Peeeg!”, and that’s got to be a cause for some regret.
The really sad thing is that we didn’t even get to say “goodbye”. It seemed fairly clear in the final game of last season, as Leeds comfortably saw off West Brom, that this would be Alioski’s last hurrah – but it wasn’t confirmed at that point, so the farewells were for the certain departures, and Alioski seemed content to stay in the background while the spotlight played on Pablo and Gaetano in their final United appearances. That’s quite poignant, really, especially as Elland Road actually had a crowd inside for the first time in ages. It would have been nice to have been able to say farewell to Gjanni, alongside the other two heroes.
There are so many memories of Gjanni Alioski over his few years in United white, yellow and blue. Goals – my favourites are a blistering effort at Forest and that fulminating volley at Huddersfield. Assists, too, by the barrowload, and the boundless energy required by Bielsaball. Gjanni always put in a shift, and always had a terrific rapport with the fans. He even interacted with and acknowledged the cardboard cutouts on the Kop at the height of COVID, one of the myriad bizarre, off the wall memories associated with a player of whom you always expected the unexpected.
Goodbye then, Gjanni – or is it only au revoir? You never know with a guy like that and, though he’s heading for pastures new, he always seemed at home in LS11. He’ll be missed, of course, as we’ve missed so many crowd favourites before him. But Gjanni was that bit different, and replacing him will not just be a matter of importing an equal or superior talent. For the squad as a whole to retain its character and edge, we’re going to need to find another adorable madman, somebody with a screw just loose enough to merit the assumption of the Alioski mantle.
Let’s face it, that would be a remarkable feat. If Victor Orta can pull that one off, then we’re going to have to allocate space at Elland Road for his thoroughly deserved statue.
Three years ago today, Leeds United made a managerial appointment that must rank as one of the top three strokes of genius in their entire century-and-a-bit history. In context, the recruitment of Marcelo Bielsa is right up there with those of Don Revie and Howard Wilkinson. All three men came to a club in dire straits, and all three performed miraculously to transform the fortunes of an archetypal sleeping giant. As to who can be judged First Among Equals, history will judge the best. From my contemporary standpoint, what I will say is that the answer to that conundrum is by no means as clear-cut as many might suppose.
It might seem like sacrilege to even contemplate placing Bielsa in a position of pre-eminence over the Don, or even Sgt. Wilko. Both of those former club servants brought the ultimate domestic accolade to Elland Road, an achievement that is unlikely to be matched in today’s vastly different game where a super-powerful, massively entitled group of fat cat plutocrats rule; moreover, as we have recently seen, they are determined to maintain their dominance, by hook or by crook, and devil take the hindmost. In that context, the achievements of Marcelo Bielsa in his three year tenure (the longest period he has ever stayed in a club job) bear comparison with anything the other two of that legendary triumvirate managed.
That’s as may be, and I’m not setting out to ruffle the feathers of those veteran fans who remember Revie’s Super Leeds, or even (as I do) Sgt. Wilko’s Barmy Army. But these are different days, and in the current climate, with the game’s tangible rewards being hogged by that gluttonous cartel, it’s status that now assumes more importance for The Rest. Leeds United had been away from the Top Table for 16 years, far too long for a club of our pedigree. Both Revie and Wilkinson took control after much shorter periods of exile – Bielsa, by comparison, was looking to restore to the spotlight a club that the top level of our game had almost forgotten. And he’s done this with an endearing mixture of style, humility, stubbornness, quixotic idealism and – let’s not mince words here – sheer, unadulterated genius.
In effect, Bielsa has accomplished the fashioning of a silk purse from the tattiest of sow’s ears. In the last game of the season just completed, as Leeds secured a ninth place finish in their comeback season, most of their matchday combatants were also on duty in Marcelo’s first game, back in 2018 as pre-season Championship favourites Stoke City rolled up to Elland Road, took a fearful battering, and headed back to the Potteries sadder and wiser for the experience. Looking further back, the bulk of the squad that finished dismally mid-table in the second tier the season before were still around as Leeds rattled off four victories in the last four games of last season. This is heady stuff, again, given the context, and you can well understand the esteem in which Bielsa is now held by the Leeds faithful. Let’s face it, we’re talking here about an esteem which goes far beyond respect, which transcends even adulation. Some say Bielsa is revered, as you might revere a god. Some simply refer to him as God. This is not mere respect or adulation, this is The Real Thing. Let’s not bandy words. This is Love.
When I was younger, I was probably guilty of falling in love too lightly and too often. I was a sucker for a pretty face or a maverick football club – though I was too young, and too untutored in the ways of Leeds, to fall for Don Revie. I do worship him as a historical icon for the club I’ve adored for almost half a century, and I’m immensely proud of our dominance under Don in that golden era. By the late eighties, though, I was desperate for something to love about a diminished Leeds, particularly in the aftermath of King Billy’s reign and the traumatic way it ended. When Wilkinson moved in, it quickly became clear that here was a man who would give us back our pride, restore our status after eight years in the doldrums and enable us all to look the game in the eye again. And yet, I never quite fell for Wilko, despite the fact that he exceeded our wildest dreams in that glory year of 1992. You don’t make choices about who you love and who you’re fond of on a less ardent basis. I was grateful beyond words for what Howard did for Leeds, but with the best will in the world, it never translated to love, and I assumed then that people come and go, but my heart belonged to the club. Thinking about it, that’s not a bad philosophy; most likely it’s one that could see me through a dread time to come, when our latest Messiah decides his work is done and it’s time to call it a day.
Here and now, though, I know that my previous sang-froid will be of no use to me when the current incumbent of the Elland Road hot seat finally goes to pastures new, or maybe just home. I’m going to find it so hard to bear, because I literally love Marcelo Bielsa, and I know I’m not alone in this. It may even be that, when Marcelo does go, it’ll be time for me to take a step back, find other stuff to write about, view the game more dispassionately, concentrate on home and hearth, wait for grandchildren to come along. I can’t put it any more plainly than that. For me, Marcelo Bielsa is God – and once there’s no more God, then there’ll be precious little point in continuing to worship.
I don’t know, maybe I’m being a tad over dramatic, as we ageing thespians tend to be. Maybe, when the blow falls, I’ll be able to rationalise it – don’t be sorry He’s gone, just be glad He was here. It’ll be an exercise in managing how I feel, that’s for sure. I just hope it’s a situation that I’m still a couple of years away from having to deal with. For the time being, let’s just accept that we have been blessed indeed these past three years and, on this Bielsa Day anniversary, simply be glad of that. And, who knows? The best may well be yet to come.
At the start of the Premier League campaign so recently completed, one of the big issues for discussion and debate was: how will Leeds United, 16 years exiled from the elite, fare on their long-delayed return? The battle lines were drawn, with Leeds haters, wishful thinkers, embittered ex-pros and various other pond life on one side – and Those Who Matter on the other.
The views were starkly polarised. For the various factions who, for one reason or another, wished Yorkshire’s only giant club nothing but misery, there was a fairly unanimous feeling that United’s tenure in the top flight would last for three seasons: autumn, winter and spring. The predicted final tables from back then make for amusing reading now, with Leeds appearing in many forecast bottom threes and with the likes of the previous season’s miracle club Sheffield Utd going from strength to strength.
My own forays into social media at this time were seen as baselessly optimistic, bordering on drug-fuelled delusion. One Arsenal fan of tender years, and even tenderer grey matter, could not believe that I refused to accept United’s inevitable fate with meek submissiveness. The poor lad got quite hot under the collar at my refusal to acquiesce, and eventually blocked me in a fit of outraged pique, promising to re-establish contact around Easter, when our fate was sealed. Still waiting on that one.
Then there was the Brighton fan who was so sure that we’d zero chance of survival without Ben White, condescendingly explaining as if to a child that sadly no deal was possible as we’d be direct rivals in the struggle against the drop. Haven’t heard from him lately, either.
On the other side of the coin, the optimism and positivity that characterised the online output from Premier League betting sites and many prolific Leeds writers must have seemed mere bravado to the uninitiated. But we’d just witnessed two miraculous seasons in the Championship during which we’d proved we were the best outside the game’s elite. In the first season, we suffered a late attack of stage fright, and failed to get over the line – but in the second, we walked the league by ten points, to a background of wailing, gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair from the anti-Leeds fraternity who were witnessing their worst nightmare come true. They’d forecast another late season blow up and the departure of Marcelo Bielsa back to the Argentine, tail between legs. But we knew better – we knew that Bielsa is God incarnate, brought to God’s own county to return the chosen people to the Promised Land. So mote it be.
And thus it has come to pass, with yet more amusement in store for us as the haters refused to let the evidence of their own eyes divert them from their predictions of misery falling upon Elland Road. Karen Carney brought the undeserved ridicule of unreconstructed misogynists down upon the heads of female football pundits, with her silly theory that Leeds’s promotion was down to the COVID break. But this was never about gender – male pundits game out with theories just as daft if not dafter, proclaiming that Bielsa was a myth (Gabby “Gobby” Agbonlahor) and other exercises in mental frailty and lack of perspicacity from the likes of Andy Hinchliffe, Kris Boyd et al.
Overall, opinion has remained polarised. There was early encouragement for the nay-sayers when results were poor during a spell where Leeds were deprived by injury of the international defenders they’d signed in lieu of poor Ben White. That chorus of “we told you so” turned sulkily quiet with the emergence of Pascal Strujik and the recovery of Diego Llorente. Since those two were deployed in harness, United’s defensive performance has improved markedly, with Sky’s beloved graphic highlighting Leeds’s weakness from set pieces becoming more redundant with every passing week.
In the last ten games of the season (over a quarter of the campaign, let’s not forget), Leeds were second only to a resurgent not to say desperate Liverpool in the form table, and came within a short head of challenging for some form of European qualification – a “failure” which may well turn out to be a blessing in disguise. But that late season charge, unaided by any COVID break (sorry, Karen) has surely dispelled another myth beloved of Leeds-haters, the oft-mooted “Bielsa Burnout”. Sorry, lads (and lasses), but – like so many of your pet theories – the burnout was just so much pie in the sky, meaning you’ve had to gorge on the humble variety instead.
So, what of the future? Inevitably, there will be departures, and we’ve already bid a tearful farewell to two of our favourite sons in the Lion and the Magician. Thank you, thank you to Gaetano and Pablo, your legend status is secure and you’ll never be forgotten. Success elsewhere, lads, but you’ll always be welcome home anytime. There will inevitably be additions over the summer, and we’ve learned to trust the judgement and acumen of Victor Orta. He won’t let us down – and of course Marcelo Bielsa, or “God” as he’s fondly known hereabouts, will continue the biggest and best project of his incredible life.
I foresee more progress, a clear path ahead to establishment as a giant amongst the elites as Marcelo continues to build his legacy, and not least of all, more bitter disappointment for those whose happiness is entirely dependent on Leeds failing and falling. Let it be.
Karen Carney, TV Sport’s super pundit, has issued a solemn warning over the likely consequences for football should another blanket lockdown be imposed with all fixtures suspended indefinitely. Carney is worried that such a measure would inevitably lead to Leeds winning the Premier League title, just as the lockdown of early 2020 was solely responsible for United winning the Championship title last season.
“Make no mistake about it”, frothed Carney. “Leeds United would end up as Champions – and we all know that nobody wants that. Look what happened last year, Leeds had lost every game before lockdown due to the well-known Bielsa blowup meltdown crackup tiredness thingy, they were rock bottom of the Championship and certs for relegation, then, after they’d had a good rest – a much better rest than any other team – they go on this amazing run, winning every game 7-0, and end up ten points clear of West Brom, who we know for a fact are a much better team.”
When asked about elements of her theory, including the “much better rest” part, as well as WBA being much better than a team against whom they’ve just suffered a 5-0 battering, Ms Carney merely curled her lip and said “Wibble”.
Leeds United were approached by our Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything roving reporter for their response, and guardedly commented “Well, what else can you expect from the Karens of this world? But, let’s face it, she’s not half as thick as Merson, Wilder and Agbonlahor…”
Sam Allardyce is 66, and has had enough of football for this season.
Yes, it’s only Twitter – but our esteemed and reliable fanzine folk at The Square Ball might just have themselves a little scoop here. It’s a YES 🤞 from Rodrigo de Paul, and our top flight status could well be about to get a lot more secure.
The FA, after a short session of head-scratching, have responded to accusations that Liverpool’s first penalty award against Leeds United at Anfield yesterday was in direct contravention of the latest guidance on handball via deflection. The relevant passage, shown below, appears to state unequivocally that, when the ball touches a player’s arm or hand directly from another part of their body, a penalty will not be given.
In the Liverpool v Leeds United game on Saturday, however, when the ball deflected upwards from Robin Koch’s leg onto his arm, referee Michael Oliver almost spat his whistle out in his eagerness to blow for a spot kick after only four minutes. From that moment onwards, United were on the back foot, eventually losing by the odd goal in seven, despite coming back from behind three times.
Even Liverpool stalwart turned Sky pundit Jamie Carragher bemoaned the rank unfairness of that early penalty, making particular reference to the fact that VAR failed to overturn the decision, despite the obvious deflection before the ball struck Koch’s arm. Given the clear and undeniable nature of the injustice, surely the FA would not be able to defend the decision making process from the referee and VAR perspectives?
After a brief but agonised period of reflection, during which the “Official FA Manual on Defending the Indefensible” was intensively consulted, the following statement was issued.
“The FA wish to point out that the guidance referred to specifically mentions “Premier League players” and therefore its effect is limited to that group. In the instance of Liverpool versus Leeds United on the 12th September, the penalty was awarded only four minutes into the first game of the season, which was also Leeds United’s first Premier League game since 2004. In these circumstances, the referee and the VAR officials decided that no Leeds United player could, at the time of the incident in question, yet be regarded as a Premier League player. We would also point out that referee’s decisions, subject to VAR ratification, are final – so really, it’s a bit cheeky of you to question this point.”
It is further understood that the FA, concerned that this explanation might not be acceptable to all, made a specific request to the BBC Match of the Day programme, to the effect that any discussion of the first penalty award should be omitted, with Alan Shearer nominated to make a brief remark to the effect that it was the right decision before going on to heap platitudinous praise on the plucky performance of the Premier League newcomers. The FA are confident that this further measure will effectively put the issue to bed.
Leeds United declined to comment on the matter, beyond a terse statement to the effect that, at this rate, they expect to concede 76 penalties this season. Match Referee Michael Oliver was unavailable for comment, having been advised by the Professional Game Match Officials Limited(PGMOL) not to make himself look any dafter.
Each of Leeds United’s three old-style Football League Championship titles was clinched at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC and, appropriately enough, United’s destination on Saturday as they make their long overdue return to the top flight. In 1992, the Reds were good enough to beat a demoralised Man U 2-0 which, added to Leeds’ earlier triumph at Bramall Lane, saw the Whites as Champions by 4 points in the last ever pre-Premier League competition – which, after Man U had been such solid favourites only a week or so earlier, would have qualified any first time Leeds pundit for a well deserved best bet365 welcome bonus.
In 1974, Liverpool obliged at Anfield again, losing at home to Arsenal to ensure that they couldn’t overhaul Leeds at the top. I remember a TV programme going to an ad break and then an information board coming up which read “Football result: Liverpool 0, Arsenal 1 – LEEDS UNITED ARE THE CHAMPIONS”That simple memory still sends a tingle down my spine, even forty-six years on.
And of course – probably best of all – Leeds United’s first ever title success at the top level of the game came after a showdown between the two deadly but mutually respectful rivals on April 28 1969. Leeds had come to Anfield knowing that a point would clinch the league, and they set out their stall as only they could to obtain that point, in the toughest place possible. They would go on to beat Nottingham Forest in the last game of that season to reach a record 67 points – a mark that wasn’t beaten until Liverpool themselves recorded 68 points, ironically with a 3-0 win at Elland Road, in their fabulous 1978/79 Championship year.
That legendary Leeds United squad of the sixties and seventies hung on Don Revie’s every word, they would follow him into the pit of Hell itself and they trusted him implicitly. This was the cornerstone of the relationship between team and boss; the unit thus formed was formidable indeed and, on their day, there was no-one to touch them. It was often said of that Leeds side that if you cut one, they all bled – and then you’d better watch out, because they’d be after you as one man to seek retribution. They would do anything for each other and anything for the legendary Don – but on that historic night at Anfield over half a century ago, they must have come as near as they ever came to saying “You what, gaffer? Are you sure??”
On the final whistle, as the Leeds players cavorted with joy in front of their delirious fans at this first delightful taste of being The Best – and as the weary Liverpool troops, having given their all in vain, sportingly congratulated the new Champions – Revie came over to Billy Bremner and confirmed to him that he was to lead his team over to the Kop. This, remember, was at a time when crowd violence was becoming very fashionable. A similar gesture at a certain stadium down Trafford way, and sundry other less-than-welcoming grounds around the country, might very well have got you a crack on the head with a pool ball. It did rather seem to be pushing things a bit – but Revie was insistent, and he was very definitely The Boss.
So it was that Billy Bremner, captain of champions Leeds United, gathered his players together and led them on a long, slow walk to the legendary Anfield Kop. When it was realised what was happening, a hush fell on the ground. In near-silence, the heroes in white walked on, nearer and nearer to the most iconic terrace of them all.
As the triumphant yet apprehensive Leeds warriors finally neared the Kop, the long silence was finally broken as the first cry of “Champions!” went up, swiftly echoed by others on the still-packed terrace – until finally the whole 27,000 population of that mighty hill were acclaiming the title-winners with the same shout, over and over again: “Champions! Champions! Champions!!”
Later, in the dressing room, Leeds celebrated anew with champagne provided by Bill Shankly, whose quote was short and to the point: ‘Leeds United are worthy champions,’ he said. ‘They are a great side.’ Revie responded by praising Liverpool, the club, the fans and their fine team. ‘The reception given us by the sporting Liverpool crowd was truly magnificent,’ he acknowledged, ‘and so, for that matter, was our defence tonight. They were superb in everything.’ It was a night of triumph and disaster, as these decisive nights tend to be, depending on whether you were White or Red; but it was also, let us not forget, a night of dignity, respect and utter, unalloyed class – not least from those 27,000 Liverpool fans on the Anfield Kop.
Some unlikely candidates have put themselves forward as “rivals” to Leeds United over the last decade and a half, as Yorkshire’s finest have languished in the middle two tiers of English football’s four division structure. Some, such as Barnsley and Huddersfield, have had few pretensions to be compared size or history wise with United, but feel a tribal enmity based on geographical proximity, which is understandable enough. The same might be said of the two Sheffield clubs, or even Bradford City.
All these local clubs, together with the likes of Reading, Millwall, Derby etc etc have sought to exploit the reduced circumstances of Leeds for as long as their top flight exile lasted, to suggest that genuine two-way rivalries were in place. That bubble of delusion popped with United’s overdue elevation to the Premier League, and the realisation that the traditional enmities would now be cordially resumed. In the hearts and minds of Leeds fans, it was always about the likes of man utd and Chelski, with those clubs reciprocating the extreme dislike, even during our long absence from actual competitive involvement.
But, even in the Premier League, there are lesser clubs who clearly yearn to carry the mantle of “Leeds United’s rivals”, however ridiculous such a claim seems in the absence of any reciprocal antipathy, or indeed any real interest on the part of the Leeds fan base. Still, that hasn’t stopped certain clubs from fondly imagining there’s a rivalry there, and one in particular is extremely reluctant to give up on even such an outlandish notion.
For Brighton and Hove Albion – not so much the club itself, more their fans and adherent local press – the time since the end of last season seems to have been a prolonged and unaccustomed spell in the spotlight, due entirely to Leeds United’s pursuit of Ben White, who spent a gloriously successful Championship campaign on loan at Elland Road and was now wanted by United on a permanent basis. The move never happened, despite repeated efforts on the part of Leeds, and despite the player himself being widely regarded as wanting a return to West Yorkshire. In the end, Brighton stood firm, and Leeds, after making three offers and having them all turned down, reluctantly looked elsewhere and signed a German international for around half what they’d been willing to pay for White, who lacks any experience at all of top flight football, let alone the international arena. So Brighton kept their player, Leeds got a more than adequate replacement in Robin Koch, and Ben himself, at long last, got a contract acceptable to him, given the value placed upon him by his parent club. Case closed, so you’d have thought.
But no. The Brighton support and the local press for the region were not willing to give up so much delicious attention, and set about trying to force an unlikely rivalry with a club and support base hundreds of miles to the north, both of which habitually looked west to the red quarter of Manchester for its chief object of dislike and derision.
For Brighton, the Ben White tranfer saga evidently represented their biggest day in the sun since a Cup Final appearance (coinciding with relegation) 37 years ago. Looking further back, their only other real mark on history was a Charity Shield triumph sometime prior to the Great War of 1914-18, so it’s reasonably understandable that their fans should wish to prolong any spell in the public eye. But the ridiculousness of their efforts to talk up a “rivalry” is to be found in the fact that such efforts persisted even after Leeds ended their interest in Ben White, with the local press tagging Leeds in any tweets relating to his eventual new contract, and the Brighton fans on Twitter eagerly attempting to troll bemused Leeds United fans, who remained preoccupied with more traditional rivals and only thought of Brighton when Quadrophenia was on the telly.
It was all most unedifying, and it’s a stark warning that we can’t expect much more by way of dignity and restraint in the Premier League than we ever found at lower levels. I got drawn into the slanging match myself at various points before it became clear that, despite his wishes in the matter (confirmed today by his agent), Ben White would not be sold to Leeds at any price. At that point, I stopped taking the mick about Bielsaball versus Potterball, and moved onto more pressing matters – such as how the EFL would survive without Leeds United. But the Brighton fans persisted, becoming more evidently needy and utterly ridiculous with each passing day. Abandoning any sense of irony or perspective, they’re vying with each other to label United a small club, heading straight back down, which is insolence if you like, and pretty foolhardy stuff to boot. But the relentless tagging of LUFC by the Brighton tweeters and the Sussex Bugle, or whatever it’s called, continues unabated. This is a club unused to such attention, and clearly its supporters are desperate to prolong the experience as far and as long as possible.
The whole thing reflects pretty poorly on the Brighton support, certainly of the online variety, which has been encouraged in its collective acts of self-ridicule by a local press clearly cottoning onto the fact that tagging Leeds in any published piece will increase the number of hits exponentially. Again, I’ll exclude the club itself from those remarks, due to their determination in resisting offers from a bigger club, which you have to applaud. They also showcased Ben White in a video allowing him to express his appreciation of his time at Leeds, and to thank the fans for the support and adulation he received here. That was classy stuff, and there was no real need for Brighton to do it, so fair play.
Perhaps – just perhaps – Brighton & Hove Albion still remember that Leeds United helped save them financially when they were enduring hard times, by signing goalkeeper Mark Beeney for a significant sum, which went a long way towards alleviating a threatening situation at the time. That’s a factor that the local press down there, and the eager-beaver online fans might do well to take into account before bringing down even more ridicule upon themselves. However recent Leeds United’s elevation to the top level, it’s an undeniable fact that the Elland Road outfit is by far and away a bigger club than Brighton could ever dream of being, with a far more illustrious history, a fan base that spans the globe and (let’s face it) a much better coach and the makings of a squad that will compare well even with such an – ahem – established Premier League force as Brighton.
The moral of this tale is probably: choose your rivals well, and don’t punch above your weight – something the over-enthusiastic Brighton fans have flouted, thereby making themselves look several shades of daft. There’s a perfectly good south coast rival in Southampton, not an incongruously bigger beast as Leeds are, and therefore much less likely to reflect poorly on and embarrass the Brighton club. From here on in, it’s to be hoped that the Seagulls, fans and hacks alike, will conduct themselves in a more seemly and less cringeworthy manner – but I suppose we’d better not hold our breath.
For ten years, Leeds United has been the jewel in the EFL crown, a gem of a club amid the various also-rans, has-beens and nonentities which made up the Football League roster in any given season. Leeds was the fixture they all looked out for, everybody’s Cup Final, the club they just couldn’t stop talking about. That jewel in the crown status was always undeniable, everybody knew that United represented the biggest asset in the sub-Premier League game.
But Leeds were a diamond that was neither treasured, valued nor lovingly polished – instead they were continually chipped away at, treated with little or no respect, sniped at routinely, whenever the opportunity presented itself. Minus 15 and the golden share, Spygate, over-celebrating. The trumped-up charges kept on coming, a run of 59 games without a penalty exemplified a corrupt organisation’s determination to cling on to its biggest asset and favourite whipping boy. For the EFL, it was good while it lasted. With perennial TV stars Leeds United as its most famous, infamous and notorious member, the League retained a certain cachet, despite the sparkling allure of the Premier League.
Now Leeds United has disappeared from the English Football League and, bereft of its biggest draw, that sorry organisation must now reflect on what it has left to recommend it. And, whatever efforts might be made to talk up the spectator and viewer appeal of Derby County, Nottingham Forest or even, comically, Brentford, the inevitable conclusion will be that, without Leeds, the cupboard is pretty bare.
There was a certain karmic satisfaction, inevitably, in seeing United celebrate at the home ground of one of their most envious and resentful rivals. Binoculars of the mime variety were brandished by Leeds personnel on the pitch after United’s 3-1 success at Derby confirmed that our hungover reserves were more than a match for anything the EFL has to offer, with the pressure off and the title in the bag. Off the pitch, a jubilant Victor Orta had thoughtfully sourced some actual binoculars to help him cavort with the unrestrained joy of winners against the odds, for this title success has been the story of a club winning a league that wished them anything but success. How teeth must have been gritted, how bile must have been swallowed in the corridors of power as those scenes unfolded at Pride Park.
A guard of honour had been reluctantly formed prior to the game, with the Derby players, who had gleefully rubbed United’s noses in play-off defeat a year before, now having to applaud the Champions. The attitude of “we’ve got to do this, but we hate it” was exemplified by one silly young man in the Rams line-up who thought it cool and edgy to slow-time his clapping. He came across as a sulky kid, but his demeanour neatly summed up the attitude of the whole organisation that Leeds were now, gladly, leaving. A charge of “over-celebrating” followed, petty but typical. We reflected that, a year previously, Derby had escaped censure despite one of their number defecating on the Elland Road dressing room floor in a typically disgusting gesture of disrespect. One rule for Leeds, another for the rest. The game’s rulers were staying true to type right up to the bitter end.
Derby, of course, went on to play-off defeat against Villa, leaving that solitary win at Elland Road, after three previous defeats in the same season, as the highlight of their recent history. It’s still celebrated across their social media with unconscious irony, a determined focus on winning a battle before losing the war. A turd on the dressing room floor is such an apt symbol for that club.
But will I now feel moved to gloat over the reduced status of the Championship? Will I laugh triumphantly over the fact that Derby are currently preparing to host Barrow as United look forward to a visit to Anfield? If you think I’d be ready, willing and able to indulge in such blatant Schadenfreude – then you’d be absolutely, one hundred percent spot-on correct.