Apparently, Leeds United has played 49 league games, over a full season’s worth, without being awarded a penalty kick. And, apparently, the man who awarded that long-ago penalty kick (one Jeremy Simpson) is in charge of tomorrow’s meeting with Brentford at Elland Road – so maybe the odds on United completing an unwanted half-century of league games without being awarded a spot kick are not quite as hefty as we would otherwise suppose. But if Mr. Simpson DOES repeat the trick, pointing to the spot, don’t get too excited about the prospect of history repeating itself. When he awarded that last one, nearly a year ago, Pablo Hernandez missed it.
During this past year, however, the referees for our fixtures have not been entirely unemployed in terms of penalty awards. Despite their obvious reluctance to give our lads anything in response to opposition penalty area transgressions, it’s been a different story when it comes to our own 18 yard box. There, the “strictly impartial” officials have been comparatively eager to emit a shrill peep of their Acme Thunderer whistles, followed by the fickle finger of fate indicating that Leeds had conceded yet another penalty. It’s happened, so I’m given to understand, eight times since the last time we got a penalty. That’s eight for the opposition, and none for us. Call me biased, but it seems to me that the cause of fair play is not particularly well served by that record. And this is before we even get into the legitimacy of some of the decisions against United.
Take for example the penalty awarded to Stoke City in the opening league game of this season. I’ve been scratching my head over that one ever since. Having played the incident over and over, to the point where I’ve almost worn out my hard drive, I’m still clueless as to why it was given. Even the TV commentators seemed a little short of the enthusiasm with which they normally greet decisions against Leeds. They seemed bemused, and it’s my guess that they could see no more justification for the decision than I could. The relative lack of protest from United players was also curious, though this was possibly due to disciplinary guidelines laid down by new manager Marcello Bielsa. Still, having seen the clip literally hundreds of times, at normal speed and in slow motion, forwards and backwards and every which way except upside down and inside out, I’m no nearer to spotting the remotest justification for that penalty award.
Of course, that’s history now, just as with the other seven spot kicks conceded since Leeds last got the benefit of the referee’s whistle. If you’re not sure why it should still bother me so much – consider how the two sides of this penalty conundrum are so blatantly loaded against our beloved Whites. It really is difficult to escape a feeling that we’re on the wrong end of far too many dodgy calls. Apologists for the men in the middle will argue that – warning, here comes a cliché – “these things even themselves out over the course of a season”. But they patently don’t, and there are ample statistics to prove that they don’t. As someone who sat in tears of frustration and rage when Leeds were denied two stonewall penalties in the 1975 European Cup Final, of course I’m still bothered by such injustice.
I won’t get my hopes up for a Leeds penalty tomorrow, especially as we’d probably miss it anyway. I fully expect the 50th game to go by without an award, and we may well continue on and on, unrewarded and unawarded, heading towards the century mark. Already, the penalty-less run has reached ridiculous proportions, I’m confident that no other club in the Football League has to look back anything like as far into history for their last spot kick. But that’s simply how life is for Leeds, and has been for much longer than I can remember. Luckily, we seem to be doing alright at the moment, even without getting the breaks, which in its own way is the sweetest path to success and making all our dreams come true. Perhaps, after all, we should collectively grit our teeth and just be grateful for small mercies.