Tag Archives: respect

Farewell to the Anfield Iron, Liverpool’s Tommy Smith, Friend and Foe to Super Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

Tommy Smith

Tommy Smith, Anfield Legend

Tommy Smith, Liverpool’s legendary hard man defender and frequently skipper in the sixties and seventies, passed away today aged 74. With him went another link in the chain that Liverpool and Leeds United forged between themselves in those two decades, for most of which time they were untouchable as the two great powerhouses of English football.

Tommy was an original who became almost a cliché in that he was one of the earliest examples of the “take no prisoners” school of defending as English League football went through a grisly tough phase before and after Alf Ramsey’s World Cup triumph in 1966. In those days, a cult grew up around defenders upon whom you could rely to “kick owt that moves”; most of the top teams had at least one such. Indeed, what possibly set Leeds aside was that they were so richly served on both the constructive and destructive sides of the game. Man United’s George Best famously reminisced “All the top teams had one hard man. We had Nobby Stiles, Liverpool had Tommy Smith, and Arsenal had Peter Storey. Leeds United, by the way, had eleven of them”. That’s the kind of slightly grudging, backhanded compliment that makes a football fan’s heart swell with pride.

Tommy Smith, though, really did stand out. His appearance was almost that of a Desperate Dan in all red, the kind of man you supposed would shave with a blowtorch. Granite jawed and imposing, he struck fear into many a flash striker’s heart, and he neither gave nor asked any quarter when battle was joined. His catchphrase, issued in a Scouse growl whenever he was annoyed by opposition antics, was “Do that again, and I’ll snap yer back”. It was probably safer to assume that Tommy meant it, and behave accordingly.

On one famous occasion, though, when Leeds United visited Anfield, Allan “Sniffer” Clarke had the temerity to upend Tommy, leaving him dazed on the turf. Blinking and shaking his head, Smith enquired of his concerned Liverpool colleagues, in the manner of a road accident victim asking if anyone got the car’s number, “Who did that? I’ll snap his back!” A Liverpool team-mate promptly replied, “It was Clarke. And he’s just gone and kicked Emlyn up in the air as well”. Immediately, Smith’s expression softened. It was well-known on Merseyside that Smith had no time at all for Emlyn Hughes, and that fact clearly saved Sniffer from retaliation, as the Anfield Iron just smiled and got up a little groggily, saying “Ah, let him be. I always knew that fellow Clarkey was a good lad”.

It’s one of those stories linking Bill Shankly’s Liverpool with Don Revie’s Leeds, along

Tommy Billy

Tommy and Billy, Red and White

with the Spion Kop applauding the new Champions in 1969 after Leeds United secured a 0-0 draw at Anfield to win their first title. It was typical of the mutual respect between two great northern clubs, and it was still going on in 1992 when Leeds fans applauded Liverpool off at Wembley after the Reds had been beaten 4-3 in the Charity Shield. United fans hadn’t forgotten that their third title had been confirmed when Liverpool beat Man Utd 2-0 the previous April. It was a fantastic sight to behold, confirming the enduring link between good friends and foes.

Tommy Smith epitomised this fierce but friendly rivalry, and we’re all the poorer for his loss. I’ll never forget his finest hour, powering home a header in the 1977 European Cup Final to help Liverpool become Champions of Europe for the first time. It was a goal that summed the man up: uncompromising and unstoppable, scored by a legend among legends.

Tommy Smith, Liverpool FC Legend.  (5.4.45 – 12.4.19)  RIP

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Dear Massimo: An Open Letter to Leeds Owner Cellino   –   by Rob Atkinson

Cellino - demanding respect

Cellino – demanding respect

Dear Massimo,

Although you almost certainly don’t know it, things have been rather rocky between you and me for a little while now. And it’s only now, as we hit this crisis, that I’m writing to you, even though you most likely won’t read this. But, although I’ve had occasion to make my feelings known to a good few thousand third parties, it seems that this juncture, when things are bad and there is tension on both sides, is the right time to address you more directly. Because it concerns something you suddenly seem to care about; something called respect.

The respect I’m talking about is regarded as a two-way street hereabouts – in the UK, that is, and more especially in Yorkshire. We talk here about “mutual respect” as creating a workable relationship between two parties, whereby much can be achieved. Your idea of respect, Massimo, appears to differ somewhat from that local model. It seems to have one of its carriageways missing – it looks to be a one-way process as far as you’re concerned: from us to you. You say that we, the Leeds United support, should show you respect; in fact, you demand that we should.

That’s a big problem for us, Massimo. We regard respect as something to be earned – not demanded. You once had some sage advice to give about matters of the heart and soul, in the context of football support – “You can buy a bitch for a night,” you confided, “but you can’t buy the love, my friend.” That seems so long ago now, back in your brief honeymoon period, such as it was. Many of us nodded and agreed with you. You were saying you’d just have to earn our love, and most of us liked the sound of that. 

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, Massimo. And little by little, bit by bit, that groundswell of support you had at first has gradually eroded away. We were quite frankly ready to adore anyone who could restore to our beloved club its pride and passion. But instead of the things we were promised – the repurchase of our spiritual home, for instance – there have been infidelities, broken vows, irrational actions. Withal, there has been a lack of respect from you to us – and the name of Leeds United made a laughing stock into the bargain.

People have come into the club, they’ve appeared to do well, gaining popularity – and then they have been unaccountably forced out. We, the fans, for whom it matters most of all, have been left in the dark and patronised through wildly varying statements from yourself or through club mouthpieces who appear to be towing a party line (take a bow, Mr. Lorimer). And yet, despite all of this, you see nothing wrong with presuming to demand our respect. It’s just not the way things are done here, Massimo. Not when so little by way of consideration and respect is coming our way.

Things have been worse lately. Just when we were thinking we might be finding a bit of stability, a respected CEO is gone, then yet another head coach and, hard on the heels of that, still another Football League ban for yourself. You’ll appeal it, but we all know there are more legal pitfalls in the offing. And all the time, this great club is losing more of its hard-earned respect and credibility. It’s been like some bizarre circus, the very antithesis of the utterly professional football club some of us were lucky enough to grow up loving, with fierce pride and a near siege-complex defiance running through the whole thing like a seam of gold. 

The thing is, we just don’t know where we are with you, or what you’re going to say or do next. Things have undeniably gone best when you’ve kept your head down and let people get on with their jobs. Daring staff have even remarked on this.  But you don’t seem able to maintain such a level of discretion. Every now and again, you break cover and say or do something crazy. And the club then suffers and we, the fans, cringe with humiliation. And yet you still see fit to demand our respect. 

One minute, you say you are ready to sell the club (having previously said you wouldn’t be tempted to sell for a billion). Then you’re selling to Leeds Fans United and wondering out loud why on earth you’d dream of selling to anyone else. And then you pull out of that, calling the fans’ group kids in a sweetshop. And now, today, as you bizarrely demand respect – you hint once more that maybe the fans can have the club. How can we even begin to understand all this to-ing and fro-ing….. much less respect it?

When you talk about respect, Massimo, you should look at the record of Leslie Silver OBE, a man who was at the top of Leeds United during a successful period a quarter of a century ago. He guided the club from the doldrums to the very top in his modest, unassuming way. He brought in football people and had the wisdom to listen to and support them. He earned our respect and that of his staff and peers, and he is much-missed today.

That’s how it’s done in these parts, Massimo my friend. You’ll get nowhere with Leeds fans, blowing your own trumpet about achievements that look silly beside those of the giants who went before you. Demanding respect cuts no ice with the guys and girls in the stands at Elland Road. They’ve been waiting for you to earn respect – and the noise you heard at the Blackburn game, and will hear again if you break yet another promise and venture back to a match once more, that’s a raucous signal that you’ve failed. You can demand, complain, bluster. It won’t get you anywhere in Leeds.

It’s best to keep quiet now, Massimo, until you can leave with some dignity. Anything else will be seen as digging yourself a bit deeper into that hole you’re in. It’s time now to take a look at yourself, at what’s been achieved at this club in the past and how – and acknowledge that your volatile, hire-and-fire approach hasn’t worked. If respect really is so important to you that you’ve made the fundamental mistake of actually demanding it – in Yorkshire, for crying out loud! – then you need to understand that there is only one way now of finally achieving that respect. 

Go with good grace and minimum fuss, Massimo. Go – and try to leave a great club in good hands. Give us the chance to regain some of the face and reputation we’ve lost on your watch. Get out while the going is good, and while something can still be salvaged from this season. No more demanding, just acceptance and a bit of humility at last. 

That’s what most of us are now asking of you. Do that simple thing, Massimo – and you’ll have belatedly earned our respect. For whatever that’s actually worth to you. But please – just think about it, OK? It’s for the best, believe me.

Yours sincerely

Signature


Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything

Wes Sneijder and His Galatasaray Knives; Vicious, Malicious or Just Stupid?   –   by Rob Atkinson

Wesley Sneijder on the Taksim Square anniversary weekend - stupid or evil?

Wesley Sneijder on the Taksim Square anniversary weekend – stupid or evil?

Another of those mind-boggled moments this morning, when I saw the picture above. Is this for real? Can anyone really be so stupid, vicious or just plain wicked as to pose that tweet on this weekend, above all others? It would be crassly insensitive at any time – on the 15th anniversary weekend of the murder of Chris and Kev, it simply defies belief.

It’s not automatic simply to assume that Wesley Sneidjer – a player who, as far as I’m aware, has no particular grudge against Leeds United – is having some sort of warped go at the club or the fans. He may well simply be exhibiting a Kewell-esque level of dim stupidity, or lack of thought and understanding. In common with so many footballers, Sneijder may not be exactly overburdened with brains. Even so, this is a low and horrible thing to become involved with, at this particular time, as we prepare to pay our 15th anniversary tributes to our murdered brothers.

And the thing is – someone involved is well aware of the implications and the back story here. Footballers don’t do anything on their own beyond, in some more advanced cases, tying their own shoelaces. There’s an army of marketing people, advisers, agents, scum like that. Somebody knows all too well the effect of that tweet on the Leeds United world. They’ll also be well aware of the amusement it will afford to fans of certain clubs who view this kind of thing with sick and moronic relish. Marketing and publicity are arts without a soul or a conscience. If they can sell their product by appealing to the very worst in the malign minority, then they’ll do it – and they’ll do it knowingly – and to hell with the feelings and hurt of those directly or indirectly affected. That’s a kind of evil in itself.

All of that might make us a little more tolerant and understanding of the comparatively harmless phenomenon of mere stupidity, as exhibited that time by Chuckle Brothers Keys and Gray – or indeed by our one-time hero turned traitor and hate figure Harry Kewell. It’s just odd, don’t you feel, that this particular sort of “stupidity” generally manifests itself to the detriment and insult of Leeds United. You don’t get similar “errors of judgement” being made where Man U or Liverpool are concerned – or do you? You tell me.

And please – if anyone is of a mind to justify any of this crap by saying “Well, you lot sing about Munich” – spare me. I’ve heard it all before. It’s not even true, these days – and even if it were, that’d be no reason to heap misery on the heads of people who will be mourning this weekend, remembering loved ones who went to see a football match and never came home. You don’t visit the sins of the idiot minority upon innocent heads – not if you’ve a brain in your skull or any human compassion in your heart, you don’t. So leave it out, if you’re of a “mind” to send such rubbish in. It’ll only get binned anyway.

...turns out he didn't know.

…turns out he didn’t know

Wesley Sneidjer, unknowingly it seems from the above, has provided the ammunition for a lot of evil morons out there to make what was always going to be a hard weekend for many into something much more hurtful and upsetting yet. I hope he really is suitably contrite. An apologetic tweet was the least he could do, and the removal of the offending item is a real bonus. But the fact remains that there was full awareness somewhere behind this; people seeking to capitalise on hatred and murder. And for those all-too-well-aware smart guys behind it – well, let’s just hope that they eventually find out there’s something in Karma after all.

RIP lads. 15 years on - never forget, never forgive.

RIP lads. 15 years on – never forget, never forgive.

Are Chelsea Wreckers Bradford City Heading for Another Glorious Wembley Battering? – by Rob Atkinson

A Bratfud fan with a typically creative solution to the problem of Fido's funeral

A Bratfud fan with a typically creative solution to the problem of Fido’s funeral

It’s been a pretty good year so far in the domestic cups, for some of Yorkshire’s minnow teams. Sheffield United, the Brave Little Blunts of Bramall Lane, are in the League Cup semis (don’t ask me to remember the sponsors, for heavens’ sake). In the same competition, Bradford City enjoyed one of their finest hours in an earlier round, with an only slightly fortuitous win over our own beloved ten-man Leeds United, celestially anointed Kings of the Broad Acres. Even poor old Sheffield Wendies managed to keep the aggregate tally against them down to single figures in losing twice in two competitions at Manchester City.

In the FA Cup, even more than usually for such a notoriously minnow-friendly institution, this was a weekend of genuine shocks, all over the shop. Again, Yorkshire’s tiddler clubs were to the fore in the tragic but not unexpected absence of Super Leeds – who had reprised their 1973 defeat at the hands of the Dirty Mackems, first time of asking. So it was left to the little guys again, the Blunts for one; they will take Simon Grayson’s Preston to a replay in Sheffield (good luck, SG).

Without any doubt at all though, the star turns of this 4th round so far are those battling Bantams from Valley Parade. In a performance they must treasure nearly as much as beating Leeds for the first time since the end of rationing, they went down to London and bearded the English title favourites Chelsea in their own lair. Feinting craftily to go two behind and thus lull the Rentboys into a false sense of half-time security, they emerged from their interval cuppas to seize the game by the throat – and proceeded mercilessly to throttle Jose’s troops to death with a four goal salvo that quite simply took their beastly breath away.

Last year’s League Cup Final achievement ended amusingly in a highly creditable (if you listened to the media) 0-5 defeat for the ten-man Bantams at the hands of Swansea City – who spent most of their time that Wembley afternoon trying to look as if it wasn’t just too, too easy. After a result like their defeat of Chelsea, though – where they made a whole nation laugh themselves weak-bladdered by slaying a far better team – plucky Bratfud must fancy their chances of at least matching last season’s feat. Maybe they can even cherish hopes of improving on it, by holding out for a 0-3 Final defeat against a Liverpool or a Palace or similar. Less of a thrashing against more illustrious opponents – that’d be progress. And you never know – it could happen.

Watching the richly comic spectacle of Mourinho’s Millionaires buckle and collapse against a genuine two-bob West Yorkshire pub team, it was impossible – despite the vitriolic hatred all Bratfud fans nurse in their bosoms where Super Leeds are concerned – quite impossible not to share in the joy and the laughter. After all, this was Chelsea, worshippers at the Altar of Mammon, for whom no trophy is beyond their Mafia-funded purse, stumbling to utter, shambolic humiliation against the rankest of rank paupers – whose team cost precisely zilch. It was beyond funny and, in the midst of all that comedy and Schadenfreude, it’s really easy to forget such little local difficulties as Bratfud’s Leeds United complex.

Anyway, as any knowledgeable Leeds fan will confirm, and as those few Bratfud fans who don’t exist in a state of permanent denial will admit, the Bantams/Whites hate affair is strictly a one-way street. We’ve always been the chip on their bitterly resentful shoulder – but, historically, we’ve had bigger, uglier, much more intrinsically detestable fish to fry. Leeds have never really gone in for hating on spurious grounds of mere proximity – it’s a sterile waste of time and passion. So, from our point of view, we have no real local rivalry, whereas every little club in Yorkshire (and elsewhere, it should be said) cordially, rabidly detests Leeds United. ‘Twas ever thus and, doubtless, ’twill ever be.

The best we can really do for those Bratfud fans who so desperately wish us to reciprocate their passionate and unrequited hatred is – well, to condescend to be pleased for them for a time, when a day like this Chelsea tie rolls around. And – as good, God-fearing, Chelsea-hating Leeds United fans – we are pleased for them. Very pleased. Really we are. It stands to reason. And besides, the Bantams actually deserved their victory, certainly far more than the faintly lucky Middlesbrough side did at Man City. It has indeed been Cup Shock Saturday, with big, shiny bells on.

So – Bradford march proudly on, perhaps even unto another deeply gratifying Wembley humiliation. Good luck to them, and to all the other Yorkshire small fry as they progress, against all sense and logic, in the cups. It’s all good as far as this Leeds fan is concerned. Why, I’ll even be rooting for the Blunts against Spurs on Wednesday – but then I’ll be after another enjoyable dose of Capital punishment for fellow Tykes at that there Wembley, just to help them remember their lowly place in the scheme of things. It wouldn’t do otherwise, would it? It would reflect badly on the region’s only proper football club.

After all – charity begins at home. And, nice guy and warm-hearted softy though you may be; you can really only take your faintly patronising condescension towards scruffy, unappreciative neighbours so far…

EXCLUSIVE: New Toure Contract as City Say “Sorry, Yaya” – by Rob Atkinson

Touré in an incredible sulk

Touré in an incredible sulk

Desperate to deflect attention from talk of a sensational move for Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Touré from Manchester City to Leeds United, the English champions have taken the unprecedented step of revealing proposed contract details to Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything”.

In a move calculated to appease their traumatised star, Manchester City have drawn up a new contract for Yaya Touré. The midfield powerhouse had been “hurt” by the club’s failure to say “Happy Birthday” as he celebrated that milestone 31st year. Touré, it is said, was grievously offended by the lack of respect, cake and a bouncy castle to mark such an important anniversary.

Anxious to placate their iconic superstar the Champions have moved fast to put together a new package which should keep Touré at the Etihad until he grows up. Despite hints from the player’s agent, Dimitri “Meerkat” Seluk, that his client might pout, cry and storm out of City, slamming the door, the club itself is guardedly optimistic that the new deal will be a tantrum-breaker.

The details of the proposed 4 year agreement are as follows:

  • £350,000 a week basic salary plus bonuses and a sweets allowance
  • Staff and players to line up before training and applaud Yaya every morning as he dons his personal training bib
  • Yaya to be wished a very happy birthday by all club employees by 8am on the morning of next and subsequent birthdays for term of contract – cake to be agreed year on year
  • Jelly and ice cream to be provided by club on Yaya’s birthday.  And balloons
  • Special Christmas “Santa” Clause:  Christmas will be marked by a special, gift-packed Christmas Stocking, to be left on the foot of his bed while he’s asleep by the manager dressed in a blue Father Xmas outfit. Christmas presents to be left under Yaya’s personal Christmas Tree at the Etihad, and staff will gather to watch him open them.  Christmas dinner will be turkey dinosaurs
  • Yaya will train as and when he sees fit, for which consideration he agrees not to have a tantrum or flounce out.  Training can be missed on any given morning upon receipt of a note from his mum

The new contract will remain on the table for the time being, as Yaya is off out to play with his mates in Brazil.  In the period before the contract is signed, all parties accept that Yaya will continue his present sulk, and that he will be pampered and cajoled as required until he is ready to be a good boy and sign on the dotted line.

Yaya Touré is 31 years and one week old.

 

When the Anfield Kop Saluted our Leeds United Champions – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United's Champions take the tributes of the Liverpool Kop

Leeds United’s Champions take the tributes of the Liverpool Kop

Each of Leeds United’s three Football League Championship titles was clinched at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC.  In 1992, the Reds were good enough to beat a demoralised Man U 2-0 which, added to our earlier triumph at Bramall Lane, saw us as Champions by 4 points in the last ever proper old-style league competition.  In 1974, Liverpool obliged at Anfield again, losing at home to Arsenal to ensure that they couldn’t overhaul us 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 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 – almost exactly 45 years ago. 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 45 years back, they must have come as near as they ever came to saying “You what, gaffer?  Are you bloody 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 the Theatre of Hollow Myths 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 or a dart in the eye. It did rather seem to be pushing things a bit – but Revie was insistent, and he was very definitely The Boss.

So it happened 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.

On the night, Bremner had won the toss for Leeds, and had elected to make the Reds attack the Kop in the first half; a tactical ploy that went against the home side’s preference for a second half onslaught on their favourite end. So the Leeds players had to walk nearly the length of the pitch to approach the massed Liverpool fans behind the Kop goal, and with every passing second, the silence became more loaded – almost a solid thing you might cut with a knife.  Leeds United were asking for it – what would they get?

What they did get is now the stuff of legend and has passed deservedly into United and Liverpool folklore.  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!!”

This was completely unprecedented; a moment unparalleled before or since, something to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, the ultimate acknowledgement of respect and admiration even out of defeat – and a massive credit to the football fans of Liverpool FC.  It was the epitome of true rivalry between two crack teams, forged out of one of the grisliest on-field battles any football ground had witnessed for many a long year.  No finer tribute could have been paid by any fans, anywhere – and the Leeds players stayed out there, in front of the Kop, for a good quarter of an hour or more, paying their respects to both sets of fans.

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. It was superb in everything.’  The conduct and bearing of both managers was a mark of the relationship between the two top clubs in the land – and a marked contrast to the ungraceful reaction of Alex Ferguson at the same venue 23 years later, after the Leeds of 1992 had pipped his charges to the Last Championship Title and he, characteristically, dripped bile and acid all over the occasion.

Looking back from today’s perspective, with managers bitching about each other, players diving, cheating and trying to get each other into disciplinary trouble – and the stench of filthy lucre all-pervading – it seems far longer ago than 45 years to that Anfield night when the competition was so unremittingly fierce; white-hot, with no quarter given or asked for.   And yet after the battle was done, all that remained was respect from the teams for each other, of the staff for their opposite numbers, and of both sets of fans for an epic battle well fought.

Sadly, those days are gone, never to return.  But for those of us lucky enough to be able to remember, those images will never fade, the sound of those tributes can still be heard ringing out across the years.  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.    

Arsenal and Cardiff Serve Up a Football Treat With Added Class – by Rob Atkinson

Image

The definitive “Good Advert for Football”

Yesterday’s clash between Cardiff City and Arsenal at the imaginatively-named Cardiff City Stadium produced much that we might have expected – as well as quite a lot that we didn’t.

First things first, and a fantastic performance by the league leaders resulted in a win that looked, on the face of it, comfortable. Arsenal produced everything we all know they’re capable of: shimmering moves going forward with chance upon chance being created; bewildering interchanges of position which saw the most unlikely people cropping up at centre-forward – how do you mark your men against a team like Arsenal? It was a feast of flowing, creative football, beautiful to watch, virtually impossible to cope with and ultimately very, very effective.

And yet Cardiff, newcomers to the Premier League let’s not forget, more than played their part in a highly entertaining game which was always closer than the scoreline might suggest. Their promising forward Fraizer Campbell got himself on the end of a few quality deliveries, and on another day might easily have had one or two goals himself. But the goal-scoring honours on the day rested squarely with a former Cardiff player, Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal.

Ramsey’s was a performance to drool over, not just for his two expertly-taken goals, not even for the overall quality of his performance within a highly proficient overall Arsenal display.  What really caught the eye was Ramsey’s poise, self control and a disarming humility in the way he reacted to his goals. Not a flicker of celebration, just quiet satisfaction and the full measure of respect to the club that gave him his start.  You see this sometimes, it’s a bit of a phenomenon over the past few years, and while it’s not universally observed – van Persie’s tasteless degree of triumphalism against Arsenal themselves springs readily to mind – it always gilds the occasion with that extra patina of class; there’s just something fitting about it that reminds you what football should be all about.

Even in this, Cardiff City more than played their part.  It’s a shattering, disappointing feeling to see your favourites concede a goal, at the best of times – to see a former favourite score not one, but two – that’s really unpalatable. And yet the Cardiff fans, all of them from what could be seen, responded magnificently to the prodigal Ramsey’s return and successes.  When the former Bluebird scored his first goal – a header of stunning quality – his muted response brought the stadium to its feet as the home fans stood and applauded, clearly affected by the respect shown by their departed star.  How often do you see that?

As a Leeds fan, I can only remember one comparable occasion at Elland Road, back in the early nineties when Roy Wegerle of QPR scored a wonder goal of such world-class quality that even the notoriously partisan Leeds fans gave it a unanimous ovation.  To see the Cardiff fans applaud Ramsey – for his second goal as well, which put the seal on Arsenal’s win – made you feel good about the game again, as if the underlying decency of sporting competition will always, in the end, prevail over the less attractive features we’re sometimes exposed to.

In between Ramsey’s two strikes, we had the spectacle of Mathieu Flamini – brought off the bench nine minutes earlier as a holding midfielder – materialising at centre-forward to sweep the ball into Cardiff’s net from Mesut Ozil’s perceptive through pass.  it was another outstanding example of the sheer brilliance Arsenal have in their locker this season.  The third goal right at the death came when the outcome of the game was certain, but it was another quality finish, and another immaculate display of respect from the outstanding Aaron Ramsey.  He took the applause from all sides of the ground, from his fans new and old, clearly touched by the emotion of the moment.

Arsenal’s prospects look genuinely good, there are really only a couple of question marks over their possibilities for the rest of this campaign.  The first concerns how they will fare against the better teams in the Premier League – of these, they have only met a less-than-vintage Man U so far, who scraped a win that will have disappointed the Gunners – knowing themselves to be capable of much better.

The second possible issue is around the back-up they have available in the event of injury or suspension for striker Olivier Giroud. Reserve forward Nicklas Bendtner does not appear to have what it takes at this level, and Arsenal may need to look to the transfer market again when the window opens.  Their stunning pre-season swoop for Ozil has cured any notions that the Gunners lack clout and ambition in their recruitment policy – they will probably need to reaffirm this new determination in the new year.

A highly enjoyable game for more than the usual reasons, and great credit to both clubs. On this display, you would have to back Cardiff to survive with something to spare – and as for Arsenal, they should have their sights set firmly on nothing less than the Premier League title itself.  What better way to break that trophy drought, a millstone around Arsene Wenger’s neck for far too long now?  And also, what better for the game in this country than Champions of the quality and class of Arsenal, still our foremost club despite populist claims for clubs lower down the food-chain.  Arsenal for the Title – I’ll drink to that.