Tag Archives: rivalry

Stumbling Blocks Hardly Unknown on Leeds United’s Historic Success Trail – by Rob Atkinson

All White Champions

Champions 1973/74 – despite a late blip

There can be no denying that Leeds United were more than a little unfortunate to emerge from Saturday’s Yorkshire derby clash with Sheffield United empty-handed. Given ordinary luck, with just a break or two going the way of the Whites, it could have been a very different story; even a draw would have seen Leeds two points clear of third place. But little went right on the day and that, sadly, is a feeling that every Leeds fan down the years knows all too well. 

As it is, we had to take an undeserved defeat on the chin, with the woodwork, injuries and just about every factor you could name ranged against us. United are now a point off the automatic promotion places, when they could have been five points clear of third. Loud and woeful has been the wailing, rending of garments and gnashing of teeth among the United faithful, as the fates seem determined to conspire against Yorkshire’s Number One club.

But wait just a minute. Calm yourselves, fellow Leeds devotees, and be of good cheer. It’s all happened before, you see, at about this time of year too – and it’s rarely been fatal to our chances of success. When you look at our most recent landmark seasons, right back to when I was nobbut a lad, you’ll see that a late stumble or two, with United there or thereabouts and the tension mounting, is much more the rule than the exception.

Going as far back as 1974, when Don Revie‘s Super Leeds were stumbling somewhat along the title path, having at one stage been nine points clear, Burnley visited Elland Road and departed with two points from a 4-1 victory. It was hailed as nearest challengers Liverpool‘s great chance to overhaul United, but Leeds ended up as Champions and by a decisive margin.

Then, in 1990, Barnsley were the visitors on a night when nothing went right for Leeds. Centre back Chris Fairclough was absent for 13 first half minutes having seven stitches in a head wound. He rejoined the fray in time to plant a brave and bloody header into the Barnsley net, giving Leeds a well-deserved interval lead, to the massive relief of a huge Elland Road crowd. Surely, nothing could go wrong now?

In truth, we battered Barnsley throughout the ninety minutes but, in a sickening second half turnaround, two subs for the Tykes scored in quick succession, gifting the Reds an extremely unlikely win. Again, doom and gloom stalked the streets of Leeds – but United still went up as champions.

And then, two years on, Leeds were engaged in an almighty battle with Them from There for the last ever Football League Championship. The media were all agog for the Devonians to win the league – how fitting it would be, they purred. When Leeds lost heavily away, twice in a short space of time, it looked as though the script was written, with Leeds cast as fall guys. A 1-4 defeat at QPR had been followed in short order by a 0-4 reverse at Manchester City, and the Leeds-hating nation celebrated. But it was the Whites who held their nerve and mustered their resources to clinch the title of Last Champions by four points, while Manchester’s second club amusingly choked on the dry ashes of defeat.

So nil desperandum, all you devoted Whites out there. We’ve tripped up, recovered and gone on to win many a time before, in accordance with this great club’s motto of “Keep Fighting” – and there’s no reason we can’t do it again. Have faith in Marcelo Bielsa‘s boys, who really do have that fighting spirit that typified Super Leeds of old, and simply trust that all will come right in the end. Believe.

Marching On Together

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Football League Urges Restraint Over Birmingham v Villa Thugs; Not as Bad as Leeds Spygate – by Rob Atkinson

Brum thug punches Grealish – but hey, it’s hardly Spygate

Fears are mounting at Birmingham City about the scale of the financial penalty to be imposed after one of their fans , at their stadium, invaded the playing area and, before the Sky TV cameras, assaulted Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish. The anxiety springs from the fact that Leeds United were fined £200,000 in the matter of standing on a public footpath and looking through a wire mesh fence.

Officials at Birmingham City fear that an actual assault on an opposing player by a home fan, compounded and aggravated by a later altercation with the same player by a home steward, might be seen as many times more serious than the non-offence attributed to Leeds United. But the Football League are set to banish any such fears.

The logic being applied by anxious officials at St Andrews is that, if Leeds had bto shell out £200,000 for an ill-defined “breach of good faith”, then an actual assault perpetrated within the confines of their own stadium could be punishable by a fine well into seven or eight figures. It is not known at this point whether Bristol City are demanding a points deduction over the matter.

The Football League, however, do not appear to see common assault as anything like as serious a matter as looking through Derby County’s mesh fence, and are prepared to reassure Birmingham City accordingly. A League spokesman confirmed that out of control home fans belting opposition players cannot be blamed on the club concerned, unless that club has the postcode LS11 0ES. “We have to have a sense of proportion here”, our FL contact told us. “We checked with Derby County after the Birmingham v Villa incident, and Fwankie wasn’t upset at all. If he had been, of course we’d have taken further action. Against Leeds United. Ha!”

Sheffield Wednesday Play Their Hearts Out for Leeds United and a Derby Day Draw – by Rob Atkinson

Wendies hold Blunts to keep Leeds in second place

It was the third Steel City Derby scoreless draw on the trot, much to the deflated disappointment of the Sky TV commentators who required a Blunts win to see Leeds United drop out of the Championship top two.

Instead, they saw a gritty if punchless performance from the Wendies, who managed to blunt Sharp’s cutting edge whilst stifling the threat from elsewhere in the away team’s attack. The whole game was more perspiration than inspiration and, in the end, a draw seemed a fair result.

For Leeds fans, this was highly satisfactory, putting a two point cushion between themselves and the play off pack. Once again, the Whites’ fate is in their own hands, and their challenge must now be to reproduce the Premier class performance that saw West Bromwich Albion sent packing last Friday evening.

There was some amusement, too, in listening to the morose men behind the mics as they strove to take some comfort from what was a disappointing night for them. All in all, as goalless draws go, this one put the cherry on the icing of one of Leeds United’s better weekends.

Tyler Roberts a Revelation as Four-midable Leeds United Blitz West Brom – by Rob Atkinson

Tyler Roberts, Man of the Match Against former club West Brom

There were so many highlights from Leeds United‘s sparkling demolition of West Bromwich Albion, that it’s really difficult to pick out any notably outstanding element of what was the classic “statement victory”. There were a couple of coolly-taken goals from Iceman striker Patrick Bamford, there was another defensive juggernaut performance from skipper Liam Cooper, and of course we had Pablo Hernandez, our own Spanish wizard, back to his best with a sublime, world-class strike and so much more as he twinkled brightly all over the pitch.

But the abiding memory I will take away from a highly memorable evening is that of young Tyler Roberts, late of the Sandwell parish but now very definitely Leeds, striding forward from an unaccustomed deeper position to cause havoc in the defensive ranks of his hapless former club.

Tyler was a revelation on the night. Surging through midfield and beating baffled Baggies with sinuous, snake-hipped ease, he was a continual threat to West Brom and helped himself to a couple of juicy assists for the Iceman’s brace of goals. The first of these reminded me of Kemar Roofe‘s round the corner pass to Gjanni Alioski to score at Norwich early in the season. Roberts’ ball through to Bamford was part of a beautifully-worked goal that began with an intelligent ball into the area from Mateusz Klich, and was finished beautifully by our number 9 as he held off a challenge from behind to finish clinically.

On this form, Tyler Roberts should have a major part to play in the run-in to the end of the season. His work rate and decision-making on Friday were different class and, on a night when every man in a white shirt did himself immense credit, Tyler emerged as the clear Man of the Match.

Honourable mention too for Alioski, who combines tireless running with that annoying nuisance value which is so handy in demoralising the opposition. The Macedonian Marvel deserved his last-gasp clincher, put on a plate for him by sub Jamie Shackleton after more good work from Pablo and Klich.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of all about last night’s performance was its inherent topsy-turvydom, with the Whites murdering a WBA side that had won nine of its previous ten away games, just days after falling to defeat against a QPR team that had lost seven on the spin. Go figure. But the upshot was that all is forgiven from Tuesday night, in the sheer joy of seeing the real Leeds turn up to send a promotion contender packing.

The sixty-four thousand dollar question now must be: with a tough game at Bristol City coming up next weekend, can United replicate this level and standard of performance? If they’re to do that, it may well be because Tyler Roberts has now found both his niche in the team and the secret of his maximum effectiveness in this new, deeper role.

In which case, Leeds United might just have discovered the golden key to the Premier League‘s Promised Land.

Leeds Looking for a Favour when Old Friends Millwall meet Norwich – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United roared back to the top of the Championship last night, with a spectacular 4-0 thumping of awayday specialists West Bromwich Albion – and the Whites will be hoping that the Lions’ roar will be heard in London today, with a flock of Canaries the victims.

Millwall play Norwich City at the New Den, always a formidable destination. Leeds will remember securing a last gasp draw there in the autumn, courtesy of a late Jack Harrison strike. Norwich, with the prolific Teemu Pukki always a good bet for a goal or two, will hope to go one better, but many a team expected to do well has come a cropper in this part of London.

While we’re asking for favours from old friends, it’d be nice if Sheffield Wednesday could do the honours as they host the Steel City derby on Monday evening. Hillsborough is another venue that limited Leeds to a solitary point this season, but the Owls will possibly find the Blades too sharp for them – we can but hope, for purely selfish reasons, that things work out well for Steve Bruce & Co on the night.

Next weekend sees Leeds United heading for a stiff examination away at Bristol City, with Norwich and Sheffield United at home, to Swansea and Rotherham respectively. There’s plenty of scope there for United to be pegged back – so we really could do with a couple of good turns this weekend from Millwall and Wednesday.

So, come on guys – you know we’ve always wanted the best for you…

You Can Be Angry, You Can Be Critical, and Yet STILL Be a Loyal Leeds Fan – by Rob Atkinson

leeds-fans

Leeds fans United behind team and club


In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s irritating (not disastrous) defeat at QPR, I wrote in anger about what I thought of Leeds United‘s performance – saying that, although we didn’t get the breaks, we also lacked bottle and class. I’d still stand by that, but possibly with the slight amendment that we seemed to lack bottle and class because we failed to show bottle and class. It’s a small but important difference.

In my heart of hearts, I know that this Leeds United squad is not short of courage or quality – they’ve demonstrated on many occasions this season, though not so much lately, that they possess both attributes. The comeback win at Aston Villa, hunting down a lone Wigan attacker like a pack of hungry wolves, late levellers in adverse circumstances as at Middlesbrough. Many such moments. I know all this and I’m proud of it. But I’m sure that no group of professional footballers would expect the fans to take this as read. It’s their job to go out and prove that they have the guts and the skill, game after game, over and over again, all season long. That determination to prove they’ve got the bottle and the class was missing at QPR. And it was right, even in post-defeat anger and hurt, to point that out.

I say this, because there are different schools of thought among Leeds fans, both in physical groups, in the pub post-game, perhaps, and online. Some feel they have a right to say what they like, however harsh, having paid their money – even to the extent of dismissing this or that player as “useless” or “should never wear the shirt again”. You see those tweets collected to make articles that purport to be the feelings of the fans as a whole but, in reality, it’s more representative of an extreme group of hypercritical malcontents.

Others hold the view that any criticism is A Bad Thing, and that we should all be totally positive as a condition of support, unwilling to hear or tolerate a bad word about anything to do with Leeds. Again, this is quite extreme, though in the opposite way – and it’s probably almost as unhelpful as the rabid critics referred to above. For me, there has to be the possibility of feeding back to the club when you honestly feel that standards are dropping. Some fans are knowledgeable, some are not – and some appear to feel they know better than the pros, be they on the playing staff or responsible for coaching and team selection.

But I firmly believe that the vast majority of fans know and love the game well enough, and have enough of a passion for their club, to be able to steer a useful middle path between the extremes, and vociferously support their club, defending them against attacks from outside, while reserving judgement when on-field performance dips.

I’m confident enough in my own regard for “my” club that I feel able to launch into them occasionally, without being thought of as negative or hostile. I wouldn’t be writing about Leeds United in the first place if I didn’t feel the highs and lows with as much pleasure and pain even as the players who trot out to the crowd’s applause. Like thousands of others, I was supporting United many years before any of those lads in the yellow shirts at QPR were born. So I wouldn’t like to think that anyone – players, staff, fellow fans or anybody else – would read what I wrote just after the final whistle last night, and think that I’m not a true fan, or that I’m disloyal or habitually negative. I’m not – anyone who knows me will know that I’m virtually defined by my abiding love for Leeds United.

It’s always a difficult situation after a disappointing defeat, especially in these circumstances, with the carrot dangling of going back top, and taking on a tired team who’d just reeled off seven straight defeats. But that’s no reason to hold back, so I said what I thought needed saying – and yes, I said it feeling bitterly angry. But that’s not to say I’m not a loyal and committed supporter – I went into print precisely because I am loyal and committed and because, loving the club and believing in the players and management, I have great expectations.

For what it’s worth, I believe that the players will be angrier and more disappointed in themselves than even the most gutted fan, and I think they will use that to bounce back at Elland Road on Friday against West Brom. I hope and believe that will happen.

But, if it doesn’t, and if we all have another bitter pill to swallow – then please don’t doubt my loyalty and commitment when, choking on that pill, I write another angry and critical piece. Because I really would be doing it for what I honestly see as the very best of reasons – to show that I care deeply. As we all do.

MOT

Bolton Coach Who Mocked Leeds Boss Bielsa Gets Just Deserts – by Rob Atkinson

Specialist in playground mickey-taking, Bolton’s Lee Butler

It should probably be a convention in football, rather than just common sense, to do your best to refrain from taking the mick out of the opposing team boss – especially if there’s a snooping TV camera in the vicinity. The trouble with getting caught doing this, even though it might be good for a giggle at the time if you’re sufficiently immature, is that you end up looking a prat to hundreds of thousands of unsympathetic types like opposing fans. And you look even more of a prat if your team loses the game as well as coming off second best in a touchline bench fracas.

Such was the fate that befell the Bolton Wanderers goalkeeping coach Lee Butler at the Elland Road meeting of Leeds United and the Trotters on Saturday. The pre-match courtesies were under way and Leeds Boss Marcelo Bielsa, with characteristic Latin politeness, walked over to his Bolton counterpart for the traditional handshake.

Doubtless it’s a cultural thing, much like paying close attention to rival clubs’ preparation, but the Bielsa handshake is something above and beyond the restrained English version, as it incorporates a little bow into the gesture of offering the hand to shake. All very dignified and stately, you might think, and you’d surely be right. But apparently, in Bolton at least, it’s regarded as funny and something to mock. As Bielsa turned and headed for his upturned bucket, the silver-haired Mr Butler, resplendent in a red tracksuit that emphasised his less than athletic paunch, clearly mimicked and then mocked the Bielsa handshake, before having a good old laugh about it with one of his Wanderers chums, as can clearly be seen in this tweet from Leeds fan Gibbo.

Now, I’m sure that Marcelo himself, being above such schoolboy antics, would dismiss it as simply one more of those inexplicable English quirks, or more accurately, that classic contradiction in terms Lancastrian manners – and nothing to shake him out of his polite inscrutability. But I can testify, having seen the moment live, that it annoyed me and made me even more keen to see Bolton depart with nowt. Thankfully, after a bit of a struggle, the lads saw to it that this was so.

It wasn’t just me getting a bit offended though. Quite a few of the Leeds Twitter community were somewhat less than pleased too, and understandably so. Possibly certain members of the Leeds United staff, who perhaps are blessed with slightly less of the sang froid that Bielsa enjoys, might also have been annoyed, had they seen what Butler obviously hoped was a private moment. A bit daft then, really, to have it in front of the camera and 35,000 fans.

Later in the match, things kicked off in front of the West Stand dugouts; Gjanni Alioski, who was down injured, got some unasked for and unwelcome help from a Bolton player, and his Leeds team-mates took exception; Mateusz Klich saw fit to cool down an over-excited opponent by squirting water down his collar, Bolton coach Phil Parkinson unwisely squared up to Pontus Jansson and got sent off for his troubles – things were becoming very unfriendly on and off the pich. But it would be fair to say that the Trotters got the worst of it, as they did with the match itself, departing back over to the wrong side of the Pennines hurt and pointless.

Really, it served them right. You reap what you sow and, with that casual moment of pre-match disrespect, Lee Butler ensured that his club secured the moral low ground and got exactly what they deserved – nothing. I don’t know what the Football League would make of such a blatant display of rudeness and mockery – would they decide it’s a shining example of “acting in utmost good faith”?

You know what – I think they probably would.

EFL Confirms Standing on Public Footpath Worse Than Racism and Violence (If You’re Leeds) – by Rob Atkinson

Suárez bite – only half as bad as standing on a public footpath

There was a sense of relief yesterday that, apparently, Spygate had at last been put to bed. The general feeling was one of “Aaaaaand relax” – we could now get back to thinking about football and, more specifically, earning a path out of this increasingly ridiculous and corrupt Football League.

Today, though, people are looking at the sheer size of the fine Leeds United have had to accept as the price for concluding what had become a long-running farce. Two hundred thousand pounds. When you look at it, really consider it, that’s an obscenely disproportionate sanction. Some sort of context is afforded when you notice that Russia was fined £22,000 for the racist chanting of its bigoted supporters, and Luis Suárez copped a total of £106,000 for two separate incidents in which he deliberately bit opponents. There are, needless to say, plenty of other illustrative examples.

So, on this basis, being present on public land with footballers training on the other side of a mesh fence is seen as just under twice as heinous as sinking your teeth into two opposing footballers. And it’s almost ten times more outrageous to public morals and decency than the mass chanting of racist jibes. There’s something far wrong with that particular sense of perspective. It’s almost comical, but hardly anyone is laughing.

The bemused fan of Leeds United (and, for all we know, this applies equally to players, staff and directors too) is left scratching his or her head at the outlandish disparity between the penalty for what is basically a non-offence, and the much less potent sanctions applied in the case of far more disgusting, violent and bigoted behaviour. There is a sense that the slavering pack of press and opposing fans that were on Leeds United’s case had to be mollified somehow, and that most of this lynch mob wanted a points deduction for United. Faced with this, and armed only with a vague and flimsy “utmost good faith” principle, did the League feel constrained to lay it on thick, in order that those thirsting for Leeds’ blood should not be too disappointed? How much would they rather have applied a points deduction of, say, 15 points – to end up looking draconian instead of plain stupid?

Other questions arise. What of Swansea City, who basically hid behind the sofa on transfer deadline evening, refusing to answer calls as their player waited at Elland Road for his transfer to be confirmed? Is that “utmost good faith”? What of Liverpool, who cleared one penalty area of snow at half time, but not the other, in order to maximise their second half advantage? Where’s the good faith there?

Most tellingly of all, what if the club involved in Spygate had not been Leeds United, but some hand-to-mouth, impoverished League Two club without two ha’pennies to rub together? Would they have been hit to the tune of two hundred grand, ushering the receivers in through the stadium doors? Deep down, we know it wouldn’t happen – because this hypothetical League Two poorhouse club would not have the initials LUFC.

The Football League, in levying such a ridiculously high fine, has abandoned any pretensions to proportionality or a real life view. They’ve blatantly – to quote the excellent Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post – taken a hammer to crack a walnut. Some Leeds fans are now seeking to crowdfund a contribution to the vast sum Leeds will have to pay, but that’s not really the point. Because, although it may well be that Leeds United feel the pragmatic thing to do is take this penalty flush on the chin and move on, that doesn’t make it right. The Football League has, yet again, exposed itself to ridicule and derision, something that has implications for every club under its jurisdiction.

Whichever way you look at this bizarre conclusion to Spygate, it smacks more of appeasing the mob than it does of any maturely considered conclusion. And whatever word you might use to sum the whole mess up, it most certainly wouldn’t be justice.

Leeds Suffering From Terrible Penalty Calls, Even When They’re Not Involved – by Rob Atkinson

A brief and testy update tonight, having sat through West Brom against Nottingham Forest, where the result to suit our particular requirements as Leeds United fans would have been a Forest victory.

It looked as though that was how it was going, too – and then referee Lee Mason took control, with two late and palpably awful penalty decisions, both going against Forest and, by extension, Leeds.

With the West Brom trailing 2-1, exactly as per our ideal scenario, the Baggies’ Dwight Gayle found a Forest limb to dive over just inside the area, and Mason obliged with the whistle for a spot kick. It was a blatant dive, and if there’s any justice (which we know there isn’t) – Gayle will get a retrospective ban IF the Football League ever emerge from their Spygate enclave and examine the incident.

So, it’s 2-2, which isn’t that bad. But Forest should still have won, when their attacker Lolley had his shirt almost pulled off as he made his way into the Albion penalty area. Lee Mason, though, failed to see the blindingly obvious, and Leeds missed out on the ideal result of a West Brom defeat.

Call me paranoid – of course I am, I’ve been a Leeds fan for 44 years – but it does seem to me that these incidents, even in games between third parties, hardly ever favour Leeds. And really, we could do with the odd penalty decision in other games going our way – because it’s now one penalty awarded to Leeds in around 70 games, which is pretty meagre fare.

Ho hum. Onwards and hopefully upwards. And at least the Pride of Devon lost, which is always, always nice.

Daniel James a Certain Scorer in Leeds v Swansea. But for Which Team? – by Rob Atkinson

A happy Daniel James when he thought he was signing for Leeds

Some things in life are just so predictable that it’s honestly rude not to have a bet on them. Things like the Pride of Devon rediscovering their annoying luck with the appointment of Ole Gunnar “Demon Pixie” Solskjaer. Or an England batting collapse in the West Indies. And, after the farcical conclusion of Daniel James‘ protracted Swansea City to Leeds United transfer saga, there’s probably another sure fire certainty coming up when the two clubs meet at Elland Road on Wednesday evening. Let’s face it, if the lad plays, he’s going to get a goal. But – for which club?

In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of James’ move to Elland Road, various social media wags lost no time in giving the frustrated lad some well-meaning advice on exactly what to do if chosen to play for Swansea on Wednesday. The gist of it was that Daniel should momentarily forget the shirt he’s wearing and give his all instead for the shirt he wishes he could be pulling on, to make the boldest possible statement of annoyance at the cavalier manner of his treatment by Swansea on the fateful transfer deadline evening. “Wait until the last minute, Dan – then hammer one into the Swansea net, leap into the middle of the Leeds fans to celebrate, while taking off that Swansea shirt to reveal a Leeds one underneath.” That sounds like excellent advice to me, and I’m sure deep down that it’s something the thwarted and disappointed James would wish to do – it’d be impossible to blame him – but, sadly, professional standards make such a gesture rather unlikely.

So, it would appear that – if the boy is to notch on the night – it’ll count against Leeds and not for them. That is, of course, if James plays at all. With the amount of attention that would be on him, from both sides’ supporters, and with the additional pressure that would heap upon his young shoulders, perhaps a diplomatic groin strain or tight hamstring would be in order. We’ll have to see what happens on Wednesday night when, hopefully, Leeds will be fired up to deal with the Swans – with or without Daniel James.