Tag Archives: rivalry

Back to School for the “Class of ‘92” as Bielsa’s Leeds Master Salford – by Rob Atkinson

The Last Champions – Masters of 1992

As anyone who has watched the entertaining Class of 92 TV series will attest, Salford City have come a long, long way in a short, short time, gaining multiple promotions from what was their virtual grass roots status, and picking up a spiffy new stadium along the way. All very admirable, even if some insist on pointing out that this progress has been courtesy of many more millions in funding than you commonly see so far down the football pyramid. It would seem that Financial Fair Play has a different meaning at this thud and blunder stratum of the game, though you’ll likely be accused of poor taste by those behind the Salford/media love-fest if you’re presumptuous enough to point this out.

Still, the TV programmes have been entertainment gold for all of us who like to be flies on walls in tantrum-riven half time dressing rooms, or even post-defeat boardrooms, when things are going awry. It’s a vicious as well as vicarious sort of amusement but, for the past few days leading up to our own Leeds United heroes’ Cup tie appointment with Salford, it’s helped fill the void that opened up in the wake of being scurvily robbed of victory against Nottingham Forest. There was drama aplenty and some unwitting comedy too, particularly in the moment of fulfilment as Salford gained promotion to the Football League at Wembley, with co-owner Gary Neville’s high-pitched Mancunian squeaks of celebration disappearing off the audible scale and becoming something only dogs or Huddersfield fans could hear.

So much for Salford’s mundane but latterly meteoric history prior to last night. For the Leeds United home tie was where their new era truly began, after one victory and one defeat at League Two level, with the visit of the biggest club in the entire Football League. Anticipation was quite naturally at fever pitch and the new stadium, whose corporate name I entirely forget, was packed to its Meccano rafters. All was ready – and the scene was set, so Sky Sports clearly and fervently hoped, for a juicy giant-killing, with S’rAlex and his erstwhile footballing sons, together with the legendary Lawman, clustered eagerly in the main stand to witness the deeply desired humbling of Leeds United.

Alas, these things so often fail to work out as planned, something any random sample of mice and men will confirm. Before kick-off, over-excited Salford fans were issuing predictions of a 3-1 victory, and even the normally pragmatic Gary Neville so far forgot himself as to join in with such ill-advised optimism. Gary is prone to the odd mental aberration where Leeds United are concerned, somehow contriving to have entirely forgotten, despite pictorial evidence of him looking dismayed in the background while Jermaine celebrated his goal at the Beckford End, United’s 1-0 FA Cup victory at the Theatre of Hollow Myths in 2010. Gary had thought that Leeds were back in his life for the first time since 2004 – but he is getting on a bit, bless him, and these lapses are understandable.

The match started with both sides in wary, probing mode, and with Salford managing to prevent Leeds getting behind them whilst launching a few raids of their own on the counter-attack. This was enough, despite United’s domination of possession, for the Sky commentary team, featuring ever-reliable Leeds-hater Don Goodman, to proclaim that the home team had been the better side – and the coverage featured numerous cutaway shots of the strangely named “Class of 92” looking resolutely happy whenever Salford did anything remotely competent. But reality bit ravenously at Lancastrian jugulars just before the interval, with Helder Costa making a quicksilver dart for the byline to be found by a beautiful Jamie Shackleton pass inside the full-back. Costa laid a devastating ball across the six yard box to find fellow debutant Eddie Nketiah emerging between two bamboozled centre-backs to finish decisively into an empty net. Salford had been cut asunder by a moment of class from a higher sphere, and all of a sudden, those lovingly lingering shots of the ersatz Class of 92 were a thing of the past. Don Goodman talked hopefully about Nketiah being offside and of how Salford could now capitalise on their good play after the interval, but his hope and his enthusiasm were waning. And, happily, worse was to come.

In the second half, Leeds piled on that lovely agony with a near post flick from Berardi and a sumptuous finish from Klich which topped off a sweeping, length of the pitch break from a Salford corner. It was “job done”, and the disgruntled Sky guys knew it, opting now to talk instead of United’s draw at home against Forest in a vain attempt to rekindle the Leeds crisis atmosphere they’d worked so hard to generate pre-match. For the rest, there were a couple of elbows to Leeds heads, dismissed by Goodman as unintentional, and the standard stonewall penalty not given when Shacks was hauled back in the box. 3-0 and finis, a tricky tie safely negotiated.

A look around other results last night will show you that Sky’s hopes for a Salford victory had been not all that unrealistic. This stage of this competition has upsets as the norm, not the exception. Among the more amusing outcomes were Barnsley’s 0-3 capitulation to Carlisle, with ex-United man Aapo Halme having a ‘mare, and Huddersfield losing at home to a single goal by Lincoln City to cries from literally dozens of dog-botherers for their new manager to get him hence. So the processional nature of United’s progress would have been a matter of bitter regret to Goodman and Co, who surely must have reflected that they should have looked elsewhere for their longed-for upset.

What else can be taken away from this tie, what lessons are there to be learned? One is that the myth of Leeds’ shallow squad is just that; with the likes of Shackleton, Davis and young Alfie McCalmont looking ready to supplement the established stars, we seem comfortably well-off for squad depth to this blogger’s eye. Also, the myth of The Class of 92 can now finally be scotched. The Last Champions were the real Class of 92 and, if you’re looking for winners in the clash of emerging talents, let’s not forget that the Nevilles, the Scholes the Beckhams et al, while victorious in the Youth Cup of 92, comprehensively bit the dust in the Final of 93, beaten in both legs by the boys from Elland Road.

All in all, then, a most satisfactory evening, with United enjoying the fruits of victory and Fergie, along with his protégés, choking on some well-earned humble pie. Which really is exactly as it should be.

Marching On Together

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Leeds Fans Must Now be United Behind Club and Team – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Fans United

Every Leeds United fan knows that following the Whites automatically includes you as part of the most fanatical and vociferous band of supporters anywhere. In short, the greatest fans around. This is an article of faith with United fans, not even a matter for debate. So mote it be. 

How very odd, then, to find yourself shaking your head in baffled disbelief at some of the social media output from the massed keyboards of this elite cadre of support. Clearly, with an online presence that probably runs into the millions worldwide, not everybody is going to agree all the time, for instance, on the vexed subject of United’s transfer policy. Still, the why-oh-why stance of a small but loud minority of the virtual support is hard to stomach for those of us who were brought up on the credo of “my club, right or wrong”.

It’s not only a transfer window thing, either. In fact, compared to the negative attitude of some “supporters” towards players struggling for form and confidence, Victor Orta and his transfer team are being afforded a relatively easy ride. Even so, the amount of uninformed criticism surrounding United’s recruitment efforts, during this and other transfer windows, tends to make Twitter an area of the Internet it’s wiser to avoid, especially for those who prefer their blood pressure to remain at a good safe level. Needless to say, that’s not a luxury in which I can indulge, being of the blogger/columnist persuasion, and my hypertension suffers accordingly.

Transfers are complex matters, due to all manner of factors: finances, agents, rival clubs, media and so on. I don’t envy the United officials trying to negotiate such choppy waters while being assailed and vilified on all sides by a section of online fans not overly burdened with any knowledge of what they’re talking about, and even less so by any tact, restraint or decorum. It can’t make the job any easier and, every now and again, you do see a faintly exasperated comment from the club along the lines of “we’re doing our best, we all want good outcomes, please be patient”. Sadly, such assurances usually fall on deaf ears; there are those out there, it seems, who wallow in negativity and relish any chance to have a moan or offer their unqualified opinions. 

It’s the carping criticism of certain players, though, that really offends and annoys. Take Patrick Bamford, for instance. Now, some of the criticism he receives has been fairly gentle and possibly even merited, though his record at United is good, taking into account last season’s injury woes. His milder critics peddle a ruefully humorous line, referring to Patrick as “Lord Bamford of Beeston” and wondering, tongue in cheek, if he shouldn’t delegate his goal-scoring duties to his butler. That’s the kind of thing that, reaching a player’s ears, might make him smile and redouble his determination to succeed. It’s harmless fun and, if the line is drawn there, nobody could really complain. 

But the more serious and malicious abuse is blatantly counter-productive, a classic case of a pistol levelled directly at our own collective foot. Players, and strikers in particular, thrive on confidence and encouragement. It makes little sense to hurl abuse and ill-founded criticism at a player such as Bamford, who will not be assisted by suggestions that he couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo, or that he’s worth less than a written-off, wheel-less banger rusting in a ditch. All that and worse has been flung at Bamford.

Fortunately and thankfully, the lad has a resilient character and a cold determination to succeed. His goal at Bristol City, the movement and the finish from that aristocratic forehead, testify to that. Long may his ability to rise above the howling of the mob continue.

Now, the window is closed until January, and it’s been a far better one than the usual suspects referred to above would wish you to believe. The squad has been purged of certain disruptive elements as identified by Marcelo Bielsa himself and, despite FFP strictures, the overall quality is arguably higher. In any event, we go with what we’ve got; if the performance at Ashton Gate can be maintained or even improved upon, it’ll take a fabulous opposing performance to stop us in any given match.

Whether you’re a matchgoing, raucous fanatic, or confined to long distance support, the message from here is the same. Get behind the team, get behind the club. We’re all on the same journey. Marching On Together.

Leeds United Reveal Plans for “Beckford Square” Development at Old Trafford – by Rob Atkinson

Jermaine the Legend scoring at the Beckford End

Following the success of the Bremner Square project at Elland Road, and with a further “Centenary Square” in the offing, there are now audacious plans for a similar development outside the Beckford End at Old Trafford, home of Manchester’s lesser football club.

It’s anticipated that there will be keen interest among Leeds fans in purchasing stones to be laid in the shadow of the Beckford End. The granite squares will feature the LUFC club crest, with a variety of inscriptions available, including the iconic “January the 3rd, remember the date“. It is even suggested that a statue will be commissioned as the central feature of Beckford Square, based on a famous picture of the United striker celebrating his legendary winner, with a disconsolate Gary Neville in the background.

A Leeds spokesperson commented: “We feel that, as we’re running out of space for commemorative squares at Elland Road, it’s time to look further afield and fully exploit the commercial potential of these tribute features because, as we all know, there are Leeds fans everywhere. Old Trafford is a big site with not a vast amount going on so, if this Beckford Square project goes as well as we expect, we may consider a further project in the area known locally, as well as in Torquay, Milton Keynes, Singapore and other such hotbeds of Man U support, as the Forecourt. This would provisionally be named “Last Champions Square“. We’re all quite excited by these innovative ideas”.

It is confidently predicted that, by the year 2050, most of the north of England will be paved in Leeds United commemorative granite stones, realising profits for the club well into the tens of billions of pounds. At this point a takeover bid for Paris Saint-Germain could well be on the cards, with PSG henceforth known as “le petit frère de Leeds United“.

More news as we get it, here at Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. These are exciting times for our great club.

 

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

Dad and me – part of the fabric of Elland Road

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

No Need for Leeds to Worry About Spygate-Obsessed Lampard at Chelsea – by Rob Atkinson

Fwankie and Marcelo, student and master

It’s the silly season, and the media’s favourite target, Leeds United, is – as usual – the subject of ever more ridiculous attempts at sensationalism designed to sell gutter rags or attract clicks on gutter websites. Among the more laughable lately have been the suggestions that United are after various superannuated Italian football pensioners, along with the perennial line that always comes out when a club with a Leeds chip on its shoulder signs a player. Yes, you know, the angle where said club has “beaten Leeds United to the signature” of whoever. Invariably, it’s one of the rare players we’ve not been linked with, have never heard of, and wouldn’t touch with the proverbial bargepole.

That mention of pensioners brings me on to the subject of Chelsea, who are hotly tipped to snatch media darling Fwankie Lampard from the clammy grasp of Derby County. The media line being peddled here is that Lampard’s move to Stamford Bridge would result in him having a Spygate-provoked tantrum at the merest suggestion that Dirty Leeds might have a Chelsea player under the covetous gaze of their transfer market binoculars. Fwankie just would not allow this, screech the media, because, you know, Spygate. And Bielsa. So it won’t happen and Leeds are doomed, these desperate hacks smugly conclude, before settling down to lick Fwankie’s boots and judiciously selected parts of his anatomy.

All very petty, all very predictable. And all, as usual, completely untrue. The fact of the matter is that any Chelsea player good enough to excite the interest of Bielsa would simply not be available. The reason for this is that Chelsea are subject to a two window transfer ban that will see them having to rely, to an extent, on youngsters they’d normally have farmed out on loan to assist in their development. But now these kids will be needed by Chelsea, so there’s little chance of anyone worthwhile being made available, QED. The only remotely plausible bit of this media fantasy – that Fwankie would be spoilt and petulant enough to block a transfer to Leeds because he’s basically a bitter child – need not concern us. Anyway, the Tearful One is going to have bigger problems on his plate, happily enough, through being hopelessly out of his depth in the top flight.

Roll on August, when the silly season makes way for the actual football season. Not that this will stop the media hating and sniping at Leeds – but at least we’ll have the odd game or two to distract us.

Marching On Together

Gary Neville Has Successfully Forgotten 2010, Leeds and the Beckford End – by Rob Atkinson

Gary Neville, part owner of League newcomers Salford City FC, has reacted instantly to his team’s Carabao Cup first round home draw against Leeds United. Neville, third in his own family in the coaching stakes, tweeted “Welcome back into my life Leeds United, it’s been 15 years”. Clearly, the stress of club part ownership – or maybe his regular spats with fellow Sky pundit Jamie Carragher – has taken its toll on poor Gary’s grey matter and memory, as it was a mere nine years ago that third tier Leeds went to Old Trafford to face Champions Man U in the FA Cup third round. United made history by beating their old rivals 1-0 that day, with the home team including one G. Neville who could only look on as our Jermaine slotted home the winner in front of the Beckford End. Perhaps Gary has just been trying to forget…

It’s not the first gaffe that has come back to haunt Neville. He is on record as saying that no decent manager should ever lose 7-0. Naturally, he then proceeded to lose by precisely that score as rookie manager of Valencia, something that must have been hard to swallow even for one with as big a cakehole as our old friend Gary. Apparently, he was too speechless with shock to protest his subsequent, ignominious sacking.

Still, we’ll take his welcome back tweet as cordially intended if not factually accurate. The tables will be turned from that famous January 3rd cup shock in 2010, in that Leeds will be two leagues above their opponents, rather than two leagues below. It should be quite an occasion, anyway – maybe yet another live TV appearance for Leeds, and certainly an early highlight in the League career of Salford. Let’s hope that Gary Neville enjoys this one just as much as that other cup tie which he seems to have forgotten all about.

Welcome back into our lives, Mr. Neville. It’s been NINE years…

Paudie O’Connor Has Found His Level Two Leagues Below Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

O’Connor – Bradford’s gain is no loss to Leeds

I was never convinced, despite assurances from fellow Leeds fans, that Paudie O’Connor had what it takes to succeed at Leeds. This is based not on rare glimpses of him in a first team shirt, but on his more frequent U-23 appearances in general, and one petulant episode after an away defeat to Barnsley’s second string in particular. I thought then, and it’s now been confirmed, that O’Connor’s future would play itself out away from Elland Road. I’m not unhappy to be proved right.

The incident in question surrounded my attempt to have a quick word with U-23 debutant Sam Dalby. O’Connor was having none of it and led Dalby away, hurling a string of four letter abuse over his retreating shoulder. I put it down to post-defeat temper and refrained from pressing the issue, as you do. But the unpleasantness and unprofessionalism of a young man who had, and still has, done little in the game, made me doubt his ability to stay the course at a club like Leeds. Now he’s gone, and many are expressing surprise at his descent to the Football League basement. I beg to differ. O’Connor not only has to work at his game, he’s got a fair bit of growing up to do too, and needs to learn to rein in his emotions, trying where possible to avoid tantrums. League Two will be a hard school but, right now, it’s just what he needs and a fair reflection of his current level of ability.

I would have kept my powder dry for as long as Paudie was registered as a Leeds United player. But he’s gone now, and I feel he’s no real loss in the grand scheme of things. It takes a certain sort of character to succeed at Leeds, and my instant impression after his hotheaded outburst was that O’Connor wasn’t the right material. Time alone will tell about that. Good luck to the lad at Bradford City.

Could Likely Man U Signing Daniel James Still Move to Leeds United? – by Rob Atkinson

Daniel James of Leeds United – could it yet happen?

Swansea City‘s big discovery of the season just gone was undoubtedly Daniel James who swiftly made a name for himself with a series of scorching performances for the Welsh side. His sheer pace was the most notable part of James’ game, but there was some vision too, and an eye for goal. All of this led to James coming within an ace of signing for Leeds United as the January window closed, only for a Swansea official to get cold feet and hide under a table instead of completing the deal.

Since that time, James has been touted as the one who got away, as far as Leeds were concerned – and now he appears to be on the point of a move to Manchester, to play for that city’s junior club. But could things take yet one more twist, with Daniel James appearing in a Leeds United shirt next season after all?

On the face of it, the lad has secured himself a glamour move to a club that used to be among the honours on a regular basis, and you can’t blame a player for snapping up the chance of a Premier League berth. But whether it’s a good career decision for the player himself has to be a moot point, with many a youngster having gone there and then dropped right off the radar. Daniel James carved himself a reputation as a fine Championship player last season. His quality is such that you could easily see himself making an impression as a mid to lower table Premier League performer. But with a move to Old Trafford, James would possibly be looking to cut it in the top half of the EPL – is he really at that level yet?

On the other hand, clubs like Man U frequently sign players like James only to loan them out to continue their football education. This must be a possible path for young James next season, and – if that proves to be the case – then Leeds United should be at the head of the queue for his loan-basis services. It’d make sense for both clubs, and the player too, whatever reservations fans on either side of the Pennines might have. This is how football works these days, with plenty of “mutual benefit” deals being done.

So, could Daniel James yet be ripping up the Championship in a Leeds United shirt next season, as he did for Swansea over the past nine months? It’s got to be a possibility. If James does complete his move to the red quarter of Manchester, don’t be surprised to see a season long loan move to Elland Road materialise shortly thereafter. Many stranger things have happened.

Marching On Together

Leeds Legend Lee Bowyer Sinks Sunderland at Wembley – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Legend Lee Crushes Mackems

A last minute winner for Lee Bowyer’s Charlton Athletic condemned Sunderland to at least one more season in League One, and ensured that the first two playoff finals, at least, panned out as per my personal requirements.

It had been good to see Newport depart on the return journey to Wales with tears in their eyes and tails between their legs. Quite apart from having had a soft spot for Tranmere since their Cup exploits under John Aldridge, I’ve not yet forgiven Newport for our FA Cup humiliation a year or so back. Call me bitter and twisted, but that’s just the way it is.

How much more riddled with spite and vicious nastiness am I then with regard to Sunderland, who have been living off their fluke FA Cup success against Super Leeds ever since 1973? Much, MUCH more, that’s how much. The fact that one of my Whites heroes of the past few decades, Lee Bowyer, was a direct beneficiary of the Mackems’ inadequacy simply made a sweet occasion all the sweeter. I’ve frankly hated Sunderland for all the time I’ve been a Leeds fan, despised Bob Stokoe, and celebrated every time we’ve beaten the Wearsiders, as we usually do. They keep going back to Wembley, and they keep failing. They’ve done it twice this season, and I’ve loved every minute.

Now all I need is for Aston Villa to beat Derby tomorrow – with a few Fwankie tears thrown in, if at all possible. Really – is that too much to ask?

As Leeds Fanatics, Let’s Get Right Behind Aston Villa on Monday – by Rob Atkinson

Good luck Monday, Dean Smith, you horrible git

As the Bank Holiday fiesta of sudden death football that is the playoff finals finally begins, the thoughts of every Leeds United fan must surely be: it could have been us in that Championship playoff decider. Should have been. But, once you get past that, and also past the essential silliness of a system that will promote one of two clubs that have been proven as inferior to United, both in the regular season and in our meetings on the field, you have to decide which of these two you want to see take the Premier League place that should have been ours. There’s no point in turning a blind eye, or whinging about what’s happened. We all knew the rules, daft though they may be.

So, who do we want to see go up? And, by extension, with whom do we wish to renew hostilities next time around? Both Aston Villa and Derby County have done their darnedest this season to capitalise on incidents surrounding our league meetings; both have cynically attempted to make mountains out of molehills, eagerly assisted by a complaisant and Leeds-hating media. But, for all that I can’t abide Villa manager Dean Smith, and even though I’d cheerfully swing for that annoying little toad Grealish, there can be no real comparison to the serial whingers of Derby County, with all of the Spygate nonsense, that loathsome hypocrite Lampard and all. And it is in a spirit of Frank and honest bitterness and resentment that I wish them despair and heartache at Wembley on Monday – I hope with all my heart that we can meet again next season, just to rub it in again exactly why we’re better than them, in every way, any day of the week. And I hope that Middlesbrough prove to be of some use for a change, and successfully sue Direby’s backside off over the shady Pride Park operation.

So it’s “Up The Villa” for me on Monday. I’d be most interested to hear other views as ever, both agreeing and disagreeing. But please keep it polite, and give your reasons.

Marching On Together