Tag Archives: Rugby League

Glittering Success and Glory Are So Close for Leeds United   –   by Rob Atkinson

Leeds, monopolising the silverware

Leeds United are not that far at all from a team that carries all before it, dominating the domestic scene with a clean sweep of sparkly honours, and looking set fair to succeed on the world stage. How good does that sound?

Sadly for most Whites fans, that glory and success, so close at hand that we can absolutely smell the silver polish, is represented by a different team in a rival sport, just a few miles up the road in leafy Headingley. Super League Champions, League Leaders and back-to-back Challenge Cup Holders Leeds Rhinos are the undoubted Kings of Rugby League, monopolising the cups, trophies and other baubles for both team and individuals. They have brought a sense of pride to the city of Leeds in a way that United used to do once upon a time, long ago – a way that the hapless and misdirected Whites can only dream of now.

That’s a bitter pill for followers of the round ball game in Yorkshire‘s biggest and best city. It’s a pill only slightly sweetened for those who, as I do, happen to follow Leeds in both sports. For those die-hard United fans who have no love for what they might term egg-chasers, it’s an unwelcome reminder that, quite frankly, we’re no longer top dogs on our own patch. And there’s very real danger inherent in that unpalatable fact.

The problem for Leeds United is that, in a proud city where there is fierce rivalry between devotees of competing sports, continued failure and monotonous mediocrity are simply not sustainable. Watching top level professional sport is an expensive business at the best of times – and the current times are patently not the best. With continued failure and disappointment, there is no feelgood factor to lessen the sting of high ticket prices. There’s no warm glow of value for money – and that’s a matter of real concern to any citizen of the People’s Republic of Yorkshire, where traditionally pockets are long and arms are short. There is a much-told tale that copper wire was originally discovered by two Tykes fighting over a penny. Apocryphal as that may be, there can be no doubt that denizens of the Broad Acres are careful with their brass, and will sniff out value for that commodity with a bloodhound’s zeal. Like it or not, there’s precious little value in Leeds United these days. 

If you’re a youngish person of limited income but some breadth of mind – someone whose memories don’t stretch back as far as real success for Leeds United – what are you going to do? Where will you go, if you fancy spending some of your hard-gained cash on a match-day ticket? The lure of Headingley and the rampant, success-sated Rhinos must surely be hard to resist. As for the football down at Elland Road – well, would you? With cash in short supply? It’s asking a lot, especially of youngsters who simply cannot know what a rocking stadium behind a successful United side is really like. 

Some people attempt to defend football’s ludicrous prices, citing pricey theatre tickets and the like. But you don’t set out to watch Swan Lake and end up coming home depressed on a cold, wet night, after watching a bunch of overpaid, under-motivated failures slide to yet another drab, morale-sapping defeat. Ultimately, in the quest for the Holy Grail of value for money, people will tend to vote with their feet – and that tendency will increase with each additional year of disappointment, disillusion and broken promises. Add into this mix of bleak depression a glittering counter-attraction just across the city – and the clear and present danger to a complacent and decadent football club is all too easy to see. 

The day might not be far off now when the Leeds Rhinos, masters of a vibrantly exciting, brutally committed, compelling spectacle of a sport, could well be not only Rugby League’s class act, but the top of the bill in their own city, on merit, with only feeble opposition from a poverty-stricken and dystopian LS11. And, Rhinos admirer though I gladly am, that’s a day whose dawn I really do not wish to see. 

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It’s Cup Final Day for Derby County AND Leeds This Saturday – by Rob Atkinson

A typically calm moment from Derby v Leeds back in the day

A typically calm moment from Derby v Leeds back in the day

Norman stops Frannie’s lip by putting a hole in it

There’s never been a shortage of feeling in matches between Derby County and Leeds United – not since the days when it was Clough versus Revie, anyway. In the years that the two Middlesbrough lads locked horns at either Elland Road or the quagmire that was the Baseball Ground, those feelings tended to run deep, and often spilled over into epic violence, with both sets of players going at it with relish. The pictures above are fairly typical of a Rams v United clash in those far-off, halcyon days – certainly the players of each club felt a deep and mutual rivalry, and to say that the matches were keenly contested is to show a talent for understatement.

Off the field, the situation was somewhat less mutual. Derby County hated Leeds, alright – no doubt about that. But Leeds fans of that era were well aware of their beloved team’s pre-eminence over most if not all others – so the attitude towards lesser clubs (i.e. just about everybody) tended to be one of lordly indifference. The few exceptions to this rule included manchester united and, to a lesser but still vitriolic degree, Chelsea. These two were accepted as deserving of hatred, despite their obvious inferiority on the field. But the rest, busy Leeds-haters though they might be, tended to get ignored. Naturally, this did not make the Whites any more popular around the country. Spurned haters are just as hotly resentful as spurned lovers, if not more so.

Derby were a case in point back in the 70s, and it’s a situation that persists to this day. They do have a neighbourly loathing for Nottingham Forest, made the more bitter because the comically-nicknamed Tricky Trees got second and better use out of County’s discarded Clough/Taylor axis. Geographical proximity and the Cloughie factor make this mutual antipathy as real as most. But Derby hate Leeds with an almost equal passion – and, frustratingly beyond measure for their fans, it’s entirely unrequited – which really does get under the skin of your average Ram.

The history between the two clubs over the past couple of decades has been a tale of two long periods of dominance, one for each side.  First Leeds had a spell when they found they could toy with Derby as a cat does a half-dead mouse, exacting the maximum in malicious pleasure by torturing them, before dispatching them mercilessly. This was a period of acute suffering for a Leeds-hating County fan. One season, we knocked them out of both cups on their own ground, with the FA Cup win being from two goals down. On another occasion, we gave them a three goal start at Elland Road, before storming back to win 4-3 with Lee Bowyer notching a last-gasp winner before an ecstatic Kop. Later that season, we went to the incongruously named Pride Park and leathered the home side 5-0. It was not a good time to be a Derby County fan.

Then, things turned round for Derby; in a period that coincided with United’s dramatic fall from grace after “living the dream”, Leeds simply could not buy a win against the Rams. Defeat followed defeat – though at a time when most teams were beating us with monotonous regularity, the sting of each loss was not noticeably worse than those against most other teams. For Derby, though, it was like a renaissance – they were beating Leeds, for the first time in years – and they did not particularly care that this was not a Leeds of any special vintage or calibre.

The fallow period against the Rams, though, appears to be coming to an end. Firstly, we managed to avoid defeat in a late-season encounter at Elland Road. Then, last season, each team enjoyed a comfortable 2-0 win at home; honours even. Tomorrow’s first Derby-Leeds clash this season will, as usual, be Cup Final day for every Ram. They will be aching to beat us, yearning for the three points as a child yearns for Christmas. It will be very much business as usual for Derby fans, and Leeds United will have to be wary of the intense desire and expectations of the home fans, factors that can certainly inspire a side.

But tomorrow is also Cup Final day for Leeds – and not in any ersatz or theoretical sense as experienced by County followers. Leeds, being a centre of sport unrivaled anywhere else in the country, boasts widely-renowned teams in three sports, with Yorkshire CCC at the summit of the County Championship in cricket, Leeds United showing signs of revival as their glorious history positively demands – and in Rugby League, Leeds Rhinos has long been the team to beat. Tomorrow, they take the field at Wembley in the Challenge Cup Final, with the unfancied Hull Kingston Rovers in opposition. This is not a sentiment that every Leeds United fan will share, but – this being my blog to do with as I wish – I will be hoping and praying that my beloved Rhinos can confirm what the form guide suggests will happen, and bring the Challenge Cup home to Headingley.

Saturday is about two Cup Finals and two Leeds teams. My fingers are crossed that Derby’s prayers go unanswered and that they are left thwarted again, as in the good old days. But, should United stumble to a first defeat of the season, I’ll still manage to keep a smile on my face – as long as Sir Kev‘s warriors do the business at Wembley and achieve the first part of a Rhinos treble.

All Leeds, aren’t we?

Is Watching Leeds Rhinos More Fun Than Watching Leeds United These Days? – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Rhinos: Magical Entertainers and perennial Winners

Leeds Rhinos: Magical Entertainers and perennial Winners

Bear with me now, as we awake to another Leeds United match-day, if I write of the conflict between my feelings for the Whites and a whole other club in a whole different sport. Let me just put this painful dilemma out there.

Whilst I appreciate that by no means all the readers of Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything will be Leeds Rhinos fans, nor yet even Super League followers, nevertheless there will be plenty that are. I happen to have a foot in both football and RL camps, so I feel a certain tug-of-war going on deep inside, where my loyalties live. And, even given my dual affiliation, which goes back many years now, it was still the case not so long back that I’d have considered it to be strictly no-contest between Leeds United and any other sporting interest. But now, I must confess – I’m not so sure any more.

As I said, many of you out there will not be Super League fans. Feel free to be excused, or maybe just chat amongst yourselves. Still others will love Super League, or RL anyway, as much as I do. But perhaps you’re Cas Tigers followers, or Wakefield or – God forbid – Hull FC or even Saints (spit). Again, this isn’t primarily aimed at you, though I’d love to hear your opinion if you can be bothered (and if you can set aside your petty hatred of the Rhinos…!)

But the real target audience here is made up of those, like myself, who follow Leeds in both sports. Do you feel the 13-a-side game exerting an ever greater hold over you? Do you find yourself continually on the edge of your seat when watching the Rhinos – and sometimes on the point of dropping off when Leeds United are playing? Worrying, isn’t it?

The problem – if it really is a problem – may, of course, be wider than just a Leeds thing. There may be Hull FC and Hull City fans who find themselves wondering which sport offers the most. It’s just fairly acute for us double Leeds fans at the moment, because the Rhinos are undoubtedly the team in Super League, whereas poor old United appear to be settling more and more for mediocrity. Even Herr Rösler’s promised “heavy metal football” is coming across so far more as senseless noise, than anything with a real beat. It’s very worrying – and not a little unsettling, too.

The issue I have at the moment is the contrasting way I feel when I’m watching the Rhinos, compared with United. Watching the Whites still gets me wound up; the desire and passion are both still there, but there’s this nagging subtext of frustration a lot of the time – of exasperation at misplaced passes, of annoyance with the tedium of the game as our heroes currently play it. Horrible though it is for me to say so, I’m sometimes actually bored watching Leeds United – and even that’s preferable to the fear and resentment I feel when we’re getting a good drubbing off the likes of Hull or Millwall or even Bradford.

Watching the Rhinos though, can be literally breathtaking, win or lose. There’s such an insistent, throbbing, ebb and flow tempo to the game of Rugby League, and there’s also the awesome realisation of what those lads are putting their bodies through for eighty minutes. Watching Jamie Peacock ploughing forward with three defenders dangling from his frame – or Ryan Hall using his power and strength to surge unstoppably over the line – these have been the sporting moments over the last few years or so that have really got my imagination and passion fired up. It’s difficult to recall too many moments like that watching Leeds United – and, believe me, I truly hate saying that. But really – aren’t there some of you out there who, if you’re honest, feel exactly the same?

I’m not here to wind anybody up. It’s a niggling, worrying issue for me, and I’m genuinely interested in how others feel, whether they agree, or violently disagree. My passion for Leeds United goes back forty years – I’m bound to feel a bit like an errant lover, trying to seem less obviously guilty about his younger mistress. But the truth is that Leeds Rhinos have come to mean a hell of a lot to me as well. Is this wrong? They’re two completely separate sports, after all. So am I being unfaithful to United, or even to the Beautiful Game itself?

I’d love to hear your views, and I’ll try to be gentle and restrained when moderating comments in an area where feelings may understandably run high. But I’m in a real quandary here and it’s actually a bit heart-wrenchingly painful.

Fellow sufferers – and others – it’s over to you.