Tag Archives: Salford City

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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Steady Away as Leeds United’s Home Season Gets Off to a Stuttering Start – by Rob Atkinson

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Best view in the house – West Stand gantry

It was a close and steamy morning at Elland Road last Saturday as I arrived at the ground in good time to see the atmosphere build towards the start of another Leeds United home season. The wind was up in more ways than one as I sat in blustery conditions outside what used to be Sheila’s Cafe, opposite the West Stand car park gates. In the past, you would often see United stars in there, gathered around one of Sheila’s tables, winding down after a Fullerton Park training session. Now, the cafe was chock-a-block with nervous fans, trying to control those butterflies in the stomach with fry-ups and copious draughts of hot tea, and relegating me to that outside table.

The nerves were understandable; every Leeds fan was keenly aware of the need for a win to build on a great start to the season down at Bristol City. The prospect of Nottingham Forest, always awkward opponents for United, made the pre-match atmosphere crackle with tension, even at 9:30 before a half past twelve kick-off. From here on in, that tension would build and build. 

A welcome end to the summer hiatus was marked by the sight of match-going friends being reunited with a hug and a slap on the back. “Happy New Year”, they greeted each other, only half in jest, acknowledging that we football fanatics observe a different, seasonal calendar. After the hellos and the hugs, the talk was all of the squad changes over summer: how much would we miss Pontus and Roofe? Would this Arsenal kid (Eddie Nketiah) be able to fill Kemar’s talented boots? Could Patrick Bamford finally hit form and rip up the Championship? It was a buzz of excited talk, reflecting the hope and optimism of a season hardly started, with three precious points already in the bank.

Inside the ground, fresh from a welcome sausage butty outside that packed cafe, I find that the press lounge matchday fare is… a sausage butty. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. So I chew away happily, read the programme, try to put some names to new faces and collect a bottle of water to take aloft to the West Stand gantry and gape anew at the best view in the house. From here, the ground looks like a perfect bowl, the asymmetrical East Stand upper tier hidden by the West Stand fascia, with the scoreboard and gap at the south-west corner almost invisible somewhere to my right. In the first half, I position myself towards the south end of the gantry, next to the BBC Radio Nottingham commentators who are busy with their match preview piece. Looking straight down, I’m almost directly above the tunnel from which the gladiators are emerging in dribs and drabs, to go through the pre-match warm up. In the second half, I’ll move north, towards the Revie Stand, the Kop. Meanwhile, the Forest fans below are trading insults with the South Stand, and the atmosphere ramps up another notch.

Now it’s nearly kick-off, and the teams run out for real to a clamour of rival welcomes. Below me, the Forest substitutes pick their way through the Leeds technical area, being politely careful not to kick Bielsa’s bucket. All is ready, it’s now time for the hostilities to commence.

United, as expected, dominate throughout, but their superior possession yields only one goal and, near the end, they are punished by the classic sucker punch. But they’ve played well, and have legitimate complaints about the standard of refereeing. That’s an all too frequent lament, something that Leeds, yet again, will simply have to overcome. All the signs are that this squad has the potential and the ability to do just that. In the end, I’m left regretting not only the undeserved loss of two home points, but also my unforgivable failure immediately to recognise the guy sitting next to me in the second half as United legend Andy Hughes, a stalwart in the League One promotion team of 2010. Sorry, Andy. I’m clearly not worthy. 

So, another season has started at Elland Road. And who can really know what’s in store for us in the next nine or so months? Maybe tonight’s League Cup tie at newly-arrived Salford City will provide some clues, as a few signings and some fringe players seek to stake their claims. But all we have right now are fervent hopes and the optimism that somehow still infects those who have been let down so sorely and so often. Come on, Leeds, let’s really make it happen this time around…

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…