If Celtic’s Tom Rogic is indeed fed up with coming first in a one-horse race, as the Bhoys continue to dominate their pitifully substandard league, then he could do a lot worse than throw in his lot with a massive, but massively underachieving club in the far more competitive environment of the English Championship. Swapping Celtic for Leeds United would make perfect sense for a dissatisfied player seeking legend status and an enormous challenge.
Rogic is a good player, there’s no doubt about that. With 35 caps for the Australian national team, his credentials are beyond doubt. But creditable performers from north of the border have trodden the path southwards to Elland Road many a time before, and it’s a sad fact that relatively few of these imports have flourished on Yorkshire soil. It’s a step up in terms of the ferocity of competition and also bearing in mind the pressure that comes with playing for a club like Leeds.
Rogic, though, is the type of player United should be looking to sign ahead of what will be a crucial season next time around. The campaign now fizzling out started in a veritable blaze of glory as Leeds stormed to the top of the table, and things looked extremely promising. But a combination of a lack of timely investment and a severe loss of form saw Yorkshire‘s top club plummet from that early high, and the sad fact is that we’ve witnessed another wasted season of crushing disappointment. The owners will know that it’s not been good enough, and a marker must now be put down ahead of the resumption of hostilities in August. The one undoubted high spot this term has been the fantastic support Leeds have enjoyed, if not exactly deserved. Crowds averaging well over 30,000 have been served up some dreadfully bleak fare, and the powers that be at Elland Road must surely be sharply aware that the fans’ patience, always thin, must be on the point of wearing out.
The club’s production line of young talent appears to be in solid working order again, with the likes of Tom Pearce and Bailey Peacock-Farrell staking their claims lately. More is to come from the youth levels of the club, with the likes of Jack Clarke likely to be pushing for recognition sooner rather than later. A few quality signings of the Rogic ilk, together with players like Yosuke Ideguchi and Tyler Roberts fit and raring to go – added to a few judiciously selected departures – would give the squad a leaner, hungrier look for what needs to be a determined tilt at promotion, via the play offs at the very least.
Of course, it’s all been said before, with disappointment ensuing as night follows day. But we have to maintain the hope that, next time, things just might be different. A statement of intent on the part of the club’s board will be required early in the summer transfer window. A player like Tom Rogic might just be the sort of signing that would make that positive intent amply clear.
I go back a fair way with Gordon Strachan, as it happens. Not that he’ll remember a thing about it, naturally. That’s the way it goes with star footballers and star-struck fans; it’s a strictly one-way relationship, which is quite right and proper.
Nevertheless, I can mark out the last 28 years of my Leeds United love affair in some golden Strachan moments, including one meeting (with another hopefully imminent), some landmark performances and goals from the wee maestro and, latterly, many a laugh as I’ve watched him perplexing post-match interviewers with a rapier-like wit to match his dazzling displays as a player.
I remember being aware of Strachan as a young star at Aberdeen under the guidance of a grumpy Glaswegian manager called Ferguson (whatever happened to him?) who was out to upset the Old Firm monopoly in Scotland. I had a senior lecturer at Hull University at that time, who shared Gordon’s surname, but when I used it on him, as it were, he frostily informed me that it was pronounced “Strawn”. Well, that was all he knew. The name Strachan, pronounced as both Gordon and I know it should be, was to earn worldwide fame over the next decade and a half.
I looked on with jaundiced eye as the clear heir to Billy Bremner‘s throne made the wrong move south from Scotland, winding up in a title vacuum at Old Trafford. He was followed thence by his old manager at Aberdeen (that’s where he got to) and, for Strachan, the writing was on the Old Trafford wall, as the great Alex concluded that Gordon’s days as a top-flight performer were numbered. These were the early days of Sergeant Wilko‘s reign at Leeds, and I yearned for Strachan to become our King Billy reincarnate, as he was unmistakably fitted to be. But it looked as though he was destined to be a Ron Atkinson capture at Sheffield Wednesday, rather than a Rob Atkinson hero at Elland Road.
As we know, things worked out incredibly well; an ambitious Leeds trumped the Wendies’ offer and Strachan settled for being the driving force behind the Wilko revolution. I was working in Leeds the day the deal was done, and I saw it announced on a Yorkshire Evening Post billboard. Happy and delighted doesn’t do it justice, I walked home on air that day. Strachan was not only a marquee signing in himself, he was the statement of intent required to pave the way for other quality recruits at Elland Road. For Leeds, the only way was up – and up we duly went.
Near the climax of that promotion season was Strachan’s memorable rocket-shot winner against Leicester at Elland Road, possibly the most vital goal Leeds had scored on their home turf since Allan Clarke’s winner against Barcelona in the European Cup semi-final of 1975. That Leicester goal, securing a crucial win after a goal from one Gary MacAllister had threatened to poop our promotion party, was met with one of the loudest and most frantic celebrations I can remember. Gordon Strachan attained Leeds Legend status in that moment – and he would go on to confirm it many times over.
In the next couple of years, Leeds impressively consolidated their First Division status and then took the crown of Champions of England from under the noses of Strachan’s former club, Man United. As sweet as that was for all of us, the man himself still regards the Second Division title of 1990 as his greatest Leeds achievement – but his record at Elland Road cannot be classed as anything other than an outstanding success, with Strachan himself in the role of on-field Messiah.
My support for Leeds was punctuated by his goals and his masterly midfield displays. That pea-roller winner at Bramall Lane early in United’s top-flight comeback, with the mighty atom celebration sitting on an advertising hoarding behind the goal. His winner at Man City, in a live TV game that had me transfixed. So many goals, so much quality. Perhaps the culmination was in the vital game at Sheffield United as the 1992 League Title battle came to a final boil. One down and in trouble near the end of the first half, Leeds were awarded a free kick and Gordon, thinking faster than anyone else, took it quickly to cause chaos in the Blades’ box. Leeds equalised, and went on to win in the second half, breaking Man U hearts and setting up that Last Champions triumph.
I first met Strachan in 1995, at an event at Headingley, the same night Leeds lost at PSV in the UEFA Cup. He’d moved on from Leeds by then, but he was personable and entertaining, showing a love for the club that endured still, and giving very positive answers to questions about the possibility he might one day return to Elland Road. I got a picture with the wee man that evening and, twenty-one years on, I’m hoping to repeat the experience on Friday at Elland Road.
This is when Strachan will return to LS11 for an evening of entertainment and reminiscence. Although it’s the night before Bonfire Night, we can expect some fireworks, as the Scot is notoriously almost as entertaining behind a microphone as he was with a ball at his feet. Organisers Events in the City could also be said to have selected the right man as the centrepiece for a Mischief Night event; Strachan’s play was usually replete with that particular commodity – and he’s never been afraid to speak his mind as a manager either.
So, on Friday, I’ll hope to meet one of my two greatest United heroes for the second time, and maybe get another picture to add to the many memories he’s provided over the years. It’s a close thing for me, between Strachan and Bremner, the obvious similarities nicely balanced out by their few important contrasts. I only met King Billy once, and I was utterly tongue-tied in the presence of greatness. If I do get the chance to talk to wee Gordon on Friday, I shall hope to do a lot better. Watch this space.
Scotland coach Gordon Strachan can be heard by Leeds fans before they have a chance to see him in the flesh again, when he graces the studios of BBC Radio Leeds this evening at 6:00 pm. It’s expected that the one-time Whites skipper, a pivotal figure in the club’s success story of the late eighties and early nineties, will be talking about his Leeds career and memories – as well as his current responsibilities with the Scottish national team, who meet Auld Enemy England in a World Cup qualifier shortly.
The radio feature will be backed by a splash article in the Yorkshire Evening Post over the next few days. Strachan’s return to Elland Road, at an evening dinner organised by Events in the City for the evening of November 4th, is being seen as an exciting prospect for those with memories of the glory days of Sergeant Wilko, Lee Chapman, the late Gary Speed, Strachan himself, and the rest. United won promotion back to the old First Division after eight years in the wilderness, and were Champions of England only two short years later. As achievements go, that’s hard to beat for any club – and even at Leeds, it’s a period outshone only by Don Revie‘s team of all talents.
United fans would do well to listen to Radio Leeds tonight, as well as making sure they catch the YEP article when that appears. Strachan is always good value, with his forthright views, biting wit and of course his memories of the major role he played in Wilko’s United revolution.
Tickets for the Evening With Gordon Strachan event are still available at £55 each, to include a three course meal and a full programme of entertainment. A table for ten can be booked for £500 to see in person a man who has rightly gone down in United history as one of the club’s true heroes.
Wee Gordon’s iconic strike against Leicester City in 1990
The word “legend” is bandied about all too freely in matters showbiz and sporting, but there are a handful of performers in both spheres who truly merit the accolade. One such, in the context of Leeds United Football Club at least, is current Scotland manager and former United captain and hero Gordon Strachan.
It’s twenty-five years now since the red-headed Scottish dynamo lifted the last old-style Football League Championship for the Elland Road outfit, completing a miraculous revival in the space of four years from the bottom of the old Division Two to the very pinnacle of the game. Such on-field leadership and achievement had not been seen in Leeds since the time of that other red-headed firebrand from north of the border, Billy Bremner. It is a massive tribute to Strachan that his name can justifiably be mentioned in the same breath as that of the late, great King Billy. In a world of so many sham legends, both stand proud as the genuine article.
To help mark the silver jubilee of that memorable last Championship, Strachan is due to return to Elland Road on Friday 4th of November for an evening of reminiscence at a dinner event organised by Events in the City. It’s fair to say that the Scot will be revisiting the scene of his greatest triumph, although Strachan’s own take on that might surprise a few people. As far as Gordon is concerned, the greatest achievement of his time at Elland Road was not that “Last Champions” success, but rather the Second Division Championship of two seasons earlier.
When Strachan was signed for Leeds by Howard Wilkinson in 1988, his brief was to be the on-field inspiration behind United’s longed-for return to the top flight. It was the fulfillment of that ambition, so keenly felt in the club itself and more widely in the city of Leeds and beyond, that really fired the former Manchester United man with pride. The fact that he went on to deny his ex-manager at Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson, a first English Title in 1992 ranks modestly second, for Strachan if not for the massed Leeds fans, to that initial achievement. But it must surely have added a piquant tang to the flavour of success that he savoured throughout his Leeds career.
Anybody who followed Gordon Strachan’s career will be aware of this diminutive man’s towering presence on the football field. Feisty, committed and skillful, he embodied all of the qualities that had been lacking in the Leeds midfield since the departure of Bremner over a decade before. The similarities between the two are obvious; but, if anything, Strachan was perhaps slightly more restrained on the field and somewhat more waspish off it. His performances in post-match interviews as a manager have become the stuff of legends in themselves, much admired and retold. After one defeat during his spell as Southampton manager, Strachan was collared in the players’ tunnel and asked by a reporter in what areas his team had been inferior. “Mainly that big green one out there,” was the laconic response. Gordon Strachan was still providing value and entertainment long after his playing career was done, and he continues to do as much to this day.
So it should be a memorable evening at Elland Road on November the 4th. Strachan will be assured of a warm reception in a place where he is rightly revered and, if he operates according to form, he should be well worth listening to. As the event takes place just a week before his Scotland team are due to take on the “Auld Enemy” England, in a World Cup Qualifier, there is also the prospect of some heartfelt cross-border banter to enhance and add an edge to the entertainment.
Whatever the outcome of the clash between the two oldest footballing rival nations, it’s guaranteed that Gordon Strachan will always be welcomed anywhere in England, where he gave sterling service to the Uniteds of Leeds and Manchester, plus Coventry City, as a player – as well as managing both Coventry and Middlesbrough. And the warmest welcome of all, in a city fiercely proud of its legends, will always await him at Elland Road, home of Leeds United FC.
That’s Champion: Leeds Legend Strachan Returns to Elland Road
LEEDS UNITED fans will have a unique opportunity to relive the glory days when club legend Gordon Strachan returns to Elland Road for a glittering dinner that will mark the 25th anniversary of the team winning the title during the 1991-92 season.
Both individual tickets and tables are already selling fast for the event, which will be held in The Centenary Pavilion at Elland Road on Friday 4th November 2016, just a week before the current Scotland manager prepares to take on England in a World Cup qualifying match.
During the event, Gordon will talk about the special times he enjoyed captaining Leeds United to the league title and what it felt like to deny the team’s arch-rivals Manchester United, as well as his former boss Alex Ferguson, who finished as runners-up.
There will also be a three course dinner served, followed by entertainment by a renowned comedian.
A spokesperson from event organiser Events in the City, said: “It’s hard to believe 25 years have passed since Leeds United last lifted a trophy and this will be a great opportunity for Leeds fans to relive lots of the memorable moments with Gordon from that amazing season.
“The fact it takes place a week before the England vs Scotland game will also make it a special occasion and I’m sure the Leeds fans will have plenty to say about that as well!”
The event starts at 7pm, with dinner served at 8pm. The remaining tickets are £55 per person or £500 for a table of 10. Anyone wanting to reserve places should call 07585 002386 or email email@example.com.
Two things we know well about one past and one present Elland Road personality: firstly that erstwhile Leeds United hero and current Scotland coach Gordon Strachan has a dry sense of humour that spares few, especially those who stick unqualified noses into professional football matters. And secondly, that current owner and self-styled captain of the United ship Massimo Cellino is a mess of superstitions and old wives’ tales, allowing his personal and business life to be dictated by a random mix of crazy fears and whimsical beliefs.
It’s difficult not to have a wry smile, then, at the player number allocated for the first Scotland squad featuring Leeds defender Liam Cooper. Coops was handed the 17 shirt, a number that has Cellino climbing the walls to end up in the belfry with like-minded bats. That figure 17 is anathema to il Duce, along with the colour purple and various other perceived supernatural threats. It would be so in character for Strachan, that ultimate professional and put-down merchant, to use the chance to stick a metaphorical needle into Cellino’s quivering hide.
Cellino is not the first superstitious character in Leeds United‘s history of course – though it goes without saying that he bears no comparison with gypsy curse-fearing and lucky blue suit-clad United legend Don Revie. But Don’s beliefs were of a gentler sort; he didn’t press them into the very fabric of the club, inviting derision from within and without. Cellino’s Leeds published a matchday programme for the visit of 17th home league opponent Notts Forest – it was numbered 16b. Beside that, Don’s worn-out blue suit, and his regular pre-match walk down to the corner near the team hotel, seem positively lovable.
Gordon Strachan occupies his own special, permanent niche in Leeds history. He’s moved on, as heroes do, but I have good reason to believe he retains a love of the club. I met him briefly at a function at Headingley in 1995, and he was quite clear then that he could see a return to Elland Road as United manager one day. It’s not something you can envision happening, however, under Cellino’s loco stewardship.
The thing is, despite the schism that Cellino has caused in the ranks of Leeds fans – some obstinately supporting the Italian in the face of opposition from the majority – there is hardly a good word to be heard for the current United owner among professional football people. People who really know their stuff, such as John Giles, have attacked Cellino’s regime bitterly. The more deluded fans in the street aside, il Presidente doesn’t enjoy much informed support – unsurprisingly, given his track record.
It’s unlikely that Liam Cooper will have raised as much as a peep of protest at his dark blue No. 17 shirt. Rookie international players know which side their bread is buttered, and the Scotland dressing room will be well aware of the Boss’s waspish tongue. Once, when asked in the tunnel in the wake of a heavy defeat, “In what areas were your players inferior to the opposition?”, Strachan looked the TV man straight in the eye and replied “Mainly that big green one out there”. Wee Gordon yields to no man in the bandying of words, there’s a book to be filled with his famous and devastating put-downs.
All of this leads me to believe that the issuing of that number 17 to Liam Cooper was no coincidence; that Strachan, with the pro’s resentment of the mess Cellino is making of a great club he loves, has casually aimed a barbed arrow in the Italian’s direction.
I do hope it’s true, and I hope that barb has hit home to fester. The more the game can show its rejection of chancers like Cellino, the better we will all be – including the flat-earth tendency obstinately talking him up.
Good on you, Gordon, let’s have more. It’s believed, however, that rumours the Scotland shirt is to change its colour to purple… are wide of the mark.
The more I see of football these days, with all of its allegedly “world class” stars, the more I think of the guy who scored the first goal I ever saw Leeds United score – in the flesh, so to speak. His hair was red and fuzzy and his body black and blue, and his name was Billy Bremner. God alone knows what he’d be worth today – sadly, he hasn’t been around since that awful time, eighteen years ago exactly, when football was deprived of a legend and Leeds United began to come to terms with the loss of a man who embodied everything that the Last Champions were all about, at their very, very best.
On the 7th December 1997, two days short of his 55th birthday, our greatest captain Billy Bremner died following a heart attack after a bout of pneumonia. The Leeds United world was plunged into shock and mourning at the death of a true hero, and the game’s great and good attended his funeral in Edlington. The tiny church, packed to the rafters with household names, was resounding testimony to the respect in which the wee man was held by all who knew the legend. Old comrades and old foes alike were there to say goodbye to an icon who had left us tragically young, but who had emblazoned his name across an era not wanting for stars.
Scoring for Leeds
Billy Bremnerwas quite simply a phenomenon. From the earliest days of his Leeds United career, once he had recovered from a bout of home-sickness for his native Stirling in Scotland, he was an automatic selection for the first team, unless injury or suspension ruled him out. He was a warrior, despite his diminutive size, but he was blessed with all the other attributes needed for a central midfielder on the battlegrounds of the English First Division. Skill, courage, “workrate” – as it’s known these days – were combined with sheer guts, tenacity, will to win – and that indefinable x-factor that ultimately set him apart from other gifted performers. A ball-winner, a talented user of the ball once won, a relentless harrier of the opposition for the full ninety minutes plus of each gruelling game – and a scorer of great goals too. Bremner was a big occasion man, a serial winner of semi-finals (Man U being his favourite victims), a man who unfailingly stepped up to the mark when his team-mates and fans needed him. He was utterly self-effacing in the interests of what was best for the team.“Side before self, every time“was his motto, and he lived up to those words for as long as he was involved in football.
Some called him dirty. And he was as capable as most other combative central midfielders of a bit of feisty skullduggery – but to define him by his occasional sins would be short-sighted in the extreme and would display, moreover, a lack of awareness of exactly what his game was all about. A consummate passer of the ball – with the neat reverse pass a speciality, flummoxing and wrong-footing many an international-class opponent – Bremner was the epitome of Don Revie‘s Leeds United, a team who said “If you want to play, we’ll out-play you; if you want to battle, we’ll out-battle you.” They usually out-thought and out-psyched the opposition as well. Many a visiting player was artfully allowed a glimpse as they passed by of the sign on the home team dressing room wall at Elland Road. “Keep Fighting”, it said – which was what Leeds United, guided by Don Revie off the field and Billy Bremner on it, did – and they did it better than just about anybody else.
Leeds United hero
The Sunday Times perhaps summed-up Billy Bremner as well and as succinctly as anyone. “Ten stone of barbed wire” they called him – the image of a spiky, perilous bundle of energy conjured up in five telling words. I saw an old clip on YouTube recently, grainy black and white footage of some or other game back in the day, and there had been an incident that set the players en masse at each other’s throats. Bremner – unusually – must have been some way off when the flashpoint occurred, for he was nowhere to be seen with the melée already well established. And then, from the right-hand margin of the screen, came this white-clad, unmistakable figure, tiny but fierce, hurtling towards the centre of the conflict with the desire to weigh in on behalf of the team writ large in every line of his being. He was a frenetic mixture of Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil, plunging into the fray like some one-man whirlwind, wreaking his own inimitable brand of havoc. Bremner was famous, even notorious, for this – for his battle-cry of “cut one of us, and we all bleed.” Billy shed blood in the United cause – usually, it must be said, not his own. But a thug he was not, and any team, any time, anywhere in the world would break the bank to have a Billy Bremner in his prime among their number. Fortunately for Leeds United, he loved the club and served it for sixteen years, becoming synonymous with the famous Whites of Elland Road. As Leeds fans, we could nominate no better candidate for the honorific title of “Mr. Leeds United”. Only the great John Charles, operating in a much less successful era at Leeds and destined to win his medals on foreign fields, could come anywhere near.
My second match as a Leeds United supporter was the European Cup semi-final, first leg againstCF Barcelona, Johann Cruyff, Johann Neeskens and all. Those two Dutch masters, with all the other glitterati of the Catalans’ world-class line-up were expected to have too much for a United side on the cusp of just dipping over the hill. The previous Saturday, I’d made my first visit to Elland Road and had seen us lose to Liverpool. I was all agog at the atmosphere, and didn’t really care about the result – I just wanted more.
BBC Commentary, Leeds Utd v Barcelona 9.4.75
So it was that my first ever Leeds United goal came to be scored by Billy Bremner himself, the greatest player in the greatest team United ever had. A long ball from Johnny Giles, headed down by Joe Jordan, found King Billy in enough space on the edge of the area at the South Stand end. He measured the situation, took aim and rifled the ball superbly, well wide of the helpless keeper, into the top left-hand corner. The din was deafening, like nothing I’d ever heard before, and rarely since. “Elland Road erupts” intoned David Coleman for the BBC, when he could make himself heard. The image of the small, red-headed giant belting that ball home will live with me to my last day. I’ve always been proud that my first goal was scored by King Billy. I feel as though, in a funny way, I own that goal.
Leeds United’s first match after the death of Billy Bremner was away to Chelsea, the kind of fixture that Bremner used to relish. It turned out to be a game that couldn’t have been more of a tribute to the departed Billy if someone had designed it so. United had two men sent off in what might be termed a lively encounter, and with nine warriors left, inspired by the memory of The Greatest, they battled, scrapped and fought their way to a 0-0 draw in the finest traditions of the Leeds United of old. The travelling hordes in Leeds colours were fully awareof the significance of the occasion. “Nine men and Billy….we’ve got nine men and Billy!“, they sang, loud, proud and raucous. “Billy Bremner’s barmy army” got many a refrain as well. The fans had said farewell to the Captain of the Crew in a manner hugely identifiable with the man himself and with the fighting traditions of the great side he led with such distinction. As far as these things can be, it was deeply fitting, and those who remembered Billy gave a knowing nod of appreciation.
RIP Billy Bremner. Departed far too soon, and greatly missed still. It’s unlikely we’ll ever have another quite like you.
Following on from yesterday’s Old Firm piece which was provoked by an advert placed by Celtic fans in the Scottish Sunday Herald, I find myself one day on having taken quite a lot on board. I’m somewhat bewildered by the strength of feeling on both sides of the argument, considerably better informed as to the legal position insofar as it defines the status and existence of Glasgow RangersFC – and not one whit persuaded away from my original position that trying to wish or argue a rival football club out of existence is just plain wrong.
I’ve been accused of many things by those outraged over yesterday’s piece. Some of these people have been Leeds fans – the very last people I would expect to support the idea of football fans wishing the worst that can happen to rivals – to lose their very history. One Leeds guy asked me why I was speaking up for the Rangers end of things “as Leeds have far more links with Celtic”. It’s difficult to know whether to take people seriously at times. Am I really to be guided by the irrelevant fact of which clubs are closest or more nearly linked to my own team?
I should say yet again that I am not a Rangers fan. I’ve never really been able to decide who to back in Old Firm games, but I’ve always watched them for the sheer spectacle. So I’ve tended to hope that whichever team seems currently to be playing the better and more attractive should prevail. I’ve generally enjoyed the blood and thunder of these fixtures. From now on, though, I’ll probably be hoping (vainly, I’m sure, on Sunday) for Rangers success whenever these two meet. I’ve just been so shocked and horrified by the sheer spite and malicious venom displayed by the majority of Celtic fans who responded.
The thing is, I know what it is truly to hate another football club. I find it hard to describe the depths of my loathing for Manchester United. I despise them and all they stand for – I feel they’ve been instrumental in bending our game completely out of shape this past two decades. But wish them out of existence? No, not at all. I want that rivalry, I want them there so that I can carry on hating them. I’ve published articles decrying their debatable achievements since Murdoch bought the game and skewed it in their favour – but I wouldn’t want to be without them. They’re the gift that keeps on giving for someone whorelishes a bit of sporting hatred.
So the attitude of so many Celtic fans simply baffles me, as well as leaving me a bit cold. I can’t relate to such dog-in-the-manger lack of empathy with fellow fans, it is alien to me – and I hope to most proper fans of the game. I’m also persuaded by a lot of what I’ve read in an extensive comments thread that not only do Rangers have a tradition and history case for claiming to have survived as a club – this appears to be the legal position too – despite the wishful thinking clung to, against all logic and precedent, by so many Celtic fans.
I hope the Old Firm game tomorrow is a good one. I expect Celtic to win – and it will be interesting to see the fans’ reaction when they score, against what they are claiming is a new club with no history and no tradition of rivalry with the Celts. And yet I’m willing to bet there’s not a ticket to be had with a sold-out Celtic allocation – and that they’ll celebrate with joyful abandon any goals scored against a team they now deny makes up the Old Firm of glorious tradition.
Hypocrisy, a lack of feeling for the game and what it means to be a fan – and rank, vicious hatred not just for Rangers FC, but for their history and the fact that they have out-performed Celtic over the century-plus of the Scottish League. That sums up what I’ve gleaned of the green and white psyche this past twelve hours or so. It’s not something I’d have thought anyone could be proud of – whereas everything I’ve heard from Rangers fans has rung with pride and passion – despite their long fall and slow climb back.
Enjoy the match tomorrow, may the best team win. And may we have many more Old Firm games in the future.
For your average Leeds United fanatic – or even for an iconic one such as myself – the sight of a club legend in Gordon Strachan having his nose well and truly rubbed in it can rarely be pleasant viewing. Equally, for a devotee of all things righteously White, to behold the over-rated and grossly over-hyped Mr Wayne “Shrek” Rooney filling his boots at the expense of said legend would normally be an uncomfortable not to say painful experience. But last night at Celtic Park, both circumstances came to pass – and yet it was an evening of unalloyed pleasure for any England fan who grew up to a background of Auld Enemy rivalry.
Back in the day, the England versus Scotland mini-war was an annual fixture, alternating between Hampden Park in Glasgow and Wembley, the latter drenched in Tartan every other year as the unwashed made the pilgrimage south. It was the perpetuation of the original and best International Football rivalry; the very first ever match between two countries was Scotland v England on 30 November 1872. 4,000 people saw a 0-0 draw on that occasion – the great days of this fixture were still to come.
The great days of Leeds United also lay far in the future – and in that era of Revie’s Super Leeds, the club boasted a cadre of fine Scottish international players (see picture above) who I and thousands of other United fans worshipped as footballing Gods. But once a year, when England met Scotland, they were The Enemy – and I for one wanted nothing more than to see the likes of Alan Ball, Mike Channon and Kevin Keegan stamp the Sweaties into the turf, North or South of the border. Sometimes it happened, sometimes we were disappointed. I remember regarding Gordon McQueen with a particularly baleful eye after his two goals sank England at Wembley, on a day when the Scots appropriated the crossbars as souvenirs of a memorable win.
Over the years, the two nations battled nip and tuck for historical supremacy, each having periods of dominance. In the almost 142 years since that first fixture, England have edged it. Last night’s victory by 3-1 was the Three Lions’ 47th such triumph, with Scotland trailing in at 41. This latest success must have been one of the most convincing by England, certainly in recent times. Scotland had a job done on them, big time. England’s performance was emphatic, conclusive, and the boys in blue had no answer to the white tide which engulfed them.
This tone had been set right from the first minute with Woy’s Warriors setting a pattern of dominance in the early stages they would maintain throughout. The breakthrough was half an hour coming and somewhat overdue when Oxlade-Chamberlain, somewhat lacking in delivery with the ball at his feet, found a sublime headed touch from Wilshere’s laser-accurate deep cross, finding the corner of the Scottish net. So it remained at the interval but, despite the narrowness of the margin, Scotland had been on the end of a footballing lesson.
The consensus of agreement among the half-time pundits was that the hosts could not afford to go two down if they were to salvage anything from the encounter. This, however, they proceeded to do a mere 90 seconds into the second half as England took a vice-like grip on proceedings. The origin of what proved to be a killer goal was in a crude and stupid foul from Mulgrew who cynically took out the stampeding Ox as the Arsenal youngster raced down the right. Mulgrew was a little fortunate to escape with a mere yellow, but the fallout was to prove fatal for the Tartan Army. From the free kick, the ball was half-cleared and then bobbled about in the Scottish area before sitting up for Rooney to flex his neck and direct a fine header past helpless sub goalkeeper Gordon.
True to the intense rivalry of this fixture, Scotland did appear to fight their way back into the match with a goal after good work between Robertson and Russell ended with the former squeezing the ball between Forster and his near post. England, rather than quailing and succumbing to late nerves, simply appeared to be provoked into further action. The ball was played down the right from the restart and, from a throw in, the visitors contrived a spell of consummate possession under pressure on the Scottish left flank, before Lallana was released into the area to set up a sitter for Rooney’s second of the night.
3-1 and finis. England were probably worth a goal or two more; despite the creditable battling of the Scots, they had in truth been completely outclassed and outplayed. The most jarring note of the whole night was struck by England coach Roy Hodgson in his post-match remarks, when he saw fit to apologise for any offence caused to anyone who might have had their feelings hurt by some anti-IRA chanting from the England support. Things have come to a pretty pass, surely, when a football man in the afterglow of a fine victory should seek to soothe the wounded sensibilities of those negatively affected by anti-terrorism sentiments. It was an odd end to a fine night for England. Scotland, fresh from a run in which results and performances have been positively encouraging, will have a new awareness this morning of their actual place in the scheme of things.
Sometimes it’s really tough to be a Leeds fan. Today is a good example when – despite a much-improved performance against Leicester City and some regained pride, it’s still the case that we’ve lost again. Cue the mickey-takers from lesser clubs, delighted at our discomfiture, parading their lack of class by airing all the tired old jibes we’ve all heard and got sick of long ago. It’s all part of the Leeds-supporting experience, the perennial fact that there’s a lot of idiots out there who hate us, without really knowing why. It’s also how we distinguish ourselves from the mundane pack of everyday clubs – if you hate Leeds United, have a go. And they do their poor best – but it’s usually distressingly feeble stuff, as witness today’s collection of social media misfits retailing their horribly unfunny shafts of “wit”. We just have to put up with it and move on, serene in the knowledge that We Are Leeds. I’ve been Leeds for most of my life – never really had any choice about it. And for this, I give thanks daily.
Leeds United was just something that happened to me on the way to adulthood. By an accident of birth and timing, I found myself living 13 miles away from LS11 and the greatest club side in Europe (see above), just around the time I became seriously interested in football. I’d misguidedly spent my pre-teenage years with my nose stuck in a succession of classic Sci-Fi novels, so the Glory Years mostly passed me by. My Dad had been a life-long supporter though, and everyone at school was Leeds apart from the odd much-bullied Man U fan – so it was impossible not to go with the flow, and once I’d been introduced to that Elland Road experience, I was hooked for life. The timing was particularly unfortunate however. Unlike my golden-boy git of a brother, who’d waxed smug on the successes of the late 60s and early 70s, I started going to the match in the first post-Revie season, and my time supporting Leeds has been one of a long and heartbreaking decline, punctuated by the brief joy of the Wilko reign, and to a lesser extent, that of O’Leary. So it’s been tough. But it could have been so much worse.
I could, for instance, have been a Newcastle fan. Imagine that. My Dad is 86 now, bless him. Newcastle’s last title was won in the year he was born, 1927. Alfred Hitchcock released his first film that year. Communists were fighting bloody street battles with Nazis in Berlin. Charles Lindbergh became the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic. In brief, it’s a long, long time for an allegedly big club to go without a League Title. Newcastle fans are famous for their blind devotion to “the Toon”, and it’s hard to imagine such fanaticism being so little rewarded over such a long period – although I do recall a crowd of 7,000 at St James Park after one of their frequent relegations had been confirmed. It’s now the best part of fifty years since they won anything at all, and yet still the love affair goes on, fueled largely, it must be said, by a pathological hatred of near neighbours Sunderland. Thousands of Newcastle fans know nothing but failure and empty-handed season upon season. How awful must that be. Still, they’re the biggest club in the North-East – which is a bit like being the tallest mountain in Holland. At least Leeds fans have the history and knowledge of success, so that our expectations, whilst unrealistic, at least remain alive and kicking. Newcastle’s are long, long dead.
Or I could have been a Celtic fan. God – even worse. Sure, they’ve won loads of trophies, but with one sparkling exception those have been gathered in the face of opposition that would shame the English second tier. At best, they’ve usually come first or second in a two horse race, and now even that other horse has gone lame, as Rangers tread a perilous path back from financial ruin via the muck and nettles of Scottish lower leagues. Celtic did of course become the first British club to win the European Cup in 1967 – and they did it, what’s more, with a team of local lads under the legendary Jock Stein. But that one fantastic achievement is poor reward for having to witness year upon year of procession football as Celtic trudged on, one of two out-of-place whales in a tiny fishpond. Who would be a Celtic fan now? It’s not sport up there, it’s lambs to the slaughter with about as much entertainment value as watching Farsley Celtic reserves on a wet November night. Scottish football remains a laughing-stock, and Celtic must take much of the blame for that with their perennial failure to make a mark on the continent, despite routine Champions League qualification.
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t change a thing about my years of supporting Leeds. We have the history, the fan-base (still), the notoriety as “The Damned United”, and little of the Sky-era false glitz and glamour of the current crop of Premier League pretenders. You still see Leeds fans wherever you might trot around the globe, and no-one could call those lads and lasses glory-hunters – but they do have the pride of an honour-laden history which is denied to all but the most feeble and elderly Newcastle fans – and Leeds fans also have the serene knowledge that the honours and the history have been won in the white heat of intense competition, not by near-default as those worthless baubles up in Scotland have been soullessly accrued.
Marching On Together. We Are Leeds. Thanks, Dad, for bringing me up to be Leeds, and for saving me from some pretty pallid alternatives.