At various times over the past few years, since Leeds United’s well-documented “fall from grace”, there have been those in the media who have been all too eager to drone on about how the Whites are no longer Yorkshire’s top club. At one point, some local TV hack – it may or may not have been Harry Gration, I simply can’t recall – almost salivated over his autocue in his eagerness to get out the obviously pre-prepared line “Yorkshire’s top club Hull City”, showing no outward trace of the embarrassment he must surely have felt. It was all so cringeworthy, as if any temporary arrangement of league placements could ever alter the immutable fact that Leeds United are Yorkshire’s number one, as they have been for well over half a century.
Now, one game into United’s first top flight season since 2004, even those who thrive on bare, soulless statistics are left without an argument, as Leeds’ only fellow Premier League Yorkshire club fell to a routine home defeat at the hands of Wolves. This left Leeds, despite their thrillingly gallant defeat by the odd goal in seven at Anfield, as the highest placed Yorkshire club, further reinforcing their historically predominant status in God’s Own County.
For Sheffield United, it may well be that “second season syndrome” will blight their campaign which, judging by their Blunt attack, could well develop into a struggle for survival. It’s early days, obviously, but there could hardly have been more of a contrast in the first game performances of the two Yorkshire clubs. It’ll be interesting indeed to see how their respective fortunes progress from here on in – but, for now, it’s good to see the league table confirming what we all know was always the case; Leeds United are Yorkshire’s Number One.
Some unlikely candidates have put themselves forward as “rivals” to Leeds United over the last decade and a half, as Yorkshire’s finest have languished in the middle two tiers of English football’s four division structure. Some, such as Barnsley and Huddersfield, have had few pretensions to be compared size or history wise with United, but feel a tribal enmity based on geographical proximity, which is understandable enough. The same might be said of the two Sheffield clubs, or even Bradford City.
All these local clubs, together with the likes of Reading, Millwall, Derby etc etc have sought to exploit the reduced circumstances of Leeds for as long as their top flight exile lasted, to suggest that genuine two-way rivalries were in place. That bubble of delusion popped with United’s overdue elevation to the Premier League, and the realisation that the traditional enmities would now be cordially resumed. In the hearts and minds of Leeds fans, it was always about the likes of man utd and Chelski, with those clubs reciprocating the extreme dislike, even during our long absence from actual competitive involvement.
But, even in the Premier League, there are lesser clubs who clearly yearn to carry the mantle of “Leeds United’s rivals”, however ridiculous such a claim seems in the absence of any reciprocal antipathy, or indeed any real interest on the part of the Leeds fan base. Still, that hasn’t stopped certain clubs from fondly imagining there’s a rivalry there, and one in particular is extremely reluctant to give up on even such an outlandish notion.
For Brighton and Hove Albion – not so much the club itself, more their fans and adherent local press – the time since the end of last season seems to have been a prolonged and unaccustomed spell in the spotlight, due entirely to Leeds United’s pursuit of Ben White, who spent a gloriously successful Championship campaign on loan at Elland Road and was now wanted by United on a permanent basis. The move never happened, despite repeated efforts on the part of Leeds, and despite the player himself being widely regarded as wanting a return to West Yorkshire. In the end, Brighton stood firm, and Leeds, after making three offers and having them all turned down, reluctantly looked elsewhere and signed a German international for around half what they’d been willing to pay for White, who lacks any experience at all of top flight football, let alone the international arena. So Brighton kept their player, Leeds got a more than adequate replacement in Robin Koch, and Ben himself, at long last, got a contract acceptable to him, given the value placed upon him by his parent club. Case closed, so you’d have thought.
But no. The Brighton support and the local press for the region were not willing to give up so much delicious attention, and set about trying to force an unlikely rivalry with a club and support base hundreds of miles to the north, both of which habitually looked west to the red quarter of Manchester for its chief object of dislike and derision.
For Brighton, the Ben White tranfer saga evidently represented their biggest day in the sun since a Cup Final appearance (coinciding with relegation) 37 years ago. Looking further back, their only other real mark on history was a Charity Shield triumph sometime prior to the Great War of 1914-18, so it’s reasonably understandable that their fans should wish to prolong any spell in the public eye. But the ridiculousness of their efforts to talk up a “rivalry” is to be found in the fact that such efforts persisted even after Leeds ended their interest in Ben White, with the local press tagging Leeds in any tweets relating to his eventual new contract, and the Brighton fans on Twitter eagerly attempting to troll bemused Leeds United fans, who remained preoccupied with more traditional rivals and only thought of Brighton when Quadrophenia was on the telly.
It was all most unedifying, and it’s a stark warning that we can’t expect much more by way of dignity and restraint in the Premier League than we ever found at lower levels. I got drawn into the slanging match myself at various points before it became clear that, despite his wishes in the matter (confirmed today by his agent), Ben White would not be sold to Leeds at any price. At that point, I stopped taking the mick about Bielsaball versus Potterball, and moved onto more pressing matters – such as how the EFL would survive without Leeds United. But the Brighton fans persisted, becoming more evidently needy and utterly ridiculous with each passing day. Abandoning any sense of irony or perspective, they’re vying with each other to label United a small club, heading straight back down, which is insolence if you like, and pretty foolhardy stuff to boot. But the relentless tagging of LUFC by the Brighton tweeters and the Sussex Bugle, or whatever it’s called, continues unabated. This is a club unused to such attention, and clearly its supporters are desperate to prolong the experience as far and as long as possible.
The whole thing reflects pretty poorly on the Brighton support, certainly of the online variety, which has been encouraged in its collective acts of self-ridicule by a local press clearly cottoning onto the fact that tagging Leeds in any published piece will increase the number of hits exponentially. Again, I’ll exclude the club itself from those remarks, due to their determination in resisting offers from a bigger club, which you have to applaud. They also showcased Ben White in a video allowing him to express his appreciation of his time at Leeds, and to thank the fans for the support and adulation he received here. That was classy stuff, and there was no real need for Brighton to do it, so fair play.
Perhaps – just perhaps – Brighton & Hove Albion still remember that Leeds United helped save them financially when they were enduring hard times, by signing goalkeeper Mark Beeney for a significant sum, which went a long way towards alleviating a threatening situation at the time. That’s a factor that the local press down there, and the eager-beaver online fans might do well to take into account before bringing down even more ridicule upon themselves. However recent Leeds United’s elevation to the top level, it’s an undeniable fact that the Elland Road outfit is by far and away a bigger club than Brighton could ever dream of being, with a far more illustrious history, a fan base that spans the globe and (let’s face it) a much better coach and the makings of a squad that will compare well even with such an – ahem – established Premier League force as Brighton.
The moral of this tale is probably: choose your rivals well, and don’t punch above your weight – something the over-enthusiastic Brighton fans have flouted, thereby making themselves look several shades of daft. There’s a perfectly good south coast rival in Southampton, not an incongruously bigger beast as Leeds are, and therefore much less likely to reflect poorly on and embarrass the Brighton club. From here on in, it’s to be hoped that the Seagulls, fans and hacks alike, will conduct themselves in a more seemly and less cringeworthy manner – but I suppose we’d better not hold our breath.
A combination of Leeds United’s positive start to the Championship campaign, along with the fact of some rivals’ struggles when promoted to the Premier League, might give rise to doubts among our number as to how United would cope with our own longed-for elevation to the elite – should it finally happen. It’s a fair question, even at this early stage of the season – counting no chickens and not wanting to sound too arrogant, it still is very definitely something we’ve every right to ponder. After all, we’ve built up such momentum as a club this past year or so, with Elland Road packed every home game and thousands following the lads all over the country. There’s no denying it’s been a blast, we even surpassed some of the expectations and odds provided by the best pundits of the Sports betting and news sites, even given last season’s ultimate disappointment. Do we really relish the idea of trading all of that for the negativity of a long, grim relegation struggle in the Premier League next year? But that train of thought, logical and realistic though it might be, flies in the face of Leeds United’s urgent need for a return to where it truly belongs.
In considering our chances of survival if this season did see us making a successful promotion challenge, we’d do well to take with a pinch of salt the current club response to rumours of a possible takeover somewhere down the line. The Leeds owner’s position is given as being willing to consider more inward investment, while refusing to contemplate an actual sale of the club. But many fans, as well as many seasoned football pundits, feel that Leeds would have to change hands if they were to have a chance of competing towards the higher echelons of the Premier League. Even then, there’d be the strictures of Financial Fair Play to be negotiated; some of the club’s biggest challenges in a higher sphere would, it appears, be off the field of play. But the likes of Wolves have shown it’s possible to operate to a model that permits more than just a struggle to survive, and this is the type of example that United must follow, should they finally escape the clutches of the Football League.
Huddersfield struggled feebly for two seasons and then meekly surrendered. Hull City did well for a while, but now they’re back down. It will be interesting to see how Sheffield United fare in the top flight, after their steady start. But surely Leeds United, given the right type of ownership and structure, should be able to envisage a more secure foothold at a higher level than any of these Yorkshire rivals were able to achieve.
Clearly, we have to focus on promotion first and foremost, but it’s as well to have plans in place a long way in advance of any realisation of our current ambitions. So now really is the time to be wondering how we’d cope – and I firmly believe that those questions are already echoing around the corridors of power inside Elland Road. What the answers will be, who can say? But Leeds fans, who will remember how United set about the top flight on our previous two promotions in 1964 and 1990, are unlikely to settle for a weak approach next time. They will want to see us challenging as of old – and I believe it’s in this club’s DNA to do just that.
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 theywere, 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 5th1975and then, the following Wednesday, I’d see Leeds United take on the mighty Barcelona,Cruyff,Neeskensand 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 havesulked throughboth 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 ofUnitedfanaticism, his own passion for theclub 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’ geniusin 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 footballlegends.
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 fromLowfieldswith my dad, via the Boys’ Pen to theGelderdEnd Kop. I’d inherited the mantle ofthe family’sUnitedfanatic, 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 sawUnitedscore 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 apermanentpart of Elland Road with a“Father and Son”stone in Bremner Square, as pictured above. It’s taken me a while, but at last Ithink I’ve found the most fitting and enduring wayto say “thanks, Dad”. MOT, wherever you may be.
David Prutton, now a Sky Sports pundit but nicknamed “Jesus” by Leeds fans once upon a time, due to his startling resemblance to the alleged Son of God, might therefore be wryly amused by the fact that United’s automatic promotion hopes appeared to die on Good Friday. As yet, and with a barren Easter Monday visit to Brentford answering no prayers originating in and around LS11, there seems to be nary a sign of any resurrection for what was probably a misplaced optimism that we might find a straightforward path out of the EFL wilderness. Barring a miracle on a par with the loaves and fishes gig, it’s likely that Leeds United will, after all, have to settle for a play-offs lottery that has served them so ill on so many occasions in the past.
But, soft. Perhaps the time for despair is not yet nigh. Any neutral observer looking at the twists and turns taken by this season’s Championship promotion race will note that it’s been a consistently inconsistent affair, predictable only in its inscrutable unpredictability. You couldn’t have made it up, such observers would say, possibly gasping and throwing their hands in the air to signify outraged disbelief. If you were writing a script, they might add, you wouldn’t have dared include so many plot twists, for fear of being dismissed as some lunatic sensationalist with a bevy of bats in the belfry. Why, then, should we assume that all is done and dusted with two games yet to be played for each interested party? Why on earth would we now presume to predict an outcome that has from day one been so capriciously impossible to foresee?
Out of such perverse logic might appear the odd straw for fans of Leeds United eagerly to clutch with a fierce defiance born of pure desperation. Could Ipswich get a point at Bramall Lane while a depleted Leeds triumph over the division’s form team Aston Villa, leaving things on a last day knife-edge? Of course not. But then again, you might have argued as dismissively about ten man Wigan’s chances of overcoming a one goal deficit to beat the Championship’s best home ground team in Leeds. And you’d surely have bet against a QPR side that had lost seven on the bounce somehow defying the match stats to see our heroes off 1-0 the other week. All of which proves the truth of the old saw about not counting chickens before they’ve hatched.
Of course, in public, I’m maintaining a front of stoical resignation and predicting yet more play-off disappointment for my beloved Whites. My perceived sanity and any remaining shreds of credibility probably depend upon this outward display of common sense. But this little blog is my private fantasy land – and here, all things are possible until the actual point at which it can be shown they haven’t actually happened. So, just between you and me, gentle reader, I will cling on to my faint but still flickering hopes that a miracle could yet occur, and that we might yet see our favourites ascend to the Promised Land as of right, instead of having to trust to that fickle and Leeds-hating jade Lady Luck. You never know, it could still just happen.
Hell fire, friends – we might yet even win the Championship. The kind of roller-coaster script this year’s League has apparently followed might actually demand a properly daft denouement like that. Keep the faith.
If anyone thinks I might be losing my nerve here, losing a bit of faith and belief – then let me tell them, they couldn’t be more right. At the time of writing, with Leeds United having somehow contrived to seize defeat from the jaws of victory against the ten men of Wigan Athletic at Elland Road last Friday – Good Friday? Don’t make me laugh – I am having a severe attack of the football-related collywobbles. Fatalistic is what I’m feeling. My experience of being a Leeds fan, together with my knowledge of the Whites’ appalling play-offs record down the years, leads me to believe that it’s automatic promotion, or bust. Currently, I have a nasty feeling that we might have blown it.
Obviously it’s tight at the top. Right now, before the Easter Monday games are played, Leeds are out of the top two only on goal difference, and both United and the Blunts still have nine points to play for. All of which means that anything could still happen, and there may well be another twist or two still to come. Really, we have to hope that this is the case – as the alternative to going up as of right is to submit ourselves to the lottery of the play-offs. And then, the logic goes: lottery implies a large element of chance and luck. Leeds United do not get much luck, not of the good sort, anyway. Ergo, if it’s the play-offs for Leeds… we’re screwed.
You don’t exactly have to be a student of Elland Road history to see the truth of this. Right back to the very first year of the play-offs, we lost out in the most tragic and unfortunate of circumstances to Charlton Athletic, having thought we were on our way up after a John Sheridan free kick put us ahead in a replay at neutral St. Andrews. Let’s draw a veil over what happened next. After that first, ill-starred attempt, we’ve had a few more stabs at the promotion lottery, with consistently negative outcomes. The semi-finals have usually been OK, but once we get to that showpiece play-off final, it just all turns to angst and despair. Really, it’s almost preferable to finish right out of the picture and kid on we were never that bothered about going up – not that we have such an option this time around. The play-offs, for Leeds United, have always been about misery and disappointment. Does anybody really believe it would be any different this time around?
Of course, what I’m trying to do here is apply a little reverse psychology, hoping that Fate will listen and be influenced enough to either send us up automatically, or make sure that we buck our previous play-off trend and have ourselves a glory, glory day at Wembley. It’s pretty much all I can think of just now, and at least I’m having a go. As ever, I’ll welcome your comments, the more optimistic the better. Now is the time to be clutching at straws – we can save the post mortems for such time as the worst has happened.
Families, communities, a whole nation divided over LEXIT
It’s April 2019 and it’s been going on too long now. The people have spoken and yet have had to suffer interminable setbacks; delays, long drawn out negotiations, broken promises, missed deadlines, and things are still not resolved. In your darkest moments you imagine it going on forever. The issue has divided the nation. And yet still you’re living in this impasse.
It’s time for Leeds to leave the EFL! LEXIT IS LONG OVERDUE!
There was the time you’d outlined in bitter tones to your bitter other half that though LUFC were big other lesser teams had been acquired and funded by billionaires who virtually bought them entrance to the hallowed portals of the Premiership. Look at Wolves in the 2017-18 season you’d said. Loans to buy of top international players through the workings of an agent on the board! And then the skewed distribution of TV money. Relegated teams coming down with huge parachute payments. An outrage that unlevelled the playing field in all sorts of ways.
‘Well other teams seem to manage to get promotion,’ she’d come back with.
And for the reasons you’d outlined you’d answered. And what had been her rejoinder? ‘There is no magic money tree! You reap what you sow!’
‘And we’d sown Bates had we?’ you’d replied.
‘Who? You live according to your means,’ she’d added.
You‘d been feeling quite proud of that little snippet of repartee about Bates that hadn’t earned you any points till only later in the pub in your retelling of the spat to friends. The clarity of the scene lived in your mind. It wasn’t when you’d told her that she’d sounded like Theresa May but when you’d added with deliberate vitriol that she was starting to look like her that your missus had packed her bags and left again.
You’ve been a fan of Championship football for years although not through choice. And you’ve praised its qualities of honesty, speed, intensity, and so on that you’d outlined to disinterested pseudo Arsenal, Spurs (add a team) fans who’d never been to any of the grounds of the teams they purported to follow whilst they’ve waxed lyrically about their ‘support’ at work or at the pub watching Sky Sports. The Championship was beneath them. Unless of course they’d picked one of the ‘wrong’ teams like West Ham, WBA, (insert suitable name again) and were then doomed to explore the delights of ‘yo-yo-ness’; until they realised their mistake quickly and bought a Liverpool shirt, etc. backing it up with a flaky reason for their sudden change of allegiance.
But it isn’t as easy as that for you. You loyalties lie in whatever sphere your club happens to find itself. This brings you to another sad memory about the currently departed missus. You’d told her often enough that Leeds would get out of that division – and then it had happened. But not how you wanted. It had been almost unthinkable but only one year on from a play-off final Leeds were in League One! And a brief glance at a map showed you that Swansea and Yeovil were a long way away. And oh she had laughed. And without a word you’d walked out and not come back for three days while you licked your wounds and studied a road atlas looking for places like Cheltenham only to find she’d gone.
Well she’s not laughing now. Or she might be but not at home. Your bet is she’ll come back contrite when your forecasted Lexit proves to be right. And when she does she’ll find you looking at next season’s fixture list and wondering how much places like Old Trafford, Goodison, and Anfield have changed since you were last there. And also Highbury – scrub that. Arsenal were now at a ground you’d never been to. Add to that list White Hart Lane. And no longer would you have to trek to the old Boleyn ground, a loss you’re prepared to bear stoically if Lexit finally happens.
The truth is though you’ve extolled the virtues of the Championship for years; how it’s more exciting, and harder for overpaid non-performers dropping from the Premiership who just want the bright lights of places like London, and the TV coverage you’re tired of being a Championship fan. Or rather you’re tired of Leeds being a Championship team. And if Leeds are now geared up to be a Premiership team again, you, who has served his penance for past owners’ misdemeanours, feel you’re more than ready to be a Premiership fan again. Admittedly Bournemouth, Brighton and Southampton are further than the likes of Reading, Stoke and Derby but you’ll take that. And in leaving wish all Championship fans luck in the future – obviously not those in places like Bermondsey and Sheffield.
And the delicious irony is that the EFL will have to struggle along without its prize asset and cash cow once Leeds have left despite their best efforts to keep you in their league. At this moment you feel there’s light at the end of a long tunnel even if that glorious light is slightly overshadowed by the spectre of Shaun Harvey following you to the Premiership and getting a top job. You will not let him be the black dog Cerberus chasing you in your dreams. And surely after Lexit there’ll be better referees and kick-off times, less biased commentary and punditry, and the ability to attract top talent – in short, all the things that Lexiteers have promised you.
But back to the mythical magic money tree for a moment. The one you’d yearned for so long and that other teams had seemed to conjure up to get promotion. The amazing thing was that so far the missing missus had been proved right. Fifteen players loaned out; and the few incoming loans and couple of money signings not having played a major part in the process this season. If Lexit is achieved it will be by organisation, dedication, planning and commitment. All the qualities you’ve brought to bear in your support.
And the club will have played its part too of course.
So there you are. Still waiting and praying for Lexit but this time with genuine hope of an early deliverance. You long to say to the EFL (and Shaun Harvey in particular) ‘In the name of God go!’
Yes, the LUFC fraternity (and of course sisterhood) have spoken with one voice and their combined wish is this: ‘Lexit means Lexit! And it has to happen soon!’
And with that thought constantly in mind you retire to the pub with fellow minded fans to feel the consolation and solidarity of their emotions as they empathise with what you’re going through. And for a short while you can relax as one of them retells your favourite Man U joke. You may know it word for word but there is a comfort in repetition and usually a new pair of ears to take in its poignancy –
‘The wife decided to wear a Manchester United top for a week to see the public reaction. On The 1st morning she was spat on, swore at, punched in the face twice, kicked up the arse and received 3 death threats……..Don’t know how she’ll get on when she leaves the house.’
Ah, Millwall. Those loveable, cuddly Lions, late of Cold Blow Lane and now is their own custom-built, state of the art Meccano stadium in leafy Bermondsey, where even the rottweilers go around in pairs for mutual protection against the feral locals. But I love ’em really. Any Leeds fan does, deep down. Or, at least, that’s how we’ll all feel come late Saturday afternoon, if the ‘Wall have managed to get a positive result against the Blunts at Bramall Lane.
Not that Millwall will fancy doing Leeds United any favours, not after the recent tetchy game at Elland Road when a Pablo-powered United came from behind twice to take three points late on. But it won’t be for the love of Leeds that Millwall will be battling against the Blunts, they have their own interests to look after in terms of retaining Championship status. And if it were to turn out that Millwall FC are still a second tier club next season, due in some measure to three points gained at Bramall Lane, then I and many others of an Elland Road affiliation will be saying “the best of British to Millwall and congratulations on your Championship survival”.
It’s in the dog-eat-dog nature of League football that bizarre situations like Leeds fans cheering on Millwall can arise. Whatever the result at Bramall Lane tomorrow, you can take it to the bank that Blunts fans will be cheering on their own despised local rivals, Sheffield Wednesday, as they face Leeds at Elland Road later in the afternoon. What a surreal day it will be. Leeds roaring on the Lions, then Blunts hollering for the Wendies, those reviled “Piggies” – each home side aching for normally hated rivals to have the best of days. You couldn’t make it up.
Whatever happens in two tension-torn corners of West and South Yorkshire this weekend, you can bet it won’t be decisive – there will be more twists and turns to come, that’s for certain. In the meantime, all I can say with any degree of certainty is: Come on Millwall!!
As the clock ticked past 61 minutes at Deepdale on Tuesday night, with Leeds hammering away against a 10 man but stubborn Preston side, United’s number 9 Patrick Bamford strode on to a rebound off the wedding tackle of Pablo Hernandez, and absolutely lashed the ball past helpless North End keeper Declan Rudd, to the delight of the massed Whites behind the home goal.
It was that vital breakthrough goal we knew we just had to score. Preston were down to ten men, Norwich and Sheffield Utd would play the following day. Leeds needed to get the three points to put the pressure back on their rivals. Bamford’s lethal finish was spectacular, but it was also a sign of his bravery and self-belief. Some shots hit from that position fly into row Z, some fizz narrowly wide, strike the woodwork or draw a brilliant save from the keeper. Relatively few arrow into the corner, threatening to break the net. Bamford had the confidence to try, and was richly rewarded.
That confidence and bravery brought us the much-needed moment of joy and relief. Bamford’s immediate reaction was telling; he ran to the away support, cupping his ear as if to say “Now what do you think?” It was the action of a man who had had to take some pretty ridiculous criticism and half-baked judgement after missing a few chances during a mini-drought recently. Whatever happened, we may ask, to the old saying about “you have to get there in order to miss ’em”. Half of any good striker’s work is getting into scoring positions. But that clearly means nothing to the armchair experts that make up too big a proportion of United’s support (for want of a more appropriate word). Bamford cupped his ear to the travelling faithful, but the gesture was indirectly aimed at the clueless section of social media Whites.
Clearly, Bamford is a great pro and a decent striker. In his limited contribution to this season, he’s scored some vital goals and, if the season is to be crowned with success, he’ll have done his bit. He also knows the score, and he’s fully aware that the people he can rely on to support and encourage him are inside the club, at Thorp Arch, or lining up beside him on the pitch. For the fans to enter that circle of trust, we would need to eliminate the carping criticism, the petulant knee-jerk reactions and the clueless assumption that the terrace denizens know best. As fans, we have to earn the trust and confidence of the players, in which case we’d all be better placed to succeed.
Will that ever happen? Is it too much to ask? The last few games of an epic season might just give us some sort of an answer to those deeply vexed questions.