Tag Archives: soccer

Leeds Looking for a Favour when Old Friends Millwall meet Norwich – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United roared back to the top of the Championship last night, with a spectacular 4-0 thumping of awayday specialists West Bromwich Albion – and the Whites will be hoping that the Lions’ roar will be heard in London today, with a flock of Canaries the victims.

Millwall play Norwich City at the New Den, always a formidable destination. Leeds will remember securing a last gasp draw there in the autumn, courtesy of a late Jack Harrison strike. Norwich, with the prolific Teemu Pukki always a good bet for a goal or two, will hope to go one better, but many a team expected to do well has come a cropper in this part of London.

While we’re asking for favours from old friends, it’d be nice if Sheffield Wednesday could do the honours as they host the Steel City derby on Monday evening. Hillsborough is another venue that limited Leeds to a solitary point this season, but the Owls will possibly find the Blades too sharp for them – we can but hope, for purely selfish reasons, that things work out well for Steve Bruce & Co on the night.

Next weekend sees Leeds United heading for a stiff examination away at Bristol City, with Norwich and Sheffield United at home, to Swansea and Rotherham respectively. There’s plenty of scope there for United to be pegged back – so we really could do with a couple of good turns this weekend from Millwall and Wednesday.

So, come on guys – you know we’ve always wanted the best for you…

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Rodgers: Swapping Immortality for Mediocrity? Celtic Fans Are Deluded – by Rob Atkinson

Former Glasgow Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers has understandably jumped at the chance to manage once again in the English Premier League, putting his desire to be involved in a more competitive competition ahead of what some are pleased to call “loyalty”.

It’s something that tends to stick in the care of the average partisan, blinkered football fan, but the bottom line is that you can’t stand in the way of a man seeking to better himself. And that is precisely what Brendan Rodgers has done. Leeds United fans have had to swallow similar bitter pills in the past, but it’s the law of the jungle. Might is right.

In leaving Scottish football, where the top flight has rarely been other than a two horse race, and has lately become a boring procession, Rodgers will once again be pitting his wits against the best. For some Celtic fans to claim that he has swapped immortality for mediocrity is to plumb the depths of self-delusion. The mediocrity resides north of the border in a league without any real excitement or class; immortality is not earned in Mickey Mouse competitions. The main interest in football up there lately was duding Rangers’ resurgence from their relegation to the bottom division.

A few other Celtic fans have sunk even lower, expressing the hope that Rodgers will die in his sleep, or fall to an IRA bullet. That sort of filth intrudes upon football occasionally, and it can crop up anywhere. But it seems far more common in an environment riven with sectarian hatred, where vicious fanatics are far more common than in the slightly more healthy competitive atmosphere in England.

Leicester City have been able to attract the manager of a so-called “big club” simply because, whatever Celtic’s size and history, the real football giants in the UK are to be found in the white heat of battle that characterises the top two English divisions. Whatever diplomatic phrases Rodgers may have employed in talking about his departure from Celtic, he plainly wanted to take up the Premier League challenge, and it’s not hard to see why.

Unless, of course, you’re a blinkered, deluded – and maybe bigoted – Celtic fan.

You Can Be Angry, You Can Be Critical, and Yet STILL Be a Loyal Leeds Fan – by Rob Atkinson

leeds-fans

Leeds fans United behind team and club


In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s irritating (not disastrous) defeat at QPR, I wrote in anger about what I thought of Leeds United‘s performance – saying that, although we didn’t get the breaks, we also lacked bottle and class. I’d still stand by that, but possibly with the slight amendment that we seemed to lack bottle and class because we failed to show bottle and class. It’s a small but important difference.

In my heart of hearts, I know that this Leeds United squad is not short of courage or quality – they’ve demonstrated on many occasions this season, though not so much lately, that they possess both attributes. The comeback win at Aston Villa, hunting down a lone Wigan attacker like a pack of hungry wolves, late levellers in adverse circumstances as at Middlesbrough. Many such moments. I know all this and I’m proud of it. But I’m sure that no group of professional footballers would expect the fans to take this as read. It’s their job to go out and prove that they have the guts and the skill, game after game, over and over again, all season long. That determination to prove they’ve got the bottle and the class was missing at QPR. And it was right, even in post-defeat anger and hurt, to point that out.

I say this, because there are different schools of thought among Leeds fans, both in physical groups, in the pub post-game, perhaps, and online. Some feel they have a right to say what they like, however harsh, having paid their money – even to the extent of dismissing this or that player as “useless” or “should never wear the shirt again”. You see those tweets collected to make articles that purport to be the feelings of the fans as a whole but, in reality, it’s more representative of an extreme group of hypercritical malcontents.

Others hold the view that any criticism is A Bad Thing, and that we should all be totally positive as a condition of support, unwilling to hear or tolerate a bad word about anything to do with Leeds. Again, this is quite extreme, though in the opposite way – and it’s probably almost as unhelpful as the rabid critics referred to above. For me, there has to be the possibility of feeding back to the club when you honestly feel that standards are dropping. Some fans are knowledgeable, some are not – and some appear to feel they know better than the pros, be they on the playing staff or responsible for coaching and team selection.

But I firmly believe that the vast majority of fans know and love the game well enough, and have enough of a passion for their club, to be able to steer a useful middle path between the extremes, and vociferously support their club, defending them against attacks from outside, while reserving judgement when on-field performance dips.

I’m confident enough in my own regard for “my” club that I feel able to launch into them occasionally, without being thought of as negative or hostile. I wouldn’t be writing about Leeds United in the first place if I didn’t feel the highs and lows with as much pleasure and pain even as the players who trot out to the crowd’s applause. Like thousands of others, I was supporting United many years before any of those lads in the yellow shirts at QPR were born. So I wouldn’t like to think that anyone – players, staff, fellow fans or anybody else – would read what I wrote just after the final whistle last night, and think that I’m not a true fan, or that I’m disloyal or habitually negative. I’m not – anyone who knows me will know that I’m virtually defined by my abiding love for Leeds United.

It’s always a difficult situation after a disappointing defeat, especially in these circumstances, with the carrot dangling of going back top, and taking on a tired team who’d just reeled off seven straight defeats. But that’s no reason to hold back, so I said what I thought needed saying – and yes, I said it feeling bitterly angry. But that’s not to say I’m not a loyal and committed supporter – I went into print precisely because I am loyal and committed and because, loving the club and believing in the players and management, I have great expectations.

For what it’s worth, I believe that the players will be angrier and more disappointed in themselves than even the most gutted fan, and I think they will use that to bounce back at Elland Road on Friday against West Brom. I hope and believe that will happen.

But, if it doesn’t, and if we all have another bitter pill to swallow – then please don’t doubt my loyalty and commitment when, choking on that pill, I write another angry and critical piece. Because I really would be doing it for what I honestly see as the very best of reasons – to show that I care deeply. As we all do.

MOT

Lacked the Breaks, Lacked the Bottle, Lacked the Class; Simply Dreadful, Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

“Poundland Messi” Luke Freeman settles the match at QPR

As regular readers will know, I had some qualms about the match at QPR. Leeds United needed the win to go back top, Rangers had lost seven on the spin. For students of Sod’s Law, it was a disaster waiting to happen. I even wrote a pessimistic piece, observing that many a team on a poor run then go full-on Barça when they face Leeds; well, it wasn’t quite like that at Loftus Road, although Rangers matchwinner Luke Freeman did a pretty good impersonation of a Poundland Messi.

In truth, the writing was on the wall early on, when the referee missed what looked like a clear handball by Rangers inside their area. “Play on, lads”, chirruped the ref, as the advertising hoarding behind the goal displayed “Rebuilding lives after lost sight”. Even so, Leeds carried more threat than QPR before the break, with Patrick Bamford just failing at the far post to convert a low cross from Pablo Hernandez. After the break though, the rot set in with a vengeance.

United possibly lacked the breaks all night, but the longer the match went on, the clearer it was that there were deficiencies also in the bottle and class departments. Rangers, meanwhile, toiled away manfully. And they got their attacking break when Tyler Roberts carelessly lost possession on United’s left flank. The ball moved forward, a cross went into the Leeds box, and the ball was past Kiko Casilla into the net. 1-0, and you just knew it was going to be one of those nights.

Leeds had perhaps one genuinely classy move, a flowing progress upfield which deserved to be crowned with an equaliser. But Rangers cleared the ball at the last ditch, as they managed to do whenever required, all night long.

On a truly awful night for Leeds, Izzy Brown‘s long-awaited debut as a sub was probably destined to be a shocking anti-climax, and so it proved. Brown’s first contribution to proceedings was to block a likely-looking shot from one of his own team-mates – and then shortly afterwards, he picked up a deserved yellow. And Brown probably should have seen yellow again just minutes later – but by that time, the ref possibly felt rather sorry for us.

As bad days at the office go, this was akin to the whole company going into liquidation and then burning down. The best we can hope is that we’ve just witnessed the season bottoming out; that from here on in, the only way is up. But with West Brom lying in wait on Friday, even that has to be open to doubt.

Maybe the United players will take a little anger and frustration away from this game alongside, yes, a chunk of shame and regret. It’s to be hoped anyone in a Leeds shirt tonight is angry, particularly with themselves. Anger is possibly the only thing about the display against Rangers that can be taken forward and used on Friday night against West Brom.

Elland Road will be packed and bouncing then, with the crowd roaring their heroes on. And the players must respond and they must deliver. Because it’s still all to play for – and those Leeds United players owe all of their fans a massively improved performance and a much better result. Big time.

One Great Three Point Performance at QPR, and Leeds are Back on Track – by Rob Atkinson

Cometh the hour, cometh the lads

If Leeds United can just see Tuesday’s fixture at Queens Park Rangers as an opportunity to be seized, rather than an obstacle to be wary of, then they could and should go into next weekend on top of the pile and conscious of having their fate in their own hands.

Even a draw would see Leeds leapfrog Sheffield United into the automatic promotion places, a mere point behind Norwich City. Both the Blades and the Canaries have put together fine, consistent runs and their exalted league positions are no fluke. On the other hand, just as Leeds are surely due to click into gear and give somebody a proper leathering, so must it be high time for a wheel or two to come off at Carrow Road and/or Bramall Lane.

As I wrote earlier, Leeds will need to be on their mettle against a bit of a wounded beast in Rangers. The Hoops have lost seven on the trot, and a lot will depend on how the game starts as to whether QPR are encouraged or demoralised. If Leeds can start fast and dominate possession from the off, as they’re quite capable of doing, then Rangers heads might drop – although that sounds like wishful thinking and probably is.

The fact remains that Leeds United have a clear run at top spot tomorrow, a chance to lay down a marker as the season gets to its business end. It will be Rangers’ third game in eight days, whereas Leeds had ten days off prior to Saturday’s defeat of Bolton at Elland Road. These are all good, positive vibes and normally they’d reduce me to a quivering mass of pessimism – but there’s nothing normal about this Championship League

Besides, after my earlier article pointing out that Leeds will need to avoid complacency despite Rangers’ bad run, some of the responses have lifted my mood towards cautious optimism. There’s some wise old heads among the readers of this blog, and many of them seem quite upbeat about United’s West London appointment – so who am I to pour cold water on such positivity?

A win is needed. A big win would be nice, but any win will do. In the spirit of optimism and possibility, I take Leeds to prevail by one or two goals. Now please, just for once, let me be right.

Bolton Coach Who Mocked Leeds Boss Bielsa Gets Just Deserts – by Rob Atkinson

Specialist in playground mickey-taking, Bolton’s Lee Butler

It should probably be a convention in football, rather than just common sense, to do your best to refrain from taking the mick out of the opposing team boss – especially if there’s a snooping TV camera in the vicinity. The trouble with getting caught doing this, even though it might be good for a giggle at the time if you’re sufficiently immature, is that you end up looking a prat to hundreds of thousands of unsympathetic types like opposing fans. And you look even more of a prat if your team loses the game as well as coming off second best in a touchline bench fracas.

Such was the fate that befell the Bolton Wanderers goalkeeping coach Lee Butler at the Elland Road meeting of Leeds United and the Trotters on Saturday. The pre-match courtesies were under way and Leeds Boss Marcelo Bielsa, with characteristic Latin politeness, walked over to his Bolton counterpart for the traditional handshake.

Doubtless it’s a cultural thing, much like paying close attention to rival clubs’ preparation, but the Bielsa handshake is something above and beyond the restrained English version, as it incorporates a little bow into the gesture of offering the hand to shake. All very dignified and stately, you might think, and you’d surely be right. But apparently, in Bolton at least, it’s regarded as funny and something to mock. As Bielsa turned and headed for his upturned bucket, the silver-haired Mr Butler, resplendent in a red tracksuit that emphasised his less than athletic paunch, clearly mimicked and then mocked the Bielsa handshake, before having a good old laugh about it with one of his Wanderers chums, as can clearly be seen in this tweet from Leeds fan Gibbo.

Now, I’m sure that Marcelo himself, being above such schoolboy antics, would dismiss it as simply one more of those inexplicable English quirks, or more accurately, that classic contradiction in terms Lancastrian manners – and nothing to shake him out of his polite inscrutability. But I can testify, having seen the moment live, that it annoyed me and made me even more keen to see Bolton depart with nowt. Thankfully, after a bit of a struggle, the lads saw to it that this was so.

It wasn’t just me getting a bit offended though. Quite a few of the Leeds Twitter community were somewhat less than pleased too, and understandably so. Possibly certain members of the Leeds United staff, who perhaps are blessed with slightly less of the sang froid that Bielsa enjoys, might also have been annoyed, had they seen what Butler obviously hoped was a private moment. A bit daft then, really, to have it in front of the camera and 35,000 fans.

Later in the match, things kicked off in front of the West Stand dugouts; Gjanni Alioski, who was down injured, got some unasked for and unwelcome help from a Bolton player, and his Leeds team-mates took exception; Mateusz Klich saw fit to cool down an over-excited opponent by squirting water down his collar, Bolton coach Phil Parkinson unwisely squared up to Pontus Jansson and got sent off for his troubles – things were becoming very unfriendly on and off the pich. But it would be fair to say that the Trotters got the worst of it, as they did with the match itself, departing back over to the wrong side of the Pennines hurt and pointless.

Really, it served them right. You reap what you sow and, with that casual moment of pre-match disrespect, Lee Butler ensured that his club secured the moral low ground and got exactly what they deserved – nothing. I don’t know what the Football League would make of such a blatant display of rudeness and mockery – would they decide it’s a shining example of “acting in utmost good faith”?

You know what – I think they probably would.

Leeds’ Mateusz Klich to Face Ban for Trying to Dissolve Bolton Player – by Rob Atkinson

Evil Klich brazenly attempting to dissolve Bolton’s Joe Williams

The Football League has started looking into an incident at Elland Road in which a bottle containing some sort of liquid substance appeared to be squirted towards an opposing player by Leeds midfielder Mateusz Klich as United took on Bolton Wanderers.

League spokesman Mr. Lee D. Shater confirmed that an investigation was under way, adding “It’s been a dull few days since the Spygate scandal ended, and we’ve all been at a bit of a loose end, though it was fun shopping for Shaun’s leaving pressie with a recent windfall. But we need to get back into action. Also, there may even have been a rule broken this time, especially if it turns out that the bottle contained acid, or Novichok or maybe some kind of flesh-eating agent like in those Bond films off of the telly. You never know with these espionage types, so we’ll be taking this seriously. We got two hundred grand out of Leeds for not breaking any rules – really, the sky’s the limit here”.

When we advised Mr. Shater that the bottle in question has been confirmed as containing only water, the League man flinched slightly, but responded by pointing out a little-known regulation introduced by Shaun Harvey directly after today’s final whistle. “This is Regulation 3.4.H2O, which makes it a breach of good faith to use any potential solvent, including water, in an attempt to dissolve an opponent with malice aforethought. The term “dissolve” includes dissolving into tears, which we understand is what happened with Joe Williams, who got his poor neck wet. So, you know, QED. Maybe we can even get that nasty Klich banned”.

Shaun Harvey, 48, is a certifiable lunatic.

Leeds United Must Tough It Out Against the Whole World Now – by Rob Atkinson

Nothing ever comes easily for Leeds United, that’s the lesson of history. Every single success has been hard-won, they’ve all been grim fights to the death. This season is shaping up to be no different; United have endured the most horrible last week or so, ever since the final whistle at Elland Road signalled a scrappy victory over Swansea City. Their nearest rivals have gained ground, winning games against feeble resistance, while the Whites have been kicking their heels, powerless and frustrated. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the likes of Bolton and QPR, who have capitulated so easily to Norwich and West Brom, will miraculously rediscover their missing mojo when they face Bielsa’s notorious Spygate villains Leeds.

Of course, any club can find themselves going through a bad spell, while their rivals prosper. That’s the nature of a league programme, with its ups and downs – and, generally, things do even themselves out. But few clubs have to put up with the kind of background against which this roller-coaster ride for Leeds is taking place. The Spygate furore was the ultimate example of a towering mountain being fabricated out of an insignificant molehill, with the Football League seemingly quite prepared to make utter fools of themselves in the interests of dragging the whole distraction out as far and as long as possible, all in the interests of distracting Elland Road eyes from the main focus of promotion. Certain league clubs have been complicit in this, with Bristol City‘s tax-dodging owner Stephen Landsdown sanctimoniously calling for a points deduction – and this was in a case where no rules were broken, remember. Stupid hypocrite is surely not an over the top description for that character.

What we can now expect, as the season gets to its decisive sharp end is, I’m afraid, all too easy to predict, and may be summed up as: more of the same. If you look back over the lowlights of the campaign so far, the farcical sending off of Pontus Jansson for falling over at Stoke City, for instance, you can easily envisage what’s still in store. There have been daft penalties against us right from the season’s opening day, when the award for Stoke being typical of the no-contact incidents that provoke the League’s referees to blow for a penalty against Leeds. Meanwhile, we’ve had one penalty all season. We nearly had a second, but the award was negated for an offside call subsequently shown to have been at least a yard onside.

There’s more of this to come. The bulk of fifty-fifty calls will go against us, as ever. The League does not wish to lose its prize asset if it’s possible to avoid doing so. I sincerely doubt that we’ll get another penalty, although we will have credible, stonewall claims – as has happened all season. There will be soft penalties against us – as has happened all season. Where it’s possible to send off a Leeds player, even when the decision stretches credibility, then off he will go – as has happened all season. Meanwhile, opposition defenders will get away with red card offences like denying a goalscoring opportunity – sometimes, not even a yellow will be given. This, too, has happened all season.

So it’s going to be a case of carry on hammering Leeds, but more so. Everything that can be done to keep us down will be done. It will be blatant, and sometimes even the media lapdogs will express surprise. But it will be glossed over and it will carry on. This is what we’re up against. Really, the only people that can do anything about it are the ones so proudly and defiantly wearing the shirts and badges, as they battle on to deliver the prize that so many of us, all over the world, desire so intensely. We’ll have to man up, tough it out, keep fighting. Those are the qualities this club, in its modern, global phenomenon incarnation, was built on, over the last six decades since we emerged from obscurity into worldwide prominence. And those are the qualities that will see us though now, despite the forces of League, rival clubs and media ranged against us.

Marching On Together. Let’s do this.

EFL Confirms Standing on Public Footpath Worse Than Racism and Violence (If You’re Leeds) – by Rob Atkinson

Suárez bite – only half as bad as standing on a public footpath

There was a sense of relief yesterday that, apparently, Spygate had at last been put to bed. The general feeling was one of “Aaaaaand relax” – we could now get back to thinking about football and, more specifically, earning a path out of this increasingly ridiculous and corrupt Football League.

Today, though, people are looking at the sheer size of the fine Leeds United have had to accept as the price for concluding what had become a long-running farce. Two hundred thousand pounds. When you look at it, really consider it, that’s an obscenely disproportionate sanction. Some sort of context is afforded when you notice that Russia was fined £22,000 for the racist chanting of its bigoted supporters, and Luis Suárez copped a total of £106,000 for two separate incidents in which he deliberately bit opponents. There are, needless to say, plenty of other illustrative examples.

So, on this basis, being present on public land with footballers training on the other side of a mesh fence is seen as just under twice as heinous as sinking your teeth into two opposing footballers. And it’s almost ten times more outrageous to public morals and decency than the mass chanting of racist jibes. There’s something far wrong with that particular sense of perspective. It’s almost comical, but hardly anyone is laughing.

The bemused fan of Leeds United (and, for all we know, this applies equally to players, staff and directors too) is left scratching his or her head at the outlandish disparity between the penalty for what is basically a non-offence, and the much less potent sanctions applied in the case of far more disgusting, violent and bigoted behaviour. There is a sense that the slavering pack of press and opposing fans that were on Leeds United’s case had to be mollified somehow, and that most of this lynch mob wanted a points deduction for United. Faced with this, and armed only with a vague and flimsy “utmost good faith” principle, did the League feel constrained to lay it on thick, in order that those thirsting for Leeds’ blood should not be too disappointed? How much would they rather have applied a points deduction of, say, 15 points – to end up looking draconian instead of plain stupid?

Other questions arise. What of Swansea City, who basically hid behind the sofa on transfer deadline evening, refusing to answer calls as their player waited at Elland Road for his transfer to be confirmed? Is that “utmost good faith”? What of Liverpool, who cleared one penalty area of snow at half time, but not the other, in order to maximise their second half advantage? Where’s the good faith there?

Most tellingly of all, what if the club involved in Spygate had not been Leeds United, but some hand-to-mouth, impoverished League Two club without two ha’pennies to rub together? Would they have been hit to the tune of two hundred grand, ushering the receivers in through the stadium doors? Deep down, we know it wouldn’t happen – because this hypothetical League Two poorhouse club would not have the initials LUFC.

The Football League, in levying such a ridiculously high fine, has abandoned any pretensions to proportionality or a real life view. They’ve blatantly – to quote the excellent Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post – taken a hammer to crack a walnut. Some Leeds fans are now seeking to crowdfund a contribution to the vast sum Leeds will have to pay, but that’s not really the point. Because, although it may well be that Leeds United feel the pragmatic thing to do is take this penalty flush on the chin and move on, that doesn’t make it right. The Football League has, yet again, exposed itself to ridicule and derision, something that has implications for every club under its jurisdiction.

Whichever way you look at this bizarre conclusion to Spygate, it smacks more of appeasing the mob than it does of any maturely considered conclusion. And whatever word you might use to sum the whole mess up, it most certainly wouldn’t be justice.

Leeds United Contribute £200,000 to Shaun Harvey’s FL Leaving Do – by Rob Atkinson

Shaun Harvey – disappointed and calling it a day

At long last, the Football League investigation into the so-called Spygate affair has been concluded, and it can now be revealed that the delay in considering and pronouncing upon a relatively simple matter was caused by an almighty internal wrangle within the Football League.

It turns out that the matter was pretty much done and dusted some time ago, with the League reluctantly concluding that, as no specific rules had been broken, it was not possible to impose a points deduction. Instead, the League had to settle for dressing up the matter of a man standing on a public highway and looking through a wire fence as “a breach of good faith”, enabling action under regulation 3.4 – but even this has proved problematic.

A League spokesperson confirmed that the League was struggling to make even the “good faith” provisions stick due, he said, to a number of far more serious breaches during the time that Spygate had been current. “We’ve had blatant diving, clubs clearing one penalty area of snow but not the other, clubs reneging on transfer deals at the last minute, all sorts of stuff going on. But we had to do this to Leeds, because it was the only way we could get them. And that was a very cruel blow to Shaun Harvey, who had been determined to deal a fatal blow to that club’s promotion chances”.

It appears that Mr. Harvey has indeed taken the outcome of Spygate very hard indeed, as he had hoped it would be instrumental in keeping Leeds United down in the Championship. So depressed is he by the thwarting of his dearly held hopes, that he has now announced he’ll be stepping down at the end of the season. “Shaun is a broken man”, confirmed our source. “He feels that he just can’t go on, so he’s going to retire to a smallholding in Little Sodbury. We at the League feel that the least we can do is to give him a good send off, so we’re fining Leeds enough to send him off in style”.

When it was pointed out that two hundred grand was quite steep for a leaving do, we were told “We’re pulling out all the stops here, because Shaun really needs cheering up. So we’ve booked his favourite acts, Kylie, Jason and we’ve even arranged a personal appearance by Shaun’s hero Frank “Fwankie” Lampard. I imagine they’ll be commiserating together”.

Leeds United’s only comment was “We’ve fully cooperated with this whole fiasco from start to finish, and all we can say is that we’re satisfied with the outcome. It’s well worth a couple of hundred grand to get rid of that oily little sod Harvey.

Frank Lampard is a bitter, thwarted little man.