Tag Archives: Sport

If You Love Leeds United, PLEASE Stay Away From Elland Road Tomorrow – by Rob Atkinson

Deserted Elland Road

A deserted Elland Road

It’s a real tragedy that fan participation is missing from the current euphoria surrounding Leeds United’s magnificent achievements this season. Sadly, though, this is the world we’re currently living in, our rights and privileges suspended for now by a nasty little virus (no comparison with Frank Lampard intended).

It’s clearly very tempting to defy the current protocols and just get out there to lead as normal a life as possible anyway, consequences be damned. You can see this everywhere you look, with packed beaches all over the place, apparently populated almost exclusively by compulsive litter bugs. But in these instances, only the generality of selfish idiots can be identified, so the focus of scorn and retribution is diffuse. That is not the case with tribal football celebrations, and most particularly not where the fans of Leeds United are concerned.

As ever, critical and unfriendly eyes will be on Leeds United, watching beadily for any chance to have a go at the club, or at its fans; there is the usual eagerness to drag the name of Yorkshire’s finest through the mud wherever possible. The next obvious opportunity to present itself is United’s final match of a triumphant season, at home to Charlton Athletic tomorrow. The game is not selected for live Sky coverage, as the remaining promotion issues will be settled elsewhere. But you can bet your mortgage that cameras aplenty will be focused on the roads and areas outside the stadium, hoping to record scenes that will drop Leeds, both club and city, right in it yet again.

It’s sadly inevitable that some will turn up, ill-advised and careless of consequences, still intoxicated on the heady wine of long-awaited success. It’s going to be a matter of scale – will it be an “understandable” turnout that can be condemned but lightly given the circumstances? Or will it be a massive breach of the safety measures in place, leading to public outrage and the usual suspects calling for United to be demoted to the National League Division 5? I hope for the former, but I fear the latter.

Please exercise your discretion tomorrow, always the better part of valour. Don’t be one of the people who turn up, selfishly disregarding the potential effect on the club. Stay away from Elland Road tomorrow, carry on your celebrations safely in your homes. If the worst case scenario pans out, we can expect neither understanding nor sympathy from those who are always champing at the bit to do us down. They’ll seize the day if we give them the chance, have no doubt about that. Don’t be one of the thoughtless ones who afford them that chance.

Remember: actions have consequences, and Leeds United rarely get away with anything. Stay home tomorrow, save your celebrations for the time when we can all celebrate without let or hindrance. It’ll feel just as good – and we won’t be risking sanctions for a great club emerging from dark times into the sunlit uplands of public approbation and the Premier League. You know it makes sense.

Marching On Together

EFL to Promote Leeds as Champions “On the Balance of Probabilities” – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United – ready to beat the bug

With the suspension of all domestic professional football until at least April 3rd, fans of clubs who occupy highly promising league positions are understandably worried about their favourites’ prospects of success being snatched from them by a nasty little bug – but enough of Shaun Harvey.

Leeds United, of course – along with the likes of Liverpool in the league above and Coventry in the third tier – are among the clubs for whom the future, so apparently bright a bare few days back, now seems uncertain to say the least. Seven points clear of that dreaded third place, United looked nailed-on for promotion – with the Championship title dangling as a temptingly achievable bonus. One pandemic later, and we’re all stressing about still being in this league next season (whenever that might be) sans Bielsa, sans the Yorkshire Pirlo, bereft of hope and considering legal action.

But don’t despair. The seeds of our salvation were sown a few weeks back with the decision handed down from on high that Kiko Casilla, although deemed not to be a racist, would nevertheless be banned for some racist abuse that nobody can be sure actually happened. With a cool £60,000 fine thrown in, along with a date with the FA Re-education and Indoctrination Guild (FRIG) it’s a pretty hefty penalty for something unproven. But the authorities decided they were vindicated by the lower standard of proof applicable in non-criminal cases, and happily threw the book at Kiko, concluding that he dunnit, on balance of probabilities.

This was felt by some at the time to be scandalous as well as draconian, but now it’s a precedent that may well assist Leeds United, as well as the likes of Liverpool and Coventry. All three clubs are so well placed that the half-baked balance of probabilities test would have to find them overwhelmingly likely to clinch promotion. Some bookies have Leeds with a 98% chance of going up, which satisfies even the more stringent “beyond reasonable doubt” test. As for Liverpool, it’s far more likely that Boris Johnson will be hit by a meteorite than that the Reds will fail to become Champions of England for the first time since 1990 – when Leeds United coincidentally last won promotion to the top flight as second tier Champs.

So there you have it. The authorities are hamstrung by their own legal machinations, hoist by their own petard. Even if they want to seize upon this virus crisis to deny Leeds promotion (and I bet they do) – they will find that they can’t. Probably.

Marching on Together

“Are We There Yet?” How Leeds Twitter Fans Channel Their Inner Spoilt Children – by Rob Atkinson

Tantrum

The dumb end of the Leeds Twitter feed, in pictures

We’ve probably all had to cope with the tantrums of spoilt kids at one time or another, sometimes in particularly testing circumstances when you just need to get somewhere or accomplish something – and it has to be managed against this irritating background of immature whinging and tantrums. The car scenario is especially annoying, with the petulant classic “Are we there yet??” starting as you turn out of your street and continuing for pretty much the whole journey, as you grit your teeth and turn the radio up. Now, what could be more representative than this tiresome phenomenon, of my current major bugbear, the #LUFC hashtag on Twitter? Especially at this time of the year, when the dreaded January transfer window has these bleating inadequates giving full rein to their endless spoilt brattishness. The resemblance between a car full of screeching spoilt children and the Leeds Twitter feed in January is well nigh inescapable.

It’s embarrassing, too, for those of us who are more inclined to let those who know what they’re doing get on with their jobs. Not for us the tendency to clamour for attention from the likes of Phil Hay or Andrea Radrizzani, addressing them as “mate” or “boss” and demanding to know why United haven’t yet signed this, that or the other multi-million pound striker. There’s plenty who do, though, and – bandwagon jumping being in the nature of the dimmer end of the online Leeds support – more seem to appear with each passing day.

It must surely try the patience of the professionals concerned, just like that harassed Mum trying to drive safely as her infants squall in the back of the car. And yet there seems to be an expectation on the part of each and every clueless tweeter that their particular plea for attention and information will bear fruit – maybe in the form of “Hi, Shane of Beeston, we hadn’t thought of buying Edinson Cavani until you contacted us, but you’ll be glad to know that – because of your message – we’re right on it now. We’ll show PSG your tweet and I’m sure they’ll cave in. Marcelo says thanks.” A greater triumph of hopeless expectation over common sense you could not wish to see, and yet these eager dweebs are queuing up to make themselves look approximately that daft. Well meaning, but dim, just about sums it up.

The other sort are even worse. They don’t bother making suggestions, constructive or otherwise – they move straight on to the conspiracy theories, whereby the Financial Fair Play regulations are just a cunning cover story, so that all of the money invested by fans can go straight into the back pockets of Angus Kinnear, Victor Orta et al, prior to their abrupt disappearance in the direction of Rio de Janeiro. The problem shared by most of the Twatteratti is the apparently certain belief that they know what is going on, better than anybody else. Naturally, they feel the urge to share this superior knowledge with everybody else, repeatedly ad nauseam, until Twitter threatens to make your eyes bleed. It is not an edifying experience.

As I write, we’ve signed a new young goalkeeper, one for the future, and a promising winger from Man City who was courted by Torino of Serie A, and whose prospects of first team involvement may well be more imminent. The reaction of the Twatteratti has been predictably less than positive. The goalkeeper signing was greeted with “Oh, so we need a striker and we sign a keeper, suppose we’ll be playing him up front against Millwall, haw, haw, aren’t I droll”. There is this urgent need among these malcontents to be loved by their similarly-challenged fellow spoilt kids – the desire for lols, likes and retweets supersedes any fleeting thought of keeping their powder dry and seeing what happens.

For those of us with little choice but to trawl through all the Twitter dross in the hope of unearthing the occasional nugget of actual news, or even a Grade A believable rumour, the output of this Legion of the Thick is dispiriting indeed. I guess other clubs suffer from similarly clueless sections among their online support, but that’s quite frankly cold comfort. I’m pretty sure that, if it’s a question of degree, our petulant tendency out-numbers that of most other teams. I suppose that, in a sort of backhanded way, it’s an indicator of the mass appeal of this club. Still, it’s no wonder some call us The Damned United.

As of now, we still need that new striker to provide the competition for Patrick Bamford that any front man needs in order to keep honed the cutting edge of his game. And I’m sure it will happen, sometime in the next few days, barring some other “aren’t we clever” club doing a Swansea on us. But, even if that were to happen, I’m convinced that Leeds United will have done its best during a traditionally difficult window. For what it’s worth, there are some respected voices putting a similar opinion out there, the likes of Hay, Popey etc. So we should perhaps keep the faith, and keep on telling those spoilt kids to pipe down.

Meanwhile, though, it’s really very difficult not to think “Roll on February”…

Echoes of the Last Champions in Leeds United’s Late Winner at Reading – by Rob Atkinson

ChapmanHarrison

Lee Chapman and Jack Harrison, years apart but similarly great goals

There was something about Leeds United‘s winning goal at Reading on Tuesday evening that awoke golden memories of Sergeant Wilko’s Warriors of 1992 as they upped the ante one January Sunday afternoon to ignite a title charge. On that long ago day Leeds, marking Wilkinson’s return to Hillsborough to face his old charges Sheffield Wednesday, were utterly irresistible and ran riot, emerging winners by six goals to one. The display at Reading this week, nearly 28 years later, was not of the same vintage. And yet Jack Harrison’s emphatic far-post finish bore a remarkable similarity to the second Lee Chapman goal of his Hillsborough hat-trick all those years ago.

If you can cast your mind back that far, you may remember that Leeds, 2-0 up and cruising, had just suffered the most outrageous penalty decision when Gordon Watson of the Wendies did a somersault with half-pike and triple twist with Chris Whyte nowhere near him in the Leeds box. The ref eagerly fell for it and, though John Lukic saved John Sheridan’s spot kick, the former Leeds man buried the rebound. So it was 2-1 and Leeds were seething over Wednesday’s fraudulent route back into a game that had looked lost to them.

Lesser teams may have been discouraged, but not Wilko’s United. Showing the mettle that would see them crowned Champions just a dozen or so weeks later, Leeds bit back, putting together a devastating length of the pitch move as the first half drew to a close, to re-establish a two goal cushion going into the interval.

This is where the similarity is so obvious, in the fluency and sweeping nature of both moves, with a bullet header finishing each off to perfection. Back then, Lukic rolled the ball out to left back Tony Dorigo, who instantly played a beautifully weighted pass down the left for Gary Speed. Speedo took one touch, looked up, and delivered the perfect cross which was met mid-air by a hurtling Chapman to bury the ball unanswerably into the Wednesday net. It was a rapier thrust down the left, the ball moving from goal to goal in mere seconds to kill off Wednesday hopes.

Fast forward to this week, and the resemblance is remarkable. After a Kiko save from Reading’s free kick 25 yards out, the ball squirted out to the left where Jack Harrison played a neat reverse pass to Stuart Dallas. The Irishman immediately hit a fine, first-time crossfield ball to find sub Gjanni Alioski in space on the right. Two touches from Alioski, and he fed a great ball forward for Helder Costa, who didn’t have to break stride or take a touch before delivering a great far post cross, which took a slight deflection and was met by the onrushing Harrison – the man who had started the move seconds earlier at the other end of the pitch. Harrison’s finish was just as emphatic as Chapman’s had been, all those years before, with the reaction of the United fans behind the goal just as ecstatic.

One sweeping, end-to-end goal redolent of a similar effort almost three decades ago does not, of course, a team of champions make. And yet the winner at Reading, just as beautiful in its construction and just as devastating in its execution as Chapman’s effort at Hillsborough, may just be a sign of what Marcelo Bielsa’s team are beginning to be able to do – impose their style, stifle resistance, and then apply the coup de grâce to exhausted opponents. That happy knack could well lead to many more such victories where United haven’t played all that brilliantly – and maybe, just maybe, finally lead us back to the Promised Land.

Football Rivalry Can be Friendly (Even Between Leeds and Derby) – by Rob Atkinson

Good friends and foes: yours truly and Rams fanatic Phil Cole

The very greatest thing about football rivalry has more and more come to transcend the very worst thing about it, and this is the road I have personally travelled since the early seventies, when football itself was more the people’s game, but when a minority of those people disgraced themselves and their chosen clubs by engaging in a pointlessly violent expression of the tribalism most football fans can feel without being silly about it.

So, the very worst of football rivalry, in my humble opinion, is clearly the needless overspill into violence. It solves nothing, proves nothing, and serves only to intimidate those innocent followers of the game, attending the match in the spirit of support and enjoyment, yet dragged helplessly into the ugly vortex of confrontation by mindless thugs. Thankfully, those problems are not so acute in today’s gentrified and sanitised game, proving that every cloud does indeed have its silver lining.

But equally, there’s no doubt the very best of football rivalry is that it can be conducted with deep feeling and extreme partisanship, yet in a spirit of friendship where those rival sentiments give rise to nothing worse than edgy banter, causing mirth rather than mayhem. As my beloved Whites are due to meet the Rams of Derby County on Saturday, this is a particularly relevant point to me just now. Leeds United and Derby were hardly the best of friends last season, what with Spygate and a lopsided record in the meetings on the field, with the outclassed Rams nevertheless having the last laugh. Ill feeling still continues, with Leeds keen to see investigated Derby’s tactic of selling their ground to themselves for a dubiously inflated price, County’s aim clearly being to avoid or evade Financial Fair Play penalties. Evidently there’s little love lost between the clubs or the rival sets of fans, and that’s a situation that’s applied now for many, many years. And yet friendships can thrive, even on such stony ground as this.

I have a mate called Phil Cole who, like me, is an actor. Unlike me, he’s met with considerable success, appearing in many high-profile theatrical productions – notably alongside the late, great Ken Kercheval of Dallas fame, who admirably portrayed the character of Cliff Barnes for many years with realism, style and class. I was sorry to hear of Ken’s sad recent death, as he’s a great loss to the acting profession and was also a good friend of a good friend.

I’m well aware that Phil is on a higher plane than I occupy, in theatrical terms at least. Still, it’s swings and roundabouts in this life, and I’m always reminding him that I’ve been relatively blessed in my choice of club, with Leeds United being perhaps my Dad’s most important bequest to me. In contrast, poor Phil is saddled with his love for Derby County, a burden he bears bravely and well. He loses no opportunity to make my life a misery on the odd occasion that his Rams lord it over Leeds – I had to don my tin hat when we haplessly lost last season’s play-off semi. But I like to think I give as good as I get, with a little interest – and it’s all done against a background of nigh on a quarter of a century’s friendship, which is how it should be.

Whatever Saturday’s result at Elland Road, whatever the ongoing relationship between rival clubs, this fan friendship will survive and prosper. For myself, all I can hope is that it’ll be me taking the mick on Monday, and not vice versa. But, if not, I’ll grin and bear it, with that tin hat on again. That’s what friendship of the football rivalry variety is all about, after all. Cheers, Phil!

Leeds Fans Must Now be United Behind Club and Team – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Fans United

Every Leeds United fan knows that following the Whites automatically includes you as part of the most fanatical and vociferous band of supporters anywhere. In short, the greatest fans around. This is an article of faith with United fans, not even a matter for debate. So mote it be. 

How very odd, then, to find yourself shaking your head in baffled disbelief at some of the social media output from the massed keyboards of this elite cadre of support. Clearly, with an online presence that probably runs into the millions worldwide, not everybody is going to agree all the time, for instance, on the vexed subject of United’s transfer policy. Still, the why-oh-why stance of a small but loud minority of the virtual support is hard to stomach for those of us who were brought up on the credo of “my club, right or wrong”.

It’s not only a transfer window thing, either. In fact, compared to the negative attitude of some “supporters” towards players struggling for form and confidence, Victor Orta and his transfer team are being afforded a relatively easy ride. Even so, the amount of uninformed criticism surrounding United’s recruitment efforts, during this and other transfer windows, tends to make Twitter an area of the Internet it’s wiser to avoid, especially for those who prefer their blood pressure to remain at a good safe level. Needless to say, that’s not a luxury in which I can indulge, being of the blogger/columnist persuasion, and my hypertension suffers accordingly.

Transfers are complex matters, due to all manner of factors: finances, agents, rival clubs, media and so on. I don’t envy the United officials trying to negotiate such choppy waters while being assailed and vilified on all sides by a section of online fans not overly burdened with any knowledge of what they’re talking about, and even less so by any tact, restraint or decorum. It can’t make the job any easier and, every now and again, you do see a faintly exasperated comment from the club along the lines of “we’re doing our best, we all want good outcomes, please be patient”. Sadly, such assurances usually fall on deaf ears; there are those out there, it seems, who wallow in negativity and relish any chance to have a moan or offer their unqualified opinions. 

It’s the carping criticism of certain players, though, that really offends and annoys. Take Patrick Bamford, for instance. Now, some of the criticism he receives has been fairly gentle and possibly even merited, though his record at United is good, taking into account last season’s injury woes. His milder critics peddle a ruefully humorous line, referring to Patrick as “Lord Bamford of Beeston” and wondering, tongue in cheek, if he shouldn’t delegate his goal-scoring duties to his butler. That’s the kind of thing that, reaching a player’s ears, might make him smile and redouble his determination to succeed. It’s harmless fun and, if the line is drawn there, nobody could really complain. 

But the more serious and malicious abuse is blatantly counter-productive, a classic case of a pistol levelled directly at our own collective foot. Players, and strikers in particular, thrive on confidence and encouragement. It makes little sense to hurl abuse and ill-founded criticism at a player such as Bamford, who will not be assisted by suggestions that he couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo, or that he’s worth less than a written-off, wheel-less banger rusting in a ditch. All that and worse has been flung at Bamford.

Fortunately and thankfully, the lad has a resilient character and a cold determination to succeed. His goal at Bristol City, the movement and the finish from that aristocratic forehead, testify to that. Long may his ability to rise above the howling of the mob continue.

Now, the window is closed until January, and it’s been a far better one than the usual suspects referred to above would wish you to believe. The squad has been purged of certain disruptive elements as identified by Marcelo Bielsa himself and, despite FFP strictures, the overall quality is arguably higher. In any event, we go with what we’ve got; if the performance at Ashton Gate can be maintained or even improved upon, it’ll take a fabulous opposing performance to stop us in any given match.

Whether you’re a matchgoing, raucous fanatic, or confined to long distance support, the message from here is the same. Get behind the team, get behind the club. We’re all on the same journey. Marching On Together.

EFL Team of the Year Clowns Have Done Leeds a Favour With Pablo Omission – by Rob Atkinson

Hernandez: simply the best, whatever the EFL thinks

Let’s get this straight, once and for all. Pablo Hernandez has been the stand-out performer in the Championship League this season, quite simply and straightforwardly the best player outside the Premier League. And, it’s well worth adding, better than quite a few within that elite competition. This much is simple fact, as any Leeds fan, any clued-up football fan, will tell you.

Of course, there are those who can’t, or won’t, see what’s right before their eyes. There are those who have elevated the ability to miss what’s absolutely under their nose to an art form. Whoever decided the players that make up the Championship’s team of the season have excelled themselves in terms of a failure to see the blindingly obvious. They have managed to deny the undeniable and think the unthinkable. To leave Pablo out of the EFL Team of the Season would be right up there with leaving John Lennon out of your top four Beatles list.

Doubtless these buffoons had their reasons – and anyway, so I thought to myself when I heard the laughable news that Pablo had been omitted, this is a victimless crime. It’s hardly going to hurt a leathery old pro like Hernandez, so who cares? Let the EFL suits wallow in their own stupidity.

In point of fact, though, it maybe that the EFL’s snub has had an unlooked-for effect, in that it might just have galvanised our Spanish wizard into raising his levels beyond even his normal stellar standard. At Elland Road, against a predictably fired-up Millwall, Pablo dragged Leeds United almost singlehandedly from likely defeat, having trailed the visitors twice, to the unlikeliest of victories against opponents who are always tough to beat. It was the kind of performance you might expect from a man who, knowing he’s a class apart from the rest, and slightly nettled at the failure of those clueless administrators to see and acknowledge this, has rolled up his sleeves and set about proving his superiority.

In a way, it’s a bit like your next opponents opening their mouths in the press in the run up to a game, and doing a motivational job for you. Millwall were slightly guilty of this in advance of their trip to Elland Road; things were said, challenges were, perhaps unwisely, laid down. It’s known as giving the team talk for the opposition, and it’s generally reckoned as less than clever. In the end, it doesn’t matter who wins the war of words, as long as the battle on the pitch goes the right way – and it did, as a Pablo-inspired Leeds hit back from behind twice, to secure a precious three points.

Although it takes a team effort to overcome a stern challenge as provided by Millwall, Hernandez was definitely the star of the show. And it may well be that, after a two week international break where one of the main news stories was an EFL Team of the Season without any sign of Pablo in it, that oversight, that insult, whether calculated or not, is what inspired United’s brilliant playmaker to produce one of his most memorable performances, crowned by two smartly-taken goals.

If so, then let me say, here and now, something I thought I’d never say: Thank you, Football League. Thank you for your base idiocy, your spectacular lack of judgement, your unbelievable inability to spot a class footballer when his class is the stuff of universal acceptance and admiration. Thank you, thank you. You might just have done us the most massive favour.

‘Justice Delayed is Justice Denied’ But Football League Keep Leeds on the Rack – by Rob Atkinson

The Football League’s Spygate deliberations continue

The Football League’s nonsensical approach to the administration of the game of football below Premier League level is making a laughing stock of them – but they don’t appear to care a bit. And so Leeds United go into yet another vitally important Championship match, at promotion rivals Middlesbrough, with the Sword of Damocles dangling precariously over their heads. And all because a bunch of buffoons see fit to make an Everest style mountain out of the most innocuous of molehills.

The fact is that it’s long been acknowledged no rules have been broken by any employee or representative of Leeds United. The police were singularly unimpressed and unbothered by the incident and, after the briefest of considerations, sent our man on his way. Which is hardly surprising, as standing on a public highway and looking through a transparent wire fence is not exactly the crime of the century.

And yet the League stumble doggedly onwards, needing more and more time to try to find an offence where there is none. Even their desperate references to “acting in good faith” have been trumped by subsequent events, notably Swansea City’s abandonment of any professional standards during transfer deadline eve, depriving their player Daniel James of his desired (and agreed) move to, yes you’ve guessed it, Leeds United.

The Football League must surely be aware of the old legal maxim “Justice delayed is Justice denied”. It cautions against over-lengthy proceedings which fail to produce timely verdicts, to the disadvantage of all concerned. In a case where the complaint clearly has no legal base to it, relying instead on some undefined principle of broad ethics, the fact that this is still dragging on exposes those who are doing the dragging as incompetent fools. It’s remarkable, too, that we would seem to be waiting for some sanctimonious sermon on good faith, when we had the spectacle of Liverpool clearing one penalty area of snow during a League game, while leaving the other as a snowscape, in an effort to secure a marginal advantage. Is that acting in good faith? But little or nothing has been said – because, of course, it’s not Leeds.

Who knows what the League’s over-lengthy deliberations will ultimately produce by way of a verdict, or what punishment they will see fit to impose. But they appear to have painted themselves into a corner, with the pressure on them to placate those hardly disinterested parties who wish to see Leeds United’s promotion bid disrupted.

It’s a most unedifying tale, and it’s far too late to caution the League against making plonkers of themselves; that has already happened, with the continuing delay merely emphasising their status as being guilty of Rodney-esque plonkerism of the first magnitude. Whether that proceeds into culpable incompetence, with the infliction of some ridiculous punishment for breaking no rules, remains to be seen.

It’s to be hoped that this silly story does not descend into gutter farce. And Leeds United themselves will be hoping that they can yet escape the clutches of this ridiculous organisation, with the expectation that the Premier League would not be quite so laughably, pitifully pathetic.

Media Moving on from Spygate for Concerted Effort to Sell Leeds Star Jack Clarke – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United’s Jack Clarke – the poise of the matador

The UK sports media don’t like Leeds United to have nice things. The recent embarrassing emphasis on so-called “Spygate” – the sensational exposé of a man in a tracksuit on a public highway by a wire fence, failing to avert his eyes from the spectacle of some footballers training in plain sight – was of course intended to derail the United promotion bandwagon, but Leeds have still won eight of the last eleven and are clear at the the top. All the hacks have accomplished really is to emphasise their own essential silliness. So – what to do?

Well, it’s transfer window time and, for your average grubby hack with a Leeds-hating readership to satisfy, what better opportunity for the talking up of the latest United wonderkid in the hope of provoking an auction? Such seems to be the mindset of the gutter end of the media right now, not excluding our good friends at Sky, who are positively schizo over Leeds United, simultaneously hating and capitalising on Yorkshire’s number one football club. The current focus is on United’s Jack Clarke, a young wing wizard with that touch of genius about him. The hacks have seen this divine spark, have noted it well – and are determined to bring about his departure from Elland Road at the earliest opportunity.

The stories have cropped up thick and fast – mostly the former, it has to be said – over the past few days. One mischievous rag, conscious of Leeds fans’ lack of regard for Devon’s Finest, have even linked him with Manchester’s second biggest club. Perhaps they feel young Jack would prosper under what they’re selling as the Norwegian reincarnation of Matt Busby, clearly a better mentor than some Argie who sits on a bucket.

Sky were in on the act today as well, playing tempting clips of young Clarke bamboozling full-backs and sticking the ball in the net. It’s all designed to whip up interest from one or other of their favoured clubs because, alas, so far the only enquiries seem to have been  joke ones, from the likes of Crystal Palace and Southampton – hardly the stuff of a young winger’s dreams. Meanwhile, Jack is thriving at Leeds, in and around the first team, contributing solidly to the promotion push, and with the alluring prospect of a fat new contract and maybe a Championship winner’s medal in the offing. For those who wish Leeds ill, namely just about everyone who doesn’t bleed yellow blue and white, these are not good feelings.

Let’s be honest, Jack Clarke at 18 looks to be the real deal. He has that matador’s poise, the ability to play a bewildered defender into hopeless confusion and ultimate defeat. Only the other day, he destroyed the opposing Derby County full-back, who was promptly dispatched to Aberdeen with twisted blood, there to reflect and convalesce, having been replaced at Derby by a pensioner. Clarke has the nascent promise of a youthful Stan Matthews – there’s no deep, dark secret as to how he beats his man. He dances for a moment, in possession of the ball – will the defender sell himself, or just back off, quivering? Then – a drop of the shoulder, a change of pace, and Jack is gone, leaving his man in a crumpled heap, arrowing a deadly ball into the box, and Roofe is there to snap up the chance. Or maybe Clarke swerves back on his path into the box, and curls the ball inside the far post. You just don’t know, although that initial beating of the full back, that’s an open secret. You know how he’ll do that. But, as with Stan Matthews, stopping it is another matter entirely. The media knows all this, and they’re agreed: Clarke must go from Leeds.

But anyone who knows the game will know that Jack Clarke is in the best place he could be, especially at this time of his fledgling career. Quite apart from the material and competitive career rewards dangling in front of him, he’s working with the best coach in Marcelo Bielsa that he could possibly wish for, and in a team that might have been set up specifically to showcase his devastating talent. At eighteen, Clarke needs to be protected from the predatory and kept close to the nurturing influence from which he’s currently benefiting. Jack has the role models right now, in the coaching set up and alongside him in the team, that will give his genius the best chance of emerging in full bloom. To dump him into a so-called “elite” development squad would be to risk seeing that potential stifled, instead of being honed, as it is now, under Bielsa and alongside the likes of Pablo Hernandez.

Leeds United themselves, thankfully, seem to have become a lot more selective in terms of both squad augmentation and pruning. The development squad is being enhanced with a succession of quality additions, and the progression from there to first team level is a clear path. United also recognise and reward the diamonds yielded by this rich seam, polishing some for display on a grand stage, profiting from others judiciously, with the dividend being ploughed back. It’s a policy designed to reap ever richer harvests in the near future – showing that this is a club at long last on the right track. We can safely assume that United will no longer accept derisory offers from smaller clubs for a short term profit that denies them progress and a longer term bounty.

If I’m correct about all that, then – all media hue, cry and desperation notwithstanding – young Jack Clarke will remain exactly he is, shining and dazzling on either wing, tormenting opposing defences with his prodigious, precocious talent, in the colours of Leeds United, settled and happy on the brink of a sensational career. Which is exactly what we would all of us wish and hope for.

Sky Sports et al not included.

Football League Investigates Leeds but Finds Itself Corrupt by Mistake – by Rob Atkinson

In an amazing twist, the Football League’s probe into the Leeds United “Spygate” allegation has led to a finding that the League itself is corrupt and not fit for purpose. A red-faced FL spokesman admitted that the findings themselves are real enough, but that the direction of the investigation was misconceived. “We didn’t mean to probe ourselves,” the man from the FL confirmed, “That was just an embarrassing mistake that stemmed from noticing Shaun Harvey’s eyes are too close together. But, because the error happened, we now find that we’re utterly corrupt, useless and totally bent out of shape – so I suppose we’ll have to do something about that, like ban ourselves or whatever. It’s all a bit bemusing, all we wanted to do was rattle Leeds United a bit. Deary me”.

What happens next is unclear. The League could appeal against its own findings, but we understand that it’s struggling to find grounds. “We appear to be bang to rights on being as corrupt as you could imagine”, said our man, gloomily. One possibility is that the League might disband itself and turn control of the FL72 over to some less obviously useless organisation, such as the BBC or the Tory Party. The next few days should be very interesting.

Meanwhile, Leeds United are free to continue with preparations for their match at Stoke on Saturday, and a furtive gentleman dressed inconspicuously outside the Potters’ training ground put down his binoculars long enough to confirm that the pre-match build up was “going as well as can be expected”.