Any Leeds United fan worth his or her salt will nod and give the thumbs-up to a player prepared to shed blood in the United cause. It’s in the DNA of the club; such players are an integral part of our history. The blood shed will preferably be that of an opponent, but your archetypal Elland Road patron warmly appreciates the warrior who leaves the field of battle liberally bespattered with his own gore. It’s a mark of commitment, and that goes down well with us northern folk.
Down the years, we’ve been lucky enough to have many such doughty battlers gracing the white shirt. Hunter, Giles, Vinnie, Billy, the list is long and impressive. Sadly, the standard is lower these days, the commitment less nakedly obvious. The same appears to apply to the national team, also. I was reminded of this when I received a t-shirt from my good friends at The Art of Football, an online firm with a difference, specialising in quality prints to adorn the proudest chest.
The shirt I received, pictured above, bears the unmistakable figure of Stuart “Psycho” Pearce, a player I for one would have absolutely loved to have seen in a Leeds United shirt. His commitment was exemplary, he was a man who’d have been an asset to any team, anywhere at any time. England, like Leeds United, have had a few of these over the years. Terry Butcher, so famously pictured with a pint or two of his own blood soaked into his England shirt – another image available in this Euro ’16 range. Tony Adams, neck veins bulging as he bellowed the National Anthem before every International of his career. Pearce himself, stepping up to the plate in a penalty shoot out, exorcising the ghost of a previous miss by belting the ball past the Spanish keeper at Euro ’96, at one with the fans as he ran to them, his pride and fight written all over his face.
Where are these players now? John Terry might have been the last for England, though maybe Cahill can succeed to his crown. I have to confess, I can’t remember the last Leeds player in this warrior category. And United will need someone of that ilk to challenge next season. But England need a man like that as soon as Thursday – because the Welsh will have their war paint on, there’s no doubt about that.
Perhaps if the existing England players can channel some of that Psycho Pearce spirit in time for their next test, we might overcome a Welsh team with much commitment but relatively few world-class performers. The fans, too, could do worse than embody the Pearce approach, focusing on getting behind the shirts instead of acting like idiots in the pubs and bars. The atmosphere will be fierce on Thursday, the stakes high. We will need warriors on the pitch and the pride and passion of supporters in the stands if we’re going to match Wales in either arena.
Let players and fans be inspired by the image of Stuart Pearce at his most committed, with the flag of St. George behind him. Given that, we can succeed despite the famous bravery and desire of the Welsh.