Tag Archives: The Championship

Are We Going to Suffer Yet Again From That Same Old Leeds United Delusion? – by Rob Atkinson

Orta

Victor Orta – managing fans’ expectations?

One chilling phrase among a few sobering lines emerged from new manager Thomas Christiansen‘s debut press conference at Leeds United. Sad to say, the same old signs of fan expectations being carefully managed were all there – new players “but within our budget” etc etc. The implication was that the budget will be far from a bottomless bucket, but we all know that anyway. Leeds United has not been a “speculate to accumulate” club for ages now, despite the bounteous riches that await us, if we can only get over that hill and reach the Premier League Promised Land. So the promise of parsimony and caution isn’t exactly news to us fans. All that remains to be seen is the extent of the handicap we’ll be carrying, as compared to more ambitious and realistic clubs.

The really scary part, though, is what appears to this blog a sign of an almost deluded Elland Road view of the modern player’s priorities. I think it’s fair to say that we’re all aware of your average pro footballer’s top three most important things: in no particular order, they are cash, dosh and money. That’s a given, and any proletarian whinging will be met with a sharp volley of “it’s a short career”, “I’ve a family to look after” and so forth. The thing is, we’re under no illusions. Johnny Footballer isn’t motivated by love of club – he just wants to know what the bottom line is, and precisely how many high-performance motor vehicles that will put in his deluxe double garage with electronic drop-down doors.

So it’s acutely distressing to hear yet again the same old crap we’ve been fed before. This time, it’s from the persuasive mouth of Victor Orta – but it’s been said many a time and oft by various predecessors charged with explaining to the fans why we won’t be signing the kind of players Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough and even Wolves will be aiming for. The dreaded phrase is “My task is to find players who want to be here, and not for money”.

Now, I could help Victor here. I could name any number of players like that, starting with my good self. I’d play for Leeds United for the inestimable honour of wearing that white shirt (XXL, please), and I wouldn’t presume to ask a penny piece. As far as that goes, I’m the Whites’ ideal recruit. The trouble is though, I’m crap at football, and I always was – even in my prime thirty years ago. But just to let you know, Victor – if you want cheap and starry-eyed, then I’m your man. And there’d be no shortage of players, with the name of Leeds United carved upon their hearts, equally eager as myself, but sadly equally crap. I guess you can’t have it all.

And therein lies the problem. Other clubs in the Championship have sussed out the truth in that ancient maxim: pay peanuts, get monkeys. Leeds United, undoubtedly the biggest club in the second tier, have consistently failed to live up to that historical billing. They seem to feel – and this is quite explicit in the hackneyed phrase trotted out by Orta – that players will be clambering over themselves to enter the hallowed portals of Elland Road, without caring a rotten fig for the amount of remuneration available. They seem to believe that players think like besotted fans. But – and this is dead obvious but really, really important – they don’t.

Professional players have dedicated their lives to getting to that point where a club like Leeds United might be interested in them. They know their worth, and if they don’t, there’s some oily git of an agent all too ready to tell them, for a mere 15%. They’re clued-up, eager to realise their financial potential and utterly unsentimental. They will, of course, trot out the usual fan-pleasing platitudes once they’ve signed for somebody (As soon as I heard Leeds/Forest/Newcastle/Chesterfield* were interested, there was no other place for me) – but we all know that’s just professional blarney. It’s expected – nobody takes it seriously. It’s all about how much wedge they stand to earn.  *delete as applicable

One of two things is going on here. Either Leeds United, in the shape of their newly-hired management team, really do believe this guff about “players wanting to be here” – in which case, you worry for their knowledge and professional ability – or they’re spinning a line. And, in that latter case, we just have to hope that it’s the rest of the game they’re trying to spin a line to – and not us, the poor, long-suffering fans. If the club is trying to hide the true extent of their transfer pot from other clubs, in order to avoid prices being inflated, then they’re not being too subtle about it. And yet we might approve of such a strategy, if it gets us decent players for prices that aren’t too daft.

But if it’s us fans the club are trying – for the umpteenth time – to delude with tales of players unable to resist the honour of representing Leeds, despite being paid rather less than they might get down the road at some more cynical and sordid club where the belief is that you get what you pay for – then, frankly, it’s bloody insulting. But I just have this nasty feeling that might well be the case.

Only time will tell, and until these dark suspicions are proved correct, the new Leeds regime will have my cautious and conditional support. The proof of the pudding, as they say, will be in the eating – so we’ll just have to hope that the club’s movers and shakers are ready to sink their teeth into the transfer market, and give us a team to be proud of. Otherwise, I’m afraid to say, it’s difficult to see anything but a long struggle of a season ahead, with some or other degree of disappointment at the end of it.

As ever in this gloomy mood, I do hope that I’m wrong. 

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Ranieri Should Be Top Target for Leeds United After Monk Shock   –   by Rob Atkinson

Claudio Ranieri – is the Tinkerman next through the Elland Road revolving door?

In the light of Garry Monk‘s shock departure from Leeds, an intriguing name has cropped up as a possible candidate for the hotseat at Leeds United, and I make no apology for rehashing what was only a speculative article four weeks ago. 

The possibility of Claudio Ranieri fancying a crack at the Elland Road job was raised by a contributor to a recent article on this blog. NickB, 50 years a Leeds fan, ended a long and entertaining comment by asking “When does Ranieri’s gardening leave come to an end ?!” Another regular contributor, Leeds Mick, agreed with Nick, stating that Ranieri “would be a damn good appointment”. But what do other Leeds fans think?

Leaving aside the vexed question of whether Ranieri would touch us with the proverbial barge pole, the prospect of the Tinkerman would indeed be fascinating. With a recent Premier League title on his CV, Claudio is a very likeable man who seems to have a magic managerial touch in the right situation. It’s no exaggeration to say that what he pulled off at Leicester City qualifies as the biggest football miracle of all time, bar none. So, could Leeds United benefit from a touch of diddly-ding, diddly-dong?

I still feel that Monk has acted precipitately. And I do also feel that chairman Andrea Radrizzani deserves the faith and belief of Leeds United fans in his hunt for a new man. 

Still – Ranieri. Likeable, credible, available Ranieri. It is interesting – isn’t it? Would it be feasible, a welcome sign of ambition – or aiming too high? Your thoughts, as ever, would be appreciated. 

Leeds Fans Flocking Back as New Owner Prepares to Acquire Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

Andrea

Radrizzani – master of all he surveys

Suddenly, there’s a feelgood factor about Leeds United, one that I’ve long predicted would come about when – and only when – the club became free of Massimo Cellino. Only when the maverick Italian was gone would we be able to look ahead with optimism. Only then could we start Marching On Together again, instead of being hopelessly disunited. And now it’s finally happened – Cellino has departed from Elland Road, a harmful and divisive influence whose supporters could see only good in him, and whose detractors could see only bad.

Whoever was right – and the truth, as ever, was probably somewhere in the middle – it was this dramatic polarisation of opinion in the support base that was so bad for Leeds. A support divided against itself could not be wholeheartedly behind the club. Now, the issue dividing us is gone, and it must be every United fan’s fervent hope that we can all start singing once again from the same hymn sheet.

New sole owner Andrea Radrizzani has certainly got off on the right foot, and we will expect him to maintain his positive outlook. For the first few days of his tenure, taking up the option on Garry Monk‘s extra year, with a longer-term deal to be discussed, would have been fine on its own. Add to that tying down one of the most exciting midfield prospects in the country to a four year deal, and we appear to be cooking with gas – because Ronaldo Vieira is every bit as hot a prospect as his famous names would suggest. And then, the cherry on the icing on the cake for this momentous first week of Radrizzani – it would seem that the club will once again own its spiritual home of Elland Road “by the end of the summer”.

That stadium purchase timescale lacks the immediate impact of Cellino’s “off down the ATM to get the money to buy the ground on Day One” promise. But the difference is, of course, that Radrizzani will probably deliver on his less sensational claim, whereas Cellino’s soundbite was just the first of many he failed to bring to fruition. Any Leeds fan will tell you it’s always felt better when our home was our own – it’s a reassuring prospect to look forward to and, at last, we can look forward with confidence.

And the summer as a whole is looking a lot brighter than previous summers have turned out to be, irrespective of the amount of sunshine we get. Radrizzani has stated that he is “here to make history, not money”. That’s a very sensible and realistic plan for any owner; making good on it is something else, but the intentions are spot on. It’s rightly said that the only way to make a small fortune out of football is by starting off with a large one – but the owner who has his eye on making history will inevitably find that financial rewards accrue also. Just getting into the Premier League would yield a bountiful harvest, as either Huddersfield or Reading are about to find out. The difference is that, when it’s Leeds United’s turn, there will be a new force in the top league capable of building on the financial bounty to make a mark in the game.

These are exciting times, as witness the flood of season ticket purchases for the next campaign. United have hit 15,000 already, before the old season is actually finished. That’s an impressive performance compared to other recent years, and a sign of the new feeling around the club. What divided us has gone, what has always united us is still alive and kicking; that big club buzz of an awakening giant.

Good luck, Andrea, and all your new backroom staff. As for the future – bring it on. The way things have started, it should be one to relish.

Leeds Have the Advantage Over Top-Flight Swansea in Kyle Bartley Chase – by Rob Atkinson

Bartley

Bartley – happy at Elland Road

Swansea City boss Paul Clement might be talking a good fight and looking to play hardball over his loaned-out defender Kyle Bartley, who has made such an impression during his season-long stint at Leeds United. But, especially now that the Swans’ Premier League status is assured, football economics and a dash of common sense will tend towards a conclusion that, if Leeds want Bartley – and if Bartley wants Leeds – then the situation will pan out towards a satisfactory conclusion for both player and the Elland Road club.

The fact is, despite Clement’s neat line about “welcoming Bartley home”, a lot will depend on where the player himself sees his future. There is only one year left on Bartley’s Swans contract, and Leeds fans will be familiar with how that scenario usually ends, from bitter experience of seeing favourites leave Yorkshire a year early for a fee, or stick it out and walk for nothing. Whatever success the giant defender has enjoyed this Championship season, his potential as a Premier League defender is unclear. He’s likely to enjoy more game time at Leeds, and on that account, as well as his friendship with Luke Ayling, would perhaps prefer a move to Yorkshire rather than signing an extended deal for the Welsh club.

As for Leeds, they’ve seen a highly promising central defensive partnership develop between the mighty Bartley and Swedish colossus Pontus Jansson; they’re more likely to be looking at supplementing those positions by the acquisition of quality deputies, to provide the strength in depth lacking in the campaign just ended, rather than losing one pillar of a towering twin rearguard.

There’ll be more talking done, of course, both between the clubs and in the press so that the fans can see how serious and committed their managers are. But at the end of the day, money talks – and Swansea would be better off banking a fee for a player they could otherwise lose for nothing next May. Whatever claims and counter-claims fly back and forth, the only real work to be done is likely to be a bit of dickering over money.

If I were a betting man (and my bank manager is grateful that I’m not), my dosh would be on Bartley signing for Leeds permanently, or at least securing another loan, with an option to buy – perhaps in the January window.

It should be a busy summer, with a new sole owner, the maverick, amateur element of club ownership gone, and some backroom talent already recruited. But the retention of this season’s centre-back partnership will be seen as an important part of all that and I, for one, would be extremely surprised to see Kyle Bartley in a Swansea shirt when next season kicks off.

Now Leeds United MUST Start Acting Like the Big Club They Are   –   by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Fans

Leeds fans expect…

Leeds United‘s season is over, many will feel prematurely. The chance that was there was untaken, the nettle ungrasped. United have sadly, in colloquial parlance, bottled it. 

The reasons for this will be gone into often and deeply enough over the next few weeks or so. The nature of the game, and of football pundits and supporters, demands a post mortem to follow such deep disappointment. Heads will be scratched, brows will be furrowed. Arguments will run hot and cold. So mote it be. This is the aftermath of failure, and it’s a necessary though painful ritual.

At the end of all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, though, the reasons for failure will be seen as stark and simple. Leeds seized defeat from the jaws of victory, plummeting from a handy position with a disastrous late run of poor displays and awful results. The seeds of failure were sown in January, when manager Garry Monk‘s prescription for consolidation of a play-off berth (with an outside chance of gate-crashing the automatic promotion party) was bizarrely rejected by men in suits who thought they knew better. What a bitter harvest we reaped from that insensate folly. 

It must not happen again. The manager must be listened to and heeded – if he’s going to have to accept that the buck ultimately stops with him, then he deserves the tools to do the job. Monk asked for reinforcements and was betrayed, there’s really no other word for it. That harsh lesson must be learned, because it’s going to be even harder to get out of this league next time around. 

Leeds United is a huge football club, a true institution of the game. Yet they have been taught the ABC of ‘Acting like a Big Club’ by comparative minnows in the shape of Reading, Huddersfield and Fulham. Even by the moderately sizeable Sheffield Wednesday. That’s nowhere near good enough, and it’s vital that Leeds should be the ones laying a marker down this summer. Anything else, and smaller but hungrier clubs will eclipse us again. 

I expect next season to be intense. Aston Villa will be strong, having laid solid foundations. It’s likely that we’ll face many Yorkshire derbies, depending on the outcome of the play-offs. Middlesbrough, bolstered by parachute payments and battle-hardened by recent Championship experience, will be thereabouts. Add in Sunderland, Derby, and all the teams for whom beating Leeds is where it’s at – and you can see that it’s impossible to understate just how strong and well-prepared we must be. It’s going to take every ounce of effort, character, guts and determination – and a significant financial outlay. 

This summer will decide Leeds United’s prospects for next season. It’s vital now that we step up, and win promotion soon. It would be a tragedy – nothing less – if this great club were to celebrate its centenary in two years time, below the elite level of English football. We simply have to stake our claim to enter a second century as one of the country’s select band of top clubs. 

It’s time now for Leeds United to think big again, to act once more like the big club they undeniably are. Time for Leeds to prove that they’re a big club. An almighty struggle awaits and we just have to be ready. 

Marching On Together, back to the top. It’s there for Leeds, if they want it badly enough. And that’s the big test now for everyone connected with Elland Road. Can we do it? Of course we can. But will we? Will we be bold, brave and brazenly assertive enough? Will we stump up the price of promotion and earn our golden ticket to the Promised Land?

That, fellow fans, is the £25 million (minimum net squad investment) question. 

Who Will Take a Punt on Leeds Disgrace Charlie Taylor Now? – by Rob Atkinson

Middlesbrough v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship

Charlie Taylor – disgrace

The news from Wigan this afternoon, following United’s 1-1 draw to end an ultimately disappointing season, was that full-back Charlie Taylor refused to turn out for Leeds. This comes straight from the mouth of manager Garry Monk, via respected journo Adam Pope, so we can assume it’s reliable. And, if it is true, there can be little more disgraceful than the base treachery of a rich young man, content to pick up his lavish wage while arrogantly insisting that he’s not prepared to soil his hands with any actual work.

That old Billy Bremner motto “Side before self, every time” seems to be an outdated notion as far as many of today’s spoiled young football millionaires are concerned. If anything, they might reverse the saying and use it as a rallying cry for the selfish and materialistic end of their profession. It’s often said that thousands out there with the words Leeds United carved deep and painfully into their very hearts, would happily don that famous shirt for free, or even pay for the privilege – just to have one chance to tread the hallowed turf in United’s cause. And it’s doubtless true. But all of that is just so much sentimental hogwash to your average self-involved young “pro” of today.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am. The game I fell in love with is now spattered, like a car windscreen at a gull-infested seaside resort, with examples of arrogance and self-interest. King Billy must be spinning in his grave, because this daft Charlie is just the latest in a long line of young blots on the game. Taylor is doubtless advised and encouraged by an agent, who should also know better – because having what amounts to strike action on your CV at such an early stage of a promising career is hardly calculated to inspire confidence in future employers.

Still, Taylor will end up somewhere. West Brom, perhaps – we might even find ourselves passing him on the way down as we head up this time next year. Which would be satisfying karma at least.

Some players leave with a job well done and good wishes for the future. Again, there will be some who will wave farewell to Taylor with just such feelings, but they’re surely the minority and a misguided one at that. Taylor has let his manager down, his team-mates, the club and the thousands of fans who have applauded his every every moment in a Leeds United shirt. And, despite all of this, he will quite happily continue to pick up his ill-deserved money until the moment he slithers out of the Elland Road door. In hard times, that must leave a nasty taste in more mouths than just mine alone.

Like most Leeds fans, I’m hoping for better times ahead, without Cellino, without some surplus deadwood, and perhaps with some proper investment. The future might be bright – let’s hope so.

What I’m most afraid of, though, is that the game nowadays is so far gone as compared to the dear old pre-Sky times, that our future never can be as bright and enjoyable as our past. And the reason for that is to be found mainly in the attitude and selfish priorities of young ne’er-do-wells like Charlie Taylor.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Huddersfield to Add Fourth Star to Badge After Leeds Miracle   –   by Rob Atkinson


Huddersfield Town fans suddenly have more to look forward to than Championship play-off defeat. In the wake of what their educated fans – a select band of three genetic abnormalities from Slaithwaite – are referring to as the club’s annus mirabilis, the Terriers are to add a fourth star to the club badge, in recognition of Town’s greatest achievement of the last ninety years.

The three existing stars refer to a hat-trick of League Title triumphs in the 1920s, which had represented the high water mark of Town’s achievements up until this year – when they surpassed all previous attainments by actually managing to finish higher in the league than Leeds United, something that hadn’t happened for 56 years, before anyone outside of Beeston or Turin had actually heard of Leeds.

It had been thought that, should the Terriers ever actually climb the mountain and finally manage such a frankly unlikely feat, the club would disband for lack of any realistic targets beyond this, their Holy Grail. But it seems that, after all, the club will keep going – with play-off defeat practically certain to mean a renewal of their Elland Road-based obsession next season.

Terriers supporters chief, Mr. Cyril D. Ogbotherer, was emphatic in his praise of Town’s historic achievement: “It’s grand, just grand,” he declared, misty eyed and glossy of coat. “It’ll perk up this place like a dose of Bob Martins, this will. By! Finishin’ aboove Leeds! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh, bah GOOM!!”

An open-top tram ride is planned, and Pathé Newsreels have agreed to add highlights of this campaign to their Magic Lantern special, commemorating Huddersfield’s champions of between the wars. The addition of the fourth star to the badge is proving slightly problematic, as supporters feel it should be a lot bigger than the other three, to reflect the relative scale of the achievement. The issue is to be decided either by a show of paws, the loudest bark – or by using a special “Wag-o-Meter”, at the next full board meeting.

Herr David Wagner, 46, ist einer schrecklicher Kartoffelkopf.

No Apologies, but This Latest Leeds Utd Failure Might Be MY Fault – by Rob Atkinson

MayBoJo

Get the Tories OUT

A quarter of a century ago, a general election loomed as Leeds United‘s league campaign headed towards an exciting, nail-biting climax. The exact same set of circumstances applies today and, now as then, United’s fate will be sealed a week early.

Although the situation today is identical, the outcome for Leeds at least is the polar opposite. Back in 1992, I told myself long before the end of the football season that I’d take a Tory election victory (it didn’t look likely at the time), if Leeds could only hold out and pip the scum to the last League Championship Title, frustrating the rest of football and the assembled media into the bargain. Some might say it was a bargain I made myself, with the devil himself. In truth, my joy at seeing Leeds become champions was only slightly tempered by John Major’s beating of the useless Neil Kinnock – but I was quite young and my priorities were perhaps not what they should have been.

I must admit, I had the same chat with myself just a couple of weeks back, when Theresa May showed exactly how trustworthy she is by calling a snap election – after having repeatedly sworn that she wouldn’t call a snap election. And now, the stakes are higher, for everybody, because now we have a government that is not only set on out-Thatchering Thatcher, it’s also committed to an austerity programme that hits only the poor and vulnerable, and has demonstrably failed to tackle the national debt (which has actually doubled since 2010). And it seems likely also that this incompetent and evil government was elected fraudulently in the first place. 

So the bargain I struck with myself when I heard there’d be an election after all, on June 8th, was a different one to that I agreed with whatever higher power in 1992. Now, my priorities are shaped by the bitter experience of what devastating damage can be wreaked by a Party without any conscience or compassion, driven by greed and an ideological hatred of socialist institutions like the welfare state and NHS. Nothing is so important as to matter more than getting rid of this shower, if at all possible, and despite the apparently gloomy (Tory-commissioned) opinion polls. I had no hesitation in telling my inner United fanatic that I would happily see Leeds condemned to at least another season of second tier football, if we could only have the truly socialist government that this country so desperately needs.

Whereas I unconsciously traded an unlikely John Major election success for The Last Champions triumph in ’92, now I’m begging for providence, fate, call it what you will, to allow a good and decent man in Jeremy Corbyn to replace May’s Ministry of fools, charlatans and liars as the ruling force in this country. Football is nothing beside that, and I’ll be happy to see Leeds United bottle it to fulfill my side of the bargain – just as long as the right result comes about on June the 8th.

I don’t know how superstitious you all are out there, though I’m uncomfortably aware that a sizeable proportion of Leeds fans are far and away to the right of me – so this confession is hardly likely to prove popular. I’m willing to engage in reasoned debate but, as ever, I’ll bin the mindless abuse. Still, on this occasion, unlike many of the times I’ve taken a stand on football matters, I’m stone cold certain that I’m correct.

Hopefully, Leeds United bottling this season’s chance at promotion will reap a reward in the shape of a brighter future for the whole country under Corbyn. If not, I have only the fates to blame – unless I choose to rail at people for being daft and crass enough to vote for a party hell-bent on destroying the NHS and killing thousands more hapless sick and disabled people through neglect and starvation. You see what I mean about high stakes.

I love Leeds United; I have done for well over forty years. But I will gladly see them fail if there’s anything in this mirror-image outcome as compared with 1992. It’s that important. For Leeds, there will be other years. For so many whose very existence is threatened by a continuation of this evil government, there can be no such guarantees – unless the polls are wrong, as they were a quarter of a century ago.

Leeds have done their bit, by failing, in their own inimitable style – despite a second-half rally against Norwich. As ever, it was too little, too late. Great, I didn’t really see them succeeding under Massimo Cellino – another liar and fraud – anyway. Now, all we need to square the circle, paying back the debt of conscience I owe from 1992, is a Labour victory in a few weeks time. I hope the more enlightened among you will join me in hoping for that, and in accepting it’s far more important than any dicey and probably heart-breaking football play-off place. Fight for what’s right and vote Labour. And let’s all have a fresh start from now onward.

Let June be the end of May.

Monk Wanted Investment in January, Cellino Said NO. Failure, the Leeds Utd Way – by Rob Atkinson

img_6974

Monk: he told us what was needed – Cellino ignored it

I’m pretty sure I’ll still be hearing some of the more deluded Whites fans telling me how Massimo Cellino has saved Leeds United. Yorkshire folk can be pretty stubborn, but sticking by Cellino after the collapse of United’s play-off challenge – seemingly nailed on only a week or so ago – that takes more than mere stubbornness.

The fact of the matter is, and despite any recent conciliatory words designed to disguise that fact, our manager Garry Monk knew in January that investment was needed to cement the promotion challenge. His statements in the press at the time were loaded and significant – words to the effect of “The club knows what is needed, and I’m sure they will act accordingly”. But former sole owner Cellino had different ideas. Despite the arrival of Andrea Radrizzani, a co-owner in equal partnership, el Loco‘s advice was not to invest money at this vital time. So the manager was casually undermined, and Leeds were sticking by the old tried and tested – but unsuccessful – formula.

That formula may be summed up as follows, to paraphrase a pissed-off but insightful LUFC tweeter as United struggled at Burton: Inadequate investment in the summer followed by a lot of ambitious talk and then a failure to invest in January, with an over-reliance on loans. Rinse and repeat.

It’s not been a recipe for success for Leeds for the last several seasons since the club first bottled a chance to go back to the top level in their first Championship season of 2010/11. It’s highly unlikely now to prove a recipe for success this season either. And for the unaccountable decision to stick to this same hopeless, hapless policy, we have only Mr. Cellino to thank. Things must change at Elland Road, or we’re going to become permanent second-tier plodders at best.

The first thing to change must be the removal of any Cellino influence at the club. This is a must – though, as I said earlier, some will fail to see it, much as Lord Nelson failed to see enemy ships through his blind eye. Secondly, there must be investment in the summer on a par with the big hitters in next season’s Championship, where I’m afraid we will still be plying our trade. Defeat at Burton pretty much confirms that. And the failure to make the play-offs may be a blessing in disguise. That mini competition is likely to turn into a “Who ends up getting thrashed by a rampant Fulham” affair.

There will be those again who will insist on hailing this ‘nearly but not quite’ season as a relative success, following years of unabashed mediocrity under various useless owners. Again, I disagree, and I turn to another despondent tweeter in Adam Turnbull, who sums up why the campaign is a failure in a few well-chosen and famous words, first uttered, after a fashion, by John Cleese in Clockwise: “It’s not the despair, I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand. MOT”

MOT indeed. But to what? Next season has to provide the right answer to such a vexed question – and that will require decisive change at the top – and for Leeds United to start acting like a big club again. In a week that marks the silver jubilee of the last United team to ascend to the top of the game – the Last Champions, no less – our allegedly big club has confirmed its failure to compete adequately at the top end of its league, and for the umpteenth time. That’s as pitiful as it’s shameful.

For now, our play-off chances are gone for a Burton – and we need to focus on a brighter future.

Reading Join Huddersfield in Leeds United’s Little Black Book – by Rob Atkinson

Big Jack

Big Jack of Leeds United – neither forgot nor forgave

A few decades back, a couple of rival footballers were daft enough to upset Leeds United‘s beanpole, World Cup-winning centre-half Jack Charlton. Perhaps they over-estimated the man’s capacity for forgiveness, but that would have been a terrible mistake. Although somebody once rightly said of the Charlton brothers, that Bobby was twice the player but Jack was ten times the bloke, our legendary number five knew how to nurse a grudge, alright. He had this to say of those unwise enough to rile him:

“I have a little black book with two players in it, and if I get a chance to do them, I will. I will make them suffer before I pack this game in. If I can kick them four yards over the touch line, I will.”

Chilling stuff, you might agree and, really, very Leeds United at that time. This was a team that bore grudges and looked after themselves and each other – famously, the attitude was “If you cut one of us, we all bleed”. With the subtext to that being “…and we’ll all be lining up to pay you back, so watch it”. But Jack rarely needed back-up.

Some might say that, although the great United team is a far-off memory now, and although Big Jack himself has long since retired into a mellow north country affability, the cold, hard core of steel persists around Elland Road. As a club, and reflected also in their redoubtable fans, Leeds United excels still in bearing a grudge; it neither forgives nor forgets. Big Jack’s little black book is still a thing in LS11, and there have been a couple of new entries made this season.

Given the nature of football, such accounts frequently have to remain unsettled for a considerable period of time, what with rival teams usually meeting but twice a year. But these days, it’s a little bit different and – intriguingly for those who keep an eye on slow-burning feuds – the two clubs who have most offended White sensibilities this season are both likely play-off opponents in the near future.

It’s fairly well-documented that Huddersfield Town, those perennial Yorkshire bridesmaids, have got themselves a little over-excited at times in this campaign. It’s perhaps understandable – after all, they’ve contrived two narrow victories against the club that, more than any other, is responsible for their long-standing inferiority complex. What’s more, they’re looking well-placed to finish higher in the league than those hated rivals, for the first time since 1961.

Still, understandable or not, Huddersfield have transgressed the unwritten law about not pissing Leeds United off. So they’re in the modern day little black book – and they’ve been joined over the past week or so by fellow tiny upstarts Reading FC, who have had so much to say for themselves in the run-up to Saturday’s match at the Madejski Stadium. The phenomenon of small clubs gobbing off in the press about bigger outfits fallen upon hard times is one that has gained some currency in recent years. As the ultimate sleeping giant, Leeds United has had to suffer slings and arrows from some fairly surprising directions, given the large size and glittering status of our more accustomed rivals. But lately we cop it in the neck from the likes of Bradford, Barnsley, Millwall and so on. And now Reading. Saucy little gits of clubs, all, that revel in the golden chance to show disrespect to their betters. It’s distasteful, but we’ve just had to grimace and bear it. And yet that doesn’t mean that we forget, nor indeed should we forgive. And, by God, we don’t; we bear a grudge and vow to have our own back. That’s what little black books are for.

Call it motivation, psyching-up, or the naked desire for revenge – the outcome is likely to be the same. If, as expected, Leeds United figures in the end-of-season lottery we know as the play-offs, then our beloved club could well be playing with the dice loaded marginally in our favour. At home, Elland Road will be a wall of sound, an arena of passion and hostility fit to blow away those used to a more placid atmosphere. Away, the travelling army will invade and conquer; enemy territory will ring to the noise of locals being out-shouted and sung into silence. At Wembley, if such is our destiny, the stadium will look like a rhapsody in white, yellow and blue, with a massive majority of raucous Yorkshire voices demanding victory and a return to our rightful level. On the park, the shirts will be occupied by snarling warriors, snapping into tackles, giving no quarter, harrying the enemy to exhaustion. Such will be the case, whoever we happen to meet.

But, if and when we meet Huddersfield, and/or Reading – as we almost inevitably will – then that extra-keen edge may well be evident in the attitude of both team and fans. United in all senses of the word, the boys on the park and the fans in the stands will remember past offences and will be eager for payback. Promotion via the play-offs is its own incentive; many say there is no better way to go up, and no worse way to stay down. But that little extra few percent in performance and support, added into the mix by foes ill-advised enough to find their way into Leeds’ little black book – that extra few percent might just make all the difference.

Huddersfield, Reading – it’ll be good to see you again. We’ll be waiting, with long memories, but short on patience and the milk of human kindness. We’ll go about it hard but fair, just like Big Jack – but with an intensity and passion you might find hard to deal with. You’ve had your moments this season, at our expense too, and you’ve earned your places in the book. Beware, payback time approaches. It’s time to settle up.