With apologies to Charles Dickens: we have the best of fans, we have the worst of fans. We’re Leeds United, and it’s high time we acknowledged this essential truth. The dividing line is perhaps a bit blurred – but, broadly speaking, the matchgoing support, those who roll up home and away, providing that intense atmosphere and fervent backing, can have few if any rivals anywhere in the game. If the fate of the team was down to these lads and lasses, we’d be certs for promotion.
But sadly, these days, you have to factor in the virtual world, and the Leeds United presence there – if we can assume for a moment that these online fans really are genuine Leeds followers – are not of the same quality as those matchgoing heroes. The outpouring of negativity both last season (as acknowledged by several players who admitted that it does affect them) and latterly this season too, has become a real factor in the team’s nervous and jittery displays. The trolls of course will deny this, but then, they would, wouldn’t they? But the fact is that professional sport is a matter of fine margins separating success from failure – so that any diminution of support is a negative and unwanted factor. And sadly, that’s something that could well cost us dear.
I’m by no means convinced that the worst of these online offenders are genuine Leeds fans anyway – there’s a lot of recently-started Twitter accounts out there, and you have to assume that some, at least, have been created for – shall we say – mischievous purposes. That will be a minority, though – but, as ever, there will always be a number of the dimmer type of Leeds fan, always looking for a passing bandwagon to jump aboard, and thinking that departing from a party line of “Bielsa is God” makes them appear windswept and interesting. That scenario has been quite obvious recently too.
I’m no more aware than anyone else what to do about this, beyond raising our voices in objection to the negative posters and trying to rally genuine support. That’s what I’ve been trying my poor best to do, and I know others have too. Doubtless we’re all taking the same kind of stick, sarcastically being called “superfans” etc. It’s all water off a duck’s back, of course – and, anyway, a bit of stick from a few hard-of-thinking types would be well worth it if we could make only the tiniest difference to online behaviour. And I have noticed more positive and supportive tweets lately, which is encouraging.
Because, in a game of fine margins, the slightest positive effect can make the difference, and take us where we all want to be.
Marching On Together
Tag Archives: The Championship
As Some Leeds “Fans” Have Demoralised Bamford, Is It Time for Some Big Kev Swagger? – by Rob Atkinson
Even in the triumphant moments following his winner against Millwall in midweek, you could tell that Patrick Bamford has been got at by the relentless negativity and sheer destructiveness of a section of Leeds United’s “support” (for want of a more appropriate and descriptive word). Bamford had stuck away a diving header to complete the comeback from two down against one of our real bogey sides. His celebration was pointed – a strained, unsmiling face, ears covered in a defensive signal, not cupped in mockery. Despite his two goals, this was not a happy man. The famous Leeds United boo boys – mostly Twitter or other social media trolls, but there is a matchday gang too – might just be on the point of chasing yet another demoralised striker out of the club.
That would be a hell of a shame, but no real surprise, we’ve seen this sort of thing before. In Bamford’s case, I’ve been doing my best to blame online trolls, of which Leeds United have an ample sufficiency. But a picture of some vile graffiti aimed at our No. 9, daubed inside the South Stand by some witless moron, confirms that supporter stupidity is not confined to the Internet in all its various manifestations. Those critical of Bamford’s gesture might be described as “disingenuous at best”. Personally, I think that description has altogether too many letters.
Against Wigan this weekend, things didn’t go that well for anyone and, predictably, the self-appointed football experts were all over social media again, seemingly happy with the opportunity an unlucky defeat to a jammy goal affords them, and taking sideswipes at players and management alike, presumably in the name of constructive support. Such clowns don’t allow the fact that their knowledge of the game amounts to zero, to prevent them from having their vapid say and, once again, Bamford was the favourite target. Clearly, these bright boys and girls will not be happy until he’s relegated to the U-23s, at which time they can turn their fire on some other hapless individual.
Despite the fact that Patrick Bamford is a tireless worker, a goal scorer who never stops trying even when singled out for ritual abuse, someone without whom the side has usually struggled and who is clearly beloved of his team mates – despite all that, perhaps it’s time to take the spotlight off him for a bit. New signing Jean-Kévin Augustin is waiting in the wings, and – after a bit of indoctrination into the complexities of Bielsaball – he should be ready for his first team bow sooner rather than later. He also seems to be anything but lacking in confidence. Big Kev, as he’s known by some (and now by himself too, if you glance at his Twitter bio) could be the very man to allow Patrick Bamford some much needed “me time” during which he can get his head straight and rid himself of all the negativity and downright hostility some so-called Leeds fans seem to think it’s so cool to project. Lone man up front for Leeds is a big ask, and it may be that Paddy needs a bit of a break.
Not that I would presume to second-guess Marcelo Bielsa, it’s just that I hate to see a lad putting his body on the line match after match, only to be shredded by a few simpering idiots from the safety and non-accountability of their keyboards. It seems to me, from what I’ve been able to glean of Big Kev, that he may be a little more durable in the face of unqualified and clueless criticism. At the very least, he’d have a honeymoon period to allow him to settle in. Or so you’d hope.
I guess though that the famously steadfast Bielsa, who is actually starting to be questioned by some of these hard-of-thinking nonentities, will stick firmly to his own favoured approach – and he will know better than anyone else just how much or how little Bamford is being affected by the online chorus of disapproval. So far, Paddy’s reaction has been defiance, with a post-match comment about having a lot he could but won’t say, and maybe that should reassure those of us with the lad’s (and the team’s) interests at heart that he’ll be able to come through the slings and arrows being flung at him by the online Neanderthals. Let’s hope it stays that way, and that Bamford carries on with his job of shooting us to promotion.
But – if things do become intolerable – there is at least now an alternative. And I’d hope that Big Kev’s endearingly cocksure confidence, together with his evident desire to be at Elland Road and helping achieve Leeds United’s goals, will stand him in good stead if Mr. Bamford does eventually, temporarily, need to be taken out of the dumb clucks’ firing line.
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”…
Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. If it arrives for Leeds United in the shape of battered mutton cutlets and squarely amid the joy of our own promotion party then, cold or not, the taste of that dish would be exquisite and unforgettable.
Promotion, of course, would be enough and as good as a feast on its own account – but, if we are going to be greedy and demanding, then what could be better than seeing our heroes administer the coup de grâce to Derby County, and watch them spinning into League One, Wazza and all? And just as we finally ascend to the Promised Land, too.
It’s a scenario fit to tempt the palate of any Leeds fan who watched Derby celebrate as if they’d won promotion when our play-off campaign came to an abrupt halt at Elland Road last May. The fact that this represented a false dawn for our sheepish friends was cold comfort, although naturally we did enjoy seeing the Rams fail yet again with defeat to Aston Villa at Wembley. But that Elland Road night and the graceless cavorting of Lampard & Co left a bad taste that took a long time to fade away and, although Fwank has moved on, it’d still be incredibly delicious if Leeds and Derby were to leave the Championship in opposite directions at the end of this campaign.
And, do you know what? It could just happen, if only the football authorities can be trusted to do their bit, with the news today that Derby are being charged with breaches of the Financial Fair Play regulations over their dodgy stadium sale and lease back deal. A decent-sized points deduction for our erstwhile rivals, and they’d be plunged well and truly into the midst of the Championship basement battle – and who knows if they’d have the bottle to survive? Then there’d just be the small matter of Leeds managing not to bottle promotion themselves.
So, I’m beseeching the football gods tonight, not only for a trouble-free run in for my beloved Leeds United towards promotion back to the big time – but also that Derby do suffer the pain of relegation, with their fate finally to be sealed by defeat to the Whites at the incongruously named Pride Park just a day short of the 28th anniversary of us becoming the Last Champions. What with the play offs, Spygate and the Rams’ general “chip on the shoulder” unpleasantness, just how utterly satisfactory and cathartic would that be?
I won’t be counting any chickens, mind, much less any slaughtered sheep. But I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed in the hope of a hefty dollop of Schadenfreude coming the way of all of us three months hence. Almost a year on from that unforgettable night at Elland Road, it’d be the ultimate in revenge for Leeds fans, and the ultimate nightmare for those of a Derby persuasion. Surely, it’s not to much to ask?
Marching On Together – hopefully ever upwards and, fittingly enough, two leagues above those rightly terrified sheep.
There may well still be a small section of Leeds United fans who don’t quite “get” Patrick Bamford, although they’ve been noticeably quieter of late – as the majority of Whites fans seem finally to have cottoned on to our number nine’s value to the team. But there’s mounting evidence to suggest that Mr. Bamford certainly does “get” Leeds United, football’s perennial pantomime villains and the club opposing fans just love to hate. Bamford seems to have bought into United’s “the world’s against us and they can get stuffed” mindset, and just lately he’s been feeding off that siege mentality vibe, fanning the flames of opposition hate, thriving on all of that negative energy. It’s been a joy to witness for any Leeds fan who glories in that old maxim “Our history makes us strong, your hatred makes us stronger still”.
Perhaps Bamford’s more defiant and in your face attitude has its roots in his much tougher and more durable physicality this season. He seems to have developed a core of steel, giving as good as he takes in terms of the rough stuff while still retaining his cultured approach and all round ability. Bamford is certainly no soft touch nowadays, and his opponents will know they’ve been in a game after the ninety minute nightmare of trying to cope with his relentless work rate and intelligent movement. But, although this factor is appreciated by the more knowledgeable Leeds fans, it’s that extra edge, that emerging nasty streak and accompanying tendency to rub the noses of opposing players and fans well and truly in it, that has really caught the eye of his admirers this season. Football fans have a word for this phenomenon, but it’s not one that I’d want to use in a family-friendly blog, so I’ll move swiftly on.
But, whatever you want to call it, it’s certainly working wonders for Bamford, in terms of his effectiveness on the field as well as the esteem in which he’s held off it. Recent manifestations of Paddy the Baddy have been sighted at Luton and at Reading, where he has made a point of winding up frustrated home fans after United’s winning goals. Add this to his heartwarming tendency to give direct opponents a physically difficult battle, and you’ve got the kind of striker that will always find a place in Leeds United fans’ affections. Bamford himself admitted recently that he’s “feeling the love” from the fans, a happy situation for a hard-working and committed striker who doesn’t always get the breaks his application and skill deserve in the attacking third of the pitch.
The thing is, even when all this effort fails to reap a goals dividend, it’s becoming clear that Bamford’s contribution is vital to United’s season. On Tuesday night, right at the end of a hard-fought win over Hull City, we saw a neat demonstration of how our Patrick puts in a shift for the team, and is not discouraged when luck is not with him in terms of goals – which, let’s face it, are the life-blood of any striker. And it was somebody else’s match-clinching goal after 86 minutes on Tuesday that summed up the Bamford effect, as he combined with keeper Kiko Casilla to scramble clear a goal-bound effort from a Hull corner. The ball was immediately played upfield, and Bamford put in a lung-bursting run to the opposite penalty area to thud a shot against the visitors’ post. Luckless again, but his narrow miss rebounded to Gjanni Alioski, who buried the chance from a narrow angle to end the Tigers’ resistance.
And that, my fellow Leeds United fans, is the Bamford effect in a nutshell, and long may it continue to manifest itself to our advantage. Because, whether it’s Posh Patrick or Paddy the Baddy we’d rather cheer from the stands, both will have a big part to play if we really are finally going to go up to the Premier League.
Without any doubt, the revelation of the Leeds United season so far has been a young man called Ben White, a lad with no previous experience above League One level, having made zero appearances for his parent club Brighton. The challenge at Leeds for this comparative novice was a stern one. Signing on loan for the season, he came in the Elland Road players’ entrance almost as the iconic Pontus Jansson was making his exit with a shock move to Brentford. Among the United faithful, eyebrows were raised so high that they threatened to wind up on the backs of their owners’ necks. Teeth were gnashed and clothes rent asunder in biblical displays of grief and dismay. Pontus was gone, and we had this tyro no mark in his place, an almost comical proposition that had a section of the Whites support writing off Leeds’ promotion chances before a ball had been kicked. Oh, we of little faith.
Now, just nineteen games into a season that has seen White play every single minute of league action for Leeds so far, the doubters are having to gorge themselves on humble pie, to the extent that there may well be no room for the Christmas turkey in just a few short weeks. Mostly, they are happy to do this, because seeing this young colossus form a vital part of the Championship’s best defence has been a joyous experience. Bloggers such as yours truly have had to reach deeper and deeper into their bag of superlatives each week, and still it’s difficult to overstate just how integral to United’s success Ben White has been. I’ve seen him described as a latter-day Paul “Rolls Royce” Madeley, and it would be difficult around these parts to come up with a more flattering comparison than that. Others see a resemblance to Alan Hansen of Liverpool fame, still others point to the young Jonathan Woodgate, who saw at first hand last weekend just what United and White could do, as his Middlesbrough charges were swatted aside 4-0.
My own view is that White, who will doubtless face far sterner tests than the Boro men managed to set last Saturday, may well end up in a category entirely by himself – he has the potential to become truly peerless. Ben seems to have the lot – skill, composure, tenacity and that innate ability to read the game which is given only to the special few. My nearest comparison out of all the footballers I’ve seen in my 44 years as a fan, would be Franz Beckenbauer, the legendary Bayern Munich and West Germany icon of the seventies. In fact, if you could just graft a bit of moral compass onto der Kaiser, who was not above a bit of skulduggery as Leeds United fans are only too well aware, then you’d have a pretty close match. Ben White deserves to be mentioned in such company, he’s simply that good. He can play for and captain England, he can lift a World Cup, he can win titles, cups and Champions Leagues. Absolutely nothing is beyond this lad.
All of which is why I would say to Leeds United: whatever else you do recruitment-wise over the next couple of transfer windows, move heaven and earth to get Ben White. There is no price too high to make his capture anything but a thief’s bargain; whatever you pay, you could at least double your money five years down the line. It’s a Rio Ferdinand type scenario, buy for £18m, sell for £30m plus – but the return would inevitably be higher still. Never mind Financial Fair Play; dig deep and do whatever you have to do in order to get this player.
You know it makes sense.
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.
There are no easy games in the Championship, as any windswept and cynical pundit will tell you; it’s a highly competitive, dog-eat-dog league, a marathon and not a sprint, a nine month war of attrition where every point is won only via the lavish expenditure of blood, sweat and tears. Add in the fact that the division’s undoubted aristocrats, Leeds United, bring out the very best in their opponents due to the fact that the Whites are every other team’s bi-seasonal Cup Final, and you can begin to comprehend why the men from Elland Road are not striding miles clear at the top of the league. Even so, United are right up there, only two points off the top and rightly ruing the three daft defeats so far this term that have stopped them turning their regular domination of games into an even healthier position in the table.
So far, so good then, as we head into yet another International break. It’s quite timely, really, as the injuries are starting to niggle a bit, with skipper Liam Cooper having to withdraw from the Scotland squad to nurse a troublesome groin. The two week hiatus in the league programme might also nudge the likes of Jamie Shackleton (hamstring), Adam Forshaw (hip) and Ezgjan Alioski (side) nearer to a first team return. And it’s a fortnight-long chunk out of Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah’s regrettable absence, as he recovers from what looks like a medium term abdominal muscle problem.
The United path to promotion never runs smooth; it’s in the DNA of the club to do things the hard way. But maybe, just maybe, there’s good reason to be cautiously optimistic about the Whites’ league programme in the period following this two week festival of representative football. The reason behind such an upbeat attitude is to be found in the fact that, so far this season, Leeds have faced mainly rival teams towards the top end of the league, still managing to remain in a challenging position. When league competition resumes, though, the picture changes slightly, with United facing four teams currently placed 21st, 17th, 22nd and 19th. Meanwhile, league leaders West Bromwich Albion have to face the sides currently 2nd, 4th, 7th and 8th – clearly there is the potential for Leeds to pick up points against notionally weaker sides while simultaneously the Baggies have to face some of the cream of the division, including Preston North End, who sit in second a mere one goal ahead of Leeds who are tied on the same points total.
Dog-eat-dog always means there will be losers; teams in the top four who have to play each other face the mathematical certainty that points will be dropped, and it’s likely that none of United’s rivals will be able to reap maximum rewards from a difficult run. So, if Leeds can take full advantage of their relatively less demanding quartet of games, then the prospect of creating a nice cushion at the summit of the table must be a realistic one.
Of course, this is Leeds United, which means things probably won’t work out according to such blatant wishful thinking. On paper, of course, there’s no reason why our heroes shouldn’t take full advantage of the unusually promising hand the fixture computer has dealt them. But sadly, football isn’t played on paper, and our old friend the Imp of the Perverse could well dash our top of the league aspirations, as he’s done so many times before. As ever, we just have to wait and hope, with fingers firmly crossed for an improved injury list and twelve lovely league points from those four “easier” games.
Marching On Together
On the field, this clash of Whites and Blues eventually went the way you might expect, with Leeds United edging out Birmingham City 1-0, thanks to a second half goal from home town boy Kalvin Phillips.
So much for that sideshow. The real business of the day, for a section of the visiting support anyway, was to respond to the party atmosphere surrounding Leeds United’s centenary celebrations in their own inimitable way. For these are the Birmingham City “Zulus“, legends in their own minds, always ready to prove their essential masculinity and courage by beating up target individuals carefully selected for being unlikely to hit back.
The spoils of battle on this occasion were claimed by the Zulus as, drunk on testosterone and utterly fearless when confronted by a woman in a high-vis jacket, they counted coup on a Leeds United lady steward. Never mind the fact that their team lost, never mind that at all. These boys showed their own take on pride and passion in bravely overcoming a formidably female foe.
Not much more needs to be said. With the shenanigans in Bulgaria preceding yesterday’s Zulu campaign, it’s been a significant week for those of a racist turn of “mind” and for courageous mobs motivated by a desire to pick on the most vulnerable target at hand. What a triumph this was for those Zulus. How proud of them their mothers must be. Revel in it, lads. You really are quite unique.