Tag Archives: The Championship

Corona Lockdown: How Sunderland’s Wembley Disasters Are Keeping Leeds Fans Entertained – by Rob Atkinson

sunderland-fans-crying-newcastle-united-nufc-650x400-1

Mackems not enjoying Wembley – yet again


I’ve never had much time for
Sunderland, despite the fact that the Wearside club have never featured among the top echelons of rivalry with my beloved Leeds United. And really, how could they – when their sole claim to fame since the war amounts to one distinctly fluky Wembley success against Don Revie‘s overwhelming FA Cup Final favourites in 1973?

The thing is, though, that while Leeds United have generally had bigger fish to fry, the barren nature of Sunderland’s last three quarters of a century has meant that they’ve had to harp on and on about Stokoe, Porterfield, Montgomery et al ever since that freak cup final, which found Leeds well short of their normal imperious form, while Sunderland rode their luck into a page of history. It was a major shock, alright – bigger than Southampton‘s success against the Pride of Devon in 1976, and much bigger than the Crazy Gang beating the Culture Club in 1988. And, naturally, the Leeds hating media waste no opportunity to rub our collective nose in what was really a day of humiliation for a club of United’s historic standing. But them’s the breaks, and we’ve had to live with that embarrasment ever since, just as Sunderland’s needy fan base have found it a straw to clutch at for nigh on 47 years.

There are compensations, though, and Netflix came up with a beauty just this week, screening the second series of Sunderland Till I Die, which features the Mackems in familiar self-destruct mode, contriving to lose not one, but two Wembley finals as the 2018/19 season reached its climax. That’s funny enough, but the fact that this serial disaster of a club gave their fans some false hope in both matches, contriving to take the lead before capitulating, raised the comedic levels to sublime. And the nature of the Wembley occasions is also rather funny, a Checkatrade Final (whatever that is) against Portsmouth, followed by the League One play-off against Charlton Athletic, managed by our old alumnus Lee Bowyer. In both games the Mackems were ahead, prompting feverish celebrations among their hopeful but dim support – and in both games, Sunderland lost at the last gasp, on penalties against Pompey and in the very last minute of injury time against Charlton. Just as the so-called Roker Roar dissolved into tears, so Leeds United fans with long enough memories had tears of mirth rolling down cheeks that ached with laughter. It was a double dose of Schadenfreude at the time, making up in some small degree for our own less than successful climax to last season – and now Netflix have produced a comedy epic out of the ashes of Mackem hopes, almost as if they wished to entertain us Whites all over again.

This double HA9 disaster was actually made up of the two most recent helpings of Wembley Karma for Sunderland, who have contrived to lose every single Wembley appearance since 1973, including another play off defeat to Charlton in 1998, on penalties, which is always a gratifyingly painful way to get beat for any club that you don’t particularly like. Towards the end of the Netflix Laughter Show, a tearful Mackem lady is showing sobbing “Why isn’t it ever us?” in response to their latest Wembley surrender. I’ll tell you why, love. It’s payback for 1973 and that git Stokoe prancing across the Wembley pitch to hug that git Montgomery. Lovely stuff, thank you Netflix and I shall look forward to the next series of this laughter-strewn classic.

As I said earlier, it’s not a full blown rivalry, and I wouldn’t want anyone to get me wrong on this. My negative feelings about Sunderland have more to do with their intrinsic lack of charm, than any real feeling of competitive dislike. The fact that they’ve been paying in installments of misery for the joy they felt on that long ago Wembley day simply makes me feel justified in celebrating their decades of unhappiness – it’s as if they’ve suffered all that pain and angst just for us. Which is most kind of them, when you think about it. And revelling in their last two disastrous seasons has certainly provided me with plenty of chuckles and entertainment during this annoying hiatus in the current campaign. In fact, it’s put me in such a good mood that I think I’ll nip off downstairs and watch Manchester United 1, Manchester City 6, and give my chorlte muscles another brisk workout.

Marching On Together

Leeds Set to Miss Promotion as EFL Accept Huddersfield Chief’s “Better Players” Claim – by Rob Atkinson

Terriers

Huddersfield Town – self-proclaimed “best of breed”

Leeds United have been dealt a potentially devastating blow to their promotion hopes, in the event of the current, COVID-19 affected season proving impossible to complete, as officials at the English Football League (EFL) appear set to accept the opinion of a rival club that they have better players, man for man, than the Elland Road club.

The controversial claim comes from Huddersfield Town chairman Phil Hodgkinson – pictured here 🤡 – who stated recently that the Terriers squad is superior to United’s on a man for man basis. Now, the EFL look likely to accept this as fact, given that Hodgkinson is a born and bred Town fan, being a member of the Young Terriers when he was but a pup, and that one of his companies is called PURE Legal Limited. EFL spokesperson Avril Primero, who admits to being a registered whippet fancier, was enthusiastic about the League’s likely endorsement of Hodgkinson’s opinion. “How can you doubt a man with those credentials?” gushed Ms Primero, waving a blue and white scarf above her head. “Phil is one of the good guys, certainly compared to certain shady foreigners we could name, operating as they do at a club without Huddersfield’s glorious record of success in the 1920s”.

Leeds continue to maintain that their only wish is to see the season completed, so that they can prove on the field of play which Championship team is the best over 46 games. Our reporter ventured to ask if the Elland Road stance would be informed by the fact that Leeds have murdered Huddersfield in both league games this season, but that query was met only with a polite reply to the effect that promotion and the league title would be decided over the full league programme, not by results against a so-called rival, and certainly not by recourse to any half-baked and embarrassing opinions offered when the person concerned was evidently high on Bob Martins Vitamin Pills.

Shaun Harvey, 50, is Alan Hardaker‘s biggest fan.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Leeds? Bid Was Massive Statement of Intent from United – by Rob Atkinson

Zlatan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – tempted by Elland Road but forced to settle for the San Siro

News has emerged that Leeds United held “concrete” talks with Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the January transfer window, with a view to bringing the prolific Swede to Elland Road for the run-in to a possible Premier League promotion. In the end, Zlatan settled for a less challenging option, moving to ply his trade in Serie A with AC Milan, but the important aspect of this remarkable story is what it reveals about the ambition  being displayed by Leeds under the ownership of Andrea Radrizzani. 

The January window was reasonably fruitful for United in the end, with the loan signing of Jean-Kevin Augustin, whose potential is beyond dispute. But still, the neghative end of the Leeds online support was as vocal as ever, accusing the club of dragging its feet and lacking ambition. It is now quite clear, with the audacious bid for Ibrahimovic – and with interest also apparently having been registered in the PSG sensation Edinson Cavani – that United are prepared to aim high in their efforts to enhance the squad. That kind of resolve, backed up by Premier League status and a vastly richer transfer war chest if promotion should be achieved this season, bodes very well for the Leeds squad development plans and prospects in a higher sphere.

If Leeds were prepared to think this big whilst still in the Championship, who knows what their targets might be as a top flight force? It’s a mouth watering prospect, however long the delay might now be until those ambitions can be realised.

Surely though, it’s now a matter of when, not merely if Leeds go up – and the ultimately unsuccessful enquiries for two major stars in January could well be a precursor to some extremely ambitious squad building in the run up to United’s first top level season in sixteen years.

It looks as though, when that glorious day dawns and Leeds are back in the big time, they might just be going for it in an appropriately big way – and this blogger, for one, can hardly wait.

Marching On Together

Leeds United Can Blast Through Nine Game Mini-Season to Championship Glory – by Rob Atkinson

Bamford

Don’t you know, pump it up etc.

In the light of UEFA‘s statement today, whereby the European Championships have been postponed for a year with the express intent of allowing domestic league programmes to be completed after the COVID-19 delay, there now opens up a window of opportunity for clubs challenging for league success to achieve that goal. UEFA appears to be aiming for a completion of league programmes by the end of June – which may still be slightly optimistic – but at least some prospect of getting the thing done now seems realistic.

It all gets much more interesting and even more encouraging for Leeds United fans when you consider the nature of the club’s league performance in two seasons under Marcelo Bielsa. On both occasions, the team has leapt out of the traps fresh and vigorous, sweeping aside most opposition and roaring straight to the top of the table. Relatively less effective periods have come later in the long and gruelling campaigns – what is sometimes known as Bielsa Burnout due to the notoriously demanding training sessions he requires of his team. The current hiatus in competitive matches due to this pesky virus (and please don’t think I’m making light of it, but this is above all else a football blog and I do believe Corona is covered adequately elsewhere) is giving the Leeds players, and their counterparts at rival clubs, of course, some time to recharge the batteries and regain some of that early season oomph. Meanwhile, the players who were not at peak fitness can make progress towards that happy state of affairs, and even the likes of Adam Forshaw, who underwent surgery that was expected to end his campaign, might now harbour slim hopes of being actively involved.

So, even though all of the Championship rival clubs are in the same boat in terms of an unexpected late season delay, the outcome for Leeds United may be disproportionately favourable, given their recent history of fast starts under Bielsa. With what is, in effect, a nine game mini-season ahead of them, fully rested and with an extra pre-season under their belts, and with squad members previously not up to scratch now hitting the required standards, things should be looking very good for Leeds. Add in the fact that they would be starting this 27 point mini-season with a seven point cushion over Fulham in third place, with all their rivals having a much more difficult (on paper) set of fixtures, and it’s difficult to see much if any cause for pessimism.

For once, it may well be that Leeds United will harvest triumph out of the ashes of a national disaster, and this humble blogger is confident that – come the end of this season, whenever that might be – there will be yellow, blue and white ribbons on that famous old Football League Trophy (yeah, the one we should have been allowed to keep for good in 1992). It’s going to happen, ladies and gentlemen – so, however bleak you may feel right now, be of good cheer. United are going back to the Big Time.

Marching On Together

So, Do We Want Leeds United Promoted by Default … or Not?? – by Rob Atkinson

leeds-fans

Leeds United, big club, great fans. Massive player in any league

On the face of it, any question with the question “do we want Leeds United promoted” in it would always come under the heading of “bleedin’ silly/obvious”. But circumstances alter cases and we are not living in normal times. So, weird as it would normally appear, we’ve seen genuine Leeds United fans genuinely confused and uncertain about what seems to be a genuine possibility that United, along with West Brom, may be invited to join a slightly inflated Premier League next season, with the caveat that they’d have to finish five or six places clear of the bottom in order to stay up – as there could be four or five relegated to redress the imbalance caused by no relegation at the end of this possibly truncated season.

Phew. If that’s all clear to you, we now move on to the even knottier issue of whether or not we’d want promotion this way. Certainly, it’s far from ideal  There’d be no carousing on the pitch after an ecstatic final whistle, no tension, no anticipation, probably not even the civic pride of an open-top bus parade from City Square to the Town Hall and onwards to Elland Road. Instead, it would be the meekest, mildest and probably least satisfactory promotion ever – but at least we’d be up.

The other alternatives are scarcely more attractive. Voiding the season simply doesn’t bear thinking about, so I won’t discuss it. Resuming the season in the foreseeable future seems unlikely, unless some way can be found to play behind closed doors without causing riots outside locked stadia. But at least that would permit the possibility of an earned and undisputed promotion (unless we screw up again). Ending the league now, with the positions as they are, would perhaps taint any promotion thus earned. Yes, we’re seven clear of third – but even Liverpool, twenty-five points clear at the top of the Premier League, need two more wins as it stands, for mathematical certainty. Would we really want our many critics to have the open goal of “Yeah, you went up – but it was shoddy”. As Spurs legend Danny Blanchflower famously said, “The game is about glory”. There’s a school of thought that demands any promotion should be glorious, and therefore shrinks away from any antiglorious creative accounting or artifice, whatever the circumstances.

I’m looking for input here, tell me what you think. I must confess that, if we were simply invited up alongside WBA, it would leave a slightly hollow feeling where my yellow, blue and white heart should be. Not that it’d stop me hailing us as Champions. But would any of us stick so closely to noble principles that we’d look a gift horse in the mouth and say, no – I’d rather we stayed down and earned it next year? Not forgetting, of course that – given another year in the Championship – we’d probably be saying goodbye to Marcelo Bielsa (God) and Kalvin Phillips, the Yorkshire Pirlo himself.

I must admit, I slightly lean towards going up any which way, and arguing about it later, with our Premier League status confirmed. But there’s a nagging doubt still, over how I’d actually feel.

Let me know what you think, please. Feel free to add in your own feelings, doubts, arguments. And please don’t think I’m neglecting the seriousness of this COVID-19 crisis. But that’s all over the media – and here in this protective bubble is where we talk about Leeds United, while the world outside goes crazy.

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

Cruel Crufts Jibes Still Dog Huddersfield After Savage Leeds Mauling – by Rob Atkinson

Luke Ayling

Best of breed Luke Ayling shows his bite is better than his bark

Whoever scheduled an away game for Huddersfield Town at Leeds United on the very same date as the Crufts final day at Birmingham’s NEC must have had it in for the Terriers, who were exposed not only to a football lesson from Yorkshire’s Number One, but also to dog-related chants and (for want of a better word) catcalls from a jubilant home crowd as Elland Road celebrated another derby day success. It was bad enough, surely, for the away following to see their team so comprehensively outclassed, without having to listen to various canine-centric chants from the South Stand especially. Suffice to say that the Huddersfield faithful were hounded relentlessly by their United counterparts on a day when their own manager declared that top dogs Leeds are the best team in the Championship by a country mile. It was a combination of circumstances that conspired to leave each and every travelling Terrier with a hangdog expression and straining at the leash to get back home again.

On the field as well as off, there was only one side in it from the first whistle. Leeds were into their stride early on, surging forward powerfully and fluently and, when Luke Ayling smashed home a wondrous volley in off the bar which left the Huddersfield woodwork reverberating for the rest of the half, you suspected that the game was already up for the dogged but outmatched visitors.

Leeds were not at their best, rarely hitting the heights of that masterful second half display at Hull City, but what they were able to offer was far too good for Huddersfield. Leading one-nil at half time, they were even more in charge during a second half that saw them add another early goal, this time Patrick Bamford tapping in from close range after Town keeper Jonas Lossl made a fantastic save from Ben White‘s towering header. There was plenty of pressure still to come from the home side, who relied on some frantic last-ditch defending to prevent United adding more goals, with Jack Harrison particularly unlucky to be denied, yet again, by the frame of the goal, after his shimmering, jinking run and turn gave him the room to strike a great shot high against the far post.

It seems churlish to point out that things could have gone better for United in this game, when events elsewhere would seem to be unfolding precisely as any Leeds fan could wish. We can only hope for more of the same, as both West Brom and Fulham have been merrily dropping points during United’s run of five consecutive clean-sheet wins. From this point in, it would appear that the only thing Leeds United have to fear, with the possible exception of the Coronavirus, is fear itself. But a head of steam has been built up these past few weeks, together with a nice little seven point cushion between our favourites and Fulham in third, and any of the other teams in the Championship, without exception, would happily trade places with United right now.

The next week or so up until close of business next Wednesday evening should provide further insight into the potential fates of all three main automatic promotion contenders, with Fulham facing Brentford ahead of a pivotal clash at Elland Road in nine days time. Leeds face Cardiff away ahead of the Fulham summit, so that’s two tricky hurdles with no certainty that our dead-legged talisman Kalvin Phillips will be available. But the momentum that has been gathering over recent matches – causing even ex-manager Colin to use the word “unstoppable” about Marcelo Bielsa‘s Leeds – could well be enough to see United consolidate their position as overwhelming favourites finally to ascend to the Promised Land of the Premier League in this Centenary Year. Now, wouldn’t that be just perfect.

Marching On Together 

Ex-pro Noel Hunt Confirms the Damage SOME Leeds Fans are Doing to Patrick Bamford – by Rob Atkinson

 

Short and sweet today. Please read the article linked below, and reassure yourself (if you can) that you’re not contributing to the angst of a professional footballer wearing the shirt and badge of Leeds United.

If you can honestly say that you’ve not joined in with the barrage of online abuse suffered by Patrick Bamford this season and Noel Hunt before him (as well as others in between), then good for you. You’re a true Leeds fan, whether you attend matches or not.

But if you know in your heart that you’ve acted as Hunt describes so-called “supporters” acting in this illuminating piece – then, surely, you need to take a long, hard look at yourself. And ask yourself the crucial question: “Is Leeds United really the club for me?”

 

https://www.the42.ie/noel-hunt-on-social-media-5019897-Feb2020/

Marching On Together

 

 

Will Leeds’ Unrivalled Matchday Support See Them Through? Or Will the Online Mob Spell Disaster? – by Rob Atkinson

leeds-fans

Leeds United matchday support – simply the best

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 

As Some Leeds “Fans” Have Demoralised Bamford, Is It Time for Some Big Kev Swagger? – by Rob Atkinson

Bamford – trying to hear no evil

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.