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The Football League Loves Leeds Utd and They Don’t Want to Let Us Go – by Rob Atkinson

All this talk of how everybody hates Leeds United, of how we’re the pariahs of the football world. What utter nonsense. If you look at the evidence, at a set of statistics that quite frankly beggar belief, you’re forced to conclude that what’s going on here is anything but hate. It’s got to be love, an unrequited adoration on the part of the Football League for its most famous member.

How else do you explain the fact that Leeds United has now gone 50 (FIFTY) league games in almost exactly one calendar year, without being awarded a penalty? And the closely related fact that, in the same span of time, NINE penalties have been awarded against us, culminating in the one against Brentford which resulted from a dive of which Tom Daley would have been justly proud. It must be love – because, evidently, the Football League just can’t bear to see us go. Not in an upwards direction, anyway.

Some cynics will say that money is at the root of this heartfelt longing to keep United where they are. Certainly, various clubs’ coffers would ring dolefully hollow without the annual visit of the White Army. Apparently, 8,000 of our number will travel for a rare untelevised trip to Blackburn after the international break. Let’s face it, that’ll keep them in hotpots for years.

Whatever the cause or motivation, the League policy of “no penalties for you, Leeds” is starting to provoke comment. Yesterday’s referee, Jeremy Simpson, was actually the last official to award Leeds a spot kick, against Reading early last season. The fact that we missed that penalty and lost the game clearly cut no ice with an outraged Football League. No penalties have been awarded to us since, and Mr. Simpson was required to atone for his sin and thereby make a fool of himself at the Brentford match, by awarding a penalty to the Bees which could charitably have been described as farcical.

The League might regard yesterday’s shenanigans as in some way making up for the penalty we got twelve or so moons ago, but, in adding a laughably one-sided refereeing display to the joke penalty, with a dubious injury-time red card thrown in for good luck, they really are letting their motives show. Perhaps a rethink is needed?

At the end of the day, if this Leeds squad under Bielsa performs to the levels of which it’s capable, it will be beyond the powers of the League and its whistle-happy henchmen to keep us down, unless they’re prepared to get really silly about this Leeds love-sickness of theirs. Perhaps sanctions will be applied in the wake of that Pontus outburst of honesty just after the final whistle? Who knows.

However much the League adores us and hotly desires to keep us within their slimy embrace, it seems likely that we will be leaving, moving onwards and upwards. It’s probably not going to be an amicable separation. These unrequited love things usually end in acrimony and bitterness. But the League will just have to suck it up and look for a new love. They’ll probably have Newcastle back next year, if that helps.

Not that I care how they feel. This was always a one-sided love. After 15 years, I’ll be happy to say goodbye and move on without a backward glance. Sorry, FL, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles. Ultimately, you’ll find, we’re simply out of your league.

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Mighty Millwall Somehow Hold Leeds Reserves to a Draw – by Rob Atkinson

Pupil Harris meets Master “el Loco” Bielsa

The odd thing about Millwall fans is that it’s such a point of honour with them to be hated and not to be bovvered about it – their main anthem is “No one likes us, we don’t care” – and yet, whenever anyone is slightly critical of their notorious Lions, they turn all petulant and start to bleat piteously. This behaviour probably displays a deep-seated need to be loved – but, let’s be honest, that’s never going to happen.

The fallout from today’s hard-fought 1-1 draw between United and their chip on the shoulder rivals from darkest Bermondsey will probably centre around the touchline spat between Marcelo Bielsa and Millwall manager Neil Harris. The latter showed some balls, in defiance of his medical history, to face up to el Loco, and Harris will probably be glad, on reflection, that Bielsa left his grenade back home in Yorkshire. Shortly after this isolated flashpoint, justice was served as young Jack Harrison opened his Leeds United account with a sweetly-struck equaliser for Leeds, ensuring that Yorkshire’s top club would have something to show for their dominance of possession and all-round classier play.

Millwall, as ever, had put everything into a game that pitted them against their most bitterly-hated opponents. This blogger sees an opportunity for QPR on Wednesday, as Millwall invested two matches’ worth of blood, sweat and tears in an effort to beat United. That they came so close and yet failed will rankle with them, and I’d possibly venture a moderate wager on them not being able to reproduce their gutsy performance in Shepherd’s Bush.

Leeds will take much from this game, both the deserved point and the nature of the performance against hyped-up, frenziedly motivated opponents. The same fixture last season was where the rot set in; psychologically, then, the fact that they came back and got the point by which they now lead the division will be money in the bank in terms of morale and self-belief.

So now it’s on to two consecutive home games that provide the chance for Leeds, even shorn as they are of a group of major players, to consolidate their position as Championship favourites. Neither Preston nor Birmingham will roll over, but even this undeniably weakened United side has the defensive solidity and attacking verve to deal with the challenges from Lancashire and the Midlands.

Leeds are now the only remaining unbeaten side in the Championship, and it goes without saying that this proud record is down to Marcelo Bielsa and his staff. The next few games, without the likes of Roofe, Hernandez and Berardi, will be further tests of the Bielsa Effect, of the Argentinian’s ability to get the most out of depleted resources. If he proves able to guide Leeds through these choppy waters, then the words “In Bielsa we trust” will become even more resonant.

Marching On Together.

Leeds v Middlesbrough Match Officials Warned “Watch Out for Ayala” – by Rob Atkinson

Boro’s Ayala – a box of dirty tricks

As if tonight’s top of the table Championship summit clash between Leeds United and Middlesbrough wasn’t sufficiently loaded with potential flashpoints, one above all others had the potential to affect both the result and the disciplinary responsibilities of the match officials at Elland Road.

With a full house expected and the electronic eyes of the Sky TV cameras ever on the lookout for controversy as well as action, the atmosphere will be edgy and intense right from the start. Both clubs have playing staff previously on the books of their opponents, and there is a long-standing rivalry between the Kings of Yorkshire and the club best known for being Yorkshire rejects.

One potential source of strife and controversy stands out above most others though, with the likely presence in the Boro side of Daniel Ayala, a man with recent form in this fixture. Last season, with Leeds two goals to the good, Mr. Ayala blatantly wrestled Luke Ayling to the floor in the United box, an action somehow missed by match officials. Understandably outraged, Ayling sprang up to remonstrate, and in the subsequent kerfuffle, Ayala, with a look of saucer-eyed innocence on his face, contrived to have his team awarded an unlikely penalty.

Not all match officials, of course, are as visually challenged as the assistant referee on that occasion appeared to be. We must give him the benefit of the doubt, after all, and assume that it was his eyesight to blame, and not the presence of the Middlesbrough away support just behind him. But Ayala’s initial assault on Ayling was crude and obvious, and it’s reasonable to say that the incident was not one in which justice was served. Fortunately, Leeds hung on deservedly to win the game 2-1.

Mr. Ayala is still up to his nasty little tricks though, and still managing somehow to be blatant about it, and yet escape the notice of the men with the whistle and the flags. The recent Boro v West Brom game was a case in point, with Ayala clearly offending and completely getting away with it. How he does this is a mystery; we can only hope that forewarned is forearmed, and that – if Ayala does play this evening – the nastier parts of his game are spotted by the officials.

Here’s hoping for a good game and a fair outcome. MOT.

Could Yaya Toure REALLY Sign for Leeds United? – by Rob Atkinson

We’re very nearly at the point now when we can knock all of the transfer talk on the head, at least until January. It all comes to a halt on Friday, and the word is that Leeds will be bringing at least one new face in, many tipping Chelsea’s Izzy Brown to arrive on loan.

But there exists another interesting (to say the least) possibility, with the news that free agent Yaya Touré, late of champions Manchester City and still a stellar talent, has passed a medical in London, prior to a move to a mystery club.

Yaya has let it be known that he’s not concerned with earning megabucks, and is more interested in a challenging project. It’s well-known that anybody who goes to Leeds, and is instrumental in the awakening of that sleeping giant, will be accorded lifelong “Legend” status. So, from that point of view, the move is not only possible, it would undeniably fit the bill for both parties.

Yaya would be immense for Leeds United – if he joined up, you might as well deliver him to Elland Road as a bargain bundle to include the League Championship trophy. Whether or not English football’s new Godfather, Marcelo Bielsa, would see him as a good addition to his squad has to be another matter – and, as we know, Marcelo knows best.

But Yaya Touré is still world class, he’s cheap (ish) and he’d be an amazing coup even for a major club like Leeds. It’d be a capture in the same class as that of Gordon Strachan thirty years ago. I’d like to think that this is one of those unlikely rumours that actually has legs.

Leeds United, Club and Fans, Could Have Done Better Over Jay-Roy Grot – by Rob Atkinson

The Don – fostered family atmosphere at Leeds

In a week hardly short of news stories about Leeds United, one in particular stands out for any fan of the Elland Road club who remembers how the first faltering steps to greatness were taken under Don Revie in the sixties; how, in short, football’s greatest family club was built. So, while I could have written this week about the arrivals at Elland Road of quality recruits for the campaign ahead, I will resist that temptation.

Instead, let’s look at Joe Urquhart’s recent Yorkshire Evening Post revelations about the struggles in his Leeds career so far of a young man called Jay-Roy Grot who, at the tender age of 20, is going for a year on loan at Dutch side VVV-Venlo. Grot, a young colossus of a man at 6’4”, arrived at United last summer from NEC of Nijmegen, snatched from under the noses of Italian giants Fiorentina. Sadly, the lad’s first year at Leeds did not go well, and his confidence has suffered. The loan away from United is designed to remedy that, in the hope of seeing him return stronger in the future.

All well and good, but a look at the role of club and supporters in this less than creditable tale might be instructive. The Elland Road support has been notorious since well before Revie’s time as “a hard crowd to play for”. They’re a crowd of extremes. They can get right behind their team, lifting them to peaks of effort and attainment. But, for the individual who is struggling to put a foot right, it can feel much less encouraging, with the terrace critics sometimes launching in even before a ball has been kicked. Young players of great potential can nevertheless find themselves dismissed as “crap”, and persecuted accordingly, should they fail to hit the ground running. Such was the shattering experience of Jay-Roy Grot.

Back in Revie’s day, before the term “pastoral care” had gained much currency, it was nevertheless a big part of the foundations of the Super Leeds side that grew up as a band of brothers to carry all before them. Revie saw to it that off-field problems would not get in the way of his team’s success on the park; his charges were looked after and nurtured. When the boo-boys got to a young and cherubic Billy Bremner, Revie supported and shielded him. If a player’s wife had a baby, there would be flowers from the Don, or a box of chocolates to celebrate a girlfriend’s birthday. No detail was too small, no problem too trivial. Revie looked after his lads and their families, and they repaid him by becoming legends.

Now, with the constant recent managerial changes at Elland Road, there seems to be no such continuity of care. The sad loss of Lucy Ward from her health and welfare role a few years back created a gap in the Leeds United system that remains arguably unfilled. These heartbreaking words from young Grot make for uneasy reading: “I am not someone who makes friends easily. And that also broke me up in England. Cooking, I had no problems with that. But coming home every day to an empty house, I had a hard time. I did nothing, nobody knew. I also had little contact with the other boys in the beginning”. The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that both fans and club could and should have done better in the case of Jay-Roy Grot and, going forward, they need to take this on board.

We must aim for less of the destructive booing from fans, less ignorant haranguing on Twitter, with more awareness and support coming from the club. This is not rocket science, and it’s simply not acceptable for a young player to feel as isolated as Grot evidently did. Maybe Leeds United should just ring Lucy Ward and beg her to come back? In the sad absence of the late, great Don Revie, Lucy is probably the best option.

Leeds Fan Requests a Bremner Square Tile for Istanbul Victims Chris and Kev – by Rob Atkinson

Anthony Hawkridge’s inspired tweet

Browsing through the LUFC Twitter feed just now, I happened across something wonderful, something inspiring, something that couldn’t possibly be more fitting.

It was a heartfelt call on Twitter (see above) from a Leeds fan, Tony Hawkridge, which was promptly liked and retweeted by other Leeds fans, for Leeds United to include in their wonderful Bremner Square initiative a tile dedicated to the memory of Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight, brutally murdered in Istanbul 18 years ago as they followed their beloved Whites to a UEFA Cup semi-final.

Of course Chris and Kev are already honoured by the plaque on an Elland Road wall nearby. But Billy Bremner‘s statue has been a focal point for United fans ever since it was raised in 1999, two years after Billy’s untimely death. You often hear fans say, I’ll meet you at Billy’s statue. It’s iconic, a symbol of the club’s greatest captain, and of the pride which runs through Elland Road right down to its last rivet.

The Bremner Square refurbishment of the statue area is a fantastic idea, and has been carried into reality in an equally fantastic manner. Phase one is complete, with the names of many die-hard United fans etched forever into the fabric of the club. What better way after all to pay tribute to, and be recognised by, the greatest club in the world?

There is more to come though, another phase of development, with yet more names to be added to those already honoured by inclusion in Bremner Square. I’ve thought of getting one for myself, or of arranging one for my late Dad, who bequeathed me my love of Leeds. But a greater opportunity presents itself, with this idea of the inclusion of two names that symbolise the most tragic and needless episode to befall our club and its massive family of fans.

I’m sure that the club will see the compelling case for including a Chris & Kev tile in phase two. I’m equally sure that, if a cost is involved, then any appeal for the meeting of that cost would be over-subscribed many times by Leeds fans, myself most heartily included, eager and willing to chip in.

There are no obstacles to the realisation of this excellent idea. It’s the right thing to do. I’d appeal to anyone who reads this to contact the club and press the case, in the certain knowledge that the club would listen and empathise. We can make sure that the horror of Taksim Square is addressed and superseded by the pride and honour of Bremner Square.

Leeds United – it’s over to you. Let’s get this done.

Chris and Kev

Rest in Peace

Leeds in “Best Championship Left Back” Swoop – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United have had an offer accepted by Wolverhampton Wanderers for their attacking left back Barry Douglas. The offer is thought to be in the region of £6m with add-ons, for a player whose Wolves deal has a year to run.

Douglas had an impressive scoring and assist record last term, and his likely sale is not being greeted with enthusiasm by Wolves fans. It is thought that the player would add balance to the Leeds side under Marcelo Bielsa, complementing the attacking threat of Luke Ayling on the right.

Douglas is reported to be in talks with United over personal terms. Meanwhile, Leeds are said to have up to three other significant offers on the table for further unidentified players. Bielsa was known to want a full back, which explains the Douglas bid. He has also prioritised a winger and a centre forward.

This could yet be a very exciting transfer window for Leeds United, despite the frustration of the summer so far.

High Time Leeds United Got Serious and Professional about LUTV – by Rob Atkinson

The Twitter hashtag #LUFC on Thursday evening was full of Leeds fans moaning, carping and complaining bitterly. This isn’t exactly an unusual state of affairs but, for once, almost every gripe was well justified. Because, departing from the usual theme of ranting about transfer activity or the lack thereof, Leeds fans on Thursday evening were up in arms about the woefully amateurish “service” provided by LUTV.

To say the service provided is not good enough hardly does justice to what an appalling travesty it is. The club have had the cheek to charge for what is likely to be pretty grim viewing – a series of pre-season friendlies with hardly a new signing to be seen – and they have failed, in the case of the York City game, to fulfil their side of this dubious bargain. The picture constantly froze, and even when there was some visual action, it was miles out of sync with the amateurish commentary. Most of the time though, the picture was pixelated or frozen. It’s not good enough, not when you’re charging folk hard brass. The package of pre-season matches is around fifteen quid, with individual games at £3.99. By comparison with that, the beer I bought at a Broadway Theatre last year, which came in at around $14 for a half pint, was pretty good value.

It’s time Leeds United got serious about their in-house TV station, and sought a satellite platform as other clubs have done, Liverpool and Chelsea being notable examples. It’s difficult to understand why this doesn’t appear close to happening; our owner is a media mogul, for heaven’s sake, and the strength of the Leeds following globally is the stuff of legends. The demand is there, surely the resources are too, and there’s simply no excuse for a club like Leeds to take our money and then provide a service that simply doesn’t work.

So let’s see LUTV on Sky, the interest would be huge if there was a reliable and professional service. Then perhaps the days of buffering, shoddy camera work and joke commentators could be put firmly behind us.

Leeds United Transfer Window Compared by Frustrated Fans to Tantric Sex – by Rob Atkinson

Sexy, or what?

Tantric sex is an ancient Hindu practice that has been going for over 5,000 years, much as this Leeds United transfer window seems to have done – and it means ‘the weaving and expansion of energy’.

It’s a slow form of sex that’s said to increase intimacy and create a mind-body connection that “can lead to powerful orgasms”, if you’ll pardon my frankness.

Tantric sex – or Tantra as it’s often known – can be done by anyone interested in rebooting their sex life and finding new depth to their love-making.

If that sounds confusing, think of it this way – if quickie sex is the sexual equivalent of a takeaway, tantric sex is a Michelin-starred meal, slowly and lovingly prepared and all the more delicious thanks to the wait. The parallels with Leeds United’s transfer policy are absolutely inescapable.

So all the Leeds fans out there in social media land, who are showing signs of frustration redolent of a sex-starved teenager – and I’m thinking particularly of the LUFC Twatteratti here – maybe it’s time to chill out and just enjoy the ride, so to speak.

For all that it’s undeniably true to point out how little has actually happened so far, perhaps the anticipation will turn out to be a big part of the fun – and maybe when it, ahem, “all comes right in the end”, the feeling of satisfaction will be so much the greater. That’s the lesson of Tantra.

So, worry not, chill out – and look forward to the pleasures in store for us all. After all, Leeds United wouldn’t lead us all on, teasing and tantalising us for so long, just to leave us anticlimactically disappointed…. now would they? And in the meantime, we do have some possible World Cup ecstasy to look forward to.

Watch this space.

Germany the Authors of Their own World Cup Misfortune, but Leeds Hero Pontus is Smiling – by Rob Atkinson

sweden-bench-angry

The Germans have a word for it, as they usually do. And, since the reigning champions were toppled out of the World Cup on Thursday, it’s a word that has gained a great deal of currency in the UK and pretty much everywhere else, really. Schadenfreude – the concept of pleasure and gratification arising out of somebody else’s misfortune – neatly sums up the national mood since South Korea applied the coup de grace to Germany’s limp 2018 World Cup campaign. To say that the nation rejoiced in the wake of this sensational result is not to understate the case. Even sober journalists and media types joined in the euphoric jollity. Everybody was queuing up to poke fun at the demise of the German national football team.

It’s tempting to suggest that there is some historical element in this tendency of ours to wish misfortune on the Germans. Two world wars during the twentieth century might lend some credence to this point of view; especially where our most senior citizens are concerned. But for people of more tender years, the motivation is less martial, more sporting. Put simply, most of us are just sick of Germany’s traditional efficiency in amassing trophies on fields of sporting conflict, especially as compared to the meagre hauls of the home countries. We are sick of losing to them on penalties, sick of them going on to beat the teams we might otherwise have beaten, lifting the trophies we might otherwise have lifted. And, much as we would love to see our own teams strut around a lap of honour, we’re sick of seeing them do that, too. As Manchester United would confirm, nobody loves a perennial winner. It’s just boring for the rest of us.

So, the German exit from Russia 2018 had its novelty value, but it gave us all a laugh too, with the comical nature of their defeat to South Korea. For once, their goalkeeper was not batting away our penalty shots to win yet another shootout for the Fatherland – instead, he was making an idiot of himself on the left wing as his team-mates desperately chased late goals; then he had to watch helpless as the Koreans streaked downfield to pop the ball into an empty net to seal Germany’s doom. Oh, how we laughed. It was as comical as it was richly satisfactory, with the commentators in tucks and everybody taking the mick. Days like this come around all too rarely; we have to make the most of them. And, oh boy, did we ever.

The thing is as well, for those feeling any slight twinge of sympathy for a beaten and ridiculed German team, they really have asked for this. If you cast your mind back to the game that Germany actually won, beating Sweden at the very last gasp, they proved themselves to be most ungracious in victory, taunting the Swedish bench and provoking an angry reaction. Our own Pontus Jansson was involved, leading the charge and looking as if he wanted to take on the whole of the German backroom staff by himself. At that point, it looked as though Sweden had suffered a fatal blow in terms of their World Cup chances; surely, Germany would now steamroller its way into the knockout phase. But a few days on, Germany are bottom of their group and have gone home, while Sweden finished top to progress. Germany’s display of arrogant triumphalism had earned them the bitter fruits of karma, and it seemed the rest of the world felt a deep sense of justice served.

Pontus is happy too. On his Instagram account, he observed after the German exit “Warm up done. Now let’s start World Cup!” The German view, though, is terse and chilling – “Yes, we deserved to go out. We are not good enough. Enjoy this while you can”.