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Spymaster Marcelo Bielsa Offers to Help Out Derby County for a Mere £200,000 – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Boss Bielsa – ready to help ailing Derby

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything understands that, despite the acrimonious relationship between Leeds United and Derby County last season, culminating in the infamous “Spygate” storm, United coach Marcelo Bielsa is nevertheless dismayed at the state in which Derby, under new coach Philip Cockup, have found themselves this season. Rivals or not (let’s face it, they’re not), the acknowledged Best Coach in the World is less than happy to see a fellow Championship club shooting themselves in the foot, over and over again. Marcelo being Marcelo – and let’s not forget, we’re talking about a FIFA Fair Play Award winner here – he wishes to help if that’s at all possible.

To that end, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything understands that Bielsa is willing to brief one of his staff to keep an eye on Derby’s miscreant players and make sure that they’re walking the straight and narrow from now on. Already this season, Derby players Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett have been charged with drink driving offences, while the club’s

Richard Keogh – simian and out for the season

simian defender Richard Keogh is now out for the season due to a knee injury sustained in an “alcohol related incident” understood to be not entirely unrelated to the drink-drive scandal. Mason Bennett’s embarrassment is sufficiently acute that he has deleted a tweet in which he attempted to mock Bielsa’s FIFA award. It’s no exaggeration to say that Direby’s season, despite their comically blagged point at Elland Road, is turning into a disaster.

In order to help, Bielsa is willing to loan County the services of a member of his staff “well versed in surveillance techniques”, in order to help Mr. Cockup keep tabs on his recalcitrant playing staff. Bielsa has assured his opposite number that the experienced Leeds man’s approach would be “subtle, discreet and almost undetectable”. Naturally, Leeds United will expect to receive a fee from Derby for this service, and it is understood that a figure in the region of £200,000 has been mentioned.

Mr. Cockup is understood to be delighted at the prospect of assistance from such a well-respected source, and he is now confident that he’ll be able to keep the remainder of his squad out of custody for most of the rest of the season.

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Lucky Leeds Boss Bielsa Has Thousands of Experts to Tell Him What to Do – by Rob Atkinson

Marcelo Bielsa – lucky man

Marcelo Bielsa really can count himself truly blessed in his current situation at Leeds United. He’s in charge of a club of global pedigree and immense potential, and he’s assembled a squad rich with talent and promise. On top of that, Bielsa himself is lauded by some of the game’s foremost coaches as the granddaddy of them all, the guru, the one who’s influenced the best of the rest. Bielsa, in short, has a heck of a lot going for him.

But it doesn’t end there. For Bielsa, lauded as the Master by football’s movers and shakers, has a massive army of armchair experts behind him, poised ready to bestow upon him the benefits of their tactical acumen at the first sign of the smallest problem or misfortune. Some of the experts would replace Bamford with Nketiah, others would play both as a twin spearhead. Still others would replace Harrison with Costa, and there are also those who would drop Hernandez and play Harrison/Roberts/Costa in that role. This group include those who praised Hernandez as the best in the league following a masterclass late last season, but no matter. Drop him now, they say, for they know best.

In fact, it’s odd that these sedentary experts are all so sure that they know best as, though they all reckon they know better than Bielsa, still there’s great disagreement between them as a group. Surely, they can’t all be right? Is there even the glimmer of a possibility, then, that Bielsa actually does know best about the group of players he works with, day in and day out?

United are, after all, top of the Championship, having won five games and having failed to win the other three when they most certainly should have. But they’re firmly on course to win the league if they can maintain even this slightly less than perfect form. Still, that’s not good enough for the “Dave from Beeston” types out there, nor yet the Twitter tendency. From the way these “supporters” carry on, you might imagine they know more about the game than poor old Marcelo.

Here’s a thought, though. What if we all just let Bielsa get on with it, just on the off-chance that Pep Guardiola, and other super coaches, are right about him. Why don’t we all get off Bamford’s back as well, just in case the sports psychologist chaps have a point about mass criticism having an adverse effect on confidence and performance. You never know, it might just work, this controversial idea of letting the pros get on with it.

Who knows – maybe, at the end of the season, with the league title on the sideboard, we’ll all be saying, well, who’d have thought it. That global legend Marcelo Bielsa really did know what he was on about, after all.

On a slightly less acidly sarcastic note, how good it was to see United and Bielsa get a FIFA fair play award for gifting Villa a goal after Leeds had taken the lead in, ahem, controversial circumstances. I actually don’t agree that there was anything amiss with the Leeds goal that day, but Marcelo obviously felt uncomfortable about it, and what he says goes, as I’ve been hinting all column long. But this FIFA award has been particularly enjoyable for the distress it has caused among certain figures in the game who have a nosebleed if forced to give United any credit for anything. I won’t name names, let’s just say that the anti-Leeds brigade are many in number if slightly short of charm – and they’ve been distinctly rattled by this FIFA award thing. All of which is – let’s be honest – distinctly satisfactory.

Football Rivalry Can be Friendly (Even Between Leeds and Derby) – by Rob Atkinson

Good friends and foes: yours truly and Rams fanatic Phil Cole

The very greatest thing about football rivalry has more and more come to transcend the very worst thing about it, and this is the road I have personally travelled since the early seventies, when football itself was more the people’s game, but when a minority of those people disgraced themselves and their chosen clubs by engaging in a pointlessly violent expression of the tribalism most football fans can feel without being silly about it.

So, the very worst of football rivalry, in my humble opinion, is clearly the needless overspill into violence. It solves nothing, proves nothing, and serves only to intimidate those innocent followers of the game, attending the match in the spirit of support and enjoyment, yet dragged helplessly into the ugly vortex of confrontation by mindless thugs. Thankfully, those problems are not so acute in today’s gentrified and sanitised game, proving that every cloud does indeed have its silver lining.

But equally, there’s no doubt the very best of football rivalry is that it can be conducted with deep feeling and extreme partisanship, yet in a spirit of friendship where those rival sentiments give rise to nothing worse than edgy banter, causing mirth rather than mayhem. As my beloved Whites are due to meet the Rams of Derby County on Saturday, this is a particularly relevant point to me just now. Leeds United and Derby were hardly the best of friends last season, what with Spygate and a lopsided record in the meetings on the field, with the outclassed Rams nevertheless having the last laugh. Ill feeling still continues, with Leeds keen to see investigated Derby’s tactic of selling their ground to themselves for a dubiously inflated price, County’s aim clearly being to avoid or evade Financial Fair Play penalties. Evidently there’s little love lost between the clubs or the rival sets of fans, and that’s a situation that’s applied now for many, many years. And yet friendships can thrive, even on such stony ground as this.

I have a mate called Phil Cole who, like me, is an actor. Unlike me, he’s met with considerable success, appearing in many high-profile theatrical productions – notably alongside the late, great Ken Kercheval of Dallas fame, who admirably portrayed the character of Cliff Barnes for many years with realism, style and class. I was sorry to hear of Ken’s sad recent death, as he’s a great loss to the acting profession and was also a good friend of a good friend.

I’m well aware that Phil is on a higher plane than I occupy, in theatrical terms at least. Still, it’s swings and roundabouts in this life, and I’m always reminding him that I’ve been relatively blessed in my choice of club, with Leeds United being perhaps my Dad’s most important bequest to me. In contrast, poor Phil is saddled with his love for Derby County, a burden he bears bravely and well. He loses no opportunity to make my life a misery on the odd occasion that his Rams lord it over Leeds – I had to don my tin hat when we haplessly lost last season’s play-off semi. But I like to think I give as good as I get, with a little interest – and it’s all done against a background of nigh on a quarter of a century’s friendship, which is how it should be.

Whatever Saturday’s result at Elland Road, whatever the ongoing relationship between rival clubs, this fan friendship will survive and prosper. For myself, all I can hope is that it’ll be me taking the mick on Monday, and not vice versa. But, if not, I’ll grin and bear it, with that tin hat on again. That’s what friendship of the football rivalry variety is all about, after all. Cheers, Phil!

Back to School for the “Class of ‘92” as Bielsa’s Leeds Master Salford – by Rob Atkinson

The Last Champions – Masters of 1992

As anyone who has watched the entertaining Class of 92 TV series will attest, Salford City have come a long, long way in a short, short time, gaining multiple promotions from what was their virtual grass roots status, and picking up a spiffy new stadium along the way. All very admirable, even if some insist on pointing out that this progress has been courtesy of many more millions in funding than you commonly see so far down the football pyramid. It would seem that Financial Fair Play has a different meaning at this thud and blunder stratum of the game, though you’ll likely be accused of poor taste by those behind the Salford/media love-fest if you’re presumptuous enough to point this out.

Still, the TV programmes have been entertainment gold for all of us who like to be flies on walls in tantrum-riven half time dressing rooms, or even post-defeat boardrooms, when things are going awry. It’s a vicious as well as vicarious sort of amusement but, for the past few days leading up to our own Leeds United heroes’ Cup tie appointment with Salford, it’s helped fill the void that opened up in the wake of being scurvily robbed of victory against Nottingham Forest. There was drama aplenty and some unwitting comedy too, particularly in the moment of fulfilment as Salford gained promotion to the Football League at Wembley, with co-owner Gary Neville’s high-pitched Mancunian squeaks of celebration disappearing off the audible scale and becoming something only dogs or Huddersfield fans could hear.

So much for Salford’s mundane but latterly meteoric history prior to last night. For the Leeds United home tie was where their new era truly began, after one victory and one defeat at League Two level, with the visit of the biggest club in the entire Football League. Anticipation was quite naturally at fever pitch and the new stadium, whose corporate name I entirely forget, was packed to its Meccano rafters. All was ready – and the scene was set, so Sky Sports clearly and fervently hoped, for a juicy giant-killing, with S’rAlex and his erstwhile footballing sons, together with the legendary Lawman, clustered eagerly in the main stand to witness the deeply desired humbling of Leeds United.

Alas, these things so often fail to work out as planned, something any random sample of mice and men will confirm. Before kick-off, over-excited Salford fans were issuing predictions of a 3-1 victory, and even the normally pragmatic Gary Neville so far forgot himself as to join in with such ill-advised optimism. Gary is prone to the odd mental aberration where Leeds United are concerned, somehow contriving to have entirely forgotten, despite pictorial evidence of him looking dismayed in the background while Jermaine celebrated his goal at the Beckford End, United’s 1-0 FA Cup victory at the Theatre of Hollow Myths in 2010. Gary had thought that Leeds were back in his life for the first time since 2004 – but he is getting on a bit, bless him, and these lapses are understandable.

The match started with both sides in wary, probing mode, and with Salford managing to prevent Leeds getting behind them whilst launching a few raids of their own on the counter-attack. This was enough, despite United’s domination of possession, for the Sky commentary team, featuring ever-reliable Leeds-hater Don Goodman, to proclaim that the home team had been the better side – and the coverage featured numerous cutaway shots of the strangely named “Class of 92” looking resolutely happy whenever Salford did anything remotely competent. But reality bit ravenously at Lancastrian jugulars just before the interval, with Helder Costa making a quicksilver dart for the byline to be found by a beautiful Jamie Shackleton pass inside the full-back. Costa laid a devastating ball across the six yard box to find fellow debutant Eddie Nketiah emerging between two bamboozled centre-backs to finish decisively into an empty net. Salford had been cut asunder by a moment of class from a higher sphere, and all of a sudden, those lovingly lingering shots of the ersatz Class of 92 were a thing of the past. Don Goodman talked hopefully about Nketiah being offside and of how Salford could now capitalise on their good play after the interval, but his hope and his enthusiasm were waning. And, happily, worse was to come.

In the second half, Leeds piled on that lovely agony with a near post flick from Berardi and a sumptuous finish from Klich which topped off a sweeping, length of the pitch break from a Salford corner. It was “job done”, and the disgruntled Sky guys knew it, opting now to talk instead of United’s draw at home against Forest in a vain attempt to rekindle the Leeds crisis atmosphere they’d worked so hard to generate pre-match. For the rest, there were a couple of elbows to Leeds heads, dismissed by Goodman as unintentional, and the standard stonewall penalty not given when Shacks was hauled back in the box. 3-0 and finis, a tricky tie safely negotiated.

A look around other results last night will show you that Sky’s hopes for a Salford victory had been not all that unrealistic. This stage of this competition has upsets as the norm, not the exception. Among the more amusing outcomes were Barnsley’s 0-3 capitulation to Carlisle, with ex-United man Aapo Halme having a ‘mare, and Huddersfield losing at home to a single goal by Lincoln City to cries from literally dozens of dog-botherers for their new manager to get him hence. So the processional nature of United’s progress would have been a matter of bitter regret to Goodman and Co, who surely must have reflected that they should have looked elsewhere for their longed-for upset.

What else can be taken away from this tie, what lessons are there to be learned? One is that the myth of Leeds’ shallow squad is just that; with the likes of Shackleton, Davis and young Alfie McCalmont looking ready to supplement the established stars, we seem comfortably well-off for squad depth to this blogger’s eye. Also, the myth of The Class of 92 can now finally be scotched. The Last Champions were the real Class of 92 and, if you’re looking for winners in the clash of emerging talents, let’s not forget that the Nevilles, the Scholes the Beckhams et al, while victorious in the Youth Cup of 92, comprehensively bit the dust in the Final of 93, beaten in both legs by the boys from Elland Road.

All in all, then, a most satisfactory evening, with United enjoying the fruits of victory and Fergie, along with his protégés, choking on some well-earned humble pie. Which really is exactly as it should be.

Marching On Together

Leeds Fans Must Now be United Behind Club and Team – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Fans United

Every Leeds United fan knows that following the Whites automatically includes you as part of the most fanatical and vociferous band of supporters anywhere. In short, the greatest fans around. This is an article of faith with United fans, not even a matter for debate. So mote it be. 

How very odd, then, to find yourself shaking your head in baffled disbelief at some of the social media output from the massed keyboards of this elite cadre of support. Clearly, with an online presence that probably runs into the millions worldwide, not everybody is going to agree all the time, for instance, on the vexed subject of United’s transfer policy. Still, the why-oh-why stance of a small but loud minority of the virtual support is hard to stomach for those of us who were brought up on the credo of “my club, right or wrong”.

It’s not only a transfer window thing, either. In fact, compared to the negative attitude of some “supporters” towards players struggling for form and confidence, Victor Orta and his transfer team are being afforded a relatively easy ride. Even so, the amount of uninformed criticism surrounding United’s recruitment efforts, during this and other transfer windows, tends to make Twitter an area of the Internet it’s wiser to avoid, especially for those who prefer their blood pressure to remain at a good safe level. Needless to say, that’s not a luxury in which I can indulge, being of the blogger/columnist persuasion, and my hypertension suffers accordingly.

Transfers are complex matters, due to all manner of factors: finances, agents, rival clubs, media and so on. I don’t envy the United officials trying to negotiate such choppy waters while being assailed and vilified on all sides by a section of online fans not overly burdened with any knowledge of what they’re talking about, and even less so by any tact, restraint or decorum. It can’t make the job any easier and, every now and again, you do see a faintly exasperated comment from the club along the lines of “we’re doing our best, we all want good outcomes, please be patient”. Sadly, such assurances usually fall on deaf ears; there are those out there, it seems, who wallow in negativity and relish any chance to have a moan or offer their unqualified opinions. 

It’s the carping criticism of certain players, though, that really offends and annoys. Take Patrick Bamford, for instance. Now, some of the criticism he receives has been fairly gentle and possibly even merited, though his record at United is good, taking into account last season’s injury woes. His milder critics peddle a ruefully humorous line, referring to Patrick as “Lord Bamford of Beeston” and wondering, tongue in cheek, if he shouldn’t delegate his goal-scoring duties to his butler. That’s the kind of thing that, reaching a player’s ears, might make him smile and redouble his determination to succeed. It’s harmless fun and, if the line is drawn there, nobody could really complain. 

But the more serious and malicious abuse is blatantly counter-productive, a classic case of a pistol levelled directly at our own collective foot. Players, and strikers in particular, thrive on confidence and encouragement. It makes little sense to hurl abuse and ill-founded criticism at a player such as Bamford, who will not be assisted by suggestions that he couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo, or that he’s worth less than a written-off, wheel-less banger rusting in a ditch. All that and worse has been flung at Bamford.

Fortunately and thankfully, the lad has a resilient character and a cold determination to succeed. His goal at Bristol City, the movement and the finish from that aristocratic forehead, testify to that. Long may his ability to rise above the howling of the mob continue.

Now, the window is closed until January, and it’s been a far better one than the usual suspects referred to above would wish you to believe. The squad has been purged of certain disruptive elements as identified by Marcelo Bielsa himself and, despite FFP strictures, the overall quality is arguably higher. In any event, we go with what we’ve got; if the performance at Ashton Gate can be maintained or even improved upon, it’ll take a fabulous opposing performance to stop us in any given match.

Whether you’re a matchgoing, raucous fanatic, or confined to long distance support, the message from here is the same. Get behind the team, get behind the club. We’re all on the same journey. Marching On Together.

My Bremner Square Tribute to my late, Leeds-supporting Dad – by Rob Atkinson

Dad and me – part of the fabric of Elland Road

Just over 44 years ago, my dad ensured that I’d be saddled with a hopeless devotion to Leeds United for the rest of my life. He did this by the simple expedient of purchasing tickets for “the two biggest games of the season”. There they were, these seemingly innocuous but actually life-changing pieces of paper, artlessly displayed on the dining room table – my initiation to the Elland Road experience. Liverpool first, on Saturday April the 5th 1975 and then, the following Wednesday, I’d see Leeds United take on the mighty Barcelona, Cruyff, Neeskens and all, in the European Cup semi final.

 

As I’d never even shown the remotest interest in attending a football match, it’s fair to say that my dad was taking a bit of a punt on me enjoying myself. For all he knew, I could have sulked through both matches; certainly he could never have foreseen the extent to which this sudden treat would alter my outlook and priorities.

 

Strangely, just as Dad was introducing me to a lifetime of United fanaticism, his own passion for the club was about to decline. It’s almost as if he was preparing to hand over the responsibility for supporting the club he’d loved since he was a teenager, even though my first few years of being a proper Leeds fan were spent in his company. Dad didn’t seem to handle the waning of the club’s fortunes too well – after all, he’d seen the flowering of John Charles’ genius in the fifties, then he’d gone all the way through the Revie era of Super Leeds as United carried all before them, winning everything to become football legends.

 

Those were pretty tough acts to follow, and my dad became perhaps a little impatient with the lesser breed of players who were my new heroes. Eventually, I started to go to Elland Road on my own, and I’d come back waxing lyrical about Tony Currie, Arthur Graham, Brian Flynn or Ray Hankin. For me, it was all still bold and new, and I savoured the unique atmosphere as I graduated from Lowfields with my dad, via the Boys’ Pen to the Gelderd End Kop. I’d inherited the mantle of the family’s United fanatic, and Dad seemed almost eager to trade terrace for armchair and take a more passive role.

 

Still, he stuck with it for the first few seasons of my Leeds United worship. This was pretty considerate of him, as I brought Leeds United no luck at all. In that first game, we lost at home to Liverpool 2-0 and, although I saw us beat Barcelona on that memorable Elland Road night, with Billy Bremner scoring my first ever “live” Leeds United goal, my record in the league was dismal over the next couple of seasons. Dad must have thought of me as a Jonah – I never even saw United score another goal, let alone avoid defeat, until I started going to the match on my own in August 1976. In the meantime, we lost to the likes of Liverpool (again), Norwich and Sheffield United, all of which defeats I assumed to be my fault, and I think Dad agreed. But I was not discouraged; I was hooked and that was it. When I eventually saw us win in the league, 2-0 against Derby with goals from Eddie Gray and Trevor Cherry, I was delirious with joy and, to this day, every detail of that game is sharp and clear in my memory.

 

I know that Dad often regretted making a Leeds fan out of me, he was even on about it on my wedding day. He thought I could have spent my time more productively, maybe in playing him in the fiercely competitive Scrabble sessions which he adored – and, on the odd occasion, I’ve found myself agreeing. But overall, it’s been wonderful and, having journeyed from a milk crate vantage point in the middle “shelf” of Lowfields to my present perch on the West Stand Press gantry, I can’t imagine a life without United.

 

Now, over four years since Dad passed away, I’ve finally managed to make him a permanent part of Elland Road with a “Father and Son” stone in Bremner Square, as pictured above. It’s taken me a while, but at last I think I’ve found the most fitting and enduring way to say “thanks, Dad”. MOT, wherever you may be.

Could Likely Man U Signing Daniel James Still Move to Leeds United? – by Rob Atkinson

Daniel James of Leeds United – could it yet happen?

Swansea City‘s big discovery of the season just gone was undoubtedly Daniel James who swiftly made a name for himself with a series of scorching performances for the Welsh side. His sheer pace was the most notable part of James’ game, but there was some vision too, and an eye for goal. All of this led to James coming within an ace of signing for Leeds United as the January window closed, only for a Swansea official to get cold feet and hide under a table instead of completing the deal.

Since that time, James has been touted as the one who got away, as far as Leeds were concerned – and now he appears to be on the point of a move to Manchester, to play for that city’s junior club. But could things take yet one more twist, with Daniel James appearing in a Leeds United shirt next season after all?

On the face of it, the lad has secured himself a glamour move to a club that used to be among the honours on a regular basis, and you can’t blame a player for snapping up the chance of a Premier League berth. But whether it’s a good career decision for the player himself has to be a moot point, with many a youngster having gone there and then dropped right off the radar. Daniel James carved himself a reputation as a fine Championship player last season. His quality is such that you could easily see himself making an impression as a mid to lower table Premier League performer. But with a move to Old Trafford, James would possibly be looking to cut it in the top half of the EPL – is he really at that level yet?

On the other hand, clubs like Man U frequently sign players like James only to loan them out to continue their football education. This must be a possible path for young James next season, and – if that proves to be the case – then Leeds United should be at the head of the queue for his loan-basis services. It’d make sense for both clubs, and the player too, whatever reservations fans on either side of the Pennines might have. This is how football works these days, with plenty of “mutual benefit” deals being done.

So, could Daniel James yet be ripping up the Championship in a Leeds United shirt next season, as he did for Swansea over the past nine months? It’s got to be a possibility. If James does complete his move to the red quarter of Manchester, don’t be surprised to see a season long loan move to Elland Road materialise shortly thereafter. Many stranger things have happened.

Marching On Together

Time For Leeds United to Make a Real Statement; Bring Back the LUFC Smiley – by Rob Atkinson

The LUFC “smiley” badge. Iconic as hell.

It seems pretty certain that Leeds United will be playing their centenary (and hopefully promotion) season with a new badge proudly emblazoned on their various new shirts. That being the case, the design of said new badge is certainly decided already, with only an unveiling amid much ceremony remaining to be done.

This piece, then, is more a forlorn expression of hope than any real ambition to influence matters. The hope burns fiercely, though – because I like many others feel that the time is nigh, if not well overdue, for Leeds United to return to its most iconic badge ever. It’s a design of beautiful simplicity and endless appeal, quite unlike the pedestrian emblems of lesser clubs. It embodies the yellow, white and blue, it scorns the empty folderol of pretension favoured by other. It’s got a message, and that message is: We are Leeds and we are proud. It’s recognisable the world over as an elite design for an elite club. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the LUFC Smiley Badge.

It probably won’t happen. The best we can realistically hope for is the grudging inclusion of the Smiley as a detail of some other design. Even that would be better than nowt. But, just imagine. What if the club really did see sense – what if they marked 100 years of the best football club in the world, by harking back to its best badge, with those nostalgic links to the original Super Leeds era, the Don, King Billy and the rest of the legends. How fine would that be?

We’ll know soon enough, I suppose. I’ve seen pictures purporting to represent the new badge, and I can only hope they were fashionably fake news. I know what I want, and I know thousands of others want it too.

Bring back the Smiley Badge!

Marching on together

Mbappe and Neymar for Leeds in PSG Link Up? – by Rob Atkinson

Mbappe – could he win a regular starting place at Leeds?

The likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are not the most likely participants in next season’s Championship, but other current PSG might be beating a path to the Elland Road players’ entrance if there’s anything in the Twitterstorm surrounding possible investment by Qatar Sports Institute in Leeds United.

For the time being, it’s all smoke and mirrors. But I’ve been dreaming of linking Mbappe to Leeds for ages now – so ‘ave it.

More to follow, without a doubt.

As Leeds Fanatics, Let’s Get Right Behind Aston Villa on Monday – by Rob Atkinson

Good luck Monday, Dean Smith, you horrible git

As the Bank Holiday fiesta of sudden death football that is the playoff finals finally begins, the thoughts of every Leeds United fan must surely be: it could have been us in that Championship playoff decider. Should have been. But, once you get past that, and also past the essential silliness of a system that will promote one of two clubs that have been proven as inferior to United, both in the regular season and in our meetings on the field, you have to decide which of these two you want to see take the Premier League place that should have been ours. There’s no point in turning a blind eye, or whinging about what’s happened. We all knew the rules, daft though they may be.

So, who do we want to see go up? And, by extension, with whom do we wish to renew hostilities next time around? Both Aston Villa and Derby County have done their darnedest this season to capitalise on incidents surrounding our league meetings; both have cynically attempted to make mountains out of molehills, eagerly assisted by a complaisant and Leeds-hating media. But, for all that I can’t abide Villa manager Dean Smith, and even though I’d cheerfully swing for that annoying little toad Grealish, there can be no real comparison to the serial whingers of Derby County, with all of the Spygate nonsense, that loathsome hypocrite Lampard and all. And it is in a spirit of Frank and honest bitterness and resentment that I wish them despair and heartache at Wembley on Monday – I hope with all my heart that we can meet again next season, just to rub it in again exactly why we’re better than them, in every way, any day of the week. And I hope that Middlesbrough prove to be of some use for a change, and successfully sue Direby’s backside off over the shady Pride Park operation.

So it’s “Up The Villa” for me on Monday. I’d be most interested to hear other views as ever, both agreeing and disagreeing. But please keep it polite, and give your reasons.

Marching On Together