Tag Archives: Wembley

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

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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

“Are We There Yet?” How Leeds Twitter Fans Channel Their Inner Spoilt Children – by Rob Atkinson

Tantrum

The dumb end of the Leeds Twitter feed, in pictures

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”…

Leeds Legend Lee Bowyer Sinks Sunderland at Wembley – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Legend Lee Crushes Mackems

A last minute winner for Lee Bowyer’s Charlton Athletic condemned Sunderland to at least one more season in League One, and ensured that the first two playoff finals, at least, panned out as per my personal requirements.

It had been good to see Newport depart on the return journey to Wales with tears in their eyes and tails between their legs. Quite apart from having had a soft spot for Tranmere since their Cup exploits under John Aldridge, I’ve not yet forgiven Newport for our FA Cup humiliation a year or so back. Call me bitter and twisted, but that’s just the way it is.

How much more riddled with spite and vicious nastiness am I then with regard to Sunderland, who have been living off their fluke FA Cup success against Super Leeds ever since 1973? Much, MUCH more, that’s how much. The fact that one of my Whites heroes of the past few decades, Lee Bowyer, was a direct beneficiary of the Mackems’ inadequacy simply made a sweet occasion all the sweeter. I’ve frankly hated Sunderland for all the time I’ve been a Leeds fan, despised Bob Stokoe, and celebrated every time we’ve beaten the Wearsiders, as we usually do. They keep going back to Wembley, and they keep failing. They’ve done it twice this season, and I’ve loved every minute.

Now all I need is for Aston Villa to beat Derby tomorrow – with a few Fwankie tears thrown in, if at all possible. Really – is that too much to ask?

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

Here’s to Promotion for United (Next Time)

In the end, it was not to be. Leeds United finally bowed out of the Championship playoffs in the most Leeds United way possible, losing at home to a team they’d played and beaten handsomely three times this season, blowing a one goal lead from the first leg, which had been extended to two goals as half time at Elland Road approached. And, again so typically for Leeds, it was a self-inflicted wound in the dying moments of the first half on Wednesday that changed the tone and tempo of what had always been a frantic game of football.

If they had the chance to play that fatal moment again, both Liam Cooper and United’s keeper Kiko Casilla would wish to have made better decisions. But for me, our former Real Madrid man was the more culpable of the two, failing to provide a safe option for the pass back, and then impeding Cooper as he tried desperately to clear the ball away. The ball fell kindly for Derby’s sub Jack Marriott, who had only been on the field for half a minute, and he tucked away a chance that should never have materialised. And so began the painful process whereby the life blood drained out of Leeds United and what had at one time looked like a promotion season.

Immediately after the interval, the tie was level, and the tide had well and truly turned. Then a clear penalty edged Derby ahead before Stuart Dallas scored his second goal of the night to restore parity – but only temporarily. The denouement of this crazy night of dog eat dog football saw Derby regain their lead over two legs, before Gaetano Berardi perpetrated the kind of tackle he’s too often guilty of, to leave the contest courtesy of a second yellow card.

There was still time for Derby to be reduced to ten men, but the damage had been done by that point and Leeds were doomed to become the current longest-serving member of the Championship, much to the delight of just about everybody who doesn’t hold the Elland Road outfit dear.

So there we are and, quite honestly, things could be worse. If we can look forward to another season of Bielsaball, albeit not in the top flight, then that’s an enticing prospect. Because, let’s be honest, this has been a fabulous season, despite its gut-wrenching climax. The pity of it is that Leeds United will not be a Premier League club come its hundredth birthday in October. But there’s still the challenge of celebrating that centenary by mounting an assault on the Championship league title next time around.

To achieve that, some squad improvements will be required, and doubtless there has already been some contingency planning for the eventuality of failing to secure the promotion that had looked so likely for so long. It is also essential to retain the services of Marcelo Bielsa and his staff, so that they can set about building on the massive improvement we have seen in this remarkable season.

What we can’t afford to do – as either a football club or a fan base – is to waste time in mutual recriminations or excessive licking of wounds. Thursday was the first day of planning for next season, and it’s in that positive spirit that we must now move forward. Leeds United is a Premier League club which happens to be marooned in the league below, and all efforts should now be concentrated on resolving that contradictory situation.

In a spirit of positivity, let’s look forward to renewing hostilities with Huddersfield and Barnsley next season. And, just to show there’s no petty bitterness in this blog – good luck to Aston Villa at Wembley.

Lampard Referred for Urgent Memory Tests After Forgetting Leeds Penalty Overrule – by Rob Atkinson

Lampard: memory issues?

Derby County manager Frank Lampard has become the focus of fears within professional football about what stress can do to the memory and mental faculties of even a relatively young man. The latest example of what are suspected to be short-term memory problems in Lampard arises from the overturned penalty in Derby’s first leg semi final play off tie against Leeds United at Pride Park. The ref awarded Derby a penalty, but the award was rescinded after the assistant referee pointed out that Leeds’ Jack Harrison had played the ball instead of fouling the Derby player Bogle.

Lampard was outraged afterwards, claiming that he’d never seen a linesman overrule a referee’s decision, and insisting that, even if it was technically no foul, the award should have stood. Worryingly, Lampard appears to have forgotten the game at Elland Road between Leeds and Derby in January, when Leeds were awarded an early penalty which was subsequently (and wrongly, as it turned out) overturned on assistant referee advice. The fact that Lampard has obviously forgotten this incident completely is a clear sign of memory loss in at least the shorter term, and justifies a level of concern about his mental fitness for a demanding job.

But the problem may not just be affecting poor Frank’s short term memory. Earlier this season, during the “Spygate” furore, Lampard stated unequivocally that he’d never known or been involved with such practices. He had clearly forgotten that, during his time at Chelsea, senior management figures had circumvented an FA ban by being in attendance, concealed in a laundry hamper. Lampard will have been fully aware of this at the time, but again, worryingly, has lost all memory of it.

The gravity of the situation now for Derby is that they must win at Elland Road against an injury-depleted Leeds in Wedneday’s second leg, so County fans must hope that, at the very least, Lampard can still remember his way there.

The memory problems cited must be genuine and therefore a cause for grave concern. The only other explanation would be that Lampard has been lying through his teeth in his protests about Leeds United, in the full awareness that he’s been a party to similar incidents in his favour – and that he is therefore a humbug and a double-dyed hypocrite.

And that surely can’t be true of media darling Frankie Lampard…. can it??

Norwich & Sheffield United Miss Out on Wembley; Leeds Still in the Mix – by Rob Atkinson

This heavily disguised lament is brought to you from deep within the tortured soul of Glass Half Full Productions Inc. Apologies for the late hour. I’ve been speechless with disappointment.

Congratulations though to all Canaries and Blades out there; your teams both did it when it mattered.

Keep the Faith, you mighty White Army – I know it’s not easy.

Marching on Together.

Is There Still One More Twist in Leeds United’s Auto Promotion Bid? – by Rob Atkinson

Jesus

Don’t forget – Jesus once wore the shirt

David Prutton, now a Sky Sports pundit but nicknamed “Jesus” by Leeds fans once upon a time, due to his startling resemblance to the alleged Son of God, might therefore be wryly amused by the fact that United’s automatic promotion hopes appeared to die on Good Friday. As yet, and with a barren Easter Monday visit to Brentford answering no prayers originating in and around LS11, there seems to be nary a sign of any resurrection for what was probably a misplaced optimism that we might find a straightforward path out of the EFL wilderness. Barring a miracle on a par with the loaves and fishes gig, it’s likely that Leeds United will, after all, have to settle for a play-offs lottery that has served them so ill on so many occasions in the past.

But, soft. Perhaps the time for despair is not yet nigh. Any neutral observer looking at the twists and turns taken by this season’s Championship promotion race will note that it’s been a consistently inconsistent affair, predictable only in its inscrutable unpredictability. You couldn’t have made it up, such observers would say, possibly gasping and throwing their hands in the air to signify outraged disbelief. If you were writing a script, they might add, you wouldn’t have dared include so many plot twists, for fear of being dismissed as some lunatic sensationalist with a bevy of bats in the belfry. Why, then, should we assume that all is done and dusted with two games yet to be played for each interested party? Why on earth would we now presume to predict an outcome that has from day one been so capriciously impossible to foresee?

Out of such perverse logic might appear the odd straw for fans of Leeds United eagerly to clutch with a fierce defiance born of pure desperation. Could Ipswich get a point at Bramall Lane while a depleted Leeds triumph over the division’s form team Aston Villa, leaving things on a last day knife-edge? Of course not. But then again, you might have argued as dismissively about ten man Wigan’s chances of overcoming a one goal deficit to beat the Championship’s best home ground team in Leeds. And you’d surely have bet against a QPR side that had lost seven on the bounce somehow defying the match stats to see our heroes off 1-0 the other week. All of which proves the truth of the old saw about not counting chickens before they’ve hatched.

Of course, in public, I’m maintaining a front of stoical resignation and predicting yet more play-off disappointment for my beloved Whites. My perceived sanity and any remaining shreds of credibility probably depend upon this outward display of common sense. But this little blog is my private fantasy land – and here, all things are possible until the actual point at which it can be shown they haven’t actually happened. So, just between you and me, gentle reader, I will cling on to my faint but still flickering hopes that a miracle could yet occur, and that we might yet see our favourites ascend to the Promised Land as of right, instead of having to trust to that fickle and Leeds-hating jade Lady Luck. You never know, it could still just happen.

Hell fire, friends – we might yet even win the Championship. The kind of roller-coaster script this year’s League has apparently followed might actually demand a properly daft denouement like that. Keep the faith.

Marching On Together 

Please, Leeds, PLEASE – Not the Play-offs – by Rob Atkinson

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If anyone thinks I might be losing my nerve here, losing a bit of faith and belief – then let me tell them, they couldn’t be more right. At the time of writing, with Leeds United having somehow contrived to seize defeat from the jaws of victory against the ten men of Wigan Athletic at Elland Road last Friday – Good Friday? Don’t make me laugh – I am having a severe attack of the football-related collywobbles. Fatalistic is what I’m feeling. My experience of being a Leeds fan, together with my knowledge of the Whites’ appalling play-offs record down the years, leads me to believe that it’s automatic promotion, or bust. Currently, I have a nasty feeling that we might have blown it.

Obviously it’s tight at the top. Right now, before the Easter Monday games are played, Leeds are out of the top two only on goal difference, and both United and the Blunts still have nine points to play for. All of which means that anything could still happen, and there may well be another twist or two still to come. Really, we have to hope that this is the case – as the alternative to going up as of right is to submit ourselves to the lottery of the play-offs. And then, the logic goes: lottery implies a large element of chance and luck. Leeds United do not get much luck, not of the good sort, anyway. Ergo, if it’s the play-offs for Leeds… we’re screwed.

You don’t exactly have to be a student of Elland Road history to see the truth of this. Right back to the very first year of the play-offs, we lost out in the most tragic and unfortunate of circumstances to Charlton Athletic, having thought we were on our way up after a John Sheridan free kick put us ahead in a replay at neutral St. Andrews. Let’s draw a veil over what happened next. After that first, ill-starred attempt, we’ve had a few more stabs at the promotion lottery, with consistently negative outcomes. The semi-finals have usually been OK, but once we get to that showpiece play-off final, it just all turns to angst and despair. Really, it’s almost preferable to finish right out of the picture and kid on we were never that bothered about going up – not that we have such an option this time around. The play-offs, for Leeds United, have always been about misery and disappointment. Does anybody really believe it would be any different this time around?

Of course, what I’m trying to do here is apply a little reverse psychology, hoping that Fate will listen and be influenced enough to either send us up automatically, or make sure that we buck our previous play-off trend and have ourselves a glory, glory day at Wembley. It’s pretty much all I can think of just now, and at least I’m having a go. As ever, I’ll welcome your comments, the more optimistic the better. Now is the time to be clutching at straws – we can save the post mortems for such time as the worst has happened.

Marching On Together.

Farewell to the Anfield Iron, Liverpool’s Tommy Smith, Friend and Foe to Super Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

Tommy Smith

Tommy Smith, Anfield Legend

Tommy Smith, Liverpool’s legendary hard man defender and frequently skipper in the sixties and seventies, passed away today aged 74. With him went another link in the chain that Liverpool and Leeds United forged between themselves in those two decades, for most of which time they were untouchable as the two great powerhouses of English football.

Tommy was an original who became almost a cliché in that he was one of the earliest examples of the “take no prisoners” school of defending as English League football went through a grisly tough phase before and after Alf Ramsey’s World Cup triumph in 1966. In those days, a cult grew up around defenders upon whom you could rely to “kick owt that moves”; most of the top teams had at least one such. Indeed, what possibly set Leeds aside was that they were so richly served on both the constructive and destructive sides of the game. Man United’s George Best famously reminisced “All the top teams had one hard man. We had Nobby Stiles, Liverpool had Tommy Smith, and Arsenal had Peter Storey. Leeds United, by the way, had eleven of them”. That’s the kind of slightly grudging, backhanded compliment that makes a football fan’s heart swell with pride.

Tommy Smith, though, really did stand out. His appearance was almost that of a Desperate Dan in all red, the kind of man you supposed would shave with a blowtorch. Granite jawed and imposing, he struck fear into many a flash striker’s heart, and he neither gave nor asked any quarter when battle was joined. His catchphrase, issued in a Scouse growl whenever he was annoyed by opposition antics, was “Do that again, and I’ll snap yer back”. It was probably safer to assume that Tommy meant it, and behave accordingly.

On one famous occasion, though, when Leeds United visited Anfield, Allan “Sniffer” Clarke had the temerity to upend Tommy, leaving him dazed on the turf. Blinking and shaking his head, Smith enquired of his concerned Liverpool colleagues, in the manner of a road accident victim asking if anyone got the car’s number, “Who did that? I’ll snap his back!” A Liverpool team-mate promptly replied, “It was Clarke. And he’s just gone and kicked Emlyn up in the air as well”. Immediately, Smith’s expression softened. It was well-known on Merseyside that Smith had no time at all for Emlyn Hughes, and that fact clearly saved Sniffer from retaliation, as the Anfield Iron just smiled and got up a little groggily, saying “Ah, let him be. I always knew that fellow Clarkey was a good lad”.

It’s one of those stories linking Bill Shankly’s Liverpool with Don Revie’s Leeds, along

Tommy Billy

Tommy and Billy, Red and White

with the Spion Kop applauding the new Champions in 1969 after Leeds United secured a 0-0 draw at Anfield to win their first title. It was typical of the mutual respect between two great northern clubs, and it was still going on in 1992 when Leeds fans applauded Liverpool off at Wembley after the Reds had been beaten 4-3 in the Charity Shield. United fans hadn’t forgotten that their third title had been confirmed when Liverpool beat Man Utd 2-0 the previous April. It was a fantastic sight to behold, confirming the enduring link between good friends and foes.

Tommy Smith epitomised this fierce but friendly rivalry, and we’re all the poorer for his loss. I’ll never forget his finest hour, powering home a header in the 1977 European Cup Final to help Liverpool become Champions of Europe for the first time. It was a goal that summed the man up: uncompromising and unstoppable, scored by a legend among legends.

Tommy Smith, Liverpool FC Legend.  (5.4.45 – 12.4.19)  RIP