A Leeds United blog of rantings, match reports and a whole load of weird shit...

Monday, 19 November 2012

Another home grown LUFC product moving on...

After 10 and a half months and more site visits than I ever dared contemplate, the time has come to move on..

I've not given up on moaning and talking drivel you understand, I've just chosen to do so from a shiny, pretty, almost professional looking, new home. So to anyone who's visited in the past, a big 'Thank you', and to you and anyone else who's just stumbled upon this site by chance, here's a small plea to visit my new pad...it's rather easier on the eye, I promise!

Just click here!

See you on the other site,


Sunday, 11 November 2012

Leeds United 1 Watford 6

Before I set off to yesterday’s game, I tweeted to remark that I felt I could now identify with how condemned animals (vile or otherwise) must feel ahead of that final journey to the vet… if only there was some footballing equivalent to a lethal injection at Elland Road. Imagine if you were able to come in, take up your place, and on the signal of the referee’s whistle you were put to sleep and sent to a happier place, but then could be awoken from your slumber at full-time so you could retrospectively mourn the loss of another 3 points.  

Admittedly, it’d completely defeat the purpose of going to the football and might undermine what could be construed as a hugely ambitious series of object lessons in character building for Leeds United supporters, but how many more tortured spectacles can one fan base be subjected to? While most tearful, grief-ridden parties are able to say goodbye to their beloved creatures knowing their pain will be over in an instant, Leeds supporters had to witness an episode akin to the drawn out death throes of a road kill casualty, doomed from the initial impact of that sickening collision, but unable to pass into the eternal void until a succession of desperate blows had followed and beaten the final embers of life out of it.

I can’t say I’ve ever had to undergo the traumatic act of ‘finishing off’ an animal that’s been left, strewn across on the roadside after a coming together with my front bumper; but the analogy still rang very true with me, having brought back to mind an email that was read out on an ‘Adam & Joe’ radio show, several years ago. The topic of the day was accidental animal killings – a relatively strange subject for lunchtime radio, I grant you – and it initially inspired a relatively light weight response about trodden on frogs, budgies in vacuum cleaners and the like, until one correspondent disclosed an encounter with a knocked down rabbit and his attempts to inflict a mercy killing. He detailed in length the trauma and tears he suffered as he rained down blows with a tree branch, and then finally a rock to put the rabbit out of its misery…an ordeal that lasted for a full 20 minutes. The presenters delivered the tale in a tone that alternated between horror and hysterics as they came to terms with the spectacle unfolding.

The Arena of Tortured Souls

Fast forward to Elland Road, 10th November 2012, 3.28pm; having spent the best part of half an hour, playing around with gay abandon, creating chances, seemingly existing in a bubble of innocence, shielded from the harsh realities of Championship life, the creatures of the Leeds United starting XI are about to experience another world shattering awakening.

Until then, it had all looked so promising; true, Aidy White had filled his time confirming that he was just as hopeless playing on his natural side as he was on the right, while Michael Tongue exhibited the mobility of an asthmatic ant with a hamstring injury, but otherwise, good. David Norris had side-footed against the post from 12 yards after excellent work from Austin and Byram, while Varney had spurned a fine one-on-one opportunity. Leeds were on top and the 3-5-2 system offered promised. Then it happened…that initial sickening impact!

Watford broke, Matej Vydra the speeding, oncoming vehicle, his deft exchange with Alex Geijo leaving Paul Green as the startled rabbit in the headlights; the ex-Derby man, rendered dazed as he hopefully raised his hand towards a sympathetic linesman, but redemption was not forthcoming and he was left to stagger, limply in the general direction of the goal as Vydra buried his opportunity.

The fatal wound was inflicted, now the prospect of enduring the long drawn out suffering as Leeds died on their arses. Step forward Jason Pearce to inflict the first blow with that tree branch; Geijo again the tormentor as an ill-timed lunge was greeted with a red card – Warnock was to claim it only worthy of a booking, Pearce though appeared phlegmatic and offered little protest…at least he would not have to endure any more of the pain first hand.   

Paul Green was also spared further torture, becoming the sacrificial lamb as Tom Lees joined Peltier in the centre of defence; Leeds had started the game boasting three centre halves, but now had two who could only muster three good eyes between them. The Kop greeted the decision with howls of derision…White and Tonge had inexplicably survived the cull.

Come half-time, Warnock retreated back to the persona he knows best. Gone was the shrugging and quiet reflection and back was the shouting and the throwing of the kitchen sink at the problem. White off, Diouf off; Brown on, Hall on; no substitutes left to fall back on – to hell with the consequences! This was to be a famous day, a turning point in the season…oh f**k!

Two minutes into the second half, a corner. Rodolph Austin, positioned on the fringes of the 18 yard box leaps in a token effort to block the cross and falls awkwardly; suspected broken leg; the tree branch beats down on the limp, twitching body of Leeds United one more time, delivering a thundering blow. A writhing Austin departs Elland Road via the North West tunnel, and with him, any dreams of recovery.

The remaining 9 huddled together, wondering how a barely cohesive system with 10 men could be adapted to accommodate one less – the 3-2-2 formation was born, the kitchen sink retrieved for another offensive, unaware of the horrors to follow…

6 (SIX)

It took another 10 minutes, but it finally happened; the change of weapon, as Watford disposed of the tree branch and picked up the metaphorical rock; Abdi, leaving Brown flat on the turf and drilling past Kenny to make it 2-0, began the sequence of unrelenting, fatal blows. Yates then curled in a free kick, a strike delivered with a nonchalant pleasure. Then a brief flicker, perchance that fabled glimpse into the afterlife before the final passing, as a possessed Varney hunted down Dooley and Ekstrand – a penalty his reward, duly converted by Tonge.

Warnock exploded within the confines of his technical area; spewing profanity-laden rage from the extremes of the dash-lined perimeter in the direction of the fourth official. Yes, the game was over, but why no second yellow card for Ekstrand? It was as if Warnock needed a captive audience from somebody in authority as those inhabiting the prime executive suite in the East Stand had been paying little attention to his cries.   

Within 3 minutes, Vydra left Warnock wondering why he’d bothered, tearing through a patchwork backline to chip over Kenny to make it 4-1; the last rites were being delivered, the lifeless carcass of Leeds United was ready to be committed to the ground: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But still the blows continued. The referee showed no mercy, deciding that putting everyone through a further 10 minutes of added time was absolutely necessary. Murray obliged the official’s twisted desires with aplomb, sweeping home from 25 yards – the quality of Watford’s finishing was more akin to the Champions League than the Championship…it’s like everyone, to a man, was lining up to dance on the newly dug cemetery plot. Then Troy Deeney (yes, Troy Deeney) thundered home in the closing seconds to confirm as much; his knee slide a fitting playground style celebration for the playground scoreline.

N11: 2.55PM -  This used to be the home of the hardcore...

During the post-mortem, the ever likeable Gianfranco Zola couldn’t help but sympathise with Leeds, speaking of how bad fortune had so served to undermine any hopes of a result. Supporters were even made wait up until almost 1am to re-live the whole sorry spectacle on the Football League Show. It wasn’t long ago that a Leeds humiliation such as this would be headline news for all the gloaters…even they seem to have got bored of it all now. The Leeds fans certainly are – ask any of the 18,000 or so who had the stomach for it…

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Lamentable Leeds lacking leaders at all levels

Last weekend, I devoted some time to debating whether to buy a ticket for the forthcoming cup tie with Chelsea; I’d avoided the previous two rounds having made a conscious, principled decision to boycott the games – I’m very much in the “No more dough to Monaco” camp; I’ve not spent a penny on food and drink at Elland Road in over 2 years, and don’t intend to do so again until Ken Bates has left the club. Having bought a ‘United for Life’ season ticket back in the days of Krasner, the League Cup provided me with my first opportunity this season, to draw a line in the sand over attending home matches; a chance to register an individual protest that would actually hit Bates in the pocket.

Shrewsbury and Oxford, I chose to go to; the takeover was still in the days when “imminent” seemed to mean “imminent”, but come the Everton game, my patience was at an end. In truth, it could’ve been a harder decision to make; after all, the League Cup fails to inspire much excitement and the live television coverage ensured I missed little, other than the prospect of standing in a half-empty stadium. Southampton was a harder call, I had no alternative way of watching the game, but then again, the opportunity to watch a club we played last year, fielding their reserve side hardly promised an enthralling spectacle.

But now Chelsea…

In truth, it’s not a game I would ever fancy our current side to win, but still…Chelsea. An 8 year hiatus from the Premier League has served to ensure that such clashes that reignite deep-seated, traditional rivalries are few and far between, so the opportunity just to sample the pre-match buzz again was starting to do battle with recently established principles. That was, until last night at Turf Moor.

Goal waiting to happen...

Under any other regime, I’d have already secured my quarter-final ticket, I would’ve also snapped up my seat for the two previous rounds – no thought would’ve been required; just another unconditional act of devotion towards my club. If you’re a supporter, you back, you follow and you invest in your club, regardless of the fixture. However, what the Burnley game reinforced in no uncertain terms is the fact that Leeds United no longer resembles a football club.

Football clubs are sporting institutions. By definition, such bodies are both formed due to, and are sustained by, a passion to compete, a desire to achieve the absolute maximum possible, a continued quest for self-improvement and progression within their field, and ultimately the glory that comes with it. Those at the top, who dare to dream, inspire others to do so – to follow by investing heavily, emotionally and financially, into shared, collective ambitions.

Under Ken Bates, such synonymous traits have long since been cast out from the Elland Road philosophy. Leeds United is no longer about football; its primary function now is to provide a mouthpiece, a soapbox, an audience for a man whose outdated bile, few would otherwise choose to listen to. Football has long since been relegated to a side show; a means to an end, a necessary evil that must be sustained at the lowest possible cost, in order to keep one man’s ego and public profile intact.

The tragic fact of the matter is that attitudes have become ingrained; Peter Lorimer has long since opted for his 50 pieces of silver over any loyalties to those who paid to watch him, but the spectacle of hearing Eddie Gray prostituting himself out for a pay packet, gets sadder with every passing week; a man who is part of the fabric of the club, forsaking the old mantra of “Side before self every time” in favour of his bank balance. You wonder how Billy would feel. The likes of Gray should be revered, not reviled, but it’s nigh on impossible to defend his stoic defence of his employer when even Thom Kirwin has gone out on a limb to criticise the club. From top to bottom, at every level, Leeds United screams “balance sheet” and not football club.

And now finally, that attitude has crossed the final frontier – the Leeds away end; while too many home games to mention in recent years have been anaesthetising affairs, away trips have always provided for infinitely better match day experiences. Even when on the pitch, the team get a pasting, there’s always the comfort of being part of a boisterous Leeds army to provide some solace from the day. That was far from the case last night; in fact, there was barely a whimper throughout.

Despite the ludicrous nature of the never-ending takeover saga; that supporters can see our prospects of a successful season receding with every wasted, passing day and regardless of the fact that both the club and GFH appear to view the fan base with utter indifference, there was barely an utterance of dissent last night; a couple of short lived bursts of “Bates Out!” was as expressive as the crowd got.

Some who preach the need to support the team to the point of excluding any hint of protest may rejoice, I was rather more concerned; people should be livid with the situation, desperate to vent their fury, but last night it really just appeared that nobody cared any more – those in attendance still remain passionate about the club, but no longer have a cause to fight for or to believe in; if Leeds won, nobody was kidding themselves about a promotion charge, while defeat would be just confirmation of what everyone suspects – that Leeds are a club going nowhere. As in the boardroom, affairs on the pitch have become almost incidental. But even the news the masses have longed for may offer little solace. If Bates goes …so what?  Do GFH inspire hope? Not at the moment.

In many respects, this feels like the lowest period in our 93 year history. There’s no belief in those at the top, in the heroes of yesteryear, in the players of today, or the guardians of tomorrow. But while the buck ultimately stops with the owner, the club is currently lacking leaders at all levels.

On the pitch there are seldom few who are showing themselves as being fit for the fight; take out Kenny, Pearce, Peltier and Byram from the line-up at Turf Moor and there was nothing left. There are many players who are simply not good enough for a mediocre Championship side, let alone Leeds United. There are others coasting along, content in the knowledge that their place in the team is under no serious challenge, while others exhibit the body language of men who bought into a vision, into promises of a bright, post-Bates future, only to discover it to be a sham.

In short, the team, rather like the fans, remain committed but just don’t have a cause to galvanise them. Like us, they’ve been patiently awaiting the big name reinforcements since July and the assembly of a promotion challenging squad, and like us, they’re beginning to wonder if another season is going to be frittered away.

While Neil Warnock must feel sickened to the core by the whole affair, it is now time for him to step up to the plate. Football sides are very much a reflection of their manager’s personality and philosophy, and Warnock has always been painted as a fighter; the man in the tracksuit, shouting and bawling from the touchline at his players, officials and anyone else who’ll listen. Warnock immediately won fans over back in February with his straight talking, no nonsense approach – it almost felt like he was one of us. In recent weeks, his reactions to most poor results and questions of possible signings have involved much philosophical sighing and shrugging of shoulders… while it’s possible to emphasise with his takeover fatigue, such responses no longer reflect what we as supporters want to hear. Simon Grayson ultimately allowed himself to become part of the problem at Elland Road by toeing the line, accepting repeated failures to honour promises; his vastly experienced successor has no such excuses

Talk is (very) cheap, at the moment...

Now is when Warnock should be fighting his corner, demanding some degree of backing – if this takeover is so incredibly close, WHY can’t funds be released to secure loanees? The team and the supporters need some impetus and belief, and while those at the top continue to be so spectacularly negligent to these ends, that doesn’t excuse our manager.

Warnock may also choose to consider some of his selections and tactical choices. While broken promises over ‘marquee signings’ have undoubtedly left him a long way short in terms of the quality and strength in depth he was seeking, there are still players being inexplicably afforded chance after chance, while others are simply not being offered the opportunity in their preferred positions. The continued involvement of Danny Pugh sends out all sorts of wrong messages about the standards players have to meet in order gain selection. In midfield, Michael Tonge, despite barely having played a game at Stoke in 4 years is an automatic selection, while Michael Brown, offered reduced terms to reflect his status as a fringe player is back as a regular starter.

Although out of position, Aidy White has proven himself a complete waste of space – being Leeds born and fast, doesn’t make him a great player; the ability to pass, shoot, cross or beat players would certainly help though. More pressingly, what White’s right-sided midfield role also does is deny the team its best wide attacking outlet, by pushing Byram to right-back, which in turn has often resulted in Peltier on the left. To those more educated in tactics there may be method behind the madness – I can’t see it.

The result of the tinkering, the lack of competition, the shrugging of shoulders is what was seen at Burnley – Leeds have certainly been dominated more, but have rarely been quite so awful to watch. Long diagonal punts and little else was offered from an attacking perspective and the inability of the midfield to keep the ball, confounding and depressing in equal measure. People have questioned whether the defence this season is actually any better than before…I’d urge them to consider how long Leeds spend without the ball and reconsider their statement.

Just before half-time, I received a text message from a friend – it was like a Godsend, as it ultimately offered me a distraction for the remainder of the evening; I took the opportunity and found far more to interest me in those light hearted exchanges than any of those I’d paid £30 to see. It really shouldn’t be like this…

So while Bates, Haigh and Patel continue to undermine our latest campaign with their pathetic posturing and attention seeking, and should be the targets of any ire, it all comes down to Warnock in the meantime to drag matters back on track; he still enjoys an exalted status as a man of the fans, but if he wants to continue to do so it’s time he did right by us, by his players, and by himself. Performances are his domain, if he wants his players to put up a fight and for the supporters to stand up and be counted then he needs to do so too.

It’s high time that Bates and GFH were brought to account our boss; for pressure to be applied. It may cause more yet more anger and acrimony, but surely anything…anything, has to be preferable to the apathy of the present? 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Leeds United 0 Birmingham City 1

The Imp of the Perverse; we all possess one; that metaphorical demon that hovers by your shoulder, whispering words of temptation into your ear in an effort to entice you into performing acts that you know to be wrong. It’s a concept that was popularised by Edgar Allan Poe and that transcends all mediums of modern storytelling.  It’s that little voice in your head that might urge you to jump when looking over the side of the skyscraper, or poke your hand into the workings of some heavy industrial machinery…or buy another ticket for a Leeds United game.

While fundamentally a literary construct, used to define such irrational temptation, this demonic inner voice is often afforded visual form; most commonly it appears as the classic, red, pitchfork wielding devil, often waging ideological warfare with an opposing angel who’s busy chewing off the subject’s other ear. But the Imp can also take on a human appearance, take the case of Eminem doing battle with a principled Dr. Dre’s physical embodiment of Stan’s “muthaf**king conscience”, back in the time when he was still relevant.

Please, please, please...oh, pretty please!

This week, step forward Lee Peltier, commandeered by the LUFC hierarchy to become the club’s own Imp. ‘Pelts’ put his name to a letter addressed and emailed to members, pleading for their attendance at the Birmingham game; a desperate measure by the commercial department made in the face of tumbling attendances to stem to the exodus. Only 17,484 had passed through the turnstiles at Charlton, further affirmation that the promises of so many not to return while Bates remains were not merely empty threats.

Few heeded the captain’s words as a paltry 22,152 (barely 20,000 of which were home supporters) turned up yesterday. I was amongst them, but as a 20-year season ticket holder I had no dilemma to ponder as my money had been long invested/squandered many years ago. My personal Imp had been banging on to me about buying tickets for the upcoming Southampton game on Tuesday - a principled stance about refusing to endorse Bates’ tenure through any further cup ticket purchases had seen me resist to this point…after yesterday it appears that even my Imp has sacked off selling the spectacle of watching Leeds United as a hopeless cause.   

Tickets for Southampton are still available...

Elland Road is supposed to be a place where you can lose yourself, win, lose or draw, for 90 minutes; where life’s other troubles are forgotten about and superseded by joy, despair, outrage and countless other emotions. Standing in N11 for the Birmingham game was an anaesthetising experience, even the biting autumn chill didn’t register; the more depressing and niggling troubles of everyday existence that ought to be sidelined, became a refuge in which to retreat, just as a way to escape the grim realities of the football – sadly, this is becoming the norm.

On the post-match phone-in, Eddie Gray spoke of the abysmal atmosphere in the stands and the need for the crowd and the team to inspire each other. Predictably for a Yorkshire Radio phone-in, the main issue was sidestepped. While fingers can be pointed at the performance of the team and tactics of Neil Warnock, the main problem does reside in the stands, not the Kop though, but in the shiny new executive boxes to the East.

Apathy exists at Elland Road before a ball is kicked not because of Warnock, nor the players’ efforts, but because Leeds fans have nothing to buy into, nothing to believe in. Nobody believes the current side are capable of challenging at the top end of the Championship and the prospect of a takeover, that back in August would’ve sparked street parties, seems likely now to predominantly inspire relief over Bates’ departure, above any tangible excitement about the club’s future. Back in August, a new regime would doubtless have added 10,000 to the next home gate – you wonder now whether 25,000 gate to herald any ‘new dawn; would be out of reach.

The conduct of David Haigh’s since his intentions became public has done little to inspire; his bold promises of missed deadlines, crass public statements, his willingness to trample over LUST for his own purposes, his need to create and engage an audience of sycophantic slags on twitter that hang on his every word, despite the fact he never offers them anything of substance…oh and the complete secrecy regarding funding – Leeds fans have suffered nearly 8 years of bullshit David, you’ll have to forgive the growing scepticism.

Back to the pitch though, where all our pre-occupations should be, but where so little is happening to keep us pre-occupied. That Neil Warnock stated following the defeat that he was less upset than he was after the Charlton performance is a clear pointer to where the club stands. The “two or three” players “badly needed” since August remain so, and with the confidence gone, the team have little quality to fall back on as a get-out in tight games.

The return of Danny Pugh, like some footballing bogeyman that just won’t die is a damning indictment of Leeds’ strength in depth, as is Warnock’s perceived need to persist with jaded Rodolph Austin who at the moment looks more suited to playing behind Clyde Wijnhard in the Masters side, rather than the Championship.

Whether Warnock has currently better options open to him in the middle is debateable, but some of his other tactical decisions are rather more open to question. If Lee Peltier was a regular at right-back for (a far stronger) Leicester last season, why is he not playing there now? Having finally vacated the left-back slot he was back in the centre of defence, and was hopeless. Moreover, to allow the switch, the more solid Tom Lees moved to right back – for a player who looks horrified every time he’s expected to run with the ball, it’s ploy that continues to baffle.

Peltier, typically on the backfoot

Moving on to the midfield, the ghosts of last season linger, the pedestrian triumvirate of Austin, Tonge and Norris, nullified by a Birmingham side that passed and ran through them, at times, almost unopposed; while Becchio, up front, again an cut an anonymous figure. While 11th position in the league is not an utter disaster, you do wonder where the team would be, were it not for the emergence of Byram and the arrival of Diouf.

Inevitably, it was those latter two who combined for United’s one moment of quality in the game, the latter unable to direct a fantastic diagonal cross towards the bottom corner, allowing the keeper the chance to save. Shortly afterwards, the visitors delivered the killer blow; a quick ball out of defence by Murphy, a smart dummy by King that flummoxed Pearce and then an incisive 30 yard strike by Leroy Lita. Nobody closed him down, Pearce choosing to point at the unmarked Burke down the left, rather than throwing himself towards the ball, while the reliably anencephalous Pugh backed away from a position in which he could influence matters to his more comfortable retreat of ‘no man’s land’. Much as in the stands, nobody chose took responsibility on the pitch… defeat usually follows.

Resigned handshake

In response, Leeds offered very little; the keeper was barely troubled and a rusty looking Ryan Hall had little time to affect matters in his brief cameo. Upon leaving it was hard not reflect upon the fact that over in Greater Manchester, Dominic Poleon had made it two goals and two assists in four starts for Bury – it seems even Kevin Blackwell is capable of getting one up on Leeds United these days.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Sheffield Wednesday 1 Leeds United 1

Having endured 5 interminable months mired in a malaise of takeover speculation, Leeds United supporters have long been craving for the day when the club would finally move to make a bold public statement on the back of a matter that would dominate the national football news. That actually happened last night, and how we wish it hadn’t. Rather than bringing tidings of a potentially exciting future under new owners, the club instead were very quickly moving to condemn the actions of one idiotic thug who just 30 minutes previously had brought shame to Leeds United and the game as a whole.

It is with this low life, with whom we must start, for as much as I loathe to afford him any more attention than absolutely necessary, it is utterly inescapable that it was his despicable, cowardly intervention that pushed the evening from the bounds of a depressing, unpleasant spectacle and into the national spotlight. I can only hope that when he is brought to justice, he receives the harshest permissible punishment; this must include a prison sentence and hopefully (assuming anyone would employ him) the loss of his employment. A football banning order will immediately mentioned as a matter of course, and a lifetime sentence should obviously be the verdict, but ultimately such impositions are futile and almost impossible to make work in practice.

Indeed, it seems the individual is already subject to one such order. This revelation, along with his identity had already been published and had spread like wild fire across twitter by the time I was leaving the stadium. This was very much a pro-active move by Leeds United supporters and the wider footballing public – it is important that the few key positives from the evening are not overlooked.

Just how much coverage will be given to the incident in the press, and what the ultimate responses of the relevant authorities to the matter will be will become clear over the coming days and weeks, and while a part of me can’t help but wonder, that because it’s Leeds United, the issue may be afforded more serious treatment than it might be otherwise, I for once would quite happily tolerate my club becoming the whipping boys again, if we can finally get this issue addressed.

On the pitch assaults are a deeply concerning trend in modern football; as a Leeds fan I’ve twice witnessed Leeds players becoming the victims of such callous acts; Shane Lowry was punched during a pitch invasion that followed the final whistle at a JPT Northern Final tie in Carlisle in 2010 and 9 months previously, Casper Ankergren was confronted by two Millwall fans during the first leg of the play-off semi-final at the New Den. Most recently, former Leeds player, Alan Smith was also set upon by several Huddersfield Town fans at the end of another play-off tie. After initial uproar (to varying degrees), little in the way of serious action followed – hopefully last night will mark the moment where the line is drawn and a very strong message to all is sent out.

Last night was not just about that one incident, there are many parties that should be ashamed and made to account for their actions; sections amongst both sets of supporters are plainly culpable, but arguably even more damaging was the conduct of those placed in the roles of greater responsibility, both at Sheffield Wednesday and in the media.

While nothing will or could ever excuse, or in any way justify the behaviour of the low life at the centre of proceedings, there is little doubt that the chants from a section of the North Stand about the deaths of Kevin Speight and Christopher Loftus completely turned the mood in the Leeds end in an instant; a relatively flat, resigned atmosphere giving way to fury and outrage. Although hearing such chants is sadly by no means a rarity, to be confronted by hundreds of people joining in was rather more so, the fact that it was Wednesday fans – who are regarded quite favourably by most Leeds fans in comparison to those from other Yorkshire clubs – only appeared to add to the shock, and at that stage a number of supporters lost their heads and as those in the North Stand responded, bottles and coins rained back and forth. While it’s a sad fact that distasteful chants will almost inevitably continue amongst some less desirable elements in such a tribal sport, lines have to be drawn somewhere and mocking the dead is way beyond any line. Throwing missiles is a similarly unforgivable; I had a friend stood by the corner flag who like most, was at Hillsborough with the sole purpose of enjoying the game, not to be struck in the face with a coin – I dare she is one of far too many victims on both sides.

Following those exchanges, it was plain to all in the Leeds end that any equaliser would inevitably be celebrated with exaggerated gusto, including an inevitable pitch invasion by a small number of idiots. With temperatures boiling over, the stewards that typically travel with the supporters would have been well placed to advise the Hillsborough staff to prepare for such a possibility…they couldn’t as Sheffield Wednesday had advised them their services would not be required. That’s not to say the incident would not have still occurred, but I might question whether a man capable of such a cowardly act might’ve been so bold had he not been afforded a degree of ‘safety in numbers’ by the other dozen or so idiots who ran onto the playing service.

Doubtless, many home supporters will refer to role the distasteful and libellous chants against Dave Jones in the first half played in souring the mood, while Leeds fans would then question why it’s acceptable for the continuous barracking of Neil Warnock and the singing of songs about Paddy Kenny’s wife – the fact is, there are no moral victories to be had by any fan on either side who engaged in any such chants. Just because Neil Warnock is able to laugh off the abuse he receives, doesn’t make it any more acceptable. The plain fact in this regard is that it takes two to tango and blame should be apportioned at both sides for creating the atmosphere that prevailed; the greatest condemnation however, should remain for that one individual and he alone.

Of course, individual interpretations of the amount of blame that should to be apportioned to each group of supporters are as subjective as they are futile, and will doubtless vary according to where people were sat and their individual team loyalties, however my main motivation for committing my thoughts are to do with concerns elsewhere; namely the conduct of Dave Jones and the role of Sky TV.

When asked about Leeds United supporters, Jones said “They’re all vile animals, all of them”; it may have been a statement been made in the midst of emotion, but it was also deliberate and considered, and undisputedly so, as when the Sky interviewer asked him to qualify a previous remark that he was tarring all Leeds fans with the same brush, he confirmed as much. He also made an incredibly poorly judged remark that attempted to frame the abuse from the stands he received as a having parallels with racism.

This latter remark is troubling on a number of levels; firstly to hijack what is currently another huge issue in football in an effort to employ it as some form of point scoring device in what has become a long running personal agenda, born out of a number of such exchanges (ever tried just dismissing it, Dave?) is pretty reprehensible; secondly, to describe the actions of a group of supporters as akin to racists following his other statements almost redefines the essence of hypocrisy – to be clear, my understanding of racism, or indeed any other form of ‘ism’ whether sexism, ageism, fascism or whatever else involves employing negative, hateful and harmful comments and attitudes towards people, designed to label, undermine or persecute them, based purely on their membership to a particular group, regardless of how accurately these views reflect any truth…going back to his sweeping generalisation about Leeds supporters all being vile animals, I’d suggest he has some explaining to do.

Short of issuing an apology and a retraction, having had time to reflect, Jones should be on an FA charge. While the incidents during the game will see to it that the next clash is deemed as high risk, for one of the managers to make comments that will clearly fan the flames and incite even more ill-feeling is grossly irresponsible. Had a player made such remarks, his words would undoubtedly be condemned publicly by his manager (albeit with a caveat that his reaction was “understandable”) and subjected to ‘in house’ discipline, at least. Who will Dave Jones answer to? This is a man in an esteemed job at a highly respected club and as such, should conduct himself in an appropriate manner; a right of reply should never be denied, but a measured, dignified response that reflects his position should be expected, rather than Neanderthal ramblings that place him at the same level as his detractors.

Jones is far from alone in receiving questionable abuse from supporters; he need only look to his counterpart on the right last night for proof of that. While Neil Warnock is a phlegmatic soul and a completely different personality, lessons can be learned from his ability to find perspective in the face of abuse. There are also countless footballers who have suffered similar (and in some cases, worse) than he, and yet almost every single one of them, despite their relative level of immaturity have dealt with it in a far more laudable manner; as much as I dislike many of the senior England players, none of them have reacted to criticism in quite such an incendiary way. I’ve seen many Manchester United players subjected to all conceivable insults at Elland Road, but none have reacted like Jones; on the other side of things, like Jones, Lee Bowyer was cleared in his trial, but still hammered every single week by opposing fans, even he never flinched, merely satisfying himself with a hand to the ear whenever he scored – if even Bowyer can show so much resolve, surely Jones should be capable?

The fact is, such a critique has a purpose; like most Leeds fans, I find Sheffield Wednesday fans to be arguably the most amenable amongst our Yorkshire rivals, but even they have a hardcore of ‘fans’ with a hatred of Leeds that often seems to surpass their love of the Owls come match days; I spent an hour or so in a local pub, and while I emphasise there was never any hint of trouble (us Leeds fans went incognito), every song was anti-Leeds, rather than pro-Wednesday. Jones’ comments can only help increase that demographic, validating everything they believe about the club 30 miles up the road.

The final criticism needs to be levelled at Sky TV; while it was hard to disagree with anything said in the commentary box or studio said in relation to the conduct of supporters last night, the company’s ability to dictate every aspect of the football calendar at a whim really demands to be called into question. While Sheffield Wednesday versus Leeds typically hasn’t attracted the proportion of morons that some other derbies have, the wisdom of re-scheduling the game for a Friday night remains questionable in the extreme. In a month’s time, Leeds visit Huddersfield...again on a Friday evening – every season, Saturday fixtures have been brought forward to lunchtime kick-offs at police advice, which in my experiences has been a very sound move. So why do Sky seemingly even have to power to veto police decisions these days?

In some ways I guess I’m not wholly free of guilt myself; I revel in the universal hatred of my club throughout Yorkshire. Even when at our lowest ebb, the thought of other supporters celebrating our every setback at least reassures you of Leeds United’s continued relevance. As sickening as conceding the opening goal was last night, the pathetic sight of men in their 40s making a beeline from their seats in the South Stand to gloat, was still amusing…and to be honest, I don’t want to lose that. It’s what makes following Leeds United unique and our fanatical devotion to the club so incomprehensible to others. But with that comes a tightrope, a thin line that was crossed last night. Mocking “We all hate Leeds Scum” chants has proved to be by far the most effective way of diffusing the ire of confrontational fans in many stadiums, but ‘Istanbul’ chants will understandably always be something incredibly difficult to show restraint in the face of. Playing the ‘bigger man’ isn’t easy, but it’s every fan’s responsibility (on both sides) to do so. If nothing else, at least after last night football should be one step (or banned supporter) closer to achieving that.

Oh, and by the way, we drew 1-1. Cracking goal too by Tonge…what a shame it was lost in the fall-out!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Leeds United 1 Barnsley 0

Leeds United teams don’t do derby games; that’s been a general rule of thumb at Elland Road for longer than anyone cares to remember. For years now, too many such fixtures have conformed to an all too familiar and depressing template, where the Whites come face to face with a club and a following that care passionately about playing us, in stark contrast to our utter indifference towards them.

While it’s reassuring as a Leeds fan to be regularly reminded of the hatred we continue to generate amongst Yorkshire’s lesser lights, regardless of our status; it has become a real problem on match days. While Simon Grayson achieved much during his tenure, motivating his starting XI against the likes of Huddersfield, Hull City and Sheffield United wasn’t really his forte...then there’s Barnsley.

Becchio scores, Leeds lead, Hill flips...

On the basis of the last couple of seasons, I’ve come to look forward to a clash with Barnsley with the same sort of relish I’d expect ahead of an encounter with a proctologist; consecutive hidings at Oakwell and surrendered home points – the default sensation come the full-time whistle in such clashes has been “utterly p***ed off”.

Then there’s Keith Hill, a man not so much sporting a chip on his shoulder, rather a full sack of King Edwards; again in the build-up to the game, he was sniping away, warning of gamesmanship on Saturday, calling for strong refereeing and the like. It must still eat away at the balding, Bolton born cockalorum that he was never considered for the Leeds post ahead of Warnock, having made a play for it back in December when he suggested how much better the club would’ve been faring had he been in charge. Hill didn’t get the job though (thank God!) and with Warnock now at the helm, the suspicion prior to kick-off was that the halcyon days of regular triumphs for the Matalan Mourinho and his contemporaries would finally be at an end.

Self-appointed football martyr

That was the theory, albeit the logic looked worryingly flawed during the opening 20 minutes as Barnsley started strongly and the established derby pattern bedded in. Leeds struggled to cope; Austin and Tonge seemed unsure about their roles, neither of them pushing forward to support the strikers with any real conviction, but both abdicating defensive responsibilities. Having twice failed to prevent Kevin Davies from scoring at the Reebok, Austin now stood motionless as Jacob Mellis broke into the box after only 4 minutes, only to steer wide when it seemed easier to score.

Stephen Dawson and David Perkins (again) were running the show as the visitors stroked the ball around as they pleased; on 7 minutes Barnsley were almost through again, only a clumsy challenge-cum-air shot from Jason Pearce was sufficient to halt progress – it was ugly, it was desperate, and matters had to be addressed.

Hope is currently a fragile concept at Leeds and the sparsely populated East Stand – a monument to the consequences placing greed above ambition – served as a reminder of the underlying unrest that lurks around the club. Yet, as productive as the self-imposed exiles of the masses may be in nudging Bates towards the exit, it is also a shame that the players currently wearing the shirt are denied this support, as if nothing else, they are unequivocally committed to the cause, and will ultimately give any side a game...and today all it took was a change of system.

Leeds adapted to a 3-5-2 formation; Peltier moved towards the middle to become the left-sided centre back of three, while Aidy White dropped back from the midfield to play at wing-back. Suddenly the home side had much more of a solid look about them; Leeds had more bodies in the middle of the pitch, where previously they had been overrun and the problems caused by Tonge’s tendency to repeatedly drift infield from the left, exposing Peltier in the process, were addressed. As such, the game became a far more even affair, albeit with the exception of one superb Diouf cross headed over by Becchio, the threat offered by Leeds was relatively minor.

9th of the season

That Leeds took the lead was quite a surprise then, even if the source was rather less so; while Stephen Foster’s decision to end Lee Petier’s run from deep with a body check that bordered on an assault was undeniably a foul, whether it took place inside the 18 yard box was another issue entirely. Becchio appeared duly unconcerned about the validity of the decision as he dinked in from 12 yards. By his own admittance, Neil Warnock didn’t watch the penalty being taken, which seemed a shame, as doubtless the sight of our Argentine forward getting bollocked by our manager for trying to be “flash” while still celebrating the goal, would’ve made for a priceless spectacle.

"Costs less than Berbatov..."

It was a bitter pill for Barnsley to swallow and things got a little too much for Keith Hill shortly afterwards. Today’s dismal referee of choice, Darren Deadman, having harshly booked Becchio on the back of cries from Barnsley fans, then immediately found himself also playing up to the home fans who demanded retribution following a nondescript Craig Davies challenge – Hill responded by attempting to start a stand-up row with an entire section of the West Stand.

Come the second half, Leeds began to look a little more comfortable, helped by increasing familiarity with the new system and the early introduction of David Norris for a sluggish Tonge. Chances were few however, and the majority went to Barnsley; the best of the half went to Marlon Harewood, who with the goal at his mercy, side-footed back in the direction of Paddy Kenny, who was able to fling himself at the ball and save at full stretch.

Diouf: staging his one-man forward's show

As Barnsley became more desperate and Michael Brown (not for the first time) was christened a w**ker by the away support, Jason Pearce (not for the first time) found using his body as the last line of defence to be a wholly effective tactic. As time ticked by, Leeds found themselves increasingly reliant on Diouf as a sole attacking outlet who obliged magnificently; the Senegalese striker’s use of the ball, his ability to retain it and where possible, bring others into play was an object lesson to all those around him and a reminder of what it’s like to have a top class experienced player at Elland Road...and it’s been a while! As Diouf jogged over to take a corner he’d just won in the dying minutes, those in the Kop and the North East Corner rose as one to acclaim him and he responded in kind – the unlikeliest of love affairs is in full bloom!

Barnsley were still afforded one more gilt-edged opportunity, but could only muster a weak header after Austin again lost his man at a set piece; this time though, mercifully, it wasn’t costly. So come the final whistle, the players and Warnock were able to celebrate and reflect upon a terrific fortnight for the club that has brought a cup victory over Everton and 10 points from 12, all in the midst of an injury crisis! Warnock left the pitch all smiles; in contrast a sulking Keith Hill made for the tunnel stony faced, left to curse a combination of bad fortune and the referee. If looks could kill, Darren would be a dead man.

Default clenched fist mode...

In the post-match interviews, Warnock claimed not to have a clear view of the penalty incident, stating that he would need to see a replay before passing judgement; Hill was in no mood to play the diplomat however, openly lamenting the decision…while skirting over the inability of his forwards. He did try to remain measured and typically noble in his criticism though, saying: “I better be careful, I’m not a rich man…I’m rich in values, but not with cash”.

Barnsley fans surely shouldn’t fear a relegation battle while under the stewardship of such a self-important, righteous leader and will doubtless take comfort from his unrepentant parting shot: "I don't hide. I'm Keith Hill; 6 foot 1, 16 stone, was 13 stone. I don't hide! - Kevin Blackwell, you may just have a soul mate!

Maybe derbies are gonna be a whole lot more fun this season...?   

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Bolton Wanderers 2 Leeds United 2

When the Reebok Stadium was opened back in 1997, in many ways it provided a blueprint for the future of English football stadia development; its striking design, whilst clearly influenced by the nearby McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield, was set at a more ambitious level; its specification reflecting more of an M&S level of standards, as opposed to Matalan. The lucrative, big name stadium naming rights and the vast commercial and development that surrounds it – both at the time, relatively novel concepts to these shores – now form an integral part of many a new scheme.

Planet Reebok
It was fitting then, that 15 years on from its opening, the Reebok and its surroundings is still able to bring to mind futuristic visions. The approach to the ground last night immediately inspired thoughts of the dystopian, post-nuclear modernity of 2019 Los Angeles, as depicted in Blade Runner. The incessant, torrential rain from above and the hazy precipitous mist rising up from ground level; the garish glare from a seemingly endless vista of brightly illuminated signs, an offensive, commercial, multi-sensory attack on the senses, courtesy of a roll call of multi-national food, leisure and retail chains…maybe Middlebrook Retail Park in Horwich is even closer to what Philip K. Dick had in mind than anything even Sir Ridley Scott could muster?

KFC on the doorstep... as not all progress is lamentable
The reference to Blade Runner is not made idly, as the central premise of the film regards the humanity or otherwise of Harrison Ford’s character, Rick Deckard. In the opening weeks to the season, it could’ve also conceivably formed the cornerstone of a debate over Rodolph Austin; despite the rigours of a hugely demanding schedule, the energy levels of our Jamaican have never appeared to waver; returning late from the US to face Nottingham Forest, a jaded performance was expected, yet as injury time approached, he was still there, embarking on a lung busting run from the half-way line, just to win a precious thrown-in; Everton then surely, a step too far? No! Somehow he was even more immense. Bristol City? No problems; Warnock didn’t even consider the need to give him a breather at 3-1…and this is all before we consider his superhuman shooting ability.

So is Rodolph actually a machine? Is he some kind of android or replicant being, a perfect athletic prototype, masquerading as a mere mortal with a penchant for kicking footballs and footballers really hard? Well, tonight finally put paid to the conspiracy theories, he is human…and he ain’t too clever at tracking runners from set pieces. Handed responsibility for nullifying the Kevin Davies threat, Austin twice lost his man (like tears in the rain) and ultimately because of it, Leeds lost the opportunity to claim an unlikely 3 points.

In truth, although fingers had to be pointed at Austin, Bolton’s opener had an air of inevitability about it almost from kick-off; the home side had started at a strong tempo and not for the first time, having matched Leeds for effort, the opposition’s superiority in the midfield became painfully apparent; Rodolph looked on bemused as Bolton passed around him and spread the ball about quickly, stretching Leeds at will; with Tonge slow to get into the game and Michael Brown under the constant threat of admonishment by referee, Phil Dowd, who was seemingly on a mission to nullify Brown as a participant in the match, it was unsurprising that the home side gained the ascendancy.

Most decisions made by the officials varied between the baffling and the petty, and almost all favoured Owen Coyle’s team; they did little to help the cause, and brought chants of “Cheat!” from the away end and a rather more choice selection of words from Warnock in the technical area, but when the key Leeds tactic for the half appeared to be to “hit f**king Becchio!” whenever in possession, it was hard to look beyond lack of ideas in the team as the root cause of the difficulties.    

The opening goal took 14 minutes to arrive; Davies’ header being greeted by a coordinated celebration (akin to something from a Disney movie) in the ‘Bolton corner’ as ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ boomed from the PA – I wonder if Dick anticipated that particular nightmarish development in sporting arenas?

Dream on Hughton...
Bolton continued to dominate after the goal and Phil Dowd continued his policy of obliging the home side with a string of free-kicks; Kevin Davies and he appeared to be on almost uncomfortably good terms, to the extent I feared at one stage, a second Davies goal would’ve been honoured with full-on fellatio in the centre circle. As it was, Leeds (somehow) scored the next goal, and fittingly, the Whites’ only potent attacking outlet during the half was there to head in Diouf’s free kick. While Sam Byram’s continued brilliance will no doubt attract suitors come January, rest assured at least, that he’s already too good for Norwich!


Within minutes of the second half starting, Byram was as it again, floored in full flow by Stephen Warnock. It didn’t seem the most convincing penalty shout, but Sam has noticeably developed his ability to win fouls – maybe another plus of Diouf’s presence? Becchio strode up to the spot and sent Bogdan the wrong way…2-1! The Argentine savoured the opportunity to celebrate in front of over 4,000 Leeds fans and much badge grabbing, shouting and head nodding ensued.

The quick fire goals knocked Bolton out of their stride and they struggled to create in open play after that, offering a threat almost exclusively from set plays; for Leeds, Diouf put in a fantastic shift, some of his hold-up play and close control, sublime. Sadly though, Leeds were to give away one needless corner too many and Davies – a man who sports a plot of forehead real estate, large enough to build a farmstead for a Playmobil family –  was never going to squander the opportunity to square the scoreline, via his cranium.


After the equaliser, Leeds looked content to close out the game, yet in the dying moments of injury time, a slick passing move afforded Diouf space 25 yards out; his curling effort clipped the face of the crossbar - a perfect finale to the evening denied by the woodwork, though it would’ve been very harsh on Bolton.   

Leeds fans were quick to forgive Diouf his inaccuracy, the Senegalese striker reciprocating adoring applause, before blowing kisses to the masses. Warnock was also quick to forgive Austin; shouldering the blame himself for the goals…Rodolph is human after all!

So, a very unlikely 3 points thrown away in the likeliest of circumstances, but still good point nonetheless!