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

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

My First Time: 1986/87 - A Season to Savour

26th April 1986; a warm, late spring afternoon, and there I was sat in the North West Corner, buzzing with excitement, watching Leeds United bring their home campaign to an end in front of a hardy 13,868 souls with a 2-0 win over Carlisle United. The fact that victory spelt relegation for our visitors barely registered in my mind, I was at Elland Road and Andy Ritchie had fired Leeds to a win.

Leeds United: 1986/87

The true depths to which the club had fallen by this stage were lost on me. While regulars were doubtless debating whether the club’s stock could plunge any lower, I stood at the bus stop in Leeds city centre, studying the results and table in the late night final newspaper, surmising that a 3 point return at Norwich may yet earn the Whites a top 10 finish. The next weekend, the Champions battered us 4-0...

Wise Heads 1 Youthful Naivety 0

I make no excuses, I was still basking in the glory of victory, and besides, it was one of only a handful I’d seen during my cherished visits to LS11. At the time I had to rely on my dad, a man who’d grown accustomed to the success and scintillating football of the Revie era, but through a combination of sharp decline on the pitch and the rising spectre of hooliganism of it, had long lost the desire to take his place on the Lowfields Road terrace. But, next season was going to be different; I was going to the ‘big school’, I had just got a paper round;I was both mature and financially independent enough to go it alone...

My first Elland Road encounter dated back to 1982, a trip to witness the Whites’ final game in the top flight, a 2-1 success over Brighton. The seasons that followed it were lived mostly from my bedroom through the medium of Radio Leeds; Saturday afternoons and weekday evenings, listening desperately for score updates and hoping against hope that the Whites would assume precedence over Bradford, Huddersfield and Halifax for the coveted second half commentary slot. The soundtrack of those years was a mixture of underwhelming performances, humiliating defeats – 5-1 at Shrewsbury and 6-2 at Stoke – and periodic instances of atrocious acts of hooliganism.

On the final day of the 1984-85 season, rioting at St. Andrews tragically cut short the life of a child, crushed as a wall collapsed – United’s darkest hour off the pitch. The humbling at Carrow Road ensured the club finished the following season in 14th, the lowest ebb on the pitch. It was a bleak period, but for a child schooled in mediocrity and hypnotised by the glare of those fabulous diamond shaped floodlights – the tallest in Europe and visible from the top of my street, several miles away – that was immaterial, I just HAD to be there.

New arrivals (left to right): Jack Ashurst, John Buckley, Peter Haddock, Billy Bremner, Ronnie Sinclair, Russell Doig and Keith Edwards

Besides, this new season brought new hope and promise. Billy Bremner had brought in a cluster of new signings, including one Keith Edwards! Brought in from Sheffield United for a hefty £125,000, Edwards was a close to a sure thing as could be found amongst Division Two strikers – 119 goals in 191 games stood testament to that. In truth, the other signings were not quite as exciting, and I did take an instant dislike to Jack Ashurst: he bore a striking similarity to my 40 year old uncle and held the moniker of a man a couple of generations older, I was immediately sceptical – I was right, he was shit! Still, signings were signings and Ronnie Sinclair, Russell Doig and John Buckley were optimistically revered as potential future stars, rather than hopeful cheap punts...again, I was young and naive.

So we had new players, an exciting new kit and after years of deals with local companies, who even many Leodensians had never heard of, we suddenly had Burton sponsoring our shirts. For a boy whose pocket money was paid in denominations of silver and had been battling a mum’s predisposition to shop for my wardrobe in Leeds market ever since I’d outgrown the Mothercare clothing range (she had staff discount), Burton’s represented an aspirational fashion ideal...and now they were sponsoring Leeds United – once again, we were ‘big time’! The season now couldn’t come soon enough, but I still wouldn't be there to see it arrive.

My season, my week-in, week-out Elland Road pilgrimage commenced in early October. The catalyst, the club’s cheap schoolboy tickets initiative. All of a sudden, a casual announcement by my PE teacher changed everything – a “limited number” of passes would be available for collection, straight after school on Friday afternoon on a first come, first served basis. The lucky holders of an official pass and a square of card with the school stamp on it could exchange both at the ticket office on match days and gain access to the boys’ pen, all for the princely sum of 50p.

Needless to say, the announcement was the prelude to months and then years of hysteria. I, like many of the hardcore new breed, were cursed with physics on Friday afternoons; the subject itself, not so bad, the location of the hut, a remote outpost, as far away from the changing rooms as possible, far more troublesome – we were immediately at a disadvantage in the stampede-cum-free for all. Our teacher, Mrs Latham - who appeared to be on a one woman crusade to revive kitsch 70s fashion, years before Jarvis Cocker emerged into the public eye - at first resisted our attempts at lining up at the door, jockeying for position ahead of the 3.30 flat race from Hough Side, long before she’d concluded the lesson; quickly, she resigned herself to the inevitability of it all.

Every time it was the same, a handful of us awaiting the immortal words “You may go!” On occasion she'd toy with us, revelling in the tortured impatience written across our faces, before giving the signal. A chaotic rush always ensued, someone invariably hit the tarmac en route, but somehow, we always made it to the front of that queue; first in line as Mr Wade distributed those prized slips of card from his damp, sweaty office/hovel in the depths of the boys’ changing rooms.

Odsal: September 1986

I went to the games alone and looking back it surprises me a little that I was able to get away with it; although society in the mid-80s was deemed a lot safer place for children in most respects, football was an exception to the rule – especially Leeds United. Only weeks before my first trip, Leeds fans had rioted again, overturning a chip van at Odsal...the notoriety of the support at an all-time high. I used to spin a tale to my parents that I met a mate and his dad at the ground, an ingenious lie; it was both plausible and also very necessary. Truth be told, that option was actually open, but the trips to Elland Road represented for me my first expression of independence.

It all began with the visit of Crystal Palace; a perfect start – a 3-0 win with my hero John Sheridan scoring from the spot and new Messiah, Keith Edwards scoring a late goal in front of the Kop; it was only Keith’s second goal after a slow start to his Leeds career, but would surely prove to be the spark he needed to recapture his Blades form...it was another of those football lessons that I would quickly learn over the coming months. Next up were league leaders Portsmouth who were soundly beaten 2-0, in front of over 21,000 fans, the highest gate in over a year. I’d arrived, Leeds had arrived and I was basking in the magic of it all.

Match days would never be long enough; I’d be at the ground for 1pm, pick up a programme then head to the turnstiles, impatiently awaiting their opening at around 1.30pm. Once in, and armed with a Wagon Wheel (or meat and potato pie if I was flush) I'd head up to my vantage point, behind the wall overlooking the right hand side exit at the back of the Kop - boys' pen? Pah! With my spot secured I could relax and drink in the surroundings and flick through the programme to discover fresh nuggets of info, like David Rennie’s favourite meal and TV show; then a little after 2’clock, the players started to emerge, the programme was put away and I watched, transfixed by the spectacle. I looked on in awe as John Sheridan curled the ball in from all angles, Keith Edwards made 10 yard darts from standing starts and Bobby McDonald went through series of stretches and twists that seemed to coalesce in perfect unison with Madonna’s ‘True Blue’ as it played over the tannoy.

Portsmouth as it happens, wasn’t a false dawn, rather a pre-cursor of what was to follow in a season that had it all, and provided a grounding in three key tenets that have underpinned my Leeds United existence ever since: play-off final heartache, cup semi-final defeats and key player sales. The player in question was Ian Snodin, sold to Everton for £840,000 during the winter, yet despite the void he left behind, Leeds were still to sail perilously close to glory on two fronts.

The FA Cup run remains one of the most magical episodes in my time following the club; it also brought into sharp perspective the degree of hatred that existed on a national scale. The decision of the police to switch the third round tie with Telford to The Hawthorns on safety grounds had pundits clamouring for a giant killing “for the good of the game”, a certain Emlyn Hughes especially vocal on Football Focus. Thanks to Ian Baird, the team delivered a fine two-fingered riposte to all and sundry.

Baird: Leeds 1 QPR 0

A routine 2-1 win at Swindon set up a 5th round encounter at Elland Road with QPR; the biggest game I’d been to and it remains one of my most cherished. The demand for tickets on the day was incredible; despite the turnstiles being locked at 2.30pm, the Kop was dangerously overcrowded and by kick-off, thousands of fans had been left locked out and disappointed. Those lucky enough to be in the ground, or at least catching part the action from the rooftops behind the South Stand were party to one of the finest atmospheres ever created at the stadium, arguably, second only to that Leicester game, during our spell in Division Two. When Brendan Ormsby stormed in at the back post to bury John Pearson’s flick-on with only minutes remaining, leaving a young David Seaman rooted to spot, my ecstasy was mixed with a degree of panic from barely being able to breathe in the crush that ensued for several minutes.

FA Cup lock-out

A week later, the ultimate delicious irony: a visit from Emlyn Hughes. He arrived at the ground in toe with Andy Gray as part of a promotion for the newly launched Tracker bar. Thousands upon thousands were given away by pretty promotional girls to supporters (I ended up taking about 6 home after liking the taste of the first), who chose rather than to consume them, to use them as unconventional weapons of choice. Pre-game, it was a case of being on your toes as Trackers rained in from all directions in an unrelenting, torrential shower; I caught one on the side of the face - it hurt! However, it was during half-time that they began to be more effectively deployed.

Hughes came on to the pitch with Gray, hands held aloft in acclaim – after all, who couldn’t love this genial giggling, Liverpool legend and Question of Sport stalwart? Well Leeds fans! Quick to vent their dislike, chants of “Wem-ber-lee, Wem-ber-lee!...” resounded from the terraces, along with rather more personal taunts of “Emlyn Hughes is a wanker! Is a wanker!” and “There’s only one Bill Beaumont!” The chants were accompanied by an intense hail of Tracker bars – Hughes, wisely restricted his walkabout to the centre of the pitch before making a hasty exit, stage left. Pity the poor Bradford City keeper who couldn’t do the same in the second half, subjected to a fresh cascade of tasty oat and chocolate snacks from the Kop with every goal kick.

Micky Adams and John Stiles - Wigan match winners!

The Wigan quarter final came and went; experienced on a big screen in the manic surroundings of a bouncing, sweaty, beer drenched Queens Hall – suddenly this was getting serious! The wait that followed ahead of the semi-final draw was almost intolerable; no televised post-match draw featuring charismatic members of the football royalty, providing immediate gratification back in 1987, no, the draw was always held on a Monday lunchtime at 12.30pm, Radio 2 providing a live feed from Lancaster Gate as Bert Millichip groped the balls from a velvet sack while fans said their prayers...

I raced home from school during the lunch hour to hear the words I being praying for...

“Number 3”,
“That’s Coventry City”
“Will play...”
“Number 4”
“Leeds United”

Yes!!! We could beat Coventry, we really could!! Then came my first heartache as a Leeds supporter – I couldn’t get a ticket. Only season ticket holders, member and Junior Whites were guaranteed one of the 22,500 Hillsborough tickets. School passes? “Don’t count for anything sonny.” It was left to my mum to try and secure one of the remaining 6,000 tickets come the general sale; on arriving at Elland Road at 8am she found 18,000 already ahead of her in the pecking order – dream over.

Temporary reprieve for Ormsby..."Edwards! It's 2-2!"

To add insult to injury, the match wasn’t even shown live. I had to settle for Radio 2  commentary, ITV only deemed the game important enough to show in full on a one hour delay (and only in the Yorkshire region); even then, ITV was f**king shit!! However, even pre-equipped with the knowledge that it was coming, it was still no easier to watch Brendan Ormsby let our hopes slip through his legs, rather than launch Coventry’s into the stand. I’ve never fully forgiven him.

With the cup dream dead, the play-offs (a new innovation) ensured everything remained to play for in the league. Uncharacteristically, Leeds responded fantastically in the run-in, winning their remaining 7 home games to secure fourth spot. There were thumping victories on the way, including 4-0 batterings of Plymouth and Birmingham. The latter was especially memorable as I had to bus it straight to the game from a wedding and found myself having to stand on the Kop in a suit – mortifying for a young boy. Not quite as horrendous as what followed as one bloke took it upon himself during the game to get his knob out and have a piss; he sprayed indiscriminately, in all directions and took no prisoners, his legacy partly evident on my immaculate new trousers. While it was established etiquette for many to urinate in the sinks to avoid the queues at half-time, this guy was a real maverick.

So to the play-offs, where Keith Edwards, after a season of doing little, fleetingly became the God we’d anticipated, his 88th minute goal gave Leeds a narrow advantage to take to Boundary Park. I followed the second leg from a minibus on an extended family trip to Skegness, jumping from my seat as an even later Edwards goal forced extra time. I remained in the minibus while the others explored the park as Leeds saw out a nervous 30 minutes to clinch an away goals victory.

Charlton followed and the sides traded 1-0 home victories to set up a one-off replay at St Andrews. Brendan Ormsby scored the winner at Elland Road, though in my mind it was Bob Taylor’s; the young striker had beaten the keeper and all Ormsby did in smashing the ball over the line was deprive Taylor of a cherished moment, a selfish act committed in the cause of clearing his name after the semi-final debacle – shameful conduct in the eyes of an already embittered young Leeds fan…it’d take far more than that to achieve some form of redemption!


So one final huge game and more disappointment; my father wouldn’t allow me to travel to the Birmingham alone, and in the aftermath of the rioting two years previously, didn’t feel suitably enticed by the prospect of being part of Leeds United’s first return to the ground since. As it was only 18,000 attended the game – unthinkable today – but a reflection of the times; the old Division One wasn’t the all-singing, all-dancing, vacuous cash cow it now sadly resembles under the Premier League banner.

Leeds fans occupied three-quarters of the ground while Charlton’s pitiful 1,500 ‘strong’ following congregated in a remote corner. It was the Londoners of course who travelled home delighted, Leeds somehow conspiring to lose a game they led with 8 minutes of extra time remaining, all at the hands of Peter f**king Shirtliff – 2 goals in 4 minutes from a man who had 4 career goals to his name in over 200 appearances beforehand – it could only happen against us! Again, the ordeal had to be lived through radio commentary, ITV – yeah... we know – deeming the game only worthy of late night highlights.

Shez

I may have witnessed more glorious seasons and far better Leeds sides, but the 1986/87 remains one of my most beloved. We haven’t reached an FA Cup semi-final since, I’ve not experienced a more thrilling domestic cup tie at Elland Road…hell, the team even turned up for a play-off final! Then there was Shez; still my all-time Elland Road hero - like McAllister, only somehow better, a million times cooler and universally immortalised. Then at the height of his powers, I dare say he could've healed the sick with one touch of his hand, maybe even ended poverty with a deft flick of his right boot - at times rose-tinted nostalgia makes players seem better than they were, having re-lived the John Sheridan tribute video on YouTube, if anything, my memory's undersold his brilliance.


"Ormsby, Yes!!"

The ‘Season to Savour’ review remains my most watched LUFC related video, endlessly re-watched over that summer and for years beyond. I can still repeat large snippets of Tom Neeshaw’s amateurish commentary, verbatim. Even now at times, while on the Kop, I find myself reminiscing about QPR:

“Back-header by… Ormsby, Yes!! Pearson, a header to Ormsby; Brendan Ormsby gets the second goal for Leeds”

You know, Brendan… it’s been 25 years now, and since then the likes of Cantona, Kewell and Bates have all left darker, indelibly unpleasant stains on our history. I think it’s finally time to forgive and forget.






8 minutes of Shez magic - enjoy! (Do NOT miss the Derby County goal - 3 mins, 44 seconds...or the one straight after it, oh and...)

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Nottingham Forest: Coroner's Verdict

I had no intention to do any sort of report on the Forest game, and despite 10 goals, I feel even less desire to do so now. And yet, I can’t get any sort of closure without getting something down, passing some sort of comment on yet another extraordinary Leeds United midweek home fixture. The sight of Tom Lees hopeless attempts at dealing with the ball prior to the seventh goal may be indelibly burned on my retina from now to eternity, I can only hope to purge the remaining deadly sins through blog-based catharsis…

I’ve always held a morbid fascination with programmes dealing with the dead (and living dead) and so have become very familiar with the intricacies of the post-mortem. One recurring dream I used to have concerned a doctor conducting such an examination, surgical knives, saws… the lot, on a being that just so happened to be still alive and suddenly, very conscious. Despite the admirable efforts of new-wave French horror films to convince me otherwise, I’d never witnessed such a procedure while awake... though after last night, I might’ve just ticked another box on my ‘to do’ list.


Yes, admittedly there were (sadly) no surgical instruments, white gowns, nor the smell of embalming fluid, yet the spectacle at Elland Road had the air of a clinical examination; each player studied in order that the cause of the death of their Leeds United career could be determined under the scrutinous gaze of 21,000 medical football students.

Many of those involved had already been pronounced dead on arrival while others were still awaiting the official endorsement of the footballing coroner’s death certificate. Only a very select few were still found to be hosting faint electromagnetic pulses, suggesting that they could be salvaged from slow death by mediocre Championship side syndrome. Here’s what the autopsy results concluded…

LONGERGAN: Grayson’s decision to award him the captaincy was one of the very strangest decisions he made amongst a whole raft of errors during his final months at the club; a keeper who became back-up at Preston North End after having a crisis of confidence, suddenly installed a leader at a club that’s destroyed many a stronger personality. Prone to at least one elementary mistake per game and on occasion, (like last night) capable of rather more; probably afforded more leeway than many predecessors purely due to the ‘Rachubka effect’.

Verdict: On life support; expect Paddy Kenny to press the ‘off switch’, come June.

CONNOLLY: Awful, awful footballer who scares me when he faces a winger and depresses me whenever he gets the ball in the attacking third and looks to launch yet another aimless cross from 40 yards out. The footballing term ‘solid’ is usually attributed to him, a polite way of saying shit.

Verdict: Grayson’s last decent decision was dropping him after the Barnsley debacle.

ROBINSON: Talks and tackles with a fair degree of venom, which makes him fairly unique amongst our defenders. More liable to mark a winger out of a game through the means of a thousand yard stare and pure terror, rather than ability; looked knackered last night, seemingly a game too far for somebody who hadn’t played since January, prior to his loan.

Verdict: Good for one season, expect a four year contract in the offing.

LEES: I was intrigued by Warnock’s decision to publicly implicate Lees in the concession of the late goal on Saturday. In retrospect, maybe the manager was trying to find out a little more about his mental strength, if so, Tom registered a resounding fail last night with his response. Maybe fatigue played a role, but he looked a nervous wreck. Needs to ‘man up’...and cheer up - Connolly won't be around for ever!

Verdict: Here for the long term… hopefully. Very much work in progress.

O’DEA: Bless Darren, he reminds me of the big dopey kid who used to get picked for the school team; not on grounds of ability, just because he was one of those kids that everyone liked as they were nice and always tried hard; the kid who was put in at centre back by the PE teacher, because he was built like a brick shit house. Everyone would hope that with enough encouragement and coaching, he’d be able to pass as a footballer and if he could concentrate hard enough, then he’d not to make too many silly mistakes.

Verdict: Well he does try and he is a brick shit house. Decent squad player for next season.

Run Aidy, run!!

WHITE: I admit it, for a long time I was excited about Aidy White, but now I’m not too sure. I do find it baffling that many of those who regarded Howson as not being a Premier League standard player are now horrified at the prospect of losing White. Pace to burn and some potential at left back, but in the attacking third, utterly inept. Actually less composed in front of goal than Barn Door...

Verdict: Offer him a new deal with incremental pay rises built-in, linked to performance… if not, there’s always Charlie Taylor.

CLAYTON: Plenty of potential but next to no consistency. One good game in three is not good enough. Once he learns to play with his head up...scouring the pitch, rather than the innards of his own rectum, he'll be a cracking player! Having Warnock constantly in his ear should see him start next season in that vein, hopefully he'll then sustain it.

Verdict: Keep, tie up to a new contract and get him settled with a regular, deep sitting partner over the summer.

BROWN: Ironically, the only player worthy of any credit for his defensive showing last night. Constantly tracked back to cover gaping holes left in our backline. Developed the aura of a vintage-era David Batty in the aftermath of Danny Pugh's stint in the middle. Ever improving with a run of games, though doubts remain whether he can cope week-in, week-out over the season.

Verdict: Handy man to have on the sidelines next year, ready to come in to do a job when tactics or injuries dictate so.

SNODGRASS: Need I say anything. As talismanic and critical to our prospects next season as Beckford was during the promotion year; essential we keep him, whatever the cost, be that in terms of a new contract (how likely?) or the loss of a transfer fee. A throwback to the days of the glorious 70s maverick footballers, possessing the ability to excite whilst exhibiting the posture of a man who's just emerged from a nightclub and smoked 40 Benson & Hedges. God love him!

Verdict: Keep, keep, keep, keep, keep!!!

McCORMACK: When Snodgrass is off-form or marked out of games, our man who’s next most likely to. Given time to develop, the Snodgrass/McCormack/Becchio attacking triumvirate can be the most exciting outside the Premier League. Besides, he's ginger and Scottish!

Verdict: As Snoddy

BECCHIO: Finally awaken from his six month slumber by Warnock, he’s now thriving. Looks more than capable of netting 20+ goals a season again and back to not allowing defenders a moment’s peace - fucking unbelievable! Under Warnock’s style of play, arguably our pivotal player over the coming 14 months.

Verdict: Has to stay, will stay, will thrive.

SUBS:

Danny Pugh

PUGH: I’m beginning to doubt that Pugh is actually a carbon-based life form, so seamlessly does he blend into the background during games, so easily do attackers pass by/through him as if he isn’t there. Maybe Bill Murray and the other Ghostbusters team should come in and check for ectoplasm. A total waste of space (if he does actually take up any); after Neill Collins, arguably Grayson’s most confounding permanent signing during his entire stint at Elland Road.

Verdict: Go! Go! In God’s name, go!!!

WEBBER: Not as bad as a Forrsell or Vayrynen, but less than inspiring. Looks reasonable at times, but maybe that’s due to low expectations or becoming accustomed to utter mediocrity…meh!

Verdict: Won’t shed a tear if he goes, expect he’ll sign on for 12 months and be the first ‘like a new signing’ capture of the summer.

PAYNTER: No come on, stop it…my mum always said if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all…



















…sorry Billy!

Verdict: Is there anybody out there interested? Sheffield United paid money for Collins I suppose!

That’s it as far as those involved last night are concerned.

So who at the club are essential for our squad next season?

Lees
Clayton
Snodgrass
McCormack
Becchio
Somma

Who’s worth retaining as back-up or in terms of potential?

Cairns
White
Taylor
Thompson
O’Dea
Robinson
Brown
Rogers

Who can leave?

EVERYONE ELSE!

Interesting summer ahead, Neil!!...

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Leeds United Movie Poster Mash-up #9

Behold, the return of the ultimate LUFC action hero...

#9 TERMINAYLOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY


Ideas anyone? I'm struggling!!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Leeds United 1 West Ham 1

“Well hello! Good morning my old friend! Do come in; how have you been keeping? I must say you’re looking every bit as well as I remember you…lovely to have you back. Please make yourself at home…ah yes, that’s right, I’ve kept your old resting place between the ‘rose tinted sentimentality’ and ‘hang on in there, it will get better’ areas of my cerebral real estate – make yourself comfortable.”

That’s how things were playing out in my mind on Saturday morning; the beloved old friend? The pre-match buzz – absent for so long, but its re-arrival emphatic and widespread, evidence of it, everywhere. On the back of the Middlesbrough performance, Twitter timelines and message boards had played host to a thriving hotbed of optimism, belief and excitement throughout the week, a positivity that most strikingly had manifested itself in the form of ticket sales.

This season especially, it’s become increasingly easy for many to fall out of love with Leeds United; while even for much of our League One stint, a Leeds United detox diet seemed uncontemplatable, the last 12 months or so have changed views. Maybe on St. Patrick’s Day, it would seem somewhat appropriate to use the traditional Irish dish of Colcannon as a metaphor: at its most basic, a dish compromised of cabbage, mashed potatoes and onion, it serves the purpose to sustain but never to excite; the ultimate manifestation Leeds United's recruitment policy in food form - something to be consumed out of necessity, rather than pleasure?


But Colcannon is not an irredeemable dish; it can be revived, even transformed with a lavishing of cream, bacon and ham, indeed, I dare say with enough expenditure (and the serious dilution/removal of the cabbage content) it may even be worth consuming out of choice. Leeds fans can suddenly smell that bacon and so they return - like Lisa Riley to a family-size bag of Maltesers, they flocked back to LS11, seeking a long awaited dalliance with the good life! All supporters have wanted to see is a degree of ambition, some hope, something to cling on to, and under Warnock, those signs they’ve desperately sought are just beginning to emerge; tantalising them with a cheeky smile, a wink, maybe a flash of thigh…

The Nike relegation season shirts and the sky blue Diadora away tops were back out in force - though none sadly adorned with the immortal ‘Ricketts 9’ - always an accurate gauge of positivity amongst the fan base. Despite the forecasts, the sun was shining, while the curry sauce outside the ground had somehow achieved new levels of luminescence; inside the stadium even Ben Fry’s intolerable persona couldn’t undermine the mood.

And it was the atmosphere that will remain the most prevailing memory of the day. It’s been way too long since I last took my place in the Kop to survey the scene and barely see a vacant blue seat in view (the East Stand Upper is out of my sight) and the last time I can recall the pre-match rendition of ‘Leeds, Leeds, Leeds’ sang with such gusto was arguably at the Bristol Rovers game; the cacophony of noise in the opening 15 minutes, a welcome reminder of better days.

Almost inevitably the game rather betrayed the occasion; West Ham, despite having bought anything that breathes and commands a seven-figure fee since August, were rather less ambitious in their intentions on the pitch. Despite the resources afforded to him, Sam Allardyce doesn’t seem to favour the obvious ‘steamroller the league’ option, preferring rather to suffocate the life out of teams, before hoping to capitalise on his plethora of attacking talent at the other end – in layman’s terms, he’s got a team of big b**tards who are pretty handy from set pieces.


He’s a bit of an enigma is Big Sam, I must admit. He’s always tried to market himself as some sort of progressive visionary within the English game, even touting himself for the Real Madrid job, yet his teams play in a style more akin to an Aidy Boothroyd outfit, rather than a Pep Guardiola team. Then there’s that headset – take that f**king thing off Sam! It doesn’t so much make you look like one of your sophisticated continental cousins, more a fat middle-aged sales rep who desperately tries to impress bystanders by having loud Bluetooth-enabled conversations in the dining area of a Premier Inn, while contemplating whether his expense account might stretch to a full English breakfast.

Chances were few and far between throughout that first period, a fine Snoddy free-kick the closest Leeds came, until the rather harsh intervention of the referee denied him an injury time opener; a push by Becchio enough to cut short any celebration.

The second half was a continuation of the war of attrition. Although for spells the crowd remained quiet, it was a good silence, not one spawned of resignation or a worry where the next mistake was coming from, rather a genuine tension: that something was really riding on the game and Leeds could salvage it! Football matters, Leeds games always matter, but it’s been a while since one really mattered - a fixture forever just a moment away from lighting the blue touch paper…


As it happened, it didn’t even take a goal, just Paul Robinson. On the hour mark, our new left-back took it upon himself to embark on a lung-busting run forward, he even decreed to allow two Hammers players to posit themselves between him and the ball…nothing was going to stop him regardless, at least until the referee intervened. Promptly booked, he raced back to his position to roars of acclaim from the Geldard; moments later he launched himself into a tackle that nearly left Mark Noble in row K of the North East Corner, his actions igniting all four sides of the stadium into spine tingling verse – I remain convinced that the thunder on the way home was a by-product of that challenge! Shortly after, Michael Brown threw himself at Keith O’Neil, a mass fracas ensued, players jostled, the rage in Becchio’s face, a joy to behold – DIRTY LEEDS ARE BACK!!

That Luciano put Leeds in front was wholly apt, chasing the ball down to keep a corner alive then lunging himself at the ball as it cannoned off the bar, the manic celebrations, reminiscent of the Millwall play-off semi-final. Ending up on a different row of seats, staring at the roof of the Kop is always a good way to mark a goal.


It was a great pity that Collins should intervene at the end, and sickeningly ironic that it came from a corner conceded after a sliced George McCartney cross – he’s even f**king shit when he contributes something. I started the week believing we needed a minimum return of 6 points; I guess our slim play-off hopes might now be defined at The New Den… 

We’re ready for a battle.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Leeds United Movie Poster Mash-up #8

Some long overdue Tarantino...

#8 KILL BILLY



Any suggestions for future posters are welcome...


Sunday, 11 March 2012

Middlesbrough 0 Leeds United 2

MICHAEL BROWN, WE HAIL THEE!!...

For cometh the hour of 2, our 'all action' midfielder provided the absolute highlight of the season, thus far; yes, you read that correctly, the very same ‘”too slow” and “past it” Michael Brown from days consigned to history, now every inch a magnificent phoenix, risen from the modest flames of a limp season, here to stick a shitload of petrol on the play-off bonfire!


The moment in question arrived with the game tailing off towards its inevitable conclusion; Danny Webber was played clean through down the left and as he surged onward in the direction of the goal, he looked infield for options and there he was…Michael Brown, suddenly bounding forward from inside his own half with all the energy and enthusiasm you’d expect of a child, zealously grasping at an opportunity to fulfil his dreams of glory in front of his proud parents as they scream passionate encouragement - a truly awe-inspiring spectacle.

Webber had time, he could see Brown; all he had to do was lay the ball into his path and that was it, Brown would smash it into the corner, pandemonium would ensue, it was written, the perfect finale, one of those little moments, to lock away and cherish, to dust off and re-live so as to remind yourself why you love Leeds United during the midst of a miserable humbling at the hands of Barnsley... 
                                                                                                                                
...Danny Webber, you b**tard!!! How could you misplace that pass? Consider yourself a tainted man; redemption is going to be hard earned after that!

My heart sunk for Brown as he raised in arms in despair, as over the last few weeks he’s come to epitomise Leeds United’s season under Warnock; a lifeless carcass only weeks ago, now totally re-energised. From a crunching tackle inside the second minute, Brown never relented, as did nobody else in a blue shirt – notwithstanding the anti-climax, it was great day, finally!!

Middlesbrough
Typically, the words ‘Middlesbrough’ and ‘great day’ are not too often muttered in conjunction with each other. In truth, even with the sun shining, presenting the town in its best light, the utter bleakness of the area is inescapable. The first signs of proximity to Middlesbrough were provided by the belching cloud of fumes visible from the A19, about 8 miles away from the ground.

Ellesmere Port
In this case, first impressions don’t mislead; the approach to the stadium dominated by a skyline of cooling towers and chemical plants, a grim panorama guaranteed to undermine any notions of civic pride, but lacking the Blade Runner-esque dystopian future world aura of Ellesmere Port. It appears that Middlesbrough even manages to be nondescript in its awfulness.

As Morrissey sang…

This is the coastal town,
That they forgot to close down,
Come Armageddon, come Armageddon, come…

The Riverside Stadium itself is probably one of the newest things in Middlesbrough; unremarkable in any way itself, yet in the context of its immediate surroundings it shines, like a diamond in a dog turd; the stadium’s gleaming white paint and its red seats in the stands, locking out the morbid horror of the chemical works that flank the approach. It is a baffling place to build a stadium; one of the few venues that attract outsiders to the town and the planners stick it there; as a tourism marketing ploy, it's comparable with opening up a vegan superstore opposite an abattoir.


Thankfully, the dubious pleasures of the outside world were cast to one side once the game got underway. Leeds starting strongly, with Brown’s thundering challenge, setting the tone; like Southampton previously, the opposition were not given a moment to settle. Whereas a few weeks ago, supporters were shouting themselves hoarse, demanding “someone f**king shut him down”, now we often had three or even four players hunting down the man in possession. On the ball the team looked very effective, the passing was good, slick and accurate, and seldom were Leeds hesitant in getting the ball forward quickly; not the aimless hoofs evident at the KC Stadium, but quick incisive passes.

By the time the opening goal arrived, there was an inevitability about it, Aidy White making up for not connecting his head with an earlier McCormack cross by looking up and laying the ball off to Snoddy to stroke the ball under the Jason Steele from 15 yards. Within 10 minutes the advantaged was doubled, Becchio finishing off a series of one-twos with McCormack (an honourable mention should also be given to Justin Hoyte) by slotting into an empty goal.


In truth, after that, Leeds never looked like surrendering the advantage. The only real moment of concern in the first half was a dangerous inswinging corner that Paul Robinson dealt with, his stooping header, diverting it from its goalward path. It formed part of a very sound debut by Robinson; I have the feeling he’s a player whose philosophy the fans will quickly warm to: if there’s a ball to be won he’ll win it, if there’s a man to be completely wiped out in the process, then that’s a just a bonus!

The second half was a similarly comfortable experience, an injury time fumble by Lonergan the closest the home side came; Barry Robson's late red card reflecting the frustration amongst the home support. In contrast Leeds remained a constant threat breaking forward, only poor decision making at times denying us a larger winning margin. Throughout the half, McCormack was a joy to watch, his movement and ability to turn defenders inside out a promising sign with the run in upon us. 


In a matter of weeks, Warnock appears to be achieving the inconceivable; Brown heralded from all quarters, Darren O’Dea’s name bellowed out in tribute, Becchio winning headers…I even went 90 minutes without swearing at Paul Connolly. As the game drew towards its conclusion, he just stood confidently in the technical, arms behind his back, while his opposite number, Tony Mowbray desperately tried to organise his side; the vociferous tribute from the stands, an affirmation of his day’s work.

Make no mistake, Warnock is on the right path and he knows it. He’s also excited by it; the final whistle celebrations were crowned by his shaken fist salute towards the travelling faithful. Only one question remains; can he achieve the improbable this season, or will we have to wait until next? Experience dictates that Leeds fans would do well to  err on the side of pessimism, but after listening to an excitable and loquacious Warnock share his post-match thoughts, nagging pangs of optimism are just starting to hit home.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Middlesbrough: Do or die…but not the end of the world

This Sunday’s clash with Middlesbrough marks something of a deviation from the norm; traditionally, fixtures at The Riverside Stadium have always appeared to have mattered more to home supporters than those in the away end. Of course in the realms modern day football, where anything other than a win can spark recriminations and a talks of a crisis amongst fans, that’s not to say Leeds fans have ever made the trip north looking for anything but a 3 point return, it’s more a reflection how clashes with the Smoggies are regarded by the opposing fan bases.


While – especially in the absence of any North East opposition at Championship level – home supporters accord Leeds with the status of traditional (and strongly disliked) ‘local’ rivals; Boro in contrast are more commonly regarded by Whites as just another side,  another fan base with a dislike of our club – when more than just a handful of away trips every season can offer very similar experiences, it’s hard to afford any particular opposition extra credence; recent experiences with Hull, Barnsley and Huddersfield always provoke the same feelings of indifference.

This time it is different though, it’s different because what happens on the pitch really matters; make no mistake, Sunday’s game represents the pivotal moment in Leeds United’s season; where victory could potentially spark a momentous play-off push and anything else, a pragmatic spell of experimentation as Warnock prepares for an August promotion assault. Some have already written off ambitions of challenging for the play-offs, I prefer to focus on the possibilities our next two games offer; a clean sheet and a win on Sunday will be enough for some to keep the faith, if that’s followed by victory in front of a buzzing Elland Road against West Ham (a team Leeds traditionally fare very well against), then anything’s still possible.

I’m personally backing Leeds to snatch the much needed victory; we remain unbeaten at The Riverside in our nine meetings there and have won the last couple, so my thoughts are based on a mixture of confidence, history and some overdue luck in front of goal. But, even if the side do fail to oblige and we find ourselves resigned to another season in the Championship with the best part of two months of the season still remaining, I shall still be walking always from The Riverside in a far more positive mind set than I had just three weeks previously.

Now seems a very appropriate time to assess the initial impact that Neil Warnock’s made at the club, especially, as has just been inferred, with a ‘make or break’ fixture on the horizon, it’s important to establish a sense of perspective should the result disappoint; secondly, having essentially managed the team for 3½ games – I’m taking the liberty of regarding his half-time involvement as the start point of his reign – there exists the perfect opportunity to compare his impact with that of Neil Redfearn’s caretaker stint.

To me, Warnock has completely changed the mood at Elland Road and he’s achieved this through a combination of positivity, a passion to succeed, common sense and an evident degree of self-confidence. The majority of Leeds fans welcomed the arrival of Warnock and I sense that many of the doubters have since changed their stance; from the off his enthusiasm and desire have shone through.


When the club announced his appointment, Warnock was supposed to stage his first interview on LUTV on the Sunday afternoon; yet he couldn’t help himself and was on Yorkshire Radio within half an hour of the final whistle at the Doncaster game. He revealed how he’d shelved plans to start on Monday as he didn’t want to risk wasting a game then went on to talk plainly about what he’d observed on the pitch and the changes he already had in mind – most of it was common sense and a lot of it seemed screamingly obvious, having been discussed long and hard on forums and twitter for months on end, yet the points made were they same ones that had been long overlooked by Simon Grayson. To hear those words reinforced the good feeling many already had about Warnock and immediately had others warming to him.

Since that evening, Warnock has continued to say and do all the right things. The decision to give Snodgrass the captaincy, a prime example – could anyone understand the logic of having a goalkeeper as captain; especially one who’d been dropped during his time at Preston after undergoing a crisis of confidence?

Most heartening though has been Warnock’s view on player recruitment. In his comments he’s dispelled fears that under his charge, the club are going to mainly trawl the loan market again, remarking that:

"…Before pre-season, you have to have people who care. With all respect to loan players, you can get some good ones. But when the chips are down and you have to put your head in then loan players, quite rightly, think about their own future, whereas, once you have signed on the dotted line permanently then you care that little bit more. That is what I look for…”

Moreover, he’s also made clear that he is not in his role to be another lapdog to Ken Bates:

“We have that relationship where I respect him and he respects me, and we’re both at an age where we want to do well. Make no mistake about that. I think we excite each other…I think he does a lot of good things and I’m not trying to creep round him by saying that. But there are times when you need to tell him what you think is right for the club and he’s got to listen.

It is that final sentence that resonates more than anything else heard we’ve so far. As expected, in Warnock, Leeds has a manager who’s experienced enough and confident enough in himself to be able to stand up to our owner. While many fear fireworks, I welcome the initial noises emanating from Elland Road suggesting the chairman-manager relationship is likely to be more akin to a partnership than the typical master-servant dynamic that Bates was able to enjoy with the previous, inexperienced incumbents of the ‘hot seat’.

I believe it is this more than anything that has given supporters cause for optimism; as much as reaching the play-offs would be fantastic, the prospect of another transfer window in the summer like the last three we’ve suffered, with more free transfers, trialists and loanees… it’d be just too much for some to stomach. The same mistakes repeated again and again as a manager desperately tries to satisfy Premier League expectations with a mid-table ‘war chest’.

You suspect… no expect, a far more productive pre-season case with Warnock, not only because of his reputation, but also due to the canny game he’s played since he’s arrived. By building a gentleman’s agreement into his contract that allows him to walk at the end of the season, should things not work out, he’s essentially got Bates over a barrel. Admittedly, such an admission has also had the fan base concerned, but over the last week there’s been a change in tact; Warnock’s statements in the media have been very much been made with repeated references to next season, perhaps a sign that he now feels suitably assured about receiving suitable financial backing.

In fairness, Warncok has certainly earned the right to expect a little more boardroom ambition from the club. While his reputation alone dictates he should be entrusted with sufficient funds, his impact on the pitch resoundingly strengthens the argument. On paper, the statistics from his first three games rather undersell the impact he’s made: one defeat, two draws and no goals: proof positive that you can prove anything with numbers. On the pitch there has been a marked improvement; the transformation of the defence has been quite remarkable, a backline that could’ve shipped 5 or 6 against Doncaster, infiltrated only once in 270 minutes. Bearing in mind that – Lees apart – the personnel involved have been those found regularly culpable throughout the season, and in Connolly, include Warnock’s third choice option (after Bruce and Bromby) at right back, such a turnaround is testament to both the work of the coaching staff and the response of the players. The addition of Paul Robinson can only help further, providing an aggression and vocal presence that’s been sorely lacking at the back for an age.


In addition, after an almost interminable period in the doldrums, Warnock has also completely re-invigorated Luciano Becchio; after months of sulking and falling over, the Argentine is back towards his best form where he’s dominating defenders and running himself into the ground. Then there’s Michael Brown; undoubtedly a player possessing a great pedigree, but in the eyes of many, another in the long line of players at Elland Road for a final pay day…until Warnock arrived. Known inside out by his boss from his Sheffield United days, Brown suddenly looks more than capable of doing the job Grayson bought him for; the yard of pace that’d looked to have deserted him is back, the crunching tackles suddenly perfectly timed rather than representing a booking waiting to happen.

Yes, things are a long way from being perfect. The lack of goals being the last thing you might expect from a Leeds United team, though a sense of perspective is needed in this regard. While at Portsmouth and Hull, the side didn’t create a plethora of chances, there was certainly enough clear cut openings on the south coast to ensure victory on another day, and on Tuesday, it would be remiss to not acknowledge that the home side’s clean sheet was their sixth in seven games. In between there was the Southampton game – I’m sure not many would criticise our attacking play that evening.

That’s not to say the lack of goals should be totally dismissed; the forward line on Tuesday was undoubtedly a long way off resembling a cohesive unit and you sense a lot more work on the training ground – and arguably the substitution of one striker with another midfielder or specialist wide player – is required over the coming weeks.

However, to rob a cliché, all successful sides are built from the back, and although Leeds haven’t scored since Warnock officially took over reins, it’s not inconceivable that we could’ve quite easily found ourselves with 7 points from 3 games, rather than just a couple.

Only three weeks have passed since his arrival at the club and Neil Warnock has already taken a group of players that have sleepwalked through most of the season and restored a passion, belief and desire into the team. Even in defeat, the Southampton game is arguably the most positive Elland Road experience that many supporters have enjoyed in months, certainly the buzz after the game and the atmosphere throughout suggested so – Leeds fans respond above anything else to effort, and finally it was back and there for all to see. What’s more, these same players, guilty of having made error upon error defensively, have suddenly been fashioned them into a solid, organised and hard to beat unit.

I’m not expecting Sunday to be a purist’s wet dream, nor indeed a faultless showing, and that goes for the remainder of the season. Indeed, I’m sure ‘solid but unspectacular’ will be the mantra for the coming months, but, if the progress on the pitch continues and the hint of a sea change at board level manifests itself into something concrete over the summer, then this new found positivity amongst supporters will flourish… so even if that crucial victory does evade Leeds at the weekend, there are still finally reasons to be cheerful.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Leeds United Movie Poster Mash-up #7

In tribute to those who made Nick Barmby and Carlton Palmer look like sound investments...

#7 - SUPERBAD                                                                                                            



#8 Coming soon...

Any suggestions for future productions welcome; please contact me via my twitter account.