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

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Leeds United 1 Leicester City 2

“It's SHITE being Scottish! We're the lowest of the low, the scum of the fucking earth, the most wretched, miserable, servile, pathetic trash that was ever shat into civilization. Some people hate the English, I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonized by wankers. We can't even find a decent culture to be colonized by. We are ruled by effete arseholes. It's a shite state of affairs to be in, Tommy! And all the fresh air in the world won't make any fucking difference!”


Ewan McGregor really ought to patronise a 'Leeds on the Road' event.

No, that wasn’t the sound of Peter Lorimer finally breaking down in The Pavilion yesterday morning; it’s actually taken from a scene in Trainspotting; a fantastically cutting and articulate monologue from Renton in response to his mate’s misguided assertions of national pride. The unpalatable truth remains that those words could quite conceivably be spinning around in Lorimer’s head, when in his more reflective moments, he may wonder how his principles and how his soul have ended up being sold to Bates and Harvey; a plot of emotional real estate, used as foundations for another Caddick constructed re-development scheme. 


But it’s not just Lormier, it’s us supporters too; we cannot be utterly absolved of blame as this season has been allowed to slide, just like so many before under the current regime with barely a whisper of dissent. According to Shaun Harvey, in defending his decision to ban LUST members from buying tickets, “Players play, managers manage and supporters support”. Damningly it seems that too many Leeds fans either buy into that mantra or have simply been battered into a mood of all-consuming apathy. For my part, I’d suggest that supporters who are worth their salt actually get off their arses and do something about it, rather than watch on silently as their club slowly has the life strangled out of it.

Again we go into the summer no longer expecting, just merely hoping for the best, as far as player recruitment and retention goes. But we do so, already knowing that a significant chunk of the ‘war chest’ is now likely to be earmarked to pay the legal fees resulting from our chairman’s latest pathetic character assassination attempt, no less than “a fortune” at Shaun Harvey’s own admittance. All this at a club that’s finished 14th, the exact same position it did at the end of Bates’ first season - "a shite state of affairs to be in", indeed!

Yet as much as people are quick to almost universally condemn Bates, where is this evident in the stands, or more constructively, at LUST meetings? Having been to every such gathering this year, the board have to be congratulated on their incredible efforts, truly astonishing progress has been made in a very short space of time, yet typically, there are only around 30 to 40 people attend, and while some brilliant ideas have been shared and developed amongst those people, the fact is that for a fan base our size, such a low turnout reflects pathetically on our support as a whole. Maybe it’s true that you get the chairman you deserve; on occasions like last Thursday night, it would be hard to argue.

Farewell?

So come Saturday lunchtime, and suddenly over 25,000 are at Elland Road, and as much as I’d love to see a full stadium, week in, week out, to see such a show of loyalty on this day was almost dispiriting – if ever there was an end of season game for the paying supporter to boycott, it was this. A diabolical season, being seen off in the company of a large number of players who aren’t fit to grace the white shirt…what was there to celebrate, to give thanks for? Instead, the impressive turnout felt more of a vindication for the work of Bates, rather than a reflection of discontentment. Maybe it’s just me – it’s been a long 9 months!

Like so many before it, the game was one to try and tolerate, rather than enjoy; a 90 minute endurance challenge, a spectacle in which Neil Warnock remained more animated throughout than at least half the starting line-up. But hey, at least there was Becks; finally back at the ground where his status alternated between goal scoring god, and sulky, lazy b**stard on an almost fortnightly basis, and finally receiving the recognition his exploits at the club deserved.

Will anyone EVER tire of this photo?

Call it hindsight, call it rose-tinted nostalgia, or just label it a simple case of not realising what you had ‘til it had gone, but Jermaine was afforded a welcome comparable with any past player I can remember at Elland Road – the feeling was mutual as well; as his “fucking great goal” was rejoiced in song, Beckford applauded the fans while actually in the process of kicking off the game, moments later in Leicester’s first attack, another ovation from the Kop was rewarded with a sly ‘Leeds salute’; the first corner of the game and more acclaim from the terraces, the applause reciprocated by old number 9. Immediately, Alex Bruce, in recognition of the acclaim offered to swap shirts – a nice touch by our centre half, and a fond memory to leave behind from his last appearance. The Kop responded in kind to the moment as inevitable chants of “Sign him up” resounded outward. I even found myself longing for him to score one more time in front of the Kop, just for old time's sake. Ironically, Bates recently revealed that he’s twice turned down the chance to re-sign Beckford; another sign of how our regime and the fan base stand poles apart on the key issue of football.

With the highly diverting and eminently preferable Jermaine Beckford side show over, it was sadly time to concentrate on the football, only I couldn’t, this season’s taken its toll. I spent my time trying to punctuate the boredom by counting down the minutes in my head and scanning through my twitter timeline – it seemed that everyone felt the same. At least we had Danny Pugh, his efforts to scale as yet undiscovered heights of hopelessness an on-going quest that you can but only witness in awe. An early lapse necessitated a desperate shirt pull that had sections of fans demanding a red card and the disappointment amongst many was palpable as the ref settled for yellow – a tad harsh?... maybe not, as our utility man (football talk for shit in all positions) was to prove in the lead up to Leicester’s opening goal - while Michael Brown’s sliced attempt at a clearance possessed a real comedic flair, it couldn’t compete with Pugh’s laughable attempt to get the ball ahead of Martyn Waghorn; the Leicester forward went on to finish with aplomb – of course he did, this is Leeds.

If the first half was intolerable, the not exactly surprising decision of Nigel Pearson to remove a love struck Beckford at the interval ensured that the prospect of one last 45 minutes was almost unbearable. So it proved; while I found myself constantly distracted from the football in the opening period, it seemed the whole of N11 were engaged in conversation for most of the second period. Mid-way through the half I found myself eavesdropping on a conversation about an episode of The One Show that apparently involved very charming guest appearances by Julia Bradbury and Richard Hammond…sadly as the discussion moved on to the lovely Alex Jones, a defiant WACCOE chant swept over the Kop, leaving me frustrated in my quest to discreetly gauge opinion on the lovely Welsh lady.

Out of nowhere, Leeds equalised… it had to be Danny Webber, didn’t it?! The one man who could still hold aspirations of pipping Connolly and Pugh to become the most consistently awful Leeds player of the season, undeservedly capping a 30 minute object lesson in the art doing the square root of f**k all with a tap-in, following Snoddy’s good work. It was like a final kick in the teeth, like I was even going to be denied a full-on rant of self-righteous indignation, my efforts undermined by a fortunate Leeds escape that saved the team from that 11th home defeat and lower half finish…still, it did spark a few minutes of excitement as the team displayed a token spell of desire and will to win. It came to nothing though.

Hoping clubs do actually do their business in May...

So to injury time, and there it was, it took its time, but finally arrived; a last gasp, deflected Leicester City winner. On the balance of play, just reward for the visitors, on the balance of the season, a more fitting epitaph, you'd struggle to find; self-righteous indignation, back on the agenda.

In the end, I felt compelled to stay for the ‘Lap of Thanks’, just to revel in the spectacle of a watching a collection of sheepish looking footballers, awkwardly making their way around the stadium in an apologetic fashion, heads bowed as the supporters celebrated all that they haven’t achieved over the last 9 months. Danny Pugh chose to carry his baby around with him – a touching fatherly gesture or a move made to ensure that nobody tried to deck him? I’ll let you decide. At least Warnock enjoyed himself, playing up to the chants from the Gelderd End, though mercifully stopping short of removing his tracksuit pants as he stripped off souvenirs to distribute to the masses.

Whether Warnock will be sporting a rather bigger smile nice year is another thing entirely. When I was scanning through my radio pre-sets this morning I was quite taken aback (and a little pleased) to hear Debbie Gibson’s ‘Shake Your Love’ get and airing and it threw into perspective the job at hand for our manager. I can hazily recall the pop princess in her pomp back in the late 80s and her battle for chart supremacy and teenage magazine spreads with arch-rival Tiffany.

The Rolls Royce of pop princessess

I rather see Leicester City as a footballing representation of Debbie Gibson; awash with natural talent, a splash of glamour and possessing all the resources and potential to thrive in the higher echelons of next year’s Championship. Step forward Leeds United, the Tiffany of the league. While the Debbie Gibsons of this world with the right guidance can effortlessly glide towards the top, our rather less desirable looking outfit will have to slum it out, week upon week of touring the shopping malls-cum-football stadia of the nation in the hope that our hard graft and endeavour will pay dividends; that grit, dedication and a steely ambition will get us to where we want to be.

The grafter

It’s not often that I’d suggest that a football club draw inspiration from a fleeting 80s icon, but examine the career of Tiffany and therein lies a lesson.  For Leeds next year we’re going to need a team of grafters, players driven to get to the top and unrelenting in their pursuit; players capable of working harder than the opposition at every venue. We may support the biggest club in the league, but while Bates rules we’ll never have a side that, ability-wise, reflects that. That’s not to exempt Bates of his responsibilities – even Tiffany was received significant financial backing in her promotional slog… and in the end, when it mattered, when it really mattered, she only went and pipped Debbie Gibson to that coveted maiden top slot. A lesson for all at Elland Road that it can be done!

Only in our dreams?

Well, Tiffany, never believed every word that Debbie sang…






Sunday, 22 April 2012

Cardiff City 1 Leeds United 1

So this was supposed to be it; a trip into the dragon’s den, a hotbed of heathenry, to face the great unwashed, the unenlightened, the barbaric Neanderthals of Wales’ first city. The omens weren’t good; history was against us – Frankie Goes To Hollywood were celebrating their first number one when the Whites last triumphed – while for those who for those who remain more sceptical about such factors, the overwhelming shitness of our injury and suspension ravaged squad also offered reasons for pessimism.

Right on cue, the dark clouds started to gather as the final stretch of the journey, the M4 reared its ugly head; a bleak tarmacked expanse running to the west, offering road signs, displaying both familiar looking words, and below them, others that seemed desperately short of vowels. With the city on high alert for such an explosive clash, and so as to minimise any potential flashpoints, Leeds supporters were required to collect their tickets by exchanging vouchers from a pre-ordained, Cardiff West Services… I’m not sure how publicly advertising online a pre-match rendezvous point for all Leeds fans serves to outfox highly organised bands of troublemakers – maybe they can’t drive?

Low profile Leeds fans at Cardiff West Services

Fittingly, for the occasion, for the upcoming St. George’s Day and quite handily as a metaphor for this report, one coach load of supporters had turned up en masse dressed as Crusaders; adorned in a brilliantly uniformed manner, the testosterone fuelled gathering of men, pleasingly complemented by a number of wenches dotted about the contingent. Pre-trip advice for Cardiff games is usually to go travel incognito, to leave your colours at home, arriving in the Welsh capital in armour and a St. George’s cross emblazoned across the chest, a rather defiant “F*ck you!” to commonly perceived logic.

With vouchers exchanged for match tickets, that were literally given out from the back of a van, it was onwards to the stadium…this is it – heads down, voices down, low profile everybody, ok?

Fortress Cardiff City Stadium

Well, actually no! The whole Cardiff City experience was actually overwhelmingly civilized – surprisingly so, disconcertingly so, perhaps maybe, even a little depressingly so. On the short walk from the car park to the stadium, I looked nervously for the first signs of adolescents in baseball caps, Stone Island jumpers and scarfs wrapped around their faces, and nothing…well, maybe later.

Really?
But later never came; sat outside KFC was a skinhead, but he sported an immaculate shirt and jumper combo and was talking to his friend about super annuities and his reluctance to relocate his children during their schooling. Moments earlier when ordering my food, I’d been reminded of the wonders of the Welsh accent – an endearing and sexy string to any lady’s bow (although it does still make men sound like idiots), and this area of Wales had brought us Joanna Page and Alex Jones too. Suddenly my beliefs were starting to crumble. On the walk to the away end, we passed a banner proclaiming Cardiff City to be the ‘Football League family club of the year’ – alright, steady on!


Geordie Shore comes to South Wales

Then it happened again; this time, the stewards! On walking through the turnstiles at Cardiff we were actually greeted by a steward who welcomed us and unprompted, directed us to the bar! It was like being affronted by a Redcoat on temazepam, but with a hi-vis jacket – Bates, take note!  At the bar, the mood was reassuringly ‘final away trip/celebratory’ mode, the Crusaders joined by an astonishing array other fancy dress followers. Batman, death row inmates, penguins, Oompa Loompas all represented, though costume of the day would have to go to Saddam Hussein; the most ridiculously random? Howard from the Halifax, take a bow son!

Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be...

Like Blackpool before it, the game was almost incidental; albeit the ‘last hurrah’ vibe rather more responsible for high spirits than alcohol. From the teams’ entrance until the half-time whistle, the Leeds support was relentless. In contrast, from the Cardiff end, nothing! Bar a half-hearted ‘We all hate Leeds Scum’ pre-kick off, there was barely a whisper, just the odd punctuated incidences of internationally recognised hand gestures in retaliation to the taunts… and there were plenty. “Your mum’s a sheep, your dad’s a sheep” was pick of the insults, but none fostered a response.  

Disappointed that the Cardiff fans weren’t in the mood to play, the Leeds support entertained themselves; “We’ll sing on our own…” and “Sit down, like the Cardiff fans” a couple of choice cuts. A stray shoe also found itself in the Leeds end from where it was launched several times, before exiting the stand – cue chants of “Sit down, if you’ve got both shoes!” A couple of inflatable rings were also used as makeshift Frisbees, one throw nestling perfectly over a bald fella’s head – GET THAT MAN A GOLDFISH!!

A disturbingly civilised venue

On the pitch, Leeds competed well, but suffered another blow; Bromby snapping his patella, and there he was again, Paul Connolly. I’m becoming genuinely unnerved by Connolly’s continued presence, it’s as if he haunts our every moment. I dare not mention his name three times in case he’s like Candyman – I’ve even taken to checking under my bed for him every night, the bogeyman reincarnate!

We used to despair about Kasper's star jumps...

Talking of limited footballers, another ill-timed Lonergan intervention quickly followed, allowing Joe Mason to convert Peter Whittingham’s long pass – behind again. The defensive part of our ‘spine’ are almost like nipples on a male, they don’t serve any purpose, they’re just seemingly put there as it looks right; in fairness, our nipples of choice today, Lees and Bruce appeared fairly functional, leaving only Lonergan as the nubbin, the supernumerary or accessory nipple – pointless, inexplicable, but there. Decent saves are no good from a keeper who can’t be trusted to do the basics.

Webber and Nunez in the same picture...hard to believe we scored

After the break Leeds continued to compete well, the ball pleasingly stayed grounded for longer periods as Snodgrass and McCormack worked tirelessly. Reward came when a lung busting run from Conno… nearly said it for a third time, finished with a cross to Becchio at the far post and a deserved equaliser. There were only two things left to ponder in the closing stages; firstly, Danny Webber’s contribution, and whether an administrative cock-up has resulted in his contract containing a ‘disappearance bonus’; and to wonder what became of the Cardiff atmosphere.

At the final whistle, Warnock rightly insisted that every Leeds player throw their shirt to the fans; the least such backing deserves. All that was left to do then was to exit in a conga to the strains of ‘Sweet Caroline’, head back to the car and hope for better things come August.  

On, on, on…  



Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Blackpool 1 Leeds United 0

Blackpool; the undoubted High Priest amongst tacky holiday destinations, a place where people you’d ordinarily never choose to spend your time with, congregate en masse for an orgy of binge drinking, drugs, fighting, fast food, horrendous cuddly toys and kitsch memorabilia. A Mecca for the Jeremy Kyle generation no less; a place where the benefits brigade make their holy pilgrimage – this is how Castleford might’ve looked had it not been land-locked.

He's Leeds and he knows he is!

Those who market the town do little to help of course; while more aspiring seaside towns seek to keep the stag do and hen party crowd at bay, Blackpool positively embraces them, adverts in pub windows proclaim that groups of lewd violently drunk, sex starved, gobshites are welcome…maybe it’s in an effort to raise the tone? After all, when the resort’s core demographic of youthful idiots is drawn almost exclusively from Manchester and Merseyside, what harm can it do?

But even with its hard core apostles in toe, Blackpool has the aura of a place dying on its arse, especially on an April weekday when the Pleasure Beach is closed. The sea front is punctuated with vacant properties, which in turned are flanked by tattooists and bargain clearance outlets, the only sign of life being pairs of men, working to lure you in to play an exorbitantly priced darts game in an effort to win something from the rows upon rows of cheap teddies (also available around the corner for fraction of the fee required to win one). As usual, they play an ace card; in this case a 2 foot Smurfette – I could’ve won her too, had I been required to score 180 in 12 darts, rather than 3.

Blackpool's a shithole...

Beyond that, you have Blackpool’s main attractions, its key USPs, the centrepiece and the constituent parts of what make the ‘Golden Mile’ the envy of similarly downtrodden destinations – the tower and the illuminations. Blackpool Tower, once a majestic feat of engineering magnificence, these days has more the appearance of an architecturally interesting telephone mast, while the world famous illuminations even suffer in comparison to the Leeds Christmas lights. You can only get away with polishing a turd for so long – no wonder the town so aggressively campaigned for the UK’s biggest Super Casino; the place is f**ked!

Mid-Enoch tribute

Still, Blackpool has pubs, and plenty of them, so those who braved the Scum hotbed could at least get appropriately shitfaced. Fans who’d travelled and stayed overnight had ample justification for being paralytic by early afternoon – there was absolutely nothing else to do! For our sins, we visited The Manchester, purely on the basis that it’s usually rowdy; it was, clusters of barely articulate Leeds fans, arms aloft, providing spirited vocal accompaniment as ‘Leeds United Calypso’ shimmied its way out of the speaker system. As luck would have it the entire greatest hits album was on heavy rotation – though let’s go a little easier with ‘Football in a Yorkshire Rose’ next time, eh? DJ! – the playlist further adorned with ‘Tom Hark’ and a Hi-NRG dance track that provided an unconventional if perfect backing for the Enoch song. 

Bloomfied Road - the bit they want you to see

To the ground, and a surprising contrast; Bloomfield Road is a very tidy stadium from the outside, somewhat helped by a landscaping scheme that most retail park managers would die for. Adorning the main entrance to the North Stand is a statue of Stan Mortenson, however our interest lie around the corner where a (far more impressive) statue of Jimmy Armfield looked outward – one Leeds scarf later and a fitting tribute was complete.

Going back, I think I ought to qualify the remark about how decent the stadium looks, by adding the caveat that the away end is factored out of the equation. Yes, the East Stand is a temporary construction, but with £60m of Premier League cash in the coffers you’d at least expect them to make an effort. The steel sheet fronted turnstiles were a first, and the A4 signs that read ‘Please refrain from bouncing in the stand’, more of a worry; add the Portakabin toilets and the revolutionary ‘un-numbered seats’ layout and you have a ‘unique’ match day experience – I was even able to find some elements of  London Road that compare favourably.

...and the bit they didn't.

As the game kicked-off, the atmosphere was lively; particularly helped by some pockets of all-dayers conducting their own sing-alongs, oblivious that a game was going on in the background. The chant de rigueur of the early stages became ‘If Billy scores, we’re in the sea’, but although he did slot home from an offside position early on, there was little prospect of a moonlight swim; indeed Paynter’s premature exit signalled a chorus of ‘We’re not going in the sea’.

The first-half itself was nothing revelatory; Blackpool edging possession and having the better of the chances, but deprived of Rachubka’s 3 assists, they had to settle for going in level. For their part, Leeds threatened in bursts, one Webber shot forcing Gilks to palm the ball around the post. McCormack also had a decent penalty shout when bundled over by Crainey; the ref looked non-plussed and checked with the assistant who merely looked vacant. ‘Play on’ was the verdict and a new ‘Shit Bald B**stard’ was born on the touchline.

Rare Leeds attack in the first half

The only other memorable vignette from the opening 45 minutes was a 10 minute burst of ‘Leeds United Calypso’, punctured at the end of each line with a resounding ‘Bates Out! – I can only imagine the frantic efforts of Eddie Gray to drown out the chant from his commentary position amongst the depths of the Leeds support.

After the break, again the stands provided a more compelling spectacle than the game as four Leeds fans in quick succession engaged in fisticuffs in the neighbouring stand; the final fella tumbling down 4 rows of seats, as if paying homage to the legendary fan at the Manor Ground in 1990. In fairness, the Blackpool support offered more than the Reading fans last time out; a genuine passion invigorated ‘We all hate Leeds scum’ - they must still be seething from that 3-1 reverse back in season 1970-71 when we last played them.

The penalty shout

Inevitably, back on the pitch, as Blackpool pushed for a late winner, Leeds collapsed. Phillips and Ince both… well, I was gonna say raped the back four, but that would be both distasteful, and also inaccurate, being that term suggests a degree of resistance. It was left to Angel Martinez beat Lees and Bromby to snatch the winner, before O’Dea kept up Warnock’s ‘average’... albeit only on red cards; moments later Clayton clattered another opponent and was swiftly withdrawn.

At least it wasn’t 5…

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Leeds United 4 Peterborough 1

Finally, after weeks of abject misery, a chance to leave Elland Road at 4.50pm with something approaching a state of happiness...well contentment, no actually scratch that, just relief that for once, it “wasn’t all that bad!” A day when the customary, soul destroying, anaemic spectacle of 90 minutes football was cast aside, giving way to an almost mildly diverting experience!

Enthusiasm come 3 o’clock was hardly all-consuming; the football over the last few games has become something almost incidental that occurs in the background, while thoughts are trained on concerns more worthy of attention, like what to have for tea; the sight of 11 players moving around aimlessly, initially intriguing but soon losing its attraction – a bit an aquarium...but without a visible ‘war chest’.

Billy's goal in all it's detailed glory...

Today was different though, the instantaneous apathy that greets the kick-off replaced by an energy, zest and hunger that United maintained for nigh on 5 minutes! But what a 5 minutes; the recalled Billy Paynter twice presented with gilt-edged chances to end his 14 month scoring hiatus, only to prove himself more adept at finding the stray boots of defenders rather than the bottom corner.

Inevitably the high intensity took its toll, and after such a blistering opening, the players retreated back to their default awfulness; arguments and abdication of defensive responsibilities aplenty. Tom Lees, now playing in the customary ‘taken out of the firing line’ right back berth looked suitably horrified every time he received the ball, desperately gesticulating for a sympathetic team mate to relieve him of his ball retention nightmare, to absolve any responsibility of running with the shiny, spherical white thing that seems to intimidate him so. With Pugh on the receiving end of a tongue lashing from Clayton and O’Dea setting the benchmark in backing off, it looked like being another afternoon to endure rather than enjoy.

The early exit of ‘The Robbie Rogers’ added to the despondency; two challenges now made at Elland Road, two premature exits - thousands of females mourned his departure, while thousands of males sighed with despondency as Danny Webber replaced him. Gone was the poster boy, but moments later, stepping into the void was a new poster girl; the Peterborough physio; a rather striking, petit lady with fair shoulder-length hair who made her Elland Road bow to the predictable chorus of wolf-whistles and sexist remarks before leaving the pitch to the rather more original chant of “Fergie’s gonna beat ya!”

It was a moment of light relief, temporarily distracting the crowd from the task in hand of witnessing a defensive capitulation, but on 38 minutes, everyone was firmly back on task. Charlie Taylor, having shown promise on his debut in the Autumn, quickly proved his suitability in his audition for the Leeds United defensive unit by inexplicably giving the ball away on the edge of the area, Joe Newell burst through, going past Danny Pugh as if he was...Danny Pugh and slipping the ball through the large gap Andy Lonergan had opened between his legs. Warnock, who’d waved his fist frantically at the concession of possession, was apoplectic – Same old Leeds, same old shit.

Then, in the dying embers of first-half injury time it all changed; Billy scored (seriously, he did). Apart from the final touch not coming off his arse, it was the exactly sort of goal every fan visualised, the ball falling to Paynter via a goalkeeping fumble and a centre half’s back – inexplicably, Billy chose to aim between the white sticks and...GOAL!!! Paynter peeled away, rubbing his eyes; whether it was a gesture to symbolise shedding tears of emotion or articulate his disbelief was unclear. As he left the pitch for the interval, he gave his shirt to a spectator in the West Stand; the star exhibit for the new museum, senselessly discarded.

Half-time arrived, playing host to the usual Ben Fry show; our presenter smugly parading about the pitch, resembling a potato wrapped in a hot water tank insulation blanket, plugging LUFC Insurance services and reminding everyone how taking up membership is the only way fans can guarantee tickets in a half-empty stadium. His fawning attempts to sound hip by commenting “Ooh, very casual” during the ‘You Bet, You Score’ challenge as Felix - a man who exuded ‘dudeness’ – chipped in from 35 yards, failed miserably to mask his everyday persona of gimp-cum-muppet-cum-octogenarian arse kisser.

Taxi for Mrs Ferguson...

Come the second half, come another 5 minute whirlwind, though this time it produced two goals, both for McCormack; the first from a Bromby throw, a far post finish fumbled in via the keeper, the second a tap-in after Clayton covered acres of ground on the overlap to lay on an inviting cross. In less than 4 minutes of football, Leeds had scored 3 goals and Peterborough had capitulated; thoughts immediately strayed 100 miles south where Mrs Ferguson was most likely hiding away the cat and frantically booking into a Novotel for the night. In contrast, flummoxed Leeds supporters joyously chanted “What the f**k is going on?” Snoddy responded by holding his arms aloft in puzzlement as he jogged back to the half-way line with a smile on his face.

From that point on the game was over; Leeds had somehow found a side more mediocre, de-motivated and defensively shambolic than themselves, from here it was more a case of how many more the team could score. There was certainly plenty of opportunities over the remaining 40 minutes, though sadly most fell to Danny Webber; the amount of time and space afforded to him down the left and through the middle was astonishing, yet time after time he produced the square root of f**k all. Leeds United committed a cardinal sin some years ago by releasing goalkeeper Nicky Byrne to unleash a reign of insipid pop terror through the medium of Westlife; it appears that karmic retribution has been had in the guise of JLS reject, sent to Elland Road on a short-term contract, his mission: to screw up every goal scoring opportunity that presents itself.

LEEDS UNITED 4 (Paynter 2 (TWO), McCormack 2) PETERBOROUGH 1 (Newell)

Another goal did come though, and it was Billy, and it was a good striker’s goal (really); just reward too for a man who was transformed after his opener – it was glorious spectacle, like watching the moment when Forrest Gump shed his leg braces and then suddenly, anything was possible! Run Billy, Run!!! ...True balance was only restored in the universe when ‘Barn Door’ sliced his big hat-trick opportunity into the South Stand.

When the final whistle arrived the players were, just for once, able to look at the crowd in the eye as they applauded...

...all in all, that was almost fun!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Leeds United 0 Derby County 2

For those with strong Christian beliefs, Easter Sunday was a time of celebration; a time to give thanks that an all-round good egg (pun intended) of a fella who had a penchant for preaching – and was also quite nifty at putting together a coffee table – had risen from the dead. The alleged ‘Son of God’, saviour of humanity and founder of the planet’s largest religion had really socked it to the haters…

For those who’d be more inclined to enter ‘Leeds United’ under the religious beliefs section of the Census, behold; another resurrection! Sadly, this was no footballing messiah, fabled to be afforded deity-like status in the annuls of footballing history; but a man rather more akin to the little donkey that Mary rode into Bethlehem on – yes, Paul Connolly was back! (Again!)

He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy!

That seems to be where Leeds United is at currently. Twice now, Connolly’s been castigated, twice publicly crucified…and yet, he keeps coming back. Grayson didn’t want him, and it seemed that Warnock had surely seen enough after Watford – do we not use nails for our metaphorical crucifixions at Elland Road, instead favouring Pritt Stick? Paul Connolly and a pestilence of utterly incapable footballers – the Damned United, indeed!

In fairness to Warnock, I think deep down he knows that Connolly is bad for him, that he’ll only let him down when he needs him the most, that he’s gonna break his heart; but like one of those girls who keeps going back to bastard ex-boyfriends, despite being able to do so much better for herself, Warnock keeps looking around in the mistaken belief that there’s no one else out there – Neil, it’s not you, it’s him!

It’s little wonder that the Elland Road crowd were so subdued, the ovation to greet the teams, comparable to the reluctant applause that inevitably follow most home games (10 and counting). It’s been a long time since Leeds have played an ‘end of season’ fixture before the Easter break is up and they haven’t been missed. Not that you’d have thought it was a ‘dead rubber’ for Derby, their players joined for a pre-match huddle; I can only assume it was a motivational thing, as opposed a strategy to instil the courage necessary to perform at the ‘fortress’.

It took all of about a minute to have our worst fears confirmed, that’s how long the opposition took to find a gaping hole between centre back and left back. By the 6th minute, Paul Robinson was already ripping into Tom Lees for losing his marker; Lees looked forlorn – maybe some time in the reserves will do him good, after all, everyone’ll “do it for Redders!” If the writing wasn’t already on the wall, Michael Brown got out the spray can and went all Banksy on our asses – a tackle with the leading leg at a 90 degree angle is generally frowned upon, even a little bit at Leeds. Today’s #Brownfact – that was f**king stupid!

1-0

So onwards in the relentless pursuit of defeat; it didn’t take long to pick up the momentum, Craig Bryson joining the esteemed and seemingly never-ending list of players who’ve scored thumping long range efforts against Leeds this season. The game looked dead from that moment, and despite plenty of effort (but very little else), it was; 60 minutes of a jejune, somniferous spectacle, leading to only one conclusion.

Warnock, one of the football’s great pachyderms, but evidently despairing at the state of the playing squad, was quick to try and distance himself from many of the individuals that represented him today, quick to regale to the radio audience the tale of his conversation with Nigel Clough who was warned that he’d “never see another team of Neil Warnock’s like this”. Some may suggest that Warnock’s policy talking openly about the need to re-haul the squad is in some small way responsible for recent performances, if so, haven’t those same players implicated proved themselves to be of insufficient character to rise to the challenge of proving him wrong? With the season dead, I’d much rather hear straight talking rhetoric about team building and clear-outs, heaping pressure on Bates and Harvey, as opposed to sound bites about “pushing on” and “looking for a response”.

Danny Pugh in default 'left for dead' pose...

The only question I’d ask of Warnock is where he intends to start. In goal, Lonergan’s been far from our poorest player this season, but still a liability and not of the standard required for a promotion chasing team; Connolly, I could write a dissertation on… I think I’ll stick with the midfield on this occasion, or rather the lack of – could a midfield that has Brown and Pugh at its heart , not to mention Nunez even hope to cut it at League One level?

Brown is maybe good for another year, given a full pre-season and on the understanding that he’s not going to be an ever present, but somebody who’s utilised in certain games, particularly on the road. The other two mentioned though, forget it. Warnock commented on Friday that Pugh had shown him something new on Friday – I only assume it was his ability to foul. Buoyed by those words, Pugh spent the entire first half slide tackling; what, I’m not sure – there were never any players in his range, but he may have aggressively displaced some air. It’s a common theme for Danny, a man capable of losing his own shadow at a corner. It was no surprise to see Steve Davis drift past him as if he wasn’t there, en route to the second goal. As for Ramon…I found myself counting white shirts, just to make sure he was still there.  

That Danny Webber moment, for anyone who's missed it!

It wasn’t all bad though; ‘The Robbie Rogers’ came on for a run-out and having already been knocked unconscious and captained the side in his previous appearances, today, 49 seconds in, he finally touched the ball – it was a good one too; a nice pass down the touchline, Ramon’s Opta Index rating eclipsed in one deft flick of the boot. There was also Danny Webber: thank you Danny, for that effort when clean through on goal, it brought back memories of Enoch and Ricketts in their pomp. I’m still smiling about it now.

The Kop - no, the game hasn't finished

Apparently Warnock can’t wait for next season to start and has promised that “The team I put out at the start of the season will absolutely love playing at Elland Road!” I hope so, as I’d quite like to love watching football at the ground.

For now, there’s just four more games left to go, so as Warnock also says, “Let’s just grin and bear it”. 


Monday, 9 April 2012

Leeds United Movie Poster Mash-up #10

In humble homage to the chosen one...

#10 BROWN ALMIGHTY


Suggestions for future projects welcome as ever...


Saturday, 7 April 2012

Reading 2 Leeds United 0

Oh Snoddy, what were you thinking?

That was the moment, or rather it should’ve been it; the glorious realisation of one of those ‘Leeds United against the world' triumphs, pissed away in the blink of a lame finish. Even then, Becchio had the chance to cast that aberration into the shadows of irrelevance, but he didn’t follow in McCormack’s fiercely struck free-kick. Why oh why, didn’t you react, Luciano?

Certainly a better name for a stand than the Pink Link at the Gapharm

Hesitation in the end was the difference between victory and defeat. Becchio hesitated when anticipation’s reward was a tap-in, minutes later, Lonergan hesitated (for the umpteenth time), leaving himself in no position to claim the ball, nor to intercept Robson-Kanu’s intelligent nod back to Adam Le Fondre. At that moment, the game was up for a shattered Leeds side, the second goal, merely added insult to Paul Robinson’s injury; flattering a home side long since reduced to sacrificing their footballing principles in favour of an aerial assault.

It was a day where notions of injustice predominated; not just in terms of events on the pitch, there was a wider picture, one that extended to those in the stands and an appreciation of where the two clubs represented are currently heading. When I arrived home last night, another (not unexpected) dimension was added to the tick list, as I re-lived the experience through two nauseating hours of Sky punditry.

On the pitch, United gave as much as could be expected; everything the supporters could’ve demanded – it wasn’t pretty, but if nothing else, 7 years under Ken Bates has moulded those who follow the Whites into some of football’s most unwilling pragmatists – and in return, they received the sort of backing that could only leave the home supporters looking on in resigned envy at. As always seems to be the case at Leeds, the greater the adversity, the more intense the backing.

Rash? Thompson, yes. Referee...?

Of course, the referee more than played his part to that end; the decision to brandish a red card at Zac Thompson, a ridiculous decision. A 19 year old, getting his first game under a new manager, foolishly lost the ball in a dangerous area and desperately tried to redeem himself – yes a lunge, but one-footed and on the ground; a complete loss of common sense under the influence exerted by the cynical over-reaction of Gorkss, ending both Thompson’s involvement and the game as a spectacle.

Darren Drysdale’s subsequent handling of what followed just served to exacerbate questions about his performance; he appeared to spend the remainder of the game attempting to portray the image of a man with an incredibly relaxed attitude towards the physical aspects of the game. If anybody had wanted to argue Danny Pugh’s right to still be on the pitch at half-time, his continued presence until the final whistle on the back of the combination of his first-half lunge and second-half clattering of McAnuff cast the officials in a ludicrous light.

Corner (3 of 16)

Those three challenges apart though, there was nothing else reckless or incendiary of note; not that you’d know it from the reaction of the home side, nor the ‘neutrals’ in the media. Watching Sky’s ‘balanced’ coverage was enough to convince that the time and expense lavished on travelling to the Madejski was more than worthwhile. Don Goodman’s limp comments about every challenge made, betrayed a career played out during a period where a degree of physicality was the norm, rather than a cue for mock outrage; the fact that all talk leading in to, and during the interval centred on whether Pugh should have walked, rather than why Thompson did, an exemplification of the tone – unsurprisingly, Sky’s studio guest, Reading’s Championship winning captain, Graeme Murty could not possibly conceive an opinion to the contrary.

The commentary wasn’t just restricted to those challenges though; Michael Brown had his motives openly questioned with every tackle he made, yet Mikele Leigertwood’s persistent fouling of Brown went unnoticed. In contrast, Jason Roberts, all prima donna whingeing and flailing arms, was praised for his strength and wily experience. What is it with Roberts? He appears to have adopted a new air of arrogance, common to many media personalities. Quite why I don’t know; moving from a non-descript Premier League club to a progressive if uninteresting Championship side is nothing to boast about, while taking Leroy Rosenior’s overwhelming blandness and importing it, lock, stock and barrel to 606 certainly isn’t!

Michael Brown - wouldn't hurt a fly!

The Sky team had a script in their mind; a confident, progressive Reading side, coming up against a dogged but limited Leeds United team. Sophistication against physicality, footballers against grafters… the Thompson challenge fit the script perfectly and after that they were going to crowbar in every incident that followed it, fashioning it to suit their needs. It seems that, not happy with skewing the modern game beyond recognition and inflicting ridiculous kick-off times on supporters, Sky will not be happy until they’ve suffocated all evidence of on-the-pitch aggression with a large corporate damp flannel as they crusade to present football as the shiny, airbrushed, soulless spectacle that so many of those who were there prior to the ‘revolution’ abhor.

Sadly, most of the Reading fans appear to be amongst the post-Revolution gate crashers, which brings into question a greater perceived injustice; while media digs and on the pitch hard luck stories are meat and drink to Leeds fans, there was something which was in turn both wholly depressing and uplifting about being in the away end yesterday.

To be clear, I have no dislike of Reading, in fact I much rather they secured promotion ahead of West Ham whose promotion strategy has been to buy every player in sight then try and steamroller the league through the medium of hoofball. In Brian McDermott, Reading have a likeable, progressive manager, excellent players who play the game as it should be and most crucially, a chairman whose ambitions have always ultimately placed football above all other matters. When Anton Zingarevich appeared on the scene, Madejski’s reaction was to step aside for the good of the club.

But then I look in the stands. I travelled yesterday expecting a buzzing stadium, it was anything but. For such a pivotal game, the atmosphere bordered on the pathetic – as bad as Elland Road has become, the sighs of apathy common to most homes games would’ve still been sufficient to drown out the Reading support. Where was the passion, the hunger? Bar a few pockets of ‘hard core’ locals in the two sections by the Leeds fans, the entire stadium was almost without exception, inanimate throughout. The few that did sing, mustering a few simplistic, handclap-synchronised chants that petered out in a matter of seconds; it took Le Fondre’s goal to confound my suspicions that two-thirds of the stadium was actually wheelchair bound.

A goal...and confirmation that Reading fans have the power to stand

In the quieter moments there was that familiar, depressing sound of a lone drummer, somewhere secreted from the view of disapproving eyes; there was even pre-arranged scarf waving to greet the teams at the start - it was like being at Doncaster, but on a grander scale. When the goal arrived, the inevitable musical accompaniment kicked in, the ultimate affirmation of another soulless club, moving up in the world as Leeds struggle.

In contrast, the Leeds fans, with nothing to excite them beyond the prospect of watching a decimated, unremarkable squad of journeymen, grafting to try to and secure something against a club that regarded Aldershot as its main rivals before their liquidation, in a facile effort to try and prolong the hopeless spectacle of a play-off charge… well, it was there for all to witness. Non-stop, passionate backing throughout; it’s testament to our away following that some people bemoaned the fact that we could only muster 3,126 followers for a relatively meaningless, television game, some 200 miles away.

While there was a degree of pride to be taken from hearing the Leeds end drown out any attempts of backing from the pockets of home fans, I couldn’t help wondering how Elland Road would’ve sounded had it been the Whites, playing a crucial Easter game with pole position in the table up for grabs. I dare say it would’ve been deafening – the Madejski merely resembled another place where ambition was being wasted on those who appreciate it the least. Reading’s new owner made his choice based on his experiences during a brief college stint. Is it too much to wish that some moneyed philanthropist might stop off for a piss at Tropical World in Roundhay Park and feel similarly seduced? Someone with enough money to make even Bates listen?

Still, at least there’s our support to hold on to; away from home especially where we’re the equal of any, envy of almost all. I suppose that’s what it all comes down to in the end; do you want to watch Premier League football in a sterile environment at a well-run club, set up to sustain survival, or would you rather go through the pain of watching Leeds, knowing that when finally our day arrives, it will be embraced with the sort of passion that Reading fans can only dream of?

So good luck Reading; I do hope they go up (even if my dislike of West Ham is part of the reason), although to be clear, when Friday comes around at Saint Mary’s, I’ll be firmly backing the home side; Southampton are a club with both tradition and a passionate support.

As for Leeds? Well, it could get better next year, or it could be a long time coming yet. But no matter how it pans out, I know where I’d still rather be watching my football, week in, week out, and who with. If we’re still here now in numbers and voice, after all this, imagine how it'll be when there’s actually something that’s worth turning up for and singing about.

Hang in there...

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Leeds United: The age of the metrosexual cometh?

With the passing of the managerial baton at Elland Road from Simon Grayson to Neil Warnock, there appears to have been a sea change in attitude and philosophy at the club. I’m not talking about improvements on the pitch here, but rather something less anticipated – a new emphasis on image; is this man, initially perceived as a dour, no-nonsense Yorkshireman leading Leeds United headlong into a new metrosexual age of enlightenment?

Elland Road has proudly stood as one of the few remaining strongholds of resistance against the footballer as a modern man. If a player possesses a face that resembles the back end of a bus, cropped hair and considers tracksuit tops and jeans as sophisticated casualwear then acceptance is a given. Exposure to any other breed of footballer is almost universally met with mockery. Years spent in the football wilderness, in splendid isolation from the bright lights of the Premier League and a never-ending stream of sophisticated European imports has protected supporters against the influx of ‘image savvy’ talent.

Prutts: The trailblazer

Previously, only David Prutton and his luscious locks have been embraced in LS11; though a combination of Prutts’ disarming charm, self-mockery and credible resemblance to the son of God were all extenuating factors in his favour. More typically, players suspected of being driven by vanity are regarded with suspicion, both their commitment to the cause and masculinity questioned.

That man bag...

Has Warnock now appeared on the scene with a mandate to challenge such Luddite sensibilities? While the leaked photograph of his meeting in Monaco with Bates and Harvey had the internet buzzing over his appointment, I was far from alone in noticing him proudly sporting a man bag. Over the opening weeks of his reign has anybody failed to appreciate his perfectly maintained eyebrows, his beautifully moisturised skin and his repeated application of lip balm while in the dug-out? No wonder he exudes so much confidence in front of the cameras; offering a devilish smile, a joke…practically undressing the viewer with his lingering eye contact. Contrast that to the demeanour of Simon Grayson, portraying the shifting eyes and body language of a guilty school boy.

If anybody doubts the shift in attitude I would implore them to listen to Warnock’s interview from after the Millwall game; while discussing the defensive performance he remarks that there are “…not many good looking lads in our team at the back!” Is this a wake-up call for those players; a warning that looking the part is an all-encompassing term that stretches beyond merely displaying the ability to play? 

Pout for me, you sexy b**tard!!

My take is perhaps that the seeds of change were planted some time ago by our chairman. It stands to reason that for a man to whom Leeds United represents a vanity project, image would be such an integral concern. The tell-tale signs were there for all to see: an octogenarian deciding to undergo eye laser surgery, his continued references to Susannah’s influence on matters in the radio addresses, the ‘magnificent’ new East Stand boxes – ‘Leeds United: the beautification project’ is all systems go.

Under this scheme, Simon Grayson was the inevitable first victim. He returned pre-season with the appearance of a man with little concern for his image. As he stood on the touchline, donning a tight-fitting training t-shirt that did nothing but accentuate his growing stomach, he resembled a middle-aged dad who’d long since abandoned any notions or desire to impress the opposite sex; the selection of shorts over tracksuit bottoms, merely compounding the grave wardrobe selection.

Grayson was an ill-fit with these new found ambitions; high fashion and grooming regimes, untrusted bedfellows for a man perhaps now better suited to a post in a town that will re-assuredly shelter him from any such progressive notions. Ironic then, that the final permanent signing of his tenure is a pointer for the direction in which the club is going.

Robbie Rogers: Brand, model, humanitarian... and erm, footballer.

‘The Robbie Rogers’ is not so much a footballer, but a brand. He has his own website, his own corporate sponsors that include talent and global marketing agencies, and his own clothing line. His most recent ‘journal’ post effused about his new Spring Collection, particularly a line of lemon English twill shorts. Add to that his plugging of humanitarian housing projects in Brazil and we’re talking ‘GQ – Man of the Year’ material here. The photographs posted on his twitter feed, not so much a ramshackle assortment of images, rather a selected portfolio of poses, fit to adorn any Littlewoods catalogue.

So what are the implications for this Bates/Warnock/Rogers fronted narcissistic revolution? Will the influence spread to all areas of the club? After years of shambling around in a tatty leather jacket, is Peter Lorimer going to have a consultation with a stylist? Might Shaun Harvey track down Wayne Rooney to find out about his hair weave? Maybe Billy Paynter will finally have a tummy tuck? Are there implications for our summer recruitment strategy? Will targets now be selected on their potential to fit with a pulchritude-obsessed merchandise catalogue as well as the wage structure?

The commercial angle is the most intriguing. The scope is there for the superstore to introduce an entire range of beauty products. Luciano has to be the poster boy for shampoos and conditioners, Ramon Nunez (so I’m told) has skin to die for, so that’s the moisturisers covered – what are the chances of getting Tom Lees to start spray tanning? How about next season’s away kits moving away from black and Chelsea blue and being produced in seasonal pastel shades?

Snoddy: A man not immune to the temptress that is vanity

Then there’s Snoddy, a whole project in himself; beloved captain but suffering with severe complexion issues. A new regular LUTV show is surely in the offing here, following his transformation from ugly duckling to swan; a daily regime involving an oatifix face mask, ocean salt cleanser and tea tree water, followed by enzymion moisturiser from the Lush facial range could transform his oily, spot prone skin, providing an invigorated, warm and balanced healthy glow (thanks for the input, Lauren).

Oh, and we can never forget Ben Fry. How about doing away with the morally dubious tie-in with Sporting Bet and have Kenco sponsoring an on-pitch enema; the lucky contestants asked to name the contents of the discharge pan (all contents consumed in Howard’s restaurant) in exchange for a prized meal for two?

We shouldn’t mock though, this affects us all; if you think the beer is sub-standard and the steak and peppercorn pies are crimes against football catering, think on - next season it could be pinot grigio and feta cheese salads.

Prepare yourself for Leeds United 2012/13: If your nails aren’t manicured, you’re not coming in…