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

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Leeds United 3 Oxford United 0

The League Cup is a competition that holds little interest for me; it’s always been very much to the FA Cup what the UEFA Cup used to be the European Cup and is now even more so to the Champions League: a poor a distant relation. It seems to me at least, that the League Cup – or to be correct, the Capital One Cup – exists these days for a single purpose; as a viable option in the pursuit of silverware for the Premier League ‘never will be’ brigade; a route glory for a Stoke City (actually, scrub them, they were turned over by Swindon), Fulham (oh hang on!), ermm… it really does seem like nobody gives a shit about the Coca-Cola…? Carling…? Oh yeah, Capital One Cup.

Actually no, I take that back. There’s always Liverpool, a club that appears to assemble teams of such astonishing mediocrity, that the practically annual salvation provided by a fortunate Wembley win in this competition just about sustains the belief on Merseyside that the club remain a big player, come every August that follows.

The magic of the (Capital One) cup

Fair to say then, the pilgrimage to Elland Road was not undertaken with an overwhelming sense of excitement and anticipation of what was to follow. Year upon year of standing in a two-thirds empty Elland Road, barely engaged in a football match that the whole world – playing and management staff included – appear indifferent to and regularly concludes with a depressing defeat is enough to stifle even modest expectations.

With this in mind and the thought of lining Bates’ trousers with another £12 for the pleasure of standing witness to it all, looming heavy in the mind, there had to be to something worthwhile to be had at the end of it; something that allowed the trip home to be made untinged by self-loathing for pissing more money into the despot’s deposit box for little or nothing in return – Sam Byram, I salute you!!

Transfer deadline: Friday - 11pm

With 33 minutes on the clock, young Sam received the ball with his back to goal and spun on the spot, before nudging the ball between two approaching defenders, nipping between the pair, and then from an angle, chipping the goalkeeper from around 12 yards. It was a wonderful goal and instant payback for a lot of the intolerable shit that this competition has served up over the years. Such was the quality of the goal, had it come from Rooney or Van Persie in a Champions League tie, you’d imagine that Gary Neville gone way beyond the point of “GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLL!!” and to the moment of total abandonment as he reached the absolute point of a shuddering, ground shaking climax, showering a profusely hyper and sweaty Alan Parry with so much celebratory seed that his co-commentator resembled a painter’s radio.

Yes, it was a special goal – especially for a lad primarily considered a right-back, and prior to Preston, not even involved in the first team squad. The buzz was such that those who were there rushed home at the final whistle to relive the moment, while those who'd only heard of it were already there, posited in front of Sky Sports News. It was never shown; in fact, as it turned out, Sky didn’t even bother to send a camera to Elland Road. Sky Sports: “Because Every Goal Matters” – MY ARSE!!

The only real shame was that such a goal should arrive on a Tuesday night in a League Cup tie against lower league opposition, as having an empty South Stand as a backdrop did Byram’s effort rather a disservice. Still, at least Sam was in good company, as 6 minutes prior Rodolph Austin also notched his first for the club against the same backdrop. Another fine effort it was too; the Beast drilling in from 25 yards, the exact direction of shot seemingly immaterial to the man as he struck home, safe in the knowledge that the keeper was merely an object placed to help deflect the ball towards its inevitable destination. A joyous celebration ensued as a leap from Rodolph, and a spontaneous rendition of “Rodolph Austin’s having a party, bring your Rizlas and Bob Marley” of sufficient voracity on the Geldard to ensure its widespread adoption as chant of choice, marked the moment.

Bring your Rizlas and Bob Marley...

The lead flattered a Leeds side that had struggled to get to grips with confident looking visitors, but from that point onwards, it was pretty straightforward stuff and shortly after Byram’s contribution, Diouf could have killed the tie dead, but his shot was beaten away.

The second period continued in the same vein as the first had ended as Leeds dominated; Austin, freed to break forward more often due to the presence of Brown almost scored with an outrageous bending effort from 35 yards that clipped the bar – some players shoot on sight, Rodolph appears to oblige upon command, seemingly letting rip whenever the cry goes up from the stands. Then as tradition on the evening dictated, it was Byram’s turn again, this time he also failed to oblige with a finish, fiercely volleying Drury’s cross wide from 8 yards.

Second half pressure

A third goal did arrive on 73 minutes as a second sighting of a smiling Tom Lees was logged in the space of 7 days, an angled header into the bottom corner putting a seal on the victory. Even the begrudging acknowledgement of El Hadji Diouf’s superb cross from the right couldn’t diminish the significance of such an event.

So all in all, not a bad night; certainly far better than anticipated both in terms of result and performance – all that and one very special moment via the right boot of Sam Byram. The feelings of self-loathing and naivety could be set aside and put on hold for another journey home… although that couldn’t be said of one particularly heroic caller to the Yorkshire Radio post-match phone-in. Having opened with the classic fawning praise of Eddie Gray gambit to place the hosts at complacent ease, the man in question then proceeded to brand Bates corrupt, declare the squad weak and label the radio station ‘Propaganda FM’ – Eddie floundered, ummed and ahhed, then mumbled his default line about the game being “all about opinions” before his co-host finally rescued him by cutting off the incognito dissident.

As Tuesday night showed, twice over, sometimes you’ve just gotta be there… 

Friday, 24 August 2012

#Pen4Ken: My letter

In recognition of the ingenious new campaign to alert our chairman of discord at his continued reign at Elland Road (and of the letter being almost impossible read from a photograph), here is my contribution to the #Pen4Ken campaign...

24th August 2012

Dearest Ken,

I hope this letter finds you in rude health and with your appetite for despotism undimmed by the passing of another pre-season.

Please find enclosed with this letter, a pen for your personal use; something I always regard as invaluable to have to hand, in order to fulfil trivial day-to-day obligations, such as completing the Daily Star crossword, or signing documentation to confirm the completion of multi-million pound takeover deals.

You should also find within, a colouring pencil for Mr Ben Fry; a small gift that should help to keep him entertained as he fills the hours, waiting for your next Yorkshire Radio interview. I would very much appreciate it if you could pass it onto Ben with my regards; I did ponder sending it separately, but I think both you and I recognise the folly of needlessly extravagant expenditure.

Before I go further, I feel I must apologise for the quality of pen that I offer you; there was a very fine selection of high quality, sought after writing implements available in the marketplace yesterday, but being that people typically don’t do their business this early the week, I thought I’d leave my purchase until stationery suppliers were making less outlandish demands. Sadly, it appears that the more naïve members of the letter writing community have given in to the exorbitant prices being quoted, leaving very little to choose from.

Please however accept my assurances that the pen in question, regardless of its age, appearance and the lack of interest expressed in it by other shoppers is still more than capable of doing the job it has been selected for. The owner of the stationers in question has also offered me guarantees about its suitability for purpose – needless to say, if this proves not to be the case, please inform me of your dissatisfaction and I will gladly alert the wider fan base to that person’s betrayal by publishing the address of his establishment on my blog and discretely urging readers to harass both him and other members of his immediate family.

Rather like those morons, dissidents and sickpots, I am writing to urge you to sell your stake in Leeds United FC and perhaps find another group of supporters to alienate. Rest assured, this doesn’t represent a damning judgement on my part of the job you are doing, but like some of the investors who you’ve spoken with in the past, I find myself intimidated when visiting Elland Road these days; some of the men in the Revie Stand have even taken to using swear words in reference to you – I can only imagine how discouraged potential bidders feel when they hear repeated pleas for new owners.

It would also seem the insignificant Trust organisation that you speak of appear to be gaining greater influence too; can you believe that they would now have some people believe sources other than the official website, match programme and Yorkshire Radio for the truth on all things Leeds United? Whatever next?

As much as it pains me to say it, I fear the end is nigh, so I can only hope you choose to leave before these undesirables try and taint the magnificent job you have done. If I can ever do anything in return to repay you for the last 7 years, by offering yourself a similarly, wholly substandard service over a seemingly endless period of time, at an exorbitant price, then please don’t hesitate to contact me. I shall be only too happy to oblige.

Here’s hoping this letter and the other contents reach you safely. I hear that local postal delivery office in Beeston has been employing a lot of immigrants of late, so you can never be sure what sure what they might decide to pocket for themselves. Can you believe we – well not you, obviously – pay taxes to cover their benefits? No, me neither?

Yours sincerely,

Adam. x

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Blackpool 2 Leeds United 1

The final Tuesday in July was a good day; I was in Cornwall for Leeds United’s pre-season tour; the previous evening the Whites had kicked-off their itinerary with a comfortable 6-0 victory against Tavistock; it wasn’t a great game, and at times it was a bit of a struggle, but it was early in pre-season so there was little reason for concern. Before that game, Leeds had confirmed the signing of four more players, while Robert Snodgrass was one of the first squad members to disembark the coach at Langsford Park, calming fears of a move away from the club. With the takeover seemingly imminent and the prospect of ‘marquee’ signings, the future was finally looking positive.

I spent that evening in Newquay; sat out with a couple of ice-cold pints of Cornish Rattler cider – hugely recommended, by the way – basking in the baking heat, under unblemished blue skies, drinking in everything around me as well as the contents of the glass afore me; the golden sands, the rocks, the stunning clear blue waters as they stretched out towards the horizon and the pale callipygian girls, pink from a day’s beach activities, who paddled in them; the sounds of the waves gently lapping against the shore, the faint waft of fish and chips… an idyllic experience.

Blackpool: Not quite Newquay

Four weeks on and now we’re here in Blackpool and the exciting new future we’ve been waiting to embrace at Elland Road still hasn’t arrived, nor have any major signings (bar the completion of Austin’s move), while Snodgrass has enrolled in the ex-player’s pension scheme over in East Anglia; the frustration, anguish and unanswered questions all remain; all that is different now are the surroundings.

Blackpool is hardly Newquay, and while the weather’s fair, the sands seem that little bit darker, the sea a bit grimmer, those glorious bikini-clad English roses have made way obese women in ill-fitting t-shirts and leggings, while any sounds from the sea are drowned out by the dual carriageway that separates the pub from the beach and the distinctive smell of cod and haddock, lost in a melange of kebab, pizza, ‘Southern fried’ chicken, donuts and candy floss aromas – back to reality!

Point? Yes please!

They say a week in football is a long time; well the past 28 days of following Leeds United’s off the pitch activities have seemed like an eternity…and wholly unproductive to boot. The trip to Bloomfield Road at least offered fans the best possible barometer with which to measure on the pitch progress; with the end of season trip to Cardiff being United’s only away game since our last visit to the seaside; there could’ve barely be a more effective gauge of Warnock’s pre-season work. 

In truth, there couldn't have been a sterner test at such an early stage; while Ian Holloway’s side aren’t amongst the bookies’ frontrunners for an automatic promotion slot, the side have been together for some time now and few changes had been made during the summer. Moreover, the pace and movement that typifies their style of play is exactly the what Leeds currently lack.

Ok, maybe a win...

Logic dictated that a draw would’ve represented a fine result; a victory only likely as the product of a ‘smash and grab’ job, built on a heroic defensive rear guard action, and for a while, it all seemed possible. Having dealt with early Blackpool pressure, Leeds took the lead; Tom Lees powering home a Ross McCormack corner – suddenly a huge result seemed possible; even Tom was moved to smile. So, to the tick sheet for the classic away performance:

Weather early storm – TICK
Score (set play desired method) – TICK

So far so good, and now on to coping with the home side’s response… and Leeds did, just about, making it to the interval ahead.

Now was the time to address the issues; while Leeds led, they only did so on the back of number of fine Paddy Kenny saves and the performances of Peltier, Pearce and Lees. Everywhere else the home side were comprehensively outperforming their opponents. The ball didn’t stick when it was hit forward to the front men, while the midfield, seemingly running about dazed in a ‘no man’s land’, were completely peripheral to proceedings. Matters on the pitch had to be addressed, but they weren’t and eventually it cost us.

The most sickening aspect of conceding the equaliser was the manner in which it came; just as supporters were wondering whether sheer good luck and determination at the back would prove to be enough, Luke Varney undid 75 minutes of toiling in an instant. Having failed to prevent the ball running out of play for a throw-in, he inexplicably stopped it from rolling away; Stephen Crainey took advantage, galloping into the void of empty space vacated by the out of position forward, playing a one-two to bypass an exposed Sam Byram, before squaring to Nouha Dicko to equalise.

Game over...

The winner was as inevitable as it was swift in its arrival; substitute Matt Phillips, stroking home after a Byram slip let Tom Ince storm to the by-line unopposed. Seconds earlier Warnock had sent on Danny Pugh for a woeful Aidy White, his introduction almost seemed a valedictory acknowledgement that the game was gone, even at 1-1.  In truth, I would've been able to empathise with such logic.

Come the final whistle, there were few positives to be had; perhaps the most philosophical view was that at least we got away with only a 2-1; even allowing for the crossbar’s intervention, Leeds were only a ‘Rachubka’ away from shipping 5 goals again, and it wouldn’t have flattered the home side. On reflection, the game did at least affirm the belief that we now do have the makings of a very solid backline; Peltier has been especially impressive in his short time at the club.

We can all hope...

The problems lie with all the questions that were posed beforehand, those that the game was hopefully going to provide some reassurance about – it didn’t. Blackpool’s pace, fluidity and speed of movement not only exemplified everything the Leeds side currently lacks, but also ruthlessly exposed the new look midfield. While Warnock was especially critical of the front four in his post-match interview, and in fairness Becchio and McCormack didn’t hold the ball up effectively, those playing behind them, to a man, were abysmal. Norris was anonymous; Austin, so effective on Saturday was reduced to chasing shadows throughout; Varney’s only contribution of note was his role in the equaliser, while Aidy White contributed absolutely nothing going forward; though very effective on the run, White seems incapable of beating an opponent from a standing start, his passing too was woeful.

Warnock himself should not escape examination either; his tactics were baffling. With the Leeds team already struggling with width, where was the sense in having White start the game on the right of midfield, especially when it necessitated Peltier also playing on his unfavoured side of the pitch to accommodate the move? With Tom Ince’s attacking prowess likely to be a key factor, the decision seemed all the more mystifying, especially with Adam Drury sitting idly on the bench. And where was Michael Brown? With the midfield so embarrassingly over-run and Austin really struggling, surely somebody with his experience was needed out there in the middle?

So not the best night out…rather like 90% of recent Tuesdays on the road with Leeds United; yes we can defend, but not necessarily yet as a unit, while as an attacking force, we’re a long way short of the mark. There’s now only 9 days remaining of the transfer window remaining and one only man standing between the club and a concerted push for promotion that the arrival of two or three big money, pacy, creative players can herald.

Seems like we’ve been here before…

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Leeds United 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0

"O Middle Eastern bidder, Middle Eastern bidder, wherefore art thou Middle Eastern bidder?”

By the hours of mid-morning, rumours were abound of an appearance by Leeds United’s very own Romeo Montague at Elland Road; the elusive, secretive figure(s) at the heart of a summer of TOMA-related torture, finally stepping out from the shadows of anonymity to reveal himself/themselves to an already love struck public; the man/men who would be at the forefront of a revolution marking our transformation from a failing, ‘small time’ property developing business back into competitive, ‘big time’ football club.

Weak at the knees yet?

Any dreams of the hero(s) of the piece, parachuting down from the skies, landing on the centre spot to sign the papers just ahead of kick-off were to be cruelly denied; but we’ve learned to harbour modest expectations at Elland Road these days – a decade of abject misery does that to people. However, it seems he (as it turned out, it was just one) was here, and if the photographs and the scientifically groundless work of the WACCOE facial recognition team are anything to go by, the man in question was a certain Sheikh Sauod Bin Adbulrahman Al Thani: sports fanatic, vice-president of the Qatari Olympics bid and member of the family that bankrolled the successful World Cup bid and are worth a cool $85bn – “Dare to dream” indeed.

In a sudden, perverse reversal of roles, the Leeds support found themselves cast into the role of Romeo; gazing up at very their own Miss Capulet as their suitor looked out from their elevated East Stand executive box balcony vantage point. It mattered not to those below that this new love of theirs wasn’t a beautiful brunette, with pale silken skin and wispy hair that daintily danced on the breeze, for marriage into the Al Thani family also brought with it the promise of eternal happiness and riches…

It's been too long...

And so it began, a new courtship; the Leeds fans on their best, vociferous, supportive behaviour as they tried to consummate a bond between a Yorkshire footballing dynasty and one from a distant land, while a diminutive fella sporting stubble and shades exchanged niceties with Ken and Susannah. But are we finally close to the line? Is the altar in sight? Well Andy Couzens claims the deal will go through in the next 24-48 hours - and who are we to doubt someone who played a handful of games for us in the mid-90s? - so that’d mean we’re now entering the fabled “Two and forty hours” period ahead of the resolution of the tale… let’s just hope we avoid the unpalatable spectacle of thousands of grief stricken supporters plunging daggers into their midriff.

Anyway...avert your longing stares from the stands and on to the pitch as suddenly a game was about to intrude upon the centre stage and a new league season kick-off; the buzz in the stadium a stark contrast to the mood as a defeat to Leicester brought the last campaign to a close. The first starting XI of the campaign featured 8 debutants, 7 of whom were summer signings – testament to the exhaustive work carried out in by Neil Warnock since April 28th. Finally (give or take a marquee signing or three) the man in charge was able to field something approaching a team formed in his own image; players that will compete for every ball, that won’t go missing during games…now bring on the pace and flair!

From the first whistle, everything promised was delivered in a lively opening half; Leeds started at a tempo and didn’t relent. At the back Pearce and Peltier, starting only their second game as a defensive partnership, keeping Doyle and Ebanks-Blake very quiet throughout the 45 minutes, while 18 year-old Sam Byram, after a shaky opening, slowly started to dominate Ryan Jarvis. In the midfield, Austin, Norris, Green and Varney worked relentlessly as Leeds gained the upper hand, and yet, it was down to the remaining three players to deliver the defining moment of the game.

'Defining moment'

Collecting the ball in his own area, Paddy Kenny struck a glorious long pass straight to the feet of Ross McCormack – a ball of such quality that Adam Clayton would’ve still been dining out at Nando’s on the strength of it, come next Spring – who in turn killed the ball dead with a single touch, before striding down the left and delivering a perfect low cross for Becchio who provided a stooping heading and diving celebration reminiscent of the Millwall play-off tie – 18 minutes in, 1-0!

It was just reward for a United side that had already gone close moments before through McCormack and earlier in a goalmouth scramble that produced blocks aplenty, the ovation at half-time suggested that few home fans had any complaints.
A rare late Leeds corner

The second half was a rather different affair; initially it was more even, but as the Leeds midfield started to feel the effects of the hard running they’d put in, Wolves wrestled the initiative and spent the final 25 minutes very much in the ascendancy. While the undeniable work ethic running through the new line-up is once again creating a Leeds side that fans can identify with, the issue of a quality will ultimately define our season.

As the visitors dominated and gaps inevitably started to appear, the team became their own worst enemy; while Wolves patiently kept hold of the ball, looking for openings, Leeds consistently wasted possession when it was presented to them, looking for long passes that weren’t there to be made – as much as it pains to admit it, there was only Diouf who effectively kept hold of the ball in the closing stages. When Leeds were awarded a corner in the 82nd minute, Becchio gestured to a member of the crowd to keep hold of the ball for a few seconds… that summed up the balance of play at the time.

Man, beast, cult hero...

But United held on and collected what could represent as huge 3 points, against what on paper is arguably the strongest side in the league. Peltier embraced the captain’s role while the outstanding Pearce played like one regardless. In Byram we have a potential star, while in Austin we seemingly already have another; the way he deposed Kevin Doyle of the ball in stoppage time, then while still being held, slid tackled Doumbia to win a throw-in was a joy to behold.

So all in all, a very positive start to the new season; it makes you wonder just what Warnock might achieve if our ‘Juliet’ gets his arse in gear and these two star-crossed lovers can be as one...      

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Norwich City: Nobody Cares, We Don't Like That!

Norwich City Football Club – you’ve heard of them, yes? That’s right, those guys who play in yellow and green somewhere due east of Peterborough! You care passionately about it; investing time and emotion into following its fortunes from afar don’t you?... What do you mean, no? NO?! NO?!?! I'm not having that; it's just crazy talk!!


Well, at least that’s what our East Anglian friends would have you believe, having spent the past 12 months or so desperately trying to validate their status as followers of a big and important footballing institution. The recruitment of Bradley Johnson, Jonny Howson and most recently, Robert Snodgrass to the ranks, have sparked a cycle of gloating exercises that have almost bordered on hysteria: “You are our feeder club!” have been the cries of supporters, seemingly hell bent on convincing themselves that promotion to the Premier League undermines all logic and asserts Norwich City as some sort of football monolith, casting its imperious shadow over little Leeds.

The 'Yellow Army at the KC Stadium, just days after the club
boasted of taking a following of 600 to Milton Keynes

It matters not that Bradley Johnson was out of contract; it matters not that the current regime couldn’t wait to push Howson - soon to be a free agent - out of the door for any significant transfer fee, nor the fact that Snodgrass’ patience finally run out dictated his exit. It matters not that Premier League football, greater exposure and huge wage rises, rather than the cache of the club dictated their choice, nor did it register that Jason Pearce, untainted by the ‘life under Bates’ experience, chose a move to Elland Road over one to East Anglia.

Pay rise, shop window, no Ken Bates - no brainer

In common with us all, Norwich City supporters like to believe their club matters, and for whatever reason, they also seem to really want to matter in the eyes of Leeds United fans. They want… no they have to feel special – they want to believe that every goal they score is soundtracked by the resentful gnashing of teeth back in Yorkshire. They need not waste their time.

Untainted by Bates experience...

I admit, I’ve not been completely immune to the inflammatory tweets and message board posturing; and yes, Norwich City do occupy a slightly more prominent place in my thoughts these days; no longer regarded as an inoffensive, even pleasant irrelevance, but more an innocuous irritation these days – but rivals? Hmm… file alongside Huddersfield and Barnsley.

The actions of Norwich City supporters are symptomatic of those with a “small club mentality”, resentful of having to occupy a lower strata within the historical football aristocracy. Perhaps still seething over the perceived “media obsession” with Leeds during the League One promotion campaign – a point alluded to more than once by Paul Lambert who claimed their title barely registered a mention, comparative to our final day victory over Bristol Rovers – the East Anglians have taken every opportunity since to re-position themselves in football’s pecking order.

It’s an inarguable truth that Norwich currently enjoy a more elevated status; a position perversely distorted by the obscene finances of the Premier League, that in the blink of a summer, transform a club’s ability to compete. But status by definition is a transient mode of existence; a temporary thing dictated purely by performance and results – if we were to claim that Norwich City is a huge club on the basis of their membership of the top division, do we afford the likes of Wigan Athletic, QPR, Reading and Fulham similar reverence?

Full house, big game atmosphere...

Standing is something else entirely. To supporters (putting local rivalries and one-off ‘crunch games’ aside) it’s a club’s standing that matters; that dictates the anticipation they afford to any given game. Who outside Ipswich ever gets excited about Norwich rolling into town? Maybe the odd Colchester fan…and let’s be fair, deep down, that must hurt.

As a League One side, would the draw of Norwich City be sufficient to sell out FA Cup ties at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane inside hours, or at the Emirates the following season as Leeds did? Was that based on the quality of team we could field or our league position? No, it was simply because we are Leeds United. Ultimately, while all clubs can enjoy temporary periods of relative success, it is not what primarily defines their standing; that’s tradition, support, potential and mentality. It’s why a meeting with Nottingham Forest will always excite far more than a clash with Wigan, why I’ll always take a game at Hillsborough over one at the Madejski Stadium and a clash with Wolves rather than Fulham.

Of course, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t rather play Norwich than Wigan, Reading or Fulham, just that I wouldn’t get the sort of buzz that’s synonymous with a visit from the likes of Scum, Chelsea, Arsenal, Newcastle and Liverpool. Many supporters, across the country still get fired up by the prospect of a game against Leeds, regardless of our status – whether they care to admit it or not, it’s wholly evident in the stands – and that is the crux of the matter. The larger footballing public remain indifferent towards Norwich and bar another Sheikh Mansour arriving on the scene will continue to be so. Even when not rated, Leeds will always remain hated, perversely something that is coveted by many.

Regardless, Norwich City’s fans fight the good fight to convince themselves otherwise, labouring under some hopelessly insular misconception that the rest of the football is in the wrong. Even on a wider level, city chiefs are currently considering a new approach to marketing the place to tourists and investors, adopting the slogan: “England’s Other City” – another “Hey look at us, we’re significant!” cry if I ever heard one.

Big(ger) time Charlie

Whether they care to admit it or not, life is as good as it’s ever likely to get at Carrow Road. Should Howson and Snodgrass blossom, they will move on – that is Norwich’s place in the scheme of things; ask Paul Lambert, now comfortable in a new job…and also reportedly an applicant for the Leeds vacancy back in February. For all their mocking, they remain a feeder club, and not just for the very elite within the league, but the second tier of clubs: the Newcastles, the Sunderlands, the Villas; their lot at the highest level is ultimately to survive, rather than thrive.

The blueprint is unmistakeable – while the fan base is decent even at Premier League level, it is no more than that, and any club that openly boasts about taking an away following of between 500 and 600 to a friendly clearly holds limited aspirations. Then there’s the goal music – F**KING GOAL MUSIC!! If there’s anything that defines a club’s standing, it’s goal music! While a dislike for Manchester United will always remain deeply ingrained and their sickening drive to milk the corporate cash cow, particularly distasteful, I can never foresee the day that they start marking every goal with a blast of Bellini’s ‘Samba De Janeiro’ (surely the worst of all goal music), ditto for all the other giants of the English game.

Nothing screams 'tinpot club' more than goal music...well, apart from this!

While we’re on music as well, reference has to be made to ‘On the Ball City’; apparently the oldest of all football songs, and one the club has claimed as its own. Notwithstanding the fact it was penned for a team of teachers before being adopted some years later; one look at the lyrics begs the question, “Who the hell would want to be seen dead singing it?”:

Kick off, throw in, have a little scrimmage,
Keep it low, a splendid rush, bravo, win or die,
On the ball, City, never mind the danger,
Steady on, now’s your chance,
Hurrah! We’ve scored a goal!
City! City! City!

Oh, and what the hell is a scrimmage, by the way?!?

Other aspects of the club’s history offer little else to impress. Norwich City are a club that list such footballing luminaries as Nigel Worthington, Efan Ekoku, John Newsome and Darren Kenton in their ‘Hall of Fame’; they’ve even set aside a place for Delia Smith – now I know that Leeds fans have tolerated enough from our own publicity seeking gobshite of a chairman, but openly celebrating his contribution…? There is a limit!

Efan Ekoku - Norwich City legend!

A look at the honours list does show two League Cup triumphs, although it should be noted that the first came in 1962 against a 4th Division Rochdale team in a two-legged affair, watched by an aggregate crowd of under 31,000… it’s fair to say, the competition really wasn’t ‘all that’ in the early days. By 1985, the re-christened Milk Cup was a different kettle of fish, albeit it took an own goal and a Clive Walker penalty miss to ensure a 1-0 triumph over Sunderland – both sides were subsequently relegated.

What by popular consensus remains “the pinnacle of Norwich City’s history” is the 2nd round UEFA Cup defeat of Bayern Munich in 1993… yes, you did read it right: 2nd ROUND! Just to provide some prospective, the high flying Canaries were able to give a debut to Ade Akinbiyi in the return tie.


So there we have it; a club from a city more popularly feted for its mustard, a turkey farmer with a speech impediment at the centre of an avian flu outbreak and a pedestrianisation scheme immortalised by Alan Partridge, than its football team.

Enjoy the Premier League ride Norwich City; while I can’t deny I’ll have a little laugh to myself if it all ends in May, just don’t expect me to care less either way.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Leeds United 4 Shrewsbury Town 0

Having endured an outrageously extrapolated summer recess, a tortuous 15 weeks made all the more unbearable by the takeover saga, here it was at last; a chance, if just for 90 minutes, to do what we do best, to put aside concerns about the long-term future of Leeds United and concentrate on finding more immediate ‘on the pitch’ concerns to despair over.

18,000+ for a Capital One cup tie...makes you wonder how many would turn up if Bates went!

Working under the financial constraints that continue to shackle every manager under the Bates regime, Neil Warnock appears to have accomplished some sterling work in the transfer market during the summer. His planning so far has been faultless; his first signing was the defensive lynchpin the team have do desperately lacked since Kisnorbo ruptured his Achilles over 2 years ago, and in Drury and Peltier has added a degree of ‘know how’ and class… words very rarely uttered in dispatches about Darren O’Dea and Alex Bruce.

Behind those we now have Paddy Kenny, proclaimed by Warnock himself as his most important signing – it would be hard to disagree: after watching over a long procession of keepers, all of whom were ticking time bombs, accidents waiting to happen – none more so than last season’s pair – to have an able AND confident last line of defence is the most novel and welcome change of the lot.

In the midfield a flurry of inexpensive, unspectacular new faces initially padded out the squad; not names to excite, but competitive, reliable and hardworking; the very antithesis of Clayton and Pugh. More recently, David Norris was brought on board to add a little attacking intent, then along came Rodolph… add Luke Varney and suddenly we no longer have a team of pushovers.

"Tentative" opening..

So we’re now solid and competitive (oh, and rid of Andy O’Brien), we now just need match-winners…ah, bugger! Sadly this is where the manager’s plans have fallen down – through no fault of his own, it must be added – players who win games by scoring goals, creating them for others, who excite: these players cost money, serious money… yes, even in excess of the £500,000 we forked out on Danny Pugh! While defensive solidity and a competitive streak are a pre-requisite for any Championship side with designs on promotion, class wins games; while it’s not inconceivable that a collection of unremarkable grafters could scrape a play-off berth, candidates for top 2 slots have pace, creativity and goals in their line-ups. We have McCormack and little else.

This shouldn’t have been an issue; having sorted out the defensive side of things, having built a competitive midfield unit, Warnock should’ve been spending the last few friendlies integrating the marquee signings he’d planned his summer around. Snodgrass is gone, yes, but one pacy forward (Maynard? Beckford? Cox?), a similarly quick wide player on the right, and because I’m greedy, an exciting young attacking midfielder to revel in the freedom afforded by Rodolph’s anchor role, then suddenly the squad would be looking very good… it’d be almost as if we’d replaced everything that our woeful contract negotiations track record has forced us to sacrifice over the last 12 months.

But we haven’t, and nobody seems to know whether Warnock will ever have the chance to do so; so here we find ourselves, the first competitive home game, and there he is, warming up on the pitch – El Hadji Diouf! Sadly now it seems that needs must and if Leeds want to recruit a forward with a degree of pedigree, this is once more, what we’ve been reduced to.

So here we are again, it’s not even kick-off and Elland Road is divided; the need for more firepower is clear, but few supporters would’ve elected to recruit a man who’d most likely rank below a vivisectionist in a ‘Humanitarian of the Year’ poll. It’s not the best omen to kick-off a season with.

Mercifully, every other aspect of the afternoon was more positive. While Diouf’s inclusion on the subs bench predictably drew very audible booing, the absence of Pugh, Connolly and Paynter had me somersaulting inside. Tom Lees was absent, but that allowed Sam Byram – impressive at Deepdale – a start (he impressed again), indeed amongst the first XI there were 8 debutants; while most felt such a drastic turnover of players was needed, I’m sure many doubted it would be achieved.

On the terraces, the mood was mixed; very positive towards the players, but tinged with the desire to express anger at the ongoing events at boardroom level. ‘Bates Out!’ chants were regular throughout, along with a fresh ‘Shoes off! Bates out!’ variation; while Paddy Kenny’s new ode quickly attainted cult status…sadly “Sausages and Burgers at Warnock’s house” has yet to make the transition from the pre-season tour.

On the pitch, a slow start allowed Shrewsbury a couple of early chances and afforded Kenny the opportunity to prove his worth; Leeds on the other hand were sparked to life by the opening goal; Becchio slotting in from 6 yards after Austin’s long range effort reached him via the keeper’s fumble and the defenders stray leg – try telling Rodolph it wasn’t his assist. The advantage was doubled within 6 minutes, the assist McCormack’s, the goal, Varney’s after more charitable defensive work.

Sign him up, sign him up...

The second half was fairly comfortable and put beyond doubt mid-way through as Norris struck home Varney’s knock-down, then McCormack hit home a penalty on 70 minutes; his little signing gesture celebration in front of the Kop, hopefully a hint of positive forthcoming news. The four goal cushion was the signal for changes, including Diouf; his introduction receiving the expected mixed response – a word of advice though, if you do insist on abusing Diouf, then do so from the safety of the stands, he looks like he’s been doing some serious weights this summer!

Grit your teeth...

In his 15 minutes Diouf showed some nice touches, but a lot of rustiness too, barely ever threatening to go past a defender, although off the pitch, when warming up and at the final whistle, his efforts to appease by repeatedly applauding the Kop were evident; chin up El Hadji, Barry George had few friends at ER until he revealed his LUFC affinity…

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Burton Albion 0 Leeds United 1

“We can’t see a thing! We can’t see a thiii-iiing! We’re Leeds United; we can’t see a thing!”

That new addition to the LUFC arsenal of away day ditties rang out from the terrace at about 8.15pm last night, as the vertically poised element of the Leeds following passed collective observation on the difficulty on watching a football game while partially sighted, due to the trivial matter of the star that sustains life on Earth making its daily passage below the horizon.

The Sun and Bates - common ground?

Not ones to ponder the awe of nature or contemplate the relative futility of our comparative existences, the next move by some were to condemn; “The Sun’s a c**t! And so is Bates!”... well, I suppose a 50% hit rate isn’t all that bad – ask Billy Paynter. The more astute observations followed; the predominant theme being that the Sun may have inadvertently done us all a passing favour – they had a point. Last night wasn’t great.

'Bates Out!' at The Beech

As seems standard, the away following justified something rather better; around 2,000 Leeds supporters in a crowd of 3,127 was enough to ensure that the preceding record of outnumbering the home support at every ground was maintained. Most of those who travelled seemingly headed towards The Beech prior to the game; the 20-30 man queues at the door to get inside to the bar suggested so. It was also a pre-match location for the faithful ‘Bates Out’ banner that now appears to be gaining a celebrity status of its own; several people posing for photographs, basking in its reflective – if slightly soiled and stained - revolutionary glow.

The stadium like its surroundings is a strange juxtaposition of the old and new; the traditional and modern; heritage and ambition. Built in 2005, it shining outer modernity stands in stark contrast to the adjacent, dilapidated Pirelli plant that bequeathed it its name and inside the theme continues; while the club is (thankfully) another notch on the Pukka Pies outlet roster, for those rallying against the corporate face of football ground catering, there is reason to rejoice – faggots are on the menu…yes, you did read that correctly; while the stadium is very much 21st century, the menu is at least in part, rooted somewhere between the wars.

Deep in the heart of 'Anvil Country'?

Move on to the terrace though and an even greater divergence; gaze to the left and there’s an impressive stand-long, row of corporate boxes, but gaze straight ahead, just to the right of goal and there it is, a hoarding that reads ‘Anvil Hire Ltd’ – what is this?! Is there really a market for hiring anvils in contemporary Britain? I can’t recall seeing anvils being given prominent listing space in the Jewson catalogue. What do these people do for a living? Are the suburban dwellings around the stadium just a façade and beyond the immediate surroundings, Burton is a medieval settlement…I probably gave this a little too much thought, but as I say, the game wasn’t all that great.

But there were positives to be taken; particularly in terms of possession; in the opening half hour, Burton probably had the sum total of about a minute in the Leeds defensive third; Varney's close-range strike deserved on those grounds, if no other; indeed over the course of the night, Burton only really stretched Paddy Kenny a couple of times. There was also a small matter of a couple of debuts to consider and while Lee Peltier settled in with a degree of ease against modest opposition, albeit without showing much of his attacking menace, this was always going to be Rodolph’s night.

A rare attack instigated near the touchline

Mercifully Rodolph didn’t disappoint – hey, he probably considers such a concept alongside failure and Maroon 5 as an unfamiliar and very unwelcome bedfellow. His first notable touch was a cushioned pass that travelled at light speed into the advertising hoarding; we hadn’t exalted him on grounds of subtlety! However, the most enduring memory of his first start arrived shortly before the interval, as already grounded, he somehow conspired to make a raking challenge on an unsuspecting Burton player – his opponent stood and looked down, bewildered, as the referee employed the tried and trusted pre-season ‘have a quiet word, when a booking might otherwise be in order’ approach, the Leeds fans cheered… a legend was born.

That said, to only discuss our new Jamaican Juggernaut’s physicality would sell his first appearance a little short; he looked immediately comfortable in his new surroundings and very much up with the pace of the game; his passing was decent and in stark contrast to the archetypal Leeds player, he was composed when on the ball… and he saw plenty of it. I don’t know whether to put that down to the amount of ground he covered, the positions he took, or just a general fawning air of deference that obliged that ball to constantly gravitate towards him. In truth, I think it was most likely a case of the ‘New Cool Kid at School Syndrome’, where a new achingly popular boy (bonus points for previously residing abroad) arrives and everyone falls over themselves to find favour with him. “Santa’s number 1” indeed!

Number 4 is f**king shit! Number 4 is f**king shit!...Number 21 is f**king shit! (repeat to fade)

David Norris on the other hand seems to be suffering as a new kid on the block; he knows he has a position somewhere between midfield and attack, he just isn’t quite sure where yet – nor is anyone else. Mind you, he lacks Rodolph’s ‘aura of awesomeness’ and he’s come from down south, and from an impoverished background… it’s gonna be a harder transition. In fact it’s going be very tough up top, full stop. While Ross really must stay, he hasn’t the pace of say…a Max, and can’t beat people like him or Snoddy, dragging people out of position and making space for others, making runs from midfield like… you get the idea!

Sadly at the moment, going forward, Leeds possess the creativity and invention of a Money Supermarket commercial; until the arrival of a wide player and striker makes Neil feel “epic!”, scoring the goals needed to win games may be this season’s big problem.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Preston North End 1 Leeds United 3

Back at last, after 15 long weeks; the archetypal Leeds United away experience!

As utterly glorious as the week-long tour of Cornwall and Devon was, there was something altogether more familiar and comforting about visiting Preston. The sunshine, hospitality and novelty of the South West giving way to the cramped trains, designated ‘Leeds pubs’, designated ‘home pubs’ assuming ‘Leeds pub’ status, bemused onlookers, glory hunting Chelsea and Scum fans in replica shirts caught unawares while out shopping (where else would they be?) and the odd nervous looking policeman – we’re straight back in the provincial city swing of things!

Add The Assembly, Preston to venues welcoming the banner...

Despite affording visiting supporters the biggest and most central pub in Preston, The Assembly, the police’s best laid plans were still shot to pieces by not adhering to the first commandment of the LUFC travelling faithful:

“Thou shalt congregate at the largest Wetherspoon’s Inn to be found in the settlement playing host to thine team’s clash” (Book of Away Days – 2:1)

Predictably then, many headed to The Greyfriar just over the road, much to the dismay of many who’d already congregated there: Preston fans, shoppers looking for a relaxing drink and meal, those police positioned outside who thought they were getting an easy afternoon’s overtime and the bar staff, who were no doubt having to offer apologies to innocent customers, suddenly affronted by beer showers and songs eulogising about a League One striker’s legendary penis.

Still, the police were able to execute their plans of clearing the city centre seamlessly by offering the lure of a free coach service to the ground…and yes, I did mean coach – we’re talking air conditioning and all mod cons here – with the full police escort service; passing through red lights, traffic held back in both directions to provide a clear route straight to Deepdale… It seemed wholly over the top and unnecessary, but at the same time there was something extremely gratifying to be drawn from the disdainful looks on local faces as we passed by.

...and the away end at PNE.

Onwards to the kick-off where thankfully the degree of familiarity withered somewhat as the team took to the pitch. Although Leeds kicked off the game with six faces familiar from the last campaign, the presence of Drury on the bench, Peltier in the stands, Rodolph somewhere between LS11 and Kingston and the promise of a couple of big name arrivals to follow, the chronically needed reconstruction of the squad has progressed far more efficiently than most had dared to expect. With Brown already afforded ‘protected species’ status by Warnock and Kisnorbo’s appearance sadly resembling more a charitable act than another step in his rehabilitation, it would seem that only McCormack, Becchio, Lees and White look regular starters from last season’s rag bag collection of inept professionals… arguably only a Snodgrass short of the ideal case scenario?

Problems still remain with the squad; a team that starts pre-season a Howson, a Gradel, a Snodgrass and a Paynter (ok, let’s scrap the last fella) down on last August with only Luke Varney to fill the void, are always likely to struggle to retain the attacking fluidity of 12 months ago and the opening half hour stood testament to that.

"Paddy Kenny's having a party..."

That said, on the plus side, there is suddenly a spine to the side; contrast that to last season, when that axis of awfulness, Clayton and Pugh, tentatively sauntered around the midfield battlegrounds of the Championship, carefully avoiding any sort of conflict that may lead to getting any of those troublesome grass stains on their immaculately clean kits. The opposition may suddenly discover that the simplest form of attack no longer just entails running straight down the middle of the pitch. Finally we appear to be moving toward a situation where the default defensive mode isn’t “stretched”.

In the 31st minute Tom Lees woke the travelling thousands from the slumber – induced by the lack of action and significant alcohol consumption – that was starting to kick in, controlling Luke Varney's nod-down in the penalty area and volleying past Stuckmann. It was the signal for a lively end to a half that had been notable to that point, mainly for Paddy Kisnorbo’s half hour run-out (I wouldn’t expect to see many more) and a solid showing by the new Paddy in town, heralded by the emphatic embedding of “Paddy Kenny’s having a party, bring your vodka and your Charlie!” into the 2012/23 campaign songbook.

Deepdale: home to League One football and Billy Paynter's only goal on the road for LUFC - Grim!

In common with the other pre-season games thus far, Leeds started the second half slowly and for a short while at least, memories of last season came flooding back; not least when Preston squared matters, then even more so when the dark, if none too intimidating spectre of Danny Pugh appeared on the touchline. True to form, our utility man (footballing code for ‘shit’) inspired a first outburst of profanity within 30 seconds of his arrival, making an apologetic attempt at stopping a Preston winger on the run. 

The 'Danny Pugh effect'

For a few minutes, I did wonder what the hell I was doing here, spending a Saturday afternoon at great expense in the Billy Paynter End at Deepdale, watching a friendly game involving Danny Pugh, while back in the real world, the nation was indulging in a mass orgy of sporting celebration, bathing in the golden shower of medals Team GB were spouting forth from the East End of London – the whole spectacle was enough to induce one younger lad into an almost comatose state of apathy… alcohol may have been a contributing factor, but to suit my petty agenda, I’m still laying it at the feet of Pugh!

Full time, and a moment for Paddy Kenny to ponder the fact that the away following was triple that managed by the Blades at the same stadium for a play-off semi-final...

Mercifully, following the pre-season template, Leeds picked up again as the half wore on and on 66 minutes Sam Byram smashed home from a corner to restore the advantage. Then on 80 minutes, for the second time in 12 days, it happened; Aidy White delivered from a position of promise, drilling the ball beyond the goalkeeper’s despairing dive into the bottom corner.

Come 4.50pm, all was well with the world.

Bring on August 18th