By Josh Grainger
This Saturday plucky old Millwall come to town for the early kick off in the Championship. Whilst on the pitch Leeds' team isn't much better than Millwall's, off it the two teams are worlds apart.
Millwall is always a keenly anticipated fixture for Leeds fans, and visa versa for our good friends in Bermondsey, however is the fixture even big anymore.
Let's face it the only reason the fixture gets the attention it does is because of the fans, purely football wise Leeds and Millwall have no rivalry at all, and one has somewhat been developed due to both club's reputation for having "troublesome" supporters. Both sets of fans have a past which won't be erased, there's no denying that when football hooliganism was at its peak in the 1980's, Leeds and Millwall fans were two of the most involved.
However in the modern day, Millwall aren't the big club that they never were. Just because your fans have been the topic of some movies, and just because Danny Dyer has had nightmares about your "Top Boy" does not make you a big club. A big club is a team that has won things (pet goldfish don't count), Millwall have never won anything of note. A big club is one that has a large following away from home and at home, roughly 200 Millwall fans made the trip to Middlesbrough on Saturday evening.
Millwall are reminiscent to a jealous puppy who isn't getting any attention, so their poxy fans feel they need to put themselves in the public eye by racially abusing El-Hadji Diouf, Marvin Sordell and others. If we stopped giving Millwall the attention they are so desperate for and simply ignored them, Millwall would be nothing.
As wrong as it is, the likelihood is that Millwall's few supporters will mock the deaths of our brothers in Turkey. Whilst it may be hard to ignore this, just try and then watch as they realise they've wasted their benefits on making a pathetic banner. Let them sing their songs, let them crave the attention, for they will never be what we are, and that they will never be able to deal with.
Steve Morison opened his Leeds United account against Blackpool last week and there is every chance he could go on to be a success at Elland Road.
As is the case with any striker, your first goal for a new club is crucial. It took Morison three and a half games to break his duck for Leeds after a deadline day move from Norwich, but now he can go from strength to strength.
The strike against Blackpool was during his first home game for the club too and he definitely looks like someone who will bond well with the Leeds fans. Again, an important factor for any new player.
In terms of the threat Morison brings, there is no doubt that it mostly comes in the air. He is capable of rising above defenders and powering the ball into the net.
His hold up play is good too and he can bring team-mates into the game, while his strength will ensure
opposition defenders know they are in the game from the word go.
The 29-year-old had a reputation at Norwich a disappointing work rate, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Like a few strikers, he just seems to look as if he is strolling around, when this is a false impression – Morison works hard.
There is of course a chance that he got frustrated at the Canaries. First-team opportunities were few and far between this season, while he always seemed to be a victim of the ‘boo boys’ that haunt every club.
Perhaps with a new lease of life up North, a promotion challenge, the No.9 shirt and playing in a team that suits his style will breed success. The performance and goal against Blackpool was certainly encouraging and now he will want to go from strength to strength.
After all, a confident Steve Morison will definitely be good for Leeds United as they battle for crucial Championship points.
Written by Thomas Rooney from Footballtips.com.
By Andy Gregory
Name: Steve Dutton
Tell us a bit about yourself: I'm a 49 year old currently living in East Anglia but working in London as a Lloyds’ Broker looking after UK business development. Married with 4 kids, two of which have been indoctrinated in the ways of Leeds United, and more pets than I can shake a stick at.
How long have you supported Leeds? I’ve been a supporter of Leeds since the age of 4 attending my first game at the age of 6.
What is your favourite memory?
Winning the Championship under Howard Wilkinson against all expectation. I was a season ticket holder in those days so it meant that much more. The glory years under Revie were fantastic but THAT Leeds United team was generally considered to be the best in the country if not Europe at that time.
Favourite player past and present?
Peter Lorimer was my schoolboy hero but the whole team was something special. Present? Ross McCormack.
If you could bring one player from any era back to the club, who would it be and why?
Billy Bremner. The best general we’ve ever had and he wouldn’t tolerate the mediocre performances that we’ve grown accustomed to of late. He’d take the team by the scruff of the neck and give them a right old kick where the sun don’t shine.
Best goal scored by a Leeds player?
There’s been so many but the stand out goal for me was Allan Clarke in the FA Cup final in 1972. We’d been the bridesmaids a couple of times and the goal gave us the missing piece of domestic silverware and me bragging rights in the playground a few days later. (I won’t mention the Wolves’ result though….)
What would you say are the proudest and worse moments in Leeds’ history?
Immense pride from winning the Championship under Wilkinson, many will say that the team from the wrong side of the Pennines threw it away but we played well for most of the season and had one of the best midfields since the Revie days. The worst? The incidents in Turkey left a bitter taste and puts football into perspective. Going into administration the week after Bates told us everything was fine was
another unfortunate memory.
How would you sum this season?
A wasted opportunity.
Which player has impressed you most this season? Sam Byram, one of the few players that could look back on this season with a sense of pride.
Which player have you been least impressed with?
So many to choose from…… Pearce for his underwhelming performances after such an impressive (off the field) build up.
How would you describe our current team?
Mediocre lacking in any creativity or commitment.
What are your thoughts on our new owners GFH?
I think that they have come into Leeds United wide eyed and not entirely understanding of the fans’ expectations or the task ahead of them. Retaining Bates was a huge mistake as indeed was their courting of the Leeds’ faithful promising much and then going very quiet after the “takeover” was completed. They are clearly in it for the money and I fear that investment in the playing stock will be similar to that under Bates.
Where do you think we will finish this season?
If we achieve a better position than last season I will be surprised. Mid-table.
What is your view on Neil Warnock’s time at Leeds?
Truly awful. Brought in to get the best out of a squad that was just out of the play-off positions, he turned the team into relegation fodder. We lost more quality under his tenure and the style of play is the worse I’ve ever seen at Leeds United. His practice of slating players in public is abhorrent and unacceptable as indeed was the touting of Becchio leading up to his inevitable sale. Telling us that he’s doing a great job and that we are having a great season sums him up.
Should he remain with us until the end of the season?
Yes, only because I can’t see a manager of any real quality wanting to take this club on at the current moment in time. This is Warnock’s squad and he should have the task until the end of the season. Sacking him now just gives him the chance to say he’d have got promotion had he stayed.
Who would you like to replace him?
Gus Poyet. I can dream…… Good attacking style of play and he knows Leeds United. I wouldn’t say that Brighton have a better squad than Leeds United but he certainly gets the best out of them.
Which game are you most looking forward to this season?
On a personal level the Ipswich Town game as my brother-in-law and father-in-law are both Tractor Boys as indeed are a few of my friends. On a football basis, the last game of the season. The sooner this season ends the better.
Score prediction for the Millwall and Leicester games?
Leeds to beat Millwall 2-1, Leeds to draw with Leicester 2-2. Ever the optimist……..
What team would you put out against Millwall?
Ashdown – Byram, Peltier, Lees, Warnock – Green, Norris, Tonge, Diouf – McCormack, Morison (We’ve not got any other strikers….)
Anything else you would like to add?
The season was very much over before it began in my opinion. The club needs to invest more in the playing stock if we are truly going to get promoted again. I’d be happy to see a three year strategy that saw more youth coming through the system combined with some good experienced professionals rather than some of the journeymen that we have on board at the moment. We need a younger manager but I fear anyone of quality will steer clear of Leeds United whilst the financial uncertainties remain. GFH need to shape up or ship out. Less rhetoric more action please.
Thanks to Rob for taking part in this weeks interview. If you would be interested in doing an interview, or would like to find out about other ways you can be involved with our site, then check out our "Have your say" page to find out how... MOT!
By Rob Atkinson
As 1991 turned into 1992, the two-horse English Title race was hotting up. Man U had suffered a shocking reverse on New Year’s Day, capitulating 4-1 at home to QPR, and then later that January 1st, Leeds had won competently 3-1 at West Ham to remain well in the race for the ultimate domestic honour.
The scene was adequately set, then, for Wilko’s first return to Wednesday since he had quit Hillsborough to become Leeds boss in 1988. This would also be Lee Chapman’s last game before his season-threatening FA Cup injury, which resulted in the drafting in of one Eric Cantona – with all the long term consequences that would entail. But Chappy was destined to be sidelined only temporarily, and he went out in the most emphatic style.
There was a crowd of 32228 at Hillsborough, the usual vociferous contingent of travelling Leeds fans rivalling the home crowd for noise from the outset, and completely drowning them as the game went on. Leeds United were weakened, so it seemed, by the absence of the injured Gordon Strachan and suspended David Batty, half of their legendary midfield Fantastic Four. Any side, surely, would miss performers of such calibre. Leeds, though, seemed determined to make light of the problem, and tore into their hosts from the start. Full-back Tony Dorigo made an early darting run, cutting in from the left and making good progress down the centre of the pitch, before unleashing a right-foot thunderbolt that Wednesday ‘keeper Chris Woods had to tip over. From the resulting Gary McAllister corner, Chris Fairclough rose to head downwards, and found Chapman in splendid isolation four yards out; his finish swift and deadly for 1-0.
For a local derby, the contest had been decidedly one-way traffic - Chapman was to send two towering headers just wide before Carl Shutt had a scuffed shot smothered by Woods in the home goal. Then, a true champagne moment as Mel Sterland fed the ball to Chapman on the right. In a completely untypical burst of pace and control, Chappy surged between two hapless Wednesday defenders, raced into the area, and unleashed a shot that beat Woods completely, just clipping the frame of the goal to rapturous applause from the Leeds fans at the Leppings Lane End. I remember thinking at the time that anything was possible now, if Lee Chapman could do something so utterly out of character. And so it proved as, from a free kick awarded just right of centre some ten yards outside the box, Dorigo stepped up to absolutely hammer a left foot drive past the helpless Woods. Cue mayhem and cavortings as the Leeds hordes behind the goal, celebrated as clean a strike as you could ever wish to see, the ball a blur as it arrowed into the far corner with deadly precision and power.
At 2-0 down, the home side were making increasingly desperate attempts to gain some sort of foothold in the match. This desperation was adequately demonstrated when, from a harmless-looking ball into the Leeds area, Wednesday striker Gordon Watson ran in front of Chris Whyte, continued on for another step or two, and then hurled himself into the air, landing in agonised paroxysms of simulation between a bemused Whyte and Leeds ‘keeper John Lukic. Such obvious fraud and villainy could have only one outcome, and the stadium held its collective breath for sentence to be passed on the miscreant.Instead – amazingly – referee Philip Don pointed to the spot. Whether none of the officials had seen the extent of Watson’s ham-acting, or whether they were moved by sympathy for the mauling Wednesday were taking from a rampant Leeds, it’s impossible to tell. The outcome was the same either way. Ex-Leeds hero John Sheridan stepped up, saw his penalty brilliantly saved as Lukic tipped it against his right-hand post, and then gleefully belted home the rebound to give Wednesday a massively unmerited lifeline.
This act of base and scurvy treachery required nothing less than a riposte of the utmost nobility and beauty, so we said to ourselves, though probably in more Anglo-Saxon terms. And, happily, that’s just what came to pass. Only six minutes after the home side’s ridiculous blagging of a comically unfair route back into the game, Leeds took effortless control again with a goal sublime in both its conception and execution. Lukic bowled the ball out to Dorigo on the left flank; he sent it first time down the line to Gary Speed, who took one steadying touch before sending a beautiful flighted cross into the Wednesday area. And there, inevitably, was Chapman, horizontal in mid-air, neck cocked to hammer the ball unanswerably past Woods, the perfect counter punch to Watson’s knavish low blow. It was a gorgeous goal, sweeping the length of the left side, taking the entire home team right out of the game, and re-establishing the two goal margin which was the least Leeds United deserved at half-time.
The second half that ensued was simply a story of how a blood-and-thunder Yorkshire derby turned into a stroll in the park for Leeds United. It seemed as if all the life had been sucked out of the home team – a Wednesday side who, let’s not forget, were unbeaten at home since the opening day of the season, and who would go on to finish third in the table. So they were no mugs, but Leeds United were absolutely irresistible on the day, and would have hammered far better teams than the hapless, bewildered Owls.
It’s possible that Wednesday were simply embarrassed about that cringe-worthy penalty, possibly they were dog-tired, having been run ragged since the start. Whatever the case, their heads dropped steadily further and further as the game progressed, and they offered little resistance as Leeds proceeded to throttle the life out of them. Chapman completed his hat-trick five minutes after the hour, heading in after Speed had struck the bar from a corner. Poor Speedo was looking the other way, bemoaning his bad luck when the ball hit the back of the net after all, turning his frustration to joy. Then, perennial bit-part player Mike Whitlow ventured forward, just because he could, and rose unchallenged to meet Rod Wallace’s right-wing cross and head easily over a stranded Woods. It was left to little Wallace to administer the coup de grâce, striding clear after a shimmering exchange of passes in midfield to dink the ball over the advancing ‘keeper, and put the suffering home side finally out of their misery.
For Leeds, it had been their biggest away win in over 60 years as they returned to the First Division summit in the best possible manner – they got six, but they really could have had ten or a dozen. The message had been sent out loud and clear to the watching millions in Live TV Land: United were deadly serious about their Championship challenge. They would surely look back though after their eventual Title success, and identify this sumptuous display as one that defined them as potentially the best team in the land. For Wednesday, it was total humiliation and - truth to tell - very difficult to sympathise. Better by far to lose 6-0 than to be tainted as they were by such a crass and obvious example of cheating – and it hardly reflected much credit on the match officials, either. But the cheats on this occasion failed utterly to prosper.
It was a massively impressive performance, a hugely significant victory, and the sweetest possible return for United’s ex-Owls contingent. Mel Sterland always took great delight in beating the Blades, but this victory over his boyhood favourites would have only happy memories for him, as indeed for Chapman, Shutt and of course the triumphantly-returning prodigal Sergeant himself. Leeds would arch on to the Title, finishing four points clear with the most wins and least defeats, unarguably deserving Champions (although the usual suspects argued anyway). Man U’s quarter-of-a-century wait for a Title would extend for another twelve delightful months before Mr. Murdoch ushered in an era of success for them, aided by our own enfant terrible. And Sheffield Wednesday? They would recover to finish impressively, despite another awful trouncing at deposed Champions Arsenal.
1991-92 was a season of nip-and-tuck, with titanic struggles in both Cup competitions adding spice to the League fare as the battle for honours raged on three fronts. But there can be no doubt whatsoever that January 12th 1992 belonged entirely to Leeds United, who looked like Champions a full four months early with this five star, six of the best Masterclass display crowning them as Yorkshire’s finest – just as we, and indeed the Wednesday fans in their heart of hearts, had always known.
Next: Memory Match No. 3: Xmas Eve 1997 – Leeds United 3. Man U 1.
Join me again, for an early start to Christmas, a classic Yeboah finish, Brolin’s finest hour
and an actual penalty against “Them, From There”.
By Andrew Butterwick
Away days seem to be coming thick and fast of late for the mighty whites. Possessing one of the worst away records in the division didn't inspire lots of confidence amongst the Happy Chocker, Quiet One and yours truly as we traversed the Pennines and headed for the Ribble valley and one of Lancashire's many former cotton towns, Blackburn. Trying to figure out which Leeds team would turn up at Ewood Park whiled away the miles................would it be the "rejuvenated" team that beat the Donkey lashers on Wednesday or would we back on more familiar territory with the team that succumbed to Boro at the Riverside?
Pre match refreshments were taken in the compact Golden Pot pub before braving the biting cold for the walk down to the ground. Warnock had kept the same side that beat Blackpool on Wednesday. The 3,500 travelling fans tried to ignite some atmosphere into the spacious Blackburn stadium but most of the home fans appeared to have come straight from a monastic order who had taken a strict vow of silence. Leeds started brightly picking up from where they left off against the Donkey lashers. Tonge was prominent as Leeds put early pressure on the home team. Ross Mac wriggled free in the box and got his shot away only to be denied by a desperate block by Dann in the Rovers defence. From the corner Lees tested Kean in the home goal. "This was good" I purred as I checked with HC that we were actually away from home and playing well and I wasn't in some hallucinegenic dream. On paper Blackburn look as good as any team in the league but the newly found vibrant approach in the Leeds side put Leeds on the front foot. Morison was playing wide much to the puzzlement of most fans around me................"get in the fucking box" one of the 3,500 managers in the away end screamed as the ex Millwall striker collected a ball wide right and delivered a cross into the box bereft of any away players.
Blackburn's first sniff of a chance fell to ex Tesco bags striker, Rhodes, who drove the ball over the bar into the laughing Leeds fans behind Kenny's goal. After numerous disappointing away games following the mighty whites this season this was shaping up into an oasis of hope. Warnock showed his class at left back as he made a couple of sublime passes that released Leeds attacks. At last we seemed to have found a decent left back. Leeds continued to trouble the Rovers back four without carving out a real golden chance. Varney went close and Morison
had a shot blocked whilst at the other end Kenny saved well from a fierce Kazim-Richards shot. Veteran Danny Murphy used all his years of experience to pull Norris down as he sprinted away from him on the half way earning him a yellow card. The ex scouser had the cheek to argue with the ref over the card for what was a very, very cynical foul. Bastard!
The game continued to be lively as half time approached. The home fans still didn't make any noise. Maybe their trip to the Emirates library last week had had a profound effect on their fans.............but then again they only took 1,400 to North London so it couldn't be that. 0.0 at half time with Leeds having the best of the game. All we needed to do was score. Mmmm!
The mood was positive amongst the Leeds fans as their heroes attacked the goal they were banked behind. The 2nd half exploded into life. Morison controlled the ball and found some space from a flick on from Varney............he looked up and picked out Ross Mac hurtling into the box unmarked..........the ball bobbled horribly on the poor pitch and Ross Mac chose to take a touch before striking the ball into the side netting. 3,500 expletives accompanied 3,500 heads fall into 3,500 pairs of hands. He should have buried it. "We could regret that miss" the guy behind me muttered. He wasn't wrong. Minutes later the Leeds fans were enraged as the linesman gave offside against Morison as he picked up a back header from Dann in the Rovers box. "Don't you know the rules?" or words to that effect were spat in the direction of the incompetent portly linesman.
Pelts then decided he'd allow his ex team mate a chance as Rhodes drove past the Leeds captain and bore down on Kenny's goal but his side footed shot found the side netting much to the relief of the increasingly nervous away hordes. Having failed to keep a clean sheet away from Elland Road this season the generous lack of finishing by the Leeds team was threatening what was a decent performance. Varney mishit a shot when Norris was about to shoot............Ross Mac had two shots blocked then Byram got behind the full back in the box only to get brushed to the ground then Varney scuffed a glorious chance from 10 yards out. He should have scored. All he had to do was hit it cleanly. Bollox. Ten minutes left and still 0.0 but Blackburn were stirring and you could smell the anxiety in the Leeds play as they pushed on for an unlikely winner. "Why doesn't he bring some fresh legs on?" the guy behind me asked. Nobody could give him a sane answer. Why not change things? After all a draw was not exactly what we needed if the forlorn hope of the play offs were to be kept alive. Stubbornly NW refused to change his starting eleven.
A series of corners brought horrific memories of the last 5 minutes at Wolves flooding back. Could Leeds hang on or even snatch a last minute winner. Tonge surged into the Rovers box but his attempt was blocked before one final corner for the home team tested my nerves for the final time. Final score 0.0. Very frustrating. No it was extremely frustrating. A game we could easily have won with steadier finishing from the Leeds attackers. Inevitably comparisons with Becchio's finishing surfaced as the fans left the stadium. The walk back to the car was in eerie silence. The Rovers fans skulked back to their monastery whilst the Leeds fans had the familiar look of away post match trauma.
Tonge was my man of the match closely followed by Warnock. The front three of Varney, Morison and Ross Mac were equally frustrating as they wasted good chances to win the game. Mr Warnock thought the lads had done ever so well as usual and couldn't understand how they hadn't scored a single goal. I
couldn't understand why Mr Warnock hadn't let one of his substitutes do ever so well for the last 15 minutes. You never know we might have won the game?
Millwall up next. Should be interesting to see what reception Morison will get from the travelling fans from Bermondsey? Remarkably we are still only 6 points off the play off spots. Frustratingly we are just not good enough to bridge that gap though. I'd love the team to prove me wrong though.
By Andrew Butterwick
Just when you thought the season was over and it was safe to start preparing for close season hibernation, Leeds provide a tiny spark of hope by not only beating Blackpool but keeping a clean sheet as well. In a match that saw Morison open his Leeds account with a classic poachers goal................alright the ball rebounded to him in the box and he smashed it home......and the cheaper ticket prices saw of the missing fans return to Elland Road you could be forgiven for thinking that all was suddenly rosy again in the Leeds garden. Warnock's post match interview was laced with subliminal references to how much he felt Becchio had held Leeds back and how much better Morison was in that position. I do hope Colin is right but is there any need to continue with the "it's not my fault Guv" stance when talking about results good or bad?
A win against a Blackburn side who have hit a bit of form since Michael Appleton arrived will send Leeds fan's expectations into turbo charged overdrive less than a week after the depressing capitulation at the Etihad. As Leeds fans we should used to this teasing by now. We should expect our form to be consistently inconsistent as it's been for the last two years but that won't stop us latching onto any possibility of improvement no matter how slim it is. After all we have the same team, manager and tactics that have failed miserably on the numerous trips away from LS11 this term so why should the journey to Ewood Park be any different?
I suppose that's the $64,000 question. Has Colin suddenly found a formula that works? Is 4.3.3 more effective than 4.4.2 especially as we've failed to secure a half decent winger? Is Steve Morison the answer to all our perceived attacking failures? Is the answer to the midfield quandary a Tonge, Green, Norris threesome? Or was a our victory against the Donkey Lashers just a statistical blip on our journey to mid table mediocrity? The probability is it will be the latter. We have failed to keep a single clean sheet on our travels and the paltry three away victories have come against bottom four opposition so to plunder all three points at buoyant Blackburn is a very tall order indeed.
News of further denials and refusals of offers of further investment into the football club continue to pepper all forms of news media together with varying reports as to the manager's future at the club for the rest of the season. Has Adkins actually been in negotiations with GFH? If he has will he start before the end of the season? Should we give Richard Naylor a chance? What about Poyet? As ever with Leeds there are more questions than answers. Life is never dull following the mighty whites.
So I will travel to Blackburn along with hordes of other vile animals hoping for an unexpected victory that would defy most footballing logic and re-ignite a spark of hope in this most frustrating of seasons.
Morison to score again anybody? We can but hope!
By Mark Rasdall
So Leeds United managed to beat Blackpool at last! Perhaps it was playing on a Wednesday evening instead of a Tuesday that did it? Either way imagine how Paul Ince would have reacted if his new side had beaten us at Elland Road for the second year running. We'd have had to extend the posh entrance doors in the West Stand to let his head and his lovely overcoat out into the fresh Yorkshire air.
Thinking about Wednesday's LUFC performance and given that the Mighty Whites now head off to another Black team - Blackburn - today, I was minded of the great All Blacks rugby teams from the past.
Without a hint of irony my football-loving uncle used to describe (all forms of) rugby as 'brute force and ignorance.' I actually love both sports and both codes of rugby. I've had many happy hours watching the Rhinos at Headingley as well as Yorkshire Cricket Club on the other side of that famous stand.
Anyway, we all love to remember the New Zealand rugby teams for their flowing, passing moves and ability to spot and penetrate defensive weakness, seemingly at will. But, it wasn't always due to pace and flair. As with all rugby and football teams, there needs to be a backbone of steel and gritty 'thou shalt not pass' determination. I thought Leeds United demonstrated much more of that on Wednesday and that is certainly what Neil Warnock has brought back into the side this season. Unfortunately the gritty football is often grotty to watch and, as we all know, when this doesn't work there appears to be no Plan B.
Yes, it was great to see Morrison score and hopefully he can begin to get fit, shake off the 'Canaries Reject' label and escape Becchio's long shadow. Yes, it was good to see us create more chances than in a long time but, even though the evenings are getting lighter again, one swallow does not a summer make...
My overwhelming conviction that Warnock and the Kenny/Brown components of our spine are rapidly running out of steam remains. Defensively we do look much better - and Paddy Kenny's saves were fantastic on this occasion - but creatively there is still so much to do. Tactically we have to drop Austin until he is either physically or mentally fit. It's a real shame after such a positive start. My view is that his ankle injury was exacerbated by the long-haul trips to Jamaica and he's too quickly running on empty as a result.
However, I actually feel a sense of release that we can just go out there and play our remaining league games now with no real expectation of the Play Offs and every expectation that a fresher tactical approach and execution is coming sooner rather than later.
They filmed the famous Hovis ads on the cobbles just outside Blackburn's Ewood Park ground. Let's hope we bring the bread home today.
By Rob Atkinson
The idea of a “Memory Match” series of articles is hardly original, but it can be fun, particularly when the present doesn’t offer us much to shout about – and let’s face it, there are loads of games in the Leeds United back-catalogue well worth recalling, and savouring anew.
Despite the encouraging win over Blackpool, it’s probably fair to say that this season is in danger of petering out, leaving us looking forward to a whole new campaign for our hopes of a fresh start post-Bates (who shall be known as President Irrelevant next season.) Things have been so dire at times, that the recollection even of a defeat can be preferable to gloomily contemplating our current prospects – as long as that defeat was a really special one, with gloriously redeeming aspects to it.
Such a match, such a defeat, was the home game with Liverpool in front of a 31460 crowd during our first Sergeant Wilko-flavoured top-flight season of 1990-91. It had been a good season – we were nicely established back at the right end of the top table. We’d had some tasty results and the name of Leeds United was well and truly back on the agenda, despite the slightly grudging attitude of the southern-based media.
I’d been looking forward to the Liverpool game above most others. There was that satisfying all-White against all-Red thing, against the green of the turf, which appealed to the eye of the beholder. But also, I had a real problem with Liverpool FC. They’d been the opposition in my first ever game at Elland Road, a traditional 3 pm Saturday kick-off in April 1975. I’d gone into the ground with my Dad and brother, all wide-eyed and expectant, and Elland Road blew me away, so much more vivid than it had ever been on the telly. I knew straight away that this was love, and that it would be for life. Then Liverpool callously spoiled my debut, beating us 2-0. The following season, they did it again, 3-0 this time. I didn’t even see us score against the Reds until Daisy McNiven’s late equaliser in 1977. By the time we got relegated, in 1982, it had got to the point where I expected nothing but a hiding from Liverpool games, and that’s invariably what I got. I hated Liverpool.
So, in that first post-promotion season, when we’d looked like a seriously top team again, I was all vengeful and ready for the Reds, who had recently been stunned by the resignation of Manager Kenny Dalglish, and I trusted the lads to be at least as committed as I was. And to be fair, they did look right at it, early on. Carl Shutt burst through down the right to sting the hands of their ‘keeper. Mel Sterland planted a free header wide from around the penalty spot, wee Gordon Strachan was buzzing about to good effect in midfield, Leeds were playing well. Then, the sky fell in.
John Barnes, Liverpool’s lithe, lissom winger, chose that day to really turn it on - just as we’d all wished he would for England ever since his legendary goal against Brazil in the Maracanã– but his virtuosity for his club on this day was bad news for Leeds United. First, he dinked a dipping ball to the far post at the Kop End, and the roof of our net billowed as Ray Houghton finished. Next, a clear penalty, struck past John Lukic with power and precision by Liverpool’s wardrobe-shaped Danish scouser, Jan Molby.
Leeds had been well in the game, but Liverpool had carved out and taken their chances, and my familiar Red nightmare was playing itself out yet again.Now, David Speedie – that unlikeliest of Liverpool players for their era of success – forced himself in on the act, first having a goal disallowed, then scoring at the far post after more good work from Barnes on the left. Leeds were ragged and despondent, and it was no surprise when Barnes again, after a nifty one-two near the halfway line, scorched clear to clip a fourth past a helpless Lukic, and leave me drained and woeful on the terrace steps throughout half-time, despairing at the 4-goal gap and fearing what might yet be to come. I’m sure too that this was the first time I ever heard Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” played over the tannoy – and taken up by a stunned home crowd who were even yet able to indulge in a bit of gallows humour.
When the second half started, I saw the Liverpool reserve ‘keeper Mike Hooper running towards us. Hooper had been standing in for a few games for the regular No. 1, Bruce Grobbelaar, and I was more than a little disappointed. I’d had this recurring wish-fulfilment dream about sneaking down off the Kop while play was up the other end, and neatly snipping off Bruce’s annoying little pony-tail. It was probably just as well that temptation had been moved out of my way, but I doubt I’d have really done it – ex-guerrilla Grobbelaar would have killed me anyway, and I’d most likely have got arrested, too.
Hooper was under pressure immediately, as Leeds had rediscovered their vim, and forced Liverpool back. The breakthrough came when the keeper could only push out a scuffed Gary McAllister shot, and Lee Chapman was there to bundle the ball unconvincingly home off the crossbar. Then Chappers challenged for a high ball at the near post, and in it went – only for the ref to disallow it, his dismissive reaction to Chapman’s protests further enraging the hyped-up hordes on the Gelderd End. Hopes revived though as the ball sailed over a clearly-fouled Chapman from the left and landed in the area at the feet of Shutt, who swivelled to score competently. 2-4 now, and maybe an unlikely comeback was in the offing. But almost immediately, Ian Rush mugged Chris Whyte just outside our box, and back heeled into the path of Barnes who took it on and scored a brilliant fifth, to renewed home despair.
Leeds seemed to know that they had to hit back hard and swiftly, and the best goal of the game arrived when Dave Batty struck a wonderful bending, scything cross from deep on the right, and Chapman hurtled through mid-air to meet it with a bullet-header, beating the startled Hooper all ends up. Two behind now, and Liverpool looked as if they were just holding on, the pressure from a stoked-up Leeds incessant.
The match had become a breathless spectacle, surreal in its ebb and flow, more like some sort of high-class park game than your archetypal tight, defensively-sound First Division grapple. Leeds seemed always on the brink of total annihilation, and yet Liverpool, seasoned top-league campaigners, couldn’t quite manage to shake off these upstart newcomers, who kept on snapping relentlessly at their coat-tails like eager pups. Strachan typified the defiance and endeavour, popping up everywhere, probing and passing. Now he received the ball on the right corner of the Liverpool penalty area, and set off on one of those scampering little runs where he didn’t so much beat defenders for pace, he more manoeuvred around them, like some pesky little tug around ponderous oil-tankers. He did this now, beating two or three Liverpool defenders inside a few square yards, and then clipping a delightful ball to the far post, where Chapman towered to complete his hat-trick, the arrears reduced to one.
And that, gentle reader, is as good as it got. Try though they might, the gallant battlers in white could force no further concessions from a Liverpool team who had looked like running away with the game at half-time, but who were virtually on their knees by the final whistle. It was a defeat – glorious, inspiring even, but bringing with it the zero points haul of any other defeat. On the day though, the crowd weren’t counting league table points, and the buzz as the throng left the stadium was of a fantastic comeback against a top, top team – pride was in the air, loud and throaty and no-one was bemoaning the loss. As one person loudly declaimed emerging, from the Kop exit, “we gave ‘em a four goal start, then hammered ‘em 4-1!” Well, quite. It had been, by far, my best-ever Liverpool game, better even than the last-gasp draw we’d salvaged in 1977. It also told us all we needed to know about the battling qualities of Wilko’s Leeds United; an injection of quality the following year would garner the Champion’s crown for us, and also along the way, my long-awaited first victory over the Anfield Reds.
For that, the wait would prove worthwhile. But on this April day in 1991, those of us who had suffered through the wilderness years could see promising signs, even in defeat. United were back.
Next: Memory Match No. 2: January 1992 – Sheffield Wednesday 1, Leeds United 6.
Tune in for another Chappers hat-trick, and “The Worst Dive Ever”.