By Rob Atkinson
He's a rum cove, that El-Hadji Diouf. You don't get many like him to the pound. At first glance, his link-up with Leeds United seemed like a match made in hell. He was signed by a manager in Neil Warnock who had previously referred to Diouf as "lower than a sewer rat." Well, I don't know about you, but I'm sure I've heard more sparkling endorsements than that - even from the notoriously uncouth Colin.
For a while there, we very probably had the most gleaming, five-star example of the full set hate-wise. The most hated club, with the most hated Chairman, the most hated manager, the most hated fans and the most hated player. It rather made your heart swell with pride, and you felt that if Dioufy could be taken to anyone's hearts, then perhaps Elland Road was the most likely place. We are rather fond of our villains down Beeston way.
The down side of the former Liverpool man - other than his alarming tendency to get involved in trouble at the drop of a blob of phlegm - is that he doesn't look the fittest of lads. He's only 32, and he's got undeniable pedigree but you're not going to see him running past opponents too often. His main contribution to the Leeds team this season seems to have been an ability to hold the ball up in confined spaces, draw a foul and win a free kick. There was an early flurry of goals, but it was this ball retention ability that really shone in a team which appeared quite inept in that regard.
Sadly, a few live games in the first half of the season were characterised by the commentator making a fuss about this facet of Diouf's play, and refs seemed to be on the lookout for any possibility of being hoodwinked by the wily Senegalese schemer. Give a dog a bad name, eh? There were certainly quite a few occasions
that I noticed where Diouf would go down with a pained expression on his face, only for the ref to airily wave play on, to approving noises from the gantry. This detracted greatly from his general effectiveness, but he still contributed to some reasonably encouraging performances in that pre-Christmas part of the league programme.
Overall, I think I would say that it's doubtful we have anyone else on the books who can use the ball in a confined space, under pressure from close markers, as Dioufy can. Time and again, he would either slip the attention of a couple of defenders to find a man in relative acres of space, or he would gain one of those free-kicks. Both of these gifts were invaluable to a Leeds side which otherwise appeared to regard the ball as a bit of a hot potato. It's just that telling lack of pace which limits his overall contribution.
In the last home match against Brighton, Diouf did of course manage to get himself sent-off in the aftermath of a successful penalty conversion. It appeared that he'd taken some stick from Brighton's rather over-sensitive away support, and
responded in sign language involving a too-public manipulation of his genitals, to shocking effect as far as the away crowd and sadly also the ref were concerned. A little surprisingly, this was Diouf's first dismissal since he joined the club. We are told that he is sorry, and that he remains committed to the Leeds United cause next season (which is the earliest we shall see him now.)
So should we hang on to this mercurial talent, or not? I would cautiously vote to retain him, especially if a McDermott pre-season training programme could enhance his physical fitness somewhat. It's difficult to see who else is out there - within our probably quite modest price-range - who can do quite what Dioufy can do.
What do people think? Keep him or get rid? And if he goes - just who are the likely candidates to replace him? Answers on a virtual postcard, please...
By Rob Atkinson
I've read a couple of articles quite recently, both decently-written and making some good points - but both leaving me despairing over the massively negative attitude current among a certain section of Leeds "support". The tendency, in fact is not only massively negative, it's eagerly, loudly, brassily negative. It embraces negativity and holds it close like it never wants to let it go. It's the very antithesis of what support should be all about. It's defeatism in its most depressing and demoralising form; if these articles had been written in wartime, they may very well have been taken out and shot.
The common theme of course, hammered home with relish and supportive statistics, is that We Are Not A Big Club Anymore. The people saying this say it passionately and with conviction. Not only do they wish to believe that Leeds aren't a big club, the very idea that some fans may not believe this clearly upsets and offends them. They crop up everywhere, spreading their message of gloom and churning out invidious comparisons by the bucketload. They're becoming an effective voice wherever fans gather together to discuss matters Leeds. In fact there's only one real problem with their whole campaign. It's bollocks.
The fact of the matter is, no club is bigger or smaller than its fanbase, its potential for support. A very reliable gauge of this is freely available in these tech-savvy days we live in. It's what is nattily called "online presence". Give your mouse some exercise and find out for yourself - if you don't already know. In cyberworld, second division, under-achieving, out-spent and unregarded Leeds United are absolutely HUGE. This is the best barometer you could wish for of the measure of passion out there, the incredible hunger and thirst for any morsel of news, any topic of debate about the Mighty Whites of LS11. They're out there, right now, all over the globe. They're clicking away at their computer terminals reading and digesting, or they're writing in dozens of languages about Leeds past, present and future. Our great days on the field are an increasingly distant memory, and a large proportion of the match-day support of a decade ago are marginalised and priced out of actual engagement with the match-going experience. But around the globe, in the ether, over the airwaves and most importantly inside the heads of millions of fanatics, Leeds United are top four, a phenomenon.
So, why this overweening eagerness to paint us as a small club? Is it the tiresome need of social writers to dress themselves up as that bit different? You know - slightly windswept and interesting, with that world-weary air of cynicism etching attractive lines into their fashionably-troubled yet intellectual brows. It's odd. Any real pretensions to cool tend to be dissipated by the unseemly scramble to out-do each other in the negativity stakes, and they're usually followed by eager-beaver starry-eyed acolytes who wish to attach themselves to any view that doesn't qualify as mainstream. Perhaps that's the answer - are we dealing with an online football-flavoured brand of snob obscurantism?
I'm not advocating the other pole of this issue, by the way. That worryingly Freudian habit of a certain Franchise's fans to shout from the virtual rooftops about how they're the biggest, the best and totally huge and wonderful throughout the world and Universe. I'll mention no names here, but the initials are Man U. I'd be even more concerned if our collective attitude was as deluded as that, not least because - in the case of our acquaintances from over the hills - their Devon and Cornwall based support have made of themselves a laughing-stock with such wishful thinking. Certainly in Barcelona and Madrid, and in various other centres of realism too, not excluding Beeston.
No, all I want is for certain people to remember the basic meaning of the word "support". It does not include the peddling of negative thinking, nor does it encompass unhelpful and misleading assertions regarding comparisons with such giants as Norwich City and Reading FC. All of this is willful and groundless cant, calculated to spread misery and crush hope.
Support is about identifying yourself with the club you love, and spreading the word to those less fortunate who have not seen the light. It's about getting the shoulder behind the momentum of a fresh start and being prepared to back it all the way, in the face of the withering carpings of naysayers as and when necessary. Support is an overwhelmingly positive thing, and it needs to espouse and reflect positivity in everything it does. Criticism is part of this, we are
not a massive band of yes-men. But criticism can be couched in positive terms too - this will not do for Leeds United, we can say of Bates, or the transfer policy, or anything else we're unhappy with. It will not do because We Are Leeds, and we demand better. We can be critical, but it's our duty to be biased, and to talk the club up. Spreading alarm and despondency is not needed, not helpful, not to be embraced.
Support your club, because you're a supporter. We Are Leeds, and we're the best.
By Rob Atkinson
The back end of a season with nothing left but pride to play for is an eerily uninspiring time for any set of fans. It's much more the case for the long-suffering band of faithful supporters attached to the ailing giant that is Leeds United. The last decade has been 90% nightmare, 5% unfulfilled hope and possibly 5% consolation-prize high spots. You won't run out of fingers counting up the good times. A clutch of decent cup wins, including one spectacular success at The Theatre of Hollow Myths when we beat a Man U side in one of their champions incarnations. We did it, what's more, as a third tier side - and we should have had three as well. Then there was promotion from that shameful third tier, secured with a glorious win over Bristol Rovers. Read that again: "glorious win" in the same sentence as "over Bristol Rovers". That's how far we had fallen.
Since returning to the Championship, the league fare has been meagre at best. We have mostly flattered to deceive with an under-powered team lacking in quality; a clear product of the club's inadequate approach to investment. There have been some frankly dreadful low times, the kind of performances especially at one-time fortress Elland Road which would have the most committed Leeds nutter wondering if Saturday afternoon shopping with 'er indoors might not be that bad after all. 4-1 up to Preston and lost 4-6. An abysmal 3-7 tonking by the nauseatingly nicknamed Tricky Trees of Nottingham Forest. 1-6 at home to Watford's take on the Italian "B" International side. We've done OK at times, but nothing spectacular - and the general report would have to sum us up as "nowhere near good enough."
Any Leeds fan worth his or her salt will have constructive opinions as to how progress may best be made towards the top end of this league, and they will likely have firm options identified for changes on and off the field. I'm no different, and I strongly believe that the off-field scenario is still in as urgent need for revolution as is the patchy and ineffective first team squad. The first thing I would do is give the whole place the air of a spring-clean, with added fumigation and fresh coat of paint. This could be achieved in one fell swoop by telling Mr Kenneth Bates that his services are no longer required in any capacity; that he will not be retained in any position whereby he might be seen as representing Leeds United AFC, and that he should proceed - without passing "Go" or collecting £200 - to his Monaco tax haven, returning (if at all) only after purchasing a match-day ticket.
Ken Bates has had enough exposure on the back of Leeds United. We've heard enough about how he's "saved" us, a novel definition of that concept which includes taking us to the brink of ruin, costing us oodles of money in the funding of his endless court battles, presiding over relegation, administration and a points-deduction saga that was a complex and migraine-inducing mess. Against this backdrop, you have the man himself, abrasive of personality, coarse in self-expression, using intimidation as his weapon of choice with threats of court action against anyone who upset him - and lastly but not leastly his endearing habit of summing up those loyal and faithful fans who happen not to agree with his philosophy on life as "morons."
The fresh start that Leeds United require is only one official, Leeds United headed-stationery printed letter away: Dear Ken, we regret to inform you.... etc. The position of Life President is for a man of dignity, a man who has supported the club all his life, a man who is content to see his name on the official roll whilst keeping his own counsel unless asked for it. A man like the late lamented Earl of Harewood, the quintessence of decency and class, a figurehead any club would love to carve for their own. Ken Bates is to Earl Harewood as water is unto wine, and we should not have to put up with such a profound and precipitous drop in standards.
Get Ken out - RIGHT out - and it's a start. There would still be much to do, but it could be done in an improved atmosphere; many thousands of fans would feel instantly better about the club they love, a nasty taste would be gone from our collective mouths, a leaden weight from our tired shoulders. We might at last be able to March On Together in the truest sense with this corrosive influence gone from the club. Please - whoever has the power to bring this about - make it happen and make it happen SOON. Then let's get on with rebuilding our Leeds United.
By Josh Grainger
Yesterday's clash between Leeds and Brighton at Elland Road was marred by a bizarre sending off for Leeds forward El-Hadji Diouf. Brighton needing a win to secure a play-off spot, took an early lead when Will Buckley finished well after an unfortunate error from Tom Lees. Moments later things went from bad to worse for the home side, Brighton striker Ashley Barnes and Leeds midfielder Rudy Austin, had a slight coming together when battling for the ball which saw Barnes muscle Leeds' Jamaican man to the floor in a hard but fair manner, Austin, obviously not impressed by the collision, chased back for the ball and in doing so shoulder barged Barnes to the floor off the ball. The incident appeared deliberate but not malicious, however referee Graham Scott deemed the incident worthy of a straight red card, a decision which was not helped by the pathetic Barnes who rolled around on the floor for a good few minutes, as if he'd been shot.
The dismissal shocked the crowd and the Leeds player's, however they battled on and went in search of an equaliser. After some dubious decisions had failed to go Leeds' way, including two penalty shouts, the referee finally gave something in the home side's favour, when he awarded Leeds a penalty, for Inigo Calderon's pull on El-Hadji Diouf. This wasn't the end of the matter though, the referee produced a second red card of the match and Calderon's game was over. Diouf, who had been subject to constant boo's from the Brighton fans all game, stepped up and slotted the ball past Tomas Kuszsack, again this was not to be the end of the matter. Diouf slowly jogged towards the visiting fans, waving them to them sarcastically, before rubbing his masculine parts in what appeared to be towards the Brighton fans. The referee then stopped the match, went over to talk to his assistant who was right in front of the incident, before producing a third red card in Diouf's direction. Diouf incensed by the decision blew kisses toward the visiting fans as he made his way down the tunnel, and to rub salt in wounds for the Leeds fans, Brighton clinched a late winner.
The result matter's little to Leeds, they knew before the game they were safe from relegation, however unable to reach the play-offs. Diouf's dismissal means he will miss the first two games of next season, as well as Leeds' final clash of this one, with Watford. The suspension isn't the important thing, the sending off highlighted how "soft" football has become. Thirty or so years ago this sort of "banter" would be perfectly acceptable at football, why is it that the modern game has turned so horribly "petty". Some will argue that Diouf's actions warranted the punishment, some will say that with more and more children attending game's, gesture's such as the one Diouf appeared to make are unacceptable when children are in the ground. There's no denying that more of the younger generation are being taken to the games, there is no problem with this, if anything it is a good thing, however don't tell me that a child will have gone home in tears, vowing never to return to a football stadium, because of Diouf's actions. Some have argued that Diouf's behaviour was in reference to Brighton's reputation of having a large gay community. There is no way of finding out whether this was the reasoning behind what Diouf did, however I highly doubt it. It is more than likely that Diouf rubbed his private's in front of the Brighton fans as a way of giving them some stick back, in return for what they were giving him. What is wrong with this!? Brighton fans gave Diouf comical abuse, they were not punished, which they shouldn't be, what is unfair and downright ridiculous, is that Diouf was.
The other week, Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha gave Leeds fans the middle finger, after they were giving him some stick for joining Manchester United, Zaha was then fined and given a one match ban, again ridiculous, Leeds fans bantered with him, he bantered back, he get's punished. Sooner or later a player won't be allowed to bend over to tie his laces, in case he offends the crowd, something needs to be done to stop modern football getting embarrassing.
The group "Against Modern Football" now has thousands of members, who are rightly fed up of seeing the game that we know and love, being turned into a farce. The player's on the pitch often do not help the matter, whilst refereeing is becoming more and more strict or petty, the likes of Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez despite showing some immense talent, are letting themselves and the game down by their recent diving exploits. The latter of the two, won't be diving for a while, after picking up a ten match ban for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic. I'm not saying football should be allowed to become some madhouse where anything goes, what Suarez did was comically shameful, and he deserved the ban he got, however some journalists who have labelled Diouf's actions as "an obscene gesture" need to give themselves a shake, the word 'obscene' is a strong one, it should be used in justified circumstances. Football needs to man up and remember how it used to be, the game was brought about by working class people, of which more and more can no longer afford the ridiculous ticket price's and therefore are missing out on supporting their team. Whilst El-Hadji Diouf will not have deliberately meant it, his actions show an valid and ironic message, football needs to grow a pair, before it loses its true fans.
By Shaun Stone
With the season drawing to a close and many fans wishing it was already over, all eyes will be firmly fixed on our transfer dealings during the summer. Some fans are expecting a mass exodus at Leeds United, where as some are simply wanting a few more quality players to strengthen the current squad.
There is no doubt that we need quality players at the club if we are to mount a serious challenge next season but at what cost?. Will we need to accept a multi-million pound bid for one of our top players?. Will the loss of whomever be justified by adding more quality in to the squad? Are our top players so far ahead of the rest that we can use the cash from their sales to smooth out the team and create an even-balance of decent players? A player is valued highly due to their performance amongst many things and you will find it hard to replace certain individuals. This isn't just about money. What effects will this have on the team if a top player is sold? There are so many things to take in to consideration when selling a player and I fear that the possible sale of any of our top players will have a negative effect on the team, not the mention the fans.
However, I believe we now have a manager at the club that can take us forward, providing he receives the backing that he needs to do his job. In a short space of time Brian McDermott has not only managed to inspire the players but he has also made an impression on most of the fans. I for one feel that this man not only talks the talk, but is prepared to walk the walk. The only drawback with this is unfortunately a manager does not control all aspects of the club. By this, I mean finances of the club. We can all say what we want, but can we pay for it? This is what's on the flip side - when a person inspires you, you can be easily drawn in to a sense of expectancy. Leeds United fans have always expected their team to perform but have been seriously let-down this season. I'm not just referring to the play-style, but the attitude of the players also.
Since Brian McDermott's arrival, the team have looked different, played better. Passed the ball and given the paying fans value for money. This is what happens when a group of individuals are inspired to play for their club and not just for the manager.
Brian McDermott says "We all need to head in the same direction." This is exactly what needs to be done if we are to be successful. "We are Leeds" is chanted by the fans and it's about time this was shown throughout the club, and on the pitch.
There is a lot of history to be proud of at Leeds United, let's start making some more!.
By Josh Grainger
Saturday night saw almost a thousand fans pack inside the Pavilion for the annual "end of season awards night". The occasion gave fans the chance to meet their heroes, whilst at the same time they played witness to the announcement as to who had won the end of season awards.
The main two awards; Fan's player of the season and Player's player of the season, were widely expected to be won by nineteen year old full-back, Sam Byram. Ever since making his first start in a Leeds first team shirt in the pre-season tour of Cornwall, Byram's steady performance's meant he was becoming a regular name on the team sheet for friendly matches. Byram's impressive display's saw him make his first professional start in the Capital One Cup match against Shrewsbury, in which Leeds ran out 4-0 winner's, with Byram claiming the man of the match award. By the time the first "proper" game of the season arrived, a tough test at home to division new boy's, Wolves, the realisation struck in, that this shy teenager could well be up against a one time England international, in Matt Jarvis.
Byram was named in the starting line-up, and gave an assured display in front of the Sky camera's. Byram's performance's seemed to go from strength to strength,
his first goal for the club was shortly to follow. In Leeds' cup clash with Oxford, Byram took the ball past three player's, before delightfully chipping the goalkeeper from close range. The goal not only was a candidate for the club's goal of the season, but also made it on to a shortlist of five goals up for winning the Football League goal of the season. Byram's name fast became one of the first on the teamsheet and continued to wow the Leeds fans with his solid performances.
Byram penned a four year deal with the club in January, eliminating any chance of a winter move away from Elland Road. Shortly after signing a new deal, Byram produced arguably one of his performance's of the season, when he successfully kept Gareth Bale quiet in Leeds' shock win against Premier league Tottenham. By the time last night had come around, it was almost unthinkable that Byram wouldn't pick up the player of the season awards. Despite missing the match against Brighton hours earlier due to an injury picked up in the warm-up, Byram won both fan's player and player's player of the season. It was revealed that Byram had picked up over 70% of the vote's for the award, a remarkable achievement for someone making his debut season in professional football. Whilst a premier league move may await the youngster, with Manchester City rumoured to be offering £10m for his services, the nineteen year old spoke with remarkable maturity upon picking up the awards.
Byram told the thousand or so fans "I never expected this. There's some great players at the club, and this is a real honour. I was lucky in the Wolves game at the start of the season because Leesy got injured and I've been lucky enough to keep my place." Byram also spoke of his desire to stay at the club he supported as a boy and how he hoped that he could be part of the team that took them back to the Premier League. Whilst it promises to be a long summer for Leeds fans hoping Byram will remain a Leeds player, he deserves everything that is coming his way and should he choose to accept a premier league move, he would more than deserve it.
Whilst some were predicting Byram would take a clean sweep of all the awards, this wasn't to be. Many tipped his goal against Oxford to win goal of the season, however Ross McCormack's effort against Spurs took the award. Byram was back up on the podium moments later however, when he again unsurprisingly picked up "young player of the season" award, the first time a Leeds player has won both the awards in the same season. Tom Lees won the "chairman's special award" believed to be as a way of apology for the way he was treated by Neil Warnock after his sending off in the Ipswich game, whilst injured Leigh Bromby won the "Work in the community" award.
It was a pleasing night for Leeds United, showing how their reputable academy continues to blossom, and was a somewhat pleasing end to a disappointing season. Leeds now have one final game remaining, a meaningless trip to promotion contender's Watford. Brian McDermott has certainly upped spirits around the club since taking charge, let's hope he can continue to do so over the summer and next season!
By Andrew Butterwick
For the last time this season the Happy Chocker, Brother Chris and the Quiet One gathered at Selby station for our trek to Elland Road. There was a distinct end of season feeling to the atmosphere as we trundled along past the West Yorkshire countryside. After all we were stranded in mid table obscurity with nothing but pride to play for against Gus Poyet's Seagulls who were looking to secure a certain play off spot before next weekend's final games. A surprisingly good crowd of nearly 25,000 had gathered to see the last rites of Leeds' disappointing season played out in bright sunshine. The fact that most of the pre match discussion surrounded the merits or otherwise of the new Leeds shirt gives you an indication of the blase attitude to today's game amongst most fans. Brian McD had selected an unchanged team but his plans were thrown into confusion as Sam Byram was injured in the warm up. Not a good start. Peltier stepped into the full back role and Ryan Hall hurriedly got changed and warmed the bench.
Brighton had brought a good contingent all hoping to see their stylish team secure the necessary points to guarantee a coveted play off place. Poyet strode out to applause from all corners of the ground to which he responded warmly. As he took his place in the dug out I wondered if Mr Bates had got his wish in October and sacked Colin would Poyet have been leading the team in white out today instead of the visitors?
The game kicked off and Brighton's stylish passing game that has seen them climb the table in recent weeks was evident from the first minute. Before most fans had drawn breath a slick move opened up the Leeds defence on the left flank and Orlandi met the teasing cross to deflect the ball past a static Kenny and onto the post and away to safety. Leeds looked unsettled possibly because of the reshuffling but more likely due to the class of the Seagull's opening salvos. Leeds were soon showing the South Coast team that they can now play a bit aswell as Ross Mac weaved an opening only to be pulled down by a cynical tug from a visiting player. Austin drove the resulting free kick just wide of the upright. Then disaster struck. The usually dependable Tom Lees fluffed a back pass to Kenny leaving Buckley with the simplest of chances to put the visitors ahead which he clinically took with consummate ease. 1.0 Brighton and only 10 minutes gone.
If losing your star player in the warm up and then going one down after ten minutes wasn't bad enough Austin decided he'd make things even more difficult for Brian McD's men as he received a straight red for an off the ball clash with Ashley Barnes. Barnes went down as if he'd been hit by a sniper's bullet as the referee, Mr Scott, immediately reached for his red card. Now I couldn't see what actually happened but all I can say is that Barnes made a remarkable recovery that would have graced Lourdes. 1.0 down and 1 man down.
Despite been down to ten men Leeds weren't about to roll over and die as they dug in and battled toe to toe with the Seagulls. The referee started to irritate both sets of fans with a collection of strange and pedantic decisions that strangled the game's flow. Leeds seemed to grow in strength as the half went on and pressurised the Brighton goal. Varney twice tried to run through a defender rather than round him in promising positions and Diouf was at his tantalising best. I'm sure he has some sort of velcro on his chest, thigh and leg because whatever speed or height the ball flies to him he always instantly controls it and brings it to the floor like a snake charmer hypnotising his Cobra. Ross Mac swivelled and hit a shot just inches over the bar as Leeds ended the half on a high. Half time 1.0 Brighton and already the referee was being booed from the field.
Brighton had the better of the opening part of the second half as they went in search of the killer goal. Buckley should have done better with a chance inside the box but steered it wide and Kenny pulled off a fine save as the ball sped through a
ruck of players. Leeds' build up play was good but all too often the final cross or pass just went astray. Typical of this was a bundling run from Varney into the box who then handled the ball just as he should have been shooting. Mr Pedantic with
the whistle booked him for his troubles. Then Leeds were back in the game on 74 minutes. Calderon, (a Trevor Hockey lookalike for those of you old enough) clumsily bundled Diouf over in the box. Penalty!............harsh but a penalty. Even harsher was the red card that Mr Pedantic produced as Calderon joined Austin for an early bath. Both teams down to ten men as Diouf stepped up to take the penalty. He coolly slotted the ball home before peeling away to run the length of the pitch to blow kisses and juggle his balls in front of the visiting fans. This was too much for Mr Pedantic who produced his third red card of the game to the penalty scorer and although Leeds were now level on goals they were down to just 9 men. The world's gone mad if celebrating in front of opposing fans is now a red card? If it is why weren't the Wendies players all sent to the dressing room after scoring and celebrating in front of the kop a couple of weeks ago? All I could say was it was a good job we didn't need points from this game or Mr Pedantic wouldn't have escaped with his life from LS11.
Still could the nine men hold out for 15 minutes or even pinch an unlikely winner? Leeds battled hard but Poyet's men utilised the wide open spaces well to take advantage of their extra man. With 5 minutes left Brown replaced the tiring Tonge. "Mmmm we could end up with 8 men now" I suggested to brother Chris. Within 2 minutes Brighton counter attacked and Leeds found themselves 3 on 2.........Ulloa easily headed in unchallenged from 7 yards. Brighton fans celebrated their now certain play off place whilst the home fans belted out "2.1 to the referee"
Pearce so nearly snatched a late equaliser with a header on 90 minutes but the game ended 2.1. Pearce, Ross Mac, Green and Diouf all played well with the consistent Warnock oozing class at left back. A disappointing end to the home campaign but there were probably more positives to take from the game than usual in a home defeat. Brian McD has got Leeds playing with some purpose and direction now. Add a couple of quality players to the squad plus a goal scorer and next season is already looking bright.
The traditional end of season curry at Akbars was a roaring success as we debated who we'd keep and who we'd sell over the summer. It's amazing how a couple of beers and a jalfrezi crystalises what's needed for the team for next year! The train home was delightful as we shared it with Hull fans returning from their defeat at Barnsley, a defeat that leaves them needing to beat Cardiff next week or hope Watford lose to gain automatic promotion. I know I shouldn't but I took great pleasure in seeing a Hull fan asking us through gritted teeth to "do them a favour and beat Watford next week" "You do realise we got two sent off today and we haven't won away since 1963? Still there's always a chance" I cheerily informed him. He visibly withered and I thought for one minute I could see tears in his eyes! The Happy Chocker did a victory jig even though we'd lost on the platform at Selby as we left the Hull fans to stew in their own sorrows all the way back to East Yorkshire. Sometimes football can be fun even when you lose.
So Watford awaits us next week. I think I might take my boots as we will be down to the bare bones of the squad. It's win win game for Leeds though because even if we get beat we can always console ourselves that somewhere in West Hull there will be a few tears shed on our behalf if Cardiff finish on a high. Delicious.
Memory Match No. 8: Champions 21st Anniversary Special - Sheffield United 2, Leeds United 3 - 26.4.1992
By Rob Atkinson
The 26th April 1992 was not just a normal Sunday morning like any other; for all fans of Leeds United it would turn out to be a date with destiny, the unlikely culmination of a footballing journey that had started in October 1988. Howard Wilkinson’s move from First Division Sheffield Wednesday to take over as boss at Second Division strugglers Leeds United had been - perhaps unwisely - summed up by the Sheffield Wednesday chairman as “a chance we couldn’t deny Howard to better himself.” That must have fallen like rocks on the ears of the Wednesday fans who nevertheless could not have envisaged their rivals’ subsequent meteoric rise at a time when the Wednesday star was on the wane. Such is life.
History will show that Wilkinson breezed into Leeds United, seized the place by the scruff of its neck and shook it up good and proper. Remnants of his legacy are still visible in the club’s world-class Academy and training complex not to mention the gigantic East Stand, but it is for the phoenix-like resurrection of The Whites that the fanatical Leeds support will best remember Sergeant Wilko. Leeds were promoted in 1990 after Wilkinson’s first full season, trading places with Sheffield Wednesday as they dropped into the Second Division – bittersweet irony there. A season of consolidation followed, and then the full-on assault on the Football League Championship itself, a challenge unexpectedly sustained right to the sweetest of ends. By April 20th 1992, Leeds were still clinging on in the title race, but Man U were clear favourites with a points lead and a match in hand. That day though was the start of the turning of the tide in Leeds’ favour. As fans gathered on the Kop for the late afternoon visit of Coventry City, radios were clamped to anxious ears as news was awaited from Man U’s home game against Nottingham Forest. Two explosions of joy from the swelling Elland Road crowd signalled two Forest goals and a defeat for the leaders that Leeds were to capitalise on, beating Coventry 2-0 in front of a live TV audience.
Now it was game on in earnest, and I vividly remember a nervous evening at home that midweek as West Ham played host to Man U who were finally playing their remaining game in hand. Win, and they would be in the box seat – but, as I frantically tidied and re-tidied my bedside table drawer to save myself from chewing my nails down to my elbows, they lost, wonderfully, miraculously lost to leave Leeds in charge of their own destiny. Choleric Man U manager Alex Ferguson must have bitterly tasted the sourest of grapes as he described the already-relegated Hammers’ effort levels in beating his charges as “obscene”. His lack of grace drew a stark contrast with the phlegmatic Wilko, who was calmly reminding the world that Leeds had secured a place in Europe, his main aim for the season, and that anything more would be “a bonus.”
But Leeds now knew that if they won their last two games – away at Sheffield United and at home to Norwich City – they would be English Champions in the last old-style Football League programme – a signal honour. Everybody thought it would go down to the last game of the season, that Norwich would be the big game. Yet if Leeds were to win at Bramall Lane, Man U would then face the formidable task of winning at Anfield to take the Title race to its last day.
Back to April 26th, and as I walked up the hill into Wakefield that mid-morning, I saw cars trailing the colours of Leeds United, the scarves fluttering bravely – and I felt a sense of occasion but still could not quite comprehend that this might just be The Day. I met up with my mate Dave, and we shared a tense journey to Sheffield, not much said, both knowing that this was a Sunday that could equally easily end up being triumph or disaster. Parked up in the scruffy environs of Bramall Lane, just about the first thing Dave did as we walked to the ground was to drag me back out of the path of a careering van as I stepped out to cross a road, oblivious of traffic, lost in thought. We both grinned at my narrow escape and agreed: good omen. And then we were high up in the seats of the upper tier behind the goal at the away end of Sheffield United’s quaintly ill-designed stadium.The day was gusty, and so the football would prove to be. It was a match of ebb and flow, the Sheffield faithful eager to deny Leeds their chance of clinching the title, Leeds fans loud and defiant with self-belief.
If you’re a Leeds supporter, you’ll have seen the goals from that game hundreds, thousands of times. It plays through now, all these years later, in the Football Highlights studio of my mind; joy for the home side as Alan Cork, gleaming of bald pate, pokes the ball home to give Sheffield the lead. Then, a midfield tussle in the swirling wind, as Leeds try valiantly to come back. A late first-half free kick, which Gordon Strachan races to take before the home defence can set themselves, he finds Rod Wallace in the area who tips the ball past home keeper Mel Rees’s attempt to save, defenders scramble to clear, only to hit Gary Speed who bounces the ball back to ricochet off Wallace - into the net. Pandemonium in the away end. Level at half time, we’re breathless with drama and the hurly-burly of it all, raucous with United anthems, nervous of what’s yet to come.
In the second half, though we don’t know it, human tragedy unfolds: Sheffield ‘keeper Mel Rees, injured in the melee leading to Leeds’ leveller, his thigh heavily strapped, can hardly move and is hampered for the second Leeds goal as Jon Newsome stoops to head in at the far post. Mel Rees, who was due an international call-up the next day and has to pull out because of his injury. Mel Rees, who would never play football again because he was to develop cancer and die a year later, tragically young at 26. RIP, Mel Rees.
The crazy game continues crazily. A dangerous ball across the Leeds box is retrieved by home defender and future Leeds man John Pemberton, who turns it back towards the goal-line where Lee Chapman sticks out a leg for an own-goal greeted with horrified stupefaction by the Leeds fans behind the goal and we’re level again. Then enfant terrible Eric Cantona enters the fray, and within a few minutes he is chasing a loose ball into the Sheffield half, with Rod Wallace scampering alongside and home defender Brian Gayle lumbering back in a desperate attempt to clear the danger. And it’s Gayle, former Man City man, who finally slays Man United. From my vantage point at the opposite end of the ground I see him get his head to the ball, and the action is suddenly slow motion. Gayle has headed the ball, poor Mel Rees is stranded far out of his goal, the ball goes over his head in a slow, slow loop, and bounces tantalisingly towards the open goal…
Then I’m watching at full speed from the far end as Cantona and Wallace raise their arms in triumph, wheeling away in delight, and even as I wonder what they’re up to I realise that the ball has nestled in the Sheffield United net. A red mist descends, and I am utterly outside of my skull and beside myself in delirious joy and fevered madness, looking around me, roaring like a demented bull, face congested with blood, eyes bulging; I grab a helpless wee St John’s Ambulance man by his lapels and scream beer and spittle into his terrified face “Get me some oxygeeeennnn!!! I’m going to have a heart attaaaack!!!” The mad moment passes, I drop the ashen medic and some measure of sanity returns, but we’re still cavorting and diving all over each other, a seething, sweating mass of Leeds, because we know it’s over, we know that Sheffield are beaten, and we know that Man U don’t have an earthly at Anfield, not a prayer. We were going to be Champions; on that windiest and gustiest of days, a Gayle from Manchester City has blown the Scum away and decided in an instant the fate of all three Uniteds from Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.
And so, of course, it panned out. Later I watched mesmerised on TV as Liverpool beat a demoralised Man U, Denis Law and Ian St John trying to put a brave face on it, Elton Welsby’s foot bobbing away in thwarted anger as the script turned out just as none of them wanted. Ian Rush scored his first ever goal against Them, and it was settled late on as Man U concede a second. “And now the title goes to Leeds without any doubt at all” intoned Brian Moore in the ITV commentary as I sat there with tears of joy streaming down my unashamed face. Gary Lineker had called into the studio earlier to complain that Rod Wallace’s goal had been offside (it was). St John and Moore bemoaned that Man U had had no luck at all, and Welsby ground his teeth in the studio as the Man U fans outside hurled abuse at him, heedless of the fact that he shared their bitter disappointment. All was frustration in the media and the rest of football and Leeds fans everywhere utterly failed to give a toss.
On the 21st anniversary of that nutty day when Leeds reached the summit of the game, the images are all still vivid and clear for me. I’ve worn out four video tapes and at least three DVD’s, but I don’t need them, I don’t need YouTube, I can see it all any time I choose just by relaxing and closing my eyes. Mel Rees is no longer with us, nor is Gary Speed and Brian Moore has passed away too. Rest in peace, all. And my mate Dave who shared that memorable day with me, he’s gone as well, taken far too young by cancer in 1999. I have a picture of us both, taken before the home game with Norwich a week after we’d won the league, triumphant in our freshly-purchased “Champions” t-shirts, happily blind as to what the future would bring. RIP, Dave mate. We celebrated hard that day as little Rod Wallace won that last game with a sublime goal, rounding off our greatest season. We’d earned it, me and Dave, tramping around the second division grounds of the eighties as Leeds struggled to come back. Thousands of us had earned it. Now we were top dogs, and boy did we enjoy it while it lasted.
United were back, as Champions of England.The Last Real Champions. Happy 21st Anniversary, Champs.
Next: Memory Match No. 9: Milan 1, Leeds United 1.
A legendary game from my own Annus Mirabilis when, having never seen my beloved Leeds play abroad up to that point, I followed them to Barca, Milan and Madrid, three great stadiums and three great trips I’ll never forget.
In Milan, Dom Matteo made himself a legend and spawned a terrace anthem that still follows him wherever he goes today.