By Rob Atkinson
Welcome to Leeds, Brian McDermott. Whatever else happens during your reign at Elland Road, you could hardly have had a better start, and there were signs aplenty of much-needed change in application, atmosphere and attitude in the team, the crowd, the whole club. And who better to win against in your first game? Sweet as a nut. Thank you so much.
Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday was actually beyond sweet, for several reasons. Probably the most important of these was the fact that, after months of saying “we must win today to squeeze into the play-offs”, we’d finally woken up to the brutal reality that a run of poor results had brought us juddering down to; so now it was “we must win today because, oh sweet Jesus, we could get bloody relegated.” That pressure has at least eased off slightly in the wake of a somewhat nervous but rapturously welcomed win. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we may at least be out-distancing the wolf and leaving poor Grandma to face a bottom three finish on her own.
The other reasons for relishing Leeds United’s win at the expense of the Wendies, as we fondly think of them, date back to the return fixture at Hillsborough earlier in the season. For those who have forgotten, Leeds played awfully, went behind and looked well on the way to defeat. Then Michael Tonge’s stunning equaliser was followed immediately by a yob invading the pitch from among the Leeds fans who’d turned up merely to watch the game, and proceeding to land the third-best punch of the evening on the unsuspecting face of Wendies ‘keeper Chris Kirkland. The two best punches had been landed earlier in the piece by thuggish home defender Miguel Llera on two different Leeds players, and were ignored by the ref, in the normal FA-approved manner. Llera, a lanky dork in a head-guard, might normally have been subject to some scrutiny after the game for his free interpretation of the rules regarding lamping your opponents in the jaw, but on this occasion the focus was almost entirely upon the actions of the miscreant who’d emerged from the away support. Questions were asked in the House, resolutions were passed by the United Nations, the NATO alert status was upgraded to Amber and the Galactic Federation issued an ultimatum demanding that Leeds United be relocated to dwarf planet Pluto. Or that’s how it felt.
Strangely, the only person even slightly to distract the full attention of the Fourth Estate from this heinous act of a drunken thug, was Wendies manager Dave Jones, who seemed confused as to whom the real victim was in the whole sorry episode. Interviewed directly after the match, an over-emotional and highly-strung Jones was asked about his take on events, the interviewer clearly expecting a confirmation that his ‘keeper had been assaulted, that it was disgusting and that it was all Leeds United’s fault. What Jones came up with though was a protracted whinge about the chants directed at him by Leeds fans, that he’d had this for years, that it was disgusting and that it was all Leeds United’s fault. He rounded off his tirade of barely-suppressed sobs by stating that the Leeds fans were “vile animals”. All of them. No exceptions.
In the next few days, once the laughing over Jones’ histrionics had died down somewhat, many Leeds fans took to posting pictures on social media of their sweet little eight or nine-year old lad or lass, clad in Leeds United regalia, clearly incapable of melting butter in their innocent little mouths, to point out that said little lass or lad had been tarred by the obnoxious and unwisely gobby Jones as a “Vile Animal”. It was an apt demonstration of how silly it is to open your trap without first engaging your brain, but there was no real climb-down from the defiant Wendies boss, and – the rantings of the gutter press aside – it was generally agreed that he
hadn’t come out of it too well, and had indeed made something of a prat of himself. Apart from seeming entirely focused on his own perceived (non-physical) injuries, to the exclusion it appeared of his poor goalkeeper who had actually copped for a fourpenny one, Jones had also managed to cock a deaf ‘un to the vile – if I may borrow his word of choice – chants from the Wendies faithful about the two Leeds fans murdered in Istanbul. Jones’ lexicon of sick insults would seem to be a highly selective publication. If only he could have foreseen how the “Vile Animals” tag would be taken up by the Leeds faithful, almost as an inverted badge of honour, maybe wiser counsel would have prevailed. But it’s probably fair to say that Jones doesn’t have a wiser counsel.
Annoyingly after all this, Mr David Jones, Sheffield Wednesday’s current manager, was not apparent on the touchline at Elland Road on Saturday. We’d all been looking forward to renewing the acquaintance, to seeing Jones trying to avoid the scornful gaze of twenty thousand people, to watching him squirm as the hated Whites (hopefully) trod his on-form Wendies into the turf. The victory came to pass, as we know; but Jones had managed to incur a highly convenient and opportune touchline ban, so was mercifully spared running the gauntlet of vile animals and copping for another load of earthy West Yorkshire humour. Some would say that Jones had engineered this situation by deliberately making intemperate comments after a draw at Bristol City which he knew would see him wriggle out of an Elland Road ordeal, and that it was the act of a coward and a hypocrite. And I’d be among their number. Dave Jones is a ridiculous and embittered little man, and I can hardly think of a more fitting victim for what was – I sincerely hope – only the first of many McDermott-inspired victories for Leeds United.
So this victory was the ideal start, but the Strife of Brian may yet be lurking ahead. Even if Leeds do finally pull well clear of the drop-zone in the remainder of this season, the new Gaffer certainly has his work cut out to rebuild the morale of a club that has lurched through a long drawn-out crisis of a season which has brought massive disappointment in the league, only partly assuaged by two decent Cup runs and the slaying of several Premier League “giants” at Elland Road – just to remind us what being Leeds used to be all about. Can Brian restore these heady times and glory days? It all depends, not least on the support he can winkle out of whoever owns the club by the time summer finally comes. Next season will be a success if the playing style can be found to suit the personnel available, and if the team actually compete like they mean it, instead of strolling through the motions like case-studies for chronic apathy. Promotion would be nice, but it’s not mandatory, not in a manager’s first season. Let’s just battle, show some application and skill, and let’s get that old Leeds United spirit back, so that we can be not just loud, but proud again.
Oh – and if Mr Jones has somehow clung on to his Hillsborough hot-seat – six points off the Wendies would be just lovely too. Thanks again.