Leeds United - Gonna be some game

Last updated : 12 April 2007 By Dave Thomas
Weavers' Triangle
In the near forty years I've lived in this city I have been just twice to Elland Road as a neutral to see a game… and one of those was only because I had the use of someone's season ticket and I wanted to see Spurs play.

Revie took them to the heights, but there was never any great tradition for football until he took over. It was always a rugby city. What is it today? A money city is probably the best answer (with 30,000 students thrown in for good measure). It's thriving and dynamic and well run although in truth I avoid the centre of the place like the plague, unless it's just to browse in Waterstone's and have a civilised cuppa cino.

In terms of development and rebuilding Leeds is everything that Burnley is not. That annoys me. The people who sit in their regeneration offices in Burnley and plan and consult about what Burnley could and should be should take a leaf from what happens here, in terms of getting things done with a sense of urgency. The 56 acres of the old Kirkstall Forge area of Leeds is the latest of the city visions about to become reality. The Burnley equivalent would be the Weavers' Triangle.

I read somewhere that the football ground was built on the site of old rhubarb fields. This part of the world is big on rhubarb. Dark sheds of the stuff used to fill the fields near the school where I worked and honed the skills of a young Dean West. Rhubarb from South Leeds was amongst the best you could find and filled the shelves in top shops in London just hours after it was cut, including Harrods I am told. The annual rhubarb festival in days of yore used to be the highlight of the year in little villages like Thorpe on the Hill.

Revie always thought the ground was cursed by gypsies and without that curse his team would have never lost a game. He had it exorcised. But mock him not, for did not our own blessed Stan sprinkle holy water from Lourdes on the Turf Moor pitch because he too thought it was cursed when his team could never win. We'll never know if good old Steve might have been about to do something similar to lift the curse off his winless run. But who needs holy water when Plymouth are the next game up. Mind you, Steve did put his team in white see-through shorts for one game. Some managers will do anything for a win.

The connections between Leeds and Burnley number quite a few. Harry Potts was invited to take up a coaching post there when he left Everton. Imagine how the history of two clubs would have been so different had he said yes. Sometime in the fifties Burnley put in a bid for the legendary John Charles.

Anyone remember Alan Shackleton or Ian Lawson? Anyone remember how Bob Lord upset the Leeds directors with his remarks. Then refused to attend the game we won 4 - 1. Bates, years ago, now chairman of Leeds, once tried to buy shares and get on the board at BFC but old Bob saw him off; Bob Lord and Ken Bates in the same room, at the same club, at the same time; a scenario to frighten anybody. Revie wanted to buy Willie Morgan, then Dave Thomas and Martin Dobson later on. Jimmy Adamson went there as manager but didn't do much. Brian Flynn and Ray Hankin went there as players. And yours truly remembers the opening game of '59/60 when we won 3 - 2 and set off on the long road to the Division One title on a baking hot day.

Unlike many clubs who moved around from ground to ground in their early days, Leeds have always been at Elland Road. They were booted out of it in WW1 so it could be used for military training and shooting practice. Then after WW1 they were booted out again for financial irregularities. Then they were allowed back in again in an age when lots of clubs were up to all kinds of tricks. The story of how the ground (and the chairmanship) has changed hands so often in the last few years, been sold, bought back, re-sold, sold again from one wheeler dealer to the next, and moved around like they're playing not pass-the-parcel but sell-the-parcel is just bewildering. Today the ground is owned by some consortium based in some distant island thousands of miles away and apparently not even Ken Bates knows who the owners are. And if he don't know then who does? The word murk is an understatement. The word 'fishy' comes to mind as well, if not for all the financial undercurrents, then certainly for Ridsdale's rented luxury fish aquariums, which at one stage contributed to the millions of debt the club were in.

We may have our views of Leeds United supporters (one is my neighbour, he's OK), but what they have had to put up with over the last five years we at Burnley could not imagine. We mustn't tar them all with the same brush. Me and little grandson Joe prammed it down the canal path to the Railway Arms in Rodley the other day. Sun shining, everybody out and about, painted barges gliding along, ducks quacking, blokes fishing; and there at a table outside the pub was a family bedecked in Leeds shirts. The little lad had BLAKE on the back of his shirt. As we had our chicken melt and chips, and Joe his bottle, we fell into discussion about Leeds and Burnley. The dad was bemused and punch-drunk by all the happenings but loyal and determined to stick it out. Such folk remain at the heart of football and little lad clearly knows a class footballer. The play-offs last season, the bottom three this season, no wonder they were baffled.

Until not very long ago rumours drifted around the city that Leeds would elect for administration, the notion being that they were going down anyway, let's take the ten penalty points, get relegated, get it over with… but wipe the money slate clean. And then they won a game, and drew a game, and then beat Preston, played well too. They moved off the bottom. Hope appeared. Administration - no thanks.

Up until November I baited my neighbour mercilessly as we scaled the heights and they plumbed the depths. Unfortunately of late the boot has been on the other foot. And when once this coming Leeds versus Burnley fixture might have been of no real worry to us, now it is a crunch game. Must win? No not really. A must win game is one of those games when the season's final placing really does hinge on it. Lose it and you go down. Win it and you stay up with no games left. We're not quite there yet. It could be a cracker of a game. Both teams need the points; Leeds' plight more desperate than ours. Ours has certainly eased with the recent wins.

Up until a couple of weeks ago the local paper's fans' page of letters was well worth a read. Talk about vitriol… and mostly aimed at Bates and Wise. The general drift of it being that no one could still quite work out Bates' motives for being at Elland Road and all he'd seemed to do was raise ticket prices to an unaffordable level for many. And Dennis Wise? Not overly popular. This is Leeds don't forget and South Yorkshire where much support comes from is not exactly cosmopolitan. Leeds doesn't exactly embrace strangers. This is after all the home of the ancient Brigantes tribe and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that in pockets of the county they are alive and well and don't take kindly to little geezers from south of the border. Even the Romans had bovver with the Brigantes. For a few however the view was generally pragmatic. "If he keeps us up then fine; and at least he does infuse passion into a pretty dire bunch." But then after a stirring win over PNE and then Plymouth, things were just a little different. Opinions of Wise were revised. His ecstatic reaction after the PNE win was noted, as was the players who ran to him as a man. His stock rose and feelings grew that there were wins to be had as well against Colchester and Burnley and that would be enough to keep them up.

Even with a half empty ground Elland Road is still an intimidating place. There used to be an underlying, malevolent, thuggish atmosphere there but in fairness the last time I went was quite a while ago. Maybe we have one or two players who do fade when physical and mental muscle is called for. With eleven Caldwells I'd fancy our chances anywhere. It's going to be a game where strong hearts and minds are called for. And then we're facing Blake. With him around, anything can happen. A couple of months ago I'd have fancied our chances even though we were struggling. But now, a 0 - 0 draw will do me fine. But if an on-form Gray is playing and against Cardiff he came through unscathed, you never know. How often does a player go back to a former club and score a goal? His last goal was against Leeds, and his first since the injury might be against Leeds maybe? The script is written.

Peter Lorimer - confident of avoiding the drop
Peter Lorimer, Revie's old Leeds warhorse, on Friday last week was confident of avoiding the drop. "It's only a week or two since Leeds were staring down the barrel of a gun, but the great escape is well and truly now on and all they have to do to retain their status is hold their nerve. A nice little run of four unbeaten matches has changed the complexion of the relegation dogfight. Those who take the six points over Easter will be the ones wearing the smiles." Later on in his Evening Post article he suggests without actually saying so that three points from Burnley is well within their capability. Tough Peter, Leeds didn't take six points over Easter did they?

In the old days, Easter was when teams played three games in four days. It was two points for the win and a team taking six points was well pleased. Titles could be won, promotion issues decided, and relegations settled. Now it's just the two games. The modern footballer is an athlete not a horse, although at Burnley we've seen quite a few donkeys in our time. And this weekend, Leeds beat Plymouth, no surprise there, the way Plymouth are playing, and Burnley beat Birmingham on their own ground in the biggest upset of the day, unless you count Portsmouth beating Man United. "That was for Brian," said Steve Cotterill as Burnley moved seven points clear of the bottom three. Leeds having lost a staggering 27 games moved out; the little lad wearing the BLAKE shirt no doubt over the moon.

And then, on Easter Monday, for us it was win number three, putting us nine points clear, but Leeds moved back into the bottom three again with a defeat at Colchester. Wise was incandescent with his players. Southend beat Preston, oh dear oh dear, and Barnsley amazingly beat Birmingham. QPR won again but Hull lost along with Luton.

As things stand then, if my maths is correct, three points for us on Saturday at Elland Road will see us safe. Leeds minus those three points do face the real possibility of relegation with time running out. Is it just possible that we will be the team to put Leeds down? I haven't worked that one out. I'll leave that pleasure to you. I'll nail my colours to the mast and say I hope they stay up. I'll miss the games against them.

But, whatever, it's gonna be one helluva game.