I was planning to barely touch upon the events on the pitch at Elland Road yesterday, reducing them to a mere footnote at the end of a comment piece; after all, whatever happened yesterday, win, lose or draw, it was only ever going to define an evening. Talk of play-off charges or potential relegation dog fights are at this time, the preserve of fantasists and scaremongers respectively.
What is going on at boardroom level is infinitely more significant, when the final whistle blows on that battle, Leeds United’s long-term future will be shaped, the buzz derived from 90 minutes of football would be rendered insignificant in comparison; besides, nothing so confounding, compelling and worth celebrating could really happen between the hours of 3pm and 5pm that it merited a shift in focus from the incredulous sideshow that’s casting a shadow over Elland Road, could it? More fool me…
Yesterday stood as a timely reminder at a time when we we’re all falling out of love with the game, of just why ultimately, we’re helpless to shake our deep-seated affections for it. Why, when it would simply be easier to walk away, we keep coming back, and a reaffirmation of what unites every supporter who passes through the turnstiles on a Saturday afternoon.
As a show of passion and devotion, the afternoon also represented a huge wake up call for all parties involved in this takeover. It’d be foolhardy to even try and analyse, theorise and make any kind of sense of the malaise, the rate at which this farcical fairytale is unfolding would be likely to make any paragraph outdated and no longer relevant before it’s even completed.
However, reflecting on the past 48 hours, what we do have are two parties, who having happily danced the takeover tango, have suddenly had their gaze shifted from the paperwork and adding up the numbers and toward the reality of presiding over a club of Leeds United’s stature. GFH-C, despite having their spin doctors running things in England, still appear to have been completely detached, unaware of the passion football inspires and the responsibilities that club ownership brings. Following a year of simply viewing Leeds United as an asset to be managed, another concern on a balance sheet, it’s suddenly become very clear to them that football doesn’t work that way.
Taking ‘business’ decisions in isolation, taking no stock of the views of supporters, it lost GFH-C the club’s two principle sponsors inside the space of an hour and in turn put them under the critical eye of the international media. As a company of modest turnover and very modest profits, being the architects of such a shambles could ruin them, any credibility they’ve built left in tatters, tainted as they are with the label of the investors who provoke disinvestment, reduced to nothing more than a laughing stock.
On the other side we have Cellini. His latest actions, to claim he wants McDermott back and “doesn’t mind him” are signs of a man who’s perhaps bitten off more than he can chew? The protests before the game, the chanting in the stadium, his need for police intervention as supporters prevented him leaving Elland Road on Friday night…perhaps the scale of hostility and of the club have taken him aback?
I spoke to one highly respected and well known individual before yesterday’s game and the word is, despite Cellini’s dictatorial reputation, he’s not a man who likes to stay where he’s not welcome. This, bear in mind is a man who’s presided over a football club, that despite it’s Serie A status, is currently playing in front of an average crowd that tops little more than 4,500. Cagliari and Leeds United are two very different propositions.
The hope now has to be now that both parties get cold feet and try and engineer a way out of this mess, that David Haigh was talking about something more substantial than his charity work, twitter following or owl grooming talents when he spoke with Gary Verity at the game, and if not, if those are hopes are in vain, then ultimately it falls on the Football League to save us from more potential carnage. It’s not just Leeds United’s future on the line, it’s the credibility of the governing body as responsible stewards for the game that’s at stake.
So where to turn in the midst of this ongoing nightmare? Back to the football itself, of course. Back to something we can all wholly comprehend and still derive pleasure from, and all things considered, it was remarkable that we could do so in abundance yesterday.
The teams were met by a supercharged atmosphere, if any doubt remained in the minds of any individual, regarding popular opinion, as they looked down from the lofty perch of the East Stand directors’ box, it was soon dispelled. As Ross McCormack led out his team mates, he did so deafening verses of “Ohhhhh, Brian McDermott!’ As the sides lined up for kick-off, attention turned to the East Stand and chants of “You’re not fit to run a club!” resounded in the direction of the guilty parties. Then, point made, it was to the game.
McDermott’s name continued to resound around the stadium, as his team, playing to his tactics, started to go about their business, but so did those other familiar odes, those belted out to inspire and support those in the white shirts. Fears of a calamity quickly began to dissipate as it became clear that this starting XI were out there to put in a shift for their former/current manager (who knows how well informed they were) and Nigel Gibbs.
It was a bright start and one early, slick exchange of passes between McCormack and Kebe set the latter flying down the right wing; after courting anonymity in his first three games, McDermott’s most recent addition was suddenly rediscovering signs of life and these initial hopes were to be realised over the course of the 90 minutes.
Despite the presence of a born again Kebe and a spirited showing from the returning Luke Murphy, Leeds however still stuttered as an attacking force, while at the back, uncertainty ruled; Pearce and Lees simply don’t convince as defensive pairing and twice Byram had to brilliantly intervene when goals looked certain – without that, and Nakhi Wells profligacy, it could’ve been a very different afternoon, but Danny Ward’s goal aside, Leeds approached half-time unscathed.
Then with moments to spare before the interval, divine intervention, or Scottish at least. Byram launched a hopeful ball into the penalty area and in the chaos that ensued it was McCormack’s boot that made the telling contact. All level and Leeds off the hook. United’s 44 took the opportunity to make his point to those who’d mocked him in the West Stand and the Kop joined in – “He’s Ross McCormack, he DOES wanna play!” was a retort to the Dog Botherer’s provocative chants. Amidst the sea of celebrating bodies and the two fingered salutes, we had our game changing moment.
The second half provided a stark, joyous contrast, as a Leeds team that’d spent 45 minutes grimly working for their previous/current manager finally went out and PLAYED for him. All season long, McDermott has cried out for wingers and suddenly Kebe was out there, resembling the player we all thought he was and it transformed Leeds, providing a dimension that’s been long absent. Already buoyed by the goal, the team were discovering options going forward they’d almost forgotten about. Byram was up and down the pitch with astounding regularity, Mowatt was visibly growing in stature, alongside him Murphy, a conduit of continuity play.
Then it happened, Mowatt played the ball into McCormack who played a cute lay-off to signal take-off; Kebe was the recipient and a deft touch and a composed flick later, Leeds were ahead. Riotous scenes of celebration acclaimed the moment as McDermott’s new captain and his most recent acquisition combined…one in the face for Cellino! Appropriately as bodies disentangled, the first chant to follow was that of McDermott’s name. It had also been the way in the aftermath of the equaliser and would prove to be so for every goal that followed.
For the next 12 minutes the match was in the balance, Wells continued to exhibit an astonishing level of empathy as the visitors threatened, but then from an untidy exchange around the Leeds box, Sam Byram emerged. Aimless pass after aimless pass had been the pattern as Huddersfield probed and Leeds failed to clear, then it fell to Byram, amongst the malaise, a composed head. He played the ball out to Austin in space and then off he shot. As the Jamaican pushed on towards the opposition’s defensive third, a yelling Byram bounded beyond him, providing an option out wide, Austin duly obliged, Byram continued his 60 yard charge before squaring for McCormack…GOAL!! While the others mobbed the captain, Byram just faced the Kop, hands raised, sporting a beaming smile; it was the enduring image of the day, one of Leeds’ own, thrilled to have played his part in settling a game of football in favour of his team. He and the supporters, as one in jubilation.
Fittingly it was the moment that knocked the stuffing out of Huddersfield and secured the points, the crowning moment of a magnificent individual performance – match saver in the first half, match winner in the second. All it took after that was for McCormack to skillfully pen the closing chapter of yet another one of his scripts by delivering his hat-trick goal, before Mowatt beautifully clipped home his first for the club. Alex Smithies so often obliges Leeds with a mistake in these derby games, but this could prove to be his most significant contribution yet. Mowatt has the look of a player full of goals and now that first difficult hurdle is finally behind him.
It was now party time, the team closed out the game showboating a degree of arrogance that’s been absent for too long, a move that must have spanned at least 40 passes almost fed Murphy through in the dying seconds. As the ball finally fell back into opposition hands the referee immediately blew the whistle. An act of compassion.
So came the final whistle, the happy two-way salutations between players and supporters and a final chorus of “Ohhhh, Brian McDermott!” A fantastic afternoon’s work in the most trying of circumstances. It was a cruel irony that on the day that Kebe finally emerged from his shell, Murphy and Mowatt returned re-energised and McCormack dismissed any naysayers’ views on his captaincy, that the manager wasn’t there to see the team take its biggest step yet towards his vision of how he wants them to play.
As a parting thought, I’ll return to that little moment Byram shared with the Kop, that huge glow of satisfaction, that having had the composure to dig Leeds out of a mess, he’d then bust a gut to push forward, before unselfishly delivering the opportunity for another to steal the glory, all for the good of his club.
GFH-C could learn a thing or two about doing waht’s right for Leeds United from this 20-year-old.
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