Seeing double in the land of the Silver King

The beauty of the FA Cup is that it can throw up some great days out.  With the first three rounds all being drawn at the start of the competition, you can start working out the permutations of where you may be watching a game in weeks to come.  This season Lewes would enter the competition away to Worthing United, Ashford United or Peacehaven and Telscombe, the last of which would be a big local derby for one of the Ryman League’s newest sides.  But before then I had a free northern weekend pass to take in a game in the Preliminary Round of the world’s oldest domestic cup competition. A swift look at the fixtures threw up a few options, but one, or should I say two, stood out.  Add in the Hors D’oeuvre of a trip to Elland Road for the lunchtime game between Leeds United and Queens Park Rangers and it promised to be a day up there with my wedding and birth of my first-born.

So after the final whistle blew at Elland Road I was back in the car, did a right out of Elland Road and headed straight down the A653, under the M1, waving at Dewsbury as I passed and finally taking a left into Owl Lane.  I was heading to a point that was almost equidistant between the East and West coasts of England.  A town that could call Gail Platt, Black Lace and David Peace (author of Damned United) home;  a town that had not one but two breweries in and a town that had two non league teams playing at home in the FA Cup on the same day.  Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Ossett.

9636509089_65c5a31426_bWhat do you mean, where?  Ossett, a market town within the boundaries of the City of Wakefield.  West Yorkshire, or simply “Up north” to many who live down that there London.  The two breweries?  The Ossett Brewery, producer of such delights as Silver King, Big Red and Excelsior is the more traditional beer producer, whilst the new upstart Bob’s Brewery has a stable of beers including Sherunkel, Bidazzler, Slayah and of course Erjob (“Made for sipping with Cheddar Ploughmans Lunch, a smoked mackerel fillet or an England Test victory”).  And the football teams?  Well, welcome to the biggest rivalry in the Northern Premier League Division One North.

There are plenty of cities around Britain that have dual club rivalries.  London, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Dundee.  But what about the towns?  Few have two teams in so the situation in non-league terms in Ossett is quite unique.  Two clubs separated by 478 yards across the town centre.  It seems amazing that with Emley and Wakefield also within a few minutes drive, the clubs could continue to survive.  But survive they do, and for only the third time this season (probably), both Ossett teams would be kicking off at the same time (obviously, the other two are where they play each other!).  Initially, it was a case of trying to decide which one to choose for my Road to Wembley.  Local football guru and of course, my publisher (I still love saying that), David Hartrick then made a bold suggestion.  “A half in each?”.  You had me at “. Continue reading

Bloody 4-5-1

To say that Leeds United are West Ham’s bogey team is a bit of an understatement.  Two wins in our last twenty seven meetings underline that fact.  I’ve seen eight of these games, and all eight have ended in defeat, including a 5-1 defeat back in 1999 when West Ham finished with 8 men on the pitch.  But today was all about hope.  That was until we had sat through 8 MINUTES of adverts being read out over the PA system.

“Season tickets now 8% cheaper”…well so they should be – this was the 2nd out of 23 home games – i.e we had had 8% of our games. Great marketing ploy there.  Or could you be tempted by a £99 (plus VAT) ticket for the Portsmouth game where you also got ONE glass of Champagne (West Ham’s one vintage by the way – we still have a bottle from 2004), and a seafood buffet (all the Skips you can eat) as well as a ticket of course.

Anyway we were here to watch the game, not be sold to. A bit of Sunday lunchtime enjoyment.  Kids 150 miles away, it was just CMF and myself, just like the old days.  And then the team was read out. 4-5-1…bloody 4-5-1.  We were at home for Brooking’s sake.  Over a month ago I pointed out that playing a midfield trio of Nolan/Noble and Parker simply doesn’t work unless you have mobile wide men.  And West Ham don’t.

Two weeks is a long time in football and those fans who saw the significant possession turn into a last minute defeat to Cardiff City will have mostly put that to the back of their mind after wins on the road to Doncaster Rovers and Watford.  But they have not papered over the cracks.  Tactically, the performance two weeks ago was naive.  Today it was simply incomprehensible.

West Ham United 2 Leeds United 2 – Upton Park – Sunday 21st August 2011
For the second home game in a row West Ham gave away precious points in the last minute of the game. In hindsight it was actually the Hammers who could say this was a point gained, rather than two lost based on the performance.

Allardyce decided on his usual 4-5-1 formation, which did nothing to inspire the home fans, especially when three long hoofs up front from Winston Reid in the first two minutes simply sailed over the head of Carlton Cole and into touch.  The midfield three of Nolan, Noble and Parker still haven’t worked out who should sit, who should mop up and who should go forward, and as the game progressed it simply led to Leeds being given all the time in the world to bring the ball forward.

But on six minutes all of our spirits were lifted.  West Ham had already gone close, forcing Lonergan into a great save from Cole.  However,  from the resulting Matty Taylor corner Cole lost his marker and sort of looped his back header into the net.

Leeds came straight back at West Ham, bringing the Hammers-target Max Gradel into the game.  He set up Snodgrass in the 25th minute hit the bar and then a minute later after a blistering run he won a corner from which the ball hit Taylor on the arm and the Ref said “penalty”.  Gradel stepped up and put the penalty wide of Robert Green’s post. Shame.

As the half wore on, the long, over hit from Reid increased, and after Cole was denied a spot kick in front of the Leeds fans, they started singing “Your just a shit Emile Heskey” to our Number 9, ironic considering he had scored the only goal of the game.  Football fans eh.

Half time at Upton Park is crying out for some entertainment.  A long time ago, Sullivan and Gold promised us top class entertainment.  Today we had a re-run of the ad break.  Oh how I wish for a return of the Hammerettes.

Allardyce obviously said something to the team at half time because the midfield five just looked confused in the opening period of the second half.  Leeds back four simply had all of the time in the world as no Hammers player was prepared to push forward.  Off came Collison and on came Faubert.  And within a minute Leeds had equalised.  Andy Keogh played in Snodgrass and his low cross wasn’t dealt with by the West Ham defence, and McCormack turned the ball in.

But Faubert soon gave the lead back to West Ham.  Showing signs of that attacking prowess which was a reason why the club bought him, he powered down the right, hit in an unstoppable cross and Kisnorbo smashed the ball into his own net.

West Ham a few more chances, two falling to Reid within a few minutes but he showed as much skill in front of goal as he did in playing the ball out of defence.  The one positive from the final period for the home side was the appearance of John Carew who showed the kind of hold up play that Carlton Cole has long since missed.  As Fabio Capello left with undoubtably more opinions on where Man of the Match Scott Parker should be playing next, Leeds launched one last attack.

The fourth official held up the board showing three minutes to go. And just as it was two weeks ago, West Ham’s attentions were distracted by the thought of the dressing room.  One final corner, Howson’s shot hits the underside of the bar and there is Adam Clayton right on The Edge (do you see what I did there?) to score the equaliser.

There was still time for a few handbags in the West Ham penalty area at the end, but when the final whistle blew it was the 3,000 Leeds fans who were in the party mood.  4-5-1…bloody 4-5-1.

More pictures from the game can be found here.

Have Leeds lost their chance?

Callum Dent, a Leeds United fan gives us his thoughts of the spectre of Leeds United on the Championship this season.

As the season starts with a defeat (away to Southampton),  it seems Leeds United’s chances of emulating last term’s seventh place finish could be hard.

After missing out on the play-offs by just a matter of points, the Whites’ recruitment drive during the summer hasn’t exactly gone to plan as they prepare for another season of Championship football.

Three players have arrived at Elland Road, two of them goalkeepers, while three have departed, including two of the club’s influential midfielders on free transfers. Losing players is always part and parcel of football but not replacing them is criminal, especially in the competitive nature of the second tier of English football.

Bradley Johnson, the hustler in the United midfield, has joined Premier League newboys Norwich, while Kilkenny, after a long dispute over a new contract, signed for Championship rivals Bristol City on a three-year deal.

United have brought in the experienced Michael Brown, but many people suggest his best days are behind him. Brown will offer bite and presence in the middle of the park and give Jonny Howson more freedom to attack, but will he get about the field as well as Johnson did or pick a pass like Australian Kilkenny? Probably not.

The fact Blackburn midfielder Keith Andrews has rejected a loan move to Elland Road suggests the club are trying to attract Premier League players, while Sammy Clingan, Keith Southern and former Leeds player Alan Smith have all been mentioned.

Those looking to place a free bet on the Championship should note that Leeds have strengthened their goal keeping ranks with Paul Rachukba and Andy Lonergan arriving from Blackpool and Preston respectively. Kasper Schmeichel was somewhat farmed out to Leicester after manager Simon Grayson failed to rate his first season in Leeds’ goal.

It’s not all doom and gloom though for Leeds as Paddy Kisnorbo makes his long-awaited return to the side after struggling with injury. The big Australian failed to feature last season but, after starting pre-season, looks set to shore up a leaky defence that showed signs of cracking all the way through last season.

Ben Parker could also strengthen the defence by filling the vacant left-back spot if he stays free from injuries. What Leeds have done, is keep their key wingers that were pivotal to their success last season. In Robert Snodgrass and Max Gradel, they have attacking players with Premier League class that can change the game with one act of brilliance.

It does promise to be a testing time at Leeds this season but it was last campaign and, after finishing a highly-respectable seventh place in their first season back in the Championship, there are reasons to be cheerful so don’t completely rule out Grayson’s men when placing your free bets.

My first game – Joseph Short

Leeds United v Middlesbrough
The English Premiership
Elland Road
11 May 1997

Only a few weak imprints of my first game are now carved on the back wall of my memory, and they are fading. A seven-year-old’s recollection of the final match of the 1996/97 Premier League is hardly one to be trusted, and so substantial newspaper archiving has been required for me to contextualise a baking hot day at Elland Road.

Leeds had dismissed their title-winning manager Howard Wilkinson earlier in the season, and seemed destined for years of mid-table obscurity. This was, however, a situation far favourable to Middlesbrough’s. With a sudden three-point reduction for failing to ‘fulfil a fixture’ against Blackburn, Boro were deep in the relegation pot. They needed to win. Continue reading