The Sweeper: Leeds Go From “Dirty” to “Loveable”

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Rob Smyth capped off his Guardian minute-by-minute report yesterday by printing an email from someone named Scott W., who wrote: “I never thought I’d say this, and as a United supporter you might not like to hear it, but Leeds United have become loveable, haven’t they?”

It’s hard to argue after Simon Grayson’s League One-leading team provided one of the competition’s best games this year.  Manchester United’s long-running rivals, who famously knocked them out of the third round of the FA Cup, won the hearts of neutrals again yesterday with Jermaine Beckford’s tying goal in the 95th minute after Alan Wiley gave an unassailable penalty for Dawson’s scything tackle on Beckford in the Tottenham area.

Like an aging star getting a comeback role after a long bout of horrible B-movies meant to finance an insatiable drug habit, Leeds look to be finally emerging from their sordid financial past.  Indeed, it’s the first time in years one has been able to read stories about the club without seeing the words “Peter” and “Ridsdale” repeated over and over.   Now it’s much more likely to be “Simon” and “Grayson.”   The Telegraph:

Once again, Leeds’ mood had been excellent, brimming with defiance and belief. Despite recent travails in League One, Grayson is proving a master at motivation, a trait seen in his successful time reviving Blackpool’s fortunes…“There’s only one Simon Grayson,’’ chorused the visiting hordes. Without taking his eyes off the game, Grayson gave them an appreciative wave. Leeds fans love the way that Grayson, a schoolboy fan, has given the club its respect back. Wembley may be a distant dream but the Championship isn’t.

It’s either a great irony, or a great hope for football, depending on your perspective, that a “Big Club” once synonymous with the unattractive-but-efficient football of Don Revie in the 1970s, and over-spending and debt in the early naughts under Ridsdale, are riding a wave of manager-driven, attacking football to promotion from League One.  The Guardian’s Paul Hayward captures a bit of the renewed spirit:

Leeds are a club much copied. They built a debt mountain long before Portsmouth, Newcastle or West Ham, pioneering the suicidal wage bill and lunatic transfer budget for others to emulate. After the reckoning has come the rise, as if they exist these days to provide hope for clubs who endure near-death experiences….

….Leeds needed to regain their self-respect, their identity. The twinkly team of the David O’Leary years has retreated into a kind of infamy. This one is an older diagram of machismo, with touches of prettiness. You look at Leeds now and no longer see a history of trauma. You see a replay and Beckford writing his name across the sky.

While that trauma hasn’t quite been overcome yet, with promotion to the Championship still to be achieved (Leeds have drawn one, lost two since their victory over Man United), we see his point.  On a weekend when Sir Alex Ferguson chided his club’s fans for supporting the “Green and Gold” anti-Glazer initiative, and Portsmouth supporters invaded the pitch to protest continued financial chaos at Fratton Park, Leeds United is providing a much-need feel good story for beleaguered football writers everywhere.

Worldwide Stories

  • News has just broke that the transfer embargo at Portsmouth has been lifted after a rescheduled payment deal was struck with Udinese for the Sulley Muntari transfer.  So now everything’s going to be okay, right?  Right?
  • James Corrigan thinks the FA‘s response to Gary Neville‘s repeated crimes against decency and humanity is toothless: “Yes, all the sycophants will dust off their plaudits when Gary says goodbye and one will sparkle above all others – “a model professional”. But he is nothing of the sort. Model professionals do not raise middle fingers to rivals.”  Uhh, okay.
  • Match Fit USA wonders what the meaning of USA‘s loss to Honduras last night might mean.  Maybe the thing to do would be to look at the roster, see how many MLS players were on it, then head over to Fake Sigi’s piece on MLS USMNT players leaving for Europe.  I would but I don’t have time.
  • Paul Wilson praises both the Carling Cup for being entertaining and the BBC for providing good coverage of the tournament.
  • Roma beat Juventus yesterday and it looks like Juve manager Ciro Ferrara might really, actually, truly be asked to leave.  Honest.

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