Friday, 3 November 2017

Doing The Right Things

As soon as Halloween is over and done with, thoughts very quickly turn to Bonfire Night and the very real desire to set fire to anything and everything. The temptation right now for Leeds United fans is to burn everything they own that even vaguely reminds them of football, such is the rapid descent in form that is currently being experienced. There is a strange sense of satisfaction in watching something crackle and burn and disappear into the air, unless it’s Leeds United’s promotion hopes for yet another season, and that’s the vivid prospect we are watching unfold before our very eyes.

October ended with a shattering late defeat to Derby County, and Elland Road emptied rapidly in a foggy murmur of discontent. It was a night that started so promisingly with an early goal and a sixty minute performance that belied the lack of confidence that had engulfed the team in recent games. But in familiar fashion, and in fairness as a result of some dubious refereeing decisions, it all came crashing down, and somehow we trudged home on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline and thank God there were no more trick or treaters knocking on the door because patience had well and truly worn thin.

Six defeats out of eight games tell its own story, and if it wasn’t for the extremely welcome 3-0 win at Bristol City last month, then the calls for Thomas Christiansen’s head would be gathering a lot more pace.  It is clear that whatever propelled Leeds to an unbeaten opening seven games to the season has long since disappeared, the key now is whether the management at Elland Road can work out what it was, and more importantly, rediscover it. There can be no doubt that Christiansen needs some help now, and the nagging feeling is that there is a lack of nous and experience of this division, on the pitch, in the dugout and in the backroom staff.

Christiansen announced himself with assurance and dignity in the early stages, his footballing principles were there for all to see and his ethos gathered some quick momentum. Now it is evident that he needs to learn very quickly how to adapt that for different games. It is almost like his team’s development has missed out two key stages; he has the flair and the pretty passing, but he has missed out the mental strength and the character. Every team in the Championship needs that, you need to battle and earn the right to play football first and foremost, and sadly it appears that Leeds United lack that at this moment. We need leaders, people to organise a team when the pressure is on, people to be vocal and get players’ heads up when things are going wrong. Right now, if Leeds United concede you know what is going to happen next, and Christiansen needs to learn how to affect games better and make sure his players can have an influence.

Of course we need to remember that this is a new team, with new management and a new footballing ethos. There is new structure at the club and a completely new outlook. Things like that take time to operate exactly how you want them to. In many ways it was a miracle that the season started as it did, and certainly we were lulled into a false sense of security, but it also shows that perhaps we are not too far away. Games are only being lost by fine margins, and in time, knowing how to manage games, how to change formation to make a difference and knowing who to rely on when, will become easier. The key is whether Christiansen will get that time.

For me, I think it is imperative that we continue to break the mould at Leeds United. I say ‘continue’ because already we have seen a raft of positive measures implemented by the club, which add up to a ship clearly sailing in the right direction. The club is progressing, it has its eyes open and has a vivid sense of what is needed and how those things can be achieved. We are not used to seeing that, rather a blurred vision of lawless and rudderless chaos. Change and instability has done us no good. Breaking the mould would be to stick with the courage of our convictions and believe that the people in certain positions will learn and grow as the club grows, and along the way they will improve. Given the right tools of course, and perhaps if Andrea Radrizzani and Victor Orta have learnt anything from the past month, it’s that the January transfer window is something they need to take an active interest in, with opportunities to ship players out as well as in.

So we come to November and the run up to Christmas. At the Old Peacock we have enjoyed some big days and nights in October, particularly the Friday night of the Sheffield United game, where we felt the occasion warranted a live performance from The Snapp – usually just reserved for Saturday games – and a big attendance brought a very special atmosphere to the pub and the beer garden. November on the other hand offers just one home game, and thanks to Sky TV that comes on a Sunday lunchtime, when Middlesbrough visit on November 19th.  However, we will be sure to expect a healthy attendance again for the return of Garry Monk and our doors will be wide open for everyone to enjoy a Sunday afternoon drink prior to the game and afterwards.

Talk of Christmas brings us to our regular festive menus at the Old Peacock. We have our Christmas Fayre Menu (two courses for £13.50 or three courses for £15.50) which is perfect for those office parties and for friends and families planning a special Christmas get together. This starts in December and runs all the way up to the big day. On Christmas Day itself we have a special menu (four courses for £49.95 per person, or £14.95 for under 12s) but this traditionally sells out quickly, so please contact us on 0113 2715962 or call in personally to secure your place.

We also want to bring your attention to the Ossett Brewery Open Day, which takes place at the Kings Yard brewery in Ossett on Saturday November 18th, from 12 noon until 7.00pm. There will be live bands, bouncy castles, BBQ food and of course lots of beer and the chance to view the new extensions to the brewery.

So all in all, there is plenty going on and plenty of work to do. It never stops at this time of year, but we get through it and we are confident that Leeds United will too. Like the Old Peacock, it is an organisation that survives through teamwork, hard work and staying strong when the chips are down. Now is the time to keep together, keep cool and keep on doing the right things, and eventually things will turn around.       

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Shaking Off The Autumn Blues

Funny old business football. This time last month Leeds United hadn’t won a home game, and yet we were all super positive and excited, like Santa had arrived and the in-laws had just announced they weren’t coming after all. Leeds then proceeded to win all three home games in September and went top of the league in the process, and yet by the end of the month we are sat solemnly staring out of the window contemplating whether we should jump straight through it. And yet we are still fifth in the table.

The nature of the despondency, though, is not just the polar opposite form the club is showing in the last few games, or even the slow creeping realisation that maybe we aren’t as good as we thought we were, but mainly the paralysing fear that we are still stuck in the murky abyss of being a mid-table team with no clear plan or idea as to how to get out of there. I am here to wholeheartedly confirm that is not the case, however, having witnessed the last 15 years so closely that I have seen the whites of its eyes and suffered its ungodly body odour, I can sympathise with those who cannot shake this interminable worry.  

Yes, despite winning all three home games in September, Leeds United also thrust upon us the bothersome inconvenience of losing the last three away games. Sandwiched in the middle, we shouldn’t forget, was the epic League Cup win at Burnley, where a much-changed side fought hard in a tight game against Premier League opponents, and then won the game on penalties after having twice looked like winning in the last crazy ten minutes of normal time. This, we thought, was the shape of things to come, and a clear sign that we could step up and match a quality side as and when we needed to. It was also the perfect response to our first defeat of the season at Millwall, a result so depressingly predictable but one that you could put down to the ‘unique’ occasion that a visit to Millwall is, and hence something you hoped to dismiss as a one-off.

The step up in quality we appeared to match at Burnley we hoped to also navigate in the games versus Cardiff City and Sheffield Wednesday, but those results were comprehensive reminders that we are far from the finished article. Whatever could go wrong in those games did so; injuries, sending offs, kamikaze defending and a goalkeeper, about whom the jury was previously still out, confirming that he has a lot to learn in the game. That said, it is hard to find a part of the team that isn’t left open to criticism after the last two games, and of course the manager is there to be shot at too. But a little perspective is needed at this juncture I feel, and while the last international break came at a frustrating time for Leeds, having just beaten Nottingham Forest 2-0 and gained some considerable momentum, this one gives us chance to lick our wounds in the sanctuary of Thorp Arch, and work out a strategy to return to our former, if fleeting, greatness.

We shouldn’t forget that September included the thoroughly brutal destruction of Burton Albion, a display so overwhelmingly one-sided and ‘complete’ it looked like it had been designed by a FIFA 17 maestro. The home wins against Birmingham City and Ipswich Town were far harder work, but showed some excellent qualities and overall it bore well for the rest of the season. Just over a week later and we’re back in a familiar routine; arranging a viewing for 15th place and being fitted out with a zero goal difference again, just like old times.

The key is, of course, that we have the personnel at the club to do great things. We’ve already seen it. What we have to do is work out an adaptable system for certain games, and have the know-how to be able to navigate tricky periods, or tricky fixtures as a whole. It is as much about having a specific mindset as anything else, particularly at places like Millwall and Cardiff City, but it is also about being able to change your system to suit specific games, and while it is admirable to stick to certain principals, especially when they are very attractive looking ones, the mark of a great side is knowing when to approach a game differently, ie. when to play and when to pitch in and battle.

It was very easy to get carried away after the Burton performance, but equally we need to sit tight and not get too downhearted now. It is true that Thomas Christiansen is new to this league and a relative novice as a football coach in general, but he is an intelligent, studious man, and is backed by a team of professional coaches and analysts of football and the next two weeks should give them ample time to spot where Leeds are going wrong. There isn’t one specific answer, but every game is a learning experience and hopefully the management team are taking something from each one that will help us further down the line.

October at first glance looks quite sparse with home fixtures. There are no games now until the 14th, when Reading are the visitors to Elland Road, before away games at Bristol City and Leicester City in the League Cup, but then the month is rounded off with two home games right at the end. Sheffield United visit on Friday 27th October before we entertain Derby County on Tuesday 31st October. Just one Saturday afternoon fixture is a bit of a blow, but we are doing our best to make the Friday night fixture against Sheffield United a traditional party occasion. From 5pm, we will have our new BBQ food available as we have started doing for all midweek fixtures, but we will also have our resident band The Snapp playing live in the beer garden from 6pm, a rare privilege usually only reserved for Saturday afternoons. With it being half term week, and a Friday night, we felt people might have a bit more time to get to Elland Road and would also be in more of a ‘weekend’ mood than a ‘midweek’ mood, so hell, let’s pretend it’s a Saturday!  

And hopefully by then we will have shaken off the Autumn blues we are suffering after the Sheffield Wednesday game. So keep faith, remember the good times that weren’t so long ago, and let’s get behind the lads as they seek to find that form again.


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Something To Talk About

I should know by now that Leeds United never play by the rules and mostly do the opposite to what I expect them to. In the last Peacock blog post I talked about allowing new manager Thomas Christiansen a little time to settle, I tried to temper expectations a little by pointing to Garry Monk’s first month in charge and suggesting the first few games aren’t always a reliable indicator of how a season is going to go. I pointed to the good things happening off the field in an attempt to direct a focus towards the bigger picture, and away from the short term struggles that ‘could’ happen with an inexperienced coach and a raft of new players. So what do Leeds United do to help me drive home that message?  Go seven games unbeaten from the start of the season; including four clean sheets, a procession of well-taken goals and a style of football not seen since Brazil’s carefree romp through the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico.

OK, so that last bit has a slight addition of artistic licence, but given some of the drab and soulless fare we have been served up over recent years, it is hard not to get excited about Leeds United’s eye-catching start to the season, and it is equally difficult to find rational comparisons to draw upon. 

When you see Samu Saiz pinging 50 yard passes straight to Stuart Dallas, Gianni Alioski reducing a left back to tears and Jay-Roy Grot delivering a defender to a different postcode with an innocent shoulder barge, it takes a special kind of crotchety sourpuss to deny Leeds fans a wry smile and a faint vision of a new beginning. But that’s all it is; a beginning, and while it is conjuring up a definite stirring in the loins, and God knows we have spent many a cold and lonely hour waiting for one of those, it is perhaps wise to remember that we have played just seven games, and while we didn’t want to get too downhearted if things started badly, equally, we shouldn’t be hanging out the bunting to celebrate our inevitable promotion, just because things have started well.

However, they definitely have started well. A 3-2 win at Bolton on the opening day was followed by two slightly deflating 0-0 draws at home, but then Leeds served up two absolute treats for their travelling fans and all those watching on TV, with almost identical 2-0 wins at Sunderland and Nottingham Forest. These weren’t just regulation wins either, both were achieved against big clubs with high expectations, and, particularly against Forest, Leeds dominated from start to finish and looked every inch the charismatic gunslingers that have so often waltzed into Elland Road in recent years and took home the prize.
The scenes in the Old Peacock when Alioski drove home the second goal at Forest were reminiscent of the Champions League days when Leeds toyed with the opposition. Leeds had looked comfortable and superior throughout, and a peach of a goal dressed the victory up perfectly. There was a tangible sense that ‘this’ Leeds United are the real deal, and finally, are people going to be talking about Leeds United again for the right reasons, and not as a joke club or a financial disaster story?

It is testament to the work of Thomas Christiansen of course, who has been supported very well in the transfer market, without spending the amounts of money that rivals such as Aston Villa, Wolves or Middlesbrough are spending, but still has to fit all these individuals into a team formation. One of the most pleasing aspects of the first few games is how we have coped with injuries and suspensions and how any individual slotting in has so easily adapted to the formation and team ethic. There is clearly a plan and everyone is buying into it, and only the head coach, who works with the players every day, can firstly achieve that and then instil it in every player in the squad.

Since those two scintillating away performances, of course, we have seen the end of the transfer window and yet more activity to add value to the belief that Leeds are getting the infrastructure of the club absolutely right. Few fans are lamenting the loss of 30-goal Chris Wood when you look at the proven attacking talent we now have at our disposal, and hats off to Director of Football Victor Orta for that. Looking at the squad we have two strong players for every position and you could conceivably field two separate 1-11 teams and have a very evenly-matched practice game. I honestly can’t remember the last time we could say that, if ever. The key is, of course, how you keep every member of that squad hungry and satisfied. Inevitably, a large chunk of them are going to be continually on the periphery, and few will be satisfied with an occasional Carabao Cup outing, while we still remain in the competition. But the signs are that Christiansen has built a team mentality with a selfless attitude, and there is no doubt that over the course of the next nine months, they will all be needed at some point.

So September brings us a pleasing run of home league games after nearly a month without one. August 15th saw us draw 0-0 with Fulham, and September 9th brings the visit of Burton Albion. It’s only our second Saturday matchday of the season and we can’t wait to get the live band on in the beer garden, the kitchen cooking pies, and Paolo the Peacock out of his sleepy hibernation. We will be more than ready to welcome you all on Saturday, and again on Tuesday 12th when Birmingham City are our visitors, and we will hopefully be firing up the barbecue to deliver our new midweek matchday BBQ menu. That’s not the end of the action for September either, as Ipswich Town will be stopping off at Elland Road on Saturday 23rd to complete a mammoth and exhausting month. We will certainly know a lot more about who the real Leeds United is by this time, and let’s hope the next International break is just as unwelcome as this last one has been. However much we dislike a fortnight without ‘proper’ football, it’s far more pleasant to go into a two-week break on the back of the 2-0 ‘pasting’ of a supposed promotion rival, so all being well we will repeat the trick in September.

In the meantime, come on down and enjoy the matchday experience at the Old Peacock. As it stands, for all the positivity, Leeds haven’t won a home league game as yet, so they need all the support they can get at Elland Road over the next few games, to show they can back up all the promise demonstrated away from home, and ensure people are really talking about us.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Riding the changes

The beginning of August is a unique period of a football fan’s calendar. Not because we can entertain the prospect of possibly going to a match in short sleeves and maybe even shorts, and not because we can walk down to Elland Road for an evening game in daylight and eat our pre-match burger as if we were back on holiday in a Mediterranean street cafĂ©. Or something like that. No, it’s because every football fan starts the season with a clean slate and an often over-sized chunk of optimism for the next nine months. Our team has a record unsullied by defeats, goals conceded and woeful open-goal misses, and we feel good about that.

We all feel that somehow this is going to be our year, even if, as has happened often with Leeds United in the last few years, the reality of the squad of players assembled together before you like a patchwork quilt, screams otherwise. And that is pretty much where us Leeds United fans are right now, except we have just a little bit more optimism than we usually have, partly based on the fact that the 2016/17 season was the first campaign in what seemed like an eternity, to give us tangible belief that we might one day escape the tedium of the second division. But also because our summer recruitment has been pretty solid and inspiring. While there are still sizeable holes in our squad which could still be addressed before the end of the transfer window, on the whole we have a first team pool that has more quality options than it has done for many, many years.

It seems a long time since the unknown Thomas Christiansen first walked amongst us like a novice sales rep at his first annual conference, and it is to be hoped that his time has been used wisely. The prospect of making an impact on Leeds United in a short space of time can be a daunting one, even if you have the years of experience or the hide of a rhino like a Sam Allardyce or, dare I say it, a Neil Warnock. For Christiansen, he needs to first earn the respect of a set of players who have literally never heard of him, and then implement methods and a mentality that will make them a better set of players than the one that finished narrowly outside the play-off places last season. That’s a tough ask, even if you have comparable experiences to draw upon, and it’s fair to say that Christiansen needs a huge amount of uncontrollable factors to fall in his favour. But one thing Leeds fans can control and where we can help him out, is by allowing him a little patience and lowering his immediate expectations.

Of course it is the familiar trait of a football fan to expect your team to come racing out of the blocks at the start of the season, and immediately shrug off the shackles of a non-competitive summer like a hibernating groundhog unleashing itself on another year. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out like that, and we seem to accept the fact that footballers effectively forget how to play the game in the six weeks they have off between one season and another, and it takes a few weeks to get back up to speed. Add to that the hefty turnover of players and the annual implementation of new coaching methods, and it’s fair to say that the first month of the season is rarely a good indication of how the season as a whole will go, and that is very much how last season started off under Garry Monk. Twelve months on we are in a very similar situation, except that we have the optimism of new ownership and a raft of crowd-pleasing measures, plus the very unfamiliar scenario of having purchased players that other clubs actually wanted to buy too, but instead they chose Leeds.

It is that feeling of actually competing with other clubs in our own division, beating them to players, and acting like a big club again that provides a warm fuzzy feeling as the new season approaches. Off the pitch, in the stands, the Leeds fans have never wavered, and have remained a constant reminder of the potential Leeds United has; the one ingredient of the club that is always there to project an image of a fully-functioning travelling behemoth, even if in the background there has been chaos, financial thrift and a wafer-thin infrastructure. And at the Old Peacock we are fully aware of that.

That feeling of unbridled optimism every Leeds fan feels in August, is pretty much what we see every matchday as soon as we open our doors. The buzz of anticipation prior to kick-off at any stage of the season is evident in the thirst and hunger with which you lot approach every game; there’s nothing like the prospect of another 90 minutes, and whatever your thoughts on the current state of the team and the club, every match starts 0-0 and you just never know what might happen; except that Gaetano Berardi almost certainly won’t score.

But the feeling at the start of another 46-game season magnifies this tenfold, particularly when the club has not just bought the likes of Vurnon Anita, Samuel Saiz, Ezgjan Alioski and Caleb Ekuban, but has also spent a pretty penny on securing Elland Road after it has spent 13 years under anonymous and murky ownership. And what’s more, at the Peacock we will have our regular live band, The Snapp, back for every Saturday home game, new food options, Paolo the Peacock to keep the kids occupied and another development to help cut the matchday beer queues a little bit; two pint pots! Why just buy one pint per visit when you can save time and buy two? It’s a simple concept and something we have introduced to hopefully get people served a little quicker this season.

So the new season is upon us, and we have a rush of home games before another long and miserable break until September. We had a small taster of what’s to come with the home friendly versus Oxford United last Saturday, but that was mere child’s play. Including the League Cup, we have three home games in less than a week coming up shortly, so it is a baptism of fire in terms of breaking in the new season. Port Vale will be welcomed to Elland Road on Wednesday 9th August for a League Cup tie, and Preston North End are our first league visitors on Saturday 12th August when we are expecting a big crowd approaching 30,000. The following Tuesday 15th August our visitors are Fulham, but then we have a break until September 9th.  And by then, maybe we will need it?

This new season enthusiasm creates a hell of a thirst if the past few years is anything to go by. But we’re not complaining and we can’t wait to see the pub bursting at the seams again, it’s been too long. And it’s been way too long since Leeds fans have had genuine reasons for optimism leading into another Championship campaign, but right now I think we do. So let’s navigate this first month, stay strong and focused and not get too carried away with results either way, and re-group again in September to see where we are.  

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Fighting Back

A month is a long time in football, even in June when there’s usually nothing happening. Except at Leeds United, when it’s never safe to turn your phone off and go to sleep at 11pm in case we sack someone, hire someone or redefine legal precedent in some bizarre way. One month ago we were all in a pretty dark place; asking ourselves why Garry Monk didn’t want us anymore and feeling pretty vulnerable and apprehensive about what the future held. Since then we have learnt a lot, and most of it good.

It’s safe to say that Thomas Christiansen could have walked into the Peacock a month ago and ordered a pint of Yorkshire Blonde and nobody would have batted an eyelid. Even now most people would maybe afford him only a second glance as he sat down with his family for Steak Night, and dismiss him as somebody who had sold them a fitted kitchen package from B&Q a couple of years ago. He has a face we recognise, but is not yet someone we can immediately identify.

That’s the beauty of arriving on the scene in the close season I guess, and I expect it is also just the way he likes it. Leeds United’s new head coach, Thomas Christiansen doesn’t strike me as someone who is going to steal the limelight and hang around waiting for attention, he’s happy to be quietly going about his business and getting to know his squad on the training pitch. But when the season starts, he is certainly someone we are going to see a lot of. It’s the nature of being a high profile part of Leeds United and let’s just hope he has done his homework and knows that to expect from the media’s glare. The frenzy of activity upon his unveiling will be nothing compared to the attention before, during and after every Leeds United game, such is the hunger for every last detail, and if Leeds United start doing well……………

It was hard not to feel a little bemused by Christiansen’s unveiling. Literally nobody can claim to have been aware of him and his track record. We all had to undertake a swift Google search upon hearing the news. But his pedigree is decent and he is a credible appointment, if a little leftfield, but certainly with no Championship coaching experience, he will need a lot of things on his side. What is encouraging is that Christiansen will have an insatiable hunger for the job. He is well thought of and highly respected in football and this is his first big job. At 44 years old, he has something to prove, a challenge to face and a name to make for himself. When you consider some of the other names that were linked with the job: Alan Pardew, Nigel Pearson, Juande Ramos, even Claudio Ranieri, while they have a lot more coaching experience, you sensed being appointed as Leeds manager would have been ‘just another job’ to them. There is a huge merry-go-round of managers who simply skip from job to job and never stay long enough to make an impression; just pick up a sizeable pay cheque based on past reputation. With Christiansen, we almost have a blank sheet of paper and he can write his own history.

So far squad recruitment has been encouraging and the calibre of players Leeds are being linked with is a notch up from previously, but there are still big holes in our squad and a lot of hard work is required behind the scenes if we are to approach the first game of the season with confidence.  And that first game is creeping ever nearer. Fixtures release day is always an exciting one at the Peacock as we await news on when we can expect the first mass influx of Leeds fans through the doors since last May. There is a friendly fixture v Oxford United at Elland Road on July 29th of course, but that will be like a day in Kindergarten compared to the cacophonous sensory overload that is a proper full-on Leeds United matchday. That day will be Saturday August 12th when Preston North End are our visitors, while the following Tuesday (August 15th) we welcome Fulham to Elland Road. Before you know it we will be right back in the groove, with a sea of happy faces, a landscape filled with yellow, white and blue, live music pumping out of our beer garden and happy revellers dancing off to the ground with a happy expectation of three points for the Whites.

Of course we couldn’t let this blog post pass without mentioning the other seismic announcement coming out of Leeds United in the last few days. This was something that went far beyond hiring another manager, or buying a player, or releasing another new all-white home kit that was ever-so-slightly different to the previous one. This was something that brought the very fabric of the club back under its own control, something that put the heart and soul back into Leeds United, and something that all three previous owners had promised to do but not got anywhere nearer than simply making empty promises in the media. This was something that made Leeds United whole again; after 13 years in the hands of an anonymous owner, Elland Road was back under the ownership of Leeds United.

It was an emotional day for all sorts of reasons. This news was about more than just bricks and mortar; it was righting some wrongs and making our house our home again. It was a bold move of Andrea Radrizzani to announce his intention to buy back the stadium so early in his tenure. We have been burned before in exactly the same way and his reign was open to irreversible ridicule if he fell short of his promise, which he will have known, and this is why I was quite confident he would come up with the goods.

Whatever happens now, Radrizzani has delivered something significant that no other recent owner could do, and it has instantly made the club stronger, both financially and structurally. It has also bought him some time and some patience from Leeds fans who can maybe see the bigger picture, and sense where the club is now heading. It’s true that nobody wanted Garry Monk to leave after the progress seen last season, and we were dealt a blow. But events since then have been a fantastic response and now Leeds United are looking lean and mean; fighting fit and fighting back. So let’s keep building in July and by the time August comes into view we expect to see Leeds United very much in the same state as our pub; ready to explode into action.


Thursday, 8 June 2017

From Despair To Where?

OK, so this time last month we were just coming to terms with Leeds United’s late-season slide out of the play-off zone. The season wasn’t quite officially over, but it was for us, as Leeds United had snatched despair from the jaws of probable impending despair a few weeks later. Finishing seventh and watching the play-offs unfold without us did have its benefits though. It’s true that football fans have a natural passion for schadenfreude and we certainly revelled in the misfortune of others during the month of May, as the shattering impact of a play-off defeat hit home with the force of a ten tonne truck for three of the four clubs who just a couple of weeks earlier had taken great delight in our miserable displacement into seventh spot.

Did it make up for Leeds United failing to reach the play-offs after spending most of the season in the top six? Well, it certainly helped, and you like to think that having reacquainted ourselves with the fraught and precarious nature of the play-offs after five years away, we might just be better prepared for them next time around. But the truth is that nothing can prepare you for your whole world collapsing around your ankles at the mere stroke of a penalty kick, and maybe the lesson to learn is that it’s never wise to get too cocky about the play-offs until you have actually won them. Or perhaps the lesson is that life would be a whole lot easier if we just marched majestically towards the top two with no such worries? And that should now be our aim.

Of course a month ago we felt pretty confident that the 2016/17 campaign would act as a platform to next season, and Garry Monk would continue the fantastic work he had started. The reception he and his staff were afforded at Wigan away on the last day of the season certainly suggested a strong bond had formed and we would at least enjoy some continuity in the transition from one season to another, for the first time in many years. Alas, it was not to be and in the space of just a few days the whole scene changed at Elland Road. Again.

The full 100% takeover of Andrea Radrizzani was a badly kept secret for many months, and that went through swiftly and cleanly in May, and we all settled down to enjoy a summer of building on the strong foundations in place. On his first day in office, Radrizzani managed to secure a new 4-year contract for midfielder Ronaldo Vieira, and in an instant managed to change the club’s outlook and reverse the short-termist methodology that had seen a stream of young stars leave for next to nothing. Now we have a clear message that we see our future with blossoming talents like Vieira staying with us, but even if he improves at a rate far greater than the club does over the next couple of season – as many others have in recent years – then at least we will get a fair market price for him now he’s on a longer deal.

If Day One of Radrizzani’s reign had us dreaming of a corner finally turned, Day Two presented us with an upturned rake around that bend, which soon hit us squarely in the face as we attempted to make more positive steps forward. It all seemed set up for Garry Monk to extend his stay at Leeds United for another season and hopefully agree a longer term deal over the coming months, but for whatever reason he decided his future wasn’t with us. The news came as a body blow, and it was hard to get away from the feeling that last season now counted for nothing, but as the days pass you learn to deal with it and move on. As I write, there is no concrete news about who the next Leeds United manager will be, but it is clear that a more professional set-up is being built behind the scenes at Elland Road and the club is stepping up a level in terms of modern football, a whole business outlook and a quality of recruitment, and there is more expectation rather than simply blind hope, that the next manager will be a considered and measured appointment with a longer term view.

Certainly the early days of the Radrizzani era point towards exciting times and Leeds United looking more like a 21st century football club. That isn’t necessarily a good thing in some respects, when you look at many aspects of the modern game, but there is at least the impression that Radrizzani has his head screwed on, is surrounded by good advice and has made a success of pretty much everything he has touched in the past. We don’t need wild promises he can’t keep – although he has already claimed he will buy back Elland Road in the summer, like every other owner – we don’t need soundbites, charisma and celebrity stunts, we don’t even need him to pop over to the pub on an afternoon for a photo opportunity, although he is more than welcome to sample our lunchtime menu and a pint of Yorkshire Blonde between meetings, any time. We just want the owner of Leeds United to be a respectful guardian, to listen to and embrace our massive fanbase, to appoint the right people to run the club in the right way and to release the huge potential we all know Leeds United has.  

At the Old Peacock, we are certainly excited about this new era, and if we look out across our front car park we can already see scaffolding up on the West Stand, and a long overdue facelift for certain areas of our beloved ground. If we’ve learnt one thing in recent years it is that actions speak louder than words, and Radrizzani appears to be wasting no time in making an imprint at Leeds United, and let’s hope that continues.

We will certainly keep an eye on the old place over the summer, for any of you Leeds fans exiled away from the city, and there is plenty going on at the Old Peacock too as we take a step back and a breather from the madness of our Leeds United match days, and make our own plans for next season. 

Your match day enjoyment doesn’t just happen by accident and we have already started discussing what we can change and improve on for next season. So just like Leeds United and Elland Road itself, rest assured the Old Peacock will be back and looking better than ever in August. 

Enjoy your holidays.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Not really ready for summer

Hey! Summer’s here! It’s great; wall-to-wall sunshine, Saturday afternoons in the beer garden, barbecues at home with friends and family and endless late nights where it never seems to get dark. But…..hang on, you’re still thinking about the nine months of biting wind and rain and the hard slog that we call the football season aren’t you? And let’s not kid ourselves, we don’t really care too much about summer right now because we are stuck in a sense of interminable doom brought about by Leeds United’s late season slide out of the play-off zone. Too soon to think about holidays and al fresco dining on the decking of an evening? Yeah, probably. We’re still thinking about Burton away and that injury time equaliser conceded at Fulham and how Reading have managed to stay in the top six and well, um, erm…..yeah.

So it’s over for another season and Leeds United have done yet another impossibly ‘Leeds United’ thing; raised hopes out of nothing, delivered some scintillating afternoons and evenings and then let us down at the end, like a jilted bride left high and dry at the altar.

At times like this, we could console ourselves with the fact that there is a 75% chance this sense of crushing despair would hit us 100 times harder in a few weeks, as only one team out of four can prosper through the play-offs system. There is a tendency to forget the odds are stacked against you, and people call the play-offs a ‘lottery’ because that is pretty close to what they are. Right now though, we would gladly sell a limb for the opportunity to chuck our ticket into the pot and line-up in the tension-filled, nerve-shredding vortex of potential calamity that makes up the play-offs, even in the knowledge that anguish and pain is more likely than not to arrive on your doorstep at some point, be it in the two-legged semi-final or at Wembley Stadium in the final.

But let’s face it, we’d rather take the chance. We had all started making plans of some sort and had dropped some pretty subtle hints to our other halves that we would be disappearing for a long weekend at the end of May, and we had started drip feeding funds into a large pot to cover the enormous cost of a Play-Off Final weekend. But it’s not to be, that £500 can be put to better use and those brownie points can be saved for something that does actually happen. Leeds United’s season is over.

Of course, we should remind ourselves that this season has been beyond all our expectations, looking at the squad and another new management team walking into the unknown back in August. Few people predicted anything other than another arduous nine month battle to stay anchored in mid-table. That we have enjoyed countless exhilarating games at Elland Road and on the road this season is testament to the amazing job manager Garry Monk and his coaching staff have done, and while we can get frustrated that we perhaps didn’t do enough in the January transfer window, and that with eight games to go we were in a very strong position, a seventh-placed finish shows incredible progress from last season, and notwithstanding the shattering late loss of form, ‘progress’ is all we ever wanted to see this season.

At the Old Peacock we are used to the big crowds before Kick-Off of course, but on many occasions the atmosphere has been just as vibrant after the games too. We are conditioned to seeing fans flowing back in with sullen faces and muttering obscenities about another Leeds defeat, but this season there has been a natural buoyancy all day and all night, which we would love to bottle and sell for you to take home. But I guess, it is unmistakably the Old Peacock. We think back to home wins over Barnsley, Aston Villa and Derby, and then Sheffield Wednesday, Brighton and Preston and these were special occasions that we hadn’t seen in a long time. Happy faces, genuine pride in the team and the club, and essentially, a belief that ‘something’ was happening again at Elland Road. It is important that we remember those occasions whilst we feast on the disappointment of missing out on the play-offs, and if the club do the right thing over the summer, hopefully this is just the start.

Naturally, with Leeds United, that is a big ‘if’. But the overriding hope now is that the club is more settled, there are full takeover plans in place and with a more stable ownership structure only good things can happen; and that means keeping Garry Monk for next season and beyond and making the most of the progress we have undoubtedly made this season.

As I write there is just one game left in the 2016/17 campaign, away at Wigan Athletic; a dead rubber of a game, with Leeds needing to win 13-0 (and rely on Fulham losing) and Wigan already relegated. We should be thankful that there has only been one meaningless game this season, when usually that is the case from January onwards, but certainly Leeds fans have had a taste of what actually competing for promotion feels like and we all want more, so it is up to the club to manage the summer in the right way, and to bring us back in August with a genuine feeling of optimism.

For our part, we would like to thank our loyal, dedicated and extremely patient staff, who we think do an amazing job in very challenging circumstances on matchdays. Each Elland Road game involves an enormous amount of planning and we think we have got it just about right. We will make improvements for next season, just like Garry Monk and the team will, and we hope to see you again in August, if not during the close season when our quality food menus continue and you can sample the unique Old Peacock atmosphere seven days a week. But on that note we also want to thank you our loyal customers for your unstinting thirst during this and many other seasons. Chin up, we will all be back in August and we will start again afresh. Keep marching on together and enjoy the close season, from everyone at the Old Peacock.