2012/13: (Capital One) League Cup 1st Round – Leeds United v Shrewsbury Town

Saturday 11 August 2012 (10:00)

For clubs, managers, players and fans alike the Football League Cup has always been the ‘ugly-sister’ of the domestic cup competitions. Whilst the FA Cup can boast a history stretching back to the 1871/72 season, the League Cup is a young whippersnapper having only come into play in the 1960/61 football calendar. This is the 53rd season of the competition which has new sponsors and is to be known as the Capital One Cup (or rather unfortunately COC).

Later today I’m off to Elland Round to watch a First Round game between Leeds United and Shrewsbury Town, but my mind is drawn back to the first League Cup tie I saw forty years ago in August 1972. The game was at Craven Cottage as Fulham took on Reading. At that time, the League Cup was not sponsored and as with the FA Cup, back then, there was no limit on replays. The game, which took place on 23 August, was in fact a First Round replay, as the original game at Reading ended in a draw. If I’m honest I remember very little about the game, other than it also ended 1-1.

Five days later on the Bank Holiday Monday, I went with my dad to the  Second Replay at Elm Park when Fulham won 1-0 with a goal from Barry Lloyd. My abiding memory? Strangely, it was of the terrace roof which was in need of some repair. On any occasion on which the ball landed on the roof, those below were showered with a rusty deposit and lead to the christening of ‘The Royals’ as ‘rusty Reading’ by my dad.

The League Cup also holds a sentimental memory for me in relation to another First Round game. This one took place on 27 August 1991. By then the League Cup was sponsored by Rumbelows and the First Round fixtures were played over two-legs. Fulham hadn’t quite hit the low-point that the early nineties brought to SW6, but it was a club in decline, with Craven Cottage in a sorry state. In the First Leg, the Whites had gone down 4-2 to an exiled Charlton Athletic who were playing at Upton Park, so it was more in hope than expectation that I joined a crowd of 3,543 for the Second Leg encounter. Fulham battled but a 1-1 draw meant an aggregate loss of 5-3.

However, the real significance of this game was that it was the last game I saw at the Cottage before moving to Leeds in September 1991. As I watched the game that evening, I tried to take in the views and all the quirky nooks and crannies that this patch of West London had to offer and commit it to memory…because I didn’t know when I’d next return. Like the team, the ground was in a desperate state, but despite that, it was home, it was were my beloved Whites played and I had spent 19 years going week-in, week-out. That night it may have been an inconsequential League Cup game, but for me it is one that will always have meaning.


Prior to today Leeds and Shrewsbury had never met in the League Cup, although there was one FA Cup fixture between the clubs back in the 1964/65 season. It was an Fifth Round tie that took place at Elland Road and ended in a 2-0 win for the home team. Leeds went on to reach the Final before losing 2-1 to Liverpool. Would today be the start of a Cup run for the Yorkshire side that would see them end up at Wembley?

It had been another strange week for Leeds, as on Thursday it was announced that the planned investment/takeover (delete as appropriate), was now off. It sparked unsurprisingly a massive reaction on the various Leeds United websites and blogs, with all sorts of rumours and speculation. However, by this morning it was reported that a deal was back on. So the saga continues.

Leeds warm-up prior to kick-off

Elland Road was bathed in sunshine as a crowd of just over 18,000 gathered to witness a reshaped Leeds United team. As the players warned up, another signing was introduced to the fans, that of El Hadji Diouf and it brought a very mixed reaction. Neil Warnock has rebuilt this squad and so it is very much his team, with the Grayson side pretty much dismantled.

However as the game kicked-off it was the visitors who looked the better balanced team in the opening exchanges. Shrewsbury had the first shot on target just three minutes into the game from Mark Wright, which was held by Kenny in goal for Leeds. The Shrews neat passing and build-up also lead to two other good chances in the opening fifteen minutes for Paul Parry and Jermaine Grandison, but both were off target. Leeds were struggling to get into the game, but all this turned around in a six minute period. First on twenty minutes, Jamaican international Rodolph Austin unleashed a shot which Town keeper Chris Weale could only parry, as the defence tried to clear Luciano Becchio was quickest to react and tucked the ball away to give Leeds a lead they hardy deserved. Shrewsbury responded with a well-worked effort from Marvin Morgan which was saved and held by Kenny. However, on twenty six minutes, Shrewsbury again contributed to their own downfall with poor defensive work which allowed Ross McCormack through on goal, who was able to square for Luke Varney to put into an empty net. Instead of being 2-0 up, Shrewsbury were stunned to find themselves 2-0 down. Leeds with the cushion at last started to dominate and play with some confidence and Becchio was unlucky with a header just after the half-hour mark. In the last ten minutes the game lost shape and a number of free-kicks were conceded by both teams. Half-time 2-0 to Leeds and perhaps rather fortunately so.


Shrewsbury free-kick

Into the second-half, the 1,000 or so Shrewsbury fans tried to get behind their team. However the opening fifteen minutes brought no reward for Town as Leeds were more comfortable in possession. On the hour though, Kenny spilled a Parry shot which fell to Marvin Morgan who somehow put it over the bar, although it wouldn’t have counted anyway as the flag was up for offside. Leeds upped the tempo and just as they had in the first half struck twice in quick succession to completely kill off the game. On sixty five minutes Luke Varney rose high to head the ball down for David Norris whose scuffed effort somehow found its way into the net. Five minutes later Michael Hector was adjudged to have handled as Paul Green lifted the ball over the defender. McCormack coolly finished from the spot and Leeds were cruising at 4-0. With the game safe and fifteen minutes to go Neil Warnock changed things around with a double substitution, with Dominic Poleon replacing  Paul Green and El-Hadji Diouf on for Ross McCormack. Diouf had a mixed reception and there boos from the stands whenever he touched the ball. Graham Turner rang the changes for the Shrews as well, but he knew it wasn’t going to be his day when a late effort from Morgan was clearly pushed round the post by Kenny, only for the referee to award a goal-kick.

4-0 to Leeds at the whistle, but in all honesty, that was a flattering score-line. Whilst not denying that United were the better team over the ninety minutes and had taken their chances well, the opening twenty minutes were a very bumpy ride for Leeds. The team is undoubtedly still bedding in, but nobody should be fooled that this was a perfect display. Kenny, whilst comfortable with his shot-stopping, also gave evidence (with the spill in the second-half and his flapping at corners), that he will cost Leeds points this season. Peltier looked the pick of the back four, whilst Austin looked solid enough. For many of the others, they only really came into the game once Leeds had the two goal advantage. Shrewsbury played some nice football and looked useful in midfield and going forward, however at the back they were far from convincing and that will be a worry for manager Graham Turner.

“…Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be…we’re going to Wem-ber-lee…que sera, sera…” sang a group of fans behind me as we exited the ground. Don’t you just love the optimism at the start of a season. Football is back…

Book Review: One Northern Soul by J R Endeacott

One Northern Soul was first published in 2002 featuring the character Steven Bottomley and whose story is continued in the 2005 sequel, No More Heroes.

This first book by J R Endeacott focuses on the life of the young Steve as he grows up in Leeds during the 1980’s. From the illustrations on the cover and back of the book, it is evident that Leeds United feature within the pages of this book. On the front, there is a picture of the ‘disallowed’ goal from the 1975 European Cup Final, when Leeds lost 2-0 to Bayern Munich in controversial circumstances. That game in Paris has significance as just as Steve recognises that upon his dad’s return from Paris, “…his passion definitely waned and he never went to watch Leeds away from Elland Road again in his life…”, that somehow this changed the course of his life. As the back cover of the books says, “…if that goal in Paris has been allowed then everything that followed could have been different…”

Indeed, football is used as a metaphor and so the trials and tribulations of Steve’s life are reflected in the ups and downs at Elland Road. The book provides such nice little cameos of growing up in the 1980’s especially of life in Leeds. The reader follows Steve through his final days at school, his early sexual exploits, hooliganism and friendship, all told with a humour, naivety and cockiness-to-shyness that our teenage years inflict upon us emotionally.

One Northern Soul is not a large book, at less than one hundred pages, but contains enough little gems within it to appeal to an audience wider than the good citizens’ of Leeds and the supporters’ of its football club.


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2011/12: FA Cup 3rd Round – Sheffield United v Salisbury City

Friday 06 January 2012 (01.00 pm)

So here we are in 2012  and the FA Cup 3rd Round which extends to four days, starting tonight with the North-West derby between Premier League Liverpool and League One Oldham Athletic, ending on Monday with the game at The Emirates between Arsenal and Leeds United.

Liverpool last met Oldham in the Cup at Anfield in the 5th Round in the 1976/77 season. Liverpool made the Final that year, only to lose to Manchester United. With the Reds already in the League Cup Semi-Final, Kenny Dalglish will be relishing another Cup run. Oldham beat Burton 3-1 in the 1st Round and after a replay, overcame Southend United 1-0 at Boundary Park. Just as Liverpool have progressed in the League Cup, The Latics have had a good year in the knock-out competitions, having made it to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy North Final against Chesterfield and are just one match away from a Wembley appearance.

No doubt the Reds will juggle their pack for the game, but they will have to be wary of an Oldham team that manager Paul Dickov will have fired up for the occasion. It could be quite a tie tonight.

Friday 06 January 2012 (11.00 pm)

Liverpool (2) 5 – 1 (1) Oldham Athletic

Football is a game riddled with clichés – and there is a reason for this, they are invariably true. Take the Cup-tie this evening. Let’s start with, “…you have to take your chances Oldham started the game brilliantly and had three excellent goal scoring opportunities in the opening twenty minutes. None were taken and instead of having any sort of lead the game remained at 0-0. However, the Latics did eventually score through Robbie Simpson, with a stunning thirty yard strike on twenty eight minutes. “…Teams are at their most vulnerable just after they have scored…” Oldham didn’t take heed and Liverpool were level just two minutes later through Craig Bellamy. “…The worst time to concede is just before half-time…” With time added on at the end of the first half Oldham gave away a penalty and Steven Gerrard did the rest to send the home team in with a 2-1 lead.

The visitors came out fighting the second half but were killed off on sixty eight minutes when Shelvey slotted in to give Liverpool a 3-1 lead. Finally, “…the score-line didn’t reflect the game…” To rub salt into the wounds Oldham conceded two late goals to Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing; 5-1 was harsh on The Latics. So Liverpool are through and the they can put their feet up and watch the rest of the Third Round unfold.

Saturday 07 January 2012 (10.00 am)

It’s a return to Bramall Lane today as The Blades face Blue Square Bet Conference South  opposition (and lowest ranked team in the Third Round), Salisbury City. The Whites have hardly set their League alight this season and currently sit in the lower half of the League table. However, the FA Cup has been a real adventure for the team from Wiltshire. City entered the FA Cup at the Second Qualifying Round stage, beating Southern League Premier side Swindon Supermarine 3-0. Poole Town were demolished 6-1 by Salisbury in the Third Qualifying Round and entry into the First Round was clinched with a 2-1 away win at Bishop’s Stortford. Arlesey Town were no match for The Whites as City won 3-1 and earned a Second Round tie at home to Conference Premier side Grimsby Town. The tie went to a replay after a 0-0 draw at The Raymond McEnhill Stadium. The replay at Blundell Park turned out to be a night of drama. Dan Fitchett gave City the lead in the second half and it looked enough to take The Whites through. However, in time added-on Rob Duffy headed Grimsby level. In extra-time Duffy scored again to put The Mariners ahead, but back came City and Brian Dutton brought the scores level at 2-2. The Cup upset was complete with eight minutes to go, when Stuart Anderson converted a penalty to put Salisbury into the FA Cup Third Round for the first time in their history.

However, it has not all been plain sailing for The Whites in recent years. In 2007/08 City were promoted to the  Conference Premier Division and in their first season finished a creditable 12th. In the following season Salisbury finished 16th but off the pitch all was not well as financial problems hit the club. City completed the 2009/10 season in 12th place, even after being deducted 10 points for entering administration. Further punishment came The Whites way when they were demoted two divisions (to the Southern League Premier Division) for breaking Conference finance rules. Despite this set-back, last season City started the climb back up the Leagues after gaining promotion to the Blue Square Bet Conference South following victory over Hednesford Town in the Play-Off Final.

The Cup is full of superstition and coincidence and for The Blades there has been a bit of a pattern in their two FA cup fixtures this season. In both games Sheffield United have been at home, have scored three goals in each game, with Ched Evans scoring two goals in each fixture. The Blades opponents in both Rounds have been from the Npower League One, both Oxford and Torquay wore all yellow strips and both clubs like Sheffield are ‘United’s’. Many of these coincidences are broken today by the visit of Salisbury City, but will Sheffield United manage three goals today? Will Ched Evan’s bag another brace?  

Saturday 07 January 2012 (11.20 pm)

Sheffield United (1) 3 – 1 (0) Salisbury City

Before kick-off there was a minute’s applause as a mark of respect at the death last week of Gary Ablett. He was known predominantly for his time at Liverpool and Everton, but Gary Ablett also had a loan spell at Bramall Lane in 1996. Both sets of supporters observed the tribute respectfully.

Of the game itself, this was always going to be a difficult one for Salisbury given the recent good form of The Blades and the difference in league status between the teams. Sheffield United dominated from the outset, never allowing the visitors to settle on the ball. Within the opening fifteen minutes United had created a number of excellent chances, with Neil Collins header superbly saved by Mark Scott, the best of the opportunities. The Blades were patient in their build-up and were using the wings and switching play to drag the Salisbury defence out of position. This ploy paid off on eighteen minutes when a cross-field ball by Kevin McDonald was picked up by Lee Williamson who drove at the City defence. His pass found space beyond the Salisbury back-line and Chris Porter slipped it in under the advancing Scott to put United ahead. The Blades continued to press and City were thankful that keeper Scott was in such good form as he saved well from Ryan Flynn and Chris Porter. However, United couldn’t increase their lead and went in at the interval just one goal to the good.

In the opening fifteen minutes of the second half, Salisbury had a sustained period of possession, without really creating a guilt edged goal chance. However, the game swung firmly in favour of the home side, when on the hour mark after a goal-mouth scramble, McDonald’s shot was fortuitously deflected in by Ched Evans, to maintain his record of scoring in every round so far. United were now comfortable and continued to create chances. One such opportunity included a scramble which saw efforts by Ched Evans, James Beattie and Michael Doyle all repelled in a frantic passage of play. Eventually though The Blades scored again. On seventy two minutes the ever dangerous Evans cut inside and drove a cross shot into the Salisbury penalty area, which Danny Webb deflected into his own net. With the game won, The Blades intensity dropped and Salisbury enjoyed more possession in the last five minutes. The travelling City fans were rewarded for their excellent support of their team when substitute Lloyd Macklin fired in on eighty six minutes. Salisbury buzzed around for the closing minutes, but were unable to trouble The Blades defence further.

Another Cup win for United and their record of scoring three goals in each Round continues. Will the draw tomorrow see The Blades at home again? For now one half of Sheffield can look forward to the draw. The blue and white half has their chance to progress on Sunday with a difficult looking tie with West Ham to come. This is one of four fixtures on Sunday, which also includes, the Manchester derby (City v United), a repeat of the 2010 FA Cup Final (Chelsea v Portsmouth) and The Posh against The Black Cats (Peterborough v Sunderland).

Sunday 08 January 2012 (6.00pm)

In terms of the other Cup “trail” fixtures, there was little romance or Cup magic. Aston Villa won comfortably at Bristol Rovers 3-1. A Marc Albrighton goal on thirty five minutes gave Villa a half-time lead. Gabriel Agbonlahor (a second half substitute) doubled the lead just after the hour mark and Ciaran Clarke added a third on seventy eight minutes. Rovers got a goal back on ninety minutes through Scott McGleish and he could have brought even more respectability to the score-line, but McGleish had a penalty saved in time added on. Premier League Fulham overcame League One leaders Charlton Athletic with a convincing 4-0 win. Clint Dempsey scored a hat-trick with Damien Duff scoring The Cottagers final goal. League Two Macclesfield sniffed an upset in their tie with Premier League Bolton, when Arnaud Mendy put them 2-1 ahead with twenty two minutes remaining. However, David Wheater headed Wanderers level after seventy seven minutes to take the game back to a replay at The Reebok Stadium.  

The games today started in dramatic fashion with an incredible first half at The Etihad Stadium. Debate will rage over whether the sending off of City captain Kompany was the right one. However, United lead 3-0 at the break with a Rooney double and a well taken Danny Welbeck volley. Credit to City who reorganised in the second half and not only stifled their Manchester cousins, but clawed their way back into the game with goals from Kolarov and Aguero. 3-2 the final score in an incident packed derby.

With their city rivals already through, Sheffield Wednesday had a difficult home game with high-flying Championship team West Ham United. However, The Owls came through after keeper Nicky Weaver saved a second half penalty from Sam Baldock. With a replay looming, Chris O’Grady struck for Wednesday on eighty eight minutes to clinch a 1-0 win and create a Cup upset.

Portsmouth held Chelsea for the first forty five minutes at Stamford Bridge, but two goals from Ramires, and one each from Mata and Lampard ensured the London club went into the Fourth Round draw. Also going through are Sunderland with a professional 2-0 win at Peterborough. Sebastian Larsson put the Black Cats ahead on forty eight minutes and the game was wrapped up just ten minutes later with a goal from James McLean.

For the Fourth Round, the “trail” fixtures are as following:

Arsenal/Leeds United v Aston Villa

Everton v Fulham

Macclesfield/Bolton Wanderers v Swansea City

Sheffield United v Birmingham City/Wolves

Monday 09 January 2012 (7.00am)

The last game of the FA Cup Third Round takes place later today in North London between Arsenal and Leeds United. These two teams have met on sixteen occasions and have produced some memorable matches.

The first meeting was back in the 1949/50 season in the Sixth Round at Highbury, when First Division Arsenal took on Second Division Leeds United. United acquitted themselves well, but lost 1-0 to a goal from Reg Lewis on 52 minutes. The Gunners went onto the Final that year at Wembley where they beat Liverpool 2-0.

The next meeting for these teams was in the 1972 Centenary FA Cup Final, when Allan Clarke scored the only goal which meant the Cup went North to Elland Road for the first time in their history, with the clipped commentary of David Coleman declaring, “…Clarke…One Nil…” sweet music to the ears of Leeds supporters.

By the time these teams met again in the Cup (1982/83), Leeds had once more been relegated to the Second Division. A Peter Nicholas own goal just after the hour gave Leeds the lead, but Arsenal were level within a minute as Alan Sunderland sent the game to a replay. In the game at Elland Road, an upset looked on the cards as Aidan Butterworth put Leeds ahead in the last minute of extra-time. However, Graham Rix dramatically scored an equaliser with seconds remaining to force a Second Replay. A coin was tossed to see who would host the Second Replay and it fell in favour of the Londoners. Tony Woodcock put The Gunners ahead, only for Terry Connor to bring the game level. However, with eight minutes remaining, Graham Rix proved to be the Arsenal saviour as he scored the winner to take them through 2-1.

Given the change of rules regarding replays, the events of the 1990/91 ties will never be repeated. Arsenal and Leeds needed four games to settle this Fourth Round tie. Sadly today in the current FA Cup competition, all teams get is a replay, extra-time and the cruelty of penalties. Those epic ties were part of the history and tradition of the FA Cup – and people wonder why some magic has gone out of the competition. The original tie at Highbury ended 0-0 and the replay at Elland Road resulted in a 1-1 draw. Lee Chapman put United ahead, with Anders Limpar replying for The Gunners. Back at Highbury in the Second Replay, the stalemate continued with a goalless draw. The tie was finally won by Arsenal 2-1 at Elland Road, with Paul Merson and Lee Dixon on the score sheet.

The Fourth Round game at Highbury in 1993 once again proved to be classic. Lee Chapman and Gary Speed had given Leeds a 2-0 half-time lead and seemed to be enough to send them through to the Fifth Round. However, Arsenal clawed their way back with goals from Ray Parlour and Paul Merson for a 2-2 draw. The replay at Elland Road proved to be just as memorable. Alan Smith put Arsenal ahead, but goals from Carl Shutt and Gary McAllister gave Leeds a 2-1 advantage. It looked all up for The Gunners as full-time loomed. However, Ian Wright levelled to send the game into extra-time and he grabbed his second and the Arsenal winner with three minutes left on the clock.

By comparison the next two FA Cup meetings between these rivals were tame. In the Fourth Round of the 1996/97 competition, ex-Arsenal boss George Graeme returned to Highbury with his Leeds United charges. In a well organised display a goal on 12 minutes from Rod Wallace was enough to sent Leeds through. Seven year later, Arsenal travelled to Elland Road for a Third Round tie. Mark Viduka gave United an early lead, but goals from Henry, Edu, Pires and Toure gave The Gunners a comfortable 4-1 win in a season which saw also Leeds relegated from the Premier League.

So to the most recent Cup encounter, which took place last season at The Emirates, Leeds took the game to Arsenal and lead 1-0 through a Robert Snodgrass penalty. With ninety minutes on the clock, and the Leeds fans whistling for full-time, Arsenal were awarded a penalty of their own. Up stepped Cesc Fabregas score and set up a replay at Leeds. At Elland Road, The Gunners got off to a flying start and were ahead within five minutes through Sami Nasri. Arsenal seemed to be cruising when on thirty five minutes Sagna doubled their lead. However, within two minutes Bradley Johnson dragged Leeds back into the tie. On this occasion there was no comeback for United and a Robin Van Persie goal with just less than fifteen minutes to go, sent the team from London through. There has been some drama over the years, will the 2011/12 tie live up to some of the classic encounters?

Monday 09 January 2012 (10.00pm)

So what a way to end the Third Round action. The game overall could not be considered to be a classic, but in “Roy of the Rovers” fashion, Thierry Henry returned to his spiritual footballing home and scored the winner against Leeds. The first half had few highlights and it seemed as though the second half was going the same way. However, on sixty eight minutes the home crowd came to life when Henry came on for Chamakh and within ten minutes the fairy-tale return was complete as he scored from Alex Song’s through ball.  Leeds never really threatened to spoil King Henry’s return as the final minutes ticked away.

Arsenal loves Thierry Henry and Thierry Henry loves Arsenal.






Book Review: True Storey (My Life and Crimes as a Football Hatchet Man)

Growing up in the seventies, my football education came from my dad’s allegiance to The Arsenal and through me discovering my own team, Fulham. The game was a very different beast then. Football on the television consisted of highlights on a Saturday night with ‘Match of the Day’ and Sunday afternoons with ‘The Big Match’. Live football? Well that was one game a season, when the FA Cup Final was shown. Teams wore simple kits in traditional colours without a hint of advertising and played on pitches that varied between sand strewn mud-heaps and bare, rock hard surfaces. It was a time when football was a much more physical game and every First Division team had their ‘hard-man’. Chelsea had Ron Harris, there was Tommy Smith at Liverpool and Norman Hunter at Leeds United, whilst Arsenal had Peter Storey. So in reading “True Storey: My Life and Crimes as a Football Hatchet Man” I knew the footballing background against which the story is set.

One immediate impression about the book is that the 224 pages (Mainstream Publishing 2011 Edition) consist of 23 chapters and an introduction. This for me meant that whilst reading, the book moved on at quite a pace as each chapter was relatively short, precise and punchy, making it a quick read. Overall the style is conversational with some humour, but is essentially forthright, blunt and to the point.

The Introduction provides Storey’s raison d’être for the book in that he wanted to “…explain the ‘madness’ (the seedy side of life after football) for the first time…”. The book is his chance to put straight the “…many lies and half-truths peddled as ‘fact’ relating to the crime which blighted (his) life…” Following the Introduction, Storey’s life is told from growing up in 1950’s Britain in Aldershot, to present day life in South-West France.

The reader is eased into Peter Storey’s tale with his early playing days and his progress through the representative sides of Aldershot & Farnborough Schools FA, London Schools and England Schoolboys, with his passion and desire to be a professional evident. Having left school at the age of 15, he then signed for Arsenal in 1961, “…the best club in the football world…” However, at that time North London rivals Tottenham were the Kings of English football having just become the first club in the Twentieth Century to do the Double.

Peter settled into the youth team playing in the South East Counties League playing alongside Peter Simpson and Jon Sammels, who like Storey went on to establish themselves in the first team. By the 1962/63 season, he progressed to the A team (third team) playing in the Metropolitan League and had signed a professional contract. Storey’s frustrations at not progressing as quickly into the first team is evident, but in the 1964/65 season he travelled as first reserve for an FA Cup 4th Round fixture at Peterborough United and was now playing in the Reserves. Off the pitch, life too was changing for him as he shared houses with Jon Sammels and Terry Neil, where trips to the laundrette and a lack of food provide some amusing tales about the bachelor lives of the young Gunners players.

The 1965/66 season saw Peter Storey make his first team debut for the Gunners on 30th October 1965 at Filbert Street against Leicester City. Arsenal lost 3-1 and Storey made his mark, when he “…coldly barged Sinclair into touch with the ball long departed…” – Peter Storey had arrived. Billy Wright the Wolves and England legend was manager at the time and Storey offers an insight into a club not happy under Wright’s leadership. It was a wretched season for the Gunners and with six games to go they were in serious relegation trouble. However, they did survive, but it had an effect on the Highbury faithful. So much so that the lowest attendance for a competitive game at Highbury was recorded that season, when on 5th May 1966, just 4,554 turned up to watch the Division One fixture against Leeds United. Inevitably at the end of the season Wright was sacked.

Given this background, perhaps it was understandable Storey observed that at Arsenal, “…concern for the club and interest in the new manager took precedence over the World Cup…” as the 1966/67 dawned. Although, he did reflect that he noticed, “…teams in the First Division getting a lot more organised, much more professional…” Bertie Mee was appointed Manager along with Dave Sexton as First Team Coach, an appointment Storey saw as vital since Mee “…didn’t have a clue about tactics…” Sexton moved on in October 1967 to manage Chelsea and in came Don Howe to begin a historic period and partnership for the Gunners.

In 1968 and 1969 the Gunners made it to Wembley to the League Cup Final. Despite losing both, 1-0 against Leeds United in 1968 and 3-1 against Swindon Town in 1969, the good times at Highbury were about to bloom. In 1969/70 Arsenal took part in the Fairs Cup (now Europa League) and overcame Anderlecht 4-3 over two-legs in the Final. Even better was to come the following season. Given the historic nature of Arsenal doing the Double, Storey does devote two chapters to the achievements of that memorable season for the Gunners. However, it wasn’t all glory, glory as Storey saw it.

On the Official Arsenal Website, there is a feature on the ‘50 Greatest Arsenal Players’. Peter Storey completes the list at Number 50, a testament to his contribution to the club and regard by the fans. The site outlined his contribution to the Gunners history with the following:

If Peter Storey hadn’t held his nerve, Arsenal would not have made history in 1971. It’s as simple as that. Storey was a vital – if unsung – member of Bertie Mee’s Double squad and his crucial contribution came in March of that year as Arsenal stared defeat in the face at their FA Cup Semi-Final against Stoke City at Hillsborough. Storey had already halved a two-goal deficit with a rasping second-half drive but Stoke looked set to seal a 2-1 victory, and book their place at Wembley, before Arsenal were awarded a stoppage-time penalty for a handball on the goal line. The yellow-shirted Gunners leapt with joy – but not Storey. He had the unenviable task of beating England legend Gordon Banks from 12 yards to keep Arsenal’s Double dream alive. Storey saw Banks go right and slotted the ball low to the keeper’s left, cool as you like. Arsenal went on to win the replay, lift the Cup and complete the Double.

Storey recalls the highs of those events in Chapter Twelve, (“I’ll always have Sheffield”), but Stoke also had unhappy memories later that season when Storey was injured in the fixture against the Potters at Highbury. It meant he missed the title decider at Tottenham and he admits he felt something of an outsider as the team celebrated the title win and observed that he, “…knew a little of the emotional pain and bitter disappointment Jimmy Greaves experienced when he was injured during the World Cup and watched as his replacement Geoff Hurst became a national hero…”. Still carrying the injury, missing the Cup Final looked inevitable and Storey recalls an intriguing episode in which he believes Bertie Mee tried to ensure he missed the game. Peter Storey having declared himself fit was then put through his paces by the manager which Storey saw as an “…unbelievably gruelling fitness test…” However, Storey came through the test, but on the day in the Final against Liverpool he lasted about an hour before limping off.

Success at club level brought Peter Storey international recognition and his first cap came in 1971 in a 3-0 win at Wembley against Greece. Sir Alf Ramsey recognised the versatility of the Arsenal man and in winning 19 caps he played at both right and left back and in midfield for his country. Not bad for somebody who many thought was just an “assassin and a thug…”

That Double winning season proved to be the peak for that Arsenal side. It came as a shock when Don Howe resigned to manage WBA at the beginning of the 1971/72 season. Storey couldn’t understand why the Coach had left when there was the challenge of the European Cup and the chance to build a legacy at Arsenal existed. Whilst the departure of Howe didn’t have an immediate effect, Storey felt that there was a gradual decline in standards, discipline and direction which meant the Gunners never hit the heights of the Double winning season. Arsenal returned to Wembley for the 1972 FA Cup Final, but lost out to Leeds United 1-0. 1972/73 the Gunners finished runners-up to Liverpool for the title. However, the following season they finished 10th. 1974/75 was even worse with Arsenal bottom during October 1974 before finishing 16th and they finished 17th in 1975/76. Storey started that season in the reserves and despite some first team appearances, was suspended by the club in March after a row with Bertie Mee. Terry Neil came in as the new Gunners boss in 1976/77 and offered a way back for Storey, who by his own admission was “…on the piss and out of condition…” To his credit Storey battled back to fitness but as the season went on he was honest enough to acknowledge that he “…was drinking and not really interested in playing for Arsenal any longer…” In March 1977 Peter Storey was transferred to Fulham, where he teamed up with Bobby Moore and George Best. He helped save the Cottagers from relegation and started the 1977/78 season at Craven Cottage. However, his heart wasn’t really in it and he played his last game as a professional footballer on Saturday 10th September 1977 ironically away at Spurs.

In recounting the episodes regarding his life after football, Peter Storey is incredibly candid. Indeed this extends to his relationships and marriages, where Storey recognises that his selfish and vain life-style were major factors in their failure. Storey doesn’t hide his brushes with the law or try to blame anybody else. He admits that he missed the buzz that football had provided him with and was “…attracted to the brash, flash lifestyle enjoyed by smartly dressed thieves…the way they always seemed to have a pretty girl on one arm, a pocketful of ready cash and plenty of time to indulge themselves…”. Storey pinpoints the buying of the Jolly Farmers in the summer of 1975 as the beginning of the end. Storey honestly admits, “…the decline, when it came, was relatively swift, brutal and mostly my own fault…and (I) found solace in a bottle…” The spiral downwards included, spells in jail for smuggling pornographic videos and conspiracy to counterfeit gold half-sovereigns, a suspended sentence for running a brothel and conviction for selling cars which were on hire-purchase. Reading these final chapters of the book is a shocking, yet sobering experience, that illustrates how easily life can descend into chaos.

It is a book which provides a great insight into a genuine Gunners legend, honestly detailing the highs of his playing career and the murky lows of crime and prison in life after football. However, Storey was lucky that he had people to help and support him to emerge the other side and now lives a contented life in France with wife Daniele. Storey closes by telling with obvious pride about the three boys he has and the simple enjoyment that a few beers shared with his sons and his father can bring. The hatchet man has put down his axe and seems at peace with the world.


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2011/12: Pre-season – Farsley AFC v Leeds United XI

Pre-season friendlies. Love them or hate them, they are part of the build-up to any new football season. For clubs, players, managers and fans they are a mostly a positive thing; however friendlies can have a downside too. Take for instance my visit to Throstle Nest and the Farley AFC v Leeds United XI fixture.

For Farsley this was their last game prior to starting their Evo-Stik First Division North League campaign and therefore a final opportunity to look at prospective players and formations. Leeds too used the game to look at three trialists and some of their young professionals. Given that the opposition were their professional city neighbours, Leeds United, it was a chance of a large attendance and all the benefits this brings in terms of revenue and publicity. The Villagers were also canny enough to move kick-off to 2pm, so as to provide an opportunity for those wanting to watch Leeds United’s opening game at Southampton in the Championship to do so, hopefully at the Throstle Nest clubhouse and therefore putting some additional revenue over the bar.

So far so good. Indeed as the players warmed up and the Farsley mascots played a mini-game on the pitch, there was a relaxed atmosphere amongst the crowd of just over 400. Leeds United included three trialists in their starting line-up as well as the familiar faces of Alex Bruce, Mike Grella and Aidan White.

The game kicked off in drizzly conditions, but before either side had chance to really settle, there was a major stoppage within the first ten minutes. After a Leeds attack, Farsley midfielder David Briggs was left on the ground in obvious pain. Unfortunately Briggs was stretchered from the pitch with what looked a serious leg injury and necessitated an ambulance to take the player to hospital. The Villagers official website reported that, “…Gareth Liversedge (the Farsley physio) commented after the game that Briggs was likely to have broken a bone in his lower leg but it would be confirmed in the next few days as x-rays would have to be carried out to determine the severity of the injury…” Briggs had left Ossett Town to join Farsley and had impressed in pre-season. Injuries are part and parcel of the game, but somehow it seems more shocking that it occurred in a friendly rather than the regular season. As yet the extent of the injury has not been confirmed, but it will obviously have repercussions. For instance, how will this affect his day-job? What impact does it have on his contract with Farsley? My hope is that David Briggs makes a speedy recovery and is back playing as soon as he can.

The injury seemed to rattle Farsley and in the remainder of the half were made to pay as Mike Grella put Leeds ahead and a brace from trialist Felix Luz, gave the visitors a 3-0 half-time lead. The second-half did see an improvement from Farsley but despite creating goal scoring opportunities, Luz completed his hat-trick and added Leeds fourth with 15 minutes to go.

From The Villagers perspective, the loss of David Briggs was a blow, but now have to regroup and focus on the opening game on Saturday at home to Lancaster City. For Leeds, well German trialist Felix Luz will have done his cause no harm with three goals. However, how do Alex Bruce, Mike Grella and Aidan White, see their first team chances after not being included in the squad that travelled to Southampton? Questions, questions – the football season is back!

FA Cup Final 2010/11: Sweet dreams are made of this….

And so the 2010/11 season comes ever closer to finishing, with the FA Cup Final this weekend. A reassuring date in May that sits there in the football calendar and marks the passing of time. An event that has always for me had the, “…I remember where I was…” tag-line. Something that grows up with you, a constant that is there as you go through life.

In the year I was born 1962, the FA Cup Final was between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley. In a game that has become known as “The Chessboard Final” due to the tactical and cat and mouse nature of the play, Spurs emerged winners 3-1 with goals from Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Smith and a Danny Blanchflower penalty. The Clarets had equalized with a goal from Jimmy Robson on 50 minutes, but the North London team went ahead 2-1 within a minute and sealed Cup Glory with just ten minutes remaining.

However, it wasn’t until 1970 that I have any recollections of watching my first FA Cup Final and then it was the replay at Old Trafford and not the first game at Wembley. The picture of being sat at home with my dad watching that game on 29 April 1970 is still a vivid one in my mind. We didn’t have a colour television, so it was black and white images that we watched that night. I remember my mum coming into the room just as Leeds scored through Mick Jones on 35 minutes and in typical football superstitious style, she was banned from coming into the room until the game was over. These days that Replay is viewed as something of a brutal encounter, but 1970’s football was a very different and physical beast to that of the game today and so watching that night it didn’t seem as though this was a “dirty” game. Chelsea got back into the game in the second half but left it late with a Peter Osgood header just 12 minutes from time. Extra-time followed and for some reason we didn’t put the lights on, so black and white shafts of light flicked across our faces as in the last minute of the first period of extra time, a long throw from Hutchinson caused confusion in the Leeds defence and Dave Webb headed home what turned out to be the winner.

Subsequent years and FA Cup Final days are linked in with my dad’s and my passion for cricket. This meant that for a number of years, any glimpses of the Final “live” were restricted to the tea interview in between innings. Even though I loved playing cricket, when Cup Final day came around I invariably prayed for rain! If the gods of precipitation had done their work I could sit myself down and take in the full glory of the BBC’s coverage (I was and am a BBC man!) that included down the years special editions of Mastermind, Question of Sport and It’s a Knockout all featuring fans of the Cup Final teams. It was a real marathon which featured players at their team hotel, their journey to the ground and more analysis than you could care to take on. It was a feeling of real excitement once the game started. It was only once the game was over and the Cup was presented (barring replays in those days), that you could rise from the sofa, head muzzy from 8 hours in front of the television and stomach full from snacking during this period to get back to the rest of Saturday.

With the knees having called time on my cricket career, this weekend as the City’s from Manchester and Stoke battle for the Cup, I’ll be once more adorning a sofa to take in the action. More likely though I’ll settle down to watch 30 minutes or so before kick-off, but it’ll give me the chance to reflect and savour the memories of Cup Finals past and toast the winners and losers.

2010/11: Expectation

Expectation – is it a burden or a motivator? In football terms, I suppose it’s different things to different clubs. As a Fulham fan back in the 1995/96 season I was grateful that we managed to avoid relegation to the Conference. There was no expectation, just a relief that the club actually existed. That season marked the low-point and the start of a journey that has been quite unbelievable. If somebody had told me that within 16 years, the club would be in the top-flight for 10 consecutive seasons and would reach a European Final, I’d have said they needed a very long lay down in a darkened room.

As wonderful as that journey has been, on a personal level I’ve always tried to be realistic about the expectations for Fulham. For others, there has been an unreasonable (as I see it) rationale as the club has progressed. There is nothing wrong with ambition, but it has to be balanced with reality. Some people may consider my views as lacking aspiration or as killing a dream, but I have my position because ultimately our teams do let us down.

As the last of the winner’s tickertape fluttered down in Hamburg at the end of the Europa League Cup Final and Fulham trudged off, thinking of what might have been – there were bound to be consequences. Firstly, Roy Hodgson became a managerial target and was bound to leave and secondly fans were thinking that Fulham “had arrived” and that 2011/12 would bring a top seven finish and domestic silverware.

Mark Hughes took over and after going unbeaten in the League in August and September, the remainder of 2010 became decidedly desperate. A Boxing Day mauling by then bottom of the table West Ham at the Cottage and dropping into the bottom three made those balmy European nights seem a life-time away. The reality of relegation was an unwelcome apparition as 2011 awoke. I had that dread and fear in the stomach that comes from knowing your club is in trouble. Cold logic tells you that you’ve had a good run, 10 years in the Premier League has been a bonus. However, a positive run of results in both the League and FA Cup as January turns into February and suddenly there is a whiff of expectation. The FA Cup Fifth Round looms, you get a home tie against a fellow Premier League team. I’m expecting Fulham to win, for the first time this season I’m feeling confident. As I said earlier in this piece, eventually your team lets you down and it hurts. Following that loss to Bolton, I’m now looking worriedly at the remainder of the League fixtures and dreading the rest of the season. How can the result of one game make me feel so different?

Leeds United unlike Fulham is a “big-club”. History, tradition, trophies, fans – and a huge expectation. But that expectation varies too. There are those who think a mid-table finish this season would be creditable – those who feared a relegation battle – and those who see a second successive promotion. The trap has been laid, 14 games to go, sat in 6th place, just three points away from an automatic promotion spot – expectation level has been set. Barnsley come to Elland Road tonight, a win and the right results and Leeds could be second. And so the expectation would grow. Would that be the springboard to go on and clinch promotion? Would the pressure become too great? Expectation – is it a burden or a motivator?

 He who dares Rodney. He who dares…..

2010/11: FA Youth Cup 5th Round – Leeds United v Aston Villa

Tonight at Elland Road, Leeds United juniors go up against Aston Villa in the FA Youth Cup Fifth Round, hoping to progress and get a step closer to bringing home the trophy for a third occasion. The trials and tribulations surrounding the Academy set-up at Thorp Arch and indeed Simon Grayson’s attitude to home-grown players has been a talking point at the Yorkshire club this season. So rather than focus on the negative, this article instead will focus on the previous two triumphs by Leeds United.

Both Leeds triumphs in the FA Youth Cup occurred within the nineties. The first in the 1992/93 season was secured over Manchester United, with the second in 1996/97 against Crystal Palace. The first triumph is probably best remembered by Leeds fans given the opposition and the reputation of the Manchester United youth team who were the Cup holders.

The 1st Leg of the Final took place at Old Trafford and an incredible crowd of 30,562 turned up as Leeds take a 2-0 advantage (with goals from Jamie Forrester and Noel Whelan) back to Elland Road for the 2nd Leg. For the return Leg back in Leeds, the attendance topped that in Manchester as 31,037 cheered on Paul Hart’s team to a 2-1 victory on the night and a 4-1 aggregate win. The squads for the respective teams was as follows:

Leeds United: Paul Pettinger, Andy Couzens, Kevin Sharp, Mark Tinkler, Kevin Daly, Rob Bowman, Lewis Atkinson, Matthew Smithard, Mark Ford, Noel  Whelan, Simon Oliver, Jamie Forrester, Alex Byrne, Steve Tobin, Darren Kerry.

Manchester United: Darren Whitmarsh, Phil Neville, Steven Riley, Chris Casper, Gary Neville, Keith Gillespie, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Richard Irving, Colin Murdoch, Robbie Savage, Ben Thornley, Nicky Butt, John O’Kane, Mark Rowlinson.

When you look at the names the interest for me is not with those progressed into the Leeds United first team squad, but rather those who didn’t. Of that 1993 squad, Jamie Forrester, Noel Whelan, Rob Bowman, Kevin Sharp, Mark Tinkler, Mark Ford and Andy Couzens did play for the senior team – although their total appearances were less that 170 and therefore none of them could ever be considered as regulars. In terms of the remainder of the squad, goalkeeper Paul Pettinger spent four seasons at Elland Road without making a first team start, before a career mainly taking in a number of Non-League clubs and he is currently plying his trade at Sheffield FC. Like Pettinger, midfielder Matthew Smithard also spent four seasons at Elland Road without making a first team start. In 1996/97 Smithard moved to Bradford City, where he made just one appearance as a substitute. Injury plagued his career in spells with Farsley Celtic, Ossett Town and Guiseley. Forward Steve Tobin also followed the Non-League path taking in Macclesfield Town, Altrincham, Leek Town, Hyde United and Mossley (amongst others) along the way – last playing in the early part of 2010 at Salford City. Simon Oliver was playing for Thackley in the Northern Counties Eastern League up to the end of the 2006/07 season. In terms of trying to trace Kevin Daly, Lewis Atkinson, Alex Byrne and Darren Kerry, I’ve drawn a blank, so would be grateful to anyone who can throw light on whether they stayed within football.

Leeds second Youth Cup came in 1996/97 after a 3-1 aggregate win against Crystal Palace. This team produced a crop of players who were later to be part of the period of Premier League and Champions League football at Elland Road. Robinson, Woodgate, Kewell, McPhail and Smith provided the mainstay of the first team during that period. Whilst Alan Maybury and Matthew Jones also made their contribution in the first team games they played. Of the rest of that squad, Tommy Knarvik came on as a substitute against Portsmouth in an FA Cup tie which proved to be his only outing in a first team shirt, before returning to the Norwegian League and he now plays for Tromso. Lee Matthews made three appearances in the first team and suffered an injury hit career before finally retiring in 2007 after a stint with Livingston and is now a football agent. Midfielder Wesley Boyle had just one substitute outing with the first team and is still playing for Portadown in Northern Ireland. Neither Kevin Dixon nor Damien Lynch made it into the Leeds senior team, with Dixon returning to his native North East playing for a number of Non-League teams including Seaham Red Star, Newcastle Blue Star, Sunderland Ryhope and Bishop Auckland. Lynch returned to the Republic of Ireland after his time at Leeds United and Nottingham Forest and carved a career in the League of Ireland with Bohemians, Drogheda United and St Patrick’s Athletic. Perhaps the most interesting story involves the last member of the 1997 squad Stuart Gore. The following piece is taken from the website of AC Crusaders a football team in the USA who are due to make their debut in the Northeast Keystone Division of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), the fourth tier of the American Soccer Pyramid, in 2011.

“…Stuart Gore brings a fantastic playing experience to the AC Crusaders. Having been exposed to some of the game’s most successful soccer coaches, Stuart has used his experiences to develop into a forward thinking coach with a strong tactical sense.

As a player, Stuart was part of the youth team with Leeds United, helping them to win the FA Youth cup. He has also represented the England national team at under 16 and under 17 level. Stuart then attended college here in the states at the University of Montevallo, after which he return to pro soccer with UD Lorca of the 2nd division in Spain.

As a coach Stuart has been coaching with Luton Celtic soccer club and AFC Dunstable, where in 2007 he was given the position of “Head of Coaching and Player Development”. Stuart also served as the vice chairman of the Dunstable schools soccer league in which his team won back to back titles in 2006 and 2007, winning the league cup in 2007.

He holds a UEFA B license, Level 2 in Futsal coaching and is a native of Dunstable, England.

For those players lining up tonight, a place in the next round of the Youth Cup will be the main thing on their mind. The future? Well as the teams of 1992/93 and 1996/97 demonstrated even Cup victory is no guarantee of a successful career. Sometime you just have to enjoy the here and now.

My thanks to the following websites in providing background information used in this article; AC Crusaders official website, The FA, Soccer Base and Wikepedia.

2010/11: Nat Lofthouse – True Football Giant

It’s a curious thing that the football greats of the post-war era seemingly get labeled with the sobriquet, “giants”. Leeds United of course had the legendary John Charles who at Juventus, was so revered by the fans that they called him Il Buon Gigantethe gentle giant. This weekend Nat Lofthouse ex-Bolton Wanderers and England passed away, a player the BBC described as, one of the post-war giants of football.

Players such as Tom Finney, Tommy Lawton, Stanley Matthews, Billy Wright, Wilf Mannion, and Stan Mortensen, all finished playing before I was watching football, but I know their names and recognise their place in the football history of this country. Their playing days, like John Charles and Nat Lofthouse belong to a game, era and society that are very different to that now.

Unlike many of the players today, Nat Lofthouse was a one-club man, making more than 450 appearances for Bolton Wanderers, earning 33 caps for England. Lofthouse was Bolton born and bred and was signed as a 14-year-old schoolboy by Charles Foweraker (Bolton manager from 1919-1944). Lofthouse played during the Second World War and also worked as a Bevin Boy coal miner, and eventually turned professional in 1946. The money players received back then will be seen as comical by today’s standards. £10 was the fee Lofthouse received when he signed-on, but he reflected,  ”…I know £10 doesn’t seem much these days, but it was four times more than my Dad was getting per week as a coal bagger for the Co-Op…”. It’s an interesting point, as it illustrates that even back then payments in football out-stripped that of the ordinary working man. Lofthouse made his debut in a wartime 5–1 win against Bury on 22 March 1941 and scored two goals. However, it was then more than five years until he made his League debut for the Trotters against Chelsea on 31 August 1946, when he scored twice in a 4–3 defeat. Lofthouse retired in 1960 having scored 255 goals for the club.

During his club career, Lofthouse played in two FA Cup Finals, both of which have gone down in the annals of Wembley Stadium, but with different outcomes for the Bolton player. He scored a goal, but was on the losing side, in the famous 1953 FA Cup Final which became known as, The Matthews Final having previously scored in each round. That was the only blemish on a season when Lofthouse topped the First Division scoring charts with 30 goals and won Footballer of the Year. Five years later, Lofthouse captained Bolton against Manchester United. Wanderers won the game 2–0 with Lofthouse scoring both goals. However, the second was highly controversial and remains a talking point to this day. Lofthouse went into a challenge with the United keeper Harry Gregg knocking him unconscious as he barged Gregg into the net to score. Looking at the footage in this era, it seems inconceivable that shoulder charging was a legitimate part of the game, especially since nowadays goalkeepers are offered more protection than most endangered species.

As an international Lofthouse had a brilliant scoring record, with 30 goals from his 33 appearances. His England debut was on 22 November 1950 and he scored both goals in a 2–2 draw against Yugoslavia in the game at Highbury. Perhaps his most famous international game came on 25 May 1952. The England forward earned the title Lion of Vienna after scoring his second goal in England’s 3–2 victory over Austria. In the act of scoring and running from the half-way line, he was elbowed in the face, tackled from behind and finally brought down by the goalkeeper. He played in the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland scoring three goals. Lofthouse made his final England appearance, against Wales, at the age of 33 on 26 November 1958. During the eight years of his international career, England played approximately 70 fixtures. In the eight years between 2002 and 2010, England played nearly double this amount of games. That says all sorts about the modern era which has seen an increased number of games in Qualification for World Cups and that World Cup tournaments in terms of team participation has increased, allied with the introduction of the European Championships and the increase in friendlies. However, it is interesting to consider how many goals Lofthouse may have scored if he had the number of games available to the modern day international.

After retiring, Lofthouse continued his links with his home-town club. He became the assistant trainer at Burnden Park in 1961 and was then appointed chief coach at the club in 1967. Between 1968 – 1970, Lofthouse spent a brief time as caretaker manager of the club before taking the job full-time. After the brief management stint he became Bolton’s chief scout and later administrative manager. In 1978, he became the club’s executive manager and became president in 1986. Nat Lofthouse’s connection with the club in so many capacities over 50 years is an incredible feat. One that would be seemingly impossible to replicate in the modern era.

In closing, I’d like to let the words of the Bolton great speak for themselves, “…the game’s changed out of all recognition to my day…the strips changed, the ball’s changed and the money has changed…but I still believe footballers take great pride in the game. I don’t know about me but people like Matthews and Finney would be seen as very good players, I’ve no doubt about that…”

Spoken like a true football giant.

Featured Writers – Graeme Garvey

A long time ago in a world far, far away I remember sitting in the press box at Halifax Town as my dad reported on the match. That was in the days of the old Third Division. I was born in Halifax and moved to Bradford when I was two. Watching Bradford Park Avenue in World Cup winning year, their best player by almost exactly a million miles was Kevin Hector, although I did see the classy Johnny Haynes and Allan Clarke when Avenue played Fulham in the F.A. Cup.

I moved to the famous metropolis of Drighlington in 1968 and soon began watching Leeds United. Not many stars of other sides played well against that Leeds team; apart from one magical minute when he scored two goals, George Best was almost always kept quiet by Paul Reaney. Paul Madeley had a similar damping effect on Bobbie Charlton. Jimmy Greaves, the finest goalscorer I have ever seen, scored a great opportunist goal for Spurs in their 3-1 defeat. Momentary flickers of greatness. Cryuff and Neeskens did very little in the Elland Road leg of the European Cup semi-final whilst playing for Barcelona. Perhaps surprisingly, the visiting player who impressed me most at Elland Road was the gutsy and skilful Mike Summerbee.

There have been many memorable occasions watching football so it is not easy to pick out the best.  Although I was fortunate enough to see Leeds win the Cup in 1972, I would probably rate higher the two Championship titles achieved by the Revie boys. The best team after 42 games truly is the best in the land. For me, their greatest team performance was against Tottenham in the Cup on the way to Wembley triumph.

Sadly, there is no doubt which has been my worst experience watching football. When 56 people die and another 265 are injured at a game, it truly puts everything else into context. May 11th1985, Bradford City v Lincoln City. After such an awful experience, football has never been quite the same again and has put me completely out of patience when I see fans, in close-up on the huge TV screen, weeping in inconsolable grief at not winning this trophy, narrowly losing out on that title, or even – dread the thought – being relegated. So what?

I was a member of Leeds Football Writers’ group, contributed to Leeds, Leeds, Leeds the club magazine, have appeared in Four Four Two and done a bit of radio work as well. More recently I have been contributing weekly pieces to www.clarkeonenil. Over the years I have also been involved in producing and publishing several books on football, including Fanthology (as contributor and editor), Doolally (contributor and publisher) and Black Catalogue (contributor and publisher).