I’m not in the business of advocating touchline brawls and the only certainty about the bust-up on Sunday was that Leeds United and Huddersfield Town would have the FA feeling their collars. But football’s a primal, emotional game and I know that better than anyone.
There were many times as a player when I did things I shouldn’t have done. You’ll remember one particular incident more than most. When the heat of the moment fades and the world calms down, natural reactions look excessive and it becomes very hard to explain yourself.
Managers or journalists would ask me: “Why did you do that?” To which I’d say: “Right here, right now, I really don’t know.” On reflection there isn’t much justification for a lot of the controversy in football.
What happens, happens and rather than talking about who was at fault for Sunday’s brawl, you’d be better off asking who wasn’t. Nobody came out of it looking good and the FA has rightly jumped in with charges all round.
That knock on the door can hardly come as a surprise.
The weird thing about David Wagner’s celebration was that he’s always come across as a quiet, understated bloke. I’m not saying he walks around looking serious all the time but he obviously appreciates the gravity of his job – much like Garry Monk, to be honest.
What struck me first about his reaction to Huddersfield’s goal was that he had a hell of a long way to run to get to his players. You wonder if it occurred to him in mid-spring that launching himself onto the pitch was a bad idea but stopping in no-man’s land would look even more ludicrous. Once you’ve taken the plunge, you might as well see it through.
Wagner says that celebration – ‘the Mourinho’ as it should be known – is common in Germany but you rarely see it in England. It’s all fist-pumps here and sometimes less than that. The thought of Monk racing down the touchline is so unlike him that it’s almost funny. Perhaps managers in this country aren’t fit enough to tear 60 yards to the cornerflag.
But you know what Garry was thinking as it all went on. He’s was thinking ‘this is over the top, it’s out of order’. So he goes into Wagner with his shoulder and it all kicks off. Before you know it you’ve got big lads like Jansson involved (you always quietly hope that the big lads arrive on the scene before you) and the situation boils over.
None of these fracas are anything other than impulsive. The worst trouble you get into as a player stems from things you do without thinking twice and you know straight away that there are going to be consequences. Garry was obviously still angry afterwards but you could tell from Wagner’s post-match comments that he was already mindful of the potential fall-out.
If we get past the misconduct and disrepute, I can’t be the only one who took it all in and hoped that these two clubs are heading for a meeting in the play-off semi-finals.
There’s never much need to stoke this derby but it’s got an undercurrent now and a sharper edge. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it bad blood but if the play-offs bring them together, nobody on either side of the fence will have forgotten about Sunday. Both managers, naturally, would play it all down and tell us that February was a long time ago, how they respect each other’s teams and how they’ve both had superb seasons. That’s how managers play the game. But we’d all be questioning what was really in their heads. Surely Garry would love to stick one over David? Surely Huddersfield would like to show that having beaten Leeds twice in the regular season, they had the nerve to do it again when it counts? There’d be no love lost.
It’s premature to be talking about the play-offs, I know, and there are plenty of miles left in this season but the atmosphere on Sunday showed that both of these clubs realise they’re getting to the make-or-break stage now. In a play-off meeting between the two, you’d give Huddersfield the advantage. They’ve taken six points off Leeds and they deserved every one of them. On the basis of the fact that neither side will change much before May, it’s something for Town to draw on.
But, as I found out a few times in my career, the play-offs are as much about emotion as anything else. Every team in them can play. That’s why they’ve finished top-six. It’s a case of which side can hold it together to play well enough with so much at stake. Leeds versus Huddersfield in the play-offs would be epic, especially locally. Does the fall-out from Sunday make me want it more? Absolutely.
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