My Leeds United: A rare happy ending for the Whites

FLASHBACK: Alan Smith and Real Madrid's Aitor Karanka in 2001.FLASHBACK: Alan Smith and Real Madrid's Aitor Karanka in 2001.
FLASHBACK: Alan Smith and Real Madrid's Aitor Karanka in 2001.
Regarding the drama arising out of last weekend's Leeds United versus Nottingham Forest encounter, it continues to become more intriguing as the days have passed; the plot thickens and the web grows ever more tangled.

The Case of Kemar Roofe’s Nefarious Handball Equaliser waxes curiouser and curiouser, with one common thread reaching back to the beginning of the century, through various historical events of uncanny similarity.

On Tuesday this week, in my blog Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything, I wrote a mildly defensive piece, trying to justify what seemed barely justifiable as I explained that Roofe’s transgression was actually a long overdue rub of the green for a Leeds United side more sinned against than sinning. I wasn’t all that convinced I was right – but you have to stick up for your team.

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On Wednesday, having found that the holier-than-thou Notts Forest had themselves benefited from a comparably dodgy equaliser a few years back, I went more on the offensive, accusing the City Ground faithful, the Nottingham Post and Messrs. Burns and Birtles of faux outrage if not actual hypocrisy. I now had an unarguable point, I felt, particularly as the current Forest manager Aitor Karanka had been the Boro manager diddled by a Nottingham handball in that earlier incident. You couldn’t call it karma – not quite yet - but it was a neat little coincidence. And then I discovered to my delight that Roofe’s errant hand had indeed brought long overdue karmic retribution to Mr Karanka - and that this was the classic dish of revenge best served cold.

Cast your minds back, if you will, to 2001 and Leeds United’s Champions League visit to Real Madrid. Both sides had already qualified for the knockout stages, with massive clubs such as Barcelona having already gone out. And Man U had gone out too. So the meeting in Madrid was technically a dead rubber, but the pride of two great clubs was at stake.

Alan Smith had given Leeds an early lead, to the delight of their travelling fan army, of which I was one. But then came our familiar companion injustice to kick us in the jacksy yet again, as Madrid star Raul equalised with - yes, you’ve guessed it - a blatant handball. In fact this was an outrageously obvious punch into the United net, but it stood, and Leeds were on their way to what was to be an honourable 2-3 defeat. And the link with the two handball incidents previously mentioned? None other than our old friend Aitor Karanka, then a defender in the Madrid team, and one of those Real players happily celebrating a Raul goal that should never have been allowed.

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So please understand if I’m short of sympathy for Mr. Karanka, Forest manager when Leeds got a handball equaliser, and coach of Middlesbrough when Forest did it to them. He’s suffered twice, yet it really is cumulative payback for that night in Madrid - so for me, he can just grin and bear it.

There’s this neat progression of hypocrisy backwards in time, in that the Forest fans were outraged last Saturday over something they’d celebrated against Middlesbrough four years back – and, in turn, Mr Karanka was outraged four years back about something he’d celebrated in the colours of Real Madrid against Leeds in 2001. All very symmetrical, fitting and ultimately satisfactory, I hope you’ll agree.

It’s taken over 17 years and a convoluted path to see some sort of football justice, but it was worth the wait for me. Every time I see Roofe’s handball goal now, it will be with keen pleasure and no guilt at all. And that qualifies as what, for Leeds United, is a rare happy ending.

Rob Atkinson is a lifelong LUFC fan. He writes a column for the Yorkshire Evening Post every fortnight.