Leeds United basking in the Premier League but someone please rescue Tom Lees - Daniel Chapman
A FEW weeks ago I lamented here that one thing I miss from football-of-before is the concurrent kick-off, the feeling that games around the country are changing the table while you’re watching yours.
Old and new combined deliciously this weekend.
I’d rather have been inside Elland Road with 35,000 others, watching the Peacocks strutting past the Cockerels, the dull pigeons we watched in Brighton playing with their plumage up.
Next best thing was watching on TV, with a second screen for Owls against Rams at the bottom of the Championship, as if Danny Baker had revived Pets Win Prizes.
In the end the Bluebirds spoiled it, Mick McCarthy’s Cardiff typically hoovering up the fun with a late equaliser, sending Rotherham to League One and saving Derby County.
Perhaps it was persecution of the Millers for not having an animal nickname – certainly it was unfair that a club, working peacefully within its means and likeably managed by Paul Warne, should suffer and cry while Derby, a thorn in the rulebook for the EFL with ex-England managers and captains in the dugout, were cavorting in their car park.
What celebrations they were, “What we play football for,” according to striker Martyn Waghorn, who was hero of their day with two goals.
That he’d scored only three in his previous 31 games – and that was half the reason Derby were in this mess – was less important, in the moment, than getting on the beers.
I can’t completely begrudge anyone a staying-up party, as I have happy memories of Mark Viduka smashing a late winner at Highbury to keep Leeds up and Arsenal second, a cherished match along the long decline.
But that was a great win by a team fighting to stay up.
Derby didn’t even keep themselves up.
Their effort was six straight defeats, then a final day draw with Sheffield Wednesday, and they would have sent themselves down had Cardiff not helped out with two minutes of the season left.
Well done, Waggy, Wazza and the lads, I hope you enjoyed your night.
Rotherham also did the double over both Derby and Wednesday, but at least there was some justice as the Owls went down amid much hilarity at this end of Yorkshire.
As a Leeds fan basking in the top half of the Premier League, some might find my gleeful interest in the two Sheffield relegations unedifying, and I wouldn’t argue.
I do have genuine concerns for the health of Wednesday in League One, because you can’t oppose a new Super League while hoping for old clubs to go bust, ruining local livelihoods and traditions in the process.
But one fine, old soccer tradition is laughing at the losers, which is why keeping relegation in the pyramid is as important as protecting promotion, so here we are, laughing.
I can’t laugh, however, when I think of Tom Lees
After 270-odd games for Wednesday, he deserves better, aged 30, than busted ankle ligaments and relegation to League One.
If only he hadn’t scored that own goal in 2017, helping Huddersfield through in the play-offs.
Or, if only he’d stayed at Leeds. Every season I check Tom Lees’ stats, and every season he rates among the best defenders in the Championship, and every season I wonder, what if he’d stayed.
He didn’t quite nod at Liam Cooper going in to Thorp Arch as he was going out, but it was close, two hardworking, semi-bearded, old school centre-halves, two Yorkshire gritstone faces made for photoshopping onto dogs.
One was destined for the Premier League, the other for League One but, at the time, you couldn’t have guessed which.
Their fates owe much to the capricious hands of Massimo Cellino, that never shook more jazzily than they did through summer 2014.
Dave Hockaday came in and, for reasons nobody could understand, Tom Lees was cast out for a pittance, while United’s website loudly declared Cooper and Giuseppe Bellusci were too expensive and therefore no longer welcome.
Then Leeds lost on the opening day at Millwall, Cooper and Bellusci were rushed in that week, and Hockaday was sacked.
It was classic Cellino, whose decisions and backtracks always left me wondering, what if he’d just done nothing at all, where would we all be now?
Cellino condemned Lees, Marcelo Bielsa redeemed Cooper, but it could all have been so different.
At Wednesday, Neil Thompson called Lees “a consummate professional, a credit to his profession,” and it’s easy to imagine Bielsa finding him still at Thorp Arch in 2018, blessing him with glory in Cooper’s place.
Lees is out of contract this summer, but offering him a deal with Leeds is probably taking romanticism a smidge too far, maybe, but only just.
In a world where Martyn Waghorn goes to bed feeling happy and successful, some realignment of fate is required.
Sheffield Wednesday being terrible is hilarious, but somebody should rescue Tom Lees.
Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.
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Thank you Laura Collins