“Gone for a Burton”.
Various origins have been suggested for this phrase, though no definitive source can be quoted. I’m going for the one which refers to the brewing town of Burton-upon-Trent and a pre-WW2 ad for Burton’s Ale where an empty place setting is explained by the person having ‘gone for a Burton.’
This thought was very much in the minds of RAF pilots during the war, so that, when tragedy struck and they crashed into the sea (‘in the drink’) they were deemed to have ‘gone for a Burton.’ This was probably as much a part of the upbeat propaganda machine at the time, making light of death and destruction when the reality was dark and horrific.
And so, we come to the fate of Leeds United. Last Saturday we travelled to the Pirelli Stadium – home of Burton Albion, aptly nicknamed, ‘The Brewers’ – for the first time. Chris Wood (with a penalty) and Souleymane Doukara had scored two very late goals in our 2-0 win at Elland Road back in October when the sides had first faced each other in our respective football histories. On Saturday, two late goals for the home side saw them win 2-1 with only an equally late Kyle Bartley goal to show for our own efforts.
Nigel Clough has a family duty to beat Leeds United wherever and whenever possible. Like Millwall, he represents a dark cloud in our history. We have nearly blown the Cardiff version away and, one day soon, I am confident that blue skies will prevail over Leeds as well as when we travel to Staffordshire and South-East London.
It all looked to be going so well for us on Good Friday when Chris Wood (again) scored that last-minute equaliser against Newcastle at St James’s Park and even further back when his goals against the other automatic promotion candidates Brighton and Hove Albion saw us comfortably in the play-off zone.
With the other contenders showing us all how inconsistent they could be if they really wanted to , Leeds looked in good shape and with a goal difference superior to everyone apart from Fulham, who were still way back in seventh place. Norwich had been threatening to break into the top six and promptly thrashed Reading at home but had, for far too long, stuck by their arrogant manager who, bewilderingly, often refused to play his best players such as Alex Pritchard in favour of the tried and tested (but tiring) Wes Hoolahan.
So, did we/have we gone for a Burton? Well, there have been a lot of discussions this week as to where it all went wrong for us. I think that the late concession of an equalising goal at Fulham was one turning point but, undoubtedly, the last international break sent us off the rails. We have lost four of the last six matches since the Brighton game and it has probably drawn out the key reason why we will not be in the play-offs this season after all.
Chris Wood was obviously fatigued after travelling to – and playing for – New Zealand and clubs have worked out quickly that, if you stop him, you do effectively stop Leeds in their tracks. Chris has had a fantastic season and, undoubtedly, Garry Monk has made him a much stronger and more aggressive striker.
Creatively we have looked stale in the last few matches and lacking the zest and invention of earlier games. In short, we have just run out of steam. Pablo Hernandez has been a great loan signing but, like Wood, he cannot do it all on his own. We need other routes to goal and more support for Chris Wood.
Our squad is young and is still learning as, again, Monk commendably reminds everyone. For the manager, too, this has been an incredible season and you only need to look at Swansea City’s current plight to see that what went wrong there runs much deeper than the man in charge of the football team.
Garry has also survived where others have failed and I hope that the appointment of the business-minded Ivan Bravo to the Leeds United Board will involve inward investment that Monk in January (and Simon Grayson before him in 2010-11) failed to be given, in order to make the final push that everyone knew we would need – even though we were smiling and cheering, almost until the end of the season – which is, in itself, a far cry from those seasons just gone (though football results will never, ever stop us from singing).
It would seem that Andrea Radrizzani has already brought some stability to that Boardroom and will, hopefully, seek to speculate to accumulate during the summer months. Garry Monk has created an understanding and a belief that we can get back to the Premier League but the ‘when not if’ statement still relies on investment in a squad that has largely over-performed this season. The manager and team have given Leeds United fans their all; they and we now need to be rewarded as we look to push on again.
Do not get me wrong. I know full well that there is a mathematical chance of us still getting promoted but I also know that Pritchard, for example, was superb in the League Cup tie at Leeds earlier in the season and Norwich City on Saturday will be a far harder prospect than they would have been a few weeks ago. Yes, we could hammer them and Fulham could show their soft, old Cottagers underbelly but, even if this happened, we would be just as likely to lose at Wigan in the final game!
It has been a wonderful season in so many ways and, as a club, I feel that we are now a far cry from the Bates/GFH/Warnock era so I have dried my tears of frustration, enjoyed a few calming Burtons and know that, whatever lies ahead, none of us are ever likely to experience the terror of those young pilots in the war. It is only a game – even to the most passionate of us – and we live to ‘fight’ another day.