x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A fairy tale comes true

Leeds' slaying of Manchester United proved that the monster is a lot scarier in our heads than in real life

Before Sunday's heroic FA Cup defeat of Manchester United, no one really talked about Leeds United any more.
Before Sunday's heroic FA Cup defeat of Manchester United, no one really talked about Leeds United any more.

Did you know that one of the official nicknames for Leeds United FC is "The Peacocks"? No, me neither. Such ignorance may be due to the fact that, before Sunday's heroic defeat of Manchester United, no one really talked about Leeds any more. Not unless we were harking back to the dark days of football hooliganism or telling a cautionary tale about the perils of buy-now-panic-later financial excess (a model which, in fairness, we now realise was being followed by many of the world's banks). In both cases, the Pea-Brains seemed a more fitting moniker than the Peacocks.

Another obvious problem is the lack of similarity between LUFC and a peacock. Yes, they are both dim-witted, but at least actual peacocks are nice to watch. A more suitable avian emblem for Leeds would be a goose: ugly creatures which succeed only through brute strength and honking aggression. That was the Leeds we knew and hated. The Leeds that wanted to break the magical legs of George Best or crush the defiant genius of Brian Clough.

But it is not fair to assign a new nickname based on past behaviour. Watching them foam at the mouth in anticipation of Sunday's FA Cup clash against Manchester United, a different animal sprang to mind. Namely, the Great Dane puppy known as Scrappy Cornelius Doo. Scrappy-Doo's most famous trait - and his sole comical purpose in the Scooby-Doo cartoon - was picking fights he stood no chance of winning. How we laughed as Scrappy, faced with a hideous monster 10 times his size, would nonetheless put up his dukes and insist on going toe-to-toe until being dragged away by one of his more cowardly, but apparently wiser, comrades.

I had the same feeling of mirth as 9,000 Leeds fans travelled to Old Trafford on Sunday, chests puffed out with what looked like tragically misplaced pride. "Let me at 'em, Uncle Ken!", they seemed to cry in the face of the monster before them, a Red Devil with 18 League titles to their three, 11 FA Cups to their one, and three European Cups to their half. (They were cheated in the 1975 final, but don't ask them about it unless you have three hours to spare and a big box of tissues).

Surely the gulf in class between a League One side and the reigning Premier League champions would be too great? Surely they would be incinerated by one fiery belch from the scarlet-faced dragon, or swatted aside by the ham-sized fist of his ogre-in-chief? How could these insolent young pups claim United as their main rivals, when their next match is against lowly Wycombe Wanderers? Shouldn't they be picking on someone their own size?

But it's been a while since I have watched Scooby-Doo, and I had forgotten the moral of every tiresome episode ever made: that the monster is a lot scarier in our heads than in real life. Leeds put the fear to one side, ripped off his scary mask, and realised: "Hang on, there is no monster. It's just old Mr Ferguson, the grumpy pensioner who runs the Theatre of Dreams amusement park." Yes, and he would have got away with it if it wasn't for those pesky kids. Or should I say those pesky peacocks. Well, they have certainly earned the right to strut for a while.

My alma mater was one of those solid universities which churn out thousands of very able professionals but are light on household names. So they always banged on about the two they had. The first was DH Lawrence, the troubled and sickly author whose career was shaped by his relationship with his mother. The other was Brian Moore, the Rugby Union hooker, who seemed the exact opposite of Lawrence. Whether playing for Harlequins, England or the Lions, Moore was fearless, indestructible and motivated by the simplest pleasures in life: winning games and hopefully getting to punch a few Frenchmen along the way. But in his new autobiography, Moore has chosen to shed light on the dark corners of his childhood. He reveals that he was sexually abused by a teacher, and felt great pain at being given up for adoption by his single mother. Moore believes that those two traumatic experiences shaped the man he became, both on and off the pitch. Not so different from Lawrence, after all. I make no criticism of Moore for choosing to reveal these incidents. He has an absolute right, and his words may well bring comfort to others in the same situation. However, I do feel sad that the memory of his playing exploits, which brought joy to so many, will now be associated with pain. Not the good type of pain like a Frenchman with a bloody nose but Moore's own mental pain. It is likely that more sportsmen than we realise are motivated by similar pain. A happy soul is not necessarily the best breeding ground for the obsessive training and self-sacrifice required to become a professional athlete. Some will choose to reveal the pain, but many will not. Worth remembering as we envy their "perfect" lives. Will Batchelor is a writer, broadcaster and self-confessed cynical sports fan @Email:sports@thenational.ae