Ross McCormackThere’s a strong case to be made for Leeds United’s captain always being a Scottish man of diminutive proportions.

Billy Bremner, Gordon Strachan and of course, the late Bobby Collins – Billy’s mentor and the man who dragged Leeds United from the brink of relegation to the third division to within touching distance of greatness. There’s not a question of doubt in my mind that without Collins, Leeds United would never have had the success they did.

In fact, such has been the impact of Scottish captains at Elland Road that without them, you could argue Leeds would have had no success at all. Collins transformed Leeds United into genuine contenders, Billy Bremner led us to a series of trophies and Gordon Strachan is the only captain to have won one since. The closest anyone has come is the League Cup final in 1996, and even then, we were led out by another great Scottish captain in Gary McAllister (maybe he was just too tall to win?)

It should come as no surprise then to see Ross McCormack excelling in the role.

But the truth is, McCormack’s transformation into Elland Road statesman has still caught many of us off-guard. I was a strong advocate of him being awarded captaincy back when Austin was appointed to the role, the only reason there was any contest (for me at least) is because of the position Ross plays.

It may be a somewhat narrow-minded view, but I’ve always felt the captain should be a midfielder or a centre-back, simply because they play in an area where they’re always at the centre of the action and can issue guidance to their team mates.

Yet McCormack has successfully taken my beliefs and made an absolute mockery of them, stepping up to lead from the front under adversity very few of his predecessors were challenged with and fewer still dealt with as well.

When the entire club was falling down around him, Ross didn’t pack up and leave. This despite offers from Premier League clubs who would have tripled his salary.

He had his emotional outpouring on Sky Sports News, which some may argue was unprofessional, but I want my captain to wear his heart on his sleeve. I was angry that night, why shouldn’t the leader of my football team be on the news making the feelings of our football club clear? Billy Bremner wouldn’t have silently let the events of that Friday night pass without making his feelings known, nor should any Leeds United captain.

It’s the captain’s responsibility to stand up and be counted when everything is going wrong for the club and in the brief spell since McCormack took on the role, he’s done it better than nearly every captain who has gone before him.

<!––nextpage––> You only have to ask yourself how many of our previous captains would have turned up at Elland Road, amid all the ongoing chaos, to try to figure out what on earth Massimo Cellino was playing at? Very few, I suspect. 

While more cynical fans (like myself, admittedly) saw McCormack’s phonecall to Sky Sports and his trip to Elland Road as a player desperately trying to flee a sinking ship, it later turned out he’d made no attempt to leave the club and was simply expressing the same anger the rest of our fanbase felt about Brian McDermott’s sacking.

And yet, despite his understandable anger of the previous night’s events, McCormack woke up the next day and managed to rally the troops, leading his side to our biggest win of the season, scoring a hattrick in the process.

If that’s not the embodiment of Billy Bremner’s “keep fighting” spirit, I don’t know what is.

Loyalty is one of those fundamental qualities we look for in a Leeds United captain, a quality I’d grown to believe can’t exist in a modern game where most players adopt mercenary attitudes and follow the money. But few can argue Ross McCormack has displayed anything but loyalty.

Every transfer window he draws attention from clubs who’ll pay him much more and provide him with an opportunity to play in the Premier League sooner than Leeds United can, yet despite the dire situations the club seems to always find itself in, McCormack has remained fiercely loyal. Even the homegrown, Leeds United-supporting Jonny Howson couldn’t manage that (not that anyone blames him).

It’s another one of Billy Bremner’s greatest legacies, that “side before self” mentality we want to see in every single player who wears the famous white shirt but very rarely do these days.

Naturally, we also look to our captain for leadership and McCormack has duly delivered.

First and foremost a Leeds United captain has to lead, he has to take responsibility for his own performance and that of the team, never waste our time with poor excuses, but instead, promise to try harder and keep fighting when things go awry.

We don’t expect perfection, nor do we expect the side to win every game. But what we’ll always find inexcusable is a lack of effort and even when McCormack is having a bad day, I’ve never been able to fault his effort. He was the only player who put in anything close to an acceptable performance when Sheffield Wednesday tore us apart recently, the rest of the team let their heads drop and seemed to give up. 

A Leeds United captain has to understand and respect the club he’s playing for. This club wasn’t built on silky smooth football and perfection (though we’re always happy to see it), its success stories perfectly reflect the people it represents; gritty, hard-working and determined, often underdogs in a world dominated by the more glamorous.

Perhaps that’s what makes Scottish captains so successful for Leeds United. I may be pigeonholing a little here, but the qualities which have brought Leeds United its greatest successes are as stereotypically Scottish as they are Yorkshire.

Whatever the x factor may be, Ross McCormack certainly seems to have it. With every interview, rallying cry and tireless performance he gives, I grow more confident that he’s the man who’ll lead Leeds United back to the promised land. 

  • spellz

    I think Ross is a fantastic captain and the embodiment of what a Leeds player should be committed, Loyal and most importantly a natural talent, he plays for the badge and deserves that armband more than anyone else at present.

  • markman

    Good article,however,i would disagree with the phrase “within touching distance of greatness” cant think of another team who,along with liverpool,supplied the whole of an England team.

  • MOT

    Absolutely nailed on! Snodgrass could have been on that list if he would have stayed loyal!

    • Irving08

      I think RM too would have gone had this been an option. The wonder was that Snoddy stayed so long.

  • john palmer

    We had many great Scots in Revie days,Ross is up there with the best.Unfortunatley BMD made the awful Austin capt.,& his obsession with him will cost him his job tomorrow or v. soon.

  • Irving08

    Excellent piece TSS. You could have included Archie Gibson – the name gives it away – who was our captain (I think ) when we went up in 1956.
    As for Ross, is it really true to say that ‘side before self’ has always been a distinguishing characteristic ? I would have no hesitation in saying this was true of Snoddy, but of RM – I am less sure.

    • Irving08

      Thoughts for the day: (a) It is hard, in general, to distinguish self from side in football; (b) it is particularly hard in the case of goalscorers whose job it is to be selfish to some degree. In cricket, which is a game between individuals set in a collective context, selfishness is generally much easier to detect; it is manifest in an excessive concern for averages.

      • TSS

        I think Ross is pretty selfless for a striker. He passes the ball around and aims to create chances for other players, they just aren’t as clinical as he’s been and you sometimes wish he’d have gone alone.

        He’s also played out-wide and in a deeper role without complaint over the last couple of years and even when he is played as striker, he always puts a shift in and keeps pressure on at the other end of field.

  • fletch33

    What about Strachen? he was another great scottish leader :)

    • TSS

      Did you read the above? Strachan’s name is listed in the second sentence.