Arsenal v Leeds United 6th January 2020 at The Emirates – FA Cup 3rd round

With an early morning appearance on BBC Radio Leeds talking about Leeds United and the FA Cup, I arrived a few minutes late for my slot. Then it was back to work before a very late set off for the game as the only way I could make it was to travel by train. I know everything about the day was going to be tight timewise, but arriving at the station 10 minutes before the train was due to leave was too stressful for me. At least the train was on time whereas a couple of the earlier trains were 30 minutes late due to cable issues in Leeds. I assumed this was something to do with the high winds that had appeared later this afternoon. It was a relief to be on the train and heading in the right direction. The next part that was to be a challenge for me was getting the underground to the game. Someone had pointed out to me earlier, that I had been travelling to games in London for years, the only thing was that I have travelled by coach in recent times. It’s a long time since we travelled by Wallace Arnold coaches in the 70s and had to make our own way to the grounds.

Just before the train arrived at Kings Cross, the conductor wished us good luck. A young lad started talking saying he was jealous that we were going to the game and he had to watch it on TV. A woman and another man started talking to us about getting to the game too which was nice. We had been given good instructions from Nikki about how to get to the ground due to the nearest stations being closed from 7pm, as we were arriving after that time. Her instructions were spot on and thank you to her as we were through the first set of barriers and on to the Victoria line in no time. As we were checking we were on the right platform, a Leeds fan came up to me asking if I was the book lady and had I gone to Austria? As we chatted, I remembered the situation immediately as he had been on one of the busses to go to the ground when the German fans got on. The driver refused to let them travel and turfed them off, which was a good job as they’d clocked the lad and his mate as Leeds fans. It’s a small world though but as usual where Leeds fans are concerned, we carried on chatting where we left off all those years ago. As we got off the underground with lots of other Leeds fans, luckily, we had a good escort who knew where he was going. Even though everyone was heading in the same direction it was good not to have to think where to find the ground. The one thing about the Emirates is that it looks impressive from the outside and a big improvement from Highbury. Heading into the clock end was a far cry from the 70s where we used to be followed by gangs of Arsenal fans around the stand trying to get away from them. One year everyone in front of me scattered and I was faced with some of their fans shouting, “come on”, trying to take Leeds fans on. That is one thing I don’t miss for sure as well as getting back to the coaches with no issues or getting ambushed in the café on Kings Cross station. There were massive queues getting into the ground as it was getting near kick-off but there were plenty of singing Leeds fans about with lots having been in London for hours before the game. There were some familiar faces around which was good to see but plenty of new faces. For a great stand outside, the concourse inside and toilets I thought were very poor especially trying to find out where the ladies were. I also prefer to be nearer the pitch no matter how impressive the ground looks from the stands too. When I got to my seat someone was already in it but as everyone was standing up, it didn’t really matter. It was nice to hear that Pontus Jansson despite being sold, and Jack Clarke who had his loan period recalled, had come to support Leeds.

The team: Meslier, Ayling, Harrison, Klich, Phillips, Alioski, Douglas, Robbie Gotts (making his debut), Berardi, White and Bamford. Subs: Dallas for Gotts (60), Costa for Alioski (61) and Stevens for Ayling (78).  Attendance was 58,403 with 8,000 Leeds fans. Leeds lost the game 1-0. Referee: A. Taylor.

The first 45 minutes belonged to Leeds and what a performance. We totally outclassed Arsenal as we took the game to them and were very unlucky not to have gone into an early lead.  Both Meslier and their keeper were called into action before Bamford’s great strike hit the crossbar. Leeds continued to get shots on target from both Harrison and White which their keeper saved before Alioski’s shot across the goal was agonisingly close. Arsenal had their keeper to thank for keeping them in the game with further saves from both Harrison and Alioski. Gotts had a late chance but unfortunately the ball went over the crossbar, but he’d had a good debut. This had been a very impressive performance from Leeds United and the Leeds fans had also been outstanding in the library at the Emirates putting their fans to shame. I’m sure I hadn’t heard them singing until their first chant of Arsenal in the 49th minute.  Leeds had a sold-out allocation that could have been sold twice over as there were plenty of fans still looking for tickets before the game.

At half-time I was trying to find some fans from the Fullerton Park branch as we were travelling back on the coach with them which was an easier option. At times I had struggled to see any familiar faces around me in the stand. As I am on the automatic ticket scheme it meant I wasn’t with the usual away season ticket holders. Thank you, Angie, for pointing me in the right direction as it turned out they were just a few rows nearer the front from where my seat was. I felt happier knowing where the coaches were parked for after the game.

The second half saw Arsenal come out on the attack. As they had been humiliated in the first half it looked like they’d had a rollicking from their new manager. The referee had let a lot of things go during the game, some which had been to our advantage which I thought were justified but including some tackles on our players that should have been punished. They then started falling over very easily winning a free kick just outside the area which then hit the crossbar. Meslier had been having a great game and I was very impressed with him. I felt completely at ease with his distribution and the saves he made. Unfortunately, when they scored, they got the luck of the green when the ball deflected to their player just in front of Meslier to put the ball into the net. Just before that Bamford had another shot saved by their keeper. Leeds tried to get back into the game and never gave up, but on the day couldn’t get the ball into the net. Sadly, for me, Costa was very poor when he came on as sub. I’m not sure if he was playing out of position but he looked very lightweight with no conviction. The positives were that we had plenty of shots on target that brought saves out of their keeper and played some great Bielsa ball. I’m very proud to be a Leeds fan as always and we put up a great show to the world with our great performance.

As I was waiting downstairs after the game, it was nice to see lots of familiar faces there amidst the singing Leeds fans. Suddenly to the right of me, I heard a commotion as things started to kick off. It looked like one of the police had hit a Leeds fan which started it off. I heard afterwards that a lad had been banging on the kiosk with the pump it up song when he was man handled and thrown to the floor. Maybe he shouldn’t have been banging on it, but I don’t think there was any need to react the way the police did which was way over the top. I think the lad was still on the floor as I left the ground but not sure if he’d been arrested.

Back to the league with the game against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday but we can use the momentum and the high feeling of putting in a great performance to go on a good run. Keep fighting Leeds with the best fans in the world and I’ll see you there. LUFC – Marching on Together!

Author of the following books:

  • Follow Me and Leeds United
  • Once a Leeds fan, Always a Leeds fan
  • Co-author with Andrew Dalton of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Leeds United, Leeds United in the 1980s
  • The Sleeping Giant Awakens, Leeds United 2016-17
  • Back to Reality, Leeds United 2017-18
  • Out now: Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United

 Website: www.followmeandleedsunited.co.uk Twitter: @FollowMeAndLUFC Facebook: Follow Me and Leeds United: Instagram: Heidi Haigh – lufcheidi @followmeandleedsunited

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