After having only played Villa at home at the beginning of December it felt weird already travelling to the return fixture. Villa Park is a ground I have visited many times before with many memories for the wrong reasons although some good ones. My first visit in the early seventies had no issues in the 0-0 League Cup draw until we were stuck in traffic after the game and the coach got attacked. I was there when Glasgow Rangers played a friendly and started off in the Holte End, before climbing the wall to get into the Doug Ellis stand after rioting meant the game was called off after half time. We played Norwich City there in an FA Cup replay where again I was in the Holte End but this had a great ending when Clarke scored a hat trick in our 5-2 win if I remember right. The ground has improved massively since my first visit there with the open end gone many years ago.
We set off later than usual which meant we were going straight to the ground. On arrival at 6.00 pm we didn’t want to go and queue up as it was freezing so we headed to the Witton pub. There was a sign saying away fans only so we went in there, having to pay £2 each to get in. Villa fans were at the front of the pub with a marquee and we had a marquee at the back of the pub. It was nice to be able to keep warm and we were glad of the opportunity to be welcomed at an away ground. As we set off to go to the ground just after seven there was a mini bus across the road which we realised was the Shropshire Whites. I got a great welcome from them singing my name out of the windows which was really funny, but thank you! The last time I visited Villa Park, our seats were on the front row behind the goal but this time we were down the side. We had sold all our tickets for this game very quickly and there was still a high demand for fans wanting tickets. Due to sky tv once again, the game had been changed and it was only last week that I realised I had triple booked things for the same night! One of these days I will learn to check things properly. One thing that was very disappointing was the stewards refusing to let Leeds fans take their banners in with them. Why on earth they do this is beyond me because what harm do they do apart from show where our fans are from. It makes a mockery of things, especially when Villa fans had a few banners hung over the front of the stand to our right! Luckily for me I had my blanket with me!
The team today was Green, Ayling, Jansson, Cooper, Phillips, Bridcutt, Berardi, Doukara, Dallas, Sacko and Roofe. Subs were Hernandez for Dallas, Wood for Roofe and Vieira for Bridcutt. Attendance was 37,078 with approx. 3,000 Leeds fans. I’d forgotten that McCormack played for Villa now as he came on later as a sub.
From the start we were put under immense pressure from Villa who came out looking to get back at us for beating them at Elland Road. Rob Green made a couple of important saves as we struggled to get any momentum going. After the initial 20 minutes we seemed to settle down and started to have a few attacks. The Villa fans who had been noisy for the first 20 minutes were very quiet for most of the game whilst the Leeds fans were in full voice. The thing that really disappointed me was some Villa fans to the right of us spending more time calling a young Leeds girl a slag than supporting their team. Very classy, I don’t think so. This is one thing that really winds me up having suffered the same things at the hands of lads in the seventies, but is something I thought had been left behind in that era. Shame on you, because she has been to more football games that many of you have had hot dinners and at least supports her team!
Going into the half time break at 0-0 felt quite a decent result to be honest. I know many of us would have taken a draw at that point. Today I had many of our fans asking for their photos taking and was happy to oblige. I also managed to catch up with a couple of Halifax Whites and the mascot for Leeds today. It had been really good to catch up with Carol at the start of the game who has been through some gruelling treatment recently and it was good to see her back! Having been given Pontus’s shirt recently it was good to see that had made her really happy and was well deserved.
The second half really belonged to Leeds as we came out a different team. I think in the first half we had stood off them a bit but we kept trying to play some decent football and worked hard with our passing. Villa still were not going to give up though and there was plenty of end to end football. We got a corner and as the ball went across into the middle of the box, Pontus rose to head the ball which beat the goalie, creeping over the line right in front of us. The lad next to me ended up with coke all over him which had come from the Leeds fans above us. Great celebrations once again from us and we could have had two very shortly after with a nearly identical move which saw Pontus hit the crossbar! Now that would have been the icing on the cake. As it was Villa still were coming at us and not giving up which probably was a good advert for football for the neutral fan. Today was the first time I really felt nervous as I so wanted us not to lose this lead. There was still 15-20 minutes left though which seemed to drag. As it was Villa were offered a lifeline with the awarding of a penalty, damn! To be honest the first thing I saw was their players rushing to the ref and nearly knocking him over. I was surprised they got away without any bookings though cos they actually manhandled him. With that and the howling of the Villa fans, he went over to talk to the linesman and gave the penalty. He was actually nearer to the incident and it didn’t look like he was going to give anything. I will have to see it for myself but was disappointed that we didn’t manage to keep the ball out of the net. Well to be honest I was hoping that he would miss the target which he didn’t sadly.
That set up a frenetic last six minutes or so and although Villa could have got another, so could we. The most glaring one was when Sacko beat his man again down the side where we were and all he had to do was pass the ball into the centre for Chris Wood to stick in the net. Sacko also hit the crossbar which was so unlucky. Unfortunately neither happened so the game ended in a 1-1 draw which was probably a fair result. It was quite disappointing not to have got a win but when I think back to not so far in the distant past, it just shows how things have changed for us. At one time we’d have been glad to get a point.
As we came out of the ground I was surprised to see the Villa fans all being let out past us especially after the vitriol they had shown to our fans. This passed without incident though but one Villa fan was stood at the side chanting away and trying to get a reaction in my opinion. It took ages to find our coach and I was beginning to think I would just jump on any one to get back to Leeds, but luckily I found it at the back of the car park. As one of the last fans got back on the coach he said it had been very hairy getting back to the coaches but if something did kick off, I was certainly glad it wasn’t anywhere near me! The only downside was not leaving the ground until 11.10 pm when we had been kept on Witton Road for over an hour after the end of the game. I couldn’t believe with all the police presence that they didn’t get us on our way as soon as possible. Once we did get on our way though we were back in Leeds just after 1.00 pm with another half an hour to get home.
Finally I would like to wish everyone a very prosperous, happy and healthy New Year and for those of you, who have been ill, get well soon. See you at the Rotherham game – LUFC – Marching on Together!