I was going early to the game today as I was meeting Harriet who was going to film me for an interview for a Fan Girls Documentary. Whether this ever gets into the public eye I’ve no idea, but it went really well and Harriet’s comments later were that she had watched the footage and it was golden. Thank you for the opportunity to help! After the interview I was stood talking to some of our fans waiting for the team coach to arrive and we had our photo taken for LUFC. When we went back to wait for the coach Orta came and shook the hands of everyone in the group including mine. This was the first time I had met him. I had also seen Angus Kinnear when I arrived and I’d told him what I was doing there. Thanks for being complimentary about my support of the club.
Because I needed to be at the ground early I was grateful for the chance of a lift there and travelled with Paul, his son Reuben and friend Kenny. After lots of traffic delays near home we arrived at the ground for 4.50 pm. Harriet did some more filming as I spoke to a few fans and we headed to the pub at the end of the street but unfortunately they wouldn’t let her film there so we parted ways. I suppose I could have stood outside the away end for a while because due to Health & Safety reasons, unfortunately she wasn’t allowed to film me in with the our fans which was a shame. Never mind.
As I looked around the ground when I got to my seat I couldn’t help casting my mind back to my many previous visits to Villa Park. The ground now in comparison to my early visits looks really good. The open end (to the right of the Leeds fans), was where we stood on my first ever visit there for a 0-0 draw in the League Cup. That game turned out to be a bad one when we left the ground. We’d walked through Villa fans on the street corner who asked us what the time was but we ignored them and got safely onto our Wallace Arnold coach. It was whilst we were stuck in traffic further down the road that the missiles and bricks started hitting the coach all down the left hand side. One lad told me to get down in the aisle out of the way as we were in a terrifying situation. After a few minutes that felt like a lifetime with most of the windows smashed on the left hand side, the Villa fans disappeared as quickly as they came. No police turned up either so we were left to carry on our way back to Leeds with no windows and it was freezing. Another time, as Leeds weren’t playing I went to see Glasgow Rangers play Villa in a friendly game with this one being abandoned 10 minutes into the second half due to trouble. I was stood in the Holte End for that one but ended up climbing on to the pitch and into the Doug Ellis stand to get away from the trouble. Memories!
Coming back to today, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the game and would take things as they happened although I didn’t think we’d win. With a bad run of results since Heckingbottom arrived at Leeds and our chances of the play offs gone, I hoped that some of our youngsters would be given the chance to play. There again I couldn’t remember a time when we had been hit so badly as a team with serious injuries and key players out. I’d be interested to see a comparison with old football boots against new ones to see if they had any impact. There again, they’d probably be too heavy for modern day footballers! Seriously though, it is a big concern of mine that we’ve had so many and I wonder what can be done to prevent this in the future?
The team today was Peacock-Farrell, Pearce, Pennington, O’Connor, Dallas, Hernandez, Alioski, Roofe, Vieira, Phillips and Ekuban. Subs were Saiz for Ekuban (45), Alioski for Grot (66) and Lasogga for Roofe (78). Leeds lost the game 1-0. Attendance was 33,374 with 2,400 Leeds fans. Apparently Villa needed over 38,000 there to go above us in the overall attendances and I knew they wouldn’t get that after hearing they had their highest attendance of 36,000 for the visit of Wolves. That’s why many fans had decided not to turn up then (tongue in cheek)!! I can understand why many decided to call it a day today, but personally I prefer to see the game in person so I can make judgements about what I see. It was nice to see Ralu was over for the game from Romania again.
After an initial attack by Villa, Leeds started on the attack when Alioski unleashed a great shot which was saved by their goalie giving us an early corner. I’d forgotten Snodgrass was playing for Villa even though one of our fans had told me he’d spoken to him outside the ground. Again we had to thank Peacock-Farrell for making some great saves to keep Villa out (this was also noted by Sky as he was chosen as man of the match at the end of the game). Leeds fans had given Snodgrass a warm warning but this changed when he won a free kick just outside the box by going down with a soft challenge. We had been playing much better than as of late with our youngsters Pearce and O’Connor also playing well. Unfortunately Villa scored just before the half hour mark with a header after we failed to clear the ball properly. That was a shame but the Leeds fans who had been getting behind the team with some great singing carried on doing that. An incident happened in the seats behind me to the left when police started dragging a Leeds fan out and everyone was going mad. I’ve no idea why as I’d not seen or heard anything untoward and my friend Sue said that the lad had his head banged against the wall which was out of order. Later on another fan was taken out and I also saw one I knew in the stand below taken out, again I’ve no idea why? No doubt I will find out in due course but it felt like things were well over the top. It was good to have a chat at half time with Derby Jim, Leicester Rob and Worcester Phil who have been mates since the early eighties ie 81-82. The club means so much to them especially when going through current traumas and personally I know from experience, that it is our fans that help overcome this. It must be difficult as a Leeds fan being married to a Derby fan with a Derby ram tattoo on her backside though lol!
At the start of the second half Ekuban had been subbed by Saiz and we started off brightly and more strong in the second half. One thing that was apparent was our failure to pass the ball well, mostly falling short or couldn’t get it past the first man. The Leeds fans started chanting we all love Leeds, getting louder and louder in a long sustained getting behind the team which they responded to. It took us singing to get the Villa fans to start getting behind their team but they didn’t last as long as we did. They only had sporadic support in that area over the 90 minutes. Only really loud when they scored, surprise, surprise!
The team did respond in the second half and we did a lot of attacking although we didn’t have the final finish. Peacock-Farrell again showed how he has grown into the games with his run in the team and looked self-assured catching the ball and also making some great saves once again. As a mistake by us gave Villa the chance to get a second goal, Pennington timed his tackle well as he started playing better, to nick the ball off the Villa player’s feet. When Grot and then Lasogga came on as subs, sadly they didn’t make any difference and maybe even stifled our chance of an equaliser. Even though I didn’t expect us to score, I was hoping we could sneak a last minute goal to get a point out of the game but that didn’t happen.
I didn’t feel so downhearted at the end of the game because the team had been trying and tried to play some attacking football in the second half. They were getting stronger and although some of the play showed that we need someone who can dictate the game more going forwards who can attack and score goals, I saw some positives. I have already said that we need to build the team around Peacock-Farrell and I would be happy to see Pearce and O’Connor be part of this too. With Coyle to come back in at right back we have a young nucleus of youngsters and we then need to have quality with a few older heads and a few from the current squad to move forwards. I do disagree that this was the worst team ever after reading comments on Twitter after the game. I’ve seen some dross in my time of following Leeds and I don’t think this team tonight comes even close to the worst even though things haven’t been good for a while! We do have a long way to go I agree especially as our hopes have been dashed so badly this season. The close season is going to be crucial and Radz having made mistakes, is going to be key to how we move forward as a club. As long as he has learnt that we cannot do the bargain basement with lots and lots of players anymore and the way forward is quality over quantity then fingers crossed we will start heading in the right direction. Success will bring the fans back as today many fans voted with their feet and stayed away. Three away midweek games in a couple of weeks has also taken its toll on the cash flow of some but apparently we had more coaches here today than we took to Preston. Many must have travelled by different methods to that game!
With our next game against Barnsley at Elland Road next Saturday, the team Heckingbottom was in charge of before us, this could be a make or break game for him. He said on BBC Radio Leeds after the game that the players have all been seen now and given a chance to show what they can or cannot do. That means a cull is on the way and we will know who hasn’t by the players picked and on the bench next week. If things aren’t working then give some more of the youngsters a chance.
As tonight showed, we are very lucky that once again we have some great youngsters coming through at the club so things look brighter in that direction. Keep doing what we are doing with those and you never know life as a Leeds United supporter may do a u turn and kick start next season. See you then – LUFC – Marching on Together!
Heidi Haigh – A fanatical Leeds United supporter of over 50 years
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
OUT NOW! The Sleeping Giant Awakens, Leeds United 2016-2017