Birmingham away 30 December 2017

Could I just put out a plea for as many fans as possible to send a birthday card before 5th January to little Toby Nye the Leeds United fan suffering from cancer. Toby will be five and as he was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma on his 4th birthday his family and friends want to make this birthday a special one for him. Cards can be sent to Toby Nye, The Hope Inn, 74 York Road, Leeds LS9 8ES. I’ve got mine ready to send so let’s get as many cards to him that we can!

After all the snow we had yesterday it was good to see that it had melted in readiness for our trip to Birmingham for our last game in 2017. Although I’d glimpsed a magpie out of the corner of my eye I thought I’d ignore it only to see a little bugger sat on top of the traffic lights as I got off the M621 at Elland Road. If I hadn’t have seen people saying Birmingham were bottom the league I wouldn’t have had a clue and I just hoped we wouldn’t see a banana skin today. I’d done a small voice message preview for Adam Pope and BBC Radio Leeds yesterday and I’d said that as long as we didn’t lose, that was the main thing but I wouldn’t make a score prediction as I always get them wrong!

We had a good journey to the Bottle of Sack in Sutton Coldfield where we’ve stopped many times. As usual I’d slept most of the way there but maybe the antibiotics I’m taking had knocked me out. We have a good two hours there and as I went upstairs to find the loos this man asked me where we were playing. I had to think again before saying Birmingham. He was a Notts Forest fan but followed the blues when he moved over here. We had a really long chat as he said he always had a soft spot for Leeds and he’d met Billy Bremner and had got his autograph. He also agreed that Clough should never have come to Leeds. As usual the reason he spoke to me in my opinion is because I was wearing my Leeds colours with pride. 

When we got to the ground, I woke up with a jump as, yes you’ve guessed it I’d fallen asleep! As we got off the coach and through the bag / body search which didn’t take long I heard someone say they couldn’t take their bottles in the ground unless they removed the lids. I volunteered to put a couple of bottles back on the coach till after the game for them as they had travelled by car. I hate clubs doing this because I think it is very unhygienic and you don’t want to drink everything at once. As I waited outside the turnstiles the team coach arrived but sadly without the players having dropped them off already; on my way in a couple of riot police wished us luck  I’m sure that one day I’ll get stuck in the turnstiles as trying to get my bag through with me was a challenge! A couple in the ground complained about having to take their bottle tops off. They were able to get their bottle into the ground as the lady was ill but they had to get permission from their top steward. They could have brought it in the ground in a paper cup though so what actually is the difference? As it was when I was stood in my seat later all of a sudden a pool of water appeared in front of the seat next to me. Obviously someone’s drink had been knocked over. I was just glad that it hadn’t gone into my bag and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to stand in a pool of water all game. That’s another reason why the taking of bottle tops off is flawed.

As I went into the stand to hang my flag up I was going to put it up right behind the goal but was told I couldn’t put it there as I’d be covering the advertising. As I went to get my flag at the end of the game, lo and behold there were a few flags over the advertising so I could have put mine there! I put it up nearer the tunnel where the away dressing room was in the opposite corner from where they come out for the actual game. It was nice to get some feedback about my latest book The Sleeping Giant Awakens from a lad looking for the Keighley Whites. He said he was going to look at it for 10 minutes and looked at the photos first. Two hours later he was still reading it as he couldn’t put it down. He said it was great and what I’d written was exactly as it had happened. That was great to hear and I thanked him for the feedback which was appreciated. As I went under the stand onto the concourse I met the Bournemouth Whites. They knew they were in the book and I found out one of my near neighbours is their friend and they couldn’t believe it when they heard they were in the book loads of times. Hearing some more fans have either got the book for Christmas or getting it soon for their birthday, it’s good to hear that it is very popular and a big thank you to everyone for their support. Lots of fans were also queuing up to have their photos taken so as usual I was happy to oblige.

The team today was Wiedwald, Ayling, Berardi (playing his 100th game and also Captain for the day), Jansson, Cooper, Shaughnessy, Alioski, Phillips, Hernandez, Roofe and Cibicki. Subs were Saiz for Cibicki (55), Klich for Phillips (69) and Lassoga for Alioski (85). Attendance was 21,673 with 2,484 Leeds fans. Leeds lost the game 1-0 with Birmingham scoring in the 83rd minute.

Leeds were very slow out of the starting block today as Birmingham, despite their position at the foot of the table, raised their game as they were playing us. They wanted the ball more than us and were constantly on the attack. We struggled to get going as Birmingham kept attacking and winning corners but luckily for us their finishing was poor. The ref was terrible, giving free kick after free kick the other way and in the meantime letting fouls go against us. I always think that this gives the other team the impetus and the ball just kept running for them. We had one shot on target in the first half and were hoping for more from the free kick from Hernandez just outside the penalty area but unfortunately we weren’t able to emulate the goal we scored at Burton with the ball being hit too high. The only good thing was us going into half time on an equal footing. Apart from “keep right on to the end of the road” being sung by the Birmingham fans, they were pretty quiet despite their team being on top for most of the half. I realised pretty early on that Shaughnessy was playing in midfield due to Vieira and O’Kane being injured which surprised me. His strengths are at centre back which is where we should be playing him and not putting square pegs in round holes. That said, he defended really well and won plenty of headers for us, the only bad thing in my opinion was that Birmingham were winning the midfield battle which wasn’t his fault.

At half time I saw Charlie from Harrogate who said our centenary match in 2019 should be against Club Atlético Independient of Buenos Aires. When we were robbed by Bayern Munich in 1975 in the European Cup final, the World Club Championship in 1975 never took place. Bayern Munich turned down the chance to play the game so the title has never been won. Leeds should get the chance of this rightful title by playing this game at Elland Road. Watch this space as I will put the suggestion forward!

One of the Birmingham stewards had told one of our fans that Birmingham usually played well in the first half but faded in the second half. For some reason they decided to play for the full game today! I actually feel sorry for their fans that they have failed to do this for most of the season so far as they showed what they can do.  I missed the half time announcements of the Birmingham fans who have died (not sure if it was during the whole year or this season). My friend Sue said it was very poignant especially as there were quite a lot who were younger than us.

When Saiz came on as sub on 55 minutes I was hoping we could start getting into the game more. He did have some impact and we had a great shot that was saved and hit the crossbar and was our best chance in the game and gave us a bit of hope. Just as I decided I would make my way to the front to get my flag, Birmingham scored after a Wiedwald save was put into the net from the rebound. I had been hoping to at least get a point out of the game despite not playing well, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be and we ended up on the losing side for the first time in a few games. Not a good ending to the year but not totally unexpected when we failed to get a grip on the game and resigned us to the defeat. The consensus from some of our fans on the way out was that Birmingham wanted it more than us and that our team selection was all wrong. To be honest, we are getting so many injuries, I wonder why and whether it is happening on the training pitch? Is it modern football boots causing issues?  Obviously I don’t know what the answers to these questions are, but I still maintain we should play to our strengths. It will bring some of our fans down to earth as they were predicting that with a win we could have been two points away from second place but as usual we fall down at the last minute. We can still aspire to the top two but it won’t be easy and we’ll have to play a lot better than we did today. What I can’t understand either is getting rid of the reserve league as players on the fringe of the first team would get match practice.  Hearing that once they’ve played in the first team they can’t play in the under 23s just doesn’t seem right. Apart from going out on loan, that’s the only way they’ll get that match fitness.

With the transfer window opening next week, I’m not sure what we will do as a club. If there are players who aren’t getting a look in who are on loan, I’d be inclined to send them back and look for different ones. I don’t expect us to go all out and pay silly money for anyone but we do need to strengthen. Whether it is a loan who we can buy at the end of the season or a gem who can be the final cog in the team, we will have to wait and see. With another game on New Year’s Day at Elland Road against Nottingham Forest, we need to get back to winning ways and at least turn up on the pitch. There’s still a long way to go until the end of the season and you never know what will happen between now and then. I prefer to wait and see where we are nearer the end of the season but getting a many points as possible will go a long way to securing our future. I’d started writing my blog on the coach and fell asleep in the middle of it only waking up at Meadowhall.  I always say that going to football is my chilling out time apart from the football or lack of it in the middle!

In the meantime, I would like to wish everyone who reads my blog and Leeds fans all over the world a very Happy and Prosperous New Year. See you next year – 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 2016-17

Video comments by Heidi Haigh at the end of the Birmingham game