Fulham v Leeds United 21st December 2019 at Craven Cottage

First of all, I would like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas. Irrespective of the football result today, for those of you going through their own traumas, I wish you all the luck in the world and keep fighting. Having had a very challenging year for my family, I am looking forward to spending the time with them during my favourite time of the year.

Last Monday I was asked to take part in a Leeds United Centenary project that will take place in March. I have agreed to do this, and it was nice to hear that my name was put forward to join in by another couple of people. Thank you for recommending me which is appreciated. Thank you to Kate, Sharon, Angela and Matt for buying my new book Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United. For those of you who find this amongst your Christmas presents, enjoy the read and I look forward to receiving your feedback in due course.

With a 5am get up today, for our trip to London, I picked Nikki and Annie her dog up to get the coach from Elland Road. I was chuffed to bits to see her lead the team out with Ayling last week along with Rita who has now retired as a guide dog. It was good to see Rita get the send-off she deserved, having been an integral part of the Leeds support for so long. Tomorrow sees me take my three granddaughters to the Leeds United junior members Christmas party so if you are going, please ask for a photo.

We went straight to Putney Bridge on arrival in London and headed to Wetherspoons as usual. Imagine our surprise to be told we couldn’t go in because we were Leeds fans! As we frequent the pub chain at every away game and have done for many a year, even getting told we are the best fans they have ever had in a couple of them, this was like a smack in the face. They said that the police had made this a home pub only. Their loss, especially as it was empty, and they were turning away our money. Merry Christmas? Bah humbug more like. We then walked over the Thames back to the other side and I said at least it wasn’t raining and the sun was shining. I would regret saying that later when the heavens opened. Thank you to the 8 Bells who welcomed the Leeds fans with open arms and their chicken and bacon roll tasted delicious. When Bryn our Leeds policeman arrived there to chat to fans, I mentioned we’d been turned away by The Rocket. He couldn’t understand why they had made that a home pub and was going to have a word with them. It took us approx. 10 mins to walk to the ground through the park where the rain had made massive puddles. We were asked eight times if we had got any spare tickets. Apparently, Fulham fans were selling tickets for £150 at the train station which was an extortionate price.

We got in through the disabled entrance at the ground so was glad I didn’t have to negotiate the narrow turnstiles that I came out of backwards last season. A nice lady steward helped me show Nikki to her seat at the front by the corner flag. Not really a good seat which got wet and also had a sign on the pitch saying beware of flying balls. Not good when she is blind! I stayed with her until just before the kick-off when her son Stephen arrived to sit with her. Because of Fulham rebuilding the stand to our left that backs on to the Thames, this had reduced our allocation as we normally take up all the neutral seats too. It was disappointing to see the reaction of some of the Fulham stewards which was a contrast to the lady we had met earlier. Some young lads had been pulled to one side with the senior steward having a right go at them. I didn’t see why he had pulled them to one side and thought he was trying to eject them at first, especially when he indicated they were mouthing off at him. This is where our stewards would have been good (Fulham refused to allow them to attend today), as they would have diffused the situation. A bit later in the same area, I saw Ian one of our members of the Griffin branch trying to get down the steps to get out of the seating area to where the disabled area was. The next thing I saw fans falling down the steps and a couple of punches thrown. As someone was taken out I assumed that’s why it was kicking off but could be wrong. The stand itself is dangerous as someone had already nearly fallen down the steps earlier when walking normally. Having a sign on some stewards saying Here to help is obviously a misprint. All through the first half, fans from the lower part of the stand were sent out through the disabled entrance. When a Leeds fan who was recovering from a dislocated knee asked one steward at half time if she could go out of the disabled entrance due to her injury, she was told no. She was told to get one of us Leeds fans to help her up the stairs instead. How callous and uncaring with a definite lack of Christmas spirit. My daughter Danielle helped her get up the stairs as she was on her own at the time. There was no need to make her do that at all, disgraceful.

The team: Casilla, Ayling, Harrison, Bamford, Hernandez, Phillips, Klich, Costa, Cooper, White and Dallas. Alioski for Hernandez (3 went off injured), Nketiah for Costa (45) and Stevens for Ayling (72). Leeds lost 2-1 with Bamford scoring for Leeds (54). Attendance was 18,878 with approx. 1,900 Leeds fans. The ref today was a disgrace to the profession and should have been left in the dressing room at half-time. Inept, clueless, out of his depth together with cheating, diving and time wasting from Fulham meant we were up against it today.

Leeds started on the attack and their keeper made a save from a deflected shot. We had to then regroup when Hernandez pulled up injured in the third minute of the game which meant he had to go off the pitch. Alioski came on to replace him but within four minutes we were a goal down when the ref awarded Fulham a soft penalty from which they duly scored. Both these incidents in a few minutes had given Leeds an uphill battle very early in the game. Despite this, I still thought we could get something from the game but that was before the ref carried on with his ineptitude. When Fulham were falling down at the drop of a hat and time wasting, that was bad enough, but their number 9 led with his elbow three times and despite being spoken to wasn’t booked. Luckily for him, as he should have walked in the second half with a booking that should have been his second. There were plenty of angry fans around me who couldn’t believe what they were witnessing, there again it wasn’t a surprise really. All I ask for is a level playing field and don’t like to see cheating players falling down and conning the ref. To say they are supposed to be professionals, it’s a shame they can’t act that way. Fulham aren’t the first team to play this way this season and no doubt won’t be the last. Harrison was involved in two pieces of play where we came close to scoring. The first one saw their keeper save from Dallas and Klich saw his shot come back off the post. Late in the half, Bamford saw their keeper make a save but the flag had also gone up for offside so wouldn’t have been counted anyway.

The second half saw Nketiah had come in for Costa. I was looking forward to seeing how he played together with Bamford. When Fulham put the ball into our net at the opposite end of the ground, I’d seen the offside flag go up so was expecting it to be disallowed. Not long after this we got the breakthrough after Alioski put Nketiah through and whilst his shot was parried, it came to the feet of Bamford to smash the ball into the net to equalise. With both keepers in action after this, Alioski’s header was saved before Fulham took a great shot that saw Casilla make a fantastic save. This was heading into the top left-hand corner looking at it from the away end, but I was confident that Casilla would be up to it. Unfortunately, Fulham did regain the lead shortly afterwards when the ball wasn’t cleared, and they got the run of the ball to hit the ball into the net. Leeds did keep going until the final whistle blew and in the final minutes had another chance kicked off the line.

It wasn’t to be, but there will always be ups and downs. I’ll take the positives from the game that we are still in a good position in the table despite there being a long way to go. After a 17+ hour round trip, it was nice to get home after a very long day. Boxing Day sees the tea-time kick-off against Preston and another bumper crowd at Elland Road. We can do this Leeds, keep that positive mental attitude going into the next game. 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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