Before I start my blog today I wish to pay my respects to the families and friends of our fans Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight who were brutally murdered in Istanbul on 5th April 2000. Never forgive and never forget that they went to a football game to watch Leeds United and didn’t return. Leeds fans are asked to turn their backs at the game tonight on 18 minutes to pay their respects to them as those fans at the game did 18 years ago. RIP Chris and Kev.
It’s also 15 years since Marion one of our Cockney Whites died this week. Marion was a regular who only missed three games home, away or abroad in 24 years and I’ve seen some lovely words from Greenie and her friend Tricia on Facebook regarding this. The whole week is a bad one and culminates in the anniversary of the sudden death of my baby daughter tomorrow. Life can be cruel with the best ones taken too soon sadly.
When I left home this morning I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to get to the motorway via the A58 or not as I’d had to turn back late last night due to flooding. I was also surprised to see my garden still full of snow when I’d got home despite the torrential rain since the snow stopped at 11 am. Having had at least 2″ of snow yesterday in Halifax, all I can say is what a difference a day makes and thank goodness the game was today. There was no flooding to be seen in the A58 and I arrived at Elland Road just after 9.00 am. A big thank you to Helen who I met straight away for buying my books Follow Me and Leeds United and The Good, the Bad and The Ugly of Leeds United, Leeds United in the 1980s. As always thank you for the support which is appreciated. The good thing about the game today was that I wasn’t at work so even getting home late won’t be an issue for once.
It was good to hear that my books are doing well in the club shop too and I look forward to seeing a dedicated book area after a six week refurbishment that will take place shortly. Also for those fans who keep asking me about the CD we are recording with all the old Leeds songs. This is still in progress but unfortunately we have hit some technical issues. As we are trying ways to overcome the obstacle and I am waiting to receive this, it is sadly taking longer than I thought to sort out. It will be done but at this moment in time I don’t have an end date for bringing this out so please bear with us.
I’d woken up on the coach on the way there and thought we weren’t going to get a pub stop as it was already 1.30 pm before Sue pointed out it was an evening kick off, oops. There’s definitely no hope for me especially as I can’t even blame alcohol for being a dipstick! At least catching up with my sleep is better than having a hangover that’s all I can say lol. We arrived in Hammersmith for our pub stop prior to the game and found Leeds fans already there with some of the South Kirkby branch who had gone for a four day trip to the capital. Unfortunately one lad who was going on their day trip missed his lift as they were both waiting in two different places. He then spent another £80 to travel down by train as he hadn’t missed a game so it had to be done showing commitment and the things fans do for Leeds! We were joined by Mitch and Richard and as usual spent some time reminiscing about the past and having a laugh. One tale Mitch relayed was when they went to Ferencvaros. With the organised trips you were expected to share a room with another fan. He’d been woken up at 4.00 am to hear his room colleague shouting he’d lost his teeth, but the funny part of it was them being found in a plant pot later in the day where he’d lost them after being sick, urghhh.
When we arrived at the ground we had a long walk from where the coaches parked and went straight in. Last year I’d struggled to get through the turnstiles with my arms full and came out backwards. This year I still had my bag with although I’d left my jacket on the coach and didn’t have the same trouble there again. After a temperature of 2.5 degrees in the morning when I left home, it was 16 degrees in London – that’s barmy. I went to hang my flag up only to be told the only place it was allowed to go was along the back of the stand. After showing my fire paperwork I put it up at the back of the stand. Having a chat to some Sherburn Whites it was a shock to realise that it was 30 years since I’d moved from Selby to Halifax. I then did my good deed for the day when I saw someone I knew who was getting into an argument with a steward and was in danger of being kicked out. It was misleading as fans had been allowed in the right area according to the ticket but her seat was on the opposite side. One steward had allowed her in and this other one was kicking off about it and wouldn’t let her go further down the stand. She did try though so I quickly diffused the situation and said I would take her to her correct seat. Luckily that worked out okay. One of our disabled fans had also had issues with parking outside the ground. Having been in a disabled parking spot since 4.00 pm someone tried to get him kicked out of it and got the police involved. As he had a blue badge and was disabled, they said he had every right to park there! I also made a suggestion to the stewards in the ground that I asked to be passed on (not sure whether they will though). It’s alright having notices saying the steps in the stand were uneven but as I’d already missed my footing on the way down the stand and that’s stone cold sober, they needed something else to highlight this. I’d seen one of our fans with a walking stick nearly go flying too and said it’s alright having the steps painted yellow but they need a warning sign on them as it took you unawares when going down them. Going back up the stand didn’t create the same problems but I’m sure there would have been many more who struggled with it.
The team today was Peacock-Farrell, Jansson, Berardi, Pennington, Dallas, Hernandez, Ekuban, Vieira, O’Kane, Alioski and Saiz. Subs were Phillips for O’Kane (22), Lasogga for Ekuban (72) and Grot for Alioski (72). Leeds lost the game 2-0 and the attendance was 21,538 with 4,003 Leeds fans plus 2,000 “neutral” fans with the majority being Leeds! Fantastic support once again especially with nothing left to play for.
I also hadn’t realised that Fulham was on the banks of the River Thames and running at the back of the stand to the left. I think it has been dark every time we have been there recently or I’d just forgotten! There again when we played there for the first game of the season in 1985 there was only a crowd of 5,772 which included loads of our fans but I can’t remember anything about the ground that day. I’d driven a minivan down with no seats in the back if I remember right with six members of the newly formed Selby Branch of the Leeds United Supporters Club. Although it was another bad result with us losing 3-1 the memory of that day that lingers in my mind was pulling into Leicester Forest services and being met by Millwall fans. They hadn’t reckoned on some of our fans who were on the coaches taking exception to being “attacked” and were returned to the other side of the motorway pronto! How those who ran across all six lanes of the motorway didn’t get killed I’ll never know!
We started off with plenty possession, but soon were overcome as Fulham had attack after attack with a lot of this coming down the right wing. Dallas playing right back was struggling to contain their man as they used their speed to their advantage. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed seeing Dallas play in that position as it is a square peg in a round hole situation once again. Why can’t we play to our strengths? Surely we have someone in the club who has this as their natural position? We were lucky young Bailey Peacock-Farrell was on form to prevent a couple of goals by making great saves. On 18 minutes the Leeds fans who had been giving great support to the team with constant singing, paid tribute to Chris and Kev en masse. Turn your backs for Chris and Kev started being sung from the back of the stand and I shouted to those around me to do the same. A very touching moment to show we will remember them both always.
I suppose it didn’t come as a great surprise when Fulham took the lead although I don’t think their man knew much about. The ball struck him and went in with his back to the goal when we failed to defend a corner once more. We hadn’t played well at all and had already had to change the team when O’Kane went off injured. Our play was slow and predictable whereas Fulham were fast and putting us under constant pressure. One lad arrived in his correct seat just before the break as he’d gone to the wrong row by mistake. He told me off for not supporting him as I didn’t agree with the seat number, sorry!
At half time I went down onto the concourse which was packed with Leeds fans. After taking some photos including one of my “adopted” daughter someone said that Ralph Ineson a famous Leeds fan was nearby. I went across to find him for a photo and was introduced to some Nottingham Whites too. After introducing myself to Ralph I mentioned I was a friend of Gary Edwards and I had travelled with him on Wallace Arnold coaches in our early days of following Leeds. Ralph mentioned his dad (I hope I got that right?) used to drive the coaches in those early days of following Leeds in the 70s. We had some good drivers in those days who used to look after us so you never know he might have driven us to games. Of course I did show my Follow Me and Leeds United book as that is the name of my blog too and thanks for having your photo taken with it Ralph! He did get the year right for the photo on the front of the book that was taken by the Daily Express in 1975. He also showed an old war wound on his forehead caused by Jack Charlton. He was still in a pushchair and Jack was running, pushing him but unfortunately he wasn’t strapped in so went head first out of the pushchair, ouch.
The second half had kicked off when I got back into the stand and our row seemed to have gained at least four people. It meant that there wasn’t much room but Whitby John found himself in an argument with the lad next to him for encroaching in his space. Unfortunately at football games these things happen but at least the argument died a death and I didn’t need to intervene. I know it is frustrating when we are losing but we shouldn’t be arguing or coming to blows with our own fans. Our fans were absolutely magnificent for the whole game and we don’t need those silly clappers that had been handed out to the home fans that’s for sure. We started to play better in the second half but still had to rely on Peacock-Farrell to deny Fulham a further goal. Alioski had the ball in the net only for the linesman to put his flag up for offside. It’s ironic but he didn’t have the same reactions in the first half when Fulham were attacking the goal in front of us. We should have equalised with a great chance for Ekuban only for him to hit the ball at their goalie when he should have lifted the ball over him. That was a disastrous decision because Fulham raced to the far end of the pitch to put the ball into our net to given them a second goal and put the game out of reach for us. Alioski received some bad challenges and with just over 15 minutes of normal time left we made a double sub with both Ekuban and Alioski making way for Lasogga and Grot. When Lasogga was brought down with a cynical challenge from behind by their player who was also the last man, I was expecting a red card. Well of course he got a yellow card but when I think back to our sending offs this season they were nowhere as bad as this tackle.
We saw the end of the game out with nothing really to play for. I went up to the back of the stand to get my flag and then didn’t hang about after the whistle blew as I knew it was a long walk back to the coach. It certainly was for one of our fans as he struggled with the distance to get to our coach. We were one of the last coaches away from the ground as another of our fans had got lost when a policeman directed him in the wrong direction of the coaches. We made it back to Watford Gap services in good time although seeing a lorry with a car that had been hit in the slow lane of the M1; I just hoped everyone had got out safely. Just after we left the services one of our fans on the coach was taken ill with a medical episode but luckily with the help of Keith and another couple of fans they were able to sort him out. The story of Leeds fans lives happened again as we had to endure two detours off the motorway due to closures but by going in a different direction to the diversions we ended up in front of the other coaches. Also by avoiding the M621 and going via Tingley roundabout this helped too. All this meant that we didn’t get back to Leeds till just after three and I eventually got home at 3.45am a round trip of approximately 19 hours. The things we do to follow our team!
On the way back to Leeds on the coach I found that I couldn’t be bothered typing up my blog. As I am not in work tomorrow I can type it up in the morning and I wouldn’t be posting it till then. As we hit the worst day of my life again, I can say that had an impact on the way I was feeling. Also I can’t see a way forward at all for us as a club on the pitch at this moment in time. The hope that had been there at the start of the season that this was the year we made it back to the Premiership has been taken away big style. The last accounts under Cellino when Radrizzani came in as co-owner have now appeared which shows the amount of money the latter has put into the club to buy it. I’m looking forward to Mike Thornton’s analysis of the accounts which help me understand more about the ins and outs of them. Radrizzani has done a lot in the background to steady the ship so to speak which was always going to impact on us as a club. I only hope that he sees where things are not working and learns from this for next season.
Saturday sees us take on Sunderland so we need to get something from this game as we are at home. Whether we will or not remains to be seen. 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