When I got up at the unearthly hour of 5.20am it could only be for one thing, a Leeds United away day and as it turned out a 17 hour round trip. This was the first game after the international break so it was nice to see the football back. It was quite dark and drizzly as I left home to travel to Leeds and shows the nights are drawing in. After picking up at Wakefield and Chesterfield, we headed to Bexley Heath for a short pub stop. We actually got a good welcome and a very big thank you to the manager and staff for reserving tables for us which were most unexpected. The manager’s uncle is a Leeds fan and we got great feedback from him, saying we were the best football fans they’d ever had there. From there we headed to the police escort and thought we’d just missed one as there was a coach at the far side of the common with the police. We were made to park on the grass and as some fans on the coach were making their way off it as we were to be kept there for a while, it was good to hear we were heading off after all. They took four of the coaches in as another three pulled up at our first stop on the common and stayed behind. We had an uneventful escort in, apart from the coach driver beeping the horn so many times due to the London drivers trying to encroach into the escort. The Millwall fans we did see were their usual selves with their gestures, which I’m sure would have been reciprocated by some of the Leeds fans. We did get a salute off some lads walking further on so knew they were ours. The reception committee at the ground was quite large but didn’t feel as intimidating as in the past. We heard that lots of Leeds fans were caught up in traffic due to Rotherhithe Tunnel being closed which caused some to get to the ground at half time.
A big thank you to Bob, Dean, Skippa, Olivia and Ella for buying my new book Back to Reality, Leeds United 2017-18 and I’m grateful for the support. John has ordered all five of my books and I look forward to getting a photo of him in due course plus Nikki, Stephen and Rita who have bought all five books too. I was going to put my flag up at the back of the stand next to the New Wrexham Whites flag that Brian had brought. One of our stewards shouted that there was some netting at the far right of the seats so I went to put it there instead. As it was, by doing that, I managed to meet up with all the people I had to either before, at half time or near the end of the game. Hooter’s son Aleksy was going to run around the pitch at half time so as well as looking for Samuel Becchio doing his job on the pitch, I’d to get more photos. I’d already promised to get photos of our mascot and managed to get some to share with his dad. Reuben, Dylan’s son also helped me to put my flag up so thank you. As I nipped downstairs just before the kick-off I realised I’d forgotten to go and take some photos of a group of Garforth Whites but luckily was able to catch up with them.
With an injury list that was growing with the long term absences of Hernandez, Bamford, Berardi and Roofe it was going to be interesting to see how Bielsa managed this. As it was there were only two changes with Jansson and Roberts being the two brought in. The team were: Peacock-Farrell, Ayling, Cooper, Jansson, Douglas, Harrison, Saiz, Alioski, Phillips, Roberts and Klich. Subs were, Baker for Klich (61), Dallas for Roberts (68) and Forshaw for Phillips (74). Attendance was 17,195 With 2,220 Leeds fans. The game ended in a 1-1 draw with Harrison equalising for Leeds in the 89th minute.
After last year’s capitulation here which then impacted on the way we were going to play, meant no one knew what to do; I felt we never recovered from that. We played a different game from then on which led to the eventual sacking of Christiansen and the short termism of Heckingbottom. The good thing this year which has given me more confidence is the appointment of Bielsa as our manager. I like him immensely as he has got the team fitter and have them playing how I want to see it, with lots of attacking football. There will be ups and downs no doubt but I wasn’t coming here today expecting us to lose. I’d only got butterflies in my stomach on the last part of the journey on the coach, as on previous visits things have been thrown at the coaches. Luckily nothing like that happened today. As the game kicked off though I thought Jansson looked a little nervy along with a few of the others but we managed to contain Millwall and started to get some good attacks of our own going. There were quite a few misplaced passes for a while too. After Alioski was caught offside again many fans were saying he was always being caught offside. With one though, I thought he ran from behind their players so couldn’t understand why the flag went up. Unless I get to see that attack again I won’t know for sure. Roberts got in a good position a few times but there was not enough power to the chances unfortunately. Millwall had a few chances and Morison after his recent mouthing off in the press about being Zlatan was kept under wraps for a lot of the game before he was subbed. The height of Jansson was vital today and whilst his passing at first was shaky, his headers were superb. The first half went very quickly so I stayed at the front of the stand to take the photos before going downstairs just before the second half kicked off. As I got there I immediately heard my name shouted as some of the Halifax Whites were there with Shuy who was over from Australia. One of the lads had his son Jake was with them but he wasn’t there for the photo. Shuy looks forward to reading my blog in Australia and a big thank you to the others for their comments. To be told that I do a fantastic job with my blog, to keep doing it and not to take any notice of any negativity is greatly appreciated.
The second half had just kicked off as I got back to my seat and there were many fans stood in the aisles this time. I’m not sure if we were slow off the mark, but Millwall took the lead 11 minutes into it when we failed to clear the ball. That woke their fans up who had been pretty poor but it could have been because they knew we weren’t going to be a walkover today. For a while we seemed to struggle and especially when Baker came on for Klich. He’d left his shooting boots at home as his shot landed at the front of the upper tier we were on. The one good thing about Bielsa is he doesn’t dwell on making subs and if he needs to change things he will. When Roberts was subbed, Harrison ended up as striker which mystified a lot of fans. I commented with another that I expected Bielsa to know what he was doing. When the clock got to the 80th minute I headed to the far side of the stand to get my flag only stopping to talk to some fans first. As I got over to my flag I started to untie one side as Leeds had an attack and I stopped what I was doing only to see Harrison get the ball and unleash a shot from the edge of the penalty area. As I watched to see where it went, the stand erupted with jubilant Leeds fans as the ball hit the back of the net to equalise in the 89th minute. Fantastic scenes of celebrations happened, but my heart was in my mouth as one lad balanced on the top of the wall on the stairwell with a large drop at the other side. I’d seen one of our players hurtling over to the other side then saw Bielsa getting involved as something kicked off in the Millwall area. As Saiz had a lot of fouls to skirt round, maybe something had been said to him. We got on with the game quickly though. It wasn’t a case of settling for a draw, we were going to try for a winner. We did come close before the final minutes saw us battle for our lives as Millwall tried to get a winner. Every Leeds player stood up to be counted and played their part in those closing minutes which was good to see. We also broke out to attack and we looked as if we could finish the game strongly. As the whistle blew and the Leeds fans sang we were top of the league, I hadn’t realised that Boro had lost but also even before the game, I’d forgotten where we were in the table. Out of sight, out of mind means there is no hope for me. The Leeds fans were happy to stay in the stand for a while celebrating as the Millwall fans were happy to stay and give abuse to us. This was reciprocated from our fans as gestures between both sets of fans carried on for ages.
Eventually I got downstairs and heard the coaches were being kept in for a while which wasn’t unexpected. After taking photos of plenty of happy Leeds fans we got back on the coach ready for our police escort away from the ground. With the police vans at the front and those on horseback to the left of us, it was quite funny seeing officers walking alongside the coaches to the right of us. Although we went out via Westminster Bridge again (there were plenty of tourists around despite the recent terrorist attacks), the journey didn’t seem to take so long as last year as we got back to the M1. That was before we had the normal motorway queues when it went down to one lane and we got stuck in a load of traffic; normality resumes for us Leeds fans travelling back to Yorkshire as it wouldn’t be an away day without it! I would have taken a draw at the start of the game and it was a hard fought point which saw Leeds remain unbeaten (the only club in the Championship) and top of the league. Tuesday sees the first of two home games with the visit of Preston, who beat us in the Carabao cup game a couple of weeks ago. This time it will be different I’m sure. We also have Birmingham at home on Saturday and I know we have lots of our overseas fans attending that one.
Before I finish today, my sincere condolences go to two of our long term loyal Leeds fans who died on the same day last week. Fotis came from Salonika, Greece and came twice a year to games and was always a guest of the Griffin branch of the Leeds United Supporters Club. Mick Thompson aka Trapper was one of my lads from the Selby Branch that I ran in the 80s-90s. These deaths hit home and they will both be sadly missed. RIP lads and my thoughts are with all their families and friends. See you all on Tuesday, 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
The Sleeping Giant Awakens, Leeds United 2016-17
OUT NOW! Back to Reality, Leeds United 2017-18