Up at 4.00 am to travel to Leeds for the coach to Newport shows the lengths us Leeds fans have to go to when following our team. For once some of the Thames Valley Whites will be setting off around 10.00 am as this game is relatively close for once, so really I have nothing to moan about as early set offs are a regular occurrence for them and others. As usual I didn’t sleep well knowing I had to be up early so thank goodness I am able to sleep on the coach. Having to defrost my car before setting off meant it’s going to be a cold one today too. At least the early morning set off meant not much traffic on the roads so even taking it steady I got to Elland Road by 5.20 am.
Going back 12 months I will never forgive Monk for throwing in the towel at Sutton who deserved their win on the day. Our visit to Newport is on similar lines and will be a big test for Leeds especially as some of the fringe players will be involved. The FA Cup is still important to me as I am a traditionalist and I am privileged to have been at Wembley in 1972 to see my hero Billy Bremner lift the cup. A good cup run will do us the world of good and yes my hopes of winning the cup may be obscure, but I live in hope that we treat this game with respect. Also the fans who are travelling there today want to be treated with respect too and seeing the team give everything to come away with a win is all that is asked. That said I decided to tweet the club yesterday with my comments about respecting the FA Cup and the fans and just hoped it didn’t fall on deaf ears. Newport is also a new ground to go to with Leeds so I am looking forward to adding this ground to my list of grounds visited. I had a conversation in McDonalds about all the new grounds there are now in comparison to grounds we have visited in the past. With Maine Road and Ayresome Park having bitten the dust they are two grounds I was glad to see the back of, as they were the two worst grounds to visit as a Leeds fan in the seventies.
After a good sleep, I woke up just before we arrived in Monmouth for a short pub stop along with the Harrogate Whites. It was a nice break despite it being short and as I left I took some requested photos of the Harrogate Whites outside the pub. We arrived in Newport in plenty of time for kick off, getting dropped off right outside the turnstiles. After hanging my flag up behind the goal I made my way to the side stand where my seat was as I was in the auto cup scheme. It was nice to see decent facilities for a small ground which puts some others like QPR to shame. The sun was shining and warmer than I’d dared hope for in the side stand. The ones behind the goal weren’t as lucky as they weren’t in the sun and Sue said the biting wind didn’t help either.
The team today had nine changes which I wasn’t happy about overall as that was too many in my eyes. Lonergan, Berardi (captain), Shaunghnessy, Anita, Borthwick-Jackson, Klich, Lasogga, Grot, Sacko, Cibicki and Phillips. Subs were Cooper for Borthwick-Jackson (60), Saiz for Grot (74). I had no problems with our four youngsters being part of the team on the bench today to give them the experience of being involved (Liam Kitching, Tom Pearce, Oriol Ray and Jack Clarke). If we had been a few goals up then that would have been the time to introduce one of them but not otherwise. The attendance was 6,887 with 1,040 Leeds fans although there were many more in the home ends. Leeds lost 2-1 with Berardi scoring his first goal for Leeds (10). (Sue and I shared the golden goal prize of £20 having been put down with the initials TT which we correctly worked out as the Terrible Twins – something my mum always calls us too!)
What I wanted more than anything was for Leeds to take this game seriously and not under estimate Newport. The game was fairly even before we had an attack and Berardi playing in an unfamiliar place in the middle of the back four alongside Shaunghnessy, let fly with a shot from outside the area (apparently hitting Lasogga on the way in) to score his first goal for Leeds. I was so pleased for him as he ran to the fans behind the goal to celebrate only to get a booking for it, which was a harsh decision in my opinion. What’s wrong with celebrating your first goal for crying out loud? That was an unexpected bonus though and I hoped we could build on that goal. Today’s game was also a big test for me to see if the club had the same ambitions as I did. Although we didn’t shine for the rest of the first half we more or less matched Newport who didn’t give up but they also came close to an equaliser.
The second half saw the Leeds fans behind the goal and those of us in the side Bisley Stand creating an atmosphere between ourselves which caused a lot of laughs. Meanwhile on the pitch we were very lucky to keep Newport out as they kept on attacking us. Although we had a couple of shots on target, I was frustrated when we went backwards instead of attacking as we only invited Newport to put pressure on us. They came very near two or three times when I was convinced they had scored but luckily they hadn’t. When we went forward we couldn’t get any decent crosses in to give us a clear shot at goal. I wanted us to add to the goal as the longer the game went on there was always a chance Newport would pull one back. The equaliser came when Sacko messed about in front of us and allowed Newport to win the ball back and it ended up in the back of the net to give them hope when it deflected from Shaughnessy. Instead of us going for the winner we allowed Newport time and space to keep on attacking us. Saiz came on for Grot but hardly touched the ball and I felt the sub hadn’t worked and I’d have given Grot the full 90 minutes although Sue thought he may have had a knock. As Newport came close again there was only one team who was going to win it and it wasn’t us. Lo and behold that is exactly what happened in the closing minutes of the game to leave the Leeds fans reeling, gutted and as one lad said to me afterwards, embarrassed by the showing we had put on the pitch. Many others were downright angry as once again the fans and the FA Cup had been shown disrespect.
Never mind saying we were never going to win it; why not? It won’t unless we try that’s for sure and I’d rather give it a good go and get the feel good factor going together with hope, than to not give a damn. Winning breeds winning and if we don’t get the chance to go up automatically or get in the play offs this season then once again it is an opportunity lost to keep the fans onside. Also the chance of getting back into Europe is also a factor. I for one along with others, long to see the day we win the FA Cup again and for fans to say the FA Cup doesn’t matter, then sorry but it should. It’s a shame the club chose to ignore my video I sent through yesterday because after Berardi scored, there is no way we should have lost that game. We should have battled for everything and built on his goal. Saiz also got sent off after their winner with those around me in the Bisley stand saying it was for spitting. Sorry but if that is the case; it isn’t acceptable under any circumstances as it is disgusting. As I got to my flag some fans were mystified as to why he’d been sent off so I told them what the reason was according to those around me in the side stand.
At the final whistle I did both a video for Sportsline (Made in Leeds) so will be ringing them tomorrow evening and also a voice message for BBC Radio Leeds – West Yorkshire Sport which should have been read out after the game. To say I was disappointed is an understatement with many others very angry at the don’t care attitude of many of the players. It’s a real low again knowing we have been beaten rather than getting something out of the game.
There are no excuses now Leeds as to not turning up for any games for the remaining season. Putting weakened teams out is flawed in my opinion and shouldn’t be allowed. Fine teams if they do, but I think the greed of premiership money has changed football beyond recognition. Arriving home at 7.00 pm meant a round journey time trip of 15 hours. Thanks for the no show Leeds! Once again our support is tested to the limit with our loyalty taken for granted but then once we’ve slept on it our eyes turn to the next game. Next week sees us travel to Ipswich for another far away game but at least it is on a Saturday. See you there 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
Newport Voicemail for BBC Radio Leeds – West Yorkshire Sport by Heidi Haigh 7/1/18