I’ve long held a soft spot for the city of Bristol; there’s something quite endearing about the unassuming way in which its people live. It’s a place of modest expectations where utter mediocrity is embraced with gusto and celebrated. Being a finalist for the title of 2008 European City of Culture is regarded with civic pride, regardless of the fact that Liverpool was crowned the eventual winner.
What perhaps best captures the essence of the Bristol is David Prowse; one of the city’s most revered and beloved sons, Prowse has assumed deity like status on the back of being the Green Cross Code Man and his portrayal of Darth Vader…a portrayal that essentially entailed dressing up in the costume and walking about, pointing a bit – never spoke, never saw his face; albeit in truth, immortal lines like “I find your lack of faith disturbing. Admiral” wouldn’t quite hold the same gravitas as “I wish you’d believe me, my lover!” drawled out in Bristolian tones.
Even the youth generation in the surrounding hinterlands seem to share the same notions of pride. The delightful Fran, at the Michael Wood Services branch of KFC asked me if I minded waiting a couple of minutes as they were still “preparing my produce”… maybe she’s one of those new fast tracked trainee ‘chefs’ from the ad campaign? They seem to be easily pleased in the South West, regardless – maybe Ken should think of moving his investment?
The warm welcome extended to Bristol itself. We were able to find a parking spot just a few minutes from both the ground and the Tobacco Factory bar. One of the local families even saw fit to leave their sofas by the pavement for any weary passers-by to utilise.
Unsurprisingly, in the Wedlock Stand the pre-match mood reflected the grim weather conditions; anti-Bates sentiment dominating discussion. As the PA blasted out ‘Double Barrel’ ahead of Chelsea’s… er, sorry, Bristol City’s entrance, Leeds fans chose to substitute the timely handclap and chant of ‘City’ with a simple, forceful, ‘Bates Out’ – a strategy employed to even better effect to punctuate the singing of ‘Leeds United Calypso’ later on in the afternoon.
The game started and Leeds fell into their now almost customary role of being on the back foot; the usual spirited 5 minute opening, giving way to approximately 60 seconds of blood and thunder before the home side established a grip on proceedings. In the centre of the park, Delph darted around to little effect, while I’m assured Clayton was on the pitch somewhere too… consequently, predictably and depressingly, Kilkenny ran the game and the home side forced Lonergan into a number of decent stops.
Leeds’ left side was particularly troubling; Aidy White appeared bamboozled as to what the strange white spherical object being wantonly launched at him was, while Danny Pugh, despite looking to mimic Glenn Hoddle in his posturing and long range passing, rather undid those intentions by executing his ambitions with the sort of accuracy typically found in a Peter Lorimer propaganda sound bite.
A nervous Neil Redfearn watched on from the touchline, his agitation clear as he paced around and jigged on the spot, resembling an incontinent festival goer at the back of a 10-deep queue for a Portaloo, the morning after a night on the cider and chicken madras. Only Snoddy (who else?) and McCormack offered any glimpse of hope to the Whites followers, who had to contend themselves with a pleasingly passionate repertoire of anti-Bates chants and a fair degree of banter with the locals at the far end of the stand. In fairness, the City fans were more passionate than most, even if their level of literacy accomplishment restricted a number of their ditties to being based around monosyllabic noises – plenty of “ohs”, “ehs”, “wheys” and or course, “aaarhs”. Credit should be given though for managing to inspire a rocking rendition of “We ARE the Leeds scum” as the insults flew.
Suddenly, on 40 minutes the game changed. From nothing, Leeds put together a flowing move and Snoddy (who else?) converted from an angle. Moments later, James Wilson lost his head and hauled back McCormack: straight red, no complaints. Game over surely?
Leeds of course tend to fly in the face of expectation and conspired to spend the opening exchanges of the second half under the cosh. Only the sending off of Bolasie for hauling down an improving Adam Smith for a second time swung the game decisively in Leeds’ favour – I’ve long been a sceptic about the ‘good luck fairy’, but it seems she’d be happy staging a benefit gig for Leeds fans at the moment, so many times have we recently profited from such incidents.
As Leeds gained the ascendancy, the excellent McCormack and Snodgrass stretched the City backline time after time with clever movement. The latter nearly added a hypnotic second, weaving past three players in the box, only to see his shot cleared off the line – it almost seemed incomprehensible that even a cluster of men between them could deny our saviour these days! Adam Smith also started to provide hints of his attacking ambitions while Fabian Delph began to slalom through the midfield, all of a sudden, watching Leeds seemed like fun again.
McCormack’s goal sealed it; a just reward for a fine display and vindication of the ‘Calamity James’ taunts that had rained downed from the Leeds end all half; his shot going in via the underside of the keeper. Becchio’s late third, smashed in from close range, provided a fitting ending to the day.
Come the final whistle, the players came to applaud the supporters; Snoddy particularly basked in the acclaim – how great that we still possess one wonderful player who truly adores the club. As the players trooped off, Snoddy waited, grabbed the badge on his shirt then turned… the inevitable canticle from the Leeds end resounded around BS3 – “Snoddy, Snoddy Snoddy! Oi, oi, oi!!” He looked back from the half-way line, beaming.
Never mind the snow, the jackknifed lorry on the M42, Jenny’s periodic instances of road rage, the anarchic satnav, the 7 hour trek back – THAT moment above all else, made it all worth it.
Memo to new manager: Two priorities – Make Snoddy captain; sort his contract!