“Well hello! Good morning my old friend! Do come in; how have you been keeping? I must say you’re looking every bit as well as I remember you…lovely to have you back. Please make yourself at home…ah yes, that’s right, I’ve kept your old resting place between the ‘rose tinted sentimentality’ and ‘hang on in there, it will get better’ areas of my cerebral real estate – make yourself comfortable.”
That’s how things were playing out in my mind on Saturday morning; the beloved old friend? The pre-match buzz – absent for so long, but its re-arrival emphatic and widespread, evidence of it, everywhere. On the back of the Middlesbrough performance, Twitter timelines and message boards had played host to a thriving hotbed of optimism, belief and excitement throughout the week, a positivity that most strikingly had manifested itself in the form of ticket sales.
This season especially, it’s become increasingly easy for many to fall out of love with Leeds United; while even for much of our League One stint, a Leeds United detox diet seemed uncontemplatable, the last 12 months or so have changed views. Maybe on St. Patrick’s Day, it would seem somewhat appropriate to use the traditional Irish dish of Colcannon as a metaphor: at its most basic, a dish compromised of cabbage, mashed potatoes and onion, it serves the purpose to sustain but never to excite; the ultimate manifestation Leeds United’s recruitment policy in food form – something to be consumed out of necessity, rather than pleasure?
But Colcannon is not an irredeemable dish; it can be revived, even transformed with a lavishing of cream, bacon and ham, indeed, I dare say with enough expenditure (and the serious dilution/removal of the cabbage content) it may even be worth consuming out of choice. Leeds fans can suddenly smell that bacon and so they return – like Lisa Riley to a family-size bag of Maltesers, they flocked back to LS11, seeking a long awaited dalliance with the good life! All supporters have wanted to see is a degree of ambition, some hope, something to cling on to, and under Warnock, those signs they’ve desperately sought are just beginning to emerge; tantalising them with a cheeky smile, a wink, maybe a flash of thigh…
The Nike relegation season shirts and the sky blue Diadora away tops were back out in force – though none sadly adorned with the immortal ‘Ricketts 9’ – always an accurate gauge of positivity amongst the fan base. Despite the forecasts, the sun was shining, while the curry sauce outside the ground had somehow achieved new levels of luminescence; inside the stadium even Ben Fry’s intolerable persona couldn’t undermine the mood.
And it was the atmosphere that will remain the most prevailing memory of the day. It’s been way too long since I last took my place in the Kop to survey the scene and barely see a vacant blue seat in view (the East Stand Upper is out of my sight) and the last time I can recall the pre-match rendition of ‘Leeds, Leeds, Leeds’ sang with such gusto was arguably at the Bristol Rovers game; the cacophony of noise in the opening 15 minutes, a welcome reminder of better days.
Almost inevitably the game rather betrayed the occasion; West Ham, despite having bought anything that breathes and commands a seven-figure fee since August, were rather less ambitious in their intentions on the pitch. Despite the resources afforded to him, Sam Allardyce doesn’t seem to favour the obvious ‘steamroller the league’ option, preferring rather to suffocate the life out of teams, before hoping to capitalise on his plethora of attacking talent at the other end – in layman’s terms, he’s got a team of big b**tards who are pretty handy from set pieces.
He’s a bit of an enigma is Big Sam, I must admit. He’s always tried to market himself as some sort of progressive visionary within the English game, even touting himself for the Real Madrid job, yet his teams play in a style more akin to an Aidy Boothroyd outfit, rather than a Pep Guardiola team. Then there’s that headset – take that f**king thing off Sam! It doesn’t so much make you look like one of your sophisticated continental cousins, more a fat middle-aged sales rep who desperately tries to impress bystanders by having loud Bluetooth-enabled conversations in the dining area of a Premier Inn, while contemplating whether his expense account might stretch to a full English breakfast.
Chances were few and far between throughout that first period, a fine Snoddy free-kick the closest Leeds came, until the rather harsh intervention of the referee denied him an injury time opener; a push by Becchio enough to cut short any celebration.
The second half was a continuation of the war of attrition. Although for spells the crowd remained quiet, it was a good silence, not one spawned of resignation or a worry where the next mistake was coming from, rather a genuine tension: that something was really riding on the game and Leeds could salvage it! Football matters, Leeds games always matter, but it’s been a while since one really mattered – a fixture forever just a moment away from lighting the blue touch paper…
As it happened, it didn’t even take a goal, just Paul Robinson. On the hour mark, our new left-back took it upon himself to embark on a lung-busting run forward, he even decreed to allow two Hammers players to posit themselves between him and the ball…nothing was going to stop him regardless, at least until the referee intervened. Promptly booked, he raced back to his position to roars of acclaim from the Geldard; moments later he launched himself into a tackle that nearly left Mark Noble in row K of the North East Corner, his actions igniting all four sides of the stadium into spine tingling verse – I remain convinced that the thunder on the way home was a by-product of that challenge! Shortly after, Michael Brown threw himself at Keith O’Neil, a mass fracas ensued, players jostled, the rage in Becchio’s face, a joy to behold – DIRTY LEEDS ARE BACK!!
That Luciano put Leeds in front was wholly apt, chasing the ball down to keep a corner alive then lunging himself at the ball as it cannoned off the bar, the manic celebrations, reminiscent of the Millwall play-off semi-final. Ending up on a different row of seats, staring at the roof of the Kop is always a good way to mark a goal.
It was a great pity that Collins should intervene at the end, and sickeningly ironic that it came from a corner conceded after a sliced George McCartney cross – he’s even f**king shit when he contributes something. I started the week believing we needed a minimum return of 6 points; I guess our slim play-off hopes might now be defined at The New Den…
We’re ready for a battle.