So this was supposed to be it; a trip into the dragon’s den, a hotbed of heathenry, to face the great unwashed, the unenlightened, the barbaric Neanderthals of Wales’ first city. The omens weren’t good; history was against us – Frankie Goes To Hollywood were celebrating their first number one when the Whites last triumphed – while for those who for those who remain more sceptical about such factors, the overwhelming shitness of our injury and suspension ravaged squad also offered reasons for pessimism.
Right on cue, the dark clouds started to gather as the final stretch of the journey, the M4 reared its ugly head; a bleak tarmacked expanse running to the west, offering road signs, displaying both familiar looking words, and below them, others that seemed desperately short of vowels. With the city on high alert for such an explosive clash, and so as to minimise any potential flashpoints, Leeds supporters were required to collect their tickets by exchanging vouchers from a pre-ordained, Cardiff West Services… I’m not sure how publicly advertising online a pre-match rendezvous point for all Leeds fans serves to outfox highly organised bands of troublemakers – maybe they can’t drive?
Fittingly, for the occasion, for the upcoming St. George’s Day and quite handily as a metaphor for this report, one coach load of supporters had turned up en masse dressed as Crusaders; adorned in a brilliantly uniformed manner, the testosterone fuelled gathering of men, pleasingly complemented by a number of wenches dotted about the contingent. Pre-trip advice for Cardiff games is usually to go travel incognito, to leave your colours at home, arriving in the Welsh capital in armour and a St. George’s cross emblazoned across the chest, a rather defiant “F*ck you!” to commonly perceived logic.
With vouchers exchanged for match tickets, that were literally given out from the back of a van, it was onwards to the stadium…this is it – heads down, voices down, low profile everybody, ok?
Well, actually no! The whole Cardiff City experience was actually overwhelmingly civilized – surprisingly so, disconcertingly so, perhaps maybe, even a little depressingly so. On the short walk from the car park to the stadium, I looked nervously for the first signs of adolescents in baseball caps, Stone Island jumpers and scarfs wrapped around their faces, and nothing…well, maybe later.
But later never came; sat outside KFC was a skinhead, but he sported an immaculate shirt and jumper combo and was talking to his friend about super annuities and his reluctance to relocate his children during their schooling. Moments earlier when ordering my food, I’d been reminded of the wonders of the Welsh accent – an endearing and sexy string to any lady’s bow (although it does still make men sound like idiots), and this area of Wales had brought us Joanna Page and Alex Jones too. Suddenly my beliefs were starting to crumble. On the walk to the away end, we passed a banner proclaiming Cardiff City to be the ‘Football League family club of the year’ – alright, steady on!
Then it happened again; this time, the stewards! On walking through the turnstiles at Cardiff we were actually greeted by a steward who welcomed us and unprompted, directed us to the bar! It was like being affronted by a Redcoat on temazepam, but with a hi-vis jacket – Bates, take note! At the bar, the mood was reassuringly ‘final away trip/celebratory’ mode, the Crusaders joined by an astonishing array other fancy dress followers. Batman, death row inmates, penguins, Oompa Loompas all represented, though costume of the day would have to go to Saddam Hussein; the most ridiculously random? Howard from the Halifax, take a bow son!
Like Blackpool before it, the game was almost incidental; albeit the ‘last hurrah’ vibe rather more responsible for high spirits than alcohol. From the teams’ entrance until the half-time whistle, the Leeds support was relentless. In contrast, from the Cardiff end, nothing! Bar a half-hearted ‘We all hate Leeds Scum’ pre-kick off, there was barely a whisper, just the odd punctuated incidences of internationally recognised hand gestures in retaliation to the taunts… and there were plenty. “Your mum’s a sheep, your dad’s a sheep” was pick of the insults, but none fostered a response.
Disappointed that the Cardiff fans weren’t in the mood to play, the Leeds support entertained themselves; “We’ll sing on our own…” and “Sit down, like the Cardiff fans” a couple of choice cuts. A stray shoe also found itself in the Leeds end from where it was launched several times, before exiting the stand – cue chants of “Sit down, if you’ve got both shoes!” A couple of inflatable rings were also used as makeshift Frisbees, one throw nestling perfectly over a bald fella’s head – GET THAT MAN A GOLDFISH!!
On the pitch, Leeds competed well, but suffered another blow; Bromby snapping his patella, and there he was again, Paul Connolly. I’m becoming genuinely unnerved by Connolly’s continued presence, it’s as if he haunts our every moment. I dare not mention his name three times in case he’s like Candyman – I’ve even taken to checking under my bed for him every night, the bogeyman reincarnate!
Talking of limited footballers, another ill-timed Lonergan intervention quickly followed, allowing Joe Mason to convert Peter Whittingham’s long pass – behind again. The defensive part of our ‘spine’ are almost like nipples on a male, they don’t serve any purpose, they’re just seemingly put there as it looks right; in fairness, our nipples of choice today, Lees and Bruce appeared fairly functional, leaving only Lonergan as the nubbin, the supernumerary or accessory nipple – pointless, inexplicable, but there. Decent saves are no good from a keeper who can’t be trusted to do the basics.
After the break Leeds continued to compete well, the ball pleasingly stayed grounded for longer periods as Snodgrass and McCormack worked tirelessly. Reward came when a lung busting run from Conno… nearly said it for a third time, finished with a cross to Becchio at the far post and a deserved equaliser. There were only two things left to ponder in the closing stages; firstly, Danny Webber’s contribution, and whether an administrative cock-up has resulted in his contract containing a ‘disappearance bonus’; and to wonder what became of the Cardiff atmosphere.
At the final whistle, Warnock rightly insisted that every Leeds player throw their shirt to the fans; the least such backing deserves. All that was left to do then was to exit in a conga to the strains of ‘Sweet Caroline’, head back to the car and hope for better things come August.
On, on, on…