It could only end this way; the strange laws of football logic dictated so – the final game under the tyrannous reign of a self-aggrandising despot, deemed to be marked with a visit of the club that is so dear to him; as those who pledge their allegiance to the philosophies (and pay structure) of the Roman Army rolled into Beeston’s very own cream clad coliseum, ready to take on the locals in a fight to assert supremacy.
The masses packed the arena to its rafters, baying for fresh blood with a feverish anticipation as eleven brave men were pitched in battle against a collective of exotic specimens, collected from all corners of the world. Those in white were lined up for slaughter – their crime: being modestly valued enough to fit the Leeds United pay structure – while up in the box, the departing ruler, draped in a heavy coat, rather than silken robes, sat in judgement, ready to shift his thumb in approval or disdain at the fates that awaited those native to his own Empire. A spectacle of gladiatorial splendour lay in promise…
But…and there’s often a ‘but’ with Leeds; the blood and thunder that seemed assured beforehand, that pervaded the raucous atmosphere, and that dominated the lyrical content of the terrace cries through repeated odes to belittle the ‘Chelsea Scum’, really didn’t materialise – well not for 37 minutes at least. Until that stage, the game drifted by aimlessly, one maybe to fascinate the ‘students of the game’, but to bore most other supporters. The only hints of a threat had come from Chelsea, with Brown and Tonge finding that trying to keep track of the likes of Mata, Oscar and Lampard in a competitive game offers somewhat more of a challenge than marking Danny Pugh out of a practice game, while Peltier’s notions of what it means to “keep tight” to players continued to baffle.
However, as much as Leeds fans bemoan the continued presence of our captain at left back, in the opposition ranks, David Luiz was there to prove that you needn’t pay a pittance to secure a defensive liability. As well looking like the lead singer from The Darkness, Luiz is probably the only top flight centre half who could realistically put in a claim for a disability allowance, so incapable is he at times at fulfilling his primary role, and it was he who sparked the game into life. On a trademark adventurous run into enemy territory, Luiz squandered possession in a similarly trademark style; Byram nodded away his loose ball into the path of Tonge, he in turn advanced to the halfway line before feeding Thomas, meanwhile down the middle and into the void left by Luiz, charged Becchio, his aggressive pointing for a cross, obliged courtesy of the outside of Thomas’ right boot…12 yards out, 1-0!!
Pandemonium all around as the natives rejoiced; grown men, woman and startled looking children all hugged in stands, on the pitch Becchio was mounted from all angles; the celebration a mere Gary Kelly ‘swan dive’ finale away from accurately recalling the one that greeted Stephen McPhail’s opener in the 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge, exactly 13 years previously. Luciano, only moments earlier having been heralded in song, eventually rose to his feet once freed from the restraints of this human jenga tower, kissed the badge, then lifted his arms Kop-ward in acclaim.
For the minutes that followed, it actually felt like being back in 1999 as a confident Leeds threatened a second; granted the slick passing, skilful touches and off the ball movement was substituted purely by a high tempo and a physical threat, but suddenly Thomas was undaunted by the spectre of attacking players he could actually recognise and all around, confidence was sky high…and it all so nearly paid off – Lees heading over Diouf’s cross from a position where a goal beckoned. “You’re getting sacked in the morning” resonated in Rafa Benitez’s lugholes. Chelsea looked on edge, but in response they still threatened from distance through Lampard and also in the guise of the free-running Moses who was only denied by the linesman’s flag. After 47 minutes of play, the half-time whistle arrived; the players left to acclaim, first job of the second half – keep it tight…
As plans go, that one sucked; Chelsea drew level with barely a minute on the clock following the re-start. The movement off the ball and rapid, slick, passing and movement undid Leeds at a stroke; ironically only Mata’s shot lacked a veneer of quality – sadly so too did Ashdown’s goalkeeping as his weak palm only helped the ball into the bottom corner. From that point onwards, the game appeared rooted on an inevitable course; Chelsea able to pass at will, Leeds fighting to stay in the game. On 59 minutes Benitez introduced Eden Hazard, an audible collective groan emitted from the Kop; it seemed the metaphorical vultures were gathering on the West Stand roof, ready to feast on the dying carcass of Lee Peltier’s reputation, post-Hazard.
As it turned out, a quick succession of goals did follow, but not down that left-hand side; Chelsea’s second was unforgiveable on Leeds’ part, Pearce losing Ivanovic from a corner, however the third was a different matter, Moses striking early and decisively after Mata’s run made room for a superb 20 yard strike. As the ball nestled in the corner, thoughts strayed to the prospect of an octogenarian furiously pleasuring himself in his executive seating.
At that moment the game was over as a contest, and should there have been any doubt about that, Warnock dismissed it by introducing Aidy White to the field of play. Diouf and Brown quickly joined Jerome Thomas in making an early exit as ensuring fresh legs for Middlesbrough took precedence. With the game gone, the two usual default options lay open for Leeds fans: a show of defiance or making their own amusement – enter Ashley Cole.
Without a contest to focus upon, Cheryl Cole provided the most attractive of all alternatives; following the usual, unimaginative barracking of Ashley, a new chant rang out, gaining momentum with every repetition:
“Cheryl Cole is having a party; she’s having a threesome with Diouf and Varney”
Even the victim was moved sufficiently to offer sarcastic applause, while most Leeds fans were left to ponder whether Cheryl’s stamina would be sufficient for such an act, mindful of how many opportunities Luke needs to have to finish anything…
It was a merciful vice for escape as the visitors toyed with a beaten Leeds side; David Luiz, taking a break from defensive ineptitude played Hazard clean through for the fourth, before Hazard then laid the final goal of the evening on a plate for Torres. As the jubilant Chelsea fans flaunted their team’s superiority from the West Stand, mockingly bidding the home support farewell, so came the retort from the Kop:
“You can take Bates with you when you go!”
It was a parting shot that succinctly summed up the thoughts of many and was delivered with a emphatic degree of gusto.
Moments later, came the final whistle, and ultimately a sense of a relief that it got no worse than 5; appreciative applause greeted the undoubted efforts of the players, all the same. The score line was harsh on Leeds in a game that remained competitive for the best part of an hour, but then again, it was maybe perhaps fitting in the circumstances, highlighting the huge gulf that now exists between a club that escaped Bates and the one unfortunate enough to become his next pet project; while the Londoners have collected titles and conquered the continent on the good ship Abramovich, fuelled by reams of rubles, Bates has kept his own yacht – drip fed on Euros – firmly anchored in Bog Standard Bay.
Hopefully the arrival of a new skipper at Elland Road might just start to drag our club back into the regular company of such exalted rivals.