In January 2010, Leeds United famously traveled to Old Trafford in the 3rd round of the FA Cup and produced one the greatest shocks in the competition’s recent history; yesterday, a little over three years down the line and 10 miles up the road, the Whites made their first return to Manchester since then. Much has changed in those times as was wholly, and painfully, evident on the pitch…only in the stands did there remain something worth celebrating – for now, that is all Leeds United can boast, it’s incomparable supporters.
Of course, the day didn’t start that way; they never do. As woeful as Leeds have continued to be throughout the season, the precedent set by previous cup clashes offered at least a degree of solace, that somewhere out of the desperate mire of league performances, those lining up today would again somehow betray their everyday awfulness with another stellar display on the big stage. As it was, by 2.05pm, those dreams had been rudely intruded upon by the arrival of an opening goal and by the 15 minute mark, any misconceptions about the game being a genuine contest had been cast aside into the Etihad bins amidst a sea of plastic beer glasses and burger wrappers.
The first goal by Yaya Toure was the result of a slick interchange of passes in an around the penalty area, but equally the product of Austin and anyone else’s failure to track the Ivorian’s run decisive run into the area. City, with little to play for other than the FA Cup had started strongly and could’ve been further ahead before Mark Clattenburg awarded the softest of penalties to Aguero for an almost apologetic use of the arm by Tom Lees in a tussle for the ball. The Argentine struck home and the game was over.
Two options usually remain open for Leeds fans on the road in such circumstances, when they’re standing witness to a game that is already lost and are staring the wicked spectre of humiliation, square on in the eyes: shut up, sit down and accept it, or stand up, sing louder and make damn sure that even if we’re going down without a fight on the pitch, we can at least leave a stadium having scored a moral victory in the stands. Yesterday, Leeds fans plumped for a third option…
Terrace humour and satire is one of football’s great selling points, one of those things an extortionate Sky subscription, for all the hype, just cannot bring to the confines of an armchair. Leeds fans could’ve simply gone down the route of showing unstinting defiance yesterday, or they could have seized on the opportunity to unrelentingly call for Warnock’s head while the eyes of the national media looked on. But they didn’t. Although intermittent choruses of ‘Marching on Together‘ bellowed out from the South Stand, nobody believed they were going to see us win, while simply calling for the head of the manager – did we really want to spoil the biggest away day of the season with 75 minutes of negativity?
No, yesterday Leeds fans chose to employ humour, purely and simply as the best possible way to get their point across, and didn’t everyone just have a fantastic time for it? Calling for a manger’s head may be regarded the most direct way of getting a point across and chanting “We’re s*** and we’re sick of it!” may be as a blunt as it’s possible to be, but self-mockery is surely the most potent weapon of all?
Warnock may be able to react – and arguably with a degree of justification, considering the wider picture – that he’s not deserving of the calls for his head, but was powerless to argue with many of the points made by a self-deprecating Leeds end. Similarly, the Manchester City fans, although in truth, always one of the most likeable of football’s tribes were robbed any opportunity to mock and instead were left to look on in admiration as those visiting stole their thunder, ratched it up a notch and basked in it.
The line was drawn in the sand as soon as those in the South East corner of the stadium offered the standard, condescending chorus of “2-0 in your cup final” – the Leeds fans came straight back:
We lose every week,
We lose every week,
You’re nothing special,
We lose every week!
From there on in, the template was set for the best away day of the season. The City fans to their credit were quick to respond to the (wholly misguided) questioning of where they were when they were s*** by directing the Leeds fans‘ attentions towards Michael Brown:
He was here,
He was here,
He was here when we were s***
But back came the refrain:
Michael Brown is not for sale,
Michael Brown is not for sale
Suddenly, mercifully the game was rendered a side-show; having subsequently expressed the desire of seeing a team of Michael Brown’s play, it was just a case of making the best of the day while powerfully getting a message across; when a fan base is openly mocking their own club as being a laughing stock, not even making an effort to defend it in the eyes of critics; when anger is substituted by some degree of acceptance, there is no greater gauntlet thrown down to a board.
It’s as is the entire fan base had risen in unison and simply said, “Look David, look Salem. We’re not angry (any more) we’re just disappointed” – forceful, direct protests arrive in expectation that the owners will react, yesterday was essentially a move to call GFH-C’s bluff – that we’d get angry if we truly had any belief that things would change… it’s time for the owners to prove the many doubters otherwise. While the status quo remains, credibility will simply continue to erode.
But back to the game, or at least the supporters, the only thing worth lingering upon. While an exciting, developing side took the game to the hosts at Old Trafford, a stale, uninspired XI continued to chase – or rather, amble – shadows on the pitch. With Leeds unable to muster an effort on, or even at least in the general direction of goal, the fans decided to pretend we’d scored regardless. After counting down to a third consecutive goal celebration they turned on mass to the City fans…
2-0 and you ****** it up!
2-0 and you f***** it up!
An appreciative ripple of applause came back, as was also the case on the back of some impressively coordinated “Shoes off/Stand up if you hate Man U” chanting, the latter of which spread along the width of the East Stand. A couple of Poznan’s later and day out was already a triumph. Even when cries of ‘One Nigel Adkins!” resounded from the away end in response to a morning newspaper story the desire to self-mock was too irresistible to discard and those demands were quickly superseded as “Jose Mour-in-ho” became the new number one managerial target.
The second half continued much in the same way as the first; albeit it took City a couple of minutes longer to score as Tevez nudged home Aguero’s cross… another kick in the balls for Warnock. Still, the Leeds fans were not going to bow their heads down submissively…
You’ve only scored 3,
You’ve only scored 3…
How s*** must you be?
You’ve only scored 3!
A polite enquiry as to whether we could play the hosts every week followed, before the Etihad rang out to cries of “Ole!…Ole!” as Leeds strung a move involving in excess of half a dozen passes together. Ironically enough, shortly afterwards as another City attack concluded with a corner, those in the away end chose to join in the fun themselves – it didn’t go unnoticed by The Daily Telegraph’s Henry Winter that this impromptu game of ‘keep ball’ did actually represent the longest spell of possession Leeds had enjoyed to that point.
As the ‘contest’ continued to trundle on toward its inevitable outcome, those who’d traveled with hope but had long since abandoned the notion stayed to the bitter end, their enthusiasm not dimmed one iota as the fourth goal went in. As the final stages of the game approached, “Warnock out!” chants did become more vocal, but the more effective work had already been done.
At full-time the Leeds fans left the stadium, heads held high, having risen above any possible baiting instigating the p*** taking themselves; while Warnock would still make the point that he considered calls for his head to be unfair, he simply couldn’t argue with anything else that emanated from the stands, nor could the media or opposition fans alike both of whom were wholesome in their praise on social media in the aftermath of the game.
From his post-match comments it would appear that Warnock has now accepted that he one foot already out of the door, and maybe, just maybe, the conduct of the Leeds supporters at the Etihad also brought an appreciation of why our patience has long since been exhausted. Everything he said spoke of post-match appeared the product of carefully produced spin on the behalf of someone who’s finally come to the realisation that he’s failed.
The lavish praise of the supporters and statement that he’ll stay on for as long as necessary or simply go now, depending on what is best for the club should at least build Warnock some bridges after the Middlesbrough game; and, if he goes this week, it should ensure that he leaves in rather more positive circumstances than might else have been the case.
In truth, Warnock deserves that; it should be remembered that he chose Leeds even when the Wolves job was potentially open to him, he’s also been severely hamstrung in his plans by a farcical takeover process. Even now, as much as he tries to paint a rosy picture of those at the top, you wonder whether he was in a position to do the sort of business he really felt necessary in the transfer window.
New man please. Nigel Adkins please. If that involves more upheaval at boardroom level, then yes please. The Leeds fans couldn’t have made their message any clearer and Neil Warnock could not have made their job any easier – your move, GFH-C.
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