This was a piece written for The Square Ball in the aftermath of the Hillsborough fiasco, but in the light of current events, if anything, it now seems even more apposite…
As the death throes of Leeds United’s latest FA Cup campaign played out a Spotland, as thousands watched on helplessly as a team as 11 men in beige feebly chased lower league shadows, there was still comfort to be found. As the second goal finally arrived to confirm what already appeared inevitable, an inner solace lurked, as the cathartic chorus of ‘What the f***ing hell was that?’ cascaded with gusto into the faces of a sheepish looking collective of failures, a degree of consolation existed: I could look forward to facing the taunts of everyone at work on Monday morning.
Fast forward a week and suddenly here we are again, the depressing spectre of a Leeds United team reduced to a uniform sporting bunch of headless chickens (asthmatic ones at that, nobody covered the ground that quickly at Hillsborough) as Sheffield Wednesday lorded it on the turf in a manner worthy of Xavi and Iniesta rather than that of Llera and Semedo.
This time though it was even worse; the true horrors of Rochdale were masked from the more casual supporters and the neutrals, available only to savour uncensored in a small corner of Lancashire, and on a select few streaming sites that have thus far, circumnavigated Sky’s best attempts at blocking, but this event, this catastrophic spectacle was open to all. Most who experienced the Spotland nightmare had done so through limited highlights and through newspaper reports, edited down TV exposure and the simple stat of a 2-0 scoreline that massively flattered Leeds, or at least aided denial.
Not in Sheffield though, this was an all-singing, all-dancing (albeit never down the wing) production in front of a live TV audience, a humiliation brought to the masses in pixel-sharp high definition and sponsored by Ford. While we stood, disbelieving in the Leppings Lane Upper, we did so in the knowledge that the nation was sharing, delighting in our woes, the goals this time were accumulating and our South Yorkshire rivals were basking in every moment of it, but again, through the grimacing surfaced a grin, an even greater one than on the Saturday previous…
Like everyone around me, as the game slipped ever more hopelessly away from Leeds, so the sense of defiance grew, as 4-0 became 5-0, so cries of ‘Marching on together’ went up another notch. If there’s anything that sets Leeds fans apart from any others, it’s that innate sense of refusing to be battered into submission in the stands, regardless of how those representing fare on the pitch. As blow after blow rained in on the footballing carcass on the pitch, the fans’ reaction recalled Rocky Balboa in his third outing as he taunted Clubber Lang in the ring with a cocky smile and the repeated retort “Ain’t so bad” as every punch landed – 3200 supporters, effectively sticking their tongues out and shouting forth “Ner, ner, ner, ner ner! Didn’t even hurt!”
The stick that followed at work post-Rochdale, and then once more to a far more greater degree, both in person and in the midst of the timelines of twitter, after the Wednesday game, they represented merely another opportunity to stick out the metaphorical tongue and state boldly, “We’re Leeds United, we don’t a give a f**k – that’s just us, deal with it!” That’s where the comfort lies, where solace is to be found, because no matter how they mock, we still come back and we do so armed with the knowledge that every time we do win, it’s one in the face for them, it’s like that glorious moment when an unbowed Rocky suddenly launches his right hook back at Clubber knowing that his opponent has no response.
Being Leeds means going through an induction peppered with hard knocks, a rites of passage that transforms any downtrodden young fan into an indefatigably resilient teen, and with that the die is cast for life.
And now, with the club stuck at the centre of a custody battle between an Italian sociopath, seemingly intent on channeling his PR campaign through his daughter’s Instagram account, and a local consortium that changes its make-up more often than Katie Price, the semi-regular mockery has morphed into a 24 hour, around the clock sideshow.
But we’ll carry on…somehow, defiantly shaking our fists as we waltz down the corridors of insanity, hungry for more of the knocks, simply because somewhere deep down, we’ll believe…or at least try and convince ourselves, that maybe the next one will be the last. So if there is no dream ticket, if Farnan seizes control and oversees an extended (though hopefully constructive) period of austerity, or as seems likely, Cellino takes the reigns and somehow makes LUFC the laughing stock of another country…we’ll still carry on.
Because, to borrow the words of Morrissey:
‘Oh yes, you can kick me
And you can punch me
And you can break my face
But you won’t change the way I feel
‘Cause I love you’
Once a Leeds fan, always a Leeds fan, and regardless of how hard the knocks and how tough times get, always ready to give everything for the cause.
Watching on as recent events have unfolded on the pitch, if ever there was a time we needed players with the same mentality, this is it….and now at boardroom level? Ditto.
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