Groundhopper Girl: The Time We Went To Elland Road And The Opposition Fans Were Banned (5/92: Leeds United)

We now take a short break from my European adventures to bring you a Northern, soccerball-related post from even further back in April…

Leeds United 1 – 2 Cardiff City, 11th April 2015

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If you’d asked me 6 months ago to name three things I associated with Leeds, I’d have probably listed coal mines, Northerners and the soap opera that is Leeds United FC. I’ve now been there twice and my answer is the same. Having been to a coal mine with a Northerner on my first trip Oop North, my second visit to my long-suffering, much-stereotyped toyboy’s local mega-city had been immaculately planned so we could groundhop to a game at Elland Road before I went away. He’s been a number of times – including seeing his local team play Chelsea, the other team who he supports (don’t ask) – but he was hardly upset to find another excuse to go, with embarrassing Southerner in tow.

Police presence for... a match with only one set of fans.

Police presence for… a match with only one set of fans. #TheNorth

Their opponents for the day were Cardiff City. Always a fan of a footballing fracas, I’d chosen a good game to attend; in the week leading up to the game, the two sides had been sparring over the away ticket allowance. Cardiff were told they could have 2,000 tickets, but the fans’ travel was to be strictly policed. The club rejected this, and were then offered just 500 tickets with no restrictions. Insulted, the away team’s fans boycotted the match. Although disappointed that there’d be no atmosphere at the ground, it at least made the game memorable.

A bit of Elland Road, with Leeds fans out in full force.

A bit of Elland Road and the club shop in front of it, with Leeds fans out in full force.

Via a quick visit to the Co-Op to buy sandwiches and drinks, we trundled down Wesley Street, a gently swaying downhill slope that eventually winds down to the stadium. We ate our lunch on the steps around the Billy Bremner statue while listening to an impassioned programme-seller crying out for people to buy his wares, and it must have worked because we both bought programmes, which were £3 each (just a pound more expensive than the ones sold at my beloved non-league Tonbridge Angels, although ours are the 2nd best in the Ryman Prem and 15th best in non-league…).

Pre-match, there's a net between ground and supporters.

Pre-match, there’s a net between ground and supporters.

I realised as we were about to go in, past some security guards, that our drinks may not pass muster under inspection. So we went out of our way to go through a gate that a guard had just left, and smuggled in our goods successfully. But once we’d made it to our seats in the lower North Stand and I’d popped open my can of Monster, disaster struck. A mere quarter of the way through the can, a steward noticed me and bawled me out for having a can in the ground. He wouldn’t leave until he’d seen me get rid of it. So we had to squeeze past everyone else on our row and go inside, where the bins were, and stand by them while I downed my drink. A word of advice – do not down a can of Monster. You will feel mildly nauseous hereafter.

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Once we’d (re)taken our seats, we had a little bicker about me vowing to be Cardiff’s only supporter, a vow that greatly upset Bundy. It came to an abrupt halt as the teams ran onto the field and Marching On Together was played/shouted by virtually every fan in the stadium, including my enthusiastic companion. From the home team, I recognised none of the players’ names, with the exception of Souleymane Doukara, a briefly prolific striker in whose apogee had been elevated to hero status in the Bundy household. His goalscoring days had waned, hence he was consigned to the bench. Several Cardiff players, leftovers from their Premership days – Whittingham, Marshall, Gunnarsson – rang bells, especially the former two, having once been stars* in my Fantasy Football team. (*Budget options because I’d run out of cash.)

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The silence from Cardiff’s allotted corner of the stadium was eerie, but undeterred, we made several Wealdstone Raider references (“You’ve got no fans!”) before I remembered who I was meant to be supporting. With no fans to spur them on, Bundy was optimistic about Leeds’ chances of winning, but his optimism was misplaced when on 14 minutes, poor work defending a corner and a poached effort from Sean Morrison saw the unrepresented Bluebirds take the lead. As Cardiff’s sole supporter, I baaed support. (#WelshBanter) But the home side fought back quickly with debutant Kalvin Phillips levelling just minutes later. To celebrate, the buoyant Leeds supporters bellowed an ironic chorus of “YOU’RE NOT SINGING ANY MORE!”.

I was also entertained by their twist on the classic ‘opposition goalkeeper takes goal kick abuse’ (which, in my experience, is either a simple “OHHHHHHH – YOU’RE SHIT! AHHHHHHH”, or – when the Angels faithful are feeling particularly creative following the executives’ latest decision to clamp down on swearing in the stands – “OHHHHHH – YOU, SIR, ARE EXCREMENT!”). Theirs was a standard “OHHHHH – YOU, SHIT, BASTARD!”. Bundy was surprised that this was not the standard chant at most football grounds, but when YouTubing it, all of the results were Leeds-related.

The lunatic stabbing the pitch.

The most half-hearted groundsman of all time.

The rest of the first half developed without incident, unless you count Sol Bamba, the Leeds captain, being truly catastrophic in defence. Pre-match, Bundy had recommended him; at half time, we were left analysing his woefully sub-par showing. Between analysis, we marvelled at the man forking the pitch (hehe, forking) – his efforts were the most lazy and half-arsed I’ve seen since the Tonbridge Angels relegation team of 2013/14. If he was being paid to feebly stroke the ground with his pitchfork for 10 minutes, I’d like to sign up for the role right now.

In view of Leeds’ unwieldy defence, headed by the hapless Bamba, it seemed inevitable that Cardiff would net again – and so they did. Gunnarsson bundled the ball in twenty minutes after the restart, provoking a double substitution from Neil Redfearn in which Steve Morison and Billy Sharp were brought on. But the changes were futile, with both players missing chances, Sharp going achingly close but denied by the crossbar. Even bringing on Bundy’s beloved Doukara towards the end failed to inspire the team, and the final whistle blew shortly after.

Despite the loss, Leeds fans will just be relieved to know they’ll still be in the Championship next year – a position often in doubt thanks to the maniacal hirings, firings and interference of megalomaniac owner Massimo Cellino (who famously sacked former keeper Paddy Kenny for having a birthday on May 17th, as Cellino believes the number 17 to be unlucky). So while a disappointment, it’s at least mitigated by the irrelevance of the result to both teams. As for the experience – Leeds may be unpopular with many sets of fans, but they’ve got good craic, and with the fan and owner #bants, they’d certainly liven up the Premiership. Maybe next season…

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