28 September 2008: The Road To Ell(and Back) Revisited.
The time? Ten past five yesterday afternoon. The place? A car park just opposite Leeds United?s Elland Road home. The reason why those in close proximity to our car saw clouds of blue smoke billowing from it? The fact I?d just heard, via our radio, that Albion had beaten Middlesbrough for the first time since the very creation of the world (or so it seemed to me, just then: any form of Albion win not ever witnessed by the Old Fart in his entire lifetime just seems that way to me: were any dinosaurs or volcanoes hurt in the resultant celebrations back then, I wonder?)
As you might have guessed by now, I was cursing a blue streak: a) For having not been present to enjoy a phenomenon most Baggies aficionados haven?t in their entire natural: and b) Allowing myself to be sweet-talked out of going by ?Im Indoors in the first place! Let me put it this way: my sister, an acknowledged master of the noble art of getting considerably more ?bang? from one?s verbally-obscene ?buck? than most (with the honourable exception of not a few senior Army NCO?s, of course), would have heartily approved my linguistic output, that?s for sure.
Even getting to see MOTD highlights of our game much, much later that evening served as but scant consolation for having missed such an historic occasion: here?s a toast to those Baggie people that did make the arduous journey to The Riverside, yesterday. Chaps and chapesses, I salute you all! Needless to say, I shall now be making the journey up the M6 for our - probably unproductive, but after hearing yesterday of fellow-travellers Hull humbling Arsene Wenger?s lot 2-1, and on their very own metropolitan turf too, you live in hope a similar miracle might be granted unto our lot - meeting with Man United, in but three week?s time.
Although suffering greatly from a distinct lack of normal Baggies action, our alternative awayaday at Leeds did have its own moments, mind. A gorgeous early autumn day, it was, with oodles of red, orange, and yellow-hued trees making a delightful contrast with skies of an oochy-coo baby blueness that would have met the exacting nursery-d?cor standards of Supernanny, even, made the prospect of some decent lower-division football more tempting than even I would have thought. And, for probably the last time this season, we were able to roll up to those away turnstiles wearing naught save T-shirts to protect our upper bodies from those delightful climes. Luxury, or what?
But even what amounts to footballing Nirvana can have a downside, as my other half discovered very quickly after we set sail for what some might term The Land Of ?Ell, in more prosperous times for what used to be Don Revie?s Kingdom. Strike One? How those malevolent little gremlins must have laughed when they caused His Nibs to take the M6 Toll in error for the M42 proper: yes, there was an ?escape exit? but the robbing sods then charged us nearly four quid for using it!
Strike Two came within the space of but 30 minutes, when we almost ran into the back of a slowly-proceeding truck on the A38: my anxious imprecations were tinged with a blueness even my hard-bitten sister would have found difficulty replicating. Once I?d recovered my equilibrium, my muttered comment to my other half was something on the lines of: ?that was twice in a row ? so there?s got to be a third one, hasn?t there??
Yup, there sure was, and much nearer to our destination, this time, when we almost missed the correct motorway junction, my other half only realising the mistake as we were about to pass said exit. His somewhat hasty rectification of the situation might yet end up on one of those sensationalist motorway police real-life programmes that erupt like a nasty rash, every now and again: I shall be examining our incoming mail most closely over the course of the next few weeks, in not-so-eager anticipation of what might well be a notice of intended prosecution.
Having got there by one pm, going by the profusion of vendors eager to flog flags, badges, scarves and other memorabilia to the Leeds faithful, of which there were many, even with two hours, still, to kick-off, there was going to be quite a crowd. And there was: 25,000 souls worshipped at the Shrine Of Revie, the seventh-highest in both the ?normal League? and its ?Greed? counterpart. A gate exceeding that of most Championship clubs, and two in ours, in fact.
Premiership-standard attendance for what was, not so many seasons ago, a Premiership club ? and one regularly participating in European knock-out tournaments, too. Going by yesterday?s scenes alone, the casual observer would never have twigged the fact that this was a fixture scheduled to take place in the lower reaches of English football. Visitors from clubs of much humbler origins must emerge from their coaches wondering just what the hell they?ve landed into.
The most incongruous sight? That of scores of Leeds followers draped in variants of the word ?relaxed? around the sun-drenched plinth of the Billy Bremner statue that adorns the open space to the side of the away turnstiles; such was their profusion, it seemed to me as though the club?s most famous tackling terror was emerging, arms raised aloft, in celebration of having only forced his way through the lot of them after a long, hard struggle!
As we did for Hereford?s epic FA Cup replay last season, we decided to make our way to the McDonalds branch located opposite the ground, just like the one that enjoys a similarly-lucrative spot back on Planet Albion. As we sat down to enjoy some much-needed refreshment, a cold Coke (large) for this column, and a coffee (strong!) for His Nibs, I reflected long and hard upon the names and faces of the players that figured so large in my youthful Baggies-watching activities, and now adorned the walls of the fast-food emporium.
These, among many others, were morally-dodgy gaffer Revie, the now-deceased Bremner (although he was a vindictive little ratbag as a player, I wouldn?t wish motor neurone disease upon my worst enemy), Jack Charlton (who dolefully rejoiced in the Brummie soubriquet ?Rubber-neck? during his playing days: never seemed to get much change out of The King, though), Lorimer, the Gray combo, Albion gaffer-to-be Johnny Giles, and eternally-erroneous custodian Gary Sprake (had he not stuffed up in spectacular fashion during his club?s 1968 FA Cup semi with Everton, it would have surely been Leeds opposing us at Wembley, not Everton).
A cast-iron generator of memories, both good and bad, for me ? and looking at the vista of comparatively youthful faces now occupying most tables, I wondered how many of those present had been around during the most famous ? and arguably controversial ? of United?s real glory years. The Fart would have loved it, if only for the mental nostalgia-fest it generated.
Back to the old jalopy, then, and a quick perusal of the Guardian before we entered the bearpit calling itself a football ground. As my other half scanned the sports section, I joined with him in wholehearted depreciation of the declining standard of their journalism, as per their somewhat ambitious listing of Ish Miller to not only start in yesterday?s Riverside encounter, but sit it out on the sidelines as well!
One quick thought: you don?t suppose this constitutes definitive proof of what the physicists have been telling us for yonks, that subatomic particles can actually appear in more than one spot at the same time (to all intents and purposes, the paradox of Schrodinger?s Cat, et. al)? For conformation, perhaps we should take the lad to that nice new atom-smasher they?ve just opened in Switzerland, launch him into a high-speed circumnavigation of its tunnel, and see what subatomic exotica they can detect at the end. Given the number of glaring misses he?s clocked up this season, yesterday?s inclusive, that might just be the answer to everyone?s prayer, what?
Come 2.30, we called a halt upon this most civilised way of spending one?s pre-match time, and took the short walk to the away turnstiles that so eagerly awaited our pleasure, instead. And, while we?re on the subject of ?pleasure?, what an unaccustomed delight it was to encounter stewards that actually treated punters like human beings? No sooner had they spotted the existence of my walking-aid, they then took it in turns to make solicitous enquiries about my ability to negotiate their stairs.
It so happens that Elland Road is not the worst in that respect by any means, so I didn?t need their help at all, but it was so nice ? not to mention unusual - to have been asked in the first place. Not so good was the subsequent behaviour of their brethren supervising the seats and aisles within: for reasons as yet unfathomable by either Man or Baggie, they seemed to have an unhealthy fixation upon insisting that away supporters remained seated, no matter what.
That I would have understood perfectly, had the stand been full to the gunnels ? but it wasn?t. Hereford, not being ?fashionable?, only brought around 750 with them, which left that away enclosure around half-full, at a rough guess. Even a shortarse like me found little need to ? er ? ?rise to the occasion? whenever the action shifted to the goalmouth in front. What made it even worse was their involvement of the plods, at the precise time the adjacent home end had ALL of their number stood on their own two feet! So much for consistency, then.
Needless to say, both Hitler and attendant Gestapo were roundly mocked by the Bull-loving travellers present, their charges then giving forth enthusiastic chants of: ?W**kers! W**kers!?.? and to the point where I greatly feared for the freedom of one bovine traveller we both knew well, the diminutive, yet VERY vocal Chris Jones.
He?s that most unusual of creatures, one who actively supports more than one club, in this case, The Bulls AND Leeds. In a vastly more prejudiced and misunderstood age for mental health, he would have been called ?schizophrenic?. The problem was that Chris, having experienced both sides of the Elland Road coin, wasn?t afraid to tell officialdom that theirs was a stance riddled with double-standards throughout, hence my anxiety as the plods moved purposefully in his direction. Just as well Chris suddenly realised precisely how close he was skating to thin ice, and ceased and desisted forthwith.
As for the game, because it?s not strictly Baggies I?m banging on about, I?ll say only this. Hereford, having a gaffer and coaching staff sharing much the same footballing philosophy as Mogga And Co, tried to play, but canny Leeds wouldn?t let ?em. That they managed to survive with their net pristine for as long as they did is largely down to the exploits of their keeper, one Darren Randolph, whose spectacular gymnastics ?tween both posts (he saved an incredible 18 shots, according to Statto, aka hubby) would have done Gordon Banks credit, even. Or, much nearer to home, our very own Scott Carson.
It wasn?t for nothing that the Bulls faithful sang ?Randolph Is Superman?, to the point of exhaustion, almost. In the end, it took a 73rd minute goal to do the trick; cruel luck for the lad, having weathered (and successfully countered) three near-cert goalbound Leeds efforts on the bounce, only to be cruelly beaten by a somewhat fortuitous rebound from the third.
And even then, the Bulls might have snatched a (fully-deserved, if only for the sheer hard work they?d put into the task) last-gasp point, when the lad Ashikodi, on an almost one-on-one with the Leeds custodian, somehow managed to screw his effort a scant yard wide of the post. A still, small voice tells me he might yet find a like-minded companion in our very own Mister Miller!
The Bulls? support? Although much diminished in numbers, albeit by our own somewhat exacting standards, its sheer quality would have done a revivalist meeting proud. Kicking off with that old classic: ?You?re Not Famous Any More?.? (how I remember that old chestnut, back in 1991-2!), they then warmed to their task by way of reminding the nearby home crowd to ?Stand Up If You Love The Whites?? Confusing, that, given the indisputable fact that Leeds? home strip IS ? erm ? white! Considering the sheer number of times they gave vent to that one during the game, I can only assume they were being ironic, as a counter to the vastly more famous Leeds anthem, ?Marching All Together?.
The Bulls? response? ?You?ve Only Got One Song!? Even when the home side did make a successful, if perilously late, penetration of the Bulls? goal-line, their response to the cries of unalloyed joy coming from the adjacent faithful came in the somewhat cheeky form of: ?You Only Sing When You?re Winning?.? Well, a cat can look at a king, can?t it? As for their constant reaffirmation of that age-old battle cry: ?Hereford ?Till I Die? ? there was one fundamental difference: they really meant it.
Having shifted ourselves from the ground at the conclusion of hostilities, it was but a short walk to our pre-arranged meeting spot with our Leeds-loving chum, John Peckham. I do have to say that he?s a damn sight more principled than I ever will be: examine your Baggie souls, readers, and ask yourselves whether or not you could voluntarily relinquish season-ticket holder status because of the obstreperous behaviour of a certain club chairman.
That?s what John solemnly pledged to do, once ?Captain Birdseye?, aka Ken Bates, had contrived to upset just about every serious Leeds supporter in sight by arbitrarily cutting off every line of communication they?d had with the club proper since time immemorial, thereby instantly transforming an outfit whose reputation for supporter-involvement was once near-unassailable, to relations of approximately Russo-American 1950?s Cold War status. I won?t repeat the precise words he used to describe Bates and his obnoxious acolytes: I?m also given to understand The Bearded One is not averse to involving libel lawyers, at the drop of a hat!
Much to my surprise, though, when John did show up, it transpired that he had gone to the game after all. I guess the habits of many seasons are far too ingrained to be eradicated completely: as we?ve seen many times before ourselves, that oft-repeated anthem, ?X, Y or Z Till I Die? won the moral struggle in the end.
But what the hell: with a delightfully sunny evening in prospect, it was off to Leeds city centre we went, to feed our inner selves, and bat the breeze with our old chum, and with suitable refreshment by way of accompaniment. After somewhat tortuous progress through the city?s one-way system (John not being a driver, his directions got confusing, occasionally), we finally showed up at our eating place, the local Wetherspoons, right in the heart of the metropolis.
As ?Im Indoors put away his meatballs-with-pasta combo, and your truly a plaice and chips, steak-lover John then put us right with all the gossip pertaining to United, and its current charge up the First Division table. We gather that their supporters club have finally negotiated to buy a place of their own (they?d been evicted from their normal matchday premises, in circumstances that must have left a really sour taste in the mouths of those United supporters involved, so a matchday HQ of their own constituted a huge step forward for them), the Peacock pub, just over the road from the ground itself. It only remained for their followers to finish putting into effect the small print (some arcane irritations attached to ownership still remained) and they?d be cooking on gas once more.
All that, plus much, much more ? believe you me, United?s followers have been sorely put-upon over the course of the last few seasons, for various reasons ? and it was time to go. Well, we did want to see MOTD, didn?t we? Finally taking our leave of our chum (with any luck, Leeds will be promoted this time round; assuming we go the opposite way, still the more likely scenario, Middlesbrough win or otherwise, another visit might well be on the cards next season), it was back down the M1 we went again. Just one small difference: this time, my other half, not wanting to experience any more problems on the road, had taken the precaution of fuelling up with no less than THREE strong coffees beforehand!
More thoughts about our extraordinary Riverside win tomorrow night, so I?ll leave you now with but a couple of final points.
ROCKET-MAN REVISITED?.. A big ?well done? to Yves Rossy, the gentleman who managed to cross the Channel courtesy his own personal means of jet propulsion, and with naught but a Formula One-style fireproofed coverall protecting his ?main assets? from the ravages of a high-temperature jet exhaust system, too. A brave man, if only for enduring the risks of my last!
But he could have done it at far less cost, and in a way that both Steve The Miser, and the permanently-polluting Steve Brookes would have heartily approved of, too. My Big Idea? Simple. Eat nothing save curried baked beans for a good ten days, slow sphincter muscle activity by the simple means of ingesting strong anti-diarrhoea remedies as well, then, on the day in question, reverse the entire procedure courtesy a copiously-laxative draught of castor oil, or similar.
Wait a few hours, then, at the appointed moment ? and with that little lot circulating around his guts, he?d most certainly KNOW! ? simply adopt that fabled ?light-blue-touchpaper-and-retire? technique long-known to fireworks enthusiasts of my age, or above. Ignition guaranteed, first time, every time. Mind you, I take no responsibility whatsoever for whatever location (planet?) such abnormally large amounts of methane gas generated would eventually take him, not to mention the thoroughly antisocial state of his underwear, by the time he got there!
GLYNIS?S ?MARKETING OPPORTUNITY NOT TO BE MISSED? SPOT?. Easy, this one. Whoever puts together, then flogs, an ?I SAW ALBION WIN AWAY AT THE RIVERSIDE? T-shirt or similar for the benefit of our supporters, will be sitting on a fortune within a matter of hours, I reckon.
- Glynis Wright
Contact the Author
All text, pictures and graphics are copyright of BOING unless otherwise stated