I’m used to Leeds United letting me down. I was at the old Wembley in 1996 to watch us get turned over by Villa in the League Cup final. I was there at The Reebok for the 4-1 capitulation against Bolton in 2004 which saw us pretty much relegated from the Premier League. I was there in Cardiff for the no-show against Watford in the play-off final. I was sat on the steps of the Kop, head in hands, during the pitch invasion against Ipswich which only prolonged our ultimate relegation to League One and I was there at Wembley in 2008 for the play-off final against Doncaster, even if the team themselves didn’t bother to show up.
I know I should learn to expect the worse but I never do, I always have hope that my team can win and it’s that hope that kills you. As a bright eyed thirteen-year-old I was all togged out in my retro Thistle Hotels shirt, white, blue and yellow scarf around my neck and a bloody big rosette bought at Leeds City Station before catching the train. It was an exciting and giddy train ride down to London and the atmosphere in London was great too. Bumping into Leeds fans all over the place, the platforms at Baker Street rammed full of white, yellow and blue. Then walk up Wembley Way with the twin towers in view, the chants and the songs sung loudly, what a day to be a Leeds fan.
The fireworks set off and the confetti fluttered as the teams came out, the day out at Wembley was an exciting distraction from our struggles in the Premier League. But the excitement was not to last as Savo Milošević silenced the Leeds fans after just twenty minutes. Chants of ‘Why is Brolin on the bench?’ echoed round the concourse at half time but by the time he was introduced it was already too late, Leeds were two nil down. Dwight Yorke compounded the misery just before full time, Leeds lost three nil and still that day typifies for me what being a Leeds fan is all about.
Now we turn to 2018/2019 and the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United. The thirteen-year-old inside me stirred again as the season kicked off. We were genuinely good, we were playing exciting football, we were top of the table, we had a chance to get promoted, I started to believe again. The giddy excitement of that thirteen-year-old had returned, there was real expectation that we could achieve something. I tried to keep my feet on the ground and did a reasonable job until the new year but then the media started running articles about how good it would be for Leeds to be in the Premier League again. If they believed it could happen I had to too.
But this is Leeds United and it’s never easy. We had our ups and downs, even in the space of 90 minutes but there was still hope, there was still faith. Until ‘Bad Friday’ that was! I’ve been nervous going into most games recently but non more so than Friday and the players looked nervy too. But despite the nervy start it was going our way, Wigan down to 10 men and a penalty for Leeds. An excruciating miss from our talisman Pablo but Lord Bamford settled the nerves to put Leeds in front. Then the wheels fell off. Wigan hit us on the break scoring twice from their only two shots on target. We never looked comfortable on the ball and despite 36 shots we couldn’t get past the bus parked in Wigan’s penalty area.
It was gutting, the worst I’ve felt as a Leeds fan. So much worse than Bolton, Watford, Ipswich or Doncaster because there had been hope. Yes, we were still level on point with Sheffield United but it felt like we had blown it, the performance more so than the result felt like we had capitulated in the worst possible way, choked at the last minute. Monday didn’t hurt as much, I felt numb, I almost expected us to lose after Sheffield United had thumped Hull. There was still a modicum of hope of course but it played out much the same as Friday, more possession, more shots but caught out on the break twice again. Pablo looked heartbroken at full time.
Down but not out. If this season has taught me anything it’s not to give up. Bielsa has transformed this team, who am I to underestimate them. Hours after the final whistle I’m dreaming of possibilities where Norwich lose their last two games and we win ours, dreaming about us beating Derby in the play-off final. The hope is returning but that’s what might finally finish me off.
Leeds United, It’s the hope that kills you