There may be no lonelier place to be a Leeds fan than in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Hi, my name is Andrew Murray and I’m a 30-year-old Leeds fan making residence in the American South, or as the locals have dubbed it, ‘God’s Country,’ a deliciously ironic moniker. If you couldn’t tell, I’m not from here. I’m a proud Northwesterner who thinks of Seattle as home, but am finishing up my second round of university studies in this funny little rich town.
I became a Leeds fan towards the latter half of George Graham’s short spell as Leeds boss, in the ’97-’98 season. My father, who immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia back in the 70s, was a massive Scum fan, so I watched a lot of them as a kid on old VHS tapes he had. This was long before the Internet or before many Americans gave football (proper football, that is) a second thought, so these videos severely lacked any context and made it hard for me to truly appreciate and follow the English game.
Around the time I was in high school and exposure to football in America was in its relative infancy, I began to really appreciate European football, though I didn’t feel like I had a team. It was also around this time that I had, as many males that age do, a rather large falling out with my father, who hated Leeds for some reason.
Just like that, I had a team.
I researched as much as I possibly could about Leeds—both the team and the city—and found a scrappy club with history, up and coming young players, and passionate support that was the envy of the land. What wasn’t to like?
Those first couple of years as a supporter from far were fantastic. The team was challenging in the upper reaches of the premier league, while successfully taking its travelling show across Europe in the UEFA Cup. I could watch highlights of the games online and occasionally late at night on TV, when certain sports networks had run out of other things to air. But I mostly read recaps of the games from foreign newspapers.
It all climaxed in that 2000-2001 season that saw us kick open the door to the Champions League and ruffle the feathers of the likes of Barcelona, AC Milan, and Lazio. Being an English team in the ‘Group of Death’ meant that ESPN broadcast most of Leeds’ games in the competition that year. I recorded every one of them, though I quickly recorded over that 4-0 mauling to the hands of Barcelona at Camp Nou.
If I wasn’t hooked before, I was then. There was so much promise in that team—a perfect mix of youthful exuberance and veteran cool. Say what you will about Alan Smith now, but watching him and Paolo Maldini absolutely battle each other one-on-one in the games against Milan, or Lee Bowyer wreak havoc on the flank, or Olivier Dacourt pull the strings in midfield against some of the best Europe had to offer—it was a special time.
Even as things got bad and we plunged to the depths of League One, I’ve continued to follow Leeds, and have in fact become even more attached to the club. There’s something to be said about going through such rough times together and rising again. We’re not where we should be quite yet, but I still hold hope that we’re moving in the right direction and I believe Brian McDermott is the man to move us forward. Now living on the east coast and only having a five-hour time difference, I am able to listen to or watch every game we play.
At university, the handfuls of football fans I run into tend to be Scum fans, Arsenal fans, or Tottenham fans. When they discover that I’m a Leeds fan, I usually get blank stares as they wrack their brains trying to figure out who Leeds United is, which is expected from glory-hunting American football fans in their early 20s. I just remind them of their cup defeats to the hands of the Mighty Whites, which generally ends our conversations.
Still, when travelling around the country to visit family, I occasionally come across people in Leeds jerseys. I’ve seen them in Los Angeles, Colorado, Seattle, San Francisco, and Montreal in the past five years. Every time, I’ll go out of my way to acknowledge the shirt, and every time there is an automatic bond. It’s easy to walk around town in a Barcelona, AC Milan, or Scum shirt, for most people. The same cannot be said for wearing a Leeds shirt. It’s especially nice to see young kids in Leeds tops, as their parents are successfully steering them in the right direction. It gives me hope that the current imbalance in the universe that sees the likes of Norwich, West Brom and Hull City Tigers (ha ha), among others, in a league above us will someday soon be corrected.
In the meantime, those of us Yanks that see ourselves as a small part of Leeds United will continue to fly the flag and get behind the boys. Every year we’ll wait and hope for a preseason tour to come to the States, and some of us, including myself, will hope that maybe this is the year that we can actually make the dream trip to Elland Road. Neither may happen in the foreseeable future, but as Leeds fans, disappointment is a central feature to our collective existence.
Would it have been nice to have been playing Champions League football all this time instead of toiling in the lower leagues? Sure, but I wouldn’t change a minute of our journey. We’ve been through the shit, and when we crash the Premier League party once again, we’ll take nothing for granted and savour every minute of it, outsinging everyone along the way.