Being a life long Leeds fan is a hard enough sentence to serve, particular the last ten years. What makes it harder for me is that I am following the club I love all the way from sunny Sydney, Australia.
I was born into supporting Leeds United through my father and grandfather both Yorkshiremen and mad supporters. Coming across to live in Australia I picked up the drug of following Leeds from an early age, long before the Aussie contingent made it into the first team. Though I won’t even mention one of them as my hatred for him burns for what he did to the memory of the two brilliant Leeds fans.
My earliest memories of supporting the club are watching religiously the hour-long highlights of the First Division matches (soon to be premier league) with my dad. The love of the whites transferred to me as easily as I learnt how to kick a ball. It was an instinct, it must have been apart of our genes.
Growing up being a little young to fully appreciate the brilliance of Batty, McCallister, Speed and Strachan. I was one of those blessed before we knew how much football can hurt to follow. The days it truly took over my life are the time of O’Leary’s babes and the short sharp rise we had to flirt with the top of the league and Champions League glory.
My family had just gotten pay tv which was the window to live LUFC matches and my own 90 minutes of heaven or hell depending the results. The match that most sticks in my mind is a 4-3 win where we came from behind to nab the 3 points with a late late goal. The reason I remember this is because it’s the first time LUFC got me into trouble. It was on around 7am out time, meaning it finished well after the time I should have left to get to my year 6 class. Subsequently arriving late with the excuse that I was watching my Leeds play was not appropriate to others as it was to me. This wasn’t the last time I’d be late to school / work due to needing to watch my club play.
All anyone over here seemed to follow before the Aussies hit the heights for LUFC were the Arses, Mancs or Liverpool. Apart from bumping into some expats I’d never really seen other Leeds fans apart from my family. Leeds for me was ingrown; following them was as much apart of me as breathing or just waking up every morning. Although it seemed day by day I was coming across more and more LUFC shirts in daily life. I did think, we have arrived, we’re taking over.
Little did we all know what was going to happen. It seems the club was throwing money out with the fish tank water of Risdale’s office. Loans from private companies and individuals hurt us (we’d never do this again would we GFH?!), players sold, managers sacked and the ultimate fall. Twice. Relegations and obscurity. My chats to others about Leeds started to dry up to a purely family based affair. Jumping of Leeds to another club like some fair weathered, band wagoning fans was not an option for me. I bleed white and dreamed of one day chanting and singing at the mighty Elland Road.
Championship and League One football hurts in other ways. Not just the embarrassment of the fall, the constant and in 2001 bla bla bla champs league drivel from commentators, not only the fallen giant that all teams get up for to beat us, not the financial struggles, the asset and player stripping… No to me this meant it was getting harder and harder to watch my team.
One day however, through Google, twitter and many a Leeds fan I found the streaming answer. I again could watch my boys in white, albeit at a size of a few cm by a few cms. This enabled my to reconnect with the players, know how barn door billy was our most lethal striker, how the Robbie Rogers sported a clothing label and more importantly and more heartbreakingly would fall in love with my new favourite player only to have Ken sell him off. I went through a stage of buying a shirt with their name on my back, months on and he was sold. Most likely to Norwich. I stopped with names on my shirt after I had enough of this.
Some of my recent matches of Memory would be getting up at 5am to watch Leeds vs Man Utd in the FA Cup third round and seeing Johnny send that ball forward for Beckford to slide on home and heard the Leeds faithful go mental. I was screaming from my lounge and woke the missus up. What a day! The 3rd of January actually became my wedding day two years on. Never forget that date now!
Bristol City promotion game I watched with my dad at a RSL Club as the only two late on a Sunday night sat head in hands as Mad Max saw red early on. Again when Beckford was on the spot to stroke the ball into the net we were jumping around and screaming from Sydney. Spilling beer and cautions from the staff didn’t stop us cheering like idiots when that final whistle went.
About 4/5 years ago my dad and I went and got our LUFC tattoos together. He chose the back of the neck below the collar. For me, outside of the right calf. Meaning I can proudly show my support when I’m sporting shorts out here in Aussie land.
Let’s talk about one of the best day of my life… Seeing my mighty Leeds at Elland Road. You see for our honeymoon my wife and I travelled from Aus to Europe. My goal was to see LUFC at home once in my life. Re-arrange some of our plans enabled me to get along to the home game against Sheff Weds on the 13th of April 2013. An important match with it being Brian McDermott’s first in charge and after a poor run of results we were just as close to relegation as we were playoffs, a familiar feeling.
This was the ultimate Leeds dream come true. I was prepared for disappointment; it is an all too familiar trait of a Leeds fan. Honestly though it was one of the greatest days of my life. Leeds won 2-1, with well, lets not say his name getting a brace. Being inside the ground and chanting and singing the songs were an amazing experience. Spent a bit of coin in the club shop stocking up on presents for myself and the family.
Although the best experience would be the surprise organised without me knowing. I had a call from a mate back home the day before the match while I was following the wife around and carrying the shopping bags (penance for the day at Leeds). I was told to be at the East Stand at 10am. What followed was truly surreal. I got into the stadium before the match, bumping into Norman Hunter and Paul Reaney pitch side leading some corporates around. Grabbing the chance to have a photo with these two Leeds legends. Having some photo’s I’ll never get a chance of again in the Tunnel, on the bench and inside the stadium whilst it was empty.
Following this truly made the day such a special occasion. I got into the dressing room and met all these players that I had for so long watched on a computer screen during matches. I was shocked and stunned at the realisation that I normally see these guys run around a pitch at a couple of cms high, now I was standing face to face with them. The banter in the sheds reminded me of playing football back home as everyone rolled in and had a laugh, the difference of course would be without the LV Boot Bags.
I met and had photos with so many of the Lads but my most favourite would have to be with the newly mad Club Captain – Rossy McCormack! Chatting to the boys and actually meeting them and shaking their hands was a truly surreal moment in my life. It is one memory that I’ll treasure. To tap it off I had a beer in the players lounge both before and after the game.
Now it’s getting up to a year since this great day and what’s changed? There has been up until last month a greater sense of optimism and unity at LUFC. Obviously what’s come out recently is another TOMA, more cash woes, little to no signings (but we got ourselves some loaned in wingers!) and the usual Leeds slump.
I’m still madly Leeds and always try to plan my weekends with to watch my club playing from here in Sydney. I loudly cheer every goal, I wince in pain at every conceded and I rant and rave to the wife about all things going on in the boardroom and on the pitch. She’s a good lady as she pretends to care.
One thing is for sure, I am and will always be Leeds.