Get Down Off That Crossbar Casper!

On Saturday, just over 46 years after my first ever venture into its hollowed stands, I had a trip down to Elland Road stadium to watch Leeds United play local rivals Barnsley.

To clarify, I’ve been to the ground hundreds of times since that visit as a young boy, fair of hair and euphoric of demeanour. However, memories of that first visit were re-ignited as I sat watching this weekends gladiatorial battle unfold between the current occupants of the all white shirt and their Yorkshire neighbours.

Whenever I think of Barnsley town folk playing football my mind enters a portal of childhood nostalgia. In particular, a place which stores grainy memories of a comprehensive football match during Ken Loach’s 1970’s movie Kes, set in the South Yorkshire town.

In the particular scene I refer to, late actor Brian Glover plays a fractious games master who joins in the football game with his pupils. Adorning a red number 9 shirt, he kicks off the game likening himself to a “slightly balding Bobby Charlton” in his impromptu match commentary.

As teacher of the lesson, he competitively bullies his way through the match, admonishing pupils for lax defensive marking, playing slaps or (in the case of movie hero Billy Casper) poor goalkeeping.

Casper, the skinny neglected teenager clad in oversized ‘Lost Property’ shorts and grimy t-shirt, is disinterested in football and is berated for hanging on the crossbar of his goal when Glover’s side concedes.

It was, and remains, one of my favourite movie scenes. As a pupil of a northern England comprehensive school around that time the grit, humour and realism of the kitchen sink drama struck a chord.

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The quality of football on offer from Barnsley (and Leeds) was of a significantly higher quality than Glover and his pupils, but lacked the comedic value of that movie scene.

There was no berating of the Barnsley goalkeeper for swinging on the crossbar when Kyle Bartley put Leeds ahead on 36 minutes. Additionally, Leeds head coach Gary Monk didn’t dish out corporal punishment to defenders Charlie Taylor and Luke Ayling for being distracted by an impromptu game of slaps when Barnsley scored late in the game……. At least I don’t think he did!

Obviously, Elland Road is now unrecognisable from my inaugural game on that grey day in September 1970. A day I was introduced to footballing giants; a bequeathment from my dad for which, despite the many times I wish he’d have just bought me a Subbuteo team, I will always be indebted.

A team labelled ‘Dirty Leeds’ for their uncompromising tackling, but to this overstruck seven year old boy and his rose tinted glasses these titans of tackle were gods as white as the shirts they ran out in. Sportsmen who were to go on to leave an indelible mark on my life’s tapestry.

The ground in those days, with the soon to be demolished Scratching Shed and an aging Lowfields Road stand, along with its infinitely poorer playing surface wasn’t a patch on todays ground and facilities (as you’d expect).

I don’t recall if you could buy pies at the ground at the time. However if you could I retrospectively and somewhat mischievously wonder, with Leeds’ reputation for ‘being fond of a tackle’, what the contents of its filling might have been.

Was it really beef in between that flaky pastry? Or were the unsuspecting members of the Kop dining on a filling of flesh from Southampton striker Ron Davies shin, Peter Storey of Arsenal’s calf or Everton defender Brian Labone’s thigh.

Cannibalism reining at LS11 during the great Revie era?….. Well it was about the only vitriolic accusation not labelled at the club led to two championships, an FA Cup, a League Cup and two European trophies by Billy Bremner. A man short of stature but not of courage.

Elland Road isn’t an amphitheatre of giants anymore, unless you count the colossal central defensive pairing of Pontus Jannson and Kyle Bartley. However, if the team I watched win 2-1 on Saturday shows the same level of skill and desire for the remainder of the season who knows, we may at least regain our status back in the top league where we belong.

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