Gary Strachan – "Write" Said Fred

Off The Wall Essays From Deep Within A Capricious Mind

Till Death Us Do Part

The journey started on Wednesday 29th April 1970 when I was seven summers old. On jumping out of bed that particular morning my mood reflected the bright sunshine fulgently radiating through open drapes into my easterly facing bedroom.

On leaving my bed chamber, I undertook my habitual sideways run down the stairs of my home in Low Fell, Gateshead. A sojourn that continued through the hall and living room, eventually coming to a stop when kitchen in situ. Here joining my younger brother Ian, along with dad and mum at the breakfast table.

I’ve no recollection what I consumed that morning, but most likely it’ll have been a bowl of Corn Flakes or Rice Crispies. These two purchases from Mr Kellogg’s breakfast catalogue ordinarily my parents 1970’s cereal of choice. Apart from winter when they’d switch our breakfast choices to Ready Brek or porridge; providing a warm first meal of the day aimed at helping combat the cold north east England winters.

Sometimes as a treat, during their weekly comestible shop at Fine Fare on Low Fell, they’d purchase the more expensive sugar coated cereal Frosties . A product which my brother Ian and I concurred were, as Tony the Tiger advocated on the TV commercials, “Grrrrrreat!” The animated stripped big cat’s honest marketing leading our kid and me, in our fledgling years, to conclude cartoon tigers seemed a trustworthy breed……. Well, apart from Shere Khan in Kipling’s The Jungle Book, whose flaws of man-eating and wannabe fire-raising appeared pastimes to be wary of.

Incidentally, Fine Fare was an old school supermarket my mum and dad patronised at the time, prior to switching their allegiance to the new imposing Tescos on Gateshead High Street, in the late 1970’s. A place coincidentally where my future wife used to work part-time on Saturday mornings whilst at school; although I didn’t know her at that time.

Anyhow, I digress….. Back to the last Wednesday in April, 1970.

As alluded to above, I was in high spirits upon my reveiller. A mood that stayed with me through the day while attending my alma mater, Oakfield Junior School.

How could I feel unhappy? After all, the sun was shining and I’d convinced myself my footballing amours Leeds United were going to beat Chelsea in the FA Cup Final replay later that evening. Not only that but at school that day I managed to acquire the elusive Francis Lee card I’d long sought for my 1970 Mexico World Cup sticker book.

The latter obtained during a break time swap with classmate Nidgy Cusack who, as he’d already filled his sticker book, wanted recompensing with a packet of Spangles instead of a football sticker.

Nidgy was a whimsical lad who I lost touch with once we moved to the large confines of secondary school. I recall him being the first person in our class to get a pair of Chelsea boots*** with metal segs attached to the bottom.

*** – For the uninitiated, Chelsea boots have no link to Chelsea football club (who I mention above)…… Or, indeed Boots the Chemist (who I didn’t mentioned above!).

With his new boots, which he could spark on request by the means of swiftly striking the metallic segs upon the tarmac playground, the long fair haired lad became a bit of a celebrity with his classmates.

So much so that if TV show Britain’s Got Talent had existed back then you can bet he’d have had his Oakfield Junior School peers dialling in weekly to seek his progression. That’s of course if he decided to enter the competition. If he didn’t, he’d have took this talent to the grave, never achieving deserved kudos outside of Low Fell. A situation he’ll sadly no doubt suffer.

Mind you, not everyone was as enamoured with Nidgy’s sparking boots. News of his potential fire-raising artistry earned him a ban from every petrol station within a three mile radius of Low Fell. Incidentally, I suspect petrol forecourts outside of that radius wouldn’t have employed laxer safety edicts. I’m sure they’d have introduced the same ban if necessary.

If we’d have lived in Africa, Shere Khan might’ve appreciated being taught the skill of acquiring flame by Chelsea boot. Although where he’d have obtained that type of footwear and metal segs in the jungle would’ve held logistical challenges. Not only would the boots be hard to come by outside of major cities, but he was a hand drawn tiger so he was at the mercy of an animator’s whims.

Luckily, at the age of seven my buddy (Nidgy, not Shere Khan) had no real need to visit a petrol station, rendering the petrol companies bans unnecessary anyway. To be honest, Shere Khan had no real need for a petrol station either. After all, he’d no requirement for vehicle fuel after failing his driving test for performing an inadequate three-point manoeuvre outside of King Louis’ temple.

Blimey, I’ve wandered off on a tangent again. Consequently, I’m almost 800 words into this narrative and I haven’t even touched on the topic I intended to raise. This subject my first experience of Leeds United football club taking me to an emotional plateau of utter despair when falling at the final hurdle.

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The men in white first putting my mood in the black on Wednesday 29th April 1970 after losing that evening’s FA Cup Final replay to Chelsea. Something the lads from LS11 have managed to also achieve on numerous occasions since. Their choking at the final hurdle obviously not done to mess with my mind, but those occasions hurt the same as if they had.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some great times in that near half century since. These include witnessing Leeds becoming the 1973-74 & 1991-92 champions of England, a 1972 FA Cup Final victory, a 1971 Fairs Cup victory and O’Leary’s babes, against all odds, reaching the 2000/01 Champions League semi-finals.

The misery I experienced at seeing Leeds lose that 1970 FA Cup Final replay sprung to mind this Wednesday evening when the current day team conspired to spurn a two goal lead at home to lose a Championship play-off semi-final against Derby County. Missing out on a winner takes all game with Aston Villa to gain promotion to English football’s top tier.

Now aged 56, at 10pm on Wednesday evening I experienced that same gut wrenching feeling I’d first felt as a 7 year old at 10pm on Wednesday 29th April 1970. A hurt you can’t take away with medication or counselling. Pain exacerbated by convincing myself the planets had aligned this season for our long overdue return to the Premiership.

After all, the club is 100 years old this year, we’d led the table for 163 days of this season and this term we’d a coach (Marcelo Bielsa) who was the tactical messiah. Additionally, although of more secular leanings these days, I was convinced this first full season since his passing would see my old man have a hand in spiritually guiding his beloved home-town back to the promised land of England’s top football league.

Sadly, the above romantic notions blew up in my face after the team representing the city of my birth capitulated from a position of a 2-0 aggregate to concede four goals in 46 minutes, meaning yet another year in English football’s second tier.

Like all Leeds fans, it hurt witnessing all our heroes hard work and skilful brand of football being all for nothing. But hey, what do you do?! …. As a football fan you’re a captive audience, you can’t (or shouldn’t) change allegiances at a whim, or in response to your teams form.

We’re in this ‘Till death do us part’, not ‘Till Peter Ridsdale do us part’. I’ve invested too much emotionally over 50 years supporting Leeds United to ever contemplate succumbing to not wanting to go through the heartache again. This despite how awful the experience is, as well as how emotionally spent my tribe feels just now.

That being said, kudos to Bielsa, his staff, players and even his bucket which’ve given us one hell of an entertaining ride, despite the gut wrenching season end outcome.

To close, I thought I’d share the Facebook status post I wrote on Thursday morning; the day after another hugely disappointing night for Leeds United fans. :-

“You’re a capricious, frustrating and emotionally draining mistress, Leeds United, but I’ll always love you unconditionally!”

Categories: Blogs, family, memories

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  1. A Rite of Passage – Gary Strachan – "Write" Said Fred

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