Yesterday, in the narrative Till Death Us Do Part, I wrote of a late April evening in 1970 when introduced to the misery of witnessing my football amours, Leeds United, falling at the final hurdle. The first of many heartbreaking experiences over the past five decades when they were a hairsbreadth from achieving their seasons trophy or promotion objective(s).
Don’t get me wrong, there’s also been many highs while following the West Yorkshire warriors who represent the city of my birth. We haven’t always been the bridesmaid throughout those 50 years of which I write; there were occasions we did get to be the bride.
A metaphorical bride dressed in chaste white when the ceremony began, however their virtue was in question after the wedding; high profile occasions not for the faint hearted. When Leeds United were the symbolic leading lady there was ordinarily at least one Englishman (Hunter), an Irishman (Giles) and a Scotsman (Bremner) who were up for disrupting proceedings with a scrap…… Although to be honest that was also normally the case when they were bridesmaids.
Anyhow, after yesterday’s piece about my inaugural experience of our bridesmaids role in the 1970 FA Cup Final, in today’s essay I wanted to pen about the first time I ever attended a Leeds United game. Along with broaching a habitual behaviour manifesting from that first walk to the ground.
This experience taking place a few months after the disappointment of seeing them succumb to Chelsea at the ‘Battle of Old Trafford’ FA Cup replay.
That first walk to Elland Road became a ritual for me in childhood and later in adulthood when I took my son. A sojourn that commences with parking in the vicinity of the Dragon Pub on Whitehall Road, Leeds, with a ultimate destination of Elland Road football stadium.
The wander commences with a crossing Whitehall Road, followed by an amble down a bramble bush and stinging nettle laden ginnel. Then you embark on a 200 yards stroll on the snicket’s well-worn tarmac pathway leading to the busy Gelderd Road.
At this point, an adrenaline rush takes over from my thus far stress-free meander, while endeavouring to navigate a path between the unpredictable stop/start matchday traffic on Gelderd Road.
I suspect the Green Cross Man (Dave Prowse), who taught my generation to safely join the chicken on the other side, wouldn’t approve of this foolhardy road-crossing strategy. A reckless action which involves passing in front of cars who’re progressing snail-like enough to minimise risk of injury if you collide.
That being said, if I’d have taken heed of the actor’s cautious teachings I possibly wouldn’t have got to the ground until the 53rd minute (other match minutes are available). As a consequence, over the years of of taking this route I may’ve missed an Allan Clarke goal, or even Duncan McKenzie jumping over a mini at half time.
Even worse, I may have missed the diminutive former Leeds and Welsh midfielder Brian Flynn become the second littlest guy dressed in all white to exclaim “The plane, boss!….. The plane!”, while pointing skyward at a 1970’s Boeing-737 heading towards Yeadon airport.
After getting to the other side of Gelderd Road and acknowledging the chicken, the final few hundred yards to the Elland Road football ground involve dodging more cars (both mobile and stationary) on Lowfields Road.
The first time I strolled this route was in September 1970 where I witnessed a 1-0 victory over Southampton, courtesy of a Johnny Giles spot kick. Since that inaugural walk in the inaugural year of the 70’s, the stadium aesthetics have changed markedly.
When my dad first walked me towards the ground as a seven year old boy, the legacy Lowfields Road stand was the most prominent view as I excitedly walked toward what was to become my rite of passage. A metaphorical ceremony where I was initiated into a tribe which, like the mafia, you can’t ever leave……. Not that I ever wanted to, I hasten to add.
We’d already moved to Gateshead around that time with my dad’s job, however thankfully my Leeds born and bred father chose to take me to the altar praising his and my city of birth. An intervention which negated me having to tread a barren path as disciple to one of the north east football teams.
These 49 years have been a rollercoaster ride. One which, due to height restrictions, I’m surprised Brian Flynn was allowed to ride. Despite this capricious odyssey, I feel truly blessed that I got to see the great Revie team play numerous time before they grew old together in the mid to late 1970’s.
One of the greatest teams to have graced English club football; the team with eleven international players, a meticulous manager and vociferous following. A side with trainer Les Cocker who, in spite of being a similar stature to Brian Flynn, thought nothing of utilising a fireman’s lift to remove the injured 6’3″ frame of defender Gordon McQueen from the pitch.
To clarify, I’m by no stretch of the imagination a diehard fan. I don’t follow the team away like many thousands of Leeds supporters do, and although witnessing hundreds of home games over nearly five decades and possessing a wealth of knowledge about the club, these days I only go to the odd game (despite living back in Leeds for the last 23 years).
I followed the same inaugural saunter I took with my old man in September 1970 when initiated my son into the same tribe in December 1996. The first time I took the walk to Elland Road after my dad’s death in October 2017 was an emotional occasion, evoking memories of that life affirming event in September 1970.
Amongst a myriad of things I owe my dad, is that September afternoon wander. A simple act undertaken by thousands of fathers every week of the football season, but that venture ensured my sporting allegiances (along with childhood visits to Headingley and Scarborough cricket grounds) stayed true to my roots.
No venture to a sporting stadium will ever recreate my feeling of excitement on that first walk to witness Don Revie’s gladiators in all-white almost half a century ago…….. An experience I hope my son will bequeath to future family generations.