there seems to be a disinterest in the city. while championship rivals newcastle get crowds of over 50 000, leeds muster an average gate of 27 000, not enough to pay top transfer fees or wages so keeping them out of the premiership. i dont know why the people of leeds dont care so much to turn out on match day. there are 3x as many people in leeds as there are in newcastle and twice as many as there are in liverpool which has 2 major clubs. maybe its a more middle class place. maybe the people are smarter. go to galleries, play squash.
that's now. but even then crowds never matched those of manchester united or liverpool - in 1981/82 the top 2 teams for home attendance were man utd who averaged crowds of 45 000 and liverpool with 37 000. leeds came in 13th with gates averaging 21 000. and it showed in results. both liverpool and man utd always seemed to come to elland road for a 2-0 victory which they got with tiresome predictability.
(in fact between 1977-1982, when leeds were finally relegated, united's record at elland road against their big 2 rivals was as follows:
v liverpool P 5 W 0 D 2 L 3
v man utd P 6 W 1 D 3 L 2.
there was only one game ending in a 0-2 reverse for leeds and that was against liverpool in 82).
away fans at elland road were always given a pitchside quarter of the south stand, penned in, crammed like animals, flailing ferociously, taunting. it was from there that various clubs fans, including those from liverpool i think, ripped out the newly installed seating and hurled the plastic bottoms onto the grass like frisbies. seats had been installed at all major grounds to replace terraces which were considered dangerous. fans often stood anyway in some seated sections of the ground if they felt that way inclined. something which still happens today.
i admired the liverpool colours in those days, a deep shade of red that seemed to take on confident, regal qualities when worn by the men from merseyside as they warmed up in front of the south stand goal. leeds were renowned for always choosing to play attacking the gelderd end kop if they won the toss.
supporting leeds in those days was not a glorious business. it was depressing in fact. listening to the bland and unbelievable apologies of jimmy adamson, watching a stream of ex united players players - clarke, gray (E), bremner, hunter - fail in the manager's job, waiting with head in hands for leslie silver, chairman, to appoint the next short term appointment, was... well it was just normal. we won nothing and lost frequently. but we kept turning up and listening on local radio if we couldnt get to the match.
there was also the question of hooliganism. in those days we frequently heard about pitched street battles between leeds fans and those from elsewhere and i saw a little of it myself. one time at an away game, dissatisfied leeds fans were clambering from the standing area below into the seating area above, pulled up and clambering over the 6' retaining wall. they sat in the aisles and chanted. one greying man stood up and complained. he was punched in the mouth by someone half his age who turned to his mates and laughed. it was just before half time and as i made my way into the stand i stopped and stood holding back the tears in front of a police officer by the tunnel who had seen everything. 'why didnt you do anything?' i asked. i was moved on.
another time, at derby, where i had watched the game with my dad and someone who looked very much like colin welland or was maybe colin welland, we came out of the ground at 85 minutes to find little pyramids of brick dust on cars in the street where half bricks had skidded across bonnets as they landed at pace, thrown by or at leeds fans sometime earlier.
many people my age were just as caught up in this tribal sideshow. the giant and threatening henchman scoffer always used to stand in the yard with a scarf wrapped round his neck. dave hurst and lee farrer were known to wear united colours.
one year me and lee went to a match against man utd which was also the home debut for allan 'sniffer' clarke as the new manager. lee had made a banner saying 'welcome back sniffer' which the police behind us came to check for fewr it was something about munich 58. sniffer didnt last long and whatever optimism either of us had was soon gone. dave hurst was another person whose dad had elland road connections and, i think, a season ticket.
chris boffey was also a fan and i used to get a lift to matches with him, mark millson and chris's dad. we always went the same way down a hill at the bottom of horsforth where mr boffey would turn off the car engine to save petrol. this put me and mark into hysterics and caused chris a lot of embarrassment as he squirmed in the front seat. mr boffey said nothing. he just waited until the car slowed too much then turned the ignition and off we went as tho all was normal. people are doing this sort of thing all the time now - turning the ignition off at traffic lights. then, late 70s / early 80s, it was strange enough to be hilarious.
i stopped supporting leeds and following pro football in 2001 for a couple of different reasons. that season a group of 3 leeds players and a 4th individual committed a racist assault on an individual after a night out in leeds. the club failed to deal severely enough or quickly enough with the whole business or maybe i was just sick of the whole racist / tribal culture i dont remember, but i gave up on leeds. i stopped following other football, missing FA Cup finals and internationals amongst other things because i was sick of the high wages players were getting paid. it was and is grotesque and unjustifiable. in theory i would watch some amateurs play or kids maybe but i havent felt enthused enough. was the game ever really that good? i never bonded enough with my own supporters to feel fully comfortable participating in the roar at a goal. i usually felt vaguely unimpressed (there were exceptions) and just stood up and yelled because it was the form. i say there were exceptions. i remember a tony yaboa shot from 35 yards that dipped and flew into the net at incredible force and a cantona goal of the same making.
visiting the hursts one day, after they moved to a more select street, johnny and i walked down the road to norman hunter's house to ask for his autograph. he was disappointed to find i only had a panini sticker of lorimer for him to sign. for many years - up until a month or two back in fact - it was a family myth that we were related to norman through my mother's side whose stepdad, another hunter, had been a talented forward in the castleford area in the early years of the C20th. it turned out to be a fantasy. norman hunter came down from the north east to work for leeds in 1960 and had no family in the area when he got here. he retired from playing in 76 so my visit must have been shortly after that. his house was a large-ish detached in the barrett style with a neatly mown front lawn. a rather depressing looking house he's lived in for at least 40 years. some people like that sort of thing. my parents did.
i liked playing football even tho i wasnt very good at it. i had dodgy legs and couldnt run very well. i wasnt strong. i was, as ive said, occasionally timorous. i often ended up in goal for these reasons where i was also occasionally and catastrophically timorous, weak and slow. lee might remember that one time, playing for newlaithes reserves against a local school with 'a woman coach'. we were so far ahead at half time that i was brought out of goal and put on the wing where, finding myself in a 1 on 1 with the keeper, i slotted the ball sideways to a screaming farrer who duly scored, sidefooting into an empty net. i'd never scored a competitive goal and i sometimes wondered if i should have tried rounding the keeper and selfishly attempted to score myself. it's never really a serious thought. i did the best and the right thing. i would have got tackled by the keeper anyway and no one would have scored. but still, i have to think that thought.
my favourite leeds players were always the more skilful ones - wingers and such. tony curry, allan clarke, eddie gray... the pitch always looked a very lush surface, slightly too long grass that cut up easily when it had rained. they served pies and some kind of oxtail soup that would burn the roof of your mouth off if you werent careful. then there were the scarf and badge sellers on the way to the ground with their desirable enamelled pins in various designs. i had a few but they were expensive for a kid with little money. their stalls stood between burger and hotdog vans, the smell blowing down the road as you walked to the ground in the crowd, avoiding cars as we spilled into the road. there was the sound of the turnstiles and you went into the ground. the concrete steps leading from inside to the seats outside, where, as you reached the top you saw for the first time in a fortnight the bright green turf, the bright white lines... and there was the song as the teams came out - marching all together... we are so proud we shout it out loud we love you leeds, leeds, leeds. love was always going a bit far. i had loyalty and unquestioning support that waned in the end to a tribal reflex that would make me lift my head if ever the name leeds united was mentioned on the TV. there were some chants - '13-0... 13-0...' when police appeals about the Yorkshire Ripper came over the tannoy and '7-0... 7-0...' when a van carrying 7 indians or pakistanis was ploughed into by a lorry on the nearby motorway hardshoulder killing everyone in the van. those were the days. oh yes, those were the days.
my dad left football too tho not as completely as myself, becoming instead a leeds rhinos fan. he had no ideological qualms. he was just sick of supporting a losing team, which is why he stopped following hunslet rugby many years earlier. ive survived without the whites and theyve survived without me. it's been an effort to switch channels but in the end it's been the right decision by a country mile.
* note -
in an effort to get some plain tv manliness back into my life as a temporary emotional antidote to the ubiquity of soft porn post feminist feminist women and it's friend gay culture, i have recently started watching football again.
i havent changed my mind. it's still wrong for all the same reasons, but i can zone most of that out and barca are really great this season.
what i find more difficult is not responding in a loyal foot soldier kind of way to the parochial, tribal, ingrained prompts of leeds united. the white kit, the yorkshireness. i lean forward on the sofa as they feed down the line. i look to see if someone is running into the box. this crap has to end. i need to be a world citizen, unaligned, neutral. a barca fan. not because they are barca but because they play some excellent football and tribalism is grotesque.