Saturday, February 02, 2013

My Greatest Ever LUFC Game: #1 – Leeds 2 Leicester City 1 (1990)

Fear and Loathing in LS11 1/2/13
Ken DeMange
A new series of pieces where Leeds fans, young and old, offer up memories of their favourite ever Leeds game. First up, Scarlett returns to reminisce about THAT final home in the glorious title winning season of 1989/90.
I’ve seen a better goal, but I’ve never seen one better timed…!
My next mission, which I chose to accept, is to write about a match day experience. Well, quite simply this could end up as War and Peace as there are just so many.
The obvious choice for me would to be to pick on something between 1988 and 1995, those were the years I was in most regular attendance at Elland Road. Indeed between 1989 and 1992, Papa Gray and I hardly missed a game, home or away. Even picking a singular match day experience from this window is difficult.
To name but a few, the Sgt Wilko’s brand new Leeds going down 5-2 at Newcastle, Gary Parkinson’s crazy own goal winner for us against Middlesbrough a game later, a surreal 3-4 loss at Leicester, a barmy, topsy turvy 4-3 home win over Dull City, going 2-0 down and winning 4-2 at Oxford, “Go on Gary Speed, get one yourself son” – beating Sheffield United 4-0 and Bournemouth of course.
Then after promotion, more madness, going 3-0 up at Everton, Neville Southall’s half-time protest and hanging on to win 3-2, getting up at the crack of dawn to go to Anfield on New Years Day, that unforgettable return match with Liverpool at Elland Road that ended 4-5, then throw into the mix the massacre of Sheffield Wednesday 6-1 at Hillsborough – despite Gordon Watson’s best efforts to cheat – winning 4-1 at Aston Vanilla, smirking Brian Gayle at Bramall Lane on the day Leeds won the title.
I could go on and on through the seasons, the time I threatened to streak at Southampton if Leeds won, they were 0-3 down at the time and went on to win 4-3, but we’ll save that story for another day.
Crunch day
The match day experience I’ve chosen to re-live and recite to you comes from April 1989, you may well have guessed by now but if you haven’t, I’m taking you back to Saturday April 28th, 1989. Leeds are playing Leicester and it’s crucial. Leeds are top, but only 2 points separate the top 3, Sheffield United are 2nd and Newcastle are 3rd and the Barcodes have a slight goal difference advantage. If Leeds fail to win, they could end up out of the top two, the promotion places, the place where they’d been for most of the season… unthinkable.
At the age of 11 I’m still not completely sold on football but this season was exciting and I was getting hooked more and more. Goals, as has always been my won’t, are greeted by a cheery smile and a dignified clapping of hands as taught to me by Papa Gray.
Leeds had invested heavily this season under Howard Wilkinson and after a shaky first few weeks to the season, they had led from the front with only March and April seeing Leeds lose a bit of form and some bad results sneaking in. No, this game against Leicester was vital and as match day approached I was seriously excited.
It was a bright, sunny day and from our usual perch in the West Stand, Elland Road looked full. As I recall I think Leicester were wearing red and black and safely ensconced in mid-table, really Leeds should be able to win this one … but I remember being very nervous.
I seriously can’t remember much about the game, in the first half Mel Sterland calmed nerves with a goal, I can’t remember it too well but it was in front of the Kop and Leeds led 1-0 at half-time. In the second half I remember Leicester having chances, I think they hit the bar or the post, then sickeningly they equalised, McAllister wasn’t it? Heartbreak!
The sun may have been shining but there was a dirty great cloud of depression over my seat and it must have shown because as the game went on my dad kept rubbing my shoulders, asking if I was OK. I would respond with a nod, but I was increasingly beyond speech, I could feel tears welling up inside me. Both Sheffield United and Newcastle were winning, it was the age of the portable transistors or Walkmans so goal news spread from ground to ground. It couldn’t be worse, how could this happen to Leeds, how could this happen to me!?!? (How naïve we are when we’re young). At that age, you want things and if you don’t get them it’s a great injustice, I saw this as a great injustice, I felt hurt, anger and frustration.
I felt sick, I was, for the only time I ever remember being so, on the verge of crying at a football match… then “it” happened. A split second, a moment that took an eternity to unfold in front of, what must have been my wide and staring eyes.
Time was running out as the ball broke to Gordon Strachan just outside the penalty area, he ran to the ball and hit it towards goal and suddenly everything went in slow motion. Something didn’t look right. The goalkeeper, Martin Hodge, either dived too low or too late, but the moment Strachan hit it, I knew he (Hodge) wasn’t getting to it … it just HAD to be on target. The ball got closer, it had to be, no way is the goalkeeper getting that “Oh please, please, please…”
In that moment I prayed to God, Allah, Mohammed … anyone that would listen … the ball fizzes past the Goal Keeper and in to the net.
… and that was just me. Indescribable feelings, I can’t possibly begin to describe them, ecstasy, relief … heaven only knows … it was the best moment of my life at that point in time, it was all my birthdays and Christmases all in one but better.
I remember jumping up and down wildly, I was screaming, like a banshee according to Papa Gray, my fists were clenched and my feet pounding into the concrete. I couldn’t tell you what else was going on in the ground, I was lost in my own bubble of happiness. I was crying and happy. The man next to me started hugging me and my dad, it was great, everyone was all of a sudden everyone’s best friend.
Well, as history shows, Leeds held on to win 2-1, not a remarkable game but poignant because something in me changed that day. Football was no longer a past time that I shared with my dad, it wasn’t his passion that I was sharing any more, all of a sudden it had become my passion too. It was the first time for me the result of a football match felt like it could make or ruin my life.
At the end of the game the scenes were unreal, Leeds fans spilled on to pitch, premature celebrations as phoney news of a West Ham equaliser at Newcastle briefly foxed us in to believing that Leeds were promoted.
As we got home I raced out of the car, straight in to the kitchen and leapt in to my mum’s arms, crying uncontrollably, I remember her having a go at my dad, asking what on earth had happened, I don’t think she ever really understood the vagaries of emotion that football can bring about, but she kind of calmed down as we excitedly jabbered on about what we’d seen.
As it was the situation was the same as at the start of the day, Leeds needed to win at Bournemouth to secure promotion. They did, but by the time Kamara crossed for Chapman to score, an Ian Baird inspired Middlesbrough had battered Newcastle, 4-1 I think, and although Sheffield United won 5-2 at Leicester securing their own promotion … Leeds had won the league.
Down at Bournemouth was the only time my Dad ever took me on to a playing surface. I recall being on the pitch, someone was playing Marching On Together on a Penny Whistle, I remember Wilko and the gang coming out and sitting in the main stand. Special, special memories.
Promotion was great, but that Leicester game, THAT goal, that was a defining moment in time for me. Just ponder for a moment, if you will, how it may have been if it hadn’t happened and Leeds went to Bournemouth in third place? Would Newcastle have succumbed so easily at Ayresome Park? Would Leeds, like Newcastle did, have missed out in the play offs? The title Leeds won two years later may not have happened, those magical European nights, maybe these too may never have happened.
Thankfully it did all happen! I still have the season review video, even today it still actually sends a shiver down my spine and brings a tear to my eye when I watch it… and for my opinion that goal as described best by John Helm “Have you ever seen a better goal and have you ever seen one better timed” is the most outstanding, moving and amazing match day event I have experienced … so far!
Short of looking up the date, this was written from memory, so if I have got any of the facts wrong please feel free to refresh my alcohol pickled Gray matter.