We all have certain dates we remember and we remember these dates for very different reasons, the only thing these dates have in common is that they are life-defining in some way or another.
Usually it’s birthdays, deaths, the day you got married or the morning alcohol caused you to wake up in a bush next to that traffic cone you adopted and named Keith for the very first time.
These are dates that have a profound influence on you as a human being and thus they stay with you. What a load of nonsense.
In fact, the date is the one thing you always forget. But you never forget the feeling you had on that day. For me, that life-defining date was May the 6th 2007 (according to Wikipedia). I do not remember the date, I only remember crying profoundly for hours.
I didn’t even stop when eating my hamburger, the hamburger my dad had prepared on the barbeque as some sort of absurd consolation prize. I never cared for homemade hamburgers. All I remember is having a desire to dig a massive hole in the ground and disappear.
Why? What could possibly have caused a then 16-year-old me to express such emotions without the ability to turn them off? For those of you who either do not remember or simply did not pay any attention to the Football League Championship that season, that was the day that Leeds United lost 2-0 to Derby County and secured relegation to the third tier of English league football for the first time in the club’s history.
In reality the club was already relegated, especially seeing as we got docked ten points a few days later for entering administration, but then and there it felt like we could have saved ourselves had we only scored those five goals or however many it was we needed in order to stay up on goal difference.
It didn’t matter that we played the team who would go on to win the Play-Off final, we were super Leeds, the pride of Yorkshire. Some teams simply can’t play in the third tier of English football and we were one of them. Then came May the 6th.
As a football and Leeds United fanatic, this relegation has become more important to me than the original downfall from the Premier League.
The strange part is that every relegation has caused me to support my team more, there is some form of sadomasochistic joy in supporting a club that has fallen from grace the way Leeds did; we are the ultimate screw-up in English football and I’m exceptionally proud of that.
This has hopefully served as a short intro to my relationship with the club I started supporting back in 2001 as a result of seeing them play 0-0 against Coventry at Highfield Road. This was the first Premier League match I watched in a stadium.
I would like to take you on a little journey filled with expectations, emotions, let-downs and one outburst of joy to surpass all others. This is a short story of the ups and downs of a Leeds supporter from the beginning of my madness until the day I found myself jumping up and down in a Spanish airport with tears of joy streaming down my cheek.
I don’t remember the date it all started and I would like to keep it that way, the feeling and image that I carry with me is much more important. It was sometime before summer in 2001, I was in Coventry with my dad and we were heading to Highfield Road to watch Coventry take on Leeds United.
I had chosen to sit with the Leeds supporters, a choice my dad profoundly regretted that he had let me make. He was terrified that we would be beaten up by those feared Coventry hooligans (my dad’s football knowledge is slightly limited) and therefore would not let me put on my brilliantly yellow Leeds away shirt until we saw some away supporters doing the same on the other side of the street.
According to my dad that’s why I support Leeds; he insists to this day that I got a thumbs-up from those two bald, tattooed guys and that that was all it took. I remember it being two kids my age accompanied by their mothers and I would never credit them for me loving Leeds.
The truth is that I’m not sure; I only know that the team felt special.
I don’t know exactly what it was with that Leeds team of 2000/2001 that made me fall head over heels in love with the club and thus follow them on one of the worst downward spirals in modern football history, it just happened.
If I were now forced to think rationally about this and come up with a reason, I would say that there were three factors that played a significant role in making this happen:
1. The away shirt
2. Harry Kewell (the boy wonder from Down Under)
3. Everything that was to follow
Then and there I fell in love with the shirt. I fell in love with Gary Kelly, Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Lucas Radebe, Rio Ferdinand and Olivier Dacourt. I fell in love with the clubs history.
From then on I have considered myself a Leeds United fan, but we have to jump three years forward in time to find that point where things started to get serious between Leeds and me.
It took relegation from the Premier League for the pride of supporting Leeds United to really grow. There was something special connected with supporting a Championship team, especially seeing as everyone around me supported either Manchester United or Liverpool. The most “adventurous” of my football loving friends was a Newcastle fan.
I love Leeds, but I sometimes find myself wondering whether or not things would have been the same if not for those relegations. If my beloved club had not constantly been swimming upstream, if we hadn’t gone bankrupt and mucked things up worse than imaginable, would things have been different?
Yes. I would be celebrating a 1-0 victory over fierce rivals Manchester City instead of moping about yesterdays 4-1 pummelling at the hands of Huddersfield Town. But in all honesty; I prefer it that way and I often find myself wondering if I might be enjoying it a little bit too much.
I like being the underdog, in fact I even slightly enjoy that 15-year-old Norwegian kids doesn’t know what Leeds United is. I have inadvertently become a football hipster. Let that serve as a warning for all you “top-four” supporters; my club was a Champions League semi-finalist when I started following them, you might find yourself in the same spot 10 years down the road. You’ll love it.
I loved supporting Leeds in League One, I love supporting Leeds in the Championship, I did not love the relegations.
Relegation is one of the hardest things in life, let alone football. You go around imagining it for weeks before it actually happens; you can’t sleep, you can’t eat, all in all I find it comparable to both death and breakups, two things I haven’t really experienced (old relatives and a breakup that satisfied both parties (I hope)), but surely they can’t be much worse.
It’s hell, yet it’s something every football fan should go through because it tests your relationship. You either crack under the pressure and give up, or you realise just how important this collection of random mercenaries actually is to you and your every-day existence and thus find yourself loving and supporting them even more.
I’ve talked about the lows, I’ve yet to mention the high. The one really huge point in my life as a Leeds United supporter came on May 8th 2010. I found myself at Malaga airport going on holiday with my family. I’d spent the whole flight in mid-faint (for once not because of my fear of falling out of the sky) and now it was finally time to turn on the Internet on my phone and check the result.
Several gruelling minutes of tension whilst my phone got connected followed. I knew we had to win; it was the only way of securing automatic promotion. I saw the result and immediately started running. I don’t know where I was running, I just ran for about 30 meters. I had to check the score one more time, what if I’d read it wrong? No, 2-1 over Bristol Rovers. We were back in the Championship! That was the best holiday of my life.
I said I fell in love with Radebe, Kelly and all those players and that’s true, it’s also true that when they left, it didn’t impact the love I had for my club at all. Neither did Ken Bates or Massimo Cellino. They do not matter. I find all of this strange because it makes it very hard for me to explain why I love my football club and I can’t be the only person with this problem.
We all trick ourselves into believing that it was some exceptional player or an eccentric manager that did the trick, but I don’t think that’s true. All it takes is one special moment, one beautiful day when everything is right and that club is there.
Be it Manchester United or Torquay, as long as it’s special it’s okay. Unless it’s Sheffield Wednesday. If you ever find yourself having a special moment with Sheffield Wednesday something is seriously wrong.