Leeds United Memories
“What team do you support?”
“What team do you support?” A boy called Paul asked me that. “What team do you support?”
I didn’t support any team.
“Support Leeds, they’re great,” he said. So I did. I was in class 1, so it was sometime in 1967 or 1968.
A boy at school told me lots of stories. I believed them while he was telling me them and then I thought about them and I knew they weren’t true.
He told me that his Dad had a sports car, like James Bond. I didn’t know who James Bond was, but I knew what a sports car was.
Later he told me that his Dad was blind. He had been an explorer in the jungle and he had a fight with a gorilla. The gorilla had stretched a banana skin over his Dad’s eyes, and that had made him blind.
Another time, while we were eating our lunch, he told me that his Dad had scored the winning goal in the FA Cup Final, for Leeds United. I thought for a few seconds.
“I thought your Dad was blind.”
“So … was this before he went blind, before the fight with the gorilla, or afterwards?”
“Before he was blind.”
After lunch I thought about it some more. I didn’t think that Leeds United had ever won the FA Cup. And how could his Dad drive a sports car if he was blind?
I’d wait for the results to come in. I watched the wrestling sometimes on ITV and then switched back to Grandstand to see the scores being typed out one letter at a time. It would show the first results coming in, always from Scotland, and if there was a late goal from one of the English games. So many times I remember Leeds drawing with teams that I thought we’d beat, Huddersfield and Burnley and Ipswich.
Sometimes I’d go out into the garden and kick a ball around for a few minutes, hoping that when I came back in Leeds would have scored again, won the game late on. It didn’t work. As we got to the end of the season I’d know that each time we drew or even lost a game some other team would be catching us up. It happened a few times. If we won I’d be happy and if we didn’t I wasn’t. I’d kick a ball around outside again wondering why we couldn’t beat Ipswich or Burnley or Huddersfield. Nobody else cared much about the results. Jim never watched them, nor did Dad. If my sister or Mum asked me what the matter was I would tell them what had happened, and they’d say “Never mind”.
We were staying in Kilkenny with Auntie Maudie and Uncle Mido. My cousin Eamonn had a pile of football magazines in his bedroom, like he collected them. Most of them were called Goal! I flicked through some of them. Some pages had so many words on them, more than in any of our comics or magazines at home, more than Sparky or World of Wonder or even Look and Learn. The magazine on top had a picture of a player smiling and all around him were pictures of £5 notes. They weren’t part of the photograph, they had been added to the picture. He had just become the most expensive player in English football, costing £165,000. His name was Allan Clarke and he was going to play for my team, Leeds United.
We could watch TV in the morning before school
There was never anything on TV in the mornings, just the Test Card, the girl playing noughts and crosses. During the 1970 World Cup though they showed highlights from the night before. It was like having Match of the Day or The Big Match on every morning before we went to school.
Mum had usually seen the goals the night before, unless the game finished really late. She told us who the other good players were. We knew who the best players were, Pele and the other Brazilians, and we knew all the English players. There was someone from Czechoslovakia, someone blond. He scored a great goal and ran to the side of the pitch and made the sign of the cross. We liked that. He was wearing white too, like Leeds did. Mum told us about it beforehand and made sure we all saw it when it came on. We were allowed to eat our breakfast in the living room, in front of the TV, during the World Cup.
A friend of the family, Noel, was in Birmingham and he brought me back a copy of the local newspaper. Leeds were playing there that week and there was an interview with Allan Clarke and a big picture of him. He’d kept it for me. I kept it for a long time but I didn’t stick the picture up on my wall. I already had a poster of Allan Clarke, in colour, and bigger than the picture in the paper. He said that a mate of his had met him after a game, had actually met Allan Clarke, and he didn’t say much, he was quiet, you know, kept himself to himself. “A bit like you, you know”, he said. That made me very happy. Allan Clarke was my hero.
Saturday night TV
The TV was always on but often nobody was watching. If The Black and White Minstrel Show was on the living room would be empty. Nobody watched that. We watched The Dick Emery Show or The Generation Game but often there was nothing to watch. I’d try and stay awake to watch Match of the Day if Leeds were on but sometimes I fell asleep during Ironside and Dad would carry me through to my room. The next morning I was always surprised that I hadn’t woken up when Dad carried me.
When I was older ITV had a show called Thriller which was always good. I never fell asleep during that.
Colchester and Wolves
My sister used to say that I cried when Leeds lost to Chelsea in the 1970 FA Cup Final. I didn’t. I was upset but I didn’t cry. The next year we were playing Colchester. I’d never heard of them. I went for a walk in Chiswick House Grounds with Dad and when I came back one of Mum’s friends had popped round. He told me that Leeds were 3-0 down at half-time. I knew he was joking. “No, they are, they’re going out of the cup, to Colchester. They’re 3-0 down.” I checked on the TV. The wrestling was still on ITV and none of the results had come through on BBC1, but the man on Grandstand was saying that Leeds were still behind, 3-2, and it looked like they were going out of the cup. That was the final score, and Mum’s friend started teasing me about my team. I cried then, not in the living room. I went into my room and cried.
The only other time I cried about football was the following year. We won the FA Cup, finally, and Allan Clarke scored the only goal. Two nights later, on the Monday, we were playing Wolves, our last game of the season, and if we drew or won we would win the League as well. Mick Jones couldn’t play, he’d injured his arm on the Saturday. I stayed up late and Dad and I heard the result on the radio. Leeds lost, 2-1, and someone else won the League. We would have won the Double, but we didn’t. Even Dad seemed a bit disappointed and he didn’t care much about football. He didn’t tease me about it. I went to bed and cried over football, for the last time.
Bremner and Keegan
Dad took me and Jim to Wembley, to the Charity Shield. Leeds were the Champions and were playing Liverpool who had won the FA Cup. We didn’t have tickets. There was another man with us, someone Dad worked with. I was wearing a Leeds United rosette. I felt so small. There were crowds of people all around us, shouting and chanting. I pinned the rosette to my jumper, inside my parka, so you couldn’t really see it. Dad thought that was funny. I thought it was sensible.
We got really good seats, near the touchline, a few rows back.
The Liverpool fans were chanting louder at the start.
“We won the cup, we won the cup, ee-I-adio, we won the cup.”
Then the Leeds fans started. “We are the Champions,” and clapping in time afterwards, clap-clap clap clap-clap. That was louder. I was frightened. Most weekends during the football season they showed fans fighting on the news, running on the pitch and kicking and punching each other.
Fans sang things like “You’re gonna get your f—– ’ead kicked in” and clapped in time to that as well.
There was a fight on the pitch. Billy Bremner and Kevin Keegan started punching each other. The ref sent them off. They walked past us, near where we were sitting. First one of them took his shirt off and threw it on the ground. Then the other one did and they walked off.
The shirts sat on the ground for a minute. There were no policemen near us, just a steward in a bright jacket.
“Go on, get the shirts,” Dad said.
I was too frightened.
“Go on, get the shirts,” Dad said again.
I thought that maybe he’d get the shirts for me, or maybe the man who was with us would get them.
The shirts were still there a few minutes later.
Then a big man, a Liverpool fan, jumped over the little wall to the side of the pitch and picked up both shirts. He waved them around, sang “Na-na-na-na na-na” and climbed over the wall again, back to his seat. A few people cheered. The steward didn’t stop him. There were still no policemen around.
The game carried on.
On the way home Dad kept saying “Why didn’t you get the shirts? You should have got the shirts. They were just sitting there.” I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking “Why didn’t you get the shirts, for me?”