Ordinarily, a result of a 3rd round cup tie wouldn’t be something to scream out loud about for most fans of most football clubs. However yesterday something special happened and I’m afraid (I sincerely apologise to anyone who has no interest in sports) that I have to blog about it today because I am so far over the moon that I’m still making my way back down to earth from somewhere in deep space.
So this weekend was the FA cup 3rd round and as you all know I’m a lifelong Leeds supporter and yesterday Leeds United were away to almost historical rivals, Manchester United at Old Trafford.
To put this is context, it was just last season that in this very same competition, on the same TV station, my beloved Leeds were outdone by Histon. A non-league side who tenaciously battled to a 1-0 win in conditions that only lent themselves to a fluid passing game in terms of playing football in a bath. As if the fall from grace, from the Premier League and almost out of existence wasn’t bad enough, it was a case of being kicked when you're down. At the time, I was gutted.
That result again Histon and a poor string of results may have ended up being a blessing in disguise though. For it led to a change in leadership that in retrospect has been for the better, in stepped Simon Grayson. Under his management, confidence has been restored - as our current league position highlights and I’m finally looking forward to the future, well as much as a Leeds fan ever can!
Playing in the earlier rounds of the FA cup and in competitions such as the Johnston Paint trophy has now become somewhat familiar. Sadly it’s just the reality of our league position and for a large club like Leeds a persistent reminder (if ever we needed reminding) of how bad the financial mismanagement at the club was. My Granddad for one would have had a chuckle seeing Leeds playing Accrington Stanley within 3 weeks of Manchester United, but that’s just how the cookie has crumbled!
So it was the night before the game and I was already on a separate rush of endorphins from the Crusaders Vs Portadown game on Saturday in which the Crues ran out 3-2 winners. That game had a fair bit of excitement to it. The first half wasn’t great but it was made up for in the 2nd half. 2 great goals (one for each side) that would be worthy to grace any league, followed by 2 deflected goals. Those were then followed within 15 minutes of the very first goal, by a headed back pass that was headed a little too far back by the Portadown defender and was nudged over the line. The Crues held out and although the opposition have a few games in hand, Crusaders F.C. are top of the league by 4 points… happy days! The down side was that it put the thrill of seeing my team win at the forefront of my conscious. I found it hard to sleep that night and I ended up waking up several times. One of those times I woke with the vivid dream that I had just finished watching the cup tie. In my dream Leeds had magnificently managed to hold a full strength Man United team to a 1-1 draw and force a replay. It was kind of disappointing as I quickly realized it was a work of unwritten brain fiction. Dreams are wonderful things, as I understand it, they help us cope with the world we live in and help keep us sane, and it was defiantly helping because time slipped away and I found myself waking up quite late. It was approximately 11am with not long to go before the match was to begin at 1pm.
I hauled myself out of bed and made it downstairs to find Norn Girl playing the Sims3 on the laptop. I’m intrigued by the game but rather than ask too much into how the Bones characters she had recreated in Sims style were doing, my mind was focused on football's version of the war of the roses. There was only one thing for it… wash up and get some lunch to take my mind off it. So I did.
I’d only just finished my pasta as the build up annoyingly went to the customary ITV advert break trying to sell me things I can neither afford nor want nor need but it did give me a bit of time to finish a text to my Man United supporting friend… I’m slow texting at the best of times let alone nervous as anything waiting for the game to start. And start it did. Lined up for the home side were an array of multi-million pound signings headed by Rooney and Berbatov. For Leeds, a team put together for a fraction of just those two players transfer fee’s alone. I have to admit I was starting to fear the worst reading the team sheet of the opposition, but then reading our own it dawned on me again that big names aren’t everything and we have a strong team ethic and a solid squad of professionals. Besides that, what had we to lose? As my text to my friend said… “Ah cack no Robert Snodgrass! Ermm… Ah sure it’s the FA cup :-D C’mon Leeds!”
Don’t get me wrong, I know Leeds can play well but like the 1st half against Yeovil back in November we don’t always play to the potential that has been on show for a lot of this season so far. So I was still a little nervy. The game on the TV continued. I wish I could have been there but living hundreds of miles away and with a limited budget sometimes I have to be an armchair fan... not that its ever as good as the real thing, people don't realise what they're missing til you get a season ticket at a club you love!
Thankfully for Simon Grayson and everyone connected to Leeds they did perform to their potential and not only that they showed no fear. It wasn’t long before the ball was being played about - but unlike the usual Premier League encounters where Man United sit comfortably holding possession, carefully probing at a bunch of ‘cat in the headlights’ startled opposition. The white shirts were not only breaking up play, they were the ones attacking. Getting a foot on the ball and passing it about well, just not giving the Premiership players a moment to settle. A long range shot was pretty much all Man U managed to muster before the time came. A moment I’ll remember for a long time as it proved the decisive goal. Even knowing there was an age of the game still left to play, it was a moment to savour and I was dancing around the room, high fiving, bouncing off the walls and generally going hyper and giddy as if I was 10 again!
It wasn’t that long into the game, about 20 minutes gone, and a great long ball from Howson saw Beckford sprinting after the optimistic cause. His first touch took him a little wide but it was still within his grasp and as Kuszczak came to try and block and as Wes Brown slid in, it was Beckford whose foot glanced the ball coolly but purposefully at goal. With no one else in sight, the ball seemed to take an age as it spun towards its final destination. I’m not sure if it is just me transferring my feelings to the ball but it seemingly rolled gleefully over the line... 0-1! Did I imagine it or did it just happen!? The replays showed it really, very much did!
After the euphoria, it was a feeling of “at least we got one no matter what happens!”, they’ve done us proud! At half time I don’t think you’d have found any level headed Leeds fan telling you they think we’d end up keeping a clean sheet and in the end come closest to scoring come the end of the 2nd half. I expected Man U to come out, pick up their pace and make their price tags show. What came instead was another great Leeds show, some great saves from our goalkeeping hero of the day Casper Ankergren and when Snodgrass came on, an excellent free kick that was just inches from making it 0-2 and that score line wouldn’t have been out of place in relation to the way the game had gone. 0-1 to be honest flattered Man U and as 5 minutes came up on the board for injury time. It was a nervy Fergie time. Man U are infamous for their last minute injury time goals. I was still getting over the fact it was still 0-1 and was now clinging to the hope we could hang on to the lead. My subconscious though saw the ball in back of our net every time the ball was played into our box, we never seem to have any luck and when we were so close to exceeding our dreams the only coping mechanism, like bad dreams, was to play out a worst case scenario in my mind.
A couple of scares later though injury time was all but up and we had the ball in their half rather than the other way around. The team had taken it to them and given as good as they got. The final whistle went and so did I... I went into some sort of euphoric victory dance like when the Crues won the Irish Cup last May. All the dark times and bad news, all the knocks and all the cheap digs from Man U fans over the years for a while just evaporated. A huge weight lifted from the shoulders of Leeds fans worldwide no doubt, at least a weight lifted from mine. It might have taken 29 years, only 25 I’ve been alive for, but it could hardly have been sweeter. A team to be proud of, a real David against Goliath affair and with the fairytale result to boot. I’m ever so proud of the whole team and to achieve something, even more impressively as a League One side, that the best Leeds sides of the past few decades haven’t managed to do. I can’t describe how proud I am of them all, that was our cup final, one for the history books. For the record, my man of the Match was Leeds defender Patrick Kisnorbo, a true stalwart of a defender! It means so much to the club and the fans and even my sister was screeming down the phone!
Progressing in the cup is a bonus, and it’s Spurs up next. The boost, if it was needed for this already legendary giant killing side, will hopefully be the drive to push on and clear that hurdle of promotion from League One back to the Championship. Until then and until it's time to get back to the coal face when we’re playing Wycombe Wanderers at the weekend, it’ll be a continued, long awaited and much appreciated visit to Cloud 9 for all concerned with Leeds United!
May there be many days like it to come! Old Trafford - "The Theatre of Dreams"... hehe, it was yesterday!