If I was to compile a ‘Bucket List‘ of grounds I really wanted to visit - taking into consideration those I’d previously been to of course - it would probably match many football fan’s: Nou Camp, Bernabeu, Allianz Arena, Maracana, Emirates, St James‘. But, weirdly, Elland Road had always been on there as well. It is through no great affection to Leeds United - in fact, like many other football fans, I can’t stand them - but I’d always wanted to go for some reason.
And so it would have been pretty criminal to live in Leeds for six months and not go down there, it was just a case of waiting for the right opportunity or, more accurately, waiting for a time when I wouldn’t have to go down there on my own. With two weeks to spare, the chance arrived in the guise of Mr Henry Cowen. Henry was my successor as Sport Editor at Nouse, the University of York’s student newspaper and his team, Ipswich Town, were there on Saturday. Job done.
Walking through the howling Yorkshire gales to the station to meet him, I searched the memory bank but couldn’t remember an occasion when I’d seen either Leeds United or Ipswich Town in action. I knew that both had played friendlies at York Street during our time in the Football League, but obviously I hadn’t been there.
The form of both sides has been dreadful of late and recent results didn’t lend to the impression that a classic was about to unfold. In midweek, Leeds captain Jonny Howson had been shipped off to Norwich City in a £2m deal that had filled plenty of space in the Yorkshire Post sports section. Losing your skipper is never ideal, but when recent poor performances had already created an undercurrent of resentment against chairman Ken Bates, it’s the kind of boardroom move that can alienate everyone beyond the point of no return.
There was a protest before kick-off near what I must say is an excellent statue of the great Billy Bremner, with hoardes of home fans pointing at what presumably was the directors‘ box and bellowing: “Get the Chelsea out our club...” I hardly think Bates was pressed to the window, shouting back. In his programme column, Bates said the season’s transfer budget had been overspent by about £2m, which suddenly makes the reasons behind the Howson transfer very clear.
But Bates is bleeding both home and away fans dry. You just cannot escape this point and it’s as though the entire matchday experience for the visiting fan has been designed by the club to be as uncomfortable as possible. First, there is the abhorrent £34 admission fee which is head and shoulders above anything else in the Championship and half of the Premier League.
For your £34 you sit on antiquated wood seats in the most exposed part of the ground - it is freezing and uncomfortable. You are constantly told to sit down by legions of jobsworth stewards while large swathes of the home fans remain standing. For £34, I would expect to have the choice. You pay £4 just for a programme which, although a decent read, is hardly the small book you might expect.
At one point, the large screen flashed up details for the forthcoming match with Birmingham City on Tuesday week, where ticket prices start from £31. From £31! Oh jolly good! Mr Bates, you must remember that, unlike your previous ruined businesses, Elland Road is not in the Borough of Chelsea and Kensington. It is in an area which has been ravaged by the recession and where unemployment is among the worst in the country. It is not the way to be popular.
Having said that, the minibuses parked around the ground suggested fans had travelled from Plymouth, Surrey and the Midlands, a reminder that this was a much grander club than one currently 12th in the Championship and also that personal finance will always be blind to the passion of the football fan.
But there’s just something about them. Maybe it’s because, after paying your £34, you are subjected to endless torrents of bile and vitriol from the South Stand. When Ipswich, and specifically Ibrahima Sonko, contrived to hand Leeds victory on a plate in the last 20 minutes, rows and rows of scummy blokes and teenagers with no futures celebrated in front of us as though they’d won the Champions League (oh, those were the days, eh?). I have no affiliation with Ipswich Town and I’ve never lent them my support before, but this woefully misplaced sense of entitlement suddenly made beating Leeds the most important thing in the world.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. Ipswich, who started the day 19th in the division, played superbly in the first-half, enjoying all the possession and all the openings. Time and time again, they exposed the soft underbelly of the Leeds midfield and were unlucky only to lead by one at the break. Andy Drury swept in a low shot from just outside the box which Andy Lonergan inexplicably allowed to squirm under his body to give Ipswich the lead. What a wonderful feeling it created.
I can only guess that part of Howson’s transfer fee went into Sonko’s back pocket, because he hit the self-destruct button in spectacular style 20 minutes from time. First he got his goalkeeper Alex McCarthy dismissed for handball with a tame headed backpass that caught up in the wind just outside the penalty area.
Three minutes later and even more inexplicably, Sonko, when any other defender would have hoofed the ball out of play, generously passed the ball to Robert Snodgrass two yards out to equalise. Replacement keeper Arran Lee-Barrett was then confused again by Sonko, allowing Ross McCormack to tap Leeds in front. McCormack celebrated in front of the Ipswich fans, for no real reason, which only heightened the fury.
World Cup Player Tommy Smith then cocked-up inside his own box, allowing Luciano Becchio to slide home a third from a tight angle late on. The teenagers with no futures went ballistic, jabbing fingers at the away end and swirling their shirts in celebration of the great win against ten men. What a hideous afternoon all round.
Next Match: Likely to be Boston United’s trip to shiny new Steel Park on Saturday to play Corby Town