Well 365 days have gone; where? you all ask. For many it’s been a terrible year where they have suffered family losses and months of working from home.
One thing mind you kept a little smile on our faces... Leeds United Football Club.
We started the year with a game at West Brom, I watched it along with my friend Shane and his son. Leeds drew against the team that were our nearest challengers with ‘own goal’ getting another one to move up the scoring charts at the club.
United looked primed to finally end 16 years of hurt by the time the spring flowers had burst through the flowers. It was going well, but there were moments like Nottingham Forest when it seemed to going a little ‘Pete Tong’. M
Who can forget the reaction of Luke Ayling post match? He looked broken but within days Liam Cooper blew fresh hope into the promotion charge with an equaliser at Brentford, a team that became a regular nuisance to us. They simply wouldn’t let go of our coat tails.
March brought the goal of the season from Luke Ayling against Huddersfield Town at Elland Road in a 2-0 win. That game I saw with my good friend Shane and we drank a few celebratory pints after it, little did we know that the game would be the last we would see in person in 2020. In the month I had to shield due to COVID so I had to adapt to a different life without those people who I was close to at the time. It wasn’t easy.
Would the league competitions be cancelled? Many; included Karen Brady and others said the 2019/20 season should be null and void meaning that Marcelo Bielsa would be denied the chance to complete the the job he started in 2018 and Liverpool would be denied their first title in 30 years. Finally and thankfully it was decided that football would return but without fans.
Leeds started their return in June with a game at Cardiff City but lost 2-0, had the break put fresh doubt in minds? Not a chance as United stormed through their final fixtures.
There were bumps in the road, a draw against lowly Luton Town when many had expected them to run up a cricket score, it just was one of those days when it didn’t happen for them, but importantly they beat their nearest rivals Fulham 3-0 a few days earlier.
There are three games that stand out more than most. Demolishing Stoke City 5-0 at Elland Road, a superb 90 minutes from the men in white and grey. The last gasp win at Swansea City when as 90 minutes was almost up, a shimy be the mercurial Pablo Hernandez and a shot into the corner of the Swansea net sent myself and my son into screams of jubilation and a few tears too.
The celebrations from that win went around the globe as United fans so the prize of promotion edge so close you could actually taste the celebration bubbly. One result doesn’t make a season but that 1-0 scoreline just seem to mean that finally Leeds could finish as a Premier League team with the riches that go with it.
The third wasn’t the best, but so important. A 1-0 win over Barnsley courtesy of an own goal gave Leeds an important three points but it was without doubt a right backs to the wall display as the visitors pushed them for the complete game. I watched the last few minutes half way up the stairs behind a pillow! Strange that my most memorable games came in succession.
The days before the penultimate game of the season saw Leeds promoted on the Friday when Huddersfield beat West Brom 2-1 with a late winner to send the fans down to Elland Road to celebrate with the players who came out to the steps of the East Stand with hometown boy Kalvin Phillips leading the fans with numerous songs and Victor Orta being physically restrained to avoid being mobbed by the fans outside. Even Marcelo Bielsa joined in and the video of him congratulating his players was a joy to see.
Myself I was out for a meal with a good friend at a local public house. We’d just about finished our meal when my phone lit up with the final score at The John Smith’s Stadium and trying not to be rude I kept my celebrations to a minimum, until my dinner friend said “aren’t you going to celebrate?”
So I jumped up and rang the editor of our site, my son Ryan who informed me he was on his knees in tears at the final whistle. We all drank a fizzy alcoholic drink on my return home and we continued into the small hours in celebration. Good times.
The next day United became Champions of the Championship after Stoke denied Brentford the win they needed to make sure Leeds needed at least a point at Derby County the day after.
Sunday brought a second string starting X1 to Pride Park and to their credit they gave the Champions a guard of honour before the game. Leeds won the game 3-1 with goals Hernandez, Shackleton and another own goal.
The players celebrated on the pitch of the team that ended their dreams the previous season. What could be sweeter than that!
The last game Leeds whalloped Charlton Athletic 4-0 with Ben White’s thunderbas#%#d to open the scoring and Dallas, Shackleton and Roberts also amongst the scorers.
The trophy was presented to Liam Cooper but unfortunately no fans could witness the fourth time the club had won the trophy. Even Marcelo lifted it after being urged by his players to do it. What a night.
“Leeds are going to the Premier League, Ben White at the back, Bamford at the back Leeds are going to the Premier League!”
The saddest part of the year brought the passing of legends of the club. Norman Hunter still a regular at the club doing what he did, talking about his beloved club. His death due to COVID brought sadness to football in general but was really felt in Leeds 11. The club also lost Trevor Cherry after a short illness, the England international was a regular in the team that won the Championship in 1974.
Like Norman, Jack Charlton’s passing was mourned by fans of Leeds, England, Ireland and other fans of clubs the genial giant of a man had managed. The Leeds record appearance maker was a World Cup winner in 1966 and won nearly every honour possible in his time at the club. Both Norman and Jack have had stands named after them. Norman the South Stand and Big Jack the East Stand.
We also lost Argentine international and former Leeds midfielder Alex Sabella late in December; Sabella made 23 appearances for Leeds before returning home to Estudiantes.
The summer brought in World Class players as Leeds sought to cement their place in the Premier League. Big money moves for Rodrigo, Robin Koch, Deigo Llorente and Raphinha plus a large amount of players for the under 23’s. Leeds spent in excess of 85 million pounds and showed they meant business.
Although COVID refused to go away taking the death toll to the 40,000’s football promised to return and on September 12th Leeds stepped out at Anfield for their first Premier League in 16 years. The game was a classic as Leeds came back three times to equalise before Salah ended their hopes with a late penalty. The week after United played another classic at Elland Road, this time Leeds won a 4-3 thriller against Fulham.
Sheffield United were beaten with a late Patrick Bamford goal, his third in three games. Manchester City came in October and dominated for 20 minutes, getting a goal from Sterling but then Leeds showed last season’s runners up they could match anybody and equalised through Rodrigo, his first for the club and would have won the game but for a incredible save from Ederson from the same player.
It’s wasn’t all plain sailing, Leeds were beaten 1-0 at home to Wolves and lost two games on the bounce, 4-1 to both Leicester City at ER and Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. In between the three defeats came an impressive 3-0 win at Villa Park were Patrick Bamford scored all three goals for United with his left peg. A fantastic performance that raised a few eyes, even mine!
Two games in November saw Leeds attempt 40 plus efforts on their opponents goal. The draw with Arsenal should have been a win because, apart from a few nervous moments they totally dominated ‘The Gunners’. Eight days later they won at Everton for the first time since 1990 with a late goal from Raphinha, his first in a maroon Leeds shirt.
December brought a defeat at Fat Lampard’s Chelsea, even then Leeds had taken an early lead through a sublime finish by Patrick Bamford. The 3-1 scoreline flattered the hosts but even me saw the difference in squads when Chelsea started to go through their gears in the second half.
West Ham stunned most people by beating Leeds 2-1 at Elland Road, a few days later Newcastle came and Steve Bruce’s Toon army was sent home with their tails between their legs after a 5-2 battering, Leeds having five goal scorers. Newcastle had even taken the lead before Bamford, Rodrigo, Dallas, Alioski and Harrison replied with Clark getting the other Newcastle goal.
Then came a defeat that maybe some had maybe had expected but not by the heavy scoreline. Leeds were beaten 6-2 at old farmyard. The game could have ended 10-6 with both teams having chances.
It was a sobering Sunday teatime. Maybe finally they had their revenge for that FA Cup game in January 2010.
Leeds finished 2020 with two games poles apart, a gritty, dirty 1-0 win over Burnley at Elland Road. Patrick Bamford getting the all important goal from the penalty spot in the early minutes of the game. The rest of the game United defended stoikly as Burnley tried their hardest to claim a point. Sean Dyche wasn’t happy with the result.
The last game, like the saying; “you leave the best till last” was absolutely stunning for the first forty minutes at least.
Goals from own goal(Sawyers), Gjanni Alioski, a special one from Jacky Harradona, a class finish from Rodrigo and a world class finish from Raphinha in the second half.
The 5-0 battering of West Brom was one of the best first half performances I’ve seen in a long time and took me back to the days of Revie’s Leeds and that 7-0 win over Southampton in 1972.
All we as fans can hope for in the coming next 12 months is that the club continue to build on the last two years of great football business on and off the field and also continue to play a brand of football that is just so good to watch.
My best to all for 2021; in the hope that we get to cheer on the lads this year, even if it is for the 2021/22 season.
By Keith Ingham