Though it can be easy to forget passing through the turnstiles as it remains the one constant, the different sets and different occurrences provide the surviving memories.
Sans ticket to aid my brain, there are still loads caught in the net.
For Carlisle, we could be looking at double-digits. I’m sure there were times when I was rocking up there as much as I could, even if I was just walking past it when my parents took me out shopping with ‘em.
Two games that do stick out as having occurred in my presence were against Swansea and Oldham.
The first would have still been in my infancy as a supporter and came towards the end of Swansea’s promotion season and Carlisle’s play-off qualification. To date, it’s the most recent meeting between the two, and perhaps due to the tension of the encounter, it did end up a 0–0. The title was practically Swansea’s, but at the time, United were sat right behind them in 2nd. A winner could have changed everything.
Even though Dorus de Vries was in goal, I’m remembering Willy Guéret, who had left the Welsh outfit at the beginning of that season… Though he was in goal on the wrong end of the 5–0 thrashing Carlisle inflicted upon MK Dons, which I also attended, and he did used to play for Swansea, so perhaps I’m just filling in blanks. I also remember being excited to see Dennis Lawrence after his exploits at the 2006 World Cup (and his place in my copy of the tournament’s sticker book), as well as Jason Scotland, who was one of the division’s top scorers at the time.
One guy I wasn’t excited to see was Andy Robinson. I had an unreasonable disdain for this man, and even when he joined Leeds I still didn’t trust him. Looking back, he was a really skilled and forward-thinking winger who was always dangerous to play against. Sorry, Andy.
The game against Oldham is a mystery to me. I think The Latics ran out 0–1 or 0–2 or 1–2 winners, but the highlight came thanks to Dale Stephens.
He woulda been early-20’s at the time of the game and he was a constant threat going forward for Oldham. On one attack, his effort was saved, but he had enough momentum to carry him off the pitch and towards the separating wall to the Warwick Road End, where I was innocently stood spectating.
He took a second to bend down to his boot, pulling something from it and throwing it down — as my eyes zoomed, I saw what it was — a stud. An actual stud from an actual football player’s actual boot.
The game came to an end and as stewards ushered the supporters away, I took my chance, I tipped myself over the barricade and nabbed the stud, then quickly tipping myself back before I toppled pitchside. I then walked off and didn’t look back as if I’d stolen priceless jewellery.
It wasn’t until I was sat on the train home that I could safely remove it from my pocket, dust it off, and get a good look at it.
Yep. It was a stud alright.
Dale Stephens has gone on to have a cracker career, and has made just over 100 Premier League appearances.
And somewhere, at my parents’ house, in a set of wicker drawers, I’ve got his stud.
So Dale, if you’ve been looking for it…
I’ve also a memory attached to no game in particular, but as me and my dad were perusing the half-time scores displayed by the Brunton Park big screen, I noticed that Stockport were still level with Leicester and decided to state that Stockport were ‘holding their own’ against the big boys of the division. My dad responded with ‘holding their own what?’
Walked right into it.
Leeds trips were a bit more sparse due to being out of our neat locality, but that just meant more miles on the journey in which to lose the ticket.
We were there for the first game of Uwe Rosler’s managerial reign, in which he was given no time to attain promotion — six games I think it was. We took the lead against Burnley, who’d just come down, thanks to Mirco Antenucci, but Sam Vokes would equalise and then celebrate right in front of us, which got us all mad ‘cos he’d played for us for a bit. I was most mad at Scott Arfield, who I kinda liked before the match, after he callously pulled the shirt of a Leeds player on the break, earning a yellow. I was hollering about how it wasn’t football and that it should have been a straight red. I was surprised no-one agreed with me.
With the sun in our eyes, we witnessed the visit of Cardiff, who were riding high at that point, and played out a 1–1. I was distracted ‘cos my girlfriend had come with us (the same one I met at my gig), and I wanted her to have a good time, and it changed the dynamic, I didn’t enjoy it actually.
That same girlfriend worked at an Italian restaurant a town or two over come to think of it, and one night when I was waiting outside for her to finish up, Andy Carroll walked out having presumably completed a meal. He was wearing sweatpants and an England shirt with his own name on the back and I loved it. I asked for his autograph and he signed my notebook with what appeared to read ‘lalalala’.
If you didn’t wanna sign, I would’ve understood, Andy.
A match that rivalled the atmosphere of the Southampton and Bristol Rovers games was a meeting with Millwall at Elland Road on December 3rd, 2011.
Six days prior, former Leeds player Gary Speed had died, and things were hushed at the game. When Millwall are in town, hushed is weird.
The match would quickly pick up into its own pace and everyone got riled up, but come the 11th minute, the ground rose and remained unseated for the rest of the ninety as chants and applause for Speed rang around the city.
As it was at the Southampton game, the songs went on and on, and it would be that same scorer, Robert Snodgrass, who would fire the stadium to a crescendo as he perfectly placed a free-kick beyond Steve Mildenhall. He would score another to seal the game just a few minutes later and a club who might not have known how to deal with the passing of a legend swiftly had their answer with a fitting tribute in the form of a win for a great player who many idolised, including myself.
Here, let’s take a wee detour into the story of Alex McCarthy I have witnessed.
For the 2009/10 season, Alex was loaned out to Yeovil from Reading. The side would finish a respectable 15th in League One, and McCarthy’s presence was hailed as a success despite being on the end of seven goals from Leeds United, including the 4–0 loss inflicted on Halloween during some BNP protests.
Cut to November 2011, and McCarthy is once again loaned out by Reading, this time to fellow Championship side Leeds United. He makes a few sparkling appearances during an injury crisis and though he impresses, he is sent back to Reading to go out on loan to another Championship club, Ipswich.
And this is where my game comes into it. A Tractor Boys tour to Yorkshire featuring Ibrahima Sonko, Carlos Edwards, ol’ Jason Scotland, Aaron Cresswell, and our boy Alex. With McCarthy between the sticks, his side reached the hour-mark 0–1 up over the hosts. We were stood behind his goal for the second-half and though there were jeers towards him, they were in good spirits — there was obvious respect there.
Then, a Leeds attack around the 70th minute created a scenario where Alex could apparently only do one thing — handle outside his area.
He knew what he’d done as soon as it happened, he knew it was a straight red, and he knew he’d put the game at risk late on. We thanked him as he left, and though he was obviously devastated, something tells me there’s a part of him that liked helping us out. I swear I saw a glimmer of a smile as he committed the foul…
Anyways, as he had done against Millwall, Snodgrass walloped home the resulting free kick, with Ross McCormack and Luciano Becchio then adding a further one each just to be safe.
Such is the story of Alex McCarthy that I have witnessed.
Hope you’re well, Alex.
The final Elland Road game I’m recalling without a ticket comes against Queen’s Park Rangers.
QPR were on a one-season break either side of finishing dead last in the top flight and boasted stars such as Rob Green, Jermanie Jenas, and Shaun Wright-Phillips. As expected, they were on top, but we held them off until the 75th minute when Clint Hill nodded home.
It was always gonna be tough to get back level, but we threw everything and the kitchen sink at them but it wouldn’t be enough as the game ended 0–1.
It’s those moments of hope that sometimes stay with you though, innit? It’s easy to remember the spectacular goals, but there’s those build-ups that were almost spectacular goals that are often lost to time. Those oh so close moments.
As we got home, my girlfriend (not the one I’d met at the gig) had invited me to a family party so I ran down and met her at her pizza place job before we attended.
There, I delighted in recounting to her parents the nearly-goal of Rodolph Austin.
Rudy had already become a cult hero for me. He was hard-nosed, took no shite, and poured his heart out on the pitch, he was a perfect fit with Leeds. He wasn’t graceful, and he shouldn’t be taking shots from any distance really, but I’m glad he did this time.
Last minute, last chance.
The team are scattered, there’s nothing else on.
Rudy Austin gathers the ball on the halfway line, there’s a bit of space in front of him that he drives into while looking for a play.
There’s nothing else on.
The cries of ‘shooooooot’ from some fans are met in equal measure with cries of ‘nooooooo!’ from others, but I don’t think he’s listening to either as he lines it up.
He’s got good form on it. It flies up, and it’s dipping. Time slows down.
Robert Green is not going to move, he is planted.
Cries of ‘shooooooot’ and ‘nooooooo!’ become silence, and then noises of hopefulness rise.
The players stare, the benches stare, the supporters stare, the birds flying overhead stare as…
It. Is. Dipping.
And it bounces off the crossbar and out for a goal kick.
I’d only been going out with my girlfriend about two months at that point. Her parents got a good idea of what I was about at that party.
To be continued.