It goes without saying that on the pitch this season, there hasn’t been too much to cheer about for the Leeds United faithful. But without fail, they have still followed Neil Warnock’s men up and down the country in numbers only a handful of English clubs would be capable of achieving. On Sunday, over 6,000 hardened souls filled the Etihad Stadium’s South Stand to watch the Whites take on the champions of England, Manchester City, despite the near impossible task their team faced.
The last time Leeds crossed the Pennines for an FA Cup clash was just over three years ago, when Simon Grayson led his League One side to victory at Old Trafford. On that Sunday afternoon, optimism was high and Leeds had a hungry, exciting team, fearless and heading for promotion. Even before kick-off on Sunday, damage limitation seemed to be the priority and after Yaya Toure slipped City into the lead after just four minutes, the bloke behind me muttered “As long as it’s under ten,” as if keeping the scoreline in single figures would be an achievement.
Sergio Aguero doubled the scoreline from the spot ten minutes later after a dubious decision from Mark Clattenburg and it looked like the flood gates were opening, with double figures seeming a not too distant possibility after all. Leeds somehow managed to weather the storm until half-time but well-taken goals from Carlos Tevez and Aguero sealed the win. Neil Warnock’s side never really threatened and with nobody really expecting anything other than a home win, the 4-0 scoreline seemed fairly respectable.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that after travelling to an away game to see your team get turned over and completely outplayed, you wouldn’t be in the best of spirits, but the Leeds fans made sure that they had a good day out in Manchester even if Neil Warnock and co. didn’t. These people have been through everything imaginable; from winning championships, promotion and almost conquering Europe, to relegations, court cases, administrations and the threat of liquidation. There’s been managerial changes, key players sold and new owners, but the fans have been the only constant in a decade where moments of celebration have been few and far between. Admittedly Leeds fans don’t have the best of reputations and the incident at Hillsborough earlier in the season prompted Man City to leave up their 15 foot netting used for pre-match training to prevent a repeat of such events. But no matter how tall the netting and how bad the football served up in front of them got, the Leeds fans still managed to bring their self deprecating humour and sarcasm to the Etihad on Sunday and leave the rest of the Football League purring after another huge following.
“You’re nothing special, we lose every week,” was the chant as Tevez made it three, as was the tongue in-cheek “we’re gonna win 5-4,” after Aguero added his second. “Let’s pretend we scored a goal,” followed by mass cheers from the away end, kept the home fans entertained as did the “2-0 and you f*cked it up,” that followed after the Leeds fans celebrated their third ‘goal’. Predictably, “Stand up if you hate Man U,” united the full stadium and the Leeds fans decided to join in with City’s ‘Poznan’ celebration as they made it three, much to the bewilderment and amusement of the home fans. The usual anti-Manchester chants got an airing but it felt as if there was almost some sort of unity between the home and away fans, not just because of the shared dislike for the Red Devils, but because of everything both sets of fans have had to endure over the years. There was a feeling of mutual respect for two genuine clubs with genuine fans and I don’t think that any Leeds fans begrudge City’s recent successes, especially if it means that Manchester sees a power shift.
The Leeds fans remained in buoyant moods despite the result and you’d have thought that they’d won the game judging by the noise as the away fans began streaming out. With promotion all but out of the question for this season, the travelling fans were always going to make sure their trip to Manchester was a memorable one regardless of the result.
On Sunday night, Twitter was awash with glowing comments on the Leeds support from City fans who had been at the game and football fans that had watched on ESPN. The following day’s papers also saluted the away fans’ performance, but as Ian Herbert in The Independent put it: “This remains a club with a fanbase grossly disproportionate to the level where they find themselves and sardonic singing only goes so far to obscuring their despair.”