OK, so Richard Jobson wasn’t singing about a taxing end of season trudge down to the South Wales Valleys when he penned the song in 1979, but Leeds fans would do well to take inspiration from The Skids triumphant mood stomp, as they summon the energy from somewhere for the final away trip of a desperately turgid season. ‘Ahoy, Ahoy, Land, Sea and Sky’ indeed………
Not since the Nookie Bear-hopelessness of George McCluskey sprinkled his rarely seen fairy dust on proceedings in 1984 have Leeds beaten Cardiff, and bringing an end to the lead-weight of that statistic is surely the only positive that Leeds can gain from tomorrow’s barely-awaited encounter. In truth, not many of a White persuasion expect that to change, as Cardiff seek to cement the Play Off place that a recent resurgence has awarded them.
It is well-documented that Leeds season is petering out like a sagging party balloon still drifting along the living room floor, many weeks after the party ended; the once smiling face on the front of it now wearing the wilting, furrowed expression of dispirited anti-climax and prolonged disillusion. At the start of the season, whilst genuine optimism was a scarcely-held commodity, few Leeds fans expected to travel to Cardiff on the penultimate weekend of the season with literally nothing at stake, just the faint hope of playing party pooper. But that’s where we are.
Even back in October, when Leeds claimed a draw with an unimpressive Cardiff at Elland Road, in a rare fixture between the two sides that they really should have won, it seemed unlikely that the Welshmen would be the team holding the ascendancy come the end of the season. But the Championship is shatteringly unpredictable like that, and nobody knows that more than Leeds.
It is, of course, fair to say that Cardiff will approach tomorrow’s game with significantly more nerves than Leeds, holding, as they do, an uncertain immediate future. However, with four points and a much-superior goal difference separating them from seventh-placed Middlesborough, Cardiff know that a win will qualify them for the Play Offs, and with the added zeal that encounters with Leeds usually inject in to opposing players, their confidence should be well-placed.
As many Leeds fans can testify, visits to Cardiff typify the partisan experience that welcomes them at most away grounds. Whilst the identikit Meccano stadium that Cardiff moved into last season has diluted the experience, compared to the fiercely volatile and proudly unwelcoming Ninian Park, the 2-1 defeat last January had a knowing inevitability about it. No doubt a sell out crowd tomorrow and the high stakes involved will ensure a much feistier atmosphere awaits, and Neil Warnock will thrive on winding his troops up to upset the applecart.
As many Leeds fans can testify, visits to Cardiff typify the partisan experience that welcomes them at most away grounds. Whilst the identikit Meccano stadium that Cardiff moved into last season has diluted the experience...
The one thing that sets visits to Cardiff apart from trips to the plethora of other clubs that revel in the ‘We All Hate Leeds Scum’, once-a-season, chav-friendly giddy-fests, is that at least the Cardiff animosity is a two-way thing; although, as with most long-running feuds, it didn’t start out that way. Throughout the two clubs illustrious histories there are few standout meetings. In three consecutive seasons between 1956 and 1958 Cardiff recorded a bizarre sequence of winning 2-1 at Elland Road in the FA Cup 3rd Round each year. This was somewhat nullified years later when Leeds won an epic 5th Round FA Cup tie 2-0 at Ninian Park on their way to winning the trophy in 1972.
However, few Leeds fans will forget the events of January 6th 2002 in a hurry, and it was these that truly sparked the current hostilities. Sitting pretty at the top of the Premiership and fresh from dining out with the European elite, finding themselves penned into the dark, shallow terraces of Ninian Park with snarling locals at either side and Police dogs snapping at their heels, was something of a step back in time. And so it proved, as Leeds surrendered an early lead and were knocked out of the Cup by the then Third Division club.
Clearly a victory over England’s top-placed team, as Leeds then were, was a major scalp, and nobody was surprised by, nor begrudged them, the pitch invasion and the inevitable stand-offs post-match. Facing hostility from opposing fans and the Police is nothing new to Leeds fans. However, it was the antics of then Cardiff chairman Sam Hammam that truly rankled and triggered an ongoing exchange of vitriol that had never previously existed.
After the winning goal, but before the end of the game, Hammam proceeded to walk the length of the touchline and stand behind the goal where the Leeds fans stood, gesturing to them as he did so. It transpired that this was a frequent ritual for the famously confrontational eccentric, but in the circumstances, he was perhaps unwisely allowed to continue this today. Hammam’s partaking of the ceremonial head-patting and ‘Do the Ayatollah’ chant in front of the Leeds fans was widely blamed for triggering the violence that followed. Consider Ken Bates doing the Leeds salute whilst singing ‘Yorkshire’s Republican Army’ on the Elland Road touchline during the match, and you are halfway there.
However, few Leeds fans will forget the events of January 6th 2002 in a hurry, and it was these that truly sparked the current hostilities.
The FA of Wales resolutely saw no reason to take action following the unsavoury events of that day and inevitably, few games between the clubs since then have involved the welcoming convenience of a 3pm Kick Off, nor a full ticket allocation unrestricted by rigorous security measures.
During the first subsequent encounter at Elland Road in January 2005, Cardiff fans joyfully berated Leeds with chants of ‘There’s Only One Peter Ridsdale’ following the financial meltdown he had overseen, that saw ‘his’ club dumped unceremoniously in the second tier. The irony was not lost on Leeds fans, as less than five years later the man himself was responsible for leading Cardiff towards a series of winding-up orders and the most uncertain period of the Welsh club’s existence. This was not before Ridsdale had been thrown out of the Leeds boardroom by new Chairman Ken Bates in August 2006, amid a vain attempt to show face amongst the Elland Road crowd he used to call his own.
What is perhaps most telling with regards to fixtures between the two clubs, is that very few memories are centred on events on the pitch. Most encounters in recent years have been tight, dour affairs, ending in draws or a single-goal defeat for Leeds. The stand out game is last seasons Monday night mauling at Elland Road, where the triumvirate of Bellamy, Chopra and Bothroyd tore Leeds apart in dealing out a 4-0 hammering that in the end seemed to take pity on the Whites. In that game Cardiff looked every bit Premiership class, and it is hard to believe they failed in achieving that status.
Tomorrow sees Cardiff attempting to finally go that one step further. For Leeds, they can only hope that history doesn’t repeat itself. As the fans rouse themselves for a 5.00am start in making the lunchtime Kick Off, they will do well to remember the stinging, monotonous pain of the five hour return journeys in recent fruitless years, not forgetting the 3-0 Play Off Final defeat to Watford in the same city in 2006.
From defeat comes valour and strength, to be stored for next time, and god knows Leeds are building up a frightening armoury to be unleashed if and when the time is right. Tomorrow may come too soon, but “Into the Valleys…….betrothed and divine”………or whatever he says……….
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