It’s difficult to say whether this proves anything or whether it’s just a coincidence, but a high number of the most objectionable people that I have met in the course of my adult life have been Leeds United supporters. The guy that played football for the same team as me and said to me, just before the 1997 general election, that he was voting Conservative because the BNP weren’t standing in St Albans. The guy that we used to play football against who had a Union Jack tattooed on the back of his leg and would usually play with a black eye because he had been fighting at a Leeds match the day before. The next door neighbour in Brighton who would drink all day every Saturday and then harangue me over some imagined crime via the intercom. All of these people had that one thing in common.
It’s difficult to say whether this is a pattern which is repeated nationwide (and I should temper this by saying that I have, in my life, met a couple of Leeds supporters that weren’t complete wretches too), but it’s certainly true to say that the club continues to invite derision that is out of proportion to their current league position. The club itself hasn’t helped matters in recent years. Their murky exit from administration gave substance to the “Dirty Leeds” belief that many people hold, and the continuing pugnaciousness of Bates and the apparent attitude of many Leeds supporters that their club is “too big” for the division in which it plays has heightened the sense of schadenfreude for many. Leeds failed to get promoted at the end of last season (losing to Doncaster Rovers in the play-off final at Wembley), and have found this season to be tougher than many expected.
Huddersfield Town, by contrast, give the impression of being a club doing things the right way, off the pitch at least. Chairman Ken Davy is being replaced at the end of this season by businessman and long-time fan Dean Hoyle and, in the club’s centenary season, season ticket prices were slashed to £100 (with a maximum in the more expensive seats of £175). Consequently, season ticket sales have leapt to a record number of over 16,000 – proof that the interest in lower division football is higher than many think, if the price is right. On the pitch, however, things have been more troublesome. Stan Ternent had been appointed as their manager at the end of April and this, coupled with increased season ticket sales, led many to the belief that The Terriers were capable of launching a bid for promotion this season. Things haven’t, however, gone according to plan. They have failed to find any consistency in the league and, following their home defeat by Port Vale in the FA Cup last weekend, Ternent was sacked, making him the shortest-lasting permanent manager in the club’s history.
A lunchtime kick-off on a Saturday has been scheduled on police advice, but neither this nor the high ticket prices (Ken Bates’ first job as the chairman of Leeds United was to push the Elland Road ticket prices up through the roof) can dampen the excitement of this derby match. The crowd of over 32,000 is Leeds’ highest of the season so far and the highest of the day outside the Premier League. It takes just three minutes for the home team to take control. A cross from the left-hand side by Luciano Becchio catches Huddersfield’s defence completely cold, and Robert Snodgrass pokes the ball in at the far post. It’s the sort of defending that one might expect from a team without a manager. Leeds, however, haven’t been playing brilliantly of late, and they fail to take full advantage of this early hit. Huddersfield comfortably absorb them for the rest of the half-time, and the most controversial moment of the half comes on the edge of the Leeds penalty area when referee Mark Halsey gives a free kick rather than a penalty for a foul that Huddersfield claim was inside the area. Gary Roberts’ resulting free kick flashes just over.
Leeds are still in front at half-time but, if Huddersfield’s defence was still in the dressing room at the start of the first half, then Leeds’ is still at home, in bed with a hot water bottle and its pyjamas on at the start of the second. Huddersfield move neatly up the right hand side, and Leeds’ defence is just wiping the sleep from its eyes as Joe Skarz fires the visitors levels with barely thirty seconds on the clock. Leeds continue to look like the stronger side, though, and have chances to take the initiative back. Just after the hour, recently introduced substitute Karl Beckford shoots from the edge of the penalty and sees his shot excellently pushed away by the Huddersfield goalkeeper Glennon. Ten minutes later, Becchio heads against the crossbar from six yards when he really should have scored, and with less than ten minutes to play, Leeds have a half-convincing shout for a penalty declined by Mark Halsey after Beckford is pushed in the penalty area.
The sucker punch arrives in injury time. Huddersfield substitute Danny Cadamarteri (one of those who never got anywhere near fulfilling the potential that he showed in his first few months as a player) is a former Leeds player, and it is almost inevitable that his hand in the game should be a significant one. He finds an acre of space on the right hand sides and crosses for Michael Collins to mis-hit a shot into the bottom of the corner while Leeds’ central defenders stand around as if they’re auditioning for a part in a new George Romero film. With that goal comes delirium in the far corner of the ground, all three points and a chance for the visitors to exorcise the ghost of last season, when they came here in the league and lost 4-0. It’s not far short of the dictionary definition of smash & grab, but one suspects that Huddersfield supporters won’t care a jot.
There were more questions than answers for Leeds from this match. They continue to look defensively fragile, and have now lost six of their last eleven matches, which would seem to indicate that pre-season expectations that they would finish this season in the top two places in the League One table were exaggerated, to say the least. They remain in the play-off places but look far too inconsistent to be able to continue to challenge for an automatic promotion position, although inconsistency within the division means that they are still just four points from the top of the table. They may well continue to believe that they are “too big” for this division and still look over the Pennines at Old Trafford for their rivalry, might just have to get used to the fact that they are going to be mixing with the likes of Huddersfield Town for quite a while longer yet.
Brief highlights from yesterday’s match between Huddersfield are here.