Marching on Together

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Europe » United Kingdom » England » West Yorkshire » Leeds
November 8th 2019
Published: February 20th 2021
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The next few days were spent enjoyably hanging out with Uncle Walt, Simon, and Mom all around County Fife. However, the time had arrived for me to take off on an adventure of my own. I had made sure that Mom would have people around while I was gone. Even Cousin Fraser and Ally were coming up for the weekend, but I would be leaving the family nest. I was poised to cross off an item from my bucket list. The item? A visit to Elland Road and my beloved boys in white, Leeds United.

The crew drove me to the Leuchars station in Simon’s rental car. It was sweet, Mom insisted on waiting with me on the platform until the train arrived. I tried to explain about my solo travels to places like Bolivia, Cambodia, and India and how I was perfectly fine. She would hear none of it. A mother cannot stop being a mother no matter how old you get.

After a whirlwind day of stations and connections I found myself in the Leeds train station at what sure seemed like rush hour. The people of Yorkshire all hurried knees and elbows. My instructions were to get on a local train to Brighouse. After searching and investigating I eventually found myself on a damp platform with a ticket, waiting to board the train with a mob of dour commuters.

The compartment was packed to the brim and I found myself unexpectedly squashed to the center. My experience on the Mumbai commuter lines was nothing compared to this. My height was my only relief. My head free in glorious unimpeded airspace while down below somewhere around my armpits, the hoi polloi jostled for position. The train inched along the line and became roomier with each stop, but only a little.

I disembarked eagerly at Brighouse. The station was dark and empty. I messaged my contact and waited for further instructions. Finally, a pair of headlights rolled slowly toward my perch bathing me in bright white light. Was it friend or foe? Luckily, for me it was indeed a friend.

It was Davey, who I had stayed with in February down country in Nottingham. His mom lived in the area and knowing my desire to see a Leeds United game had organized this weekend. It was great to see Davey again and cool to be doing so two times in one year, after not seeing him for ten years. Our first stop was to the grocery store for snacks and beers. Davey was buying quite a big supply of beer and looked at the meager amount I had picked out for myself. Didn’t I want more? It was then I was informed that his Mom was spending the weekend in Nottingham helping Davey’s wife and daughter. I promptly doubled the amount. My selection of Newcastle Brown Ale sparked a conversation with the attractive checkout girl from Newcastle and had for some reason studied the barbarity of American slavery.

After stashing the snacks and beers at his Mom’s house we went to dinner. We chose to eat at the Golden Sea Chinese Restaurant. There was absolutely no one else in its elegant dining room, but the food was delicious and the waitress was attentive. A few Tsingtao beers and zesty Chinese food was just what the night called for. Dinner eaten and bellies full it was time to visit a true English pub. No shortages of choices around here.

We stopped in at one called the Commercial Railway. We walked up to the bar to order our drinks. The few locals in there were already gawking at my size. One even asked my height. Because when I am traveling local people generally do not understand feet and inches I answered by saying two meters. I am not sure what confused them more the unit of measurement or my accent because they all just sort of stared at me. Then pandemonium broke out as they didn’t get many foreign visitors in this local joint. They were very excited and started asking all sorts of questions.

Eventually, Davey and I moved with our drinks to the sitting room. Even twenty minutes later I could hear one woman telling a new arrival that they had an American in the pub. I felt like a local celebrity, Japan all over again. When we said goodbye the barman practically lunged over the counter to shake my hand. Davey and I finished off the evening drinking beers and watching the Eurovision song contest back at his mom’s.

The next morning was the day I had been anticipating for a long time. I was finally going to Elland Road to watch my beloved Leeds United. I first started to support the club back in 1995 as a result of seeing wundergoals produced by their diminutive Ghanaian striker, Tony Yeboah. My Leeds fandom was further locked in during my year in Australia. There I would regularly walk into Central Sydney in the middle of the night, like 3am, to watch their 2001 Champions League run in a bar packed to the gills with young British backpackers. Anyway that was then; today was the day of my pilgrimage to their legendary home.

The original plan was to go to the match with Davey and Vic, who lives in Leeds, but tickets to any Elland Road match proved to be devilishly hard to get a hold of. As recently as the week before it looked like it was not going to happen. Finally a text came through to me up in Scotland. Vic had been able to acquire one single ticket. I would be attending, Vic and Davey would not. Of course it would have been more fun with them, but I was not going to turn back now. I could still enjoy hanging out and drinking with them in Leeds before and after the match.

Upon arrival at the Brighouse station we discovered that all the ticket machines were broken. We didn’t want to get fined, but what could we do? We would have to board regardless. The crowd on the platform kept growing. Some of them looked like sports fans with Leeds United scarfs. Some looked like they were all dressed up for a big night out. Many of the girls were wearing tight black leather pants. It wasn’t even noon.

I was expecting a regular length train, but the train that slowly rolled into view had only three already crowded cars. Somehow we pushed our way on, but this was crazy. Kids were separated from their parents, passengers contorted together, a solid wall of Northern humanity. There were some station stops where people couldn’t even get on. Of course the local scallywags laughed openly at their misfortune. The packed conditions did mean however that there wasn’t any way to check us for tickets. A silver lining!

Vic and his girlfriend were going to meet us at a pub for lunch and a couple pre-match beers. Once in Leeds, Davey and I set out on foot sure that we could find it. Some time and many wrong turns later we finally did. On the way I got to see a lot of the city. I was really impressed with Leeds. It had a good solid feel about it and unlike London it felt truly English. There was a festive atmosphere that Saturday. The pubs were full with people getting ready for the match or at least an all day/night drinking session. My kind of place.

Davey and I got to the pub just in time to grab the last free table. Vic and his girlfriend arrived a short time later. After a couple of beers and a delicious gourmet meat pie, Vic handed over the golden ticket. I thanked him rigorously. Even better his girlfriend would be driving me to the stadium after lunch. So I said goodbye to the fellas and arranged to meet up with them later. On the way to the stadium Vic’s girlfriend gave me an awesome pin with the Leeds crest, red poppies and the years 1919-2019. Unbeknownst to me it was the club’s hundred year anniversary. She drove me as close as she could and then I affixed the pin to my jacket and headed toward the stadium on foot.

The majestic Elland Road loomed in the distance. I soon found myself surrounded by loads of Leeds supporters. My people. I didn’t want to stick out like too much of a tourist, but I couldn’t resist taking a bunch of pictures of the place. Though it is easier to blend in these days when using smartphone as opposed to flashing out the old camera. Two young supporters saw me snapping away and had me take a picture for them. I guess we were all excited to be there. After taking one last picture of the Billy Bremner statue, which was all draped in scarves and fans, I ducked into the stadium itself.

The ticket that Vic had gotten for me was in the John Charles Paddock. It had only become available when the visiting team, Blackburn Rovers, was unable to sell their allotment of away tickets. No commitment, I tell ya! After grabbing a beer I searched for my seat. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was sitting in the second row! All the bone crushing tackles and slick passing would be taking place right in front of me. The game started off with a moving military tribute in honor of Remembrance Day.

Then the fandom kicked into high gear with the playing and singing of the Leeds anthem.

Here we go with Leeds United
We're gonna give the boys a hand,
Stand up and sing for Leeds United,
They are the greatest in the land.

Every day, we're all gonna say,
We love you Leeds! Leeds! Leeds!
Everywhere, we're gonna be there
We, love you Leeds! Leeds! Leeds!

Marching On Together!
We're gonna see you win
Na na na na na na
We are so proud,
We shout it out loud we love you Leeds! Leeds! Leeds!

The whole stadium erupted en masse. It was like being a part of one single entity. All those mornings back in New York cheering alone on my couch with my bacon and eggs and now here I was in Elland Road. Me and 35,567 of my best friends. And yes we all loved Leeds.

Well, that is except for the puny group of Blackburn supporters who had made the trip. Sitting in their unsold seats we could observe them close up and of course get involved in a bit of competitive banter. We also got into a battle of wills with the stadium security. Apparently, the rules of our seats, because they came from the away fans, was that we had to remain seated the whole game. The whole section was having a hard time with this concept. So throughout the entire match we would all rise only to be told to sit back down in no uncertain terms. This was predictably followed by outraged shouts and jeers. In the meantime I spotted a cute blond lass amongst the security forces, but she seemed more like organizer than enforcer.

The game was thrilling and the mid-November skies darkened quickly. I was surprised how many of the chants I knew just from watching Leeds on television. Leeds United’s full throated support is truly a marvel. I was pleased with the result too. Leeds 2-1 Blackburn. I was particularly pleased with the spectacular goal scored by Jack Harrison, who had gotten got his start at NYCFC of Major League Soccer. His presence and success tied the whole event together nicely.

It was then time for my next trick. I was meeting up with Davey and Vic in the city centre. Where exactly was that anyways? I had no idea. I figured I would just follow the herd. Most people had to be heading there as well, to get on the lash or at the very least get on the trains. As I exited the stadium the gigantic herd seemed to immediately split in two and head in opposite directions. I took a wild guess and chose one pack to join in with. After a few minutes something alarming came into view. The car park! I was with the wrong group! I quickly turned and sprinted back to catch up with the other mob and continue on my way.

Night had fallen and I was in the outer edges of a strange city, but I was not alarmed. I was marching together with an army. It was quite a long walk to the center and the herd thinned as we walked. After about forty minutes I eventually found myself on my own, but by that time I was back in front of the city centre train station. After an exhaustive round of telephone tag I met up with Davey and Vic. They had been drinking all day, where I only had managed the one beer at the game. I was going to have to do my best to catch up.

I tried to order the beer with the highest alcohol content in a pint glass, but the barmaid would only serve it in a smaller designer glass. Vic yelled across the bar for me to order two. One was enough for that bar, but we soon moved on to another bar and another after that. At the third bar, Vic began to get itchy feet and headed off into the night. This left Davey and I to carry on drinking. The bar we were at was amazing with a tangible celebratory atmosphere. Out of the blue an old Spandu Ballet song came through loudly over the stereo speakers, kicking the place up another notch. We were indestructible. We were gold.

After remaining there for a long stretch we headed to one last bar for a couple drinks to end the night. Then unsurprisingly it was on to McDonald’s where I placed my traditional end of session order of three burgers for home. That was always the same no matter which continent I was on. Riding back home in the taxi that night I thought to myself, mission accomplished. No one could ever say again that I hadn’t been to Elland Road and partied the night away in Leeds.


20th February 2021
Kalvin Phillips taking a corner

The last couple of times we've been in England we want to catch a soccer match but our timing has been off. Last time it was near Easter and they were not playing. One day it will happen.
20th February 2021
Kalvin Phillips taking a corner

Definitely worth it. Sporting matches are excellent cultural experiences.

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