Charlton AwayThere comes a point in any saga be it literature, TV series, movie franchise or Leeds United when inevitably, no matter how gripping, exciting, comical or just staggeringly bizarre the whole bonfire of fun has been it burns out and becomes plain ashen and dull. Further twists and turns of an already exquisitely tortured plot breach the borders of engagement and languish in some far flung realm of a writers strung out coke addled imagination. That is what has become of us at Leeds United.
The thousands descended into the Valley like drunk zombies craving the flesh of history. Trains from all over Britain discharged the faithful into the capital and we made our way towards the south East enclave of Charlton. Not without an essential ale or four en route. Our old Reg friend Higgs Bosun took myself, twatnav and MG to his old stomping ground Black Heath and the fabulously contemporary ale House The Hare and Billet tucked around a corner on the Heath itself. It was great to see Higgs again, a first class character whose generosity of wit and conviviality is only matched by his eagerness to join in the casual piss taking of MG who seems to be getting angrier and angrier about Leeds united these days. I can't blame him really and i admire his commitment to actually giving a fuck about which lunatic is currently running us or which mundane manager ruined which mediocre player.
A 30 minute walk through the leafy suburbs and suddenly the hub of the Valley was upon us. A few acquaintances spotted us and decided it was time to spoil my hair and chant songs about it and my soon to be spouse as we entered the tunnel into the turnstile area. All very jolly but a little weird for blokes in their mid fifties if you ask me, i know you will.
I've no stomach for the beer throwing, smoking, burping,farting, chanting, shirtless shenanigans behind the stands these days either before or at half time so i try and try again to ensure no further need arises to leave my seat centre crowd just to the right of the goal. There we are surrounded by the usual London away crowd. Pissed youth, individuals southerners, mobs of assorted northerners, fearsome looking middle aged blokes, sensible mild looking smaller groups, angry larger groups, small mobs of welsh, home counties and Irish, dads n kids, girls and veterans of the sixties and early 70s. Some like Morrison some hate him but all it seems have turned massively against Massimo and his less than magnificent 7 (alright, it isn't 7 but give me some slack here I'm finally having fun). "play for Leeds or fuck off home" they sing and " time to go, Massimo " underneath that cruel London sun as Lloyd Cole sung on 2cv about his very own break up.
Morrison and Billy up front then and Rudy back in midfield. Charlton were on a run m, so were we, in the opposite direction and the game got underway. The Charlton fans were stone wall silent but their team took the early initiative whilst we looked unsure and stretched. Eventually we got into the game before dominating the half. Our 442 type thing finally looked balanced and cohesive. Rudy was picking up balls and actually spraying them with accuracy right to Sam who was putting balls into the box. Charlton offered little and we took the balk forward collectively with ease. Billy missed the pen but it seemed only a matter of time before we scored. It was indeed a cross from the right and a smart finish from Morrison to break the game's and his own deadlock. Charlton had hit the post before that but we defended comfortably and continued our patient pressing. Yet despite our possession in their half our impotency in the box kept it a solitary goal lead. Murphy wasted a great chance and as we know one nil is never enough and at half time there was a rueful and cautious satisfaction from those that remained in the stand in the away end.
Charlton came out as expected for the second half full of eager pressing and movement but we actually weathered the early storm and came back at them. The crucial period came around the hour mark. Charlton continued their energetic movement while we dropped our levels a fraction. It was all the difference. Charlton began nicking the balk off our tired young midfielders. Murphy began his loose passing as options around him were diminishing. Morrison began to resemble a plastic bag caught in the wind jumping for the ball, billy became less mobile, charley just wasn't getting forward quick enough down the left and we collectively became half yard slower ti the loose balls that were getting more frequent.
This is where i have a problem with Redders. It should have been changed on 70-75 minutes. He had options. One was to take Billy off and put another midfielder on. I am certain we would have won the game then. Instead we were caught on the break giving the ball away and then again failed to close down around the box allowing the shot which got spilled and the resulting pen. Naive, Keeganesque Pub football stuff. I saw it coming, every sober fan in the ground saw it coming. Two Charlton fans across from us in the sparsely filled ted seats celebrated the equaliser. One did a little shuffled dance that he obviously thought looked as cool and clever to everyone as it did ti himself. He grabbed his groin then gesticulated 2-1 to the bait taking masses. Now i ask you this people of Reg. If a monumental bellend like that knew how come Redders didn't?
As expected we couldn't muster a response. I think we made a couple of very late subs but we were off to the train before the final whistle to get a pint or two in before the 18.35.
Kids on Leeds shirts were looking at their despondent dads. Non shirted Leeds fans looked at each other with a blank hopeless mutual knowing empathy that announced their allegiance. A few words were unnecessarily exchanged. The kids smiled but i wonder if they are beginning to doubt their dads claim that not so very long ago we were great. I hope they can still smile after 45 years of this. We still can, we've been through the vortex and a pint and burger in the ace but pricey parcel house in kings x station soon had us levelled out.
It was a dry train back north as usual but the odd sneaky can of Stella made it on. By half nine i was back in town, on my own as twatnav made his way to the wilds of Marsden. A pint in Wethers was all i could muster and i called a taxi. " hello my friend" said the driver and i guess we are friends after 15 years of him picking me up all over west Yorkshire. Oh you've been to London for the football have you he said. "Too much greed in football" he said "too much greed everywhere" he added ruefully. "You should do something else" he laughed, as I bade him good night.