Bill Connelly spent five days in England to search for the heart of English soccer, compare football crowds to futbol crowds, and figure out why everybody was telling him not to rent a car.
III. New Tottenham, old Tottenham
On the Tuesday night before our trip, while driving to our hotel near the St. Louis airport, we saw a caravan of police cars and what looked like SWAT vans driving by on the other side of the Interstate. The Mike Brown murder and proceeding standoff between Ferguson/St. Louis police and citizens/media, was happening not even 10-15 minutes from Lambert International Airport. But the way riots, disturbances, etc., happen today, things don't actually spread. In St. Charles, barely 20 minutes away, there was no discontent, no aura of any problem, just outdoor drinks in bars by the Missouri River.
To be that close and feel relief that you are not involved (and not in action, like so many writers and journalists) fills you with shame; we were headed 4,000 miles north east to have fun while part of Missouri became a police state. That's a terribly odd feeling.
We made our way around a community that had an experience rather similar to that in Ferguson: three years ago in Tottenham, buildings burned. Tottenham riots in 2011. (Getty Images)
On the evening of our first full day in England -- mid-afternoon, St. Louis time -- we made our way around a community that had an experience rather similar to that in Ferguson: three years ago in Tottenham, buildings burned.
It was a familiar recipe, really, one followed in parts in St. Louis and countless other locations. Granted, this one didn't happen in a country quite as obsessed guns and military equipment and trying desperately to look like a hardass. Still, the ingredients were similar: start in a relatively poor area of town. Throw in a further economic downturn. Add a healthy mix of frustrated youngsters who can't find jobs. This will get some nice tension going between young adults and local authorities. Now all you need is a flash of violence and a game of Telephone, and voila: riot.
The metaphorical spark: 29-year old Mark Duggan, pursued by police for any number of warranted/unwarranted reasons (depending on your source), was shot by police as he stepped out of/fled a minicab that had been pulled over. Police legitimately/mistakenly thought he was armed (a gun was planted/found nearby with his fingerprints on it). Officers were predictably cleared of any wrongdoing (because they did nothing wrong/because the system is corrupt), and local citizens, already angry at authorities, were predictably upset by his death.
The literal spark: after peaceful/tense protests outside of the Tottenham police department, rumors began to quickly spread of a teenage girl confronting police and getting beaten. She was seen throwing a leaflet/stone/champagne bottle and was quickly subdued/pounded. The verbs and adverbs here don't really matter; the crowd got worked up regardless, and within a few hours, the fires started.
High Street is the backbone of Tottenham, tracing straight north from the Tottenham Hale tube stop to White Hart Lane, home of Tottenham Hotspur. Duggan was shot a few blocks to the east of the midway point, off of Hale Road. Slightly north, the Tottenham post office burned to the ground. It was a modern riot, a progressive riot, an all-races affair aided by social media. But it was a riot nonetheless.
This happened almost exactly three years ago, as the 2011-12 Premier League season was set to begin.
We really don't like it when real life and sports life intersect, as sports are so often the pathway for escaping real life. But sometimes it cannot be ignored. And with soccer -- a game so much of the world adores to (or beyond) the level that Americans love our own football -- lines get crossed at all times. With so many really good journalists converging on the scene, we saw it pretty clearly this summer in Rio. And a while back in London, it was hard to miss.
The riots in Tottenham were for me an anchoring moment. They reminded me, in very real & sobering ways, that the football club I love is physical, it has presence, & exists in relationship to a community of people. In this case, the community has many members who are deeply marginalized, severely impoverished & decidedly disenfranchised. I knew that Tottenham was a diverse neighborhood, but I hadn’t known before the riots how deeply depressed the area was economically. I think that as an American I carry around this idea of Europe in my head. I think of it as secular, progressive, past many of the societal & economic issues that continue to haunt the United States. In short, I thought of Europe as fixed in all the ways America was broken. However, as I became more fully immersed in the culture of the club, I began to understand Europe – & more specifically, England – differently. I became aware of (& deeply embarrassed by) the racist Adebayor chants, the homophobic Sol Campbell songs, the violence & discontent that circled & at times entered White Hart Lane like mist.
"It brought a lot of focus to how shitty the area is," SB Nation's Ryan Rosenblatt told me a few weeks ago. "It changed the landscape of how much Spurs needed to get a stadium done. How many concessions should the city make to keep the team close? What is Spurs' place in the neighborhood, and does Tottenham even need the team nearby? There are riots anyway."
High Street is certainly not glamorous; it has cheap food and cheap goods for the diverse, mostly working class population that fill the sidewalks. It is a place that will charm you if you meet the right people or eat the right food, but it still looks, I assume, a lot like it looked three years ago. Not much appears to have changed. What needed to be rebuilt, has been, and that's about it.
It is a place that will charm you, but it still looks a lot like it looked three years ago. Bricklayers, a Hotspur bar. (Bill Connelly)
The games didn't stop the riots, but for better or (mostly) worse the story was usurped by the games. Spurs' 2011-12 season began late (and began the losses to both Manchester teams), but when it began, attention shifted back to Gareth Bale and Luka Modric and Emmanuel Adebayor and Rafael van der Vaart and Brad Friedel. Spurs finished fourth in the Premier League that season and would have qualified for the Champions League if not for Chelsea's 2012 Champions League title and automatic qualification and ... sports talk, sports talk, sports talk. To the general Premier League audience, especially the portion that lives in the States, the riots ceased being a story.
Three years later, the club is attempting to help build back the community. Underway are plans for a state-of-the-art new stadium; groundbreaking has begun. A sparkly new home, with shops and (on paper) other community-friendly pieces, will go up just north of Spurs' current home, White Hart Lane. The club says it wants to take part in the rejuvenation of the area, but clubs always say that. Whether or not it takes will remain to be seen.
To compare Emirates Stadium to White Hart Lane is to compare grapefruits to old grapes. We've been told by many about how the atmosphere inside White Hart Lane is loud and occasionally fantastic; but the facade is less than optimal. The team store, the club VIP area, the surrounding shops ... they're all beaten down to different degrees. The closest "team bar," the Bricklayers Arms, is also a little bit on the old side, but bars derive plenty of charm from that. Stadiums, not as much.
Bricklayers is a game day bar. It fills when there's a match on television, and it follows the "no opposing fans" rule that so many others do. It only takes one idiot, after all. But on an uneventful Thursday evening, it houses just a small group of locals and the staff, which includes an older man and a mother of two behind the bar, and the two children running around and getting scolded. It is small enough that when the mother yells at them in the back, we hear it.
We speak to the man behind bar about the riots and how the community has or hasn't changed in three years. Status quo? "Status quo." Is he hopeful that the Tottenham area will benefit from the new stadium project? "It can't make things much worse." He shares with us his own stories about the area -- so many people from so many different countries, and nobody spending what money they have within the community; "We need more British and Irish people around here. They'll spend money here instead of sending it back home or spending it elsewhere."
I'll leave judgment of those comments to others. With poor experiences come poor generalizations of large groups of people that are not like you. But while the area around White Hart Lane certainly could be worse, it could also be a lot better. Three years after reality trumped sports on the front page, here's to hoping sports help to improve reality in the Tottenham area.
While we're at it, here's to hoping that three years from now we're seeing actual recovery in Ferguson. The area itself will eventually be fine, physically -- what's been torn apart will be rebuilt. But in Tottenham, it appears a lot of the resentment just got tucked back away behind closed doors.
When I moved to Missouri in 1997, I was told about the two St. Louises that exist and how the area could be a powder keg with the right chain of events. In the seventeen years that have followed, the angry rednecks have only gotten angrier and more well-armed, and the African-Americans have only gotten more resentful (and, quite likely, more well-armed themselves). Combine that with the idiotic "police forces need military equipment (but they totally want to use it if they have it, nope, they won't fire tear gas canisters just because they can, they won't point weapons at citizens in a way that soldiers didn't point guns in Afghanistan, and they totally won't get power hungry and start arresting journalists and start denying things that happened in broad daylight with witnesses and iPhone cameras in plain view)" development that has taken place in our country, and this was bound to happen somewhere. And we could see it from our home airport.
By 9:00 that evening, we realized we hadn't eaten in about 12 hours. We took the obscenely long Tube ride back to the Heathrow area, stopping to walk around Hyde Park for a few minutes. We stopped at a bar called Three Magpies near our hotel -- kitchen closed. We finally settled for an 11:30 dinner of McDonalds. Those fries taste the same everywhere, by the way.
The next morning, it was time to rent a car.
The exterior of Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. (Bill Connelly)
IV. Ye Olde searche for parkinge
In the midlands of England, "ye olde" actually means "ye olde." It isn't a fun phrase to use at the Renaissance Fair -- ye olde turkey leg stand, ye olde gift shoppe -- it signifies something that might have actually been around during the Renaissance.
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem was established in AD 1189. It predates the bubonic plague. It gets its name from the knights who, according to legend, stopped in for a pint before answering the call of Richard I and heading to Jerusalem to take part in the Crusades. It is one of about 20 places in England to call itself the oldest pub in the country; and since record-keeping was a bit shaky more than eight centuries ago, it might very well be the one.
We celebrate Monticello in Virginia and the North Church in Boston. Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem was almost 600 old when Paul Revere was riding. It is carved into caves. Its backdrop is Nottingham Castle. It also has pretty good wifi, good beer, and a solid smoked mackerel dip.
As this trip came together, I found myself looking forward to visiting Nottingham as much as anything on the itinerary that didn't involve Anfield. Part of that is because of Nottingham Forest, the team I adopted 20 years ago on my first trip to the country. But a lot of it was the city itself, gorgeous in pictures and old as hell. Old castles overlook old bars on the corner of Castle Boulevard and Maid Marion Way. If Boston were married to a much, much older war, it would be Nottingham.
The original goal was to get to Nottingham by around lunch time, but normal trip delays, combined with the absolute ridiculousness of driving on English highways -- Semis going up a hill? Massive congestion! Construction? Massive congestion! Too many damn people driving instead of taking trains and busses (including us)? Massive congestion! -- put us quite a few hours behind. We pulled into Leicester around 2:00 p.m. on Friday and wandered around both King Power Stadium and a crowded, giddy team store (Leicester were just promoted back to the Premier League, and the buzz was palpable). We arrived at City Ground, Forest's home stadium, around 3:45.
Nottingham's sports complexes are mostly congregated near the River Trent, with Notts County's stadium on one side and Nottingham Forest's, a large cricket complex, various rowing clubs, etc., on the other. But really, I only care about one of those things.
Following Forest for 20 years has provided fascinating insight into the promotion and relegation system, and how smallmarketitis has played its way into this sport as it has with baseball in the States.
Following Forest for 20 years has provided fascinating insight into the promotion and relegation system, how poor management can have an effect in the Football League, and how smallmarketitis has played its way into this sport as it has with baseball in the States, especially for teams in the middle of the country.
Throughout the 20 years before I began paying attention, Forest were viable and competitive, winning the First Division title and League Cup in 1978, winning the European Cup in 1979 and 1980, then finishing in the top 10 for 10 consecutive seasons in the 1980s and early-1990s. But by the time I took notice of them in the mid-1990s, there was a bit of a yo-yo effect going on: Forest fell all the way to 22nd in 1993 and got relegated in the Premier League's first year. They got promoted back in 1994, then surged into the top three in 1995, when I jumped on the bandwagon. In 1996, they finished ninth. In 1997, they were relegated. After another promotion in 1998, they were down for good in 1999. And in 2005, they fell to the third level. But we were married by that point, the club and I, even if it was a long-distance relationship. We were stuck together.
By the time the Internet allowed me to pay closer attention, Forest were back on the ascent. They rose back to Championship in 2008 and have since managed to create drama in one form or another in almost every year that followed. They survived a relegation fight in 2008-09, the surged just enough to be a crushing disappointment. They lost in the promotion playoff in both 2010 and 2011, then collapsed and nearly found relegation in 2012. The Championship is so incredibly tight that even a short change in talent, morale, coaching ability, etc., takes you a long way in one direction or another.
In 2012-13, Forest went through another two chairmen and four managers (including care-takers) but still made a run at the playoffs before finishing eighth. The man responsible for the surge: Forest's own Billy Martin, Billy Davies.
Davies spent two different stints with the club and won quite a bit both times. A pain in the ass to chairmen and owners and a jerk to the media when he didn't think he was being treated fairly, Davies nearly got Forest promoted twice before getting fired in 2011. In February 2013, he came back after new ownership took over the club, and they went on an immediate run. But self-destructive tendencies got the best of him; they always do. He walked in the door with a blacklist, he closed ranks, he hired relatives and friends and leaned on them as his inner circle. And then he began banning journalists. Daniel Taylor, writer for the Guardian and author of the lovely Deep Into the Forest, was banned along with his paper and its sister publication.
"It’s difficult to explain how bad it was, really," Taylor says. "I don’t know if there’s another club in the world where a manager is allowed to bring in his cousin as chief executive. And that cousin brings in a friend to act as transfer consultant.
"Billy is hugely political and paranoid. He came back with an enormous grudge against the local press. I got lumped into that."
Ian Darke: "Billy Davies would have an argument in an empty house. And they banned the press, like they did at Newcastle. Certain people aren't allowed to turn up. I mean, this is a club that could use all the publicity it can get. As somebody put it when Alex Ferguson once banned MUTV, they said it was like Brezhnev banning Pravda! They don't get it, the clubs. Do they think that their local newspaper doesn't want them to do well? They're going to sell more papers! They're all really in the same boat. I've never got that." And to be sure, the local press use kid gloves. As a faraway Forest fan, I have for years had the Nottingham Post in my RSS feed. Almost every editorial deals with heart and desire and stresses that it’s not too late for Forest to meet its chosen goals. But their edges were too spiked for Davies’ liking, evidently.
More from Darke: "Forest, of course, it's a bit sad. There's another team that should probably be in the Premier League. Maybe they were all spoiled during the Brian Clough years." Clough was Forest's sparkplug, managing the Reds from 1975-93 and seeing them to most of their greatest successes. He was brash and borderline abusive at times; he was an epic smartass and a brilliant manager. "Maybe you can't do that any more, run a football club the way Brian Clough did. He was a great judge of a player, and he got players to play above themselves. He made nearly all of those players stars."
In March 2014, when his liabilities became too expensive for his assets, Davies was fired for a second time. Thought to be promotion-caliber in the preseason, Forest finished 11th, clinching a seventh consecutive season in the Championship and a 15th consecutive year outside of the Premier League. "When the club is winning," Taylor says, "fans can almost be like sheep. ‘Sod the media, we’re doing well.’" But while Davies was like Brian Clough in attitude (and then some), he was only solid at his job, not good enough to avoid the obvious detrimental effect he was having on the club’s reputation.
Chairman Fawaz Al-Hasawi has turned now to Stuart Pearce to lead the club forward. This is like Derek Jeter managing the Yankees 15-20 years from now. In Deep into the Forest, Taylor began his look at Forest greats with a chapter on Pearce, a 5'10 defender who made 401 appearances for Forest between 1985-97 (with 78 caps for England) and briefly served as Forest's player-manager in 1996-97. Nicknamed Psycho, he is one of the sport's greats.
The move has, in the short-term, paid off in the public relations department. Case in point, from Pearce's home debut:
Thus far, it appears Pearce has rallied the fanbase and, despite some tenuous moments (including one in which two players were sold off before he had signed off on the idea), everybody is saying and doing the right things. And the team has played well to start the season. That’s better than the alternative. But the oddity of Forest’s last few seasons highlights a chicken-or-egg question I’ve had for a while about teams in England’s heartland: Are they struggling because of decision-making and shaky ownership, or are they struggling because they’re simply in the wrong part of the country?
"Leadership and decisions have certainly played a role," Taylor notes. "Forest have made bad decisions, hired bad managers, bought some bad players. And the longer you’re not in the Premier League, the gap gets larger and larger."
Taylor thinks geography plays a role in that no city is London but London. But the teams in the Nottingham-Sheffield-Leeds corridor (and surrounding areas like Leicester, Derby, even Birmingham) don’t have any unique advantages. You’re either in London, or you have the tradition of the Liverpool teams and Manchester United, or you have Manchester City’s money, or you don’t.
"Forest and Leeds are bigger clubs than, say, West Brom," Taylor says. "But West Brom has been in the Premier League, and they don’t have debts. They’re not challenging for the top six, but you’d swap nine years in 13 in the top flight, wouldn’t you? There have been well-meaning owners [in the Midlands and Yorkshire areas], but decision making has been an issue.
"Forest aren’t a particularly orthodox club at the moment."
That's a beautifully reserved way of putting it. And Nottingham isn’t an orthodox city. Its roads are new built around old, which means more maze than grid. It makes the switch from modern to ancient and back from block to block.
City Ground is not only pretty, but when we got there, the gate was wide open. We walked around, took the requisite pictures, bought the requisite T-shirts in the team store. We made our way across the water; after an unintentional detour that occurred because Castle Boulevard and Castle Road are right next to each other (and the Garmin didn't really know how to handle that), and after a lengthy search for a parking spot (you could use a few more of those, Nottingham), we spent a couple of hours at Ye Olde Trip, then continued making our way north.
V. Never drink with a Leeds fan
"Why would you want to go to fuckin' Hillsborough when you could go to Elland Road?"
When we arrived at the hotel bar, our impression of Leeds in general was not quite what I had expected. The City Centre area is trendy and young and ... quite young. We ate at a hipster place called Friends of Ham; it basically serves beer, cheese, and charcuterie. It's tremendous. We were almost certainly the oldest people in there. Things close relatively early there, however, and as we found our options limited at midnight, we decided to head back and get some sleep. With some people milling about in the hotel bar, however, we stopped in.
Four hours later, we were still there.
Leeds fans are proud and intense, especially if they're of a certain age. Thomas Hill of SB Nation's Through It All Together is 23 years old. He told me the happiest moment of his sports life was when Leeds won promotion from League 1. But if you are old enough, you have a different set of memories.
Folks like 53-year old David and his longtime best friend are Leeds fans from Northern Ireland who come up for a solid number of home games each season. Thomas, from Germany, never misses a home opener. Leeds' fan base grew large and diverse because of its European success in the 1970s and late-1990s, because it is the only club in a very large city, and because Leeds' 1970s style of play was either uniquely great or uniquely abominable, depending on which side of the fan spectrum you reside.
When I broke out the recorder, Thomas and David began jockeying for the mic and trying to one-up each other. The three of us were a few (more) beers in since we had arrived -- I had a few at Friends of Ham, and for all I know, these gents had been sitting at this bar since Wednesday.
"Leeds has been a catastrophe for 30 years. But if you're Leeds, you're Leeds. You don't change. You're Leeds all over the world." (Getty Images)
Thomas: "Leeds has been a catastrophe for 30 years. But if you're Leeds, you're Leeds. You don't change. You're Leeds all over the world. We come from Ireland, from Germany. If you go to Scandinavia, they're there also."
David: "And India. And everywhere. And there are more Leeds United supporters clubs in Ireland than any other club."
Thomas: "Go to the website. Leeds are still the third most visited website in English football. Liverpool, and scumchester." (A man in his 50s saying "scumchester." SPORTS!)
David: "And you wanta go to Sheffield. You're breaking my heart."
Thomas: "I been a fan for 42 years."
David: "47. That's not bad. I remember when it happened. Cup title against Arsenal. I turned to my dad and said, 'That's me, I'm a Leeds fan.' My daughter's a fanatical Leeds fan now, too." (His daughter, sitting behind him, didn't reciprocate this sentiment but didn't deny it either. She did make the trip, after all.)
The balance of power from when we grew up is how we tend to look at the world. If you were a 15-year old college football fan in the mid-1990s, you probably find yourself saying things like "College football is more fun when Nebraska's good," and you perhaps struggle to grasp/accept Oregon as a consistent power or UCF as Fiesta Bowl champion. If you grew up in the 1970s, the Big Ten will always be an Ohio State-vs-Michigan league for you. Et cetera.
If you grew up a soccer fan in Great Britain, your view of Leeds United depends entirely on age. Leeds were the sport's ruling power in the early-1970s, then spent much of the 1980s in the second division. They surged in the days right before the Premier League: promotion to Division 1 in 1990, league championship in 1992. They were a consistent top-five club and European presence in the late-1990s (European Cup semifinalists in both 2000 and 2001), overspent, went broke, and got relegated in 2004. Then they went really broke in 2007 and got relegated again, going below the second level of English football for the first time.
(The shorter version of that last paragraph: "Doing a Leeds" has its own Wikipedia entry.)
Leeds made it back up to Championship in 2010, but that hasn't exactly pleased the natives. In August 2011, chairman Ken Bates both called Leeds fans "morons" and said this to The Guardian: "The rebuilding of Leeds United is a bit like sex. In an age of instant gratification, Leeds United is having a long, drawn-out affair with plenty of foreplay and slow arousal." For a fanbase as intense as this one -- as Liverpool fan and Anfield Wrap chief Neil Atkinson reacted when we tell him we spent a night in a bar with Leeds fans, "Oh, they're maaaad." -- this didn't particularly set well.
Bates remained the chairman until 2013, and in 2014 Leeds saw one ownership takeover fail, then were finally bought by ... this guy. Massimo Cellino is an insane, superstitious, Italian entrepreneur, a quote machine, and a convicted criminal. He might be just the guy to restore Leeds' legacy. He might be crazy like a fox. Or he might simply provide even more ridiculous quotes and moves and further tarnish the club. He had already hired and fired one manager by the end of August.
"It's baffling how a one-football-club city is so out of the loop," TIAT's Thomas Hill says. "There was an overriding sense of joy, of being able to watch your team against the world's best. And ... it happened so quickly. We felt let down from above -- we spent a lot more money than we had."
Leeds had plenty of money. This isn't a case of smallmarketitis. The problem was that, to keep the team strong enough to qualify for European tournaments, the club started spending that European money it didn't have yet. And then the club missed out on Europe. And it's taken a decade to recover.
"We've got the people," Hill says, referring to Leeds' fanbase. "We have some of the most expensive ticket prices in England, and we're in Championship. It's all here. The stadium's a little rusty, it could use some new paint. But it has just been such a down spiral. We've been the laughingstock of headlines -- 'what a disgrace that football club is' -- and it's sad.
Bill's Previous Road Trips
• SEC Road Trip: Full hearts, football and goat cheese grits
• B1G Road Trip: Journey through football's heartland
"The past four or five owners have all said the same thing. The last couple of years have been especially difficult. A lot of fans who have been going the past 30 or 40 years have stopped. We've had a lot of rubbish the last couple of years."
In 1992-93, the first year of the English Premier League, Sheffield Wednesday finished seventh, Sheffield United finished 14th, and Leeds finished 17th. Forest got relegated but were back up and in third place within two years, and Leeds was back to qualifying for Europe within five. Leicester City were a Premier League squad from 1996-02, twice reaching the UEFA Cup. Derby County were up from 1996-02. Bradford Town was up from 1999-01. Barnsley was up in 1997-98. Hell, Notts County, across the Trent from Nottingham Forest, was a Division 1 squad as late as the mid-1980s.
Most of these clubs have fallen a good, solid 20 spots (or more) on average in the last 20 years. Leicester just got promoted and are seeing their first Premier League action in 10 years this fall, and Derby are favorites to do the same this year (they lost a crusher to QPR in the promotion playoff last year). Forest have looked solid thus far, and Wednesday have overachieved. Maybe there's hope. But there's been hope before, and there haven't been many results to show for it.
This isn't unique to English soccer, obviously. The Pirates and Orioles were dominant baseball teams in the 1970s, and they've combined to win two playoff series in 31 years (four if you include the one-game playoff "series" wins for Baltimore in 2012 and Pittsburgh in 2013). They have made the league playoffs -- which basically constitutes a top-10 finish -- just seven times in that span. And needless to say, if promotion and relegation existed in American baseball, the Pirates, who just ended a string of 20 consecutive losing seasons, would be battling up from A-ball right now.
But with one magical group of players, either of those teams could ride a wave of good fortune and win the World Series. For Leeds, or Forest, or the Sheffields, a wave of good fortune is needed to simply reach the Premier League again, and it would take another wave not to be sent back down rather quickly.
"Leeds love being hated," Thomas tells me before our night is out. And he has evidence.
Billy Bremner was the ultimate "you love him on your team" guy. To Leeds fans, he was the most tenacious player in English soccer. To fans of other clubs, he was the personification of the 1970s' Dirty Leeds. A barrel with angry red hair and spikes on his shoes, he kicked you, elbowed you, bruised you, softened you up, then defeated you.
A statue of Bremner greets you outside of Elland Road, immortalizing the salty Scotsman, reminding you that Leeds United once had their own intimidating brand of football, and warning you that the fans still believe in Bremner ball. (Everybody in the bar said Bremner's name at least once that night.) Before he took over at Forest, legendary manager Brian Clough -- mortal enemy of Leeds' previous manager, Don Revie -- took the Leeds job. He couldn't get past his dislike of some of the Dirty Leeds players, however, and basically introduced himself by telling everybody they weren't shit. He lasted 44 days on the job. Leeds fans are passionate, and their style of play elicited nearly involuntary passion in others.
The latter might not be as true anymore, but the former is still evident everywhere you look. In bed around 5 a.m., we had to be up and out of the hotel by 11. As we stumbled out of the hotel, groggy and achy and feeling older than we are, we looked in at the hotel bar one more time. David and his friend were sitting in the same spot at the bar, beer in hand. Of course they were; as they mentioned the night before, they have spent countless great moments and great beers in that spot. And we were amateurs in their presence.
We promised them that if (our words) or when (theirs) Leeds are up for promotion in April or May, we'll be back. (Leeds aren't exactly a favorite to make a run this year; Cellino himself has said that, and early results have backed that up. That's a promise we probably won't have to worry about keeping. Probably. But I figured I should tell my editors just in case.) An hour before Leeds kicked off against Middlesborough, city centre was buzzing. The noise near Elland Road was already emanating. Leeds would win, 1-0, on an 88th-minute goal by Billy Sharp. I bet that would have been pretty fun to see, but we had somewhere else to be.
We stopped for fish and chips, the hangover food to end all hangover foods, in a tiny cottage town outside of Leeds. Then it was off to Hillsborough.
About the Author
Bill Connelly grew up a fan of the Miami Dolphins (post-1970s glory), Pittsburgh Pirates (ditto), Portland Trailblazers (ditto again) and Missouri Tigers. That he still enjoys sports at all shows both severe loyalty and a potential personality disorder. He spends his evening playing with excel sheets and watching DVR'd football games from ESPN Classic. See more of his work at Rock M Nation, Football Outsiders and Football Study Hall.