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Ridsdale and I Part 9- The intimidating Elland Road atmosphere
Wednesday, 12th May 2021 21:39 by Mark Monk

The tale of my early years watching Leeds United has now reached the start of the promotion season, and the first Saturday home game against Blackburn Rovers. But the day didn’t work out how I’d planned, even though Chris Fairclough popped up with a late equaliser.

I'd actually passed my driving test in the summer of 1989 and was the "proud" owner of a Mark 2 Ford Escort estate that I proudly covered in Leeds stickers and the obligatory Leeds Teddy Bear which a work mate said made it look like a play pen.

But I didn't feel confident as a driver or in the car itself to head 80 odd miles up to Elland Road so I stuck to the tried and tested routine of lift to Burton Station in a work-mates Cavalier, train to Leeds then walk to the ground.

It was Saturday August 26th 1989 and Leeds faced Blackburn Rovers, a tricky encounter given that Rovers had made the play-offs in the previous two seasons and this was before Jack Walker and his millions rolled up at Ewood Park.

I waited for my lift, which normally would arrive at 8am on the dot but it was well past 20 past when my work mate showed up all apologetic. His niece, who he took shopping with his mum and aunt had overslept or something. He tried to get me there on time for the 08:38 but as I reached the bridge to Burton Station it roared away beneath me and without me.

The next one wasn't until just gone 10am so I mooched around Burton, not a patch on the shops in Leeds I'd become accustomed to. I boarded the train and chatted to some of the familiar faces I'd seen in Leeds colours. One was a guy called Bob, with gingerish hair, moustache and always seemed to wear the same Patrick branded sports anorak, black with a white chest band.

He hailed from Swindon so imaginatively I nicknamed him "Swindon Bob". He was quite devoted to the Leeds cause given that Swindon Town were a decent side back then, remember they were controversially denied promotion in 1990 due to financial irregularities and had the sublime talents of Dave Hockaday in their ranks.

There were also two brothers who got on at Chesterfield, except they didn't really look like brothers, one being tall and blondish the other shorter and dark. They seemed to be a bit nerdy where Leeds were concerned so I tended to listen to them rather than speak, after all I'd only been travelling to Leeds a mere 6 months and judging by the age of their merchandise, they'd been going a lot longer than me.

Although I seem to recall them saying that Leeds had made an EIGHTH summer signing, Ipswich keeper Ron Fearon which wasn't true and the dark haired one predicted that Mickey Thomas would be the "secret weapon" behind our promotion push. Although Thomas was in the squad to face Blackburn, Leeds bombed him out after three starts and he would be on the move to Stoke before the season ended.

My late arrival in Leeds probably meant I just managed to grab my customary, novelty day-time Kebab from Zam Zam and my pre-match pint of Tets in the Brittania, Holbeck. I'd missed the midweek match against Middlesbrough, a narrow 2-1 win aided by an almighty bounce off a divot to give Leeds an important win on the back of the Newcastle thrashing.

As was the case for midweek matches, the last train for the Midlands left Leeds at 9:30pm so I'd have had to have left 10 minutes into the second-half to make it. Had I gone, I'd have been pre-warned of the chaos that greeted me on that muggy Saturday afternoon when thousands were milling around the ground on Lowfields Road like dazed, lost sheep. The same thing had happened against Boro on the previous Wednesday.

Obviously demand to see Leeds had gone through the roof thanks to nigh on £3m worth of summer signings. The club had also been hit with a reduction in ground capacity, from 43,000 to around 32,000 due to the Hillsborough disaster. In those days, the Leeds United ticket office wasn't known for its efficiency. I spotted Swindon Bob in his Patrick jacket and he'd been caught out too, Kop and Lowfields sold-out, West Stand £7 a ticket.

We tried to get into the South Stand. This had been turned back to the home supporters for 1989/90 but no joy, Leeds had brought in this membership scheme during the summer, obviously cashing in on the huge demand as well as wanting to keep the undesirables out. This was obviously news to us who lived outside the region and to hundreds of others. I looked on as this shirtless bloke, who was clearly worse for wear and being held up by his long-suffering girlfriend kick off and get dragged away by some Coppers as he too was refused entry into the South Stand.

"Fuck it, only one thing for it!" I said through gritted teeth, there was no way I was missing my first chance to see Sergeant Wilko's magnificent Seven in the flesh. Being a tight arse I balked at paying £7 to sit in the West Stand, although without the prerequisite membership card I'd have been no doubt sent on my way like I was from the South Stand.

The observant amongst you will recall that my first visit to Elland Road, 11th March 1989 I described in detail what I was wearing and beneath my Leeds shirt I'd put on a yellow polo shirt. I was pretty much dressed in the same attire, except I was wearing a big, black leather blousson style jacket I'd bought on holiday that summer in what was Yugoslavia back then!

Darting behind a burger van, I took the jacket off, then removed my Leeds shirt, rolled it up and managed to fit in on the inside pocket of this huge leather jacket. Hey presto, I was now in the away colours of Blackburn Rovers. I strode up to their turnstile on Lowfields Road and counted out £4 in coins.

"Hold on a minute!" One of West Yorkshire constabularies finest shoved his arm out in front of me. " Where do you think you're going?".

"Er to the game!" I replied.

"Got any ID on you?"

"Sure!" I replied. I was holding my inside pocket close to me and must have looked like id got the stitch clutching my side as I was. I got my wallet out and luckily I carry my drivers-licence everywhere.

The Copper glanced at it and said, incredulously "You're from Ashby de la Zouch and you follow Blackburn Rovers?"

"Yep home and away every week," I said. I made a little fist-pump which was silly considering I was literally holding on to my dark secret.

"Is he likely to be one of yours Colin?" The Copper asked this bloke in a stewards jacket, who shook his head.

Shit! Double shit! Cover blown, mission failed! A wasted journey.

"Step this way!" The steward said, indicating he needed to frisk me. The penny dropped, the steward was a Leeds steward not a Blackburn one. He'd obviously not seen the massive "Ashby de la Zouch Whites" flag which a friend of mine Martin Woodworth took to the Forest FA Cup tie earlier that year, in fact there were a few lads in the town who supported Leeds and like Woody I'd not really met yet!

I just had to survive the frisk and pray the scrunched-up Leeds shirt was not discovered, and I was in. My heart soared with excitement, then I remembered I was in the Blackburn end. I felt like they all knew each other and turned and looked at me at the same time, aware of my dark secret.

I was stood not too far from where I'd been often the previous season. The away end consisted of what was the last pen in the old Lowfields Road Stand and the corner bit which is now the lower seating section of the "Cheese Wedge", the upper-tier had not yet been built, the struts had been there for some years waiting for the glory days to return.

I listened-in on some of the conversations the Blackburn folk were having. They weren't impressed by being moved to that part of the stadium, particularly as it was undercover and it had started to rain. I don't really know what they were grumbling about, although there were a fair few of them who'd made the short-trip across the Pennines, they hadnt sold out their allocation as id walked up minutes earlier and paid on the gate.

They were also scoffing about how much money Leeds had spent, ironic given the extent that Jack Walker would bankroll them a few years later and they'd sing their stupid heads off about having "Loadsa loadsa money".

They cheered up a bit when Rovers took an early lead. Luckily I was spared any awkward glances for not celebrating because the bloke stood next to me stumbled down the steps and lost his spectacles, so being a good sport I helped him find them.

However it gave me an insight into how intimidating Elland Road was for an away fan in those days. Thanks to the cock-up with the membership cards, the South Stand was sparsely populated but there were plenty of nutters willing to climb the fence and tell the Lancastrains to go forth and multiply.

Obviously with Leeds trailing, it was a humid, tense afternoon and as so often is the case at Leeds the anxiety in the stands manifests onto the pitch, however the breakthrough came courtesy of the head of Chris Fairclough who powered home the equaliser and if you watch the goal carefully the camera is level with the "away" fans and you can just spot a solitary arm raising in triumph, my 15 minutes of fame. I once bumped into Chris in Nottingham many years later but couldn't bring myself to tell him how his header nearly got me lynched.

Obviously my fellow Leeds fans on the other side of the wire were delirious and having celebrated the goal, began to scale the fences to goad the dejected Rovers fans. I suspected by some of the filthy looks I got, I'd outstayed my welcome, so I left way, way early and went to the ticket office to try and find out about this pesky membership thing which I reckoned must have lost the club thousands in match day revenue, although some determined souls had set up viewing points at various places on Beeston Hill.

The word was there were no membership forms left to give out. Great! I trudged back to the station overall very disappointed even though we'd managed a draw.

If you can’t wait for the next episode to appear on toellandback, you can sneak a peek at my blog by clicking on this link.

Photo: Action Images

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