Thursday, 13 May 2010

Leeds United: Bye bye League One, hello the Championship

Billy Bremner statue Elland Road As every life long Leeds United supporter knows, the team never manages to do anything the easy way - ever! So it was no shock to myself or any fans I know when it came down to the last 32 minutes of the last game of the season and we were 0-1 down with only 10 men knowing a win would see us promoted.

So where did it all begin, well that's a mammoth story that has been well documented elsewhere but to skip to the end - until the 8th May 2010, Billy Bremner's statue has been watching our fate in League One since relegation from the Championship back in 2007. This season (2009/10) was our 3rd in the 3rd tier of England's professional leagues. The first season begun with -15 points. That season ended in a play-off final only for us to lose to Doncaster 1-0 at Wembley. The 2nd season in League One ended up with another play-off fate and that was to lose 2-1 to Millwall at the semi final stage. This season there was more hope in the air around Leeds supporters compared to the previous two seasons. Even back in August in pre-season when Leeds brought an almost full strength side to play Glentoran at the Oval you could feel that with Simon Grayson, a Leeds supporter, at the helm, we knew we were in with a decent chance this time. Even though we knew, that as always in this league, every club would be upping their game when Leeds came to town because of the name and size of the club.

The season begun so well with an unbeaten run in the league lasting until late October. In that spell we even gave Liverpool a bit of a scare in the League Cup. This good run of form continued and coming into the new year we were sitting 8 points clear of Charlton at the top of the league and looking odds on for promotion.

Then came the big one and one of this seasons biggest highlights for any Leeds fan - an FA Cup Tie away to Manchester United. As I wrote at the time "it was a much appreciated visit to Cloud 9 for all concerned with Leeds United" as we came away with a historic 0-1 win The cup run came to an end after giving Spurs a scare but it was at this time that our form fell away, a loss to Exeter kick started a string of games where we only took 7 points from 24 and were overtaken by a great Norwich side. Sadly with 10 games to play after Millwall took 3 points at Elland Road, we were left without the services of arguably our star defender Patrick Kisnorbo as well as only 3 points from being caught by the very same side. Charlton, Swindon and Huddersfield were also all lining up behind us ready for any slip ups.

The slip up wasn't far away and with a late 1-0 away defeat to Norwich and a 0-3 home defeat to Swindon. Swindon and Charlton, Leeds now sat in 4th place and 2 points adrift of that remaining automatic promotion spot. This seemed to be the spur that the players needed though as they dusted themselves down to bring home 12 point from the next 5 games. This set up a chance of possible promotion when the team took to the field at the Valley. Though Millwall kept their end of the bargain, Leeds failed to beat Charlton, instead in what seemed like some repeat of the earlier away game at Norwich, we went down to a late own goal and the hopes transferred to the home tie against Bristol Rovers on the last day of the season.

Fast forward through a sending off, past their goal and me getting started on the Vodka which I knew I'd need one way or the other. I'm listening like many other Leeds fans to the radio commentary with my head in my hands, trying to console myself and not think the worse. Things seem to be going so far from plan that its beyond a joke. Then 36 minutes from time - Simon Grayson throws on the amazing Jonny Howson (who coincidently set up the goal which Jermaine Beckford scored for the win against Man United). Within 5 minutes he had played a major role in turning the game and the situation on its head. A sweet shot from the edge of the box neatly nestled past Anderson in front of the Revie Stand. A draw for 30 seconds or so was enough for promotion but then news came through of a Millwall goal. We had to win.

4 minutes flew by as Leeds turned up the pressure, playing like we weren't the team with the numerical advantage. Bradley Johnson had a great chance but blazed over and we thought it mightn't be our day yet again, but Johnson more than made up for the miss as he caught onto a loose clearance by the Bristol goalkeeper and took it into the box. His shot/cross was intercepted by a defender but the ball bounced to Beckford, who kicked the ball into the ground and under the goalie, into the net , Elland Road on the radio went wild, as did we on the sofa!

It was then a case of holding on and that they did even though my heart was in my mouth every time the commentary mentioned the ball going anywhere near our box. It didn't matter if it was offside or going out of play, just the mention had me biting my nails.

Then it came, the ref blew his whistle, I bounced around the room like an ejit, I think there was even the sight of a victory dance in there somewhere. I couldn't believe it, especially the way it had panned out. We were promoted and the curse we all thought was hanging over our heads had been lifted. No play off this year, guaranteed Championship football next season. I refused to take off my Leeds shirt to go to bed that night and wore it the next day too. I didn't care for smelly, my head was in a better place and life was good. I've removed the shirt (and ordered a new one for next season) but am still yet to come down from the happiness. Maybe the nerves as the World Cup will bring me back to Earth and I'll start to ponder over next season.

For now though, as the song goes - "we've had our ups and downs" - and for once, which makes a huge change, the emphasis on that line is at long last back on the 'ups' - music to my ears!

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