We’re never getting back, are we? Liam Tunney July 17, 2020 Leeds United We’re never getting back, are we? Leeds United have never featured on Match of the Day 2. It was first aired in August 2004, three months after Leeds were relegated – on a Sunday. I listened to the Bolton game on the radio – ordinarily a chore but occasionally you are grateful for small mercies. The scenes of utter devastation were only beamed into my subconscious retrospectively. I didn’t see us crying at the Reebok, but I had plenty of friends who could relate the tale. The outgoing list that season told its own tale. Smith. Viduka. Milner. McPhail. Robinson. Harte. Matteo. Mills. Bridges. David Batty retired. Still, a seventeen-year-old dreamer was allowed to dream of an immediate return. Leeds limped home in 14th. At the beginning of the following season, after moving to Belfast, I met Gerard Harraghy. A mad Liverpool man, his friends had nicknamed him Gerry Scouse. He was from Magherafelt. Rumour has it he never left home without some item of Liverpool paraphernalia on his person, and he was as blunt as he was fanatical. Without so much as a handshake by way of introduction, he spotted the jersey I was wearing and had his own version. “Leeds are shite,” he said. After a 14th place finish in England’s Division 2, I found it hard to argue. Sunday May 21, 2006. 19 years old. James Chambers takes down a flicked on throw in right on the Millenium Stadium’s penalty spot. His touch isn’t even a good one, but he swivels and lets a weak shot fly. Eddie Lewis is well placed to defend it and gets his foot to it. “Good block, Eddie.” But Sullivan is scrambling. The ball balloons up into the air. 64,736 spectators’ eyes watch as it loops in cinematic farce towards the Leeds goal. The yellow wall behind the goal stills in pregnant pause, before the noise erupts, like a belated thunder roll follows the lightning. 2-0. Disbelieving Watford players wheel off in celebration. There is no way back. Frustrated figures in white jerseys dutifully battle for the remaining half an hour. Watford add a third in the final ten minutes. It’s over. Frustrated figures in white jerseys slump to the Cardiff turf. I’ve watched the game at a friend’s house. We never had Sky TV. As I leave the house we try and console ourselves with logic that, at the time, seemed sound. “Close enough, we’ll go again next year.” Next year indeed. May 25, 2008. 21 years old. “Here’s Howson, can he win it?” The delirium of ten days earlier is a faint an irrelevant memory. The corner is arrowed into a crowded penalty area. The first header is missed, but James Hayter barely has to move. He stoops slightly to make the connection. His bullet header rattles the Wembley net. This time it’s a rippling sea of red and white that carries away the promotion dream. Wiping out a fifteen-point deduction seems like ancient history, a trivial detail for a future pub quiz. Another pint finished and a drudging walk back to the student house. There is no heat. There is no electric. There is no promotion. We’re never getting back, are we? May 14, 2009. 22 years old. “Becchio well placed…” The Beehive Bar, west Belfast. Three of us perched on bar stools around a small, circular table. There are final year exams coming up, but promotion waits for no man. Elland Road, under lights. A cacophonous din swells as Ben Parker begins a move up the left flank. His supporting run is the length of the pitch before he receives the ball in the penalty area. A flowing-haired Luciano Becchio peels off his man in the six-yard box. He dips his head, like a sprinter approaching the finish line. Millwall ‘keeper David Forde can’t reach the cross. A sharp intake of breath as the ball looks to have passed Becchio by. His left foot drags behind him as the ball arrives, crashing it into the net as the South Stand loses its mind. Frenzy. Twenty minutes of walking on air, excited nerves, belief. Then despair. Lewis Grabban volleys a deep cross back across the Leeds six-yard box. Ankergren has committed to the cross but gets nowhere near it. Djimi Abdou pokes it home. Within seconds of the final whistle I’m at the bar. I return to the table with three doubles, to my friend’s protest. “Mate, I’m not having any of that.” They aren’t for him, or even my other friend. They slide down the hatch and into a taxi for oblivion. We’re never getting back, are we? May 8, 2010. 23 years old. “We’ll get over it, start again and give it a real good go for automatic promotion next season,” said Simon Grayson after the Millwall defeat. Almost a year later it’s realised, but it’s nervy. The missed chances. The disallowed goal. Maximillian Gradel’s meltdown. Ten men. Daryl Duffy. The familiar feeling of sand slipping through fingers. Then Jonny Howson changes it all from 20 yards. Tension lifted. Voices restored. The loose throw from the goalkeeper. Bradley Johnson pogoing in anticipation on the edge of the six-yard box as his cross is deflected to Jermaine Beckford. Delirium. Relief. Upward trajectory. May 7, 2011. 24 years old. Spoiling QPR’s promotion party live on BBC One proves scant consolation as a grinning Neil Warnock takes Rangers to the Premier League. The galling site of the west London ‘boutique club’ escaping the Championship is made worse by the result from Selhurst Park, where Forest defeat Crystal Palace to deny Leeds a play-off place. After a promising season, with some electrifying attacking football, it’s the role of bridesmaid once again. Never mind, next year will surely be the year. Only it won’t. We’re never getting back, are we? March 8, 2014. 27 years old. There are orange jerseys swarming Elland Road. We watch in disbelief from the North East Corner as 18th placed Bolton tear us to shreds. “What the fuck is going on?” echoes from the frustrated masses around us. It’s been a familiar refrain over the last few years. My time in England was short-lived, but it allowed me to go regularly to games and sample the delights of Warnock and McDermott’s reigns. “It is a bad day for us. We’ve had a couple like that, it’s not acceptable and we have to analyse the reasons,” said McDermott afterwards. It was a bad day too for Jimmy Kebe and Cameron Stewart. They’re hauled off to a chorus of boos. The great January hopes jeered off and another year ebbs away to nothing. We’re never getting back, are we? April 29, 2017. 30 years old. Nelson Oliveira collects the ball 25 yards from goal. He cuts inside the scrambling Pontus Jansson, wrong-footing Gaetano Berardi in the process. A quick pause, before curling the ball into the bottom corner of Rob Green’s net. 3-0 Norwich at Elland Road. A futile second-half comeback isn’t enough to secure an unlikely play-off place. Garry Monk is gone. No manager and very little hope. We’re never getting back, are we? May 15, 2019. 32 years old. Richard fucking Keogh of all people with the assist. Jack Marriott gets on the end of a one-touch move and lifts the ball over Kiko Casilla to end the ignominy. There is stunned silence everywhere. I stand looking out at a darkening pitch as the dregs of the sunset peek over the West Stand. Even Pontus’ posturing is over by the time I leave. The faint celebrations of the Derby supporters floats out of the stadium onto Elland Road as the punch-drunk Leeds supporters head home. I head for my two hours of sleep before a 3am train to Manchester Airport. I’m back in work for 8:30am the next morning. We’re never getting back, are we? The battered match ticket is lodged in my wallet, destined to sit there untouched for fourteen months. I never made a conscious decision not to remove it, but something stopped me. July 17, 2020. 33 years old. Tonight, I took that ticket out of my wallet. Emile Smith Rowe writes his name into Leeds United folklore. He cuts through a gaping hole in the West Brom defence and controls the ball with an outstretched right foot. A swing of the left and the ball rolls into the bottom corner. 1-1 would have done for Leeds, but 2-1 on 86 minutes seals it. It’s nineteen minutes past seven. 19:19. 1919. We’re back. Following Leeds from afar has been like clinging onto a toxic long-distance relationship. There has been disappointment, heartache and false platitudes, but here’s the happy ending. Your friends tell you they’re a waste of time, that all they do is break your heart, but you’re like a moth to a flame, seduced unconditionally. This is a club that seeps into your identity and becomes a part of your life like no other. It leads and you follow, even if it takes you to Histon. To Hereford. To Newport. To the depths. But it provides moments of elation, of release. Like today. Barry Douglas, dropped through no fault of his own, first on the pitch at Barnsley to celebrate the win on Thursday. Side before self, every time. Luke Ayling racing the length of the pitch on 90 minutes at the Liberty Stadium, crossing for Pablo to squeeze home from an impossible position. Keep fighting. Gaetano Berardi grabbing his teammates by the throats in ecstatic celebration, the man who defied the Sicknote Six back in 2015. Do you want to win? “An astonishing number of people despise Leeds United or what Leeds United stand for. But this club was never made for them,” was how outstanding journalist Phil Hay signed off with the YEP. Revered and reviled, but never ignored. Players gathered together at Elland Road to watch West Brom and Huddersfield. Team spirit oozing from every pore. Marching on together. We’re never getting back, are we? We are.