I am not afraid to admit that on Sunday afternoon, I almost cried. In fact, I had to stop myself doing so.
Before I explain why, it is worth saying that during the summer I was lucky enough to attend El Clasico at the Camp Nou. We entered the stadium, and given the blazing heat and my plasticy Barcelona shirt, water was a necessary purchase. As we queued behind those purchasing their sausages in bread, something happened. I heard a noise unlike any other I’d ever heard. The Real Madrid side had clearly just come onto the pitch for their pre-match warm-up, and the boos were incredible. As we walked out onto the stand, we were greeted by the site of the Barcelona team exiting the tunnel, Messi, Xavi, Iniesta et al,. That noise, the flags, the sight of a full Camp Nou – that will live with me forever.
Sunday, therefore…why did I nearly cry? Obviously there was the result, and the fact that we managed to deservedly beat a Premier League side. From my perch in the Kop, all seats (apart from a handful in the West Stand) seemed covered by fans. Then there was the reaction when we scored, both times. The atmosphere, in all honesty, wasn’t as good as the Chelsea game, but combined, all of those aspects meant that I was affected emotionally. As someone who feels we are currently at the lowest point in our recent history, despite the league standing when compared to the League One days, the Spurs game brought about a feeling inside. The same sort of feeling I got at the Camp Nou, a purely emotional response. How can I describe the feeling? The thought that possibly, we were on the first step to having our Leeds back.
It’s a bit of an overreaction, but Sunday felt like it could be the beginning of a slow climb, if we build up a head of steam on the back of this fuse-lighting moment. Yes, given that I’ve said that, we’ll probably get destroyed by Cardiff at the weekend. But when David Haigh and Salem Patel looked out on Elland Road, they will possibly have been able to understand truly for the first time what they have bought into, what potential their new purchase has. They’ll have looked at the figures and thought about the raw numbers, but when it is displayed before them, the potential becomes all the more clear. They’ll have been disappointed that they didn’t sell out, but victories like that are the first step to bringing fans back onside. We no longer trust in Leeds United as a city, after 8 years of lies and failure under a tyrannous rule, but after Sunday, 10,000 fans will be thinking a hell of a lot more about Leeds United.
This is why Sunday cannot just be a one-off. It cannot just be seen as a successful event that occurred, and that we just move on casually from it, back into the doldrums of mediocrity. We played better football than we have in what seems like eons. Keep it up on the pitch, and success will surely come. This is what is imperative to filling out Elland Road weekly – a belief that we’re driving towards something. I remember a game against Norwich (at that juncture, who were they?) when we were pushing for automatic promotion from the Championship in the ultimately unsuccessful season of 2010/11, Elland Road seemingly as full as Sunday. It turns out it was more so – 31,601 (2,000 more than Sunday) turning up during snowy conditions for a game against a fellow Championship side, at ticket prices higher than that for the Champions League challengers. A basically full Elland Road (considering the East Stand Upper was closed at this point), the last time Leeds truly felt like Leeds to me. The image that I hold in my head when I think of Leeds.
It is probably a symbol of how bad the last 8 years have been that one of the highlights was a 2-2 draw against Norwich, purely because Elland Road felt real. Some may try to point to it as a one-off. Yet 2 weeks prior, we brought 27,033 in for a game against Coventry City. 26,289 for a game against Barnsley on a Tuesday night. 27,027 for a game against Doncaster Rovers. Success on the pitch breeds success in the stands, and success in the stands breeds more success, because the entire experience is enjoyable. Sarcasm does not descend and even the worst gets encouraged. Think of the contrasting treatment of Paynter and Varney.
So Sunday cannot be a one-off, because without a continuation, there’ll be no long run benefits. I think of the number of fans in the stands because it impacts how I enjoy Elland Road. No one goes “fucking mental” when there’s swathes of rows empty beside you. Sunday was a success. Today plans need to be afoot to sustain the success. We need our Leeds back.
Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1).