Leeds United: If it’s stressful watching, what it’s like playing?
72 hours and counting. Leeds United fans will be counting down the hours to kick-off and “that” game on Saturday. The week won’t pass quick enough till three o’clock comes round. Scenarios and opinions mulled over a million times….
But how do the players feel? I’ve never played professional football (although still harbour an absurd dream that at 47 I’ll be drafted in for my League debut!!!), but have played years at a reasonable amateur level and know what it is like to play in crucial games. For the Leeds squad it must be a weird feeling knowing that a win on Saturday and the job is done. Holidays can be sorted and feet up with a few beers watching the World Cup before pre-season training. They’ll also have in mind that it could drag on for another three games that could ultimately bring promotion but equally that crushing despair that losing brings.
As a player I had a gut feeling how the day was going to go once I stepped out on the pitch. As a keeper that warm-up was crucial. I knew that if I felt sharp, the handling would be sure and you felt invincible. That carried into the game and once that first save was made or cross taken cleanly, then I was going to have a good day. However, even though you might have had a blinder, you could sense or see that this didn’t always extend to the rest of the team. They simply didn’t share the confidence you had. You have to be in it together – you have to all believe. Equally, I can honestly say I have experienced “freezing” in the “big game”. It was Cup Final and I was as nervous as hell. Getting on the coach going to the game, I was flat and quiet. The sense of occasion simply got to me. No matter what I did in the warm-up, I just couldn’t get going. The feeling was akin to paralysis. I barked my orders to my back four throughout the game as usual, but it lacked conviction and my movements were stilted. The anticipation in reacting was lacking – “should I come for that cross? Should I stay on my line?” What was supposed to be a memorable day turned into a tortuous 1 nil defeat. Pressure, expectation and nerves are a monstrous concoction that can destroy any player whatever your level.
It also brings to mind watching the FA Cup Final build-up on BBC back in the 70’s and 80’s. There were always cameras in the team hotels and on the coaches to Wembley. It was intriguing to see which teams were more relaxed and whether this translated to the pitch and ultimately a winning performance. A calm team is a winning team.
So at around 2.45pm on Saturday, imagine how if feels coming out of the tunnel. Is the body and mind giving out the right signals? Inspired or insipid performance to come? Believe that there is only 90 minutes left in this season. GOING UP! GOING UP! GOING UP! GOING UP! GOING UP!