2014/15: Sky Bet Championship – Fulham v Leeds United (A Yorkshire Trilogy: Part 2)
Of all the parts of this trilogy this is the one I’m most looking forward to.
The prospect of going back to London – my birthplace, and of course to the Cottage – fills me with joy on every occasion, even when we are playing badly!
I also enjoy the train journey and no I don’t mean in a train-spotting taking down the numbers at the end of the platform kind of way, I mean the time it allows me to relax and unwind and if I so desire, just stare out the window as the scenery flashes by.
So armed with sarnies and a few tinnies I settle down for the journey. However, the train gods are not in the best mood and our departure is delayed as there are signal problems near Wakefield. Thankfully the train soon leaves and is my sign to crack open the food and drink.
I’m sharing today with a Leeds United fan who will join the train at Doncaster. He has seen his team play against Fulham in London, but that was at Loftus Road, during Fulham’s couple of seasons away from the Cottage.
The Leeds-London service is a quick one and Doncaster is soon reached as my companion for the match boards the train. Banter and beers commence and before we know it the train is pulling into Kings Cross.
Rather than dash onto the underground, we have a stroll along Euston Road towards St Pancras Station and a couple of pre-match beers at The Euston Flyer. It is a chance to check the Evening Standard over a pint for a preview of the game tonight. However, the sports pages surprisingly contained no reference to the game at Fulham and are instead dominated by Arsenal’s Champions League exit at the hands of Monaco.
It’s seems strange that a paper that supposedly has a London readership chooses not to have any coverage.
So without any team news to discuss, we head for the delights of the tube during rush-hour. Comically even though I’ve done this journey on numerous occasions I somehow manage to ensure that we are going in the wrong direction on the District Line.
Having corrected the error, we eventually find ourselves on the way to Putney Bridge Station and it is apparent from the fellow travellers in the carriage that Leeds fans have, as ever, travelled in numbers to the capital.
Evidence of the Yorkshire invasion is further confirmed by the hordes of the Elland Road faithful who fill and spill out from the 17th century tavern The Eight Bells, not far from the station.
Kick-off is fast approaching so we continue our progress to the ground as I’m keen to show off what I consider is the most attractive walk to any football ground in the world.
The walk takes you from Putney Bridge Station and under Putney Bridge itself into Bishop’s Park. The park includes Fulham Palace (a medieval former home of the Bishop of London) and a glorious walk along the Thames. Those familiar with the Boat Race will know that the historic event starts here in Putney and in the fading light the boat houses which line the far side of the water’s edge can be seen.
It brings back great memories of the years coming to the ground and walking through the park, where the changing state of the trees provided a telling reminder of the passing seasons.
The floodlights now break up the impending darkness and we approach the Putney End where the Leeds fans are entering the stadium. It’s a rare occurrence for them as tonight they are able to pay on the gate, whereas the usual Leeds allocation is sold out to members only. Many Southern Whites seem to have taken advantage of this as various flags from the Home Counties are in evidence.
I used to share my visits to the ground with a school friend of mine who left the UK a number of years ago to further his career in Canada. He is back in the country this week and in texts exchanged earlier this week he tells me he intends to be at the game. I don’t let on that I also plan to be down for the game, and instead am able to surprise him in the ground as we are in the same block within the Riverside Stand.
It is over 35 years since we were at school together, but we continued to go to games together into the 80s. He only visits the UK a couple of times a year and we always try and plan in a visit to the Cottage to catch up and reminisce. Tonight our embrace is as warm as ever and we chat excitedly about the game ahead.
I have always considered there is something more atmospheric about games played under the floodlights. Tonight, that mood is enhanced by the noise and number of the travelling Leeds fans, who even before kick-off running through a range of less than complimentary chants about ex-player Ross McCormack.
The game itself turns out to be a curious affair. Fulham totally dominate the opening half as a combination of the woodwork and Leeds Italian keeper Silvestri ensure the numerous chances for the home team come to nothing. Instead with just five minutes to the break, a slip at the back by Fulham allows Gaetano Berardi to cross and with the two home defenders static, Byram heads easily home to give Leeds the lead.
Fulham are caught cold early in the second-half as with only three minutes played, a Leeds corner evades all the Fulham defenders and falls to the unmarked Bamba to double the visitors advantage. Worse was to follow just two minutes later when Konstantinos Stafylidis is sent off following two rapid yellow cards. The first was for a completely unnecessary rant at one of the assistant referees and the second for a wild challenge from the Greek International.
Despite being down to 10 men Fulham continue to create chances, but as with the opening half, the woodwork and Silvestri continue to frustrate Fulham. The final insult arrives two minutes from time when a miss hit shot from substitute Antenucci seals a 3-0 win for the visitors.
It has been a smash and grab raid by the Yorkshire club and the Fulham faithful leave the ground in a state of bewilderment. Eight games to go and only six points off the drop – the three games against Wigan, Rotherham and Blackpool look like they will define our season.
The main task of the evening is now to make our way back to Kings Cross for the last train back to Leeds which we achieve comfortably. The train is full of Leeds fans and they are still in full voice as it pulls out of the capital.
My identity as a Fulham fan living in Leeds is rumbled by the immediate area of passengers and so begins a period of sustained banter. It is all good natured and there is nothing for the heavy police presence on the train to deal with.
With still an hour to go on the journey the train is virtually quiet. My companion departs at Doncaster and heads into the darkness of early morning.
The boisterous atmosphere in the carriage has given way to silence as some passenger’s energy if fully taken up with willing the train further North, whilst others slump uncomfortably against the windows or seat headrests in search of sleep.
At last we pull into Leeds and the train disgorges its sleepy cargo on the platform and into the chilly March morning. I go in search of a cab, but then have to endure a fifteen minute journey during which the driver insists on having a full blown conversation with me. I only manage nods and grunts of yes and no and am mightily relived when home is at last reached.
It’s been a great day – well, apart from the football. Tomorrow will be a tough day having to go into work with little sleep and will be made tougher by the friendly abuse that is bound to come my way from the Leeds fans in the office.
As I slip into bed and search for rest, my last thought is, what does Huddersfield have in store on Saturday?