Where to start with this one…
Unfortunately, there is only one place. After a painfully long international break, Leeds were finally back in action; as the television cameras rolled into Sheffield, so did over 5,000 away fans to Hillsboro in one of the most eagerly awaited matches of the season.
A meeting of two clubs, steeped in history with rich tradition, big fan bases and recent history which can be left well alone, it was a match that promised much for the fans. With Neil Warnock facing a return to the city where he managed the red side for eight years, the atmosphere had its extra spice.
For the most part, the match was a dire spectacle; punctuated by some hefty tackles and flying limbs and a Wendys goal, there was little to get the away following excited. Regardless, the fans kept on singing, willing the team to produce just a moment which would drag them into the contest, which had been barely that. All it took was a moment and the tense atmosphere was shattered.
Leeds have long since become accustomed to chants about the deaths of two of the clubs fans in Turkey, usually from the likes of Millwall but there was something else in the ones which not once, but several times, drifted over into the Leppings Lane end from the West Stand.
The reaction was immediate, disgusted and bursting with anger, hundreds surged towards the home end as all manner of missiles were hurled in all directions, from both sets of fans. Seats were ripped up, hoardings were pulled down and the blue touch paper was fully ablaze.
Responding, they say, to a disgustingly large amount of Leeds fans chanting about Jimmy Savile, one can only imagine what goes through the minds of the Sheffield Wednesday fans can stand there and chant about the deaths of football fans as they faced the Leppings Lane end. ‘Vile animals’ Dave Jones called all the Leeds fans; you’d have hoped, especially given his Liverpool roots that he’d think twice about tarring sets of supporters with the same label.
“You can’t let them get away with it,’ he said. ‘Leeds supporters should be banned from every away ground until they sort it out.”
I don’t for one moment condone the behaviour of Leeds fans during the match. The missiles, the Savile chants and Kirkland’s assault were wholly abhorrent moments. Thankfully, the thug involved has been arrested and one can only hope he never gets to represent Leeds United again, in any way, let alone see them. One cannot even fathom the immensity of the fuckwittery involved that would make any individual go on to the pitch and assault a footballer but we seem to have a great many moron in our ranks, just like a great many other clubs.
And yet, considering the regard with which Leeds fans are generally held in, it seems unusual for many, including myself that the reaction to Jones’ comments has been so vehement but such was the bitterness and anger with which he has felt towards Leeds over many years, one cannot accept the level of his comments in which he labels all the Leeds fans with the same disgust and hatred as Aaron Cawley.
Such was the speed and accuracy with which Leeds fans responded to the incident that Jones’ comments are not only a pathetic and bitter outburst but an offensive one, but I won’t quite be losing sleep over it.. Thousands named and published Cawley’s name on Twitter and Facebook within less than 30minutes of the game finishing and yet these were Jones’ comments 24 hours after the game:
“The only ones that can do that are the silent majority.
If they — the decent, proper fans — just sit there and smile weakly, and look away, then this curse is going to spread and spread and we’ll be back into the bad old days.”
I’m sure I’m not the only person thinking Jones’ is being particularly precious about Friday nights’ events; the fact that his player was assaulted was not what angered him insomuch that he was again targeted by the Leeds fans. It sounded like a vendetta, calling Leeds fan a ‘disease’, turning the situation completely on to him and how he has suffered immeasurably for 12 years, before gaining some perspective and talking about Kirkland again.
I reiterate that Jones’ treatment was bang out of order too; just like it is to every other footballer and manager who have suffered similar abuse, one can’t help but think his comments,which weren’t in the heat of the moment but considered and hateful to be the proverbial shot in the foot. Being insulted and barracked at every opportunity is nothing compared to the respect one can gain if you become the bigger man. It doesn’t excuse his treatment but his comments are more akin to a play ground argument that he could’ve ended, instead of responding in an equally pathetic manner.
It is a sad inevitability that football terraces will always lay party to offensive behaviour and chanting that can so blight our game and our reputations; while that is in no way acceptable, it is the nature of sport, even with Sky continuing to change the football landscape into new realms of blandness. There has to be a line in the sand, there is already one for the morally stable amongst us who feel mocking other clubs who have suffered tragedy is repugnant but there will always be others to start it, and weaker ones to follow.
The questions about why this was allowed to happen will go on beyond the coming weeks but it is easy now to question much of the set up of the whole of Friday nights match. Why isn’t the law – the long arm of, have the last say on matches being moved? Why is this allowed to happen? Is the money too good of a price than the reputation of the very laws which govern us? Well I suppose that Sky had the final say on this, and many occasions that indeed it is.
Secondly, the reaction to the Turkey chants promoted a surge but most importantly, diverted the attention and the numbers into a corner which left Kirkland completely exposed. Leeds may have been quick to apologise for Cawley’s actions but it is not them who need to accept responsibility; some of the strictest conditions govern Leeds fans’ ability to purchase away tickets and the failings of the police to stop him travelling must be mentioned. Further, Sheffield Wednesday refused to pick up the cost of bringing Leeds’ own club stewards to assist in, amongst other things the checking of tickets and membership cards and their own stewards failed to even lay a hand on the assailant, let alone catch him.
It is not to be suggested that if the above had not been the case that the incident wouldn’t have happened but it must surely be accepted that all factors probably contributed greatly to him being free to commit assault.
Thankfully Kirkland was not seriously injured but the whole episode gave everyone their favourite stick to yet again beat Leeds with. There is something to be said that a great many of the clubs fans love that Leeds are widely loathed and that you can routinely hear ‘we all hate Leeds scum’ at non-Leeds games. Yes, we can’t have it one way and protest at the other but one can draw the line at what is acceptable.
It is a pity for Leeds and Michael Tonge that his goal which secured Leeds a point after Jay Bothroyd had put Wednesday ahead has had none of the praise it merits. A thunderous effort which he enjoyed immensely, even more so given his former employers.
There were no victories on Friday night. Except perhaps, for Dave Jones’ utter disdain for Leeds United.