It was May 2nd 2004, Leeds United were visiting the Reebok Stadium in a match they HAD to win to give themselves a chance to avoid relegation less than three years after being semi-finalists in the Champion's League. The first half had started out well for the Elland Road men; they had a lead that was probably deserved after twenty five minutes thanks to a Mark Viduka penalty. However that same man then doomed the club that paid him a reported sixty thousand pounds a week with two insane moments that saw him dismissed in the 33rd minute. (See Part One for more details on how he let his club, the fans and himself down). The final twelve minutes of the first half had seen a subtle shift in the balance of power on the pitch but the travelling fans continued to roar their team on and they went into the break with a lead. The ten men had time to regroup, their manager Eddie Gray had a chance to perhaps make a change and adopt a different strategy for the second half that would give them a chance to hold on for at least a point if they were up for the fight. Little did anyone know that the next forty five minutes would mark the moment when the house of cards that Peter Ridsdale had built on the sand of expected Champions League qualification finally began its dreadful collapse.
Some of the Leeds players clearly still believed, still felt the pride in the shirt and ran their hearts out before going off at half time with their heads held justifiably high, young Alan Smith being the most notable example at that point. The Leeds fans were in fine voice and sang their hearts out through the break in uplifting (and occasionally unprintable) words designed to bolster their player’s spirits and their own. Looking back it seems sad to remember that roar because in retrospect it turned out to be the last time for some considerable time that the Elland Road faithful would have a real reason to cheer the men they followed. Now I'll recount how I saw that second fateful half and how I felt as I watched what should have been a fierce and uncompromising battle turn into a rout that belied everything conventional wisdom had said SHOULD happen in a match against Leeds United, especially when there was so much at stake.
As the players came out for the second half the home fans began to make themselves heard, there was a sense we could get the win but I doubt that even the most optimistic Trotter could have foreseen the absolute havoc and destruction we would wreak on one of the biggest clubs in the country over the next forty-five minutes.
The Second Half
There wasn't long to wait until the Trotters began to tear Leeds United's hopes to shreds; in fact it was just two minutes into the half Youri Djorkaeff scored our equaliser and then just six minutes later he almost nonchalantly added a second to give us the lead. Almost any other away team's fans would have fallen silent but not Leeds. They got louder, they drowned out even our cheers of celebration and some Leeds players like their Captain Lucas Radebe and their young talisman Alan Smith answered that clarion call, but only some. The rest acted like men on their way to the gallows and from that point on the game was only ever going to have one outcome. Despite their being thirty five minutes more to play at least six of the ten dark shirted men stopped running, stopped throwing themselves into the fray and resigned themselves to the inevitable.
The only surprise when we got our third was that it took so long and came from an own goal. The unfortunate Ian Harte, one of the men who never stopped running watched in horror as a cross bounced off his chest and into the Leeds goal. The Elland Road faithful sang louder, they tried with all their might to lift the team they love but sadly for them Harte, Smith and Radebe were now effectively on their own as the other six outfield players lost whatever will and courage they had left. There was clearly no way back, not without some impossible miracle which never ever looked like happening despite the faithful's defiant songs and Smith's attempts to run through the Trotters all by himself.
By now we were passing the ball around, spraying passes that seemed magnetically attracted to BWFC players at will and Leeds had no answer, no fight and seemingly no idea how to stop us. Jay Jay was at his imperious best, Ivan Campo looked as if he had all day to decide what to do with the ball whenever he had it and Kevin Nolan was running the Leeds defence, already disjointed and spiritless ragged. It was one way traffic, in fact it looked like men versus boys despite the way the Leeds fans continued to try and spur their men on. By now it seemed the travelling faithful weren't looking for a win, they were trying to provoke some spark, some passion in the men they'd followed across the Pennines and to instil some pride in the players who wore the same shirt the likes of Billy Bremner and Jack Charlton had honoured so much but it was to no avail, at least for most of them.
When Jay Jay produced the pass of the day and split Leeds wide open for Kevin Nolan to gratefully take it and slide it into the Leeds net there were still almost fifteen minutes left and it seemed we would have time to bag at least one or two more but in the event we had already done more than enough. The game petered out with us playing keep the ball football, passing it around at will and it seemed almost as if we were taking pity on the Yorkshire side when Jay Jay missed a chance that he would normally bury with about five minutes left. When the final whistle went it seemed almost an act of mercy on the visitors and their fans who had deserved so much better could have been forgiven for booing the men who'd failed them so thoroughly but they didn't. In fact they continued to sing and if it was a funeral dirge it was a loud and passionate one. They knew they were down, the fact they had two games left was irrelevant thanks to Manchester City's vastly superior goal difference but still the travelling fans sang and applauded even as they wept with disappointment and despair.
To be continued …..