Three-nil on an L-shaped pitch
By Andy Hoare
The night of Saturday 20th of May will live long in the memory for me. I went to bed at what I consider a reasonable hour (midnight) and proceeded not to sleep for at least the following four and a half. I am quite childish for a twenty-seven (and a quarter) year old and this was my Disneyland. At half past eight the following morning I was awoken by my ringing phone. The day of the of the final and I've overslept; leaving Bedfordshire (I know, I know) an hour behind schedule at nine o'clock gave me six hours to collect my brother from Letchworth (well, look, he can afford to live there, okay?) and get to Cardiff. Plenty of time, surely.
The A1 and M25 and English half of the M4 flowed beautifully and we were inside Wales by 1.30pm. Then, deadlock. We were twenty-two miles from Cardiff, doing at best ten mph. This wasn't good, but gradually the traffic began to move and some of my less than courteous 'only on the playoff final day' driving meant that we were in Cardiff and searching for our hotel by quarter past two.
Having asked two policemen and a couple of traffic wardens how to find our hotel without any of them having an idea, it began to look the more desperate side of "not good". We were just thinking about ditching my 1994 Mondeo when a right turn found our hotel by complete chance, at quarter to three. After a check-in that was completed at Olympic speed, I knew it was going to be our day.
Buying an overpriced flag on the way to Wembley had paid off handsomely in 1999 and I followed the same ritual. The seller asked for five pounds each and I gave him a twenty pound note. He gave us a scarf each as well: "What a nice bloke," I thought, holding out my hand for the change. "We don't give change," he explained, and not having the time or (I confess) courage to argue we ran the remaining hundred yards or so to the stadium. Twenty yards from the entrance, I heard a voice shouting "Get yer Watford flags one pound". For some reason my brother found this amusing.
Inside the impressive Millennium Stadium, we had an awful view. Situated at the rear of the lower tier, the upper tier hung across obscuring the far side of the end we defended in the first half, which left us staring at an L-shaped pitch. If one sat in one's seat, the view was fine but having been brought up on the family terrace at Vicarage Road, standing is my preference. My brother had turned from his usual Dracula white to a grassy green so I told him that we'd win 3-0 with goals from Henderson, Young and Springy. This didn't seem to help. I sang the national anthem with the correct words, substituting the posh lady for Marlon King, and the game kicked off.
As you all know, we were all over Leeds for the full hundred minutes that the referee decided to play. Henderson could have scored inside the first two minutes, as Leeds could not cope with the onslaught. He later made amends with a well-taken penalty. Seeing those yellow shirts buzzing around the pitch like utter, utter lunatics will live long in the memory as will the spin on the ball as we sucked it into the goal for James Chambers' third for the club. Demerit deserves special praise, "irrepressible" is the word but somehow it doesn't seem strong enough, unlike Jay himself.
After the game we congregated with lots of other fans in the nearby Weatherspoons pub and Laurie told me what had freaked him out. A colleague from work had had a dream that the playoff final was won 1-0 by Leeds, but on an L-shaped pitch. Only Jay Demerit's great goal had stifled this malicious prophesy, when he saw our view of the pitch he had almost vomited.
Mr Boothroyd is the man, though, and only the second in history to drag this club kicking and screaming into the top flight of English football. He deserves it, and let's face it, we do too, don't we? No matter what certain pessimistic fans (i.e. me) might have said about his appointment at the time. Laurie, with typical confident swagger, had predicted the arrival of a new messiah and a new era of unparalleled success. Rarely does he remind me of my half-empty scepticism. Now we're back in the Premiership, we have to accept certain things. We will be criticised and called a long ball, hoof-merchant side that are destroying the game (check the press, it's already started). We will be patronised and ridiculed by the 'experts'. We will be called dirty and every victory (and they'll be lots of them) will be a slap in the face to English football. But in the face of all this, let's be confident, proud, and united, in essence everything Leeds were not on Sunday.