Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Leeds United 5 Kettering Town 1 (aet)

FA Cup second round replay
Attendance: 10,670

Initially, I was struggling for a second round tie. The only remote viability was Stockport/Torquay which hardly got the pulse racing and was postponed anyway. Then came the final match of the weekend (Kettering v. Leeds), the final goal (Leeds’s equaliser), the third round draw and the last ball out of the venerable velvet bag (the one part of the cup tradition that even the FA doesn’t dare meddle with). The winners of Kettering/Leeds would go to Man U. For me it was a winner in extra time: I just had to be there for the replay – and I had to be in with the Kettering lads. Such gate-crashing is known as “doing a Motors”, a phrase coined by a friend, Nick, after he snuck in with the Vauxhall Motors fans for a replay at QPR. It’s huge fun. You’re an honorary fan for the day. I’ve been in with the Tamworth lads at Hartlepool and, most memorably, with the Farnborough fans at Darlo (Rocky Baptiste, snow, orange ball, upset and all).

I’ve always found Elland Road a forbidding place even on low-key nights like tonight. You can’t help feeling on edge from the moment you park your motor on a trading estate (for £3 to a yellow jacket: wonder where that money actually goes). That moronic, monotonic “Leeds, Leeds, Leeds …” chant kinda like sums up the atmosphere.

The Cup starts to lose its innocence in the second round proper. All about were Burberry baseball caps, mounted police, and bald, rotund security men wearing over-large orange jackets and Bluetooths standing in the shadows of Howards Way (great name for a part of the stadium, incidentally). That sunny day at Bridlington Town seemed a long, long way away. About the only cosy thing about this occasion was a chap – wearing a red and white Kettering hat easily mistaken for a Santa hat – laying out swathes of flags before kick-off (pictured top) with the care of a mother hanging out the bed sheets on wash day. The guy in front of me bought his sandwiches and a flask, the last dying ember of non-leagueism on this season’s FA Cup trail.

The bustle outside contrasted with the emptiness of the ground inside. “Your ground’s too big for you!” the 1,365 Poppies fans chanted and, indeed, I hadn’t seen so many empty seats since, well, the previous round and let’s face it that would take some beating. To be fair to Leeds the Cup is obviously not top priority and they had hosted Huddersfield only three days previously. The lower tier of the away stand was full, though. “You’re not famous any more!” we sang before launching in to “Stand up if you hate Diamonds!” (Took me a few renditions to make that one out).

Leeds tore at Kettering straight from the off. They played some lovely smooth football full of slick one-twos and off-the-ball movement, Beckford gliding and pirouetting around the pitch with great grace. I bet he’s a good dancer. Kettering’s goal led a charmed existence – as it did throughout the match. I haven’t seen so much domination of a match without goals since England/Poland in ’73. Leeds had 44 goal attempts in all (and hit the woodwork four times) compared to Kettering’s six.

Leeds took the lead on 20 mins with a Becchio header from a cross. It triggered a one-man pitch invasion from our end by a bloke who was grounded just as he was hurdling the advertising hoarding which must have hurt. Purple jackets this time: ‘Response team’, they call themselves. Somehow Kettering managed to go in at half-time with no greater deficit. They went from lucky to plucky in the second half and enjoyed a most unexpected purple patch culiminating in a goal. Heslop burst through the Leeds defence down the middle, pushed the ball out wide to Richie Partridge (fab name) who crossed to provide Elding with an unmissable header. “We” went potty. My ears were literally ringing with the racket. The Kettering support was brilliant.

And so to extra time – and yet more Leeds dominance. Time and time again we turned our heads to the giant video screen to see in disbelief exactly how Leeds had failed to score at the far end. Finally, at the start of the second period of extra time they got a breakthrough when Grella blasted in from six yards. The until now mute Leeds fans didn’t so much cheer as let out a huge gasp of collective relief. The killer third goal followed a minute later and by the final whistle it was five. A cruel end to the tie perhaps but any other outcome would’ve been a travesty.

So for Leeds it’s off to Man U as, indeed, it is for the zeitgeist of the whole competition. I shall leave it there.

Some more extra-time:

- Tonight I saw the Poppies and I’ve previously seen the Lambs and the Daisies. But even these can’t compete with the nickname of Market Drayton Town: the Gingerbreadmen. And I point all this out as a fan of the ertswhile Biscuitmen ...

- The more I write this blog the more I’m reminded of the BBC’s slogan for its coverage a few seasons ago: ‘One cup, a thousand stories’. Sums it up so well.

- Click here for a clipping from the Guardian about the longest ever FA Cup tie – which went to six matches. It was a fourth qualifying tie in 1971. Ah, those were t’ days.

- Check out this "miss of the century" from the aforementioned Rocky Baptiste. Click here.

- And finally for now, here’s a picture of a windmill beside a football ground in Milton Keynes. Nowt to do with the Cup but somehow pleasing all the same. I’ve pinched it from this recommended blog.