Everyone has matches that stick with them personally. Not the Viduka 4 – 3 Liverpool games that everyone remembers, but games that stick with ‘you’. The reasons why they stick with you could be anything: A particularly good goal, a terrible refereeing decision, you got laid on the night out afterwards, anything.
Thinking back through the years there are many games that fit this description (sadly not due to getting laid, though sex doesn’t compare to Bowyer’s winner v AC Milan), so I thought I would write about a few of them and see if anyone cares.
The 1st game that came into my head was the JPT Area Final 2nd leg, at Brunton Park against Carlisle. The JPT was a trophy that I couldn’t care any less about at the start of that season, but by the time you’ve made the area final and are one game from a trip to Wembley I would challenge anyone to not start giving at least half a fuck.
At the time I was a student, living in the wasteland that is Sunderland. Fellow podcaster KC had bought the tickets for the game as I was a stereotypical broke student at the time (not for noble reasons, spent too much money getting drunk and having fun). He was in Preston so we arranged to meet in Carlisle train station and go to the game. At first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get back because the last train back was very early, but the kick-off was thoughtfully brought forward to 7pm and there was no extra time in the JPT.
After taking the Metro to (A much nicer city) Newcastle, I took a bockety Northern Rail 1960s train across to Carlisle, fortunately Leeds fans are everywhere so there was four of us to pass the 90 minute journey with discussions over the merits of players from the highs of Max Gradel to the lows of Gary McSheffrey. How would we cope without Jermaine Beckford? The one thing everyone completely agreed on was that Shane Lowry was fucking useless.
Once we got to Carlisle I met up with KC and we walked to the ground, this was when I realised that Carlisle fans saw this as a massive game, not massive like 1st v 2nd in the league with a big repercussions, massive like a game against your biggest rivals in an FA Cup Semi Final. In the ground the atmosphere was weird, the Leeds fans were laughing and joking, not taking it too seriously, but the more the Carlisle fans gave us shit the more this changed.
Carlisle came into the game with a 2-1 lead from the 1st leg. The permanently old looking Graham Kavanagh (a guy I always hated because he always seemed to do well against us) and Joe Anyinsah scoring either side of a rare Jason Crowe strike.
Leeds didn’t start well, struggling to get hold of the ball and for this reason Carlisle had most of the chances in the 1st half. Casper Ankergren made some good saves including one to deal with a free kick from Kavanagh, something which I only remember because I found it odd that he would take set pieces when Carlisle had Ian Harte at centre-back. To be honest, the 1st half was poor and dulled the atmosphere considerably.
The atmosphere picked back up when Carlisle extended their lead. Adam Clayton (whom we all know, and at Leeds would become my favourite player. Fuck You Neil Warnock) beat Ankergren with a good finish and based on the performance a tone of resignation came over the Leeds end, although that wouldn’t last long.
At half time, there was a lot of “it’s only the JPT, who cares really?” in the Leeds end. KC, in his customary fashion immediately ran into a couple of guys he knows, which happens whenever he goes anywhere and once we had all decided we didn’t care anyway we all felt better.
Not caring lasted about 40 seconds of the 2nd half as Rob Snodgrass capitalised on some poor defending to put us level on the night. It really is amazing what a goal can do to a football fan. In the space of 10 seconds we went from calm and relaxed to baying for blood. It’s how I imagine Stan Collymore was with Ulrika Jonsson (or a more up to date reference).
Suddenly the atmosphere was great, both sets of fans fully invested. Leeds fans pulling out the songs you only hear at away games, Leeds United Calypso etc. More importantly, the players responded. Even the useless McSheffrey picked up his game having a blatant (in my memory) penalty shout turned down.
We thought we had levelled the tie when Jason Crowe scored a back post header but it was disallowed for offside (rightly if I remember correctly but we were furious at the time). I remember saying to KC: “It was too much to ask for Jason Crowe to score in both legs really”.
However, Leeds were still on top and much the better side and looked certain to get at least one goal and force the tie to penalties (no extra time). Then out of nowhere, noted gangly useless fuck Lubomir Michalik missed the ball completely on a simple clearance and we were 2 goals down. A game that most fans didn’t care much about now had the Leeds fan behind me so mad that he stamped on the back of my seat repeatedly until it was no longer attached to the stand (Away game so we were stood anyway).
Immediately after the goal, Benjamin Button, sorry Graham Kavanagh was replaced by Tom Taiwo (remember him), leading to the inevitable discussion in the crowd about him and Michael Woods and it’s fair to say £5m looks good for the pair of them with hindsight.
A couple of minutes later Simon Grayson the used his last throw of the dice, he had one sub left to use and took off Richard Naylor for Mike Grella. I always liked Mike Grella and he usually made me look foolish for doing so, but not on this day as I said to KC: “Bet you he scores the winner” (if I am being honest with myself, I am sure it was said with a note of levity, I was definitely pissed off so I wanted to lighten the mood). KC said there was “no chance” of that happening.
Leeds threw everything forward and then one of previous statements was made to look very foolish as Jason Crowe made it a goal in each leg as he lashed the ball home to bring us back into the game. The tension was palpable in the stadium now, the Carlisle fans were really on edge and seemed to think they were going to blow it. Leeds were really attacking with essentially a front 5 of Snodgrass, Gradel, McSheffrey, Becchio, and Grella.
Then with four minutes left, McSheffrey swung in a great cross and Mike Grella scored a fantastic header. The away end (which was side on) went fucking mental. You would have thought we were at the Bristol Rovers game later that year, one of those celebrations where the next morning you notice your legs are bruised to hell from bashing into the seats in front of you. It felt so good I even forgot that I had called it a few minutes earlier.
There were five minutes added on for stoppages and although it wasn’t one way traffic Leeds had more chances and could have won it. However, we couldn’t get another goal and at 4-4 on aggregate we went to penalties.
We had all the momentum, we had all the confidence, we were sure we would win the Shootout.
Ian Harte scored Carlisle’s first penalty, not shocking as he ended up scoring 18 goals from centre-back and left-back that season after we apparently said we didn’t want him back on a free transfer.
We still felt good, Then Bradley Johnson had his penalty saved. We felt less good. The next 4 penalties were all scored (Snodgrass and McSheffery for us).
Richard Keogh then stepped up. Richard Keogh isn’t just a random footballer to me and KC, he is a guy who KC has a long and storied history of signing for various teams on Football Manager, and due to this he has a soft spot for him. So, I was probably the happiest Leeds fan in the ground when he smashed the ball a mile over the bar.
We were back level, we again had hope, but as I always say about supporting Leeds: “It’s the hope that kills you.”
At this point, before every Leeds penalty, we were vociferously singing the name of the player about to step up and take it. Before every Carlisle penalty, we were chanting for Casper Ankergren.
We Score (Grella). They score. We score (Gradel). They Score. We Score (Kilkenny). They Score.
Then, Shane Lowry began his slow walk to penalty spot. Two things were different about this penalty: First, he walked up looking sheepish, scared even. Second, our fans knew he was shit, didn’t have a song for him, and weren’t making one up now.
Adam Collin saved his poor penalty. The Carlisle fans went mental. I went mental in a different way. I am fairly sure the quote was: “Fucking Shane Lowry, useless fucking c**t.”
The Carlisle fans invaded the pitch (for the JPT, bit tinpot). Attacked our players (which is disgraceful), one of them punched Shane Lowry (which I will let slide). Despite this, all the stewards and extra police with dogs (who had been parked in front of the Leeds fans for most of the second half) did absolutely nothing and more importantly wouldn’t allow us to leave.
As mentioned earlier, the last train back was very early. So when we came out of the ground I was in a real rush, but couldn’t do anything about it until the police allowed us to move of our own devices.
Just outside the ground was a Carlisle fan grabbing what I assume was his Mrs in the street and threatening her, before striking her. The police ignored this to keep an eye on the Leeds fans despite many many Leeds fans shouting at them to turn around and arrest him. I actually got bollocked by a cop for (admittedly with a raised voice) saying to a police officer: “For fuck sake turn around and do your job.” Eventually, they did grab him.
I have always said the one good thing about losing that penalty shootout is that I can’t imagine what that guy might have done if we had won.
Once away from the ground I was really pushed for time, so me and KC ran to train station, which is about a mile. Fortunately, I was less out of shape in those days but as I got to the platform my train started pulling away, it was the last one. KC’s train was about 5 minutes later so he headed back to Preston.
I originally thought I would just rough it out until the first train at 6.30am, but it was February and it was really fucking cold and all the bars were closing at about 22.30. I found a hotel with availability, paid £50 for a room that I would use for about 6 ½ hours, had a couple of beers in the hotel bar. Went to my room, text KC to complain that after all this the porn wasn’t even fucking free, and after paying £50 for a room, free was the most I could’ve paid. Got no sleep, got the first train home went straight to Uni for a 9am lecture.
I don’t think I learned much in that lecture, but what I did learn was that Carlisle is not a place to get stuck overnight and that I really fucking hate Shane Lowry.