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Leeds United: It Was a Beautiful Day


2024

 

Watching Leeds United smash Norwich in the Championship playoff semi-finals on Thursday night transported me right back to one of the best days of my life.

Saturday 8th May 2010: a day I’ll never forget.

As we teeter on the brink of elation, drenched in nervous anticipation, I thought I’d take it right back to a similar time that many Leeds fans will always hold close to their hearts: the 2009/10 season…

2009/10

 

The season had been long.

In true Leeds style, there had been ups, and there had been downs.

Our man Jermaine Beckford had scored ‘that goal’ which saw us defeat Manchester United in the FA Cup at Old Trafford. We’d sailed through to the fourth round and shocked with a draw against Spurs. We were knocked out of the Cup two weeks later during the rematch, but not without dignity. We were the forgotten ‘Dirty Leeds’ from League One, and yet we’d given two top Premiership teams a run for their money.

Despite the latter result against Spurs, we’d done ourselves proud.

Now, it was time to focus on the league and get back to where we needed to be, one game at a time. We’d shown the world that we were more than a Championship-worthy club, and now we just needed to keep the faith (which, let’s be honest, is never an easy feat as a Leeds fan!).

 

During that cold winter of 2010, we traipsed up and down the country, tirelessly collecting our points. Our efforts were often gruelling, but we worked for every single one of those wins as we climbed the table and kept competition at bay just enough to believe that this time, victory could be ours for the taking.

I recall Tuesday night games – the drives up from Manchester in the biting cold, stamping my feet in the stands. I remember the snow sticking to the windscreen, the motorway blackening beyond the window.

 

Off the pitch


Those days…

At the time, I was quite inadvertently living my life parallel to Leeds United. I was painfully navigating one of the worst years of my life, silently screaming as I dragged myself through my final year of high school: a place that repelled me. I yearned for nothing more than the chance to reinvent myself and be free from the melancholy that came with being unable to match up to everything I was expected to be.

Like the club I so fervently supported, I too had been silenced. I too was regarded as a nobody, and I was ever-exhausted in my efforts to prove myself.

It was Leeds United that breathed the life back into me during that tumults year. I poured my heart and soul into that club, and in turn, it loved me back.

It gave me the strength to believe that better days were coming.

Like a beacon of hope, Elland Road came into view, and in that very moment – every single time – I just knew I was home. My turmoil just melted away. I felt part of something.

The opening chords of ‘Strings 4 Yasmin’ kissed my skin with goosebumps. The roar, the passion, the unity… It was the remedy for life that I clung to so valiantly week after week.

 

On the pitch

 

As the season drew to a close, the cracks started to show in our form. We suffered four losses in a row. Prior to those fateful weeks, we’d only lost four matches since the start of the season in August.

Nobody wanted us to succeed.

Who were Leeds United, anyway? A once famous club who’d slipped down the ranks.

To many people, our fire had long since been extinguished, our songs silenced. We were a nothing club, desperately basking in the glory of our yesteryear.

It was lonely out there at times, particularly during that bleak winter, but we had each other: the fans, the players, the wider club, and the city of Leeds itself. We put the United in Leeds.

Through battered egos and bruised hearts, we never gave up.

 

8th May 2010


Every moment had led to this.


Leeds United v Bristol Rovers: the last game of the season.

I will be forever grateful that I was blessed enough to get a ticket to this match.

Elland Road was electric, even in the hours leading up to kick-off.

The equation was simple: if we won, we were to be rewarded with automatic promotion into the Championship. The execution, however, was going to be far from easy...

Both teams were all over the place during the first half.

An offside goal raised tensions, and a mass ruckus on the pitch resulted in us going down to 10 men.

The match we’d been waiting for, for years, was shaping up to be nothing short of a disaster.

At this point in the season, all of us – players and fans – were emotionally drained.

In reflection, I wouldn’t change this day for the world, but at the time, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wishing that we’d managed to secure our promotion the previous week at Charlton.

There was so much at stake, and time was trickling away.

 

The second half had been underway for no less than three minutes when Bristol Rovers scored.

I can’t describe the sheer devastation that echoed around the ground when that ball rolled into the net, almost in slow motion.

Silence.

Gasps.

Cut-throat cheering from the away end.

I didn’t have the words to articulate the pain of that moment. Instead, I allowed the tears to roll down my cheeks.

No words were needed. The deafening silence said it all.

It was going to take a miracle to turn this around.

 

At 59 minutes, the miracle came in the form of local lad Jonny Howson.

The goal shot out of nowhere, but it has to be up there as one of the best our club has ever witnessed.

And just like that, we were back in the game.

Celebrating at this stage almost felt somewhat futile; we were all too aware of the fact that there was still a long way to go. Anything could happen inside of the 30 minutes that were set to seal our fate.

The whole of Elland Road were on their feet.

I’ve never known an atmosphere like it.

 

Four minutes after Jonny Howson’s triumph, Jermaine Beckford succeeded in putting Leeds back on the map.

2-1.

Relief ebbed through the stands, but not for long.

The 27 minutes (32, if you count the sickening curse of extra time) between that second goal going in and the final whistling blowing were the tensest, most agonising I have ever experienced. Time stood still in the most fragile of ways. Every second was peppered with the torturous thought that this could all be taken away.

Grown men spilled out from their seats and sat, rocking, on the steps, head in hands, unable to watch. Some simply made a praying motion with their hands and raised their heads to the sky.

It was all I could do to glance nervously from the clock, to the pitch, and back again.

News from the other matches filtered in. Millwall were hot on our heels. We had no option but to win this.

The prospect of the playoffs wasn’t even a consolation prize anymore. I don’t think any of us could have withstood the nerves if we didn’t get the job done, right here, right now.

Tensions ran high both on and off the pitch.

 

Elland Road was a ticking time bomb.

The noise that erupted around the stadium as the final whistle blew was stratospheric. It was another dimension of reality - outer space.

It was a moment so magical and so special that I still often slip back into it with immense fondness.

Even at the time – at 16 years old – I knew that I’d never see anything like this ever again. In a way, I was glad – pleased that this magnificent club would never be bought to their knees in the same way again. We were back, ever fighting, ever proud, ever Leeds. And this time, we weren’t going anywhere.

‘No more years of hurt.’

 

Fans cascaded out of the stands and onto the pitch for the party of the century.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my life.

It was unbelievable – almost too much for me to comprehend. It still is. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put into words just how breath-taking that afternoon was.

All of the hurt suddenly disappeared.

We’d done it.

The traffic was slow moving out of the ground that evening. We wound down the windows and blasted out Beautiful Day by U2, delighting as passing fans singing it back to us, word for word.

All along the motorway, cars sped past, blue, yellow and white scarves blowing defiantly in the wind.

The finally sun shone, eradicating all traces of the winter we’d endured.

A more beautiful day, there never was.

 

Leeds could win the Premiership and I think I’d still consider that 2009/10 season to be the most treasured memory the club has ever produced.

That season perfectly summed up exactly what it means to be LEEDS: the undying fight, the unrivalled passion, the ferocious support.

For me, that legendary team were impeccable: Jermaine Beckford, Luciano Becchio, Jonny Howson, Bradley Johnson, Ben Parker, Robert Snodgrass, Neil Kilkenny, Michael Doyle, Richard Naylor.

 

As for me? Well, my life took a turn for the better after the close of that season, too.

I left high school weeks later with my head held high, still carried by that momentous afternoon. I started college months later and, like my beloved Leeds, finally got the chance to reinvent myself and find my voice.

Since that mesmerising day 14 years ago, I’ve travelled the world and been lucky enough to encounter many spectacular moments, but none quite as emotive as the events that unfolded on Saturday 8th May 2010.

I’ve watched Leeds go up, and I’ve watched them go down, my love never wavering.

What a pleasure it has been to see this club blossom out of that tragic uncertainty that descend upon us in the late noughties.

 

Leeds United will always have a piece of my heart. That long, familiar stretch of motorway between my hometown Manchester and my beloved Leeds is as vital as the veins within me.

In the past, it signified the road to hope and the belief that one day, I would be okay.

Now, it reminds me of the beauty of my life, and all it’s become, with Leeds by my side every step of the way.

 

Life as a Leeds supporter is never easy, be it on or off the pitch, but my God, what we have between us is worth its weight in gold.

Win or lose on Sunday 26th May 2024, being a Leeds United fan will always be the greatest honour of all. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cara Jasmine Bradley ©

 

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