Sometimes, I appear to be bang to rights on a charge frequently leveled at me by friend and foe alike: namely that I hate Man U more than I love Leeds United. This evening’s Capital One Cup fixtures would be a case in point; an occasion when I would have to hold my hands up and say: Yes – my priorities are altered tonight. Given a choice between Leeds progressing and the Pride of Devon getting stuffed by the Scousers at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, then I’d have to go for the latter. I know that is base treachery and quite the opposite of the way in which I should behave – but I’m too long in the tooth and perhaps too cynical to look at things through those old, stardusty, yellow white and blue-tinted specs I used to wear. So fine – tie me up and burn me for a heretic – but I’ll be watching Man U v Liverpool tonight, and screeching for a Reds victory (the real Reds, not the plastic variety). I may even forget there’s a game going on at St James Park, Newcastle.
Disgusting, the average, bone-headed, blinkered fanatic will bellow at me. Leeds first, last and foremost. Well, I can see that point of view, but you have to be a little bit pragmatic too. Sure, it would be nice to progress in this Cup. I have a very good friend who supports the Toon, and I just know he’ll give me hell if they beat us. Despite his protestations that he’s not bothered about the result and indeed that he’s jaded with all things Newcastle right now, I can tell he’s nervous about this tie. He knows he’ll have the bragging rights if the Toon prevail, even though that’s the way it really should pan out, given the relative strengths of the two squads. Equally he knows that I’ll make his life a misery if Leeds happen to win. And that would be nice. But I won’t despair if we lose – we have bigger fish to fry, after all.
Look at last season in the League Cup. Joy unconfined when we beat two Premier League clubs at Elland Road. The bunting hung out and street parties as we celebrated a home tie against old foes Chelsea. Ecstasy as we led 1-0 at half time – and then the sky fell in and we got murdered 5-1. When you’re at the current level of Leeds, the happiest of Cup runs ends in tears. Bradford City know that harsh lesson even better than we do.
With Cup competitions, the best attitude is to expect the worst and welcome any better than that with open arms – but there’s no point getting too upset about it, whatever happens. Since I’ve been a Leeds fan, I’ve seen us lose in every cup competition we’ve entered, every season, for 38 years. You get used to the incessant disappointment, and the pain becomes more of a numbness. Every now and then though, you reach a semi-final and the pain of defeat is more acute. Twice we even reached a final; they were the unkindest cuts of all.
The Germans have a word for the way I feel about nights like tonight. Schadenfreude. For those who don’t know, it means taking delight in the misfortunes of others. Every now and then, Man U serve me up a big, tasty dollop of Schadenfreude and I’m a happy man – quite as happy as I am with the occasional victories of Leeds United. The lads from Salford were kind enough to oblige me in this way on Sunday as they meekly got murdered by their more illustrious neighbours City from over the boundary in Manchester itself. Joy abounded in our house; we didn’t kill the fatted calf, but we did lash out on a celebratory takeaway. On January 3rd 2010 I got both sides of the bargain – humiliating defeat for Man U as well as an unlikely win for little old third-tier Leeds as the latter visited the former and won 1-0, dispatching the favourites from the FA Cup. A whole herd of fatted calves wouldn’t have done justice to that occasion.
My career as a football fan hasn’t had too many positive highlights – that’s just the way the cookie crumbles; if you’re going to follow your local team instead of glory-hunting like those sad, inadequate Man U fans with their deeply compensatory behaviour recalling the teachings of Sigmund Freud – then you’re going to spend most of your time dealing with disappointment. It’s the nature of the beast. How much better then, to have a fall-back position, psychologically speaking. That’s what I have. Every time Leeds let me down, I have a second chance of happiness that weekend or midweek. Often, of course, I am let down again. I happen to despise the most undeservedly successful team of the era, so disappointment is often my portion there too – I am usually denied my helping of Schadenfreude. But when it comes around – oh boy, do I relish it. Through the thin and thinner of being a Leeds fan, it’s been those delightful occasions of Man U misery and despair that, frequently have kept me happy and ready for more. Otherwise I suspect I’d have given up on football long ago, much as other aging former enthusiasts have. There is a limit, after all.
So tonight, I have two shots at happiness and satisfaction – and due to the preferences of the TV companies in these matters I shall be concentrating on the negative side of things, hoping for more Man U misery, cheering on Liverpool as they aim to knock the Gloryhunters out. If it happens, I will be happy, whatever has happened up in Newcastle. And if Leeds happen to have pulled off a surprise against the Mighty Barcodes I shall of course be happier still. But you have to take your satisfaction where you can, and if Man U lose tonight, they’re OUT. If Leeds win, we’ll simply postpone our own demise in the competition, but it’ll surely come sooner or later. So good luck to both my teams tonight, but if I have to pin my colours onto one particular champion, it’ll be the Reds of Liverpool as the enter the lists looking to cheer us all up by ending the Capital Cup involvement of Man U.