When it happened, it was as unexpected as it was funny. Unexpected, because Derby had utterly dominated the play-off final at Wembley – even before QPR had Gary O’Neil sent off for a professional foul. And funny, because – well, because it was Derby, one of those daft little Midlands teams that gets all excited and wets itself every time it has a result against our beloved Whites. Derby had been on a long run of success against Leeds, and their fans grew cockier and more annoying with each one. Now, they were sat in their devastated rows at Wembley as Bobby Zamora pounced in the last minute to snatch their dream away. Some were open-mouthed with horror, some were angry, some were crying. One kid was actually having a tantrum directly into his mother’s bosom. It was richly comic and I enjoyed it very much.
So much for Derby – we’ll see them again next season when we’ll have two more chances to break a barren spell that’s gone on far too long against what used to be the ultimate rabbit team for Leeds United. For QPR, today’s somewhat fortunate result might just have saved their profligate skins, as dire fiscal consequences were threatened over their breaching of FFP limits. Even in the Premier League with all those Murdoch millions being flung in their direction, it may well be that the suits will be after them – with a view to clipping their financial wings to such an extent as to see them return quickly whence they came. We’ll have to wait and see on that one.
For Leeds United though, this play-off result means more than mere malicious amusement. It signifies that next season’s League line-up is almost complete; only one Championship spot remains to be filled. We’ve now said goodbye to Leicester, Burnley, QPR, Barnsley (arf), Doncaster (arf) and Yeovil. We will be hosting Cardiff (snigger), Norwich (snigger), Fulham, Wolves, Brentford and one of either Rotherham or Leyton Orient. Personally, I hope it’s Rotherham to complete the picture – for all I’ve had to say about smaller Yorkshire teams and their Cup Final chips on the shoulder. Having said good riddance to two such daft little clubs, it’d be churlish not to welcome one, just to redress the balance a little.
Some may feel that parts of this article are unfeeling and a little callous – taking pleasure in the discomfiture of others. And they’d be right – but I will temper the effect a little by saying I hold no ill-will against any professionals who tried, failed and are now suffering at Wembley Stadium, or on their miserable way home. I respect their efforts – and I felt for Keogh of Derby who was unlucky enough to have made the error that led to Zamora’s excellently-taken goal. Still – that’s football, but it’s not for a fan to glory in the pain of professionals (unless they play for or manage Man U).
My satisfaction is in the woe of rival fans who have, in their turn, taken immense satisfaction from the suffering of Leeds fans in our various crises. It’s the nature of football support, tit for tat. I make no apology for delighting in the sorrow of fans of Derby, Norwich, Doncaster, Cardiff – or any other clubs’ fans where they have had the cause and opportunity to crow at the troubles of my beloved Leeds United. As I’ve said before, it’s OK to hate rival fans. Positively healthy, in fact. You reap what you sow and – tragic though it all might appear to the more soft-hearted among us – tough.
Roll on next season then, when it all starts all over again – and this time next year we’ll either be celebrating or gritting our teeth – and doubtless we’ll be laughing at the fate of a few old rivals. It’s such a great game, football.