Death of a Leeds United Fan II – by Rob Atkinson

Younger brother Graham (left) with yours truly in happier times

Five years ago, I found myself in the unhappy position of having to pen a tribute to my Dad, a lifelong Leeds United fan, after he passed away due to complications of Alzheimer’s Disease a few months short of his 88th birthday. I remember that writing the article helped me come to terms with the fact that Dad really had gone from us; even though he’d been ill for a long time, I found it hard to comprehend that I’d never see him again, and it didn’t really sink in until a few months later, long after his funeral. I’m just not very good, I suppose, at accepting finalities.

This failing on my part to acknowledge or accept ultimate loss has been brought home to me again this last week or so, with the news that my brother Graham had died suddenly, over the weekend before last, at the age of only 56. Gray was actually two years younger than me and, although his health had been poor since a major illness about fifteen years back, he’d seemed to have made a recovery of sorts. Certainly the last thing any of us expected was to hear that he’d passed away, and again, I’m struggling to get my head around it. This feeling of disbelief is hardly helped by the fact that, like many brothers, we weren’t particularly close for long periods, and our disagreements and quarrels were many. Sibling rivalry, fraternal friction, call it what you will there was usually some strife. So, this sense of sudden loss is tinged with regret and a certain amount of guilt too – as if the death of a younger brother wasn’t bad enough already. The last year or so of his life was one of those extended mutual stand-off times, something I’ll clearly never be able to put right. It is what it is, sadly. Our Gray could be an awkward bugger at times – but, then again, so can I.

One thing that Gray and I always had in common was Leeds United; despite being two years younger, he started going to Elland Road a good few years before I did, and was privileged to see Don Revie’s Super Leeds in action, whereas I had to make do initially with Armfield’s Aces in 1975. And, as we all know, it was all downhill from there until Sergeant Wilko turned up 13 years later. But over those first few seasons of my fanaticism, Gray and I shared many trips to see the Whites play, especially at home games, when we’d board the old Ponte supporters bus on Horsefair in town and set off, more in hope than expectation. On one memorable occasion, I leaned too heavily on the emergency exit at the back of the bus as we pulled into the Elland Road car park, and fell out. I was left sprawling in the dust as my brother and his mates wet themselves laughing at my humiliation. It was a story he recounted with evident relish and amusement as best man at my wedding years later. He also mentioned the frequent occasions we’d return home after some dire defeat, to be met by our Dad with his doom-laden verdict of “Never again”. Dad had had enough of Leeds United by the eighties – I don’t think he’d ever really forgiven them for selling John Charles – and he assumed that we’d have had enough too, after each successive disappointment. I’d like to think that they’re continuing that argument somewhere right now, Dad and Gray, perhaps over some heavenly pint in the company of a few lost heroes.

Gray didn’t die as a result of the current COVID-19 crisis, it was his existing health problems that caught up with him. Still, lockdown has its effect on everything these days and, sadly, Graham’s funeral next Tuesday at Pontefract Crematorium will be a severely restricted affair, limited to ten mourners in the building itself. But funerals are mainly for those left behind, and the priority on the day for my remaining brother Mike and myself will be to support our Mum, who’s 83, as well as Gray’s two sons Stuart and Matthew, and of course his partner Julie. The idea is that, as and when this virus situation eases and we regain at least a measure of freedom, we’ll be able to organise something whereby Gray’s life can be celebrated properly, with a few drinks being sunk and a few hoary old anecdotes retold, as he’d most certainly have wanted.

Clearly, in the context of this blog, one particularly bitter regret is that Gray will never get to see Leeds United back in the top flight. I have a feeling that the achievement of promotion would have enabled us both to overcome our recent differences and disagreements, to mark the return of the club we’ve both loved for decades now, finally back to where they belong. It’s a milestone we’d doubtless have marked in a suitably drunken manner, which after all is how most reconciliations occur. That’s just a futile dream now, but still I hope that the club will be able to get over the line somehow, despite this awful bug and what it’s done to us all. It’s just such a shame that, when it does happen, Gray won’t see it.

It was my Dad and Graham who flew the flag for Leeds United in our family, long before I got hooked, so it’s somehow fitting that they’re now reunited as the club’s on the verge of a new era. It lends a new level of meaning for me to “Marching On Together”, and I shall definitely be raising a glass to them both when that glorious day finally arrives.

RIP Graham Atkinson.  10th August 1963 – 19th April 2020  MOT WAFLL WACCOE LUFC

28 responses to “Death of a Leeds United Fan II – by Rob Atkinson

  1. Rob, what a brilliant eulogy! ‘Condolences. MOT with respect, A


  2. My thoughts are with you and your family, life at times is so unfair. It’s hard to say anything that can make things better, but one day in the not too distant future we’ll hopefully raise a glass to all those taken far too early.


  3. I don’t know you, and I never met your brother. I’m a few years older, and should have been setting off today for Islay for a whisky tour with my brother who has been living in the Thailand for the last twenty years. We are not of course, but I have a chance to go next year instead. We have seen very little of each other in that time, but when, hopefully, we do get together, then I hope your experiences will help me to appreciate that time more.

    Norman Hunter, Trevor Cherry, Graham Atkinson, all a big part of your life. Gone, but not forgotten.



  4. Duncan Massey

    I have yet to meet Rob but I did know Graham a little. He was very supportive of me and my mates in our teenage years when we were getting our first band together and he was already making a go of playing music. There were even one or two bits of advice he gave me around bands that I carry with me to this day. RIP MOT.


  5. Kal Sandhu

    So sorry for the loss of your brother. May he rest in peace. Love, prayers, and condolences to you and your family


  6. Get one for yourself Son

    When we hold the Cup aloft and are finally crowned League Champions the Heavens will shine and the Pearly gates will wobble to the strain of MOT. Atkinson Senior and Atkinson Junior will smile that smile as John asks Billy whoses round is it and Norman says don’t look at me, i just got a warning..

    In these sad times think only of the good times as they never die…All the best to you and yours at this difficult time, RIP Rob’s little Brother.


  7. Life is LUFC

    As you say Rob many of us wish we had been just that bit kinder when someone we love is no longer there. Remember even though you had your up and downs he knew you loved him and you knew he loved you in equal measure and that is what really counts, the brotherly love. Think of the love you have for him and the loss though sad and hard to take can be a little softer. When you finally get to the next game make sure you double the cheering and do him proud. RIP Gray and keep an eye to your big brother. All our thoughts are with you and your family – MOT


  8. Wise old Owl

    I was so sorry to hear about your sad loss, and such a moving tribute.


  9. howard mackey

    Condolences Rob, stay strong for your mum, she will need you more than ever now. With respect Howard.


  10. andrew hinks

    wonderful kind words rob!
    sincere condolences on the loss of your brother!
    keep your chin up at this very sad time!
    MOT always!!


  11. Rob, sorry, I ticked the wrong notify button; please just send new emails, not new comments. Thanks, A


  12. Hello Rob,really sorry to read of your brothers passing. There’s going to be one heck of a kickabout up there that’s for sure and I hope your Graham is on the same side as Norman and Trevor.


  13. Rob,
    So sorry for your loss. The rest of us will have been saddened by the passing of Norman and Trevor, but what you must be feeling over your brother, I can barely imagine.
    Thoughts and respect,


  14. king sniffer

    My condolences Rob. I hope the funeral goes as well as it can in these bizzare times. MOT even when separated.


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