There have been many famous rallying speeches over the whole history of combat, whether it be in the theatre of war or merely a matter of winning a game of football. We can all name the famous motivators in each sphere: Elizabeth I or Henry V, Admiral Lord Nelson or Winston Churchill, each of whom fired up their troops to give their all in battle for England. Sir Alf Ramsey did the same for the Three Lions heroes of 1966 and of course our own Don Revie was unrivalled as he created a team who would run through walls for him, inspired by the steely cry of “Keep Fighting”.
But sometimes, tub-thumping speeches should not be necessary – the occasion speaks for itself and demands pride, passion and commitment more than any mere words could possibly do. The Leeds United players who take the field against QPR tonight, 5th April, should be fully aware that today is a date when nothing less than every last drop of blood, sweat and tears will suffice. The United army will demand that – and more – as will those glued to their radios at home. And rightly so.
For April the 5th is a date carved painfully into the hearts of Leeds fans everywhere. On that fateful day 16 years ago, we lost two of our own as Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight were cruelly, foully murdered by savage, uncivilised scum in Taksim Square, Istanbul. This evening’s match is therefore not about League points or position, it’s not even about the farcical running of the club or the inept administration of an incompetent and bumbling Football League. It’s about pride, passion, respect and commemoration – and those four qualities need to burn white-hot within the very being of each man wearing that big Leeds badge over his heart at Elland Road.
If there are any Leeds players unaware of the significance of this occasion – well, shame on them. And shame on the staff at the club who should be making sure that their charges are at least on nodding acquaintance with a reality beyond their own pay packets. It’s not been easy to admire many of the Leeds players lately; with a few notable exceptions, they’ve played in a distracted fashion and displayed a distinctly chicken-hearted attitude to the business of playing for the shirt and getting results. They should be left in no doubt at all that such frailties will not be tolerated tonight – not on April the 5th. For this match, they should imitate the action of a tiger, as Henry the Fifth put it. They should stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood – and get stuck in, just as if they really did have the hearts of lions.
Nothing less will do, it’s the very least they owe the Leeds supporters everywhere. If they don’t know this, then it should be made abundantly clear to them prior to kick off. They should run out there onto that pitch with no thoughts of money or other distractions: they should emerge onto the field of combat ready and willing to give their all for the Leeds United fans, and especially for the memory of those two lads who never came home. This should be an occasion for the restoration of pride, for remembering that they have the honour to represent the greatest club in the world, in front of the greatest fans in the Universe. Defeat is permissible; a defeatist attitude and a failure to step up to the mark is not. Not on April the 5th.
Perhaps the match against Rangers can be a starting point for the Leeds United team, the first steps on the long climb back to respectability. It really needs to be – there is simply no more appropriate date for the launching of a fight-back, even though this season is now meaningless – apart from the still lingering threat of relegation. If the Leeds lads can get out there and fight tonight – show that they care, battle for the cause, demonstrate some respect for the fans and those we’ve lost – then maybe they can start to recoup some of the respect they’ve undoubtedly squandered over the past few months. It’s to be hoped so, because you get nowhere in any professional sport without earning respect.
The April 5th anniversary of the shocking events in Istanbul really means something to the Leeds support. More than any other date, it’s when we remember and pay our respects – and the players should participate fully in this. It’s part of deserving to wear the shirt and the badge. Fans of other clubs love to show their disrespect, they love to wear the shirt of that awful Turkish club whilst grinning and gloating. Millwall fans, Man U fans – scum like that. April the 5th is when we rise above it all, in dignity and pride. The players need to join in with that, too.
Do it tonight, lads – get out there and fight, give everything. Do it for Chris and Kev, do it for all the rest of us who remember them sixteen years on. Do it for the shirt, do it for the badge. Make us proud of you again, on this day above all others. Then, perhaps, we can go Marching On Together towards a better future, whatever the next few days, weeks and months might bring. All it takes to start fighting back is that pride, passion and respect. That’s how we commemorate those who died, and that’s how we’ll forge the togetherness we need to restore this great club to where it belongs. Let’s start that process of fighting back and climbing upwards, on this sad and solemn anniversary, at Elland Road this evening – let’s show them what we’re made of. If we have enough tigers and lionhearts on the park, Queens Park Rangers will at least know they’ve been in a game – which is the very minimum requirement for any true warriors of Elland Road.
After all: “We’re Leeds – and we’re proud of it”.
RIP Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight, taken far too soon. April 5th, 2000