IT GOES against the grain and it feels alien and dirty but I am backing Leeds in the play-offs.
No, I haven’t developed a yearning to show solidarity with the lads from the North Midlands or forgiven them for leaving Juninho sobbing on the Elland Road turf. I just want the comedy ÃÂ£1.8m payment for Micheal Ricketts to be triggered.
Yes, wonder of wonders, the financially challenged idiots who ran Leeds into the ground not only agreed to take old Lardy in part-exchange for Mark Viduka but they also agreed a string of ludicrious clauses that could land Boro a massive windfall if United beat mighty Watford at Cardiff.
Boro have a strange relationship with Leeds. It is “not a derby” in the same way as Newcastle isn’t. That is, when we win it is an occasion for gloating over the pecking order in some ancient unit of cartography and government but when we lose, well, it is just another match.
But whether we admit it not in these days of Tyne-Tees Television, One North East, Two Shags dream of a semi-autonomous region and the Three Legends, Leeds used to be THE derby. Of course, that was when Middlesbrough used to be in Yorkshire. That was back when Geoff Boycott and Co used to play at Acklam Park, when the rail and road network reflected Boro’s gravitation to the county to the South and when if, like me, you were born in Parkside Hospital then it said quite bluntly on the birth certificate that you were a Yorkshireman.
When I was a nipper Boro were a lowly second division team and had been for almost two decades. And let’s be honest, they were rubbish. In the playground it was quite acceptable to like Stan Anderson’s side but also pledge allegiance to one of the top flight glamour boys. In fact it was the norm. Most local lads – and it was lads, no girls back then – had another team. Mine was Arsenal. The glory-hunters bandwagon of choice was that of Don Revie’s Leeds. And I hated them. Leeds were a massive club and their gravity attracted the weak willed inadequates who earned second hand validation from easy task of supporting ‘the champions’. They were the Man United of their day, successful and respected but widely despised too.
I hated the cynicism. I hated the stupid smiley badge. I hated the sock tags. What I hated most of all was the convoy of coaches that left Middlesbrough every other Saturday morning heading towards Elland Road. Among the regular passengers on these coaches were young men who now declare themselves ‘life long Boro fans.’ These people back then were the taunters-in-chief who derided local loyalty and belittled Boro fans at every turn. These people quite often got a smack, not for their support of another team but for their overbearing arrogance and smugness.
There was always hell on at matches with bootboys tearing around the Old Mans Park on Linthorpe Road looking to inflict pain on familar faces while visits to Elland Road often ended with Olympic qualifying times being clocked up on departure or the windows of the Ellerman Beeline going through as the coach edged away. Most veteran Boro fans I know have a hairy Leeds story to tell.
So there was always an underlying animosity to Boro’s relationship with our cash strapped cousins and natural instinct is to want to see them stuffed at the Millenium Stadium. But how funny would it be to get the last laugh and hit the collect button on the Ricketts money? A payment that big would be the punchline to a joke that is no longer completely on Boro. It would go some way to pay reparations for the ridicule heaped on Boro for buying him, claw back some of the cash wasted on him and it would make a big dent in Leeds transfer war chest for next season and leave them vulnerable to ‘doing a Sunderland’.
It is nice to have an interest when you watch a game on the box.