Leeds United taking almost 7,000 supporters to Blackburn Rovers tomorrow is astonishing. And I mean astonishing.
I know the club’s reputation and I know they travel in huge numbers but 7,000? That’s a bigger away attendance than most League Two clubs manage at home. The day you take support like that for granted is the day you’ve lost touch with reality.
I’m not overlooking the fact that Leeds took just as many to Ewood Park last season but I’m continually impressed by the levels of loyalty – considering that year after year the supporters aren’t getting a great deal in return.
Those who went to Blackburn 12 months ago were short-changed by the performance. It wasn’t awful but it was a bit dour and a bit uninspired. That’s the thing about crowds – they’re great, they help you and you’d always want big numbers behind you but the fans don’t stick the ball in the net. They don’t keep it out either.
As a player and a manager I took the attitude that the supporters had done their bit by being there in the first place. They’d made the effort, they’d paid the money, they’d taken the time. So from the first whistle onwards the onus was on the team. You had a responsibility to keep your side of the bargain.
To me, a large away crowd was always a buzz. It reminded you that you had people to play for and a bit of help on your side. At a difficult ground – and Blackburn will be a hard game tomorrow – you can benefit from that. I remember playing for Leeds away at Walsall many years ago. We had so many fans there that it felt like being at Elland Road. If that’s not an advantage then nothing is. It’s a proper barmy army.
Neil Redfearn will be grateful for the backing this weekend but the bigger boost in his eyes will be the win over Blackpool before the international break.
Leeds needed that result and they needed it badly. Eight games without a victory isn’t something to brush over. The first half was fantastic, some of the best football the club have produced in a long time, and the win was well deserved. But I reckon that deep down, Neil will have been a bit disappointed with the damp squib of a second half.
I wouldn’t expect him to say that publicly and he’s right to be pleased with the fact that his side closed out the victory but if you’d pushed him and got his true feelings, he’d have wanted Leeds to go on and properly steamroller Blackpool.
When I was starting out at Manchester United, the manager back then – Dave Sexton – used to tell us that the ideal scoreline was a 6-0 win. Three goals in the first half and three in the second.
That sounds like wishful thinking but his point was this: if you got a hold of a game before the break, you should look to build up a healthy lead. And if you’ve got a healthy lead at the start of the second half, you should never let the opposition off the hook. They’re down, they’re deflated and it’s an opportunity to rub their noses in it. There’s no sympathy in football, or not on matchdays anyway.
In my time I’ve seen some really ruthless situations. Back in the 1980s, during my spell at Oldham, we travelled away to Sheffield United. They were in trouble at the time and their manager, Billy McEwan, was under the cosh.
There were protests outside the ground and it was pretty obvious when we drove up to Bramall Lane that the place was in turmoil. It wasn’t a happy club.
Sheffield United’s fans were demanding that McEwan lose his job. As we lined up to file out the dressing room, Tommy Wright suddenly turned round and said to us ‘come on, let’s get the f***** the sack.’ It set the tone, we won 5-0 and McEwan left soon after. That was that.
It sounds pretty harsh and I don’t want anyone to think that it was anything personal against McEwan. I had nothing against him at all. But we smelt blood that day and got stuck into a side who were down on the floor. If there’s a lesson for Leeds to take from their win over Blackpool, it’s the importance of doing the same when the chance comes.
That said, I’m not taking anything away from them. They were under pressure before the Blackpool game and they delivered in style. The win will have done their confidence the world of good and confidence is vital for this squad.
If you’ve seen Leeds in their better moments this season then you’ll know that they can play. I really don’t think talent is an issue. It’s more a matter of making them believe that they can go to a club like Blackburn on any given Saturday, play to their potential – and ultimately win.