A glimmer of hope as Elland Road sits silent on night of 'glorious' Leeds United versus Fulham game

‘They’re always better under the lights.’

Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 9:58 pm
Elland Road stood empty tonight, instead of packed to the rafters for Leeds United's game against Fulham, which fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic enforced lockdown for English football (Pic: Tony Johnson)

It was going to be glorious.

Elland Road, packed to the rafters, witnessing a game in which Leeds United or Fulham could make a massive statement, send a loud message to the rest of the Championship promotion hopefuls.

Yet at the time when tens of thousands would have been congregating at one of this city’s biggest places of worship, the silence was deafening.

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Adam Stewart, a club member who goes to games when he can get hold of tickets, couldn’t wait to go to this one.

It felt, to him, like a big night, like West Brom at home last season, an occasion when the promised land could be drawn into view by what the players did on the pitch.

But as he and girlfriend Rebecca Brown walked through Lowfields tunnel, it was empty. Their footsteps echoed.

There were no scarves for sale, no one was flogging the latest fanzine from The Square Ball.

As they wandered up the slight slope towards the statue of Billy Bremner, in fading light, there were no burger vans and no one was posing for selfies with a stadium backdrop.

Graveleys chip shop was lit up but empty, no queue snaking around the corner past the door of the newsagent, and The Peacock was as good as empty, no hordes spilling out across the road.

Elland Road’s gates were shut, no football was to be played.

The game, a mouthwatering one, between the Championship leaders – by almost every possible metric the best team in the league – and a Fulham side who might actually come to LS11 and try to play football, fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic that has pulled the shutters down on the football season.

Adam and Rebecca had set out from Manor Mills and almost two miles later found themselves at Elland Road, perhaps drawn towards the lights that should have been illuminating the stage for sporting theatre.

“If we had got a result at Cardiff and Brentford had done us a favour, we could have been going 10 or 11 points clear,” said Adam.

“It feels so typical of Leeds, this, something completely out of anyone’s control. Waiting 15 years for promotion and a global pandemic takes it out of your hands.”

While the pair were walking, the EFL had released a statement to say their primary objective, to protect the integrity of the leagues, was to try and finish the season.

It offers Leeds fans a glimmer of hope to cling on to.

“It seems like they will try and get it finished, which is what you want, you want to see it done properly, not just ended and us promoted as things stand,” said Adam.

“Or, even worse, cancel it all together.”

Of all of the nine remaining fixtures in Leeds United’s 2019/20 calendar, this one stood out.

Scott Parker and his Fulham men, with the help of a more-than-dubious penalty, got the better of Leeds at Craven Cottage just before Christmas, in simpler times, when dreadful officiating in London was about the height of Whites’ worries, instead of school closures due to a sickness spreading like wildfire across the planet.

Revenge is not a word you could imagine escaping from the lips of Marcelo Bielsa, in English or in his native tongue, but there are plenty in West Yorkshire who want to see their men put one over on the Cottagers.

This was a game that had the ingredients for a classic.

Fulham pass the ball around nicely, they like to attack and a draw would have done them little favours, so it would be safe to assume they’d have had a good go, in the way that only West Brom have set out to do at Elland Road this season.

It was the kind of game that Leeds’ lightning-quick counter attacking football was made for and, as it turned out, it was a nice crisp evening for it.

Uncertainty would still have hung in the air and plucked at the nerves of Leeds supporters, the fear that their lead over Fulham could take a three-point hit.

But give any White the choice between that uncertainty and the uncertainty that now hangs over the season, the promotion hopes and the health and wellbeing of the entire nation, they would snap your hand off for the former.

We didn’t get Leeds versus Fulham.

But we still might. And it will be glorious.