My Leeds United - Another chance in Europe, a family affair, a viral video and seeing it through

The YEP's My Leeds United series brings you the stories of Whites as they explain why they are Leeds.

Matthew Evans is on the YEP jury and hosts the ‘Leeds That’ podcast.

My Dad bounded into my room to say Leeds United might have another chance in Europe.

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I was seven and bleary eyed, having been up well past my bedtime the night before, visiting Elland Road for the first time. It was magic.

It was the European Cup night in 1992 when United fell just short of completing a near impossible comeback against Stuttgart, only to be given a lifeline thanks to an ineligible player.

There began a 30-year obsession and still, to this day, I harbour a faint hope whenever we lose a big game that it will be overturned somehow.

That has never been truer than after that agonising play-off defeat to Derby last May.

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Leeds United has always been a family affair. I attended my earliest games with my Dad and both Grandads, while my Mum was a season ticket holder in the days of Don Revie’s aces.

Throughout the ‘90s my Dad and I would get to a couple of games a season and the rest of the time I’d point a radio aerial in the direction of West Yorkshire to get the flakiest FM reception of Norman Hunter and Bryn Law on BBC Leeds.

The connection between Hunter’s voice and those childhood moments made his passing all the more emotional.

As a kid, I’d spend hours talking to my Grandads about Leeds and, when my Mum’s Dad died 24 hours after an Olivier Dacourt free-kick dispatched Arsenal in November 2000, I doubled down on my obsession for the club to feel close to him.

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My Dad’s Dad, 88 now and safely hunkered away from the pandemic, has had two primary concerns: Is the football coming back and, if so, when?

I spent my earliest wages on a season ticket and away days and learned that Leeds is a family in itself. We were relegated at the end of my second year as a season ticket holder.

I still consider myself fortunate to have seen the dismal showing at the Reebok Stadium that all but confirmed our fate. It felt important to be there.

Sixteen years in the lower leagues has been a slog.

I’ve been to all but three of our home games and around 90 per cent of our away games, with different travelling companions, but for me it’s always been about seeing the job through.

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Nineteen-year-old me was adamant he’d be there to see us return to the Premier League and 35 year-old me is determined to hold that true.

There would be something heart-breaking, almost cruel, about promotion in an empty stadium. After all, there was no pandemic to stop me witnessing play-off defeats in Cardiff and at Wembley, or being relegated to League One and deducted 15 points, or sitting through the regimes of Wise, Warnock, Hockaday, Evans and Heckingbottom.

In 2019 my friends Andy, James, Paul and I started a podcast ‘Leeds That’. We’ve interviewed some of our heroes, had Jermaine Beckford and David Wetherall in my kitchen, created a viral video and launched a beer named after Marcelo Bielsa.

Over Christmas, Paul and his wife Laura lost their six-day old son, Jack and, just weeks later, James’s Dad, Stuart, died after a long battle with Parkinson’s. With the support of the Leeds family we are now raising money through the podcast in memory of two Leeds fans lost to us.

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Those experiences have only served to remind me how much family is Leeds and how much Leeds is family.

Dad has retired and picked up a season ticket, Mum is more enthused than she’s been at any point since the 1970s and even my long-suffering wife, who has joked for years that the close season should be renamed ‘Emma season’ has slowly started to take an interest.

Whatever happens in the coming months, we’ll still have Leeds and we’ll still have each other so, if we have to watch it on a screen, then so be it.

We’ll share the joy and the pain remotely and if we get what we deserve we’ll meet again in the Premier League with those we’ve lost watching on from above. Marching on together.

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