My Leeds United: Whites shirts at Glastonbury and words to be handled like an unexploded bomb
I LOVE being asked ‘who’s your team?’
I imagine it feels a bit like parents’ evening. You’ve just met this teacher – a stranger – who claims to be an expert on your offspring, who you’ve known intimately for many more years.
Nonetheless, you are gripped by their feedback, and scan their face for a truer judgement they might be withholding.
You’ll be proud regardless, but it seems to matter – what people think.
When I say I’m Leeds, I handle the words with care, as though they’re an unexploded bomb. The fact is, reactions are varied, but there is always a reaction. Most often it is either respect or disgust – never disinterest. Sometimes I’m faced with bemusement. Some are puzzled by my connection to the club – I’m not from Leeds, I’ve never lived there, and neither has my dad, who bequeathed me this intoxicating gift.
No one questions a Liverpool or Chelsea fan in Cambridgeshire, as these are acceptably global institutions, whose reach extends far beyond Merseyside and West London. The unspoken question bothering these bemused fans seems to be ‘if you’re going to support a side you’re not local to, why wouldn’t you pick a good one?’.
There’s a simple answer – I didn’t. Just as parents don’t choose their children, most people don’t choose their team.
But whereas your relationship to your child goes largely unquestioned, I am so often called upon to explain why I support my club. It’s a little tiresome.
I’m guilty of it too, though. At school, I relished watching boys flounder as they scrambled around for some false familial connection to Manchester United. Perhaps I ought to have been more forgiving. How much does any of that really matter, after all? If you sing the songs, wave the flag? Isn’t that the point? Uniting people under an idea?
That’s the beauty of wearing the shirt. There’s no discussion or explanation. When you see a white shirt, you don’t care why they’re wearing it, you’re just glad that they are.
I learnt this last year at Glastonbury festival. They projected the Lionesses’ World Cup quarter-final on the West Holts stage. I turned up to watch in my Leeds shirt – any excuse. People saluted, some muttered “Leeds Leeds Leeds” as they passed me in the crowd, others simply gave a knowing look or nod. As the sun went down, I gave up counting how many people had acknowledged me this way.
A little deeper into the night I was enjoying some drum and bass at the Gas Tower when I got a tap on the shoulder. I turned around to find a lad in a Leeds United training top, one from the noughties I think, nodding enthusiastically and pointing at our matching torsos.
His friend took a photo of us smiling together.
He didn’t ask me anything, nor I him. We didn’t need to. Our shirts spoke for us.