If ever a football match were to be played where it were possible for both sides to lose, I would have liked it to be the one that happened at Old Trafford on Sunday. Trying to work out which club I hated most sent my head into meltdown; obviously, as a Liverpool fan and someone raised in Leeds, I hate Manchester United, but as a Liverpool fan and as someone raised in Leeds, I hate Leeds United. It's a simple equation, and one that – as equations should – works to cancel the other side out. Four days on and I'm still not sure I'm happy with the outcome.
Another outcome – and one even less welcome than the actual outcome, whichever way it had gone – was of memories awakened of Elland Road. I have spent way too much time there. In my teens I accompanied a friend to Leeds youth and reserve matches – she fancied the players; I, clearly, had nothing better to do with my time – and being in the away end at Liverpool games. Don't misunderstand me here: I love being an away supporter. There's less than 2,000 of you and 30,000 of them. You absolutely have to sing and chant, it is incumbent upon you, what the hell are you doing there if you're not going to make any noise? And, in particular, a match in August 1997 when McManaman scored a stunning goal right in front of us (I didn't say I never fancied footballers, just not the ones at Leeds).
But I stopped going to away games after one match – my memory has it around the end of December, some time while I was university so possibly '98 (it was definitely dark and it was definitely cold) – when my seat was at the end of one row, separated from the Leeds fans by a row of policemen, some steps, and another row of policemen, none of which stopped the spittle reaching us and was never, ever likely to quell the shouts of "YOU CUNTS!".
People sometimes ask me if I miss Leeds. I'm usually not able to give my answer in words, but I hope the hysterical laughter is just as eloquent.
Maybe I've been spoiled; maybe Anfield is more genteel than all other grounds. (I doubt it. Mythmaking can only obscure so much reality.) Or maybe Leeds fans need to realise there's a reason "plenty of people voice their dislike of the club and it breeds a siege mentality". Their chants aren't even intelligent or witty. "Leeds! Leeds! Leeds!", bellowed in a rapid, husky bray that quickly sounds less like the name of a city and more like the snarlings of an animal ("United! Leeds! United! Leeds!" carries equally intellectually stimulating and attractive overtones). Of course there are non-bullnecked non-shaven-headed non-tattooed Leeds fans who wouldn't punch you in the face after a few pints; I just seem to be aware of / related to a lot of them.
I don't need reasons for hating Manchester United.
Hmm. I'm starting to suspect my relationship with football is not based on hope and glorious anticipation, but on hate and disdain. With any luck it's just within this context…