Tag Archives: Leeds

The Grandest Day Out

C'est Vrai

C’est Vrai

So my children have coped admirably with England defeat.   So much so that as we watched Brazilians openly weeping in the stadium after their comprehensive thrashing by Germany (1 – 7 just in case there is someone on the planet who didn’t know) they would watch so dispassionately and remark that they would get over it.

Buoyed up by their resilience to English football results, I thought I would throw another sport into the mix and I dragged them out of bed on Saturday morning at an UNEARTHLY hour to watch the Grand Depart of the 101th Tour De France from Leeds Town Hall.    For months now I had been watching  with rising levels of interest and excitement as Yorkshire decorate itself (in increasingly more eye-catching and inventive ways) in the tour jersey colours Yellow, Green and White with Red Spots in readiness for the world’s greatest cycle race.

There was disappointment in the week leading up the day when it was announced that Bradley Wiggins wouldn’t be in team Sky due to the support  (domestiques n’est-ce pas) needed for Chris Froome the defending champion.  As any regular reader of my blog will now I have supported him for a long time (click on his name if you want to read it) so I was quite gutted that the first British champion ever of the TDF wouldn’t be riding up the Headrow at 11.10 am on Saturday 5 July 2014.

Still we had Cav, practically a Yorkshire man as his mum lived in Harrogate (the finish for Stage One) so  I managed to get over the absence of my favourite mod cyclist and we joined in the throng of happy (and a few a bit grumpy) spectators and stood behind the barriers and waited, and waited and waited

It was fairly surreal standing in crowd 4 deep on a Saturday morning when then Town Hall clock said it was only 8.15 am watching the oh so cool  Gendarmes walking along the street in wraparound shades even before the sun came out.  There were many, many, many vehicles, from motor bikes to pick up trucks all with French number plates and official looking stickers zooming around looking very official and very important to keep our interest.

We saw Christian Prudhomme (the organiser of the TDF) be interviewed right in front of us.

Monsieur Tour

Monsieur Tour

No 1 of many many many vehicles that drive around the Tour whilst those incredible men race on their two very thin wheels.

No 1 of many many many  four wheeled motorised vehicles that drive around the Tour whilst those incredible men race on their two very thin wheels.

We saw giant fruits shoots and packets of chips fly past us as part of the “Caravan” a convoy of vehicles that precede the riders around the 190km course.  It had to be the most surreal part of the day.  But before we could really process  what we had actually seen the riders started coming out and being interviewed.  The tension in the crowd was palpable and as the riders lined up in front of Leeds Art Galley I had my first glimpse of the pelaton.  It was more thrilling than rows of brightly coloured plastic helmets ever have the right to be.  Then they were off on the roll out up Harewood House where the official race would be started by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  We saw them all, Alberto Contador, Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish and nearly 200 other sleek lyrca’d machines pedaling leisurely up the Headrow.   It was so exhilarating that moments after they passed my legs were like jelly such was the intensity of the adrenaline rush

We had train tickets to go onto Harrogate for the finish to meet with friends but it wasn’t to be.  N and I came home (and H to a party) and watched the rest of the race unfold on television.  The sun had come out and so had every single person in Yorkshire it seemed.  Everyone on the highest of highs and not just those on Cote De Buttertubs.

Yorkshire Cordiale

just where does the race when and the spectators begin?

blurred lines – just where does the race en dand the spectators begin?

Yorkshire Cordiale

Yorkshire looked so beautiful.  The race was so exciting.  I knew every inch of the road.  Ariel shots of Middleham Castle, home of Richard III, Jerveux Abbey and Fountains Abbey, the location of many a sun-filled family picnic all looked glorious.  Harrogate was full to bursting point and as Cav was lead out by his team up Ripon Road (the loudest shouts coming from my dad I have no doubt) it looked like the sprinter would get his much dreamed of stage win in his mother’s hometown and get to wear the Maillot Jaune on Stage 2.  Alas for poor Cav it was not to be the fairytale ending as he crashed painfully just before the line and and Marcel Kittel crossed the line just outside Bettys on Parliament Street.

The crowds just before the end of the race..

The crowds just before the end of the race..hope Betty’s don’t run out Fat Rascals…

But despite that it was the most intoxicating day, all my friends were messaging each other delighting in their “blink and you miss it” stories that all ended in”but it was so worth it and I have never been prouder of Yorkshire” And best of all we got to do it all over again the next day.  My dad always said it was bigger and better in Yorkshire and really I don’t think there was anyone in the world that would have disagreed.  The Tour in Yorkshire was a Triumph.    This is really what this blog is about.  I want to say thank you to Gary Verity for having the vision and balls to pull this off.  I want to say thank you to every single person who decorated a bicycle yellow and dotted them around the route.  Who bunted or covered statues in yellow jerseys.  The pub in Knaresborough who painted red spots all over their walls.  To the farmer in Killinghall who painted his sheep in the colours of the three iconic jerseys.  To all my friends who swapped pictures on social media to allow us all to get intimate views and pictures of their experiences.  You all made this weekend one of the greatest of my life.

Of course N and I got out on our bikes in the evening.  As the sun set behind Temple Newsam N was determined to ride up the hill to the house.  “I need to conquer this hill” she said.  “Every time my legs hurt I just think of the Tour De France riders”.  Now then, isn’t that a champion legacy. Non? Bien Sur!

Why I’m not singing any more

It’s the start of the football season and I can’t bear it. Another nine months of matches and results all more important than life and death, once my idea of heaven, now my personal hell.

I used to be in love with the beautiful game. Really I did, and I went into this with my eyes open.  I learnt from an early age there would be agony and ecstasy, that there was pleasure and pain in supporting a team. My dad, a dyed in the wool Leeds fan, sat me down to the 1973 FA Club, with high hopes, Revie’s boys were  favourites, it was going to be a joyful and celebratory 90 minutes. Except of course it wasn’t, was it. Nil nil until Sunderland scored in the second half, and it was their ribbons on the lifted cup not ours. I can still taste the disappointment now.  That was a lesson learnt the hard way, there are no dead certs in football.

But it wasn’t until Italia 90 that my interest grew to a passion. Nessum Dorma, the stadiums, the azzurros and their magnificent shirts the colour of the Adriatic (and the beautiful Paolo Maldini the male equivalent of Helena Christensen). The joy of watching football and drinking beer with family and friends. Young and living in London, I was completely seduced before the warm-up.

And then there was England, Bobby Robson and his legendary team. Lineker, Shilton, Beardsley, Pearce, Walker, Butcher, Platt, Parker et al.  Waddle and that mullet and of course Gazza.  The names trip off the tongue still.  A team who started off pretty ropey, scraping last-minute results but as the tournament progressed they grew closer and better as their tans got deeper and darker.

The drama of that semi-final night in Turin is seared in my soul now, almost part of my dna, that night of what might have been, what could have been. But what I remember more than anything else was that England played with pride, passion, committment, effort. They played their and our hearts out.

The years and tournaments passed, the glorious Euro 1996, with that goal of Gazza’s flicked over Hendry’s head in the bright sunlight. It is locked in my memories forever.  I always kept a watchful eye on Leeds but was the international games, with the country coming together and going football crazy, the red and white springing up in the most unlikely places that I loved most.

Until I took my dad to a Leeds game, Arsenal v Leeds 26 September 2002 for his birthday.   The roar of the Elland Road crowd as we took our seats just before kick-off was a rush like I had never experienced before. I felt the power of crowd, it felt like an animal hunting its prey, watchful, intense, exciting.  It was utterly and totally addictive.  I was completely hooked. Of course Leeds lost that day (4 – 1) and looking back I think it was the beginning of the end for Leeds, the previous game they had beaten the arch rivals Man U, but by the end of the season it took a wonder goal also by Harry Kewell against Arsenal to keep them from relegation.

It was at the end of the 2002/03 that the extent of Leeds’ financial problems were first revealed.  The Champions League Gamble had failed.  Leeds were living the nightmare.  More debt than the rest of the Premier League combined with the exception of Fulham and Chelsea.  Leeds’ troubles are well documented but the slow and steady decline, over the next few seasons, of the once mighty whites was like having your heart ripped out piece by piece.  Death by a thousand cuts.  The worse, most dysfunctional relationship I have ever been in.

Local sons being sold to save the club, I will never forget 28 December 2002, Leeds v Chelsea  when Jonathan Woodgate scored.  I was sat behind two young lads probably no older than 6 or 7.  Woody proudly emblazoned on the back of brand new replica shirts, no doubt very prized presents from Santa.  By the end of that Christmas transfer period, Woody had been sold to Newcastle for 9 million pounds.  Those cherished shirts redundant after only 2 weeks.

Sadly it isn’t just Leeds United Football Club that has experienced a gut-wrenching decline.  The international team is a shadow of its former self.  On paper we have this incredible team, the media goes into a frenzy, you dare to dream, could we do it this year?   But every tournament is more disappointing than the last.  Our so-called sporting heroes look more and more ordinary away as they get richer and richer at home.  Monthly millionaires, they give no appearance of pride, love or passion to be wearing that England shirt. Full of excuses and self-justification. They have destroyed my love of football.

On and now increasingly off the pitch they are a national embarrassment, tabloid fodder, they have no values, no respect for their families, I find it hard to see any redeeming qualities in any of them.  Even the ones you thought were actually ok, it turns out they just had better lawyers and Max Clifford on speed-dial.

The football hierarchy isn’t much better either.  I don’t think there is anyone in football today who would look to Sett Platter and his cronies as a shining example of moral guidance and advice.

Money has utterly corrupted and destroyed football in this country. As the Sky TV money poured in to the new Premier League, wage bills have gone north and the national game has gone south.  The Euro 96 was the last time we reached a semi final of an international tournament.  The last time the team had players brought through from the old league.  It is a very sad fact, clubs now need owners as rich as Croesus in order to be contenders.   The personal wealth and behaviour of footballers make them the equivalent of 18th Century Aristocrats, they are so completely out of our league financially and emotionally, accountable to no-one but themselves. The modern game has been become unsustainable, how can it when the colossal wage bills of the clubs have to be maintained and increased season on season? When only entry  into the highly lucrative European Football can keep a club afloat.  Where the same four or five teams complete yearly for all the silverware.

The peasants revolted in the 18th century when the divisions became too great, I long for a similar revolution in football today.  To bring football back to its grassroots for players and fans alike.  Maybe then I will sing again.

In addition:  I had written this blog before the unrest of the past few days, and now that I come to publish I think football really shows up the divisions in our society.  Tottenham, the starting point of the riot, is one of the poorest areas in the country and yet has the one of richest football clubs.  It is a contrast of Dickensian proportions. Where the most destitute, both financially and aspirationally, are existing cheek by jowl to the very richest.  This can not be the route to social cohesion.