By Matt Rowson
I've just been watching "Metropolis" on ITV.
A drama based in London, revolving around the crumbled relationships, failed ambitions and abandoned principles of a group of 1994 Leeds graduates. Compelling, occasionally intoxicating, if not terribly original.
And a little close to the bone perhaps. Like these guys, I graduated from Leeds in 1994. Mine too was the student city of Leeds 6, walks through Woodhouse Moor, the Otley Run, the Tartan Bar, the Merrion Centre, the Headrow, the Duchess of York pub, the Kashmir kebab-shop, the Thursday Bop. Onion Bhajis in a bap that tasted like TNT, football in Hyde Park, playing cards all night, Armageddon at Ricky's night-club (10p/pint) and cheap yoghurt from Morrison's. I lived half of my life in three years.
Like the characters in "Metropolis", I've changed in the six years since. Physically, I'm now unfit and overweight. I no longer have hair down my back in a ponytail, and no longer wear woollen jumpers with holes in. I'm also precisely as constrained by my job as I told myself would never be allowed to happen. Yes, "Metropolis" is very close to the bone.
Leeds is on the slope of a hill on the edge of the Pennines. Headingley is at the top of that hill. Our house was at the top of Headingley and my room was at the top of that house. Without central heating, it was the coldest place on earth, colder even than Boundary Park. My girlfriend and various office colleagues have had to live with the consequences of my acclimatisation ever since. It also had the best view you can imagine. In the distance, off to the left, was Elland Road.
The relationship a student develops with his or her host city is very restricted, almost manufactured but no less real for it. It was therefore pretty inevitable (and hardly anything unusual) that I developed affection for my University town's football team. It helped that Leeds won the title in 1992, a great time to be in Leeds (the screwdriver to the tyre of my Mum's Renault the night they secured the league excepted). Looking at that team now, only one player remains...a fairly typical survival rate I guess...whereas the rest of that dependable line-up have retired or moved on : Lukic, Sterland, Dorigo, Fairclough, Whyte, Batty, Strachan, McAllister, Chapman, Wallace, Speed.
Leeds has changed too. The centre is full of swanky bars. The Hyde Park, a dusty old pub on the edge of Headingley where we used to watch football, has mutated into a neon hell. The Duchess of York has closed. You probably can't even buy those Onion Bhajis any more. Leeds, the team, me. Everything's changed.
As far as this season goes, an honest Leeds fan will have to admit to being disappointed. Even if United do scrape back into the Champions League positions, an outcome most would have settled for in August will be tarnished by the knowledge that for so long United had the title in their sights. However it is still quite possible that Leeds won't qualify for Europe at all. David O'Leary, master of understatement, has suggested that this outcome would be "a crying shame".
The other key notable events of this season from a Leeds perspective were the incidents surrounding the match in Istanbul. It doesn't seem necessary to rake over ground that has been exhaustively covered elsewhere, however the enormity of the consequence of that evening has to be acknowledged. Whether or not the protagonists were anything to do with Galatasaray (and even if they weren't, a little dignity and grace on behalf of the Turkish side wouldn't have gone amiss) two men have died; two families deprived of fathers, in the process of following a team. Isn't football supposed to be fun?
In goal for United will be Nigel Martyn, presumably en route to Euro 2000 in a month's time and voted into the PFA Team of the Season this week. His cover is England U21 cap Paul Robinson.
Right back Gary Kelly was also voted into this team, as was his compatriot on the left, Ian Harte. However Harte will be suspended on Wednesday, so it will be interesting to see if Nordin Wooter returns to our fold, and how well Danny Mills, playing out of position, copes with him.
In the centre, imposing captain Lucas Radebe. Alongside him on Sunday was Michael Duberry, whose greater physical presence was preferred to the understandably off-form Jonathan Woodgate. Alfie Haaland is another, brutal alternative, and is also used in midfield. Robert Molenaar and Martin Hiden are both still injured.
In midfield, Batty's continuing absence means a starting place for Matthew Jones, filling Batty's not inconsiderable boots to reasonable effect. Norwegian Eirik Bakke, who didn't endear himself to Vicarage Road with a petulant display in October, is likely to play, as is the rejuvenated Jason Wilcox on the left. However one-time captain David Hopkin, a scorer against Sheffield Wednesday, may be replaced by Lee Bowyer who returns to the fold having only served a one-match ban for accumulating fourteen bookings. Stephen McPhail, another young Irishman, is injured.
Up front, Harry Kewell celebrated third place in Player of the Year plus the Young Player of the Year award with a magnificent goal against Wednesday, crowning an impressive season. Transfer speculation links the Australian with a move to Italy, Roma having been mentioned, a possibility which further rumours concerning incoming strikers (Fowler, Solskjaer) will do little to dispel.
Alongside him will probably be Michael Bridges who has struck a fair few for Leeds this season despite rarely appearing to play that well. Alan Smith is confined to substitute by Kewell's advancement from midfield, whilst if Darren Huckerby comes off the bench on Wednesday it will be his twentieth consecutive such appearance.
This will be the first time I've seen the Golden Boys play at Elland Road. Strangely, despite developing an affinity for the side in my time there, I only made the trip once, to see them beat Liverpool.
I will spend Wednesday night at my brother's place in Richmond Mount. His student house is two minutes walk (down the hill) from my old place. And you know, it's strange...despite the fact that I've lost touch with most of my Uni mates, I know that I will have a tear in my eye and the most colossal lump in my throat when I walk into Manor Terrace on Thursday morning.
Because of course, yes, the people are important. But Leeds is special to me anyway, even without the people. Leeds is still Leeds. It's still mine. And I haven't changed that much either, not really. I still chain-drink Diet Coke, I still listen to the Cure (okay, not as often) and I'm still obsessed with football.
And United haven't changed either. The players, the manager have changed but it's still Leeds United. Football clubs are living, breathing things in their own right...they're defined by players and managers sure, but they have their own spirit and identity as well. How easy is it to hang an adjective on Tottenham, West Ham, Wimbledon, Manchester United? Everything changes, everything stays the same.
Watford 'til we die. And that's why.