The team travel to Leeds United on Saturday and I have some good memories of playing for Albion at Elland Road.
I had never actually played at Leeds before I went there with Brighton in the 2004/5 season. I’d obviously seen games there on the TV, and you have an idea in your head that it is going to be a big stadium with a hostile atmosphere.
Actually, once we were on the pitch the surroundings didn’t feel as big as I had expected, but the home fans could certainly make some noise and at times it could be quite intimidating. It didn’t help that our goalkeeper, David Yeldell, was forced to change his jersey at half-time because he clashed with the ref, so he came out for the second half wearing a bright pink shirt! Cheers Kitman Ken.
The Leeds fans absolutely battered him, but it probably did the rest of us a favour as it deflected a lot of the flak and let us get on with the game. We were wearing the skin-tight Palookavile kit, which definitely didn’t do me any favours! Some of the other lads who went in the gym a lot, like Jonesy, they really loved it because it showed off their impressive physiques. But it was a bit too tight for my liking!
In terms of the game, it came during a part of the season where we really believed we could get results against all of these big teams. We went behind to a Clarke Carlisle goal just before half-time, but we still felt that we could nick something. With about ten minutes left Jonesy put in a great ball. Paul Butler was marking me, and I remember thinking that he’d missed it. I managed to get a good connection on the ball and it went into the back of the net. We celebrated right in front of the Brighton fans behind the corner, it was brilliant.
It was a terrific result because we even went down to ten men at the end when Charlie got sent off. We were scraping for our lives, and it was another one of those games where we laughing in the dressing room afterwards saying, “how did we get away with that?”
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Before the game I remember walking past the Leeds manager Kevin Blackwell in the tunnel, and he turned to the steward he was chatting to and said, "Who the hell is that?" After the final whistle I walked past him again and replied, "You know who I am now!"
We played Leeds again early on the following season. This time we were wearing an even tighter burgundy away kit, and I looked like a chorizo sausage! We played some amazing stuff that game and went 2-0 up, but after that it was like the Alamo. It felt like Leeds had five up front at one point, including David Healy, who was on fire having scored the winner against England for Northern Ireland earlier in the week.
When the pressure was on, that was when the Elland Road fans came into their own. They smelt blood and created a deafening atmosphere. We eventually drew the game 3-3, and it was almost as if the crowd sucked the ball into the net for their equaliser. It just showed how much the fans could help affect the outcome.
So on Saturday the boys need to be prepared to deal with the atmosphere, and try to silence the crowd by controlling the game early on. But even if we are in charge for large parts of the game, the lads know that Leeds will probably have a good spell where they will pile on the pressure and the crowd will get behind them, so we will just need to ride that out.
As I mentioned at the start, I had preconceptions about Elland Road before I went there, but I have to say that you couldn't meet a nicer bunch of fans who hung around the team coach afterwards, and some remain my friends to this day.
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