My wife and I moved from Washington, D.C. to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2011. Even though I am native to the American South (Columbia, South Carolina), moving to Charlotte left a bad taste in my mouth. I always had a disdain for the city growing up in a competing, neighboring state. While my wife enjoyed being "home" in the South, I could not seem to feel the same sentiment.
One day, I decided to take a stroll in Uptown Charlotte (for the love of all that is holy, do not let a local hear you call it Downtown). I was donning the colors and crest of DC United (my MLS team) as I happened down a little alley. As I explored the old brick pathway, I came across a door with a partially broken stained glass window overhead and scarves and flags hanging in a bay window. Across the bay window read the name "Hooligans". Who knew that stepping through that door would change my feelings toward Charlotte and introduce me to a wonderful group of friends I would consider "family"?
"That's touching, John. Really, it is. But what the hell does that have to do with Leeds United?"
I am glad you asked, critical-reader-voice-in-my-head.
I was at Hooligans the other day, having a beer with friends while enjoying matches at 7am on a Saturday morning, and I took a moment to look around. I started to think about this experience being shared elsewhere. I knew it had to be... being in a land that is foreign, but finding something that connects you. Or being in a town you have grown up in, but just recently discovering a love for a club that connects you with a neighbor. I know our family at Hooligans has many quirks too, so I realized I wanted to search out to the Leeds United supporter groups around the world and see what makes them... well... them.
In this series, I plan to highlight different groups from around the globe that share a passion for our Whites. If you are a member of a Supporters Group, please reach out to me via Twitter (@johnhorne3) or in the comments below. I would love to speak with you by phone, by e-mail, by carrier pigeon, by raven, however we can connect.
So here we are.
Our first group is The Louth Branch Leeds United Supporters Club.
Louth is an official branch of LUSC founded in 1993 (that is 23 years this season, for those not wanting to pull Siri out to do the math) in Dundalk of County Louth, Ireland, but the group also pulls fans from Monaghan and Armagh.
"Ireland, both North and South of the island, has traditionally been a hotbed for Leeds United supporters," club Secretary Gerry Cunningham informed me when asked about how the group came to be.
"I think it is fair to say that up to the late nineties and early noughties, Leeds United were the third best supported English side on the island, behind Man[chester] United and Liverpool. Of late, because of Leeds somewhat demise, Chelsea, Arsenal and, to a lesser extent, Tottenham may have become very popular, but you would be exceptionally surprised, even now, of the pulling power of Leeds United in the Emerald Isle."
The roughly 100 members of today are slightly lower than the 150 hit during what Cunningham says was the "halcyon days of Wilkinson". Every match, you can find the group gathering together for a Guinness at "The Big House" (formerly known as "Peadars") on Ann Street in Dundalk. However, twice a year the committee arranges for a group pilgrimage to Elland Road.
"[B]ut the committee organize match tickets and accommodation for smaller groups who travel more frequently," Cunningham adds. "It would be rare that the Louth branch haven’t have any representation at any Saturday home game."
Cunningham was kind enough to jump in "The Hot Seat" and answer some personal questions about Leeds. But before I get to that, he told me of something that happened this Christmas that I feel hits home now that I am a father of a 6 month old boy.
"I have two kids, Sean and Kaylon. Sean is 12 and a big Leeds fan. Kaylon supported Chelsea. He is 8. I don’t believe in pressuring kids to support the same team as their dads. I bought him a Chelsea shirt last year. No problem. That’s life. He came to me a few months ago and said he would like to support Leeds. Santa was good this year!"
Being from the American South, my slate was clean when it came to which clubs I wanted to support. This sport did not register with anyone in my world. Because of that, I was able to select a club because of a personal connection. I can only hope that my son will choose the same clubs, but I hope that he is as lucky to discover which club he feels speaks to him. Who knows? Maybe one day Jack can join Sean and Kaylon at "The Big House" for a Guinness.
THE HOT SEAT
If you had the ability to change one thing about LU, what would it be?
The owner. I would like to see the fans have a stake in the club. For a one-club city, arguably one of the biggest in the world, it’s reprehensible how our club has been governed over the past two decades. Bates, GFH, and now Cellino have all had their faults, and the club and ultimately the fans have suffered right the way down from the Premiership through League One and back to the Championship.
If you were recruiting a fan and could use only one word to describe the fandom, what would it be? Why?
Unique. No other set of fans would put up with a club that appoint an owner as eccentric as Massimo Cellino, as selfish as Ken Bates, as elusive as GFH, and finally have a manager as out of his depth as ‘The Hock’……..and still come back for more every week.
What is the Leeds United moment that sticks in your head (good or bad)?
Too many to mention. But some that come to mind. May 21st 2006 - 31 of us in Cardiff, when Blackwell got it all wrong against Cardiff, 3-0 defeat (so close to the Premiership)... May 2nd 2001 - 12 of us at Elland Road listening to the Champions league tune with the hairs tingling down our spines for the CL Semi final v Valencia 0-0 (magic atmosphere)... May 4th 2003 was ever so sweet when 8 of us were present at Highbury to witness a superb 3-2 win for Leeds to more or less guarantee our Premiership safety and at the same time ruin Arsenal’s title hopes. Many, many more, like the 2-1 win v Bristol Rovers, etc and that horrible defeat to Donny at Wembley in the playoffs. Just normal ups and downs of being a Leeds fan!
What is it about Leeds United that made you become a fan?
I am the youngest of four boys born in October 1966. The other three support Liverpool (1) and Man United (2). I always felt special! They were just unlucky I guess. In Ireland at the age of 4 on the playground at school, you choose a team for life and you stick with it. You can change your job. You can change your house. You can change your car. You can even change your wife…..but that decision you make on that playground as a 4 year old you can’t and won’t change. I chose Leeds United. I loved the white strip. I loved the magic of Johnny Giles and Billy Bremner and I loved those sock tags. And then I got a little older and at 11 years of age, I thought there was nobody like Tony Currie. He was flamboyant and skilful and different class to an impressionable young boy and for 3 years I thought he was magic. They say in life: don’t meet your heroes, they will disappoint. In 1997, I phoned him up and invited him over to Dundalk. He came with his wife, and our good friend Eric Carlile (Secretary of LUSC) to meet the LUSC Louth branch, and Tony didn’t disappoint. Class act!! What a weekend!!
(editor note: I LOVE THIS. Would love to meet you some day, Gerry. -jw)
Are you a member of a supporters group? Let us highlight you. Reach me on Twitter at @johnhorne3, or leave your group's information in the comments below. #MOT