As a young lad, the World Cup Finals in Argentina was the thing of the summer of 1978 even without the involvement of my national team, England. That World Cup was the pinnacle of my football interest that year, and as England wasn’t there, our household adopted Scotland because of the likes of Gordon McQueen and Joe Jordan. I was too young to treat them as traitors for their desertion across the Pennines from Leeds to Manchester.
Scotland made the World Cup and at times probably wished they hadn’t. Their side included stars from Manchester United, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest who were on top of the game in the era. However, they failed to live up to expectations and were beaten by unfancied Peru and could only muster a draw against Iran. There was more turmoil when Willie Johnston was tested positive for a banned substance and Scotland fans famously chanted "We want our money back," a reference to the cost of their trip to watch flops. Scotland did redeem themselves, after it was too late, in a stunning game against the Netherlands. If only they had started the competition as they did against Holland and if only Billy Bremner had made it, who knows what would have happened.
So Holland made the final instead of the hapless Jocks and were pitted against the host nation. Argentina, who had never won the cup before, were somewhat of an unknown quantity (to this 12-year-old at least). It was an era prior to foreign imports to the English game and little was known about South American squads. Holland however had footballing icons such as Ruud Krol, Willie van de Kerkhoff, Johnny Rep and Johann Neeskens. That wasn’t enough as Holland were beaten 3-1 in the iconic final.
Ossie Ardiles was a star for Argentina, and it is normal these days for a player to be snapped up by European Super Clubs after performing on the world stage. But for Tottenham to secure the services of Ardiles along with compatriot Ricky Villa was something of a coup. After the World Cup finished, my mates and I felt starved of football for what seemed like age. For a 12-year-old, the time between the end of the World Cup and the start of the football season seemed like an eternity. In that void, we made vows to attend our first game. Leeds were in the top flight in 1978 and there were serious hurdles to get over in order to attend a match: who the opponents were (in case of trouble), our age, parental consent, money and availability of tickets or admission for popular games. In a perfect storm, we overcame the lot for our choice of Tottenham Hotspur and their 2 new World Cup winning stars Ardiles and Villa.
These days, my memory has a similar capacity to that of an old Vic 20 Computer which has had numerous beers poured over it at a retro techie geek party. However, I cannot forget this game, and I never will. I'm not sure if you know the Vic 20 (with its massive 20kb memory – expandable to 25) but it wasn’t to be released on a puzzled public for another two years. This was September 1978.
This was the era of Jock Stein, Arthur Graham, those ‘never been bettered’ Admiral football kits, the Raleigh Chopper Bike, the space hopper, high waster flared trousers and the skinny three star Jumper, an outfit still warn by Huddersfield Town supporters today.
I'm pretty sure that we got the 221 bus into Leeds (an adventure in itself) and paid £1 into the boys pen. We were naïve newbies and didn’t do as older lads did (when I say older, I mean teenagers) and sneak into the Kop proper. We actually felt it would be best to be right at the front to get the best view and maybe get on TV, and there was plenty of room. The reverse is true of course in that you’ll not see much, and as soon as the whistle blows, we’d be squashed face first against the fence. But on this occasion, it paid off.
What else besides football do young lads love? Crisps! Prior to kick off, some lovely marketing girls were walking around the pitch throwing hundreds of packets of a new product, "Football Crazy Crisps," over the fence and into the crowd. Being at the front meant we were showered by dozens of free packets of "Football Crazys," or as I preferred to tell later, one of the girls took a shine to me, and that’s why I ended up with so many packets.
As kick off time approached, the crowd swelled and the atmosphere turned serious. All seating stadia were as far in the future as the Delorean Sports car, and as the numbers in the Kop grew, we were pushed more and more into a position that obscured our vision behind the fence and our dreams of being on ‘Match of the day’ faded.
The great Revie era had passed but there were still some familiar faces playing for Leeds, such as Harvey, Lorrimer, Cherry, and Frankie Gray. Paul Hart was also playing (he's at the club today as Academy Youth team coach), and a favourite of mine at the time Arthur Graham was there too. For Spurs, the likes of Steve Perryman, Peter Taylor (who would go on to manage England briefly) and king of mullets Gerry Armstrong made up the squad.
Leeds got off to a bad start: a goal was conceded down the other end whilst I was overdosing on free Crisps and it seemed to happen so quickly I couldn’t take it all in. On TV, you see the game unfold in front of you from all angles and with slow-mo; in real-time it's just so much quicker. There is just no comparison in watching on TV and being there. Especially at your first ever game with the noise of the crowd, whilst trying to identify players, pushing and shoving for a better view and being drunk on free crisps; it was sensory overload. The Argentinian duo didn’t seem to have been affected too much by the cold September Yorkshire air and Spurs were dominant in that first half and were winning, yet I was still thrilled by it all.
Leeds fought their way back into it in typical Leeds style with an Arthur Graham Thunder Bolt. Shame it was down the other end again (why is it always like that?) and also in typical Leeds style, they let the away side in on the counter. All the good work of Stein at halftime, the crowd in urging the team forward and the effort of the players became undone, as the visitors struck to go back in front.
Leeds were defeated by a team that knew how to defend and break at pace. I was lucky to get to the game, lucky to capture all those free bags of crisps but our luck had run out. If you want to watch the highlights of that game and re-live it a bit, here's the video.
So that's the story of my first game at Elland Road. At least I had glimpsed some famous stars, including being pretty near to Ricardo Villa whom I was convinced had modelled himself on my Geography teacher. Yet, despite famous names being on the pitch that day, someone I’d never heard of popped up and penned the epitaph of my first ever game. Colin Lee ended the dream, and Leeds lost 1-2. Still, a game and a day I'll never forget.
What's your story?