Millwall 2 — Leeds United 1
What is it with Millwall? Why are we frightened? It’s not like they’ve played any decent football since Leeds’ relegation from the Premier League.
I do have a theory: Millwall are the decaying portrait, stashed in the attic.
Stay down in the EFL, so long we’ve forgotten ourselves, and this will be Leeds United: a hated fanbase and nothing else. A reanimated skeleton, powered by bitterness, nothing in its eyes but the fear it once inspired; a husk; a two-dimensional thing; a faceless walker lost to history.
You may have already noticed: these afternoon away-games are when I get inside my head. No dissenting opinion; no fellow fan. So come behind the curtain: into the fetid, stinking room I write this bullshit in.
I had a narrative ready: a tale of fear and unwarranted respect. Maybe we’d triumph, maybe not, but the scene was set for the usual tussle between a cultured, careful Leeds and Millwall, buoyed by hatred, rising several steps above their usual station.
The narrative shattered, unable to play, when Gaetano Berardi saw red.
I won’t go into the wherefores; we all know it was never a penalty. Tom Bradshaw should be very proud of himself.
So here was another rare bird: 10-man Bielsaball, which somehow in its greatest moments thrills even more than the full-fat blend. Like an acrobat discarding the safety net. We didn’t create chances but we did disregard mathematics, insisting obdurately that 11 is also 10.
Then Millwall grab another goal. Always a risk, and conceded in typical style: a further narrative creeping as half-time approached.
Ugh, here comes the Long Afternoon. I settled on the sofa, a palpable curve appearing under my rump, and steeled myself for five or six.
The universe had other ideas. Gjanni Alioski, a full-time discarder of logic, was having none of it. 20 seconds into the second half we had a kind of hope. It was wispy and incorporeal – a glimmer of hope, a glimpse – but for 25 minutes it hovered, always just ahead. We pushed too far, and lost control when Kalvin Phillips was hooked, returning Mateusz Klich to the haunted position from which he lost his Cardiff footing a couple of years ago. There was no hope, really, those last 20 minutes.
I’m not sure how to end. The narratives didn’t play in a way that warrants a certain sign-off. We don’t even have another immediate game. Birmingham City at home is two weeks away.
Let’s just hope the players – now off and away for their various nations, or unluckily put through another Thorp Arch ringer – are ready to write a different story next time out.
100 years of Leeds United, 15 of them cursed. Let’s break the cycle: we can crawl out of the painting yet.