Elland Road doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being an innocent place, and one of my earliest memories is of having a bit of childhood innocence stripped away by a famous old player.
I was 11, and at one of my first games. My dad had taken to me to see a friendly against Ajax, and before it for some reason there was a short exhibition match between a Leeds Past and a Leeds Future team – i.e. relics from the Revie team vs the youth.
The great thing about this was a lot of current and great old players like Brember, Giles and Charlton were hanging around the tunnel entrance waiting and watching, so you could go over and try to get their autograph. I got a few, but really wanted Jack Charlton’s, who wasn’t interested in talking to the kids. Suddenly he moved and looked in my direction, so I shouted “Jack! Jack!”
To his credit, he replied, He said, “What?”
“Will you give us your autograph?” I said.
“After the game, son.” He said, turning away. “After the game.”
I immediately scuttled back to my dad, who asked me who I’d got. I told him: “David Harvey, Johnny Giles,Gordon McQueen,” I said, “And guess what? Jack Charlton says to meet him after the game’s finished.” My dad’s eyebrows raised. “You what?”
I told him what had had happened, and there was a brief pause. I have children of my own now, and I know that pause. It’s the one for letting them down gently. I can remember exactly what he said: “That’s not what he means, lad.”
“He’ll not meet you.”
“But – “
“He’ll want to go and get bathed.”
“Oh,” I said.
Looking back, this was an excellent introduction to watching football, or Leeds anyway; a glimpse of the prize, followed by self-reproach, let-downs and disappointment. And of course, having a pal there with you to share it.