It shouldn’t require blind optimism to imagine that Leeds United can compete with Chelsea. A short decade ago, after all, our chairman was their chairman; only one division separates our two clubs; and football, after all, is eleven against eleven.
But 5–1, in the end, was about right. 1–0 at Old Trafford in 2010 was also about right. So was our draw at White Hart Lane, and the brave but narrow defeat in the replay at Elland Road. Ultimately we lost – we weren’t going to win the FA Cup as a third division club, after all – but the team gave of its best, and gave these teams a good run for their money. And we approached the games with nothing to fear.
It’s absurd, in retrospect, that we had no fear as a League One team, and felt like our side was up for the challenge of taking on the best teams in the country. It’s more absurd, now, that from a position a division higher up and two years further on, we look like nothing better than no-hopers when Chelsea come to town. Write down 5–1 and it looks like a hammering, but in the ground on the night it felt entirely reasonable. January 2010 we were taking on the top teams in the country and giving a good account. December 2012, and we can’t get near them. We’re as far away from the likes of Chelsea as we ever have been since relegation from the Premier League, and it’s pointless to pretend that gap will be closed any time soon.
So we have to take from these games what little there is. We have to cling to Luciano Becchio. I wrote in TSB after the Wolves game about how his goal and celebration in that match were an eerie and wonderful replica of his classic goal against Millwall in the play-offs – a goal Becchio has since called his favourite. I could have thrown in his goal in the cup against Spurs, too – the low cross from the left swept in with a swagger – and now his identikit strike that gave us a few minutes of joy against Chelsea. A few minutes of joy in a game is a few more than we can normally expect these days, and are worth treasuring – do, do, do, do, do the Becchio.
I won’t dwell on the second half, I’ll just tell you how I saw Luciano’s goal. The ball broke to Jerome Thomas and, from the East Stand, my eye looked immediately for Becchio. Running from the centre circle, eyes on Thomas, he pointed at the goal. “He’s going to do it again,” I said. Thomas rushed with the ball down the wing until he got to the edge of the box. “He’s there,” I said. “He’s there, he’s there!” Becchio was there. Millwall, Spurs, Wolves – he knew where he had to be. “Cross it!” I yelled. “Do it!” I yelled. “He’s going to do it agaaaaaaaiiiin!” Thomas crossed. Becchio scored. 1–0. Dreams.
From The Square Ball magazine 2012/13 issue six.