Everpresent since 1968 – an incredible journey
by Gary Edwards & Andy Starmore
Pitch Publishing £15.99
Reviewed by Simon Creasey
From WSC 339 May 2015
Every club has single-minded fans who are prepared to follow their team everywhere through thick and thin. At Leeds United the custodian of the title of “superfan” is Gary Edwards, who hasn’t missed a competitive game home and away since January 1968 – in fact, in the last 46 years he’s only failed to see one pre-season friendly and that was due to an air traffic control strike which stopped him flying to Toronto.
Edwards’ unstinting dedication to the club is documented in Fanatical which charts Leeds’ modern history, from the heyday under Don Revie, through the hooligan-fuelled 1980s and the heights scaled in the 1990s, before the collapse around the new millennium that culminated in relegation to League One. In addition to detailing a vanished era of “football special” trains, piping hot plastic cups of Oxo sipped on the terraces and an orange ball being hoofed around a badly chewed up pitch, Edwards’ book is filled with humour and tragedy.
The former includes his various ways of getting into the home end at away matches, such as sneaking through the hospitality section at the Bernabéu and running around the edge of the pitch after losing his match ticket and wallet (miraculously the wallet and its contents were handed back to him at half time having been passed through the crowd). For the latter, there is an account of the numerous times the club have fallen foul of bad refereeing decisions and, more seriously, the deaths of two Leeds supporters in Turkey. (In response to intimidation from Galatasaray fans who famously greeted away supporters with banners bearing the words “Welcome to hell”, Edwards created a poster that read “Hello hell, we’re Leeds”.)
As well as charting the club’s highs and lows, Fanatical also provides an insight into what sort of character becomes a die-hard fan. Edwards is an eccentric – a painter and decorator by trade, his hatred of Manchester United runs so deep that he refuses to use the colour red and will even remove it for free. He also used to travel to games in a hearse christened “Doombuggy” ferrying around an empty coffin. On one occasion the coffin was stolen and dumped in a local pub – Edwards turned up at Leeds police station’s lost property department to retrieve it dressed in funereal top hat and tails.
As the above examples suggest, Fanatical is not an attempt to intellectualise the game or explain the nature of fandom. It’s an honest account of the experiences that every football supporter will endure during a lifetime of following any club. It’s also a timely reminder that players, managers and chairman may come and go (particularly at Elland Road at the moment), but the one constant are the supporters and especially those like Gary Edwards.