No 206 Leeds United
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The Independent Online
The FA Premiership's recent survey identified Manchester United support as mainly coming from the surrounds of the rainy Oasis City. Yes, sure - and Ron Atkinson is an astute and forward-thinking tactician, not Les Dawson without the charm. Every sensible pundit knows you are more likely to find a Manchester United supporter in Torquay selling imported swingbeat records, than in the attitude capital of the North. All true Mancunians support the City.

But I'm not going to criticise these away-day reds. As a Leeds United supporter, proud of my South London roots, how can I? Instead, I am going to try to produce an explanation. Why do fans follow teams outside their home towns? Why do I support a team two hundred miles away?

I am a Cypriot. As a youngster I loved football more than a Nana Mouskouri single. Even after a Todd Terry Remix. The focus of school was the lunch- time game. Weekends were spent playing more games. We ran, we kicked, we fell. Sometimes we touched the ball.

A large number of the kids in our flats in Kennington, South London, supported Chelsea. It was 1970 and so, being a well-adjusted young lad, I chose to support a team that would allow my harmonious assimilation into the community. I decided to support Leeds. Singing "Come on you Leeds" among the miniature Osgood impersonators improved my self esteem and sprinting skills. I had no idea where Leeds was. I was just proud to be different.

The sensibility and ethnocentric nature of some of my fellow Leeds fans did not touch my passion for the Super Whites; an irony that was lost in my loyalty. I was hooked and there was no going back.

People from an ethnic background often support far-away teams. My experiences working in London's East End in the late 80s support this. The Asian community, living at the doors of Upton Park, supported Manchester United, Liverpool and even Blackburn.

The appreciation of real quality is another pointer. Why shouldn't a kid from Peckham be allowed to support Manchester United rather than Millwall? They play better football. Never mind the distance, feel the quality. Then there's that cruel, intangible force called love. I remember the first time I saw those monocoloured peacocks at Old Trafford in the 1970 Cup final replay on our new black and white television. My heart missed a beat with every shot. I was sick with disappointment on the final whistle and the pain in my stomach remained for weeks. The 14 Wagonwheels did not help.

My love, patience and loyalty have often been put to the test. In that 1970 replay we were thwarted by the handball incident that no one saw and time forgot. If you have a video of the match, look at Webb's goal carefully. Hutchinson's throw is clearly punched before it reached Webb. We were robbed. Love is tough. But better to have loved than to have followed American football...

Changes in society have also played a role. Children are growing up in an insecure and unstable world. By supporting a successful Premiership team, we meet two of our basic needs - security and stability.

So let us give praise to all those far-away Red Devils. And I am sure they are pleased to hear the reports on Mr Cantona's imminent homecoming to the place of his football birthplace. We can all have dreams. Ooh Ah Shangri-la...