All things White and wonderful... The story of a Leeds Utd superfan
If this Christmas, father of four John Mallon sits down to compose his wish-list for the festive season it's surely safe to assume that right up there near the top will be the desire for a couple of victories for his beloved Leeds United.
The festive season can be a busy time for soccer clubs across the Irish Sea; a time when their ambitions can greatly boosted or scuppered altogether and the Yorkshire Whites have a few crucial games lined up.
John, you see, is close on 50 years following the club. That's almost 50 years of pain and disappointment broken only by odd moments of joy when the team wins a game or two.
Winners of the English Championship last spring these are relatively boom times for the Whites under the colourful Argentine Marcela Bielsa. They are now back in the big time but it wasn't always like that. Far from it. There were some barren years indeed - yet through thin and thinner John has stayed loyal.
He is a long serving member of the Meath Whites, an official branch of the Supporters' Club. The Meath Whites is made up of about 20 or so loyal followers of Leeds United FC including another unstinting, indomitable stalwart, the chairman Jim Cahill.
John Mallon can remember the day, even the hour, when the beautiful obsession with LUFC kicked off. He sat down in his Navan home to watch the FA Cup final between Leeds and Arsenal on a May afternoon in 1972. Back then (and our younger readers might find this hard to believe) but the Cup Final was the ONLY English club game televised live - all year!
Leeds United, in their all-white gear, won 1-0 with an Allan Clarke headed goal and young John was greatly intrigued by the team in white as they overcame the Gunners. He was intrigued too by wonderful players who embellished the occasion with their skill; players like Clarke, Johnny Giles, Billy Bremner and Norman Hunter.
The following year, 1973, Leeds were back in the Cup Final again. "I did my entrance exam for St Pat's on the day of the final and I remember returning home and getting ready to watch the two-in-a-row cup success."
It was then he got the first indication that following a football team wasn't all sunshine and light; it wasn't all about rousing victories. This time Leeds Utd lost 1-0 to unfancied Sunderland. It was one of the shocks of the season.
Still, there was no going back. John Mallon was hooked, it was going to be the Whites for him. "Everyone seemed to be following Manchester United back then so I probably wanted to be different so I went for Leeds," says the man who works as a taxi driver these days after a long career in the food and beverage business.
Since the 1970s John has travelled to the see the Whites play many, many times. He is a dedicated, commited member of the Meath Whites Supporters Club and travels to the place of homage, Elland Road, five or six times each season - at least.
The first ever game he attended in the famous, old stadium was Leeds v Millwall in 1986. “Back in the 1970s it seemed like Elland Road was a million miles away but I went over there in 1986 and it was fantastic to be there, the history of the place, the ghosts in the walls. I got that feeling in Elland Road back then. It was a great place, it's still a great place.”
Billy Bremner had graduated to become Leeds manager by then but the club were on their way down the ranks. They ended up in tier three of English football before making the protracted (and pain-filled) journey back to the top.
On his trips to Elland Road over the years John Mallon has met many of the big stars - both past and present. One of his favourites was great, late, Norman 'Bites Yer Legs' Hunter who died of coronavirus earlier this year. "Norman was a tough man on the pitch but an absolute gent. If you said hello he would never walk past, he would always stop to have a chat."
John's wife Dympna doesn't share his affection for Leeds but she clearly appreciates his commitment - and she must know plenty about the club by now. "I've probably spent thousands supporting them over the years but I've no regrets, I've had some great times," adds John.
This true-blue Leeds United supporter is hoping to have many more great days following the one and only Whites.
This article first appeared in the Meath Chronicle's Christmas Cheer publication