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We Are The Champions – A Screaming Comes Across The Sky

Simon Stevens, aka WACCOE (left)

Leeds United 1 — Derby County

As this utterly typical 1–1 draw entered its 54th minute a rustle began: in sections of the Kop, up the South Stand, down the Cheese Wedge and North East Upper. Call and response, a familiar message:

We Are The Champions; Champions Of Europe.

We never were, really. ‘Circumstances’, as it were, conspired against us. That Revie team were imperfect. They ‘bottled it’ multiple times. We lionise those men, who chased success so relentlessly they were bound to stumble more often than not: we encoded them into a chant that celebrates, not the Leagues and FA Cups, but a swing-and-miss at even greater glory.

As the singing built momentum, into the 55th minute, those who had an awareness thought of Simon Stevens, a fellow fan who was taken — early, without warning — before he could see his team attempt success again. His online moniker: WACCOE.

We Are The Champions, Champions Of Europe.

This was anxiety, groupthink, all the interwoven agendas solidified in a way only the terraces can: in song. Grown men and women — shy as mice when asked to perch on the barstool and croon their own number — belting, full-throated, a tribute to one of their own. Whether they knew it or not.

Simon was a gentle, calming presence; present like the earth below the Lowfields Road: solid, unchanging, forever Leeds. He was an advocate for everyone. I didn’t know him well; I never met him in person, but his behaviour spoke to the kind of man he was. He used his significant audience (17 thousand followers) for the benefit of all: if you were Leeds he had your back. He would have joined the chants — call, response or both — an indiscriminate mirror held up to Leeds United.

The football itself? We bossed the first 45. Derby were terrified: playing tentative passes between the back four and keeper, dispossessed by an onrushing Pablo or Pat. We had them on the ropes, before and after that Lowe own-goal.

Not that you’d know it from the incessant bawling behind me. ‘Use it don’t lose it’, whether we used it or not. ‘Useless’, when we weren’t. ‘Sit on’, whatever that means. What first elicited chuckles from me and my companion — a cockney micromanagement of every Leeds action — became dull, then wearing, then anger-inducing.

I get it, I really do. Supporting Leeds is exhausting. It’s terrifying. The team operate on the bleeding edge of their talent: strained to breaking all the time. You can’t complain when people lose their shit at two dropped points, another late fuckup. But to grumble from minute one, seeing nothing good, no positive aspects, I just do not believe you. I can’t think you are that short-sighted.

We all have those friends who’ll drag you into their misery. Well mate, the world of Elland Road doesn’t revolve around you; or me. Somehow I allowed myself to enter your orbit, a 34-year-old man stewing over bile spewed by someone even older. Pathetic, and unbecoming.

There are ways to use that tension, ways to channel your passion that aren’t so relentlessly negative. I wonder what could ever be transmuted from such thick, obdurate hatred. Joy? Even Bielsa’s alchemy can’t stretch to that. By the end I have been converted, opprobrium boiling over, snapping in scenes I’m ashamed of now.

I’m not the best of us. I’m probably the equally shitty other side of the coin: the prick who refuses to criticise, the happy-clappy camper. I don’t have the charisma to spread that feeling around, the way hatred seeps. You need someone special for that.

Someone with their own gravitational pull. Gravity emitted from Simon Stevens. More obsessive, more relentless, unerringly positive; I won’t let another last-minute winner ruin his memory.

So how about this? We won the game. Derby never scored. Klich’s wasted penalty was a footnote as Leeds saw out a comfortable 1–0 win.

Yes, when paying tribute to Simon we’d do well to remember, not just the man, but the spirit of raw defiance that characterised his other name.

We are the champions. Whether we are or not.

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