Louie, Leeds United, Activism and Football

Louie Herbert died in the early hours of Monday 19th February 2024

Ahead of the home match against Stoke City on Tuesday 5th March 2024 (1 – 0 win) Louie’s dad Mick Ward (@mickmodern) said a few words at the Bremner statue outside Elland Road, watched by friends and members of Marching Out Together.

Louie died aged just 41. But that life did give him the chance to be part of Leeds United in all its ups and downs.

He was born just over the hill in Beeston, and our first memories are not of being at the game, but of sitting up on Beeston Hill and seeing the glow of Elland Road and hearing the roar of the crowd as Wilco took us up into Division One.

This meant he started going to games and watching Strachan, Speed, Mcallister, Chapman etc. And of course seeing us win the league. I remember saying to him at the last game of the season against Norwich when we were already confirmed champions, and with that great Rod Wallace goal, that “You know, it won’t always be like this” and him sagely nodding! Well he knew very quickly as the Premier League was formed and we dropped to 17th then midtable mediocrity.

But then as Louie grew into a teenager we had our best football days together, watching O’Learys Babes form that exciting team. Our loveliest moments together were travelling to away games, talking about those key issues of: politics, masculinity, relationships, and of course football. And also enjoying all those pre- and post-match rituals. I remember my partner asking “Just how long is a match?” As we left the house at 12 to meet friends in a greasy spoon (and later a bar) then went for a post-match drink and debrief, returning mid evening.  But the real highlights were those incredible European nights under the floodlights.  Peaking when one night, before the Barcelona game, when we were in town and Louie suddenly raced across Briggate, dodging traffic.  He had seen the Leeds players coming out of the Marriott to get on the coach to go to the game, and Louie ended up shaking each of their hands and wishing them luck.

Louie then moved from Leeds, living in different parts of the UK, as well as Tanzania, India and Seattle. But whenever he was visiting Leeds he would tie it in with us being able to get to Elland Road or we would meet at away games, despite these were the years of the terrible football we were generally having to endure, during our League 1 and Championship mid-table days.

But then came Bielsa. By then Louie had settled to live in Bristol, and I am so pleased that he did manage to come up for that first game against Stoke and, like many of us, he loved Bielsa not just for the football but brining a breath of fresh air to the whole approach to football.

And of course he was loving this season. He was actually taken ill just before the Bristol away game, which we had tickets for, but had to miss. So our last game together was watching Plymouth away on the TV. I remember joking as Georginio scored the third that I had to do an extra lap around the room as Louie couldn’t get up off the couch to celebrate. But he was still laughing with joy. He died the night after.

But strangely it will be the Leicester game I will remember him by. I was still down in Bristol, trying to come to terms with the loss and start to sort out arrangements, and I started watching the game in what was Louie’s local. But during the game I was receiving so many messages of support and kind thoughts about Louie from those watching elsewhere, including here at Elland Road, particularly people remembering Louie on the 41st minute.  And that fight back, and in particular that unity in the crowd and the relationship with the team, epitomised Louie and his fighting spirit and connection to people. So much so that we will be playing “I predict a Riot” at his funeral (alongside of course ‘Marching On Together’, ‘Louie Louie’ and his and his partners favourite ‘A change is gonna come’ )

But Louie was so much more than a Leeds fan. At his core he was a community organiser and activist. Working with those most marginalised from society, in particular supporting: refugees and asylum seekers; homeless people; those living in poverty; and of course he was a great straight ally to the LGBTQ+ movement.

And Louie combined that passion and understanding of the world in to how he approached football, railing against the machismo that still surrounds much of it, angry about how capitalism has corrupted modern football especially in the Premiership making it simply unfair (and boring), the dominance of Sky TV over the needs of fans, VAR,  the sports-washing, and how all of this is combining to separate the fans from the clubs we love.  

But he also saw the potential within football as an agent of change. He was a huge champion of the women’s game and Leeds United Women, he strongly supported the ‘taking of the knee” by players and work the club is doing to tackle racism, and of course the fight for inclusion and equality for all in football

As such he was a member and fantastic supporter of Marching Out Together. And it is in that memory, and in the tradition of the Leeds United family, that I will now place Louie’s Marching Out Together Scarf on Billy Bremner.

All Leeds Aren’t We.    

MW 5.03.24

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