Millwall, The Peacock and a minibus wee stop: Sheffield Wednesday’s Lee Gregory giddy for Leeds United trip
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The Sheffield-born Wednesday striker has had a mixed history in matches against the Whites and by his own admission isn’t a player particularly well-liked in that part of West Yorkshire. These are the matches players want to play in, he says, and it’s a fixture he has been looking forward to for some time.
Wednesday’s rivalry with Leeds is a complex one that spans a Yorkshire border divide, historical socio-economic factors, legendary player and managerial departures and two of the most passionate fanbases in the country.
Elland Road is among the most hostile places he’s played at, he admitted.
“It’s definitely up there,” he replied with the smile of a man confident he can rise to the occasion.
“In any local game I seem to get a lot of grief, I don’t know why. I must just have one of those faces people love to imagine punching. I love to have a bit of banter with the fans. It makes you want to play that little bit harder and score. We’ll see.
“I don’t know why, maybe it’s because I’m from Sheffield, but I seem to get a lot of grief when I go there.
“It’s always nice to stick a goal in up there and get a win. It’s always pleasing and hopefully I can do that this weekend.”
Gregory’s last battle with the Whites saw an 8-0 aggregate hammering in two league matches with Stoke City in the 2019/20 campaign. But it’s memories of a famous Elland Road win with Millwall - a team that have a fierce historic rivalry with Leeds themselves - that he sticks his chest out while discussing with a grin.
In January 2018 10-man Leeds had fought back from 2-0 down to lead the Lions 3-2 with three minutes left before Millwall roared back to win 4-3 in injury time. Gregory scored Millwall’s second that afternoon.
Speaking to The Star via Zoom ahead of the Owls’ trip to Elland Road this weekend, he leans into the camera and chuckles when regaling a story of that afternoon, of a poorly-chosen parking spot and a minibus of angry Leeds fans.
Gregory had arranged to head back to Sheffield after the match with friends and having arrived on the team bus had to make his own travel arrangements to get down the M1.
“I waited in the ground for a bit and and hour after the game I came out of the ground to walk to their car,” he said.
“My mate had parked round the corner up from the pub just outside Elland Road [The Peacock]. I was walking up trying to keep my head down and covering up the badge on my tracksuit.
“They saw me and I was getting shouted at, sworn at.
“Just as I was past that and I was getting to the car a minibus pulled up right in front of me, full of Leeds fans. I was panicking a bit! My mates had to jump out and stand in front of me to usher me round the side.
“Anyway, nothing happened. It turned out these lads got off just to go for a wee round the corner.
“I’d thought ‘Christ this is it’. I’d seen them on the minibus, they obviously weren’t happy with the result. For some reason the Leeds fans don’t like me but you can’t please anyone.”
The days leading into the match are some of Gregory’s favourites, he said, and it’s the sort of match that could serve to kickstart the stuttering campaigns of either side.
“Everything about the game I love,” he beamed. “The build-up and the atmosphere, it’s great. Sometimes in these games tactics go out the window and it’s about whoever wants it most.
“Elland Road is really, really good. It’s like Hillsborough, when it’s packed-out, the atmosphere is amazing. It can be a daunting place to go when you’re losing, but it can be a great place to go when you’re winning.
“The grief you get is fun.”