Anyone who supports a football club knows that it’s about more than 11 players on a pitch. It’s not about the ‘entertainment’ factor of going to a game, if it were then no one would be stupid enough to pay £35 to watch bottom half of the Championship fodder. Football clubs are inherently connected with their supporters, be that because they are your local team, through a family connection or through a fierce sense of loyalty built up from an early age.
Like no other sport I have come across football instils an intense sense of connection. People follow their clubs up and down the country, using their holiday to go to away games, their wages on tickets, travel and merchandise. We are reminded 27 years on from Hillsborough and 16 years on from Istanbul where two of our own (Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight) were taken from us that people have even died supporting their teams.
Given how football evokes such loyalty and emotion it breaks my heart to say that Leeds United does not feel like my football club anymore. As a club we have been in the doldrums for years, we’ve had a series of owners who in their own way have chipped away at what Leeds United great. The Yorkshire Consortium selling off our stadium, Ken Bates using the club as his personal plaything, GFH not knowing their arse from their elbow but it still felt like Leeds. Until Massimo Cellino walked through the door that is.
From the minute he arrived on the scene he started to tear down our great club. Whatever your feelings around Brian McDermott he was a man with integrity and dignity and he was shown neither by Cellino. A former club employee once said to me; “I have never met a more disrespectful person in my life. He makes Ken Bates look like a normal regular bloke. It isn't Leeds United any more sadly. It's Cellino United” That comment was made very early on in Cellinos reign and everything I have seen since just goes to back that up.
The loyal Leeds United staff were cast aside, our youth and development structure ripped apart, admin staff shown the door, messed about with their redundancy packages. The club essentially left rudderless, left in the hands of a mad Italian, but I suppose he has had a nightclub owner and a furniture salesman to help him. It’s not just those that were already at the club that were treated with disrespect by Cellino, he has turned on those he brought in himself, stabbed them in the back. Benito Carbone and Nicola Salerno were both seen as Cellinos men, but after he discarded with their services it’s difficult not to feel sorry for them.
There are moments when you think things may get back on track, when seemingly good appointments are made such as Graham Bean and Adam Pearson, but they all leave in the end, sooner rather than later. After his departure Bean said “If anybody thinking of working at Leeds United under the current regime asks my advice, I’d say stay well clear. The club deserves much better”, says it all really.
Adam Pearsons situation is a sad one for me, he obviously cares a great deal for Leeds United, he tried his best but everything good he did seemed to be contradicted by Cellino. Lucy Ward’s case of unfair dismissal highlights how Pearson was forced to do Cellino’s dirty work. Sacking a loyal, well respected and much loved member of staff simply because he had a disagreement with her partner. Cellino must always be right, he is more important than the club, what he says goes and if you disagree there is no place for you in HIS club.
The same goes with the Sky argument. Cellino may make the situation out to be that he is on the side of the fans, fighting on their behalf to ensure games are not rearranged at short notice. In fact Cellino was only out for his best interests again. He essentially tried to hold the Football League and Sky to ransom to ensure he got the best deal financially, in the process he inconvenienced the fans further by delaying the announcement of fixture changes. He doesn’t care about the club, he doesn’t care about the fans, he cares about Massimo Cellino.
In the last week or so I have heard many say they will not renew their season tickets for next year, with attendances having fallen year on year since Cellino took over I can only see it going the same way next year. Loyal fans who have been attending Elland Road week in week out for 53 years tearing up the renewal forms and chucking them away, not that the club have sent them yet.
For me this is the lowest ebb, worse than relegation, worse than administration. The heart has been ripped from our club and I can’t see it being revived as long as Cellino is at the helm. It’s sad but Leeds United just doesn’t feel like Leeds United anymore.
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Leeds United doesn't feel like Leeds United anymore