A club lost and refound, the personal journey of a Leeds United fan
18 Jul 2020 04:26 pm, by mothbanquet
Forgive me for indulging a bit, but I've been wanting to write like this for a while and there seems to be no better time than now, when the high of promotion is still running strong in our veins and emotion is so sweetly savoured. This feels like the time for a bit of a story. First of all, I must confess I stand in awe of the dedication I see from so many Leeds fans, some of whom have been Leeds fans longer than I've been alive. This devotion makes what I've got to say a bit uncomfortable but I think it's important I give this perspective, if only to show how football can shape and define someone's life in more ways than one.
I grew up in a Leeds-supporting household but both parents were in the army and so most of my childhood was spent moving around from place to place. I continued this trend when I grew up and have only been to Elland Road once as a result, when I was very young and my dad found the time and money to take me. A young corporal's wage in the 80's was stretched thin enough by a wife and three kids, so I'll never blame him for that.
I was a raw, immature young man barely out of my teens when we were relegated from the Premier League. It felt like my guts were falling out as I read the headlines of financial crisis and to see my heroes on the pitch simply stop trying as they ran down the clock was beyond heart breaking. I honestly can't quite find the words to sufficiently describe what that felt like, but then I suspect I probably don't need to. I daresay you all remember yourselves. I can look on these things with perspective now, but at the time it embittered me deeply.
Back then I was quite entrenched in the 'money is ruining the game' camp as it was anyway and the disintegration of Leeds tore the love of the game out of my heart. The relegation to League One was merely the final nail in the coffin of football to me. I stopped watching games. I stopped reading the news. Football itself was dead to me. Melodramatic perhaps, but I still remember that feeling like it was yesterday.
I've grown up since, and had these things happened later in my life I would have been able to handle them more philosophically, but it's the nature of the young to view the present moment as all-defining and all-encompassing. Patience is rarely and has rarely been one of their virtues and I was no different.
So what changed? Funnily enough, it was a momentous event in 2016 - Leicester won the Premier League, defying incredible odds in a title race that captured the imagination of the world. I started to follow the story and it was like rediscovering the phone number of a dear old friend with whom you'd thought you'd forever lost contact. As it became more and more certain Leicester were going to win the league, it rekindled my faith in the game. Aside from Leeds's own title wins (naturally) I'll always couch Leicester's as the most important in history because it renewed my faith in the game.
It showed that despite all the money, all the power - both of which had only grown more disproportionate in my time away - there was ALWAYS a chance to beat them. There was always that shining ray of hope for any team, any club, any fan. It was a blinding light in the predictable, oppressive darkness of money equals glory in sport.
Suddenly finding myself growing more and more interested in football at large, it wasn't long before I picked up the proverbial phone and made the call to my treasured old friend Leeds United. It turns out Leeds wasn't doing great. Could have been worse, of course, but they were still down on their luck after a string of terrible managers and even worse owners. It was painful to see my old friend in such a state but at that moment it felt like anything was possible. So I put my arm around my old friend and said, "I'm sorry for leaving. I'll always be here for you from now on."
I would never have guessed what would happen over the next four years. I watched Monk come and go, witnessed the Jekyll and Hyde performances of Christiansen and the lows of Heckingbottom. It was topsy-turvy but I was older now, and I was patient. What mattered was the club and never again would I stray.
Even I couldn't have envisioned what would happen next. It seemed like no sooner had Radrizzani taken over than we were announcing the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa. Immediately, the buzz around the man had me interested. This was most certainly a different beast to all who had come before, evident in the praise and scorn from professionals and fans. Whatever the case might have been about his previous jobs, successes and failures, this was still different to what we'd felt before.
I felt the same excitement I'd felt in my youth and just NEEDING to share it. Leicester's title win might have given back my faith in the game but Bielsa has done so much more. He's rewarded my faith in the game. I shared the elation of those first Bielsa victories and the worries of our frailties. We suffered the dread uncertainty of Spygate and the announcement of what would become a legendary press conference, right alongside you all. We shared the agony of the playoffs last season but also the hope of this season. We've revelled in Pablo's vital winners, Lukes's wonder volleys and Dallas's striker finishes. Last night, we collectively celebrated our long-awaiting return to the Promised Land.
It's funny how life turns out sometimes, but this feels like a story, a completion of a journey - or at least, a big step in it. Leeds are back in the Premier League, where we belong. And we're here, where we belong, Marching on Together.