After the brief optimism of a few weeks ago, when the first post-Bates day saw welcome changes in the boardroom and welcome signings on the pitch – including one for whom we supposedly paid actual BIG money – things have gone a bit gloomy again over at LS11. The pre-season programme has now brought three successive defeats, including a woeful display at Walsall which Brian McDermott described as his “worst day as Leeds United manager”. The perceived wisdom is that we still need quality additions, including a rock of a centre-half and at least one tricky, fleet-footed winger. Brian’s “priority signing” is still unsigned, and unidentified. Clearly, more serious money is needed. Where’s it coming from?
The sequence of news items has been interesting. Once all that early-July optimism started to wane, the Red Bull story surfaced, and it refused to go away. The fans of course immediately started adding two and two to make five, and the scare stories of team rebranding circulated, along with slightly more feasible rumours of stadium naming rights. The battle lines were drawn; one camp stands firm in its traditionalism and will not tolerate the idea of the team playing at the Red Bull Arena, nor even a glimpse of that devil’s colour red on our pristine white shirts (with the fat blue stripe). On the other side there are those who feel we’ve sunk too low to be coy about appearances and naming rights – show us the money, they say, and you can basically do what you like to us. But we need to be talking massive money – we’re not, after all, some cheap trollop of a club you can buy for a song.
Once the Red Bull story had been around a little, and it had been possible to gauge fans’ reactions, Brian started to appear in the media again with his gloomy face on, bemoaning the lack of progress in the transfer market and making pessimistic noises about having to sell before he can buy. It makes me wonder whether, having realised that there would be significant fan opposition to the idea of naming rights to Elland Road being sold off, GFH might just have briefed Brian to get out there and make these dolorous pronouncements, putting the fear of God up the support that another season of under-achievement awaits and basically softening us up for whatever commercial coup they might have lined up. I’m not saying that Brian will necessarily be so ready to dance to the GFH tune, but I do smell a big, fat rat in terms of how our expectations are being managed, and how our instinctive suspicion of corporate influence over our club’s traditions is being dissipated by worry over lack of transfer money.
The fact is that the precedents are already out there for success at any price, and that we will ignore these new trends at our peril. Man City play at the Etihad, and Arsenal at the Emirates. If corporate stadium names are OK at these two grand old clubs, then why not at Leeds? It’s not as if any Leeds fan would ever call it by any other name than Elland Road anyway, so why the big fuss? We can expect to be wound up by opposition fans and the media, but what’s new about that? Surely the priority now is to give Brian McDermott the tools to finish the job.
If we remain too ignorantly proud to go with the flow, then we have to accept that the price of pride might be one we don’t wish to pay. Do we want to play at the Red Bull Arena in the Premier League, or at Elland Road in the Championship – or maybe even in League One? It might just be that the choice is as simple and stark as that.