A lot has been heard of the recent GFH mantra since the joyous ousting of Ken Bates – in an understandable effort to erase the nightmares of the Uncle Ken era from supporters’ minds, the new owners have been telling us “Forget the past – it’s all about the future”. All very well, and definitely positive in its way – but surely, a club like Leeds needs to hang on to some of its past, the grand old traditions, the glorious history?
One man certainly thinks so, and you could hardly find anyone the fans are more likely to look up to right now. Boss Brian McDermott is setting about sorting the future out, alright – but he also has a wise and admiring eye on the past.
One manifestation of this is the restoration of a pre-match ritual that many, including myself, remember very fondly. When I first started going to watch Leeds, you knew what to expect before kick-off at Elland Road. The other lot would shamble out, they’d head to their allotted territory at the Elland Road end of the stadium and then kick a ball or two around between them sheepishly, aware that they had to face the Leeds United side and just about the most hostile and partisan crowd anywhere. Then the Kop and the other United parts of the ground would start the chant “Bring on the Champions!”, before the warriors finally entered the arena.
Out they would file, United, purposeful and focused, clad all in white, muscular and determined. With not a glance to the cowering opposition, scattered in their preparatory warm-up, the Leeds United team stayed together as they arrived in the centre-circle. Here they would line up, raise their right arms in unison to salute the faithful, staying in disciplined line as each man, arm still aloft, turned to greet every section of the support to roars of approbation.
It used to make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, this telling statement of intent, this confident, almost arrogant, affirmation of superiority. It pre-dated the “We Are Leeds” terrace chant, but that message still came across, loud and clear. It was unique, special. It was Leeds, Leeds, Leeds alone – and there was no other team like us.
But then, it just stopped.
It probably took me a few matches to fully appreciate the awful truth that the pre-match salute had indeed been abandoned. I was absolutely gutted; it was a time of transition and we were not the force we had been – but this betrayal of tradition, as it seemed to me, was the ultimate acceptance that the Glory Days of Mighty Leeds – Super Leeds – were finally gone. Gone for good, as far as I knew. Fans had much less of a voice back then; there might have been some protests, but nothing was done.
But now we have Brian McDermott. Softly-spoken but dedicated and committed Brian, fiercely determined and one with the fans Brian. Brian who wasted no time in distancing himself from his lifelong ambition to manage the Republic of Ireland, declaring instead that he has a job to do at Leeds United, a job he’s proud and thrilled to have and one where he’s single-minded in his resolve to succeed.
Now this new idol of the Leeds support, long-suffering and battered as we’ve been over the past disastrous decade, is giving us back some of the glorious pieces of our past we’d thought lost forever. And he’s started with the Leeds salute as practiced by King Billy & Co all those years ago. As a symbol of not only a new era, but a new era that is intended to re-awaken past glories and return us to the top of the game, this could hardly be more potent or evocative. Not for the first time in his short career at Leeds, Brian has hit the nail unerringly on the head.
What can you say about a man like that, who’s come into the club as a stranger and so completely fastened on to the Leeds United legend that he knows, instinctively what we all want, what Leeds United needs. How can you express what it means to us all? He knows what’s needed and he acts upon it.
Results-wise, achievement-wise, we’re at the beginning of a very long journey. There will be pitfalls on the road ahead, set-backs in our progress, times when we all doubt where we’re heading. Money is so integral to success now and Brian McDermott will rely on his board for support as he bids to succeed. But steps like this – just the simple restoration of an iconic tradition – speak volumes for the man and his ability to feel what it is to be Leeds. He loved that old salute, he says. He loved seeing them walk out like soldiers, he remembers it being “a bit scary”. McDermott knows what makes a club tick, he’s in tune with this club’s legends.
Brian McDermott is already well on the way to becoming a Leeds United Legend himself.