The New Wave is, as usual, coming in slowly at Elland Road. Then again, with Leeds United, everything always seems to take its time – and the experience of the fans over the past few years has been that the outcome was not always really all that worth waiting for. Without revisiting all of the painful twists and turns of the past decade or so, it’s safe to say that our lot, as a group of loyal and passionate supporters, has not by and large been a happy one. The lowlights include administration, points deductions, Bates, Histon, League One, Bates, TOMA and more Bates. There has also been the odd highlight, but it’s fair to say we’ve been living through some Dark Ages in the history of our club. So, are we at last on the brink of a long-overdue and richly-deserved Renaissance?
The man who probably knows most about that will give the odd nod and wink here and there – but as yet he’s not really telling. This is, of course, David Haigh – a likeable bundle of energy and charm whose polished persona you could look at and instantly say to yourself, that fellow would make a fine politician. And such indeed is his aspiration as a lifelong Tory. Not that such a summing-up is necessarily a negative thing. It’s just one facet of the David Haigh enigma – a committed Conservative activist who is also an enthusiastic philanthropist, and one, moreover, who takes a distinctly hands-on approach to that philanthropy.
He seems to be a man of contradictions. Interviewed on the radio, for instance, he has the politician’s knack of playing his cards close to his chest. He will talk quite a bit without really saying very much, and it can feel a bit frustrating – you sense this in the demeanour of the interviewer, too. He’s anxious not to show his hand too early. And yet at other times he’ll crop up on his highly-active Twitter account, coyly dropping little hints everywhere, sending the Leeds United Twittersphere into meltdown seemingly at will – and driving information-hungry fans up the wall with tantalised yet baffled hope.
The latest example of this is just a few hours old – a casual mention that Haigh is looking forward to a coffee with one Peter Virdee. Now, Virdee’s is a name that was all over Twitter only a few days back, with suggestions that he’s both minted and possibly about to get involved with Leeds United. Haigh’s tweet is of great interest, not only to all of those so desperate to “Dare to dream”, but even for the rest of us, divided as we are into hard-bitten cynics and the weary “wait and see-ers”. Team strengthening? Stadium repurchase and refurbishment? Buying back our very own Thorp Arch training heaven? Anything can seem possible when you’re talking the figures Virdee is reputed to deal in. But who knows? It’s only a coffee, after all.
What does come across very strongly with David Haigh is a cheerful optimism that he can take on this massive task – to revive a club that once enjoyed an almost global pre-eminence but has since defied most attempts to rouse the sleeping giant – and that he can and will succeed. If there have been doubts, he’s never let them show and his habitual outlook is one of an almost insouciant conviction that he can achieve where others have so conspicuously failed. That confidence communicates itself to fans desperate for the good times to return and for a True White, full-blooded Leeds fan to lead us. It’s still the case at Elland Road that we’d rather have one of our own in charge than some dodgy “off comed’un”.
Despite his Cornwall roots and other initially apparent doubts about Haigh – insidious little rumours of a sneaking regard for a certain Franchise over t’other side of the Pennines, for instance – he does seem to have established himself this solid credibility as a Leeds United fan; something that counts for a great deal. Not that we haven’t had trouble with our own, before – the memory of Peter Ridsdale is fresh enough to ensure that we won’t trust anyone just because he has a yellow, white and blue scarf about his neck. But the appeal of Haigh seems somehow much fresher and much more believable than Publicity Pete’s self-adoring pitch – though it’s always possible this is the sharply clear vision of 20-20 hindsight.
It’s not easy at all to figure David Haigh out. There is that enigmatic exterior to him which defies attempts to add up the elements we know are there beneath the surface. The philanthropy is encouraging – his eager willingness to get involved in fund-raising events for causes which are clearly close to his heart. This positive aspect looks like reflecting well on the club too, as Haigh leads Leeds into areas they may previously have been wary to tread. One such initiative, the Beyond “It” campaign featuring openly gay ex-Leeds player Robbie Rogers’ anti-discrimination crusade, has received unequivocal backing from Haigh and a highly gratifying response from the fans of a club not always associated with such enlightened thinking. He also supports a number of other charities in the UK including the Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust, English Heritage and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. In April 2013, Haigh completed a 250km arctic charity trek for the Make A Wish Foundation, which has recently helped a very poorly little Leeds fan from my own home town. He completed the six-day, husky drawn challenge which took him through temperatures as low as -30 to raise funds for Make A Wish which supports his niece, Sienna who lives with the genetic disorder Homocystinuria.
There appears to be little doubt that, in all of his extra-professional endeavours – which fill an already very busy life to overflowing – Haigh is the Real Deal in terms of commitment, belief and enthusiasm. I could wish I knew more about exactly what manner of Tory he is, but the ranks of Football Club revivalists are hardly packed with the kind of radical reforming Socialist I’d personally like to see in Number 10 Downing Street. If David Haigh can grasp the nettle of sorting out my beloved United – and bring to that task the energy and attainment so evident in other areas of his life – then he will have a very good chance of becoming one of the major figures in Leeds United history – and, what’s more, in a good way. If that turns out to be the case, then the man’s politics will bother me not a jot.
Personal charm and likeability haven’t usually been enough to move such mountains, but beneath the Haigh enigma there appears to be evidence of a great deal more than that. Besides which, the fact that he does seem such a very pleasant guy is still – in these first few months after the nightmare of Bates – massively important in itself. A good radio manner with an infectious chuckle in his voice, the ability to say the right things at appropriate junctures and to deal with people in a civilised and courteous manner – all of this is the very antithesis of the old rogue who squatted on the Leeds throne for far too long. So that, alone, commends David Haigh as The Right Sort.
Can he succeed – can he help to bring about success? After an uncomfortably long silence that was at least partially broken yesterday with an “Investment Update” confirming that Mr Andrew Flowers of Club main sponsors Enterprise Insurance will be involved, it appears that things are still moving towards a positive conclusion. We now know that the consortium is called Sports Capital, and that other, as yet un-named, investors will also be involved. We know too that the financial backing is there for Brian McDermott to start bolstering his fatigued and pallid-looking squad. There is little doubt that these are Good Things, and the way the wind is blowing suggests there will be more to come. And as long as Leeds United AFC is seen to be moving in the right direction, engaging with fans and embracing transparency of intent and information – why then, the great majority of the fans will be happy, will be supportive, will be on-board and ready to March On Together back to nearer the top – which is United’s natural place in the order of things. I’m pretty certain David Haigh would have no trouble agreeing with that.
Enjoy your coffee today, Mr Haigh, you likeable enigma – oh, and don’t stint yourself in bestowing that charm and appeal of yours on Mr Virdee – and on anyone else with the good of Leeds United at heart, and who might be able to restore us to our former glory. If what I hope for and dream about can eventually emerge out of this coffee morning, I’d willingly treat you to a cappuccino or two apiece out of my own pocket. From a socialist Yorkshireman, that’s 100% unequivocal support.