Sometimes it’s really tough to be a Leeds fan. Today is a good example when – despite a much-improved performance against Leicester City and some regained pride, it’s still the case that we’ve lost again. Cue the mickey-takers from lesser clubs, delighted at our discomfiture, parading their lack of class by airing all the tired old jibes we’ve all heard and got sick of long ago. It’s all part of the Leeds-supporting experience, the perennial fact that there’s a lot of idiots out there who hate us, without really knowing why. It’s also how we distinguish ourselves from the mundane pack of everyday clubs – if you hate Leeds United, have a go. And they do their poor best – but it’s usually distressingly feeble stuff, as witness today’s collection of social media misfits retailing their horribly unfunny shafts of “wit”. We just have to put up with it and move on, serene in the knowledge that We Are Leeds. I’ve been Leeds for most of my life – never really had any choice about it. And for this, I give thanks daily.
Leeds United was just something that happened to me on the way to adulthood. By an accident of birth and timing, I found myself living 13 miles away from LS11 and the greatest club side in Europe (see above), just around the time I became seriously interested in football. I’d misguidedly spent my pre-teenage years with my nose stuck in a succession of classic Sci-Fi novels, so the Glory Years mostly passed me by. My Dad had been a life-long supporter though, and everyone at school was Leeds apart from the odd much-bullied Man U fan – so it was impossible not to go with the flow, and once I’d been introduced to that Elland Road experience, I was hooked for life. The timing was particularly unfortunate however. Unlike my golden-boy git of a brother, who’d waxed smug on the successes of the late 60s and early 70s, I started going to the match in the first post-Revie season, and my time supporting Leeds has been one of a long and heartbreaking decline, punctuated by the brief joy of the Wilko reign, and to a lesser extent, that of O’Leary. So it’s been tough. But it could have been so much worse.
I could, for instance, have been a Newcastle fan. Imagine that. My Dad is 86 now, bless him. Newcastle’s last title was won in the year he was born, 1927. Alfred Hitchcock released his first film that year. Communists were fighting bloody street battles with Nazis in Berlin. Charles Lindbergh became the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic. In brief, it’s a long, long time for an allegedly big club to go without a League Title. Newcastle fans are famous for their blind devotion to “the Toon”, and it’s hard to imagine such fanaticism being so little rewarded over such a long period – although I do recall a crowd of 7,000 at St James Park after one of their frequent relegations had been confirmed. It’s now the best part of fifty years since they won anything at all, and yet still the love affair goes on, fueled largely, it must be said, by a pathological hatred of near neighbours Sunderland. Thousands of Newcastle fans know nothing but failure and empty-handed season upon season. How awful must that be. Still, they’re the biggest club in the North-East – which is a bit like being the tallest mountain in Holland. At least Leeds fans have the history and knowledge of success, so that our expectations, whilst unrealistic, at least remain alive and kicking. Newcastle’s are long, long dead.
Or I could have been a Celtic fan. God – even worse. Sure, they’ve won loads of trophies, but with one sparkling exception those have been gathered in the face of opposition that would shame the English second tier. At best, they’ve usually come first or second in a two horse race, and now even that other horse has gone lame, as Rangers tread a perilous path back from financial ruin via the muck and nettles of Scottish lower leagues. Celtic did of course become the first British club to win the European Cup in 1967 – and they did it, what’s more, with a team of local lads under the legendary Jock Stein. But that one fantastic achievement is poor reward for having to witness year upon year of procession football as Celtic trudged on, one of two out-of-place whales in a tiny fishpond. Who would be a Celtic fan now? It’s not sport up there, it’s lambs to the slaughter with about as much entertainment value as watching Farsley Celtic reserves on a wet November night. Scottish football remains a laughing-stock, and Celtic must take much of the blame for that with their perennial failure to make a mark on the continent, despite routine Champions League qualification.
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t change a thing about my years of supporting Leeds. We have the history, the fan-base (still), the notoriety as “The Damned United”, and little of the Sky-era false glitz and glamour of the current crop of Premier League pretenders. You still see Leeds fans wherever you might trot around the globe, and no-one could call those lads and lasses glory-hunters – but they do have the pride of an honour-laden history which is denied to all but the most feeble and elderly Newcastle fans – and Leeds fans also have the serene knowledge that the honours and the history have been won in the white heat of intense competition, not by near-default as those worthless baubles up in Scotland have been soullessly accrued.
Marching On Together. We Are Leeds. Thanks, Dad, for bringing me up to be Leeds, and for saving me from some pretty pallid alternatives.