A Premier League Leeds United: What Can They Really Achieve? – by Rob Atkinson


The Last Champions

The Last Champions

Here’s a conundrum for you.  What have Liverpool, Ipswich Town, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest got in common?

Give up?

Well, some of the better-informed anoraks out there (and it’s a noble fraternity of which I’m proud to be a member) tend to have the solution to riddles like this pretty much at their fingertips.  For the rest, the answer is that all of those clubs, since what I will loosely term the “modern era” of football started around 1960, have gained promotion to the top-flight and then gone on to win the actual title of Champions of England within a space of a mere one or two years.

Imagine that, if you will – a truly phenomenal achievement.  Arguably, Leeds are the ace in the pack, having achieved similar heights twice.  Revie’s promotion-winners of 1964 took five years to be Champions, but were contenders on all fronts from their very first season in the First Division.

Both Forest and Ipswich, some 16 years apart, stormed the First Division citadel in their very first season up. Leeds United, in 1992 and Liverpool, way back in 1964, each took just one year longer.  Leeds are not known as the Last Champions for nothing; their 1992 Title success marked a watershed in the English game.  Whatever the merits of the few Premier League era champions, it’s certainly true that Leeds will stand as the last club to muscle its way into the top flight as if they owned the place, breezing to the ultimate prize in such a very short time.  Since the Murdoch revolution, only Blackburn have come close to matching such a quick-fire achievement, and they followed the “spend, spend, spend” path to success in taking three seasons after promotion to edge their first title since before the Great War.

One thing that’s virtually certain about all of these achievements is that they won’t be emulated anytime soon.  And that regrettable fact is at the centre of everything that’s wrong with football today.  What we have now, as opposed to those exciting years when some batch of pretenders would upset the top-flight applecart, is a mere procession – with the cast varying only slightly from year to year.  The Premier League is often referred to as three divisions within one league, and that’s very difficult to argue with.

Firstly, there’s a cartel of the super-rich at the top, where the finances of the game dictate that a few established clubs will fight it out for the major honours every year.  Such are the favourable conditions for these elite clubs that it’s really very difficult for any of them to slip out of contention – it would take something approaching incompetent management for such a calamity to happen – yes, Mr Moyes, I mean YOU.  Take a bow, you’re a hero to thousands.

Then, of course, there’s the “dog-eat-dog” league at the bottom, where the same few clubs every year are hoping to finish just above last season’s promoted clubs and thus avoid relegation. Exciting – but not in a good way.

Lastly, in the middle, there’s that awful, bleak hinterland occupied by the likes of Stoke, Aston Villa, Newcastle and West Ham; clubs unlikely to affect the picture at the top or at the bottom, and who – you suspect – are happy just to continue making up the numbers, banking those Premier League payments year after year and settling for last spot on Match of the Day.  They’re happily riding the gravy train with no thoughts or ambitions for glory – and their fans appear to accept this.  But what a monochrome, depressing existence it must be. Is this what we want for Leeds United?

The fact is that, if and when United DO go up – and especially if we have a few quid in the bank courtesy of Signor Cellino – then this twilight, neither-here-nor-there, average, mediocre middle bit of the Premier League is likely to be the realistic upper limit of our ambitions. That’s if we’re rich and clever enough to haul our way clear of the grim struggle at the bottom, of course. Maybe also, there might be a run in the Capital Fizzy Carlsberg Milk Cup (or whatever it’s called) to look forward to with sweaty palms and fevered brow. Oh, the excitement of that – IF we don’t get knocked out early doors by the Under-17’s of Arsenal FC.

This question of how things would be when we finally gain entrance to the Promised Land is a relevant one that’s all too easy to overlook in our current mood of frustrated aspiration.  We’ve been wanting to get back up there for so long – and we’ve suffered so many setbacks and disappointments along the way – that the reality of what might await us once promotion is secured has not really occurred to us.  Sure, there have been some saying, well, we’ll budget for relegation, pick up the parachute payments and come back stronger – but look how often that’s actually worked.  Look at Wolves, look at Middlesbrough. They’ve come down rich and never really looked like getting back.  And how enjoyable is it up there if you’re sinking?  Do the fans of those struggling clubs look as if they’re enjoying themselves, shipping six goals here at Arsenal and maybe seven there at Man City?  It doesn’t look fun at all, not to me.  But these depressing scenarios have been off our radar, all the time we’ve been fighting vainly to make our mark one level below, thinking of the Premier League as the Holy Grail.   It hasn’t truly occurred to us that it might not be fun when we do get there.  It’s as if, preoccupied with our second-tier travails, we haven’t really thought about it too much.

Around twenty-five years ago, the feeling of anticipation generated by a run to promotion for Sgt. Wilko’s boys was a very much more positive thing. Sure, we looked at those opening fixtures with a slightly tremulous smile, noting that Everton away and then Man U at home was a rather stiffer proposition than the likes of Port Vale and Oxford.  But we girded our loins, so to speak, and went in with spirits and expectations high and – thanks to our redoubtable heroes in white – we were not disappointed.  But how optimistic would we be now about, say, Man City at home followed by a trip to Liverpool? Thanks to Mr Murdoch, it’s a case of lambs to the slaughter for any club going up against these top-end clubs – unless you have a lot of cash to splash out.  And even then, along comes Financial Fair Play to clip the wings of the “new money” boys, protecting the interests of those with established income streams from global markets.  The Cartel certainly intends to remain the Cartel.

For all of this, I blame one man above all others.  Mr Murdoch, je t’accuse.  At the time he bought the game, Man U hadn’t been champions since the days of black & white TV, and yet their careful marketing and packaging of their history – particularly the lucratively tragic parts – had garnered them a worldwide support and the status of everybody’s second-favourite club, along with massive overseas markets.  The restructuring of the game at the start of the 90s, with its abandonment of trickle-down economics, was a godsend for such a cash cow – despite its solid and consistent record of under-achievement since 1967.  Man U were the archetypal Premier League champions, a figurehead brand to lead the new League to the forefront of global sport and merchandising.  It was all so glitzy, glamorous and tacky, a festival of fireworks, cheerleaders and the twin misogynists who so aptly summed-up the spirit of the whole thing: overgrown guffawing schoolboys Andy Gray and his hairy  chum Richard Keyes.  All that glitter, all that sniggering sexism, all that tawdry scrambling for profit – and invariably champions to embody it all, except in those seasons when the likes of Arsenal stood up for the game’s soul. It was indeed a ‘whole new ball game’, as the marketing men would have it – but somewhere in the making of this revolution, a golden dream died – killed by Murdoch and buried under a vulgar heap of branded tat.

It is that golden dream we’re still missing today, nearly a quarter of a century on. Many thousands of football fans have grown up watching a game enslaved to this artificial agenda, shorn of the fiery ambitions which used to propel rejuvenated clubs from obscurity to the very top of the game. That type of overnight success almost literally cannot happen now; the bleak reality for promoted clubs is of a bitterly hard struggle before them, with survival the best prize they can really hope for. Should Leeds United succeed in gaining promotion, this season or next, then that is very much the reality that awaits us.  And, because we’re Leeds – because we’ve scaled the heights and reached the stars before – we’ve a duty to ask ourselves: is this really what we’re going to settle for – or can we (because we’re Leeds) expect and demand better?

The answer to much of this almost certainly lies with the man currently awaiting the League’s pleasure, as they mull over the question of whether he’s a fit and proper person (or at least as fit and proper as some of the crooks the League has previously sanctioned). If Massimo Cellino knows his history, and if he’s managed to suss out the character of the support while he was imprisoned inside Elland Road on that turbulent Transfer Deadline night, then he should by now have some awareness of the demands likely to be placed on his ownership post-promotion.  He should know that Leeds fans are never going to be childishly grateful just to be a part of things; that mere survival and the acceptance of regularly being ripped a new one by the Premier League big beasts – that’s never going to be enough.  If he does know all of that – if he takes it all on board and still wants to be the force behind the club going forward – if, moreover, he has a plan which will blow away all of the worries and fears of promotion in the Murdoch era – then every single Leeds fan must surely get right behind him.  These are very big ifs, as we all know – but it’s an apt enough time to raise all of this – because the new era of Massimo the First could well start as soon as Monday.  The Middlesbrough game could possibly be the last of this period of twitching uncertainty.  There are some signs pointing that way – the social media twitterings of the younger Cellinos and the fact of the signing (on loan) of a quality keeper in Butland, for instance.  Great changes may just be afoot.

Whether those changes are great enough to buck the trend of Premier League history and see us gatecrash the top end of the big time, remains to be seen. The summer between any promotion and our return to top-level action will be very interesting indeed and will tell us a lot about whether we’re going to make an all-out assault on success. It’s a very hard ask indeed.   But we are Leeds – and so that’s what we should expect and demand.

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24 responses to “A Premier League Leeds United: What Can They Really Achieve? – by Rob Atkinson

  1. As usual you have made some interesting points Rob. Could I add that thanks to Mr Risdale Leeds missed out on the multi million Premier League pounds. If a top four finish enabled participation in the Champions League in the days when Leeds automatically finished first, second, third or fourth then how many times would that team have won the Holy Grail and how much money would have that have generated! So Leeds has a history of missing out on financial bonanza ‘s and instead we get relegations and points deductions. Will we ever get back to the top table? Unlikely but we can dream. If Cellino really is the messiah – and I hope he is – I would initially be grateful for the club to be debt free but at the back of my delusional mind I have the fantasy of re – signing our long lost local talent – James Milner, Fabian Delph, Danny Rose, Aaron Lennon, Snoddy and Johnny Howsen – and let us let rip at the Premier League with an almost home grown team of passionate players. I know delusional – but after the crap Leeds fans have endured for so long think I am allowed to “live the dream”!

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  2. As always, a quality bog Rob. As an ex-pat in Australia, it would be just great to be able to see Leeds every week on the TV. As opposed to every other week at the moment (We’re not famous any more).

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  3. Spot on mate. Mid table mediocrity is not an option.

    I have said for years that the PL is the worst thing to ever happen to English football. I am torn between the kudos of being part of the passionate fanbase of an average rubbish team – as has been the case over the last ten years, or the alternative, that the club I lie awake at night worrying about becomes the plaything of some super rich twerp, who has nothing in common with working class Northern culture.

    I hate the PL. It’s populated by millionaire assholes – but I still long to be part of it. Why?

    At least Cellino is European and a proper football man. It’s not a perfect option, but it’s not bad.

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  4. i would be very happy sitting mid table of the prem league , getting smashed by the top teams even if it was 10 – 0 . its better than been in the championship getting smashed by barnsley ,shef wed or watford .
    We just need to get there and stay out of debt until we are running with a stable budget.

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  5. We’ll Rex you can’t have it both ways. Are there really any working class people any more in this modern world we live in? I thought everyone was metro class now? Anyway are we not all just Leeds supporters and doesn’t that put us in a class of our own?
    Football clubs have always been run by rich people and yes most of the supporters stood on terraces in previous times but that started changing long before Hillsborough.
    The only difference now with the Premier et al is we have international superstars to watch either live or on TV AND we can view football 24/7 at home or in the pub if we want – no complaints from any one on that!
    Just remember WE could have continued to be the best club side in the world until the present day but for one fatal decision by the Board in not appointing Johnny Giles as Manager when Revie left and as recommended by the great Don.
    Yes Cellino is the only option – classless, rich, European and in love with football! Does an owner get any better than that?

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  6. You’re right Tim you can’t have it both ways. Being working class is an ethos, nothing to do with your financial or social status. I’m now comfortably off, living in rural Bucks, and own my own business-but I still think of myself as working class.
    Good point about being a Leeds fan putting you in a class of your own. No matter who or what we are we all follow the mighty whites. MOT

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  7. I can’,t believe anyone would turn their nose up at Premier league football ,lets face it we are mid table nothings in championship( that you don’t want us to be in prem.,league).If we went up Cellino would want to compete at the top & has the money to try ,39,ooo gates every week & a manager who k nows how to spend the money& we could be looking at europe again,Southampton are doing fine( in league 1 with us a few seasons ago) If you are in the big time you attract the big players & it can change quickley,I think Cellino has had enough of JUST keeping a team in the top flight in Italy he now want’s the Beast that is Leeds to barge down the Premier league walls .LETS get ready to Rumble

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  8. Rob, I actually think that Leeds United have a realistic chance of challenging for the top flight. I agree with all of your sentiments and it won’t be easy competing with Liverpool and Chelsea, but what happens in the boardroom is just as important as what happens on the field -the last 10 years is a painfully example of this. Manchester United are in part suffering from their failure in timely investment in players and of course the retirement of Sir Alex. Manchester City and Chelsea have mega rich owners and have spent big style, but the times are changing with FFP rules. In my humble opinion our future will depend upon how good Cellino really is. According to the papers he is very astute and a shrewd business man. If he invests to get us back into the PL, which I am sure he will do, then he will have increased revenue and a brand that is worth marketing. In short, he can resurrect the brand and build the fan base. OK, this is all hypothetical, BUT, this is a big challenge for Cellino and I think that he may well just have the man sized balls to pull it off. If Tottenham and Everton can get up there then I am sure that Leeds United can. Everything depends upon Cellino and how good he really is.

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  9. Mr.Cellino has a good taste for music at least:). If he is playing with the Scorpions, Slowhand etc. well only Led Zeppelin “Good times bad times” is missing from the royal flush. Okay from the late 60s this football from B/W TV has gone to shambles somehow. It was evident the other day when plastic ManC faced Barcelona; you can just look for the pedigree of both clubs and wonder ???? At least when we are promoted the European footballing family will well come us because there is a real need for rivalry both in PL and UCL. Bayern here we come…Paris 1975 will never be forgotten.

    Tare

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  10. ellamforengland

    I’m with Bluesman we are not middle of the table also rans . When we finally got out of the third division a lot of supporters where advocating championship consolidation, understandably but I was not one of them. I thought that we where on a roll and we are Leeds, we should have been thinking of steamrolling the lot of them straight back into the Premier League. When, not if we get back we wont be looking to the league below to strengthen the team, with a sound and sensible financial backing I think we will be more than capable of competing. Hey, with the death of the Fergie Factor even Liverpool fans are getting hopeful. COME ON !!.

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    • The aspirations of any football club should ideally be defined by the expectations of its fans. This is really what I was getting at. Anybody coming in should be aware of the demands of the support, and make their policy accordingly. We’ve been badly let down in this respect for most of the last 20-odd years. It’s payback time – let’s hope Cellino agrees and is able to deliver.

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      • ellamforengland

        On a side note. If Cellino is as dodgy as the media appear to be pushing at least it all is in the public domain. Unlike some other unmentionables , well here we go. The Master !!!

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  11. The champions league teams from the premier league have hardly any English players in them . Like a racehorse they are bred for that race . The premiership is incidental to them and you are right in saying the top four is a closed shop . They have more or less got the European league old big gob Cloughie said would come . For me they could all sod off and form a European league leaving the rest of us to have a proper league where anyone can win it .

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  12. Peacock273

    As I see it, WHEN we get back into the PL, we’ll fill the same viewing slot on MOTD as we do on TFLS. One of the last ones where they show just the goals. The Beeb just hate the mighty whites!!

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  13. wetherby white

    Good article rob. Mid table survival doesn’t sound particulary appealing but if/when we do get back to the prem, I think we could have a good chance. A one city club, potential 40,000 crowds, we still ride high in merchandising, sixth in the mirror survey weren’t we? Cant believe that Cellino will be happy with just surviving either.
    Down side as ever is waiting for the incompetent fools of the football league to ratify his appointment. To think that Sean Harvey is one of those making this vital decision. A man who backed Bates criminal East Stand building project and sanctioned the sale of all our quality players-and here he is again, hovering over ER like an angel of death.
    Other slight issue is actually looking like were good enough to get back there. McDermott did great with Reading but there is no comparison between the two clubs. With Reading he worked largely under the media radar and getting a win on a cold night away at Bolton with a few hundred away fans was possible. Our average squad, I feel, sadly sinks under the expectancy of Leeds huge home and away followings and the great history of the club..
    With Cellinos money, we have a great chance to go up and more than survive.
    Over to you Harvey..

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  14. I would rather see a Leeds United built from youth over a couple of seasons with a defined style of play. This is what McDermott was brought in for. If you look at Southampton and Swansea this is what they have done successfully. The deference is the fans. These clubs cannot hope to generate the income we would. Financial fair play will change the face of football eventually and Leeds will benefit from it more than most.

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  15. LeedsBowyer

    I have thought about your points exactly, and the comparison I use is Newcastle. Such a hugely supported club with no ambition, safe to assume it will finish 7th-10th unless it has the annoying distraction of Europa League football. I also feel if we reach this stage, we lose the light at the end of the tunnel effect we have now, with the possibility of reaching the Premier League. I do genuinely believe however, that when Leeds do get back into the top flight, we are the only team in the whole of Yorkshire (Hull doesn’t count) in the top flight, and actually the only one likely to be there. If you compare this area to Manchester alone, who have two of the top teams in the world vying for support, I think there is serious potential for us to be a huge club again. As I mentioned Newcastle though, they more often than not fill there 55,000 seater, yet still remain in purgatory between real success and mediocrity.

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  16. So you feel you have the right to slag off Moyes despite this man being the driving force behind an Everton side that regularly punched above its weight and gained qualification for the Champions League at the expense of the super rich sides. Slagging off a man that has proved an ordinary side can compete. So in effect slagging off a man that disproves your whole argument.

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  17. Mid table mediocrity in the Premiership?? No thanks. Just more of what we have put up with in the last 10 years, but costing your loyal fan a lot more money.

    The answer to all this shit is of course is to fuck Murdoch off once and for all. Unfortunately there are too many people out there just willing to throw their money at him. The number of LUFC fans on the various forums today eagerly watching the game on S** rather than going to the game depresses me.

    Anyway, well said Rob, on the ball as usual, but judging by the majority of replies on here your words have fallen on deaf ears. Money and peachy arses rule, apparently. Que sera sera.

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  18. Pingback: Irresponsible Man U & Rooney Highlight Need for Salary Cap – by Rob Atkinson | La Vita, Leeds United, l'Universo e Tutto

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