The Holy Grail – as you will all know from your studies of classical Arthurian Legend, including Wagner’s Parsifal, Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and the immortal Cleese/Palin Meisterwerk, beloved of us all, Monty Python & the Holy Grail – is a semi-mythical, part-legendary symbol of something sacred and other-worldly, a spiritual treasure urgently sought by adventurers and heroes down the ages, something enticingly desirable but forever unattainable, always just beyond our reach.
So it is with Leeds United. We have this unquenchable need, this elusive treasure always denied to us. We want to be a normal football club, one that seeks to compete as a football club should, one that goes forward in harmony instead of turning in upon itself with suicidal zeal and self-destructive mania. We want to march on together towards a common goal, but instead we are possessed by demon after demon, and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. When we occasionally do appear to glimpse one, it invariably turns out to be an onrushing locomotive, poised to dash us, together with all of our vain hopes, headlong into the void.
Why is this normality denied us? What is it about Leeds United that condemns the club and its hapless legions upon legions of followers to such unending purgatory? Does Alan Hardaker live on as some malign Poltergeist, fated to walk the corridors of Elland Road for all eternity, casting ghostly spanners into the works? Perhaps Don Revie’s only real fault was a failure completely to exorcise the alleged gypsy’s curse which he had detected hanging around LS11 in the sixties, like some stormy, sulky cloud. It has to be something supernatural, for goodness’ sake. Something that Sergeant Wilko was able to frighten away temporarily for the brief return of the glory days in 1989-92, before it returned with a vengeance, realising that the Sergeant’s bark was worse than his bite. What other explanation could there be?
Even when things have appeared to be going right, fate has slapped us about the chops before there was even a chance to celebrate properly. The boom of 1997 to 2002 collapsed in on itself as we faced a black hole of debt and probable ruin. Then, we had to flog off a talented squad on the cheap – amid tales of tropical fish and journeyman midfielders seeking and getting kings’ ransoms to lay our coffers bare. Before that, the Last Champions almost turned into the first Premier League fall-guys as we replaced David Batty with Carlton Palmer whilst surrendering our domestic top spot to Taggart’s stormtroopers – we even sparked off their French Revolution for them – and on the cheap, too. Even before that, Revie’s peerless artists were denied more than they won – they should have won the lot, because they were simply The Best.
Typically, our most recent golden dawn also turned out to be a damp squib, as Grayson’s scum-busting warriors emerged from League One in 2010 fighting fit and ready to take the Championship by the scruff of the neck – only for Evil Uncle Ken to ruin it all and send us on a downward path which ended up in acrimony, despair and Warnock. Surely, by now, Leeds United have sampled all of the many and various ways a football club can screw itself up. Or is there worse yet to come?
The latest events at Elland Road are as bizarre and farcical as any I can recall in the whole topsy-turvy history of my support for this crazy club. Class A drugs, caught on espionage equipment installed in bog and Boardroom by our own prospective Tory Boy, Colgate Dave himself. The club’s former dictator still hanging around Elland Road like a bad smell, nesting occasionally in his foul lair over the road above Subway, for whom a snap inspection by the Environmental Health chaps must be a constant worry. The new owner is habitually referred to by our friends in the mainstream press, not by his given name of Massimo Cellino, but by use of the lazy soubriquet “Convicted Fraudster” as a matter of routine preference. Massimo himself is giving a progressively more convincing impression of an impoverished billionaire, howling about financial excesses, closing down the training ground and preparing to sack club staff ranging from the tea ladies right down to Peter Lorimer. The manager Brian McDermott has apparently cleared off on holiday, without leaving so much as a forwarding address to facilitate the matter of sending on his P45. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the club’s retained list is being mulled over by il Duce and a man called Benito. To say that it’s a mess would be a hopelessly inadequate understatement.
So, in amongst this lot – how can the Leeds fan in the street possibly hope to attain that Holy Grail of normality? He or she might as well cry for the Moon and the stars – there is just as much chance of success. And yet other clubs appear to be able to go about their business in a relatively calm and efficient, unremarkable manner. There might have been a time when this would have appeared to Whites fans as charmlessly boring, an exercise in tedium. But wouldn’t we just grasp at the chance of it now? Just imagine – a football club entering the close-season with bright prospects for the campaign ahead, quietly going about the business of improving its squad, resolute and determined to be battling it out with the best of the rest, for one of those prized tickets to the Promised Land. It sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But it’s just not Leeds – rather it’s the privilege of lesser clubs, supported by less remarkable fans. Why on earth does it have to be that way for us – and for so bloody long – when others have it so much better?
I’m afraid that this is one of those pieces with a few questions and no answers. It’s just a why-oh-why cry of distress, because that’s how I happen to feel as evidence piles up that we’re not out of the woods yet – indeed that we haven’t even hauled ourselves clear of the quicksand in the depths of those hostile woods. I hope, but feel no optimism, that matters will clarify themselves as the next few weeks go by. But realistically, I fear, we’re going to go into next season in a state of turmoil extraordinary even by LUFC standards. There’s every reason to believe that it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
Usually with these blogs, I’m not short of people ready, willing and seemingly able to tell me that I’m wrong; eager to demonstrate the folly of my reasoning and to put me straight. I normally welcome this much as I do a dose of cod liver oil – it might do me good but I find it extremely unpalatable. But – if you’ve indulged me by reading this gloomy tirade up to this point – the least I can do is take on board any more constructive views you might have to offer. For once, I would actually welcome it. I would even go so far as to say that I need it. So, bring it on – please.
But for those inclined to agree with me, I’d say – let’s take it as read. I’m depressed enough already…