The frenzied scenes of celebration among Huddersfield fans, as their club narrowly avoided relegation from the Premier League, served mainly to put into sharp focus all that is wrong with Yorkshire football. And, much to the chagrin of any fan from the right side of the Pennines, there’s plenty wrong. Huddersfield saved their top-flight existence in much the same way as they’d earned it in last season’s play-offs – by hanging on grimly for draws and relying on slip-ups from others. It was a glory-free spectacle but, sadly, it’s the best the Broad Acres currently has to offer, which is a stinging indictment of the current state of all things football in God’s Own County.
When you look elsewhere in the county, the Sheffield clubs attained differing degrees of mediocrity, Leeds flattered to deceive and then reverted to type, Barnsley went down not with a bang but with a whimper – and the less said about the rest, the better. Perhaps Rotherham United might earn some glory for Yorkshire; that remains to be seen. The point is, the football performance of the Yorkshire area has been much the same as usual: when Leeds aren’t doing well, there’s nowt much going on. And so, while United remain in the doldrums, the best we can offer is the occasional play-off success or relegation escape. Compared to the fare being served up in parts of the lesser county to our west, where Manchester’s finest has emerged as the best team in Premier League history, this is a humiliating state of affairs.
The fact of the matter is that just about all of Yorkshire‘s footballing pedigree, such as it is, resides in LS11. The last two times that Leeds United have gone up to the top division, survival has been the last thing on their mind. On both occasions, they’ve gone up, had a brief and not exactly respectful look around to gauge the lie of the land, and then set about winning the thing, elbowing lesser mortals out of the way and imposing themselves brilliantly, much to the annoyance of media and rival fans alike.
This is the responsibility that Leeds United carries, nothing less than the pride and honour of the greatest county in the land. Nobody else will pick up that baton; nobody else can. It’s down to Leeds – if they can’t do it, it won’t be done. Things are different now as compared to those two previous promotions in 1964 and 1990. That twenty-six year span – the same gap, ironically, that now separates us from our most recent League Title – was the last hurrah of old style, ultra-competitive, strength in depth professionalism, when there wasn’t a six team cartel at the top of the league, monopolising the glory. To dominate in that era, as the Revie Boys did, when there was much less of a financial divide between the great and the not so great, was an achievement indeed. The way things are now, Leeds – in order to fulfil their destiny of salvaging Yorkshire pride – will have to place themselves on a comparable financial footing to the current behemoths of the game. To say that won’t be easy is to fall into the trap of hopeless understatement – yet, if United can just barge their way into the Premier League, there would be few if any juicier investment opportunities than a one club city of enormous prestige and illustrious history.
So, there’s the challenge. And only at Elland Road, as far as Yorkshire is concerned, is there even the remotest expectation, never mind demand, that such a challenge should be accepted. Because at no other club in Yorkshire will it even occur to the fans or the directors that such a thing is possible. The ultimate aspiration for them is to survive at the top table, hoping to lick up some rich men’s crumbs. This is the lesson of the unbridled joy with which Huddersfield’s survival was greeted. For Leeds, this would be a humiliation they could not countenance; when United do go up, the demand and expectation will be for so much more. And rightly so, for that is our proud legacy.
However hard the task, however unlikely the chance of gatecrashing that elite group, it’s the hungry and imperious expectation of success, written into the DNA of the club and its fans, that makes Leeds United the only candidates to bring some football honour and respect back to Yorkshire. If Leeds United can’t deliver, then nobody will – and we must hope that Leeds Rhinos in Rugby League, and Yorkshire County Cricket Club too, can fulfil that urgent desire for honour and success. In White Rose football, it’s United first and the rest nowhere, just as much as it has always been; that’s the grave responsibility we carry, just by virtue of being Leeds.
With the club’s centenary approaching, it’s time to deliver on that responsibility. As the Great White Hope of an entire county, let’s grit our teeth, and get on with it.