Bear with me now, as we awake to another Leeds United match-day, if I write of the conflict between my feelings for the Whites and a whole other club in a whole different sport. Let me just put this painful dilemma out there.
Whilst I appreciate that by no means all the readers of Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything will be Leeds Rhinos fans, nor yet even Super League followers, nevertheless there will be plenty that are. I happen to have a foot in both football and RL camps, so I feel a certain tug-of-war going on deep inside, where my loyalties live. And, even given my dual affiliation, which goes back many years now, it was still the case not so long back that I’d have considered it to be strictly no-contest between Leeds United and any other sporting interest. But now, I must confess – I’m not so sure any more.
As I said, many of you out there will not be Super League fans. Feel free to be excused, or maybe just chat amongst yourselves. Still others will love Super League, or RL anyway, as much as I do. But perhaps you’re Cas Tigers followers, or Wakefield or – God forbid – Hull FC or even Saints (spit). Again, this isn’t primarily aimed at you, though I’d love to hear your opinion if you can be bothered (and if you can set aside your petty hatred of the Rhinos…!)
But the real target audience here is made up of those, like myself, who follow Leeds in both sports. Do you feel the 13-a-side game exerting an ever greater hold over you? Do you find yourself continually on the edge of your seat when watching the Rhinos – and sometimes on the point of dropping off when Leeds United are playing? Worrying, isn’t it?
The problem – if it really is a problem – may, of course, be wider than just a Leeds thing. There may be Hull FC and Hull City fans who find themselves wondering which sport offers the most. It’s just fairly acute for us double Leeds fans at the moment, because the Rhinos are undoubtedly the team in Super League, whereas poor old United appear to be settling more and more for mediocrity. Even Herr Rösler’s promised “heavy metal football” is coming across so far more as senseless noise, than anything with a real beat. It’s very worrying – and not a little unsettling, too.
The issue I have at the moment is the contrasting way I feel when I’m watching the Rhinos, compared with United. Watching the Whites still gets me wound up; the desire and passion are both still there, but there’s this nagging subtext of frustration a lot of the time – of exasperation at misplaced passes, of annoyance with the tedium of the game as our heroes currently play it. Horrible though it is for me to say so, I’m sometimes actually bored watching Leeds United – and even that’s preferable to the fear and resentment I feel when we’re getting a good drubbing off the likes of Hull or Millwall or even Bradford.
Watching the Rhinos though, can be literally breathtaking, win or lose. There’s such an insistent, throbbing, ebb and flow tempo to the game of Rugby League, and there’s also the awesome realisation of what those lads are putting their bodies through for eighty minutes. Watching Jamie Peacock ploughing forward with three defenders dangling from his frame – or Ryan Hall using his power and strength to surge unstoppably over the line – these have been the sporting moments over the last few years or so that have really got my imagination and passion fired up. It’s difficult to recall too many moments like that watching Leeds United – and, believe me, I truly hate saying that. But really – aren’t there some of you out there who, if you’re honest, feel exactly the same?
I’m not here to wind anybody up. It’s a niggling, worrying issue for me, and I’m genuinely interested in how others feel, whether they agree, or violently disagree. My passion for Leeds United goes back forty years – I’m bound to feel a bit like an errant lover, trying to seem less obviously guilty about his younger mistress. But the truth is that Leeds Rhinos have come to mean a hell of a lot to me as well. Is this wrong? They’re two completely separate sports, after all. So am I being unfaithful to United, or even to the Beautiful Game itself?
I’d love to hear your views, and I’ll try to be gentle and restrained when moderating comments in an area where feelings may understandably run high. But I’m in a real quandary here and it’s actually a bit heart-wrenchingly painful.
Fellow sufferers – and others – it’s over to you.