Leeds United are not that far at all from a team that carries all before it, dominating the domestic scene with a clean sweep of sparkly honours, and looking set fair to succeed on the world stage. How good does that sound?
Sadly for most Whites fans, that glory and success, so close at hand that we can absolutely smell the silver polish, is represented by a different team in a rival sport, just a few miles up the road in leafy Headingley. Super League Champions, League Leaders and back-to-back Challenge Cup Holders Leeds Rhinos are the undoubted Kings of Rugby League, monopolising the cups, trophies and other baubles for both team and individuals. They have brought a sense of pride to the city of Leeds in a way that United used to do once upon a time, long ago – a way that the hapless and misdirected Whites can only dream of now.
That’s a bitter pill for followers of the round ball game in Yorkshire‘s biggest and best city. It’s a pill only slightly sweetened for those who, as I do, happen to follow Leeds in both sports. For those die-hard United fans who have no love for what they might term egg-chasers, it’s an unwelcome reminder that, quite frankly, we’re no longer top dogs on our own patch. And there’s very real danger inherent in that unpalatable fact.
The problem for Leeds United is that, in a proud city where there is fierce rivalry between devotees of competing sports, continued failure and monotonous mediocrity are simply not sustainable. Watching top level professional sport is an expensive business at the best of times – and the current times are patently not the best. With continued failure and disappointment, there is no feelgood factor to lessen the sting of high ticket prices. There’s no warm glow of value for money – and that’s a matter of real concern to any citizen of the People’s Republic of Yorkshire, where traditionally pockets are long and arms are short. There is a much-told tale that copper wire was originally discovered by two Tykes fighting over a penny. Apocryphal as that may be, there can be no doubt that denizens of the Broad Acres are careful with their brass, and will sniff out value for that commodity with a bloodhound’s zeal. Like it or not, there’s precious little value in Leeds United these days.
If you’re a youngish person of limited income but some breadth of mind – someone whose memories don’t stretch back as far as real success for Leeds United – what are you going to do? Where will you go, if you fancy spending some of your hard-gained cash on a match-day ticket? The lure of Headingley and the rampant, success-sated Rhinos must surely be hard to resist. As for the football down at Elland Road – well, would you? With cash in short supply? It’s asking a lot, especially of youngsters who simply cannot know what a rocking stadium behind a successful United side is really like.
Some people attempt to defend football’s ludicrous prices, citing pricey theatre tickets and the like. But you don’t set out to watch Swan Lake and end up coming home depressed on a cold, wet night, after watching a bunch of overpaid, under-motivated failures slide to yet another drab, morale-sapping defeat. Ultimately, in the quest for the Holy Grail of value for money, people will tend to vote with their feet – and that tendency will increase with each additional year of disappointment, disillusion and broken promises. Add into this mix of bleak depression a glittering counter-attraction just across the city – and the clear and present danger to a complacent and decadent football club is all too easy to see.
The day might not be far off now when the Leeds Rhinos, masters of a vibrantly exciting, brutally committed, compelling spectacle of a sport, could well be not only Rugby League’s class act, but the top of the bill in their own city, on merit, with only feeble opposition from a poverty-stricken and dystopian LS11. And, Rhinos admirer though I gladly am, that’s a day whose dawn I really do not wish to see.