Tag Archives: We Are Leeds

Happy New Year to All Leeds Fans; the Best Fans in the World – by Rob Atkinson

Spontaneous reaction from an awestruck Derby fan

Spontaneous reaction from an awestruck Derby fan

Amid the doom and gloom of 2014, let’s all remember that we still have one massive asset – the incredible support that Leeds United is struggling vainly to deserve. The support is the lifeblood of any club, and we have simply the best around. This is not just the biased ravings of a Leeds lunatic with white-tinted spectacles on. It’s the view of other fans too, even some of those who hate us the most. The picture accompanying this paragraph is of an awestruck reaction from a Derby County fan after last night’s debacle (I don’t endorse ALL the text of this, by the way). And below, I reproduce without embellishment the views of a Cardiff fan who attended a United away game at Blackburn, which make for edifying reading, to say the very least. It’s quite long, not totally approving of ALL the antics of United’s travelling army – and many of you will have seen it before anyway. But it’s useful to remind ourselves of the high esteem in which this club’s support is held in certain parts of what might be deemed enemy territory:

I used to hate Leeds United.

I’d gleefully join in with ‘We all hate Leeds scum’ chants and sing about how they weren’t famous anymore. If there was no derby game that season it would be the first fixture I looked for and would anticipate it like a cup game.

Then I grew up a bit. I went to Leeds University for three years and saw how passionate the city is about their local team. In most cities without a team in the top flight you are just as likely to see people in Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea shirts than whoever the local team may be, but it couldn’t be further from the truth in Leeds. If you’re from Leeds, you support Leeds United – end of story. I can’t imagine what the punishment is for someone from Leeds supporting Manchester United, but I imagine it involves some kind of public stoning before being beheaded by Lucas Radebe.

As I developed a more reasoned outlook on football I began to wonder why just so many teams hate Leeds United with such a passion. Their location means they have a higher number of geographical rivals than most, but this doesn’t explain why football grounds around the UK reverberate to the tune of ‘We all hate Leeds scum’ from supporters of clubs that Leeds couldn’t care less about. From what I understand from my experience of Leeds fans (and feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong), they hate Manchester United, Galatasaray and Chelsea, dislike Sheffield Wednesday and couldn’t really care less about anybody else. So why do they anger the footballing public so much?

The answer for the older generation is presumably the fact they used to be good. Really good. During the 60’s and 70’s they won several domestic trophies and deserved to win the European Cup, denied only by some ‘interesting’ referee decisions in favour of Bayern Munich. However, the last time Leeds won a trophy was 1992 and they were relegated from the Premier League in 2004, even dropping as low as the third tier for a short time. So if jealousy isn’t the reason for the widespread Leeds hatred, what is? I joined 7000 or so Leeds fans at Blackburn Rovers to see if they deserved the title of ‘Dirty Leeds’.

As soon as I arrived in Blackburn you could tell that this was more than an away day, this was more like an invasion. The streets of Blackburn were absolutely filled with Leeds fans, with a large section of them heading to the Postal Order pub. This was the place to be for the next hour, as the visitors from Yorkshire produced a fantastic atmosphere inside the local Wetherspoons, better than most teams can create inside a stadium. The only people inside the pub not having a great time were the overworked bar staff and the couple who had chosen spectacularly poorly when picking a venue for their first date. Safe to say they didn’t stay very long, and date number two doesn’t seem particularly likely.

Two large tables turned into a stage, with the Leeds fans taking it in turns to play the part of conductor. “On the table for the lads” would be chanted at the individual of choice, who would then climb up onto the table and start a song, or be booed mercilessly if they refused. One particular visitor whose size would probably most politely be described as ‘Extra Extra Large’ was encouraged onto the table a number of times, refusing each time until he was bought two pints. After downing them both in one go, he took a run up, sped towards the table with determination, leapt through the air like a salmon and…made it about six inches off the ground, crashing into the table and falling on the floor. They didn’t ask him again after that.

While the away support did have plenty of humour, there was also a touching side to a number of their chants, paying tribute to Richard Ismail, known as ‘Moody’ to Leeds fans. Moody was a lifelong Leeds fan who recently passed away after spending over a year in hospital following an assault in Sheffield. “We’re all Moody aren’t we” was chanted throughout the afternoon, with the same phrase written on a flag displayed proudly at Ewood Park.

As the visitors got drunker and drunker, the chanting got wilder and wilder. Starting at “Number one is Michael Brown”, they made it all the way to “and 100, is Michael Brown” before insisting that they all dreamed of a team of Michael Browns. I’ve seen him play, and one Michael Brown is bad enough, never mind an army of them. It was at this point that things got a little out of hand, as the Leeds fans chanted “Let’s pretend we scored a goal”, counted down from ten and then went absolutely mental. Beer flew through the air, tables were overturned and pint glasses were smashed. The pub decided that it was probably time to close and the bell for time at the bar was rung at about 1:45pm. As fans filed out towards the ground or a different bar, it looked like a bomb had gone off. In fairness, many Leeds fans apologised for the damage and helped to turn the tables back over before they left.

Normally in my reports I would spend a great deal of time writing about the game itself, but honestly, it was just awful. Not so long ago Leeds and Blackburn had wonderful sides which would have made this fixture a joy to watch, but these days have gone due to the curse of the modern-day football club owner. The Venky’s have run Blackburn into the ground, while a combination of Peter Ridsdale and Ken Bates have done their best to kill off Leeds United.

Leeds had one chance of note, a beautiful flick from Ross McCormack setting up Danny Pugh who looked certain to score – only denied by a wonderful save by Blackburn’s Kean (not that one). Blackburn had a few more opportunities, forcing Paddy Kenny into making some good saves, but in all honesty it was a game worthy of being 0 – 0, and that would have been generous. The winner came just before half time, Tommy Spurr sweeping the ball into the net from a corner after some lacklustre defending.

The real story of the day was the Leeds fans. More than a third of those in attendance were from the away side, and they were also responsible for 95% of the noise. A small pocket of Blackburn fans to the right of the away end did their best to create an atmosphere, but attempting to take on 7000 Leeds supporters in an atmosphere contest is like attempting to storm a US military base with a plastic spoon, you’re not going to get anywhere. There were effectively four away ends, with the Yorkshire side bringing so many fans that they had taken up the entire stand, usually segregated to contain both home and away fans.

They sung and supported the team for 90 minutes, and didn’t do anything worthy of the ‘Dirty Leeds’ label as far as I could see. I was starting to realise that the reason so many people hate Leeds is because they aren’t Leeds. Leeds United are a reminder of how good English football used to be and the atmosphere which made the country the envy of Europe. These days are long gone, surpassed by Germany, Poland, the Balkans and many more, but the passion of Leeds United remains. When you watch a Leeds game, you don’t feel as though you are in the stale and sanitised world of English football. It almost feels as though a Leeds United away end belongs in a museum, a reminder to fans within England that watching football is something to be enjoyed, rather than endured.

Now, these Leeds fan are by no means perfect, the destruction of the pub was uncalled for and some of the chants about Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones were tasteless at best, but arguably no worse than the kind of thing you’d hear at countless other grounds around the country on a Saturday afternoon.

I think far too many people fall into the trap of hating Leeds because that is what they are told they should do. Leeds fans have continued to show fantastic loyalty to their club, despite the fact they have suffered an even more spectacular fall from grace than Miley Cyrus. I have no doubts that the Leeds team of the past was well worthy of hatred, and in the old days of hooliganism being rife across England the damage done by their fans to various cities and towns is well-known. However these days are long gone, and hating Leeds United is now a fashion statement for most, rather than anything tangible.

One incident long after the game had finished demonstrated the commendable attitude that Leeds fans have to supporting their team, despite the fact that they are, more often than not, terrible at the actual football side of things. I was amongst 300 or so Leeds fans waiting at Mill Hill station, waiting for a connection back to Blackburn Central to head home. First of all a train arrived on the opposite side of the station, heading towards Preston. Several of the more drunk Leeds fans got on this service anyway, despite the fact it was heading in completely the wrong direction. Those who remained on the platform began doing the conga up and down the outside of the train, singing “do do do, you’re getting on the wrong train!” This was followed by a reworking of their earlier chant, as they bellowed “Let’s pretend our trains arrived”, counting down from ten and leaping around the platform like they’d just won the European Cup.

The author then challenges his Cardiff-supporting fellow fans to state why they hate Leeds, if not for the spurious reasons he’s cited in his piece. Again, I don’t agree with every last syllable – but to me, it’s remarkable how a fan of another team so completely “gets” what supporting Leeds United is all about. Take that quote from midway through: “I was starting to realise that the reason so many people hate Leeds is because they aren’t Leeds. Leeds United are a reminder of how good English football used to be and the atmosphere which made the country the envy of Europe.” Doesn’t that sum up perfectly the Leeds effect on the game as a whole? Could it be better put? I couldn’t do it.

These two snippets of enemy intelligence are, if you think about it, independent verification of what we all know to be true, deep down. We are United and we are the best. And it’s us, the fans, who truly are United. We’re the lifeblood of the club, the essence of Yorkshire’s Number One. That’s something to be genuinely proud of, when so much about the club is shamefully inadequate.

So – a very Happy New Year to the best supporters in the world. Maybe 2015 will after all bring us a little closer to what we all desire with every fibre of our being: better times for our beloved club. Whatever happens, we’ll still be here, we’ll still be the best. We always knew that – but it’s good to know that others know it too.

Keep it loud and proud in 2015 and beyond. Keep singing and shouting and being The Best.

We Are Leeds.

Cellino Needs to Understand the Meaning of “We Are Leeds” – by Rob Atkinson

We Are Leeds

We Are Leeds

Massimo Cellino continues to divide opinion among fans of Leeds United as he goes about assessing the nature and extent of the undoubted mess behind the scenes at Elland Road.  He appears to be a decisive sort of bloke, to say the least.  Draconian, even – just how severe and ruthless he can be we will probably see in the not too distant future.

Right now, his work has hardly begun.  But, early days though these are, it’s proper and relevant to wonder about Cellino’s long-term aims.  Part of this longer-term view has to involve the question of whether or not the King of Corn knows exactly what he’s bought into.  What would constitute success for Leeds United?  After all, the club has been out of the spotlight for well over a decade.  Surely, expectations are on a whole different level from the days when the club was at the forefront of the game?

One school of thought is that for any owner to buy into a limited view of the potential of Leeds would be a big mistake.  After all, Cellino hasn’t acquired a Leicester City here, nor even a Newcastle United a West Ham or a Sheffield Wednesday. These are all clubs whose fans will happily accept membership of the Premier League, albeit two-thirds of the way or so down the modern pecking-order.  At Elland Road, the club anthem is “Marching On Together” – but a shorter, more tribally-assertive chant is heard with even greater regularity. “We Are Leeds”, it states – quite simply and without qualification.  In those three short words, the fans sum up the identity of a club that knows it’s out on a limb – and of those fans themselves, who expect such a massively loaded chant to be taken as confirmation, were any needed, that this is not just any club.

On the last two occasions that Leeds United has motored into the top flight, it has had a brief look around, settled in – and then taken over at the top.  It actually took longer for Revie’s troops to do this than it did for Wilko’s Warriors – but the Revie dynasty compensated by lasting longer.  In both cases though, there was a distinct lack of respect and trepidation as the Whites moved on up. There was no suggestion of timid apprehension. They came, they saw and, in due course, they conquered.

The top flight is, it almost goes without saying, a very different place these days – and not necessarily in a good way.  But the tradition of supporter expectation goes back a lot further at Leeds than it does at most other clubs. Some ostensibly big clubs have given up on the idea of ever being champions, and one allegedly massive outfit in the north-east has even acknowledged that winning trophies appears nowhere near the top of its agenda.  For that one-time giant, the balance sheet and the income that goes along with Premier League status is first, last and everything.  But what sort of message does that send out to the fans?  And could you see such a state of affairs being accepted at Leeds?

Whatever the contrast between the top-level environment now, as opposed to when Leeds United last breathed that rarefied air, the assumptions of the support upon attaining that level will be that the club will then set about finding the best and most effective way to the top.  It’s in the DNA of Leeds United fans to want to compete at the summit of things – and a dim view would be taken of any lowering of standards, any reduction of objectives. That begs the question of what is possible – and what kind of player will we be looking to attract?

At the top end of the Premier League, there now seems to be an acceptance that the player is King – and that those demanding egos will settle for nothing less than ever-increasing pampering and worship from clubs and fans alike. The ridiculous Yaya Touré “birthday” story is ample confirmation of that. Is that the kind of thing that Leeds United fans really want to see happening in the name of their club?  So the supplementary question to the main one of “What do we expect once promotion is achieved?” might well be: “Hang on – do we really want promotion at all??” Of course we bloody do!! – I hear you say, indignantly. And yet it would seem quite possible that, once promoted, our legacy of extravagant expectations could well be at odds with our characteristic, cynical suspicion of the kind of “flash” behaviour exhibited by Mr Touré – as well as by sundry other pampered, overpaid, out-of-touch egomaniacs in the self-proclaimed “Best League in the World”.

As you might have gathered, this blog finds itself in somewhat of a dilemma. The question of whether Cellino is sufficiently aware of the historical expectation levels associated with this club is one that has troubled me for a while.  It is quite possible that he might be looking at turning us into Premier League survivors-and-little-more, such as Newcastle.  That would be bad enough, at least on the face of it.  But what if he did then want to go the extra mile and get us up there into that top four?  It’s an almost impossible dream anyway; the competition would be hot and ludicrously expensive. But if we did make it – how would we, as fans, relate to the kind of players and egos that would inevitably then populate our first team squad?  Would we feel any connection with them at all?  Or would we long for the days of Jermaine Beckford (for the younger ones) or Gordon Strachan, or Billy Bremner (for the lucky and really lucky ones)?

Football is a competitive sport and, over time, you have to be aspirational; you have to be aiming higher.  In the case of Leeds United – whether Massimo Cellino is aware of this or not – you have to be aiming for the very top.  But now there is that baffling conundrum: in aiming for and reaching that summit -would we be mortgaging the very soul of the club?    Look at Manchester City – how on earth can the City fans, many of whom were visiting third tier outposts of the game not so long back, possibly relate to the fact that their best midfielder appears to have the mental processes of a four-year old?

Where Leeds United are right now – stuck in the league below the top one and about to embark, we must hope, on a rebuilding of the club – is a good place and the right time to be considering what we actually want for our club in the longer term.  It’s the right time and place, because what we demand now, in this comparatively normal and down-to-earth league, might just have an effect on where we end up in the next few years, depending upon the readiness of Cellino to listen.  And what this comes down to is that old saw “Be careful what you wish for – you might get it”.

Does Cellino really know what “We Are Leeds” means, and the pride and ambition behind that raucously-assertive statement?  If he does – is he game for trying to get the club eventually back up to that old, accustomed place near the top of the game?  And if he actually manages that – in these new days of footballers with world-class talent, massive egos and wage packets, but tiny brains – would we end up thanking him for it?  Or might we instead damn him?

Just what do we want?  I feel that the answer might eventually lie in a radical restructuring of the game in this country, possibly on the German model of fan-owned clubs and a more affordable product for all – and almost certainly a FIFA-ratified wage cap that escapes the beady eye of the European pay commissars. That could take years and would certainly meet with stiff opposition from the current interested parties.  But that sounds to me much more like the kind of environment I’d like to see Leeds United promoted into. The current set-up invites along those ambitious enough to want merely to be cannon-fodder for the “big” clubs – the likes of Southampton and Leicester. Try as I might – I can’t see Leeds United, the club or the fans, wanting to settle for that as a way of life.

It’s a conundrum alright – ambition versus dissatisfaction with what we’re shooting for. I’d love to know what Massimo thinks, and what his understanding really is of the Leeds United mentality.  And I’d love to know what you think – so your views are, as ever, most appreciated.