That hashtag – my twitter timeline was dominated by it on the first Thursday of the New Year; a shameless commemoration of the FA Cup victory at Old Trafford, 3 years previously.
Has it really come to this? Is this what Leeds fans have now been reduced to; basking in the glory of an FA Cup win dating backto 2010? A victory, undeniably so special at the time, arguably you could say, one of the great upsets of the modern era, but that’s all it was, an FA Cup 3rd round tie against a patchwork Manchester United side. Victory brought a moment in the national spotlight but no silverware, merely a brave 4th round exit at the hands of Tottenham.
I know all fans of sleeping giants stand accused of clinging onto the past, but at least most hark back to championships and cup wins, rather than a one-off cup tie victory that ultimately led to nothing. Is the victory regarded as being so special as Leeds were regarded as ‘giant killers’ in the media, because if so, then all the more reason to try and banish that day to the past.
If you purport to follow a big club, if you regard your team’s natural level to be the upper echelons of the top flight, then the thought of the common perception of your club as being ‘minnows’ and ‘giant killers‘ should abhor not inspire. The attitude should be to condemn those labels to a dark period of the recent past, rather than to bask in them; yet even a humbling 3-0 Carling Cup reverse the following season did nothing to quell the retrospective pride that still beams from so many.
Little over a decade ago when Leeds still were mixing in heavyweight circles, any supporter would’ve been as embarrassed as they would be horrified if they were to learn that fellow supporters would be commemorating a future FA Cup victory against the Scum three years down the line – back then, it would count for little if the side lost its next game – THIS SHOULD STILL BE THE ATTITUDE!
Last month on my third consecutive visit to Oakwell, I stood witness to shambolic defeat; in the past Leeds fans, as a way of consolation and in an effort to take solace from the pain of defeat have openly mocked the almost hysterical reaction of Barnsley fans to past victories; a huge amount of humour was derived from the fact that within 24 hours of the 5-2 humiliation, the club shop was taking orders of the souvenir DVD. But then flashback to Old Trafford – we had the DVDs, heck we even stocked the t-shirts.
Barnsley, like so many of our Championship rivals were branded as a ‘tin pot’ outfit on the back of the celebrations, because they regarded Leeds United as their ‘cup final’, that the result against us would do so much to define their season, and yet here we are as Leeds fans harping on about that cup tie 3 years on. So do some Leeds United supporters stand accused of the possessing that same mentality?
The January 3rd thing proved the trigger point for this piece, but it’s not an isolated incident, there have been other concerning developments. “We’re Leeds United, we don’t give a ****” is a well trodden terrace mantra, but it seems we do, those petty obsessions we attribute to those other clubs, the exalted status afforded to relatively unremarkable achievements…that used to be stuff that other supporters at this level, but are we now the same.
I’d draw your attention to another twitter incident just a few days afterwards. Norwich City decided to open up the floor for supporters to ask Jonny Howson questions; Leeds fans not only jumped on the bandwagon, but they seemingly hijacked it, holed it up at a storage depot in Beeston and removed the wheels. A degree of mocking was understandable, but there was so much bitterness lacing so many of the questions that they became uncomfortable to read.
These Leeds fans, many of them grown men, were making spiteful digs, openly mocking his struggle to break into the starting line-up, tweeting with the sort of zeal you’d expect from a neurotic ex-partner who still couldn’t come to terms with being dumped and just couldn’t move on. This was all directed at a loyal Leeds lad who never expressed a desire to leave the club and was ultimately pushed out by those above him.
This was a decent young player who’d moved on in amicable circumstances; this wasn’t a Rio Ferdinand, a Harry Kewell, a Lee Bowyer or Eric Cantona – had it been, then by all means have a go, but we’re talking of a Norwich City squad player. At a time when fans should be questioning why such talent continues to leave the club, many seem more obsessed with the fact that most end up in East Anglia.
“You mean **** all to us!” is another terrace retort – well seemingly Norwich City do…Norwich bloody City! How can any self-respecting supporter claim to support a big club then spend their days resenting Norwich?
The fact is, Leeds United as a concept, as a name, as a football club hasn’t fundamentally changed, only those who run the club and those who follow it. The Leeds United brand – yes it is a horrible term, I know – still maintains a certain gravitas in footballing circles. The club will still draw in home supporters wherever they go based on its name and its past alone; it should also continue to interest investors by the means of the potential it undoubtedly offers – Leeds United is still a big club, it is only the mentality that has changed.
So many supporters have been conditioned to expect the absolute minimum these days that it is easy to forget we follow one of the English game’s giants. Balance sheets, wage bills, investing in corporate facilities – this is a mantra that’s been indoctrinated into so many minds during the Bates era, where notions of realism are preached ad nauseum and ambition is regarded as the preserve of the naive and foolhardy. Buying into the same propaganda it would be easy now to suspect that had George Bush Jnr. spent outlandishly on tropical fish, a horrified Barack Obama would’ve managed the US budget in such a way that the USA would not now be teetering on the edge of a fiscal cliff.
Is it really acceptable that Leeds United contends itself with fighting for scraps after the likes of Hull and Leicester have had taken the pick of the player pool? Should we really be reduced to salivating wrecks at the mention of a possible million pound signing? Should our prospects of sneaking into the top 6 in any given season be defined by the the fortunes of the relegated sides and those still feeding off parachute payments? No, no and no!!
I refuse to accept the status quo as being our lot in life as I know that Leeds United is far bigger and better than that:
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Those are the words of Oscar Wilde but they should speak for one and all as far as our club is concerned. For me, Championship football is not acceptable and seeing my club not even competing as a front runner is intolerable. I grew up on Leeds United in the second tier and we’re back there now, but what I’ve seen in between assured me that this club isn’t an insignificant ‘also ran’, just an outfit that’s criminally underperforming.
League status doesn’t define the size of a club, only its current standing within the game – just take a look a Rangers; it’s history and its supporters that count; passion cannot re-categorised, it’s why the cursed ‘goal music’ will surely never be a part of the Elland Road match day experience. All that holds back Leeds United is the desire to once again compete; somewhere in the avalanche of propaganda, so many supporters have lost their ambition, and without ambition we have nothing.
The name Leeds United will never be ‘tin pot’; laughing stock, sadly too often, but not ‘tin pot’ because of what the club has stood for in the past, because of the “inflated” expectations some supporters are mocked for and because the potential will always remain to fulfill those ambitions.
‘Tin pot’ is a state of mind at Elland Road; a cursed byproduct of a miserable decade; in younger supporters, brought up on a diet of lower tier football it is perhaps more understandable, but for those who’ve experienced better times – take a look at yourselves.
“We’re **** and we’re sick of it!” resounded out of the North Stand at Oakwell with a passion Leeds crashed again. Aren’t we all? So why accept it any longer? If our new owners don’t have the budget to take us forward, then it’s vital that they bring onboard other investors to ensure they do – and any pursuit of external investment on their part to further the cause of Leeds United should be applauded. We may be in the midst of a honeymoon period, but come the summer do we want to go through the whole process of watching Shaun Harvey fumbling through the bargain bins again?
Don’t embrace mediocrity; if you are willing to do so, if you truly believe that concepts like ‘ambition’ and ‘expectation’ are to be treated with suspicion or contempt, then maybe you need to ask yourself what is left in football for you?
Like everyone else, I follow my club in the hope and belief that things will get better – it’s time to acknowledge that without a change of mindset they won’t. Reject the ‘wisdom’ and start demanding more.