The following piece was written for the latest issue of The Square Ball, just prior to the QPR home game; the decision that day to clad the players in tracksuit tops, complete with names and have them perform a pre kick-off wave to the crowd suggests I’m not alone in advocating the club embrace its past, I only hope this marks the start of something more substantial as outlined in the piece that follows…
In an era where ‘brand awareness’ supersedes tradition, where market savvy moves steamroller seemingly lesser concerns like identity, where Hull City have become ‘Tigers’, where the Bluebirds of Cardiff now bow in deference to the Red Dragons, football now, more than ever stands accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder.
From the Far East to the Middle East, players arrive at clubs, often recruited as much for their potential in increasing market penetration as their prospects of breaking into a starting XI. Pre-season tours serve primarily as a tool for clubs to expand into ‘new territories’, bolster club TV subscriptions and shirt sales…and those shirts, (Disclaimer: any similarity to any previous traditional kit, in colours or style, is merely coincidental) putrid polyester personified in promotional campaigns, ill advised attempts to reflect fashion rather than club that fail through their malodorous garishness on every level.
These are trends, or what the money men have you believe, the products of progress in the evolution of the modern game, where the survival of the fittest is construed as forsaking all you’ve had in a futile attempt to compete for what you’ll never attain. But maybe in this all-consuming stampede to raise profiles there is another way, a niche in the market, a non-conformist route? And maybe, just maybe, Leeds United is better placed than any other club to take this alternative path?
Almost a decade under the dark rules of tyranny of Bates left a club that was on its knees; financially on the brink, out of the public consciousness and out of touch with a divided fan base. Reminders at Elland Road of what makes the club special to so many proved as rare as rocking horse s*** during that time, with banks of blue seats and apathy the abiding memories of an almost universally awful period in our history. Only on our travels did salvation offer its ever present shoulder to cry on; the unity to be found on away trips, of it being Leeds against the world – that is how it’s always been, that’s how we like it, so should that not be our blueprint for the future?
While David Haigh, having first heroically appeared on his noble steed atop Beeston Hill last summer, metaphorically resplendent in his gleaming chainmail, hasn’t brought the riches hoped for amongst his company of ‘White Knights’, he and his fellowship have at least accomplished a great deal off the pitch to bring back together club, fans and community. On the pitch, the story is very much the same where Brian McDermott is yet to put a foot wrong in building a team, a spirit and expectations of better times ahead. Now for the next step…
Leeds United has come a long way in a short time over the last few months, suddenly Saturday’s inspire anticipation rather than dread, pride rather than mere defiance is driving fans to buy tickets, the club feels as if it’s starting to get its identity back – but why stop there?
There is a pride and devotion, unique within English football, that is to be found amongst Leeds fans; no other club could still inspire so much hatred in so many, having fallen so far, then anonymously shuffled around in the Championship en route to recovery. We remain English football’s black sheep, the reviled, whose lowly status seemingly does nothing to inspire any greater degree of ambivalence across the nation. Leeds United has always dealt with the haters with a trusty two fingered, two word response… We’re Leeds United, we don’t give a f***! But Leeds United at it’s very best has done so with a swagger, a cockiness and a sense of pride; that is what we need to get back.
To do that, is it time to build on what makes our club special? To draw a line in the sand, shake a fist at the rest of modern football with its goal music, clapper boards and disregard for history and tell them all we’ll be doing it our way? We’re the biggest single city club in England and just happen to be based in Yorkshire – if that shouldn’t imbue a streak of arrogance, I don’t what could.
It’s a mantle, a birthright that the club has inherited, something to stand it apart from the rest, something that should be exploited. The club already sits alone in the kitchen, knocking back pints at football family gatherings, like some exiled brother with a criminal record; the fans have always thrown it back in the faces of those prudish relatives by reaffirming their pride in our identity, those at the top should grasp the mettle, cherish and utilise this.
Let’s lose the home shirts that resemble a packet of Regal King Size, the beige abomination we sport on the road; they say a camel is a horse, designed by committee, the Leeds shirts more than anything prove that, football fashion gurus and marketing whizz kids combining to spawn Macron sponsored monsters. Let’s return to a purity of vision, an all-white home kit, all-yellow away from home and blue for the arbitrary third strip. Let’s make Leeds United instantly recognisable again.
In fact, let’s go further. Let’s reinstate the smiley badge, or the peacock, or even the Yorkshire rose; iconic images, indelibly connected with the club, as opposed to the soulless, corporate crest of today, an emblem wholly tainted by reckless excess then stifled ambitions. Bring back names on tracksuit tops, the sock tags, the team saluting the crowd before the kick-off as if in expectation that all present will genuflect in acknowledgement…all the things that once can set us apart, inspires that pride, that swagger and makes the rest seethe.
Let’s make this football club as unique and self-reverential as it can be, even more special to its own supporters; in taking this stand, by cherishing and enriching it’s identity, by defiantly standing apart from others, it may not win any friends among opposing fans, but will doubtless win the begrudging admiration of many who despair the way the modern game is going.
Let’s be the no-conformists, the club that doesn’t play ball, the institution that cherishes its tradition and identity as much as its supporters; let’s be the club for the outsiders, the one that offers a different philosophy, a fresh perspective rooted in heritage. Let’s stand for something!
Even allowing for a return to the top flight, Leeds cannot hope to compete in a global market with the Premier League’s leading lights for many, many years, based on success and superstars. So maybe trading on a fiercely strong and proud identity could prove to be our best option?
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