Most Leeds fans will be only too sadly familiar with that sinking feeling that accompanies a football hero’s departure from the club.
I know I am. When I ponder on my history as a fan over 42 years, it’s like looking back over a string of shattered relationships as I took each new United icon to my heart, only to have that susceptible organ broken, time and again. It’s something that just keeps on happening to us and, quite frankly, it can be a bit wearisome.
The earliest I can really remember – and it causes a pang of hurt even now – is the transfer of Tony Currie to QPR in 1979. Those even older than I am will look back misty-eyed at Juventus whisking John Charles to Italy in the 50s. Icons like Batty, McAllister and Speed ploughed the outward furrow in the 90s and so the process has gone on. Lately, we’ve relinquished the likes of McCormack, Snodgrass and Byram to various ruthlessly minted predators. It’s been a litany of loss.
Last Saturday, I awoke with the eager anticipation of a good day’s cricket in the first Test against the Windies, to be followed by a tasty away game for Leeds at Sunderland. My TV day was mapped out, and I was content. And then, confirmed news solidified out of initial rumour; Burnley of the Premier League had got their man, and Leeds had lost last year’s 30 goal top-scorer Chris Wood. Great, I thought, miserably. It’s happened again.
This time, though, it was all a little different. Leeds United, having delivered what seemed like a hammer blow to our weekend happiness, then proceeded to lift its disciples back up, by giving a performance of verve and quality at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. Leeds’ approach to the game gave an emphatic message that they are not a one man team; that a fluid attacking performance is not only possible without Chris Wood – it’s actually more achievable. The 2-0
victory owed much to a game plan not limited to going through a big guy up front. Instead, Leeds made angles, found space and created a string of chances, two of which they finished with deadly accuracy. By the final whistle, anyone
with LUFC carved on their heart could look forward to a brighter future, without Mr. Wood, but with £15 million or so to invest in this new United vision. Further confirmation of the Leeds feel-good factor came on Tuesday evening
against League Two Newport County in the Carabao Cup. A crowd of 17,098 was remarkable in the circumstances – on the same evening, Sheffield United drew only just over 11,000 for a tie against recent champions Leicester City. The
Elland Road crowd good-humouredly tolerated a turgid opening period against a plucky Newport, and then lapped up a terrific second-half display yielding four goals, a hat-trick for Kemar Roofe, another goal from new hero Samu Sáiz
(please, let us keep this guy a while) – and the news after the game that we were signing a massive youthful unit of a forward from NEC Nijmegen, name of Jay Roy Grot. This time, positivity has emerged from what initially appeared to
be a grim retelling of the same old story. Perhaps it’s symptomatic of the new broom approach Andrea Radrizzani has taken since acquiring the club, brushing away the old cobwebs of discontent and assuring us that players may come and
players may go – but Leeds United will march on together. With the possible exception of my boyhood hero Tony Currie, we’ve dealt with the loss of most of our previous departed heroes, and currently the club appears to be in great
shape to prosper without Chris Wood. I certainly can’t remember the gloom surrounding a high-profile departure dissipating quite so quickly before.
It’s a reliable sign of the times though and, whatever the result at Forest today, Leeds United FC appears at last to be on the right track.