To protest, or not to protest.
That is the question on the lips of many Leeds United fans this week as the club faces a make or break home clash with relegation-haunted Yorkshire neighbours Doncaster Rovers tomorrow.
Some supporters, bizarrely in my view, believe last week’s ‘campaign for change’ march from City Square to Elland Road, organised by the Leeds United Supporters Trust, was somehow to blame for the defeat by Brighton. They argue that the outpourings of antagonism towards club owner Ken Bates are having a negative effect on performances on the pitch – something the Whites simply cannot afford right now.
Yes, United have come off the rails at the worst possible moment, with the promotion chase about to reach fever pitch, but it’s not down to disenchanted fans finally making their voices heard en masse. The truth is dismissals and late goals helped mask a decline over a period of months and that had nothing to do with supporters and everything to do with Simon Grayson and his squad.
Why shouldn’t followers who feel their club has lost its way and turned its back on them make their concerns known? Particularly when the chairman himself has insisted time and again this season that promotion was a must for those very people!
It’s a pity, then, that Mr Bates has singularly failed to take most of those fans with him by sharing a vision they could all unite behind. Where he wants new executive boxes, a hotel and a museum, they want a team bristling at the seams with talent, local if possible, and busting a collective gut to win promotion to the Premier League.
It’s clearly in Mr Bates’ interests to get Leeds to the top flight, but the decision to invest in infrastructure when the playing staff looks short of quality was only ever going to irritate the rank and file who see on-pitch matters as the priority and feel they are paying a premium to follow their club without getting enough back.
While loud and proud support for the team used to be taken as read at LS11, a mounting sense of despair has muted the Whites support and attendances – despite the creditable seventh-placed finish achieved in the first year back in the Championship – have dropped dramatically this term.
That, in itself, should set alarm bells ringing in the corridors of power at Elland Road but the impasse looks set to continue with Mr Bates showing no signs of changing direction or even opening his door to talk about the prospect. You don’t have to run clubs by committee to get things done, but it must be easier if everyone is pulling in the same direction and that, at the minute, is clearly not the case.
So Leeds fans now find themselves in a similar situation to the one which absorbed Liverpool supporters not so long ago. The Reds faithful, it has to be said, faced a completely different problem with American owners George Gillet and Tom Hicks having taken out huge loans to buy the club before dumping the debt on the Anfield outfit. But, fundamentally, they too wanted a change of direction at their club.
As with Leeds, some felt protesting during games was affecting the team and it threatened to split the support. In the end the supporters opted to limit protests to pre-match, the half-time interval and post-match sit-ins at Anfield. It meant those who wanted to protest could do so and those who didn’t could leave the stands, with both sides respecting each other’s views. Maybe that’s the way forward for Leeds supporters now.
The last thing the Elland Road club needs is catastrophic divide among the fans – after all they all want what’s best for Leeds United, even if they can’t yet agree how to get there.