Ben Shires: Leeds United aren’t challenging for Europe but we’ve plenty to be grateful for

Life begins at 40, as the saying goes. For Leeds United though, 40 is merely a number we left trailing in our wake on the way to a scrappy win against old rivals Sheffield United last weekend, writes TV presenter and Leeds fan Ben Shires.

Promoted by LDC Radio 97.8FM
Saturday, 10th April 2021, 6:00 am
Sheffield United's Phil Jagielka scores an own goal during the match at Elland Road. Picture: Laurence Griffiths/PA Wire.

That victory was our 13th of a remarkable season, adding another three precious points to our current 42-point haul. Life in next season’s Premier League is all but guaranteed to begin with us in it.

By anyone’s standards, the club have performed above expectations for a newly- promoted side.

Or so you would think; a recent survey reported that just 54.83 per cent of Leeds fans are happy with the club’s performance this season.

That measly C minus grade sees us place well behind the likes of Burnley, Brighton and Fulham fans, the latter of whom have had to put up with their side mired in the relegation zone since September.

Such statistics are baffling to me.

To put things into perspective, just over three year ago Leeds were appointing current Blades interim boss Paul Heckingbottom as head coach and were poised to embark on a truly unremarkable run that would eventually see us finish 13th in the Championship.

By any measure, poor old Paul had a Heck of a bad time as Leeds boss.

His forgettable four month reign was turgid rather than tiki-taka, perhaps best remembered for its extreme brevity. Although having rattled through 14 managers over the last 10 years, even that didn’t come as much of a surprise.

Many have been quick to write off Hecky’s horror show as just another of the many regrettable black marks littering the pages of our recent history books, but I prefer to view his tenure in an altogether more flattering light. For a start, had he not performed quite so badly, Angus and Andrea might never have taken that fateful flight to Argentina in the summer of 2018 seeking his replacement.

Secondly, and more pertinently, Heckingbottom’s time in charge is one of many stark reminders we’ve had over the last couple of decades of how uninspiring life as a Leeds fan can be without the right man in charge.

If that final four months of 2017/18 season was our final penance before reaching the promised land, I say it was a small price to pay.

The last three years haven’t just blown away the cobwebs of the previous decade and a half, they’ve doused them in petrol, tossed in a match and then popped on a pair of designer sunglasses to watch them burn.

Once more Leeds are a force to be reckoned with, both on the pitch and off; look no further than the underserved criticism Kalvin Phillip’s recent England appearances have garnered from the anti-Leeds brigade to see how firmly we’ve already lodged our unique brand of urine boiling back into the national conscious. It’s almost as if Dave Hockaday never even happened.

Of course, football is all about opinions and statistics can be twisted to fit many an agenda.

The 45.17 per cent of fans supposedly ‘unhappy’ with Leeds’ season belies the fact that we ranked highly in every other category. In fact, 95.85 per cent of fans surveyed believe that Leeds play entertaining football, and who can argue with them?

Admittedly, we might not be challenging in Europe next year, but these things take time; given how much the Premier League has changed since we were last in it, we have plenty to be grateful for this season.

And most importantly of all, we no longer have Paul Heckingbottom in charge.

We’ll always have that.