Simon Rix: Was the lack of fans what was needed to make Leeds United feel at home in the Premier League?

Are there advantages to Leeds United playing in an Elland Road empty of supporters? Picture: Michael Regan/Getty Images.Are there advantages to Leeds United playing in an Elland Road empty of supporters? Picture: Michael Regan/Getty Images.
Are there advantages to Leeds United playing in an Elland Road empty of supporters? Picture: Michael Regan/Getty Images.
In his latest exclusive column for the YEP, Kaiser Chiefs bassist and Leeds United fan Simon Rix wonders if there are advantages to having no supporters inside Elland Road...

Tonight Kaiser Chiefs are doing our first full gig since lockdown began in March 2020, now, the stage is set and it looks like the preamble to any other gig in any other venue, but the big difference is that we’ll be streaming live from a very empty Brixton Academy. In this very non-normal year, like so many others, we’ve made various attempts to keep doing our day job.

We’ve tried gigs where we each play in our individual houses connecting up to stream onto viewers’ screens. We’ve tried playing to a field full of socially distanced cars, watching pockets of people putting up deckchairs and sprawling out on car bonnets to watch. But this is the first time for us, playing live, together -but also alone, with an absent audience.

It’s something about the space that does it, really hammering home the gaps where the fans should be. So as I look out to the moshpit and the plush balcony seats – I’m thinking as well of my plastic seat at Elland Road stood empty, and all those other empty stadiums out there this weekend.

Obviously the idea of the empty football stadium is a thing we’ve all, as fans, become accustomed to now. In these colder months, watching from home with a brew and not making the dash to the car to beat the traffic feels ok actually! But now – facing the empty room - I’m wondering how the players have been feeling from their end.

Over the last year, as a band, we’re amongst the lucky ones who have managed to get together to do a song or two, and the excitement and joy of playing together again has definitely motivated us and helped us navigate the new bizarre formats required of us. In turn, I’ve become acutely aware of how much a ‘normal’ performance is fed by adrenaline, nerves and obviously an audience – these are essential parts of any show we perform.

So I wonder - how do our players, who play together everyday at training - manage to get themselves “up” for a game. I’m sure we all remember, after a lot of talk about Leeds being the fittest and most prepared team for the restart, the lacklustre performance at Cardiff. I put that result purely down to the new non- atmosphere and, if I was right, it seems the players must have put some things into motion to replace that required buzz of walking out into full stadiums.

Of course there’s an argument some players are thriving on the current stadium ban. I think it’s been a positive that Bambinho, has been able to establish himself in the Premier League without anyone getting on his back for missing that first chance against Villa. Perhaps the same can be said for Koch, who’s first few games were arguably a baptism of fire. In either case – it’s doubtless that groans at penalties conceded, or near misses cause more harm than good.

Despite the lack of rehearsal time, fans, and atmosphere, I do think, the few times KCs have played in the wild this year - musically - we’ve played at the top of our game.

So whilst I would never have planned it this way perhaps the lack of fans and the displaced weight of expectation out of Elland Road was what was needed to finally get Leeds out of the Football League and to make ourselves at home in the Prem?

I’ve been deliberately holding off discussing results and expectations in this column until we got a few games in – so now we have some numbers let’s see.

From a really exciting start we now sit in 14th , it really feels like we could have got a point at Liverpool, another point from Wolves, and all three against Arsenal. At Palace and again against Leicester, the score lines were flattering to the opposition, but these are teams with years of Premier League experience, making it count. Much as it felt like there were no easy games in the Championship, the level has definitely notched up a gear in the Prem. The difference is that this year 14th is fine. If we end up higher – then it’s great.

We can lose some games. We can learn as we go. But the way we are playing football, and the way we are growing as a club is bringing us new fans and new friends from all over the world. It’s been a weird year -but definitely a good one for Leeds United. And when we speak of the ‘new normal’ and the unexpected outcomes of 2020, no-one could have predicted Gary Neville becoming a Leeds fan!

So back to today, in this uncertain year, I predict a win at Goodison at 5.30pm followed by a Riot a Brixton Academy from 8. See you there. MOT