Leeds United '“ Phil Hay: Fact - fans do NOT want their club to fail

According to the regime running Charlton Athletic, some of their supporters want the club to fail. But that regime is struggling to spot the difference between going to the cinema and following a football team so its occupation of the high ground is a little shaky.

Thursday, 24th March 2016, 8:16 am
Updated Thursday, 24th March 2016, 8:17 am
PIC: Simon Hulme

Up in Nottingham, Fawaz Al-Hasawi is threatening to walk out on Forest. Forest aren’t sure if this counts as a threat. It transpires that the ‘Derby County Way’ is Harry Redknapp as director of football and even Steve Gibson has been fighting fires, though all is tickety-boo at Middlesbrough. Aitor Karanka says so. All is not tickety-boo at Bolton. Their new owners are very honest about that.

The connection to Leeds United? Slightly tenuous. But when Leeds are used as the benchmark for mayhem in the Championship it would be remiss not to point out that loose-cannon-of-the-year is an open contest involving many others. Is it really a coincidence that the division’s top two, Burnley and Brighton, are two of the few clubs who have held it together since the season began in August?

But back to Charlton. Last week, after coffins and beach balls made a spectacle of their 2-0 win over Middlesbrough, to the extent that even Karanka was fighting for airtime, the club issued a statement saying “some individuals” were not interested in the game and “came to create disorder on the pitch and interfere with the players and the game – disorder which is, allegedly, needed to drive change in ownership and management.”

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Strong words but the thing about Charlton, much like Leeds United, is that something is needed and their owner, Roland Duchatelet, is having a hard job convincing anyone that what he has up his sleeve will rectify Charlton’s dismal performance. Or cure the discord between the boardroom and the crowd. This is hardly the equivalent of the chicken and the egg. Charlton’s supporters don’t want the club to go backwards. They are protesting on the basis that the club are going backwards. But obviously that is their fault. Obviously.

The idea of lifelong fans revelling in misery or seeking it for their own ends is so wonderfully obtuse that only football could come up with it. Some of the opposition to Massimo Cellino at Leeds is deeply ingrained, much as Cellino seems to be letting repeated protests wash over him, but over time the truth will out. Someone at some stage will be vindicated in their view. But Cellino can’t win this argument by letting Leeds drift. He can only win in it by positively countering the criticism.

It was said a year ago, as Cellino served out his ownership ban and Neil Redfearn awaited the chop, that the Italian would never get his house in order at Elland Road, that his car-crash approach was irretrievable, but it did not take much last summer to earn him some credit. There is always a way back in football because, to the vast majority of supporters, it boils down to the football. Invest astutely, underpin strong results and Cellino could sup in the Peacock without much hassle. He has spawned some major grievances in Leeds but very few people believe in utopia. Football is plainly a ruthless industry, driven by egos and knee-jerk attitudes. Problems exist all over the place, as this past few weeks in the Championship have shown, but as Steve Evans said, certain clubs are better at keeping their crises to themselves.

It is unfair, then, to say that protesting supporters want their clubs or their clubs’ owners to fail. In the case of Cellino, those arguing against him think he has failed already or ultimately will, but 29,000 were at Elland Road on Saturday, the Championship’s third-highest crowd of the season. No doubt Huddersfield Town are an irresistible magnet, but a bigger force must have been the results leading up to it. Three wins in a row nurtured the hope that Leeds were getting their act together, if only in a small way. A 4-1 beating at the hands of Huddersfield said otherwise, but the evidence is there: signs of life are enough to pull in a crowd.

Over in Huddersfield they started selling season tickets last week; the first 10,000 available at £179 for adults, £69 for eight to 17-year-olds and £23 for kids under eight. You cannot ask for cheaper than that. The club have issued no sales figures yet but are apparently delighted with the take-up. The specific philosophy of David Wagner is helping to make their tickets marketable.

Leeds will begin their own renewals before long and they would do themselves a favour by explaining in advance what their philosophy is and how lessons from this season have been learned. Confront the obvious issues – Cellino, Evans, players, ownership, disqualification, the lot. Explain what it is that the club are selling and why it is worth buying into, beyond the in-built loyalty which ensures annual season-ticket sales of around 12,000 no matter the weather or the outlook. At least make an effort to show people the light. Because it is not true that Charlton’s supporters want Charlton to fail. And it is not true at Leeds either.