'It's been up to people like us to keep it going here' - meet the Leeds United Johannesburg supporters group

We explore Leeds United's devoted following in South Africa in our latest We All Love Leeds feature.

Saturday, 22nd August 2020, 6:00 am
Leeds United's Johannesburg Supporters Club at a meet-up.

It is hard to overstate the impact that becoming a Premier League outfit again will have on a global scale for Leeds United.

Since the club was relegated in 2004, the last 16 years have seen the top flight undergo something of a revamp.

The monetary value of being among England's elite has increased tenfold, while brand exposure across the world has hit new heights due to record-breaking broadcast deals and far-reaching pre-season tours.

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Peter Wilkinson with Leeds United legend Lucas Radebe.

For Leeds United's Johannesburg Supporters Club, it has been frustrating to see the Whites stuck on the outside of the boom in popularity experienced in South Africa by the UK's top flight sides.

The 70 or so hardy souls who pledge their allegiance to the branch have remained staunch in their support and loyalty in the most testing of times - though it hasn't been easy.

The lack of a television broadcast deal for the Championship has left fans with limited access to games, relying mostly on social media for updates on their club.

LUTV has recently become one avenue for much-craved action and while Leeds supporters are largely left to scratch around for match coverage, bars across the country have been packed out with people taking in the latest Manchester or Merseyside derby.

Leeds United's Johannesburg Supporters Club at a meet-up.

United, though, are heading back to the big time once again and all that it brings will be felt in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria and beyond.

DStv holds exclusive rights to the Premier League and shows every single match, week in and week out, no matter the time or team.

The access that will now be bestowed upon supporters based in South Africa is a far cry from the whatsapp group that had been set up to fill the void of information for a lot of members.

"The exposure the club is getting here is going to be exponentially bigger," Tim Hepplestone, the supporters' club secretary told the YEP.

Leeds United's Johannesburg Supporters Club at Elland Road.

"The Premier League is huge here. It's so big, it's hard to put into words.

"The average age of members in South Africa seem to be getting older every year, but it is because most of the youngsters are only really interested in the top flight."

The group grew to prominence in the early 1990s after club legend Lucas Radebe and Phil Masinga made headline moves to West Yorkshire from South African Premier Soccer League outfit Kaizer Chiefs.

Interest, though, dwindled amid the club's financial crash around the turn of the century and as Leeds spiralled in the depths of the Football League, the rest of the Premier League took over.

The group is mostly made up of expats along with a number of natives, one of which is Jean-Claude Van Dyk - the supporters' group treasurer - who opted for Leeds over Manchester United as a youngster.

"I was at a Rugby match about 10 years ago and a guy called Andy - who set it all up - saw me in a Leeds shirt," he revealed.

"I got talking to him and he told me about the group and that's how I joined. It's how a lot of us found the group here. It's amazing really when you think about it.

"Promotion is going to be a game-changer for so many. We can all get together whenever we want in the pubs and bars locally to watch, whereas before it has been difficult.

"A lot of guys can't afford to pay to watch LUTV each game."

Leeds United - despite being left in the shadows of the might of the top flight - is still a name that is fondly remembered thanks to the club's Champions League exploits along with a certain central defender.

"I had people coming up to me and asking who I was going to support after Leeds had been relegated," chairman Peter Wilkinson said.

"When you've followed a team and you've been there and stood on the Kop... you don't just flick to somewhere else. That isn't how British football works.

"I had someone the other day spot me in a Leeds shirt and say how glad they were to see us back in the Premier League.

"He was a young guy about 28 or 29 - but they know the name and that's because of Lucas [Radebe]. It's been up to people like us to keep it going here - the diehards."

Radebe's impact not only as a footballer but as an icon for South Africa, both on and off the field, has been immeasurable.

'The Chief', as he is affectionately known in West Yorkshire, spent a little over 10 years at Elland Road before hanging up his boots as club captain.

"He's been absolutely immense and still is for the presence here," Peter continued.

"If they interview him now on TV, he just bursts with pride about Leeds. I bumped into him last year - I've met him quite a few times - but he is such a humble person.

"There's nothing snobbish or anything about him and the minute you do the salute he knows exactly where you're from.

"I'm hoping that we can get him to come down to one or two of the games with the supporters club. I think there is a lot of guys who would just love to meet him and have a photograph."

As Leeds transition this summer into becoming a Premier League team, members of the Johannesburg group are expecting a surge in interest.

The foundations are in place for the organisation to become an umbrella for the rest of the country, and it has already begun through the planning of more regular meet-ups with games now readily available.

"We hope to reach a point in future where we could have two sections of the supporters club meeting at two separate venues," Peter added. "That would be utopia.

"We've got fans who have joined us from Pretoria and Cape Town. Even though we are in Johannesburg, we don't mind - we want to build it out as much as possible.

"The whole idea is that they build up enough people to start their own supporters clubs wherever they are based.

"We're not exclusive here - we will let it grow and that's how it should be. Leeds United is a family."