'It's in our DNA, no-one becomes a Leeds United fan for glory' - meet the New York Whites supporters group

We explore Leeds United's devoted following in New York in our latest We All Love Leeds feature.

By Joe Urquhart
Sunday, 8th November 2020, 11:45 am
New York Whites supporters club.
New York Whites supporters club.

Leeds United boast one of the most passionate and loyal fan bases in world football.

No matter how far you go or where you travel, you're never a great distance from a club crest, scarf, car sticker or even welcoming a friendly salute, such is the outpouring.

It is a football club that has tested the very core of its support during ups and downs on and off the pitch in recent history.

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New York Whites supporters club.

Those far and wide, though - just like the city of Leeds - have remained steadfast and unwavering in their loyalty to the team that plies its trade in Beeston.

In the Yorkshire Evening Post’s We All Love Leeds series, we look at those supporters groups from far and wide around the world.

We examine their passion for Leeds United and get to the root of what makes the club so special to follow from all corners of the globe.

This week, we speak to Sean Lear who is a member of the New York Leeds United Supporters Club.

New York Whites supporters club.

Firstly, can you introduce yourself - tell us a little bit about who you are and where you are from...

We are the New York Whites, a collection of supporters from across the Tri-State region, based in Manhattan.

Our fan base is as diverse as the city itself, we have musicians, builders, writers, Wall Street money makers, diamond dealers, chefs and even a legend from the Leeds class of '92 to name but a few.

Why are you fans of Leeds United? What drew you to the football club?

New York Whites supporters club.

For most of us, we were born and bred in Leeds, although latterly we have gained some US based supporters for a number of reasons.

Bielsa being the biggest factor amongst our South American friends. We also have a wonderfully confused Brazilian supporter that started following us around 6 years ago, simply because he met a Leeds fan on holiday and wanted to know more.

He was shocked that we were struggling in the championship and amazed that we were willing to head into NY and start drinking beer at 7.30am which is when most of our matches kick off. He has rarely missed a game since!

What is so special about being a Leeds United supporter?

It's in your DNA, no one becomes a Leeds fan for glory, so there is always a feeling of mutual respect when you meet a fellow fan. And what could be more special than being anywhere in the world and getting a Leeds salute. I'm convinced we are a different breed.

Tell us about the supporters club? How did it come to be? How many members do you have?

It really began to gain traction around 2005 when NYC bars started showing Premier league games, although we were languishing at the time we began to meet at Nevada Smith's, a legendary NY football bar.

Even though we were rarely on TV, we began to meet regularly and as a result develop friendships that have lasted to this day. Instrumental in this, was a lad called Wes Henstock, a club promoter by night and massive Leeds fan, he really galvanised us into what we are today.

That said, there has always been a Leeds presence stateside, from the early days of sending match of the day videos around the country to a base that now numbers in the several hundreds, with meet ups all across America.

Special credit must go to Mr. Mike Bellwood, based in Boston, for his unstinting support.

What makes it a great supporters club to be a part of?

We’re not just great, we’re the greatest. For years we’ve consistently outnumbered and out sang rival fans. Even when we sank to the murky depths of League One, we were louder and prouder than all other supporter groups.

Case in point: On January 3, 2009, we brought more fans to a Manchester United bar than they did. By the time it was all over, a group of shell-shocked Man U fans were left saucer-eyed, wondering “Who the hell are these lot?”

As our reputation grew, rival fans began acknowledging us with the kind of terror-cum-intrigue that parents of well-behaved children reserve for when the naughty kid shows up at the playground, nudging each other subtly while mumbling, “Look who it is again. Wonder what mischief they’ll get up to this time."

Our tribal nature is so infectious that on one occasion an American Chelsea fan tried to defect to Leeds during a game when the two teams met in the League Cup in December 2012, supporters of both teams took over the Football Factory.

The relentless banter of the Leeds contingent was like nothing the U.S. Chelsea fans had ever seen or heard before. At one point it all became too much and he attempted to switch allegiances right in the middle of the match. It was an unprecedented move that drew the ire and contempt of the more senior members of the Chelsea group.

“Football doesn’t work like that,” they had to politely explain to him. And back he scuttled to the pool of blue on the other side of the room.

There have been many times over the past 16 years when what was going on both on and off the field should’ve felt like rock bottom. But it never did. We always showed up. We always sang. And we always marched on together. Because we are Leeds!

Do you hold any special events or meet ups for Leeds United games and fans?

We meet every match day at the Football Factory on 33rd Street, under the shadow of the Empire State building. Our host Jack Keene has never failed to open his doors for us.

Not bad for an old school Irish Man United fan. We also love to welcome visitors from Leeds on matchdays, a lot of folks are kind enough to bring us programs, badges, and especially chocolates. Nobody that walks into our bar with a Leeds top on leaves as a stranger.

We also have a great New York Whites football team, we won the last supporters cup beating Liverpool in the final, whilst knocking out the likes of Real Madrid, Everton, Celtic & Juventus on the way. Our style of play was unmistakably Leeds and as a result we have not been invited back!

What does it show about Leeds United's global reach that you can have a supporters club in New York?

Given the size of the city and the amount of Brits that work there, I feel it was inevitable, I'm honestly more impressed that we can now fill bars in places like Philadelphia, Toronto, Atlanta and many other cities. The California based Whites in particular deserve a lot of credit for having an average kick off time of 4 AM and still managing to pull impressive numbers.

Why do you think Leeds fans - no matter where they are from - are so passionate and loyal to the club?

As the song goes, "we've had our ups and downs" it's the memory of watching Don Revie's side tear teams apart, watching the greatest midfield ever assembled; Batty, Strachan, McAllister and Speed in full flow.

O'Leary's aces and those great European nights. When you combine that with the horrors of poor ownership, points deductions and administration, you're kind of excited to see what's coming next.

It could be either of the two, but we do seem to be in the "up" cycle at the moment which is truly exciting to see.

Have you ever visited Elland Road? If so, what was the experience like? Do you have a favourite game or memory?

Most of us have been many, many times. I was a season ticket holder in the Kop for 15 years.

The most notable trip after emigrating was when 15 of us went over as a group to watch us play Huddersfield, it was the day after Cellino took over.

The less said about that the better, but we were fortunate enough to have our picture taken pitchside and even dear old Peter Lorimer walked over and posed with us.

After the match we bumped into Ross McCormack who was kind enough to take our flag and get it autographed by the entire squad.

How has it been to follow the club in recent history? There have been plenty of ups and downs...

Difficult at times, but with Leeds, there is always the feeling or hope that the good times are just around the corner, which they certainly seem to be right now. I don't think Andrea Radrizzani is given enough credit for the amount of money he had to spend just to keep us afloat.

How do you keep up to date with what is going on with Leeds United?

Mostly through Twitter links and our very active Leeds United Americas and NY Whites Facebook pages. Podcasts are a great medium. My particular favourite is the Square Ball. I've been listening to that for years, and every episode is refreshing.

Do you anticipate a boost in membership now Leeds are in the top flight?

Immediately after the Liverpool match we had a huge uptick in interest, and it really hasn't stopped since then. As always we are more than happy to welcome new members to the fold, if they can take it.

Finally, is there anything else you'd like to mention about the supporters club?

I feel I speak on behalf of all our members when I say we are truly a family over here, we always look out for each other and try to help those that need it, either financially or spiritually.

If you're ever in New York city, come and say hello. You will be made welcome. Watching Leeds in New York is a unique experience.

I would also like to give a big shout out to the Kaiser Chiefs, whenever they have played New York, there’s always a massive Leeds presence that makes it easy for folks to find us!

They’ve been a great recruitment tool.