Daniel Chapman: Leeds United look like doing it the hard way yet again this season
I don’t know about Marcelo Bielsa’s plan, but if Leeds United’s season so far had gone according to mine, we’d be 11 points clear at the top of the Championship now.
That would have kept us on track for my reasonable and carefully considered pre-season target of amassing 138 points from 46 wins, preferably will a goal difference in the region of plus 150.
This isn’t just meant to be a promotion season for Leeds United, after all. It’s the season when Bielsa, after 12 months of analysing the Championship, delivers the dream football he’s been working towards for thirty years.
Promotion back to the Premier League has been awaited for so long, by so many, with so much patience, that the shortest route back to the promised land doesn’t feel like too much to ask.
May 2020 seems such a long time away.
If Leeds could wrap promotion up by February or early March, the two-month celebratory tour that could follow, waving goodbye to teams and fans we’ll hopefully never see again, would be hard earned catharsis after 15 years.
And this week, in which Leeds United celebrates its 100th birthday, was marked from the start of the season as an early instalment of that victory tour, a bridal party in the morning before walking down the aisle and meeting the Premier League at the altar, where we will be joined in union by Father Marcelo.
The one part of the wedding fantasy that has come to pass is the nerves.
We should grab another glass of Buck’s Fizz while we can.
We’ll need it, if we’re going to get jilted. It’s appropriate, though, for United’s centenary to be ushered through by an anxious, doubtful congregation. Dearly beloved, Leeds have never done things easy.
The Peacocks can and will be proud this week, of everything that has made the club such a famous name in world football, but we can’t be as confident in the future as we’d like to be. Leeds are fifth. The play-off places.
Everyone who comes to Leeds to celebrate on the 17th and on through the weekend will be asked the same thing: what about this season? The only way anyone can reply, with unequivocal confidence, that Leeds are going up, is by ignoring the very reason they will all be here this week: Leeds United’s history.
Leeds have found glory in the last 100 years, but rarely by seeking it. Howard Wilkinson was stunned over his Sunday lunch in 1992 when his team beat Manchester United to the First Division title, at least five years ahead of his carefully plotted schedule.
If you had a pound for every time David O’Leary described the Champions League campaign in 2000/01 as ‘an adventure’ you could afford Seth Johnson, but it was true that the semi-finals were never a target until Leeds were in them. Then the final became the target, and Leeds lost. Massimo Cellino was perhaps never more astute when he said he would stop ‘wanting’ promotion to the Premier League, and instead would only ‘wish’ for it. “If you want something in football you never get it,” he said. “If you wish for something then you get it.”
Admittedly this was after two years of staring at a spreadsheet called LUFC_Accounts.xls and wishing he could go get a drink.
Few stories in United’s early history feel as recognisable as when Dick Ray’s carefully trained team of 1930, described as the ‘wonder team’ of Division One and regarded as the Peacocks’ first great side, took their title challenge to first place throughout autumn 1929, to fifth at the end of that season, to relegation at the end of the next. Leeds United Football Club, ladies and gentlemen, established 1919.
Leeds United won’t be relegated this season. I hope. But we’re not going to win every game the way I also hoped, and we’re not going through this campaign the easy way, which was my most hopeless hope. In a way, it’s reassuring. There will be a lot of confidence heard this week, as we claim our football club’s right to be known for its proud and often glorious history.
But it wouldn’t feel like we were truly celebrating Leeds United if we couldn’t turn to each other, off camera, with that familiar worried look in our eyes, seeking comfort in the anxious faces of other Leeds fans, who understand. ‘Of course we’ll do it this season, we’re Leeds!’ We hope.
Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.