Leeds United and fans set the tone in eye opener for 49ers as football awakens and decision makers are put on notice

Thanks to some very rich but apparently not at all in-touch men, football is at long last awake.

Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 7:18 am
FAN POWER - Leeds United supporters set the tone with an Elland Road demonstration against the European Super League. Pic: Simon Hulme.

And, having woken up and started a new day so impressively, what else can it achieve?

It took very little time at all for the English game to deal with the newest threat posed by six clubs who consider themselves to be bigger than the rest.

Anyone with a grain of understanding of what football means to people, not only in this country but around the world, knew that proposing a European Super League to create an insurmountable disparity in a game whose playing field is already woefully uneven, was going to make people angry. Yet propose it they did. During a global pandemic, no less. Stunning.

Sign up to our Leeds United newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

So stunning, in fact, that people actually took to the streets. Leeds United, their fans and Liverpool supporters set the tone for a resounding ‘no’ that echoed from every corner of the sport.

It was refreshing enough to see white-shirted fans making the short walk from The Peacock to Billy Bremner’s statue on Monday night, but the sight of so many from two clubs gathering together to protest a threat to their game, was one for sore eyes.

“**** the Super League,” they sang outside Elland Road as kick-off between Leeds and Liverpool approached.

Clubs chimed in, too. They knew the words but just chose to voice them in a different way.

Make no mistake, however, the feeling towards a proposal that was as much a bombshell for clubs like Leeds as it was the fans outside the ground, was the same.

The t-shirts may have read: “Earn it on the pitch, football is for the fans” but they whistled ‘**** the Super League’.

Victor Orta might as well have been humming it aloud, in the presence of Liverpool representatives in the directors box, when he held aloft one of the t-shirts.

Jurgen Klopp was a bit upset by it all but to make an omelette...

After that, it all went a bit pear-shaped for the rich men. Football managers, players, supporters’ groups, the game’s authorities, the UK government and even royalty lined up to stick the boot in.

When Chelsea fans congregated in numbers too large to ignore on Tuesday night, their club could take the heat no more. Pep Guardiola coming out against the idea helped wobble Manchester City’s resolve and, when those two clubs backed out, the whole thing soon came tumbling down.

It was easy to worry, when the news of the plot first broke, that no-one at the top level would dare to put their head above the parapet and go against the big boys. Andrea Radrizzani did, however, when he echoed Gary Neville’s disgust.

That stands in his favour, along with the success and what seems like a sensible approach to growth that he’s brought to Leeds United.

But now that football is awake, everyone in a position to wield power and make decisions that affect not only their club but their little bit of the pyramid, even those currently doing it well, should be reminded of the power still held by supporters, legacy fans or stakeholders, whatever you want to call them.

It will have been an eye-opening insight into life at Leeds for relative newcomers to the board room, the 49ers. Get it right and Elland Road is the place to be. Get it wrong and you’ll soon know about it. No-one wants their taxi to be chased around the car park.

Pundits like Neville help bring eyes to situations, social media helps spread a message but there’s nothing quite like people turning up and shouting at you or about you in loud voices to make you consider your decisions.

So, with the latest threat to the game neutralised, it might be time for fans to explore what else they can fix with this power they perhaps forgot they had.

The blight of racism in the game could use some angry voices and displays of solidarity with victims, like ex-Leeds man Kemar Roofe.

Marcelo Bielsa highlighted the lack of structure in place to prevent clubs from trying to enact the ideas above their station and both UEFA and FIFA need to be reminded that they might run the game but fans own it.

English football needs to remain vigilant, says Graham Potter, rightly, but vigilance isn’t really enough. If you hold your breath until the powers that be make the necessary changes to level the playing field and protect the pyramid, you won’t be around to take your seat again at Elland Road when your fellow fans return.

They need to be pressured. So too does the UK government, who must still carry out an urgent review into the ownership and governance of the game. Who better to bring that pressure than the people who gave the European Super League the kicking it deserved? The people who know and understand what the game should look like.

The unity that swelled this week, with various supporters’ trusts working together and fans of many clubs putting tribal feelings and rivalries aside, cannot be allowed to dissipate until the money men regroup and ride again.

Football cannot go back to sleep now.