Leeds United are a Premier League club, not a Premier League™ club and as anti-establishment as big clubs come
Leeds United are a Premier League club. That much is fact. They won the Championship, took the first available promotion place and their fixtures will now pit them against Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United.
The Whites have earned the right to call themselves a Premier League club, chiefly through two years of exhausting work on and off the pitch since Marcelo Bielsa arrived.
Fans who always believed the statement to be true, regardless of the division their team were operating in, will never tire of saying it because it validates their long-held belief. A 1988 issue of fanzine The Hanging Sheep put it thusly: “It’s often said that no club has a divine right to be in the First Division; well, we bloody have.”
But Leeds United are not a Premier League™ club.
Premier League has come to mean more than just the table and the division that sits at the apex of the English footballing pyramid.
It has associations that some Leeds United supporters won’t recognise, of their club.
The desperation among Whites to escape the Championship was not born of a desire to belong to an exclusive club and rub shoulders with its members.
Leeds fans don’t hail Bielsa as the Messiah because he granted access to the big boys’ gang.
They don’t want to sit at the same table as City, United, Everton et al and enjoy the pre-game pomp and pyro in the shinier stadiums.
Leeds are very much the David Batty of the group. They will come for the kick about, fight like hell to win and bugger off home to Yorkshire. Sithee.
This club belongs in the competition that has established itself as a world-wide brand and financial behemoth, but as the EFL and Sky found out, Leeds are about as anti-establishment as big clubs come.
For clarity they have, as Bielsa would insist, played by the rules, fulfilled all their obligations and will continue to do so next season – but the spirit that possessed Gjanni Alioski when he carted off some vital broadcast equipment and cut short Liam Cooper’s live pre-game interview on Sky, has existed in Leeds fans for many years and will continue to do so.
The songs sung about the English Football League are as likely to be upgraded after promotion as any Elland Road facilities.
Money will be invested in making the stadium more broadcast friendly, but when fans are back in the stands Sky will still have to make use of their fake crowd noise on occasion, to cover what they don’t wish to air to their audience.
Since Don Revie’s Whites clambered into the First Division in 1964 and started ruffling feathers, winning games and dominating, the face or the logo of the establishment might have changed but the feeling has not.
As legendary YEP reporter Don Warters put it, Leeds weren’t a popular club in London.
Leeds United against the world, then, now and always.
Setting aside the fact that Whites of a certain age have never known the top flight, the world they now find themselves in is a different one from even the Premier League their club exited in 2004. It is more gentrified.
Football tourism has turned matchday at some stadiums into a lovely excursion, a delightful picnic during which some men contest a sporting occasion on the grass nearby. Those grounds were sterile long before bubbles, temperature checks and disinfected footballs.
Without resorting to the tired cliche of ‘Northern ruffians coming to spoil your party’ or tempting anyone to dig out the hysterical ‘Leeds scum are back’ headline, it is fair to suggest that the atmosphere Leeds fans create at home and away will be raw and raucous enough to capture the imagination of any number of Premier League vloggers, ‘away day’ and ‘terrace culture’ social media accounts, who often appear surprised that football supporters still stand and sing, loudly, for long periods of time.
That atmosphere and the anti-establishment, us-against-everyone feeling will stand the club in good stead and drive on the players.
With any luck it will also drive out any marketing ideas quite as nauseating as Leicester City’s recent commercial video nasty, featuring Jamie Vardy’s acting skills and a lad sitting in the Thai surf, inexplicably video-calling a football stadium.
That might be Premier League behaviour, but it’s not Leeds. Leeds will bring something different.
The club have worked hard to rid themselves of the ‘Dirty Leeds’ tag and they want to be major players in football’s biggest competition but they don’t want to lose an identity that is very much linked with the club’s heritage.
If they were not different, special and linked to a history and passion in which Bielsa found beauty and compatibility, then they could not have enticed him to England.
They are, like their head coach, outsiders. Bielsa will give a global audience the beautiful game they crave, without playing the game of the sport’s ultimate paymasters.
Sky, like every other media outlet, won’t be able to get enough of him, in the very literal sense.
Opposition clubs will soon have had their fill because, as Mikel Arteta so aptly put it, a game against Bielsa’s Leeds is like a trip to the dentist.
No-one should enjoy playing against Leeds or visiting Elland Road.
They all hate Leeds, remember, and if Leeds are serious about staying in the top flight, that should not change. Leeds are not here to make friends.
Leeds are in the Premier League. Leeds are not of the Premier League.