Massimo Cellino’s aborted attempt to cut Leeds United out of away tickets was not an excuse to pillory him. Any owner responsible for that decision would have taken the kicking Cellino received. The reality with him is that he alone is rash enough to make it in the first place.
If any good came of that debacle – other than his willingness to backtrack rapidly – it was the ferocity of the opposition to Cellino’s idea. Away tickets, evidently, are Leeds United’s sacred cow. People want them and will fight for them when demand outstrips supply. Only Cellino knows why his policy of limiting allocations to a flat 2,000 fell apart so quickly. What can be said is that by the early part of last week the authorities were asking questions about the consequences of supporters risking their necks in home ends across the Championship.
United’s away matches have a touch of theatre and magnetism about them. They are days out, an adventure of sorts and a chance to remember the appeal of the game. It would be wrong to encourage the phenomenon of supporters clambering along concourse girders but the insanity of it all is genuinely infectious.
Some say that where Leeds United are concerned, away days are what they have left.
Were Cellino to impose a unilateral limit on the sale of home tickets, it is hard to imagine the same level of anger. He’d be looked at with blinking disbelief in the way that Cellino so often is but attendance at Elland Road is a reluctant habit.
Away from home, United’s support seem able to uncover their sense of attachment. The mood, the reputation and results at Elland Road are a sorry extension of the club’s depressed state. Leeds expect the crowd for tonight’s game against Blackburn Rovers to come in at around 19,000.
Sales have been heavily affected by the shift to a Thursday evening and Sky’s contentious obsession with televising United, but the club have no counter strategy, beyond Cellino’s letters to the Football League.
Granted, the fixture is Category C but there is no special promotion and no half-term initiative. Walk-up sales are at the mercy of Leeds’ insistence on adding a £5 levy to tickets bought on the day. Season tickets offer financial incentives and rightly so. Advance prices for single games are punitive, liable to discourage impulsive attendance at a ground which is half full.
A record devoid of a home win for seven-and-a-half months does not help either but football is only part of the chain of disillusionment.
Leeds can play better at home and probably will play better under Steve Evans than they did while Uwe Rosler was head coach. Evans is less conservative than Rosler and more inclined to take risks.
He’ll wind his players up this evening and talk in the same language as he has to the press. There was no softly, softly approach to the subject of United’s home record. Evans described it over the weekend as an “absolute disgrace”.
One win is all it will take to ease the mental block at Elland Road and remind Leeds of how it feels to run their own town. As Rosler said before his dismissal, get one on the board and others are bound to follow. But even that would be window-dressing for a club and an owner who are losing their way again. Elland Road is not deflated simply because the team are struggling to show up there. Part of the reason the team are struggling to show up is because Elland Road smells of trouble and decay.
You could say that with a better home record Leeds would be a more vibrant club. It is probably closer to the truth to say that if Leeds were a more vibrant club, their home record would not be this bad.
Historical results suggest as much. The malaise at Leeds can be traced in its entirety to somewhere around the end of 2002 but more recently it goes back to 2011 – when the club finished seventh in the Championship and decided to spend the following summer throwing their money at Elland Road’s East Stand. They lost four times at home in Simon Grayson’s last full term as manager. The statistics since then show 11 defeats in 2012-13, seven in 2013-14 and nine in each of the past two seasons.
This season is on point again. The common theme in all of them is the failure on the part of the regimes in charge to hold it together and throw the public a bone.
Evans might change that and good luck to him. This is plainly his biggest job to date but he does not sound intimidated or inhibited by the situation he inherited. But Elland Road’s crushed morale runs deeper than the pitch. It projects the image of a club who are forever vulnerable, forever weak and adept at extinguishing any light that happens to appear at the end of the tunnel.
Cellino hasn’t altered that. On the contrary, he keeps finding ways of prolonging a trend which was well established when he first bought United. Elland Road and the chronic state of mind there is the best example of why Leeds cannot go on like this.