Leeds United’s defeat to Southampton on the first day of the season was a miserable result, no doubt about that. But I felt at the time that the rush to judgement was too quick and too aggressive. How much can you read into one match?
Since then we’ve seen a game against Middlesbrough, which I’m sure Leeds would have won with 11 players, and a classy hammering of Hull City. Call me deluded, but I don’t see how that constitutes a crisis. It’s not been the perfect start but we’ve all seen worse, and so has the Championship since the season started.
The sheer amount of negativity in Leeds after that loss to Southampton amazed me. Maybe it was down to lingering disappointment from our failure to qualify for the play-offs last season, but it seemed to me that certain people were looking to turn on the club at the first opportunity.
As unacceptable as the performance at St Mary’s was, Southampton won’t be a flash in the pan. Their 5-2 win at Ipswich Town makes me think that they’ll stick around in the top six. And anyone criticising United’s display on the south coast has to admit that the performance against Hull was excellent. It’ll take a few more weeks and a few more games to know which of those results was a proper reflection of Simon Grayson’s team.
I’m not asking people to judge the squad at the end of the season. I’m asking them to judge the squad once they’ve properly settled into their campaign. If one shocking result in the first fortnight rules a club out of contention then Ipswich have no chance of promotion and neither do Leicester City. These are early days – far too early, in my opinion, for protests and demonstrations.
It’s important for the fans to realise that I do appreciate the standards they expect of Leeds United. When all’s said and done, a football club’s progress and success is gauged by what they do on that green rectangle in the middle of the stadium. It’s only naturally that supporters want their team to be as strong as possible.
And, of course, they want promotion back to the Premier League. We all do, and Ken Bates most of all. I’ve heard it said that he’s happy to hover in the Championship with big crowds and steady income, but that’s a load of rubbish. No-one wants to get to the Premier League more than him, and I say that having spoken to him about it many times.
The reality is this – there’s a sensible way to chase promotion and a mad way. The mad way is what Leicester are doing: spend millions after millions and hope that the team gels together instantly and gets you out of the league straight away. They might have enough money to go down that path and swallow the cost if they don’t go up, but the vast majority of Championship clubs would be risking their future by doing that.
The sensible way is to build a competitive team within your means and strike a balance between the security of the club and the potential of the squad. If any set of supporters in the country should understand that, surely it’s ours. ‘Doing a Leeds’ is still a phrase used in football circles and I’ve not forgotten what went on here in our darkest days.
Some fans seem to be of the opinion that the Ridsdale era is used as an excuse for not spending money. That’s simply not true. Money has been spent on the side and is being spent on the side. The signing of Andy Keogh – a striker who, by the way, we shouldn’t have sold in the first place – showed that cash is available to recruit players of good repute.
What the board don’t want to do is put up money that isn’t there to be spent. There’s a huge difference between saving money you could invest and spending money you can’t afford. It’s all about being responsible and making sure that, whatever else happens, we never go back to the lows of spending Tuesday nights in Hereford.
As for the protests against the chairman last weekend, I thought they were totally wrong. They paid no attention to fact that in six and a bit years he’s turned us into one of the best-run clubs in the country – a club who make a profit each year and don’t have any debt. I know it’s difficult for the supporters to get excited about that, and keeping the club secure and stable is the board’s job at the end of the day, but security matters.
Of the fans I talk to, most are pretty appreciative of what’s gone on since we went into administration in 2007. I’d be lying if I said they were happy about everything, and let’s not kid ourselves that we’re pleasing all of the people all of the time, but I’m firmly of the view that the supporters initiating these protests against the chairman are in a minority.
It doesn’t help the club and it doesn’t help the team. Take it from me, the players and the coaching staff will be well aware of everything that’s going on and everything that’s being said.
For me it’s all a bit unnecessary and a swell of feeling that’s come before a ball’s really been kicked. How many of the crowd walked out of Elland Road on Tuesday night thinking that Leeds are not capable of competing in the Championship? Very few would be my guess.
As I said, too many people turned too quickly and decided to rule us out of the running on the evidence of one match.
What disappointed me more than anything was the suggestion before Tuesday that if we lost to Hull we might finish August with no points! That’s not the Leeds United spirit I know. It’s defeatist talk and the performance against Hull was the perfect antidote at the right time.
Can we beat West Ham United on Sunday? Or course we bloody well can! And Ipswich too.
If there’s negativity out there then I’m not prepared to share in it, and neither will the club. The jump to criticise has been needlessly premature.