'Our club, your club' - how Leeds United fans made their peace with the sale of Kalvin Phillips to Manchester City

Kalvin Phillips’ voice was hoarse as he led Leeds United fans in a round of ‘Leeds are falling apart again’ outside Elland Road after the Whites secured their historic Premier League promotion in 2020.

By Flora Snelson
Saturday, 2nd July 2022, 6:00 am

On the night when United fans gave vent to 16 years of pent-up frustration, there’s a reason why the mere raising of Phillips’ arms was sufficient to quiet the hysterical throng on the steps outside the East Stand – because the pair share a kinship that can’t be reflected in a £45m price tag.

While the Wortley lad’s passing and aerial prowess is made plain in stats, knowing ‘what it means to be Leeds’ is an invisible attribute whose value can’t be realised at the Etihad.

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While trophies and glory are all but guaranteed, he knows he can’t expect the same adoring reception he’s enjoyed in recent seasons when he’s bedded in on the wrong side of the Pennines – and that’s assuming he can beat the queueing talent to a chance to earn supporters’ respect.

In his deliberations, Phillips will no doubt have inspected the case of Jack Grealish, the staunch Aston Villa supporter who last summer waved goodbye to Villa Park in search of opportunity at Manchester City.

The England international bagged a whopping £100m for the club he loves, a figure large enough for most – but not all – fans to feel content that the emotional exit was worthwhile.

Though his City contribution thus far has fallen short of jaw-dropping, Grealish didn’t have the look of someone hung up on Villa fans’ calls of ‘betrayal’ as he celebrated the Premier League title in May.

Kalvin Phillips joined Leeds United aged 14. Pic: Alex Pantling.

This is the trade-off then, you swap in a kind of unconditional love to be a small fish swimming in a big pond and cross your fingers that you don’t break too many hearts along the way.

When Phillips seemed to say goodbye to Elland Road at the end of Leeds’ final home game of the 2021/2022 season, there was relatively little resistance among the United fanbase, who sensed the inevitability of his departure.

There’s no getting around the limitations that would be placed on the rising star if he decided to stay, but anxiety remained as to how the unstoppable event would fall out – would Leeds realise the player’s true worth with the sale, and which club would the cherished midfielder make his new home?

Once the reality of Phillips’ need to go dawned, fans became almost impatient to see the business finished, over and done with, like throwing away an ex’s toothbrush before the door slams behind them.

Kalvin Phillips celebrates Leeds United's promotion with Whites fans at Elland Road. Pic: Nick Potts.

But as links between Phillips and City became impossible to ignore, there wasn’t much bitterness in evidence on social media as the general consensus determined that it was the right destination and the right time for the Yorkshire Pirlo to make his way.

“Well today is gonna be the day,” @JXCKLUFC wrote. “Thanks for sticking around when you could have left us in the Championship, thanks for your loyalty and passion for our club, for your club. Thank you for being everything it means to be Leeds. Go win the league. You deserve it.”

Gratitude prevails; Whites fans don’t begrudge his exit, viewing the experience of observing a homegrown academy product transform into one of the country’s most talented players as a privilege rather than a misfortune.

A new era under Jesse Marsch is glittering on the horizon and the dispatch of one of Marcelo Bielsa’s eternal favourites is perhaps an important moment in the discovery of a different kind of excitement.

Kalvin Phillips competing for England in the Nations League in June. Pic: Catherine Ivill.

After fulfilling his own and supporters’ dreams by getting Leeds to the top flight and keeping them there, Phillips now leaves a colder, more practical legacy – funding the next wave of growth at his hometown club, who surely now won’t fall apart without him.

As Kippax-born Jamie Shackleton is heavily linked with a loan spell at Reading, there remains a vacancy for the Whites’ resident Leeds lad, a big Phillips-shaped hole to be filled with another ‘one of our own’.

For now though, Phillips becomes West Yorkshire’s proudest export with the blessing of the fans, who feel thankful that he conducted his departure with such good grace, that he didn’t do an Alan Smith, that he didn’t leave after the Derby debacle as many feel he would have been in his rights to do –that his loyalty to Leeds didn’t once falter.

Kalvin Phillips has more than 200 Whites appearances to his name. Pic: Stephen Pond.