Perspective needed as Leeds United search for answers from trouble by the sea - Daniel Chapman
THIS was a big Bank Holiday weekend in football for fans of unfocused anger from confusing sources.
We’ll come back to Luke Ayling, adrift on a pitch in Brighton, desperate to displace his frustration.
After he let a harmless little pass roll out for a throw-in, the merciless cameras zoomed and held his anguish for all the big-screen viewers to see, his eyes spinning like a Rolodex of possible blames – boots too tight, hair bobble too loose, or just one of those days?
Ayling kept his cool and his philosophy.
A little later, he was talking things over with Stuart Dallas and, while I’m no lip reader, the gist seemed to be, that this was rubbish, yep, and did Stuey have any ideas, nope, so should they forget it and try again next week, okay.
Tempers were rampant the next afternoon at Old Trafford, but the supporter-led protests shared that feeling of disquiet in search of a target.
Whoever ended up wounding a police officer found a bullseye squarely in the protest’s own foot, unhelpful when, from outside, it can be hard to see what the fans have to be so unhappy about.
The Glazer family took control over there in May 2005, a year after Leeds bowed out of the Premier League.
Since then, their trophy cabinet has acquired five more Premier League titles in need of protection from the ship canal’s fumes, with an FA Cup, a few League Cups and a Champions League for good measure, while this season an unfeasibly popular club legend is managing a misbuilt squad to second in the league, with a Europa League final in reach.
This is why it still annoys me that Leeds didn’t win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy when we had the chance, so at least we’d have something to show for our decade and a half of suffering.
Fans in Manchester, by that comparison, have had it easy, but this weekend’s protests are part of their own 16-year story, through which a discontentment has been nursed that trophies couldn’t ease.
In the end, it’s impressive that anger about the Glazers, while quietened by the steady thump of tin trinkets, was never distracted into silence, that supporter groups kept the bigger picture in sight.
Project Big Picture as it turned out, the ownership’s steady dragging of their club away from the fans and towards their own vision of the future.
The European Super League proposal, the Glazers’ stony refusal to talk, and Old Trafford’s patched-up roof dripping on Donny van de Beek’s seat on the bench confirm the fans were right all along.
There might be glory along the way but, once the silverware blindfold slips and the ultimate destination looms – this time the Super League, next time, who knows? – it’s clear that the ending will not be happy ever after, unless something is done.
Leeds, without an invite to the Super League, stood to suffer from life in its fallout zone, after sporting and commercial drawbridges went up.
But we know of old the railroad despair of opaque offshore ownerships, the years when promises on the pitch couldn’t disguise an increasingly broken organisation off it.
If Ken Bates thought promotion from League One would keep fans quiet while he put the club into debt and pushed for his hotels, down the same path that almost sank Chelsea, 1,500 angry protesters soon put him straight.
Big-picture stuff is hard, though, in a sport so focused on one green rectangle once a week, and that takes us back to Ayling by the sea, forlornly scanning the horizon for answers, seeing only fog, hearing only Marcelo Bielsa, toying with cross-Channel swimming as an alternative to murderball.
In defeat to Brighton, Leeds played like people who have never done anything right and never will, and unsympathetic fans suggested either the sea, a bin or League One as destinations for pretty much the whole team, because we’d be better starting again with Illan Meslier and Raphinha than persisting with this lot.
They’ll never be good enough for the Premier League, and it’s no good being sentimental about the promotion winners if Leeds are to progress – or so I’m told, anyway.
For all their faults on Saturday, though, Leeds are mid-table in that very same Premier League, more than good enough for me, no sentiment required.
Jackie Harrison, some have started saying, should be sent back to Manchester City with a thanks but no thanks, now we’ve seen Raphinha.
Crossing like that against Brighton does nobody any good.
But crossing like Harrison’s this season, the stats tables tell me, puts him in the Premier League’s top 10, not to mention more successful passes into the penalty area than Mason Mount, in fewer minutes on the pitch.
Hovering not far below him in the attacking charts you’ll see Mateusz Klich, a player struggling to drag his heavy legs to a higher level, yet still showing up in statistical grab bags next to James Maddison.
That disdainful question fans ask of other teams – what have they got to complain about? – cuts both ways on a weekend like this.
Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.
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Thank you Laura Collins