Confessions of a Leeds United sympathiser

There are four of us. We meet every other Thursday in the back room of a working men’s club. At this time of year, we shuffle in from the cold. All year round, we maintain the same hushed tones for fear of being overheard. For when we speak, we arrange words into sentences that are rarely heard outside of this room. Sentences such as: “I’m not a Leeds fan, but I actually quite like them”…

Artistic licence, granted, but there cannot be many people who would list Leeds United as their second favourite team. Even I wouldn’t, but I am growing to like them more and more as time goes on.

Every division needs a cartoon villain and Leeds probably fill this role in the Championship at present. Crawley Town are the team that supporters of League Two sides love to hate for the significant helping hand they receive from shady investors, while no reason is necessary for mentioning Milton Keynes of League One in a similar breath. Of course, Leeds haven’t moved an entire club to a different county or employed a convicted criminal as manager. They’re just Leeds.

Other Championship clubs have tried to muscle in on their status. Even four cities couldn’t displace Leeds though. Coventry City and Birmingham City both handed contracts to Marlon King. Cardiff City created an us-against-the-world mentality under Dave Jones and included perennial anti-heroes Craig Bellamy and Michael Chopra among their number last season. Leicester City have spent a portion of their millions this summer on niggly characters like David Nugent, Matt Mills and Jermaine Beckford. Yet none of these clubs are Leeds.

Or, to give them their full name, Dirty Leeds. This is where it all starts to fall down. Under Don Revie in the 1970s, Leeds were pretty dirty by all accounts. Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter and all that. And nowadays? Jonny Howson doesn’t quite inspire the same fear.

Nor does Elland Road for teams like Blackpool that go there, play three attacantes and score five at a canter. But visiting Leeds or the visit of Leeds still marks a special occasion in the calendar for most opposition supporters, as much as some may try to pretend otherwise.

Leeds recently came to my club’s ground and won, but – on an entirely personal level – their victory on our turf didn’t represent same gut-wrenching experience that it once would have. This was partly due to the way Championship football can grind you down. When you’ve visited countless flat-pack 32,000-seater stadia up and down the country all year, financed by opportunists from the Far East and populated by smug supporters of the latest club to be labelled the Barcelona of the Championship, the stigma attached to Leeds United is refreshing. It feels as close to proper football as we get these days at such a high level.

So when one of their midfielders placed an exquisite shot into the top corner from just outside the box and ran to celebrate with their jubilant sold-out section in the corner of the ground, it didn’t bring that sinking feeling to quite the same degree felt during similar successes in the past. The ability to take defeat is an important step in the life of becoming a well-rounded football supporter and I prefer losing to a club whose fans sell their entire allocation and sing their hearts out all game than… well, insert a club of your choice here.

I didn’t like seeing that ball hit the back of the net and I didn’t enjoy trooping away having seen my team lose but at least that moment in which a player performed a knee-slide in front of over 3,000 travelling fans gave me an iconic image to take away with me. And at least one set of fans went home happy. Every set of fans will create their own version of these scenes over the course of the season, but not all make the most of it like Leeds do – falling down rows of seats and savouring the moment rather than falling into line and clapping soon after that initial burst of exuberance – and that is always to be admired.

We can also empathise with Leeds more in the current climate. They have lost key players over the past couple of years and barely spent a penny in transfer fees to replace any of them. These aren’t the same players the national media always point to either. The likes of Viduka, Kewell, Ferdinand and co still seem to work their way into a disproportionate number of articles about the battle Leeds face to reclaim their long-lost Premier League status. I’m talking about players like Max Gradel, Jermaine Beckford and Fabien Delph – clearly not of the same standard to which Leeds fans became accustomed, but still stolen away by bigger clubs despite becoming heroes at Elland Road. We can all empathise with that feeling.

Most of us can also empathise with the struggle Leeds fans are currently going through. Most of us know what it’s like to have an owner we would prefer to be as far from our club as possible. Most of us have baulked at the ticket prices we are charged at Elland Road this season. Imagine that every other week.

It’s an overall feel so it’s difficult to talk specifics. It is nevertheless important to try to dig down into things a little. Not just throwaway words like tradition and history but the tangible sensation of visiting a ground that means something to so many people thanks to an album of events built up over a long period of time. There are so few of these places left to visit. Side with the fans rather than the owner. Nobody should be glad to see attendances begin to dwindle at Elland Road.

And few opposition supporters seem to acknowledge that while the national media obsess over Leeds returning to the Premier League and battling it out with Manchester United and Liverpool again, their presence in the Championship helps to prevent an endless procession of trips to identical football grounds reproduced in different colour schemes. Their three, four, five-thousand visiting fans bellowing for all they’re worth despite being a goal down is what all football supporters should aspire to (and you can argue the toss about this all you like – no other team in this country matches Leeds in this department). They shouldn’t be singing any more, but they probably still are.

Maybe this isn’t such an uncommon thing. Maybe I’m not alone. Let’s see. I’m not a Leeds United fan, but I actually quite like them. Your turn.

The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

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30 Comments on "Confessions of a Leeds United sympathiser"

  1. Kevio says:

    We were singing til the end of that 5-0 home drubbing to Blackpool. Best fans in the country.

  2. Paul Smith says:

    Oh yes, Leeds – the scene of one of my most frightening experiences of many years of attending football matches up and down the country, where the police keep you in after the game for 45 minutes, then herd you into the waiting mass of Leeds hooligans.

    Long may they stay out of the Premier League. I hope never to visit the ground again

  3. Ricko says:

    Well said mate. I’m a Brighton fan, however when Leeds equalized in the final minute to make it 3-3 at our place I had to applaud not only their fighting spirit, but their fans.

    I could only watch on in envy when they celebrated the goal, not because it gained them a point, but because of the way they celebrated. It was like they had won the league – it was brillaint to watch.

    • Loiner John says:

      As a Leeds fan who lives near Brighton, I was at the match but sat with 3 friends who are Brighton fans. It was a match of great emotion 2up and heading for an easy win. lost concentration and 1 down until the end. no wonder I cheered.

  4. snowjoke says:

    A stunningly good piece of work, Mate. Sad but very “knowing”, if I may say so. A genuine pleasure to read on a miserable Yorkshire morning.

  5. Tom Arnold says:

    I’m a Leicester fan living in Leeds and find the ‘Dirty Leeds’ stuff particularly cringeworthy. I find myself quite envious of them in a way – their fans have developed the kind of seige mentality that we can’t seem to grasp, particularly in the years since administration. The club’s fortunes are so tied in to those of the city that you can’t help but absorb some of that history when you live here.

  6. Keith weller's tights says:

    “Or, to give them their full name, Dirty Leeds.

    Leeds were pretty dirty by all accounts. ”

    And lo it came to pass that the unknowing knew, the unseeing saw and the unborn bore the prejudices of the past into the present zzzzzzzz

  7. JHR says:

    Excellent article considering it is written by a Leicester fan…..We are Leeds

  8. Jonathan Gardner says:

    A really well-written, considered piece of commentary. Show’s there is much more than one dimensional support to football. Congratulations.

  9. David says:

    Well written article. It says so much about the charcter of the “real” fans at Leeds, not some thugs that another poster mentions, they are in many clubs and would be better with none.
    I suppose in a world of some much sameness, bland mediocrity, they do stand above the rest. I talked to a guy the other day who is not from Leeds but is a Leeds fan, he says, he does not know why. Probably it’s the rollercoaster of emotions that Leeds fans have gone through over the years and still keep on singing makes him feel alive. On that feeling they probably have an edge that no one else quite seems to match. You could never be acused of having a predictable life being a Leeds fan.

  10. Steve says:

    I will never forget watching Man U Vs Leeds just after New Year in 2010.

    I sat at home recovering from a massive hangover, feeling dreadful and just listening to the 6k Leeds fans dominate 60k+ plus Man U fans, I was actually in awe at the sheer volume and noise they created.

    Football is not just about trophies.

    The final whistle went as had my horrendous hangover as I proceeded to dance around my living room to Leeds belting out their version of KC and the Sunshine Band.

    And I am a Everton fan.

  11. Jimmy James says:

    Great article. It’s good to see a supporter of another club recognise the fans of Leeds United for what they are, some of the most loyal & passionate in today’s game. The “Hooligans” barely show their face these days, as a season ticket holder & a regular at away games, I laugh when I read obvious stereotype drivel like the poster above has come out with.

  12. Terry Babalaas Henderson says:

    Nice to hear what us Leeds fans have always thought. I promise not to diss other teams toooo much in future, cross my heart. MOT from a very hot Joburg

  13. Edd says:

    What a great article. Not just because it identifies something about Leeds fans that others envy but because by a supporter of another team acknowledging the fact it also brings togther supporters of different clubs. I’m a Leeds season ticket holder and it is all too easy to identify with the emotional roller coaster. The Blackpool match was a clear example. It was horrible but equally uplifting in that I’m proud to have been part of a crowd that reacted so positively and vocally to disaster. No manager can tell their team to score a goal to quieten the crowd at Elland Road. I’m getting on a bit and I don’t attend many away matches but when I listen to the radio commentry I worry that might be missing a home match as the background noise from Leeds fans is so great.
    The roller coaster has been going on for many years. I’ve been to cup finals that we have won and more that we have lost. I have seen us win matches when it seemed impossible and us lose them when it seemed equally improbable.
    I remember standing next to a Glasgow Rangers fan at Elland Road many years ago in a european match before crowds were segregated. He was compleatly fanatical whilst the game was in progress but at half time we had a warm friendly conversation. At full time he shook my hand (Rangers had lost) and said he hoped we would meet again. I would like to think that some time in the future fans could again come together like that. Your article brings it one step nearer.

    • Jailhouse John says:

      What EDD says.

      As a ER season ticket holder I too rarely attend away games now but for diverse reasons I found myself at our recent Posh and Doncaster games and I was amazed at our away support. Of late ER has become a bit of a mauseleum (Blackpool debacle apart) probably because so many of our vocal supporters now follow the ‘away only’ rule partly in protest at the price of home football but also because it appears that full on atmosphere is guaranteed thus making the experience far more rewarding.

      The original article (is that what they call a ‘Blog’?) was pleasing to read as it sort of vindicates the type of club I want to be associated with. We should have lost the ‘Dirty leeds’ tag many years ago indeed we have been pussycats compared to some.

      The Championship is a great division this season with almost every club capable of beating any other, articles such as this will help us all celebrate that and therefore let the best teams win. Although to be fair the prize might be not what it is cracked up to be!!

  14. Sam Palmer says:

    Great article as I am normally part of that travelling army. I simply don’t know what is it to follow Leeds. We have to hell and back but all I know is we’re there for our team, we always will be. Be it in the San Siro or away to Wycombe (sorry I don’t know their ground name) we always sing for the 11 lads wearing OUR shirt. We’re Leeds and we’re proud of it. It’s in our blood ‘no’ matter who owns us, ‘no’ matter who plays for us. On on on!!!

  15. CoalvilleFox says:

    Begrudgingly agree. They’ve lost their nasty edge in recent years as well. For years they were the most racist of fans to visit Filbo but over the past few years that’s died off. Give me Leeds over Man U, Arsenal, Chelsea and City any day.

  16. leeds jock says:

    yeah i came to leeds in 72 and suported them ever since as my english team now just my team,i was overwhelmed by the passion and atmosphere created in E.R.This was a cracking piece of journalism a bit like man united ruined my life or the nick hornby novel.It would be nice if even the championship was the first to put away the more unsavory banter and come together as just fans of a great league.Iv admired saints and great young players like zaha of palace and felt sorry for palaces great fans being hassled by our stewards and 50 of them thrown out for standing but was inspired when cardiff fans were treated the same but a hundred of their mates left the ground in protest well done c.c.

  17. Stevo says:

    I would just like to say how refreshing an article that was, coming from a non-Leeds fan. I count myself as a peace-loving easy-going fella, we’re not all hooligans! But Leeds gets in you’re blood, and once committed, it’s for life.
    It is a special feeling belonging to the white army, fair enough, our brethren from the other end of the M62 have won everything in sight, but eh, who cares? Like Paul Reaney says, ” When you’re Leeds, you’re Leeds! ” Nuff said!

    It’s not for nothing that every away team since Leeds were relegated from the Prem, have drawn their seasons’ best when the Whites rolled into town …MOT

  18. trueyorxman says:

    Nice to to read a peice by someone who understands what its like following Leeds. As fans we do know our level & for the past 30 years most of that has been at Championship level, but we embrace it and we know we have no given right to be in the Prem. 75% of fans who travel to awaycg

  19. David severe babalas says:

    Terry, gee it is hot in Jozi these days, isn’t it?

  20. Gary says:

    Excellent article…made the hairs on the back of my head stand up as the awe we create even when we lose…last away game…Blues…we lost 1-nil, but we were the only side singing…:-)

    Paul Smith..I have been to many away games and these types of fans exist all over…

  21. lufcmark says:

    Great article. Great respect from someone who truly understands the support for Leeds United. It’s the rollercoaster, every ‘up and down’ that us Leeds fans have experienced (particularly over the last decade) that makes every game, every goal, seem so special and worth celebrating… For sure, things aren’t perfect right now, but… We’ve been down to the bottom and are (slowly) rising up again. The bigger the fall, the sweeter it will be when we finally break back through into the big time. I know that day is coming, but I still can’t anticipate how I will react on that day nor can many LUFC fans I imagine… I’m sure many other Championship team supporters will say the same for their club, but with Leeds United… it will signify the rebirth of the fallen giant of football, a full circle which, when completed, will bring about a new era in our history. We’ll never forget, or regret, the last decade of turmoil. We wouldn’t change a thing – not the relegations, not Bates, not even Paul Rachubka. Because the good and bad is what has made us Leeds United, what has made us loved and hated, and whatever each era brings -success or failure- fans will follow the club until the world stops going round, and that’s what being a football supporter is all about.

  22. James says:

    I have to agree with the OP. There is something about a game when Leeds United and their fans are in town. They are constantly singing and you end up watching their fans throughout the game. I wish our fans could create that sort of defiant atmosphere. I read an article that they sell out their away allocations at every ground and when they played us there was still more in our home ends. I know like the OP says that we hate them but you have to give credit where it is due and admire their support. I have never seen so many coaches turn up at game either its like a mini invasion. I have been to Elland road twice and again their support in main at home is pretty awesome and very intimidating and I would love to see what it is like if the stadium is full. Anyway I will be looking forward to their visit later this season and pray we beat those Leeds S*** just because of the way they support their team. Jelouse??, I suppose I am.

  23. Gaz says:

    I am a Leeds fan and I like your kind words. We thrive on being hated but we also like the odd nice article

  24. I see what you’re doing here. You know how much we revel in the hatred of our club, so you’re trying to turn the tables – to take away our siege mentality. I’m on to you David Bevan.

    Seriously though, good stuff. Nice to see some fans aren’t blinded by the media nonsense and age-old stereotypes.

    • theseventytwo says:

      Curses. Busted.

      Was written that your next away game would end with an 89th minute winner after I wrote that too.

      Thankfully Gallagher scored a goal almost identical to Clayton’s today and then hit an even better one three minutes later, so we’re all happy…

  25. Tom says:

    A brilliant article. Amazing insight into the heart of a Leeds United supporter without actually being one! We ARE decent folk and don’t deserve the bad press. Thank you DB for recognising this. The Championship is the most exciting league by far and I am (almost) hoping we don’t get promotion! MOT.

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