Leeds fan Kyle Hulme is excited by his club’s new lease of life as it emerges from the shadows of Ken Bates’ reign…
It can be difficult to write about your own club. Constantly fearing your own bias you can quickly fall the other way completely, find yourself typing out controversies in a rather scathing tone. Before you know it you’re calling Neil Warnock words that could get you arrested, or worse, blocked by Caitlin Moran.
I say usually, because today that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Leeds fans find themselves in quite an unusual position – optimism surrounding our club is at a ten year high, yet the expectations for this season are, dare I say it, rather realistic.
This seemingly substantiated optimism is born of all the work that’s been done by the club of late off the pitch. When GFH Capital purchased the club from Leeds fans it saw us embark on a typically rollercoaster-like ride; first we were rich, then we were poor, then Bates looked set to remain as President and supporters no longer knew where they stood.
But since the end of last season, the situation has begun to change.
For the first time in years, the owners of the club have listened to the fans. They’ve introduced a dynamic ticket pricing system, with new prices for students and young adults making games much more affordable. The highest opening day crowd for ten years shows just how receptive Leeds fans are to the changes.
As well as this, they’ve also started stocking replica shirts in the city centre, both in JD Sports and the new pop-up store in the Trinity Shopping Centre, in an effort to stop that vomit-inducing sight of a child in a Manchester United top. Further to these developments, they’ve also abolished Bates’ misconceived brainchild, Yorkshire Radio, instead making all games available to listen to on free-to-air BBC Radio Leeds FM.
There’s also be a welcome refocus on improving the little things; advertisements in the city, refraining from calling loyal, long-suffering fans “morons” in the programme ala Bates, and the sight of the owners walking across the pitch and up through the East Stand to take their seats for the game against Brighton, greeting fans as they climbed the steps. Bates would have needed to hire the Popemobile to make such a journey through the public spaces of Elland Road.
Lingering on that theme, perhaps the most impressive change in direction made in recent weeks is the way the new owners have decisively severed all ties with Master Bates from the club; stripping him of his presidency and banishing his spectre that has loomed over Leeds for 8 miserable years. Hearing the chant, “That Chelsea Bastard, He’s Out Of Our Club”, reverberate around the stadium at the weekend, followed by a thunderous applause minutes after kick-off, was the closure fans needed to finally look forward to the future. Brick by brick you can see our club being rebuilt and put back together again, both in its sense of a united spirit of community and a returning self-confidence.
On the pitch, things don’t look half bad either. Brighton are no mugs, and are incredibly effective when it comes to keeping the ball and passing through teams, yet Leeds showed enough character to come back from a goal down and win in the final minute. The Kop end effectively assisted the million-pound man Luke Murphy’s goal through a form of groupthink telekinesis, willing the play into the back of the net. The strike itself was a big fuck off to Ken Bates, showing that if you spend money to bring in quality, not only will the team become stronger, but it’ll get people in the ground and create an atmosphere that the players can thrive off.
I haven’t felt as good leaving Elland Road in years, and Leeds go into their next game with the suspended Rudy Austin and El Hadji Diouf once again available for selection. Boy wonder Sam Byram will also hopefully return back from his hip injury to add to the positivity and keep the momentum of the season opener going.
Speaking of Elland Road, Friday brought news of potential investors buying the stadium back, another positive sign that club has turned a corner. Sold in 2004 in a desperate bid to raise cash, Leeds are currently leasing the stadium yet have a buy-back option of £15m. Should the investors go ahead with their purchase of the stadium, it will save Leeds between £1.5m and £2m in loaning the ground itself, and a further £3.3m in payments to Ticketus – freeing up money to sign the central defender and winger the squad is crying out for.
In terms of expectations this season, I don’t really expect us to go up. I think we’re capable of it, but as the new Chairman Salah Nooruddin (or Salad Noodleman, as the Google suggestions once offered) understands, success doesn’t come overnight and it’s something that has to be built towards over a number of years. With McDermott at the helm, we seem to have a manager who understands not only football, but what Leeds United are all about, and a man who isn’t afraid to use our talented, young academy players at the right time – an option I see as much more preferable than signing them from affiliated clubs *cough* Watford *cough*.
It’s a refreshing state of affairs. Bates’ autocratic tenure is over, and a future whereby the owners work alongside the Leeds United Supporter’s Trust to listen to the wishes of fans, is a brighter one all round.
We’ve always been Leeds, but for once we’re United.
You can read more pieces by Kyle over on his blog: kyleinkrakow.wordpress.com.