It’s been 16 years in waiting for the Elland Road faithful, but promotion looks like being as close as ever for Leeds United, but the confirmation of that much-sought-after moment could be bittersweet.
Relegation and financial ruin was what awaited Leeds after the turn of the Millennium, with lavish overspending on the premise that European football was expected as a regular occurrence at Elland Road.
When that didn’t arrive as planned, the money wasn’t coming in to ensure that the club could afford the high-profile arrivals, meaning a fire sale and relegation was the only route.
Since then, various owners and managers have come in to turn the tide and have experienced varying levels of success, with Simon Grayson sealing promotion back to the Championship in 2010.
Massimo Cellino took over from the disastrous ownership of GFH Capital and while his dubious morals often stood in the way of the club being steered in the right direction, there was at least some attempt to bring back results to the club on the pitch, to which Andrea Rardizzani took the reins and has transformed the club in almost every regard.
While mistakes have been made, the appointment of a boardroom team that have shown competence in both off-field and on-field matters has seen Leeds on the cusp of a return to the Premier League this season.
Marcelo Bielsa came in and the club’s whole mentality from top to bottom has taken a sharp turn for the better, and it’s paying dividends at present as the Whites sit top of the table with just nine games left to play, seven points clear of Fulham in third place.
While last season saw Leeds miss out on promotion by a slim margin after leading the way for a large portion of the season, they have come back stronger and look on course to rectifying that slip by going the distance this term.
However, their trajectory towards the top flight hasn’t appeared to be as straight-forward as first mapped out, with the current global pandemic swiftly putting the brakes on Leeds’ charge towards the back end of the season in superb form.
The full-time whistle to mark a 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town seemed to signal the moment amongst the Leeds fans across the ground that promotion was firmly in sight and there was nothing standing in their way after five straight wins without conceding a goal.
Huge cheers and applause came for the players as they circled Elland Road with Kalvin Phillips the main attraction despite not playing, going to every stand to commence a three-part cheer much akin to the German style, showing that even the players are beginning to get on board with the growing optimism.
This was the last time the suad set foot on the pitch after the EFL’s postponement, meaning that as of tomorrow (2nd May), Leeds will have seen all of their remaining nine games postponed and moved to a later date.
The problem that now presents Leeds and the rest of the league is the dilemma of whether these games will actually be played, and how to settle the season if those games cannot be fulfilled.
Details have been revealed about what would need to be in place to ensure the season resumes, with the requirement of an estimated 66,000 COVID-19 tests needed for all 92 clubs in the country throughout the campaign’s run-in, along with the need to ensure the safety of the players as well as managing the logistics of an extremely condensed schedule.
The growing likelihood is that the season will be unable to resume and the governing bodies will have to find a solution to settle the season, ranging from options such as voiding the season to settling using ‘points per game’ calculations and sporting merit.
The Yorkshire Evening Post revealed that their sources indicate football outside of the Premier League has a very slim chance of resuming due to financial pressure and the overwhelming factors of this current lockdown, meaning that settling the league without kicking a ball is becoming more and more like the most viable option.
So, what does this mean for Leeds United and their future?
It has always been the ultimate goal since that disastrous relegation at the Reebok to get back to the Premier League and that aim should probably take precedence over any other focus currently outlined by Leeds United.
However, with that in mind, for the fans, one of the main benefits of achieving promotion is that ‘moment’ where, for example, Patrick Bamford slots home with 10 minutes to go to put Leeds on course for a win that would clinch promotion, while seeing Bielsa’s struggle to remain dignified and reserved on the touchline among the other players beginning to get excited. All of this would be going on while the Elland Road crowd cannot contain itself. If the 2010 promotion against Bristol Rovers is anything of a benchmark, a promotion back to the Premier League would reach biblical levels of pandemonium.
The final whistle signals the end of that long wait and a mixture of relief, jubilation and sheer joy would overcome every Leeds fan in the ground and no doubt in every pub across the city, which is probably the pinnacle of the positivity that clinching promotion brings, with the harsh realities of the Premier League to follow.
This moment might never come to these Leeds fans, and this is being written from the perspective of someone who’s never had the privilege of witnessing the Viduka’s and Radebe’s of the early 2000’s first-hand, and would crave that experience for the first time.
Denying clubs the chance to play the rest of the season might be the only option but it has certainly ripped away that feeling of ‘clinching it’, having a moment to savour, and being able to say ‘I was there’.
At present, the last game that Leeds fans were able to see was that win over the Terriers, with Luke Ayling and Patrick Bamford’s contrasting strikes still sending the Whites faithful delirious regardless of the manner they went in, very well summed up by this fan:
While this game did spark an atmosphere amongst the fans that promotion was genuinely nearing, it would pale in comparison to actually getting there with a win against, say, Charlton Athletic tomorrow afternoon.
The country’s on lockdown and that should remain the case until this crisis has been almost completely averted. So, promotion might just have to be tweeted rather than seen, which seems a bit of an anticlimax for a 16-year story of sadness, dashed hope, and relentless optimism in the face of bleak times.
There’ll be no promotion party on Briggate or elsewhere and groups of fans might struggle to express their sheer delight over a Zoom call with friends but it’s better than it being voided with no promotion.
After all, going up is the main aim and being back in the big time is the priority over the celebrations that come with it, it’s just a shame that it has to come without its most natural follow-on.
The city of Leeds would have been in for a release of 16-years of built-up tension in one colossal act of catharsis and complete euphoria, which can still happen indoors and two meters away from the rest of the public, it just doesn’t have the same effect whatsoever.