Leeds United Face A Familiar Sinking Feeling
After thirty-eight minutes of this evening’s match at The American Express Community Stadium, those hardy souls that had traveled down to East Sussex in the fruitless support of Leeds United may well have been forgiven for wondering whether seven minutes from half-time might be a reasonable time to knock this football lark on the head for the evening and repair to a pub back in town to lick their wounds. Leeds supporters have had more than a decade to get used to the fact that the best footballers on the planet are only likely to be visiting Elland Road through the visitors’ changing room. What can surely only continue to stick in the craw, however, is what looked for all the world like a combination of incompetence, shambolic organisation, and appearing not to give a fuck.
A cursory look at the Championship table might make it feel as if this result wasn’t necessarily a complete disaster for Leeds United. After all, Brighton & Hove Albion went into this match in fourth place in the table, on the outskirts of the clubs that still have a realistic chance of grabbing one of the two automatic promotion places for a spot in the Premier League come the end of the season. There is, however, a flaw to this reasoning. Brighton’s position in the Championship has not been built on free-scoring football. They may well have gone into this match in fourth place in the table, but this was largely built upon parsimonious defending. Prior to last night’s match, Brighton had scored just forty-five goals in thirty-three matches.
There are plenty who will suggest that this result has been coming for Steve Evans and his Leeds United team. To a point, it might even be argued that the circus that the ownership of Massimo Cellino has become away from the pitch has diverted attention from a rather more glacial decline upon it. Over the course of the last eleven league matches, Leeds have only won once, and this evening’s result left them in seventeenth place in the Championship table. And while the buffer between the club and the relegation places at the foot of the table remains at what should really be a comfortable nine points, Leeds currently have just thirty-eight points and don’t look like picking up too many more in the immediate future. Another three or four wins might be enough to ensure something approaching safety, but it certainly seems to be reasonable to ask where, exactly, those wins are going to come from at the moment.
Off the pitch, of course, all remains trouble and strife. Last week, the club took the somewhat unusual step of announcing not only had they filed their taxes for the year to 2015, but that these would confirm that Cellino has put £43m into the club, reducing its losses from £23m for the year to 2014 to £2m for the year to 2015. What the motives behind ensuring that this reached the national media could be are, of course, open to question. An implication that Cellino isn’t going anywhere? Perhaps. The pie tax, the level of ticket prices, and the reported desire to break away from a collective television bargaining deal in the belief that this will significantly benefit the club? Possibly. A scream of chest-beating into the void as the possibility still looms that he might be banned from owning the club again continues to hang in the air? Well, it’s not completely implausible.
These suppositions might not necessarily be anywhere near the truth, of course. It’s possible that he does just stumble through life like Sideshow Bob in a garden covered in rakes, that these things just happen to him. The pie tax? “It was just a joke,” he said. “I never could do anything like that.” Perhaps the two previous convictions, for deception and false accounting, were just a series of unfortunate coincidences, the accountancy equivalent of Frank Spencer. Whoever the real Massimo Cellino is, the antics that he offers on the touchline have definitely deflected from a slowly sinking team. This evening’s match, however, in the front of live television cameras on the splendid isolation of a Monday night and a larger than average television audience for such a fixture, blew that can of worms wide open and scattered them in all four directions across the Elland Road pitch.
There was schadenfreude, of course, particularly for Steve Evans, who remains probably British football’s most unlikeable man and will never, ever stop being Steve Evans. But there was something else going on in the curious world of social media. There was sympathy, of sorts, an understanding that whatever is going on at Elland Road surely doesn’t deserve to happen to the supporters of any football club. It was a low hum, but it was definitely audible. But this tells its own story, as well, in its own way. There’s a point at which some – perhaps even many – people will find themselves thinking, perhaps in spite of themselves, “Stop, stop, he’s already dead.“
Perhaps, though, we also know in the dark recesses of our minds, that there but for the grace of God go we. Some supporters have experienced worse. Some have lost their clubs altogether. But taken as a whole this number is vanishingly small. Football clubs in this country are surprisingly resilient. The idea of this conflation of events – and we may not known all of them, but we know that the sum total of the lot is some sort of clusterfuck – happening to us makes many of us quietly, perhaps even subconsciously, thank our lucky stars. One might even be persuaded that if Cellino wasn’t at that club, he could be at ours.
Brighton & Hove Albion took their foot off the pedal a four-nil. Perhaps it’s appropriate Leeds televised thrashing should happen at this club. Albion might not always be a completely harmonious club at times, but at the very least you get the feeling that this is a club that is ultimately pulling towards the same direction. At Leeds United, however, all is chaos. The owner is pending possible second ban. The manager is unpopular across the whole of the game. And now the team, the one thing that has had half a chance of holding the supporters nerves in one piece, is on the slide. It’s still unlikely that it will come to relegation, but whether it comes to pass is almost besides the point, a little. After all, when relegation brushes against your cheek, it can feel like a sweet kiss. It’s the building up that isn’t great for the mental health. And a performance like that turned in by Leeds United’s defence over the course of the first thirty-eight minutes of tonight’s match will surely have done them no good whatsoever.
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