Now I’m well aware that the words ‘optimism’ and ‘Leeds United’ go together about as well as ‘the PATRIOT Act’ and ‘human rights’ and yet every June us Leeds fans often find ourselves temporarily succumbing to a little bit of idealism.
While us Leeds fans may be a fairly cynical and fatalist bunch most of the time, around the beginning of summer we all seem to get caught up in couple of months’ worth of optimism before we realise we haven’t bought anyone, and another one of our better players has packed his bags and driven his Bentley along the A17 to Norwich.
But this June my personal optimism is exacerbated after we experienced the demoralising disaster that was Warnock’s Reign of Apathy and Self-Indulgence, because now the thought’s in my head that the only way this season could be worse is if we get relegated, and since Brian McDermott seems competent, it’s hard to imagine that happening.
I may come across as the type of cynic who’ll only ever be happy after the asteroid breaches Earth’s atmosphere and I can spend the next brief moments shouting “See? I told you, I told you”, but I’m not really. I’m just a Leeds fan trying to recover from the extreme disillusionment and depression Warnock nearly drove me to for over a year, but without falling victim to believing that McDermott will definitely get us promoted.
But it’s so hard to stay objective and rational when I’m giddy at the thought of not seeing any more Warnock hoofball at Elland Road…
Now, this may be a Leeds United site managed for fans by fans, but I’ve always felt too much like a tabloid hack sitting comfortably behind his keyboard just a little too pleased with himself whenever I write something disparaging and absolute about someone like Bates or Warnock.
But I’ve held this rant in for a while and now that Warnock has finally returned to Cornwall with a satisfied grin on his face, thinking the people of Leeds were cheering him as he left rather than his leaving itself, I can get stuck in.
A match made in heaven, some said, one between a team everyone hates and a man everyone either hates or loves (though the latter are probably registered on the endangered species list). In reality, it was more like a temporary union between a team English football fans hate because we were better than them in the 70s (I’m not helping our case here, I realise) that have fallen on hard times due to financial mismanagement and their new manager; a man with an overinflated ego thanks to a long list of promotions gained with lower-league teams who ignores any and all of his failures.
So, one wants promotion, the other made a career out of gaining promotion. A match made in heaven, if God has a sense of humour. And he does because we had Browneh anchoring midfield week in, week out, which must’ve been hilarious to everyone else as it was frustrating for Leeds fans.
Warnock needed to add to our Bates-ravaged squad, and while we knew he was never going to get any money, he still acted surprised once he realised that for himself. Yet, he managed to bring in a couple of good players, such as Austin, Peltier, Norris – hell, even Green can do a job.
Even luckier, he wound up with Sam Byram at right-back, who some say came from the academy but who I firmly believe was put together in some kind of genetic engineering laboratory where they create ideal youth footballers but have to use haircuts only seen in episodes of Geordie Shore. Good ‘ol Colin even managed to keep Snodgrass around right up until someone made a bid for him.
Despite everything, like the loss of Snoddy and the influx of any player who’d come to us on a free or loan, we didn’t look to be in too bad shape. That lasted right up until we played about a month or two into the season, when it became clear that Warnock’s typical gritty-but-effective football had devolved to laughably-inept, non-football as soon as he realised he wasn’t pushed whether or not he got that final promotion. After all, it’d only mean he’d have to write another chapter in that book of his.
At January he swapped Becchio for Steve Morison and enough pocket change to buy a Mars bar, and whether it’s Morison’s or Colin’s fault that our new “Legend” of a striker looked like he’d rather be clearing the Augean stables by hand than helping Diouf or Varney chase another long ball out of play is up for debate.
What isn’t up for debate though is that Colin’s football was about as inspiring and uplifting as a death-row inmate’s final words and as exciting as a game of Monopoly played by yourself. Warnock treated tactics like he was a UN official and they were a forgotten landmine left behind somewhere along the outskirts of a third-world village; something to be avoided at all costs while simultaneously denying their existence. Football under Colin was less kick-and-rush than it was hoof-and-watch-the-ball-go-out-of-play-then-blame-Tom-Lees.
And what really irritated me personally is that he expected us to be grateful for playing like crap and getting results deserved by our sub-par performances, then happily walking out with his paycheque and leaving us exactly where we were when he first signed with us. Well, that’s not true is it? He left us slightly worse off as were are now without both Snoddy and Becchio, the latter who’s enjoying his time playing centre-left bench at Norwich.
The best players in the squad were either sold or misused and mistreated to the point that their spirit had been collectively and individually was broken, both as footballers and as people. Okay, that’s a little much, but the squad was unbearably listless, apathetic, uninspired and contained less men at work than Colin Hay’s band, but Warnock was fully convinced that any day now the Queen would pop up north to knight him for such great service to the country and football in general.
But it wasn’t to last, thank God, and after making the permanently-stoic Tom Lees cry repeatedly on a post-match basis, over-playing Byram so much that Jack Wilshire pitied him and sorting out Brown with a new contract, Colin finally departs, leaving us threatened by the possibility of relegation to League One while he retires to Cornwall to finish writing his tribute to himself because he doesn’t think anyone else could get it right.
Now, enough disparaging remarks about Warnock’s management ability and personality. I’ll reign myself in because I’m well aware I’m beating a dead horse that happens to have perpetual smug bloody look on its face and I’m only degrading myself in the process.
The arrival of Brian McDermott:
Warnock’s time at Leeds personally angers me because I’ve only been over to see Leeds play at home just eleven times in my nineteen years on this planet, and the only two times I seen them lose was 1-2 to Leicester and 1-5 to Chelsea in the F.A. Cup, both under Warnock. I’m aware everyone will see their team lose, it’s guaranteed. But it was only under Warnock where I fully expected us to play horribly and lose before I ever hopped on the plane. These annoyances was compounded when in April I travelled over to Leeds again, only to see us beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 in McDermott’s first game in charge.
I thought the juxtaposition was funny. Here was Brian McDermott, an egg-headed hero who rode in on a white horse to replace the vanquished Warnock and scrawl the numbers “4-4-2” on the dusty whiteboard inside the dressing room, like it was the answer to the Fisher King’s question and the only thing necessary to begin the revival of football at Elland Road.
The former Reading manager instantly won over the vast majority of United fans by simply not being Warnock – after Colin left anybody who realised that wingers play on the wings and keeping the ball on the deck is an option and not an abstract concept may as well be the second coming of Don Revie. Even in his press conferences McDermott endeared himself to us by using “we” instead of “I” like good ‘ol Colin, who took responsibility for his failures like doing so would cost him the life of his first born.
McDermott seemed to arrive at Elland Road seeing us as something he wants to be a part of, hoping for a symbiotic relationship were we get back into the Premier League and he gets revenge over his detractors by hopping over previous club Reading on his return into English football’s good graces.
This is the complete opposite to Colin, who constantly acted like he was doing us a favour by showing up and starting Brown in midfield and utilising the rare “4-1-1-1-1-2” formation to the kind of extreme boredom, disappointment and frustration that meant Elland Road was half-empty every home game post-September.
Simply put; McDermott is a symbol of hope just because he seemed competent, a stark contrast to the apathetic Colin. He inherited a squad that needs work, but he doesn’t seem to be complaining about having to exert himself to keep his job (Stop me, Warnock, if this gets a bit technical).
It’s funny how the tiniest scraps of hope can be seen as a full gourmet meal if you’ve been starved of it for little over a year, but that’s the point. With Warnock we were below mediocre and receding back to League One, and without him we weren’t. We even looked like could improve.
And while we can improve, I’ve to point out that I wouldn’t be a Leeds fan if I didn’t feel that the sun only rises to set again just when I was beginning to have fun. I fully believe this season will be better than last year if only because it’s easier to enjoy passing a kidney stone than it is to watch the kind of anti-football Colin introduced us to with the same effect that a degenerative disease has to a nervous system.
The situation at Leeds is pretty typical of the club we love: we’re broke, coming off the back of a mediocre season and hoping to improve, lacking quality players we had twelve months ago, (Every year they seem to leave in ones and twos: Beckford, Gradel & Johnson, then Howson and now Snoddy & Becch… I’m going to stop now. I’m making myself sad), still haunted by the continued presence of Bates but now owned by a consortium desperately trying to
pawn off shares look for investment.
But I can’t help but feel hopeful and happy because we don’t have Warnock in charge anymore. McDermott at least has some sort of tactical knowledge, almost as if he once saw a few seconds of Match of the Day with his telly on mute as he absent-mindedly flicked through the channels, which is more than I can say for poor old Colin.
It needs to be noted that tactics will only get us so far. Matt Smith could be a good signing, especially since he can score against Merseyside and Moyes-managed teams in cup games, but he cannot be the only one if we expect to compete for promotion. We need some midfielders, preferably someone who’s creative enough to realise that a through-ball shouldn’t look like someone accidently held down the wrong button on the controller during a game of Fifa.
We’ve an actual football manager now who’s not just using us for a paycheque. Warnock hailed the GFH takeover as a “false dawn”, but if he’d paid attention to us in the last decade or did his research on us before he signed that contract, he’d know that Leeds is the land of the false dawn.
I don’t want to put all my egg-headed managers in one basket though; McDermott could wind up not being good enough to raise our lacklustre team to the excellence needed to gain promotion, or we mightn’t be rich enough to buy the players we need as Peterborough’s director of football has publically mocked us for. We could still be utterly execrable all the way through to January and call for McDermott’s shiny head on a pike or, more peacefully, demand for our General of the “Varney Army” to be relieved of command.
If that happened, the land of false dawn becomes more like Groundhog Day, with us permanently stuck in a never-rending cycle of false-hopes and disappointment, even though we try and keep our expectations grounded because we are Leeds and we work for what we get.
We’re not Liverpool who believe that we’re entitled to a Champions League place because “we just are, okay” or those oligarch-owned Premier League teams who sack a manager every few weeks to get trophies the same way Native Americans would dance around a bit to make it rain. If we get promoted it will because we deserved it.
It’s entirely possible that we finish the season in mid-table obscurity and without McDermott. But, for once, it’s entirely possible that we finish within the play-offs, lose out on promotion but keep our manager and have a chance to build on a squad rather than asset-strip it back to 12th place because GFH might not have graduated from the Bates school of thought.
I’m trying to keep my optimism in check, which should be easy for a cynic such as myself, but it’s a lot harder when all I can think about when I look forward to this season is, “hey, at least we don’t have Warnock again.”