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Clarkyboy's Comments - The Summer of Love?

Stephen Clark returns from a summer sabbatical to give his thoughts on the close season, and why he believes Leeds fans are falling in love with the club again.

Applause at Elland Road - An all to rare thing in recent times.
Applause at Elland Road - An all to rare thing in recent times.
Michael Regan

A long time ago, in a football galaxy which seems far far away, the close season was a chasm that never seemed to end. The football season ended on Cup Final day, and from the start of May until the middle of August, the sport disappeared for the summer, with Mitre Delta's replaced by Duncan Fearnley's as cricket became the nation's obsession,. That was unless there was a World Cup to prolong football's lifespan, or an Olympic Games vied with the sound of leather on willow to capture our imagination.

They were great days,allowing supporters breathing space before a new season began and our passions were reignited. But as football has spawned into the behemoth it is today, those breaks away from the game have grown shorter and shorter. The domestic season runs until the end of May and with TV desperate for matches to show to an apparently hungry audience, if there isn't a World Cup or a European championship then there is always a Youth tournament or such gems as the CONCACAF Gold Cup to sate our insatiable appetite.

However, this summer I have given them all a miss. If ever I was in need of a break from football, last season provided me with an excuse to try and forget the game. Neil Warnock's 15 months in charge of Leeds United were, without a doubt, the most miserable time I have had watching the club in the 25 years I have had a season ticket. Warnock resembled a man who enters a fantasy football league to curry favour with his workmates. With an alarming lack of knowledge of the game, he selected a side full of wastrels and non-entities, and by the end of September he had lost complete interest in the team and was just happy to leave them to their own devices, collecting the odd point here and there.

Unfortunately for the paying spectator, this wasn't a fantasy, it was a cold hard reality. As the nights got darker and the air became chiller, the football got worse. The highs of cup wins against depleted Premier League opponents were cancelled out by the lows of humiliating defeats to local "rivals" Barnsley, Hull and Huddersfield.

However from the ashes of a ruined season, Brian McDermott's appointment stoked some lingering embers and gave us the hope that things might get better. Somehow getting the players that had performed so ineptly for Warnock to spark into life and actually show an ability to pass the ball saw the season end with a hint of optimism.

That optimism seemed to be doused as the early summer saw another interminable round of rumour and counter-rumour clog the Twitter time lines of thousands of Leeds United fans , with each ITK'er attempting to outdo the other with conflicting tales of untold riches or impending financial doom. With only Matt Smith announced as a signing, the tall striker arriving on a free from Oldham Athletic, the pangs of excitement about the season ahead were yet to appear.

With the fixtures released and the pre-season campaign about to start, July burst into life with the ending of Ken Bates' chairmanship. While he moved out of the day to day running of the club to a presidential role, the bigger shock came with the removal of Shaun Harvey as CEO, with David Haigh moving into the MD role. As if to highlight how ineffective Harvey had been in negotiating transfers, the Whites not only snapped up Luke Murphy from under the noses of Blackburn Rovers, it was revealed we had paid £1M pounds to do so!

That signing was the signal for the black clouds that have sat permanently over Elland Road for the last two years to begin to lift, revealing a little chink of light that signalled the good times may be returning. In the days that followed another new signing arrived, Noel Hunt on a free from Reading, and another huge shadow was removed. Gwyn Williams was the last of Bates's cohorts to be moved on as he was put on gardening leave. If his horticultural skills are anything like his talent spotting abilities, he will be currently watching over a tangle of weed and nettles, blottiing the landscape for everyone around him.

With pre-season not being the best, a 1-0 defeat at Walsall the nadir with unrest amongst the fans, the optimism which budded at the start of the month looked to be withering. No more new faces had arrived and as worryingly, none of the crap collected by Warnock had moved on. Rumours of a Red Bull rebranding had surfaced and sunk in quick succession and although Luke Varney notched a hat-trick against Stevenage, the impending season was not being looked forward to with any real relish.

Then a simple 44 word statement on the official site saw the Sun break through the remaining clouds and illuminate the supporters of Leeds United in the glow of unfettered happiness and renewed optimism for the future.

Leeds United today confirmed that Ken Bates has ceased to be club President.

Leeds United MD David Haigh said: "Ken Bates has ceased to be President of Leeds United Football Club. Mr

Bates will now no longer have any role within the football club."

Those words, published on the 26th July, ended eight and a half years of mostly misery. Even the brightest moments of Ken's reign , the win at Old Trafford and the promotion clinching victory against Bristol Rovers, will forever be tarnished by the fact that the club were in the third tier of English football.

With Bates gone, suddenly the good times were back. Within days an expected crowd of just over 20K for the home opener against Brighton were boosted by those who saw Ken's removal and the more friendly pricing policies of GFH as reason to return. The news of ticket sales increasing were matched by more examples of fan engagement as first the Supporters Club and then the Supporters Trust, both nemeses of Mr Bates, were welcomed back into the fold with meetings with David Haigh.

By the time matchday arrived, only a handful of tickets remained and so it was that Leeds United entered the arena at Elland Road to the cheers of over 33K fans. The personnel were, in the main, the same as those put together so poorly by Neil Warnock, but the mood was so different. The rendition of Marching On Together before the game made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, the chorus of "That Chelsea B*****d, he's out of our club" brought a smile to the face, the deafening roar which greeted £1M man Luke Murphy's last gasp winner reinforced the general feeling.