As the sun set on 26 April 2016, so too did the twenty-fourth anniversary of the last truly great Leeds United side. Yesterday marked twenty-four years since the mighty Whites were last crowned champions of England. Twenty-four years since Howard Wilkinson & Co. capped a magical two-year resurgence from second division afterthoughts to title-holders - in a fashion eerily similar to Leicester City actually. Twenty-four years since this:
On 26 April 1992, Leeds United were champions of England – the last Division 1 champion before the introduction of the Premier League. On 26 April 2016, Leeds United are….. not so good. Sure, a top 10 finish is likely if things go to plan over the coming fortnight but what does this really mean? At best, it amounts to being the 30th best side in England, and while we'll take it as a slight improvement for now, it's a far cry from 1992. But the club now has a plan, off the field anyway. The marketing department particularly seem to have a few good ideas to boost attendance at the very least.
First of all, it was announced season ticket prices would be frozen for a third straight season, would you dare pay more to watch this side play? And then came the kicker, a MONEY-BACK GUARANTEE!!!
Should #lufc fail to reach at least the play-offs in 2016/17, supporters will receive a 25% refund on their Net Season Ticket price.— Leeds United (@LUFC) April 19, 2016
In recent days the club has announced a series of ‘promises’ designed to boost season ticket sales, promises that all hinge on United qualifying for the playoffs next season. The club has offered fans who purchase season tickets (before the end of May) a minimum 25% refund if the club fails to reach the play-offs in 2017.
Here’s the even better news, if season ticket sales surpass 15,000 then the club will refund 50% of the net season ticket price should it fall short of the play-offs. The Leeds United marketing department is in the midst of a hot streak.
Should sales surpass 15,000 by July 31 and #lufc fail to reach at least the play-offs, fans will receive a 50% refund on their Net ST price.— Leeds United (@LUFC) April 19, 2016
Yes, I know what this means in isolation – absolutely nothing. You don’t get promoted on the back of good marketing advice and popular season ticket plans, you get promoted if your football club is up to scratch. But surely this is a sign of intent! Why would Massimo Cellino put himself on the line for a potential million pound payout?
The cynic in me points to Cellino’s ghastly track record and thinks this may be a last gasp effort to get what he wants. If things go pear shaped next season would it surprise anyone if Cellino simply sneaks out the back door and never makes good on his promise? Just remember he is still technically banned, despite showing no intent to follow the rules and actually serve his suspension.
But now that the pessimism gone – 12 years without Premier League football will do that to your footballing soul - let’s go with the glass half full approach. The season ticket promise illustrates intent to make a strong push for a play-off place next season. Heck, the club has told us as much.
The mechanics for how United can burst into the top six can be as simple or complicated as you like. In a macro sense, we are 13 points behind sixth placed Sheffield Wednesday and need to bridge that gap. Sounds simple right? But achieving this is something different all together. (editor's note: we'll discuss this and more throughout the month of May with our end-of-year coverage.)
United has played well against league leaders Burnley and Middlesbrough this season but fallen off against the lesser sides. It has lacked the quality to consistently play quality football. Hopefully the play-off promise will lead to an influx of talent over the offseason and a certain PFA young player of the year staying with the club.
But here’s the thing, don’t be afraid of letting a plan fail. Have a plan, give it a full season, stick to it and see what happens. If Steve Evans is your manager (a move I support 100%), back him in and give him a full season to prove his worth. Same goes for any other hiring. Losing is one thing, but doing it in spectacular fashion must stop.
For all his obvious flaws, Cellino has finally done something smart. He has tied his financial interests to that of the fans. If he wins, we all win. If we suffer, so too does his bottom line. Leeds United have now been out of the Premier League for 12 years and it must change.
The club has reported season ticket sales have gone well since announcing the offer – sales are allegedly double the amount they sold in the first week of sale ahead of this season. Let’s all hope the improved fortunes off the pitch translate onto it as well.