“Long-suffering” Arsenal fans spent the weekend in a collective cold shiver, periodically shuddering out a thin, mewling bile into a stainless steel bucket. It’s been a long time since a trophy, and almost as long since they appeared capable of winning one. Then they compounded their FA Cup struggles by playing Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League. Perhaps ‘playing’ isn’t the right word.
Me, I don’t know what the fans are all so upset about, but that’s because of an ill-fated choice I made some years back.
Growing up I didn’t much like the round ball game we call foot. But over time I acclimatised to it and before you could say Stockholm Syndrome I realised that the time had come to choose a team.
I had a choice of 3. Liverpool FC, winners of several European Cups and historically England’s biggest team (says them). My mother’s side of the family is Liverpudlian. Alternatively, because I spent more time growing up in the south of England than anywhere else, I was in the natural catchment area for Manchester United (‘humour’). They’re now en route to their 20th league title unless the wheels come off and they embarrass themselves. Like they did last season.
Or there was Leeds United, the team of my dad’s side of the family. Before Chelsea stole the mantle, Dirty Leeds United were the team everybody hated. Back in the 1960s they learned diving and time wasting from the continent and married it with the English game’s physicality (read: ‘psychopathy’). It was a time for the winsome appreciation of the ‘hard man’, scything through ankles and ligaments from behind without a care in the world. Silky smooth Leeds were not.
And that was when they were good. But such halcyon days were long gone: by the time of my dilemma Leeds were suffering the early stages of a catastrophic financial implosion that even today inspires little more than gleeful schadenfreude.
Naturally I took one look at my options and plumped for the not-so-mighty whites.
Being a Leeds fan today means lurching from one crushing disappointment to the next, which comes in handy when watching England play international fixtures. Last weekend we were dumped out of the FA Cup by Manchester City, effectively ending our season unless we contrive to get dragged into a relegation scrap.
But as I see it, if you’re not playing, sport’s about entertainment and escapism. So while you might have seen Citeh’s world class superstars put ahem-hem past us without breaking much of a sweat, here’s what I saw:
They said it couldn’t be done, that Leeds couldn’t keep their 4 strikers happy, that Ibrahimovic and Drogba wouldn’t share the limelight, that Yeboah was past it and Berbatov, well he’s just a bit lazy.
And yet. Berbatov scored the opener, dedicating his latest work of beauty to jazz legend Charles Mingus. Yeboah clinched the victory, a goal-of-the-season last minute cannon to seal the championship before the end of February – a mathematical impossibility, they said. And to think that Yeboah is 46. Capital One and FA Cups and the European Cup are surely to follow, same as with each of the previous 3 seasons.
But it’s not just about the terrifying professionalism, the ‘average’ possession and pass success stats or the crushing inevitability of the victories; at Leeds Utd style is king. It’s there in their Alexander McQueen kits, in the muscular form of 2005’s Michael Essien; epitomised by Berbatov’s touch and a style of play that marries the best of tiki taka with individual flair. Ronaldhino has even been rehabilitated to such an extent that he’s on the shortlist for next year’s Ballon D’Or. CR7 and Messi have both inquired, but the big name signings are done – Leeds have a generation coming through to make even this current lot look like rank amateurs.
Barcelona and Ajax have sent representatives to the Leeds academy to learn the secret of its success. Round these parts people nod their heads approvingly to talk of ‘the other’ Utd’s 90s team (such a shame that Man Utd have been relegated yet again – they’re far too big a club for League 2), or Barcelona but there’s really no comparison between them and our 15 year olds.
Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama hold season tickets; Michael Jordan is often to be found in the stands trading jokes with Eric Cantona and cheering alongside most of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. The movie of the season is in preproduction: the movie of last season is up for the best film Oscar and best director (PT Anderson).
Ken Bates has inquired about investing in Leeds yet again, again breaching the restraining order. The bullet was removed from his leg, no harm done. But he got the message.
I recommend that you try this for your favourite sports team or despised franchise-corporate-monstrosity.
- LeBron still taking heat as his Miami team is humiliated in the play-offs, losing in 6 games against Oklahoma with an even worse points drop-off than in the previous finals against Dallas.
- England to Grand Slam the expletive out of the 6 Nations without conceding a single try. The momentum carries into this summer’s Lions tour as an English spine carries them to a record-breaking series of wins.
- A La Liga team other than Real Madrid or Barcelona storm to the championship, their players resisting the opportunity to play for one of Spain’s big two. Said team to build a dynasty and lead the campaign to effect a more equitable spread of television rights in the Iberian game.
- It might be difficult for Chicago Cubs fans even to picture them winning a World Series, mind.