No Love Lost

In 2017-18, Free, Issue 10 2017-18, Leeds United, Subscribers by Jon Howe

“Don’t pity me now, don’t pity me never, I’m going to do nothing for ever and ever.” Don’t pity me, I’ve learnt nothing. In my fortieth year of attending Elland Road I’ve grown to hate what I love, and every game I wrestle with this conundrum at some stage, usually just before half-time. The eternal contradiction, the bleak premise there before me and the unfathomable paradox that I know I’m going to be faced with.

Leeds United are football’s equivalent of the enigma code. The more we unravel the less we understand. I hate them, truly. They make me moody, distant, forgetful. They rob all my money and my precious family time. They leave me staring out of train windows into jet black nothingness somewhere in the East Midlands at 11.30pm, slowly sobering up to the realisation that this was never going to be the good idea we thought it was three weeks ago. While my family sleeps peacefully at home, oblivious to my inner torment.

This is on Leeds United. And yet I still believe they can change. As relationships go, this is as ruinous, unrequited and aimless as they come. You wouldn’t bring Leeds United home to meet your mother, you wouldn’t dare. A spoilt, slacker generation waster going nowhere, but with a curious charm. The alarm bells are ringing and everything screams ‘no’, and yet we keep coming back for more.

Home-wrecking Leeds United, serial offenders, leaving us on our knees, in tears, picking up the pieces yet again. In the dead of night the front door is wide open, inviting us to leave. The wind whistles through the house, shifting the broken glass from our latest rage and there stands Leeds United in sinister silhouette, with a season ticket application form; brazen to the last, the epitome of arrogance, vacuous promises and sheer brassneck. And we can’t say no, we can only subscribe for more of the same. Because what is the alternative?

Leeds United are like a social experiment, like the first series of Big Brother

In fairness they have tried to change. But maybe it’s only me that sees this. We’ve talked, we’ve listened. It’s a familiar conversation. They have tried to do things differently and so have I. Was this the commitment I was looking for? I thought so, but here we are again. Everything suggests I should walk away, cut the ties, minimise the collateral damage, see other people, find new ways to fill the time. But all the while, I’m just waiting for Leeds United to find a moment amongst the maelstrom of chaos for some sober reflection, and to finally admit that “it’s not you, it’s me”. I need Leeds United to accept some responsibility before things can really change.

I don’t get angry at Elland Road anymore, I mostly sit impassively. People might think I don’t care any longer, but there’s only so much misery, false hope and rejection your body can soak up before you become immune to emotional extremes and they simply wash over you. I can spend a full ninety minutes in a trance-like state and in a video I would be sat motionless, while the camera focused on my pale, weather-beaten face and haunted eyes as I stared into a vacuum. Meanwhile a timelapse clip shows thousands of people busying themselves around me. At the end, the soundtrack of sweeping strings would reach a crescendo as the referee blew the final whistle. Then silence, before I stand up and mutter something like “fucking shite Leeds” under my breath and then shuffle off to take my place back in the real world.

And yes, Elland Road is my escapism, or at least it’s supposed to be. That’s the true absurdity of it. I go because I enjoy it, I honestly do. I long for the company of friends and a couple of pre or post-match pints, I long for the sense of communion at 3pm and the expectation, however flimsy, that this ‘could’ be the day where something extraordinary happens. The ability to press reset and forget everything that has gone on in the past will probably never be lost, and that is the beauty of football; that tiny nagging possibility that anything could happen. A blank page is turned over, we start again and today Brian Deane could score four goals, Aidy White could do something wildly constructive and Hadi Sacko could put in a decent fucking cross.

Despite giving myself freely and willingly to Leeds United to do with as they wish, I have a stoic belief that I won’t be fooled again. I fully appreciate that there is a fundamental illogical flaw in that statement, but ever since Leeds United’s 1998 FA Cup run, past three Second Division teams at home, charmed me into believing we would comfortably beat Wolves (another Second Division team) at home in the Sixth Round, I have flatly refused to get carried away by any fanciful notions of success.

I’ve seen too many David Norrises, too many loanee left-backs

Since that day I have given up on Leeds ever progressing significantly in the FA Cup (and twenty years later my blood pressure has barely flickered one single mm/Hg accordingly) and I have vowed to routinely prepare myself for the very worst whenever Leeds United face any match of consequence or meaningful connotation. I’d advise you do the same.

I don’t get upset at games anymore, I don’t berate players, I politely applaud and encourage them and can only deal in silent frustration. I’m all out of anger, my words are wasted, I’ve shouted too many shouts, seen too many David Norrises, too many loanee left-backs. I’ve been Warnock-ed out of expressing human sentiment. I’m like a methadone dependent on cold turkey, an empty shell incapable of emotion.

For me, now, Leeds United are like a social experiment, like the first ever series of Big Brother. A curiosity, an exhibit, an enthralling social analysis of people, behaviour, decisions and their implications. We are a case study in how capitulation and calamity can somehow strengthen bonds and elicit more loyalty from the very people it hurts the most. We keep watching partly because we are deeply involved in it, but also partly because surely one day someone will break. What form that will take nobody knows, perhaps it will be me. But surely a tawdry yet engrossing public breakdown from someone cannot be far away.

I’ll still be here, because somehow I enjoy it. I wish we had another aim, because I’ve no huge desire to be a part of the Premier League. That kind of adds to the melting pot of ironies and oxymorons that supporting Leeds United in 2018 presents: I want us to be better and to succeed, but the prize at the end of it is something that I will probably hate much more than anything that’s happening to my club at the moment. I guess, somehow, I feel that Leeds United will remain ‘Leeds United’ despite the millions of pounds, the global exposure and the influx of raging opportunists desperate to take a piece of my club and sell it.

The truth is, that metamorphosis is already happening, more so since Andrea Radrizzani introduced us to digital platforms and Far Eastern territories. And maybe that is why I hate Leeds United so much, because it will never again be what I fell in love with, and now it is merely acceptance, ritual and a well-worn bonding through circumstance; like young lovers who met too soon, and now we’re watching TV in separate rooms and sleeping in separate beds. We’re going through the motions, incapable of showing love but conjoined by something we can’t explain.

I want to change too, but only so much. Supporting Leeds United is what I do, and however much I think I’m a pretty rounded bloke with other interests, sparkling dinner table wit and an eclectic mind full of varied inspirations and aspirations, my identity is being a Leeds United fan. Whenever my wife and I meet friends, or friends of friends, the easy ice-breaking reference point is for people to ask me about Leeds United and the latest omnishambles to take place at Elland Road. I’ve frequently wished people could see past that and ask me about something else, and more and more I sense people are asking out of a morbid curiosity, almost like they are daring to take a peek into the murky world of a Leeds United fan to experience second-hand, with a hesitant fascination, what it must be like to be one of the boneheaded sickpots who actually invests hundreds of pounds and countless wasted hours on this rudderless freakshow.

So it’s too late for me, but you can save yourselves. Actually don’t, because despite everything, there is a sensational sense of warmth that comes from forming associations with Steve Evans, Dave Hockaday, Verne Troyer (God rest his soul), Russell Crowe, Mini-Diouf, Aaron Cawley and Brian Montenegro and yet still being able to stay out of League One, except for that time when we didn’t, but you get my drift. Only Leeds United could unite the twin evils of modern football in Ken Bates and Neil Warnock and somehow survive, while simultaneously serving up the image of Luciano Becchio being nuzzled by a sea lion.

You just don’t get that anywhere else and it’s so ridiculous I could cry. If I had any emotions left. So don’t pity me, I’ve learnt nothing, just a thousand ways to channel my hatred into tolerance and an obscure form of love. For Leeds United; the insufferable bastards. ◉

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