Things have just not been the same in the last few years, to say the least. A worldwide pandemic has limited people’s movements, changed the way we live, and taken loved ones away from us.

Covid-19 has had a major impact upon our beautiful game, too, with empty stadiums and piped in crowd noises the norm last season. So many club legends have been lost to Leeds United that the first game at Elland Road this season will be awash with emotion.

Artwork by Josh Parkin

Pandemics aside, the biggest threat to football this year has come from those who were meant to lead the way. The ‘biggest’ clubs in Europe decided the best way to manage their disgusting debts was to privatise football at the highest level. A franchise system led by power drunk European and American owners committed to ensuring they would always be top of the pile.

The Premier League ‘big six’ turned yellow very quickly, an aggressive public outcry leading to rapid backtracking and cries of ‘oh, we didn’t mean it’. But the most significant outcome of this tragic process was the realisation of how arrogant and entitled these clubs have become.

Their fans rejected the idea, and rightly so, but this arrogance trickles down and is reflected in their view of other teams. I am generalising massively here, but one look at Twitter, fan groups and transfer discussion raises the same old trail of enquiry:

1. He is a good player.
2. Why does he play for them?
3. We’re a massive/special club (insert accent here), he should play for us.
4. We can buy him. Easy.

Their attitude is that the remaining fourteen teams are merely feeder clubs, scouting and developing players for the greedy gang to pick and choose who they want at will. Many EFL teams and lower will say that of all Premier League clubs, and it’s hard to disagree.

Now Leeds are back in the big time, it’s all you ever hear. Raphinha to Liverpool. Bamford to Spurs. Meslier to PSG. But we’re not alone. Anyone who makes an impression for the Feeder Fourteen is automatically deserving of a move to one of ‘them’. Just ask Scott Sinclair, Danny Drinkwater and Jack Rodwell how that went. Don’t ask their bank managers, though.

The international stage is where players really make their mark, and this summer was no different. The England team had its greatest summer since 1966. To play with such a measured and calculated approach took extreme bravery on Gareth Southgate’s part, but also a level of composure and discipline on the players’ side.

In the end, two of the Feeder Fourteen boys were the beating heart of this success. The core of the team was anchored in London and driven by Yorkshire, West Ham holding the fort while Leeds knitted the play together. Rice and Phillips were at the centre of it all. Declan and Kalvin arrived on the international scene.

Here we had two young lads, dismissed as average by ‘those’ fans and pundits alike, about to take the Three Lions to their first ever European Championships final. Along with another Feeder Fourteen boy (at the time), Jack Grealish, they were the names on everyone’s lips. And with this higher level of exposure, no, appreciation, came attention from those at the top. Unwanted attention, in the eyes of their adoring local fans.

Yet one of the most unique after effects of this tournament has been the appreciation of each other’s players among the F-14 teams. A temporary lowering of the defensive barricades as Villains lauded Rice, Hammers celebrated Phillips and even us stubborn Leeds folk enjoyed watching Grealish weave his magic. Normally a place for angry negativity, Twitter became a strangely friendly place. A kind of mob mentality grew as fans united against the looming, dreaded interest from the cash rich arrogance brigade.

There’s something romantic about a one club player. Say what you want about the likes of Steven Gerrard, Matt Le Tissier and Ledley King, but it takes a lot of character, a lot of love, to stay at a single club for your entire career. But in the Champions League obsessed world we now live in, this kind of loyalty will become even rarer. The rumour hungry press hardly helps the situation with constant speculation.

Surely Rice will go to Chelsea, screamed countless headlines. As I write this, Grealish has sealed a massive £100m move to Citeh. Some dare to murmur that the Yorkshire Pirlo would be better off with the prawn sandwich brigade at Scum. Even Real Madrid were linked with a move for Phillips after universal praise from the likes of Fabio Capello, Joe Mourinho and Henry Winter of The Times, who labelled him ‘an intelligent warrior’.

It’s all you hear. Raphinha to Liverpool. Bamford to Spurs. Meslier to PSG.

When Marcelo Bielsa arrived at Leeds United, he highlighted the former Wortley Junior as his player with the most potential. It raised more than a few eyebrows at the time, but El Loco knows talent when he sees it. But only he knows if Phillips was destined to be an England international so quickly. Now the Euros are over. Now the world knows what we always knew. Now it’s Kalvin’s turn in the shop window.

When it comes to heroes, Superman has a pretty good handle on things: “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” Christopher Reeve wasn’t talking about Kalvin Phillips, but he might as well have been.

In one summer, the charming Leeds lad has gone from a debatable squad member to one of the first names on the England teamsheet. Campaigns for ‘Hendo’ faded, and Southgate relied on KP almost more than any other player. His assist in the first game kickstarted England’s campaign. His passing range and accuracy brought an appropriate grovelling apology from Ashley Cole, and touching origin stories told to Ian Wright and tributes to Granny Val led to nationwide adoration.

The Yorkshire Pirlo is now a national hero. If his passing and energy didn’t impress you, then his shy smile and humble interview thank yous forced you to love him like we do. And at the end of it all, in the darkest of moments, he was there. It wasn’t England’s vets comforting the devastated Bukayo Saka: first on the scene was Kalvin Philips. While Saka wanted the ground to swallow him whole, Kalvin the Lionheart was there to shield him from the world.

Because he is a hero. He is a leader. And around these parts he is the essence of our team, our club. The day he becomes Leeds United captain cannot be far away. Leading by example. If not inspiring with his words, with his actions. Kalvin has already stamped his authority on the campaign to “remind people that there is no room for racism anywhere in society.” Leeds will again take the knee, and Phillips will be at the forefront of that. He cares. He has heart. A big, beautiful, Yorkshire Lionheart.

The Three Lions came so far. And this young group of Lions need to stay together as a pride as England build for the next World Cup. For pride is the word, and proud we are. One of our own. ◉

(Every magazine online, every podcast ad-free. Click here to find out how to support us with TSB+)