Football / Fan's Eye View: Hated, fated, elated: No. 25 - Leeds United

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The Independent Online
IT HAS never been easy supporting Leeds United. Derided in the Sixties as cynical opportunists, resented in the Seventies for doing nothing more than play devastatingly effective football, dismissed for much of the Eighties as the forgotten team whose violent supporters grabbed more of the headlines, it seemed that everyone, including many in the city itself, hated us.

Then, in April 1992, the world stood aghast as Howard Wilkinson's stylish team returned from the wilderness and filched the League championship from under Alex Ferguson's nose.

The angelic upstarts were on the march again, but with a whole new set-up at Elland Road, geared towards the eradication of the hooligan element (Vinnie Jones having been sold the season before), and with a friendlier image on the field, courtesy of the impish Gordon Strachan.

And when, finally, our brave lads pulled out all the stops against VfB Stuttgart in Barcelona last October, the rehabilitation was complete; the unthinkable had happened, Leeds United had actually become popular.

Suddenly, the game seemed more civilised, the thugs had been eliminated, the championship opened up, and we were in Europe, playing attractive, instinctive football. A long way, apparently, from the siege mentality of Don Revie's dossiers, his ridiculous superstitions, compulsory bingo and carpet bowls.

If the League title of 1992 had arrived with more than a slice of luck in the closing stages, we told ourselves it was no more than we deserved for those appalling twists of fate, when fixture lists, referees and er . . . bribes conspired against us in the Revie era.

But even as we rejoiced, already lurking in the back of our minds was impending disaster. Because that's what happens at Leeds. History has shown us the meaning of caution.

Going for three trophies in March? Expect nothing; you might be pleasantly surprised. Convinced you'll slaughter non-League opposition in the Cup? Expect defeat; you might just come away with a draw. I'm convinced there are generations of Leeds fans playing desperately safe with their careers, square-balling their love lives and steering their Maestros safely over the dead- ball line, all as a result of defeat by Chelsea in the 1970 Cup final.

And yet at the same time, history has also taught the Leeds supporters that, somehow, victory is theirs by right, defeat an unthinkable insult. That is our dilemma: blinding faith coupled with an unshakeable disbelief in our team. Underneath, we're just mixed-up kids marching on together.

Society must shoulder some of the blame, though. We suspected we were good in the Sixties but everyone told us we were villains. We knew we were great in the Seventies but the pundits kept writing us off. Now, apparently, after defeat by Rangers in Europe and a slump in League form, we're a flash in the pan.

As lowlier teams continue to wallop goals past us this season, playing above themselves in the clamour to humiliate the champions, perhaps it is time for Howard Wilkinson and his boys to acknowledge that, for the time being at least, the world is again conspiring against us, and that, in the spirit of Revie and Bremner, they should march into the bunker and plot revenge. Above all on Eric Cantona.

Whatever happens in 1993 - and we don't rule out the worst - we'll deal with it with our usual indignant resignation so long as we beat Manchester United at Elland Road next week. Relegate us, let Arsenal boot us out of the FA Cup tonight, but please give us that elusive victory over the Red Devils and their traitorous French striker.

We have seen the depths of despair after coming so close so many times, we have been shamed by scandal and crowd trouble, felt the exhilaration of success at the highest level, suffered the wrath of journalists, tasted the sweetness of revenge over our fiercest rivals, sampled the desolation of utter obscurity, and, after the riots in Bournemouth, even hovered on the brink of extinction.

We have been humbled by racism on the terraces yet fielded the first black player in an FA Cup final. We have been humiliated in the Cup by Colchester United and kicked in the teeth by a petulant Frenchman. We even managed to screw up Brian Clough. What more is there to life? After that lot, this season looks like a doddle.

Keep popping the champagne corks, Howard - after all, we're still champions. By the way, I'm sure the carpet bowls are still lying around Elland Road somewhere, if you need them.

John Biggins, actor and writer

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