Leeds United are one of the most despised teams in England. Wherever you look in the SkyBet Championship, everyone hates Leeds. It is possibly the most enjoyable widespread case of schadenfreude: everyone loves to see them fall apart, which handily happens every Spring. But why? How does a club in Yorkshire draw the everlasting ire of fans from all around the country?
The short answer is arrogance. Leeds very much have the Big Club Complex, which must be very problematic for them, given their perennial failures. There is probably an in-depth psychological study to be done on fanbases like Leeds that witness such a prolonged fall from grace. Perhaps such a fall is humiliating, prompting a siege mentality and a case of small-man syndrome, shouting about past glories to drown out the nightmares of the present.
Of course, this is a generalisation. Not every Leeds fan thinks the EFL is corrupt against their teams or that they ‘deserve’ to go up because they are such an absolutely massive club. Yet public perception is important, and the public perception of Leeds is that of the overly aggressive drunk in the pub who tries to start a fight against two teenagers and the fruit machine.
Though, whatever can be said about Leeds, you can’t say they lack character. Gale-force winds couldn’t deter an optimistic ice cream van or even the fella desperate for a piss in the car park.
Few arrived at Elland Road expecting to be reminded of Christopher Nolan’s space-thriller Interstellar. Not that Yorkshire shares many similarities with distant moons and kaleidoscopic fourth dimensions. Instead, it was eerily alike to an early scene, where residents of a dystopian town flock to the sports ground to watch a baseball game and huddle against the apocalyptic sandstorms. With waves of Walkers-branded sediment littering the pitch, Elland Road was somehow more depressing than Hollywood’s interpretation of the end of the world.
On a bleak afternoon, one spark refused to be snuffed out. An eleventh-hour injury to Ovie Ejaria was a melancholic blow and possibly cost Reading the match, amidst the individualistic nature of the contest. Yet, the standby act was worth the admission fee alone. Michael Olise gave the kind of performance seemingly exclusive to teenage starlets. A lack of goal threat was vastly overshadowed by an impudent confidence on the ball. Such a nerveless performance at only eighteen years old means he’ll surely be strutting around many more famous grounds in the years to come.
There is something so deflating about watching a home crowd celebrate a goal. Maybe it’s the feeling of being infinitely outnumbered or maybe it’s the festering dread that the journey home will be empty-handed. Whatever it is, Pablo Hernandez’s winner ostensibly killed off the Royals on Saturday. The team never truly recovered and the atmosphere from the fans grew more toxic with frustration.
Often, I think negative chanting during the game is at worst detrimental, and at best tiresome. However, Mark Bowen stubbornly dug his own grave with his substitutions, or lack thereof. Choosing to leave Sam Baldock and Jordan Obita on the bench was puzzling but substituting current MVP John Swift for Charlie Adam is a sackable offence by itself. How Bowen looked at Reading’s team and thought John Swift was the weak link is enough to make one wonder how he can be entrusted with equal voting rights for Love Island.
So, to the paper, rectangular-shaped elephant in the room: ticket prices. As clubs get richer and TV contracts get more lucrative, football is becoming less reliant on their gate receipts from the match-going fans. If anything, the average match ticket should be getting cheaper, not more expensive. £39 is an outrageous price for a football ticket. Reading charge a maximum of £20 based on the Twenty’s Plenty scheme. Even the Premier League, awash with greed, have capped away prices at £30.
For Leeds to gleefully tweet that they had successfully priced out football fans from attending the game is just wrong. There has been in increase in tribal pettiness on club official social medias in recent years, a banterfication. Ripping off loyal fans isn’t funny. This kind of behaviour is pathetic, it’s ignorant and it encourages the next generation of Leeds fans to at issues of financial woe. Not that many Leeds fans needed the encouragement. Their club is stabbing them in the back and their response is toxic machismo: to brag about how they can endure the pain. Responses included “the privilege of watching Bielsa Ball costs”, “you never sell out anyway” or, my personal favourite, “our fans pay the same”. Well, watching Pep Guardiola’s Man City is cheaper, higher prices will mean less fans and congratulations because your club is scamming you twenty-three times a season.
This should not be a fan-versus-fan conflict. It is possible, admirable even, to love your football team and still admit that they get things wrong. Whisper it quietly, but my club appointed a manager with no prior managerial experience. Leeds will not care what Reading fans think, and luckily, we’ve paid our annual Yorkshire tax, but they cannot hide from internal pressure from Leeds fans. Hopefully, these fans will soon realise their beloved is skimming from the shared bank account.
Away day rating: 4/10
A lot of money, for bad seats, in a grim area, on a miserable day, to see Reading lose. There are 22 other away games in the Championship fixture calendar. Once you visit Elland Road once and check it off the list, it becomes intensely undesirable. For the price of a single ticket to Leeds, you could buy two for Birmingham City away and still have a tenner left over or even four for Sheffield United. Save your money and your sanity. It would have been 3/10 but the carpeted concourse was bizarrely exquisite.