On a train journey back from London the other day there was a red topped newspaper at the side of me, left by a previous passenger. After draining the battery of my phone with a hour of Invasion, I picked it up and flicked through until an article about Manchester United being the most hated team in football caught my attention.

This was but one survey and conducted on a pretty small scale, so we shouldn’t be too concerned that we lost out to the Salford Yanks. It did however make me wonder whether or not Leeds United have become a little bit more likeable with our prolonged absence from The Premier League?

Talking to fans of the Premier League teams, I’m often told how much they miss the games with Leeds United. That whilst there are few teams they hated more than The Whites, Leeds are a club that always upset the natural order of things and create an atmosphere like few others.

In our absence, opposition fans seem to have developed an unmistakable respect for what Leeds United brought to the Premier League. It may not stretch to outright admiration, but once upon a time you’d have found few supporters of Chelsea and Manchester United publicly acknowledging Leeds are worthy of a place amongst the elite. You’d have even less chance of finding recognition from the national rags, who only a few years back  used the vilification of Leeds United to increase their sales almost on a weekly basis.

But seven years since our relegation, a resurgent Leeds have been mixing it up with the big boys and receiving national acclaim for our cup performances against some of the countries biggest teams. Performances against Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal not only served to remind the Premier League of it’s forgotten son, but also cast Leeds United in an uncomfortable warming glow.

It wasn’t just the team that received the praise, but the ‘dirty Leeds’ supporters did too. For a fanbase who are born to expect nothing but universal criticism and condemnation, and who not only revel in the hatred but actively encourage it, praise is something we care little for and have no idea how to accept. But there it was, and here we were uncomfortably smiling and maintaining order, confused and slightly scared, totally baffled by this seismic shift in attitudes.

Where does it all end I ask? At this rate, by the time we return the Premier League we’re in danger of becoming as neutral and boring as Arsenal. There’ll be promotion celebrations at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge. Alex Ferguson will end his boycott of the BBC, just so he can publicly welcome Leeds back to the Premier League.  It’s just not right.

For me, this quote from The Guardian in 2004 sums up perfectly how I expect Leeds United to be viewed;

Leeds United don’t care for popularity but they demand to be respected and feared.

Sure, it’s nice to be nice sometimes, but that’s just not Leeds United. Our place in the natural order of football is to be the rank outsiders that rise to the top every few years just to upset the balance and annoy the big boys. We’re the team that for no apparent reason, clubs like Norwich hate passionately just because everyone else does and that’s the accepted norm. Hating Leeds United is as much a part of British culture as a cup of tea and the full English breakfast.

And it’s this very hatred that makes Leeds United interesting. It defines and inspires us. It’s the ‘us against the world’ mentality that makes a trip to Elland Road something most teams relish, but also mark down as a potential banana skin, regardless of relative league positions and current form. You just never know with Leeds United – the fiery northern mentality is so deeply engrained into the psyche of every fan that collectively they’re capable of creating an atmosphere that changes score lines. An Elland Road in full voice can not only spur Leeds United on, but also terrify the opposition.

Once promoted back to the Premier League, I for one will be doing everything within my power to ensure Leeds are as hated as ever. That no neutral supporter dares use the words Leeds United without ‘Dirty’ placed before them. The natural balance needs to be redressed. The national rags need their pantomime villain, Manchester United fans need to remember what proper rivalry was and most importantly, Leeds United need the hatred to inspire the defiant performances we built our success upon.