I’ve been away for a little under two weeks, in which time, Leeds have knocked Everton out of the League Cup, avenged last season’s humiliating defeat at home to Forest, beaten Bristol City on their own turf and capped it all off with a draw away to Bolton Wanderers. Not only that, but the long awaited takeover seems to have made some progress.
I’d love to tell you my prayers to the Inca Gods atop Machu Picchu were answered, and that the good fortune Leeds United enjoyed was a direct result of my newly bestowed powers, but I’ve never believed in sky fairies and they say talking to yourself is the first sign of madness.
Besides, Ken Bates hasn’t been banished – the Incas don’t strike me as the ‘half a job’ type.
Shame really, Leeds United could use some divine intervention and as crazy cult leader Ron Hubbard (of Scientology fame) once said, “If you want to get rich, start a religion.” That would certainly take care of the pesky day job.
The trouble is, there are too many things that even crazy religious types would struggle to believe. One man nailed to a cross and executed, only to be reincarnated days later? Sure, people will believe that. Some people (lunatics mostly) believe we’re immortal extraterrestrial beings trapped on earth who must give up all our worldly possessions and pay thousands of pounds to ensure they’ll return “home” after death. The simple fact is, people will believe almost anything.
But Aidy White skinning four players before firing expertly into the top corner? That’s a tough sell, you’re going to need a lot more than gullible people or faith for that one. Then there’s El Hadji Diouf’s ascent to Elland Road hero – no amount of faith is going to convince anyone that happened, they’ll need video evidence, sworn testimony and DNA tests. Even then the majority will still be expecting Noel Edmonds to turn up with their Gotcha! trophy.
What about the surging run of Danny Pugh against Everton and the age-defying performance of Michael Brown? Two of our “lesser” players forced into action by virtue of an injury crisis and our well-documented shortage on numbers. Did anyone think to perform drug tests after that match?
It can’t just be that Neil Warnock’s superstitious matchday rituals are working, or that the Gypsy curse has once again been lifted. No, a supernatural explanation simply doesn’t cut it. Far too many bizarre events have unfolded in my absence that demand a better explanation.
My working hypothesis is that this isn’t as extraordinary as it first appears. In fact, it’s pretty standard Leeds United territory. It’s only when we’re written off and expected to fail that we seem to succeed – see Manchester United 0-1 Leeds United, David O’Leary’s kids reaching the Champions League semi-final, the widespread derision with which Don Revie was met when he told the world second division Leeds United were going to be feared throughout Europe. Leeds United’s history of defying fate is as old as the club itself.
Conversely of course, we have a tendency to capitulate when we’re fated to succeed. Take for example the 1973 FA Cup Final against Sunderland or, more recently, the 2008 FA Cup tie against Blue Square Premier League side Histon when a part-time footballer, full-time postman knocked Leeds out of the competition. But enough about our failings, we’ve all experienced enough of those.
Maybe it’s the stubborn, bloody-mindedness of Yorkshire people being transferred onto our players? No self-respecting Yorkshireman would yield to the hand of fate, not without a bloody good fight first. No one’s going to tell us that we can’t win (or lose). We’ll show ‘em!
When Ross McCormack was added to an ever-lengthening list of Leeds United players out through injury, I jumped the gun a little and published my immediate and knee-jerk reaction to Twitter. It’s still there for all to see, and it reads, quite succinctly, ‘Ross McCormack injured. That’s our season over.’
I wasn’t alone in reaching such a dramatic conclusion, my reaction was indicative of the general consensus at that time. Almost everyone had written Leeds United off – the fans, the media, even Neil Warnock was stressing how big a loss McCormack is to our chances, all of which served to ensure our expectations were suitably low.
We’d hit rock bottom, we didn’t have the belief or the personnel to compete. It was easier to find fans predicting a relegation battle, than anyone who thought we could be challenging for the play-offs this season. Then, with all the world – including ourselves – expecting us to fail, somehow, we defied fate and came through a run of tough games undefeated.
It shouldn’t have surprised us really. No one was expecting us to succeed in those fixtures, but we weren’t going to lie down and let fate take it’s course. Leeds United are the deadliest team in the world as underdogs, we thrive in that situation.
It’s a situation Neil Warnock likes to manage as well, that’s why he spends so much time talking the opposition up and lowering expectations. He tries to relieve pressure by framing us as underdogs, and that’s not a bad thing because we’re brought up on inspirational stories of the underdog beating the odds. It’s David & Goliath, the Tortoise and the Hare, Britain’s victory over the Spanish Armada, Ali vs Foreman, Rocky vs Apollo Creed, Histon vs Leeds, the Vietnam war, the Battle of Jericho, the Battle of Britain. There’s no better motivational tool than people writing us off.
And Leeds United are more suited to a position of underdogs than most, it’s the Yorkshireness of the club, we like to stubbornly prove the world wrong. I can’t help thinking that part of the reason we’ve been out of the Premier League so long is because we’ve often been cast as favourites in these lower leagues. We’re a big fish in a small pond, there’s been few opportunities for us to play the role of underdog, instead we’re seated alongside George Foreman, Goliath and the Hare.
But the biggest test is still to come. What happens if we continue to string good results together, move up the table and people start to consider us a more serious threat? The roles will be reversed again, expectation levels will rise and the pressure will start to build. That’s when this side will really be tested.
So far, Neil Warnock and his team have had it pretty easy. We’ve had a tough run in terms of the opposition we’ve played, but there was no expectation. No pressure. In seasons previous we’ve fully expected a promotion charge, it was almost like we were entitled to be in that top six and anywhere lower was unthinkable. Almost every defeat was unacceptable, regardless of how good the opposition were.
This season has been different though. A disappointing summer in terms of transfers, the loss of Robert Snodgrass, the will we/won’t we be taken over saga of 100+ days and counting. It all served to lower expectations. In seasons gone by we’ve expected Leeds to reach the play-offs, this time round, we were merely hoping for a chance.
How long it’ll be until hope makes way for expectation is hard to say because it all depends on results. But when (or if) it does happen, it’ll be interesting to see how Neil Warnock and his side handle the intense pressure our fans are capable of inflicting.