LeedsFansPA_468x310Firstly, I know the headline may seem like a not-so-subtle ploy to grab your attention (which, by definition, is what a headline is) but it’s perfectly justified. We are idiots.

More often than not, supporting Leeds United is a torturous experience, one which leaves us angry, upset and questioning the reasons we waste so much money doing so.

The tribal nature of football defies conventional wisdom, often impossible to explain to our loved ones who find it difficult to understand our insatiable thirst for more.

It doesn’t matter how many times we’re left inconsolable following an abject display against some random market town whose only claim to fame is giving us a hammering every year, we’ll still travel 100’s of miles on a Saturday afternoon to do the same thing again next weekend. And worse, none of us will stop to consider for one second that there may be a more enjoyable way to spend our weekends.

“Have you ever considered supporting a more successful team?” an ex-girlfriend once asked me. It sticks in my memory because I’d just returned from Valencia where we’d been beaten 3-0 in the 2001 Champions League semi-finals. I was absolutely devastated by the result, completely inconsolable and to her, it made no sense that I’d willingly put myself through such emotional distress.

Twelve and a half years have passed since that fixture and things have only got worse. So much so in fact, we now consider the failed Champions League challenge a high point of our history. It’s funny how a moment which caused such distress to so many Leeds United fans is now a treasured memory, the context of history allowing us to see clearly how impressive our Champions League run was.

Both me and the girl I was dating back in 2001 have long since moved on and settled down with different partners, but I often wonder how I’d explain the pain and suffering I’ve allowed Leeds United to put me through since then. I couldn’t offer her a rational explanation for why I didn’t go and watch a more successful team in 2001, how on earth would I justify the Bates years?

We all know the reasons we became Leeds United supporters. Most – like me – will have been a simple matter of geography. Some may have started supporting us due to success in the 1960’s and 70’s or because of Howard Wilkinson’s underdog triumph in 1992. I’m sure O’Leary’s brand of football attracted a few supporters too, but regardless of how you became a Leeds United supporter – even if it was for glory – the fact you’re reading this suggests your support hasn’t waned throughout our darkest hours.

Even those of you who started supporting Leeds United for the pleasure and glory of victory are now willingly torturing yourselves too, which makes you just as stupid as those of us who justify our support based on Elland Road’s proximity to our place of birth.

Congratulations, you’re a fully-fledged moron.

I can’t make you any less of an idiot, it’d be like the blind leading the blind (except you’d still have to witness Leeds United’s abject displays, so even the blind have an advantage over you) but I may be able to explain why you became such an idiot. An explanation I didn’t have in 2001.

Dolf Zillman called it the excitation-transfer theory which is a clever way of explaining why we feel so much additional pleasure from success when we’ve overcome tremendous adversity. It’s the basis for every Hollywood action film; the protagonist(s) can’t simply save the day, they must first endure numerous setbacks, be wronged and bested by a villain, suffer through emotional and physical turmoil and distress, self-doubt and loathing, only to finally rise up and – against all the odds – save the day in an intense and thrilling climax.

For Leeds United, a more fitting comparison may be horror films. No one “enjoys” horror films. Fear is an evolutionary trait developed to help us survive, we don’t like being scared and unless you’re a sociopath (or seriously troubled), empathy prevents you from enjoying the pain and suffering of another human-being.

But we watch horror films because excitation-transfer promises us a reward. We’ve come to believe that all the suffering we endure will ultimately be rewarded. It’s the old cliché that ‘the bad times only make the good times sweeter’. And it’s true.

If emotions were measured on a scale, with 0 being content, -10 being emotional wreck and +10 being ecstatically happy, the aim of a climatic action film is to take you from 0, up and down through the minuses, before leaving you at a positive figure. Ultimately, they improve your mood. Independence Day for example would probably hit a -3 and end at a +7.

Horror films work a little differently. They do improve your mood, but only because they’ve destroyed it first. The very best horror films have no problem taking you to -10 on our emotion scale and keeping you there throughout. They’ll give you chance to catch your breath and regulate your mood, but they’re usually setting you up for another dive. The pleasure we take from horror films comes from relief. Even if the villain isn’t caught and the characters don’t get a happily ever after, we’re relieved that it’s over. Thankful to have overcome the experience.

I mention both horror and action films because I’m somewhat torn between what example best fits Leeds United. Excitation-transfer explains why we continue to willingly suffer the torment of Leeds United’s plight, but are we working on the assumption that all this is an action film where our happily ever after follows the relentless torment we’ve endured? Or are we stuck in some kind of purgatory, reliving the same horror film over and over again, our only reward coming from the pleasure of survival?

The first option could contradict the headline, though it largely depends on the intensity of the trade-off. Since we’d simply be building towards a point of ecstasy, enduring the nightmare of this last decade is payment for our reward. But what kind of success does it take to repay our the last decade of faithful support? A decade of absolute dominance, including several Premier League titles and European Cups would be reasonable start, I’d say.

Chances are, we’ll never receive an adequate pay-off. We’ll no doubt experience a few intense highs (promotion, for example) but in all likelihood, we’ll return to some form of purgatory thereafter, repeating a relentless cycle of torment as we’re mercilessly destroyed by teams we once considered equals. Survival will once again be our reward, continued torment broken only by fleeting spells of moderate joy which only serve to set us up for the next fall.

Yet we’ll endure and continue to follow Leeds United. Why? Because we’re idiots. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.