In April 2014, the Guardian featured a fantastic online piece by Dominic Smith. The article referenced the Long Suffering Fans Index which ranked Rochdale fans as the most long-suffering in UK football: a prestigious honour. The article dismissed this and put forward the case that the current crop of Leeds fans have the most robust claim to what would be a first title in years. I couldn’t have agreed with him more.

I am a 3rd gen, local Leeds fan. Like Smith, I am Generation O’Leary. My formative years as a football fan taught me that coming 5th in the Premier League was a disappointment; that spending £11M on Robbie Fowler in the swansong of his career was prudent; and that Chelsea fans were delusional in their hope for success and silverware…

One of my earliest football memories is going along to the mid-week Champions League Group Stage game against Barcelona with my Dad and feeling a palpable sense of injustice as Rivaldo swept home a soft, 95th minute equaliser. Lee Bowyer had put us comfortably ahead with a beautiful curling free-kick in the 20th minute. 13 years on and tough mid-week nights at Elland Road do not constitute epic battles with European giants. Rather, they’re gritty Capital One Cup affairs with the likes of…well…Rochdale.

The complete transformation in my club’s fortunes and allegorical for my experience as a fan is perhaps best captured by how my experience of playing Championship Manager (now Football Manager) has changed over the same span of tumultuous years. Back then, in a matter of hours I could steer my beloved Leeds to the Premier League title on Championship Manager 01-02 and I wouldn’t even have to cheat (that much). With a default starting transfer budget of £31M, I’d typically opt to bring in Javier Zanetti as an understudy to Gary Kelly. I might even take a punt on little-known Ronaldinho from Gremio. Now, if I’m able to bring in a solitary loan signing and last longer than David Hockaday, I count that as real success – even if the media are hounding for my sacking.

Put simply, I didn’t sign up for this when I was cast as a Leeds fan.

I’ve now come to take a sort of sadistic pleasure from supporting a side so unconditionally. The last decade, however, of tumbling down the divisions and rattling through a variety of owners, some less faceless and vacuous than others, has been largely unpleasant. My lowest point came last season when I put £5 on Leeds to lose to a lifeless, bottom of the table Blackpool side – it was a sort of pre-emptive consolation. Blackpool couldn’t buy a win last season but part and parcel of being a Leeds fan now is a sort of comic resignation. I’m not a betting man and the joy of winning £8 that day was lost on me. In fact, I felt so depraved to profit from my club’s misery that I put it all on Leeds to win the following weekend. I lost it all and haven’t placed a bet since. Marching on Together.

As most Leeds fans I interact with on Twitter will attest, the real pain and the resignation is borne out of hopes dashed time and time again. Expectations – some more reasonable than others – are made to seem desperately naïve in retrospect. I can’t imagine how the older generations of Leeds fans hold it together, groomed by the Don Revie years and teased by a First Division title win in 1992.

Why then am I so excited and optimistic about this season? Ultimately, I’m only going to be disappointed in the end and I’m likely to cringe at how much of an idiotic boob I was to think that this season might be different, that ‘this might just be our year’. 12 months ago I allowed myself to get equally carried away with the hope of a new season under the stewardship of a maverick new owner. True to form, last season was our most farcical yet. McDermott to Hockaday to Redfearn to Milanic back to Redfearn (#ThankYouRedders). We began by winning 16-0 in pre-season and signed a mononymous Brazilian wunderkind in Adryan. We ended with players allegedly pulling a cheeky sickie to avoid the ardour of a football game. And in spite of this I’m still looking ahead to the coming season brimming with a sense of optimism that feels refreshingly underpinned by my expectations being appropriately managed.

The club’s actions this summer have seemed uncharacteristically sensible and quietly competent. Adam Pearson’s nous and rationality seems to be effectively tempering Cellino’s eccentricity, as irritating as it is lovable. Uwe Rosler and his proactively assembled backroom team have provided the structure and the stability that the club had neglected for too long. The signings the club has made seem reasoned and considered, all of them counter-intuitively settling the squad. Sol Bamba is a cult hero in the making. Chris Wood looks set to get goals and I’m encouraged by his confidence that befits a centre-forward. Tom Adeyemi and Stuart Dallas are players that Rosler knows from his time at Brentford and I trust his judgement as much as I do my trawl of their Wikipedia pages and shoddily produced YouTube reels. I would of course welcome a loan to buy deal for Will Buckley but I wouldn’t want to be too greedy now.

At the root of my cautious optimism is the retention of our fledgling prospects*, Byram, Mowatt, Cook and Taylor. Admittedly, there is perhaps a tendency for Leeds fans to overhype home-grown talent but the calibre of these players is as plain to see as it was with Delph and Milner before them. I don’t doubt that Cellino could have cashed in for a tidy sum by now, particularly for Sam Byram who is most proven at this level and who seems Premier League-ready. If they all continue to develop at the rate they did when they were forced to shoulder the club’s burdens last season (#ThankYouRedders), they won’t be playing in the Championship for long – and we can only hope that it’s with Leeds. (*This article was written before the close of the transfer window. Should they be sold before the window shuts, please refer to my next article, not yet penned, entitled ‘We’re doomed’.)

For the reasons above to name a few, there seems to be an infectious positive spirit emanating from the Leeds camp for the first time since the Simon Grayson years. And that seems to be coupled with the fact that we’re more comfortable in our skin as fans for the first time in years – and I’m not just talking about how much of an improvement the new Kappa kit is. The club is setting its sights on short-term improvement and fans can get behind that. ‘Any improvement on last season, top half of the table a reasonable objective, playoffs maybe – let’s re-assess at Christmas’ – that’s what we’ve been told. We’re too readily depicted as a fickle and intolerably expectant bunch. When a target and a system or philosophy is agreed upon and communicated, however, we can actually be fairly patient and reasonable, particularly when our unwavering loyalty is repaid with occasionally exciting football. Take note, Uwe. We like that.

For too long now, we have been duped by hollow promises of promotion and it is likely that, as fans, we all cling onto a sense of top flight entitlement derived from our illustrious heritage. The perils of last season however have brought us back down to Earth. Run your eye down the list of Championship sides and you’ll spy more clubs than ever before that have tasted the Premier League more recently than Leeds – and some of them have spent close to Premier League money this summer.

Optimism and positive momentum is essential at a club like Leeds where the fan base can propel the team to new heights on the pitch like no other, but that must operate alongside a sensible pragmatism and an acknowledgement that there are no easy games in the Championship.

And I think that’s exactly why I’m so excited about this season. My optimism is finally paired with an attachment to Leeds’ current reality. 6th is the new 1st. Let’s enjoy an improved season and let our young team win more than we lose, playing good football (optional).

I can’t deny that when I saw Alex Mowatt’s pre-season tiki-taka goal against Everton, my first reaction was: ‘we’re going up’ and ‘we’re the new Bournemouth’. Equally, if we win our first game out against Burnley, I’ll be the first to trash this reasoned and commendably moderate article and join the hordes crying out for automatic promotion and record-shattering investment in January. For now though, I could get used to the cautious optimism that breeds when a football club is run effectively and rationally.

We seem to have steadied the ship. Let’s enjoy some smoother sailing this season. One thing I can say for sure ahead of the 2015/16 Championship campaign: I almost certainly couldn’t have done a better job myself on Football Manager. And I’ve not been able to say that for a long, long time.

By Jack Tabner (@JATabner)