Leeds United’s return to the second tier of English football this coming season has been met with a renewed sense of optimism at the Yorkshire club. Leeds finished second to Norwich City in League One last season to clinch automatic promotion to the Championship. For a club who were as recently as 2001 contesting the Champions League semi-final, Leeds fans have endured more than most in the past decade. In that time the club has faced multiple relegations, financial implosion, administration, point deductions, countless play-off defeats and being forced to sell its training ground and stadium. There is a sense that the malaise has been halted under the stewardship of Ripon-born Simon Grayson and that the Premier League has missed a club of Leeds’ size, history and stature.
As the club set about gaining promotion to the Championship last season, a series of cup fixtures reminded its supporters and football fans of what they had been missing. A narrow 1-0 defeat to Liverpool at Elland Road was played in front of a sell out crowd. Leeds could hardly believe their luck when they were pitted against old rivals Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup earlier this year. Leeds took 9,000 fans with them, creating a superb atmosphere at Old Trafford. The away side served up an unexpected 1-0 defeat of Manchester United much do the delight of the travelling fans. This seemed a reward for numerous hardships visited upon the club and had the fans dreaming of Don Revie’s glory days from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Much in the vein of his successful Leeds sides Grayson’s men were involved in minor scuffles with Manchester United’s players, adding to the drama of the occasion. The goal-scorer on that day, Jermaine Beckford, was on target again as Leeds drew 2-2 with Tottenham thanks to his late penalty kick. They succumbed to defeat in the return leg at Elland Road but it was a reminder to the football world of what had been.
On the same weekend as Leeds’ upset in Manchester, the FA Cup tie between Wigan and Hull at the DW Stadium could only attract a derisory crowd of 5,335. Leeds fans and those who have surreptitiously missed their presence in the top flight should guard against talk of a return by divine right. The passion and loyalty of their supporters allows them to sell out home games in League One and take hoards of away fan across the length and breadth of the country. However part of the romance and excitement of football is that any team regardless of size and history can go up and down the leagues. But is there outside chance of Leeds challenging for the Premier League play-off places this season? Notwithstanding the loss of Beckford to Everton, new recruit Alex Bruce thinks so. “They belong in the Premier League and hopefully I can play a part in putting them back where they belong.”
Grayson has been exceptionally busy in the transfer market and is determined to build a side that can compete in the second tier. New full backs, Paul Connolly and Fede Bessone have Championship experience and Billy Paynter who scored 29 goals for Swindon last season will attempt to fill the void left by Beckford. Another outstanding performer from League One, Kasper Schmeichel has also been recruited. A recent 3-1 friendly defeat of Wolves has Leeds fans in bullish mood ahead of the season opener against Derby tomorrow. Their long suffering fans may not be the only ones wishing them well this season.