It's been 16 years since Leeds United graced the Premier League. Now, they're one point away from a return.

Sometimes I wonder how I’ve survived the last 16 years of my life as a Leeds United supporter.

My love for this football club is unwavering.

At times it’s been unsettling, it’s been uplifting, it’s left me in despair, it’s left me in tears, and at times it’s made me feel like the love of my life has just gotten up and walked out on me.

For 16 years, the trials and tribulations of proudly supporting the Whites have put me on a recurring rollercoaster I’m desperately pleading to get off of, yet somehow always go back for one more ride.

It’s the kind of rollercoaster that leaves you dizzy, in sheer terror, wanting to vomit up once your feet find land.

There is a terror associated with following Leeds. There is no easy game.

There is no telling what team will turn up, there is just no knowing –  and for 16 years, it is the not knowing when we may return to the Premier League that has kept all who adore the team that resides at Elland Road on that proverbial rollercoaster.

Yorkshire’s biggest team and one of the UK’s largest clubs is just one point away from automatic promotion, returning to the Premier League after a decade and a half in the abyss.

With two remaining games in the season, Marcelo Bielsa’s men sit in first position in the Championship on 87 points, five points ahead of West Bromwich Albion and six points clear of third-placed Brentford. 

As it sits, Leeds United need one singular point to gain automatic promotion to the Premier League and pending on other results over the weekend, may very well earn promotion without even needing points from its upcoming fixture against Derby County. 

In order to understand where Leeds are now, first you must understand where they’ve come from.

It’s a painful history to look back on for Leeds people, yet gleefully hilarious for all who despise the Yorkshire team. 

So how did this once-almighty club boasting the UK’s most passionate and best-travelling fan base come to be damned to 16 years in exile? 

Strap into the rollercoaster and hold on tight, you’re in for a ride.

The year was 2004, and as the final minutes ticked by, an arm-in-arm rendition of ‘we will meet again’ by the travelling Leeds faithful engulfed Stamford Bridge as supporters, players and administrators were met with the inevitable. 

Looking back, it reminds me of the scene in Titanic as the ship begins to sink and the violinist begins to play, “Gentlemen, it’s been a privilege.”

Leeds had succumbed to Premier League relegation and as Alan Smith wept, his head in his hands, wiping away tears with his shirt, breaking for a moment to kiss the Leeds United badge he so adored, it signified an almighty fall from grace.

Life as a Leeds supporter drastically changed, for only two seasons earlier, the Whites had featured in a Champions League semi-final. It was a stark reminder of how far the mighty had fallen.

It couldn’t get worse than relegation, right? Wrong. 

And it’s here where the true story of Leeds United fortunes, perhaps misfortunes began.

As history would have it, Smith, who declared he’d never play for Manchester United, ultimately did so the following season.

It was a dagger through the heart of every Leeds person, however, it would merely be one of many chapters in a 16-year story that would form the backbone of a plot to return to the Premier League in 2020-21. 

18 managers in 15 years are just a start, and it doesn’t end with former chairman Peter Risdale gambling £60m against future gate receipts, and subsequently putting the club in over £100m in debt, either.

Leeds United has been embroiled in off-field turmoil, debt and dodgy ownership since its an omission from the EPL and dropped as far as League One in 2007 and remained there for three depressing years.

The mismanagement of ownership, financials and managers has been a story in itself and when the Massimo Cellino circus rolled into town, Leeds fans would’ve been wondering when their fortunes would begin to turn.

Things were so bad in the first year out of the Premier League that 30 players arrived at Elland Road, and by seasons end, 28 had departed.

Looking back, finishing 14th that year was a blessing, it probably should’ve been relegated.

Leeds bounced back the following year in season 2005-06 and came agonisingly close to promotion, but a 3-0 play-off final defeat to Watford (we’d eventually return the favour and ruin Watford’s promotion hopes with a last-minute goal in the final game of the 2012-13 season), only set us up for the misery that was to come.

Arguably, the ultimate Leeds moment came during the disastrous Ken Bates era.

Despite some 20 years earlier as a Chelsea Chairman stating “I shall not rest until Leeds United are kicked out of the Football League. Their fans are the scum of the Earth, absolute animals and a disgrace. I will do everything in my power to make this happen”. 

Bates would ultimately make good on that promise, sending Leeds into administration after the last game of the 2006-07 season, and subsequently dropping to League One.

If you’re a follower of AFL, it’s the equivalent of Mick Malthouse taking the reins of Carlton and burying them into the ground.

It was laughable to everybody but Carlton people, the same way it was a joy for everybody but Leeds people.

The cherry on top of the misery would see Leeds beginning its campaign minus 15 points in deficit to start the 2007-08 League One season for failure to exit administration without a CVA.

It was dire.

In fact, it could be considered to be peak Leeds that they would go on to win the first seven games and have a terrific season, ultimately falling 1-0 to Doncaster in playoffs. Had it not been for starting the year -15 points behind, Leeds would have actually finished second.

Not that it matters, anyway.

The wasted seasons of falling agonisingly close are comical.

In the 2010-11 season, Leeds scored 81 goals with one of the most shambolic defence units the club has seen, yet were well in playoff contention before running out of puff and finishing seventh. A Christmas collapse has been a common theme since.

The following year in the 2011-12 season, Simon Grayson was sacked, much-loved pair Jonny Howson and Max Gradel were sold off, the place was a derelict wasteland.

Only the strongest, staunchest of fans would show up, while many, understandably so, voted with their feet and watched from afar.

The following year, the sagas of Neil Warnock and Michael Brown ensured for anything good Leeds did on the pitch, off-field personnel would find a way to send fans into free fall. It was hellish.

Yet amongst all of this, it is the Leeds way to embarrass opposition teams — defeating Premier League sides Tottenham, Everton and Southampton in the Cups during 2013-14.

Yet self-sabotage has never been far away from the memo, it’s even birthed the self-referencing term ‘We Leeds’ ourselves’ frequent our vocabulary all too often. 

There would also be the infamous swap of Luciano Becchio for Steven Morrison, a 6-1 loss to Watford at home while Bates sold the club off to equally, if not worse, ownership. 

Things were so comical at Leeds that at one stage, ‘Doing a Leeds’ made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary.

We were mocked from pillar to post. A parody of ourselves.

There was even a time Leeds didn’t even boast a shirt sponsor!

Years on, Massimo Cellinio considered selling the club to Red Bull who to that point had already acquired teams in Austria, Germany and the USA which was understandably met with supporter backlash, and so again when a proposal to change the club’s logo was petitioned against.

While Leeds wallowed in misery, opposition fans danced gleefully on our graves.

Things had gone from bad, to worse, to grim in very quick succession.

Though fortunes began to change when revered Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa arrived in 2018 with only one goal.

To take Leeds United back to its rightful place.

Even in a terrific season that has been 2018-19, a controversy was still never far away.

‘Spygate’ engulfed the club and threatened to derail our promotion hopes, which we ended up derailing ourselves anyway.  It was all so very Leeds.

That year, Leeds did the unthinkable.

They became the only team in history of the Championship to be on top of the table on Christmas Day and still not earn promotion. 

“Leeds are falling apart again” the chant all opposition teams love to sing. It was groundhog day. We’d bottled it once more.

Yet the belief between management and playing group saw the vast majority stay the course heading into the 2019-20 season.

And even though Leeds haven’t strayed from the top two all season, of course, a never-seen-before global pandemic would sweep through and put a halt on our promotion hopes.

But it hasn’t all been doom and gloom. 

“January 3, remember the date…”

The glory of Jermaine Beckford’s winner at Old Trafford in an FA Cup game from 2010 still can be recalled by any Leeds fan worth their salt.

Leeds would advance through to the fourth round of the Cup and in doing so, knocked off arch-rivals Manchester United as a third-tier club. Bliss.

However, throughout all of this, Leeds United fans span the globe and all of its continents with their passion, pride and loyalty, despite its onfield disasters. And with worldwide support, comes worldwide hatred.

The ‘us against them’ mentality has forever fuelled the chants you’ll hear echoing from Elland Road terraces, whether winning or otherwise. 

Even Bates’ words about Leeds fans being ‘the scum of the earth’ formed the basis of “We’re Leeds Scum’ chant that is still embraced today. 

Leeds fans embrace the hate, we want you to hate us.

Anybody with a peacock scarf in the outer can tell you fabled stories of their run-ins with opposition fans over the years, for Leeds have a reputation of being loyal travellers in their away support. Glamorously or otherwise.

Even the ‘Dirty Leeds’, tag it’s something that’s been embraced over the decades.

The theatrical thuggery that was the 1960s no longer exists nor is condoned, but the coined term if anything has lifted the team and its supporters.

“We’re dirty and we don’t care”, is folklore and worn like a badge of honour.

Leeds isn’t just a big club, it is a huge club, and we don’t care that you hate us; we hate you too. 

They are their own heroes and villains to everyone else.

It is a storyline supporters are happy to play along with. For as good as we give, we take. And we’ve done a fair bit of taking in recent times.

Such is the lion’s den Elland Road creates, it is a feared ground for opposition players and supporters alike.

Kasper Schmeichel, son of former Man United legend Peter, who had an interesting chant during his time at Elland Road, and a slightly varied one after he left… well, you can google that one.

Noise bellows throughout the century-old Elland Road, creating an imposing and ever-dreaded away date for supporters who dare enter through the turnstiles.

Taunting chants, hostile rocking and noise so loud it can be heard throughout the North, all that’s missing from the electric atmosphere is Premier League fixtures once again.

The reality is, the Premier League needs Leeds United, and Leeds United needs the Premier League.

For a team steeped in football tradition, in a heartland that is dominated by Rugby, Leeds United still wins out.

It is a football city, with football infrastructure, football passion and football presence.

The enormity of Leeds is one thing, but the character of Leeds’ manager, Marcelo Bielsa is another.

The win-at-all-costs Argentinian who relies on a translator to communicate with his players hides behind nothing.

Pep Guardiola coined Bielsa as “the best coach in the world”.

Bielsa adds to the current-day interest in charismatic managers that we have come to somewhat love and hate.

Sure, there’s Van Gaal, Mourinho and Ranieri but the mad Argentine compliments that list.

He’s known for many things. The bucket he sits on due to his chronic back pain, accompanied by the awkward sideline squat.

‘Bielsa Ball’ for his patient build-up from the back half, and perhaps more famously “El Loco” – The Crazy One.

Bielsa was famously doorstepped by a crowd of 20-strong Ultra’s in 1991, who demanded he come out of his house and explain how the team he managed Newell Old Boys were thrashed 6-0 by San Lorenzo in the Copa Libertadores, South America’s answer to the Champions League.

He opened the door with a grenade in his hand, “if you don’t leave,” he said, “I will pull the pin.” 

El Loco was then born and has now arrived on English shores to awake a sleeping English football giant.

While Leeds will need one point from their next two games to seal automatic promotion, the dog days are indeed, over. 

Every Leeds fan around the world will be riding each pass, sweating every header, and clutching their beer at every challenge and attempt across pubs that are brave enough to host them over the course of the coming two games, if not loungerooms as many countries and cities remain in COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

There are some wonderful stories from this group which will come out in due course, but the very reason this club has survived is that the fans have endured it. 

It’s been a long 16 years. A rollercoaster. But you bet we’d hop on and go again because it will have been worth it.

Whether Leeds are crowned Champions of the division or simply do enough to regain entry back to the Premier League, we will be Marching On Together.

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