Leeds United are less than one week from normal, whatever that is now.
By this time next week we’ll have been through the familiar cycle. Pre-match press conference (I hope, I miss Marcelo). Team news. Kick-off. A football match. Post-match analysis and, hopefully, happiness.
We can call it normal but it won’t be, especially if we get the happiness part. We’ve wished football back into our lives because we’ve missed having a good time, forgetting that in 100 years of United’s history, watching Leeds play football has been a funny way of enjoying ourselves.
Some fans wanted this season over as soon as the whistle blew on the defeat to Derby at the end of the last. Forget the football, just get Leeds promoted. We had that chance, and settling for points per game would have been perfect for peace of mind, but when it came down to it, the choice was for prolonging by playing.
Now we want the season over as quickly as possible. It’s like the coronavirus itself: you can’t stop it coming, you can only hope it won’t hurt anyone you care about and goes away as quickly as possible.
Playing games again feels like a big step into the future, but looking too far ahead means more uncertainty. If you thought getting agreements to play these few games was difficult, what have you heard about next season? Asking about that is like bringing up a drunk uncle. We don’t talk about him. We just hope he doesn’t turn up and spoil things.
We can worry about all that later. The priority now is making sure the Peacocks are part of the Premier League’s plans, whenever those disagreements begin.
That means dealing with nine games that will be like no others.
We wanted the centenary season to go down in Leeds United’s history and, still limping along in the second half of June, it already has.
This isn’t really football coming back, now, but something very similar taking over until we can have the real thing. New rules for a while, new regulations temporarily. A form book chucked in the bin. While the Championship is not copying Major League Soccer by decamping with the whole show to Disney World, what’s ahead does have a tournament feel, with staggered kick-offs, odd TV scheduling and sunny skies.
Slaven Bilic has managed at two European Championships, and Marcelo Bielsa has managed at two World Cups, giving West Brom and Leeds theoretical advantages. What is it Marcelo says about coaching Argentina at the 2002 World Cup? “I was the protagonist of the worst failure in the history of the Argentina national team.” Hmm. Well he won the Olympics with them later so it’s probably fine.
The most visible and hopefully shortest lived change will be the absence of crowds. We can’t really say ‘empty stadiums’ anymore, given Elland Road will be hosting more than 15,000 76cm x 46cm personalised corex board cut out ‘crowdies’. And no matter how long before half-time they go down there will still be a queue at the bar.
I wonder if the Peacocks might use them to their advantage, risking another £200,000 fine by following my suggestion of sticking googly eyes on each one to distract the opposition. Without noise, we have to find some way of making Elland Road intimidating.
My own plan is to smuggle my way into the Fulham game under cover of a portrait of The Laughing Cavalier with eyeholes cut out. Not so I can see the match — I wouldn’t be so irresponsible as to break the ghost game guidelines for that. But I don’t think it would take long before Scotty Parker was wondering why that geezer’s eyes kept following him, and what he thought he was laughing at, anyway.
Coaching while there’s nobody watching is the problem, after all. Well, one of the problems, not including the problems nobody even thinks are a problem yet. Who is running the sweepstake on what non-issue will have Keith Andrews tearing out his lockdown Alexi Lalas the moment Leeds take to the pitch?
After 16 years outside the Premier League, Leeds fans did want things to change. Actually, we wanted that after one year, and so we got League One. Well, it was different.
The next six weeks will be different too, and we can’t do anything about it now but play. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed. We’re back, and like before, we’re relying on Marcelo Bielsa to keep things as normal as he can, and make the change we need.