This week the Chair reflects on the culture of protest, channelling a bit of Charlie Brown.
We start with a straightforward holding up of hands. The Trust was wrong to believe there was an unstoppable appetite for protest over the moving of the Middlesbrough game.
You may recall we called for all the Leeds United family to come together to explore the prospect of a boycott of this game moved by Sky Sports with little more than a month’s notice after receiving countless protestations to take action.
That call has fallen on surprisingly stony ground predominately over the last two weeks and it is clear that while some individuals are taking their own personal stand (I for one won’t be at Elland Road that evening), there is no point continuing suggesting a boycott as an effective means of telling the football authorities or the paymaster television companies that enough is enough. Quite simply, it seems the bulk of the support doesn’t want to hear that.
As Chair I take full responsibility for miss-judging the mood of the support. Whatever initial anger was out there is diluted by Stockholm Syndrome it seems. I and we got it wrong.
That is not to say all reactions to this obscene disregard for supporters are invalid. Our Scandinavian and Irish regular-attending Leeds fans have generated a lot of sympathy and publicity around their shoddy treatment – the circulation this week of a letter and bill to Sky Sports from some Norwegian fans being a case in point. I congratulate them on that, they have shown more resourcefulness in that one act than all the fans groups, bloggers, forums, fanzines and twitter warriors have shown in three years.
Connected to this, you may recall the Trust publicised a request from Fredrikstad-based Leeds supporters about wanting to make a statement about their treatment.
They intend to be in Leeds that weekend to try and enjoy their paid-for weekend as much as possible. They asked that the Trust publicise this and we were happy to do so. In particular, they have asked all Leeds fans who wish to show solidarity with them and others affected to meet outside the Queens Hotel/City Square at 22.30pm on the February 12 (Friday). The Trust again is more than happy to do so.
We feel that if the term "we're all Leeds aren't we" means anything, it means we stand with our foreign-based fans to show the world that when Sky and the Football League mess supporters around, they are messing with us all. The Trust is happy this peaceful event will be worthwhile and we are equally happy to give our support to the Fredrikstad group. We hope all who read this and the original request are equally so inclined.
A simple publishing of a meeting point is one thing, flying a plane over Elland Road during a game is another (an experience from 2007 I won’t be repeating).
Whatever message that return of the Red Baron (as Bates called the 2007 version) intends to display, it reminds us that as a support we do tend to have “all just a little bit of history repeating” going on (and this week saw Groundhog Day as well). That also reminds us that in reality, successful protest, the organising of, the bringing together of, the stimulating and executing of, is actually a rare breed in the Leeds United annals of history, despite the unique levels of incompetence we have been subjected to.
Let’s put the 2012 marches, lead so admirably and at some personal cost by the then Trust Chair Gary Cooper, to one side. A unique combination of circumstances generated by Bates/Harvey and 10 seasons of pain which despite the best antics of our majority owner and that pain now becoming 14 seasons long is presently not replicated, brought that about. But the truth is where most supporters of other clubs suffering the outrages we have would have reacted earlier and stronger, we tend to collectively shrug and speculate on how the latest piece of idiocy will be topped (and we don’t usually have to wait long to find out).
As much as it may depress some of us, the reality is most Leeds fans have an unending capacity to take abuse. That discomforting truth should be recognised by those whose constant mantra is “what are insert supporters group here doing about it”. Such a mantra is oblivious to the fact that all protest has to come from the support. As the first paragraph shows, there is a massive gap between rhetoric and possibility. If individual supporters don’t volunteer themselves in place to say ‘enough is enough’ they can’t expect organisations run by volunteers to magically do it for them.
I must admit I know supporters, let’s call them the Peanuts gang, who have been questioning their supporter role over the last couple of weeks. In their opinion, we as a fan base are completely hamstrung at the moment because of the divisions that are ripping our support base in half, both as a collective and as individuals. They all know that the football club is in an awful place, but deep down they are all football fans at heart.
They tell us that in their head they know that the only way for the fans to force any change at the way Leeds United is run is to stop putting money into the club. Yet in the same sentence (and I’m no different) also know that in their heart, there is simply no way that they will ever do that. Even at the moment with the club dying on its posterior, devoid of any ideas both on and off the pitch, 95% of us know that we will stump up our season ticket money next season and subsequent seasons and stumble on. It’s enough to make Charlie Brown even more depressed.
These loyal fans honestly believe that we are scraping the bottom now in terms of support, and those that still go are too stubborn, too addicted or both to ever stop. This is not the voice of the discontented, this is the voice of our core fan base. It may have been missed in the clamour to point fingers a lot, but since July the Trust has been clear that change comes from the bottom up, it can’t be manufactured by those of us often referred to by those who will never take any action as “the usual suspects”.
So what is to be done? Well let’s start by being realistic. Until that 95% (and the 5% who will walk this summer) speak as one voice, no -one, not even the Trust, LFU, LUSC, South Stand 5, The Square Ball, Waccoe and the legends of bloggers/tweeters/air-plane hirers, will be in a position to effectively bring about change alone. As the 2010-11 "Campaign for Change" showed, even when together in wanting certain objectives achieved unity is at a premium.
Until we stop fighting the battles of the past and focus on what we collectively need (a club with ambition, good financial management and a footballing medium term game-plan) no amount of boycotts, fly-bys, 17 minute walks to the concourse will change anything.
However should you collectively become one, in approach and in resolve, then a lot of those aforementioned groups, including the Trust, will be waiting and with you. Action, progress, being heard … that has to come from the support, start with you. In the meantime the Trust will continue to articulate the values and principles embedded in a Supporters Trust, including promotion of the ideal of supporter ownership and judge the club (owners, directors, senior management) on the merits of its actions.
As fond of quoting Mao as I am, never has the adage “a million mile walk starts with a single step” been more relevant to matters Leeds United. Each of you can decide what that first step is for you, it could be to wave to the Red Baron on Saturday, it could be with your seat empty on the 15th and to not switch your TV on. Or, you can decide you have yet to take enough, it is entirely possible the mood of Leeds fans is never readable.
Personally I think showing our Norwegian brothers we really care (as discussed earlier) about how they are treated is the best and most enhancing way to start, you never know, like Snoopy flying a by-plane, you might enjoy it.