By Rob Atkinson
It's been a topsy-turvy summer for Leeds United and its long-suffering fans, following hard on the heels of a grievously disappointing Championship campaign in 2012/13. The close season has produced rays of hope aplenty though, shining a beam of optimism through the murky sullenness that has hung over the support these last few years. Chairman Bates had held our famous old club in his talons, doing seemingly as he pleased and dismissing all attempts to make him see sense and make Leeds United competitive again. Now Bates has finally gone and all his acolytes with him; his mouthpiece in-house radio station has gone too, the new owners are finally meeting productively with fans' groups - we've even spent a few bob in the transfer market.
Not all is sweetness and light, however. Let's be honest, it wouldn't be Leeds United without a few under-currents about the place. It would appear that money is still too tight to mention, despite recurrent rumours of major investment from the likes of Red Bull, or the ever-present spectre of a loaded Arab prince about to step in and buy a controlling stake. These dreams it appears are just that - and meanwhile we have hard financial realities to face. Unless we can unload some of Colin's deadwood, it's difficult to see where manager Brian McDermott's "priority signings" are going to come from. Normally a summer of transfer impasse will have Leeds fans in a froth of negativity, but it's slightly different this time around, simply because that dreadful weight of Bates' brooding presence has been lifted from our shoulders. The place feels cleaner somehow, some of the pride has returned. It feels as though we have our Leeds United back again.
These are good foundations to build upon, and expectations appear to have been modified accordingly. Ever since we have returned to the Championship, each season we've set out with promotion to the Premier League as the be-all and end-all. Now we have David Haigh saying that promotion is a realistic objective "within two years" - and yet some are actually wondering if this isn't putting too much pressure on Boss Brian. That's quite a change from the pressure heaped upon Simon Grayson's narrow shoulders, and even the gnarled and battle-hardened Neil Warnock found the heat in the Elland Road kitchen too hard to stand.
Given the new-era atmosphere breathing fresh air into LS11, it's arguable that a two year timetable is quite acceptable, particularly as the owners haven't yet been able to fund transfer recruitment on the scale of a QPR, for instance. But we should remember also that some of the clubs who bought big this time last year suffered and struggled all season long. Blackburn bought Jordan Rhodes from 'Uddersfield for a cool £8m, and almost went down. Wolves, with a Premier League parachute payment to fund additions, did go down. Loadsamoney is no guarantee of Championship success; the trick seems rather to be a united and happy squad under an inspirational manager. Those ingredients may just be to hand; that's what Brian and the lads will have to demonstrate over the coming months.
The sudden optimism and the positive feelings about the club seem real enough though. Our new owners have certainly made their mark, phrases like "engaging with the fans" have been backed up by ticket price initiatives and a more generally positive (and less obviously exploitative) approach to marketing. If proof of this healthier club/fan relationship is needed, look out for the attendance at Elland Road on Saturday against Brighton. It seems certain to break the 30000 mark, and all that is needed then is a good performance by the team, a positive result ushering in a solid start to the season, and the Leeds United ball will be well and truly rolling again.
That's not too much to ask, now is it? Brian and the lads in White - it's over to you.