By Rob Atkinson
Shortly after Leeds United's last match, a miserable defeat at Derby in which we seemed spectacularly inept, I wrote an article to say that the international break was at least as important to Leeds as it was to England, whose task of winning twice at Wembley was relatively simple. United, on the other hand, were faced with rekindling faith, rebuilding bridges and regaining lost ground in their fraught relationship with us the fans - by putting the blank fortnight to good use and reaching out of the loan window to pull in some quality additions where our depleted squad sorely needs them.
Well, England did their bit as we all now know, dismissing Montenegro and then beating a slightly trickier opponent in Poland, so there we are, home and hosed. Off we go, Brazil bound as group winners and now everyone can get on with moaning about how there's no chance of lifting the World Cup as well as picking over the tawdry details of the latest racism scandal within the national setup. Bliss.
Sad to report, Leeds for their part haven't had such a productive time. Our manager, Mr Brian McDermott, was "mandated" to go out on the cadge and return with a striker under one arm and a winger under the other. All of his efforts to that end, we are told, have been to no avail. Six separate loan requests have been turned down - it's as if the clubs with these unwanted players are picking on poor Leeds by just refusing to help. Yes, it's a conspiracy, that's what it is. Nothing to do with us not being prepared to stump up enough in wages to make the deal worthwhile for the other mob. Perish the thought.
So poor Brian, like the eponymous hero of Jack and the Beanstalk, returned home from the market with rather less than might have been desired or expected. Jack's mum wanted groceries for the larder and was prepared to mortgage her cow to get them. But Jack returned with a lousy handful of beans, for crying out loud. Similarly, Brian, tasked with providing a hitman and a source of supply from wide areas, has trailed home dragging behind him a Lithuanian central defender whose chief plus point appears to be the fact that he hasn't currently got a club since leaving troubled Hearts.
The squad seems certain to face Birmingham on Sunday as deficient in those crucial areas up front and on the wings as they have been all season. Despite rosy promises, optimistic noises, all the "well we've a fortnight now, we'll really get down to boosting the squad" - despite all that, the end result is almost certainly going to be bitterly disappointing. And sadly, this is what we have become used to. Our expectations have been managed, not all that skilfully it should be said, for a long, long time now. Every now and then, they hand us a little ray of hope. We've signed two players, Luke Murphy and Scott Wootton, both of whom have had the magic million-pound fee whispered about them. Neither has been able to pin down a first-team place so far. Two other signings, strikers Noel Hunt and Matt Smith have floundered up to now, hard work and lanky height seemingly not enough to cut the mustard. Serial injury victim Davide Somma has been sighted at the training ground, trying to get fit after seemingly having been given up on by the club. It's not good enough. Anyone can see that it just is not good enough.
Mark Conway, a writer whose work commands respect, has written on The Scratching Shed site an article entitled "Leeds fans are idiots". With a doubtless-intentional irony, he then goes on to expound a highly intelligent and non-idiotic treatise on exactly why we keep coming back for more after successive, seemingly endless disappointments, hollow promises and false dawns. I can't agree with the basic premise, and I suspect that, really, neither does Mark. What Leeds fans, as a massive group, suffer from is worse in its way than idiocy, which implies a fairly blissful state of getting on with things and not realising we're being taken for a ride. What we suffer from is Faith. And Loyalty. Devotion, even, and a deep, abiding love for our club. But the worst and most painful of these is faith.
The problem with faith is that it has you by the short and curlies and it won't let go. Faith, we should remember, has been defined as "the quality of utterly believing something that you know ain't true". That's heavy duty stuff - basically we're stuck on this ride, no get-outs, no chance to slip away to some more rewarding avocation. And it's this faith, this loyalty that our esteemed owners appear to trade on to keep us coming along without ever, seemingly, fulfilling their side of the bargain. The real worry here is that those owners might be looking on as people still roll up for the games, home and away, and they might be misinterpreting this faith and loyalty that we so commendably show.
Leeds fans aren't idiots. We found a voice before and in need we will do so again. It's devoutly to be hoped that organisations like LUST, wined and dined recently by GFH, have not lost their critical edge. LUST have done so much to co-ordinate the various movements for change over the last few years into a concentrated and effective force. It would be a calamity if, in daring anew to dream, they now became complicit in the continuation of a nightmare. But the guys in LUST are not idiots, and they will certainly have their eye firmly on the ball - won't they?
Leeds fans have a lot to contribute to the future success of United, and not merely as turnstile fodder. There are a lot of capable people out there, a lot of sound reasoning and common-sense. No-one is saying we don't have the odd idiot- it's just about a year to the day since one such decided to punch the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper, causing another idiot to tar us all as "vile animals". But the idiots are the exception, not the rule, and GFH would do well to remember this.
This current transfer policy was supposed to have been changed from "one out, one in" to something more positive and appropriate. Instead, it's merely developed slightly into a "this week, next week, sometime, never" scenario, the bitter pills of disillusion being sweetened by honeyed words from the likes of Peter Lorimer, whose most recent column didn't mention transfers at all as far as I could see. But this attempt to jolly us all along while delivering nothing can't succeed forever. Leeds fans are NOT idiots. The real concern is that some people in the higher echelons of the club may genuinely believe that we are.