In his latest column for leedsunited.com, lifelong supporter Jon Howe reflects on the current mood, with the new season now just a few weeks away.
Howe is the author of two books on the club, 2015 hit ‘The Only Place For Us: An A-Z History of Elland Road’ and ‘All White: Leeds United’s 100 Greatest Players’ in 2012.
Football is an addiction, and when the fun stops, we need to stop. And when England’s final penalty cannoned off Gianluigi Donnarumma’s gloves with the dull thud of a lead balloon, the fun element of our football-watching existence most definitely took a dive off a cliff. We knew for weeks that the end of the football season was coming, but we didn’t know quite how we would feel about it when it came. And now I think most of us would agree that a couple of weeks without football – and before we raise ourselves for a pre-season fixture at Guiseley – would do us all the world of good.
That’s not to say we didn’t take a tentative look at the fixture lists this week, and in a brief descent into madness found an unlikely interest in the Champions League Qualifying Round and the Scottish League Cup. And who knew that the Swedish and Finnish leagues were already eleven games into their respective seasons?
As we scoured the minor sports channels on the off chance of catching the second half of Halmstads BK v Djurgardens IF on Monday night (it finished 0-0, you missed nothing, honestly) we began to ask ourselves if this remained a healthy pursuit in our lives. It was a moment of confusion, sadness and despair which quickly turned to profound clarity as the remote was ceremoniously placed down and we turned the TV off to face the unavoidable truth; the football season was over.
The moment when we start to refer to ‘this’ season as ‘last’ season is always a difficult one. I’ve often wanted to do it in February if I’m perfectly honest, but the transition from one season to another is increasingly a blurred and messy one, particularly over the last 12 months with COVID interruptus and then the Euros. Thankfully, the folly of the post-season tour appears to have disappeared into the ether across the football spectrum, and certainly there’s a realisation that we all need a break and the sooner the better.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I am feeling an acute sense of football fatigue after the last 12 months, so I can’t begin to imagine how Kalvin Phillips feels. Physically, mentally and emotionally, the past year has been a succession of seismic experiences for Wortley’s finest. When you consider that 12 months ago, as I write, Leeds United still hadn’t been promoted and Kalvin still didn’t know if his gamble in staying at his hometown club would pay off, it’s a mind-bending task of mental gymnastics to take in what has happened since.
Promotion as champions, a first England call-up, cutting a swathe through the Premier League, becoming the poster boy for the ‘new, improved’ Leeds United and then the dizzying exploits of the Euros and all that entailed. It’s exhausting just reading it, but for Kalvin it has been a constant ride since June last year, notwithstanding, of course, the sad passing of Granny Val too. Now he needs to compartmentalise everything that has happened, recuperate and get ready to go again. Given how he has remained so stable, consistent and mature in the face of such a shift in attention and expectation, we shouldn’t be too concerned, but we do keep heaping more and more expectancy on him, and so that has to be managed somehow.
For now, and for all of us, switching off and forgetting about football for a bit – going cold turkey if you like – will give us the energy to go again by mid-August. This is the time to get some brownie points in the bag at home and restore some credits for when you need them in October, when a Carabao Cup game at Reading has to take preference on the TV and you are scrolling through Marcelo’s press conference quotes rather than engaging in any sort of conversation with your better half.
Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail, as Sgt Wilko famously said, so use these precious weeks wisely because the football juggernaut will be back upon us before we know it.
Alas, the rest of the Leeds United squad have no such luxury. They have already had their break and are right in the middle of another Marcelo Bielsa pre-season; with muscles burning, hearts pumping and heads spinning. Whilst Leeds fans prepare for kit launches and feverishly search for vaguely believable developments on new signings, the players are working hard with no distractions.
As fans, our period of abrupt abstention from football and a temporary cessation of our dependence on its rituals and heart-stopping drama, is just beginning. But for the players it is long since over and they are busy integrating new signings, upgrades from the U23s and doubtless a range of unfathomable tactical drills, the benefits of which are probably designed to come to light in about seven months’ time.
The Leeds United squad are already on the punishing ascent to peak fitness in time for the Old Trafford fixture on August 14th, and are already mentally engaged in the challenge of finding something more in themselves to improve Leeds United once again. For them, the fun stopped some time ago and there is no time to dwell on Euros exploits and the rollercoaster of the last 12 months. Somehow they have already moved on from ‘last’ season to ‘this’ season, mentally shifted their status from Premier League ‘new boys’ and attuned themselves to new targets, new opponents and doubtless new pundits eager to write them off again. Because when the fun stops, very quickly the serious business has to start again. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.