In his latest column for leedsunited.com, lifelong supporter Jon Howe speaks about how he is longing for the return of the new season.
Howe is the author of two books on the club, ‘The Only Place For Us: An A-Z History of Elland Road’ - which has been updated as a new version for 2021 - and ‘All White: Leeds United’s 100 Greatest Players’ in 2012.
My rollercoaster relationship with Leeds United hit a turbulent period during the 2021/22 season. It has always bordered on dysfunctional but this had descended to another level. We agreed on a period of distance and reflection; the sage characteristics of a mature and well-established relationship where we know what each wants and needs, and like when your partner makes a mess of cooking tea and rather than point this out, you know to diligently chew and make the right facial expressions at the right time, because you both understand what’s happened and nothing needs to be said. So this period of distance and reflection with Leeds United is called the close season, and I’ll be honest, my yearnings have already started again.
Just like there are five stages of grief, there are five stages of the close season. After dissecting the fallout from the end of the league campaign, you watch the European finals while thanking whatever celestial being you subscribe to that you aren’t involved in the Play-Offs. Then you watch a largely forgettable set of international matches, and then… Nothing.
We are now in the stage of the close season where a huge voluminous hollow opens up and we look like that GIF of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction where he’s stood in a room waiting for Uma Thurman and there’s nothing happening, he’s looking around and he can’t understand it. Where’s the football? Where is that Under-19s tournament I was happy to ignore last week but which is now looking quite appealing? When does the Champions League Qualifying Round start? Why is there SO much golf?
You can bet your life I’ll be watching the women’s Euros in July and this week’s friendly against the Netherlands, and not just because it’s at Elland Road, but because it provides the lifeline I need to maintain between my ordinary life and my Leeds United life. Yes, we agreed to take a break, but that doesn’t stop me pining and having cravings and existing on a diet of nostalgia because that’s all I’ve got.
That stage of the close season where it suddenly hits you that football has ended, actually ended, never gets any easier to manage, even though it happens every year and even though I watched a Canadian Premier League game last Tuesday and it feels like a lifetime ago and that I didn’t appreciate it enough. In fairness, we have an international tournament every other summer, and ordinarily would be having one right now had the dubious attractions of Qatar not caught FIFA’s eye. That often bridges the void and provides an emotional conduit to pre-season friendlies, but this year there is nothing, just the endless cycle of transfer speculation and monitoring Instagram to check if players holidays will ever end.
At least Leeds United have been considerate in throwing us a few bones in the shape of three new signings. Brenden Aaronson, Rasmus Kristensen and Marc Roca have arrived in shiny new packaging, but alas, they carry the air of a Christmas or birthday present we already know about and can’t open yet. We can only look at them forlornly and imagine what fun we will have after this interminable wait is over. Even the release of the fixture list last week was just another tantalising glimpse into a distant future, but at least it helps repair the fractures of last season and presents a clean slate, even if every fixture looks more difficult than it used to.
Suddenly, I’m a big advocate for football in every month of the year. Remember two years ago when that big pandemic thing forced us to play games in June and July? Leeds had actually just re-started their promotion campaign right now, at the end of June. How amazing was that? Obviously without the pandemic bit and the three-month void without games before it, but football in the summer was great and I’m sure all the players secretly agreed. And to be honest, they might need to get used to it.
The 2022/23 season starts early and finishes late because of the Qatar World Cup in November and December. Next season’s FA Cup Final is in June, so is the Champions League Final and probably the Play-Off Finals too, and I’m already licking my lips at the prospect of a much shorter close season and which dead rubber international matches I’m going to moan about the poor quality of (because players have been flogged to death by 12 months of continuous football, but y’know, let’s not get bogged down in that just now). It’s all part of the football train we willingly hop on and struggle to hop off again.
And when my memories of last season’s climax are so raw and unhealed, it is ridiculous that I’m even thinking about football and Leeds United already, never mind hankering for them. It is an addiction, it is something you can’t control or explain, it is unhealthy and it is something that consumes every part of your life, however much you deny it.
The win at Brentford left me elated, but also deeply traumatised and physically exhausted. The whole of last season was a grind, like pushing treacle up a hill. It was never under control, never something you could analyse coherently and only enjoyable in injury-time of about five games. My desire to take a break was justified, and wasn’t a shock, even though 12 months previously I’d wanted the season to carry on forever. Leeds had gone from unstoppable to un-startable in the space of a calendar year. But a break was necessary for everyone to draw a line under the emotional turmoil, to process it and to move on.
And already I want the band back together. I want to see who’s had a dramatic hair re-styling over summer – because there’s ALWAYS one – I want to see the new kits and I want to see sheepish post-match interviews on a non-league ground exclaiming how a drab 1-1 draw was a “great fitness exercise”.
That first pre-season get-together is only a week-or-so away and from there the downhill slope into the new season appears, quickly gathers pace and we slip back into the groove just like putting on a pair of old slippers. Just like Leeds United, they might be frayed around the edges, a bit worn and have caused us some grief over the years, but there’s a deep and inexplicable love there, and we won’t be separated.