Angus’s Programme Notes
Good evening and a warm welcome to another “sold-out” Elland Road for tonight’s game with Charlton Athletic.
It is a wonderful feeling to be able to write this final column in the full knowledge that “CEO’s Programme Notes of the Year” is not the only piece of silverware we will be collecting this season.
The result at Derby County was even more remarkable when you consider the state that the majority of the team had been in, following the night of Huddersfield Town’s victory over West Brom. We should all be very grateful that Mateusz Klich can play football better than he can drink.
The celebrations across the city show just what our club means to the people of Leeds. The scenes at Elland Road and the collective outpouring of pride and joy will live long in the memory. The most important part of the celebrations were the expressions of togetherness; the team showing their affection and admiration for Marcelo, players celebrating with backroom and office staff with a shared sense of achievement, and the whole squad showing their appreciation to the best supporters in world football.
Even if the overexuberance of our head of community’s car being turned into a promotion trampoline and Lowfields Road being left in a state of carnage, it was quickly forgiven as supporters showed their true class by returning at the break of dawn to leave Bremner and Centenary Square spotless – while simultaneously setting up a crowdfunding page to pay for panelbeating of the roof of the damaged car, and the repainting of its bonnet to remove firework marks.
There are many people to thank for the mirabilia of Marcelo’s revolution. Firstly, Andrea whose vision, commitment and unerring belief have been at the heart of our success. He has always corrected anybody who said, “if we get promoted” and reminded them that it is “when”. His determination, optimism and graft have guided the club on a daily basis and delivered his fiveyear objective in just three years. He is a rare owner seeing himself as a custodian of the club and, while promotion will be highlighted as his main achievement, the leaps we have simultaneously made in the community, commercially and with the stadium, training ground and Academy will also be core to his legacy.
Secondly to Marcelo himself. I doubt there is a coach in world football who can claim to have had such an immediate impact on a club, let alone a city. When Victor and I flew to Buenos Aires to meet him for the first time, we spent a remarkable but intense two days enjoying an education in his football philosophy. At the end of the meeting we didn’t have the contract that we had gone out to secure, but we did have a handshake which was seemingly enough. We took one photo to mark the occasion, on the return flight I looked at the photo and noticed not only the steely resolve in Marcelo’s eyes, but also a glint of excitement. It was like he knew he was about to embark on something truly special. He couldn’t have been more right.
The appetency shared by Marcelo and the supporters has been central to our success. Marcelo understands and loves Leeds. At our Centenary Dinner, the national press wrongly claimed that wearing coaching attire to a black-tie dinner was a sign of disrespect. Marcelo wrote a formal apology letter to the board saying he had not intended to offend the club. Obviously the letter was not required, Marcelo has always been hugely respectful of our club’s heritage and what’s more, we knew that he was so fixated with the professional task at hand, he had arrived from Argentina with only tracksuits in his luggage.
Victor was the man who had the audacity to suggest we should bring Marcelo to our club and it has been their partnership that has been central to our footballing success. Victor’s passion has become the stuff of legend, but should not detract from his superb footballing insight, which will stand us well in the Premier League.
It is, however, the players who ultimately have to deliver on the pitch and we are blessed with a squad who have risen to every challenge that Marcelo has set for them. They have been relentless and fearless and have deserved every bit of their success. From day one they have believed they had the potential to win the league. Two years ago I sat down with them to renegotiate their team win bonuses. They wanted an increase that I was not prepared to give. So instead they proposed that if I accepted the higher level, they would only receive win bonuses when they were positioned in the top two of the league. For a team that had languished in mid-table for most of the previous decade, I thought this was a ridiculous suggestion and immediately agreed to it. Two years later, after spending 90 per cent of the time in the top two, I can add “being out-negotiated by Luke Ayling” to my illustrious CV.
From “League One Liam” (who has wanted to get this club promoted for all of his life) to Kalvin Phillips (who turned down a big money move to the Premier League because he only wanted to play there with his home town club) we have a team of leaders and their leadership is not just on the pitch. In the midst of the pandemic, when we needed to protect the livelihoods of 270 office and backroom staff, it was our players who were the first in the country to volunteer to a wage deferral. Whatever they go onto achieve in a Leeds United shirt, they will always deserve a special place in our history for this selfless act. Billy Bremner’s maxim of “side before self” has never been truer.
We must also thank the team behind the team. I could not wish for a more loyal, hard working and skilled staff. Every one of them has bought into the vision of making Leeds great again. From the senior management team of Paul, Fay, Adam, Hannah, James, Mark, Katie, Stuart, Rob and Simon (who have been labelled the “Directors Box Ultras” by the national media) to all their staff who have worked tirelessly for the cause, while simultaneously always taking some time out to keep the Kinnear ego in check.
It feels “very Leeds” to secure the promotion we were all desperate for in not only our centenary season, but also in the most tumultuous year for British football. We will always have two lasting regrets from this campaign. Firstly, that club Legends Norman Hunter, Trevor Cherry and Jack Charlton – who gave so much to the club – passed before they could see us back where we belong. And secondly, that our supporters could not be together with the team to enjoy our success.
Your support has been the foundation of everything that we have achieved. Your willingness to pack Elland Road and the away ends of every club we travel to every week, your belief in Marcelo and the team, and your generosity in leaving your Season Ticket money in the club at a time when we needed it most. Even when you couldn’t be at Elland Road you made your presence felt by being there in spirit with 20,000 Crowdies in the stands and shown your passion on social media. Ultimately, your support is our single biggest competitive advantage and I know Marcelo and the team are truly grateful for it.
While the team celebrate as hard as they play, planning for next season has already begun and there is much work to be done on and off the pitch in a uniquely challenging and short close season. The difficulties will be exacerbated for the newly promoted clubs, but we feel that – from a playing perspective – the momentum and collective understanding the squad have under Marcelo will make us immediately competitive.
While we will never be apologetic about the extent of our ambitions for this club, we know that establishing a foothold in the Premier League is as challenging as being promoted. We need to recreate the unity we have enjoyed over the last two years between board, coach, players and supporters because when this club is truly united there really is no limit to what we can achieve. That we will never be universally loved could be a burden for other clubs but, once again, we have turned this into something we can revel in to unite us even more and fuel our ambition.
Next season will inevitably bring ups and downs, but I am confident that we will deliver a season of swashbuckling football that we can all be proud of. As fans, we need to be rabid in our support and equanimous in our criticism and never lose our unity. For Leeds United the Premier League is base camp. This year’s promotion is merely the end of the beginning.
Finally, before these programme notes depart for the Premier League, one last important observation. Almost exactly a year ago today a thrusting young football club chief exec was asked for his prediction for the season ahead. He made a bold and perhaps foolish proclamation. Over the following months his words were much derided and mocked, but they also became our collective vision. They comforted us through the low moments and guided us to reach new heights. And so, for one last time, those words deserve to be reprised: “We are not dicking around with the Play-Offs anymore!”
Marching on Together