19 August ~ Only the most innocent away fan would anticipate a warm welcome upon heading for Elland Road. At most clubs, it's a tradition for the chairman to say a few words about the quality of the visiting team in his programme notes. But not if your chairman is the delightful Kenneth Bates. Before your club is even mentioned, you have to dodge numerous bricks lobbed indiscriminately at a variety of targets. My cousin, one of several Leeds fans in my family, described his regular programme note tirades as "all a bit embarrassing" as we stood at last week's League Cup first round tie against Lincoln perusing We Are Leeds, the official matchday magazine.
Bates declared that he was disappointed at losing to Derby on the season's opening day, but never mind the reasons why – better to use the defeat as a platform to slag off visiting manager Nigel Clough for making "much out of his failure to take his little boy on the pitch, apparently confusing the football ground with a playground". Clough then reportedly committed the dreadful error of ignoring "the club dress code, wanting to sit in the directors' box in a tracksuit, making not one but two requests to do so". Shocking.
Bates was happy that Leeds player Neil Kilkenny "just missed out on a call-up for Australia", as that meant he would have missed the game against Lincoln "to play in a meaningless friendly in some godforsaken part of the world" (that's Slovenia told good and proper). FIFA "really are the pits" for having "this stupid fixture in an already overcrowded list of dates". And finally, Fabio Capello's just back from holiday, allowing Bates to remind us that at the World Cup England "were crap" and that they should no longer pick "Cashley" (!!!) Cole because he's publicly stated "that he hates England (and the English)". And that must include the charming chairman of Leeds United FC.
All that before: "We welcome Lincoln City for the first round of the Carling Cup. Let us hope that we progress a little nearer to Wembley." What, no warnings against complacency? No cautious words about there being no easy fixtures in competitive football? No words of condescending praise for the tough job that managers like Chris Sutton have in assembling a doughty team on an impossible budget for another year of sweat and struggle in the League's bottom drawer?
No, because Leeds United aren't out to make friends. Like Millwall, they really don't care what other people think of them. Unlike Millwall, they don't feel the need to celebrate the fact in song. Sitting uncomfortably in the Family Stand – both physically because of the cramp-inducing lack of leg room, and mentally because me and my Dad were away fans in severely alien territory – I couldn't help but admire the way they took Lincoln apart without mercy (2-0 up after seven minutes), and the way the crowd responded. Even six Leeds-supporting family members took no pity on me, despite the fact I'd made a four-flight round trip from Germany just to watch this humiliation, all standing to cheer vociferously along with the rest of their fans at every goal. Even the fourth one – the routine conversion of a fairly ridiculous penalty decision – provoked triumphant roars.
Leeds manager Simon Grayson admitted after the game that his team had used the second half as a training exercise. I was pleased he barely mentioned Lincoln, because we played miserably, without any kind of fight or tactical clue until it was way too late. Rather than point out that the opponents were embarrassingly poor, everyone at Leeds just ignored them – before, during and after the match. So while I don't envy Leeds fans for having Ken Bates as chairman, or for having no idea who owns their team, or for having no leg room when they try to sit down, there's something unique about a club that makes you glad to be on your way home, and that you likely won't be coming back again for a very long time. Ian Plenderleith