“like a bunch of soldiers walking on to the pitch” – brian mcdermott on the super leeds waveBack
The man on the gate at Thorp Arch has been opening and closing it all afternoon. “There’s loads of press here today,” he says. “What’s going on?” I tell him it’s a press call with Brian McDermott and Sky Bet – that they’ve brought the trophy. “What trophy?” he asks. The trophy we’re going to win this season, I say. He looks at me a little sadly and shakes his head. “You,” he says. “You need to lay off them tablets.”
The Sky Bet Football League Championship Trophy is here, though, complete with a white-gloved guard of its own to ensure it’s packed properly into a battered looking box; it stands on a plinth on one of Thorp Arch’s indoor pitches, where Sky Bet managing director Richard Flint and Leeds manager Brian McDermott are posing for photographs.
Richard Flint is wearing full Leeds kit for the photos, but I notice it’s last season’s strip, without the lamentable blue stripe down the front. As the club works to reconnect with its fanbase, I wondered for a moment if they’ve seen sense about the stripe, will be recalling and refunding every fan who bought one, and taking us a bit closer to the all-white strip again. Probably not, but I can dream.
There has been a dream like quality to much of what has happened at United this season – Luke Murphy’s opening day winner like a sprinkle of impossible fairydust on top of the 33,000 attendance. The latest bit of surreality came before the QPR game, as Amitai Winehouse pointed out on The Square Ball blog. The players emerged from the tunnel wearing white tracksuits, with their names on the back; pleasantries exchanged with QPR, they lined up in a row, and waved to each end of the ground in turn.
This was a Leeds United gambit of the 1970s, the tracksuits, sock tags and pre-match warm-up routines introduced to the club, with Don Revie and Les Cockers’s blessing, by Paul Trevillion. Trevillion wanted the team to look like stars, gleaming and impressive in their all-white kit, as he said in this interview with The Beaten Generation, like Busby Berkeley’s choreographed showgirls – but with sideburns and grizzled expressions.
The tracksuits and the wave became a signature part of Super Leeds, lasting until the late eighties, when Howard Wilkinson swept the past and the cobwebs aside so the club could start again. Brian McDermott, finding the club in a similar position to Wilko – out of the top division for a decade, with dwindling attendances and miserable fans – has gone the other way, back to the past, back to a chest-swelling United tradition.
“It was our doing,” Brian told me, when I asked if it was his doing. “I respect the tradition and history of this club. I remember it years ago, and I spoke to Neil Redfearn about it, and all the staff. I remember Billy Bremner, Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer, all those guys, Terry Cooper, walking out: it was like a bunch of soldiers walking out on to the pitch. It was bordering on intimidating, I felt at the time, but it was just something different that nobody else did, and it was a great tradition. Even the tracksuit tops with the names on the back, I really liked it. And I do respect the history of the football club.
“I think that pride is the name of the game. We should be proud of this football club. We’re trying to create something now and trying to create something special. Because you’ve got a special club, there’s absolutely no doubt about that – I was in Dublin at the weekend, and there are Leeds fans everywhere. It’s incredible.
“We need to use what we’ve got and that’s at Elland Road, and we’re trying to get as many people as we can through the door there. We’re trying to engage with the fans, and most importantly we’re trying to create a product on the pitch that they want to come and see.”
What Leeds fans want to see is a team as successful as in the glorious days under Revie and Wilkinson; but what McDermott sees first is what Paul Trevillion saw, that Leeds United – with its history, status and tradition – should be an event whenever it plays, something that draws people in because it is Leeds United, and because of what being Leeds United means. I asked Brian how far he’d tried to communicate that message to the players.
“I did that from day one, when I first came in against Sheffield Wednesday,” he said. “I talked about how important it was to be a Leeds United player, and be playing at Elland Road. You know every game is an event; when you get twenty-plus thousand people, that’s an event in my eyes. We have to make use of every single minute of every single game that we play, and I think the players need to recognise it’s a privilege to be involved at this football club.”
Some have wondered if the wave was a one-off, on what was the 50th anniversary of Johnny Giles’ debut for Leeds, but it sounds like we could be seeing it again at Elland Road – after some extra training.
“We need to do it better,” said Brian, with a smile. “We didn’t do it as well as we would want, but we’ll practise. I don’t mind it, and we’ll see – let’s see. I just thought it was something that was part of our tradition and I liked it.”
We’ll be playing the audio of this interview on The Square Ball podcast; we’re recording tonight and it will be available to download here, along with sixty-odd of our old episodes, later this week. We’ll be discussing the return of the wave, and McDermott’s comments about connecting with our history and with the things that make us Leeds United, and whether these things are important or not.
Does it matter if our starting eleven stand in the centre circle and wave to the crowd before a game? Or it something from the seventies that should be left in the seventies, while the players concentrate on winning matches? What other traditions could be brought back – sock tags? The smiley badge? Punching Kevin Keegan? Let us know in the comments below, and we might well read your thoughts out on the podcast.
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