I took my 81-year-old, Burnley-supporting father-in-law to Turf Moor on Sunday for the game with Watford.
The 3-1 defeat didn’t give Kevin much to talk about. But, as we walked around the ground, I was given a glowing report on every former player whose black-and-white image proudly hung on the brick walls.
When we reached the Jimmy McIlroy one, he just looked at the photo with awe and said: “Mr Burnley. What a guy.” Then he proceeded to relive the glory days of his youth when, as he put it, “we were the best in the land”.
The next day, I woke up to hear the sad news that McIlroy had died, read all the tributes to his greatness as a player and a man, and to Burnley’s 1959-60 title-winners, and thought Kevin’s unknowing obituary had been pitch-perfect. And I thought also how, due to football’s cyclical nature, it was good that Jimmy Mac’s Burnley are back in Europe, and Huddersfield and Wolves are in the top flight again.
But, mostly, I thought of the revival at Leeds , a team so dominant under Don Revie that rival fans despised them with a passion reserved later for only Liverpool and Manchester United.
I thought how healthy it is for English football that a giant of a manager like Marcelo Bielsa is in charge of them, and is giving their fan base hope that a 14-year absence from the top flight may soon be over.
You almost have to pinch yourself to see them playing with such style under someone Pep Guardiola has called “the best coach in the world”.
Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani said, before his job interview, the Argentinian had studied 20 of their games and knew about every player — including the youth team.
In the brief time he’s been at Elland Road, he’s brought a new energy and ambition to the place, with fans loving the way he’s got the players pressing, rotating and winning. And how he orchestrates it all from his perch on an upturned bucket.
The victory over Rotherham on Saturday meant Bielsa is the first Leeds manager ever to win his first four games in charge. But, in many ways, the hard-earned draw at Swansea on Tuesday, which took them top of the Championship, was more impressive.
They lost captain Liam Cooper in the warm-up, and went behind twice, but carried on playing decent football and could have snatched a win at the death.
It’s very early days of course, and sceptics are already questioning if the Bielsa effect can last.
Some fear the disciplinarian pushed them too hard with double training sessions in pre-season, which may come back to haunt them when pitches get heavier and injuries kick in.
I hope the sceptics are proved wrong, because you only have to see Leeds in a cup tie at a Premier League ground, hear the following they bring and the atmosphere it creates, to know that is where this huge club belongs.
Two years ago, I was reminiscing with a Leeds-supporting mate about how I spent my formative terrace years chanting, “We all hate Leeds and Leeds and Leeds” etc.
And he replied miserably, “I wish you still did.”
I knew what he meant — the one thing worse than being disliked is being ignored.
But you sense that, under Bielsa, the football cycle is about to turn again.
If they stick with each other, it may not be too long before the curse is lifted on The Damned United.
Will Bielsa get Leeds into the Premier League?
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