A pandemic, promotion, and the Premier League: Supporting Leeds United in the age of Covid-19

Gianni Alioski applauding an empty stadium after Leeds beat Fulham 3–0 in June 2020

As we trudge wearily towards the end of the UK’s third national lockdown, it’s easy to feel cheated by a pandemic that has deprived Leeds United fans of some of the greatest experiences a football fan can have. We weren’t there when the ball trickled in at the Liberty Stadium or when Leeds were crowned Champions after demolishing Charlton. Nor have we been able to watch a largely Championship team trade blows with Manchester City and Liverpool, stick three past Villa and Leicester, or humiliate Newcastle and West Brom.

But for all that we have missed out on, we are lucky enough to support a team that has had a hugely successful, exciting, and engaging twelve months in spite of the pandemic. It’s a small consolation, I’ll admit, but one I feel extremely grateful for, nonetheless.

When the season was halted in March 2020, Leeds were top of the table having won their last five games without conceding a goal. Typical.

The pause in play stirred up the suspicion and distrust hammered into Leeds fans by 15 years of misery and disappointment. Could the season be abandoned? Would the Premiere League’s bottom three resist relegation? Might Leeds struggle to replicate their pre-lockdown form?

But, for all these anxieties, the overriding feeling among Leeds United fans during the first lockdown was one of optimism. Luke Ayling’s thunderous volley against Huddersfield was fresh in the memory. It was the icing on the cake as Leeds swept aside their local rivals with all the class and swagger of a team destined for promotion. Surely even Leeds United couldn’t mess this one up.

By May 2 — the day the season should have been concluded — nearly two months had passed since a ball had last been kicked. Rather than celebrating promotion, we were left fantasising about what could have been.

As disappointing as this was, the fate of the season still hung in the balance and our hopes of reaching the Premier League remained intact. This was a welcome distraction in the uncertain days of the first lockdown, which should not be taken for granted.

Imagine if the coronavirus pandemic had struck a few years earlier. Far from being a source of comfort, the state of Leeds United would have been another cause for concern. In fact, a three-month break from the misery of watching football under Steve Evans, Paul Heckingbottom or Neil Warnock would arguably have been a silver lining in this whole ordeal.

This time, however, it was different. Promotion was within touching distance and the excitement and anticipation Leeds fans felt for the resumption of football was huge. While it was disappointing to miss the finale of such a brilliant season, I was grateful to have something so positive to look forward to during the monotonous days of the lockdown.

In many ways, Leeds fans have also been spared the worst of behind-closed-doors matches. The thrill of promotion followed by an impressive first campaign back in the topflight has helped us remain engaged despite not being able to attend games in person. No doubt we’d be less patient if Leeds had missed out on promotion in June or struggled to acclimatise to the Premier League.

Having surpassed the all-important 40-point mark, Leeds are set to secure a mid-table finish with games to spare. For a club that has recently endured the tension of chasing promotion from the Championship, it will be a relief to have a stress-free end to the season. Yet, this pressure — and the way Leeds have risen to it — is exactly what has made the past year so gripping and ensured that watching Leeds has remained a source of joy and positivity throughout the pandemic. It seems apt, therefore, that Leeds have all but secured their Premier League status just as the government begins to relax Covid restrictions and the pressure on football to relieve the boredom of lockdown is easing as a result.

Perhaps all this will be of little comfort. After all, we’ve missed out on two brilliant seasons and been denied memories that would have lasted a lifetime. But it would be crass to ignore the wider context of the coronavirus pandemic and the devastation it has caused. In these extraordinary times, Leeds United have had an exceptional twelve months and provided hope, joy, and escapism for so many. For that, we should all be extremely grateful.