To paraphrase Whitney Houston, I believe the children are the future. Not at these prices though! - Tim Keeton
Never has been supporting Leeds United been such a struggle. Week after week of insipid performances are taking their toll, and with little sign of things changing both on and off the pitch, are the Whites in danger of forever falling out of contention for a return to the Premier League. Stephen Clark hates being so bleak, but fears the worst ... unless things change quickly.
I've been writing this column for a month now, and you must all be thinking that I am the world's biggest pessimist. Every week I seem to be writing about doom and gloom scenarios, with even the good days,like the win over Tottenham, being laced with cynicism.
Well it seems that I was proved right on Saturday to question the Whites hunger for the fight as Leeds failed to string two impressive performances together and suffered a home defeat to the league leaders, Cardiff City. Although United can consider themselves unlucky to have lost the game, it would have been a travesty had they won it. Despite dominating possession, there was zero in terms of creativity with only two chances carved out in the 90 minutes.
Quite simply that isn't good enough at home, no matter who the opposition are. The fact that Cardiff were so poor, yet remain 10 points clear at the top of the Championship, shows how far we have fallen.
In the entire 90 minutes I cannot recall either full back overlapping the midfielder in front of them, in fact I barely remember Sam Byram advancing past my vantage point midway between the half way line and the Kop in the second half. Our central midfielders were incapable of passing the ball to a white shirt, unless it was within 5 yards of them. Once again the strikers were starved of service, so much so that Habib Habibou touched the ball just three times in the 20 minutes he was on the field.
We as supporters are craving some attacking intent. Every half inclination to go forward saw the noise levels lift in another paltry crowd, but they were few and far between leading to another flat atmosphere in a half empty stadium. So dire was the football, I found myself thinking about where I might sit next year, hoping to get into an area which at least has a little atmosphere.
The most worrying aspect is that I cannot honestly see things changing in the near future, unless the owners of Leeds United make radical changes at all levels of the football club.
Firstly they need to make Elland Road the cauldron it used to be. With the football being so poor at the moment, the only way to do that this season is to practically give the tickets away. Whilst the current iniaitives are all well and good, I would go even further this season, to try and lay the foundations for next year. Kids for a quid and adults for a tenner give the "plastics" no excuse that the day is too expensive. To offset the losses to season ticket holders on this year's prices, a healthy discount should be given to those who renew for next year.
However it's the product on the pitch that will keep the fans coming. I speak from experience with my own son. His first season was the promotion from League One and now he is hooked. The glory of seeing a successful side made him hungry for more. Now it's him that's up out of his seat more than me, showing a passion for the team which is slowly being sucked out of me. Asked what he wanted to do on his 13th birthday next weekend, he had no hesitation in asking to go to Wolves, despite the fact it will be a six hour round trip which is bound to end in defeat. Any child being treated to a day at Elland Road to see the current team would be within their rights to report their parents to Childline.
As discussed last week, the team seem to perform better on the big occasions, and if we can at least get the crowds back around the 25K mark on a regular basis, the atmosphere in the ground will surely improve.
That's an idea for the short term, and at the moment that is all that Leeds United seem to be planning for. There has been no mention of a new contract for the manager (and I pray that there isn't one) but also there has been no clarification that this will be Neil Warnock's final season. With all the criticism fired the way of Luciano Becchio for not committing his long term future to the club, there is little sign of what the club is committing to the future in the long term.
In my opinion it is the medium to long term that Leeds need to be looking. When it is confirmed that Leeds can't make the play-offs this season, it will mean that they have been outside the top flight for nine years, longer than the "dark days" of the 80's and including three seasons in the third tier. Without significant investment on the field in the short term, which it seems GFH are incapable of, the club need to take a longer term strategy to ensure that the club are in a position to return to the Premier League by 2016.
To do that the club have to identify a manager who they believe can take them there, who can develop a playing squad that harnesses the best of the youth talent available at the club, harnessed with young hungry players who see Leeds United as a place to attain their footballing goals and not just a final payday to end their career.
There needs to be a cull of veterans who show no passion for the club and the introduction of more player who understand what the club is about. It's no surprise that the fans favourites are the likes of Ross McCormack, Tom Lees and Sam Byram, players who know what the club is about and what it can achieve.
At the moment the club seems rudderless, drifting aimlessly in the middle reaches of the championship. They are dangerous water's to settle in. A look at the teams in the Championship show what can happen when ambition disappears. Nottingham Forest, Crystal Palace, Charlton Athletic, Derby County and Ipswich Town were all regular combatants in the Premier League and all now occupy the same mid-table mediocrity on a regular basis.
I personally would settle for a couple more years in the Championship, as long as the club were making the right moves to progress both on and off the pitch. At the moment the club is standing still, taking on water and in danger of sinking again. Although I want to be part of the band that plays on while the ship goes down, the idea of abandoning ship is become more palatable as the weeks go on.
The club is approaching it's centenary year. Wouldn't it be superb to have a plan in place to take us back to the top of the game by 2019. At the moment it's difficult to know if the club have planned six days in advance, never mind six years.