The words every Leeds United fan has been waiting to read have now been written for all to see. The Whites are back.
Those were the words expected by many, the words enforced by maverick manager Marcelo Bielsa and encompassed by what is an exciting new generation of players.
Those were the words delivered for the fanbase that ‘takes more’, words delivered for the thriving city itself. For Cherry, for Hunter, for Charlton.
Those same fans will tell you that it wouldn’t be their club if they didn’t do it the hard way, the Leeds way. The tears on the telly at the Reebok Stadium, the Play-Off Semi-Final defeats, the Play-Off Final defeats.
The heartbreak of last season’s Play-Off Semi-Final shock on home soil may have proven too harsh a setback to recover from for many teams, but not this one. Instead, the players came back; they went again. Players like Kalvin Phillips; a graduate of the club’s recently crowned ‘category one’ academy and heartbeat of the current side.
Leeds born and bred, Phillips remains one of those loyal supporters himself, and now does all he can to give something back. The Whites’ Community Player of the Year every year since 2017, he’s now returned something which hasn’t been around in his locality since he was eight years old: top-flight football.
Those who haven’t been around quite nearly as long buy into it too. Take Ben White, whose towering performances at centre-back have provided an undeniable contribution to the cause and adoration from the stands. Having joined on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion in July 2019, he was named PFA Player of the Month at the first attempt, and could well be wearing the white of England sooner rather than later if the reports are to be believed.
But then it would be nigh on impossible to select a standout individual. Marauding full-back Luke Ayling – dubbed recently by his team-mates on social media as simply ‘big-game player’ - has silenced doubters by making an impact at both ends of the pitch. Pablo Hernandez displayed every bit of his 35 years of experience over the course of the campaign, and it will be some time before fans forget about that strike at Swansea. Patrick’s Bamford’s 16 league goals have been worth their weight in precious points too. The list goes on.
Leeds have been at it as a team from the get-go, any talk of a Bielsa burnout quickly quashed. From a 3-0 victory at Stoke in August to a 5-0 triumph over the same side some 11 months later; if anything, they have continued to get better under the stewardship of their Argentine head coach, whose perch in the dugout has become as iconic an image as any other. A mentor to some of the game’s top bosses, he will no doubt be welcomed with open arms by his Premier League peers.
There’s plenty about this latest set of Sky Bet Championship graduates that will serve them well in the top flight, be it that front-foot style of football, that belief that they belong or that us-against-them mentality.
As the great Jack Charlton once said of his time as a player at Elland Road, “we were frightened of nobody”, and it’s that same dogged determination and confidence which has carried them through. In a season which has brought both highs and lows on and off the pitch, promotion is the perfect tribute to the club’s trio of fallen legends, of which their record appearance-maker Charlton was a part. This campaign has seen some of the game’s true giants laid to rest, and it is their teachings which have awoken the sleeping giant that is Leeds United.
Confirmed by West Bromwich Albion’s failure to win at Huddersfield Town, the promotion celebrations from those in homes across Yorkshire will no doubt have been heard loud and clear.
In unprecedented times and through joy and despair, Leeds are a club United, and together they’re marching on to the top flight again. Write them off at your peril.