The EU is more like a league system than a club,
Brexit more like relegation than resigning.
For a brief period in 2001, Leeds United was at the top of English football and flying high in Europe. Six years later, after a collapse which still sets a benchmark for failure in sport, they were playing in League One, football’s third tier. Now, after another thirteen years, they have returned to the Premier League.
As well as a reminder that triumph and disaster are both short-lived, Leeds’ experience can shed a light on the UK’s changing relationship with the EU.
Simply saying “we’re out” or telling Remainers “you lost, get over it”, ignores the EU’s structure which is more like a league system than a club; and just as Leeds’ free-fall ended one Saturday in August 2007, the UK’s current direction of travel, away from the EU, is by no means fixed.
From the Birkenhead to Liverpool
After two relegations, insolvency, and a pre-season points deduction, Leeds started its first season in League One in last place on minus fifteen points. Playing Tranmere Rovers at their Birkenhead ground in front of a crowd of eleven thousand, a return to the Premier League was a long way off, and further still after twenty minutes. Tranmere scored.
By half time, any Leeds fans at the match will have wondered how much further could their club fall.
But as well as triumph and disaster, football is about hope. The fans will have stayed for the second half in the belief that things would get better, which they did. Leeds’ future on that August afternoon was not a progression to ever lower leagues or a permanent stay in the third tier. Instead one-nil down, on minus fifteen points in League One was as bad as it got. Leeds scored twice to beat Tranmere and begin their climb back to football’s top tier. After three years in League One, and ten in The Championship, they finally won promotion back to the Premier League. Appropriately, their opening match for this season was eight miles from Tranmere’s ground at Liverpool.