There's a lot of contenders for the most depressing club in Britain to support. Hibs are a classic choice. Spurs fans will gladly argue their corner in the matter. Newcastle and Sunderland will probably have something to say, too. In fact, almost any football fan will happily make the case. This is Britain.
Consider the book once brought out in the UK, ‘Crap Towns', which was fairly self-explanatory. It was a source of great controversy, but the outrage came from people whose hometowns had been excluded. In France or Italy, the idea of civic pride in despair would be an alien concept, and it's one of the few things now that can be said to be definitively British. They may be a complex, flawed, divided little archipelago, but for now at least self-schadenfreude really does keep Essex stockbrokers, Antrim cleaners and Lancashire taxi drivers together.
Whenever the discussion does turn to who has the worst of it in football, however, you'll notice that sheer, relentless misery often doesn't get the credit it's due. You need the occasional dash of hope to mix things up, rather than half a decade in the torture garden like Portsmouth, Stockport or Rangers. But perhaps no club has taken such a relentless, merciless and extended battering as Leeds United. Since 2001, it's been misery for breakfast, despair for lunch, sorrow for dinner and a slap in the face for dessert, every single day.
In a lot of ways, it didn't really make sense. With the Premier League TV deal and the inherently exploitable nature of football clubs' incompatibility with the free market (fans don't simply go and support another team that offers a better service), waves of investment poured into England. Once the Premier League options dried up, an assortment of wealthy foreign benefactors from the dastardly to the kind-hearted began to scour the lower-leagues for sleeping giants. Leeds were a team with real history, with a large fanbase, from a one-club town. Despite that, nobody bit.
Massimo Cellino changed all that. A caricature of an Italian chairman, he wears sunglasses at all times, has a conviction for tax evasion (on the purchase of a yacht, no less) and has a very attractive son straight out of Rich Kids of Instagram. He had money though, and a fairly modest investment seemed all that was needed to get the club into the Premier League. With the vast riches on offer there, and the club enjoying a fanbase larger than most teams in the division, anything could be possible.
But this is Leeds, and nice things do not happen to Leeds. They only seem like it to maximise the pain of what is to come. Maybe they're paying for the sins of a past life, but this season they've been gone through more coaches than the filming of The Italian Job, have endured one racism scandal and had their owner twice denied the right to actually be the owner.
Cellino has, in fact, fallen foul of the ‘fit and proper person' test that all owners of football clubs must adhere to, on account of his tax evasion. The rule was initially brought in after the sight of an ousted dictator, Thaksin Shinawatra, owning Manchester City proved just surreal and even the FA decided they had to act before Muammar or Hosni got any ideas. Yet this is a rule drawn out by the FA, so the only damage has been collateral.
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Nobody's going to defend tax evasion here, but dabbling in it on a personal level doesn't really mean you're going to be a bad owner of a football club. Going through three managers in as many months does, but we can just chalk the two down to the traditional pastimes of Italian chairmen. We all know what the FA are really worried about -- people bumming the Greatest League In The World high, through underinvestment and disinterest.
At least on that front, Cellino can be said to be on solid ground. He's spending money and appears to actually want Leeds to do well. That alone is a vast upgrade from the usual prospects of the club, and the whole charade will likely mean very little -- even if Cellino is banned, it'll only be for three months until his effective statute of limitations passes.
That would miss the point though. This is Leeds United, and the earth was salted at Elland Road a long time ago. This is an off-field distraction for a club that has consisted of nothing else for thirteen years. The only man who seems to have the capability and resources to finally turn things around is even more of a megalomaniacal loose cannon than all of the others. All they're doing is moving from one type of tragedy to another - a more volatile brand instead of the usual trudging monotony. Maybe it's progress, but it's not how they would've dreamed.