Elland Road has not been short of drama in recent years when Albion have visited, and Sunday’s meeting could be another.
Back in 2017 Albion travelled to Elland Road with both sides still in the mix for automatic promotion to the Premier League. On that day it was Leeds who triumphed in a Chris Wood inspired 2-0 victory, which in-turn inspired the home fans to taunt Brighton’s by chanting: “you’ll fuck it up” in reference to the Seagulls promotion bid and failure to achieve promotion the season before.
However, that season Brighton did go onto achieve automatic promotion with three games to spare, whilst Leeds failed to even make the end of season promotion playoffs and it would be another three seasons before they would finally achieve promotion and a long-awaited return to the topflight.
A win for Brighton over Leeds this weekend could secure the club a first ever top half topflight finish, and could well relegate Leeds in the process, or at least go a long way towards it. If these permutations do materialise, Saturday could well be another day when Leeds fans bravado comes back to embarrass them.
In his book ‘The art of the deal’, former US President Donald Trump (inarguably the King of bravado) stated: “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion. “
But the reality is, unlike in politics, bravado can only get you so far in sport, where there can be no hiding from the results. As the old saying goes, the league table doesn’t lie. And when comparing Leeds’ and Brighton’s recent history, it makes for far better reading for Brighton.
Last season was the first time Leeds finished above Brighton in the league since 2015 and only the second time since Albion won League One in 2011, with this season set to make Brighton superior in 9 out of the past 11 seasons. It does seem that for Leeds, last season is at risk of becoming an anomaly rather than the beginning of a return to its now historic prominence.
It goes further, Brighton’s recent supremacy over Leeds is demonstrated by their record in matches between the clubs. Since Brighton’s promotion to the Championship in 2011 they have beaten Leeds on ten out of the last fifteen occasions, drawing three times and losing just twice.
The form table doesn’t make encouraging reading for Leeds either. Couple Brighton’s good away record this season (equal 4th best in the league) with Leeds poor home record (3rd worst, a record even worse than Brighton’s), having only beaten bottom of the table Norwich at home since their win over Burnley on 2nd January, losing five and drawing once in that time, it’s hard to be overly optimistic for Leeds in what is surely a must win game for the Yorkshire club.
As I see it, a big problem for a club like Leeds, whose history overshadows its present, is that this feeling of belonging in a place you’ve not been for a significant period of time creates a culture of discontent and resentment, feelings that have seemingly manifested themselves into a culture of excessive bravado.
It’s a culture at the club that’s spawned the type of brash discourse Brighton fans have become familiar with in their dealings with Leeds, no less so than during the prolonged transfer saga of Ben White.
Who could forget the social media storm that was #FreeBenWhite, and the subsequent guffawing of Leeds fans when it was suggested by The Athletic that Brighton didn’t want to sell someone they considered an important player to Leeds, a club that they considered a direct rival to their long-term ambitions of topflight establishment.
But as subsequent events have shown, things move quickly in football. One moment you’re on top, as Leeds were last season finishing 9th on their return to the topflight, just missing out on European football, whilst their manager Marcelo Bielsa was receiving widespread acclaim along with a nomination for FIFA manager of the year. Fast forward 12 months and Leeds are in serious danger of a prompt return to the Championship, whilst Bielsa is no longer in a job, having been sacked with just 26 games of the season gone, and it’s a team you deem as inferior who are now the flavour of the moment.
Brighton are not without their own form of bravado, I’ve spoken at length before about my concerns with the club’s incredibly ambitious and outspoken objectives. But these statements in contrast to Leeds, appear to have contributed towards the club’s success rather than the opposite.
Even before the current level of ambition, prior to the club’s promotion to the Premier League CEO Paul Barber would persistently preach (to the point of tedium) about how the club was “Premier League ready”. A form of bravado that has rather than create resentment towards the club, instead created a significant amount of admiration for the club’s overachievement and helped changed the mindset at a club that has spent more of its history in the third tier of the Football League than anywhere else.
Bravado is a part of football that we all partake in, even if it is done somewhat in jest. Neither Brighton nor Leeds are short of it, but whilst one club has used it to its advantage, for the other it appears to be to its detriment.
Brighton can take warning from Leeds’ example, to not get too complacent or arrogant after a period of success and get swept up in the acclaim. The moment you do, the Premier League can be an unforgiving place.