When Leeds United announced there was going to be a documentary chronicling their painful 2018/19 season, some fans were not impressed.
The idea of reliving a season where they failed to win promotion in high definition slow motion was too much to bear.
But they may have changed their tune after watching Take Us Home - Leeds United, a six-part docuseries now streaming on Amazon Prime and produced by Eleven Studios in partnership with The City Talking. It may lack the happy Hollywood ending of All Or Nothing - Manchester City or the grit of Sunderland Till I Die but Take Us Home is a riveting watch whether you’re a Leeds fan or not. And I’m not.
After you get over the initial goosebump moment of the fact that Russell Crowe is the narrator, a man who could read your itemised receipt from a Lidl big shop and make it sound epic, you are soon swept along with it all. After two episodes you won’t be able to get the Leeds anthem ‘Marching On Together’ out of your head for days.
Anyone wanting to get a deep insight into the mind of Marcelo Bielsa, the enigmatic Leeds boss will come away disappointed. We see nothing of the Argentine in the dressing room and he disappears into the Manager’s Office after games with endearing regularity. Described during the series as “God” and the “West Yorkshire Jesus”, Bielsa’s story as a young coach at Newell’s Old Boys is covered in the first episode. His reputation has been elevated by glowing references from modern-day heroes Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino but his input in this series is limited to a few audio interview clips and a brief chat in the final episode.
But in a funny sort of way, I’m quite happy about this. The Bielsa mystique remains intact if anything enhanced by his sparsity of input. If I’d seen him blowing his top like Neil Warnock in an expletive-filled half-time meltdown, I’d feel let down.
Even after the Spygate affair - where Bielsa admitted sending scouts to watch Derby County (and everyone else) train - the manager comes out of it all pretty much unscathed. In fact, it only underlined how mind-bogglingly thorough Bielsa’s pre-match preparation was compared to many of his contemporaries. We later learn that Bielsa insisted on paying the hefty fine himself though he hadn't broken any actual laws, a point which is stressed several times in the film.
That’s not the only dramatic episode either. When Leeds scored against an Aston Villa side whose players had nearly all stopped because of an injury to a player, Bielsa instructs his players to allow Villa to score an equaliser straight from the restart. The fans inside Elland Road can hardly fathom it but Bielsa’s faith in doing what he believes is right is absolutely pure.
Then there’s the bizarre proposed transfer of Dan James from Swansea which ended in heart-breaking circumstances, the player trudging disconsolately away leaving behind club officials looking hopefully at their mobiles and wondering what to do with the home, away and third shirts already printed with his name on.
This modern wave of football documentaries love interspersing match footage with clips of a handful of fans identified through the series. I accept that some of the supporters are playing up to the cameras but frequently their reactions feel unsettlingly over the top. One fan, in particular, seems to petrify his children when he demands they sing Leeds United songs for the camera and spends his time at games shouting “we go again!” with rabid conviction.
Leeds were top of the Championship at Christmas and we are reminded that most teams that sit on top of the pile on December 25 will go up. As Marching On Together tells you, Leeds had their ups and downs and by the last leg of the season, they imploded in the play-offs against Derby County.
We view these peaks and troughs through the eyes of owner Andrea Radrizzani, director of football Victor Orta, managing director Angus Kinnear and a handful of players - notably Kalvin Phillips and Liam Cooper. That’s not to say it’s perfect by any means. Some of the footage of Radizanni back in Milan feels like a promotional corporate video as it ticks the stereotypical boxes of his mother being a wonderful cook before lovingly thumbing through family photo albums.
Then there’s the match commentary which feels like it was recorded months afterwards, seemingly knowing what was around the corner.
I write this not as a converted Leeds fan by any means but I was utterly gripped by the series and I’ve been looking for their results with a geeky eye since the start of the new season, as I did with Sunderland after watching Sunderland Till I Die.
The two series share similarities in that they focus on “sleeping giants” but their approaches are different. Sunderland Till I Die was about the nuts and bolts of everyday life at a club, interviews with the cooks and the secretaries. There’s none of that in Take Us Home save for a cheery thumbs up from a kitman or the rallying call of a programme seller. Both are lovingly compiled and we hope the second series of both - should they be in the works - have a happier ending.
5 Favourite Things About Take Me Home - Leeds United
The opening titles
Gang of Four’s brilliant Damaged Goods works perfectly as the show’s theme tune and the lingering shots of esteemed journalist Phil Hay, musician Ellen Smith and others is a nice change from close-up clips of sliding tackles or the ball hitting the back of the net. Released in 1979 it sounds as fresh as a daisy.
The esteemed actor and Leeds fan gives every scene added drama with his husky tones, never bettered than when he reads out team names like “Preston North End” and “Bolton Wanderers”.
Leeds’ training kit
The whole show is a superb advert for Italian sportswear brand Kappa. Their training gear looks as sharp as a tack, especially the army green jackets.
Slowed down version of Marching On Together
One of the most famous terrace anthems, a painfully delicate version of Marching On Together by Shadowlark features at the end of the final episode and complemented by some beautifully shot footage made the room go all dusty.
This fascinating figure’s aura has never been more magnetic - mainly because he takes a supporting role. Despite hitting speedbumps on the way which could have resulted in terminal crashes for lesser managers, Bielsa emerges from the series with his legend intact.