Leeds United will be back in the big time next season after West Brom’s defeat to Huddersfield meant Marcelo Bielsa’s side gained automatic promotion.
It has been a 16-year long and often turbulent wait for the club but now they are in the Premier League once more, and celebrations outside Elland Road began swiftly with fans desperate to soak in the glory.
Leeds’ slender 1-0 win over Barnsley on Thursday meant the second-placed Baggies had to pick up three points at Huddersfield and their 2-1 loss means the Elland Road side will be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Liverpool and old rivals Manchester United next season.
Bielsa, the man who made it all possible, was given a rapturous reception as he was mobbed by Leeds fans at his home. ‘El Loco’ used his elbow to greet them all before getting into his car.
The Argentine waved to the gathering fans and repeatedly said ‘thank you’ before joking ‘I don’t speak English!’ He then invited three youngster to pose for a photo in front of him.
Despite pleas from the club for supporters to stay at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, fans quickly took to the streets after discovering their 16 years of pain was over.
After waiting so long for this moment, the Leeds faithful had no intention of staying indoors as groups arrived outside Elland Road with blue and yellow flares and waving flags and scarfs and singing to their hearts’ content.
And their celebrations were recognised by the heroes who pulled off the feat as Leeds players were seen dancing around inside the stadium – waving to the fans at the window after watching the West Brom game together.
Leeds stars were seen jumping around and taking photos while huddled together as they were forced to enjoy their glory off the pitch.
And midfielder Kalvin Phillips couldn’t contain his excitement as he left the stadium to roar to the crowds gathered outside the gates.
Tributes to the club have flooded in on social media after their success, with former Whites defender Lucas Radebe offering his congratulations.
‘After long 16yrs finally the wait is over our dreams have come true – back in the Premier League come on @LUFC. Congratulations to El Loco and the boys, absolutely proud.’
Hollywood actor and Leeds fan Russell Crowe used few words to sum up his delight as he simply tweeted: ‘Leeds United.’ And ex-player Rio Ferdinand welcomed them back saying their promotion was fully deserved.
‘Welcome back to the PL @LUFC back in the big time & deservedly so!!’ he said.
Players from the top flight had their say on Leeds’ big moment too, and Manchester City star Benjamin Mendy said he was looking forward to facing off against them.
‘LEEDS,’ he wrote. Congratulations Marcelo & the boys. See you next year.’
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Kiko Casilla was quick to show his pride at being part of the team that went up, saying he had spent ‘many days dreaming of this day’.
We are BACK !!!! We are in @premierleague!!!! Yessssssssssss!!! We are Leeds !!!!
‘Many days dreaming of this day!!! We deserve it! Proud of this TEAM, proud of our supporters! I can not describe this moment! Yesssssss!! Thanks for your support, Imposible without you!’
Leeds had been in the English top flight for 14 years when they capitulated and went down in the 2003-04 season.
Their demise was in the wake of the club’s financial crisis and came just three years after they’d reached the Champions League semi-finals.
Debts mounted and even reached the £100million mark, Peter Reid was sacked as manager and Eddie Gray was unable to spark a turnaround.
Kevin Blackwell came in but there would be further heartbreak as the Whites suffered defeat in the play-off final at Wembley.
The club then plummeted further down, entering administration in 2007 and confirming their relegation to League 1.
It wasn’t until 2009-10 that Leeds clawed their way back into the Championship. Simon Grayson, Neil Warnock, Brian McDermott all had turns at the helm with chaos behind the scenes under the latter’s tenure as Massimo Cellino’s bid to own the club was initially denied and then overturned on appeal.
Dave Hockaday, Darko Milanic, Neil Redfern, Uwe Rosler, Steve Evans and Garry Monk all came and went as Cellino brought incredible instability to the club.
Then came some stability in 2017 as current owner Andrea Radrizzani took full ownership from his Italian compatriot.
In June 2018 came the major coup of capturing one of football’s most revered coaches in Marcelo Bielsa.
Last season, the Argentine’s first in charge, ended in the play-offs and they lost 4-3 on aggregate against Derby in the semi-finals.
This season has been a different story and the Leeds rollercoaster ride is on an upward trajectory once again.
Bielsa has steered the team magnificently despite struggling with no out-and-out scoring threat up front at times but the quality and style of play has remained easy on the eye.
Next season it will be fascinating to see how Bielsa’s tactical mastery fares against teams with far greater resources and higher quality players.
For now though, Leeds fans can savour the moment after 16 years of almost laughable capriciousness, they’re back in the Premier League.