The idea of divorcing Leeds United – or at least experimenting with a trial separation – came to me on 22 March in the Apple Store in New York. I'd only been in the city a few hours, on what was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime, and my wife thought she'd like to ogle an iPad before the gadget's early April launch. I'd worked out that the time difference would get us there about 10 minutes before the end of United's game against Millwall. The shop – a geek's paradise – is stuffed with display computers connected to the internet; it would take just a few seconds to commandeer one of them and check how things were going at Elland Road.
Leeds were 2-0 down, which was no great surprise. Since being the runaway leaders of League One at Christmas, and apparent certainties for promotion, United had collapsed spectacularly and were being sucked back into the chasing pack. A win against Millwall, who have since passed Leeds out, would have steadied the ship but after the first 10 minutes, judging by reports of the game, that was never remotely likely.
In the Apple store, I sighed theatrically, assaulted the computer which had produced the information, and uttered a loud whisper which contained at least one expletive. For a few moments the feelings of disappointment and frustration and anger were intense. Leeds United were going to let me down again, I knew. Just as certainly did I know that I wasn't going to put up with it anymore.
I've been a fan, loyally, stupidly, actively, for 40 years, since the day of the 1970 FA Cup final, which Leeds lost (of course) to Chelsea. For seven of the last 10 years, including the three they've spent in League One, I've had a season ticket, even though I work Saturdays and can't get over as much as I used to. A few years ago I justified the expense on the basis that the club needed the money more than I did. But that was before the recession, and a consequent pay cut, and before Leeds began to test that loyalty to breaking point.
Over the last 10 years I reckon I've spent more than €10,000 following them – between tickets, hotels, flights, match programmes, replica shirts, pyjamas, t-shirts, hoodies, caps, hats, fleeces, pens, cigarette lighters, slippers and wallets. That's just the stuff I still have. For a few years in the 1990s, I was listed in the phone book under the name Rodney Wallace, a tribute to one of the stars of the last Leeds team to win the English league.
I say all this not to suggest that I'm the greatest Leeds fan ever (far from it), but to demonstrate that supporting the team, and the club, has been an important part of my life. I've come to love the city of Leeds, where people have always been ridiculously friendly to me. I've watched those same people suffer as their home-town club reached the brink of extinction a few years ago, and sensed and shared their excitement earlier this season when it seemed that the slide had stopped and been reversed. Beating Manchester United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup in January raised hopes that we might be able to do it again in the league 18 months hence. That victory seems particularly hollow now; Leeds have since developed the habit of losing 3-0 to Swindon, something they've done twice in the last 10 weeks.
In the Apple Store, all this flashed through my mind. So did a lot of other things. For some reason I suddenly reconceived my support of Leeds as an abusive relationship, one which had lasted decades, to which I'd given heart and soul, financial commitment and love. In return, I had received almost nothing – the occasional piece of silverware notwithstanding. It was a one-sided marriage; me all give, give, give, Leeds all take, take, take. Viewing Leeds United and me through the prism of a relationship – perhaps a result of being in the home of Sex And The City – clarified a lot for me. As I left the Apple Store that Monday, and walked up Fifth Avenue in the rain, I realised what I had to do. I had to say goodbye to Leeds United, at least for a while.
And so I will not be renewing my season ticket, I will not be visiting Elland Road, I will not attend any play-off matches Leeds may have between now and the end of the season, I will not watch them on television, I will not idle away pointless hours on the website until such time as they have crawled their way out of League One. In relationship terms, Leeds need to man up, do something for me, and reward decades of love and loyalty with a little commitment of their own.
If this makes me seem like a fair-weather fan, I don't care. I've had enough disappointment, enough frustration, enough hissy fits in New York shops to last a lifetime. I didn't sign up for better or worse (though I've often behaved as if I did), and I'm entitled to walk away from Leeds until such time as somebody – chairman, manager or players – gets a grip of the club, reverses its fortunes and respects its fans.
Of all the insults that Leeds have perpetrated on me (and all their other fans) in recent years, this season's collapse is the worst. They could still be promoted, of course, but it should have been wrapped up by now. Last Monday's televised game against Yeovil was chosen by Sky a few months ago to be Leeds's promotion party; instead it was a microcosm of the season – a bright start followed by an abject second-half collapse in which they barely hung on to win.
I watched some of it (I never said separation would be easy) and as I did I recalled the plane journey to New York only a few weeks before.
One of the inflight movies was The Damned United, a highly enjoyable rendering of a very enjoyable book about Brian Clough's managerial career. For a second, as I watched Leeds struggle to cope with the feistiness of mighty Yeovil, I wondered if there was something in this business of the club being damned. But of course that is superstitious nonsense. Leeds United are not damned; they're just not good enough. It's time for me to acknowledge that and to move on, not to another club, but to a state of proud singledom. I'm still a fan, and Leeds can have me back any time they want. But next time it needs to be a relationship of equals.
Without that, I'd prefer to be on my own, with my memories.