After Liverpool’s triumph, Leeds United’s return to the Premier League was arguably the most compelling narrative in English football last season.
Thanks to Amazon, fans are now able to access the story in greater detail with season two of Take Us Home: Leeds United available to stream.
Produced by NEO Studios, the sequel to season one – which followed Marcelo Bielsa’s first campaign at the Elland Road helm – is split into two episodes divided by the onslaught of the covid-19 pandemic.
We spoke to Managing Director Anouk Mertens and Head of Production Stevie Rowe about all aspects of the documentary.
The first episode focusses on the aftermath of the heartbreaking capitulation in the 2019 play-offs, with the uncertain future of homegrown hero Kalvin Phillips highlighted before a whistle-stop tour of the season up until the Championship’s suspension.
The midfielder affectionately known as ‘the Yorkshire Pirlo’ has since been capped by England and was close to a move away from his beloved club in the summer of 2019.
In one of the most charming sequences of the documentary, viewers are shown the influential role of Phillips’ grandmother in his decision to stay in the Championship with Leeds.
“We should give her a reality show,” jokes Mertens.
Phillips’ caring grandmother possesses all the warmth and charm typical of Yorkshire folk and her scenes go some way to showing why Leeds United were identified as a club suitable for such a documentary.
“A lot of sports documentaries just tell the story of what’s happening on the field,” explains Rowe. “It was important for us to understand that Leeds is a very important club to the whole city and that a lot of the locals are fanatic Leeds fans.
“One of the biggest challenges was trying to find the right characters to portray that. We found a group of three or four that were magnificent and very different as well.”
The unwavering passion of Leeds fans is best demonstrated in season two when the cameras are welcomed inside the homes of fans following the promotion pursuit on television, after the decision was made to complete the season behind closed doors.
We see the shining eyes and overwhelming emotions of those who have adopted Leeds United as a way of life.
This comes to a climax when Pablo Hernandez’s late winner away at Swansea is spotlighted as the moment that effectively seals promotion.
A paint-splattered Andy McVeigh, otherwise known as the Burley Banksy, is seen mauling his son while shrieking in an increasingly high voice: “Get in! Get in! Get in you beautiful Spanish wizard!”
Much of the second episode highlights the unprecedented impact of covid-19 on football and, more broadly, the world.
Post-apocalyptic shots of a deserted Leeds city centre provide a sense of gravitas that complements the uncertainty felt by the Elland Road faithful at the time.
Naturally, the pandemic presented many obstacles for the documentary-makers to overcome.
“It had to be a big part of the story,” says Rowe. “There was probably a month of two where we were unsure whether we could finish.
“The way we worked with the club and around the players changed enormously. To be making a documentary during that time, to capture that moment, was important.”
“When you start dealing with it you try to make the most of it,” adds Mertens. “There are some very beautiful shots – you couldn’t imagine how deserted everything was. Us having Angus [Kinnear, Managing Director of Leeds] there, explaining how they were dealing with it, was very valuable to the story.”
The second episode climaxes with the celebrations at Elland Road as West Brom’s defeat to Huddersfield confirms promotion.
This sequence features the moment both Mertens and Rowe identify as their favourite of the season; Bielsa’s unexpected arrival at the stadium to celebrate with the players.
“It’s a really beautiful moment,” Mertens says. “You see him really emotional and engaged with the players.”
“It surprised literally everybody there.” Rowe adds. “The players, the staff, nobody knew he was going to turn up. The camera crew certainly didn’t know.
“So when he walked through the door and was hugging everybody and crying, even as a non-Leeds fan it brought a tear to my eye. Things like that you can’t plan for, they just happen.”
Bielsa is a serious man, one who is meticulous to an almost obsessive degree by his own admission.
Fans have become accustomed to his stoic demeanour, something he generally maintains even during moments of immense pressure.
There are some who wonder if he is so deeply immersed in his work that he is unable to enjoy football in the same way he did in his youth, when he kicked a ball around the streets of Rosario for hours at a time.
The footage of him beaming from ear to ear, embracing Phillips and Patrick Bamford as if they were long-lost sons, provides rare evidence of the enigmatic figure’s sentimental side.
Somehow, seeing the curtain of pragmatism fall to reveal a man still receptive to the emotional power of football is the moment that puts Leeds’ achievement into perspective.
The final ten minutes contains more emotional scenes.
Hernandez cries while speaking to his wife on the phone, an image that partially mirrors the Spaniard’s distress at Brentford in 2019 after a costly defeat at the backend of the season, though this time his tears have a happier consistency.
As fans flock to Elland Road for a spontaneous party, Phillips emerges to lead the masses in song while remaining suitably distant.
The tune of choice is an ironic chorus of ‘Leeds are falling apart again’, a song wielded by rival fans throughout the season until it was exposed as false bravado.
The unbridled celebrations are a cathartic release for all involved, from Bielsa and Phillips to the flare-waving fans in the streets, and the sense of closure is artfully depicted by the documentary.
“For Leeds, the series is called Take Us Home and they’re home now,” Mertens says when asked about a possible third season.
“We feel the story is wrapped up and came out beautifully. That being said, it doesn’t mean there couldn’t be another interesting story to be told in the Premier League.”
Both seasons of Take Us Home: Leeds United are available to stream on Amazon now.