Jessy Parker-Humphreys talks to Anouk Mertens, the executive producer of Leeds United: Take Us Home, about the club’s return to the Premier League, speaking with Marcelo Bielsa, and future episodes…
Leeds’ sixteen-year attempt to return to the Premier League fits all the hallmarks of an odyssey, when looked at through the lens of Homer’s original poem.
As their time away extended, many feared they might never make it back to where it seemed like they should be. Meanwhile, other clubs took their place as ‘pretenders’ to the honour of playing in the top division of English football, much like suitors vyed for Penelope’s hand whilst Odysseus seemed lost.
‘Take Us Home’ was therefore an appropriate title for the documentary on Leeds’ endeavours to once again reach the top flight.
For Anouk Mertens, executive producer of ‘Take Us Home’, it is a story that she got to experience first hand.
“I had no connection whatsoever with Leeds,” Mertens told The Offside Rule. “I was born and raised in Belgium. The glory days of Leeds are way before I was thinking about football.”
“I got to know the city, and the passion of the fans – the passion of the whole team. Over the past two years, I’ve learned to love the club and the city.”
That infectious love for the club has even extended to her family.
“I have two boys and they are Barcelona fans. Last weekend they said ‘we should put the television on because Leeds are playing’. I said ‘you’re Barcelona fans!’ and they said ‘forget about Barcelona, we’re Leeds fans now’.
With Leeds’ opening two fixtures both being 4-3 thrillers, it’s easy to see why Mertens’ sons might become the first of a new generation of Leeds fans.
“I think they add value to the Premier League,” says Mertens. “It’s bound to be an interesting season. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and the ambitions are very high, but for sure I already know it’s going to be interesting.”
For a while, it looked like Leeds wouldn’t make it there. The fairytale ending for the first season of ‘Take Us Home’ never materialised.
“When you start these kind of documentaries, you don’t know what is going to happen.”
“It ended in a very dramatic way, but in a way for the series, and the story we wanted to tell…everything that happened last season made it a great story.”
“I know the last episode of Season One is very painful for a lot of people to see,” Mertens continues. “But actually, it is kind of my favourite. It shows the commitment and engagement of everyone with the club. It gives a sense of hope for the future, and I thought that was very beautiful.”
It also left Mertens with a sense of unfinished business.
“It was clear from the last day that we shot in the first season [that we would make the second series],” she said.
“It’s a risk when you don’t know what’s going to happen, and if [Leeds] hadn’t been promoted, it probably wouldn’t have been an interesting story. But I think the confidence was there, and you felt the eagerness to make it happen this season.”
One of the biggest coups of the documentary was getting the opportunity to sit down with the famously intractable Marcelo Bielsa.
“To be honest, he decided what he wanted to talk about,” Mertens laughs. “I think Bielsa is brilliant but it’s very difficult to get close to him.”
“Would we have wanted more of him? Probably yes. But when he talks he can be very poetic, and I think the way the team has mixed that in with what we shot worked really well.”
There has been a rash of football documentaries recently. From Sunderland’s painful demise through the divisions to the more recent Mourinho-show at Tottenham Hotspur, the public fascination with them currently seems insatiable.
“I think it’s the inside look of how it works,” says Mertens when asked why these kinds of documentaries are proving so popular.
“Specifically for Leeds, it’s not just a typical behind the scenes. It’s an insight into the business behind football as well.”
“You get into the boardroom. You hear how difficult it is to run a club.”
“You’ll read stories in the newspaper, but unless you’ve lived it together with them, it’s completely different.”
None of these documentaries would be complete without their own celebrity voice over and Mertens was pleased they were able to persuade Russell Crowe back for the second series.
“He’s a big Leeds fan, so that obviously helps,” she says.
“We sent him a full Leeds kit, in the hope he’ll be wearing it and posting about it as well. I told him I’m really keen to see you in that outfit.”
There might yet to be more work to come for Crowe. Mertens’ crew are still embedded at the club currently.
“We are capturing all the action that’s happening now. I think it needs to be different. I think it’s a new story.
“I feel that “Take Us Home”…well they’re home now.”
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph