By Rob Atkinson
History, they say, is written by the winners. In last night’s “Match of the Day”, the BBC provided ample evidence to show that it is also rewritten by hypocritical sycophants who should know better.
The events of the afternoon had not panned out as the scriptwriters would have wished, though all looked well ten short minutes from the end of Man U’s match at West Brom, S’ralex’s last game as manager. The Plastic Champions were 5-2 ahead, and John Motson had purred, gasped and chuckled his way through 80 minutes of exhibition football, punctuated by comical home defending, and it looked very much as though another team was going to roll over meekly for the men from Salford.
Then S’ralex brought on Paul Scholes for the Ginger Minger’s own last appearance before his latest retirement. The cameras prepared to adjust to soft focus, Motson drew in another breath preparatory to more shudderingly orgasmic tributes as he was consumed by an ecstasy of highly marketable sentimentality. The stage was set for the Govan Guv’nor to stump off into the sunset, his purple-blotched features lacerated by a parody of a smile.
Then it all went wrong. West Brom struck three times in the last ten minutes, Ferguson’s smile dropped to the floor quicker than a Gareth Bale dive and the mighty Man U were holding on at the end to avoid saying goodbye in the face of a last blast from a defeated Hairdryer. 5-5 it finished, and the BBC were denied their expected valedictory stroll in the sun; the Baggies had pooped the Corporation’s party.
Maybe it was this that prompted the spite and small-minded pettiness of the montage which prefaced the Match of the Day highlights late last night. More likely though that it was always going to be yet another calculated slap in the face to the memory of a great man, a man whose boots the assembled hacks and ex-pros on the MOTD couch are not fit to lick, a true great of the game that the Establishment seem determined to pretend was never there. Ferguson was painted in admiring and rose-hued tones, to a background of his many achievements as compared to the other “managerial greats.” Bob Paisley, Brian Clough, Jock Stein, Bobby Robson, Ron Greenwood, Bill Shankly, Matt Busby, Bill Nicholson; all these legends were held up as examples of managerial excellence to be rightly lauded for their achievements and the mark they left on then game.
But no mention of the greatest of them all: Donald George Revie OBE.
This was no mere oversight. It’s been going on for years, and it’s a premeditated and vicious attempt at the excision from public memory of football’s greatest manager, a cowardly and shameful act of malice aforethought. It reflects ill on the researchers who put these things together; aren’t they aware of their history, we in the know might wonder. Don’t they have access to Google? But they know all about the Don, they know he transformed a tired old joke of a football club into the most feared and respected force in Europe; they know he did it without massive financial backing and without paying obscene wages; they know how he did it all to the dubious background of an initially apathetic support, fans who had only ever known mediocrity at best, and expected nothing else. Out of all this, Don Revie wrought a miracle – a team that respected judges of the game have described as the finest club side in English football history.
The accidental omission of Revie’s name for any TV item concerning itself with managerial greatness would be unforgivably slipshod; the act of a clueless nincompoop. But this was much, much worse than that. It was an exposition of hypocrisy underpinned by malice and the bile of fifty years’ accumulated resentment. It was a crass attempt at revisionism, a blunderingly clumsy try at pretending Don Revie never existed. It was wishful thinking in its bitterest and most destructive form, a playground insult to a giant of the game. The BBC cowards and toadies have exposed themselves as classless fools, deserving only of contempt and ridicule.
“And Leeds will go mad. And they’ve every right to go mad!” – as Barry Davies memorably put it back in the day, in more realistic times before the game turned plastic, when everybody knew who the heroes were and we weren’t fed a diet of pap and lies. And Leeds should go mad again. The city, the club, the fans – none of them should continue to lie down and accept this disgraceful treatment, this attempted erasure of an iconic figure whom we all worship as “Simply The Best.” There should be a loud outcry, a vehement protest. This is my small contribution, but the fans as a body have form for hitting back at media and establishment when they feel one of their own wronged.
In 1994, the FA handed down a mandate that all clubs should observe a minute’s silence in respect for the late Matt Busby. They did this because it’s what you do when a respected figure dies – except of course they’re not consistent. They failed to mark the death of Don Revie, a tragic and cruel end from Motor Neurone Disease. They failed even to send a representative to his funeral, although – to his eternal credit – Alex Ferguson was there, and Denis Law, as well as most of the Leeds United greats and other proper football men. But none of the hypocrites in suits from the game’s ruling authorities saw fit to get off their backsides and pay tribute. Revie was dead; let them get on with pretending he never existed. So in 1994, when they were supposed to lapse into a respectful silence, the Leeds fans at Blackburn Rovers’ ground exploded in a raucous and repeated cry of “One Don Revie! There’s only one Don Revie!!”The great and the good of the sport were scandalised. People pursed their lips and shook their heads sadly. How dare these yobboes ruin our tribute to our Chosen One? But I’m so, so glad that it happened. We should not knuckle under to the official view; we should never bow down before such blatant hypocrisy.
They’re getting wise to rebellion now. There tends to be a minute’s applause these days, lest any disrespectful mob should see fit to assert their unwanted point of view the next time some officially-beloved figure keels over. But the fans will be heard, believe me. And if the media – typified by these contemptible fools in charge of the increasingly poodle-like Match of the Day – continue so determinedly to ignore and try to obliterate the legacy of The Don, then I hope that defiant cry will be heard again, loud and proud. While ever Leeds United fans are prepared to stand up and be counted, happy to raise their arms and voices and be heard – then Don Revie will never be forgotten, whatever the wishes of the pompous suits and deluded TV types.
Don Revie, “The Don” (1927 – 1989) A true legend and a great of the game. Whatever you might think of him – and God knows, I’m no fan – just ask S’ralex.
By Rob Atkinson
Was ever another phrase coined with one intention, only to be taken up and brandished with pride to the completely opposite effect? Author David Peace - a Huddersfield Town fan - has described his book "The Damned United" as "an occult history of Leeds United." The word "history" in this connection is somewhat optimistic - the book is admittedly fictionalised, and the point of view is the imagined perspective of Brian Clough as he struggled through his 44 days in what could fairly be described as enemy territory. The book was a success, met by a measure of critical acclaim. The film it spawned was of more dubious quality, famous for the lengthy list of goofs on its Internet Movie Database page, and widely regarded as particularly one-eyed in its depiction of personalities and events, none of which bears much resemblance to actuality.
It is the tag though - that Damned United tag - which seems set fair to achieve iconic status, and not with the intended pejorative effect. With a typical sense of gallows humour, devotees of the Elland Road club have taken the label and made of it a badge of honour, waving it under the nose of the millions who despise Leeds United as a symbol of inverted defiance. We Are The Damned United, they say - do your worst. The tiresome recycling of allegations about Don Revie, the endless litany of "Dirty Leeds" myths and the omnipresent attitude that the West Yorkshire club exemplify all that is shady about football, all of this is held up to ridicule as those who love the club glory in the new name. Sod the lot of you. We are Dirty Leeds, The Damned United, and we are proud. It's a unifying message, the foundations of a siege complex that can rally support behind any popularly-hated institution. It's an assertion of individuality, of a refusal to conform to the cosy standards beloved of media and Establishment. It takes gritty character to be a Leeds fan in the face of such universal hatred, and those of sufficient character know they're part of something unique and special. We Are The Damned United.
It's also had the welcome effect of reclaiming a measure of ownership and identification with that word "United". It's highly doubtful that Town fan Peace could have foreseen or desired that effect, but there it undoubtedly is. For decades, the press, the football establishment in the UK and elsewhere - and of course Man U themselves - have been unrelenting in their efforts to corner the term "United" exclusively for the Salford-based franchise. It's been an important marketing tool, a vital part of the attempt to sell the myth of The Biggest Club In The World™ (Copyright © The Gutter Press since the late 50's) to children of all ages from Devon to Singapore. It's seeped into the public consciousness like the subliminally insidious selling technique it is, and of course the tat-consuming, replica-shirt-buying, Sky-subscribing suckers have fallen for it in their millions. But now there is The Damned United, inextricably linked with Dirty Leeds, and suddenly that formerly football-related suffix isn't quite so exclusively Man U any more.
The contrasting psyches of the Leeds United and Man U support is an apt illustration of how the two sets of fans have embraced such polar-opposites in terms of club and image. The Man U fans desperately want that monopoly of terminology, they need to believe the press-powered fairy-tale that there's "only one United". The motivation for being identified with what they are always being told is the "biggest and best" has a Freudian compulsion at the back of it, a sense that there is an inadequacy which yearns to be compensated for, and insecurity which needs bolstering. There are people like that everywhere, victims of society, and so you find Man U fans all over the place, as common and undiscriminating as flies. Leeds fans, on the other hand, tend to support their team - where the connection isn't simply local and tribal - for reasons of perverse pride. It's a manifestation of defiance and a refusal to be categorised as a commercial target group. The pride is palpable, and the negative image of the club feeds this. Sod you lot. We Are The Damned United. The emergence of such a potentially iconic label was not good news for Man U-inclined inhabitants of armchairs everywhere, and again, this is not an effect the author would have counted as one of his aims in producing his work.
Thanks, Mr Peace. You could hardly have aided our cause any more effectively, and Dirty Leeds have gained from the exposure in popular exposure. The book may have been an attempted exposition of Clough's state of mind as that complex character negotiated his time in purgatory; the film may have been an amusing romp through the mythical hinterland that borders but rarely intrudes on the territory of actual fact. But the label will probably out-live the pair of them, and will
flutter bravely and proudly in the vanguard of the Leeds United juggernaut as it - eventually - thunders its way back to The Top.
By Rob Atkinson
There appears to be some cloak-and-dagger stuff going on down at Elland Road. Somewhat against the spirit of transparency and openness that was trumpeted at the time of the GFHC takeover of the club, dealings are going on behind the scenes and little detail is available about the personalities concerned, save that - in a nod to the rabid dislike of the support for outgoing Chairman Ken Bates - it's certainly NOT the next President of the club, who will continue to hold zero shares.
GFHC have now sold 13.3% of the LUFC Holdings Company, reducing their stake
to 86.7%. Further potential "strategic investors" are being assessed with a view to the sale of further chunks of the company. It is still not clear whether GFHC intend to retain a controlling stake, but the aim of attracting outside money into the club is clear.
Supporters will, of course, be keenly interested in such machinations, which are likely to have a decisive effect on the ability of Leeds United to operate in the transfer market this summer. Another issue which was due to be decided today is that of the location of the Leeds "Super Casino", which the club hope will form the centrepiece of a redeveloped West Stand, to be constructed around the swanky new gambling venue. This in itself could form significant new revenue streams for a club which has long been looking at diversifying its operations and getting more use out of a stadium which stands largely idle other than on 20+ match-days per year.
With all these financial matters seemingly up in the air, Leeds fans will be hoping against hope that the situation clarifies itself in good time for major surgery on the squad as preparations continue for a realistic promotion challenge next time around. While uncertainty continues over the composition of the board, and who owns what, fans have that uncomfortable feeling of being marginalised - of having no knowledge of or input to the running of the club. For a group of people expected to stump up large amounts of money each match-day, and no guarantee of enjoying themselves, or even being spared actual suffering, this seems a casual way to be treated by an institution that figures so large in their lives.
Perhaps in the coming days and weeks, maybe in the wake of the casino decision, the facts about what's going on at Leeds United will after all be shared as far as possible with the people who shell out their hard-earned. That seems only fair, if we really are to be Marching On Together.
By Rob Atkinson
Everywhere you look within the Leeds United blogosphere at the moment, people are gnashing their teeth, tearing their hair, rending their clothes and exhibiting other biblical signs of anguish and angst – and all over one slip of a lad. Sam Byram was an unknown to 99% of the support twelve short months ago. Then he had a dream pre-season, started off the Championship campaign in the first team and stayed there, producing displays of a maturity and confidence far in excess of his tender years.
Naturally, being Leeds, this seeming success story is a double-edged sword. The presence of a boy wonder in the first team (otherwise known in LS11 as “the shop window”) more usually produces feelings of rampant insecurity among the Leeds faithful, rather than the warm glow that should accompany the sight of a youthful prodigy in the famous white shirt. We know our place in today’s scheme of things, and it is very much that of “feeder club”. Each successive hero has played his way into our hearts, prospered briefly in front of our adoring eyes and then departed for pastures greener, or more likely Canary yellow, with no sign of any adequate replacement. It’s happened with Beckford, Howson, Snoddy, Becchio and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. Local hero status is no protection from the Lure of Elsewhere. Howson supposedly had Leeds tattooed on his heart, but it seems to have been erased easily enough.
Sam Byram is quite possibly the jewel in the crown of the Leeds Academy production line. He’s that good. It’s natural then that worries over his short-term future should be particularly unwelcome at a time when a new manager is supposed to be building for the club’s re-admission to the Promised Land of the Premier League. But really – should we be worrying at all?
We need to take a long, hard look at what is necessary to get us out of this division in the desired, upwards, direction. That list will include strikers who know where the goal is and are proficient at sticking the ball therein; midfielders and wingers according to the prescription of Dr. McDermott, who has seen this treatment work wonders at Reading; tough ball winners who are preferably not in the superannuated class, and a solid defence who will be mean enough at the back to make sure that increased productivity up front results in a net force taking us a lot higher up the league. What we probably don’t actually need, and won’t until it’s time to start plotting our approach to the top flight, is a potentially world-class performer on the right flank. It’s superfluous to our current requirements; we’re casting pearls before swine.
It would be nice, of course, if Sam did stick around. It might even be better for the lad himself – too many fledgling superstars have gone up a level and struggled to stay afloat, look at Fabian Delph. He’s only now beginning to show glimmers of the player that looked likely to be evolving under the guidance of Gary McAllister. Byram might well benefit from another season at least learning his trade at a good club, under the tuition of Brian and Gibbo. The possibility of a sale with loan-back has been mooted, but the most likely club to offer such a deal, Man City, have just had a change at the top, so that dog may not bark.
Looking at things realistically though – if there WAS an offer of £10 million for the youthful and richly promising Sam, and if that £10 million were to be made available to the Gaffer for the construction of a team that would challenge strongly next season – might not that be a good option for Leeds? It’s the kind of money that would go a fair way towards the three, possibly four quality additions we need to propel us into the very top echelons of the Championship. Once promoted, it’s a different ball game, but in the here and now the priority is actually getting there, and a lavishly-gifted Byram in a team consisting otherwise mainly of uninspiring plodders may not be enough to realise the dream.
A lot will depend on the attitude of the lad himself, and historically no sentimental feelings of attachment to the club that has nurtured their talent have persuaded previous uncut diamonds to hang around and be polished at Elland Road. So if Sam wanted to go to a Premier League club, would we, could we, SHOULD we, stand in his way? My view is that you don’t sacrifice a lad’s ambition and desire to mix it with the best, on the altar of narrow club interests – such a policy is liable to blow up in your face, leaving you with a disaffected and depreciating asset on your hands. No, if Byram wanted out, we’d be better off gritting our teeth, securing the very best deal for Leeds United – and don’t forget that sell-on clause, GFHC! – and getting on with reinvesting the loot in a team that will do the job at this level. We can leave worries about how we cope in the Premier League for such time as it’s a live issue, rather than the distant prospect it is now.
We need to cast off that “Feeder club” image as the mortally humiliating insult it is. We Are Leeds, after all. But in order for that to happen, we may need to embrace the unwelcome label one last time, and speculate to accumulate. If the departure of Sam provides the funds to finish the job, then that sad loss will turn out to have been a worthy sacrifice. The stubborn desire to keep a luxury we can’t afford, and frankly don’t really need in our current situation, could turn out to be the ultimate example of short-termism, to the detriment of our longer-term prospects of life at the top.
By Rob Atkinson
The Swindon-born former Reading and Leicester defender has not been an outstanding success at Bolton Wanderers, his last start for them being against Huddersfield on December 8, when he injured a thigh and has managed only one substitute appearance since. His time at Leicester City was hardly wonderful either, and Mills was a loan target for former United boss Neil Warnock early in his Elland Road tenure. That failed to happen, and a rumoured £2m fee saw the defender link up with Bolton – but it seems likely his time there is now up, with an offer in the region of £1m being thought sufficient to secure his services.
The player himself – according to the familiar “sources close to…” – is keen on the chance to renew his working relationship with his old Reading boss Brian McDermott. Central defence is on the list of positions needing to be strengthened at Elland Road, and it may just be that the Old Pals’ Act could secure a reliable performer for United. This optimistic assessment is certainly not based on recent form, but there have been many instances down the years of players in the doldrums being reinvigorated by a reunion with a former mentor. McDermott’s success at the Madejski throws up a few names, some still at Reading, some that have since moved on – that could be identified as players who would relish another crack of the whip under an old boss at a club like Leeds – enough of a pull in its own right.
Mills has certainly waxed lyrical about his past service under McDermott and assistant Nigel Gibbs. “My first few months at Reading didn’t pan out as the move I expected and wanted, but that all changed when Brian got the job and Gibbo became assistant manager.” the ex-Royal has been quoted as saying. “They gave me a new lease of life, and the opportunity and coaching they gave me has honestly made me the player I am now.” As fulsome tributes go, this is very much in “come and get me plea” territory, and it has been suggested that Mills is willing to reject overtures from elsewhere in favour of a switch to LS11.
My own view is that, at only 26, Mills has many miles left on the clock, and the class he has undoubtedly displayed in the past will not have deserted him permanently. A happy player is more likely to be a top-performing player, and the fruitful coaching relationship between Brian, Gibbo and Matt at their former club seems to suggest that its a scenario which could unfold again, to the satisfaction of all parties.
Whether the powers that be are prepared to stump up £1million is of course another matter, and wages are always an issue as well. But there is some pedigree here, and the chance to build on some good history too. So I feel there may just be some legs in this rumour, and it’s a move I would love to see happen. ”Lees and Mills” could well be the central defensive partnership on everybody’s lips in the Championship next season.
By Steve Jennings
So, as The Undertones once sang, “Here Comes The Summer” with Leeds United’s fixtures complete for 2012/13 and all fans heading off to do whatever they do in the summer months ready for a fresh assault on the Championship come August. Brian McDermott has already headed out to take a break as will most of the current playing squad while owners, GFH Capital, are apparently busy looking for appropriate investment to bring much needed funds into the club so they may make money available for the necessary transfers to make the Leeds squad strong enough to battle for honours in the next 12 or so months. With a respectable last five games under McDermott and the team dropping the awful “hoofball” for a passing game most Leeds fans will go into the Cricket season with some positivity while others will continue to speculate whether the owners have the contacts to bring in the necessary wedge or have the ability to run a club the size of Leeds United. I suppose we will have to see if they can, but is it realistic to expect millions to be pumped into Leeds United in one close season? It is true that modern Football dictates that money is key to bringing success. Not a big statement that, bit obvious actually, but are Leeds fans being a little premature expecting wealth to make its way to LS11? I mean has Leeds United ever been a rich club? A truly rich club? Even in the so-called glory years Leeds United seemed to be operating on modest budgets compared to their competitors.
Lest we forget that Leeds United came into existence in 1919 when the city’s previous Football club were forced to disband after financial regularities were brought to light, specifically the alleged illegal payment to players during the World War. Leeds City FC were also struggling to attract the crowds to Elland Road despite the arrival of Herbert Chapman, who would later win three consecutive top flights championships with both Huddersfield Town and Arsenal. Chapman declared about Leeds in 1914; "This city is built to support top-flight football"
But in reality Leeds was, and some would say still is, a rugby city and the early life of Leeds United was modest and played out primarily in the second tier of English Football with a few flirtations with the top flight.
There was a potential disaster for the club as, during the early hours of Tuesday 18 September 1956, a fire gutted the West Stand and scorched large sections of the pitch. The blaze consumed the entire structure, including offices, kit, club records, physiotherapy equipment, dressing rooms, directors' rooms, the press box and the generators for the floodlighting system. The total damage was estimated to be £100,000 and the club's insurance cover was inadequate and the 2,500-seater stand could not be salvaged. The directors decided to launch a public appeal to build a new stand with assistance from Leeds
City Council which raised £60,000 and a £180,000 West Stand was opened at the start of the following season.
There had also been some hope on the field as the club had unearthed a genuine giant of the game via youth development, a genial Welshman from near Swansea called John Charles, who was a big talent at both centre-half and up front. “Big John”, as he was affectionately known, had been the centre of the team since making his debut in 1948 scoring 150 goals in 297 appearances. Charles was ambitious and unsure of Leeds United’s long term credentials so, with all the Italian giants watching his progress, he moved on to play for Juventus for a world record British transfer of £65,000 in August 1957. No club could resist that sort of money.
But the Leeds team sank into decline without Big John and following his departure were languishing near the foot of the second division when the club appointed a new Player Manager after Chairman Harry Reynolds famously wrote the young employee a glowing reference for a similar job at AFC Bournemouth and then decided to hire him at Leeds instead. This was 1961 and the man was Don Revie, and this would change Leeds history forever.
Revie realised early the hugeness of the task as Leeds were not the biggest side in Yorkshire. In fact, if you take attendances into consideration, they were only the fifth biggest sports club in Leeds with Leeds, Hunslet and Batley Rugby League Club’s and Yorkshire County Cricket Club all enjoying higher averages gates than Leeds United. Revie’s first two home games saw an aggregate attendance of 20,000 or so. And there was no money for players so Revie turned to the crop of exciting youngsters available to him and gave chances to the likes of Sprake, Bremner, Cooper, Reaney, Madeley, Lorimer and Hunter to join stalwart Jack Charlton in the side. Revie picked up two bargains in Bobby Collins, whose career looked almost over when he came in from Everton, and young Irishman John Giles who had struggled to hold down a place in the Manchester United side even after their tragedy in Munich.
Revie also bought Charles back for a second stint at Leeds which was an emotional and PR success but financial disaster. Leeds simply could not afford him and a huge increase in ticket prices saw Elland Road practically empty for home games so Revie cut his losses and Charles returned to Italy, this time with Roma.
Revie built a team to take on the best in Europe but rarely did he have cash to splash. He did make some big transfers in his time, notably a six-figure fee for Allan Clarke and was also able to sign Mick Jones and Trevor Cherry for sizeable fees too but really had to plunder local Yorkshire clubs for the like of Peacock (Middlesbrough), O’Grady (Huddersfield) and Weston (Rotherham). He sought good fortune in the lower Scottish leagues as he unearthed Jim Storrie (Airdrie) and later gems like Joe Jordan (Morton) and Gordon McQueen (Partick Thistle) to join the growing number of home grown talent.
Revie was often frustrated with lack of money at Leeds. He was one of the first to identify that squads needed to be bigger with Leeds playing around 60 games per season and missing out on trophies in finals and league titles by odd points. In 1966 he wanted to sign Blackpool’s Alan Ball and agreed fee with club and terms with player. His theory was playing Bremner and Giles in central midfield for 60 games each would bring obvious fatigue but adding Ball meant he could play the three of them 40 games each retaining some freshness. The Board said “no” to the big transfer fee and added wages which they deemed unnecessary. And it has been suggested that Asa Hartford’s “hole in the heart” issues were a convenient excuse for the Leeds Board to veto that move too. Revie often missed out on transfer targets.
And Revie himself agreed twice to leave Leeds for other clubs as Everton (1970) and Birmingham City (1973) both tempted him with wages Leeds could only dream of before obstacles scuppered the moves. In the case of Birmingham there was a clause that a Manager could only join a club for same wages as previously so Revie stayed put for that reason only and Leeds won the league in 1974 instead.
Revie left soon after this league title win for the England job. Leeds had just revamped the West Stand and appointed Brian Clough to replace the Don! Leeds United would end up paying for both these “investments” for many years to come.
Post Revie Leeds were in the doldrums heading down the league and rarely in the hunt for trophies. And the Whites became a selling club as both Jordan (£350,000) and McQueen (£440,000) headed to Old Trafford in quick succession to play for what was then a very average Manchester United side as Leeds simply could not resist such potential income anymore. The first bout of “Fantasy Football” hit the English game in the late 70’s and early 80’s despite the country being in recession. Million pound players were springing up everywhere and Leeds made money available to new Manager Allan Clarke, who invested in Peter Barnes (£930,000), Kenny Burns (£400,000) and the returning Frank Gray (£500,000), but with little positive impact as Leeds headed into the second division for the first time since 1964. This to a backdrop of hooliganism and falling attendances at Elland Road. Leeds sacked Clarke after relegation and appointed Eddie Gray as Player Manager. Gray admitted years later in his book that he only got the job because of money issues. Gray was on a player salary of £30,000 and his new joint wage was £35,000 whereas a new man coming in would command another £30,000 or even more.
Having spent a couple of seasons misfiring in Division 2 Gray also adopted faith in youth and replaced the expensively assembled relegation team with promising youngsters from the club’s youth set up like Sellars, Wright, Sheridan, Irwin, Aspin and Phelan while investing wisely in Linighan (£200,000) and Ian Snodin (also £200,000).
The team was talented but maybe a little lightweight and the fans and Board were demanding a return to the top flight so Gray went after a disappointing start to 1985/86 replaced by Bremner. There was some success after a near relegation that same season. Bremner took Leeds to the Play-Off Final and FA Cup semi’s in 1986/87 but was forced to sell star man Snodin to Everton for £840,000 and was given some of this money to fund his own team of journeymen. But the following season was also disappointing and club legend Bremner was the third ex-player to be sacked as Leeds Manager.
Then in came an outsider, Howard Wilkinson from Sheffield Wednesday. Now much is said of Wilkinson’s financial demands when he arrived at Leeds and it is true to say he spent a few quid. However he also managed to deal magnificently selling off some very average players like Hilaire, Swan, Taylor, Aspin, Blake and Williams for fees between £200,000 and £300,000, as well as trading the two quality players he inherited in Sheridan (£650,000) and Baird (£550,000) to fund the arrival of Strachan, Fairclough, Sterland, Hendrie, Jones, Shutt, Chapman, McCleland and Kamara as he built a team to win the second division and compete in the top-flight.
So when you take in to consideration the total in’s and out’s the deficit for Wilko was about £1.1 million so you could hardly say this promotion success was due to bank rolling by the Leeds Board, it was clever trading of clearing out the old to bring in the new.
Wilkinson lead Leeds to the title, the last champions of the old format and possibly the last team of honest journeymen to win the league before the cash became king? His relationship with money was erratic as he was often let down by his chairmen but sometimes wasted the money he was given. In the summer of 1992 Leeds were reigning champions and Wilko bought Eric Cantona, David Rocastle, and the returning Scott Sellars for a combined £3.75 million – big money for the day. Despite being good players the latter two would hardly feature before heading out in cut price deals and Cantona’s departure remains folklore for the wrong reasons (if you are a Leeds fan) as he was sold off far too cheaply. Some of Wilko’s bigger purchases are some of the worst in the club’s history – Sharpe and Brolin (£4.5 million each), Palmer (£2.9 million) – but he did have player’s sold behind his back like Batty’s shock departure to Blackburn for £2.75 million in 1994.
Wilkinson was often forced to recruit from the bargain bins with limited success as Pemberton had one good season, Radebe became a club legend (and turned down a £10 million move to Old Trafford) and Beesley was shocking. The names Beeney, Strandli, Kerslake, Masinga and Worthington spring to mind too.
But Wilkinson was always gracious and supportive of his chairman’s business decisions often saying: “The money men make the money decisions and I pick the team!”
Wilkinson had a 10-year plan and this included Leeds United producing a team of home grown talent and the Thorpe Arch project. It was as though the great man knew Leeds would never be able to compete for the big signings so best produce and nurture from within to avoid big transfer fees. It was arguably Wilko’s finest legacy as players like Kewell, Smith, McPhail, Woodgate and Harte helped herald a new dawn for the club and Leeds looked champions elect. But his dream only started to bear fruition after he was sacked and it was George Graham and David O’Leary who enjoyed most success from Wilkinson’s vision. Once again it looked like youth would be the future of the club
After Wilkinson came the boom and bust of Peter Ridsdale spending money that we simply did not have and I have said enough about that over the years. Then the fire sale of Gerald Krasner before we had the eight depressing years of Ken Bates when the club sunk to its lowest ebb ever and accepting mediocrity became the new ambition. And many fell for that one! In Bates years home grown players like Carson, Lennon, Kilgallon, Walton, Howson and Delph followed Robinson, Milner, Smith & Harte out the door and were sold for significant profit. It has been alleged that investment in the Academy has been lacking but in this time Howson, Lees and Byram have been introduced to the 1st team and done well so you decide.
So what is the point of this article? Is there a meaningful message from which to draw conclusions or for GFH to gain inspiration? Err no, actually, it is just an observation with some supporting evidence that Leeds United has never apparently been a rich club, we have relied heavily on youth investment and have been fortunate to retain fabulous global support. Yes we have had times in our history when the club performed well in the highest league, the ground has been consistently full and we have sold players for big money but the instability that often plagued the club has lead to Leeds United having incredible highs and lows throughout our potted history.
After 8 years of the Ken Bates building a club “brick by brick” mentality I, like pretty much every Leeds fan, am now impatient and wants the summer to prompt much change. There are players in the current squad that must never wear our white shirt again and we need new players coming in, and players of quality not ones that are signed because they are free or desperate and at the end of their career. We have seen that it doesn’t take much to gain promotion from this league and 2-3 marquee signings with a few hard working battlers will lift the crowd and enhance the squad and I have every confidence that McDermott can identify the players needed. And I believe the owners are not lost when it comes to understanding the prize on offer should they take Leeds back to the promised land of Premier League Football. I will remain very confident going into the Ashes summer.
But I am going to retain a sense of realism. I don’t think our season depends on how much money GFH can yield. This is a time for creating a longer term platform for future success, one eye on today and another on tomorrow. The Academy has produced 1-2 players of genuine ability in recent years and it is important the youth system continues to grow for the long term future of the club. As with Revie, Gray & O’Leary the youth can be Leeds United’s saviour not a trading tool for greedy chairman to fund a Monaco lifestyle.
I am not expecting millions to be pumped into Leeds United this summer nor will I start to bemoan the owners or Manager if not. This can still be a successful season if the right decisions are made and an appropriate plan designed, practiced and upheld. With that will come success on the field and the appropriate rewards, something that seemed lost on Ken Bates and his non-Football income philosophies. Then, and maybe then, Leeds United can work their way to being a rich club!
Marching on together!
By Rob Atkinson
The nerves were jangling for this one, alright. As the 1980’s ended – Leeds United’s previous decade in the wilderness before this one – our new man at the helm, Howard Wilkinson, looked set fair to steer us back to the Promised Land. Lavishly backed with transfer funds, for that era anyway, Sergeant Wilko had assembled a formidable 2nd Division squad who for much of the 89-90 season had stood proudly at the top of the table, ten points clear at one stage. But gradually poor form and the efforts of others had reeled us in. Twelve days before the Leicester game, United had appeared to strike a decisive blow, battering closest rivals Sheffield United 4-0 at Elland Road. But any hope that promotion could be clinched early was dashed over the next two fixtures, a draw at Brighton where the lead was squandered to sacrifice two points, and then a home defeat to a relegation-threatened Barnsley who even then had the ability to put one over on us with an inferior team.
So as Leicester breezed into town for our last home fixture, no pressure on them as they bobbed about serenely in mid-table, Leeds just had to win. A victory could possibly clinch promotion; anything else and we would be relying on others to give us that final leg-up – not an attractive prospect. The atmosphere at Elland Road that day was something to behold as 32597 packed the stands and terraces, the Kop a seething mass of bodies, a solid wall of sound. If the weight of support counted for anything, then it seemed Leicester might just as well turn around and go home – but to their eternal credit they fought the good fight and played their part in a memorable afternoon.
It all started well.Leeds pressed hard, this had been their preferred approach all season long. No opponent was allowed the luxury of untroubled possession as Leeds snapped at ankles and harried the enemy, hungry for the ball and well able to use it productively. At their best, United had proved a match for any team in the Division; as ever though it was the off days that had let us down. On this particular occasion, attacking the Kop End in the first half, the forward momentum seemed irresistible. Before long, the overlapping Mel Sterland fastened on to a ball at the right corner of the penalty area and fired low and hard into the net to open the scoring. The relief was as evident as the joy around the packed stadium; surely now United would go on to consolidate their advantage and seal the promotion we’d wanted for so long.
It was not to be. Despite further pressure, Leeds failed to make another breakthrough before half-time and Leicester – relaxed and pressure-free – were looking more and more ominously like potential party-poopers. These fears solidified in the second half as the away side pressed an increasingly nervous Leeds back, and eventually – inevitably – they drew level. The blow when it came was struck by a rumoured transfer target for Leeds, promising young Scot Gary McAllister. He proved that he packed some punch by belting a fine shot past veteran Mervyn Day to shock the Kop rigid and momentarily silence Elland Road. Worse was so nearly to follow as McAllister almost did it again, another fine shot coming within an ace of giving Leicester the lead, something which would doubtless have produced the unedifying spectacle of grown men crying in their thousands. It may well be that McAllister sealed his move to Leeds with this performance and those two efforts, but I could have seen him far enough from LS11 that day. Leeds were rocking, looking at each other, scratching heads and clenching fists in the time-honoured “come on, let’s bloody sort this out” gesture. Slowly, by sheer force of will, the lads in White regained the initiative and it looked at least as though the danger of further damage was receding. The football was still nerve-shredding stuff, all urgency and little fluency, a desperate battle to eke out the extra two points that would make promotion so much more likely.
Time was ebbing away fast now, as Leeds hurled themselves time and again into the defensive barrier of red Leicester away shirts. Panic was setting in, the biggest enemy of constructive football. It was looking like a draw, which would not be enough. Then, a throw halfway inside the Leicester half in front of the West Stand, under the eyes of a bleakly worried Wilko. Sterland gathered himself and hurled a massively long throw deep into the away penalty area, only for it to be headed out
from around the near post. McAllister attempted to complete the clearance with an overhead effort to get rid, but the ball hit Gordon Strachan to bounce back into the box. And there was Gary Speed to lay that ball back instantly to the still-lurking Strachan who simply lashed it, left-footed, into the net. The ball had gone in like a bullet; Strachan – too tired to control it and try to work a yard of space to dink one of those cute little far-post crosses as he might normally – settled instead for catching the ball right on the sweet spot and it arrowed home to a positive explosion of noise from all around Elland Road.
It was one of those occasions when several things seem to happen at once. The crowd behind the goal at the South Stand end seemed to boil with passion and relief, a maelstrom of delighted celebration which was echoed across the whole stadium. Strachan himself ran to the byline, face contorted, weary limbs pumping in triumphant exultation as he took the plaudits of the faithful. A lone copper is visible on the TV footage between Strach and the cavorting hordes, a grin on his face as he moves to quell any ambitious pitch-invaders. In the commentary box, John Helm unwittingly propelled himself into immortality, not for the last time that afternoon. “Have you ever seen a better goal?” he demanded. “And have you ever seen one better timed?” It was a good question, and right then, right there, I doubt you’d have found a Leeds fan to answer “yes” to either part of it. The rest was a blur; Leeds held out, and we had won – and seemingly gained promotion. Rumours were flying around that Newcastle had failed to win, sending us up. But John Helm was at it again, more iconic words: “Is that confirmed…?” When the confirmation arrived, it was of a late Toon win; we still had it all to do at Bournemouth the following week. But Strachan’s late cracker had kept us in a race that we were ultimately destined to win.
My final memory of that day is of walking down off the Kop and onto the pitch as the masses there were starting to disperse. We crossed the sacred turf from goal-line to goal-line, eventually exiting the ground into Elland Road at the south-west corner, where the Jumbotron big screen now stands. I can still remember the heady scent of stud-holed mud and trodden turf, my head was still buzzing as I walked over the spot where wee Gordon had made that perfect half-volley contact to send us all into delirium. It had been an atmosphere the like of which I have rarely seen before or since, only the mayhem at Bramall Lane when Gayle scored that own-goal title-clincher coming anywhere near, or maybe that ankle-breaking semi-riot of a celebration when Dave Batty broke his long goal drought against Man City in 1991.
For the sheer relief of it however – the absolute nerve-shredding, tension-breaking release of it – this was definitely THE one. Without Strachan’s sublime strike, we could well have missed out on automatic promotion, and we all know only too well that there’s a law against us succeeding in the play-offs. Gordon’s Golden Goal had kept the dream alive and made possible all that followed up to the League Championship triumph two years later. Make no mistake – it was THAT important. Thank you, wee man.
Next: Memory Match No. 11: Nottingham Forest 0, Leeds United 4.
The first fixture after the tragic death of United Legend Gary Speed with club and supporters united in their determination to honour the great man’s memory in the best possible way. Both delivered on a night when the emotion of grief and loss were channeled into a force too powerful for Forest to resist. The planned tribute of 11 minutes chanting from the 11th minute in honour of Speedo’s famous No. 11 United shirt was only interrupted by a great opening goal, and Leeds - both on and off the pitch -took it on from there.
By Rob Atkinson
Rumours are circulating - based, it must be said on an inconclusive exchange of tweets between Ross McCormack and his erstwhile Argentinean strike colleague - that this summer's transfer window might see a return to Elland Road of prodigal son Luciano Becchio. That would well and truly buck the recent trend whereby top-performing players have been queuing up for the express service from Leeds to Norwich, without passing Go, and collecting
considerably more than £200. But Norwich's monopoly of incoming transfer activity has not been total; we did manage to lever Steve Morison out of them as small change in the Becchio deal. Hmmmm, that went well, didn't it. So could things be about to get better and leave us feeling a bit less humiliated regarding this smaller but cheeky club Norwich City?
If that did prove to be the case, and we were to make a start - in a small way at first - on plundering Carrow Road, would we really want to recapture our admittedly prolific (for us, anyway) Argie? The fact is, he hasn't been pulling up any trees for the Canaries, although his opportunities have been limited there. Maybe he'd have gained some experience and aptitude in the short playing time he's had in the Premier League, and perhaps that would lead to a sharper and more lethal Luci' at Championship level? But perhaps not, too. Maybe - on the other hand - his confidence would be shot, and we'd have bought ourselves another pup. It's something that Brian McD would have to scratch his bald pate over, and think very carefully about.
My own opinion, for what it's worth, is that - if Norwich are suddenly willing to start doing business with us instead of just breezing into Thorp Arch and nicking off with whoever they fancy from our playing staff, then we should shop at the luxury end of the market. We should look at someone who would make a real difference, someone who we've sorely missed and never replaced. We should tug our forelocks beseechingly and ask them if, pretty please, we could have Rob Snodgrass back?
Our case would be strengthened of course if Norwich would just do the decent thing and get relegated. Sadly, that appears unlikely as things stand, but it would certainly give Mr Snodgrass ample cause to consider whether his move to East Anglia was quite such a good idea as it seemed at the time. Perhaps he would feel the pangs of homesickness gnawing away at him. Perhaps he would realise that he's never had quite the same buzz playing in front of the honest bumpkins of
Norwich - admirable chaps of course, but not your genuine football fanatics as found in the environs of LS11. Maybe Rob would decide he was ready to return to Leeds United.
There is also, of course, the oft-rumoured "buy-back clause", although I've never seen much confirmation of this, nor yet any explanation of how it might work in practice. It strikes me that transfers are conducted almost entirely on what all parties want at the particular time they're happening, rather than being dictated by some aging piece of paper tucked away in a safe somewhere. Rob Snodgrass would have to want to come back, regardless of contractual clauses, otherwise all bets would be off. But just maybe he would fancy it, above another season of relegation struggle at Carrow Road, for instance. It's enticingly tempting to think perhaps he would. After all, plenty has changed down at Elland Road.
It would more than likely all come down to money, of which wages would be a major factor. Snoddy is one of Norwich City's stand-out performers this season - much more so than Becchio, Johnson, even Howson. TV commentators have purred over him, as if to emphasise to us poor Leeds fans that here was a luxury commodity we could only dream of ever seeing in the famous white-with-fat-blue-stripes shirt again. But if you don't ask, you don't get.
If Leeds United do happen to be in the market for an ex-Leeds and current Norwich player - then I hope today's rumour about Becchio is merely a smokescreen, cunningly raised to disguise the real business that's proposed. I'd certainly welcome Snoddy back to Elland Road with open arms. To be honest, I'm not that bothered about any of our other former favourites - maybe Howson at a push. Oh, and Beckford from Leicester might be nice. But Snods is the jewel in the crown of thorns that is our recently-lost trail of prize assets. If we're to regain just one ex-hero, please let it be him.