By Steve Jennings
So it was another dismal Saturday for Leeds United against lowly opposition who themselves enjoyed a day in the sunshine at our expense. If the 2-0 defeat at bottom placed Barnsley was enough to get the pulses of Leeds fans racing then the performance was nearing a hospital pass as once again Neil Warnock’s team failed to inspire another marvellous turn out by the clubs supporters. Leeds failed to create one chance on target in the 90 minutes in front of nearly 5,000 travelling Leeds fans and only our goalkeeper and a 19 year-old debutant loanee can apparently come away from the game with any credit.
And those Leeds fans vocally, and rightly in my opinion, made their feelings known to the Leeds manager and certain players at the final whistle for probably the first time en masse this season. Now I don’t like it when players are singled out, and I do feel a bit for Lee Peltier who is being asked to play out of position by his manager, but do we really expect Leeds fans to politely clap the team off after another woeful display when they have given their day off to watch their team and paid a small fortune to boot? Of course not. The majority of fans have backed Neil Warnock since he came to Leeds despite a pathetic win percentage that ranks as bad as any manager before him, but the performance at Barnsley, more than the result, have driven a lot of fans into the “Warnock out!” camp and I am not sure of many manager’s (if any) who have suffered the wrath of Leeds fans ever being able to turn that around. Worrying stuff.
The new owners are being put under pressure by the supporters on social media and website forums to provide the funds for Warnock to buy players that will add the relevant class to the team to provide a late season push into the play-off places. This is something I am sure we would all like to see but should they be placing trust in a manager that seems to promote “hit and hope” football and appears to be bringing the worst out of a decent enough collection of players, his players? If Leeds had indeed signed Chris Wood from West Brom would he be scoring first half hat-tricks in Neil Warnock’s Leeds team like he is for Leicester? I doubt it somehow because you have to create chances to do that and Leeds United are creatively frigid at the moment.
For me Leeds United need to go back to the future! When Billy Bremner became Leeds manager in October 1985 at the expense of Eddie Gray he inherited a talented young side assembled by Gray that played attractive Football but lacked any real steel through the spine. The club had little money, despite
investing a whopping £200,000 on Doncaster’s Ian Snodin, and was suffering a crippling hooligan problem reducing home crowds to circa 12,000. Bremner immediately set his stall out regarding the type of player he thought could take Leeds up the table selling off talented youngsters cheaply like Irwin, Sellars, Wright, Linighan and Phelan (all of whom went on to have decent Premier League careers) and invested in ageing journeymen like Ormsby, Rennie, Ashurst, McDonald, Aizlewood and Adams. Of the players he inherited Bremner only really rated Sheridan, Baird, Ritchie and (surprisingly) Aspin. In his first half season Leeds finished 14th, which was the same position as when Gray was sacked, having flirted dangerously with relegation to Division 3. The following year the club made the play-offs, missing out to two late goals in the final, and the FA Cup semi-final in a memorable campaign before another disappointing season in 1987-88. At the start of 1988-89 the pressure was on
Bremner to deliver. In his 2-3 seasons the club had ambled along without any real vision. Big money spent on Davison (£350,000), Williams (£250,000) and Glynn Snodin (£200,000) proved uninspiring and plenty of awful players passed through Elland Road like De Mange, Melrose, Harle, Doig, Thompson, Sinclair and Buckley. Bremner’s final forays at Leeds were to sign two players from Portsmouth in Blake and Hilaire while he retained faith in the old guard. After six games in Bremner was sacked with Leeds second bottom in Division 2.
The Leeds Board wanted Sheffield Wednesday’s Howard Wilkinson to be the new manager. They were in the top flight and had enjoyed some league and cup success in recent seasons but the Wednesday fans had inexplicably turned on “Wilko” so he agreed to talk to Leeds. Wilkinson’s strength was vision and he made demands at his interview telling United chairman Leslie Silver in no uncertain terms that money was needed if Leeds were to end their exile from the top flight. He also talked of investment in youth and Leeds need to rid the bad image created largely by the hooligan issue. The Leeds chairman bought Wilkinson’s vision and he was duly appointed manager. Wilko was a task master on the training ground and Leeds were immediately fitter and more organised with players like Baird and Davison looking yards quicker than under Bremner.The team went on a lengthy unbeaten run that took us to the top end of the table. He signed Williams from Rotherham and Whitlow from Witton but pretty much kept the same squad until the end of the season when a late surge on transfer deadline day saw big money spent on Strachan (£300,000 from Manchester United) and Fairclough (£500,000 from Tottenham) with Carl Shutt also joining in a £50,000 deal from Bristol City. At one stage the play-offs looked likely but a bad patch condemned Leeds to another season in the second Division, but, looking back, was that such a bad thing?
The summer of 1989 was memorable for many reasons. Wilkinson transformed the whole squad selling a lot of dead wood like Swan, Blake, Aizlewood, Aspin, Taylor and others generating about £2 million in the process. Even the crowd favourite, Sheridan, was sold for £650,00 as his lifestyle did not match Wilkinson’s disciplined approach. Big money was spent on Jones, Sterland, Hendrie while Beglin, Thomas and O’Donnell joined on frees. During the season Baird would also be shipped out and Chapman and Kamara brought in whilst talented youngster Gary Speed also stepped into first team recognition. A poor start, losing 5-2 at Newcastle on the first day, had the Wilko haters and Bremner apologists cooing with delight. But the team managed to mix attractive Football with grinding out results as Leeds won the league at Bournemouth on the last day and were back in the top flight. And two seasons later were crowned the First Division champions.
So what now for Leeds United in 2013, and why bring up the past? Well I think Leeds are in a similar position to when Wilko was appointed way back in 1988 and it is time for a similar hard brush to sweep out the rubbish and invest wisely. Under Ken Bates Leeds United have just been a club adopting short-term policies while patching up over the problems on the cheap. Bates promoted non-Football businesses to keep the club generating money 365 days of the year. What Bates struggled to understand – and still struggles – is that businesses want to be associated with success not mediocrity. Fans will pay good money to see their team perform as long as there is passion on the field and players
play for the shirt. A full stadium means more than gate money as we all know. Big, glossy hospitality boxes are no good when they are empty. Bates talks of his lasting legacy at Leeds, well that would be taking the club to Division 3 for three seasons and driving away 20,000 or so supporters. He failed in his promise to buy back Elland Road or Thorpe Arch for Leeds United ownership (who does own them remains a mystery) and rumours abound that Leeds were in debt before the sale to GFH Capital and may still be.
And it would appear that the sale of Leeds United has failed to inspire the stay-away fans to return to Elland Road. Maybe because Bates is still involved or is it simply that the Football on offer is awful and tickets costs very expensive, as high as most PL teams? Who knows but it is up to GFH to sort it if they want their investment in Leeds United to be mutually beneficial for all associated with the Football Club.
I will get some stick for saying this but write this season off. That doesn’t mean give up on it, just don’t throw any large amount of money at it because the better players are already signed up to clubs and only the unwanted, unfit or unhappy are available. It is time for GFH to get Bates out once-and-for-all as this will send a strong message to the world of Football. And Warnock can follow him too. They need to appoint a younger, hungrier manager that will motivate the current crop whilst also identifying targets to approach next summer. This doesn’t mean spending millions without due care and attention. Look at Swansea, they invested £1 million in Sinclair and his class and goals was a huge difference in a team otherwise short of start names but were well organised, disciplined and motivated. And they sold him two seasons later for much more than they paid for him. As punch once said to Judy: “That’s the way to do it!”
So who would I bring in as manager? I would be more interested initially in bringing in a Wilko type character as Director of Football who will oversee everything from player acquisitions to youth development. I would leave the managerial appointment to that man to make although I would lean towards a Lee Clark type, someone who can demonstrate previous success on limited to no budgets and will motivate and inspire. And I think he would jump at the chance of coming to Leeds.
In 1988 Leeds United were largely written of as yesterday’s news in the northern and southern press. A
horrible little club who, they claim, cheated their way to trophies in the past and whose fans were hell bent on destroying every town or city where their club played. Businesses did not want to be associated with the club and thousands of potential fans stayed away, preferring to shop with the missus or watch rugby instead on Saturday’s. With vision and attention to detail and money spent wisely to support, Leeds United were transformed into “ambitious Leeds” and suddenly players wanted to join the club, in some cases dropping down a Division to do so.
This can happen again. It is time for GFH to address the fans properly in a press conference (not by sending silly tweets that have no meaning) and outline their plans for the future of the club. A strong message from them would be the first welcome step in the regeneration of our once great club. And they need to make the right decisions. New hope will bring the crowds back so out with the old and in with the new!