By Josh Grainger
Saturday night saw almost a thousand fans pack inside the Pavilion for the annual "end of season awards night". The occasion gave fans the chance to meet their heroes, whilst at the same time they played witness to the announcement as to who had won the end of season awards.
The main two awards; Fan's player of the season and Player's player of the season, were widely expected to be won by nineteen year old full-back, Sam Byram. Ever since making his first start in a Leeds first team shirt in the pre-season tour of Cornwall, Byram's steady performance's meant he was becoming a regular name on the team sheet for friendly matches. Byram's impressive display's saw him make his first professional start in the Capital One Cup match against Shrewsbury, in which Leeds ran out 4-0 winner's, with Byram claiming the man of the match award. By the time the first "proper" game of the season arrived, a tough test at home to division new boy's, Wolves, the realisation struck in, that this shy teenager could well be up against a one time England international, in Matt Jarvis.
Byram was named in the starting line-up, and gave an assured display in front of the Sky camera's. Byram's performance's seemed to go from strength to strength,
his first goal for the club was shortly to follow. In Leeds' cup clash with Oxford, Byram took the ball past three player's, before delightfully chipping the goalkeeper from close range. The goal not only was a candidate for the club's goal of the season, but also made it on to a shortlist of five goals up for winning the Football League goal of the season. Byram's name fast became one of the first on the teamsheet and continued to wow the Leeds fans with his solid performances.
Byram penned a four year deal with the club in January, eliminating any chance of a winter move away from Elland Road. Shortly after signing a new deal, Byram produced arguably one of his performance's of the season, when he successfully kept Gareth Bale quiet in Leeds' shock win against Premier league Tottenham. By the time last night had come around, it was almost unthinkable that Byram wouldn't pick up the player of the season awards. Despite missing the match against Brighton hours earlier due to an injury picked up in the warm-up, Byram won both fan's player and player's player of the season. It was revealed that Byram had picked up over 70% of the vote's for the award, a remarkable achievement for someone making his debut season in professional football. Whilst a premier league move may await the youngster, with Manchester City rumoured to be offering £10m for his services, the nineteen year old spoke with remarkable maturity upon picking up the awards.
Byram told the thousand or so fans "I never expected this. There's some great players at the club, and this is a real honour. I was lucky in the Wolves game at the start of the season because Leesy got injured and I've been lucky enough to keep my place." Byram also spoke of his desire to stay at the club he supported as a boy and how he hoped that he could be part of the team that took them back to the Premier League. Whilst it promises to be a long summer for Leeds fans hoping Byram will remain a Leeds player, he deserves everything that is coming his way and should he choose to accept a premier league move, he would more than deserve it.
Whilst some were predicting Byram would take a clean sweep of all the awards, this wasn't to be. Many tipped his goal against Oxford to win goal of the season, however Ross McCormack's effort against Spurs took the award. Byram was back up on the podium moments later however, when he again unsurprisingly picked up "young player of the season" award, the first time a Leeds player has won both the awards in the same season. Tom Lees won the "chairman's special award" believed to be as a way of apology for the way he was treated by Neil Warnock after his sending off in the Ipswich game, whilst injured Leigh Bromby won the "Work in the community" award.
It was a pleasing night for Leeds United, showing how their reputable academy continues to blossom, and was a somewhat pleasing end to a disappointing season. Leeds now have one final game remaining, a meaningless trip to promotion contender's Watford. Brian McDermott has certainly upped spirits around the club since taking charge, let's hope he can continue to do so over the summer and next season!