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Blog: Leeds need taking seriously again

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By Daz Pearce

Thursday 23 December 2010

For more than thirty years, Leeds United have been a club that has not exactly enjoyed 'second club' status amongst large swathes of football supporters. The origins of this go back to their immensely successful side of the 1970's. During Don Revie's time at Elland Road, he put together a team that stayed largely unchanged for a decade, and combined some enterprising, purposeful football with aggression and a real team ethic. Many fans of other clubs and neutrals alike saw Revie as a man who did not engage with the spirit of the game, and his side as one of gamesmanship and cynicism. Their narrow misses of major honours, which were just as frequent as the successes, were thus seen by many as a form of poetic justice.

This of course was the basis on which Brian Clough made his famous address to the Leeds players at the start of his ill-fated stint as Revie's successor in 1974, “Well, I might as well tell you now. You lot may all be internationals and have won all the domestic honours there are to win under Don Revie. But as far as I'm concerned, the first thing you can do for me is to chuck all your medals and all your caps and all your pots and all your pans into the biggest f***ing dustbin you can find, because you've never won any of them fairly. You've done it all by bloody cheating.” Given his prejudice against the set of professionals he had inherited, you could make a good case that Clough lasted about 43 days more than he should have done.

However, whatever the rights and wrongs of the decision of the original Special One to take the job in the first place, his view of that successful side became conventional wisdom among all bar the Elland Road faithful. Eddie Gray, a skillful left-sided ball-player, was the one exception largely exempt from the tag but the chant of 'dirty Leeds' can still be heard at football grounds today. Forget the League titles, the Fairs Cup Win and the misfortune of the 1975 European Cup final and ignore the fact that Leeds' 7-0 demolition of Southampton in March 1972 was one of the most clinical displays of pure football seen on these shores up to that point. Any accreditation of their skill and endeavour is through gnashed teeth and their physicality and cynicism are stated above all else when remembering Revie's team.

Leeds fans Rob Bagchi and Paul Rogerson attempted to drop their white shirts at the door when re-visiting the subject more than three decades later. Their book The Unforgiven stops well short of re-creating Norman Hunter as Mother Theresa, but attempts to redress the balance by recalling the great performances, great results, the stylish football played in Revie's later years at Elland Road, and to touch on the anti-Leeds feeling cultivated within football as a result of the (not wholly unqualified, even by their admission) labels placed upon their greatest ever side. As they descended into the third tier of English football, the audible lack of sympathy that accompanied their plight on the way down was characterised by a chorus of schadenfreude and black humour. Part of this was due to the events of more recent times, but a great deal of antipathy towards the club stems from events well before the births of many who practice it.

Of course, this was not the first time that Leeds had declined alarmingly as a club in a short space of time. The dark days of the 1980s had seen the club spend eight seasons in the second tier, with Gray and Billy Bremner amongst those unsuccessfully attempting to reconnect the club to its former glories. However, rarely in English football had a club slid as far and as quickly as Leeds did between their 2001 Champions League semi-final and their start to the 2007-08 season in League One with a 15 point deficit. While Peter Ridsdale had been 'living the dream' on the club's behalf from the end of the 1990s, a rapidly accumulating debt had meant that Champions League qualification was not only desirable, but a necessity. The 5th placed finish of the 2001/02 season was therefore a disaster from a financial point of view, and triggered a negative spiral that oscillated between fire sales and diminishing fortunes on the field. Peter Reid was able to save the club from relegation in 2003, but repeating the trick the following year proved beyond a squad that possessed ten loan players at one point. A year of mid-table mediocrity in the Championship ensued.

However, the following season saw the arrival of Ken Bates as chairman, and a sense that a return to the Premier League was imminent. Despite a goal drought at the end of the regular season, Leeds scored a superb 0-2 success at Preston in a bad-tempered and bizarre play-off game that saw two North End players seriously injured, two from Leeds sent off and the game held up for 25 minutes due to a floodlight failure. Had they won the final against the Watford side of Marlon King et al, the subsequent chapter of their history would no doubt have read somewhat differently. As it was, Leeds were caught in the headlights on the big occasion, Matthew Spring played like a man possessed and the Hornets cruised to a 3-0 victory. Leeds never recovered from the hangover, and it transpired that the financial problems of previous years had never really gone away as the club hedged its bets between cutting costs and chasing promotion. As relegation loomed at the end of the 2006/07 season, Bates put the club into administration, at the not insignificant cost of fifteen points.

As it is, this penalty may well be one of the best things ever to have happened to the club. After years of pointing the finger of blame in many directions (more often than not at Ridsdale) the sense of injustice at the authorities for what was perceived as an over-zealous punishment brought a togetherness to Elland Road that had not been seen for some time. Dennis Wise, an original member of Wimbledon's 'Crazy Gang' appeared to cultivate a siege mentality among players who wiped out the negative fifteen in precisely five matches. “Nobody likes us – we don't care.” may well be the chorus of another set of football fans but it seemed appropriate for a club that appeared to be battling the authorities and a public that had ridiculed them as well as their opponents. As it was, assistant manager Gus Poyet left for Spurs, then Wise departed for that ill-fated executive role at Newcastle. His replacement, Gary McAllister, followed the long line of playing legends who had never quite cut it in the Elland Road dug-out, and an appalling 1-0 loss at Histon in the FA Cup suggested that Leeds as a club were stagnating.

Simon Grayson had already started the revival of Blackpool Football Club that sees them in the mid-table Premiership position that they occupy today. For a decade, they had usually been also-rans in the third tier, and had actually been in the fourth in the season when Leeds had reached the Champions League semi-final. He had turned them from a notoriously soft touch into a side capable of going on a ten-match winning run at the end of the 2006/07 season. Having then guided his team to success in the play-offs, the Tangerines consolidated in the Championship and looked likely to do so again when McAllister and Leeds parted company. Of course we all know the job that Ian Holloway completed in style, but it should be remembered that Grayson laid the foundations. Leeds needed a man who knew how to negotiate a safe exit from the third tier, and it was just as well for them that Grayson, as well as displaying an abnormal level of aptitude at his previous club, was a lifelong fan.

Though their results improved significantly towards the end of 2008/09, the playoffs would prove their undoing again as Millwall silenced Elland Road in a tense second leg. However, their start to the 2009/10 season was so impressive that the debate appeared not to be about whether or not Leeds would be promoted, but whether they could score 100 goals an

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By bjorn on 24 December 2010 at 13:20

M * O * T B.Clough was an idiot

By Jim barnett on 24 December 2010 at 12:22

Great article.

By pete molloy on 24 December 2010 at 08:45

I cannot thank Ken Bates and his wife Suzanne enough for what they have done for our club. We have a sound financial footing and continual improvement to the team and the ground. We are heading in the right direction with a base that will stand us in good stead for years to come. Bates' vision in identifying Simon Grayson has never been over stated. The Bookies didnt have Grayson amongst the front runners for the job if i recall. Of course Ken saved us in the darkest days and is still a mischevious character which is his own inimitable way, but he's intelligent, knowledable and forthright and knows how to get things done. He's a superb chairman and has embraced Leeds Utd and cares passionately about our club. He's mixed our history with development and understand what Leeds Utd are all about and hopefully Ken will be chairman for a long time to come so he can enjoy all the hard work he's already put in when it comes to fruition. Lets get behind him - he IS one of our own now - God forbid we could have Mike Ashley!

By Marky on 24 December 2010 at 08:24

I agree with that and would also say that Ken Bates love or loathe him came in and tried to turn it round.Mybe if he had kept ticket prices at a reasonable level the crowds may have been higher.Yes he took us into administration but wasn`t that Ridsdales debt and no one seems to mention the clowns after him Krasner and co.The club is now debt free and we are doing ok on the field,if what Bates as done was so easy to do why didn`t Krasner and co do it.I for 1 have no problem with Bates and i`ve got my hard hat on ,waitng for the response

By Twong on 24 December 2010 at 03:53

...Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the stairs... I heard 'em snigger as "The Mighty Whites" were unserimonously dumped from the Sky premier league... ...Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the stairs... I heard 'em snigger as "The Mighty Whites" entered 'free fall' ...Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the stairs... minus 15 points... I heard 'em snigger. ...Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the stairs. I was there...I heard 'em snigger ... The scum, the scouse, the cheatski, the goons et al. Leeds United are too BIG to go down ... and still they sniggered... ...Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the stairs... And down again... The Brighton, the Hartlepools, the inbreds and the fools... I heard them snigger... Down again and a trip to the smoke, I was there and I heard them snigger... Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the stairs... Still no promotion and in division 3, I heard them all snigger, from the Kop to the SS, East and West ...Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the stairs. I heard You snigger as We looked at reforming Leeds City F.C. Without Ken Bates, We would be dead and gone and now the tide turns and Leeds United A.F.C. are Your number #1... ...Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the stairs... As the phoenix rises from ashes, just remember who was there in our dakest hour for without Us there would be nothing for You... ...Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the stairs... Shake "Papa Smurfs" hand, tell him Twongy knows the score, for without Him and Us there wouldn't be a Leeds United anymore! ...Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the stairs and back up again, as You tuck yourself in your bed tonight, remember Us, "Papa Smurf" and The Fight... ...Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the stairs... ... and still they snigger...L.U.A.F.C. and Goodnight... ...Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the stairs...

By Ger O'Byrne Dublin Gelderd Ender on 23 December 2010 at 19:43

Having supported Leeds for 37 years I enjoyed your article. I would like to add though that Dave O'Leary did not get diverted from managing Leeds by the Bowyer - Woodgate saga. He was diverted by the job he thought was going to be his at Old Trafford, he treated Eddie Gray disgracefully and brought in Brian Kidd because he thought this would enhance his chances at Old Trafford.

By Andy on 23 December 2010 at 15:48

Stephen - we've never been scum (which, incidentally, tends to float at the top!), but I totally agree with you that the last three and a half seasons have been very enjoyable. They've been about football, not about prancing queens with expensive hair-dos and far too much money. They've been about digging in and pulling together, about guts and spirit. I've always been proud to be a Leeds supporter, but never more than in these recent years. Daz - what a great piece. Well written. Ridsdale got a lot of deserved stick for his maladministration, but he never did anything as utterly and obviously stupid and ruinous as to hire Brian Clough, especially when John Giles was available. Those cretinous directors damaged Leeds every bit as much as Ridsdale did; they ended the Revie era and wrecked what he'd built. It's good to read something objective about Ken Bates. Like you, I don't find him easy to like - but I like him because of that very fact! We're Leeds and people don't like us. Well, sod them then. He's Ken Bates, and he seems to take the same approach to people who don't like him. He's rough, tough, abrasive and mean - and that's just what we needed and still need. Leeds was on the brink of extinction and it took a fighter to save it. Without Bates, it's likely there wouldn't even be a Leeds Utd. He may be a mean miserable old git, but he's OUR mean miserable old git, and we have a lot to thank him for, whether we like him or not. I feel there is one major factor you didn't mention - the effect of Woodgate's and Bowyer's appalling stupidity outside the Majestic. At that point the club was flying mainly because of the extraordinary relationship between O'Leary and his young team. As a direct result of that incident, O'Leary was diverted from the team and had to hire a deputy. Brian Kidd never was the right choice, but no-one was ever going to have the bond O'Leary had with that team. Everything was downhill from exactly that moment until Grayson joined. Whatever the pros and cons of ex-players rejoining, and however discreditably the other protaginists in that incident may have behaved, I hope Woodgate and Bowyer never set foot in the club again.

By Daz Pearce on 23 December 2010 at 15:42

Thanks for those who pointed out the 74/75 error. It has now been corrected. Had Don Revie and the year he left (1974) on the brain at the time of writing that passage. No excuses. Stephen, the achievement of the team put together by Wise and Poyet does get understated, possibly because Leeds had regressed slightly by the end of that season. I can think of no other sensible explanation. Thanks for the kind words about the piece generally and will no doubt see you in the New Year.

By Adam on 23 December 2010 at 14:50

Leeds don't have a second club status and in the same vein don't support second clubs.

By Deeda LUFC on 23 December 2010 at 14:38

Just a couple of points so the facts are tidied up. The European Cup Final v Bayern Munich was in 1975 not 74 and after going into administration we were docked 10 points plus a further 15 points at the start of the following season for exiting administration without an agreed CVA.

By Stephen Clark on 23 December 2010 at 14:38

An excellent article with just one minor error(75 European Cup Final) and a popular misconception. It seems to be forgotten by detractors of the club that we were in fact punished twice by the authorities for our financial misdemenours. We were deducted 10 points for entering administration following the penultimate game of the 2006/07 season. Whilst not in the spirit of the game, this was within the rules at the time and as Leeds were all but relegated (requiring a mathematical miracle to stay up) the punishment was taken. We were then deducted a further 15 points at the start of the following year, a total deduction of 25 points. Let's not forget as well that our entry into administration was not like Southampton's last season. Thety were praised for thier brave effort in just missing out on the playoffs last season despite thier 10 point deduction. What shouldn't be forgotten is that 1 day after exiting administration the Saints spent £1M on Rickie Lambert. Later in the season they also outbid us for the services of striker Lee Barnard, so they were hardly struggling in terms of putting a squad together. Leeds started thier season on -15 with a squad of rag tag proportions put together in a matter of days on the eve of the season. We did make the playoffs, and that achievement is never acknowledged as the phenomenal one it was. I have been a fan for 22 years, but never have I had such pleasure as following them in the last 4 years. The financial implosion has seen a rebirth in the club from top to bottom. The supporters are there for the team, not to watch Premier League games . The faithful 20K who have been their through these lean times, still paying top dollar for the privelege, are being rewarded. We may have been scum in the past, but I am mightly proud to say I am a Leeds fan.





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