The history of the modern Leeds United can be traced back to 1919, when the team was rapidly formed to replace Leeds City, who had been ignominiously dumped out of the league, following illegal payments to their players during the war years.
The first four decades of our existence saw us switch from the first to the Second Division with alarming regularity. Indeed, out of the 33 seasons played up to the 1959-60 season, we had spent 15 of them languishing in Division 2. Of course, there were memorable moments (three promotion campaigns) and memorable names: Willis Edwards, the Milburn brothers and Wilf Copping. However, much of our early history was largely forgettable. We certainly weren't one of the major players of English football.
However, things began to change in the late forties, with the emergence of one of our all time greats, John Charles. Indeed, such was the talent of the man that many observers still regard him as the greatest player ever to wear the Leeds shirt. Not a bad tribute when you think of the Revie team which was to follow. Charles made his reputation as an outstanding centre-half, but in the 1952-53 season he was forced to play as centre forward. Unbelievably, he created even more of an impact here, scoring 26 goals in his first 28 games, then the following season scoring 42 goals in 39 league starts, a record breaking effort which is unlikely ever to be beaten.Charles eventually left for Juventus in 1957 for a then massive fee of £65,000, where he went on to become a legendary figure in Italian football. He would return to Leeds in 1962 but couldn't regain his old form. However, his place amongst Leeds legends is forever assured.
Of course, an event took place in March 1961 which was to immeasurably alter the history of our club: the appointment of Don Revie. Much has been said elsewhere in this website about the great man. However, unbelievably, his first season in charge of the club almost ended in the unthinkable: relegation to the old Third Division. Indeed, so narrow was the scrape that Leeds were still fighting for their Second Division lives on the last day of the season, when a 3-0 win against Newcastle United kept them up. Nobody at the time could have guessed the impact that Revie would have on the team over the next decade. Unfortunately, though, our honours list for that period does not tell the full story of what a dominant force we became in English football:. Two League Championships seems impressive enough, but we were runners up on another five occasions! Our single FA Cup final victory, against Arsenal in 1972, could have been added to on three more occasions, when we were beaten finalists in 1965 (Liverpool), 1970 (Chelsea) and 1973 (Sunderland). We were a major force in Europe too - but a series of misfortunes, combined with dodgy refereeing, sometimes on a criminal scale, left us with only two trophies to show: the Fairs Cup (now known as the UEFA Cup) in 1967-68 and 1970-71.
Revie left to take the England manager's job, following our Championship winning season of 1973-74 and, unfortunately rather blotted his copy book. However, to Leeds fans he will always be regarded as a god.
What followed over the next decade and a half has, once again, been chronicled elsewhere on this website. However, needless to say, some very bad decisions were made, both at managerial and boardroom level. Had the Leeds board followed the Don's advice and appointed his natural successor, Johnny Giles, things might have been very different. Unfortunately, though, we were forced to endure the Clough debacle and then, in the eighties, a series of ex-players - Clarke, Gray and Bremner - who all failed, to a greater or lesser extent. By this time were languishing in the old Second Division and going nowhere fast.
The appointment of Howard Wilkinson in 1988 turned thing round quickly - and, at last, he was able to banish the spectre of the Revie teams of old, which, at times, hand hung over his predecessors like a black cloud. By 1989-90, we had won our first piece of silverware for sixteen years: the old Second Division title. However, what was even more important was that we were now back amongst the elite of English football. Wilkinson continued his revolution when, with fans having to pinch themselves to prove they weren't dreaming, we pipped Man Utd for the League Championship in 1991-92, its final year before the introduction of the Premiership, and beat Liverpool 4-3 in that year's thrilling Charity Shield.
In football, though, nothing lasts forever and even heroic deeds such as Wilko performed at Elland Road cannot guarantee your job when things start to go wrong.
Following his sacking in 1996, George Graham was appointed. Probably the most successful manager working in the Premiership, after Alex Ferguson., he turned round our ailing fortunes, albeit playing some desperately dull football. Unfortunately, though, his reputation amongst Leeds fans was sullied forever, following what some regarded as his traitorous escape to Spurs in the autumn of 1998.
When David O'Leary took over the reins at the end of September 1998, few could have imagined the immediate impact this would have on the club.
Over the first couple of seasons, it was hard to remember a time when there was such a positive mood surrounding the club. Of course, much of this surrounded the fact that the new manager had been willing to throw promising youngsters directly into the first team. Eddie Gray, who was assigned as O'Leary's second in command, of course has always believed in the promise of youth. However, whereas during his time in charge, the youngsters were playing in a struggling team, trying to escape from the old second division, now the likes of Kewell, Harte, McPhail, Bowyer, Smith and Woodgate were getting their chance to shine in the Premiership, playing in a team which, at its best, was brimming with confidence. Most experts started to believe that O'Leary's youngsters might be about to challenge Manchester United's dominance.
O'Leary maintained that he was constantly trying to persuade his former manager to give the youngsters a chance. One thing is for certain, if Graham had still been in charge, it would have been unlikely that we would have seen the likes of Smith or Woodgate getting such a prolonged run in the team, so early in their careers.
After only eight months at the helm, O'Leary led us to a hightly respectable fourth in the Premiership and a second successive season in Europe. What's more, with just a touch more luck, in his first season in charge, he might have produced some silverware for us. Had we not lost two last minute goals to Leicester, in the Worthington Cup fourth round, we would have fancied our chances of Wembley - and in the FA Cup, our involvement only ended at the fifth round stage, thanks to two moments of genius by Ginola and Anderton, as we were beaten 2-0 in a replay by Spurs. Even in the UEFA Cup, we gave FC Roma, a run for their money, losing out by a single goal. Had we played them a month later, when O'Leary's young team were really starting to gel, who knows what might have happened.
His second season at the helm (and his first full campaign) was even more memorable: a mixture of the sublime and the tragic. A magnificent run in the UEFA Cup saw us reach the semi-final stage, the furthest round we had reached since 1975. In Round 4, we gained revenge over Roma - with Kewell's well taken winner settling a pulsating second leg before a packed Elland Road. Unfortunately, though, the competition will sadly most be remembered for the deaths of two Leeds supporters - Kevin Speight and Christopher Loftus - in Istanbul, murdered by Turks prior to the Galatasray semi-final.
A tragedy of massive proportions, on a human scale, from a footballing perspective it also marked an understandable downward turn in form. Never out of the top two places in the Premiership from September to the start of April, we slumped out of Champions League contention with only a handful of games remaining, overtaken by a resurgent Liverpool: a season where we had played our hearts out looked like it might end in anti-climax. Deservedly though, following a catastrophic end of season slump by the Merseysiders, we scraped into third place on the last day of the season: apoint at Upton Park enough as Liverpool lost to a David Wetherall header at Valley Parade. We were in the Champions League!
Unfortunately, though, another event, taking place in the January of 2000, was to have an even bigger impact on the club's fortunes. When a group of players set off for a boozy night out in Leeds City Centre few could have anticipated the heartache that would ensue. Following a night club skirmish, an Asian student, Sarfraz Najeib was chased by a gang of men and brutally beaten. Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate were said to be members of the chasing gang and arrested, leaving a dark cloud hanging over them, as individuals, and the name of Leeds United - for the next two years. Following an abandonment of the initial trial at Hull Crown Court, it wasn't until December 2001 that verdicts were eventually reached: Bowyer was proven not guilty of all charges; Woodgate not guilty of grievous bodily harm but guilty of affray, leading to a non-custodial sentence (100 hours of community service) that angered many neutrals. A wreck during the trial, Woodgate's career seemed on the verge of destruction.
From a footballing point of view, 2000-2001 saw progress under O'Leary continue. Never given a chance of succeeding in the Champions League, unseeded in the same group as AC Milan and Barcelona, we defied the odds to reach the second round stage. Then, similarly dismissed against Lazio, Anderlecht and Real Madrid, again we proved our doubters wrong. Only in the semi-finals did we come unstuck, against an excellent Valencia side. Even then, though, we had enough chances in the opening leg to build up a strong advantage, before crashing out 3-0 in Spain.
In the Premiership, we struggled to overcome the worst injury crisis in living memory, to surge from 13th place at the turn of the year, to 4th by the season's end. Unfortunately, though, we missed out on Champions League qualification (this time Liverpool had the last laugh, despite us pulling off the double against them for the first time since the early 70s) - an event that would later be seen to have dire consequences for our very future, given the financial gamble that was taking place behind the scenes, reliant on us achieving top flight European qualification year after year. It had been, for the most part, a breathtaking roller-coaster ride of a season - but, little did we know it at the time, it would mark the end of the good times, at least for the foreseeable future.
Unbelievably, the following 2001-2002 campaign would prove to be O'Leary's last in charge. The team had made a good start, at least in terms of results, although there was less attacking flair - and more hesitancy - in their play than had been seen in the previous two seasons. The turning point came around the turn of the year. The court case verdicts were always going to prove distracting and so it proved - as our form became even more indifferently. Perhaps even more telling though was a book, written by O'Leary, released immediately after the events in Hull. The title, 'Leeds United on Trial' really said it all: ill advised and badly timed, it was to prove O'Leary's eventual downfall. A catastrophic defeat by Cardiff City in the FA Cup and elimination by PSV from an uncetain UEFA campaign was matched by more patchy Premiership form, which looked - as late as April - like it might mean us missing out on Europe altogether the following season. Luckily, a late revival of sorts saw us finish fifth and qualify yet again for the UEFA Cup.
Sadly, though, for O'Leary, this was deemed not good enough for the plc. Supporters were growing more restless over the season but most still felt the manager would be given another six months, to see how his team might perform without off-field distractions. And so, it came as a huge shock when, in June 2002, with no prior warning, O'Leary was unceremoniously fired: a sad end for a manager who had given us so much hope and such great football during his early days. What's more, if things appeared to be in steady decline under the Irishman, his departure would mark a collapse of catastrophic proportions, both on and off the pitch.
Much uncertainty followed his dismissal with Martin O'Neill yet again mentioned as the plc's top target. It was later reported that, at the time of O'Leary's sacking, Risdale had allegedly secured the Celtic manager's services, only for the latter to later back out of the deal, having signed nothing. If true, it would be seen as the first of many disastrous slips on the Chairman's part which would eventually lead to him being shown the door too. With Gus Hiddink and Boro's Steve Mclaren also said to be in the frame for the managerial vacancy, there was perhaps some surprise at the eventual appointment of Terry Venables. Said to have 'sweet-talked' Risdale big time, his appointment was announced on July 8th 2002, with the ex-England boss said to be understandably tempted at the prospect of working with a squad which reached the Champions League semi-finals only two seasons earlier.
However, had Venables been given the full story from the very start of his tenure - namely that six internationals would be sold by the end of the January transfer window, it is highly unlikely he would have agreed to take on the job in the first place. If the manager and chairman had been like an honeymooning couple over their pre-season lunches, it had soon developed into a marriage from Hell - with divorce imminent.
Following Rio's outstanding World Cup campaign, it was always likely that he would soon be on his way. However, even though he went to our bitterest rivals, most supporters were forced to accept that £30million would have been very difficult for any club to turn down. What became less palatable was the mass exodus that followed: Robbie Keane (sold to Tottenham), Olivier Dacourt (on loan to Roma), Lee Bowyer (sold to West Ham) and Robbie Fowler (sold to Manchester City). Within the space of a season, we had gone from being the biggest buyers in the land to a club selling off all our prize assets. Not only that - but we were "giving" these players away. It later transpired that not only were we selling at a massive loss but that the plc had agreed to paying a massive portion of Fowler's future salary, even though he was playing for one of our rivals. Clearly, Risdale and the plc had "pulled the plug" - and doing so in such a clumsy fashion, that everyone in Football knew we were there to be shafted.
The final straw came with the sale of Jonathan Woodgate to Newcastle for £9million. The player, whose misdemeanours off the pitch had ironically set our decline in motion, had recovered his old form in admirable fashion and was regarded as one of our true 'crown jewels'. With the transfer window soon to close, Risdale swore that there would be no way Woodgate would be allowed to leave - yet days later, he was on his way to Geordie-land. It was to prove almost the final straw for Venables, who thought about quitting, but decided to battle on against the odds.
Supporters, who had been calling for Venables' head before a good run around Christmas, now turned their anger away from the manager and onto Ridsdale for overseeing the exodus of players. Both were living on borrowed time.
An FA cup run was soon our only hope of silverware or - even more significantly - qualification for Europe. Paired against Sheffield United, who had already knocked us out of the League Cup, in the quarter-final, it seemed we had a God given opportunity of reaching the semis and rescuing our season. However, following another inept and soulless defeat and subsequent reversals in the Premiership ( a run of six defeats from the last eight league matches), we were in relegation freefall, putting the heat firmly on Venables again. On March 20th 2003, in a statement to the Stock Exchange, Leeds plc confirmed the former England manager's departure.
Although many of us might have questioned his appointment in the first place, few could failed to feel some sympathy for him at the end of his time in charge. He had clearly been kept in the dark by Risdale from his first day in charge onwards and had to watch on helplessly as the guts were ripped out of his beleagured side. Still, being only ten months into a two-year contract worth around 2 million a year, the subsequent compensation payout would no doubt ease his 'pain': sadly, we - as supporters - wouldn't be so lucky. The Leeds players were very set in their ways.
Worryingly, El Tel would later question the attitude of the playing staff at Elland Road: "There were a lot of experienced players there but I couldn't understand the younger ones not wanting to learn". He added,"I've never come across a situation like I did at Leeds. I'd imagined the players there would have been up for learning new things. It's the only place it's ever happened to me". Contrasting United's stars with the Australian national team, he stated that "those boys were so keen. They were a joy to work with, great competitors. So different to the players at Leeds". Clearly, it wasn't just Risdale who made things difficult for him at Leeds.
With only eight matches remaining, we found ourselves only seven points above the drop zone with a daunting trip to Liverpool facing whoever would step into the managerial hotseat. Most supporters felt the job would be given to Eddie Gray, at least on a temporary basis. We were hardly an attractive option any more and any manager worth his salt would be unwilling to drop sticks to face a relegation battle which might result in us going out of business: that's how dire the situation had now become.
And so...step forward Peter Reid! After a collective sigh of disbelief from all concerned (How could a manager whose spectacular recent failure at already doomed Sunderland be entrusted with our own survival?), the scouser set about trying to keep us up. Reportedly, he was being paid on a match by match basis but with a massive cash incentive (£500k?) should we stay up. More financial wizadry, given the fact that we were, at the time, only on the fringes of the relegation zone. Anyway, Reid's first full game in charge, away to Charlton, certainly offered hope - and how! A 6-1 win saw Viduka hit a hat-trick and Kewell score twice. Yet we were even closer to the drop zone at the start of May and were we to have lost at Arsenal, our Premiership survival would rest on the very last day of the season. Of course, never doing anything by the script, we won 3-2: Kewell, Harte and Viduka keeping us up and, not for the first time in recent seasons, screwing the Gooners' championship hopes. Reid was given the manager's job on a long-term basis.
Could he unexpectedly turn things round over the close season? Most pundits seemed to think otherwise. In fact, not only did most have us down as strugglers for the new campaign but many had us amongst their predictions for the drop. Pre-season hardly offered much hope. With the financial crisis showing no sign of improving, despite Risdale having been unceremoniously replaced at the helm by Professor John McKenzie, Kewell's long anticipated move to Liverpool eventually went through. Typically, though, the plc made an almighty botch of the whole thing. £5m was always going to represent an insultingly small sum but news that the player's agent Bernie Mandicwould bag £2m of this really rubbed salt into already sore wounds.With Dacourt leaving for Roma in a £3.5m deal ("I don't want anyone here who doesn't want to play for the club," said Reid), things couldn't get much worse, could they? Add our worst ever pre-season form - we managed just one win, at Chesterfield, in eight pre-season matches - and murmurings of a major bust up between Reid and Danny Mills (He would soon be on his way, on loan, to Boro, for the rest of the season) and it was looking grimmer than grim.
The opener, at home to Newcastle, looked a potential nightmare, but offered unexpected hope. With Reid's Summer 'loanees' - especially Camara and Sakho - making an immediate impact, we found ourselves 2-1 up, only for that man Shearer to grab an equaliser late on. As August drew to a close, a 2-1 win against Boro (albeit against the run of play) gave us our first away victory and things weren't looking too bad.
However, from these early seeds of hope, nothing flourished. In fact, it was a slippery slope for the remainder of Reid's short tenure. Understandably, receiving four goal thumpings by the likes of Arsenal wasn't what United supporters wanted to see - but at least we could offer the excuse that we were getting thumped by a class outfit. But Leicester 4 Leeds 0, Everton 4 Leeds 0...
By October, less than four months since being given the job on a permanent basis, the vultures were already circling over Riedy's head. Ironically, we supporters were so shell-shocked by everything that the previous twelve months had thrown at us, that we gave the manager a surprising amount of positive backing - despite the inept performances his teams continued to produce on the pitch. Sympathy unexpectedly further grew for the scouser when, following weeks of internal talks (conducted in an embarrassingly public forum) which almost led to him being sacked in October, he was given a second chance - on Allan Leighton's wishes and against McKenzie's recommendation. This was no way to conduct business.
Sadly (or perhaps thankfully?) for Reid, he didn't have to wait long to be put out of his misery. A 6-1 mauling by Portsmouth in November, our heaviest top-flight defeat since 1959, saw Reid given the axe and Eddie Gray put in temporary charge. Few, other than United's plc, had greeted Reid's arrival with much enthusiasm - and our pessimism had, sadly, proven to be justified. The ex-Sunderland boss almost managed the rare accolade of relegating two teams in a single season. If he had been allowed to remain in charge, there's little doubt he would have managed the unenviable feat at the second time of asking. Tactically he offered little but his biggest weakness, perhaps surprisingly, was his poor man-management skills. Despite his public persona, as genial scouser, he seemed to rub up several of our star names the wrong way. Whether right or wrong, the fact remained - and remains - that without the likes of Viduka fighting for the cause, relegation seems an ever more likely prospect.
Eddie Gray's 'caretaker' tenure extended beyond the turn of the year, despite FA reservations that he didn't have the necessary coaching qualifications to manage a top flight team. The blunt truth to be faced was that not only were there no half decent managers willing to join us - not only inheriting a poor team but a club that had debts of over £80m - but we couldn't afford the compensation to release them from their present contract. Whereas relegation once appeared as a distant bad dream, it now started to look increasingly likely. Despite a promising run during Eddie's opening games - with an away win against high flying Charlton, home win against much improved Fulham and a creditable 1-1 draw against Chelsea - a 3-1 defeat by bottom of the table Wolves in the final game of 2003, signalled another slump in form. Hammered in the FA Cup by Arsenal and losing six consecutive games in the league saw us hit rock bottom and stare relegation right between the eyes. A much needed 4-1 win agianst Wolves offered some hope - but there is much still to do.
Of course, the whole of the 2003-4 campaign so far has been played out against the backdrop of financial armageddon. Deadlines for administration have come and gone with numerous extensions being granted. There have been talks of a Sheikh saviour, a Yorkshire consortium but as yet no firm offers. Administration has, at times, looked like the best option of a bad bunch, but the fact that it might well result in not only losing our few remaining stars but perhaps even Elland Road means it is a route the plc will be unlikely to risk.
The sad fact remains that just a few short seasons ago, we had the world - or at least Europe - at our feet. We came within a whisker of winning the two top European competitions and could boast some of the best players in the land. Now all that seems a distant memory. Peter Risdale has one hell of a lot to answer to. He still seems unrepentant that his gamble to 'Live the Dream' wasn't sustained. Yet the nightmare that has followed - where the very survival of our club is in danger - surely wasn't worth the risk. Even without Risdale's 'monopoly money' O'Leary inherited enough good young players to have made us a top six team for years to come. Sadly, gross financial incompetency of the highest order means we might be swapping Barcelona for Barnsley next season: an interesting return for Mr Risdale, perhaps?