had looked a good bet in the FA Cup after beating Port Vale and
then pulling off a breathtaking 5-2 win at Manchester City, but
were then undone by a Benito Carbone hat-trick in the Fifth Round
at Aston Villa, losing 3-2 after twice taking the lead.
The end of February was a period of some concern for Leeds -
they had surrendered top spot to Manchester United, who also had
games in hand, they had gone out of both domestic Cup competitions
and they were facing a mammoth UEFA Cup Fourth Round battle with
AS Roma, who had put them to the sword a year before in the early
days of O'Leary's reign. The future did not look promising and
the critics started to predict a free fall into mid-table. Liverpool,
Chelsea and Arsenal were all in good form and were starting to
break down the gap below Leeds. March was obviously going to be
a major test of character.
They had also had to face a disciplinary hearing at the FA after
an ill tempered match at Elland Road against Tottenham a week
before the battle with Manchester United. The ill feeling between
O'Leary and George Graham seemed to affect the players who took
no prisoners in a bruising encounter. The second half was barely
five minutes old when a late challenge by Bowyer on Stephen Clemence
sparked a mass brawl between players from both sides in the middle
of the pitch, which ended with referee Gallagher giving Bowyer
his tenth caution of the season.
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March had always looked to be a decisive time for Leeds, with
much of the season's success depending on how things went over
a four week period. The big test began with a massive challenge
against Roma in the Fourth Round of the UEFA Cup. The first leg
in Italy saw Leeds played off the park, with Totti pulling all
the strings. But Nigel Martyn was in superb form that night and
Leeds came away with a priceless goalless draw.
Chairman Peter Ridsdale: "The defence was superb and it was an
unbelievable achievement to come out of a game like that without
conceding a goal. The country seems to think that Nigel Martyn
is not the number one at the moment, but perhaps after that performance
Kevin Keegan will disagree. The tie is set up nicely for next
week, but we know how difficult they are to break down, although
the bonus is that this season we don't have to win by two clear
A week later, battle between the two sides was joined again at
Elland Road, and a tense and exceptionally tight match looked
difficult to call, reaching the interval without a goal.
The Italians dominated the early minutes following the break,
but after 67 minutes the whole complexion of the game was altered
by a dazzling moment of brilliance by Harry Kewell. He picked
up the ball 25 yards out on the left, beat a defender on the inside
and let fly from well outside the area. Goalkeeper Antonioli got
a hand to it, but watched in despair as the ball flew into the
back of the net off the underside of the bar.
With nine minutes left David O'Leary sent on Alan Smith for a
tired Michael Bridges who had run himself into the ground. The
fiery frontman instantly got involved in confrontations with defenders,
disrupting their concentration badly
and leading indirectly to two dismissals. Zago was sent off for
a second yellow card after a challenge on Smith, sparking chaotic
scenes which resulted in Candella also seeing red for a butt on
However, nothing could take the shine off things for O'Leary.
Coming back a little more than a year after being outclassed by
Roma was cause for great satisfaction.
A week later it was on to the quarter finals against Slavia Prague
and it was something of a formality after a 3-0 first leg win
at Elland Road. In between times, Leeds had three good Premiership
wins against Coventry, Bradford and Wimbledon and seemed to have
steadied the ship. However, things went very badly in April and
it was then that the season hit the lowest ebb for Leeds.
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They lost the second leg against Slavia with the first of 6 straight
defeats, which saw them tumble to fourth in the Premiership. There
was also the disaster of their European semi-final pairing with
Galatasaray of Turkey. The deaths of two fans during terrible
scenes before the first leg brought a feeling of disbelief and
grief over the club, the city and football in general. No-one
felt much like football after that and the wind had been well
taken out of their sails.
Violence erupted the night before the first leg in Istanbul,
as the customary 'Welcome to Hell' greeting became starkly prophetic.
Christopher Loftus, from Holbeck, Leeds, was stabbed through
the heart, as fighting broke out, and died shortly afterwards.
Later, Kevin Speight, lost his life after three hours in intensive
care in a critical condition.
After consultations with UEFA it was decided that the game would
still take place as Peter Ridsdale explained, "The game will definitely
go ahead, UEFA have confirmed that to me tonight. The rationale
is that the game has to be played at some stage and we accept
that on balance under the circumstances it is a fair decision.
Tomorrow we'll have a considered view, but if you're asking me
for the way I feel now, I'd have to say it's in real doubt, but
I need to contact David O'Leary and UEFA officials.
"There have been suggestions that Leeds fans were getting boisterous,
but a group of Turkish fans arrived to confront them already equipped
"We had three options. Option one was for the match to never
be played, because we would have withdrawn from the competition,
if we'd pulled out of tonight's fixture. Option two was to reschedule
the game, which would have lead to an impossible situation through
heightened tension. Option three was to go ahead and play.
"The reaction of the club is one of numbness and the reality
will sink in when we get back, but clearly you don't expect when
you set off to watch a football match to be dealing with such
a tragedy. I would ask our supporters to understand that to do
anything other than stay calm would be abhorrent. Football is
not about travelling to watch a match and not returning home.
We have had confirmation that the two men travelled independently,
but however one travels you don't expect to have the sort of events
we've had here. Whatever decisions we made we were bound to come
in for criticism from some people, but after considering the options,
we think we have decided the most sensible one."
After the nightmare of those events, the actual match became
somewhat meaningless for club, players and supporters, making
a total mockery of what should have been another night of European
glory for David O'Leary's side.
The United supporters who did make their way into the Ali Sami
Yen stadium showed what they thought of the frightening events,
by turning their backs to the pitch in protest as the teams lined
up for the kick off. After 12 minutes, the world class midfielder
Hagi found Arif out on the left and his pinpoint cross was headed
in by Hakan Sukur from six yards out, with the Leeds defence nowhere.
The Turks doubled their advantage on the stroke of half-time,
when a ball played into the United box wasn't cleared and Oliviera
Capone took advantage of the hesitation to force the ball home
from six yards, confirming an emphatic 2-0 win.
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Afterwards O'Leary was critical of his defence. "Both their goals
were kids' mistakes. I don't think there was anything between
the teams other than the two stupid goals we gave away. You cannot
afford to give away goals like that and then miss chances like
we did at the other end. The tie is redeemable, but not if we
defend like that. If you look at their record they score goals
away from home, which means the return will be difficult. But
we never thought we would get as far as this, and we'll just keep
battling and battling until the bitter end. Amazing things have
happened in the past and I hope there's a few more to come."
Jason Wilcox spoke of how difficult it was for the team to play
the match: "Our sympathy and deepest thoughts go out to the two
families concerned. It is very sad and really there is not a lot
we can say at the moment. It was an extremely difficult time for
all of us to hear that two supporters had been killed. We were
so disappointed that we couldn't get the result for the two people
involved. But hopefully we can still go through and if we can
get a good result at a packed Elland Road, we can dedicate the
result to their memory."
In the end UEFA decided that the Turkish club's fans should be
excluded from the second leg at Elland Road and the match was
played out in eerie surroundings.
After a frantic start with Harry Kewell twice threatening the
Galatasaray defence and Michael Bridges clean through but thwarted
by Taffarel's legs,
the Turks rocked United on six minutes. Leeds had already had
a warning when Arif shot over after a mistake by Ian Harte, but
when Jonathon Woodgate brought down Hakan Sukur as he tried to
round Nigel Martyn, Slovakian referee Lubos Michel pointed straight
to the spot. Hagi's left foot did the rest despite Martyn guessing
correctly, to leave Leeds with an even bigger mountain to climb.
Back came United and Kewell again went close as he forced Taffarel
into another save, this time the Brazilian spilled the shot, but
there was no Leeds player on hand to slot home the rebound.
Sixteen minutes in, Leeds equalised, when, after Wilcox had forced
a corner on the left, his delivery was met by Erik Bakke, who
glanced a header in off the right hand upright.
Disaster struck again four minutes before the break when a quick
break by Galatasaray exposed a thin Leeds defence who were all
pushed upfield and Hakan Sukur rounded Mills and Woodgate before
beating Nigel Martyn.
If that wasn't bad enough, moments later Harry Kewell was sensationally
and unjustly sent off for supposedly stamping on Georghe Popescu.
Television replays proved that no contact had been made, but the
Rumanian's play acting conned the referee into a dismissal.
However, after 68 minutes Leeds equalised for the second time.
Galatasaray skipper Bulent nearly put through his own goal when
he sliced an attempted clearance and from the resulting corner
it was the old routine again, Bakke heading in from Wilcox's inswinger.
The second goal gave United new heart. Bowyer had a shot blocked
and Bakke then went close to his hat-trick, but this time just
failed to get his head to another Wilcox corner. Wilcox himself
had an opening following a great run by Darren Huckerby, but the
England international's shot was too close to Taffarel who saved
comfortably. Chances late on fell to Bowyer and Huckerby, but
neither could find a way past the Brazilian.
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On a footballing front, the Turkish side had outclassed Leeds
over both legs and were worthy winners. Undoubtedly, however,
the shock of the incidents in Istanbul had sapped the will and
resolve of everyone connected with the club. In those circumstances,
a victory was highly unlikely.
A home defeat by Chelsea and a 4-0 thrashing by Arsenal at Elland
Road (with Ian Harte sent off in the first half) rubbed salt in
fresh wounds and
left many at Elland Road wishing everyone would go away and leave
them to their personal despair.
It is difficult to overstate exactly how badly the Turkish episode
affected the club. The dignity of Ridsdale throughout this period
was amazing and brought many admiring comments from outside the
But football goes on and there was no rest for a team which was
looking tired, weary and emotional. Liverpool had already overtaken
Leeds and Arsenal's win had pushed them up to third (and eventually
second), but the Anfield club was now going through their own
mini-collapse as the goals dried up. Leeds had two good wins against
relegated Watford and Sheffield Wednesday, scoring three times
in each, to move back into third place.
They could have been home and dry with a win at home to Everton
and looked to be on their way when a Bridges goal gave them a
lead, but were pegged back by Nicky Barmby when Martyn misjudged
a bouncing ball and allowed it to go past him. The tension was
there for all to see, but Leeds were still in the strongest position
to take the last remaining spot in the Champions League for 2000/01.
Going in to the last day of the Premiership season, they were
a point clear of Liverpool, but with a much inferior goal difference.
Both clubs had away games to come, but Liverpool seemed to have
the better chance, visiting Bradford City, who were in the dreaded
relegation zone. Leeds had to go to West Ham.
As it turned out, Liverpool simply got swept aside by a tide
of emotion at Valley Parade as former Leeds centre-back David
Wetherall got the early power header that gave City the win they
needed to keep them up. Leeds played out a sterile 0-0 draw at
Upton Park and their dream was finalised - a place in the Champions
League at the end
of a long and testing season, which had seen them bridge the gap
to the so called Big Three of United, Arsenal and Chelsea.
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Euphoric David O'Leary hailed his side's efforts - after admitting
he feared they had blown their chances of qualifying for the Champions
League. "It's just reward for a young side," O'Leary said. "The
goal was the Champions League at the start of the year but I didn't
think we'd make it and recently I thought we'd blown it. The last
six weeks we've been like a ship that has got three quarters of
the way across the ocean and then the engine has gone, but we
managed to limp into port. We ran out of steam. Our own success
in the UEFA Cup cost us, combined with the sad incidents in Istanbul.
When I took the job people told me not to. They said it (the club)
was going nowhere but I think we've proven them wrong. I wanted
to raise the profile of the club, make more people like us, get
us playing attractive football and I think people now want to
come here. I have to try and improve the quality of the squad
but it's going to take time. We're not far away. We need a few
more quality players and one or two older players will not do
us any harm. That will go well with what we've got.
"The sparkle went out of us yet still we achieved our target.
The fact that we're there can only help in our plans in the close
season. What we have to do now is bring in one or two more experienced
players to supplement the youngsters we have. People who before
wouldn't come to Leeds may now think they are a good young side
with a future. I have to now improve the quality of the squad
which will take time. We're not far away and can only improve.
We've got to go out and do well in the Champions League and that
means getting out of the first phase. That's our goal and that's
what we have to try to achieve."
The Leeds manager admitted he was a little jaded after a long
hard season, but had learned so much from the arduous campaign.
"I'm the young manager in the pack. Try this job from the first
day of July and you'll know what I mean. The experiences both
on and off the field have had an effect and I'm now looking forward
to a nice break."
Despite the unhappy events in Turkey, 1999-2000 was in many ways
the dawning of a fresh era for the Elland Road club. It was O'Leary's
first full season in charge and he shook off once and for all
the ghost of George Graham, in terms of both the team's style
of play and his own standing in the game. There was many a Thursday
evening which was reminiscent of the 60's and 70's, with this
band of fresh faced youngsters disposing of classy European opposition
seemingly as they wished.
They led the Premiership for weeks on end through the winter,
flying in the face of the critics who kept forecasting that they
would 'do a Villa' and go into free fall towards a mid-table finish.
A poor late run destroyed any title ambitions they might have
had, but they came back late on with enough good form to secure
a spot in the Champions League, when Liverpool looked like they
had wrapped that one up.
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In retrospect, the outcome would seem to be pretty much what
could have been expected from a side which had finished fifth
and fourth in the last couple of years, and was in line with David
O'Leary's pre-season hopes. But that does not do full justice
to the achievements of his young side over the season. They were
deprived of Batty through injury from November, with David Hopkin
also a long time absentee.
Radebe missed some key games mid-season while the African Nations
Cup was in full swing. Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate had awful
dips in form after their brush with the law.
But through all this, Leeds' band of youngsters held fast, with
Bakke and McPhail stepping into the breech admirably. The mid-season
purchase of Jason Wilcox brought new impetus and allowed the gifted
Harry Kewell to really start delivering the goods up front. Nigel
Martyn had an outstanding season in goal and Michael Bridges performed
beyond all expectations.
The team as a whole had played at a level far beyond its tender
years and looked forward to the new challenge of the Champions
League with excitement after a season in which they had won many
Other Football Highlights from 1999-00
- At the end of November, Roy Keane's goal helped Manchester
United beat Palmeiras 1-0 in Tokyo to win the World Club Championship,
but United did less well in the World Clubs Cup, losing out
in the first stage, with David Beckham sent off. United missed
the FA Cup to play in the tournament
- Celtic dismissed John Barnes as their manager after less than
a year in charge following a shock Scottish Cup defeat at the
hands of Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who had only been formed
six years previously. Director of Football Kenny Dalglish took
over until the end of the season. Former Arsenal striker Ian
Wright left Celtic immediately afterwards, joining Burnley who
won promotion to the First Division at the end of the season.
Leicester City boss Martin O'Neill took over at Parkhead at
the end of the season
- One of England's greatest ever footballers, Sir Stanley Matthews,
died at the age of 85 in February
- Chairman Sam Hammam, the driving force behind football's greatest
fairytale, left Wimbledon after 23 years during which he saw
the club progress from Southern League to the Premiership and
an FA Cup win
- Defender Matt Elliott scored twice as Leicester beat First
Division Tranmere 2-1 to win the Worthington Cup for the second
time in four years
- Maverick striker Stan Collymore scored a hat trick on his
debut for Leicester in a 5-2 win over Sunderland In March Liverpool
paid a club record fee of £11million to buy Leicester forward
- Barcelona beat Chelsea 5-1 and Real Madrid beat Manchester
United 3-2 within a day of each other to end England's interest
in the Champions League at the quarter final stage, but three
days later, United won 3-1 at Southampton to win the Premiership
for the sixth time in eight seasons, with four games still to
play. They paid a British record fee for a keeper - £7.8million
- to acquire Monaco's World Cup winner Fabien Barthez at the
end of the season. United moved for Barthez in a bid to tighten
up a defence which leaked 45 goals in the Premiership last season,
15 more than Chelsea, who finished fifth. During the season,
three keepers had failed to replace Peter Schmeichel - Mark
Bosnich, Raimond van der Gouw and Massimo Taibi
- Real Madrid went on to win the Champions League, beating compatriots
Valencia 3-0 in a one sided final, with Steve McManaman among
- Galatasaray beat Arsenal 4-1 on penalties after a goalless
90 minutes and extra time to win the UEFA Cup
- Aston Villa goalkeeper David James gifted the FA Cup to Chelsea.
The England international had striven for many years to rid
himself of the 'Calamity James' tag. However, the cruel nomenclature
came back to stare him full in the face as he made a terrible
hash of Gianfranco Zola's 73rd minute free-kick. He rose above
a crowd of players, fumbled the ball into the back of Gareth
Southgate, and presented Roberto Di Matteo with a simple opening
from five yards, which he hooked home with glee. It was the
only goal of the game, the last final to be staged at Wembley
- Ipswich beat Barnsley 4-2 in the First Division play off final
to win a Premiership place
- Dutch striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink returned to the Premiership
at the end of the season, with Chelsea paying a British record
equalling fee of £15million to Atletico Madrid
- England, under the leadership of Kevin Keegan, qualified for
the European Championship finals after a lacklustre play off
victory over Scotland. Keegan immediately tipped them for the
title. England beat Germany with a goal from Alan Shearer, but
lost to Portugal and Rumania after leading to go out at the
first stage. Shearer quit international football after the tournament
- France won Euro 2000, but for all their flair, the World Cup
winners were just seconds away from failure against a defensive
Italian team when substitute Sylvain Wiltord equalised with
virtually the last kick of normal time. It was left to another
sub, Juventus-bound David Trezeguet, to perform the final act
- a tremendous shot from Robert Pires' pass for a truly golden
- Germany snatched the rights to host the World Cup in 2006
from under the noses of South Africa in injury time after 24
hours of high drama in Zurich. After the second round of voting,
Germany and South Africa both polled 11 votes, with England
getting only two votes. David Will of Scotland and Charles Dempsey
of New Zealand - England's two backers in the second round -
held the deciding vote in the crucial final round. Will backed
Germany, and Dempsey abstained, so Germany secured a 12-11 victory
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