Part 1 - Part
3 - Part 4
Leeds United have never been strangers to controversy … the questionable
tactics used to become one of the most difficult sides to beat
in the Sixties … the oft alleged hints of bribery and corruption
by Don Revie … dubious refereeing decisions at key moments which
always seemed to go against the team … the thuggish displays of
violence by their followers. Indeed, Leeds United Football Club
owed its very birth to the scandal that surrounded their predecessors
Leeds City in 1919.
However, even that particular period in the history of West Yorkshire
football pales into insignificance when set against the extraordinary
events which surrounded the club in the first few months of the
New Millennium, culminating in what became notoriously known as
the Leeds United Trial. The club itself was not in the dock, but
it may as well have been, for the media feeding frenzy that arose
threatened to engulf and destroy everything to do with Elland
The story began in January 2000, while David O'Leary's youthful
side was enjoying a quite extraordinary season, launching a challenge
to the all conquering Manchester United's Premiership dominance.
On 9 January, Leeds enjoyed a breathtaking 5-2 win away to Manchester
City in the FA Cup and then faced a couple of weeks of on-field
inactivity. The break arose because of the decision of Manchester
United to forego their defence of the FA Cup, preferring instead
to chase the glory of the World Club Cup competition in Rio de
Some of the Leeds United players decided to go out drinking on
the evening of Tuesday January 10 in the city centre, including
Lee Bowyer, Michael Duberry and reserve striker Tony Hackworth.
Jonathan Woodgate, who still lived in his Teesside home, went
out on a bender in Leeds the same night with some of his old friends
from Middlesbrough including Neale Caveney and Paul Clifford.
Woodgate and his mates got riotously drunk and ended up in the
early hours of Wednesday morning at a city centre nightclub.
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According to David O'Leary in his book, Leeds United On Trial:
" On the dreadful night of the attack Woody hadn't been out with
Leeds team-mates, he was partying with his Middlesbrough friends.
As the court was to hear, one of them, James Hewison, who was
not on trial, was very drunk and got into a ruck at the Majestyk
Nightclub. Woody spotted his friend holding a bottle and looking
as if he was about to hit someone. The club bouncers threw Hewison
out, only for the trouble to continue on the steps outside when
a group of Asians mocked him for being unable to hold his drink.
It was Woody who tried to calm him down; Woody who tried to push
him into a taxi to defuse the situation. But several attempts
to placate his friend were to no avail. I remember Mr Justice
Poole pointing out in his summing-up that the comparisons made
by lawyers between Hewison and a gorilla or orang-utan were 'not
particularly accurate' as those animals were quiet and sensible.
"In the early hours paramedics were called to an emergency in
a side street in Leeds city centre. They found Sarfraz Najeib,
a student, lying on the pavement in Mill Hill. His face was fractured
in six places and his leg broken. He bore teeth marks from a bite
on the side of his face, together with the imprint of a shoe left
by a kick or a stamp."
Sarfraz Najeib had gone to the nightclub with his brother Shahzad
and three friends, all students at Leeds Metropolitan University.
the students left they got involved in a verbal confrontation
with one of Woodgate's friends, who had just been ejected from
the club. A spokesman for the West Yorkshire force said the five
Asian youths were being chased along Mill Hill when one of them
fell over. The group of white men then attacked him.
Bowyer, Woodgate, Hackworth, Caveney and Clifford were charged
with causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Sarfraz Najeib.
All five were also charged with affray, and all apart from Bowyer
were charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
Everyone at Elland Road was shocked at the accusations, especially
as initially there were hints that the attack had been racially
motivated. A media circus soon descended and all but destroyed
United's season. There may have been other factors, but certainly
the team's form fell apart in the weeks that followed.
Events were creating a siege mentality around the club and David
O'Leary echoed the feelings of many: "My suspicions of a political
agenda were intensified by the debate surrounding the date of
the trial. In September 2000, after the players had been committed
for trial, the Crown Prosecution Service said that their case
would be ready for January 2001. Leeds United's lawyers had pointed
out that if the trial took place during the season, the club would
be 'severely penalised in financial terms from the loss of a number
of players as defendants in the case, and to a lesser extent as
witnesses'. Mr Justice Henriques decided to delay the court appearance
until June 2001, explaining that the club's representations were
one of the factors he had taken into account in choosing to wait
until the end of the football season.
"Suddenly we found the decision taken by a High Court judge called
into question. Lord Dholakia, a Liberal Democrat home affairs
spokesman and former adviser to the Judicial Studies Board, said
that he would be 'seeking an explanation' for the delay from the
Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine. 'I'm shocked and surprised that
the judge should take into account representations of that nature,'
he said. 'It is wrong because if justice is delayed, it is denied
to people who are striving to find the courts will deal adequately
with cases of this nature.'
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"Mr Justice Henriques responded: 'Any company chairman making
representations of this nature would have them considered by a
judge in the setting of a trial date involving a number of that
company's employees.' However, he said that the principal reason
for the date he had selected was fitting the trial into the court
calendar: the new legal term beginning
that autumn was too early and the Easter term too short for a
trial expected to last six weeks, which left only the Trinity
term, beginning in June 2001.
"Nevertheless the judge's decision was overturned and the date
was set for 29 January 2001. I imagine that the defence legal
teams must have realised from that moment that the politicians
would continue to involve themselves in the business of the courts."
As players on the verge of selection for the full England squad,
Woodgate and Bowyer received most of the press attention. However,
they coped very differently with the speculation and the condemnation.
Woodgate virtually disintegrated during the trial, becoming thin
and haggard and betraying the impacts of many nights' lost sleep
in the dark circles under his eyes. He played no more games that
season following the commencement of the trial. A convenient ankle
injury was cited as the reason, but in reality it was psychological
problems rather than physical ones that kept the defender on the
Bowyer was a completely different case, playing the best football
of his career and eventually winning the accolade as the club's
Player of the Year in the eyes of both players and supporters.
That his performances came against some of the best teams in Europe
made them even more remarkable.
David O'Leary: "Lee Bowyer's performances for Leeds during the
trial were phenomenal. His ability to deal with the situation
and deliver on the football pitch
was epitomised by his performance against Anderlecht in February,
when the prosecution evidence was being heard. Having chased from
the court to Elland Road for the Champions League match, he scored
the winning goal in a 2-1 triumph with four minutes remaining.
On the eve of the game, Anderlecht players had suggested that
they would attempt to exploit Bowyer's temperament and he was
hit with a couple of tough challenges from Bart Goor. But Lee
simply picked himself up, dusted himself down and got on with
the game. Any hopes the Belgians might have had of rattling him
were totally unfounded. Neither Bow nor the rest of the Leeds
team could have wished for greater support from the Elland Road
faithful. Deafening chants of 'Bowyer for England' rang out around
the stadium, especially after he had driven home our last-gasp
winner to defeat the supremely confident Belgian champions."
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Luckily, with the trial being held in Hull, it was usually possible
for Bowyer to get from the day's proceedings to Elland Road for
mid-week games, although some away matches were impossible to
reach. Bowyer was the star turn as Leeds went undefeated throughout
the period of the trial.
Midway through proceedings, the case against Tony Hackworth was
dropped when Mr Justice Poole ordered the jurors to acquit him
after deciding there was insufficient evidence against him.
However, other matters were not going so positively and some
of Michael Duberry's testimony proved damaging to Woodgate, Caveney
and Clifford. He told the jury: "I asked him (Woodgate) where
he had been, and he said they had just had a fight with some Asians.
He was walking and talking at the same time.
I didn't ask him who was involved, that was the only thing that
came out." Things looked bad. The matter led to long-term acrimony
between Duberry and Woodgate.
The jury retired to consider their verdicts at the beginning
of April, and not guilty results on conspiracy were the first
to be given, on 5 April. The jury continued to consider the other
verdicts over the weekend of 7/8 April.
On Monday, 9 April came some sensational news - the trial had
been halted following the publication of a "prejudicial" newspaper
article. Trial judge Mr Justice Poole said the case against Bowyer,
Woodgate, Caveney and Clifford could be prejudiced by an interview
with the alleged victim's father printed in the Sunday Mirror.
He said the article's suggestion that the attack was racially
motivated, when the jury had been instructed otherwise, was deeply
The judge dismissed the jury of seven men and four women - who
had been considering their verdicts for 21 hours over three days
- after learning that some of them had seen the Sunday Mirror
article. "It is, to put it mildly, not at all desirable that a
crime and therefore a suspect, should be labelled racist when
it is the prosecution submission they are no such thing," said
Mr Justice Poole. "The whole misleading issue of a racial motivation
which the prosecution and defence have sought to exorcise has
been revived and placed before the jury in highly emotive terms."
The judge said there was "a clear and substantial risk of prejudice
raised by the article", adding that justice would not be served
if the trial continued.
The court hearing, which had already cost £8m, was postponed
until October when Bowyer, Woodgate and the others would be tried
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Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale said he was not allowed to say
anything about the trial itself but told reporters he was stunned
by the ruling. "After I read the newspaper article, I knew it
could be very damaging," Ridsdale said. Like everyone else, he
had been expecting a verdict so that Leeds could plan ahead with
or without Woodgate and Bowyer. "We are all so surprised that
no-one is yet in a position to comment in terms of how this will
impact the club."
It was very much a worst-case scenario, then, with the speculation
and newspaper intrigue going on for a further six months. There
had been some speculation that the retrial would never happen
because justice was impossible given all the damaging publicity,
but this was a vain hope and proceedings commenced, again in Hull,
at the beginning of October 2001.
The retrial lasted another couple of months, and it was on Friday,
December 14, 2001, that the final verdicts on events that had
taken place almost two years previously were announced.
The Times: "Both Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer were cleared
at Hull Crown Court of assaulting Sarfraz Najeib, 21. However
Woodgate, 21, was found guilty of a lesser charge of affray. The
central defender, who has played once for England, escaped a prison
sentence that could have ended his footballing career because
the judge said he had suffered enough after two trials and 23
months with the prospect of jail. 'You have suffered agonies,'
Mr Justice Henriques told him. 'It is etched on your face.'
"Mr Bowyer, 24, was cleared of all charges but was ordered to
pay his legal costs of more than £1 million because of the numerous
lies the judge said he told in police interviews. Woodgate also
faces paying costs of well over £1 million.
"Paul Clifford, 22, from Middlesbrough, was sentenced to six
years in jail for his leading role in the assault. Like Woodgate,
Neale Caveney, 22, of Nunthorpe, was found guilty of affray. The
verdicts came after almost five days of deliberation by the jury.
Woodgate was initially found guilty of the lesser charge of affray,
while Mr Bowyer was cleared of grievous bodily harm. The jury
of seven women and five men were sent back to try to deliver verdicts
on two remaining charges: grievous bodily harm for Woodgate and
affray for Mr Bowyer.
"More than 90 minutes after the jury had first appeared, Woodgate
was cleared of being involved in the attack. He looked stunned.
After another 20-minute wait, the judge sentenced him to 100 hours'
community service. As soon as he left court, Woodgate hugged his
father, Alan, his sister, Stephanie, and Linda Purnell, his former
teacher, who appeared as a character witness.
"Mr Bowyer puffed out his cheeks in relief as he was acquitted.
Outside the court he said: 'I'd like to thank everybody for sticking
by me, that is the people who have, and I won't forget that. People
from the club at Leeds United who stuck behind me for the last
two years were the manager, the chairman and the players and especially
Peter Ridsdale gave the club's reaction in a press conference:
"You can't quantify the damage that this has caused. None of us
have wanted to go through this and despite the fact that we as
a club were not on trial the mere fact that we are here today
demonstrates that the two linked together and at the end of the
day people have perceived Leeds United to be as responsible as
anybody else. But Leeds United have not been on trial. I would
like to say that there is no hint of racism at this club and I
was very happy to hear the judge in the case say that there were
no racial motives in the attack. Leeds United has been in a very
difficult position but we allowed both men to keep playing because
we believe that they were innocent until proven guilty. The trial
out of the way. We now want to go back to playing football and
try to get back to some kind of normality.
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"We recognise that all of our players are in the public spotlight.
If they do anything deemed inappropriate we know they are made
sure of the consequences of that. We will be taking internal disciplinary
action against Jonathan. We considered very carefully what we
would do in certain circumstances and we do not take this lightly."
The affair rumbled on over the weekend as the Sunday Times ran
several pages on the affair, including a focus on the reaction
of David O'Leary, who seemed particularly irate at his two players:
"David O'Leary last night said Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate
had told him lie after lie when he attempted to establish the
truth about what happened to Sarfraz Najeib. O'Leary also criticised
them for damaging the reputation of the football club and undermining
his quest for Premiership glory. 'When the full picture began
to emerge I sat all the players down and, pointing at Bow and
Woody, I said: These two have disgraced us all. They were running
round Leeds drunk that night. The terrible consequence of the
evening was that a human was left lying on the floor as though
he was nothing more than a piece of meat.'
"There have been times over the past three years when David O'Leary
has confided his dissatisfaction with the drinking habits of some
of his players. He disapproved of players socialising in Leeds
city centre and preached to them about the dangers of alcohol
abuse. Among those who listened were some who would not hear.
"O'Leary will renew his campaign to ensure his players behave
more responsibly. Yesterday the club announced a new scheme to
promote a better lifestyle and to offer guidance on the consumption
of alcohol. 'We will make it clear to players throughout our club
that excessive drinking will not be tolerated,' said a club official.
Whatever the new guidelines, no player is now in a position to
"The irony is that the vast majority of the first-team squad
at Leeds are excellent professionals. Players such as Nigel Martyn,
David Batty, Olivier Dacourt, Danny Mills, Rio Ferdinand, Jason
Wilcox and Mark Viduka do not need to be lectured on the dangers
of alcohol. The young striker Alan Smith is a non-drinker.
"Had they been in the gallery at Hull Crown Court last week,
the Leeds players would have perfectly understood the potential
consequences of alcohol abuse; there would be less need for new
schemes and old sermons. The harrowing details of the beating
suffered by Sarfraz
Najeib and the ordeal necessarily inflicted on the accused were
the most telling commentary on the dangers of alcohol abuse.
"Leeds United are, unquestionably, the most exciting young football
team in Britain. O'Leary is the man who has created the team,
encouraged them to play attacking football and raised expectations
to a level last experienced at Elland Road during the halcyon
days of Don Revie's team in the early 70s. Unlike Arsène Wenger
at Arsenal, Gerard Houllier at Liverpool and various managers
of Chelsea, O'Leary has sought to build an empire based largely
on English and English-speaking players. He has avoided buying
continental Europeans and has nurtured an ethos at the club that
is primarily British. It is an admirable aspiration that has been
deservedly praised. But it was certain that O'Leary's homogenous
group would reflect both the strengths and the weaknesses of the
native football culture. As well as the grit and the spirit of
the English footballer, there is also the drinking culture that
has long been part of the British game.
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"The situation was compounded by Leeds' greatest strength also
being the weakness. Because so many of the players are young,
the team has uncommon potential. But it is the youthful players
who are most vulnerable to temptation and least likely to drink
sensibly. All that happened that January night would not have
taken place without staggering consumption of alcohol. Neither
was it the first time that some Leeds players had drunk stupidly
and misconducted themselves.
"For O'Leary, this has been particularly difficult to accept.
During his 20 years at Arsenal, he was an exemplary professional
and a virtual non-drinker. He lived then like the modern continental
footballer. Saturday was his night out and it involved nothing
more than eating at a Chinese restaurant with his girlfriend Joy.
Later, when they married, he would take home the Chinese food.
"Though he preached to his players on the dangers of alcohol
abuse and warned them about socialising in city-centre bars, the
message never quite got through. O'Leary's abstemious reputation
as a player would have made it harder for him to convince the
players; just as a celibate priest is often disadvantaged when
dealing with marital difficulties.
"While O'Leary cannot be blamed for the excessive drinking that
led to so many problems for Woodgate and Bowyer, it will be expected
that he can ensure proper behaviour from his squad in the future.
It was regrettable that the manager did not speak publicly on
Friday, and his decision not to do so raises questions about his
"Officially, Leeds said it was their decision that Ridsdale should
deal with the matter. But on one of the biggest days in this team's
evolution it was important for O'Leary to address the issues.
The more plausible explanation for his reticence lies in his exclusive
column in the Sunday People. It is not uncommon for newspapers
to demand exclusivity from well-paid columnists on more newsworthy
occasions, and O'Leary's silence may have related more to the
Sunday People than to club policy. The difficulty for the man
who demands the highest standards of behaviour from others is
that he himself must be beyond reproach. Leeds's explanation for
keeping the manager on the sidelines was also undermined by the
knowledge that his forthcoming book, Leeds United On Trial, is
serialised in today's News of the World. The book is an account
of the traumatic 2000-01 season and is one O'Leary was genuinely
keen to write.
"However, it deals with the investigation and trial of Woodgate
and Bowyer and leaves O'Leary open to the accusation that he stands
to profit from an appalling chapter in the club's history. Asked
on Friday if he saw a danger in the timing of this serialisation,
Ridsdale said: 'I can't comment on what David has done as an individual,
the club have not done anything. If people perceive what David
does in that way (that he is profiting from the controversy surrounding
the trial), well, that's disappointing. We, as a football club,
are not profiting out of the events that have happened. We will
merely take stock of the events
and try to do the right things for the future.'
"Asked if he would prefer if the book was not serialised today,
Ridsdale said: 'That's out of my control.' He then refused to
comment on whether he approved, adding that the manager had the
right to say in the public arena what he wanted to say: 'That's
what I do and if the manager has chosen to do that, so be it.'
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"While the future is uncertain, nobody can question that the
Woodgate-Bowyer affair marks a turning point in the development
of O'Leary's young team. If it accentuates its maturation, it
will have a positive effect. There will be no difficulty re-integrating
Woodgate and Bowyer into the first-team squad, for they are naturally
fit footballers and they will want to prove themselves again on
the pitch. Both were back on duty at the club yesterday.
"O'Leary must deal with the rift between Woodgate and his fellow
centre-back, Michael Duberry. The two players were once close
friends but have fallen out since Duberry responded to a subpoena
and testified in the retrial. His testimony implicated Woodgate
and fellow defendant Clifford.
"It is not uncommon for footballers in the team not be best chums
but O'Leary will want Duberry and Woodgate to make up. How can
the team move on if the coolness between the two players continually
reminds them of the past? The club believes Woodgate has a duty
to be receptive to whatever is asked of him. 'In the case of Jonathan,'
said Ridsdale, 'he has an even harder job to restore everybody's
confidence in him as an individual and I think we would expect
more from Jonathan than we would from other players. He has let
his family down, himself down and he's let down the football club.
He has damaged our reputation.'
"Leeds say Woodgate will face internal disciplinary measures
and may have to move from his home town of Nunthorpe, near Middlesbrough,
to a location closer to Leeds. The club has never approved of
Woodgate commuting from Middlesbrough or of the company he keeps
when he returns home.
"It is equally true that there is tremendous affection for Woodgate
at Leeds. The misdemeanours of his past constitute one side of
his nature and by no means the dominant side. To his team mates,
he is a little daft but hugely likeable. Everybody accepts his
enormous quality as a player. Should he be accepted back into
the England fold, he would be a contender for a place in Sven-Göran
Eriksson's World Cup squad.
"In terms of the team's challenge for this year's Premiership,
last Friday's result at Hull Crown Court is crucial. There is
no certainty that Leeds, with Bowyer and Woodgate free to give
their best, will go on to take the title. But without them, the
team would not have had a chance.
"Though the defence has performed admirably this year, O'Leary
will be thrilled at the prospect of re-discovering the old Woodgate.
When he was
charged almost two years ago, Woodgate's form dipped and once
the first trial began last February, it slumped. He has been a
shadow of a once great centre-back.
"With Woodgate back in training, O'Leary can dream of teaming
him and Rio Ferdinand in the middle of his defence. Potentially,
they are the best central defensive partnership available to any
side in the Premiership. The events of the past two years will
not be easily forgotten, but they ensure the club's fortunes will
be followed more closely than ever before.
"The jury at Hull Crown Court returned last Friday, so Woodgate
and Bowyer will be part of the club's immediate future. The jury
in the case of David O'Leary and his team are still out."
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It was a startling piece of writing and the first stirring of
any real public criticism of O'Leary since he took up the role
of manager at Elland Road. His book, Leeds United On Trial, was
seen as cynical manipulation of the media interest, and all the
former good natured ribbing of his "naïve young manager" image
now became much more pointed and unforgiving. The pressure had
clearly started to eat away at the likeable Irishman.
And while Lee Bowyer may have been found innocent of all charges,
the affair was not over for him yet. He still had to face two
outstanding charges for misdemeanours on the pitch that had been
postponed until the trial was over, and they were seen by some
as a way of keeping the all action midfielder out of contention
for international selection.
Just as damaging, however, was the feud that erupted between
player and club. Peter Ridsdale: "Following the conclusion of
the trial last Friday, Leeds United Football Club, as previously
indicated, has reviewed appropriate internal disciplinary action
against Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate.
"The club acknowledges and accepts the verdict of the jury that
Lee Bowyer was innocent of all charges. Nevertheless, and in his
own admission, he was under undue influence of alcohol in the
city centre late at night, which is against the club's code of
"Jonathan Woodgate was found guilty of affray and was sentenced
at Hull Crown Court. The PFA maximum fine ceiling is two weeks
wages. Following the internal disciplinary meeting between the
manager, David O'Leary and
myself, Jonathan Woodgate has been given a fine of eight weeks
wages. Jonathan has asked that this money be put towards funding
work within our inner city communities, which we are more than
happy to agree to. Jonathan will commit to work within our community
programme. Jonathan has also been given a final warning regarding
his future conduct.
"Leeds United has imposed a fine of four weeks wages against
Lee Bowyer, we would also insist that Lee work at the forefront
of our community programme for the whole of the balance of his
contract. Lee has also been warned regarding his future behaviour
both on and off the field.
"Regrettably, Lee Bowyer has refused to accept this club disciplinary
sanction and has, therefore, been placed on the transfer list
with immediate effect. As a result of this Lee Bowyer will not
be available for team selection by David O'Leary unless he accepts
the club's disciplinary sanction."
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In the end Bowyer accepted his punishment, albeit grudgingly
and resumed his first team duties, but harboured bitter resentment
for months afterwards and refused to accept a new contract when
it was offered because of what he saw as an injustice.
Clearly, the affair was not done, but it seemed to make little
difference to Bowyer's performances on the field. He returned
to the side for a home game with Newcastle United on December
22, with the Geordies now themselves in contention for the Premiership.
Bowyer was as outstanding as he had ever been in a white shirt,
but the story was a different one for Leeds United.
The Sunday Times: "Early in the second half, the swirling snow
formed faint shades of white on the Elland Road pitch. It came
to purify the atmosphere, to belatedly bring the festive season
to the beleaguered men of Leeds. But then, 3-1 in front, the home
defenders swirled as incoherently as the snow. Before the end,
a white Christmas had become a black and white Christmas.
"It was at once painful and demoralising for the home team. To
lose a two-goal lead in the final 30 minutes is one thing, to
throw away a match winning lead at home is quite another. But
Leeds didn't just fade in the final quarter, they disintegrated.
Yesterday they squandered another two-goal lead in the last 30
minutes. It was all the more difficult to take because this was
Leeds with their prodigal son returned from exile: Lee Bowyer
started, scored a goal and performed well.
"Seven weeks have passed since Bowyer last wore his No 11 jersey.
Since then he has sat in the dock of Hull Crown Court and wondered
how long it would be before he played his next game. Since walking
free from the courtroom, he has been vilified. But he is a man
uncommon resilience: the slings and arrows seem not to wound him.
"Not only did Bowyer seamlessly return to the company of his
fellows, but he played with restraint and good manners. If he
means to show a better attitude in the future, this was an encouraging
start. In danger of making a late tackle, he held back; when decisions
went against him, he didn't so much as demur and he gave everything
he had to the team.
"Perhaps the least surprising aspect of his performance was that
he was still the same gifted young footballer. His goal, six minutes
before half time, reflected the essence of his quality. Leeds
had just gone a goal down and needed to get back into the game.
Few saw the opportunity as the ball was played through to Mark
Viduka, but Bowyer did. Surging from midfield, he cut through
Newcastle's defence and when Viduka played the pass, it was as
if the prodigal son had never been away. His first touch steered
the ball inside Nikos Dabizas's tackle, his second nudged it into
position and, half a second later, the net was shaking.
"Much of the week's angst was released in the players' celebration.
Their joy was palpable and barely controlled. Near the Leeds dugout
at halfway, Brian Kidd quietly turned and shook David O'Leary's
hand. Theirs was a different emotion, more relief than joy, but
no less intense.
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"The goal seemed a turning point: why else had the gods ordained
that Bowyer would score, if not to lead the team to victory? That
was how Leeds saw it and their morale soared. Ten minutes into
the second half, they were 3-1 up and the Yorkshire air was speckled
with dancing snowflakes.
"But this Christmas card from Elland Road is rather sombre. Doleful,
in fact. Leeds leaked three goals in the last 30 minutes and,
just now, they are far from a good team. Without the injured Dominic
Matteo, they moved Danny Mills to centre back and Gary Kelly to
right back. Defensively, they were shocking.
"Mills and Rio Ferdinand were unnerved by Craig Bellamy's pace
and never formed a partnership. On the left side of Leeds's defence,
Ian Harte's fragility has moved on from being a weakness to being
a burden. Kieron Dyer skinned him for the first goal, while Nolberto
Solano got past him for the fourth.
"It would be wrong to see yesterday's collapse solely in terms
of the defence. When Leeds were 3-1 up, the game was theirs. It
was the time to shut up shop and protect what they had. It is
an art this young team has yet to acquire. Neither
should anybody think yesterday's vulnerability was a one-off.
A coasting is a dangerous business and Leicester came up with
two goals and earned a draw. Four days ago, Leeds led Everton
3-0 but too easily conceded two late goals to their rivals. It
was going to catch up with them and, my goodness, how it did.
"Afterwards, O'Leary sat wearily down to rake through the ashes
of the dead match. He praised Bowyer for his performance and expressed
his disappointment at the loss of the two-goal lead.
"Thinking a little ahead, the Leeds manager looked forward to
being able to concentrate on the management of the team. 'After
what we've been through, managing the actual team will be a doddle,'
"It will certainly be easier than dealing with the aftermath
of the most traumatic week in the history of the club, but a doddle?
Not after yesterday. O'Leary has much to do before he rediscovers
"It is a test of his management and he will relish it. Just now,
at the turn of a bleak year for the club, the team does not look
good enough to win the Premiership. Self-belief has been one of
O'Leary's strengths. He will need it through the coming months."
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Four days later, the result seemed a lifetime away as Leeds put
all their cares behind them when a hat trick from Robbie Fowler
secured an impressive 3-0 victory at Bolton. "He's a clinical
finisher," O'Leary beamed, although the penalty that the Scouser
missed seemed to suggest otherwise. The manager was likewise delighted
with his defence, now with Woodgate reinstated alongside Ferdinand:
"I think there's a partnership there that will be as good as anything
in the country for years to come. Our concentration was a lot
better at the back. It's about finishing games off, learning to
keep the ball."
When Bowyer grabbed the only goal in the 89th minute away to
Southampton on December 29, it looked like Leeds United had finally
put their sluggish run behind them and were back in the groove.
O'Leary was once again brimming over with enthusiasm: "It was
typical of the goals Lee can score over the season. The goal he
got is his game. I had to get him to play out of position, on
the left side of three in midfield, but he was
able to receive the ball and get in the box. If we have a sound
base defensively, we've always got players in the team who can
pop up and score a goal like that. It wasn't the prettiest of
games, but we were unlucky not to be a goal up at half time. It
was a good, solid, workmanlike performance. We know we can play
better, but we have a spirit of togetherness. We stayed solid
and were always liable to score a goal. But we're not the finished
article by any means - we're a good team with a lot of maturing
to be done."
The revival seemed to be complete when two goals by Mark Viduka
and a special from Fowler gave Leeds an easy 3-0 victory at Elland
Road against West Ham on New Year's Day, restoring their position
at the head of the Premiership. It was as good a performance as
the side had enjoyed all season.
It seemed at long last, after a couple of turbulent years, that
Leeds United were finally going to realise all the potential they
had hinted at for three years under the leadership of David O'Leary.
Unfortunately, things are never that simple and everyone connected
with Elland Road may look back and wish that 2001-02 had ended
on the first day of the New Year.
Part 1 - Part
3 - Part 4