Part 2 - Cometh the hour, cometh the
man - Part 3 - Dawning of a new
era - Results and table - printer
fourteen straight seasons of top-flight English football, relegation
from the Premiership came as a terrible shaker for Leeds United
in May 2004. It was a hugely symbolic confirmation of the
woeful demise of a club that had been one of the powers of the
game, reaching the last four of UEFA's
money-spinning Champions League just three years previously.
The writing had been on the wall for some time, and United
had been fortunate to escape relegation in 2003.
Onfield misfortunes were as nothing, though, to the club's sensational
It took the last minute intervention of the Gerald Krasner-led
Adulant Force consortium to rescue the club from the brink of
administration early in 2004, but it was clear that their takeover
had not yet put United on a stable financial footing - the drop
came as a catalyst for a major clear out of the club's playing
staff. Sky high salaries, rashly negotiated when United were at
the peak of their fortunes, were now a millstone round the club's
neck. It was evident that they could not be sustained under the
more mundane financial realities of the First Division, now relaunched
as the Coca Cola Championship.
Parachute payments of £7m for each of the coming two years would
ease the transition, but Leeds had to find a way out of their
difficulties, and quickly, simply to remain in business. It was
recognised that any club losing its Premiership status could kiss
goodbye to £20m a year in lost revenue.
United's diehard fans were resigned to the inevitable retrenchment,
but few were prepared for the extent of the comings and goings
that took place.
United Managing Director David Richmond, son of the recently
departed and hugely unlamented Geoffrey, confirmed that the priority
was to reduce a wage bill that remained one of the highest in
the country at over £40m, with the average in the Championship
around £9m. The excessive contracts in place would make it a real
challenge to move some of the players on, even at bargain basement
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Richmond: "Nobody wants our players because of their wages, some
of which are beyond belief. But I will get rid of those players
we need to as quickly as possible."
Richmond wasn't around long enough to deliver the new dawn he
promised, choosing to follow his father out of the club on 12
July "for personal reasons". As fate would have it, or maybe in
preparation for Richmond's departure, Shaun Harvey had started
work as Chief Operations Officer six days earlier after leaving
Bradford City where he had been Managing Director.
That had been a strenuous enough role as Harvey presided over
two periods of administration
at Valley Parade, equipping him well for the challenges that lay
in store at Elland Road. He was clear, though, that the fans had
heard enough of the financial difficulties to last them a lifetime,
saying, "The be all and end all of football clubs is football,
football clubs are the 11 men who make up the starting line-up
on a Saturday afternoon. Fans are not interested in finance and
administration, or how much the board of directors achieve. They
care about what happens on the pitch - and that is their club
as they see it. For that reason, the start of the season cannot
come quickly enough for us."
Harvey joined a club that already had a new football manager.
On May 26, it was announced that head coach Kevin Blackwell would
be the man to take the place of the deposed Eddie Gray. The appointment
had been widely anticipated for some time, but there was an embarrassing
delay while United considered their options and discussed potential
new investment with local businessman Steve Parkin, who was known
to favour Crystal Palace manager Iain Dowie.
The delay boded ill, but Blackwell was given a personal apology
from director Simon Morris, who had vetoed the initial agreement.
Blackwell: "I was happy to sign, but only after asking to speak
to people who had put doubt in my mind. That doubt has now been
eased. I've had assurances from all board members, including Simon
Morris. It was important I spoke to him. I didn't want to be offered
the job on the back of one director agreeing and another not.
I had to have a guarantee from everybody I was the right man in
their eyes because it is a big job and a very difficult rebuilding
job. Along the way there might have been some problems, so I needed
to know I had their backing."
There was more to the affair than met the eye, and there were
machinations behind the scenes at the club, as recorded by Phil
Rostron in Leeds United: Trials and Tribulations: "Within six
weeks of their takeover, the new men in charge became embroiled
in a bitter boardroom power struggle. In a surprising U-turn,
the club's directors rejected a takeover bid from a consortium
headed up by lifelong fan Steve Parkin just 24 hours after agreeing
in principle to the deal. Chairman Gerald Krasner and managing
director David Richmond were willing to sell their stake in the
club, but the remainder of the board were against the proposal.
Richmond was said to be considering his future and on the verge
of resigning. Parkin's written offer was worth in excess of £20m
and included provision for working capital, but the board felt
the offer fell short of the club's market value and said there
were concerns over proof of funds. The board were also unhappy
that the consortium refused to sign a confidentiality agreement.
"Parkin's consortium, however, comprised a number of well-respected
local businessmen and adequate funds were believed to be in place
should the board reconsider. Richmond was bitterly disappointed
by the board's decision not to accept the offer and suggestions
of internal power struggles were rife. So the boardroom musical
chairs at Elland Road threatened to continue apace at a time,
three weeks before the end of the season, when nobody knew whether
Leeds United would start the 2005-05 season in the Premiership
or what was then known as Nationwide Division One.
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"Parkin had assembled a group of like-minded individuals to put
together an offer that would see them take a controlling interest
in Leeds and it looked very much as though it would succeed at
the first time of asking. While it may have seemed strange that
Krasner's group took over the club only to listen to offers so
soon afterwards, the board members then in place had stated from
the start that they saw themselves as 'custodians' of the club
and would actively seek investment from the very start. Krasner
said on his arrival that if other serious investors showed an
interest in the club, the board would consider its options and
do what it felt was best for Leeds United. Of course, there would
be a financial reward for any sale, giving the cynics a field
day, but the conundrum was how their profit equated with the nine
weeks of stress, pressure and turmoil that accompanied the original
takeover. Those two months leading up to the completion of the
deal were turbulent, to say the least, and various members of
the consortium were put under differing pressures that could have
seen it collapse at any time. They were the victims of an ongoing
smear campaign and faced all manner of accusations from
snipers all too keen to wreck the club's last real hope of survival.
Personal lives were torn apart during those tough weeks and the
pressures within showed no signs of easing."
Having accepted the job of manager, Kevin Blackwell had to wait
to start replenishing his squad until it was clear which of the
existing men were going and who would be staying.
Former manager Peter Reid had enlisted
a host of loan players to supplement his squad in 2003 and
they were now all off. Most of them had been foreign: Didier Domi,
Lamine Sakho, Cyril Chapuis, Salomon Olembe, Zoumana Camara and
Roque Junior. Kevin Blackwell
agreed that Reid's strategy had been flawed, even if he had few
other options: "Bringing in the six foreign boys was just too
many at one time. There is always an element that one in four
don't come off, but we were in a position where all of them had
to come off. Peter had wanted to make other signings but things
dragged on and we didn't have the finances, so he was left with
few options and we chased the foreign loan market. A few of them
arrived at the end of the transfer window (last day in August)
so they never got a good pre-season under their belt which really
they all needed. Many of them were thrown into the deep end, Roque
Junior was only in the country for about eight hours and started
a game against Leicester he was never meant to play in, but due
to an injury to Dominic Matteo, he had to. He struggled for the
rest of the time after that. There's a basic language necessity,
and when we needed to build team spirit I don't think it helped."
The two British loanees, Jermaine Pennant and Stephen Caldwell,
enjoyed more successful spells, but both of them were off the
books as soon as the club could manage it.
It had earlier been announced that the contracts of a number
of players, including Jason Wilcox, Michael Bridges and the much-loved
David Batty, would not be renewed when they lapsed in the close
Locally born Batty, 35, had joined United straight from school
and made his debut under the management of his hero Billy Bremner
in 1987. He went on to help the club win the Second Division title
and the League championship in the early 1990s before joining
Blackburn Rovers for £2.75m in October 1993 and later playing
for Newcastle. He returned to Elland Road in December 1998 in
a £4.4m deal, but struggled badly with
injury and became a peripheral figure under the management of
Terry Venables, Peter Reid and Eddie Gray.
The player clearout had commenced even before the final game
of the season, as goalkeeper Paul Robinson's long expected £2m
sale to Tottenham was confirmed. The cut price deal made it clear
that the priority for Leeds was to get the high earners off their
books rather than holding out for big fees.
Some of the other departures were more tricky, and it was difficult
to move a number of the high earners on as they resisted all pleas
to accept lower salaries elsewhere.
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The adored Alan Smith blotted his copybook with the fans by defecting
to the detested Manchester United for £7m.
Smith emerged at Elland Road as an exciting teenage prospect
in the wake of David O'Leary's appointment as manager in 1998,
announcing his potential by scoring on his debut, a memorable
win at Liverpool. He had come to symbolise the new Leeds for many
and was deeply saddened by their relegation, though pragmatic
enough to consider his personal needs:
"I've always said I wanted to stay here until it was no longer
possible and I think that's the situation we're approaching now.
Everyone appreciates that from the financial side, the club side
and from my own point of view it is time to move on. It was always
going to take something out of the ordinary for me to have to
leave and this is probably it. A few people have said that I don't
have to leave, but they don't understand football. I'm at a stage
in my career now where I am ambitious and I want to achieve what
I know I have the potential to achieve. Any Leeds fan who knows
and cares realises that we have to sell players for this club
to survive. It's as simple as that. It would be no good for us
not to sell, not to come back up and maybe even go into liquidation.
That would be no good for anybody. If people are going to be realistic,
they've got to appreciate that players have to move on."
James Milner's £5.25m sale to Newcastle was also a bitter blow,
but fans wept few tears over the other departures:
Mark Viduka to Middlesbrough (at £4.5m the only one attracting
a fee), Stephen McPhail to Barnsley, Nick Barmby to Hull City,
Dominic Matteo to Blackburn, Ian Harte to Levante of Spain and
Danny Mills to Manchester City.
In many cases, the deals negotiated involved the club continuing
to contribute to the massive salaries in order to get the players
off the books.
A year later, a Football League report on agents fees revealed
some of the steps that were necessary to negotiate the departures:
"The Football League have published the annual figures paid by
its member clubs to Licensed Agents for the period 01 July 2004
to 30 June 2005. The 6 month report to the 31 December 2004 saw
Leeds United reported as having committed to pay Licensed Agents
£1,553,688, which was comfortably the highest amount paid by any
club and in the main applied to payments made at the time of the
cancellation of high profile players' contracts."
But for injury, Seth Johnson and Eirik Bakke, might have joined
the exodus, while Michael Duberry refused to take a wage cut and
remained at Elland Road. Kevin Blackwell: "It made no footballing
or economical sense to let Michael go to Wolves under the terms
being discussed. What we would have been saving on wages was negligible
and it would have cost just as much to replace him. Michael expressed
a desire to stay at Leeds and I know he can do a very good job
for us in the First Division."
The veteran Lucas Radebe, a fans' favourite, signed a one-year
extension on his contract and Gary Kelly opted to stay, leaving
Kevin Blackwell five players with significant first team experience
and just three of them available for selection.
He did have a clutch of promising youngsters, Scott Carson, Frazer
Richardson, Simon Johnson, Matthew Kilgallon, Aaron Lennon and
Jamie McMaster, but his squad was distinctly threadbare.
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Many critics predicted grimly that Leeds would repeat the experience
of Yorkshire neighbours Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley and Bradford
City in plummeting straight through to the lower divisions. Clearly,
Blackwell's first priority was to build a squad strong enough
to survive while it consolidated in new surroundings.
He indicated that any new signings would have to be 'psychologically'
right for Leeds United or the club could struggle again:
"I think everyone in football knew there was a problem here,
but I think there was a time where if things were right we would
not be where we are. Changes happen because there are problems
and they must be addressed.
"The replacements will have to show the right kind of desire
to do well, and be able to settle in at the club quickly - which
is something that can't be guaranteed no matter how good they
"It means bringing in between ten and 14 players and to bring
that amount in causes problems with integration, understanding
and everything else. Whoever comes to Leeds United has to learn
they are playing for a massive club, so psychologically you have
to look at the players and hope their profile and fitness fits
the Leeds United bill. It's going to be a tall order getting the
right people in and it has to start quickly."
The overpaid and underperforming players, who had let the club
down and offered only embarrassing lack of bottle in return for
their big pay packets, were gone. In a perverse way, many of United's
ill used supporters secretly quite looked forward to a new beginning,
happy to leave behind them the cares and concerns of the last
couple of years. All connected with Leeds United could breathe
a sigh of relief, as the threat of bankruptcy eased and the club
Time was short when Kevin Blackwell finally got round to bringing
in reinforcements, and in many cases he had to make do with what
he could get, opting for some who were experienced in the division
and others who were simply surplus to requirements elsewhere.
The new financial reality being faced by Leeds and football in
general was rubbed in by the fact that none of the initial deals
cost the club a penny. This was in the sharpest of contrasts to
the days of Peter Ridsdale and the imperative now was to implement
an affordable wage structure.
21-year-old Danny Pugh, who could play left-back or in midfield,
came as part of the deal that took Alan Smith to Manchester United,
and it was rumoured that Middlesbrough insisted Leeds took former
England forward Michael Ricketts when Mark Viduka went to Teesside.
Scottish international keeper Neil Sullivan was a key recruit
from Chelsea and centre-back Paul Butler, who had won promotion
previously with Sunderland and Wolves, was confirmed as club captain
when he arrived. Clarke Carlisle (QPR), Julian Joachim (Coventry),
Jermaine Wright (Ipswich), Matthew Spring (Luton) and Danny Cadamarteri
(Bradford City) all seemed to be eminently sensible signings,
but there was some surprise over the return of former striker
Brian Deane, now 36, following his release by West Ham.
Leeds-born Deane first made his name with Sheffield United after
starting his career with Doncaster Rovers and 106 goals in 239
games for the Blades persuaded Howard Wilkinson to fork out £2.9m
to sign him for the Whites in 1993. He stayed at Elland Road for
four years before returning to Bramall Lane and doing the rounds
with Benfica, Middlesbrough, Leicester City and the Hammers. His
late goal at the end of the 2003-04 season for West Ham at Wigan
earned the London club a place in the end-of-season play offs.
Other old stagers, former England
winger Steve Guppy and Craig Hignett, along with the African
Serge Branco, were offered trials, but didn't earn contracts.
16-year-old centre-back Simon Walton was elevated into the first
team squad, emphasising how short United were for players, though
he did well in a midfield berth before being sent off in a pre-season
friendly against Spanish giants Valencia.
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The new manager had been able to fling together a new squad in
double quick time for a negligible outlay, but only time would
tell whether he could mould a collection of disparate individuals
into something resembling a team. There was every reason to believe
that it might be weeks before they could get to know each other's
play. It wasn't clear that they had the luxury of any sort of
Consequently, Leeds fielded seven debutants in their opening
game in the Championship, at Elland Road against Derby County
- Sullivan, Butler, Wright, Walton, Pugh, Joachim and Ricketts,
with Gary Kelly, Michael Duberry and Matthew Kilgallon featuring
in defence and Frazer Richardson being drafted in on the right
flank. The midfield quartet of Richardson, Wright, Walton and
Pugh was one of the club's youngest ever, with three of them more
at home in a back four. Clearly, these were not ideal circumstances.
The Leeds supporters showed great loyalty in the new environment
and a crowd of 30,459 flocked to Elland Road to see what the new
season would bring, uncertain whether their heroes would be candidates
for promotion or threatened by relegation. There was no way of
knowing how the new United would perform, though many fans were
seriously concerned about the centre-back pairing of Butler and
Duberry and there were rumours that Michael Ricketts was about
as likely to score as Kevin Blackwell! He had never really settled
at Middlesbrough after a £3.5m move from Bolton, where he won
his only England cap, and had managed just three goals in 12 months.
If anything, Ricketts was even less sharp than feared and spent
most of the game struggling to make an impression. His strike
partner, Julian Joachim, had a couple of decent moments and went
close after 19 minutes
when he broke clear of the County defence, but failed to beat
keeper Lee Camp in a one-on-one situation. The Leeds attackers
rarely showed again, and midfielder Danny Pugh looked the main
goal threat, surprising many of the home supporters with the quality
of his play, and having a header and a free kick saved in a decent
first half performance.
United had settled surprisingly well as a unit, but as the minutes
ticked by it looked like their lack of firepower would let them
down. To the relief of all, however, a breakthrough came after
72 minutes. Lucas Radebe, on as a midfield substitute for Simon
Walton, broke up a Derby move, allowing Ricketts to feed Frazer
Richardson, who had done well in his unaccustomed midfield role
and made some decent runs out wide. He cut in from the right flank
onto his left foot and curled a beautiful drive from the edge
of the area in at the far post to send the home crowd into raptures.
The Whites looked comfortable enough in protecting their lead
but it required a wonderful point blank save from Neil Sullivan
in injury time to deny Derby's Brazilian striker Junior and secure
The game prompted some hopes that this could be a very happy
season for Leeds, but just three days later the lack of realism
in those aspirations was starkly exposed. The team faced a trip
to Gillingham, one of the pre-season favourites for relegation,
who had kicked off their season with a 2-1 defeat at Ipswich.
The limited capabilities of the humble team from Kent were more
than enough to bring United down to earth - Leeds were simply
never in the game after Darren Byfield gave the Gills the lead
after four minutes with a wickedly deflected shot from 25 yards.
They fell further behind on the stroke of half time when Iwan
Roberts added a second goal from inside the penalty area.
The same eleven players who beat Derby were on duty again but
looked like they had never played together before and Gillingham
had much the better of the game. Substitute Steve Guppy laid on
a cross for Danny Pugh to touch home ten minutes from time, but
even then they never seriously threatened to get back on terms.
Kevin Blackwell didn't see it quite that way, saying, "Despite
the defeat, I think we have the ability to cope with life in this
division. That was only our second game together, so I'm not concerned.
If we had been battered then I would have been. We had plenty
of possession, 63 per cent, which away from home is a good sign,
yet what I have learned is that we have to be more clinical with
"I'm as impatient for success as anybody else, but I have to
be clinically realistic because that's only our second full game
together as a team and that takes some doing. I've already stated
I need more players and they will be the right players because
it is about a season, not a weekend or a couple of games. It's
nine months and I'm determined to have good value for a season,
not for just a month and repent for the other eight. I want good
players and if I have to wait and be patient then I will do because
I am building a club not just for the next couple of weeks, but
the next two to three years."
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The defeat set the tone for the next month as Leeds could only
manage disappointing draws with Wolves and Nottingham Forest before
losing poorly, 2-0 at near neighbours Sheffield United. The result
left the team in 16th spot, looking edgily over their shoulders
at relegation. They would also have to face the next few months
without the injured Lucas Radebe who suffered a career threatening
rupture of his Achilles tendon at Wolves and Michael Duberry,
departed on a loan deal to Stoke City on 15 October - many of
the supporters hoped to see Duberry's departure become permanent.
Duberry had been sent off against Wolves after conceding a spot
kick, which Neil Sullivan saved, and was a figure of fun for the
majority of the Elland Road faithful.
There used to be a particularly malicious joke doing the rounds
about the defender: "What goes One … One … One? Michael Duberry
doing his keep-it-up practice at half time!"
Duberry had burst into the limelight during the Nineties as a
product of Chelsea's youth scheme, and looked to have a wonderful
career ahead of him. Unfortunately, he slipped down the pecking
order following the club's decision to recruit expensive foreign
players and David O'Leary signed him for United in July 1999 for
He lost his place through injury and his prospects at Elland
Road were called into question when he gave evidence against Jonathan
Woodgate in the infamous court case. His confidence suffered badly
and he never managed to pin down a regular place in the first
team, although Eddie Gray gave him a decent run during United's
Steve Guppy and Craig Hignett had also moved on after failing
to secure permanent contracts, while Serge Branco departed without
playing a game and Danny Cadamarteri joined Sheffield United following
a disagreement with Kevin Blackwell. On the plus side, Leeds showed
that they still had some cash at their disposal by paying £1m
to West Brom for midfielder Sean Gregan and £200,000 for Southampton's
Scottish international left-back Stephen Crainey as Blackwell
sought to strengthen his squad. Unfortunately, Crainey was to
make just nine appearances before suffering a groin injury in
October that demanded an operation, effectively ending his season.
The new centre-back pairing of Clarke Carlisle and Paul Butler
brought some much needed resilience as Leeds beat Coventry 3-0
and then won at Plymouth thanks to an own goal. It took a wonderful
left-footed strike from distance by Danny Pugh in the 89th minute
to secure a 2-2 draw at Crewe, but United seemed finally to be
coming to terms with life in the lower division, despite lucklessly
losing by the only goal at Elland Road to Sunderland on 24 September
after Brian Deane had a headed goal disallowed. They managed to
put together a run of four games with just one goal conceded,
but the next match saw both Paul Butler and Matthew Kilgallon
dismissed as Leeds lost by the only goal at struggling Brighton.
The team had become difficult to break down but it was clear that
they had severe problems at the other end of the park.
Their strikers just could not get going - Joachim had managed
a single goal (in the win against Coventry), Ricketts' one successful
strike came in a Carling Cup victory over Swindon and
veteran Brian Deane had to wait until 26 October to break his
duck, as Leeds tumbled out of the Carling Cup, losing 2-1 at Portsmouth.
Recognising the paucity of his attacking options, Kevin Blackwell
recruited Southampton striker Brett Ormerod on loan. His stay
was cut short when he was recalled following an injury crisis
at Southampton, having failed to trouble the scorers in his six
games and missing a penalty in his debut against Sunderland. Kevin
Blackwell was disappointed to see Ormerod go, but he eventually
managed to secure his long-term target, Preston's Northern Irish
international David Healy. The move, completed on 29 October after
weeks of negotiations, involved a £650,000 fee and saw Healy agreeing
a four-year contract. Also arriving on loan was Sunderland's Welsh
international wide man John Oster, allowing the manager to experiment
with a 4-3-3 formation, using Oster and Healey to either side
of Brian Deane, now the favoured target man despite his lack of
The arrival of the new men marked a significant improvement in
the club's form. After losing badly at home in successive games
against high flying Wigan Athletic and Burnley, Leeds hammered
Preston North End 4-2 at Deepdale, lost narrowly at promotion
chasing Ipswich and then destroyed
QPR by 6 goals to one at Elland Road with Brian Deane inspiring
cries of "Deano for England" after an astonishing four goal return.
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It was a stunning burst of form, built around a fluent running
game up front and solidity across the middle of the park. Oster
brought an intelligent mobility to the right flank, and his weaving
runs were much more productive and incisive than some of the more
predictable straight dashing of the youngsters around him. He
knew when to switch direction and brought a freshness to the formation,
coaxing improved form out of Jermaine Wright, who had been a disappointment
since arriving from Ipswich - now he was proving what an influential
player he could be. Healy, playing down the other channel, was
a constant threat, and scored twice on his first return to Deepdale
after the move from Preston. Even the cumbersome Deane was becoming
a threat, benefiting from some decent service from the right wing
to destroy a shell-shocked Queens Park Rangers on 20 November.
As ever, though, United struggled to maintain consistency and
fell to a late goal at struggling Rotherham after Clarke Carlisle
hit the woodwork on three occasions before going off with an injured
ankle. They followed up with a dismal 2-0 defeat at home to Leicester
The team's shocking inconsistency was a constant frustration
for long suffering fans, but there was no excuse when louts abused
Sean Gregan's 14-month-old son and heavily pregnant wife after
the defeat against Leicester. Gregan came near to quitting the
game completely after the attack, but was heartened by the support
of Kevin Blackwell and more level headed Leeds fans.
In the wake of that incident, United emerged with a hard-earned
1-1 draw from a televised match at West Ham
after David Healy controversially won and then converted a penalty
in the closing minutes. Healy's Northern Ireland international
colleague Steve Lomas was furious, claiming that he had never
touched the striker, who tumbled like a sack of potatoes after
the most minimal of contacts.
A passionate Upton Park crowd spat out venomous abuse, but conveniently
forgot that only seconds previously, more blatant penalty claims
were ignored after a clear handball by Darren Powell.
Following a home draw against Millwall, when former United schemer
Jody Morris slotted home a late equaliser from the penalty spot,
Leeds pulled off back-to-back wins against Sunderland and Plymouth
Argyle to edge their way clear of the relegation zone. They now
had a nine-point cushion, although the continuing threat of administration
carried with it the horror of a ten-point deduction, and a consequent
plunge back into trouble.
They also had to come to terms with the news that they would
be without Brian Deane for six weeks after the big striker hurt
his shoulder against Plymouth, while John Oster's loan deal was
terminated early following incidents during the club's Christmas
party. He had earlier been arrested after a brawl outside a nightclub.
Young Jamie McMaster was also involved in the incident at the
party, which was thought to involve a female member of staff,
and was suspended, but Oster bore the brunt of the manager's ire.
Kevin Blackwell: "He was clearly in breach of club rules. Enough
is enough, whilst I am in charge I will not have players besmirching
the club's reputation. The player has stepped out of line and
I want us to be seen to do something about it. This club is bigger
than any player. When people write about my players on the back
pages I want it to be for what they're doing right on the pitch
and not for anything else. Leeds United will not put up with shenanigans
from any players."
Kevin Blackwell acted quickly, recruiting 32-year-old Welsh international
Nathan Blake on loan from Leicester City, and opting to give teenager
Aaron Lennon his head. Lennon, who had become the Premiership's
youngest debutant in August 2003, after coming off the bench for
the visitors at Spurs, aged just 16 years and 129 days, made his
first League start and scored his first goal for the club in the
victory at Sunderland. He went on to repay Blackwell
with some wonderful displays on the right wing.
An embarrassing 2-0 defeat at home to Crewe was followed by a
decent 2-1 win at Coventry. Blake got the first goal with a decent
strike, but suffered a ruptured hamstring against Birmingham in
the FA Cup third round and saw a promising stay cut short. The
game also spelled the end of Michael Duberry's Leeds United career.
The defender had done well in his loan spell at Stoke City, but
was recalled to cover a selection crisis.
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The Yorkshire Post: "The big defender lasted just 22 minutes
on his first United outing for more than four months before being
hauled off complaining of a hamstring injury. Duberry was only
back in the side due to the suspension of Paul Butler and Clarke
Carlisle, a three-month loan spell at Stoke City being cut short
a week early by Blackwell. And the return turned into a nightmare
after just 20 minutes when he unwisely tried to dribble round
two opponents in the centre circle, allowing Darren Anderton to
claim possession. Seconds later, and with Duberry out of position,
the ball was worked to Darren Carter via Clinton Morrison and
the Blues midfielder coolly beat Neil Sullivan from 15 yards to
put the home side 2-0 ahead.
"Blackwell, who declined to comment on Duberry's mistake when
questioned after the game, immediately replaced the defender with
Danny Pugh and moved Sean Gregan into the back four, United looking
much more solid as a result.
"Duberry undoubtedly has talent - anyone who saw the manner in
which he snuffed out the threat of AC Milan's Andriy Shevchencko
at Elland Road in September 2000 during United's Champions League
run can testify to that. Stoke manager Tony Pulis was also impressed
with Duberry during his recent three-month loan spell at the Britannia
"But the moment the former Chelsea defender is back in a Leeds
shirt all the old frailties return and his future seems destined
to lie away from Elland Road.
"Duberry told the Yorkshire Post: 'I don't know about the future.
I did well at Stoke but don't know if they will come back in for
me. I have been at Leeds for six years and had great times - every
time I speak to an ex-player, we sit and reminisce about the good
old days. I don't want to end it on a sour note. But if I am honest,
I knew that after today I would not have been in the team. He
would have brought Paul Butler and Clarke Carlisle back. At the
beginning of the season, I was all smiles and wanted to play football.
But it has been polluted by politics and off-the-field antics.
It is not about football any more.'
"Leeds could only agree the loan deal with Stoke by offering
to pay a large portion of Duberry's £23,000 per week wage and
the defender admits: 'It is no secret that my wages are scaring
clubs off, not a lot of people want to take that sort of thing
on. I am in a strange situation because if I am to go anywhere
there will be a lot of things to sort out. I will have a scan
on my hamstring early this week. It popped in the first five minutes,
I tried to carry on because it didn't
seem that bad but I could not sprint.'"
Duberry eventually moved, permanently this time, to Stoke City
on March 2, bringing to an end a particularly inglorious stay
at Elland Road, which blighted a once promising career.
After the Birmingham debacle, Leeds stumbled to a draw with Cardiff,
but were suddenly in the news once more for their financial affairs.
By defaulting on a £1.2m tax bill in December, the club had moved
onto the brink of financial disaster. They were forced to sell
promising young keeper Scott Carson to Liverpool during the transfer
window in January just to pay the wages, but things had come to
Sale and leaseback deals were agreed for the disposal of the
Thorp Arch training ground and Elland Road itself to keep Leeds
in business, but they were not enough … United had nothing left
to sell and the taxman was threatening liquidation.
Less than a year after the Adulant Force takeover, the club were
once more at death's door financially.
Part 2 - Cometh the hour, cometh the
man - Part 3 - Dawning of a new
era - Results and table - printer
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