Part 1 - A nasty dose of reality
- Part 2 - Cometh the hour, cometh the
man - Results and table - printer
At 2.27am on Friday, 21 January
2005, the black clouds of financial disaster finally started to
clear around Elland Road, home of Leeds United Football Club.
A £10m takeover by 73-year-old former Chelsea chairman Ken Bates
ended the very real threat of administration that had haunted
the club for the best part of three years. There was at last some
reason to believe that United would be written about for football
reasons rather than as a case study in managerial ineptitude and
14 different groups had talked to former chairman Gerald Krasner
about a possible financial deal but it was Bates who had come
through in the final reckoning, putting his money where his considerable
Following his takeover, the new chairman chose to replace the
board, bringing in his long-term aides, Yvonne Todd and Mark Taylor.
The only director who remained in situ was former player Peter
Lorimer, signalling Bates' attempt to prove he had the long-term
interest of the club at heart.
Todd, appointed Finance Director, served in that same role under
Bates at Chelsea for 17 years. She had always worked well with
him although it was clear who was in control. She assisted with
a series of moves in the early 1990s to transfer the club's assets
into a new holding company, saving Chelsea from the threat of
Taylor was Bates' lawyer and the legal brains behind many of
the complex deals that took place at Stamford Bridge, including
the takeover by Roman Abramovich.
The Sunday Times of 23 January carried a major feature on Bates'
"Rescue Leeds on a £10m outlay? It sounds as credible as buying
a derelict Chelsea for £1 and selling your stake 21 years later
to a Russian oil billionaire for £17m.
"Reworking the Leeds insolvency - reclaiming the land, the stadium,
the training ground and the lost status of a perilously overspent
northern club? As impossible as dragging Chelsea through the prospect
of extinction to the cusp of European domination.
"What Bates has done this weekend is, first and foremost, to
buy himself a life. He has enough Roman Abramovich roubles to
sit out the remainder of his days in his Monaco apartment overlooking
the harbour - but life in the tax haven is surreal boredom. Ken
Bates would rather be looking creditors, bankers, tax collectors,
players, fans, hangers-on and cut-throat opponents in the eye.
And preparing his chairman's notes in the club programme.
"The son of an Ealing lorry driver and a would-be Arsenal apprentice
centre-half who underwent an operation as a child to cure a club
foot, Bates soon became self-driven in pursuit of three things:
football, money and putting one over the next man, lord or pauper.
"It was Harry Massey, a retired builder and long-term Oldham
director, who coined the saying 'Mr Bates believes in a committee
of two - with one absent.'
back to top
"Yet Bates could be the saviour for Leeds.
"He understands football fanatics, and Elland Road is filled
even in adversity with many thousands of them. From the King's
Road to the Yorkshire pits, a common thread is the idiocy of grown
men chasing a leather ball, and the community wishing above all
else to be top dog at that passion.
"Bates, with his gruffness and his sometimes calculatingly offensive
put-downs, is as Yorkshire blunt as ever he was a Londoner. He's
prepared to pay for a new allegiance because the Abramovich cartel
not only bought him out, but spat him out with little more charm
than his own denunciation of the Mears family who preceded him
at Stamford Bridge. He declared them less welcome than lepers.
"A rugged toughness, hiding a sometimes soft-centred vulnerability,
a desire to be admired and liked, brings Bates back into football
chairmanship. The facts and figures of all his dealings - like
many such affairs in football - may forever be clouded.
"Whoever else is involved in the Geneva company Forward Sports
Fund that made the £10m offer, and how much of that is Bates'
capital, will remain, to use a familiar Bates saying, for him
to know and others to try to find out.
"But his background in football is better established than rival
bidders, from Sainsbury to fans' trusts to supposed Middle Eastern
"Bates, at least, has been there and very nearly done a Leeds
of his own. Many people point out that Bates took Chelsea to the
brink of the same consequence through ludicrous overstretching
- chasing the dream - as Peter Ridsdale, that ruinous fan in the
"One big difference is that Ridsdale backed the purchasing demands
of his manager David O'Leary and sold Leeds into near terminal
decline. Bates backed an awful lot of spending, but summarily
sacked managers who wanted too much too soon.
"And when disaster stared him in the bank balance, Bates had
the luck, the guile, or the know-how to find a man more wealthy
(for now) than any other buyer into the football dream industry.
That, Bates will tell you, looking
over his tinted spectacles, is what life at the sharp end is all
"In the year that 'his' Chelsea are ready to finally buy the
championship that eluded him, Bates is reaching down to try to
pick up by the bootlaces a fallen giant that has been there and
done that in the recent past. The wisest thing he is doing right
now is looking into everything before he speaks about what he
will do or how long it will take.
"Buying back Elland Road from the property developers and restoring
a team 'in good time' are all on the chairman's agenda. When he
entered Stamford Bridge, he fought property companies and local
authorities to prevent housing on the pitch there - and though
his detractors now point out that the stadium is enveloped by
a hotel, restaurants and other real estate commissioned by Bates,
the football field remains at the centre of everything.
"Elland Road was sold last year in desperation to reduce the
crippling debt pile, and Bates talked on Friday of exercising
the buy-back option on that deal 'in due course'. Until then,
the club has to lease its own ground from the property company
that owns it.
"Bates might prove as patient, as obdurate or as accommodating
as it takes to win that negotiation. But first, he addresses the
prospect, marginal though it appears, of coping with promotion
back to the Premiership. 'I certainly wouldn't like to get promoted
this year,' he says. 'If you go up too soon, you more than likely
come down again.'
"His talks to manager Kevin Blackwell will be intriguing - take
us up, but not just yet?"
Bates on Blackwell: "I told him he has my full support. We swapped
- as lovers do - home and mobile telephone numbers. The footballing
decisions are his. No good player will leave without Kevin Blackwell's
back to top
The new chairman was quick to set the wheels in motion after
assuming control at Elland Road. He was careful to be opaque around
the exact nature of the financial arrangements, as was his wont,
but went out of his way to be clear about his plans for the club
and sought to get the supporters on board, although his opening
salvoes were typically combative. He attended a fans' forum at
Elland Road on the Thursday evening following his takeover, and
was remarkably frank about certain things, but guarded on a number
Insisting that he had never been part of Sebastian Sainsbury's
consortium at any time, he stressed that the business of the club
would be conducted in private rather than in the press, commenting,
"This is a financially sensitive situation but an announcement
will be made in due course. This is a private club and some things
will stay in-house; we intend to give no commercial information
to our competitors."
Cautioning photographers to stop snapping - "Get out, I don't
want you flashing in my face, I'm the only one allowed to flash
in here," he joked, pulling his jacket open - and responding to
the ring of a senior TV man's mobile phone with the words "It's
probably your editor sacking you", he was in his element. "If
you carry on, I'll walk out," he said to one questioner, who had
the temerity to query the logic behind his investment in Leeds.
"It's simple really, I just won't deal with you," he told the
gathered press, explaining what would happen to any detractors
considering coverage of him or Leeds that he deemed unfairly negative.
Bates said: "Whereas a couple of weeks ago Leeds had their head
above water gasping for breath, now they are on the surface swimming
against the tide. The next job is to get
them swimming with the tide." The club had budgeted to lose £6m
this financial year, but cost savings had already been identified
and Bates said he had already completed his first commercial contract
which would save the club £100,000 a year. "It is my mission,
and the mission of my staff, to make sure every aspect of the
commercial side of the club is improved."
He assured fans that he would buy back both Elland Road and Thorp
Arch, but was not as yet in a position to say when. He confirmed
plans to give the pitch to the supporters: "We intend to work
out a solution whereby the pitch will eventually revert to the
ownership of the fans as will the name Leeds United." He had established
a similar scheme at Stamford Bridge.
"The fans' organisation will grant the club a 199-year lease
at £1 a year and give us a 199-year licence to use the name Leeds
United Football Club. That should ensure that any greedy, predatory,
property developers won't waste time knocking on the door."
Bates was asked why he wanted to get back into football, and
why Leeds United. "When I left Chelsea," he began, "I left addicted
to football and I missed it so much after just three weeks.
"I knew I wanted another challenge and it was just a matter of
where. I did try to get into Sheffield Wednesday, but did not
find what I found here; a board that were solely concerned about
the future of the club.
"The aim for the season is firstly do not get relegated, which
is almost guaranteed now, then to finish in the top half of the
Championship table. I would be satisfied with a top half finish
and ecstatic with a top third finish. The long term aim of the
club would be to challenge the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United
and Chelsea again."
He closed the discussion with the promise: "We're gonna have
a lorra lorra laughs."
If nothing else, Bates' arrival put an end to the tiresome speculation
that had dogged the club for years, although the press still had
at least one nasty ace up their sleeves.
At the end of February, the Sunday Mirror carried an extraordinary
story of a plot to rid Leeds United of two of its highest paid
players, Michael Duberry and Gary Kelly, the first by framing
him for taking drugs and the second by breaking his legs.
back to top
The alleged plans came as part of a move to slash the club's
exorbitant wage bill. Former club executive Chris Middleton claimed
that the plot was hatched between him and major shareholder Simon
Middleton claimed that they planned to sprinkle powdered drugs
Parmesan cheese on Duberry's pasta dish. He said that they also
considered dissolving banned steroids in a sports protein drink
aimed at the former Chelsea defender.
Middleton said: "Morris made out there were four major liabilities
- Eirik Bakke, Michael Duberry, Gary Kelly and Seth Johnson. He
wanted to cut costs by getting players off the wage bill. He made
it clear that their wages were in excess of £10million a year.
Johnson and Bakke were untouchable because they were injured.
The basis was Gary Kelly to start with. The boss (Morris) knew
Kelly went to the Bingley Arms every night. He said, 'Can we breath
test him'. Morris then moved on to Duberry. There was talk about
drugging his meal at a restaurant in Leeds called Bibi's during
a team meal, putting something in his drink, all sorts of stuff.
Me and Morris planned to do it."
Middleton claimed he was only going along with the plan to please
Morris, but still checked out which drugs stayed in the bloodstream
long enough to fail a dope test. "Morris would get annoyed and
asked what was happening. I was always making excuses. The plan
changed to trying to lace sports drinks with steroids because
he came to the conclusion that it wasn't safe to do it at a restaurant.
A call went into the Leeds manager Kevin Blackwell suggesting
they look at giving the players protein drinks to improve their
Middleton researched how to source 50mg capsules of banned steroids
to put in Duberry's and Kelly's protein drinks after training.
He said: "But then Blackwell opposed the idea of getting protein
drinks and that and it went out of the window.'"
Sports investment broker Paul Garland, who was being paid £2,000
a week to help re-finance the club, said Morris revealed his plans
to dope Duberry to him at meeting on September 18: "I explained
one of the concerns of the investors Nova was about some of the
higher paid players. Their wages were substantially greater than
most of the Leeds players - they made up 45 per cent of the total
LUFC wage bill. Morris said that there were 'ways of dealing with
this'. He said he had friends who 'might tip the wink that he
had taken something' and the Club would get him tested the next
day and terminate his contract. Morris said if that didn't work
'we will spike the drinks he has after training'. I protested
that this was disgraceful and that young players' careers ought
not to be sabotaged in this way. Morris just laughed and said
they were costing the club too much and 'they are f***ing crap!'"
Middleton also told of a plan to get Kelly off the payroll by
breaking his legs and cashing in his lucrative insurance policy:
"Then Morris said, 'What if we get him beaten up, I mean seriously
beaten up'. I had no answer. I conveniently forgot about it. I
wanted no part in it. The boss was desperate. No-one wanted to
buy the club's main assets."
In a separate meeting Paul Garland says the Leeds boss revealed
his plans to put a contract on Kelly. Garland said: "He said,
'He is the easiest of the lot - we'll just have him done over
in the car park of the pub. It would be the easiest thing in the
world for a couple of Man Utd fans to beat him up, and smash his
legs so that he'd never play again'."
Morris was unequivocal in protesting his innocence: "None of
these things ever happened. I have no knowledge of the serious
allegations. I deny plotting the Gary Kelly allegations. It doesn't
make economic sense. If he's in hospital for four weeks it's going
to cost you a hundred grand. He's on 24-grand a week. It's nonsense.
I am sorry I ever got involved with Paul Garland or Middleton.
If you lay down with dogs you get fleas. All these guys piss in
the same pot and have the same goal of causing disruption to Leeds
It was a disgraceful tale, and it was a relief for the club to
get back at last to the business of football rather than dealing
with intrigue and the gutter press.
The new investment had put any fears of administration behind
the club, and it was just as well, for they were sitting in fourteenth
place, just eight points clear of the relegation zone. If a club
goes into administration, they are docked ten points, so Leeds
had been in some danger of falling even further.
back to top
The chances of that were reduced by a scrappy 1-0 victory at
Stoke City on January 22. Neither side were particularly inspiring
and the only goal of the contest was symbolic of the entire game
- a low cross from David Healy struck the standing leg of Stoke
full-back Wayne Thomas and sliced past Steve Simonsen in the City
net. After months of misfortune, however, Kevin Blackwell was
delighted with the points:
"I am glad today is out of the way. There've been so many things
going on in people's heads this week. There was talk among the
players about the situation and I pulled them before the game
and said we get on with it. This is a brand new era, we can start
to look forward as a football club and I want to take all of you
with me. And if we can do that, brilliant.
"We are going to be scrutinised in everything we do and everything
we say, and none more so than the last few days when we've been
in every paper. But for the first time it's the right image, that
the club is moving forward and please God this is the point where
people can look and say that was the day it all changed.
"But the lads who have been here since the start of the season,
they've battled to be where they are. They've been given nothing.
People talk about our agents' fees being ridiculous, but all those
fees were to get rid of players. I would have loved to have paid
out £1.5m to get players in, but that hasn't been the case. But
those lads there did me proud on Saturday."
With only one defeat in eight Championship games, United were
now up to 11th and had a chance to break through into the play-off
zone. With most of the division enjoying a week off, Leeds faced
two games, away to Derby and at home to Brighton. Two wins would
see them in an unanticipated sixth position.
Unfortunately, they caught the Rams on top form and only a wonderful
display by Neil
Sullivan, watched by Scotland manager Walter Smith, kept Leeds
in contention following Tommy Smith's goal in the 63rd minute,
slipped home neatly after taking an age in possession and wrongfooting
several defenders. Substitute Adam Bolder wrapped up the game
with a second, deflected goal, deep into injury time.
There was further disappointment at the weekend against Brighton,
when United could not hang on to a lead given them by a fierce
Clarke Carlisle drive three minutes before the break. Guy Butters
found space in the area to head home ten minutes from time to
earn the Seagulls a point, despite having Charlie Oatway dismissed
with two minutes remaining for striking out at Simon Walton.
Promotion hopes were revived the following weekend, when Icelander
Gylfi Einarsson opened his goalscoring account for the club with
a powerful running header that won the points at Burnley. It wasn't
all plain sailing, however, and United had to thank Neil Sullivan
for the win. He saved a penalty from Ian Moore five minutes from
the end after some inept defending by Clarke Carlisle had gifted
the home side a spot kick. Again, Leeds' opponents finished with
ten men when Frank Sinclair was dismissed for a second bookable
offence after kicking out at Einarsson.
Experienced former England left-back Michael Gray, recruited
on loan from Blackburn, became the 22nd player this season to
make his Leeds debut in that game and a week later there was yet
another, when Rob Hulse appeared for the first time, at Elland
Road against Reading.
West Bromwich Albion striker Hulse, 25-years-old and languishing
in the reserves after dropping out of manager Bryan Robson's plans
at the Hawthorns, had been pursued by Wigan, Ipswich, Stoke and
Sunderland. He chose instead to join up with Leeds on loan to
get some first team action after just seven substitute appearances
Hulse: "I was off to a reserve game on Wednesday night, when
I got a call from my agent, saying to come up to Leeds and have
a look round. I'd been told that quite a few clubs had come in
for me and wanted to take me out on loan, but as soon as I knew
that Leeds were interested - well, it's a massive club!
back to top
"I see this as the ideal opportunity to get me playing football
again. I'm under no illusions, I need to be playing football and
I see Leeds United as the best place to be. I know that my match
fitness is down, but I've looked after myself and I've worked
extremely hard in the gym and after training. I know I'm fit,
it's just a case now of getting match fitness under my belt and
hopefully that won't take too long."
Hulse was pitched straight into action in what looked a difficult
home game against a Reading side that was chasing promotion hard.
In the end, it turned out to be one of United's outstanding performances
of the season and a remarkable debut for the new man, as noted
in the Sunday Times:
"Wins are no longer celebrated with champagne in the Elland Road
boardroom, after Ken Bates wisely decided that the money might
be better used by the groundsman, but no doubt a pint or two of
something less effete was raised to Rob Hulse last night. Two
cracking second-half strikes on his debut by the young striker,
signed on loan from West Brom, gave Leeds a win that suggested
the chances of the club's new chairman overseeing a return to
the Premiership are better than even he might have anticipated."
David Healy was revitalised by being asked to partner Hulse up
front after weeks playing wide left in a 4-3-3 formation and opened
the scoring after ten minutes, forcing his way between two Reading
defenders and clipping his shot immaculately past keeper Marcus
Hulse, though, took all the plaudits for a memorable second half
display, seemingly inspired by the opportunity to appear again
on the big stage.
After 65 minutes, Hulse chased a long ball from Sean Gregan onto
the left wing, controlled it and fed Healy. Aaron Lennon took
the Irishman's pass in the area and laid it back for Hulse. In
the manner of Mark Viduka at his opportunistic best, Hulse opened
the move out to his right, dancing across the field to make space
and curl home a fine drive.
The striker earned a booking for his exuberant, bare-chested
celebrations, but wasn't finished yet.
Seven minutes later, Hulse broke clear of the Reading backline
and from 20 yards hit another shot beyond the goalkeeper. He was
in unstoppable form and thoroughly deserved the standing ovation
when he was substituted a few minutes later.
Reading got a late consolation goal from a flick by Lloyd Owusu
but it couldn't dampen
the Elland Road spirits … there had been plenty of reasons to
be cheerful. Leeds were up to tenth spot, just four points shy
of the play off positions.
Leeds had another debutant the following week, midfielder Shaun
Derry signed for an undisclosed fee from Crystal Palace, after
being pursued for a couple of months by Kevin Blackwell. Derry
had a less enjoyable debut than Hulse, seeing United crash 3-0
at promotion-chasing Wigan Athletic, with Sean Gregan and Gary
Kelly having a set to in the second half. He was much happier
the following week, 26 February, when he snatched a late winner
against West Ham at Elland Road to keep unlikely hopes of promotion
back to top
That win took Leeds back up to tenth spot, just four points out
of the play off positions, and they edged a point closer on 6
March. They fought back from a goal down after 17 minutes to earn
a point at promotion rivals Millwall when Rob Hulse equalised
with 12 minutes left, scoring for the fourth time in four appearances.
The striker was on target again the following week, equalising
at home to Gillingham, but Leeds could only manage another draw.
Michael Gray was dismissed after an unseemly fight with Darius
Henderson that provoked an ugly massed brawl between all the players
and management teams. Both clubs faced FA charges for the altercation
and United were fined £3,000.
The dropped points were crucial, leaving Leeds five points away
from the play offs, with just eight games left - it was a tall
order, which became even more difficult when United could only
manage a goalless draw at struggling Nottingham Forest, thankful
when Neil Sullivan's fourth successful penalty save of the season
secured the point.
Before the game, Kevin Blackwell spoke of his mixed feelings
with promotion still a remote possibility: "What I wanted to do
ideally was build a team, make sure we were safe from relegation
and then experiment for next season. But we found ourselves so
much further forward that we've had to keep hanging in there on
the verge of the play-offs. I can't give it up, because it's still
there, but that doesn't allow you to experiment with the team
as much as I'd like to have done. We are in a position to keep
winning games and you have to do that.
"I can't keep looking short-term, I need to keep looking a bit
longer-term. We now know what this division is about and we know
we can compete at the top end. I've got to try to come up with
to make sure that we are right at the top end. And that really
is what the rest of the season will be about."
Boosted by the signing of Ian Moore from Burnley, Blackwell released
Brian Deane to Sunderland, and could also now call on the services
of fit-again England midfielder Seth Johnson and striker Marlon
King, arrived on loan from Nottingham Forest. All three were in
the team that drew at home to Wolves on 2 April.
The series of draws had virtually ended any hopes that Leeds
still harboured of a first time promotion and their morale was
badly sapped during the week when Neil Warnock's Sheffield United
came to Elland Road and inflicted a disastrous 4-0 thrashing,
with former United forward Andy Gray helping himself to two of
It was the Whites' worst home defeat in three years and ended
with skipper Paul Butler in hospital after swallowing his tongue
following a collision with Neil Sullivan. Happily there was no
lasting damage and Leeds managed to win their first game in six
four days later when they won 2-1 at Watford.
All chances of promotion were finally ended the following week
by a 1-1 draw at QPR with Shaun Derry dismissed after a second
half misunderstanding. Seth Johnson had given United a first half
lead, but the sending off disrupted their rhythm and Kevin Gallen
snatched a last minute equaliser.
Kevin Blackwell was disappointed by events, and in particular
Derry's dismissal: "We made a sporting gesture and put the ball
out then the QPR players came over and abused Shaun Derry. He's
told the player to clear off and raises his hand and the referee
has sent him off, so we might as well have played on. That decision
changed the whole of the game and we were comfortable before then.
I don't think Sully had a thing to do. Decisions do change games
and that certainly did.
back to top
"And then their goal came from a free kick which was supposed
to be taken right in the corner but he takes it nearer the 18-yard
box. If he takes it back to where the offence happened they can't
"That shows how far we have come as a club, we are disappointed
not to win games and we are a hard side to beat. We have travelled
to a place with a cracking atmosphere and it's very intimidating
when it's like that but we coped. I think they've shown great
bottle and I am proud of the lads."
Leeds, already having to manage without David Healy who missed
the final four games of the season with damaged ankle ligaments,
sprung a shock when they confirmed that Seth Johnson, despite
making a decent enough return to action with six appearances,
would not be playing again. The appearance at QPR was Johnson's
59th for the club, and a 60th game would trigger an additional
payment of £250,000 to his former club, Derby County. The official
club statement said: "Leeds United will not be selecting Seth
Johnson for any further fixtures this season as the club will
be liable to make an additional payment of £250,000 to Derby County
when he next plays. The club want to be satisfied that Seth Johnson
has a significant contribution to make for the club in the future
after his injuries before committing to this payment to Derby
County and subsequent payments based on appearances."
Kevin Blackwell supported the financially-driven decision: "It
is nearly four years that Seth has been here and he's only made
59 appearances in that time through no fault of his own because
he's been plagued by injuries. To spend £250,000 on a player for
the next three games who will not affect our season one way or
another, and then should Seth break down when we know he has had
major injury problems, would not be prudent.
"I feel for him and it does not make my job any easier, but we
have to accept that we will not put the club into financial difficulty.
This is a prudent measure, we have thrown a lot of money away
over the last three years at the football club and God forbid
we decided to play him and he did break down in the last few games
when there's nothing at stake in them.
"If he can get through pre-season which will be
a real physical test for Seth, then we will have ourselves a player
again. In the two years I have been here he hasn't done a pre-season
and it has affected how he's played."
With nothing left to play for, the final three games of the season
were meaningless affairs, although the closing day draw with relegated
Rotherham saw 36-year-old Lucas Radebe celebrate the end of his
career by coming on with five minutes to go to make his 200th
League appearance for the Whites. Six days earlier, the Elland
Road crowd paid a lasting tribute to the Chief during his star
studded testimonial match before a crowd of 37,896, the largest
of the season, raising £300,000 for charity.
It was a remarkable occasion, with a select Leeds XI sharing
ten goals against a World XI, who won 7-3, with Radebe playing
45 minutes for each side. The Leeds team featured such old favourites
as Vinnie Jones, Gordon Strachan, Gary Speed, David Batty, Phil
Masinga, Gary McAllister, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Tony Yeboah,
Nigel Martyn and David Wetherall. The World XI included Bruce
Grobelaar, John Carew, Mario Melchiot, Ally McCoist, Gunnar Halle,
Jay-Jay Okocha, Nolberto Solano and Olivier Dacourt.
back to top
The crowd gave Radebe a marvellous send off after 11 years of
faithful service to the club and it was a wonderful day for everyone,
including the South African, who said, "Thank you to everyone
who was here here today and has supported all the good causes.
It was absolutely fantastic to get a standing ovation and to see
the respect the crowd has for me.
"When we first started planning the game I didn't think we would
get anywhere near as many people in, but they have shown their
commitment to me and I am very honoured.
"This club gave me my big opportunity and from the fans, players
to staff, there are so many people I have to thank and I will
never be able to thank them all or enough.
"There has always been something special about this club but
I swear I didn't know the impact I have had at this club until
today, and I now know my input has been respected. It was a great
afternoon for me and my family and every minute was very special
for me. It was very emotional and I had to hold back a little
bit because I didn't want to be a big softy!
"I now join you all as a fan and I am
looking forward to seeing Leeds United back in the Premiership."
It was an emotional afternoon, giving both players and fans the
chance to celebrate their allegiance and to rise above the sorrows
that had beset the club over the last couple of years, almost
symbolically bringing down the curtain on a terrible period for
Leeds United, and signalling the end of a remarkable season.
The club ended the campaign fourteenth, their lowest finish since
1986 - Kevin Blackwell had given 26 players their debuts and 37
in all were used, while the club had sold both Elland Road and
the Thorp Arch training facilities, starkly reminiscent of the
dark times during the 1980's when United had suffered similar
turmoil and sold the stadium to Leeds City Council for £2.5m.
For a second successive year the club had almost gone out of business,
but the intervention of Ken Bates had ended the flirtation with
financial disaster, hopefully for good. The initial hostility
shown to the new chairman mellowed after a while and it seemed
that finally Leeds United Football Club could look forward to
some sort of future.
The dire forecasts of relegation had in the end proved too pessimistic,
despite the team struggling for much of the season. The form of
Player of the Year Kevin Sullivan, the goal threat of David Healy
and Rob Hulse and the loyal support of some of the best fans in
the country had all given cause for optimism. There was finally
some hope of a bright new future in West Yorkshire. As Kevin Blackwell
noted: "I am glad that this chapter in the club's history is over
because there were just too many imponderables and unknowns and
I think we have cleared a lot of those up. We now know that we
have got a half-way/top ten side and we have to add four or five
players to give us that tilt towards the top half."
He and Ken Bates were already planning a summer of improvement
- before the end of May, Rob Hulse's move had been made permanent,
with an initial payment of £800,000 scheduled to rise to £1.1m
depending on future success. It was the first step in a very active
close season, all in the hope that Leeds United could get back
where they belonged.
Part 1 - A nasty dose of reality
- Part 2 - Cometh the hour, cometh the
man - Results and table - printer
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