What happened last season?
"The times they are a'changin" -
Welcome to the rollercoaster that never stops. Leeds United. Here for your entertainment.
In hindsight it was probably a little arrogant to think that a football club could be run by a monkey. Sure, we all had a good laugh, yet like one of those reckless impulses on a hazy Friday night, a gradual wave of realisation hits as buoyancy fades to apprehension, which plummets rapidly in to misery.
I don't think that any seasoned Leeds fan expected anything better than a gallant failure last season. The ongoing fire-sale mentality of the board, led to a situation where anyone of any class exited for a song (and a subsidy) and anyone left behind was in some way defective. Seemingly, they did not consider the resulting financial implications of a below-par squad, fleshed out with loaned-in mercenaries who had little to no experience of the physical demands of English football. Little wonder to hear Roque Junior talk in such high regard of his time at Leeds, he was clearly from the Winston Bogarde school of football. A rich and bloated man once said, "Mo money, mo problems." Yes. That's the thing that keeps me awake at night.
The one that hammered the nail in was Woodgate's move to Newcastle. A player that often held teams off singled handed, he gave the fans genuine hope of snuffing out any striker, barring Alan Shearer whose personal average against Leeds weighs in at around five goals a game. What should have been a back four of Mills - Woodgate - Matteo - Harte soon became Kelly - Camara - Matteo - Domi, and the goals flooded in. Everton four-nil; Leicester, four-nil; Portsmouth, six-one. (Admittedly Harte was there just to take the piss and could conceivably have been single-handedly culpable for heavier defeats.)
Following our season was like watching the ECG of a flatlining family member receiving occasional and, as it turned out, inconsequential cardiac defribulation. Matteo scores in the last minute to snatch the victory over Fulham that we'd squandered minutes before. Viduka buries the forth against Wolves to take us off the bottom. Smith's strike from Viduka's cushioned lay-off to break Leicester. You wished, you prayed. You cried, you wondered why.
Towards the end of last season, fluctuating hopes were finally extinguished by a rash of injuries in centre midfield which left us with a combination of Radebe and Matteo. On such midfields are relegations won. Over-reliant on Smith and Viduka, the only other moments of class were provided by Milner and Pennant. Noticeably, all these players have now departed. With Matteo often forced in to an uncomfortable midfield role, our defence lacked any sort of defending abilities, merely possessing Michael Duberry's oversized head and Paul "Even though I've agreed to multiple transfers away from Elland Road, somehow I'm still here" Robinson.
I heard Eddie Gray say in an interview once that he had never sworn in his entire life, perhaps Mark Viduka was sent to test him. Having gone the entire season without winning when the Duke was not playing, his two dismissals were irresponsible and unforgivable. Having said that, it is difficult to really pinpoint any particular perpetrator as no one seemed above the repeated public displays of stupidity, disloyalty and illegality. Usually it was a combination of the three.
The finger pointing and witch-burnings continue to this day. In an article published in the Observer, Michael Duberry remarks "Those people who were in charge did what they did. If they can sleep at night, good luck to them." Duberry, nicknamed "The Getaway Driver" by Leeds fans, was set for a (free) transfer to Wolves until it became public knowledge that Leeds were obliged to continue to pay £30 000 of his weekly £40 000 wage. This is symptomatic of the shirking (of personal accountability for the results of your own actions} that has infected the club. "We sampled the caviar side of football," he said, some of us are still stuffing ourselves.
The ground is up for sale, the newly opened training ground lies in precariously auspicious surroundings, our grandma has been sold and shipped with a smile. Watford fans will shiver with the news that Jack Petchey is reported owed fifteen million by the takeover consortium and interest hits at a million a month.
What's going to happen next season?
New manager Kevin Blackwell has a clean slate with most fans; any association with the regimes of Reid and Gray is mitigated by substantiated rumours of behind-the-scenes disagreements over tactics and personnel. Perhaps harder to shake is the amount of time he willingly spent as number two to the man known to many simply as Colin. I mean we've all got families to feed but…
Blackwell has brought in a batch of seasoned veterans (read over-the-hill hacks - Deane, Butler) and a sprinkling of promising talent (read unproven gambles - Carlisle, Spring, Pugh). Amongst those who never were, the combined pace, strength and aggression of Barry "The Window Cleaner" Hayles may be the one to rue. Ricketts and Joachim need to gel fast as they are likely to need quick results to win over the sceptical Leeds faithful.
There is some expectancy of a decent promotion push this season which I think is pretty optimistic. The players brought in are unlikely to shine above their surroundings, and they have had precious little time to create the tight-knit unit required.
The omens already seem against us with the colossal blow that was Eirik Bakke's season-ending knee injury. I can only hope that the initial diagnosis is overly precautionary, and that our insurers are picking up his wage bill.
A return to the basics heralded by George Graham would be my personal method for reviving our ragged outfit. The shocking lack of fitness and discipline shown by the team in the past couple of years has squandered numerous points, whilst a slipshod defence has shipped a bucketful against the most pitiful of attacks.
Young Scott Carson has already impressed, and would look the obvious number one choice even with the rumoured purchase of Neil Sullivan, Rami Shaaban or Mark Crossley. In defence, I look to Matthew Kilgallon for the possible leap forward that his promise suggests, whilst the fiery pre-season showing of sixteen year old Simon Walton has sparked enthusiastic ravings.
This season also heralds the repeated nightmare of turning to the back page to be faced by Alan Smith in that red shirt (or as seems more likely that black tracksuit, ok so that's probably not a back page story but what do you want from me, professional journalism, pah!). The honourable waiving of his signing fee to help the Leeds financial plight will barely scratch the surface of the sheen of venom that has coated every Leeds fan that I have encountered. How could he turn his back on a club that made him the player he is, the team whose posters adorned his walls as a kid, a team whose fans mobbed him and carried him aloft even in relegation.
The often cited retort, (in nasally whine) "Well you won't even be in the same division," is complete shite. It doesn't f***ing matter what division they're in. They are the enemy. You do not cross that strip of no man's land; any other team would have been acceptable and there were comparative bids. These, we are told, are the actions of a Leeds fan.
I suppose we should be getting used to the modern mentality, showcased by Kewell and Bowyer among others, however Smith was thought to be a different breed. A product of the old school. No. He is a member of an equally long blood line.
Iscariot, Dylan, Orange, Clinton, Gravano, Alan Smith.
Anyhow enough of that and on with the here and now; all the best to Kevin and the boys for the forthcoming season, watch out for low flying debris in Cardiff and Sheffield, and here's to The Championship and the future.
Nick Rowan would like to add the following proclaimers/disclaimers:
I'd like to congratulate myself for not using these stock Leeds United phrases "Lived the Dream", "O'Leary's Babies", "Doing a Wednesday", "****" (re Smith), "Those memorable nights against Europe's
Blackwell was the wrong choice/ my choice and I told you so repeatedly (edit during season).
If we get promoted you can f*** your poxy league, we're off to be Billy big shots again, ha ha, let the good times roll. And one more thing. So long suckers.
We'll see you in a couple of seasons.
Yes, you really do need those glasses you've been thinking about.
Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)
"leeds will return to be the best"
"Leeds fans are not all pr*cks despite the fact that any T.V. channel tries to find the dullest one alive whenever we hit the news... a lot recently! Hopefully we will have some peace now. We are humbled by our speedy demise, definitely blame Ridsdale, Leighton et al for spending the money and, as good as it was, we would swap the 2001 season for Premiership status. We don't all think we'll bounce straight up but neither do we think we'll go the Wednesday way. It's time for the REAL Leeds fan base to show their colours. UP THE WHITES!"
"I got 10 application form replies to who wants to be my new girlfriend! the winner was leanne, and i'm asking her for a date next friday :-P.......... when she gets back from smegging hull!"
"Keep the faith, It's all we've got left!"
"WTF is Division One. Thought we were all now in the Championship, or summat."
"'Eleven plus two' is an anagram of 'twelve plus one'"