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05/06: Preview: Leeds United
Opposition opinion
by Leeds fan Nick Rowan

What happened last season?
What's going to happen next season?
Like a faded starlet seeking one more taste of the limelight, Leeds United continued to plumb new depths this season. Of course this time there was no frenzied mob of photographers on hand; no, those were times past, that had to be accepted now. As had been the case for the previous season, and the one before that - in fact one could easily forget where it first began - the off-field activities outshone the rather mediocre on-pitch antics.

A hero, a villain, a saviour, an old crank, Father Christmas' alter ego; however you see the man, C Montgomery Bates is now chairman of Leeds United Football Club. Whilst the previous board fought a long running battle against the press savvy Sebastien Sainsbury's attempted coup, Bates wandered in and snatched the club overnight. Where Sainsbury had planned to toss Krasner et al along with their sunken investment out with the trash, Bates took a more considered economic perspective.

Leeds fans were initially aghast; this was altogether too much. What happened to our twenty five million pounds of investment (you see, we all have our economic considerations)? Well, at least the club's not bankrupt, for another week anyway. This man was not good enough for division three's (now called one, maybe in minus figures soon) Sheffield Wednesday. This man was Chelsea incarnate. This man had Roman's money, maybe even as much as a hundredth of a percent.

It's not as if anyone held the previous administrations in high regard. Peter Ridsdale, until recently chair of school support service Education Leeds, has become local slang (and not just for incompetence). His successor, Professor McKensie, was another nail in the coffin for the standing of the British intelligentsia. It was an interesting aside to the recent Lineker-Kewell libel case to see quite how naÔve (demented?) the then Leeds chairman's actions were in entrusting the contract negotiations of both parties to agent Bernie "Be careful where you put that pitchfork" Mandic... from the £5 million transfer deal, Mandic creamed off £2 million for his company Max Sport. They really must be giving those university qualifications away these days.

Krasner's reign seemed relatively calm water in comparison, at least until one happened upon the Sunday Mirror's February 27th edition (2005). There in crystal clear, and quite frighteningly bizarre detail was an alleged exposť of Leeds executives Simon Morris and (interviewee) Chris Middleton's financial master plan. The problem was that Leeds had an expensive legacy of Premiership-wage players, "major liabilities" as they saw it - Eirik Bakke, Michael Duberry, Seth Johnson and Gary Kelly. A £15 million wage bill apparently called for desperate measures, though Bakke and Johnson's long-term injuries took them out of the reckoning.

For Kelly the plan was simple and reasoned, "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." (alleged quote of Simon Morris taken from Sunday Mirror interview of investment broker Paul Garland).

Cult character and occasional defender Michael Duberry was to undergo an even more contrived fate; Middleton claims that cocaine and ecstasy would be sprinkled, "disguised as Parmesan", on a pasta dish at reputable local restaurant, Bibis.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, neither of these plans progressed beyond the blueprint stage, though strangely Kelly and Duberry often played as if they had. Simon Morris denies any truth in the above allegations. For Bates, the issue had a more refined solution. Having reached 59 appearances for the club, Seth Johnson (£35,000 a week) was advised his season was over with a handful of games to go. For once it was not injury that had struck him down, it was the clause in his transfer from Derby County which would have cost Kenny-boy £250,000 for another cap. As when discussing penning his paying customers in by electric fence (Oh Guantanamo how I envy thee), Bates can make himself understood. "He can play for Leeds next season," Bates explained, "As captain of the reserves." Well there you go. Oh sorry Ken, you weren't finished, "And if he's injured for a reserve fixture he will be made to turn up and sit in the stand offering moral support and being a second-team talisman." (quotes from BBC Sport website). At the time of writing, Johnson is still a Leeds United player.

Even then Leeds had further to fall. The club's nadir, and there can have been few incidents more repugnant from supposed supporters, came when our own fans attacked Sean Gregan's car also containing his pregnant wife and infant child.

Leeds United football team meanwhile finished fourteenth in the league. Having flirted with relegation early on in the season, especially under the hovering threat of deducted points for administration, we improved as David Healy, Aaron Lennon and latterly Rob Hulse bedded in. Apparently one of the players then overheard the P word mentioned by a fan twelve rows back in the John Charles and with eight games to go we promptly caved-in.

Lennon, the hub in last season's best football, was promptly sold to the English youth vacuum that is Tottenham Hotspur Reserve XI. Simon Walton, similarly a product of the excellent Leeds youth team system, is another gem likely to be cashed in along the way. Replacements came in more seasoned packaging - Steve Stone, Robbie Blake and Eddie Lewis, all solid signings who will improve the team if fit. Competition for places is healthy and the side looks formidable on paper. Sullivan impressed mightily as player of the season last year, and perhaps with Butler and Hulse, would be the only player guaranteed a start on opening day against Millwall. One would imagine that those players alongside Blake, Healy, Lewis, Stone and Bakke are a cut above in this division, and that alone should guarantee playoff action at a minimum.

Certainly Chairman Bates will think so. Kevin Blackwell must be under no illusions as to the expectations of the fans and the board in this the last season of parachute payments from the Premiership (yes I know; not premier, not a ship).

It is make or break time and one might imagine it will be break for Blackwell. Having over-achieved with a rag-tag squad of misfits, it is time to prosper with an assortment of riches this year. It is well renowned that Bates does not believe in goalkeepers as managers, and old habits die hard. Expect an itchy trigger finger giving in to instinct at around Christmas time if Leeds are not within touching distance of an automatic place.

That said, Blackwell must be applauded for the way he has turned the club around. There seems to be little affinity and support on a personal level from the fans, who are burned out on perceived saviours for the time-being, though early wins would certainly paper over the cracks.

With the last eight games looking like a sugar-sweet run-in, albeit with the effervescent Bramall Lane fixture buried in the mix, Leeds look to have finally found the right blend for the (product placement removed by editorial staff) Championship.

Soundbites(from assorted census correspondents)

"go away and leave us alone please"

"Until Bates is tucked up safely in a coffin six feet under in a Monaco Bone Yard life can only be unbearable for any true Leeds fan. He should take Ridsdale Krasner and the Krankies with him on one of those hairy bends on the Corniche. Ya!"

"I shot the sheriff, but I didn't shoot no deputy"

"I use the word 'eggs' to replace words every now and eggs!

"Good site guys. Hope you lot do well, have nowt against Watford :)"

"Give Adrian Boothroyd my regards, I went to school with him you know !"

"Rhodar, our backside sponsor, are the luckiest company in the world. They get the most coverage of their brand, by being STRETCHED onto the arse of Sean Gregan. "

"This season we have an even more embarassing mascot than the last few seasons. But hopefuly a less embarassing team"

"Elton John needs to lose some weight."

"John Charles should have been knighted"