Relegated from England’s topflight sixteen years ago, Leeds United have endured a turbulent time in the second and third tier. An assortment of fifteen managers coming from six different nations have failed to take Leeds back to the big time.
With the current squad poised to relieve the city of several years of hurt and anguish, VAVEL takes a look back at the last time Leeds fans had something to celebrate, the 2009-2010 season.
The preface to the 09/10 season is a painful story for Leeds fans. Knocked out of the Champions League semi-final in 2001 by Rafa Benitez’s Valencia, financial issues plagued the Whites. Key men Rio Ferdinand and Jonathan Woodgate were sold, and a weakened Leeds squad was relegated to the Championship in 2003/04.
A trip to the Millennium Stadium in the 2005/06 campaign led to a 3-0 thrashing by Watford in the play-off final. Financial troubles again ensued and following a ten-point deduction at the end of the 2006/07 season, Leeds were relegated into the third tier of English football for the first time in their history.
Overcoming a fifteen-point deduction at the start of the season, Leeds again lost out in a play-off final, this time to Doncaster Rovers in 2007/08. The following season Leeds failed one hurdle earlier, losing in the play-off semi-finals to Millwall.
With boyhood Leeds fan and former academy graduate Simon Grayson at the helm, white rose tattoo cladded captain Richard Naylor, local lad Jonny Howson (the clubs youngest captain since legend Billy Bremner), the squad’s nucleus was born to play for Leeds.
Leeds let go senior squad members Jonathan Douglas and Frazer Richardson a combined 295 appearances for the club and academy product Fabian Delph was snapped up by Aston Villa for £8 million.
Coming in, Leeds opted for experience. Jason Crowe, Leigh Bromby, Patrick Kisnorbo, Shane Higgs, and loanee Michael Doyle were signed- the youngest Doyle and Kisnorbo at twenty-eight.
The opening day of the season ignited the fire. With the last of the summer sun beating down on Elland Road, a last gasp winner from talisman Jermaine Beckford gave the Whites a 2-1 win over ten-man Exeter City.
Leeds would go on to win their next seven league and cup games, their best start to a season since under Don Revie in the 1960s. Their unbeaten run extended to the 24th October, where bogey team Millwall defeated them.
A week later, Leeds were back on track with a 4-0 drubbing of Yeovil Town. Another piece of Leeds history was born as cult hero Max Gradel came of the bench to score his first goal. The Ivorian, on loan from Leicester City, became the epitome of a ‘super sub’ in the coming season.
Leeds recovered from the loss against Millwall to go another eleven games unbeaten. In the midst of their second unbeaten run came one of, if not the, greatest days in recent Leeds United history.
January 3rd, Remember the Date
Often, in a promotion campaign, the cup competition is shunned. The old footballing cliché of 'focus on the league' is distributed after a cup exit and attention quickly shifts back towards the climbing the division.
Leeds were well within their rights to follow this particular path in the 09/10 season. The club breezed past Oldham Athletic in the first round of the FA Cup to set up a second-round tie against Conference side Kettering Town.
With memories of last years cup exit to Histon United, in which postman Matthew Langston ‘delivered’ the only goal of the game, Leeds looked set to be embarrassed again. Drawing the first encounter to set up a replay at Elland Road, it took extra time for the Whites to beat Kettering 5-1.
Their reward? A trip to reignite one of England’s most infamous rivalries.
With its roots stemming from the fifteenth century War of the Roses, which pitted the houses of Lancaster against that of York, Manchester United and Leeds United transferred history onto the football pitch.
Intensified in the 1960s where Matt Busby and Don Revie led two of England’s major footballing powers in the hunt for silverware and again ignited throughout the 1990s with the transfer of Eric Cantona and ongoing player feuds such as Roy Keane and Alf-Inge Haaland, Leeds fans often regarded Man United as their nemesis.
An Old Trafford rendezvous in the middle of their promotion campaign offered Leeds the opportunity to demonstrate to the world they were still alive.
Alex Ferguson fielded a strong line-up, Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney led the line yet a lofted ball over the top from Jonny Howson allowed Jermaine Beckford in one-on-one with the ‘keeper to give Leeds the lead in the nineteenth minute.
Aided by 9,000 travelling supporters and an emphatic goal line clearance from Jason Crowe, Leeds became the first lower-league side to knock Man United out of the FA Cup under Ferguson.
To this day Leeds fans sing about January 3rd 2010, goalscorer Jermaine Beckford is heralded as a hero and the match itself offers one of very few occasions Leeds have garnered bragging rights over topflight opposition since their relegation.
The FA Cup win distilled Leeds fans with a pride they had been missing for years. However, on the road to promotion, it appeared the Whites had taken a wrong turn down FA Cup Avenue and forgotten the route to the Championship.
In more recent years, Leeds have gained a reputation for ‘falling apart’, with the tones of a popular Joy Division song following United across the country. The club could have received the same treatment back in 2010.
Post-Old Trafford dreamland, Leeds failed to win their next three games, with one draw and two losses. Despite a brief recovery with a win against Colchester United, Leeds went on to win one of their next seven.
By mid-March, Leeds fell off top of the table and were fighting to keep themselves inside the top two. A win against Tranmere Rovers allowed a little respite, yet another run of four straight losses seriously damaged the Whites promotion campaign.
Charlie Austin and Billy Paynter piled the misery on Leeds, as they combined to defeat the Whites 3-0 at Elland Road, a result which saw Leeds sink to fourth in the table with just seven games of the season remaining.
Leeds quickly recovered from the poor run of form. A brace from Argentine striker Luciano Becchio helped Leeds in a 3-1 against Carlisle United, making it three wins in row for the West Yorkshire outfit.
Back inside the top two, the drama was far from over. Just one point above Millwall and three above Charlton Athletic and Swindon, Leeds found themselves 3-0 down away to relegation fodder Gillingham within half an hour. Two consolation goals meant nothing to the result, but Leeds were in luck with all their promotion rivals also slipping up.
Another win was followed by another defeat as Leeds failed to capitalise on Millwall’s loss to Tranmere and secure promotion.
On the final day of the season, just three points separated Leeds in second, and Huddersfield Town in sixth, meaning five teams were still in contention for promotion with one game remaining.
Leeds’s opposition, Bristol Rovers, had nothing to play for; the task for Leeds was simple, win the game and they would be playing Championship football next campaign.
However, in typical Leeds United fashion, the task was immediately complicated. Thirty-four minutes in Max Gradel saw red for an off the ball incident with Rovers defender Daniel Jones. The sending off sparked unsavoury scenes with Gradel refusing to leave the pitch despite the efforts of his teammates.
Down to ten men, Leeds survived until half time. Elsewhere, Millwall and Swindon remained deadlocked, meaning Charlton, who led away to Oldham Athletic, occupied the final automatic promotion place.
Leeds conceded immediately after the break.
1-0 down with forty minutes to save their season, Simon Grayson looked to his bench for the answers. Howson, who had long been the source of inspiration for Leeds, entered the field in the fifty-fourth minute. A neat lay-off from Becchio set-up Howson on the edge of the area who confidently despatched the ball into the back of the net five minutes after his introduction.
With Elland Road shaking, Bristol Rovers crumbled. Four minutes later a deflected clearance fell into the path of Bradley Johnson whose scuffed shot landed perfectly of the feet of Beckford in the sixty-third minute.
Carrying the captain’s armband on what was to be his last appearance for the whites, the Premier League beckoned for the former RAC mechanic, Beckford slammed the ball in from six yards, sparking joyous celebrations across West Yorkshire.
Holding on for thirty minutes, the final whistle summoned floods of fans onto the Elland Road turf, rendering a ‘please keep of the pitch’ sign utterly pointless.
The years have not forgotten the men that restored pride for Leeds United. From scruffy Scotsman Robert Snodgrass to tireless worker Andrew Hughes- their services to the club are remembered with fondness.
There is an eerie resemblance from that squad to the current crop. Boyhood Leeds fans come on-field leaders Richard Naylor and Jonny Howson are replicated by Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips. Patrick Bamford’s willingness to defend from the front is reminiscent of Becchio’s performances up top. Throughout the squad a demonstration of hard work and grit is the foremost characteristic.
With the promise land on the horizon, the current Championship leaders could do a lot worse than to observe their club’s recent history in the search for inspiration.