Leeds United – From Milan to Yeovil

Leeds United’s rapid decline from The Premiership to League One has been well documented, much to the delight of a host of football clubs who despise them for various reasons. In 2001, Leeds were facing the likes of AC Milan, Lazio and Spanish Giants Real Madrid. Now, in League One, the club are playing the likes of Peterborough, Hereford and Yeovil, clubs who have never got close to the heights that Leeds reached not so long ago.

During the 1990’s, Leeds had done well in The Premiership but hadn’t achieved any silverware in the process. However towards the late 90’s / early 2000’s, Leeds were edging their way into the top four and won themselves a spot in The Champions League. Leeds fan Gary Hollis looks back on the European days as great bit of history for the club.

“The European days. Even though the likes of Bowyer and Woodgate were going through the trial for the alleged racist attacks, it was a brilliant high point for Leeds Utd. For the old, it brought back memories of the 70’s. For the young, these were the memories that they cherish today. If any game was to be pointed out as a highlight, it’d be Leeds vs AC Milan at both grounds. To win at Elland Road against these giants was terrific, especially from an injury time winner. Also, to grab a draw against Milan at the San Siro was unbelievable. It really was history in the making for us.”

Leeds, a club proud of their history, were relegated from The Premiership in 2004 as a result of then chairman, Peter Risdale, taking out huge loans in the hope that Leeds would once again reach the Champions League. Unfortunately for Risdale, Leeds narrowly failed to qualify for the Champions League and as a consequence did not receive enough income to repay the loans. Gary explains how Risdale put the club at massive risk.

“There’s many people who have had the blame put upon them. Obviously, there is the likes of Ridsdale and Krasner, the chairmen during the financial problems whilst being in the Prem. Ridsdales risks and tribulations meant we were in a position which could not be turned around easily. He put the club at a risk, where we desperately needed significant progess in Europe to bring in enough money. His gamble failed, and we’ve been in a downward sprial ever since. You can also point blame to Bates (to a certain extent). He’s basically lied to the fans throughout his time here. He told the fans that by the end of 2006/2007, we’d be winning the Championship and have no money problems. Instead, we were relegated and were in the worst financial state imaginable.”

A majority of Leeds United’s success in the League and Europe was down to the club’s superb young talent. Alan Smith and Mark Viduka caused problems for all defences and with players like Harry Kewell and Lee Bowyer supplying them, the team were bound to score goals for fun which they duly did. However, due to Leeds shocking financial situation they were forced to sell key players like Rio Ferdinand to help the club back into the black. The chairman’s falling popularity with the fans wasn’t helped by the fact that Alan Smith and Rio Ferdinand were sold to Leeds biggest rivals Manchester United. Harry Kewell was also sold to Liverpool, who were challenging Leeds in the league at the time.

As a result of the sale of key players, Leeds United were relegated to The Championship in 2004 and relegated to League One in 2007. Still, to this day, Leeds fans are struggling to come to terms with how far their club has fallen. Leeds are currently in League One, a league that is very difficult to get out of despite it’s lack of quality.

Leeds managed to achieve an astonishing 91 points in their first season in League One but they weren’t promoted. Due to another financial set-back, Leeds were deducted 15 points at the start of that season, this rattled Leeds fans who felt an injustice. They had supported their club during a difficult time and as a result got nothing in return and were still being charged ridiculous prices for tickets by much hated chairman Ken Bates. Gary tells us about some of the bad times the clubs have gone through in League One.

“One of the worst games would probably have to be Cheltenham Town at Elland Road. They played us off the park, after they were fighting relegation, and won 2-1. We didnt deserve to score, they deserved more than 4. It was embarrassing. Also, being tortured by Oldham 3-1 at Elland Road was fairly humiliating. It was humiliating because our club had been put to piecies so simply and so basically. There was no skill involved by either team. We’d been playing decent football before these games, and we never turned up. It proved to all the Leeds fans there those nights that we were really at the clubs lowest point. It had finally sunk in.”

While the lower leagues such as League One and League Two have stayed the same in terms of money and quality, The Premiership is being injected with more and more money each season which has lead to old title challengers such as Newcastle and Liverpool finding it difficult to get close to the title which Manchester United and Chelsea have ruled in recent seasons. Gary thinks that although The Premiership isn’t what it used to be, it isn’t far off.

“The Premiership was once a fantastic league. When we were challenging the likes of Arsenal and Man Utd, it was always open. Even the likes of Newcastle and Tottenham were competitng for the top two/three positions. Since we’ve left it has deteriorated (not because of our disappereance though). The top 4’s success and money has forced a whole new level of talent. Its took the excitement out of the Prem in some ways. The Premiership is still possibly the best league in the World, though if there were 6 or 7 teams competing for the top prize, like in the late 90’s to early 2000’s, it would be much better.”

I know what it’s like to follow a team in League One and it’s not nice. Visting Boundary Park, the home of Oldham on a cold boxing day wasn’t fun, especially as the game finished 0-0. I am thankful that this year I have visited magnificent stadiums such as Hillsborough and Molineux, places where you enjoy watching your football. Gary tells us how he enjoys the ‘League One experience’.

“League One is, in fairness, a decent league. Its a true lower league. Honest fans, honest players, honest grounds. Sometimes, like at Brighton, you hate being there. Its the worst away day you could imagine. However, places like Tranmere, Crewe and Oldham, these are smaller grounds with decent fans and honest hard-working players. Its an exciting league, where anyone can beat anyone. Its new and exciting for Leeds fans, if you look at it positively. Especially this season, where we have a terrific chance of claiming some silverwhere.”

Leeds reached the play off final at the end of the 2007/2008 season but lost to Yorkshire rivals Doncaster Rovers. Leeds are currently flying high in League One and I wish them all the best as they try to make their way back to The Premiership.

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