Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday Times 29/4/07
Leeds fall into abyss
Leeds 1 Ipswich 1
Paul Forsyth at Elland Road
Anticipating the fall of a footballing institution is one thing. Watching it disappear into the abyss, with scarcely a shred of dignity, quite another. The scare stories that have multiplied with Leeds’ every step closer to the trap door became horrible reality at Elland Road yesterday when the club were all but relegated to the country’s third tier, and the behaviour of some of their supporters compounded the humiliation.
During a dramatic finale, in which Ipswich’s late equaliser combined with Hull’s win at Cardiff to effectively seal the club’s fate, thousands of Leeds fans spilled on to the pitch in stoppage time, forcing officials to consider an abandonment. While the majority of home fans chanted "scum" and "you’re not fit to wear the shirt," it was at least 15 minutes before the pitch was cleared. Eventually, the players returned to complete the match, but it made no difference.
It all means that Leeds have 46 points and Hull 49, but the latter’s far superior goal difference makes a turnaround in next weekend’s final fixtures all but impossible. Agonisingly, the goal that did for Leeds came in the 89th minute, when Gary Roberts’ curling corner was glanced into the net by Alan Lee.
The pity was that this was not the last of Leeds’ worries on what had become a black day for the club, on and off the pitch. A huge crowd crammed into Elland Road with a mixture of alarm and sympathy that resembled nothing so much as a state of emergency. While the club have been delivered from European glory to humiliation in the space of six harrowing years, their supporters were not so demoralised that they couldn’t rally themselves for one last home game in an effort to prevent the worst.
The match doubled as a farewell to Gary Kelly, who has made 531 appearances in 16 years at the club. Fans were asked not to invade the pitch at full-time, or his retirement ceremony would be abandoned, but they were on it long before that.
After just 11 minutes, in fact, a handful of them had hurdled the perimeter fencing. That was how long it had taken Leeds to relieve the tension with a goal. Alan Thompson collected the ball deep in his own half, turned his man, and sent a long, searching ball beyond the full-back. David Healy dashed on to the opportunity, drove a low shot that the goalkeeper could only parry, and was rewarded when Richard Cresswell stooped to nod it over the line.
While the reaction bordered on hysteria in the stands, Leeds haven’t fallen this far without acquiring a keen sense of their own fragility. Despite Cresswell’s continued threat there were nerves in the home defence as Ipswich attacked with growing frequency. Rui Marques was required to make a sliding clearance, and Francis Jeffers also tested the goalkeeper from 12 yards.
Ipswich were quick and kept possession to ensure that their opponents’ willpower increasingly manifested itself only in late tackles.
Leeds still had the lead but nobody was more anxious than the home support. They exhaled in collective relief when Roberts’ volley rose over the top, and screamed with dread when substitute Jonathan Walters cut a perfect ball across the six-yard area. Had Lee been a fraction earlier in arriving, the equaliser would have been a formality.
As the Leeds fans grew ever more tense, lifted only by Cresswell’s diving header over the top, suddenly their counterparts could be heard down by the corner flag. Hull, it seemed, had taken the lead in Wales, and the travelling support was in no mood to withhold the news. "Going down," was the chant.

Nightmare at Elland Road
Mismanagement has sent a once great club from the Champions League towards third-tier oblivion in six years
Joe Lovejoy
LEEDS United are not the first former Premiership club to crash and burn, nor the biggest, but their meltdown has been the most spectacular. Six years ago, David O’Leary’s Leeds were Champions League semi-final-ists and as recently as 2002-03, under Terry Venables, they were Premiership leaders and beating Manchester United at the bear pit that was Elland Road.
How the mighty are fallen. Results yesterday mean Dennis Wise’s motley crew are effectively doomed to the backwaters of English football’s third tier for the first time. The club that rubbed shoulders with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Milan in 2000-01 is likely to visit Hartle-pool, Walsall and Crewe next season.
It is a cautionary tale of overweening ambition and financial mismanagement. Most observers point the finger at Peter Ridsdale, the chairman who behaved more like a fan than a businessman, and in his own words "chased the dream", but he is by no means the sole culprit. That said, Ridsdale’s dream had the rudest of awakenings, with the club £100m in debt and forced to sell their ground and any player who would fetch a price in a fire sale that averted bankruptcy off the field, but not on it.
The erstwhile chairman’s catastrophic misjudgment was to budget, or rather gamble, on Leeds qualifying for the Champions League on a regular basis. It happened only once, in the annus mirabilis of 2000-01, and when they missed out on the European cash cow thereafter their finances collapsed, bringing on a crisis from which they have never recovered.
Ridsdale’s ambition, first exercised through investment in players such as Danny Mills, Michael Duberry, Michael Bridges, Jason Wilcox and Darren Huckerby, was seen to be paying off, with Leeds reaching the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup in 1999-2000 and finishing third in the Premiership that season.
But once into the big time, the Champions League, the boat was pushed out so far there were icebergs on the horizon, for anybody prepared to look. Olivier Dacourt, Mark Viduka, Dominic Matteo and finally Rio Ferdinand (the latter for an eyewatering £18m) were signed on mortgage against the new income stream, and nobody was complaining as O’Leary’s adventurous team barnstormed their way to the semi-finals, where they were beaten by Valencia.
It was now that the speculate-to-accumulate approach started to become reckless. Fourth in the Premiership, Leeds had not qualified for another ride on the Champions League gravy train, yet it was spend, spend, spend. In came Robbie Keane (£12m), Robbie Fowler (£11m) and Seth Johnson (£7m), while nobody of financial consequence was sold. Yet if Ridsdale was to blame for sanctioning it all, questions must also be asked of O’Leary. Such as why, with Viduka, Keane, Bridges, Alan Smith and Harry Kewell to play up front, did he feel the need to acquire Fowler?
Top of the table at the turn of the year, Leeds fell away badly to trail in fifth and, with the club £77m in the red, O’Leary was sacked in a summer of discontent that bordered on panic. Venables was appointed to replace him in July 2002 but before a match was played he had to sell Ferdinand. Keane went at the end of August, followed by Jonathan Woodgate and Fowler, and Venables gave way to Peter Reid before the season was out.
Ridsdale quit in March 2003, at which point the club’s debt was £78.9m. Nobody has been able to halt the decline since and there is a possibility that relegation could lead to administration and resurrection as "Leeds United 2008". In that event, they would start next season with a 10-point penalty and be debt-free but at the bottom of the table. Ridsdale is redeeming himself through careful husbandry at Cardiff City. For Leeds, redemption may take a lot longer. Ask Nottingham Forest.

Fallen giants

  • Swansea John Toshack took charge in April 1978 and took the Fourth Division club into the top flight by 1981. By 1986 they were back where they started

  • Northampton Third Division champions in 1963, they reached the old First Division by in 1965 but went down after one season. They narrowly avoiding dropping into the Conference in 1994

  • MK Dons Elected (as Wimbledon) to the Football League in 1977, they reached the First Division in 1986 and beat Liverpool to win the FA Cup in 1988. Relegated in 2000, they moved to Milton Keynes in 2004

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sunday Times 22/4/07
Leeds slide closer to drop
Southampton 1 Leeds 0
Rob Maul at St Mary’s stadium
IF, AS appears increasingly likely, Leeds United, European Cup semi-finalists in 2001 and First Division champions only 15 years ago, are relegated this season into the third tier of English football for the first time in their 88-year history, this match could prove to be the most decisive moment in what has been a long and arduous season.
Just when it seemed that Leeds had managed to secure a valuable and hard-fought away point, thus maintaining pace with Hull City, who remain above the relegation zone — and given themselves the essential added belief that they can avoid demotion to League One — they conceded a dramatic but cruel winner to Southampton substitute Bradley Wright-Phillips. Now, with two matches remaining the safety gap is just one point but Leeds, significantly, have an inferior goal difference.
Staffordshire official Tony Bates’s decision to send off experienced midfielder Alan Thompson in the 34th minute proved to be the turning of the match and could possibly have longer-term ramifications for the season. "All I do is talk about referees, yet they don’t get penalised," argued manager Dennis Wise, who is set to appeal against Thompson’s subsequent suspension.
As the impressive John Viafara tried angrily to confront Eddie Lewis following a tackle, Thompson grabbed the aggrieved Saints player quite aggressively around the throat, with the intention of holding him back. By the letter of the law it was a sending-off and, after consulting his linesman, the referee produced the red card. Wise alleged that defender Chris Baird had thrown a punch at Thompson; Saints manager George Burley was nonplussed about the situation. "If he had, then I am sure the linesman standing five yards away would have seen it and (Baird) would have gone."
Reduced to 10 men, Leeds worked hard and defended resolutely, if not desperately at times, in the second half but, with six minutes remaining, the Saints finally capitalised on their extra man advantage, Wright-Phillips hooking a volley into the net, albeit fortuitously aided by the crossbar, past the otherwise excellent goalkeeper Casper Ankergren.
One goal was always going to be enough. Until then, more than 3,000 Leeds fans who had made the journey from Yorkshire had been excellent, but a small minority almost spoiled the afternoon by hurling objects at the Southampton fans. Neither manager saw it or wished to comment.

BBC 21/4/07
Southampton 1-0 Leeds
Bradley Wright-Phillips struck late on to keep Southampton's play-off hopes alive and leave Leeds deep in trouble.
Leeds' Alan Thompson saw red after 32 minutes after a clash with John Viafara, which saw angry players being kept apart by referee Tony Bates.
Wright-Phillips broke the deadlock with six minutes left, hooking home a cross from fellow substitute Djamel Belmadi.
Grzegorz Rasiak had the ball in the net after Wright-Phillips' strike, but it was ruled out for offside.
Southampton manager George Burley:"We knew Leeds would be fighting for their lives and all credit to them, they made it difficult for us to break them down.
"But we kept at them, we put Bradley on the wing to give us some more finishing power and it paid off.
"I think we deserved it."
Leeds boss Dennis Wise on Thompson's sending off"The linesman made the decision but he was 40 yards away.
"Thompson pulled Viafara away from Eddie Lewis because they were going to clash, and the officials misunderstood.
"I'm always talking about the refs, but they should be penalised."
New pages uploaded at

Willie Bell – Hewn of Scottish granite
Hewn of Scottish granite, the Scottish Hammer was one of Don Revie's unsung heroes as Leeds United rose from Second Division obscurity to the very top of the English game
Read the full story at

There’s also a couple of major rewrites –

Jim Storrie – The laughing cavalier
Originally signed as a foil for John Charles, his goals were the foundation for the rise of Don Revie's 60s side - now expanded with the story of his time with Tommy Docherty at Rotherham

Bobby Collins – Part 5 End of the line
Revie's enforcer, the heart and soul, the rousing, restless, ferocious spirit - now expanded with excerpts from Terry Yorath's book covering his time in charge of Leeds reserves
Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Daily Mail 15/4/07
Heath raises Leeds hopes
Leeds United 1 Burnley 0
Matt Heath won it by a nose for Leeds to keep alive their hopes of Championship survival, but admitted he had no idea whether he had a long-term future at Elland Road.
The central defender followed partner Lubomir Michalik, who headed a late winner against Plymouth a week earlier. Heath's golden goal came after 21 minutes and he was denied a quick second to make his side and their fans sit more comfortably by an astonishing save from Brian Jensen.
Heath, who Leeds first took him on loan from Coventry in November before signing him in January on a short-term contract to the end of the season, knows it's still going to be tough to get out of the bottom three with two difficult away fixtures at Southampton and Derby and a home game against Ipswich left.
"We need to win the home game and pick up as many points as we can away," he said. "We probably need another away win to be safe and that's what we'll be looking for in the next match at Southampton. I think we can do it - of course, we can.
"It's a little bit frustrating that we're still in the bottom three, but there are four teams now who have concertinaed up. There's just two points between us now. It's a case of holding your nerve.
"Nobody has said anything to me about a new contract. I'm just taking each game as it comes. It doesn't affect me when I'm playing. All I'm looking at is to help keep Leeds United up. We've given ourselves a hell of a chance now. It's just a must that Leeds stay up."
Heath was unlucky not to have scored for his third goal for Leeds with a "perfect" header when he rose to meet a corner from Alan Thompson but he confessed: "I nosed it." The contact drew blood and he played the rest of the match in a shirt that had no name or number on it. "It's a bit sore. I got a bash on it last week and the ball hit it and set it off again," he explained.
"I thought I'd scored a second, but the 'keeper made a great save. I thought it was going in and I was a little bit disappointed because that would have taken some of the pressure off."
Full-back Frazer Richardson was even closer with a 40-yarder that bounced off the top of the bar in a dominant first half for Leeds.
Burnley, however, took control in the second half but created few clear chances and couldn't maintain the momentum from three consecutive victories following their winless run of 19 games stretching back to their success against Leeds at Turf Moor in November.
Burnley manager Steve Cotterill was disappointed to see the end of the recent revival, but was philosophical about it, to the point where he had no complaint about the goal even though he felt goalkeeper Jensen was blocked off. His view is that his own players would do it if they felt they could get away with it.
It was the first goal conceded in five outings since the defeat at Preston almost a month ago. "We said going into the game that we had to head it well because they will stick balls in your box, create havoc and look for the knock-downs," said Cotterill.
"The 'keeper got blocked for the goal, but we could have dealt with it. That's the disappointing part because we have worked hard on set-plays, but it's undone us. We missed out on three headers and one of them has ended up in the back of the net."

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Heath relief as Whites hold on
Leeds endured another nerve-jangling finish as Matt Heath's first-half goal boosted their hopes of survival in a 1-0 win over Burnley
Heath outjumped the visitors' defence to power home a 21st-minute header from Alan Thompson's corner, while Frazer Richardson saw his 35-yard first-half volley clatter the crossbar.
The home side were unable to find a second goal and anxiously defended their narrow advantage against a disappointing Burnley outfit.
Dennis Wise's relegation-threatened side stormed out of the blocks in a game they dared not lose with Heath giving them a deserved lead.
But in the closing seconds of the first half Leeds goalkeeper Casper Ankergren pulled off a fine save to block Wayne Thomas' goalbound shot.
Leeds were without suspended skipper Jonathan Douglas, so Robbie Blake returned to the starting line-up, with David Healy handed the captain's armband for the remainder of the season.
Richardson returned to the back four in place of Rui Marques, while Tresor Kandol made way for Richard Cresswell, who shook off a knee injury.
Burnley manager Steve Cotterill named an unchanged starting line-up for the fourth match running.
Healy went close to giving Leeds a flying start but his low shot on the turn in the penalty area was collected by Burnley goalkeeper Brian Jensen.
Slick passing down the right then set Cresswell free and his low cross was hacked clear by Thomas, while Radostin Kishishev was off target with a raking shot from 30 yards.
Leeds were not to be denied the opener, Heath easing early tension on the terraces when he outjumped Burnley's defence to power home a header from Thompson's corner.
Leeds promptly defended two quick corners before Richardson thundered a 30-yard volley onto the crossbar with Jensen well beaten.
The home side's tails were up and they stormed forward again with Jensen this time tipping Cresswell's header from Heath's flick-on over the crossbar.
Paul McVeigh rifled a shot over the bar in a rare foray forward for the visitors before Heath went close to adding a second from another Thompson corner.
Neither side created a goalscoring chance in the second period until Lewis just failed to latch on to Richardson's cross at the far post.
Healy then swivelled onto a loose ball in the area but failed to keep it down, while at the other end McVeigh and then James O'Connor blazed high and wide from outside the area.
Thompson stroked a trademark free-kick straight at Jensen but with 15 minutes of the game remaining the second half had barely flickered into life.
Wise made his intentions clear when he replaced Blake with defender Rui Marques in the final quarter, while not even the introduction of substitutes Ade Akinbiyi and John Spicer could inspire Burnley out of their end-of-season torpor.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Telegraph 10/4/07
Past returns to haunt Leeds
By Trevor Haylett
Colchester United (0) 2 Leeds United (0) 1
Just like their celebrated predecessors of 1971, Leeds trooped away from Layer Road in disbelief having conceded two late goals to reawaken their relegation fears.
The late twist, as Chris Iwelumo and Jamie Cureton took their combined goal tally to 39, drops Denis Wise's team back into the bottom three. To compound matters, captain Jonathan Douglas was shown a red card as he left the field for foul and abusive language.
Wise criticised his team, as the progress achieved during an unbeaten run of five games unravelled in "a mad 10 minutes".
"We've conceded two poor goals because people weren't doing their jobs properly," he raged.
It was the first encounter between the teams here since the famous FA Cup upset, but whereas the home team had covered themselves in glory 36 years ago they struggled to land a punch this time.
Leeds could have made life much more comfortable for themselves had Tresor Kandol and David Healy not wasted golden opportunities. Eddie Lewis was much more precise as he ended a strong run with an angled drive into the far corner early in the second half.
The three points looked secure but Colchester drew level in the 81st minute through Iwelumo's header. Then, in added time, substitute Hogan Ephraim's inventiveness released Cureton, who chipped in for his 22nd goal of the campaign.

Monday, April 02, 2007 2/4/07
In reponse to queries from fans about the number of loan players permitted to play at any one time, an abbreviated explanation below details the Football League regulations regarding loan players.
The rules state that clubs can name no more than five players on loan from an English club for any fixture.
Players who join from foreign clubs join on short-term contracts and as such are not "on loan" due to the registration process that has to be adopted for players coming from outside of England.
As it stands the club currently has five players on loan from English clubs: Radostin Kishishev, Lubo Michalik, Jemal Johnson, Micky Gray, and Graham Stack.
Casper Ankergren, who joined from Danish outfit Brondby, and Alan Thompson, who arrived from Scottish Premier League leaders Celtic, are classed as short-term contract signings, in keeping with the above.
Armando Sa, Tore Andre Flo, and Robbie Elliott are all on short-term contracts.