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Leeds United celebrate 100th Birthday

Alex Woodward looks at the history of Leeds United and why they mean so much to him

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Image Credit: Stephen Armstrong

Leeds United celebrates it’s 100th Birthday today. On this day in 1919, as a former club was having all assets auctioned off, 1000 fans met at Salem Chapel and agreed to the forming of a new football club. Since then that club has gone on to win three league titles, one FA Cup, one League Cup, two Inter-Cities Fairs Cups (that’s the Europa League), one Charity Shield and (should have) won a European Cup.

First though, the demise of that former club, Leeds City is an interesting story in itself. The Citizens were founded in 1904, they rented the recently vacated Elland Road, which had been auctioned off after the fall of Holbeck Rugby Club, took the emblem of the city and wore the colours blue and yellow, to embody the city. In 1912, they hired Herbert Chapman who would go on to be one of the best managers in British football history and had been somewhat successful. In 1915 they were recording profits for the first time and got 30,000 fans into Elland Road for the visit of Fulham and won the unofficial League Championship in 1918, going into 1919/20, there were a lot of reasons for this club to be optimistic. Money has always been a problem for footballers. The modern era has only seen more zeros put onto wage demands. At the start of the season Charlie Copeland, a full-back that had been with The Peacocks since 1912 had wanted a pay-rise that Chapman and the club didn’t feel he warranted due to him not being a regular starter. Copeland made Leeds an offer, either give him the pay rise, or he would report illegal wartime payments to the Football League. City called his bluff and he reported, the FA after an investigation demanded that the club be expelled from the Football League and all assets be sold off in an auction to take place on October 17th, 1919.

Which brings us back to that meeting and the founding of Leeds United. They decided to move into the recently abandoned Elland Road and took up the place of the former reserve side in the Midlands League. It was just weeks into the club’s existence that they nearly amalgamated with another. Huddersfield Town had been having financial difficulties, in a November game against Fulham, they netted just £90 from 2,500 spectators. Town Chairman J Hilton Crowther offered the amalgamation with Leeds United. Obviously, this didn’t work due to outrage in the Huddersfield area and Crowther was brought out of Huddersfield by disgruntled fans. When arriving in Leeds, he chose the same blue and white kit Huddersfield wore. Leeds would get their first silverware in 1923/24 by winning the Second Division and were relegated three years later. By 1929/30, they had been repromoted to the First Division and attained 5th place, this would be their best finish until 1964. The 1930s and 40s can be summed up with the words promotion and relegation as the team bounced between the 1st and 2nd divisions. The 1946/47 season saw what remains to this day, the worst away record in top-flight history, getting 1 point off 21 away games. The 50s saw John Charles carry the side to promotion, a fire in the West Stand that scorched large sections of the pitch, the entire structure, offices, kit, club records, physiotherapy equipment, dressing rooms, directors' rooms, and the press box. The damage was around £100,000 (about £2.5m today) which forced the sale of John Charles to Juventus for a world record £65,000. Afterwards, the side slumped back into the second division and among managerial discontent and near relegation again. Most importantly though, in 1958 the club signed a former England international striker nearing the end of his playing days, a man by the name of Don Revie.

By 1961, Don Revie became the manager and immediately planned changes, the most notable of which was changing United’s now yellow and blue kit (adopted in 1934) to all white. His reasoning, Real Madrid were successful and wore all white, so we should wear all white to look successful too. He had the main focus of the club turn away from signing players to developing them and created a family atmosphere around the team. What Revie should most be lauded for though was his revolutionary football management techniques. He prepared extensive dossiers of each team they faced, pressed for higher fitness levels than ever before with strict diets and military-based exercises and implemented a European style of football that hadn’t been seen in Britain. His side of young exciting players including Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter, Peter Lorimer, Eddie Gray and more were backed up by experienced players like Jack Charlton, Bobby Collins and Johnny Giles. United were back in the First Division in 1964.

Over the Revie Years, the club accomplished a lot, both in terms of trophies and other achievements. They won two First Division titles, became the first British team to win the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, including beating Juventus in the last one (before becoming the UEFA Cup) for a total of two. One League Cup, one FA Cup, and one Charity Shield. As impressive as all of this is it could have been more, Leeds faced numerous challenges at this time. Milan bribed a ref to beat them in the Cup Winners Cup, Leeds were forced by the FA to play 9 games in 22 days and the West Brom game that affected the Peacock’s title race in 1972. Leeds United’s European heavy, hard-tackling style at the time gained the club many fans and many rivals. Revie left for England and was replaced by Brian Clough, starting the 44-day run depicted in The Damned United. Jimmy Armfield took over and lead Leeds to the infamous 1975 European Cup final against Bayern Munich where multiple controversial (and wrong) decisions led to Leeds losing 2-0. Jock Stein also lasted at Leeds for 44 days before taking the Scotland job, and slowly the glory days died out, the aging stars were replaced by poor transfer signings and the club was relegated in 1982. Eddie Gray and Billy Bremner both tried and managed Leeds back to the glory days to no avail, with the club at the wrong end of the 2nd Division, the club took a punt by hiring Sheffield Wednesday manager Howard Wilkinson.

The documentary Do You Want to Win shows how Wilkinson revolutionised the club. More focus on fitness, more focus on tactically planning, it was the closest the club got to the return of Don Revie. A side that featured David Batty, Vinnie Jones, Lee Chapman, and Gary Speed helped get the club up to the First Division, two years later with Gary McCallister, Tony Dorigo, Eric Cantona and more the club won their third and to date, final league title, the last before the Premier League. Leeds were the first English team to compete in the Champions League a year later. After being runners-up in the League Cup in 1996, Wilkinson was fired and would later go on to build St George's Park, the training ground and academy for the England National Football team. George Graham came and went before David O’Leary took Leeds back to the Champions League. Spending for the dream, the club signed Rio Ferdinand, Mark Viduka, Eric Bakke and more to reach the Semi-Finals before being knocked out by Valencia. One year later Leeds made the UEFA Cup semi-finals, but football was put into perspective when Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight were stabbed to death in Turkey before the game against Gala******. By the end of 2001-02 Leeds had missed out on Europe for two straight seasons and the precarious financial model could not cope. A fire sale ensued.
Now we get onto the part I have experienced, relegation in 2003/04, a Play-Off final defeat in 2005/06, relegation to a historic low third tier in 2006/07 and 15 points deducted (not for entering administration, but for failing to exit properly). This was the lowest of the low for the Whites and could have signalled the end of the club. Leeds were reportedly hours away from going out of business before Ken Bates brought the club, various court battles ensued and some insane members of the press called for Leeds to once again have a club expelled from the Football League, which, at the time, there was no precedent for. Leeds became infamous for financial mismanagement and having most issues held in the courts, ‘Doing a Leeds’ entered the popular nomenclature worldwide for this reason and was applied to teams such as Portsmouth, Parma, and 1860 Munich, they chased the dream, failed and paid the consequences (usually in the hundreds of millions). However, after failed Play-Off campaigns in two straight years, 2009/10 saw a turnaround, guided by former Leeds player and local lad Simon Grayson, and with a team featuring Jermaine Beckford, Luciano Becchio, Robert Snodgrass, Max Gradel, Bradley Johnson, and Johnny Howson, the League One nightmare came to an end. The season was highlighted with a win at Manchester United in the FA Cup third round and a 2-1 victory against Bristol Rovers to seal promotion. The years since though have been mediocre, two 7th placed finishes a change of owners twice, from Ken Bates to GFH to Massimo Cellino and the hiring of many bad managers including David Hockaday, Darko Milicic, and Neil (Colin) Warnock. The club has been going in a more positive direction since Andrea Radrizzani brought the club and hired legendary Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa. With renewed talks of more investment and El Loco starting a promotion push, will the future look more like the golden past?

There is so much more in Leeds United’s history that is worth going through that an article even 10,000 words long could not justify. Leeds United have had a massive effect on English football and affected the lives of so many in the Leeds area and worldwide. Tonight, marks the celebration of all Leeds have achieved and been through in them 100 years. Legends of the past, historic moments, great stories and fantastic goals have lined Elland Road over the years, that is what we’re remembering tonight. Not the 15-point deduction, not the FA Cup humiliations, not Paul Heckingbottom. We’re remembering the European days, the titles, Tony Yeboah's wonder goals, the revolutionary styles of play and Don Revie. Of course, this is not what makes a football club special to its fans (not fully at least), it’s the memories they get, their experiences following the team everywhere and anywhere they go that will last a lifetime. It’s standing on the terraces singing until you can’t, meeting your fellow fans, going through the highs and the lows together. 1000 people were at the meeting that formed the club, but Leeds would have taken more. Graham Smyth of the Yorkshire Evening Post wrote that “nothing can prepare you for Leeds United, a club that must be experienced to be understood”, nothing is more true, going to Elland Road or travelling with the Leeds faithful, experiencing a game and joining in with the culture around the club is like nothing else, being a sofa fan comes nowhere close.

The last few years have been rough, even the turnaround last year had a spoilt ending. I personally have not seen any of the glory days, league titles or European journeys like fans before me. I have seen financial ruin, cup humiliation, and Massimo Cellino. Yet, I don’t regret a single second of it. Following Leeds United all over the country and overseas (friendlies only) has given me a lot of great memories, given me something to look forward to at the weekend and helped me make friends, whether in the Leeds United community or here at the University. I cannot picture life without following Leeds, I definitely would rather be Marching On Together with them and all my fellow Leeds fans, at least until the world stops going round. As I write this, I'm at the celebrations at the Centenary Pavilion and I will raise a glass to you Leeds, despite driving me mad, constantly annoying me and forcing me to endure David Hockaday, I want to wish you a Happy 100th Birthday, never change.


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