For some of us, it was probably the best ‘Friday feeling’ in…let’s say 16 years.
On Friday, without kicking a ball (challengers West Brom lost) Leeds United were finally promoted back into the Premier League. After 16 years!
Leeds are one of the biggest clubs in England, but they experienced a disastrous decline in the early years of the 21st century, slipping from the limelight into the shadows, where they have remained until now.
Since 2004, it’s been one long trauma for a once-great club. Leeds even dropped into the old third division, the third tier of the game. Financial hardship, lamentable mismanagement and shattered morale combined to consign Leeds to the status of Yesterday’s Men. Nothing worse than not being relevant any more!
Lots of clubs have to ply their trade in lower leagues, and Leeds weren’t above that, it’s just that this was a mighty fall for a mighty club. A club that could rival Liverpool and Manchester United for passion and pedigree, a club that had been used to epic European nights, to pulsating, fiery battles at Old Trafford, Anfield, Elland Road. Leeds, steeped in history and tradition, now almost falling apart. But the phenomenal fan base remained loyal. Often, even in this lower league, with glory now a taunting ghost of the past, as many as 35,000 fans packed into Elland Road…willing the past to be reclaimed. 35,000 fans at home matches! Premier League chairmen could only watch and weep.
In recent seasons, Leeds came close to returning to the top flight, but close doesn’t seal the deal. Appointing, then keeping, the eccentric but brilliant Marcelo Bielsa (yes, the man who watches games while sitting on a bucket) finally made the difference. This remarkable man, who is revered by many of the top managers in the world, has created a formidable team of relentless power and pace. On Saturday, they were confirmed as Division One champions.
While Leeds won what is now the Premier League in 1992 – and have had many fine teams over the years – most fans link their love of the club back to the Don Revie era. In any debate as to which was the greatest club team ever in England, Revie’s ruthless, brilliant side would have to feature.
They actually underachieved. In ten seasons from 1964 to ’74, Leeds won the league twice, were runners-up five times, and never outside the top four. They also won the FA Cup, League Cup and two (European) Fairs’ Cups. Trophies are one thing; while they had a reputation for being cynical – certainly they were hard men – Leeds also played some magnificent football, gracing the English game, to the begrudging appreciation of their rivals.
Revie’s team oozed class…the names (too many to include all here) still evoke the fondest of memories half a century on: Cooper, Reaney, Madeley, Charlton, Hunter, Giles, Bremner, Gray, Lorimer, Jones, Clarke.
Life is funny, or more accurately, strange. Life is…life. Leeds have returned to the top flight in the same year in which the club lost three greats, with the deaths of Norman Hunter, Trevor Cherry and Jack Charlton. It’s poignant and sad. We hope the great men are smiling down, maybe even chuckling with Don.
Leeds United are back in the big time. Mr. Bielsa, the brilliant, gifted ‘man with the bucket’ is coming to the Premier League. A great club, back where it belongs!
(From Paul Healy’s column)