◉ This might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever set out to write
◉ There are 15,600 words ahead
◉ But I felt like this had to exist
◉ If you’re still high off the title, don’t let this disrupt your buzz
A game at Bolton’s Reebok Stadium on May 2nd 2004 was Leeds United’s last chance of staying in the Premiership but their best striker Mark Viduka swung his elbow through Bruno N’Gotty’s chin and was sent off and Leeds lost 4-1. Their manager, Eddie Gray, had raised many of the team from boys. Now he watched them in tears. “It will not be the end of the club,” he said.
Young talisman Alan Smith was defiantly embraced after the final home match of the season. Gray said, “There has not been a bigger hero here.” Smith flicked two fingers at Leeds fans at Chelsea chanting that he should keep his promise never to play for Manchester United. Eddie Gray had been sacked before that game.
The Adulant Force consortium that had recently taken over the club, led by chairman Gerald Krasner, wanted Gordon Strachan as manager. They agreed to give the job to Kevin Blackwell, former assistant to Neil Warnock at Sheffield United who had been no.2 to Gray, but a new consortium led by Steve Parkin wanted to takeover the club and wanted Ian Dowie as manager, and director Simon Morris vetoed Blackwell, while other directors told him he’d get the job in the end.
Parkin withdrew from a takeover and Blackwell was confirmed as manager. Former chairman Peter Ridsdale resigned as chair of the city’s education board. Leeds United appointed a new chief executive, Shaun Harvey, who had been managing director at Bradford City and taken them into administrations twice. “The be all and end all of football clubs is football, football clubs are the eleven men who make up the starting line-up on a Saturday afternoon,” he said.
Smith and Viduka were sold, Middlesbrough insisting that Leeds take Michael Ricketts as a condition of their buying Viduka, while they signed Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink from Chelsea at the same time. Former England international Ricketts scored two league cup goals for Leeds in the next two seasons. Goalkeeper Paul Robinson was sold to Tottenham, Stephen McPhail to Barnsley, Ian Harte to Levante, Dominic Matteo to Blackburn, Danny Mills to Manchester City, Nick Barmby to Hull. Leeds hoped to herald a new era in the Championship by making eighteen-year-old James Milner the poster boy for the new kits. Chairman Gerald Krasner said, “Maybe James Milner will be the new Mr Leeds United.” He was sold at the start of July.
“In July the club was just me and Gary Kelly,” said Kevin Blackwell, although Lucas Radebe had signed a new contract to stay, and youngsters Scott Carson, Matt Kilgallon, Aaron Lennon and Simon Johnson had first team experience. Michael Duberry, Eirik Bakke and Seth Johnson were too injured or expensive to sell, and a newspaper story claimed director Simon Morris had planned to sprinkle drugs disguised as Parmesan cheese on Duberry’s pasta, spike protein drinks, or have Gary Kelly beaten up to get out of their contracts. Morris denied the stories. He was later jailed for conspiring to blackmail a debtor as his property business collapsed.
21 players signed on permanent deals and nine on loan. Leeds played a pre-season friendly against Valencia, the club that beat them in the Champions League semi-final, and sixteen-year-old Simon Walton was sent off in a 2-2 draw. New captain Paul Butler refused to talk about consolidation. “That’s total nonsense,” he said. “We’ve just done the bonuses, all geared up to go up this year. The players know what’s demanded of them.” After a 0-0 draw with Wolves Blackwell compared himself to Richard Branson. “I think it took Virgin many years to become a power and we might be the same,” he said. Before playing Neil Warnock’s Sheffield United Blackwell said, “I’m sure the master will want to put one over on his apprentice tomorrow, but at the same time I think Neil will be quite proud about what I have achieved.” Sheffield United won 2-0 and Blackwell said, “That performance was not good enough for Leeds United Football Club. It was Neil’s day in the end and I hope he enjoyed it.”
The incoming and outgoing transfers cost money in agents’ fees and the wage bill was still twice the division’s average. Leeds had been taken over by Adulant Force in March but they were taking on debts to pay debts after a scheme for twenty-year season tickets only sold 100. Arabian supporter Sheikh Abdul bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa, Chinese businessman Xu Ming, Iraqi businessman Nadhmi Auchi, a consortium from Thailand and American group Nova Financial Partners, which included Sebastien Sainsbury, Mike Lucas and Burl Sheppard, were linked with takeovers. The Thorp Arch training ground was sold to Manchester businessman Jacob Adler and leased back for 25 years and land next to Elland Road was sold to a casino operator. Leeds put a statement on their website saying no party had provided proof of funds and Sainsbury said, “As far as I am concerned, this is nonsense. This is a new condition and a change of tack … They agreed to provide us with a letter of intent to sell, but we didn’t receive it.” He claimed he would be chairman within a week and would be watching Leeds play Burnley from the Kop. Leeds lost 2-1 and Blackwell said, “It was garbage last night. Total rubbish. I was embarrassed with everything and I was embarrassed for the fans at Elland Road.” Norman Stubbs, who had been part of Steve Parkin’s consortium, made his own bid with a Yorkshire consortium. Sainsbury said he had given documents proving funds in place to director Melvyn Levi and the club’s solicitors. Director Simon Morris said the documents didn’t prove funding: “It’s ambiguous to say the least.” Chairman Gerald Krasner was said to prefer Stubbs’ offer.
Finance director Melvyn Helme argued with Sebastian Sainsbury in a post-match phone-in on Radio Aire about the proof of funds. Helme said, “We can’t sign any contract until we’ve seen proof of funds, Mr Sainsbury is well aware of that.” Sainsbury said, “That is not what you have just agreed with Mr Lucas in front of other people … it is a lie,” and, “We will transfer the funds on completion on Thursday.” Helme said, “Mike Lucas told me we were completing on Monday and now it’s Thursday,” and the argument continued. On Tuesday Sainsbury said he had provided documents showing the money “sitting in a London bank” and Leeds’ spokesperson said, “Michael Lucas came to Elland Road yesterday and he handed some papers to Melvin Helme for him to look at.” It was reported that Steve Parkin was joining Nova’s consortium. A joint statement from Nova and Leeds said, “Nova have agreed to transfer £25m into their solicitors’ bank account by the end of Thursday” and the deal would complete by 1pm on Friday, in time to make a substantial repayment to Jack Petchy, who had loaned Adulant Force money to takeover the club. An editorial in the Yorkshire Evening Post suggested funds were not in place but Leeds were trying to force Nova’s hand as rumours and “propaganda” spread online.
The 1pm Friday deadline passed and Gerald Krasner said: “Our solicitors have been instructed to inform the Americans’ solicitors that, as the 1pm deadline passed without any monies, Leeds United will now pursue other avenues.” Leeds lost 1-0 at Ipswich and the signing of Icelandic international Gylfi Einarsson was delayed by FIFA. Midfielder Shaun Derry passed a medical and was announced as a new signing but Crystal Palace were unhappy with the structure of the transfer and David Pleat, who the Leeds board were using as an ad-hoc consultant, advised pulling out and the deal was cancelled. Palace chairman Simon Jordan said Leeds’ offer “took the mickey”. Leeds lost at bottom club Rotherham and Kevin Blackwell said he was feeling, “as low as a snake’s belly.” After a 2-0 defeat at home to Leicester supporters abused Sean Gregan, his pregnant wife and their son outside the ground. On-loan midfielder John Oster was arrested after a “drunken brawl” then sent back to Sunderland after a “breach of club discipline” at the Christmas party.
Elland Road was sold to Jacob Adler and leased back for 25 years and Norman Stubbs said he hoped to complete a takeover. Sainsbury made a new bid and Krasner said, “I’m not taking it seriously, in fact I’m not even taking it unseriously.” Ahead of a mid-December deadline for paying £1.2m to the Inland Revenue, Sainsbury said he had new finance and Krasner agreed to talks with his backers. Leeds deferred the payment and Ken Bates, former chairman of historic Leeds rivals Chelsea, denied he was joining Sainsbury’s bid. “I know nothing about it,” he said. “The only thing keeping me busy is unpacking my shopping from the supermarket.” Sainsbury said he was pulling out of any deal. “My backers pulled out once they had looked at the finances,” he said. Krasner still hoped the Stubbs consortium would complete a deal after negotiating with creditors and former deputy chairman Allan Leighton was said to be contributing to the bid. Captain Paul Butler said going into administration and getting a points deduction in January would be “for the good of the club” because it would leave time to avoid relegation.
The club was sold to Ken Bates in the middle of the night on 21st January 2005. “Today is the first day of a new Leeds United,” he said. “Our first task will be to put plans in place to secure the financial future of the club and these will include buying back, in due course, Elland Road and Thorp Arch.” He added that, since leaving Chelsea, “I was bored doing nothing in Monaco.”
Simon Jose of the Leeds United Independent Fans’ Association said, “It’s like the four horsemen of the apocalypse selling to Lucifer.” Bates brought in his faithful aides, finance director Yvonne Todd and lawyer Mark Taylor, and kept Shaun Harvey. “Leeds United are a great club, we are back to wining ways, and we aim to be back in the Premiership very soon,” said Bates. “I have to say that problems at Leeds were overstated … there is not a great deal of debt. We’re gonna have a lorra lorra laughs.”
Paul Butler said, “It’s a new era for the club now,” targeting the play-offs. Leeds lost 2-0 at Derby and defender Clarke Carlisle said, “Derby played us off the park and deserved the result.” Blackwell looked forward to Bates’ first home match against Brighton by reflecting on losing the away fixture. “We have moved on now, on and off the field, and it is the start of a new era for this football club,” he said. Leeds conceded a late goal and drew 1-1. A deal was completed to sign Shaun Derry. Leeds lost 3-0 away to Wigan and after Gregan and Kelly argued on the pitch the players had ‘an angry half-time bust-up’. “I’d rather have that than shrinking violets,” said Blackwell, who took the squad go-karting to build morale. Ahead of a game against Sheffield United at Elland Road, Blackwell said, “We lost 2-0 at Bramall Lane in August, but if you look at the team that played that day and the one we have now it is totally different.” Leeds lost 4-0 and Blackwell said, “I apologise on behalf of every player and the management because we were not good enough.”
Leeds won one of their last ten games and finished 14th after a 0-0 draw at home with Rotherham. Seth Johnson was dropped from the team to avoid paying an appearance fee to Derby County, Scott Carson was sold to Liverpool, Aaron Lennon to Tottenham, Lucas Radebe retired. Ken Bates put up season ticket prices by 25%, closed the upper tier of the East Stand, and crowds dropped to their lowest since May 1989. “Put the price of their football ticket up and they go apeshit,” Bates said of the fans’ reaction. “I’ve said this is the price of watching Leeds – if you want a Leeds. The club won’t be going bust and the threat of administration has passed.” He cancelled support for a community learning centre and the Leeds United Ladies team. “It’s costing us £35,000 a year which we don’t have,” he said, “And after all, the ladies are playing for the fun of it.” Bates said the club had taken the first £1m of the summer in season ticket revenue, and was spending £1.1m on refurbishing Elland Road’s corporate areas and concourses. He complained about policing costs, saying, “Presumably if Cardiff had taken their full quota [of tickets], the SAS would have been recalled from Iraq as back-up.” He gave the holding company he had used to buy the club, ‘LUFC Ltd’, a new name referencing Roman Abramovich, who bought Chelsea from Bates in 2003. “We decided to change the name and I thought Romans Heavies Ltd might be nice,” he said. “By June 2007 I hope we have stopped the losses and are making a small profit. I’d also like to think we have paid most of the outstanding debts.”
Leeds used parachute payments to bring in new players for a promotion challenge, but Blackwell’s attempts to involve Eirik Bakke weren’t successful. “Eirik has to get used to how we play,” he said. “This is not fanny football in the Championship.” Steve Stone was signed to replace Aaron Lennon but was injured in pre-season and not fit until April, then was injured again and retired the following December. Joel Griffiths’ move from Neuchâtel Xamax was delayed for five weeks and Leeds had to ask FIFA to chase his international clearance; he played two games before moving home to Australia, saying Blackwell had cost him a place at the World Cup. Cardiff came to Elland Road with their new deputy chairman Peter Ridsdale and won 1-0. “The man of the match was probably Lucas the Kop Cat because at least he did his job properly,” said Blackwell.
Rivals for promotion were Sheffield United, and Neil Warnock accused Blackwell of signing Richard Cresswell to spite him. Head coach John Carver said, “I have to say Reading are running away with it at the moment, but Sheffield United beware.” Robbie Blake said, “Sheffield United will be twitching. Their advantage is nine points and we have a game in hand.” Blackwell said, “There is a lot of points to play for. A nine-point turnaround can happen in a week and a half. I think Neil Warnock’s aware of that and so am I.” Warnock said, “I don’t want to know what Kevin Blackwell or anyone else has to say now, but I will leave the talking to him because he is doing enough for both of us. According to some people, Leeds have caught us up but I still see a six-point gap when I look at the table.” Blackwell replied, “The players are doing all the talking I need. I’m certainly not going to say anything because I don’t want to do Neil’s team talks for him.” Blackwell was given a new three-year contract. When Leeds were leading Norwich at Elland Road in March, the stadium announcer broadcast while Leeds were winning 1-0 in the first half that Sheffield United were losing 2-0. Leeds needed a last minute equaliser to draw 2-2 and only won one of the next nine games. In a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United, Warnock was sent off after a touchline argument with John Carver, who claimed Warnock had told his players to break Gary Kelly’s legs, while Warnock said he’d shouted that Kelly’s tackling was so dangerous he’d break his own legs. Sheffield United won automatic promotion. Blackwell said he was receiving hate mail from Leeds fans, including a letter that read ‘Don’t fuck up.’ “It’s no good people moaning,” he said, “but I accept the expectations. If I won the European Cup I’d be expected to go on and win the World Cup.”
Leeds entered the play-offs to play Preston and Blackwell said he might surprise them with some changes. Preston manager Billy Davies replied sarcastically that, “We’re going to be very surprised when they bring in Hulse who we don’t know, Eddie Lewis who we don’t know, Kelly who we don’t know and Derry who we don’t know. It will be a great surprise to us, no doubt.” The first leg was drawn 1-1 thanks to Eddie Lewis’ late free-kick at Elland Road and Davies said, “It is a case of job done.” The second leg was delayed at Deepdale when Preston’s floodlights failed. Eight Leeds players were booked and two sent off, and Blackwell said the referee, “Ended up booking everyone that moved; I thought he’d turned into a railway clerk.” Preston’s Brett Ormerod’s leg was broken by Jonathan Douglas’ tackle, and their goalkeeper Carlo Nash’s cheekbone was broken by Richard Cresswell’s challenge. Leeds won 2-0, trashed the dressing rooms by scrawling ‘Job Done’ on the walls, and went to play Watford in the final at the Millennium Stadium.
Fans camped outside Elland Road for two days to buy tickets, some were sent away then told to come back, the switchboard crashed twice and Shaun Harvey said he would review ticket office opening hours “going forward” after fans asked why, when they’d queued since the previous evening, the office didn’t open until 10am. Leeds City Council couldn’t show the game on the screen in Millennium Square because it clashed with a Hard-Fi gig. Blackwell had to defer jury service. In Cardiff the players were startled by the pre-match fireworks. Blackwell left David Healy and Robbie Blake on the bench, starting with Rob Hulse alone up front, and Leeds lost 3-0. “God knows what went wrong,” said Sean Gregan, “But it’s important not to turn this into a tragedy.” Ken Bates said, “From now on we can’t blame anybody else for what happens here – previous boards, a lack of money, or the fact that Kevin had only two players when he took over. That’s all gone, and it doesn’t mean a bloody thing. We’re a completely different club as we saw on Sunday, and I think the supporters are buzzing again.”
Leeds sold Rob Hulse but strengthened midfield by signing Millwall captain David Livermore for £250,000, who said, “It’s just taken a long time to come about but I feel I’ve earned what, for me, is a big move.” He was joined by £700,000 Luton captain Kevin Nicholls who said, “The aim this season has to be to win the league — I think we can do that — and if not then gain promotion by hook or by crook. I’ve captained Luton to two promotions so maybe I’m a lucky omen.” He suffered damaged knee ligaments in his first training session from a tackle by Paul Butler. Livermore, who had played in pre-season friendlies against Scunthorpe and Hartlepool, was sold to Hull for £250,000, whose chairman Adam Pearson said, “It came as something of a surprise to David to learn that Leeds wanted to sell him so soon.” A Leeds statement said, ‘At the time of signing David, Kevin Nicholls and another potential midfield target weren’t available to us. We then managed to acquire Kevin Nicholls and things have now opened up on another target.’ Leeds signed midfielder Ian Westlake from Ipswich Town for £250,000, plus left-back Dan Harding.
Former Chelsea assistant manager Gwyn Williams was appointed as technical director. Bates asked his coaching staff how Leeds would do and they predicted relegation. He set up Yorkshire Radio with equipment he said he’d bought from Chelsea by using a third party, “for a very “advantageous” price — a fraction of what it would have cost in the market. We do appreciate Mr Abramovich’s unintentional support and goodwill.” A learning centre was removed from the South Stand and replaced by a pub called Billy’s Bar. Fans with concessionary season tickets had to renew by the end of February or pay more. Prices for new season tickets increased by £26 on average and Leeds became the only club outside the Premiership selling £700 season tickets. Chelsea complained that Bates had called their new ownership, led by Russian Roman Abramovich, “a bunch of shysters from Siberia” as part of a dispute over signing two youth players, Tom Taiwo and Michael Woods, who Bates said, “have made a mistake in taking the Russian Rouble and could well damage their future careers beyond repair.” Of Chelsea’s complaint, Bates said, “Racism is the last card of a desperate man. I haven’t laughed so much since Ma caught her tits in the mangle.”
Leeds conceded late to draw 2-2 at QPR, and Kevin Blackwell complained that, “These days you only have to fart in the box to get a penalty.” Bates said there would be no more transfer funds without player sales. “We’ve lost the parachute payments this season and we’re still dealing with the final overhang of the Ridsdale era. That puts a lot of pressure on us,” he said. Leeds lost five of the first eight games and fans called for Blackwell to go. “They can keep on calling,” he said. “All I can do is do my job. I turned this club around from nothing. If you look at where we’ve come from, with no players, then I think I can turn this around – no problem.” Blackwell was sacked in September, banned from going to Thorp Arch to say goodbye to the squad, and he sued for wrongful dismissal. Assistant manager John Carver was given the chance to earn the job and Bobby Robson described him as “the new Mourinho.” Leeds beat Birmingham in his first game and Carver said he was ignoring reports that Claudio Ranieri had said, “If Ken wants Claudio, he should phone Claudio … I am the man for the job.” Leeds lost the next four games, scoring four and conceding fifteen, and Carver stepped down.
The new manager was former Chelsea captain Dennis Wise and his assistant Gus Poyet, who had taken over at Swindon Town fifteen games earlier. Shaun Harvey confirmed it would be possible to register them both as players in January, “but at this moment in time we have no intention.” Bates said, “I am aware that Wise may not be everybody’s cup of tea but this is not a popularity contest.” Leeds fans sang, “You can stick Dennis Wise up your arse” to Bates, who was godfather to Wise’s child. Wise stamped his authority on the squad by naming Kevin Nicholls as captain despite him being sidelined with a serious knee injury. “I’ve told the players I want them to be a bit like the Leeds of before, who were horrible,” said Wise. “I’ve explained that I want a bit of that nastiness and togetherness.”
Leeds were fined for naming too many loan players in a squad at Burnley. Bates barred the Yorkshire Evening Post from Leeds United’s press facilities for their coverage of Blackwell’s sacking. In December, Wise dismissed talk of relegation. “There are 21 games to go. Eight wins and you are out of it, seven wins you could be out of it. You have got to start worrying when you get to twelve games to go and you are struggling.” Matt Kilgallon was sold to Sheffield United for £1.75m, whose manager Neil Warnock said, “We offered more for him in the summer so it’s a good piece of business.”
Before a game against Crystal Palace Wise was adamant one of his players had leaked his team. “He won’t be playing for this club again,” he said, “It hurts me, it hurts me a lot.” Palace manager Peter Taylor said, “A Leeds player spoke to a Palace player on Friday night but it was a general conversation, he wasn’t leaking the team. I don’t know why Dennis has made such a big thing out of it.” Shaun Harvey said, “While we know that it definitely happened, we don’t know which Leeds United player it was,” and that Wise had asked the player to come forward.
Before a game against Luton, club employees had to edit Bates’ programme notes with a marker pen to remove a comment pointing out that former director Melvyn Levi’s home number was in the phone book. In earlier programme notes about their dispute over loan payments Bates had described Levi as “the enemy within” and printed his home address. A club statement said Bates was the representative of the Forward Sports Fund, an anonymous company in the British Virgin Islands that owned the club. It was revealed that Elland Road had been sold to an anonymous company in the British Virgin Islands. Leeds asked the council for a loan to repurchase Elland Road and Thorp Arch. Bates said he was sick of criticism. “When I hear the moans and groans, it would be easy to say eff off to the lot of you and take the advice of some so-called fan to return to Monte Carlo,” he said. “However, I will complete the task and we will succeed in due course.” He appeared in television adverts for Safestyle UK windows.
Captain Kevin Nicholls returned to fitness, said he’d made the wrong decision signing for Leeds and asked for a transfer back to Luton. With twelve games to go Leeds were bottom of the table. Matt Heath headed in a corner to win a game against Burnley, but Leeds conceded late defeats at Colchester and Southend and were relegated in their final home match, a 1-1 draw with Ipswich, delayed by supporters running on the pitch to get the game abandoned. It was the first time in Leeds United’s history that the club had been relegated to the third tier. Dennis Wise said, “I take full responsibility for everything that has happened because we’re big people but unfortunately we haven’t done what we came here to do.” Ken Bates said, “It is Ridsdale’s fault that this club is in this state.” After full-time, Gary Kelly was awarded a platter for long service, and Ken Bates put the club into administration, triggering a ten-point penalty before the season ended. “The Inland Revenue acted extremely unreasonably,” he said.
As other consortiums gathered administrators KPMG announced that Bates was buying the club back. The club owed £38,100,038 and non-football creditors such as St John Ambulance and the treasury were offered one penny per pound by Bates, while others were offering 18p. At the creditors meeting it was revealed a company in the British Virgin Islands, Astor Investment Holdings, were owed more than 25% of the total and would only support Bates, as would two other BVI-based creditors, Krato Trust and Forward Sports Fund; Bates had used the latter company to buy the club. Bates and his lawyer Mark Taylor signed declarations that they had no links to Astor, although the club accounts showed Astor had in interest in FSF as of 30th June 2006. “There was an association on June 30th,” said Taylor, “there isn’t now.”
Creditors voted 75.02% in favour of Bates. A recount increased that to 75.2%. An undeclared £480,000 debt, accounting for 1.3% of the votes, was added during the meeting; the money was owed to Yorkshire Radio, whose directors included Bates and Taylor. HMRC challenged the outcome. KPMG scrapped the Company Voluntary Agreement the meeting had approved and put the club back up for sale on Friday 6th July, requiring bids by 5pm on Monday but not granting bidders access to club accounts. On 11th July KPMG announced Bates was successful, due in part to Astor waiving claims to £17.6m it was owed.
Because the administration ended without a CVA, the Football League refused to give the new company the club’s ‘golden share’ to play in League One. They invoked their ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause to allow Leeds to play but required a sanction: Leeds would have to start the season on minus fifteen points, voted for by the league’s clubs. Bates said the decision was “a total disgrace” and his legal challenge lasted through the season. In pre-season Leeds fans sang, “Shoes off you if you hate Ken Bates”, and flowers were placed at Billy Bremner’s statue protesting the demise of the club. Bates claimed this was a show of support for him.
Leeds played a pre-season friendly at Darlington with only six contracted players and tape covering the sponsor’s logo on their old shirts, and two players plus Gus Poyet were sent off in a friendly in Germany against Energie Cottbus. Leeds won the first seven games of the season, wiping out the fifteen point deduction. Dennis Wise said, “There’s a buzz about the place because we’ve been put on the floor by the Football League. It made us closer — very close — and there’s something we need to achieve because of everything they’ve bunged at us. The easy option was to say, ‘I’ve done okay out of football. Do I need this hassle? Thanks, but bye.’ That was the easy option, but I’m not one to take the easy option.” In September Gus Poyet left to be assistant manager at Spurs, and Leeds were knocked out of the FA Cup in the first round by Hereford. In January Dennis Wise accepted a job with Newcastle so he could spend more time in London. Bates said, “He’s done a magnificent job for Leeds United, and the only disappointment for me is that he’s never been given proper credit for that.”
Ken Bates announced plans to build two hotels, a club megastore, a covered shopping arcade, a health club, tourist centre and a Leeds United museum behind the East Stand at Elland Road, and for the stadium to be a host venue for the 2018 World Cup with a redeveloped West Stand giving a capacity of 50,000; and a new kit deal with Macron. The broadcasting agreement with BBC Radio Leeds was not renewed, meaning all commentary was on Bates’ own Yorkshire Radio station.
First Division title winner and club legend Gary McAllister took over as manager, with ex-Liverpool and Irish international defender Steve Staunton as his assistant. “The job brief is promotion,” said McAllister. “I’m here until June initially and, quite simply, my job is to come here and kick-start it.” Leeds didn’t win any of McAllister’s first four games and slipped to 9th. Form improved and after just two defeats in sixteen games Leeds finished the season in 5th place, hoping until the eve of the last match that a legal challenge would return fifteen points and lift them to 2nd place. The legal challenge failed when it was proved Bates had agreed to the penalty in writing, and agreed not to mount a legal challenge. “If this is justice, I am a banana,” said Bates.
Leeds entered the play-offs and in the second leg against Carlisle a last-minute goal by nineteen-year-old Jonny Howson sent them to the final against Doncaster Rovers at Wembley. Fans lit fires in the car park outside Elland Road to keep warm as they queued overnight for tickets, then tried to get to Doncaster to buy their allocation before it sold out. Leeds lost 1-0. McAllister said, “We’ve already started the process of adding to the squad for next season by signing Andy Robinson from Swansea. He is Championship but wanted to come to Leeds.”
Leeds announced an operating profit of £902,000 and a £1 reduction in ticket prices thanks to VAT savings, but were fined £7,500 for using an unlicensed agent to sign Anthony Elding. They only lost one of their first eight games but in November and December lost four in a row and only won away from home once between 20th September and 28th December. A televised FA Cup match at non-league Histon, where rain obscured cameras but the microphones clearly broadcast fans singing “ITV is fucking shit,” was lost 1-0. Ken Bates said he was supporting McAllister. “We wanted a manager who sticks to his principles and you get much further by doing that, not by chopping and changing every time someone moans.” Three league defeats followed and McAllister was sacked four days before Christmas.
The new manager was McAllister’s former teammate Simon Grayson, who came through the ranks at Leeds but only made four appearances. “It’s a club that’s obviously close to my heart, being here as a player and supporting the club,” he said. His former club Blackpool launched legal action over the move and teenager Fabian Delph, the team’s shining light under McAllister, was charged with drink driving. Shaun Harvey complained that the Football League wouldn’t allow Leeds to register Liam Dickinson as a loan player fourteen minutes after the deadline. Lee Trundle missed a penalty as Leeds lost 2-0 away to Hereford United and fans sang “We’re shit and we’re sick of it.” Grayson said, “I’m not going to criticise individual players because that’s not my style but we’ve had words in there. One or two might not play for the club again.”
Leeds only lost once more in the league and finished 4th, entering the play-offs again. Leeds lost 1-0 to Millwall at The Den, where home supporters ran on the pitch and punched Leeds goalkeeper Casper Ankergren. Luciano Becchio put Leeds ahead at Elland Road but Jermaine Beckford missed a penalty and Jimmy Abdou put Millwall through.
Jermaine Beckford was put on the transfer list then taken off, Fabian Delph was sold to Aston Villa, and the East Stand development was given planning permission. The deadline for buying back Thorp Arch passed: the club had asked Leeds City Council to loan the money needed but wouldn’t meet the council’s conditions. “Unfortunately the financial requirements of the Council had grown so much it became very much touch and go whether it was really an advantage to the club,” said Bates. “It wasn’t worth periling the club after all the hard work we have put in over the last five years.” Shaun Harvey said the club couldn’t buy the training ground itself, despite the income from selling Delph, because of the rent they were paying on it, council tax, and £500,000 spent on planning permission for the East Stand. Bates had also lost a legal action brought by Melvyn Levi over comments made in his programme notes and was ordered to pay £50,000 plus £1.5m costs. Levi had been willing to settle for £15,000, an apology and his season ticket back. Shaun Harvey said the club were “spending a fortune on legal fees” as a result of Bates’ programme notes.
Leeds won 17 of their first 23 games, losing only once, then went to Old Trafford in the third round of the FA Cup and won 1-0. Jermaine Beckford scored the goal and a few days later it was revealed he’d requested a transfer before the game. The northern area final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was lost on penalties away to Carlisle, whose fans ran onto the pitch and punched Leeds’ players. A Wikipedia user named ‘MickMacNee’ set up a page for ‘Doing a Leeds’, about ‘potentially dire consequences for financial mismanagement’. Leeds only won two more league games until April, losing four in a row to promotion rivals. In a crucial game at Norwich, Tresor Kandol was brought on in the 92nd minute and sent off twenty seconds later. Leeds had to win their last game at home against Bristol Rovers to win promotion. Max Gradel was sent off in the first half and had to be dragged away from the referee and off the pitch, then loanee Shane Lowry gifted a goal to Bristol. Jonny Howson came off the bench to equalise and Jermaine Beckford scored the winner to take Leeds up into the Championship, and when fans ran on the pitch to celebrate the stadium announcer threatened to ban them all.
Leeds announced an operating loss of £1.6m, work started on the East Stand redevelopment and Ken Bates insisted he didn’t know who owned the BVI-based companies that owned Leeds United. Jermaine Beckford went to Everton for free. He was replaced as number 9 by Billy Paynter who scored three goals in two seasons. Leeds went 4-1 up in the first half against Preston at Elland Road and lost 6-4. “Even at half time, the players got a right rollicking because the scoreline could have been eight-all,” said Grayson. “If we get more games like this, I’m not sure I’ll be here much longer in terms of my health.” It came two weeks after losing 5-2 to Barnsley and a month before losing 4-0 to Cardiff, but Leeds still topped the table after a 2-0 win over Neil Warnock’s QPR in December. “Their celebrations in the tunnel were a bit over the top,” said Warnock. “They’ve not won promotion yet. With those celebrations, you’d think they were already there.”
Leeds, needing better defenders, signed Andy O’Brien, drew 2-2 a total of six times and 3-3 twice, and finished three points outside the play-offs. “We set out to entertain and we did that,” said Grayson. “We scored the goals. We were naïve at times, and you do look at it and think, ‘Should we shut up shop here and just be boring? Grind a result out?’ Well, yes and no. I’ve still got a duty to entertain people.”
The club described questions about United’s ownership arising from a government inquiry into football as ‘scaremongering’ then announced that Ken Bates had bought a controlling stake in Forward Sports Fund from its anonymous owners and was now the owner of the club. With the potential financial rewards of the Premier League it wasn’t clear why FSF should want to sell, or who had owned FSF until now, but the change made Leeds compliant with the stricter rules in the Premier League.
Leeds had made a profit of £2m, but the accounts also revealed the cost of works to the East Stand of around £7m was paid for by £5m of season ticket income expected in future seasons and a preference share issue that raised £3.2m but would pay back £4m. Bradley Johnson and Neil Kilkenny asked for better contracts and were given free transfers, and Kilkenny gestured at Ken Bates after scoring for his new club at Elland Road. Fans protested against Bates outside the ground, but he called them “sickpots” and said, “Bring back both corporal and capital punishment, slash benefits, and put single mothers into hostels instead of giving them council flats … This is rather a long way of saying I am unimpressed by the actions of a few morons last Saturday and ain’t going anywhere soon.” He said, “The rebuilding of Leeds United is a bit like sex. In an age of instant gratification, Leeds United is having a long, drawn out affair with plenty of foreplay and slow arousal.” Of the news that the Chinese Olympic team would be based in Leeds in 2012, Bates said it would only help “increased sales of sweet and sour pork”.
The club president, the Earl of Harewood, died in July; Gary Speed, title winning midfielder, died in November.
Simon Grayson said Leeds needed an experienced player like Shaun Derry at QPR, and signed Michael Brown from Portsmouth. Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel didn’t ask for a new contract but was sold to Leicester for £1m. Max Gradel was sold to St Etienne and Bates said the money would be given to Simon Grayson for transfers, but later clarified that there wasn’t much money due to the exchange rate. “If he wants to buy a player for £5m then that’s up to him,” he said. “But it might mean that he’s only able to pay his other players three quid a week.” Grayson brought Danny Pugh back to the club on loan, and when striker Davide Somma revealed on Twitter he was injured, banned players from social media. New goalkeeper Paul Rachubka was at fault for three goals and a red card for Tom Lees before half-time against Blackpool, was substituted and never played for the club again. Leeds lost 5-0. Defender Andy O’Brien asked not to play anymore.
Leeds lost 4-1 to Barnsley on New Year’s Eve. “Where do you start?” Grayson said. “There are so many words you can use to describe the performance. Embarrassing, shambolic. When you play for Leeds United you have to earn the right to wear the shirt. Too many of them didn’t do that.” Grayson said he needed new defenders in January. Leeds accepted a bid from Norwich of £2m for Jonny Howson, told Grayson he would be given the money to spend, signed American winger Robbie Rogers and, after a 4-1 defeat to Birmingham City, a club statement said Leeds had “dispensed with the services of Simon Grayson”. Bates said, “We spent over £12m on wages so why are people blaming me for the recent results? We are over 30% over budget on players’ wages.”
Around 1,500 fans marched from the city centre to Elland Road as part of Leeds United Supporters’ Trust’s ‘Campaign For Change’. “These people prancing up and down waving their banners have got no positive solution to what they perceive as a problem,” said Bates. “If anything they add to it by deterring potential investors.” The board of the Supporters’ Trust had their ticket accounts blocked and Shaun Harvey said, “players play, managers manage, and supporters support.”
Ken Bates claimed there had been applications to be manager from an eleven-year-old boy, and Sven Goran Eriksson, “but he won’t be coming.” Director Peter Lorimer compared the appointment of caretaker manager Neil Redfearn to the “leap of faith” the club took appointing Don Revie, but after two defeats Neil Warnock was seen speaking to Ken Bates and Shaun Harvey in Monaco, and he went into the dressing room at half-time in a match with Doncaster to take over. Bates said, “We’ve got everything else right, we’re one of the most progressive clubs in the League … hopefully this is the last piece in the jigsaw to take us back where we belong.” Lorimer said that making Warnock manager was, “a real sign of our intent and ambition.” Warnock said, “As long as I enjoy it, I will see how it goes between now and the end of the season.”
Leeds won three of fourteen and lost 7-3 at home to Nottingham Forest. It was the first time Leeds had ever conceded seven at home in the league. Warnock took the captaincy from Andy Lonergan and said the goalkeeper was “quite relieved really.” Michael Brown was sent off in a 2-0 defeat at home to Derby and Warnock said he had told their manager Nigel Clough, “Enjoy this Nigel, because you’ll never ever see another Leeds United team or a Neil Warnock team like this.” Leeds lost eleven times at home in the league, more than ever before, and finished 14th.
A club statement confirmed ‘talks are taking place regarding investment for the long-term future’ and rumours linked consortiums from Toronto, Chicago and the Middle East. Ken Bates said supporter protests had frighted investors off, and that he was contacted every two weeks by “chancers” who claim “to represent some Sheik Rub-A-Dub.” Neil Warnock tried to convince Robert Snodgrass to stay. “They have to show me some ambition,” said Snodgrass. “We’re missing Howson. Weird that we never replaced him. How can you say you’re aiming for promotion and then sell your captain?” Snodgrass signed for Norwich and Warnock signed Luke Varney, goalkeeper Paddy Kenny for the fourth time, and El Hadji Diouf, who he once called “a sewer rat.”
Another club statement said a period of exclusivity had been granted for an investor. ‘It is anticipated this will be a fairly straightforward process, unlike many of the previous approaches we have had to endure.’ In August Ken Bates said the exclusivity period had lapsed and blamed fans’ chants for delaying the process. “I’m sure that you don’t want Leeds United to go down the same path as Rangers, Portsmouth, both Man City and Liverpool (under previous owners) to name but a few.” In September a letter to the Bahrain Bourse announced GFH Capital had signed an agreement to ‘lead and arrange the acquisition of’ Leeds United, and their employees David Haigh, Hisham Alreyes and Salem Patel started tweeting about it. Haigh, whose personal website said as a teenager he raised owls and charged people to see them to raise funds for the Conservative Party, compared Leeds United to “a young Pamela Anderson”, with “superb assets and a great future.”
There were reports of rival bids including one from an American called Preston Haskell IV while Leeds United’s shirt sponsor, Enterprise Insurance, loaned the club £1.5m. Salem Patel tweeted that GFH’s takeover was off, as a joke, hours before the takeover was confirmed, with news that Ken Bates was staying as chairman until the end of the season, then becoming president. In the Christmas edition of the matchday programme, Shaun Harvey was photographed dressed as Santa Claus with Ken Bates on his knee. The accounts showed a £3.3m operating loss, gate receipts down more than 10%, £5m losses from non-football companies like Yorkshire Radio, £17m spent on building projects during Bates’ ownership, £19m debts, and a preference share issue that would earn a company ‘connected to Ken Bates’ £800,000 upon a takeover. David Haigh went to Dominic Matteo’s Rock Bar and bought everybody drinks. GFH Capital’s parent company’s annual report described Leeds United as an asset ‘held-for-sale’.
At Sheffield Wednesday Leeds United scored and someone ran on the pitch and pushed their goalkeeper over. Warnock named Paul Green as a centre-back and Leeds lost 6-1 at home to Watford. A young fan used facepaint to dress up as El Hadji Diouf and was photographed with him before a game. Warnock missed an FA Cup match with Birmingham through illness and phoned through his substitutions at half-time based on Yorkshire Radio’s commentary. “Eddie Gray was commentating and he knows what he’s talking about,” he said.
Leeds lost 2-0 at Barnsley and Warnock sent loanee Ross Barkley back to Everton because his team had too many skilful players. GFH claimed Leeds were buying Max Gradel and bought Habib Habibou, who once threw a duck off a football pitch by its neck. Later Salem Patel opened an account on the Waccoe messageboard using the name ‘melas’ and complained Warnock wasn’t giving Habibou a chance. Warnock, annoyed that Luciano Becchio, who was now in United’s all-time top ten league goalscorers, wanted a new contract or a transfer, sold him to Norwich in return for Steve Morison. Becchio had scored nineteen goals that season and Morison scored three. At the end of the January transfer window Warnock said, “I wish we’d started the season with this squad.” Away to Middlesbrough, Warnock clapped sarcastically when fans chanted for him to make a substitution. Moments later Middlesbrough scored and Warnock brought some subs on. Midfielder Michael Brown, who had been a young player with Warnock at Sheffield United and was now 36, played enough games to trigger a one-year contract extension then was dropped. Young defender Tom Lees was sent off at Ipswich and Warnock said, “I could kill him.” As Leeds lost to Derby at Elland Road, fans sang Warnock’s catchphrases back to him — ‘Can’t fault their effort, they’re a great bunch of lads’ — and Ross McCormack celebrated a goal by shouting “Fuck off” at the manager, who was sacked that night. “Unfortunately, you saw in our January signings,” said Warnock, “we haven’t got enough quality.”
Brian McDermott was named as manager. Macron unveiled a new home shirt with “retro vertical stripes”. Nineteen-year-old Sam Byram was named Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year, and one of Top Man magazine’s coolest guys of the month. At the end of season dinner Ross McCormack was photographed drunk, Bates called supporters “scumbags” and his wife shouted at a table of fans. GFH announced Ken Bates had ‘ceased to be president’ after a dispute over a private jet, director of football Gwyn Williams was sacked for sending pornographic emails, Shaun Harvey left to run the Football League. GFH said their new season slogan was ‘The Past is The Past’.
The new chairman was Salah Nooruddin, who became angry when the Academy refused to admit his friend’s son. McDermott said he had lined up seven players to sign for Leeds but didn’t know if GFH would provide any money for transfers. They spent £1m on midfielder Luke Murphy from Crewe and in pre-season McDermott tried playing left-back Aidy White as a number ten; Leeds lost to Walsall and McDermott said it was “the worst day I’ve had as manager here.” He said the club had just bought a licence to use Prozone for the first time since the Premier League days but didn’t have “a scouting structure per se”.
Salem Patel sent private messages to fans asking for transfer targets. David Haigh posted a photo on Instagram of himself with a can of Red Bull after that company was linked with a takeover. Ken Bates moved his radio station to offices across Elland Road from the stadium. Lucas Radebe was linked with a takeover bid by former Sunderland marketing director Mike Farnan. GFH announced a period of exclusivity to discuss a takeover with ‘an English consortium’ led by David Haigh, who said they would appoint Lucas Radebe as ‘international ambassador’. Andrew Flowers of sponsors Enterprise Insurance was named in the consortium, called Sport Capital, and they said they would complete the deal in time to support McDermott in the January transfer window.
Leeds lost 2-0 in the FA Cup at Rochdale. Salem Patel tweeted ‘Wingers’ and Leeds signed two wingers, Jimmy Kebe and Cameron Stewart, and lost 6-0 at Sheffield Wednesday. GFH tried to sack McDermott at half-time; he tried to change the game by bringing on Matt Smith who was sent off within a minute. GFH asked for future teamsheets to be submitted to them before games and blocked the signing of Ashley Barnes because Luke Varney’s stats were better on Football Manager. Rodolph Austin asked not to be captain anymore.
Leslie Silver, chairman when Leeds won the Second and First Divisions in the 1990s, and Bobby Collins, inspirational captain of the 1960s, both died.
Cagliari’s owner Massimo Cellino said he was fed up with Italian football and was going away to Miami and might buy Leeds United. He was said to be an advisor to Sport Capital, part of Sport Capital’s consortium, or working alone. He toured Thorp Arch and tried to insist former Middlesbrough player Gianluca Festa sit in the dugout with Brian McDermott. On the last night of the transfer window Salah Norruddin sent Cellino a text to say the club was his, and he went to Elland Road while a lawyer told Brian McDermott he was sacked.
Amid rumours of bids from Cardiff Ross McCormack phoned Sky Sports to say he was “gutted”. David Haigh resigned. Chief executive Paul Hunt was sacked. Enterprise Insurance and Flamingo Land withdrew sponsorships. Leeds tried to sign Andrea Tabanelli and Danilo Avelar but didn’t complete the paperwork. Fans chased Cellino around Elland Road in a taxi. GFH confirmed it had sold 75% of the club to Eleonora Sport Ltd, a company named after Cellino’s daughter, and Tabanelli was added to the Leeds website’s squad list. Gianluca Festa was put in charge of the team against Huddersfield, then Nigel Gibbs and Neil Redfearn instead. Former player Gary Kelly said he should be made manager. Ross McCormack scored a hat-trick. Paul Hunt was reinstated, David Haigh came back, Andrew Flowers started a legal challenge to the takeover. Cellino said he had been trying to call McDermott. “How could I sack anyone anyway?” he said, “GFH are still running Leeds United.” The letter sacking McDermott was produced, with Cellino’s signature. McDermott was reinstated. “Why would you walk away from being Leeds United manager?” he said about people telling him to stay away. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
David Haigh’s Sport Capital and Mike Farnan’s TogetherLeeds consortiums joined forces with Andrew Flowers leading; he had already issued a winding up petition against Leeds over an alleged unpaid debt. It was revealed Cellino had loaned the club £1.5m but not paid for any shares. Haigh tried three times to tweet ‘Side Before Self, Every Time’ and retweeted Pamela Anderson. Ken Bates claimed he had been ready to fund Haigh’s takeover. On Instagram, fans began arguing with Cellino’s daughter after she posted an ‘I Am Leeds’ Macron advert. “He really cares about his team’s fans and about their opinions,” she said. Her brother Ercole commented on a selfie from Mike Farnan’s daughter that “You make puke” and “Cringe – ugly”, and went to the Brit Awards with David Haigh.
Andrew Flowers pulled out of his consortium and it was believed they wouldn’t match Cellino’s bid. On Wednesday Cellino said, “On Thursday I will go to the bank and I will buy our stadium.” Mike Farnan said TogetherLeeds had proof of funds. Cellino sent a text to a journalist saying he had sold Cagliari, another journalist said the deal was “a cosmic hoax”. Leeds United’s website confirmed an exchange of contracts but that Nooruddin and Haigh would be staying and GFH would keep 10%. Haigh gave managing a branch of McDonalds when he was sixteen as evidence of his experience and said, “The club is in good hands.”
In Italy, Cellino was found guilty of evading tax due on a yacht named Nelie. Tom Lees, Matt Smith and David Haigh attended an attempt to hold the world’s biggest maths lesson at Elland Road. The Football League ruled that the yacht conviction meant Cellino failed their Owners and Directors Test. Before the decision, Cellino said he would “100% not” appeal a decision against him. After, he said, “I have to appeal.” In Italy, he said, “Do not get me wrong: I do not leave Cagliari. When I realised the team needed me, I came back.” A Leeds fan phoned Cellino in Miami, who said he regretted getting involved with Leeds “because there’s a bunch of evil snakes there” and called David Haigh “a witch”. TogetherLeeds announced they were in talks about working with Cellino and could buy his stake if he lost his appeal. Cellino won his appeal, at least until the Italian court’s decision was published, and said, “There is only place in my heart for one club, and that is Leeds. When I get the right offer I will sell Cagliari.” Leeds United accounts showed a £9.5m loss and a new debt of more than £15m to GFH, and revealed that between March and June 2013 GFH had sold more than 50% of their interest to “various parties” before buying it back in December. On the day Cellino’s takeover was confirmed, he paid a tax bill to avoid a winding up order. He was asked about the debt owed to GFH. “Please, I’m too weak,” he said, and went to the Peacock for a beer. David Haigh resigned.
Leeds signed goalkeeper Jack Butland on loan, lost 5-1 at home to Bolton, and Cellino called the players “guilty chickens”. Lee Peltier’s move to Nottingham Forest fell through when Neil Warnock turned down their job as manager. Leeds played twelve games, won one, drew two, and five of the nine lost were in a row. Ex-Aston Villa player Benito Carbone sat in the stands with an iPad. Leeds finished 15th in the league, and at the end of season dinner Cellino played guitar with the Pigeon Detectives, then appeared wearing the same clothes at Fibre’s Courtyard Party the next afternoon, with local nightclub owner Terry George. Cellino promised his sons jobs at the club and one of them, Edoardo, was made a director, and tweeted that Dominic Matteo, Peter Lorimer and Eddie Gray “get paid for doing nothing”.
Brian McDermott said he’d been promised a meeting about his future and went to take care of his mother in hospital. Cellino complained that McDermott had abandoned him. “I send a letter to Brian — please help us,” he said. He said he was “dying” trying to push a 747 down a runway without any help, “down on the floor on the ground”, and that he might be “a good virus for this club.” Carbone was confirmed as an unpaid consultant, Thorp Arch was closed for the summer and Leeds released thirteen players. David Haigh went to Dubai to speak to GFH and was jailed, accused of defrauding them. A winding up petition against Leeds by Sport Capital froze its bank accounts, meaning season ticket payments made by card were withheld from the club.
Cellino and McDermott released a joint statement to say McDermott was leaving. Cellino was photographed shaking hands with Luca Silvestrone to confirm the sale of Cagliari but a week later said Silvestrone had disappeared and he was now selling the club to Tommaso Giulini. He said, “We’ve fixed the past with GFH.” and that “by November, we’ll buy the stadium. If we have to pay cash then we will.” Leeds’ players hadn’t been paid for five weeks and Cellino called them back to Elland Road a week early, lined them up outside his office in threes, and held one-to-one meetings with each one. Carbone went to visit his mother in Italy without permission and was sacked.
Cellino told a press conference, “I know Maradona personally, I know van Basten, Gullit,” and Ross McCormack would not be leaving. His new head coach was David Hockaday, and a video showed fans of his former club Forest Green Rovers yelling at him, “Walk away now!” Hockaday said, “My journey has not just involved Forest Green,” and after his first day of training, “The king is dead, long live the king.” The players were bringing their own lunch to training because the canteen had been closed, and they discussed on Twitter what sort of socks Sam Byram should buy now the club weren’t providing any. “You got plain ones?” Sam asked Jason Pearce. “Right, I’ll get some plain ones too.” Leeds accepted a bid from Fulham for Ross McCormack, and told him to go there for a medical. Cellino tried to call the deal off and publicly threatened to fine McCormack for not going on Leeds’ pre-season tour to Italy. Hockaday told Cellino he should keep McCormack. “Did I ask your fucking advice?” said Cellino. “No. So shut the fuck up.” Paddy Kenny was sold because his date of birth was 17th May and Cellino considered the number 17 to be unlucky.
In Italy, the players shivered in a river as LUTV filmed them, beat a local team 16-0, had to negotiate with the owner of their training pitch when he locked them out for not paying the bill, and played a match against themselves when their opponents didn’t show up. Federico Viviani, compared on his Wikipedia page to Andrea Pirlo, watched Leeds play at Mansfield and decided not to sign. Tom Lees was given a free transfer to Sheffield Wednesday. Liam Cooper was wanted to replace him but Leeds put a statement on their website saying Chesterfield wanted too much money; they cancelled a deal for Giuseppe Bellusci over his demands. On the opening day of the season Leeds lost 2-0 to Millwall and next week signed Cooper and Bellusci. Against Accrington Stanley in the League Cup new signing Gaetano Berardi was sent off for a kung-fu kick. When he came back from suspension, he was sent off again.
Leeds lost 4-1 at Watford and Cellino decided to sack Hockaday then changed his mind. “I am the president so I should only sack myself,” he said. Hockaday had a two hour conversation with Cellino and said, “He wants to be in the Champions League. I want to be part of that journey.” Leeds lost to Bradford City in the League Cup and Hockaday was sacked. Cellino printed an apology in the programme, signed Brazilian wonderkid Adryan from Cagliari, and promised a better coach and more signings. On deadline day, Leeds tweeted, ‘Don’t go to bed just yet … there is still work left to be done’, then announced the sales of Matt Smith to Fulham, weeks after signing a new contract, and Dom Poleon to Oldham. “I’ve decided to leave the team to Neil Redfearn,” said Cellino, from Miami. “At the moment too many coaches call me and I’m confused.”
In Austria, Darko Milanic called a press conference to announce he was leaving Sturm Graz, then was unveiled as the new head coach of Leeds. “It’s difficult for me to say something about me,” said Milanic. “I like him, he’s a very cool guy,” said Cellino. “He’s good-looking, what can I tell you?” He added, “The coaches are like watermelons. You find out about them when you open them.” At Brentford Cellino was photographed eating hotdogs, ordered out of the home seating area, and watched the game from the front of the away end. Leeds lost 2-0. Giuseppe Bellusci was accused of racially abusing Norwich’s Cameron Jerome and Milanic said, “It is better if other people in the club comment on this,” and captain Jason Pearce said, “I don’t really feel like I need to comment on it at all, to be honest.” Bellusci was eventually cleared. After 764 hours in charge, three draws and three defeats, Milanic was sacked. “I made a mistake with this guy,” said Cellino. He put Academy manager Neil Redfearn in caretaker charge.
Ken Bates said his legal dispute with Leeds was settled and “we’re back on kissy-kissy terms.” Redfearn said he’d asked about having an assistant manager but nothing had happened. Cellino said he had not fixed the past with GFH and went to Miami for a break. “I can’t take any more of it,” he said, “There’s no respect for me.” Leeds played Derby, and at half-time photographs of Hollywood star Verne Troyer posing in the East Stand with the Cellino family and Terry George were published on Twitter. A dive by Adryan went viral online and at full-time there was news of a “£20m cash injection” from Cellino, that was then said to include £5m from GFH and was announced with a photo of Cellino shaking hands with Hisham Alrayes. On Monday morning, the Football League announced Cellino was banned again from being an owner or director, until March. Cellino appointed Matt Child as CEO, Redfearn gained Steve Thompson as an assistant, Leeds lost 4-1 at Ipswich and were believed to be under a transfer embargo. “If you do not do what you love, love what you do, my father told me,” Cellino said on a television programme about Italians living in Miami. “I do not like football.” Terry George made a video of Cellino cooking pasta for the players before they played Bournemouth, in which he asked Cellino if he was interested in the players’ reaction. “No, I don’t give a fuck,” said Cellino.
The appeal against Cellino’s ban failed and his ban was extended until April. Rumours started that Hollywood star Russell Crowe or casino operator Genting Group were buying the club. Andrew Umbers was appointed chairman and, in an open letter, Cellino said he would not come back after his ban. Further court proceedings in Italy meant the ban was extended to May. In fifteen games, Leeds won eight, drew four and only lost three. Umbers said the club wouldn’t be signing any players on loan as that, “could in theory upset the equilibrium of the spirit of the team.” Matt Child resigned and Steve Thompson was sacked by sporting director Nicola Salerno, who absented himself due to the public reaction. Andrea Lore, a furniture salesman Cellino befriended in Miami, was given an unspecified job. Mirco Antenucci was dropped, apparently to avoid paying a goalscoring bonus. Leeds lost five games in a row. Before a match at Charlton, six players signed by Cellino claimed to be injured and refused to play. Steve Morison was asked about scoring for the first time in two years. “Well, that’s a lie,” he said, because he’d scored while on loan for Millwall. Cellino’s ban finished in time for the last game of the season, and while Leeds played Rotherham at Elland Road he went to watch Morecambe.
At the end of season dinner, Sol Bamba argued with Andrew Umbers. Bamba said the players didn’t know when they were supposed to come back for pre-season. Cellino changed his mind about not coming back to Leeds. “Nothing has been sorted out and instead there is just shit,” he said. About whether Redfearn would stay as manager, he said, “I am in love with Neil.” Adam Pearson was hired as chief executive and Cellino broadcast a seventy-minute press conference on LUTV, leaving halfway through for a “beautiful cigarette” with Terry George. Cellino complained that when a champagne party was held to welcome him back, Redfearn wasn’t there. He said Redfearn was popular because he was a Leeds fan who did the salute, complained that he hadn’t picked Brian Montenegro, and shouted that fans should stop doing Leeds salutes and start buying season tickets. “I just realised last night,” he said, “The £10m for McCormack went all on the garbage.”
Adam Pearson held another press conference, without Cellino, to announce Uwe Rosler was the new manager, even though Redfearn hadn’t been sacked, and that Kappa were the new kit manufacturers, without a shirt to show. Pearson said Redfearn would be offered his old Academy job and he and his partner, ex-player and Academy welfare officer Lucy Ward, were put on gardening leave and left. Nicola Salerno came back and resigned. It was revealed that a legal services company were using space in the East Stand, once earmarked for a museum, without planning permission. Massimo Cellino said he’d bought Fernando Forestieri from Watford. Forestieri signed for Sheffield Wednesday. Adam Pearson resigned. Massimo Cellino said that because Sam Byram had refused to sign a new contract, including a pay cut, “I am so hurt inside. Sam Byram is the only one that maybe thinks Leeds is too small for him.” He said that he had made Ross McCormack’s transfer to Fulham difficult, “to show him I was stronger than him.” He said the team could make the play-offs. “I do not want Premier League football; I wish for it. I am very superstitious. If you want something in football you never get it. If you wish for something then you get it.” He promised a “beautiful season” and arranged for ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ by Twisted Sister to be played at Elland Road before a defeat to Brighton. “I’ll have a good drink,” said Uwe Rosler, “And be ready on Monday again.” After two wins in twelve games Rosler was sacked. “I accept responsibility,” said Cellino. “I wanted the team to play heavy-rock football, but instead it was like country music.” After another conviction for tax evasion in Italy, the Football League banned Cellino until the end of the season; he appealed.
The new manager was Steve Evans, who was convicted of conspiring to cheat the public revenue over a five-year tax-evasion scheme that helped Boston United win promotion and once came to Elland Road in a sombrero while manager of Rotherham. He couldn’t fit into the largest club tracksuit available so a badge was sewn onto an oversized one for him. He said it was “a disgrace” that Leeds hadn’t won at home in eleven games since March, a club record, and said he was “massively excited,” about his first home game, against Blackburn. “Without a doubt it’s the pinnacle for me,” he said. Blackburn took the lead after seventeen seconds and scored again five minutes later. Fans in the South Stand chanted, “Massimo, time to go,” and he offered to sell the club to Leeds Fans Utd, a supporters’ group, then changed his mind. Leeds won at home against Cardiff and Evans said he’d prepared the players for the game by showing them a motivational video of a disabled child. “At the end of the game I was quite an emotional man, I was welling up,” he said. “If I achieve nothing else I have won a game in charge of a famous football club at Elland Road.” The next home game was against Rotherham, who had lost their previous four games; their new manager was Neil Redfearn, and Rotherham won 1-0. “If we’re thinking Sam Byram is the saviour of Leeds United, we’ve got problems, haven’t we?” said Evans. He said Souleymane Doukara was playing much better. “His heart was crying when I arrived. Now his heart is blessed.”
“I’m very hurt and sad, I can’t take anymore,” said Cellino. “I’ve achieved nothing.” A video trailer was released showing Terry George photographing players in hammocks, having picnics on the Elland Road pitch and fishing in dungarees in the Leeds Liverpool Canal, although when the photos were published in a calendar it turned out someone else had taken them. Cellino added a £5 charge on tickets in the South Stand as advance payment for a pie, pushing the on-the-day price up to £37, and said later he was punishing the fans who sang for him to go. He tried to stop Sky Sports from covering a game against Derby at Elland Road and Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey sat outside in his car, refused to confirm he was Shaun Harvey, and found out Cellino was in Miami. Cellino tried to stop fans travelling to away games to protest Sky’s movement of kick-off times. At Hillsborough, Sky’s cameras broadcast Steve Evans running back from the toilet to find a Leeds goal had been disallowed. “We score, he gives the goal. I go for a leak, a little break, and I come back and he’s chalked it off,” he said. Sam Byram was sold to West Ham. A week later Evans said, “Not for one second do I think any of our exciting youngsters will leave the club in this window.” He said it was only at 10pm on deadline day that “it became obvious” Leeds wouldn’t be signing anybody. Fans who wanted more signings wanted the club “to go to rack and ruin,” he said. Fans raised more than £4,000 for a group called ‘Time To Go, Massimo’ who projected that message on the East Stand and put up posters near the stadium.
Leeds played away at Brighton and were losing 4-0 by half-time, when Cellino left, giving orders that Steve Evans shouldn’t talk to the media. Leeds lost 4-1 at home to Huddersfield. Leeds lost 2-1 at Rotherham and Evans said, “Tactically, we’ve got it right today.” After a series of mistakes defender Giuseppe Bellusci posted a spreadsheet of his playing statistics on Twitter and Evans said, “I tell you what he is, he’s a man,” and dropped him. The club’s accounts showed GFH had been paid £3m the previous year and were still owed £17m. Operating losses were around £1m a month and there were a “number of legal claims and various claims from HMRC outstanding.” Director Edoardo Cellino was suspended by The FA for abusing a Leeds fan on Facebook. Director and self-described vice-president Ercole Cellino posted his new short haircut on Instagram with the hashtag ‘nazi’, then deleted that and reposted with the hashtags ‘ss’ and ‘gestapo’. Leeds finished 13th and Sol Bamba said he’d spoken to Cellino about the club’s future. “I said to him, ‘I think it’s good to talk, but we need to act as well’,” said Bamba. “At the minute he is making a lot of promises but I think the fans and everyone involved at the club wants to see action, desperately.” Cellino said, “I have no happiness any more and I don’t know if I have the enthusiasm for the next season. I’ll tell you the truth — I’ve never been so confused.”
Cellino said, “I have a good feeling,” about his search for a new coach. Steve Evans, who was still the coach, said, “I’m confident I would lead us to promotion so I assume the remit is now to be champions.” Cellino called a board meeting about Evans’ future and sent club secretary Stuart Hayton to tell Evans he was sacked. “I cannot work with English managers,” said Cellino. “I never want to learn. I give up.” He hired former Swansea manager Garry Monk, who was born in Bedford. About possible transfers, Cellino said, “With Lewis Cook, he’s got good agents and is a nice kid. Charlie Taylor is going to be a problem. I think his agent is the same as Sam Byram.” Cook was sold to Bournemouth. Giuseppe Bellusci was booed off in a pre-season friendly.
The Daily Mirror reported that Cellino wanted to sack Monk during the second game of the season at Fleetwood in the League Cup. Leeds won one and lost four of the first six league games. “The group is the group,” said Monk. He was asked what Leeds’ identity is. “I’m not here to answer that question for you,” said Monk. Cellino argued with Leeds fans on a train back from Luton. An undercover newspaper investigation filmed Cellino offering twenty per cent ownership of Leeds United to a group seeking to profit from transfers. Leeds were ordered to pay Lucy Ward £290,000, who Cellino said he’d forgotten about but remembered as “The blonde girl who works in the Academy,” after an employment tribunal ruled she was sacked for being Neil Redfearn’s partner.
Gary Sprake, goalkeeper in Don Revie’s Leeds team, died.
Reports in Italy said Cellino might sell Leeds to Andrea Radrizzani of sports-rights agency MP & Silva, and buy Brescia instead. In January Radrizzani was confirmed as 50% owner until the end of the season. If Leeds went up they would stay as joint owners, otherwise Radrizzani would buy the other 50%. “I feel the only way we can get better is for me to bring in a new partner,” said Cellino. The club accounts showed Leeds United had given personal interest-free loans of £19,862 to Massimo Cellino, and £5,000 to Edoardo Cellino, the amount of his FA fine. After a season of cost-cutting Leeds had the highest administrative expenses in the Championship and made an overall loss of £8.9m. GFH had given up their percentage of the club in return for a debenture giving them rights to assets, and preventing Leeds using those assets to raise mortgages.
Leeds United improved on the pitch and Reading were laughed at by fans during a 2-0 Leeds win. “You can tell something about how they are as human beings,” said Reading manager Jaap Stam. Garry Monk named a team in the FA Cup at Sutton United including two sons of agent Willie McKay and Billy Whitehouse, who had signed with them from Doncaster, and Leeds lost 1-0. “I don’t want to let Radrizzani invest anything yet,” said Cellino. “We have too many players. We don’t want to get in a mess because we want to help too much.” Alex Mowatt was sold to Barnsley. Garry Monk started a fight with Huddersfield manager David Wagner after he celebrated a winning goal. Defender Pontus Jansson was dropped amid rumours of a fight with another defender, Kyle Bartley. In January YEP reporter Phil Hay tweeted, “Personally think a play-off place is nailed.” In March he tweeted, “a win at Fulham and it’s nailed on.” Leeds drew at Fulham. “It’s impossible to doubt this group,” said Monk. Leeds lost at Burton, drew with Norwich, and finished outside the play-off places. Before the last game, at Wigan, Charlie Taylor asked not to play, then signed for Burnley.
Andrea Radrizzani was confirmed as 100% owner. “I wish Andrea good luck,” said Massimo Cellino. “I am sure he will continue what I have started.” Radrizzani said, “Probably we need to thank Cellino.” While he watched Josh Warrington boxing at Leeds Arena, the crowd sang ‘Sign Garry Monk’. He resigned and took the manager’s job at Middlesbrough. His replacement was the former manager of APOEL in Cyprus, Thomas Christiansen, and a director of football formerly at Middlesbrough, Victor Orta. Leeds bought back Elland Road and signed twenty players in the summer, Orta promising more in future, including a signing from Asia.
Top-scorer Chris Wood asked not to play at Sunderland and signed for Burnley. “I’m over it,” said Thomas Christiansen, and, “These are my players, and for them I die.” Leeds signed a replacement on loan, Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who had posed topless in photos with his mum who was also his agent. Leeds went undefeated in the first nine games and the BBC website published a headline: ‘Are Championship leaders Leeds finally set for Premier League return?’ Leeds lost 1-0 away to Millwall and Christiansen said, “I believe there was nothing new in what I expected from Millwall — they did exactly what I expected them to do.” Mateusz Klich made a mistake that cost a goal in a defeat at Cardiff and was sent on loan to Utrecht. Goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald, nicknamed ‘the Milk Baby’ in Germany, made high profile mistakes and was replaced by returning goalkeeper Andy Lonergan, who made high profile mistakes and was replaced by Wiedwald. “If you are touched in Germany just a bit, it is immediately a foul,” said Wiedwald, struggling with the more physical Championship, and to find a power adaptor so he could cook bratwurst at home. “I have confidence in all my goalkeepers,” said Christiansen. At Barnsley, a fan gave Wiedwald his cap because the sun was in his eyes.
Jimmy Armfield, who managed Leeds in the European Cup final in 1975, died.
Leeds hired a specialist set-piece coach, Gianni Vio. Leeds played eleven games and lost eight. Thomas Christian said that being under pressure made him “feel alive.” Midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi was bought from Gamba Osaka and immediately loaned to Cultural Leonesa, a club Leeds were linked to via Qatar’s Aspire Academy, where he played 108 minutes of football. Leeds played eight games and won six, then lost to Newport County in the FA Cup, after Christiansen named a weakened team and playmaker Samu Saiz was sent off and banned for six games for spitting at a player who had pushed him over after Newport scored a last minute winner. Leeds lost to Ipswich and Eunan O’Kane was sent off, and Christiansen argued with a journalist who claimed it had been for a headbutt, and said his young son would back him up. Leeds lost 4-3 to Millwall and Liam Cooper was sent off, and lost 4-1 to Cardiff and Gaetano Berardi was sent off.
Ahead of the club’s centenary, Leeds unveiled a new club badge “for the next one hundred years”, and claimed to have surveyed 10,000 fans before designing a cartoon version of the fans’ Leeds salute gesture. Within minutes it was being mocked online all over the world, with contributions from Zenit St Petersburg, Zamalek SC of Egypt and The History Channel. Within six hours it was withdrawn and chief executive Angus Kinnear was apologising on BBC Radio Leeds.
“If it’s their decision that they want to find somebody better,” said Thomas Christiansen, about the board, “I cannot do anything about that. I will then go away, but with my head high that I have done my best for the team and the club.” He was sacked and Leeds paid £500,000 to bring Paul Heckingbottom from Barnsley, who had once said about growing up there, “We hated Leeds and they hated us and that is how it was.” He said, “one thing I have always wanted in my team, and I will definitely get it, however long it takes I will definitely get it, is something I know the Leeds fans will love and enjoy, which is an intensity to our play.” Leeds lost his first game to Sheffield United despite a good performance by second half substitute Pablo Hernandez. “We can’t rely on a bit of magic from Pablo to win games,” said Heckingbottom.
About whether young players might feature, Heckingbottom said, “They’ve got to earn it, that’s my message all the time. The environment I want to create is in terms of being driven and ferocious, if you like, in terms of how you want to get better. It’s no good me saying that’s what I want, and then giving appearances away and giving debuts away. So there won’t be any of that, you have to earn it, and it has to be justified. Because there’s no easy things to be given in football, you have to fight for everything.” Leeds lost 3-0 at Middlesbrough to a Patrick Bamford hat-trick and Heckingbottom replaced Wiedwald with 21-year-old Bailey Peacock-Farrell, and Leeds lost 3-0 to Wolves. As the game drew to a close Andrea Radrizzani tweeted complaints about Wolves’ ownership by Chinese conglomerate Fosun and relationship to agent Jorge Mendes. “We have our own problems but we should play in a fair competition,” he said. About Leeds’ players, he said, “We gave them long-term contracts, we supported them going to a mid-season camp in Spain. We did everything they wanted. But we didn’t get back their commitment, passion and the spirit.”
Leeds played sixteen games and won four, losing eight. Paul Heckingbottom said he wanted “A much more aggressive team, it’s people dying for the cause, that type of thing.” The team went on a post-season tour of Myanmar, where the military was being investigated for possible “crimes against humanity” against the Rohingya people in Rakhine state. “We simply want to use sport to do some good,” said Andrea Radrizzani. The commentator in the first game described Leeds as “one of the giants of football of years gone by.” Scrolling through tweets at half-time, the commentator concluded striker Jay-Roy Grot was not popular with Leeds fans, and when Grot scored with a shot to the top corner he shouted, “Stick that on a meme on Twitter and like it!” Paul Heckingbottom said, “The fans, the players and certainly all us staff, we’ve all enjoyed ourselves.” He went on holiday to Greece, and Victor Orta flew after to him to tell him he was sacked. Heckingbottom said the new manager, “should be saying the same things I was saying, and hopefully he gets the backing and support.”
Paul Madeley, ‘Rolls Royce’ of Don Revie’s Leeds, and Phil Masinga, who played for Leeds in the Premier League, both died.
The new manager was Marcelo Bielsa, nicknamed El Loco. In his first press conference he spoke through an interpreter for one hour and twenty-three minutes. “I feel fear and excitement at the same time,” said Radrizzani. In pre-season friendlies midfielder Ronaldo Vieira played in defence, then was sold to Sampdoria. After being left out of Japan’s World Cup squad Yosuke Ideguchi went on loan to Grunther Furth, suffered a serious knee injury, recovered, then suffered another serious knee injury. Samu Saiz asked to go back to Spain. Playmaker Izzy Brown signed on loan while recovering from a serious knee injury, and goalkeeper Jamal Blackman signed on loan and broke his leg, and midfielder Lewis Baker signed on loan and went back in January, all from Chelsea. Striker Patrick Bamford signed for £7m and suffered a serious knee injury. “I’m not too sure to be honest,” said Kalvin Phillips when he was asked what position he was playing. Against Swansea and Birmingham he was substituted after half an hour.
Leeds celebrated a late equaliser at Millwall, whose manager Neil Harris said Leeds were “A disgrace in English football.” Leeds conceded a penalty to Brentford and Pontus Jansson told an interviewer he felt, “Shit, to be fair,” it was a “robbery by the referee,” and asked, “Do you think I should be happy?” Jansson was suspended, but Brentford’s Sergi Canos was not suspended for headbutting Ezgjan Alioski’s back in the dugouts. From 2-0 down, Leeds beat Aston Villa 3-2 in stoppage time, and their manager Dean Smith said, “From the celebrations, I thought they’d won the title.”
Derbyshire Police tweeted that they’d questioned a “suspicious male” near the fence of Derby County’s training ground. “All checks above board!” they said, “Keeping the team safe to bring home a win against Leeds! Spying is cheating.” Just before kick-off against Derby at Elland Road the next night Bielsa said, “It’s true, there was someone from Leeds United. I am responsible for this incident.” Derby manager Frank Lampard said, “I’d rather not coach than send people undercover on their hands and knees with pliers and bolt cutters to look at the opposition because I respect the opposition,” and Derby police confirmed the person did not have pliers or bolt cutters. “If it’s a cultural thing then I’m very surprised. I don’t think it’s right and I’ll stand by that.” Bielsa said he had phoned Lampard to explain, and Lampard said, “He’s not apologising for it. He says he understands that he’s offended English football but he’s not actually apologising for it, and he doesn’t think it gives him a sporting advantage.”
The FA opened a formal investigation. Bristol City’s owner Steve Lansdown said Leeds should be deducted points. Ex-Arsenal defender Martin Keown said it was “morally outrageous” and he would be “embarrassed to play for Bielsa.” Ex-England goalkeeper Peter Shilton complained about the “Italian” Marcelo Bielsa and was told he came from Argentina. “That makes it even worse then, doesn’t it?” he said. Bielsa called an unexpected press conference and spent 70 minutes explaining and sharing examples of how much detailed information he collects on opposing teams without having their training watched, a “volume of information” that is “absolutely not necessary”, and that he has their training watched, “Because we feel guilty if we don’t work enough. Because it allows us not to have too much anxiety.” He said he had watched every team in the Championship in training, and, “I repeat: Why do I do it? Because I think I’m stupid.” Frank Lampard said, “We do analysis too.” Although no rules had been broken The FA fined Leeds United £200,000 and Bielsa paid the fine personally.
Leeds spent most of January trying to sign winger Daniel James from Swansea City, had a bid accepted, brought the player to Leeds where he passed a medical, posed for photographs and media interviews. Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins refused to allow the transfer and resigned a few days later. In-form teenage winger Jack Clarke was substituted in a game at Middlesbrough then collapsed on the bench and was taken to hospital. Leeds organised for fans to display a mosaic reading ‘Believe’ and after Leeds struggled to beat Millwall Bielsa said, “When we started conceding efforts in the second half, the fans had a memory linking with the difficulty that they are suffering in the last few years. It’s something we can understand. The fans showed these doubts from these memories.”
Bill Fotherby, managing director when Leeds won the Second and First Divisions in the 1990s, died.
Leeds were 2nd in the league, three points clear of Sheffield United, and played Wigan at Elland Road, who had a player sent off after fifteen minutes, two minutes before Bamford put Leeds ahead, but came back to win 2-1. Leeds lost 2-0 at Brentford. Against Aston Villa at Elland Road, Mateusz Klich scored while Jonathan Kodjia was down asking for treatment after trying to foul Liam Cooper. Anwar El Ghazi was sent off after Bamford pretended he’d been punched, and Bamford was punched by Conor Hourihane. Marcelo Bielsa told his team to let Villa equalise. Pontus Jansson argued with Bielsa and tried to stop it but the equaliser was scored, and Aston Villa assistant manager John Terry argued with Bielsa about Jansson. Leeds lost 3-2 at Ipswich and played Derby County in the play-offs. Leading 2-0 on aggregate just before half-time in the second leg at Elland Road, Cooper and goalkeeper Kiko Casilla made mistakes and Derby scored. A minute after half-time Derby scored again, then from a penalty, Stuart Dallas scored for Leeds, Gaetano Berardi was sent off, Derby scored with five minutes left, had a player sent off in stoppage time, and won on aggregate 4-3. Their players and staff ran around the pitch pretending to look through binoculars while Bielsa waited by the tunnel to shake hands with Frank Lampard.
The Financial Times reported that Qatar Sports Investments might take over or invest in Leeds and link them to Paris St Germain. Leeds’ chief executive Angus Kinnear told an in-house documentary Leeds would not be “dicking around with the play-offs” again. Marcelo Bielsa was seen shopping for cars, meeting Victor Orta at a hotel, and he and his staff left Thorp Arch. Bielsa spent four days in Argentina, agreed to keep working at Leeds, and digital adverts in the city promised ‘Season Two with Marcelo Bielsa.’ Jack Clarke was sold to Tottenham Hotspur, loaned back for the season, and given back to Spurs in December. Top scorer Kemar Roofe was sold to Anderlecht. Goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell was sold to Burnley. Pontus Jansson was sold to Brentford. Yosuke Ideguchi was sold back to Gamba Osaka. The squad was split in pre-season between Leeds and Australia and Bielsa used in-flight wi-fi to stream training sessions.
“It feels like the same as last season, we feel like we lost the game,” said Mateusz Klich after conceding a late equaliser to Nottingham Forest. “It is like last season, we created a lot of chances and we should have scored more goals but we didn’t.” Leeds lost to Swansea, who scored their winner in the 90th minute, and their manager Steve Cooper said “There are obvious areas to exploit against Leeds.”
Leeds celebrated their 100th anniversary and won the FIFA Fair Play Award for ‘remarkable sportsmanship’ for letting Aston Villa equalise against them. Marcelo Bielsa said, “Football makes you worse. If not, football doesn’t accept you.” Frank Lampard, now managing Chelsea, said, “It was a strange decision for them to win that. I think everyone had the same reaction.” Asked in the same press conference about three players at his former club Derby crashing a car after a drinking session, Lampard wouldn’t comment on events at another club. Leeds lost at Charlton and goalkeeper Kiko Casilla was accused of calling Jonathan Leko “You fucking n—-r” and later banned for eight matches. Eddie Nketiah was signed on loan to replace Roofe, was ruled out on the eve of his first start with what was rumoured to be a twisted testicle, and went back to Arsenal due to his lack of game time.
Leeds went 3-0 up in the first half against Cardiff City at Elland Road, but the game finished 3-3. Leeds lost at Fulham whose manager Scott Parker said, “The movements Leeds make are very scripted.” Leeds only won two of eleven games, one of those a 5-4 win at Birmingham, who equalised three times before Leeds won in the 95th minute, the other a 3-2 win after going two behind to Millwall. In the January transfer window, Leeds tried to sign Che Adams from Southampton but their manager Ralph Hasenhüttl refused to let him leave, so Leeds signed Jean-Kevin Augustin on loan from RB Leipzig, a striker with better stats at youth level than Kylian Mbappé, and he injured his hamstring after playing 49 minutes as a substitute. Andrea Radrizzani told an unhappy fan on Twitter that, “We need lots of positive feeling.” After losing to Nottingham Forest Luke Ayling said, “It was way off it today. We played some nice football up to a point but no cutting edge again. Same old story.” He was asked how Leeds could get out of their problems. “I don’t know,” he said.
Leeds won five games in a row, scoring nine and conceding none, then closed their training ground before the league was suspended due to a pandemic that killed around 45,000 people in the United Kingdom over the next four months.
Club legends Norman Hunter, Trevor Cherry and Jack Charlton died.
The Football League discussed whether to end the season using Points Per Game calculations that would promote Leeds, and Norwich City complained Leeds shouldn’t replace them in the Premier League without playing all their games. Adam Forshaw said that when Leeds started playing again, “It’s going to be a formality for us, that’s my personal view on it, I think we’ll romp it.” The season restarted behind closed doors and Leeds lost 2-0 at Cardiff and drew 1-1 at home with Luton. Jean-Kevin Augustin injured his hamstring again and his loan was cancelled, but not an £18m obligation to buy him upon promotion. Kalvin Phillips injured his knee and was ruled out of the last three games.
On July 16th 2020 Leeds played worse than they had before under Marcelo Bielsa but beat Barnsley because Michael Sollbauer scored an own goal. The next day Emile Smith Rowe scored in the 86th minute to seal Huddersfield Town’s 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion, and the day after that Lee Gregory’s goal for Stoke City beat Brentford. On July 19th 2020, sixteen years, two months and seventeen days since losing to Bolton Wanderers, Leeds United walked onto the pitch at Derby County as a Premier League club again, the English Football League Champions.
“It’s going to be a memory for the rest of our lives,” said Marcelo Bielsa. “Everything that happened here was very, very beautiful. I will never forget this. The great Leeds supporters waited for this moment a long time and now they can celebrate this as they deserve.” ◉
(Read Moscowhite’s new book: 100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019.)
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(photo by Lee Brown)