Can Leeds United really consider themselves 'big club'?
25 May 2023 09:07 pm, by YorkshireSquare
The story of Leeds United is one that defies the norms, a dramatic history filled with adversity, determination, and a perpetual struggle against the establishment. Our tale begins in the early 20th century, a time when football was emerging as the working-class sport, a respite from the hardships of daily life. In this landscape, Leeds City Football Club was born in 1904, carrying the hopes and dreams of a passionate community.
For the first few decades, Leeds City battled valiantly in lower divisions, their ambition never dampened. But fate had other plans. In 1919, the club was embroiled in a scandal that shook the footballing world. Leeds City was accused of making illegal payments to players during World War I, and as a result, they were disbanded by the Football League.
It seemed as though Leeds City's fate was sealed, destined to fade into the annals of forgotten history. But the spirit of football in Leeds was unbreakable. The fans rallied, refusing to let their beloved club perish. In the ashes of Leeds City, a new peacock rose, a club born out of sheer determination and a burning desire for redemption. Leeds United Football Club emerged, rising from the depths of despair to reclaim the city's footballing pride.
The early years were arduous, as Leeds United navigated the treacherous waters of the lower divisions. But their progress was relentless, their spirit unyielding. They faced countless obstacles, financial hardships, and even the devastating effects of the Second World War. Yet, through it all, the club held firm, refusing to succumb to the forces that conspired against them.
Leeds United finally found their breakthrough in the 1960s under the shrewd leadership of manager Don Revie. On the anniversary of his death we remember his mix of tactical brilliance, fierce determination and the unbreakable team spirit he brough. Revie transformed the club into a force to be reckoned with. The "Dirty Leeds" era was born, a moniker bestowed upon them by their detractors, who despised their tenacity and combative style of play. But it was during this period that Leeds United truly challenged the established order for the first time. They became a dominant force in English football, securing promotion to the First Division in 1964 and embarking on a remarkable journey of success. Revie's men won two league titles, an FA Cup, and reached the final of the European Cup, narrowly missing out on continental glory.
After the departure of Don Revie in 1974, Leeds United faced a period of uncertainty and instability. The club struggled to find a manager who could match the success and legacy left behind by Revie. A series of managerial changes ensued, with each appointment failing to replicate the glory days of the past. As the '80s unfolded, Leeds United experienced a downward spiral. Relegation from the First Division in 1982 marked the beginning of a tumultuous era for the club. The once-proud giants of English football found themselves languishing in the lower divisions, a far cry from their previous glories.
Hope was rekindled in 1988 when Howard Wilkinson was appointed as the manager. Wilkinson brought a sense of stability and structure to the club, guiding Leeds United to promotion back to the First Division in 1990. The following season, the team went on to win the league, securing their first top-flight title in 18 years. Under Wilkinson's reign, Leeds United enjoyed a period of relative success, qualifying for European competitions and regularly challenging for top positions in the Premier League. But as the '90s drew to a close, financial mismanagement and overspending began to take their toll.
The new millennium marked a tumultuous period for Leeds United. Despite reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League under the management of David O'Leary in 2001, financial woes caught up with the club. The burden of debt became insurmountable, leading to a forced sale of key players and a subsequent decline in on-field performances. Leeds found themselves teetering on the brink of disaster. Relegation from the Premier League in 2004 sent shockwaves through the club and its loyal supporters. It marked the beginning of a dark chapter that would haunt the club for years to come.
For the next 16 years, Leeds United became trapped in the wilderness of lower-league football. Financial instability and numerous changes in ownership only exacerbated the club's woes. Managerial changes were frequent and hopes of a swift return to the Premier League seemed distant and elusive. Yet, amid the despair, there were glimmers of hope. Marcelo Bielsa's appointment as manager in 2018 injected a sense of optimism into the club. The Argentine tactician instilled a style of play that reinvigorated the team and endeared him to the passionate fanbase.
Finally, in the 2019-2020 season, Leeds United's determination and resilience paid off. They secured promotion back to the Premier League after a 16-year absence, bringing elation and relief to the long-suffering supporters who had faithfully stood by their side. Leeds United's return to the top flight of English football was a momentous occasion, a testament to the unyielding spirit that had defined the club throughout its turbulent history. The team's performances under Bielsa have been marked by their tenacity, attacking style, and fearless approach, earning them respect and admiration from fans and pundits alike.
Leeds United, forever poised on the precipice of greatness, has witnessed three awe-inspiring epochs that ignited the fires of success under the stewardship of extraordinary men: the indomitable Don Revie, the visionary Howard Wilkinson, and the enigmatic Marcelo Bielsa. These titans propelled the club to unimaginable heights, where dreams converged with reality.
Yet, it is a chilling truth that Leeds United's destiny, like a fragile wisp of smoke, teeters on the razor's edge. For when the echoes of greatness fade and the torchbearers depart, the club's spirit falters, and they descend, like a fallen angel, into the abyss of lower leagues. So, can Leeds United really consider themselves to be a 'big club'? Or with the menacing spectre of relegation looming ominously, are we, in fact, witnessing a regression to the very essence that has haunted the club throughout its tumultuous history, a cyclical pattern of rise and fall, a relentless struggle to escape the clutches of mediocrity and reclaim their rightful place among the chosen few?