the story of leeds football from 2000 to 2005

The highs and the lows. Looking at the seasons 2000-01 to 2004-05. Under O'Leary and the young Leeds team taste the dizzying heights of European football, which brought so much pleasure to all their adoring public. 2001-02 saw the end of the court case that proved so damaging to the club. O'Leary sacked and replaced by a 'Tv' pundit to be replaced by Peter Reid. Off the field and high boardroom drama, Ridsdale resigns and the Leeds PLC are taken over. Yet another change of manager when Eddie Gray was given an impossible task. 2003-04 and Leeds are relegated after 14 years in the top flight. 2004-05 and the very real possibility of Leeds United going bankrupt. Kevin Blackwell becomes Leeds United's fifth manager in as many seasons. Starting with nothing and defying the critics. Ken Bates comes in at the death and saves Leeds United from the brink.


WAFLL Main | History Index | Period 1990 ~ 2000 | Period 2005 ~ 2008

  2000-01 ~ 2004-05
Despite the events of the previous season off the field, there was great hope for the coming season on the field. Although, 2000-01 saw O'Leary's young outfit nearly call off a pre-season friendly, with Nottingham Forest because of injuries. O'Leary had added to the squad. Australian Mark Viduka and the French midfielder Olivier Dacourt had been acquired in the close season and a month in, Dominic Matteo came from Liverpool for £4.75 million. In the Champions League qualifying round and Leeds beat TSV 1860 Munich. Goals from Smith and Harte enabled Leeds to take a 2-1 advantage to Germany, in the away leg Smith scored the only goal of the game, gaining the team qualification to the Champions league. Leeds would face the favourites Barcelona, AC Milan and Besiktas of Turkey. The opening game was against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Leeds were easily beaten 4-0 and hopes of any European success were fading. A week later though, Leeds faced AC Milan at home and a late goal from Lee Bowyer earned Leeds a 1-0 victory over the Italian giants. Next up Besiktas at home and an incredible performance saw Leeds storm to a 6-0 win with goals from Bowyer hitting 2, Viduka, Matteo, Bakke and Huckerby. This result put Leeds at the top of the group. The other results in the group went the way of Leeds and the side was in good spirits when they went to Besiktas in the away leg. Leeds shut up shop, managing just one shot on target all game, they did the job and with outstanding defensive performances from Woodgate, Mills and Kelly Leeds came home with the point keeping the score 0-0. Unbelievably now a victory over Barcelona at Elland Road would put Leeds through to the next stage. Lee Bowyer scored early, in a game that was dominated by Barcelona. Leeds held Barcelona for the full 90 mins but in the last minute of the four added on, Barcelona scored making it 1-1. Leeds still needed a point away at AC Milan to secure qualification. In the San Siro and it was Leeds who took the lead. A Matteo goal just before half time meant progression was just under 45 mins away. Constant pressure from AC Milan brought them a deserved goal but the draw was enough. Leeds had qualified for the second stage of the Champions League. The following day the draw didn't do Leeds no favours and the team were to face Real Madrid, Lazio of Rome and Anderlecht in the next stage. Before the Winter break Leeds played Real Madrid at home, Leeds played well but were beaten 2-0 by one of the strongest sides in Europe. Leeds again though shocked the critics by pulling off a magnificent away win in the next game against Lazio. An Alan Smith goal in the 80th minute secured the points for Leeds. It would be two months before the Champions league resumed business. In the domestic league at home and the Leeds form was patchy. At the time of the Lazio game Leeds were in 11th position. An early exit in the FL cup, a couple of goals from Huckerby were not enough as Leeds went out, after extra time away to Tranmere Rovers 3-2. In the FA Cup and Leeds went out to Liverpool in the 4th round, Liverpool won 2-0 in a game that Leeds dominated. Success in Europe brought the club cash and eye-brows were raised, when O'Leary bought Rio Ferdinand from West Ham for £18 million, breaking the British transfer record. Robbie Keane was also brought in, from Inter Milan, with an option to buy after 6 months for £12 million. O'Leary put patchy form in the league down to the on-going court case of Bowyer and Woodgate. Although Lee Bowyer despite the case was in excellent form. The Winter break was over and it was Lee Bowyer who netted the winner at home to Anderlecht winning the game 2-1 with the other goal from Harte. Bowyer did pick up a yellow card in that game, making him ineligible for selection in the away leg in Brussels. One of Leeds United's most commendable European performances saw Leeds win 4-1. Two goals from Smith, one from Viduka and Harte netting from the penalty spot secured a position in the last eight of the Champions League for Leeds. The following 3-2 loss against Real Madrid and the 3-3 draw against Lazio didn't matter. Leeds would face Spain's Deportivo La Coruna in the quarter finals. Back in the domestic league and Leeds had hit an amazing run of form, climbing to 3rd in the league at the time of Deportivo's visit. With a highlight being the win against George Graham's Tottenham 2-1 away at White Hart Lane, Harte from the penalty spot and Bowyer scoring for Leeds. The Champions League Quarter Final against Deportivo saw another memorable game at Elland Road. Leeds won the game 3-0 with goals from Harte, Smith and Ferdinand. Setting up a mouth watering away leg in Spain. The return leg with Deportivo saw the Leeds nerves jangle when Deportivo were awarded a penalty early on, from which they scored. They added another before half time making it 3-2 on aggregate but the Leeds defence held out for the rest of the game. Leeds were through to the semi final where they would meet another Spanish side Valencia. An important domestic league game with Arsenal was sandwiched by the two games with Valencia. O'Leary had tried to get the game postponed but the FA denied his request. This meant Leeds playing three high profile games in just a week. A tiring season on the pitch and stressfull season off, took its toll for the young Leeds outfit. The first leg at Elland Road saw a weary Leeds side just manage a 0-0 draw. The game also saw another unfortunate episode for Bowyer. He was caught on camera treading on the chest of a Valencia player who at the time was down on the floor. It was harmless enough, the Valencia players didn't show too much protest, although UEFA after looking at the replay took a very dim view and banned Bowyer from the return leg. At Highbury and Leeds faced a bruising Arsenal outfit. Arsenal needed victory to make certain a Champions League spot for the coming season. Arsenal won the game 2-1 with Harte netting a superb free-kick for Leeds. This defeat enabled Liverpool to climb above Leeds in the league to third spot. The dispirited Leeds team now faced Valencia in the second leg. It was never going to happen for Leeds. Their inspirational European accomplishments had come to an end. Leeds were beaten 3-0. Back at home and O'Leary's young team finished 4th in the league, which significantly meant a potentially crucial loss of revenue for a Leeds team that had spent big. They did however qualify for the UEFA Cup, topping off one of the most exciting seasons since the 1992 Championship win.

  2000-01 A Champion's League Semi And 4th Spot.

Season 2001-2002 and the court case that had dogged the club for nearly two years was finally brought to an end. Both Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer were on December 14, 2001 cleared at Hull Crown Court, of assaulting the Asian man, although Woodgate was found guilty of a lesser charge of affray. This case had to have had an enormous affect on Leeds United. Although it wasn't Leeds United on trial, the undeniable link was a foundation for some extreme and vindictive media campaigns. The time for Leeds United up until the end of the court case had not gone too bad. Leeds were second in the league and although got knocked out of the FL cup away to Chelsea, the team were still in the UEFA Cup on the back of victories against CS Marítimo, Troyes and Grasshopper Zurich. O'Leary had also made two noteable signings that term, with Robbie Fowler making the trip from Liverpool for £11 million and Seth Johnson from Derby for £7 million. At the start of the New Year and Leeds United were top of the league thanks to a 3-0 win against West Ham at Elland Road. With a couple of goals from Viduka and one from Fowler bagging the points. Next up was a trip to second division Cardiff in the FA Cup. In a hostile Ninian Park, Leeds were beaten after some appalling antics by Cardiff chairman Sam Hammam. Intent on walking round the ground inciting the Welsh crowd. He got away with this and Cardiff got away with the two goals that saw Leeds out of the competition 2-1. The season seemed to go down hill for Leeds from there, only managing to gain four points from the next seven games saw the side fall to fifth in the league. They were beaten over two legs in the UEFA Cup by PSV Eindhoven and it was now becoming obvious to the fans that something more was wrong at Elland Road than just bad performances on the pitch. The Leeds PLC had invested heavily on success and they had made it clear to O'Leary that European qualification was essential. As it turned out Leeds had a £60 million transfer deficit and looked like having to sell. Peter Ridsdale announced that they had lost almost £14min this financial year and that they would have to sell £30m-worth of players this summer in order to reduce their debt by £15m to £20m. Teams had been sniffing round the likes of Ferdinand and Keane but a lot of their price tag would depend on how Leeds did that season. Leeds did manage to secure a UEFA cup spot finishing the league in 5th position, this was little consolation though and indeed little help financially. In the close season the club were forced to sell Rio Ferdinand to rivals Manchester United for a British transfer record of £30 million. O'Leary criticised Ridsdale and the PLC for this, for throughout the speculation, Ridsdale had promised that the sale of Rio Ferdinand was not going to happen, but the promise was empty. O'Leary who previously had had a good relationship with Ridsdale, found himself now at odds, with the chairman he had once described as the best in England. What's more, Ridsdale himself now, had become more resentful of O'Leary, since his book Leeds United on Trial was published, right after the court case involving Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate. Meaning O'Leary was the only man at Leeds making money, off of the back of something, that proved devastating to Leeds. The relationship between manager and chairman was increasingly stressfull. It still did come as a surprise though when on June 27, 2002 O'Leary was sacked. Speculation was abound about who the new manager would be, with Celtic's Martin O'Neill and Ireland's Mick McCarthy topping the tips. It was a complete shock to everyone when Terry Venables, the former England boss turned telly pundit, was now appointed as the new Leeds United manager.

  2001-02 United Gets A Pundit And 5th In The League.

There was no real money to speak of available to Venables when he took over for the season 2002-03, although he did buy Nick Barmby from Liverpool for £2.75m and acquired Paul Okon on a free from Middlesbrough. Venables term as Leeds United's manager started well enough with a 3-0 victory over Manchester City at Elland Road. With goals from Barmby, Viduka and Keane. Six games in and a 1-0 home win against Manchester United, goal courtesy of Kewell, found Leeds at the top of the league, although August also saw Robbie Keane leave for Tottenham for £7m. In the UEFA Cup Leeds were knocked out at the third round stage by the Spanish side Málaga. They also went out early in the FL Cup with a drastic performance against Sheffield United 2-1. The honeymoon period was certainly over for Venables, after the 1-1 draw at home to Southampton on the 21st December, Leeds had dropped to a lowly 16th place in the table and the unwelcome odour of relegation was in the air. Come January and it looked like things couldn't get any worse. Despite endless protests from Peter Ridsdale that the 'crown jewels' would not be sold, the inevitable happened. January saw Lee Bowyer leave to West Ham for £300,000, Robbie Fowler went to Manchester City for £6m and Jonathan Woodgate went to Newcastle for £9m. The Woodgate sale was the straw that broke the camels back with the Leeds faithfull and cries of 'Time To Go Terry' swiftly changed to howls of protest against Peter Ridsdale. Performance on the park did not improve, with the backroom turmoil of the board desperately trying to balance the books and an Elland Road crowd that had previously being used to so much more. Venables didn't have the answer. Twelve days after Leeds were knocked out of the FA Cup Quarter final against Sheffield United, Venables resigned as manager. In only a matter of hours, on March, 21st 2003, the former Sunderland boss Peter Reid was appointed, as caretaker manager for the rest of the season. Leeds were in 15th position at the time and Reid had only eight matches to save Leeds United from the drop. Amazingly Reid pulled it off, winning four of the eight including an outstanding away win at Arsenal 3-2, with goals from Kewell, Harte, and Viduka in the 88th minute. As well as Reid's arrival in late March there was also a significant departure, Peter Ridsdale with the annoucement of the interim financial results also issued his own resignation. The departure was inevitable, Ridsdale had been guilty of living the dream and unable to control his ambition to buy glory. Through the PLC's and Ridsdale's endeavors Leeds United were now on the brink of financial ruin. Professor John McKenzie took over from 'Publicity Pete' as the new Leeds United chairman.

  2002-03 Crown Jewels Sold Reid Rolls In And A Lowly 15th Position.

After the away win against Arsenal the previous term, Reid was made manager of Leeds and given a rolling one year contract with incentives. That wasn't the original plan, O'Neill, Nottingham Forest's Paul Hart, Southampton's Gordon Strachan and Leicester's Micky Adams were all rumoured to be in line for the job. It's hardly surprising though, that managers already in secure jobs would want to come to a club that was one step from bankruptcy. One of Reid's first decisions for 2003-04 was to relinquish the services of the assistant manager and Leeds United hero Eddie Gray. McKenzie made Gray 'special ambassador' knowing that it would be best, to keep someone so important to the Leeds public, within the frame. Reid brought in Sheffield United's Kevin Blackwell as the new assistant manager. For the playing staff and Reid with little money at is disposal had to rely on a number of loan signings including one Jermaine Pennant from Arsenal. The departure of players was forced to continue and before a ball was kicked Harry Kewell left for Liverpool for a measly £5m. Nigel Martyn also left in September 03 for £500,000 among a number of players who were shipped out on loan in an effort to cut down the wage bill. On the pitch and the team just wasn't performing. After 11 games, following a 4-1 defeat at home to Arsenal, Leeds found themselves in 19th position. This followed a home FL Cup defeat, 3-2 after extra time, against Manchester United, things were looking dire for Leeds and for Peter Reid. Reid's fate was sealed after Leeds United's heaviest defeat ever in the Premiership. The team were beaten 6-1 away at Portsmouth on the 8th November and two days later Reid was shown the door. On the 10th November the Leeds board turned to our 'special ambassador' Eddie Gray. Just six months after Gray was assigned to that position he was made caretaker manager, with the task of reviving a team that was planted bottom of the Premier League. For all Eddie Gray's talent and as much as he loved the club he could not turn things round. He did have minor success's like the 4-1 win at home to Wolves with goals from Smith, Matteo, Milner and Viduka. Relegation though was unavoidable after the last home game, the result was a 3-3 draw with Charlton and Gray was sacked. Kevin Blackwell assumed temporary control. That game also saw the end of Leeds star Alan Smith, with relegation almost confirmed, the faithfull knew it would only be a matter of time before he left. Smith walked off a hero after the Charlton game but a week later in his final match for Leeds at Stamford Bridge he had turned villain, it was obvious to many now, which club Smith had chosen to go to. Arch rivals Manchester United would reap the signature of Alan Smith. This after Smith promised the Leeds fans he would never go to them. The Leeds fans felt cheated and Smith was re-named Judas. Goalkeeper Paul Robinson also left before the last match of the season, going to Tottenham for £1.7m. Leeds played well against Chelsea in the final game but went down 1-0. The team finished the term in 19th position and would be playing division one football for the coming season. The new consortium Adulant Force who took over on 19th March 2004 for £25m, had saved the club from administration. Administration was indeed almost upon Leeds United, who by that time were a £100million in debt. Gerald Krasner worked out an acceptable package and the threat of administration was avoided. The debt was now slashed to a manageable figure of £20m. Krasner did warn though that relegation would mean wholesale changes. Leeds could simply not afford the wages of the playing staff, some were on £1m or more, it was unsustainable for a Premiership Leeds United and out of the question, now that Leeds were down in the first. The vultures started circling round Elland Road once more.

  2003-04 Local Hero Leaves As United Are Relegated.

After an awquard delay by the board, Kevin Blackwell was finally appointed the new manager of Leeds United on May 26th 2004. Blackwells appointment came in time for the 2004-05 season and before the almost compulsory sale and give-aways of the Leeds United playing staff which included James Milner's £5.25m sale to Newcastle, Mark Viduka going to Middlesbrough for £4.5m, Stephen McPhail to Barnsley, Nick Barmby to Hull City, Dominic Matteo to Blackburn, Ian Harte to Levante of Spain and Danny Mills to Manchester City. The latter five all being for free. If it wasn't for injuries one could have added Seth Johnson and Eirik Bakke to that list as well. With Michael Duberry refusing to take a wage cut he stayed, with Blackwell being democratic about his decision. The Chief and fans favourite Lucas Radebe however signed a one year extension to his contract and Gary Kelly opted to stay. This left Blackwell facing the season with just five players who had any real, first team experience and only three of them available for selection. Many critics predicted that Leeds would do a Sheffield Wednesday and drop straight to the second division. Blackwells first prority was to build a squad that was strong enough to survive. Survival alone, in this unpresidented situation, would be a worthy success in itself. Blackwell did have a handfull of youngsters to work with, including Scott Carson, Frazer Richardson, Simon Johnson, Matthew Kilgallon, Aaron Lennon and Jamie McMaster but he knew he needed at least a further 10-14 players to give his Leeds side any chance. Blackwell started to build with no money. Bringing many players in on a free and on loan. Danny Pugh came in the deal that took Alan Smith to Manchester United, Michael Ricketts from Middlesbrough, Neil Sullivan from Chelsea, Paul Butler from Wolves, Clarke Carlisle from QPR, Julian Joachim from Coventry, Jermaine Wright from Ipswich, Matthew Spring from Luton, Danny Cadamarteri from Bradford and Leeds born Brian Deane from West Ham were some of Blackwells key early signings. Blackwell had assembled a squad in record time for next to nothing. United's first game in division one was against Derby County at home. Leeds won the game 1-0 in front of 30,459 fans, with the side fielding seven debutants, it was an encouraging result. With a squad full of strangers though and yet still high drama and uncertainty in the boardroom it was highly unlikely Leeds could do anything more but flirt with the relegation places. By December that high drama of the boardroom turned to desperation when Leeds United found themselves on the brink of financial disaster. Leeds had defaulted on a £1.2m tax bill and were forced to sell keeper Scott Carson to Liverpool just to pay the wages. If any Leeds fan thought the take-over by Adulant Force less than a year previously was the end of the money worries, then they couldn't have been more wrong. A sale and leaseback deal had been arranged for the Thorp Arch training ground and Elland Road to keep Leeds in business, but that wasn't nearly enough. Leeds had nothing left to sell and the tax man threatened liquidation. Througout the season there had been rumours and talk of various men and consortiums that were about to take over Leeds United, including a farcical episode involving Sebastian Sainsbury. After Sainsbury could not produce any evidence to back up his claim of the £25m he said he had to invest, the Leeds board ended negotiations. This was one of many and none of them were any help to Leeds United. It was 21 January 2005 when astonishingly Ken Bates stepped in at the death. The Londoner and former Chelsea owner took over as the new Leeds United chairman investing around £10m. Bates had rescued the club when it was thought all hope had gone. Back on the park and Leeds United were doing relatively better, certainly in a higher position than the critics had predicted. Rob Hulse had been brought in, on loan in February, from West Bromwich Albion. It was Hulse that scored in the 1-1 away draw at Millwall on the 6th March 2005, which saw Leeds climb to 9th in the table. Some fans at this stage were even talking about a play-off place, that wasn't to be though. Leeds held their own and finished the season in 14th place. Blackwell by saving Leeds from the drop had done an incredible job. Starting the season with no team or money, working through the backroom concerns that went on till late January and not to mention the all too real question of the very existence of Leeds United.

  2004-05 Blackwell In As United Finish In 14th.

WAFLL Main | History Index | Period 1990 ~ 2000 | Period 2005 ~ 2008

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