The History of Leeds United: Ups and Downs at Elland Road

The History of Leeds United: Ups and Downs at Elland Road

Leeds United were once one of the greatest football teams in Europe. These days, they play their football in the Championship, the second tier of English football, but have hopes that someday the glory years may return.

The history of Leeds United stretches back to before they were formed, to another club called Leeds City. This was created in 1904 and had the blue, yellow and white colours that are still part of the United team today. They took over the Elland Road ground from Holbeck Rugby Club, which folded in 1904. Leeds City were elected to the Football League in 1905 and spent all their days in the Second Division.

When the clubs directors refused to cooperate with a Football Association investigation into alleged financial irregularities, they were expelled from the Football League eight games into the 1919-20 season. Port Vale took over their slot in the league and to this day Leeds City are the only club to be expelled from the league mid-season. The collapse of Leeds City led to the formation of Leeds United, who moved in to the Elland Road ground (which was then being used by Yorkshire Amateurs) and were elected to the Football League the following year.

Leeds United: The Early Years

The 1920-21 season was Leeds Uniteds first in the Football League and after a short period in the Second Division they were promoted as champions to the First Division in 1924. It was to be a short-lived taste of top flight football as they were relegated three years later despite Scottish centre forward Tom Jennings knocking in 35 goals in the relegation season.

Leeds United came straight back up and again stayed for three years before being relegated. History continued to repeat itself with promotion the next season. This time they remained in the top flight until the Second World War temporarily put an end to league football. The period up to the war saw the first Leeds United player to win an international cap Northern Ireland winger David Cochrane.

The first season after the war 1946-47 Leeds United finished bottom and were relegated back to the Second Division. This time, their stay in the second tier lasted longer and it was not until 1956 that they again won promotion to the top flight and with star striker John Charles they stayed there until he was sold to Juventus for a then record fee of 65,000. His departure led to Uniteds relegation in 1960. This was also the period that Jack Charlton started playing for Leeds, making his first appearance in the 1954-55 season. Jack and his brother Bobby, who played for Manchester United, were both to become part of Englands 1966 World Cup winning side.

The Don Revie Era

Two years before Uniteds relegation, in November 1958, the then manager Bill Lambton signed Don Revie for 12,000 from Sunderland. Revie had made his name in football for becoming Englands first deep-lying centre forward, playing for Manchester City at the time, in a football formation that became known as the Revie Plan, adapted from the Hungarian system of playing and regarded as the birth of modern football tactics.

As a player, he was soon made captain and a year after Uniteds relegation he was promoted to player-manager. His early days at the helm showed little of what was to follow and, in 1962, the club only avoided relegation to the third tier by a whisker. But Revie was building a team for the future, with players such as Billy Bremner, Gary Sprake, Norman Hunter and Albert Johanneson already at the club. They were soon followed in the youth policy that Revie introduced by the likes of Peter Lorimer, Eddie Gray, Paul Madeley, Terry Cooper, Jimmy Greenhoff and David Harvey. He also changed the colour of the clubs strip to all white to mark what he said was a new beginning.

It worked. In 1964, the club won promotion back to the top flight and they hit Division One like a storm, their first season seeing them finishing runners-up on goal average to Manchester United and reaching the final of the FA Cup, only losing to Liverpool in extra time.

This was the start of an impressive reign that saw them win the Football League twice in 1969 and 1974, the League Cup in 1968, the FA Cup in 1972 and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (the forerunner of todays Europa League) in 1968 and 1971. They also came runners-up in the league five times, beaten FA Cup finalists three times and Fairs Cup runners-up once. And they reached the final of the European Cup Winners Cup, losing 1-0 to AC Milan.

Though Leeds Uniteds style at the time was often criticised for being hard and basic, no-one could ever deny the skills the players had, probably best shown in the 7-0 defeat of Southampton in 1972, still regarded by many as the most one-sided match ever seen in the top flight of English football.

In 1974, Don Revie left Leeds United to become manager of the England national side.

Life After Revie

The club at first turned to Brian Clough, who had already had success at Derby County, but was very vocal in his dislike of Don Revies tactics. Clough tried to shake up the team and this brought resentment in the dressing room and open revolt from some players. It was not working, and the board realised this quickly and sacked him after just 44 days in charge.

Jimmy Armfield, who had previously managed Bolton Wanderers, was put in charge and led them to the European Cup Final in 1975, which they lost to Bayern Munich. Armfield then set about the task of breaking up Revies ageing side and building anew.

But success didnt follow and Armfield was sacked in 1978, leading to a succession of short stays in the hot seat by Jock Stein and Jimmy Adamson, and then three former players under Revie Allan Clarke, Eddie Gray and Billy Bremner. The period saw the once mighty Leeds relegated to the second division in 1982.

Stability returned with the appointment of Howard Wilkinson as manager in 1988. He saw them promoted back to the top flight in 1990 and then to winning the league championship in 1992. But he could not build on that and left the club in 1996.

Under the management of George Graham and then David OLeary, Leeds United continued battling in the top flight that included a semi-final place in the Uefa Cup in 2000 and the same in the Champions League the following season.

The Fall of Leeds United

The current problems started for Leeds United that same year when the club had taken out large loans with the plan to repay them with money gained from Champions League football the following season. But they finished fifth in the Premiership and thus failed to qualify and could only start to pay back the loans by selling their top players. David OLeary also left the club at this time.

The financial problems haunted the club for the next couple of seasons leading to them being relegated to the Championship in 2004. But the worst was still to come. In 2007, the club went into administration and was relegated to the third tier of English football. And within months they came perilously close to liquidation.

The long job then started to rebuild the club yet again almost from scratch, and this was rewarded in 2010 with promotion back to the Championship where they are playing football today, still from the Elland Road ground that Leeds City used all those years ago.

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