Forget Man U “Class of ’92” – Salute the Leeds MASTERS of ’92 – by Rob Atkinson


Super Jon Newsome

Super Jon Newsome

There’s been a lot of talk this past couple of days about the “Class of ’92”, a somewhat disingenuous reference to Man U’s FA Youth Cup winners of that year, what with Giggsy Wiggsy taking over as temp. manager at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, with Scholesy Wolsey and Butty Wutty on board as well.

The media, bless ’em, love this sort of thing – and they’re seemingly eager to ignore the fact that 1992 was, actually, all about another United – Leeds United, the one and only United – as they won the last ever proper Football League Championship, four points clear of you-know-who and their rabidly frothing Scotch git of a manager.

It all happened 22 years ago today, actually – so let’s have a nostalgic look back and, while we’re at it, set the record straight about all of this “Class of ’92” crap. Because we’re not talking pupils here, we’re talking masters.

The 26th April 1992 was not just a normal Sunday morning like any other; for all fans of Leeds United it would turn out to be a date with destiny, the unlikely culmination of a footballing journey that had started in October 1988.  Howard Wilkinson’s move from First Division Sheffield Wednesday to take over as boss at Second Division strugglers Leeds United had been – perhaps unwisely – summed up by the Sheffield Wednesday chairman as “a chance we couldn’t deny Howard to better himself.”   That must have fallen like rocks on the ears of the Wednesday fans who nevertheless could not have envisaged their rivals’ subsequent meteoric rise at a time when the Wednesday star was on the wane.  Such is life.

History will show that Wilkinson breezed into Leeds United, seized the place by the scruff of its neck and shook it up good and proper.  Remnants of his legacy are still visible in the club’s world-class Academy and training complex not to mention the gigantic East Stand, but it is for the phoenix-like resurrection of The Whites that the fanatical Leeds support will best remember Sergeant Wilko.  Leeds were promoted in 1990 after Wilkinson’s first full season, trading places with Sheffield Wednesday as they dropped into the Second Division – bittersweet irony there.  A season of consolidation followed, and then the full-on assault on the Football League Championship itself, a challenge unexpectedly sustained right to the sweetest of ends.  By April 20th 1992, Leeds were still clinging on in the title race, but Man U were clear favourites with a points lead and a match in hand.  That day though was the start of the turning of the tide in Leeds’ favour.  As fans gathered on the Kop for the late afternoon visit of Coventry City, radios were clamped to anxious ears as news was awaited from Man U’s home game against Nottingham Forest.  Two explosions of joy from the swelling Elland Road crowd signalled two Forest goals and a defeat for the leaders that Leeds were to capitalise on, beating Coventry 2-0 in front of a live TV audience.

Now it was game on in earnest, and I vividly remember a nervous evening at home that midweek as West Ham played host to Man U who were finally playing their remaining game in hand.  Win, and they would be in the box seat – but, as I frantically tidied and re-tidied my bedside table drawer to save myself from chewing my nails down to my elbows, they lost, wonderfully, miraculously lost to leave Leeds in charge of their own destiny. Choleric Man U manager Alex Ferguson must have bitterly tasted the sourest of grapes as he described the already-relegated Hammers’ effort levels in beating his charges as “obscene”.  His lack of grace drew a stark contrast with the phlegmatic Wilko, who was calmly reminding the world that Leeds had secured a place in Europe, his main aim for the season, and that anything more would be “a bonus.”

But Leeds now knew that if they won their last two games – away at Sheffield United and at home to Norwich City – they would be English Champions in the last old-style Football League programme – a signal honour.  Everybody thought it would go down to the last game of the season, that Norwich would be the big game.  Yet if Leeds were to win at Bramall Lane, Man U would then face the formidable task of winning at Anfield to take the Title race to its last day.

Back to April 26th, and as I walked up the hill into Wakefield that mid-morning, I saw cars trailing the colours of Leeds United, the scarves fluttering bravely – and I felt a sense of occasion but still could not quite comprehend that this might just be The Day.  I met up with my mate Dave, and we shared a tense journey to Sheffield, not much said, both knowing that this was a Sunday that could equally easily end up being triumph or disaster.  Parked up in the scruffy environs of Bramall Lane, just about the first thing Dave did as we walked to the ground was to drag me back out of the path of a careering van as I stepped out to cross a road, oblivious of traffic, lost in thought.  We both grinned at my narrow escape and agreed: good omen.  And then we were high up in the seats of the upper tier behind the goal at the away end of Sheffield United’s quaintly ill-designed stadium.  The day was gusty, and so the football would prove to be.  It was a match of ebb and flow, the Sheffield faithful eager to deny Leeds their chance of clinching the title, Leeds fans loud and defiant with self-belief.

If you’re a Leeds supporter, you’ll have seen the goals from that game hundreds, thousands of time.  It plays through now, all these years later, in the Football Highlights studio of my mind; joy for the home side as Alan Cork, gleaming of bald pate, pokes the ball home to give Sheffield the lead.  Then, a midfield tussle in the swirling wind, as Leeds try valiantly to come back.  A late first-half free kick, which Gordon Strachan races to take before the home defence can set themselves, he finds Rod Wallace in the area who tips the ball past home keeper Mel Rees’s attempt to save, defenders scramble to clear, only to hit Gary Speed who pings the ball back to ricochet off Wallace – into the net.  Pandemonium in the away end.   Level at half time, we’re breathless with drama and the hurly-burly of it all, raucous with United anthems, nervous of what’s yet to come.

In the second half, though we don’t know it, human tragedy unfolds: Sheffield ‘keeper Mel Rees, injured in the melee leading to Leeds’ leveller, his thigh heavily strapped, can hardly move and is hampered for the second Leeds goal as Jon Newsome stoops to head in at the far post.  Mel Rees, who was due an international call-up for Wales the next day but has to pull out because of his injury.  Mel Rees, who would never play football again because he was to develop cancer and die a year later, tragically young at 26.  RIP Mel Rees.

The crazy game continues crazily.  A dangerous ball across the Leeds box is retrieved by home defender and future Leeds man John Pemberton, who turns it back towards the goal-line where Lee Chapman sticks out a leg for an own-goal greeted with horrified stupefaction by the Leeds fans behind the goal and we’re level again.  Then enfant terrible Eric Cantona enters the fray, and within a few minutes he is chasing a loose ball into the Sheffield half, with Rod Wallace scampering alongside and home defender Brian Gayle lumbering back in a desperate attempt to clear the danger.  And it’s Gayle, former Man City man, who finally slays Man United.  From my vantage point at the opposite end of the ground I see him get his head to the ball, and the action is suddenly slow motion.  Gayle has headed the ball, poor Mel Rees is stranded far out of his goal, the ball goes over his head in a slow, slow loop, and bounces tantalisingly towards the unguarded net…

Then I’m watching at full speed from the far end as Cantona and Wallace raise their arms in triumph, wheeling away in delight, and even as I wonder what they’re up to I realise that the ball has nestled in the Sheffield United net.  A red mist descends, and I am utterly outside of my skull and beside myself in delirious joy and fevered madness, looking around me, roaring like a demented bull, face congested with blood, eyes bulging; I grab a tiny and helpless St John’s Ambulance man by his lapels and scream beer and spittle into his terrified face “Get me some oxygen!!!”, I bellow. “I’m going to have a bloody heart attack!!!”  The mad moment passes, I drop the ashen medic and some measure of sanity returns, but we’re still cavorting and diving all over each other, a seething, sweating mass of Leeds, because we know it’s over, we know that Sheffield are beaten, and we know that Man U don’t have an earthly at Anfield, not a prayer.  We were going to be Champions; on that windiest and gustiest of days, a Gayle from Manchester City has blown the Scum away and decided in an instant the fate of all three Uniteds from Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

And so, of course, it panned out.  Later I watched mesmerised on TV as Liverpool beat a demoralised Man U, Denis Law and Ian St John trying to put a brave face on it, Elton Welsby’s foot bobbing away in thwarted anger as the script turned out just as none of them wanted.  Ian Rush scored his first ever goal against Them, and it was settled late on as Man U conceded a second.  “And now the title goes to Leeds without any doubt at all” intoned Brian Moore in the ITV commentary as I sat there with tears of joy streaming down my unashamed face.  Gary Lineker had called into the studio earlier to complain that Rod Wallace’s goal had been offside (it was).  St John and Moore bemoaned that Man U had had no luck at all, and Welsby ground his teeth in the studio as the Man U fans outside hurled abuse at him, heedless of the fact that he shared their bitter disappointment.  All was frustration in the media and the rest of football and Leeds fans everywhere utterly failed to give a toss.

Twenty-two years on from that nutty day, when Leeds reached the summit of the game, the images are all still vivid and clear for me.  I’ve worn out four video tapes and at least three DVD’s, but I don’t need them, I don’t need YouTube, I can see it all any time I choose just by relaxing and closing my eyes.  Mel Rees is no longer with us, nor is Gary Speed and Brian Moore has passed away too.  Rest in peace, all.  And my mate Dave who shared that memorable day with me, he’s gone as well, taken far too young by cancer in 1999.  I have a picture of us both, taken before the home game with Norwich a week after we’d won the league, triumphant in our freshly-purchased “Champions” t-shirts, happily blind as to what the future would bring.  RIP, Dave mate.  We celebrated hard that day as little Rod Wallace won that last game with a sublime goal, rounding off our greatest season.  We’d earned it, me and Dave, tramping around the second division grounds of the eighties as Leeds struggled to come back.  Thousands of us had earned it.  Now we were top dogs, and boy did we enjoy it while it lasted.

United were back, as Champions of England.  The Last Real Champions. One of our unique, unbeatable accolades, like being at the top of the League when the Millennium clicked its four digits over.  Something that can never be taken away from us: Immortality, pure and simple.  Happy Memories, Champs.

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55 responses to “Forget Man U “Class of ’92” – Salute the Leeds MASTERS of ’92 – by Rob Atkinson

  1. A great piece mate…Wilko had the City bouncing for three years non stop … and it climaxed on this day…Partys in the streets and Pub’s of Leeds that Sunday Night alright

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  2. Is this DVD Steak? Thanks mate – it brought a lot of happy memories back writing it. Have to say my favourite Wilko team moment was a home game v Sunderland in Division 2 – they kicked off to start the match and one of ours came scything in across the centre circle to win the ball after about 2 secs of play, and we were off and running. Them were the days!

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  3. Whatever happened the last 10 years and whatever happens between now and the day we die…..we were CHAMPIONS OF ENGLAND baby! How many true football fans my age get to say that? All legit as well…unlike other clubs I wouldn’t like to mention. The Last Champions as you rightly say.

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  4. dansdad1919

    Great memories Rob, here’s another, Alan Clarke’s diving header that won the Centenary FA CUP and we will never forget the bravery of Mick Jones as he climbed the Wembley steps with his mangled arm in a sling.
    IT’S GREAT TO BE LEEDS, I wouldn’t want to be anything else.

    MOT

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    • You’re right about Sniffer’s goal at Wembley mate, an iconic moment in Leeds history – and in the context of being forced to play a title decider only 2 days later, worthy of an article in itself. Thanks for the idea, I’ll get on it!

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  5. Goole whites mot

    Certainly could not of wrote it better rob, but its just how I remember it. Every one said scum gave it away but we won it with a game in hand and better goal difference too

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  6. What a rush , me and my mates in the local pub , ( had tickets for the norwich game but sadly not this one ) anyway the memories have come flooding back, the singing , the beer , the laughter more singing , more beer , sheer joy and pride , the tears , more beer …. Thanks rob , great days and memories

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  7. FANTASTIC, this piece of writing as brought a tear to my eye. I was there in the top of the stand with my brother what a game, it realy did go in slow motion. I remember coming back up the M1 and there were Leeds flags draped off every motorway bridge all the way back to Leeds.Champions .great piece mate MOT, …..our time will come again i believe its already started.

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    • Some people think it’s wrong to relive these memories Ronnie, they say we’re living in the past. But I think the past can be an inspiration for the future, and that life is all about the memories you gather along the way. That day will always be special for me and writing about it brought it all back sharply. I’m so glad reading it did the same for you – MOT

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  8. Although people say our first season back was one of consolidation, we finished 4th and were never, as I recall, in danger of 5th place. England had scant European places that year and a normal season would have put is in the UEFA Cup the year we were to win the league. In my mind Wilko gave us 2 years at the top rather than one. What the hell went wrong afterwards…

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    • Good points. I suppose that the first season up only appears as one of consolidation in retrospect and in the context of the following year’s Title triumph. But it was actually a fantastic season in itself. I do believe we finished above Man U but below Crystal Palace…

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    • Same as always with Leeds. Shitty owners, selling on batty and mcallister, breaking up the best midfield in the country.

      The rot didn’t start with ridsdale, I’ve followed Leeds since billy was manager, we’ve always had terrible money grabbing owners.

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  9. 13 league titles 4 fa cups 3 league cups 2 European cups and 2 world club wins since that day

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  10. I remember the day as iff it was yesterday and just as you thought it cant get better than this sir alex pops up on TV to be interviwed he tried to talk and nothing would come out of his mouth only a few grunts.

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    • his excuses were delicious “that grey strip lost us a game”, “west ham tried to hard”, “gayle did it on purpose because he’s citeh”

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  11. joe wicklow

    thanks for the memories rob brilliant

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  12. Keith Atack

    I remember the day, I was driving back to England after a week in Scotland with the in laws ( all SCUM supporters) listening to the Liverpool match on the radio. Nearly ran the car off the road and what made it better was that my wife is a Liverpool supporter. I’m still with her today.

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    • You aren’t one of the KSP twins are you??

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      • Keith Atack

        Sorry Rob, who are the KSP twins? Great articles by the way, I look forward to reading them every day while drinking coffee/wine on the patio in Spain.

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      • Ah right, wrong person 🙂 KSP is Kings School Pontefract and the Atack twins were pupils there in my time, Tim and Keith, who went on to be in a pop group called Child.

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  13. Great piece Rob. I remember that day well and always will. A mate of mine was on a coach that went to the Sheffield Utd game and then afterwards took them to Anfield where the scousers let them into the Kop and they all sang MOT after the final whistle when we’d won the league. To be fair to Liverpool they were as happy as we were that day!

    As for unbeatable accolades – we were also league champions when man landed on the moon!

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  14. oh poor Leeds United i wonder what Happen to them, u need to wake up u Leeds fans Leeds is long gone and done with half of football fans never even saw Leeds play, so all is just Memories never to come back Leeds days are over sorry to burst ur bubble, ur club is like a Dinosaurs gone into instinct so take your Leeds crap and go and remind grandma and grandpa about Leeds!

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  15. Brilliant article Rob – one of your best. I wangled a ticket in the Blades end. As I sat down the biggest fella I’ve ever seen sat next to me. I got worried. Dorigo hit the side netting and amid “ooohs” and “aaahs” he nervously admitted to being Leeds. “Thank God for that” says I. At least we have a chance to fight our way out. As it turned out most of the stand was Leeds, all hiding it until we scored. You couldn’t keep it in then. We got a few ugly looks from the Blades Boys, but there was simply too many of us. What a day – and you’re right – I don’t need a DVD etc. I can see it all now.

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    • Ugly looks are all those Blunts lads could manage, on account of the sloping forehead and simian jaw.

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      • Your club will go tits up if you finish 7th again next season. you’re saddled with more debt than we were, all it takes is missing out on them European tv rights for a couple of years and players will have to be sold and the squad trimmed back. better get this next manager right or the championship beckons.

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  16. all won by cheating.i would have thought leeds getting to the semi final of the European cup in the early 2000s on money they couldn’t repay is cheating.even cloughie thought you cheated your way to the title in the 70s.your bitterness is what causes incidents like the chris Kirkland episode

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  17. fergie going was a blow and we might never win another title but thats football.nothing lasts for ever.at the end of the day 85 other league clubs would love to be where we are.i wouldn’t call 7th tits up

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  18. Was there with some mates behind the goal at Bramall Lane….amazing match followed by a speedy drive back up the M1 to watch scum lose…what a day.

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  19. Scum shirties trying to get in on the act Rob. Don’t you just love em! Well and truly shoved back in their box by agent Moyes. Unfortunately for the majority of their tv fanbase, they have grown up expecting to win the league. Big reality check well overdue lol!

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  20. Smashing piece, nice one Rob. I remember going to the pub to celebrate, me in my Leeds top, and my mate, a hammers fan in a t shirt he had made specially. It said proudly ‘Kenny Brown – Instrumental!’ Best. Day. Ever.

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  21. Sheffield boys well with a handful of salt here.1st timer at Sheffield train station back in 1989 well 2.30 and waiting the next train to Leeds. But with Wild Turkey it was like a dream.

    Tare

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  22. I remember that interview with that bad loser Ferguson, after Scum lost the title at Anfield and I was totally disgusted that he gave Leeds absolutely NO credit for being in the top two positions from October 1991, right up to winning the League Championship, with a game to spare.
    All Fergie could windge about was the amount of games that they were forced to play over the past 2 weeks, but that was their own fault for being involved in two cup competitions in 1992, which caused a backlog of games in hand, that Scum lost.
    The Championship that Leeds won in 1992 will always special, because it was the first proper success and trophy that the my generation of Leeds fans, who are now under the age of 45, had seen in their time supporting Leeds.

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  23. Wonderful stuff Rob ,great memories when football was ‘real’.Very moving…The Last Real Champions..We were there,it cant be taken away.

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  24. The one thing I have over the Scum Sky TV watching brigade I know who have ‘enjoyed’ so many titles over the years is the fact that I WAS THERE when my team won THE league.

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  25. RaRaRandall

    Hi Rob,
    my outstanding memory of that day, having not managed to get tickets for the away end and ended up in with the home fans right behind the goal, was of a massive smile spreading over Brian Gayle’s face as the ball went in. He was not remotely bothered, quite the opposite, a fact which also didn’t go unnoticed by some Blades around us who hurled some choice abuse. Me and my two mates just joined in, just to get some sort of emotional release, whilst secretly shaking with joy!

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    • Sounds like Leeds fans were everywhere that day. I well remember the sound of massed car horns as traffic moved away from the ground. We knew we were Champions long before kick-off at Anfield. A great, great day that I’ll remember to my last day.

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  26. It was a fantastic time to be a Leeds fan. The spell between 89-92 was my favourite time following Leeds (I actually preferred the promotion season to the title winning season). Typical Leeds though, we were bloody awful away from home the following season and nearly got relegated!!!

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    • I always remember the away match at Oldham early in 92/93. We were 2-1 up very late on – but the ref added on loads of stoppage time and Oldham equalised. Asked about it afterwards, the ref explained that he’d added on a chunk of time for time-wasting – because Leeds were holding the ball in possession by the corner flag. It’s the only example I know of where this was deemed to be time-wasting, which is normally only where a team wastes time with the ball OUT of play. Later, we lost 2 points at Wendies when Lukic chucked one in at the death to level matters. We were unbeatable at home that season, but away it just never happened for us.

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  27. Compo's Style Guru

    Great article Rob, that whole day is just a blur to me and I didn’t even have a drink! Must pull you up on one thing in the article though: “A red mist descends….” Surely a pure, crisp, white mist descends?

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    • Believe it or not, I did seriously consider this. I had a severe struggle with my inner bigot before settling for the hackneyed cliché, as per my writer’s instinct 🙂

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  28. A fine article Rob. It sums up well the shared experience that all of us who were there that fantastic day had. Your comment about one incident that day did make me sit up and recall something I had forgotten. My brother and I crossed a road only moments after a Leeds fan had a near miss with a van that was being driven at speed. Glad you made it to the other side of that road to witness what followed; it’s good to have mates!

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    • Cosmic!! What are the odds on that eh? I can still see the bloody thing flashing past my nose – I’d been in a fog, wondering if we were going to be thwarted by the Blunts 😉

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