Some of the regular readers of this blog might be aware that I’m in the process of writing a book, all about Leeds United. I have made – ahem – passing references to this from time to time – with extremely gratifying results. The help I have received from the readership of this blog has been nothing short of outstanding. I’ve had advice, input, anecdotes, suggestions – even donations – some of a generosity that has literally taken my breath away.
Now the Leeds United book project is a small but significant step nearer realisation. At long last I have a working title and, if I have my way (and if the feedback isn’t too bad), then it’s the title that will eventually adorn the front cover of the finished, published product. “Full Circle: a Fan’s Journey from Super Leeds to The Last Champions”. As you can see, I’ve used it as the title of this blog post – and I’d be massively interested in what you kind and wonderful people out there think of it.
I’m most grateful to regular reader and contributor “Yorxman” for the Full Circle element of the title; he suggested it when I first stated my aim of writing a book about the years between 1974 and 1992, a period which began and ended with United as Champions. A dour Yorkshireman managed us to that first title and we were inspired by a diminutive red-haired Scottish international midfielder. Similar ingredients were in the mix for the 1992 triumph. In between these twin peaks lay the decline of the late 70’s and the thinly-chronicled wilderness years of the 1980’s when Leeds and their army of followers graced many and varied second division grounds. There is no shortage of material here – the difficulty lies in what to leave out.
The richness of these eighteen years resides in the fact that they were the last eighteen years of the old-style Football League Championship – the last couple of decades of the pre-Murdoch, pre-megabucks, muck and bullets game that people of my age and above – and maybe the generation after us – will remember with nostalgic fondness. Much happened in that time, and I wish to reflect on major events that impacted not only Leeds, but the wider game. We had Birmingham and Bradford disasters on the same day, shortly followed by Heysel and then a few years later, Hillsborough. There were consequences for the future of football-watching; the terraces went, the fences did too. Major events like these form a larger framework within which many memorable smaller incidents are worth recalling, especially in a Leeds United context. I really will have to be choosy about what goes in and what is left out.
This will not be a book, however, that ends up with the reader unable to see the wood for the trees. The main focus will always be Leeds, most of the recollections and descriptions will be of Leeds United’s matches and controversies – and of what it was like to watch our varyingly-successful or misfiring sides as fortunes waned and obscurity beckoned. There were a number of highlights in the Tony Currie-inspired late seventies, but much of the book will concern itself with those second division outposts such as Carlisle and Millwall, Shrewsbury (where we once lost 5-1) and Plymouth (where we were hammered 6-3). But there were good times too – many older Leeds fans look back on this period as some of the best years to follow United, and I can see their point, having covered so many miles in that decade myself, as well as being almost ever-present at a sparsely-populated Elland Road.
My intention is to start off with a description of the day the 1992 title was clinched, and then to journey back to where it all began for me, with a 0-2 defeat for the 1974 Champions at the hands of old enemies Liverpool. Four days later, I saw us beat Barcelona, Johann Cruyff and all – and from then on I was there as fortunes faded and the club spiralled slowly downwards, before Sergeant Wilko arrived to take us back where we belonged. The way my own life unfolded has curious parallels with the fluctuating fortunes of the Whites, so the opportunity is there for me to don some of Nick Hornby’s older clothes – not that I aspire to Fever Pitch excellence. But the relationship between club and fan, as both make their way through turbulent times; that’s an important facet of this book.
Lastly, I’ll remember the day we played Norwich at home with Rod Wallace scoring a beauty before we received the League Championship trophy as Last Champions. Then it was off to Leeds City Centre, City Square, the open-top bus and a swift hike to Leeds Town Hall to hear Cantona tell us how much he loved us. A brief nod to the future that unfolded after that – and my first eighteen year journey with Leeds, the Full Circle from Champions to Champions, will be complete. And it’ll then be time to think about a second book.
Much of this first one is already written, and the path is clear ahead now. I even have a prospective illustrator whose fantastic caricatures can do justice to the many amazing characters that have worn the United shirt or sat in the Elland Road dugout – and even the boardroom. So, much of the groundwork is done – but I still need a little help. The more people who can share this blog post, as widely as possible, the more interest might be drummed up in the project. I’m casting about for publishers, because I think the concept has a lot going for it, and I don’t want this to be a Kindle-only production. So, if there are people out there with contacts in the publishing industry, or who might be in that industry themselves and interested in taking this project forward, then clearly – I’d love to hear from you.
I would also still love to hear from people who have recollections to share of their own ’74 to ’92 experiences, or from anyone who has suggestions to make or ideas to contribute. As far as possible, I want this book to reflect the memories and opinions of many Leeds United fans – as many as space will permit.
To all of those who have helped in so many different ways, and have made it possible for me to get this far – I say, yet again: thank you so much. Your enthusiasm, generosity and sheer kindness and interest have combined to make what for me has been an inspiring and humbling experience. I always knew that Leeds United fans were the best in the world, so I didn’t need any proof of that. But if any had been necessary, there it was, mountains of it. It’s a privilege to be able to count myself as one of you – and I hope that I can do justice to the faith that so many of you have shown in a project that means so enormously much to me.
Marching On Together – At Least Until the World Stops Going Round.