Goodbye, Mr. Silver; the Last Great Leeds United Chairman – by Rob Atkinson

Leslie Silver of Leeds United

The late Leslie Silver of Leeds United

Still stuck in post-festive torpor and suffering with a heavy cold besides, I was watching “The Dam Busters” on Channel Five this afternoon, marvelling at the unaccustomed use of the “N-word” in reference to Guy Gibson’s dog, which rejoiced in a name even Nigel Farage would baulk at these days. Well, possibly. Much more to be marvelled at was the reckless bravery and absolute lack of fear among the aircrew charged with delivering the Barnes Wallis “bouncing bomb” against three dams in the industrial heartland of Nazi Germany, the Ruhr Valley. The mission was a significant success in terms of its objective, if not so much when judged by the number of lives lost. Over fifty men died as eight of the nineteen bombers failed to return.

leslie-silver-june-2009_270It felt like the weirdest of coincidences, then, that the first news I heard after the last strains of Eric Coates’ “Dam Busters March” faded away was of the death of Leslie Silver OBE, former chairman of Leeds United AFC and a past hero of Bomber Command, completing over forty ops in Europe and twenty in the Far East, where he was involved in dropping supplies into the infamous Changi gaol. Silver left the RAF at the age of 22 in 1947, having served four years during which he flew the full quota of 250 operational hours with four different squadrons. In 2013, he was awarded the Bomber Command Clasp at the age of 88.

Clearly, no ordinary man was our Mr. Silver. Having served his country so auspiciously in wartime, he then set about creating the business empire that would eventually make his fortune as well as contributing in large measure to the revival of a moribund late-eighties Leeds United. As a highly successful businessman in his fifties, Silver had been awarded the OBE in 1982, a year after joining the United board and a year before becoming Chairman, a position he held until 1996.

Leslie Silver’s time as Chairman at Leeds United encompassed the second most successful period in the club’s history, overseeing a rise from poverty at the foot of Division Two, with a disastrous relegation into the lower reaches of the league beckoning, to top-flight promotion, European campaigns and, of course, the immortal title of the Last Champions. Leeds took that final honour by four clear points in 1992, just before the restructuring of English football on a “greed is good, might is right” basis before the altar of satellite TV.

It goes without saying that Silver’s wealth, his business acumen and his vision were driving forces behind the meteoric rise of Leeds in the late eighties and early nineties. The amazing surge to success was even more abrupt and stunning than that of Don Revie’s white machine a quarter of a century before. Chief Silver and his chosen NCO, Sergeant Howard Wilkinson, plotted a path from the basement of the second tier right up to the ultimate prize in just under four years; it took Revie and Alderman Percy Woodward half as long again to make a comparable journey in the sixties.

That Silver had the vision to identify and recruit his man, and then the courage and grit to back him financially, is something for which all Leeds fans should be forever grateful. He embellished our history with a second era of glory by his astute choice of manager and his unswerving loyalty and commitment to the Wilko plan. When Silver stepped down, it was the end of sustainable success for Leeds; beyond lay only “living the dream” and the subsequent nightmare we’re all too painfully aware of today.

Leslie Silver deserves to be remembered as a major, pivotal figure in the history of Leeds United, as well as, of course, one of those long-ago heroes from the dark days of global war seven decades back. In later life, he also became the first Chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, these days known as Leeds Beckett University – and a faculty of that institution now bears his name.

For an unassuming war hero who died with the world still riven by strife – and for the modest mastermind behind the renaissance of a sleeping football giant, who leaves us as that giant slumbers once again – the reminder of his contribution to learning in Leeds may yet be the tribute he’d have prized above all others.

Leslie Silver, 1925 – 2014. Alav HaShalom.

17 responses to “Goodbye, Mr. Silver; the Last Great Leeds United Chairman – by Rob Atkinson

  1. A real hero Rob any man who was involved with bomber command deserves our thanks for us being free and able to live the lives we do ! As for what he did for our club ? again top bloke ! Oh to have an owner like him now. Rest in peace Mr Leslie Silver ( Legend) . I hope the supporters sing his name loud and proud tomorrow and the club do something to recognise his great achievements and what he did for us .


  2. Great send off for a Great man well said Rob


  3. David Dean

    A lovely moving tribute, Rob. My Dad, 87, was friends with Leslie many years ago and only about 3 weeks ago or so was invited out by Leslie to dinner. They had not seen each for years and Leslie wanted to start seeing each other again regularly. I have sent this on to my old man – he will be very pleased and moved by your glowing tribute. Leslie was a wonderfully kind man. Thank you, Rob and thank you Leslie R.I.P.


  4. Bitesyerlegs74

    Ditto to all that Rob. He was the last great chairman of a great club when players were still proper men and ER really did roar. . . To a more varied (and funny) song sheet. Remember the big flag we used to float around from stand to stand and the hilarious TRACKER BAR incident? Them were t’days lad!


  5. RIP Les ….Was part of the demonstrations that invaded the West Stand car park after you sacked Eddie ..wasn’t me that did your Roller though lol..was desperate for you to find a way to invest and take us back..and you did…You were a massive part of our second coming R&R


  6. Wonderful man wonderful memories! Leeds United, Kings of Europe!


  7. Leslie Silver was an extremely sensible businessman and is easily the best Leeds United chairman over the last 35 years, if not the best ever .
    In 1988, Leslie Silver along with Bill Fotherby and Howard Wilkinson, all started promoting Leeds United as “the family club” on the P.A. system on Elland Road matchdays, much to the ironic amusement of practically everybody in the Elland Road crowd, but by 1994, Leeds had one of the biggest family memberships in football, which would sadly decrease during the Ken Bates years.
    I am sure that Wilko would never have had the idea of signing Gordan Strachan and Chris Fairclough, without Leslie Silver’s ambition and finance, which nearly always came out of his own pocket.
    Other ambitious moves to sign Gascoigne, Beardsley, Merson and Niall Quinn, all sadly fell through, but that sort of ambition would NEVER happen in the greedy modern day football of today, where NOBODY wants to step down a division.
    R.I.P. Mr Silver, you were a key part of Leeds “living the successful dream”, during Leeds last glory years of the early 1990’s, when 4 trophies were won.


  8. Rob a great tribute.
    I knew him very well from a very early age, still being lifelong pals with his son, Mark, also a fantastic man.
    Leslie Silver was a true gentlemen, a generous philanthropist and without doubt a great success as Chairman and benefactor of Leeds United.
    He lived for life and gave everything to the things that mattered. His family, his business, local charities and of course Leeds United AFC.
    He loved Leeds with a passion, and had the vision, foresight and ambition to drag the club out of the old Second Division and to win the First Division title two years later,something that could not happen in the game today.
    It broke his heart to see how the club had been run over the past 12 years, and as we now sit on the Trap Door back into League 1, how we could do with his leadership now!!
    He had integrity, decenency and standards that our current potentially disastrous owner could only dream about.
    When I heard the news at Lunchtime today, I was devastated.
    Thank You Leslie Silver. Rest in Peace.


  9. Roger Ainley



    • It seems to me that problems with the authorities go way further back than the Silver era, right back to Hardaker of the League and his hatred for Don Revie. But they seem particularly hostile right now.


  10. Steven emsley

    Leslie What a great gent and hero for the city of Leeds , he loved the city and the people and used his hard earned wealth to make things better for all in it. The biggest complement you can give to this man is that out of all the wealthy people that live in this city he used some of his own wealth to make Leeds a better place to live . rest in peace Leslie and thanks for everything you have done for the city of Leeds.

    Steven Emsley


  11. Glad you took the time to post this tribute to a man who really did save leeds united – RIP leslie and thanks for the memory


  12. wetherby white

    can only support every other comment made here. His war time record, which I didn’t know about, makes the mans legacy even greater. After years of nothing in the eighties, it was Les who provided the cash and appointed all the right people.
    RIP Les Silver, a true hero of Leeds United.


  13. Counte Of Monte Fisto

    Rob, Mr Silver gave me the greatest season of football probably anyone in the world has ever had. Bringing in wilko, then funding with others strachan, fairclough, sterland, jones, chapman, hendrie. That promotion season was the best season ever then he funded mcallister, dorigo, big nige et all.
    Perhaps though his greatest feat was having the nous to back wilkos academy which brought through batty, speed, and eventually olearys babies and still keeps on giving to owners unworthy even of mention here.
    Rip, a great man leaves us in an era where rich playboys are being feted for doing little more than buying the premier league either with money stolen from their people or begged from banks.
    This guy had links to the city and really cared we were more than just a plaything to him


  14. It makes my blood boil to think how the subsequent chairmen of our great club have abused the position in contrast to the honourable Mr Silver RIP. Let’s hope that when they die they are welcomed in hell. What goes around comes around Mr Risdale and Master Bates.


Leave a Reply - Publication at Site owner's Discretion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.