A new Elland Road decade begins for Leeds United when they host Sheffield Wednesday this afternoon and, as has become usual for the Whites, they are starting that ten year span at the top of their league. It’s the fourth time in a row that Leeds have ushered in such a milestone as league leaders, having been at the top of the old Second Division at the end of the eighties; of the Premier League as the nineties made way for a new millennium; of League One when we saw out the “Noughties” – and now top of the Championship on our entry into what we must hope will be a successful if not roaring Twenties.
So far, so positive – but there are always lessons to be learned from history and, although our league position at the start of each decade has been consistently dominant, it’s not always followed that Elland Road’s first game of a new era has been all that much to write home about. In 1990, we saw a disappointing 1-1 home draw with Oldham, having ended the eighties top of the league despite a 0-1 reverse at Barnsley. The club acted decisively to freshen things up, signing Lee Chapman from Nottingham Forest. Chapman played and scored in United’s next league game, a 2-1 win at Blackburn to get the promotion charge back on track.
At the end of the nineties, there was much fevered and hopeful speculation in the national press about Man Utd seeing in the new millennium at the top of English football and, predictably, the general feeling was that it would be “fitting” if the media favourites could make such a one-off mark. Sadly for all concerned bar gleeful fans of Leeds United, the Whites managed to gatecrash that historical party, taking the honours for themselves, despite a late December defeat at Arsenal. So Leeds will forever be known as the top club when the millennium ticked over, although Man Utd are doubtless confident of matching that achievement for the year 3000. Sadly, Leeds again started a new epoch with disappointment at Elland Road, losing their first home match of the 2000s 1-2 against Aston Villa.
We’ll all remember how the last decade started, with Leeds again on top of the league, albeit only the third tier on this occasion. United had been dominant in League One, and had concluded the “Noughties” with a 4-2 away win at Stockport County to go into their FA Cup date at Old Trafford against champions Man Utd in very good heart. And that positive mindset led to United showing zero respect for the overwhelming favourites, to knock them out of the Cup with Jermaine Beckford’s solitary goal being sufficient unto the day. Ever since then, United fans have celebrated January the third, and rightly so, with Old Trafford’s partisan home end being rechristened by Whites supporters as “The Beckford End” in tribute to that famous finish. But again, Leeds could not follow up with a suitable celebration at Elland Road, being held to a 1-1 draw by Wycombe Wanderers on January 9th.
And so here we are, at the top of our league for the fourth new decade on the trot, courtesy of that epic 5-4 win a Birmingham which was followed on New Year’s Day by a gritty 1-1 draw at chief rivals West Bromwich Albion. Maybe this time, Leeds United will make their first home game of the new Twenties a positive experience, a cause for celebration as we consolidate our hard-earned league position. Sheffield Wednesday will certainly have plenty to say about that – but here’s to a good game, another dominant performance from United – and three more vital promotion points.
Happy New Decade!