Tag Archives: doing a Leeds

The Ego Has Landed: David O’Leary Back at Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

DOL

O’Leary, and the book that earned him the sack

Amid the muck and bullets of an attritional battle between Leeds United and Norwich City last weekend, word was received that the club was being visited by the Ghost of Seasons Past. Former Whites manager David O’Leary was back at Elland Road, holding court in the Legends Lounge – some unintentional irony there – and dispensing his own particular brand of faux humility to anyone who would listen.

That’s what always got me about O’Leary, even at the height of his success in the post-George Graham period – this tendency of his to peddle a “Love me, I’m just a novice manager doing the best I can” line. Backed by good results from a young and thrilling team, it was an engaging enough act for a while anyway – but any such act, whether it be the blarney of Erin, or just plain old self-serving bullshit, wears thin eventually. In O’Leary’s case, that process of disillusionment was accelerated by his own actions as financial crisis and the Bowyer/Woodgate court case hit the club hard. When the solids hit the air-conditioning, poor David was liberally splattered by the noxious fallout, his strained relationship with local press figures meaning there was precious little sympathy or protection for him there.

O’Leary was quite literally the author of his own misfortune. “United on Trial”, his controversial book in the wake of the long, drawn-out court case, was an ill-judged attempt to dissociate himself from any blame for the storm clouds gathering over Elland Road. Players from a squad he’d previously dubbed his “babies” were callously thrown to the wolves, who had scented blood in LS11, and were voraciously snapping away at the heels of a wounded and foundering giant. It had all looked so good for Leeds in the campaign leading up to the Champions League last four, but the fall from those rarefied heights was precipitous; weak leadership in the boardroom had given O’Leary too free a hand in the transfer market, with results that have become notorious in the history of a club that tried to live the dream but entered instead into a ten year nightmare. So unprecedented was this fall from grace that a new phrase, describing the suicidal self-immolation of any football club, entered the language: “Doing a Leeds”.

O’Leary got the Leeds job at a particularly propitious time; able to build on the foundations laid by the cautious and meticulous approach of George Graham, he also benefited from a crop of youthful talent coming through, the like of which had not been seen at Leeds since the early sixties. It was a recipe for success, requiring only a steady hand at the tiller and a fair share of good luck. Sadly for United, after a bright start to the Irishman’s tenure, neither of these requirements were fulfilled, and the club embarked on a downhill slide that a greased pig would have found hard to emulate.

Despite all of this, some United fans have fond memories of O’Leary – which, when you consider some of the football played and some of the results achieved, is reasonably understandable. But the idyll was deceptive; some of the players grew disillusioned, to say the least, with a manager whose genial demeanour masked what at times was a chilling ruthlessness, allied to a preoccupation with being seen always in the most favourable light. His popularity with certain squad members declined to the point where at least one refused to sign a book for a fan, simply because the manager’s picture featured on the cover. And his attitude towards respected local press members – summed up briefly as “I don’t really need you” was seen as so wilfully arrogant that those press members felt under no obligation to pull their punches when things tuned sour.

Even now, O’Leary will use his characteristic self-effacing delivery to mask what amounts to relentless self-promotion; he’s always after the printing of the legend, untainted by inconvenient facts. In and around his Elland Road appearance last weekend, the former United manager revealed the question he’s most often been asked by Leeds fans since his departure. Predictably, it redounds to his credit – what O’Leary soundbite does not? “It’s ‘When are you coming back to Leeds’“, he revealed, adding that he found such a question “embarrassing really. I’m so privileged that they still remember me”.

Continuing this apparently diffident self-homage, O’Leary gushed “It’s just so nice and I always knew that I had their support, and I appreciate their support even more now. Twenty years and they still remember me – I can’t believe that!”

It’s not that difficult to believe, though. United fans, especially those who don’t habitually sport the rose-tinted glasses of fond recollection, will be unlikely to forget the man who inherited a dressing room of such vast potential and then proceeded to lose it through his own crass and self-serving actions. The answer to the question of “When are you coming back, David?” must surely be “Next time Leeds United needs the spirit of the club shattered almost beyond repair – next time we wish to plunge into a new dark age and threaten our very existence”. It really was as bad as that.

So David, you can quote your admirers all you like – we’re never going to hear the other side of that coin from your self-aggrandising lips. But remember, some of us see you for what you are – and we’re glad and relieved that you’re history now as far as Leeds United is concerned.

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Newcastle Might “Do a Leeds”? Don’t Make Me Laugh – by Rob Atkinson

doing a leeds

“Doing a Leeds”. It’s become a 21st Century football cliché or, more accurately, a refrain increasingly tiresome to the ears of Leeds United sympathisers. It’s hackneyed, it’s boring, it’s irritating. Moreover, almost invariably – when applied to other clubs – it’s nowhere near the truth.

What is “doing a Leeds”, after all? Well, it’s no mere common or garden tumble from grace, we can be sure of that. Most teams at some point will happen upon hard times and experience bad days after the bright sunshine of relatively heady heights. It’s a part of the charm of the game, without which things could get pretty boring. Central to the English condition is a love of seeing some smug, sleek success, happy on its pedestal, firstly wobble and falter, and then come tumbling amusingly down. There’s an inner satisfaction in beholding such a humbling of a complacent success story.

So, it’s a common experience, and even enjoyable – to the onlooker. The distinction between your ordinary, everyday descents into misfortune, though, and the phenomenon of “doing a Leeds”, is the height of the pedestal from which the tumble occurs. To “do a Leeds”, you must not just fall, you must fall precipitately, from a great, dizzying height, scattering riches from your pockets as you plunge headlong into the depths of misery, ignominy and despair. You must have experienced the sweetest of success, the heights of popular fame – and you must then be found grovelling, penniless and distraught in the filthiest of gutters, with barely a rag to your back and the authorities hunting you down for a debtors’ cell with beggary to follow. That’s doing a Leeds.

Following Newcastle United‘s latest piteous showing, as they lost 1-3 to Bournemouth to deepen their peril at the foot of the Premier League, some so-called pundits are expressing fears that the Geordies might be in danger of doing a Leeds if they were to tumble through the top-flight trapdoor come May. To such a suggestion, I can only respond thus: what utter, footling rubbish. Balderdash. Piffle. Crap. Newcastle will be miles off doing a Leeds until and unless they’re struggling in the basement of League Two and looking fearfully down the barrel of the Conference. They simply have not risen high enough to be associated with “doing a Leeds”, merely by a Parachute Payment-cushioned relegation to the Championship – not even if they were somehow to drop right through that division into League One.

Leeds United’s plummet from glory to grief was looked at – and, let’s be honest, gloated over – in the light of their historical success within living memory. The triumphs and disasters of the Don Revie years are the stuff of legends; though the Whites never won as much as they could and should have done, nevertheless they became true giants of the game. Widely regarded as one of the very finest club sides ever to grace these islands, Don’s lads were peerless on their day and set the benchmark for all future incarnations of Yorkshire’s Number One club.

Even after a post-Revie decline, which saw relegation and a measure of despair, Leeds were boldly revived and hit the top of the game again under Howard Wilkinson, powered by a classical midfield four of Batty, McAllister, Strachan and Speed. Three years or so after Wilko found Leeds towards the bottom of Division Two, and only one full season after promotion to Division One, Leeds were English Champions again – the Last Champions of the old-style Football League. Yet more immortality for the Whites of Elland Road, and that pedestal of popular fame (or notoriety) was as towering as ever.

The early 21st Century nosedive was all the steeper for the giddy heights from which Leeds were crashing. Financial disaster, gross mismanagement, a spell in the third tier, the reckless squandering of diamonds produced by the ever-fertile Youth Academy – all of this, viewed in the context of the club’s glorious and honour-laden history, made such a sickening decline almost unique in the annals of football history. “Doing a Leeds” therefore entered the sporting lexicon as an unprecedented extreme; it could be used only as a cautionary example, as there are no comparable instances. Smaller clubs have fallen further; comparable clubs have had bad times. But no club has crashed and burned quite as spectacularly as Leeds.

Newcastle United are a big club with a loyal and fervent following. They, too, have had a measure of bad management, and it looks as though their current failings could well lead to demotion this year. They are not so much flirting with relegation as spreadeagled on their backs, begging the Championship to have its way with them. But to suggest they might “do a Leeds” is laughable. Newcastle have been conspicuous over the last half century for their failure to make a mark on the game’s honours roll. Apart from one solitary Fairs Cup in the late sixties, the Toon Army have not troubled the scorers. Their last Championship was back in 1927, the same year Lindbergh conquered the Atlantic in his Spirit of St. Louis; the same year Dixie Dean scored 60 league goals for Everton. It’s a very long time ago. The FA Cup brought more success for the Tynesiders in the fifties – but in the modern era, they’ve been just another club, winning some, losing some, relegated, promoted; but mostly just watching the football world pass them by.

For the sake of Newcastle’s terrific fans, it’s to be hoped that their club never can be fairly said to have “done a Leeds”. A decline of that magnitude from their current status would realistically see them playing in a municipal parks league on Sunday mornings. The trouble facing the Geordies right now are severe enough, without exaggerating the nature of the perils that might lie ahead.

After this disastrous century so far, we at Leeds don’t have a lot left to us, apart from that glorious history and a mass of vivid memories. It’s a lot more than many other clubs have, but we need to keep special to us those things that mark us out as a club that’s just a bit different. The chilling uniqueness of “doing a Leeds” is one of those things that currently define our beloved United, along with the Revie legacy, the Last Champions and the glow of sitting at the top of the League as the Millennium clock ticked over from 1999 to 2000. Let’s not cheapen or demean any of these things by taking their names in vain, or using them inappropriately.

As for Newcastle United FC? Beware, bonny lads. You’re in danger of doing a Wolves.