This article was originally published on March 6 this year.
In late 1992, there was a sea-change in English football with the introduction of the FA Premier League – a “whole new ball game” as the moguls at BSkyB termed it, with more than a passing nod to the surface glitz and glamour of the Wide, Wide World of Sports, state-side. Nothing has been quite the same since, we’ve been living with the consequences – good and ill – of that Murdoch-inspired schism in our game for well over twenty years now. The current state of play is unrecognisable from the dear old muck and bullets game we used to know – prices have sky-rocketed, wages have transcended the merely obscene and have attained a level which is truly, nauseatingly gut-wrenching – and we’ve had to put up with a Taggart clone riding roughshod over our beloved sport for the greater part of the Uncle Rupert era. A whole new ball game indeed.
At the time of the change, though, Leeds United were the reigning Champions of England. Many will recall this, perhaps not entirely as accurately as they might. You will hear it said that Leeds “pipped” Man U to the title, or that those hard-done-by heroes and the Pride of all Devon somehow gifted the Championship crown to an undeserving and opportunistic Leeds. All myth and fancy, of course – but the media never did let facts get in the way of a nice bit of propaganda to support the delusions which drift like opium smoke around the Theatre of Hollow Myths. Leeds won the title by four clear points, despite losing or drawing several winnable games late on, so if anything the margin could and should have been greater. They won the most games and lost the fewest, scoring the second highest goal tally and conceding few with a mean defence. They had the indisputably best midfield around and they were undeniably worthy champions – the Last Champions. This is one of the things I want to nail once and for all at the latter end of the book I’m now writing, a book that ends with the revolution of ’92.
Leeds were also reigning champions where this book starts, with my first games in LS11 as a comparative latecomer at the age of 13 in 1975. I saw us lose to Liverpool in the league and then beat Barcelona in the European Cup semi-final before a 50,000 sell-out at Elland Road. I was hooked after the Liverpool game, hooked for life. And I was star-struck with wonder as Armfield’s heroes in white dismissed Barca, Johann Cruyff and all, with King Billy Bremner scoring my first ever live Leeds goal. What an honour that was for a newly-fanatical kid of 13. We couldn’t know it at the time, but I’d just witnessed the last hurrah of Revie’s Immortals at home in Yorkshire. They were to burn brightly again, in Barcelona and in Paris – but were doomed as so often before to be cheated of their just reward. From ’75 onwards, it was a time of decline and then stagnation, until Sergeant Wilko stomped into Elland Road and dragged us back to the top in his own inimitable style.
Those fallow years of bleak exile in the wilderness form a thinly-documented part of United’s post-Revie history. It’s a gap I aim to fill, and I can draw upon many of my own memories in order to do so. Attention is also demanded for the late seventies mini-revival under Armfield and Adamson, with a peak in 1978/79 when a Tony Currie-inspired Leeds played some fantastic football and threatened briefly to revive former glories. Alas, it all crumbled into dust and relegation – but some rich promise was there, for a while. The basic premise of my book (which still lacks for a title, among other important attributes like a publisher) is to take the time between my first game in April 1975 when Leeds were Champions, and the Charity Shield match against Liverpool at the old Wembley in 1992, when Leeds were Champions again – and try to describe what it was like to witness such a fall from glory, such a humiliating yet exciting spell in the shadows and then such a meteoric rise back to the very top. The fact that this process covered the last seventeen years of the original Football League epoch lends a kind of poignancy to the whole saga of triumph, despair and triumph again.
What I really need is input in the form of memories and anecdotes – the experience of fellow fans who, like me, were there through it all, or even those who followed from afar, separated from events in England, but still fanatically involved. I know there are many such far-flung but devoted Leeds fans out there. And I need help, advice, assistance. I’m confident I can write the thing, and it will be written in the same idiom that has seen this blog grow and thrive. It’s taking shape well, a good few thousand words in. But I could use – and would be very grateful for – any information and advice about publishers, publishing, contacts – that sort of nitty-gritty thing. And I still need a title! – although I’m now fairly certain that “Full Circle” will figure in it somehow. All feedback is gratefully received; do people think a book of the kind I’m proposing has a market out there?
I mustn’t end without saying how massively grateful I am for the help, encouragement and assistance I’ve already received. To those who have dug into their pockets and donated to this blog, enabling me to give more of my time to the book project – thank you so much. It’s a humbling experience to discover the willingness of people out there to help get an embryonic project off the ground. I appreciate the time you’ve secured for me to put the work in and get this thing down in words. I’ve sent emails to everyone who’s provided such generous support, but rest assured – when The Book finally sees light of day, you’ll receive a copy of whatever it’s eventually titled, with my sincerest compliments.
Going forward – publishers, agents, those with connections – please do get in touch if you can help. I’m confident I can produce a worthy addition to any fan’s Leeds United bookshelf, given some supplementary material and someone who will take a punt on me and maybe profit from it. Who knows, maybe it can be a Leeds United book with something to say about football in a broader sense too. You can rest assured that those I dislike will not be neglected! Football is a tribal thing and, true to my tribe, I will be looking to have a pop here and there at that lot from ovver t’hill. It’d be rude not to, after all.
Finally, after a big influx of blog followers over the past few weeks, can I just say welcome to anybody who’s new to “Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything”. I hope you’ll all stick around and be regular readers and responders! MOT