So, after 13 years of swashbuckling around in England’s 2nd and 3rd tiers and upsetting the like of West Ham, Wolves, Ipswich, Blackburn (to name a few) in the process, we now find ourselves back in the basement league with the likes of Morecombe and Aldershot for company on Saturday afternoons and Tuesday nights.
In some ways relegation at Leeds didn’t hurt as much as it did at Nottingham Forest – I think that’s because I have known for most of the season we have been rubbish and deserve to go down, whereas in 2004 at Forest I thought we actually deserved to stay up and with a little bit more luck in our relegation run in we would have achieved the great escape.
That’s not to say it was nice seeing us go down at Elland Road and the fact that we went 1-0 up for the 5h time in a row and failed to hold a lead is frustrating and down right laughable – I thought we only threw away 2-0 score lines. Fair play to the supporters who made the trip to Leeds on Saturday, every one of them did themselves proud, and for 75 minutes out sang 37,000 Leeds fans.
One of the Leeds fans I spoke to after the games happened to have been sitting in the press box for the match and said we were one of most noisy fans to visit this season. But sadly supporters don’t win football matches, players do, and at the end of the day the club were deservedly relegated. Over the next three months Stimson has a job on his hands to turn around a club that has been in decline since 2003/2004.
Looking at League Two now compared to 1995 it’s littered with a few more former non-league clubs than it was when we were last there, and it’s going to be a shock to the system to some fans going to places like Morecombe, Aldershot and Dagenham.
For the younger supporters reading this our last known season in the basement division was the club’s successful promotion campaign of 1995/1996 when, under the guidance of Tony Pulis and Lindsay Parsons (remember him) we swept though the league on the back 1-0 score lines, clean sheets , John Gayle headers and Dave Putnam late winners.
The team that Pulis built that season were a no nonsense eleven which didn’t care who they kicked and punched to get results – they just did it because they knew that’s how you won the points to escape the clutches of Rochdale, Scarborough and Darlington. Simon Ratcliffe Leo Fortune-West, Neil Smith and Dave Martin all saw red during that season.
Now as far as I can see the nearest we have to a player like that at the club now is Danny Cullip and I don’t think he could get us promoted on his own could he? That’s not to say we were a complete team of thugs, the likes of Mark O’Connor and Dennis Bailey provided the flair needed to open up defences with passing and movement the likes of Dennis Oli and Stuart Lewis can only dream about. Up front boom boom Leo Fortune- West and Steve Butler were providing the goals, a rare ability amongst the current crop of Ba, Mulligan and Griffiths.
Now I might have sounded a bit doom and gloom so far but actually in a way I think relegation might turn out to be a blessing in disguise, as sometimes your need to go back to go forward, as has been shown by Leeds United success this season. Mark Stimson now has a full summer of Pre-Season to get the players he wants and get rid of the players he doesn’t – something he has been trying to do since his arrival but was restricted somewhat by trying to work with wasters like Armstrong, Brown, Lomas and co in his early days, who had already been given enough time under Jepson.
My biggest fear for us as a club is the trap door to the conference and non-league football (now the Blue Square Premier) which is just too close for comfort. If Stimson doesn’t get the right players because of lack of funds or because brings in one too many Barry Fullers, we could be in a relegation scrap and end up dropping out of the football league altogether. Don’t think it can’t happen to us? just look at where Oxford are now. Then again maybe that’s what Scally wanted when he produced that Pathway to the Premier league brochure some years ago, he just failed to mention which Premier League.