Fan's Eye View No 153: Leeds United

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The Independent Online
Last Sunday afternoon alarm bells were ringing at Elland Road. I stopped there briefly on my way back down south intending to visit the club shop. No one, it seemed, knew how to stop the noise. It all sounded appropriate following Saturday's dire show against Manchester United, and the state of the club's record over recent months and years, but I dismissed the idea that this corny symbolism meant anything dramatic was about to happen to Leeds United.

There was a side door open on to the pitch, so I walked in past the lawn mower and the Detention Room, getting permission off a groundsman towander around the ground. I came out of the north-west corner tunnel, by the Radio Leeds room and the Kop. I thought of the times Wilko and the team walked in and out that way at the end of last season while the changing rooms were being refurbished. I stood in front of the new dug-outs, and imagined the views - the joyful occasions, and the occasions like last Saturday which degenerated into abuse and raw anger.

I don't feel like celebrating our managerial change, really, I feel sad that we've had to go through all this. Some results and performances of recent years, coupled with some fans becoming abusive rather than supportive, made it a lean time to follow Leeds.

In one of the many verbal "Wilko wars'' on the Leeds e-mail list, I remember Steve Walsh saying "Wilko's a hero to Leeds, and always will be.'' Maybe now the abuse will stop, and his achievements will be given the dignified gratitude they deserve. He's certainly left a club with a great structure, and great potential for the future. His vision of building Leeds United like Liverpool is something his successor must be made to continue, I hope the new owners truly share that vision. The joy of getting promotion and the title were one thing, but just the start of it: the new improved ground, the training facilities, and most of all the youth policy should continue to pay dividends for years to come.

The down side was his handling of some players. Wilko will be remembered as the Manager Who Built Leeds alright, but also as the manager who Sold Cantona for Peanuts. Even that and the loss of Batty, Whelan, Strachan, McAllister and so on would have been forgiven by most if success on the pitch had continued, and in the end all that Wilko got wrong over the last few years was results, but that, of course, is what it's all about.

My walk round the ground continued. Past the South Stand where the red lot had such a good day out on Saturday; how annoying that they will forever presume to think a defeat by them precipitated a change in our management.

Then in front of the Kop, impressive even though much smaller than the multi-storey East Stand. I stood in front of the goal, and thought of Cantona's final tapped-in insult there on Saturday, which stands as a symbolic farewell to Wilko.

George Graham should be good in terms of long-term club building, but may be challenging in terms of playing style and the way players are signed and handled.

With the new board, though, the early signs speak more of financial opportunism than the philanthropy fans dream of.

Thanks, Wilko, for so many good times. Here's to the future, and the hope that the changes you started bring more health and happiness to Leeds United.

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