Wise words explain Leeds' magical rise from the dead

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A decade after his death, Leeds United have been recalling Billy Bremner, a man remembered for his part in the club's dominance of British football in the early 1970s. However, Bremner was also on the right wing on a November Saturday in 1961 which encapsulated the struggles of the early Don Revie era. Leeds, in Division Two, were held 0-0 by Leyton Orient before 7,967 fans. There was a feeling that if a new team did not materialise quickly, the club would die.

Some might say that starting this season in League One with a 15-point deficit and, in Dennis Wise (pictured), a manager so detested the fans were singing "get the Chelsea out of Leeds" before the pre-season visit of Wigan, made 1961 look like a picnic. But the past four months, which have left Leeds in with a chance of taking top spot today, have supplied a different story.

Wise, in the words of one of his coaches a few months ago, has morphed from "Bin Laden into Elvis". He has used the 15-point penalty imposed by the Football League for financial irregularities to nurture a spirit that has fuelled Leeds' best start to a campaign since Revie, Bremner and co went 29 matches unbeaten in 1973. And while the arrival of Scunthorpe, Walsall and Bristol Rovers in 1961-62 reduced Elland Road to a morgue, the club's gallop towards the 105 points Wise says they need for promotion in 2008 has sent League One attendances soaring. Leeds' average crowd of 27,563 almost 8,000 more than their nearest rivals, Nottingham Forest sets the third tier on course to top 4.5m fans in total for the first time since 1972. The crowds would be even higher if the upper tier of Elland Road's East Stand was open.

Wise is reluctant to make bold pronouncements about his side's progress "Swansea will be up there and so will Forest," he says, "but we know what we need and if we get the right amount of wins we'll be up there. If not, we won't. It's simple." But he has used the season's key moments to bring the fans around leading his players and back-room staff into the centre circle, for instance, as the crowd chanted "zero, zero" after the 15-point deficit had been wiped out as early as 8 September, thanks to a 2-0 home win against Hartlepool.

Reaching the top before 2007 is out, and for real rather than for the few hours' residence achieved after Boxing Day's noon kick-off at Hartlepool would be sweet. "It was nice to put our toe on there," Wise says. "I don't think anyone would have predicted that, but I'd rather be at the top on 4 May. There's a long way to go. It's a nice achievement so far, but it counts for nothing."

There are ifs and buts Forest can go top if they beat Gillingham and Leeds draw at Swansea today but the turnaround still ranks as a great revival story.

When Ken Bates, Wise's friend from their Chelsea days, called to ask him to step into Kevin Blackwell's shoes last October, Wise may not have expected the vitriol of fans who told Gus Poyet, then his assistant, "You're not welcome here". Wise said: "[There were] strong personalities in the dressing room who thought my days were numbered and basically said, 'Let's do him'. Players here had got their own way for a long time, it seemed they were dictating what happened. But ... I enjoyed battling with people."

T-shirts bearing the slogan "-15 and we'll still go up" are still doing a roaring trade, along with DVDs of the "first 15" games of the season. The goals of the Congolese striker Tresor Kandol have helped, along with slices of luck: Jermaine Beckford's last-minute equaliser on Boxing Day was hard on Hartlepool.

Leeds will use the January transfer window to reinforce. They are likely to sign the winger Sebastian Sorsa on a free transfer from HJK Helsinki; the Bolton defender Lubomir Michalik is another target. If Wise needs any more motivation, he has Bremner's legendary catchphrase to drive him on: "You get nowt for coming second."

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