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Eleven Kings

During my fledgling years my main love was association football, as an old Pathe news commentator may’ve dubbed the game in his authoritative BBC English tones. In particular, I was enamoured by the all conquering 1960s/70s Leeds United teams managed by Don Revie. Accomplished exponents of a game that led to a boyhood pipe dream of one day playing for the team representing my West Yorkshire place of birth.

This unconditional love of a football club, playing out like a scene from one of Michael Palin’s brilliant whimsical Ripping Yarns aired in the 1970s. A plot where learning my teams line up held far higher priority than studying the English monarchs my primary school teachers strove valiantly, but ultimately failed, to drum into me.

Much to his wife’s chagrin, Palin’s fictional character Gordon Ottershaw’s obsession with his beloved team Barnestoneworth United led to teaching his 10 year old son (who he’d reverentially named Barnestoneworth) the names of the 1923 Yorkshire Cup winning side before concentrating on his homework – Learning the names of 19th century UK Prime Ministers.

Ottershaw deeming awareness of his 1923 heroes, Haggerty F, Haggerty R, Tomkins, Noble, Carrick, Dobson, Dewhurst, Crapper, McIntyre, Treadmore, Davitt, would ultimately serve his offspring better during his upcoming existential voyage.

Ottershaw’s despair at witnessing this demise of his footballing amour isn’t too dissimilar to the frustration I’ve experienced on numerous occasions since Revie’s boys aged, and the quality of many of their successors diminished. Circumstances which brought to an abrupt end the era I fondly think of as ‘utopia in sock tags’***.

*** – Sock tags were football kit stocking adornments worn by Leeds during that era.

Anyhow, back to my indifference at learning the chronology of English monarchs from the tutors at my primary alma mater…….

In the seven year old mind of GJ Strachan, learning former regal leaders of this sceptred isle held no interest. To him, kings adorned an all white regalia and went by the monikers of Sprake/Harvey, Reaney, Cooper, Bremner, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Clarke, Jones, Giles, Eddie Gray and Mick Bates. Warriors whose crusades, both home and abroad, were laden with victories with minimal casualties (for them anyhow!!).

In their wake Revie’s army creating a fearsome reputation; the footballing equivalent of Attila; the tribal leader of the Huns, Ostrogoths and Alans……. As far as I know, though, Leeds United striker Allan Clarke wasn’t part of the latter tribe.

These men, who commenced a challenge in the chaste white kit, oft exiting the battle fields of Stamford Bridge, Anfield and Highbury tired, bloodied and bruised; but with the consolation of victories and silverware aplenty.

Also in their possession on returning to their West Yorkshire citadel, the deflated souls of vanquished armies from places as far afield as London, Manchester, Liverpool, Milan, Oslo, Brussels, Budapest and Barcelona…… Evocations of those victories still warming my heart as I recall the childhood feel good factor they bestowed.

Memories I took for granted at that time, partly through my young age; along with not giving it a moments thought to the fact this club who’d enhanced my fledgling years immeasurably would forever be contenders for top flight footballing honours…… A contentment that I’d learn from 1976 wouldn’t be long standing. The next 40+ years a cauldron of false dawns and disenchantment, punctuated with the odd few seasons of joy and hope.

Sure there’s been some great years being a Leeds fan since then. For instance at the turn of the 1980s into the 1990’s while under the stewardship of Howard Wilkinson, which saw them win both the second and first tiers of the English football league. Wilko remaining the last English born manager to guide a team to achieve the highest club accolade in English football.

At the turn of the millennium, there was a false dawn provided by the team dubbed David O’Leary’s ‘kids’. However that capitulated a few seasons after his wondrously promising young side’s precocious flowing football made Leeds United many people’s second team.

As I allude to above, though, this was a relatively short term fix. In 2004 Leeds fans experiencing a metaphorical coitus interruptus, ending a highly enjoyable three year foreplay. This c**k block to completing the job a consequence of the club’s administrative leaders not looking after the pennies.

LUFC becoming a family whose dysfunctionality lost them O’Leary’s kids. This taking of ‘the children’ not the result of social services concerns about the quality of their nurturing; much lauded at the academy Wilko inspired. Moreover from the opportunism of other clubs who (in a buyers market) cherry picked the clubs finest playing assets for grossly under their market value.

Perversely, such was the scale of the financial implosion at Leeds United, for a period of time they were still having to contribute towards some of the exitee’s salaries in a desperate bid to remove them from the club’s wage bill. At that time several Premier League clubs were nothing more than vultures picking at the bones of this great footballing institution.

As an aside, whilst writing those last two paragraphs I noticed my anger levels had raised to a point I was hammering the keys aggressively while typing them…… Maybe I’ve anger management issues I need too address!!

Going back to my introduction to the rollercoaster of supporting LUFC, Don Revie’s legacy to the football club and the city of Leeds was immeasurable. Prior to his tenure as manager between 1961-1974 the club was little known outside of West Yorkshire, never mind Europe. However, this much maligned man, who drew such vitriol from the paragons of virtue which are the southern press, ensured Leeds United became and always will be a global brand.

1976 saw the end of my utopia in sock tags existence. It may seem overly melodramatic, but the end of the Revie era, along with the gradual departure of his ageing kings, saw me enter an almost grief like state. A condition which coincided with me going through the stress of puberty; in hindsight this episode potentially triggered my first episode of recurring depressive disorder.

Yesterday evening, along with friends, I attended an event labelled ‘We Are Leeds’ – Part of a series of celebrations to celebrate Leeds United’s centenary year. A night of being entertained by interviews and a Q&A with ex-Leeds United legends. These players including Revie boy’s Paul Reaney and Eddie Gray; along with Howard Wilkinson’s 1992 championship winners Gordon Strachan, Lee Chapman, Steve Hodge and Mel Sterland.

As a kid I always dreamed that G.Strachan would one day lift the championship trophy as captain of Leeds United. Sadly it didn’t materialise for yours truly – However, last night I was delighted to have had my photograph taken in a group picture with a G.Strachan that did achieve that landmark.

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Back Row – Gary Strachan, Dave Wells….. Front Row – Mel Sterland, Gordon Strachan

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