Leeds United

Leeds United: Where the hell have they been?

It's been 16 years out of the Premier League for one of the biggest clubs in England. We timeline exactly what happened

11:30am on Monday 20th July 2020
Paul Macdonald

May 2004, Bolton 4-1 Leeds United. The culmination of an utterly miserable campaign ends in relegation for one of the biggest clubs in England.

Three years earlier, they were in a Champions League semi-final. The financial debauchery that began under the stewardship of Peter Ridsdale took them to the peak but delivered them over £110m worth of debt and nearly 20 years of ‘how can you do this to me, Leeds?’ levels of frustration.

The timeline of the fall, fall, fall and steady rise of the team deserves its own Netflix documentary. So with Leeds on the brink of a return to the big time, how did they end up in this situation in the first place?

Leeds' fall, fall and subsequent rise

21 Jan, 2005: ⚠️ Ken Bates, former Chairman of Chelsea, assumes a £10m (50%) stake in the club from Gerald Krasner, who claims that the club had been in debt of over £100m when his consortium took control a year earlier, but had reduced that to just £25m.

8 May, 2005: Leeds draw 0-0 with Rotherham in front of nearly 31,000 fans to confirm a mid-table Championship position in a season where they never really threatened promotion. Manager Kevin Blackwell is forced to reconstruct the entire squad in pre-season due to sales, but despite Bates’ takeover, the club remains in severe financial difficulty.

21 May 2006: Leeds lose the Championship play-off final 3-0 to Watford, a feat in itself for Blackwell and his thrown-together team, but the inability to return to the Premier League exacerbated their financial demise, one that had already led to the stadium, training ground and facilities being sold.

20 Sep 2006: With his squad gutted and having won just two of the opening seven league games, 🚮 Blackwell is sacked. During the forthcoming period under first John Carver and then David Geddis Leeds pick up just a single win. Dennis Wise is appointed to, at this stage, avoid relegation.

4 May 2007: 🔽 🔽 🔽 Wise is unable to keep the team in the Championship and so the club voluntarily enter administration on the condition that they incur a 10-point penalty in the current season rather than in League One. The club’s debts spiral to £35m and require an immediate payment to HMRC in order to avoid a winding-up order. It is the first time Leeds have ever played at such a low level.

9 Aug 2007: Leeds’ insolvency issues go deeper and other club chairmen in League 1 opt to impose a 15-point penalty prior to the start of the season - at one stage it appeared that the club would lose their league place altogether - and despite a lengthy appeal process, the team begin the 2007-08 season on -15 points.

5 May 2008: Leeds lose in the League 1 play-off final, 1-0 to Doncaster. Had they not incurred a 15-point penalty, they would have been promoted back to the Championship automatically. During the season 🚮 Wise leaves the club to join the coaching staff at Newcastle, eventually replaced by club legend Gary McAllister.

21 December 2008: With Leeds off the pace for the automatic promotion positions in League 1, 🚮 McAllister is replaced by Simon Grayson.

8 May 2009: Leeds finished in the play-offs where they face Millwall in the semi-finals, and lose over two legs, condemning them to another League 1 season.

4 Jan 2010: Having begun the League 1 season in superb form, Leeds defeat Premier League champions Manchester United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup in a huge shock result. But their league form spirals after, losing four games in a row in March.

8 May 2010: 🔼 🔼🔼 Leeds finally escape League 1 by defeating Bristol Rovers 2-1 at Elland Road on the final day of the season to achieve automatic promotion back to the Championship.

2 May 2011: ⚠️ Ken Bates confirms the consortium of which he was a part had sold the club back to him, a deal which raised eyebrows as Bates himself had admitted he had no cash to spend. Leeds fans were extremely critical of Bates’ running of the club since his arrival, selling key players as they went for promotion and refused to sanction any money to replace them, and they held demonstrations demanding that he resign. Bates subsequently referred to the protesters as ‘morons’ and told them ‘I’m not going anywhere’. Leeds finish the season in seventh position, just missing out on the playoffs.

1 Feb 2012: After just over three years in the job 🚮 Grayson is sacked by Bates with the team well off the pace in the race for promotion. Much-travelled Neil Warnock is appointed and the team end the season in 14th, nine points away from the playoff positions. Attendances plummet as fans stay away to protest Bates’ running of the club.

21 Dec 2012: ⚠️ Investment group KFH Capital assume control of the club from Bates, paying £52m and clearing all debts. Bates is retained as Chairman with a view to becoming President at the end of the season, but in July KFH confirmed that Bates no longer had any association with Leeds.

1 Apr 2013: Despite receiving the support of KFH upon their arrival, 🚮 Warnock is sacked by Leeds with the team in mid-table in the Championship. Brian McDermott takes over and guides the team to 13th position.

31 Jan 2014: ⚠️ Massimo Cellino emerges as a potential candidate to assume control of the club from KFH Capital, but allegedly proceeds to contact manager McDermott to tell him that he had been fired despite having no authority to do so.

23 Mar 2014: The Football League decides that Cellino does not comply with the fit and proper persons test, just five weeks after Leeds had announced his takeover. 🚮 McDermott remains in charge throughout this period but ultimately resigned at the end of the season with the team once again languishing in mid-table.

1 Jul 2014: ⚠️ Cellino wins an appeal and assumes temporary control of Leeds, appointing virtual unknown Dave Hockaday as McDermott’s replacement, a coach who had been sacked by non-league Forest Green Rovers nine months previous. 🚮 He lasts 70 days, commencing a revolving door in the Elland Road dugout.

1 Dec 2014: ⚠️ The Football League once again disqualifies Cellino as being owner for four months, due to tax evasion allegations emanating from Italy. Cellino announces he plans to leave the club altogether but is still actively in control for another three years, rejecting various bids and takeover offers placed in front of him during this period.

1 May 2015: 🚮 Neil Redfearn (twice) and 🚮 Darko Milanic are hired and fired during a tumultuous season, the latter being sacked after just six games in charge, winning none of them. Leeds finish in a disappointing 15th position, far closer to relegation than promotion.

1 July 2015: Uwe Rosler is the ninth different coaching appointment (including Redfearn as caretaker on three separate occasions) since Grayson departed in 2012. 🚮 He lasts just two months and 12 games in charge, winning just two of them. Steve Evans, a polarising figure in lower-league football, is given control.

1 June 2016: Against the backdrop of continued Cellino takeover talk, Leeds once again finish in mid-table and 🚮 Evans is replaced by Garry Monk, appointment number 11 in four years.

7 May 2017: Leeds are in an excellent position to gain automatic promotion at the turn of the year but contrive to win just two of their final 11 matches to collapse and finish outside of the playoffs.

Leeds Managers since 2008

NameMonths in ChargeGamesWin %
Simon Grayson3716949.7%
Neil Warnock136336.5%
Brian McDermott145437.01%
Dave Hockaday2633.33%
Darko Milanic160%
Neil Redfearn73333.34%
Uwe Rosler31216.67%
Steve Evans73836.84%
Garry Monk115347.17%
Thomas Christiansen83345.45%
Paul Heckingbottom41625%
Marcelo Bielsa259754.64%

23 May 2017: After picking up a 50% stake in the club in January, Andrea Radrizzani assumes full ownership, finally pushing Cellino out. 🚮 Garry Monk resigns as manager a few days later and is replaced by Thomas Christiansen for the 17/18 season.

3 Feb 2018: Despite having to contend with the sale of previous season’s top scorer Chris Wood, 🚮 Christiansen starts well, going seven unbeaten, but a 4-1 home defeat to Cardiff, a sixth game without victory, was enough for Radrizzani to make a change, moving quickly to appoint Paul Heckingbottom from Barnsley. 🚮 Heckingbottom wins just four matches in 16 and is also relieved of his duties at the end of the season with Leeds finishing once again in mid-table.

15 Jun 2018: The Marcelo Bielsa revolution begins.

18 Feb 2019: Leeds are fined £200,000 after sending a scout to watch Derby County in training in an incident famously known as ‘Spygate’ and after which EFL were forced to change their rules. Bielsa claims he paid the fine personally but was unclear as to what the fuss was about.

28 Apr 2019: In a bizarre display of sportsmanship, Bielsa orders his team to allow Aston Villa to equalise in a crucial end-of-season match after Mateusz Klich had taken advantage of Villa stopping due to an injury to Jonathan Kodjia. Albert Adomah then runs through to tap into an empty net and Leeds are condemned to the playoffs.

15 May 2019: Despite winning the first leg 1-0, Leeds capitulate at home to Derby County 4-3 on aggregate to exit the playoffs at the semi-final stage.

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