For football fans, the summer is always a time for optimism. You’re awaiting the first game of the season, a few new players have arrived and you’ve got a couple of pre-season friendlies under your belt. The signs point to it being your year this year. Unfortunately, as a Leeds fan we have usually been brought back down to earth with a massive bump.
Player sales, a lack of signings, a mad Italian man doing his best to upset absolutely everyone, and Dave Hockaday are just a few of the things that have prematurely ruined the summer for us. This year however, there has been an increase in positivity from both the fans and the club itself. This got me thinking about previous years, about the ins and outs, the managerial changes, the ownership structures, everything.
In the summer of 2008, Leeds were still recovering from the play-off final defeat to Doncaster Rovers. The previous season we had put together a squad heavy on free agents, anyone we could get our hands on, and battled back from minus fifteen points to make it to the play-offs. It was believed that only a few more additions were needed to take the club out of the mire that was League One.
Gary McAllister had inherited a squad from Dennis Wise, who had departed for Newcastle in January of 2008, that had built up a strong “us against them” mentality at the start of the season. However, frailties began to show after the departure of Gus Poyet as his number two. McAllister instilled a swagger in the team, encouraging shorter passing as he looked to really dominate opponents. After the season ended, he looked to put his own stamp on the squad, and move away from some of the workhorse players that Wise and Co. had brought in.
The first arrival was Andy Robinson, a man who looked like he ate only steak and ale pies, but he possessed good technique and knew how to whip in a cross. He was considered quite a get having won the division with Swansea and signed just days before Leeds’ ill-fated trip to Wembley. With David Prutton spending most of the campaign on the right wing, a season in which he won the YEP Player of the Year, it was clear that we needed some out-and-out wingers and Robinson was the first of those.
The second winger to arrive would prove to be one of the best pieces of business Leeds conducted in years. Arriving for just £35,000 from Livingston, Robert Snodgrass arrived as a young, relatively unknown player (to those that didn’t scout for Scottish bargains on Football Manager 2007). Much like Robinson he lacked pace but still seemed to get past full-backs, twisting and turning to float in crosses for the final piece of the puzzle to head home.
With Snodgrass and Robinson there was at least some knowledge of who they actually were. When he arrived on trial, no one had a clue who Luciano Becchio was or how this long haired Argentinian had even found his way to Yorkshire. After a season of mostly Tresor Kandol as Beckford’s strike partner it became apparent that we need more from a secondary striker. Kandol’s record the year before hadn’t been all that bad, with him striking 11 times in 43 league appearances. He was very limited though and the signings of Leon Constantine and Anthony Elding had done nothing to improve the situation.
Leeds had already signed the mountainous Enoch Showunmi from Bristol City and it looked like he would be Beckford’s new partner. Instead, Becchio made the himself the obvious choice. Though not the most technically gifted, he won plenty of headers, knew how to hold the ball up and he was a very hard worker. This made him the perfect foil for the pace and finishing of Jermaine Beckford. Becchio would quickly become a fan favourite and he notched up 16 league goals in his first season.
Paul Telfer and Alan Sheehan also arrived that summer but both were confined to smaller rolls. Of the three signings above, Snodgrass was the first to truly shine, scoring nine goals from the wing, cutting inside to great effect as well as laying on a number of goals for others that year.
McAllister would be sacked in December after a 5 game losing streak that included defeat to non-league Histon. Simon Grayson, a former Leeds player would be recruited from Blackpool after taking them to promotion. With Leeds dropping out of the play-off positions, Grayson was able to turn things around and put together a strong end to the season which saw them finish 4th with a 3-0 home victory over Northampton on the final day of the season. Despite the impressive end to the season, Leeds would lose the first leg of the play-off semifinal to Millwall before a 1-1 draw at Elland Road sealed another season of League One football for the Whites.