It’s a quick turnaround this week with the game against Newcastle come just a few days before the trip across the Pennines to take on our biggest foes.
I can’t say I have too many happy memories of games against either side, but Newcastle are first up, and I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember being on the winning side against them in a Leeds shirt at Elland Road.
Make no mistake about it, Newcastle were a good side back then, but for all the quality players they had in their ranks, they were always guilty of flattering to deceive and never went on to achieve what they potentially should have done.
During my time at Leeds, they beat us three years in a row at Elland Road, including an unbelievable game that saw them come from 3-1 down ro win 4-3 in the last minute when Nobby Solano scored the winning goal. I was injured for that one, but was like everyone else watching from the stands – shocked and stunned.
August 2003 was the last time we played Newcastle in a top division game at Elland Road, and with their good record and our kamikaze pre-season, this was the one where they were absolute bankers. We’d lost to Irish Shelbourne in Dublin the previous weekend as part of a disastrous tournament that was supposed to be our final preparation for the new season. Poor Peter Reid had been given the manager’s job on a full-time basis in the summer and was under the impression he would be able to strengthen the squad – instead he was forced into the last-minute loan market and having only survived in the Premier League on the penultimate day of the previous campaign, you could argue we weren’t the best equipped to try and restore some pride after a terrible season.
We’d also lost Harry Kewell that summer in a transfer deal that had been pulled apart by the media, who claimed the club had only actually pocketed £3m from the £7m transfer fee. As players you often know little more than what everyone else reads in the media and when Reidy’s hoped for incomings failed to appear, there began a growing feeling of unease inside the dressing room about how bad the club’s financial problems were, despite positive noises being made on the rare occasions we saw the hierarchy.
Peter Ridsdale had gone, we had a new chairman in Professor John McKenzie, and it was starting to become a very different club from the one of just 18 months earlier. The only constant – as it always has been – was the fans, and it was no surprise when almost 37,000 turned out for the first game of the new season against Newcastle. It was a step into the unknown for us all, particularly given Reidy’s hurried last-minute moves Into the loan market that saw us inherit several players of varying quality and of differing experience.
One of those, Lamine Sakho, made his debut against Newcastle, and when Alan Smith put us 2-1 up midway through the second half I remember thinking to myself ‘this isn’t half-bad, we’ve got something to work on here.’ Alan Shearer had already scored a penalty for Newcastle and, as he so often did against us at that time, he scored an equaliser two minutes from time which killed us. A win would have been a huge way for us to start the season, but as it was, the result had the opposite effect on us and by the middle of November, we had a fortunate 3-2 win at Middlesbrough and a scrappy success against Blackburn as the only wins to our name.
The pre-season predictions that it was going to be a long season weren’t far off the mark, and while we struggled on the pitch, more and more eyes started to focus on the sideshow off the field. The writing was on the wall…