- There have been ups and downs, championships and relegations
- This is Leeds United’s 16th year outside of the top flight
- There is renewed hope under Marcelo Bielsa
2019 is the centenary year for Leeds United, one of English football’s most historic clubs. Here, we look back on the club’s story so far.
The birth of the club
Following the disbandment of Leeds City, Leeds United came into existence in 1919. Specifically, it was on October 17th, 1919. They entered the Football League for the 1920/21 season and were competing in the First Division by 1924/25. For a new club, the first few years could hardly have gone any better.
While there were a couple of relegations, the team managed to establish itself as a top-tier side up until the World War II, after which they fell back down to the Second Division and stayed there for a decade. During that time, one of the most devastating moments of Leeds United history took place, as a fire in 1956 destroyed the Main Stand at Elland Road, the stadium the club have always called home.
It destroyed so much history and so many resources, and the cost of rebuilding required the sale of John Charles, their best player, to Juventus for a British record fee.
The Don Revie era
Leeds United had fallen back down to the Second Division again, but one decision in March of 1961 completely changed their fortunes. Former player Don Revie was hired as manager and, after first saving the club from relegation to the Third Division, he led them to a fifth placed finish in 1962/63 and then back to the top level by winning the Second Division in 1963/64.
Despite being a newly promoted side, Revie’s men almost won the First Division in their first year back in the league, only losing out to Manchester United on goal difference, while they also reached the final of the FA Cup where there was a defeat to Liverpool.
1964/65 First Division table
1. Manchester United: 61 points +50 goal difference
2. Leeds United: 61 points +31 goal difference
3. Chelsea: 56 points +35 goal difference
4. Everton: 49 points +9 goal difference
Leeds United didn’t have to wait much longer, though, to win their first ever English championship. It came in 1968/69 as they stormed to the title, finishing six points ahead of runners up Liverpool.
The Revie era lasted until the summer of 1974, when he accepted the England job, and Leeds United never once finished outside of the top four in the 10 years they spent in the First Division with him at the helm.
Brian Clough replaced him and famously lasted just 44 days, but his successor Jimmy Armfield was able to guide Leeds United all the way to the European Cup final of 1975, where they lost 2-0 to Bayern Munich in a match littered with controversial refereeing calls. Domestically, though, they finished ninth that year and it would be years before they’d finish in the top four again.
Major trophies won by Don Revie at Leeds United
First Division: 1968/69, 1973/74
FA Cup: 1971/72
League Cup: 1967/68
Charity Shield: 1969/70
The Champions League years
Barring a couple of really successful years under Howard Wilkinson, including the last First Division title before the league’s transformation to the Premier League, Leeds United never quite reached the heights of the 1960s and 1970s again.
At the turn of the century, though, there were a couple of memorable European campaigns. They reached the semi-finals of the 1999/2000 UEFA Cup, losing to eventual winners Galatasaray, before going all the way to the final four of the Champions League in 2000/01. After a goalless draw in the first leg of their semi-final against Valencia, they were swatted aside 3-0 in the return game in Spain and that was the last time Leeds United appeared in Europe’s top competition.
The points deductions and League One
Failure to return to the Champions League group stages led to serious financial problems for the club and these quickly spiralled out of control. Star players like Rio Ferdinand and Jonathan Woodgate had to be sold and the club was relegated to the second tier in 2004.
The financial issues didn’t go away and a 10-point deduction for entering administration in 2006/07 contributed to them falling into the third tier of English football for the first time ever. Despite further points deductions, they stayed afloat in League One and eventually returned to the Championship in 2010.
Aiming for the Premier League
The goal for Leeds United has been to make it back to the Premier League. They’ve sat in English football’s second tier since 2010, but had lived in Championship purgatory each season as they never made the promotion play-offs, but were never relegated either.
But then Marcelo Bielsa came along. The Argentine tactical maverick led Leeds United to a third place finish last season, before they lost to Derby County in the play-offs. He has remained at Elland Road and they’re currently flying high in the table once again. In this centenary season, perhaps Leeds United can finally return to the promised land of English football’s top flight.