This article originally appeared in The Square Ball’s winter special, a celebration of Leeds United’s 2009-10 season that culminated in promotion from League One. Buy it here, it’s absolutely ace.
On January 3, 2010, Leeds United were eight points ahead of Norwich City and Charlton Athletic at the top of League One, with a game in hand and a goal difference of plus 32, eight goals better than Norwich. Not only automatic promotion but the league title looked certain, especially after Leeds knocked the reigning champions of England, Manchester United, out of the FA Cup at Old Trafford.
But nothing is ever certain at Leeds United. By the morning of Saturday May 8, Norwich City had won the title and were 12 points ahead of Leeds, who were in the second automatic promotion place.
Going into the final round of matches, Leeds were just one point ahead of Millwall and Swindon Town, two points ahead of Charlton, and three ahead of Huddersfield Town.
Millwall and Swindon were playing each other at The Den, Charlton were at Oldham, and Huddersfield away to Exeter City. Promotion was in Leeds United’s hands, against ninth-placed Bristol Rovers at Elland Road.
Simon Grayson [Manager, former player and fan]: It wasn’t as if the players thought they were big time or anything like that — ‘we beat Man United and we’re just going to sail the division. We’re too good for this division.’ They weren’t like that, they were just caught up, like they had been for the past one or two years in League One. It was a massive cup final for every other team you played in League One.
I’d go and watch teams playing at home to Exeter and there’d be 5,000 people there and there’s no atmosphere. We go there the next week and there’s 18,000. Their players get lifted because of the better atmosphere, they’re playing against Leeds, and Leeds have the intensity of having to deal with everybody else’s cup final week-in and week-out.
Michael Doyle [Midfielder, on season loan from Coventry City]: We totally came off it. We’d gone from being a team that felt we were unbeatable and then bang, we were just dropping and dropping. We couldn’t buy a win. We couldn’t buy a result.
I think we were unlucky. We were in that many competitions come the January, Simon brought in a lot of other lads on loan to freshen it up. We had a lot of players wanting to play and we weren’t getting results. It was just hard. No-one could put their finger on it. It wasn’t from a lack of trying. Things were slipping away from us.
Paul Dews [Leeds United press officer and fan]: I remember Swindon at home when we got beat 3-0. Jermaine [Beckford] got a bit of stick from the crowd. That night we had the remembrance dinner in the Pavilion for Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight. I’d arranged for all the lads to go over, and there was never any question of them not going, even though they had a bit of stick off the crowd.
I remember we all sat in a little room in the West Stand, Paddy Kisnorbo stood up and said, ‘Right, come on boys, we’ve got seven games left, we stick together. We’re all going to go to this dinner, we’ll go over there now, we are a unit and we are together.’ A bit of a rabble rousing speech. And I always remember, let’s call him a well-known fan, I introduced him to Simon and Simon went, ‘We’ve already met.’ It turns out Simon had bumped into this fella on his way in, and he had gone, ‘You will be getting fucking sacked on Monday.’
Joe Urquhart [Now Yorkshire Evening Post reporter; then a teenage fan]: It was awful. One of my memories that season was leaving Old Trafford and then we got beat by Wycombe at home. I went to Hereford in the half-term holidays, the night Grayson locked them in after the game.
Andrew Hughes [Signed for Leeds on the day they were docked 15 points in 2007]: What happened from the Man United game to the end of the Bristol game, I believe was always supposed to happen. We went on that dodgy run and it showed how the players and the club stuck together with the city. If it was easy and we’d been clear by nine points it wouldn’t be Leeds and it wouldn’t be dramatic.
Simon Grayson: We’d gone through that Easter period and had a couple of bad results and it looked like Jermaine had lost his way a little bit. I needed to do something to kickstart it, just jumpstart everybody in the group. We need something a little bit radical. Dropping Jermaine didn’t cause too many problems because he hadn’t been playing too well in the two, three games in the lead up to that sort of period.
Michael Doyle: Things had changed for Becks in the second half of the season. There was a game when we played on a Saturday and he got taken off and I think he steamed down the tunnel and the fans were going mad.
People had that perception of a bad attitude, but he’s such a good lad. He’s a great fella. He was brilliant around the place. Him and Simon had a great relationship. Everybody that was there really liked him. It was his way of dealing with things. Sometimes you show frustration and the fans would jump on him and have a go but he was a great team-mate.
Joe Urquhart: I wasn’t particularly getting on his back, but there was the fact that if he was going to go in January then that’s fine, but after that there was a lot of shit that came with him that was unnecessary. The problem was he was scoring so many goals it was kind of hard to get on his back.
Casper Ankergren [Goalkeeper]: Jermaine was really well liked at the club. He’s a good guy, he’d been at the club for a long time. He’d been absolutely fantastic for Leeds United. I knew quite a lot of fans were not happy, they thought he wasn’t doing enough defensive work, but you can’t argue with the goals that he scored.
Simon Grayson: That Yeovil game [a 2-1 away win after four consecutive defeats] was a real crucial game. If we’d not won down there we were going to make it difficult for ourselves. We were going into the play-offs and anything could potentially happen. And if you don’t go up who knows the consequences of what would happen for the manager and group of players.
Adam Pope [Commentator for BBC Radio Leeds]: Richard Naylor had a couple of own goals in that run. Remember that Steve Morison, The Shift, scored against Leeds for Millwall. You had Dan Harding scoring the winner for Southampton, and then Billy Paynter got two for Swindon.
These names that were associated with Leeds either pre or post this time had got themselves involved, and it looked like Leeds’ automatic promotion hopes were spiralling almost out of control. Those two goals at Yeovil were really important from Richard Naylor.
Richard Naylor celebrating his second as Leeds got their automatic promotion chances back on track and ended a run of four successive defeats with a 2-1 victory at Yeovil. pic.twitter.com/oNq7TtDDF4
— YBI (@YeboahBelieveIt) December 30, 2019
Phil Hay [Now The Athletic’s Leeds United correspondent; then Yorkshire Evening Post reporter]: Yeovil was better than a good result. That was really the day that stopped it all caving in completely. Particularly after the defeat at home to Swindon, it felt as if they had completely lost their way, and I think on the way down to Yeovil there was the sense that if they dropped points it was almost going to be impossible to claw it back, because the confidence and the form was just going.
Simon Grayson: We won at Yeovil, Richard Naylor scored two, and that got us back on track. We went to Charlton knowing if we won we got automatic promotion. It was 0-0 and I had something like six strikers on the pitch because it didn’t matter.
We were still going to have the last game of the season in our own hands regardless of the result at Charlton, but if we could win it we were going up. I played a ridiculous system with all these strikers and we lost 1-0.
Glynn Snodin [Assistant manager, former player and fan]: We threw everything at them but it just wouldn’t go in. You think, ‘We have to do it the hard way again, it’s Leeds United.’
Paul Dews: I don’t know why but I never felt we would get promoted at Charlton. You know when your heart is saying, we’ll do it today, and your head is saying, we ain’t going to do it today, it’s going to go to the last game of the season.
Michael Doyle: That’s the way things were going for us. Our two best players that season for me were Snoddy [Robert Snodgrass] and Jonny [Howson] and they ended up being on the bench the last two games of the season because we were so out of sorts.
Richard Naylor [Defender, club captain and fan]: Simon tried to go for the win at Charlton to not leave it to the last day of the season. He wanted to get it done the week before and we went for it. Me being an old man at 33 or whatever I was it wasn’t the best on my body. I thought I’d pulled my hamstring but it turned out I’d slipped a disc in my back.
I still tried to get through that week in training, rested up the early part of the week then tried to go out on Friday. I just knew in the back of my head I wasn’t right. The last thing you want to do in a big game like that is go out and play half-arsed. I didn’t want to be responsible for us not going up.
Sometimes you just have to be the bigger man and say, ‘Look, I’m not fit. I can’t play.’ It wasn’t to be but I felt like I’d contributed that season. The main thing was getting over the line. Side before self.
Michael Doyle: We had one game to get ourselves promoted. I remember thinking, ‘If we go into the play-offs we can’t win a bloody game. We could struggle.’
Simon Grayson: What they were talking about in the dressing room was their inner sanctuary as such. What we as coaching staff were saying was we need to get back on track because we’re going to get automatic promotion. We never talked about going into the play-offs.
Richard Naylor: Coming back to your hometown club, I knew I wasn’t going to be playing much longer as I was getting to the end of my career. It was just something I really wanted to do, I really wanted to get them out of League One. I built it up in my own head to this massive thing that I had to do.
Simon Grayson: Paddy [Kisnorbo] was out. Richard Naylor was out. I’d made up my mind what the team was gonna be and Jonny was sub. Jonny was a fantastic character and understood whatever decision I was making on that particular day was hopefully for the benefit of the team.
I was walking my dog on the morning of the game and I knew my team in my mind and what I was going to do. The players didn’t know until an hour and a half before kick off. I was walking my dog thinking, ‘Fucking hell, who’s going to be captain?’
Glynn Snodin: The captain! He said to me, ‘I’m going to make Jermaine captain.’ I did a double take. ‘Sorry?!’ ‘I’m going to make Jermaine captain.’ ‘Well, if that’s what’s in your gut, that’s what’s in your gut.’
It was funny. Weeks before that I was messing about with Jermaine as I had the captain’s armband. I said, ‘Here you are Jermaine, you’re captain.’ He was going, ‘Am I?!’ I go, ‘No.’ Then on that day he still didn’t believe it when the gaffer said he’s captain.
Adam Pope: I thought on the day of the game, this is going to be alright. This is a bit of destiny, this will be OK. The world will be back on its axis, Leeds will be back in the Championship and they will win promotion in the normal fashion by being one of the best two teams in the country in that league.
Then we saw the team sheet and we’re thinking, what is he doing? Giving Beckford the armband, well, you knew it was going to be his last game. But Jonny Howson not being on there, that was weird, almost inexplicable.
Richard Naylor: I don’t think it was something that I would have done, I don’t think I’d have come up with that idea. It was an inspired decision and it worked well. It’s well documented Jermaine wasn’t playing very well from Christmas onwards. There was talk of a pre-contract agreement at different places. But it was inspired to do that, on the last game, almost give him a send-off, make him captain.
Andrew Hughes: I just thought, ‘clever’. Why wouldn’t he be captain? He was our talisman for a few years. You had young players like Jonny Howson, Fabian Delph, Robert Snodgrass, Bradley Johnson. But he was the man. He’s probably still, in the last however many years since then, Leeds’ best striker.
Becks being made captain is just why Grayson was a good man manager. He was good at getting big decisions right with individual players. He knew when to drop players, and he knew when to give players a hug. And at that time Becks needed a hug.
Michael Doyle: At that stage we were just happy he was playing. I remember going to Norwich away and he’d been in and out, he’d been injured with his hamstring, we were missing him. There was no doubt about it, we were missing him.
You knew he was that type of player on the last day, that was him in a Leeds shirt, he was made for them type of moments. He was made for the big moments at Leeds, he liked that type of pressure and being the man. I didn’t bat an eyelid when he was made captain.
Joe Urquhart: It felt like a masterstroke from Grayson. Forget whatever’s gone before, you’ve got one game to put things right. You could sit him down and say, ‘If you score the winner today, you’ll go down in the history of this football club.’ As we’ve seen, Leeds fans don’t forget when you do them a favour.
Simon Grayson: I just thought that he enjoys the limelight and he enjoys the big moments and he thrives on the real big games. I just thought, ‘Why not? We’ve got nothing to lose.’ The captain’s role is insignificant to a certain degree but to a certain individual that’s a massive fillip for them. When you tell him it’s like he’s 12 foot tall.
Richard Naylor: Before, during and after me and Paddy were in and around it all the time. It’s similar to the Old Trafford game, you’re trying to keep people on an even keel, trying to keep people calm. Just rely on what you’ve been doing all season, don’t do anything different.
“They asked, ‘Is there something stressful in your life at the moment?’ The upshot of it was, I’d had a major panic attack.”
Glynn Snodin: The atmosphere around the ground as you were driving in you think, ‘Wow, this is going to be full.’ You just knew. Then as you came out for the warm-up and heard everything you knew this was an atmosphere. As we know, it doesn’t come easy. You’ve got to earn it. That’s what we said to them, ‘Don’t leave nothing out there, work hard.’
Simon Grayson: We’ve worked so hard and so much is riding on it. You know that there’s 38,000 inside Elland Road. Ultimately it was in our hands and that’s all I kept stressing to the players. I
If somebody said to us at the start of the season, ‘If you win your last home game of the season to get promoted, will you take that now?’ I think everybody would take that, especially playing against a Bristol Rovers team who, no disrespect, were only bottom half of the division.
Paul Dews: I didn’t make it. About 4am on Friday I was in bed with the most horrific chest pains. I got an ambulance down to the LGI, and was given all sorts of tests to check for a heart attack, I’m in a lot of pain in my chest, but it wasn’t a heart attack.
And they asked, ‘Is there something stressful in your life at the moment?’ The upshot of it was, I’d had a major panic attack, and the conclusion they put it down to was because I was so nervous and in such a state about the Bristol Rovers game.
Phil Hay: Somebody from the club phoned me to tell me he had been taken ill and I always felt really sorry for Dewsy, because like a lot of the players and the staff at the club, those are the moments that you put the hours in for, that’s what the whole process of a football club is supposed to be about, it gets you to the point where you have tangible achievements and you have days that you will remember.
Paul Dews: I spent the Friday in hospital in a bed taking phone calls about the game. Once you’ve got your press conference out the way the actual day before the game can be quiet, so fortunately there wasn’t a lot to do. I got taken home in the evening but when I woke up on Saturday morning I literally couldn’t move.
I remember saying, ‘I’m going to the game, I’m working today,’ and I got out of bed, got to the top of the stairs and I fucking nearly fell down them. People talk about it, say oh yeah, whatever, I would have been there. I couldn’t. There was no way I could physically get myself there are. So I went back to bed and I watched Soccer Saturday and had the commentary from Yorkshire Radio on.
Phil Hay: He’s a Leeds fan and he had been following them for years and years, and bear in mind the years when he was working at the club had been pretty difficult. His first season they were relegated and they went into administration, and that is not an easy time to do PR for a major club like that, especially with somebody like Ken Bates as chairman.
Don’t underestimate the potential implications of a fourth season in League One, the more years you have at a lower level, they tend to come with more cutbacks and smaller budgets and everything else, because the club starts to constrict, that’s just the nature of business in football. So I can imagine it was a really stressful time, and I sympathise with the idea of being sat at home listening to that, it’s absolutely bloody awful.
Paul Dews: Without going into too much detail, I think in the end the stress of being a fan working for your own football club was partly one of the reasons that I left in the end. It means so much to you you and you can’t detach yourself from it.
I’m lucky, I’ve worked for one of the biggest clubs in the world, and it was my football club. And the memories that I’ve got overall are unbelievable. I always say to someone, if you’re going to work in sport at a football club, it is unbelievable to work for your own. But go work for another one.
Adam Pope: We didn’t have a commentary deal with Leeds for league games, so we weren’t allowed to broadcast across the airwaves. This one we recorded off air. Nobody could hear it but we recorded it. We were entitled to do four thirty-second reports her half on league games, plus a report at half-time a small preview before the game and a small report afterwards.
We had been largely in The Peacock for the pre-match build-up because we were only entitled to do a few minutes inside the ground. That’s what they wanted, so that’s what they made sure happened to us: thanks Shaun Harvey and Ken Bates. So me and Andy Ritchie again were on the gantry and, what a day, professionally you’re thinking I would love to commentate fully on this game for everybody to hear, so you’re disappointed you’re not going to be able to provide what you want to provide on such a big occasion.
But we were there there and it was rocking. Man, it was rocking.
Glynn Snodin: I thought we got off to a great start. We were on the front foot, great tempo, things were going well. And then that happened with Max. As soon as you see red you think, ‘Oh no. It’s going to be tough, this.’
Adam Pope: Is Beckford captain material? Well obviously he is, because he’s stopping Max Gradel from ripping the referee’s head off. Well done Jermaine.
Michael Doyle: You’re genuinely thinking the worst at the time. The way the second half of the season had gone it was like, ‘Fucking hell, what’s going on here?’ He’s losing the plot. Max is another great lad but he just lost the plot. It was the red mist, he couldn’t believe it, he was upset.
I remember trying to get him off the pitch. He wasn’t going to hit the ref but he just wouldn’t leave. I’m trying to get him off and I ended up swinging off him and ended up on the deck trying to get him off the pitch. I fell on my arse and he’s just losing the plot.
Andrew Hughes: Doyler was ripping him away and having a fight, but he just didn’t know what he was doing.
Adam Pope: Max was a happy funny guy, a bit of the Alioski of the day you could say. And he’s having to be hauled away because he was literally going to kill the referee, and anybody else who was in a mile radius.
Simon Grayson: ‘What a fool. Why’s he just done it?’ Ultimately after them immediate thoughts thinking about that, my next thoughts were, what do I need to do as a manager now to make sure we give ourselves an opportunity to still to win this game?
I went from being disappointed, to suddenly my professional thought process was right, what do I need to do?
Joe Urquhart: I didn’t see much until you saw him try to knock Beckford’s head off, which was probably the feeling of some people in the ground. You just thought maybe he’s having an argument with Beckford. When you see the red card come out you think, ‘Fucking hell, of all the days for this to happen.’ Obviously he had a bit of a temper anyway and people knew that, but it’s just the most Leeds United thing ever.
Paul Dews: I remember Max getting sent off because they kept going over regularly on Soccer Saturday. ‘News from Elland Road’ — every time I heard that my heart fluttered. Then my heart sank. Max Gradel sent off, and I’m feeling worse by the minute.
I was fearing the worst then. They showed the pictures on TV of him arguing, and obviously he had been sent off by this point, but even then I’m thinking, ‘Max, stop it!’
Phil Hay: At no stage afterwards did Gradel ever try to defend himself for that. He was quite open in saying he could have cost the club really dearly, and he said when he came off the pitch he was in tears because his first thought was, ‘I’ve cost us promotion here.’ Goals started going in at Millwall as well, so it was that feeling of absolutely everything starting to go wrong.
“When that final whistle goes, if we’ve not got promoted, all the best getting off this fucking pitch.”
Richard Naylor: If there’s a difficult way to do it that’s how we’ll do it. I said about trying to keep people calm, I think Max was a little bit too keyed up maybe. That was his nature and obviously he got sent off. To be honest I still felt like we could do it, it’s not the end of the world going a man down.
Simon Grayson: I’m walking down the tunnel at half-time and Daniel Jones, he didn’t get Max sent off because Max got himself sent off, but he was involved in it, and all of a sudden I said, ‘Just remember, second half you’re playing left-back in the north-east corner. When that final whistle goes, if we’ve not got promoted, all the best getting off this fucking pitch.’ I just looked at him and walked into my office.
Andrew Hughes: At half-time we couldn’t find him. He was hidden in the dressing room crying somewhere because he knew he had let us down. But ultimately that season Max had helped us out a lot. He knew that he’d let us down but that was the time for us to really come together and stick up for each other.
Paul Dews: The story is that when they came in at half-time he was laid underneath the seats in the dressing room crying his eyes out.
Simon Grayson: There was all sorts going off in the dressing room. I always go into my office to have a couple of minutes with myself and Snods to talk about the first half. I went into our dressing room and the lads are still having a go at Max. Max is saying this, that and the other.
It’s mayhem. Not fighting, but everyone was so het up and worried about the situation. I got everyone settled down and you’re still just telling them, ‘Look, we’ve still got a fantastic opportunity. We’re down to 10 men but we’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing and we can still beat these with 10 men.’
Glynn Snodin: ‘Look, we’ve got to relax. You’ve got 36,000 out there as your 11th man. They’ll force you forward.’ Then five or 10 minutes later we’re 1-0 down.
Michael Doyle: It was Darryl Duffy. He scored and it’s just, ‘For fuck’s sake. What’s going on? Fucking hell.’
Adam Pope: I don’t think there’s going to be a fairytale here now. How are they going to do this with 10 men? It was Daniel Jones who put the cross in as well, which made it worse.
I’m thinking, this is going to be play-offs. I’ve come to learn that you can’t look back on history and think it’s relative to every occasion, that every scenario repeats itself. But with Leeds it does. They’ve never won the play-offs, after losing the first one ever to Charlton, and that’s the facts.
Joe Urquhart: When they score and we’re down to 10 men you just think, ‘How have we managed to fuck this up so badly?’ The overriding thought was, ‘Not another year of League One. I don’t think I can do this again, going to Walsall.’
Phil Hay: To be quite honest, at that point, my feeling was that this is going to end up three or four nil to Bristol Rovers. This is going to be one of those awful days when you come here looking for promotion and you get absolutely hammered. You finish with 10 players, and it’s a shambles and it’s a mess, and everybody goes home absolutely broken.
You’re contemplating going into the play-offs after a massive kick in the teeth, and knowing full well how poorly Leeds tend to perform in the play-offs, you just had that sense of creeping death. Here comes another season in League One. How long is this club going to be stuck down here for? How long is this going to go on?
Adam Pope: You can imagine for us, we’re trying to sum up these moments in 30 second bites, and telling the studio, ‘No, don’t come to us yet, don’t play that bit out, no, hang on, he’s got sent off, it’s a goal then it’s no goal’ — it was just crazy at this point. We are literally on our backsides with it, thinking, well, they’ve stuffed it again, haven’t they?
Simon Grayson: Your thought process is, ‘Fucking hell, what do we need to do now?’ Suddenly I’ve got to go right, I need to do something to make sure we win this game. I made two substitutions, I took Shane Lowry off and went three at the back.
Richard Naylor: When the goal went in I personally was just thinking, ‘Am I going to be able to get fit for the play-offs?’ In the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘I’m not sure I can. I’m potentially going to miss out on two semi-finals and a final at Wembley.’
Simon Grayson: People were telling us the other results. Swindon were playing Millwall and both of them went to second in the division at different parts of the afternoon. Even at half-time I had a plan B worked out if things didn’t quite work out, what I was going to do with substitutions knowing that we still had to win the game with 10 men, never mind being a goal down.
People always talk to me about my passion for Leeds and being a supporter but people tend to forget I’m a professional manager and I’ve got a job to do regardless of what club I work for and I want to get results because it benefits the club but it also benefits me.
“Personally I felt like I was a man possessed – I just thought, ‘Right, fuck it, I’m getting stuck in.'”
Casper Ankergren: After we made our three substitutions, when I knew I couldn’t go on, I ended up going inside watching it on the screen with the groundsmen in their office. It’s just in the tunnel so it’s not like I walked somewhere completely different. I was just that nervous, I had to move all the time. I couldn’t sit still. I remember walking back and forward, having a wee, going back out again. It’s really weird. It’s horrible.
Michael Doyle: I don’t know what happened but the crowd just erupted. We always had an amazing following, but if ever you needed it it was that day. Ten men, losing 1-0, and the crowd just went bleeding wild. That was it. I remember Howson coming on and everything just changed.
Personally I felt like I was a man possessed. I was running around throwing tackles in because I knew the ref wasn’t going to make another big decision. I just thought, ‘Right, fuck it, I’m getting stuck in.’ It was just throwing yourself around the pitch.
Andrew Hughes: You’re getting a lot of newer fans now, younger fans, but the fans there that day were still fans from the Champions League days, fans that stuck with us through the thick and thin. You hear stories about people getting in and sitting in people’s seats and all that, that’s what football’s all about. You find a way to get into that game.
Paul Dews: When it came through that Jonny was coming on, I knew Jonny would score. I know that sounds cliche. But I knew Jonny would score.
Adam Pope: Howson coming on gave you that feeling of, this is the lad who did it at Carlisle and got us to Wembley. And he’d had a really good season. But then you thinking, it just doesn’t happen, lightning just doesn’t strike twice in that way.
Glynn Snodin: Jonny, bless him, comes on and wow, what a great finish. The noise from that when he scored – wow. It got to you.
Simon Grayson: I brought Jonny on and quite quickly Jonny scored a great strike. You always knew you could rely on Jonny because Jonny was like Mr Seven or Eight out of Ten, son in law material, never had any problems with him. It’s a great set back from Luciano but Jonny had that in his locker without a shadow of a doubt.
Michael Doyle: It wasn’t surprising. His right foot and he’s just whipped it around the keeper. His finishing was unbelievable. Every day I used to watch him in training, right and left foot he never missed. In that moment if it had fell to anybody else I don’t think we’d have scored. It was just made for Jonny.
Phil Hay: An absolute peach. I always felt Jonny a pretty underrated player, and a great captain. Enough character and enough of the right attitude to be able to actually captain Leeds, as opposed to being able to wear the armband, which are two totally different things. He carried a lot of pressure for a young lad, and I think he was prone to criticism in part because he was home-grown and people expected so much.
If you speak to the guys who worked with him at the academy, they will tell you he was a striker in his day and a very decent finisher. That little lay off from Becchio was perfect but it didn’t make the chance easy.
Joe Urquhart: As soon as he hit it, you know when someone has hit a ball sweet, and you knew if that was on target it was going in. Everyone lost their shit again, and you’re thinking, ‘This is the Family Stand!’ As soon as he scored that momentum was only ever going one way.
Simon Grayson: All of a sudden the roof fell off the ground and it was as if we had 12 players and they had eight. They couldn’t get anywhere near us. Bromby hit the bar.
Joe Urquhart: You just felt the momentum of the place. There weren’t a lot of Bristol Rovers’ players standing up to that. They were giving the ball away for throw-ins. It was, ‘Get the ball away from me.’
Glynn Snodin: I thought we’d got 12 men from that moment. We changed the system to try get back in the game and stayed with that system. We got it together and got it right and tried to be calm on the touchlines.
I think they had another chance which the big man saved and then we went on and Jermaine got that goal. Woof, that was a noise again. I thought it couldn’t get any louder and then, wow, it did.
Joe Urquhart: Even with 10 men, it felt like we had 12 at one point. It was relentless. They weren’t getting out of their own half. The roar was still there. There wasn’t enough time for a level of nervousness to creep in. By the time we’d stopped celebrating the first it was, ‘Fucking hell we’ve scored again.’
Adam Pope: It’s like an absolute army below me in the West End. That was noise. This noise was just building towards something ridiculous, you could feel it in your bones and running through your veins, and you can hear it in your voice when you hear yourself back. You literally cannot hear yourself think. And you think you need to turn the microphones down, but no, you have just got to go with it and fight against it, or fight with it really.
It was just getting ramped up, and even better that it all happened in the space of a few mad minutes. And I couldn’t tell you that unless I look at the scores and the times, I couldn’t tell you they were four minutes apart. It was ridiculous, and out of nowhere as well. Out of nowhere that stupid, bizarre, beautiful goal came.
Simon Grayson: Because of the atmosphere and what atmospheres can do to players, their goalkeeper who had done quite well throughout the season because he’d been on loan from the Championship, he catches the ball and decides to throw it out quickly, which he shouldn’t have done in the first place, and throws it straight to Bradley, who has a miscued shot and Jermaine gets on the end of it. It’s amazing what atmospheres can do to players to make them do stupid things.
Joe Urquhart: The roof absolutely came off. People talk about Becchio’s goal in the play-offs but that Beckford goal was up there. Beckford had this weird thing. You tell strikers never to switch off and he always stayed alive. It happened against Norwich when the keeper made an error and he was first on it.
Obviously it went to Bradley Johnson [against Bristol] but he was in the box ready to pounce. If he had switched off he’d have been out of position and we wouldn’t have scored.
Adam Pope: How brilliant of Beckford, with all that responsibility on his head, having to cope with the Gradel stuff, got the armband, knowing it’s his last game. He spots, amid the chaos and the mayhem and the anticipation of Leeds needing a winner with half an hour to go, he spots a really poor throw and gets on it and makes something out of it.
It was Bradley Johnson who gets it back inside the box, and I just remember this weird ricochet, and Beckford. Hang on, he was over here a moment ago, and now he’s there at the Kop end, and at this really sort of weird angle as he tried to make sure the ball went downwards into the net so he didn’t balloon it over into the Kop, which could have easily happened when the ball was coming at him. And somehow he did it.
Phil Hay: Protocol says it is bad etiquette to celebrate in the press box, and generally speaking it is, no matter who you support or anything else. But when Beckford scored both me and Richard Sutcliffe, who worked for the Yorkshire Post, were jumping up celebrating that. There is still a Huddersfield fan in my old office who has never forgiven us, he always says to us about ‘fans in the press box’.
But it was that moment. I thought, you know what, this just might be the moment we might just get out of here. And I did feel that it was so crucial for the club to do that this season. So I can’t deny that there were celebrations going on, and I can’t deny that other people didn’t like it. But then he does support Huddersfield so we don’t take him too seriously.
“We knew how much the club needed it, it was a sleeping giant. I was just crying with emotion thinking, ‘It’s happened.'”
Adam Pope: Noel Whelan is famous for his ‘Get in!’, screaming all over the top of me. Andy Ritchie was much more professional, shall we say, he let you commentate and then he comes in at the more normal time. Not that day. He’s all over it.
I’m having to keep going because I’m thinking, we need a bit of clean comms so we’ve got something for the archive, and between us in about 40 seconds we get enough to make it sound alright. What I said was fine, but Andy is all over the top of it. The moment just takes over. You know this is the most important goal in Leeds’ modern history. And what a player to do it.
Michael Doyle: I swear to god I ran to Neil Kilkenny and I was in tears. That emotion came over me and I was crying. You want something so much and it’s happened. I swear to god I had a lump in my throat and tears coming out of my eyes hugging Killa when we scored.
We just went mental. There was that much emotion, we’d put that much into the season. Obviously we knew how much the club needed it, it was a sleeping giant. I was just crying with emotion thinking, ‘It’s happened.’ The relief of it.
Phil Hay: Doyle was like that. He was a really emotional guy. I know he got a bit of hammer and everything else, and I know he wasn’t great towards the end of the season, but then nobody really was. But it didn’t half matter to him. Me and him kept in touch for ages afterwards and he was always asking me to send photos and PDFs from the paper of the match reports from Old Trafford. He absolutely loved it here.
Andrew Hughes: We came through it. I still say now, maybe if Max had stayed on, I don’t think we would have won. I think it would have been a different mindset completely. Max getting sent off in that game was meant to be.
Phil Hay: Can you remember anything that happened in the last half an hour? Because I can’t.
Paul Dews: Was there as long as that left when he scored? I didn’t realise that. It feels like a blur to me, I wouldn’t have remembered it being that long.
Glynn Snodin: You thought it was like the 80th minute but there was still a long time to go and we had to see it through. The boys were magnificent that season, everybody in the squad, they all played their part. Everybody in the staff, from top to bottom, all played their part. It was a great team effort.
Phil Hay: I think Bristol Rovers realised that their season was over, so it wasn’t a case of going hell for leather, and they started to get into their heads that at some point, if Leeds did win the game, they were going to have to get off the pitch and get off the pitch sharpish.
Adam Pope: We were just watching Bristol Rovers cower towards the end, as the inevitable is going to happen and the whistle’s going to blow, and the fans are all going to be on the pitch.
Simon Grayson: Two minutes before the final whistle goes and we’re 2-1 up and have seen it all through, who’s playing right wing in front of the fucking dugouts? Daniel Jones.
Michael Doyle: He’s standing over near the tunnel for the last 10 minutes of the game, waiting for the ref to blow the whistle, thinking Leeds fans are going to get to him. The ref kind of gave us a heads up, I think there was a throw-in and it was ‘that’s it’.
Richard Naylor: As soon as the final whistle goes you’re on the pitch. I was trying to stop Paddy from running around because he was supposed to be on crutches. I think someone gave me the mic on the pitch and I started singing Marching On Together.
It’s all brilliant, happy memories. You’re back in the dressing room with the boys and that’s when it sort of sinks in a bit. You sit down and the relief comes over you and you crack into a few beers. The rest was a bit of a blur to be honest.
Michael Doyle: That was it, the crowd were onto the pitch, the relief for them. They went barmy, they loved it. People hugging you and grabbing you. It’s amazing. It’s unbelievable.
Phil Hay: It was funny, poor old Ben Fry [stadium announcer] walking around saying, ‘Please get off the pitch’, as thousands of fans were piling on. It was quite an experience because I have never seen that before or since. I saw the pitch invasion at the Ipswich game when Leeds got relegated which was completely different, people protesting against Bates, coins and missiles thrown into the away end. This was just the polar opposite.
It’s criminal really that in the 15 years I’ve covered Leeds there have been so few occasions when something has happened that merited that kind of celebration. I think the pitch deserved the hammering and the trampling it got that day because it has been pretty much left alone either side of it.
Joe Urquhart: I fell over the advertising hoardings. Not the most glamorous thing I’d ever done. I went with about four mates, we were all 16/17 at the time and had followed them up and down the country. In my excitement I misjudged the gap, caught my ankle and went arse over tit.
I saw people from school and some of my dad’s mates. I remember hugging and kissing people on the forehead. I remember looking up at the Kop thinking, ‘Bloody hell, that looks big from down here. No wonder it’s scary for people to try and score.’ I don’t think I specifically touched anyone. To be honest, if I got to Beckford or Howson I couldn’t have been responsible for my actions.
Andrew Hughes: I just went mental. I just ran. I had this vision to run and run, up the stairs in the Kop. It was weird, I wanted to run to the Kop and run up the stairs and be in there with the fans. I didn’t make it that far, I got tackled by a few fans and then my shirt was off. I ended up on the shoulders of some fans and I’ve got the picture up in my house, it’s probably the only football picture I’ve got. All the relief and tension in my body, and the shouting, it was literally for the years I’d been there.
The journey and the identity I was sold was, to go there and get the team out of League One. I had fulfilled my job. To do it and say I’ve done it, it was that relief coming out of me. Being there with the fans, I just couldn’t hold it in, and to share it with them was special for me.
Paul Dews: When the final whistle went I absolutely just burst into tears. I think it was just relief that we had got up, more than joy. It was relief that the job was over and it was done and it was behind us. I absolutely just broke down in tears and I cried my eyes out. I was in the house on my own, my wife and the kids had gone out, and I just absolutely crying my eyes out.
Richard Naylor: If anyone’s working for 12 months towards something when it actually comes around it’s not an anti-climax but it’s definitely more relief than anything else. I’d put so much pressure on myself to make that happen.
Glynn Snodin: I know it sounds morbid but it was like your mum or dad had cancer or your son or daughter and they’d just been told they’re clear and won’t get it again. That’s how it felt to you – in real world terms. You just wanted to keep celebrating and keep laughing and keep singing. That’s all you wanted to do all night, and to be fair we did.
We had a meal that night which was already booked and thank the Lord we got that win. We all went out then and carried on until about three or four in the morning. It was magnificent. You can have all these medals, you can have all the money, but them memories they can’t take from you.
Joe Urquhart: I went to my mates’ afterwards and I think his dad put a BBQ on. We all sat around and reminisced about the season. It was a release of, ‘Thank fuck.’ Emotionally drained is the best way to describe it. You’re so emotionally invested for nine months, for it finally to come to fruition and then suddenly it’s gone and it’s the summer all of a sudden.
Paul Dews: My wife came home, and she said to me, ‘Look, you’ve got to go down and celebrate.’ I tried again to get out of bed and did the same thing. I got to the top of the stairs and I just couldn’t do it because I’m just going to fall over. So I didn’t get any of that.
Apparently Simon mentioned me in one of his post-match interviews. Something like, ‘It’s a great day, it’s disappointing for Dewsy who couldn’t be with us today.’ Then he follows it with, ‘It’s okay — he’s not dead.’
Phil Hay: Post-match interviews took a long time. The players on the pitch, they were all having a drink, Snoddy was knocking about with a bottle of Budweiser and so is Paul Dickov, there were people all over the place. As I recall it took the best part of an hour before Grayson appeared to do his press conference, and he was covered with champagne and God knows what else.
It was funny because even in that chat with him I can remember us getting on to talking about what he was going to do next season, how many of these players are you going to take with you, how much work do you think you need to do with the the squad. I think that’s why time goes so quickly in football, because everyone is constantly looking to the next game, constantly looking to what’s coming next.
Adam Pope: I remember going down the tunnel and Beckford was really reluctant to do an interview. He was smiling, having a chat and saying he really didn’t want to do anything. I don’t know if he was pressganged into doing one for LUTV but he just didn’t fancy doing it which was a bit disappointing, because he’s such a top bloke as well.
I remember interviewing Simon Grayson and just saying, mate, you’ve done it. It was just really emotional and we captured all the players and the noise in the tunnel, all the celebrations were going on. We got everything we needed to do but it’s all furniture at the end of the day. There was a scoreboard that said 2-1 and Leeds were promoted automatically, and that’s all that counted.
Simon Grayson: The dressing room was wild. We had the Player of the Year do at the club and you’re thinking before the game, ‘If this goes wrong this is going to be the worst Player of the Year do ever and in a few days time I’m going to have to pick my players up to go again in a play-off semi-final.’
Andrew Hughes: There was a big ceremony after and I always remember thinking, ‘Jesus, if we hadn’t done it, this would have been the worst night ever.’ It ended up being the best night ever.
Casper Ankergren: It was brilliant. We obviously had a lot of beers in the dressing room. Things just went on from there. We had the do in the evening. My missus came out but I was already struggling to speak by that time so she just went, ‘I’ll leave you to it Casper,’ and she went home. We went out into town.
I remember taking a taxi home about six o’clock in the morning, and then I just felt absolutely horrific the next day. We were going to meet in a pub and watch the football but I didn’t last long, I was feeling absolutely horrific so I had to go home for the sofa.
Simon Grayson: Players were out to the early hours, I was certainly out to the early hours. I was in the Foundry in Leeds, my mate’s restaurant. A few days later, Terry Fisher, the owner of Netflights, the shirt sponsor, between him and Ken Bates took us all to Dubai for four days. We stayed in the Atlantis, which was one of the best rooms I’ve ever stayed in.
Simon Grayson: I think in the past teams that got promoted did an open top bus but we were second and you didn’t feel, I don’t think we had a choice in the matter, but we didn’t do one. It didn’t warrant it but ultimately it felt like we’d won the division because we’d got promoted.
Phil Hay: The difference with Grayson’s side is it actually got there. I accept it was a lower level, and accept it was League One rather than the Championship. But I say to people regularly that the players who were involved in that squad are some of the players I respect most, among those I have dealt with, because they did actually deliver. They had this to do and they did actually do it.
Glynn Snodin: It was tough, but if you’re going to get promoted nothing is easy. No matter what league you’re in, who you play for. But there’s certain clubs where you need that extra je ne sais quoi to get you up. That year was a great achievement from inside to top to bottom — the cleaning ladies, the kitman, the sports science people, the academy staff, everybody just put it together and we all worked as a family on and off the field.
Simon Grayson: I’d have gone out of the cup in the third round to Man United if we’d have been promoted as champions five games from the end.
Adam Pope: When you think about the decisions Simon Grayson took for that game alone, they all paid off. Not in the way he expected, obviously, but that was some management.
Casper Ankergren: Really, really pleased that we got promoted first of all. I thought I had a good season that year. I was a little bit disappointed that I didn’t finish off the season playing. But the most important thing for me was the promotion. It was a great season, there were some good moments that year even though it was a little bit up and down for me personally.
“A special team for a special club”
Simon Grayson: As a manager you’re always under pressure, but it was a dream for me because I’d always supported the club and had been able to live the dream of making my debut for Leeds. I didn’t play as many games as I wanted to, I had to leave for my own benefit in 92, but then to go the full circle, to come back around, it was like, ‘Is this really happening?’
Andrew Hughes: I believe it all happened for a reason. And the way it happened is part of the club’s history. That’s why everyone is so fond of that time and what went on, because it really was a special time for the club in League One. It was dramatic times, dramatic years, and it brought a lot of people together. In my lifetime it is still one of the best experiences.
Paul Dews: That team, and what it became the season after, was a very, very good side. I’ll get old Kenny boy shooting me now, but if those players had been kept together and the right investments had gone into the team, they could have been in with a real shout of taking Leeds back to the Premier League.
Michael Doyle: We were disappointed we didn’t win the league. We probably got a bit too confident and Norwich came really strong. But I think we showed the character of the team. If ever there was a defining moment that last day showed what your team is all about, and the club – that day the fans deserve a massive amount of credit because the way they got behind us at 1-0 and down to 10 men, they could have easily been thinking, for fuck’s sake. I’m sure they were. ‘Here we go, Leeds are buggered again, we’re just not going to do it.’
Andrew Hughes: The values that stick with me now as a coach, I learned a lot of those values from the fans of Leeds United. People say you learn from coaches, I actually learned a lot of my values from Leeds fans. From how they stick with you through thick and thin. When there’s lows there’s lows, but when there’s highs there’s highs, but whatever happens they always keep going.
And that is me as a player. There will be ups and downs but you know what? Keep going. That is my identity: give everything. The Leeds people have always given me that, and hopefully I gave it back. I appreciated being remembered at the Centenary game. I didn’t want to go to the dinner because I was bit like, you’ve got Gary McAllister there and people like that, and I wasn’t that guy. But the bit on the pitch I enjoyed.
Richard Naylor: You have these moments in your career you look back on with pride. Being able to do that with Leeds is a tremendous achievement for myself and the team and the club. It’s something to tell the grandkids in years to come that you were part of a team that achieved something. To captain your hometown club, there’s no greater thing in football. To play for your hometown club that you supported, to captain it, and to captain it to promotion, it’s a tremendous thing for me that I’m really proud of.
Michael Doyle: A special team for a special club. That was probably one of the best teams I played in. The talent in that team was unbelievable. That type of game was just fairytale. It will never happen again — obviously not in my career but in any of them lads’ careers to be in that type of situation, especially at a club like Leeds United with the following you have. There’s not a better place to play in than Elland Road to play in when it’s packed to the rafters.