QUARTER of a century ago, the tills were ringing somewhat at Leeds United.
The mid-summer of 1990 was a time when football fever gripped the country, thanks to England’s exploits in reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup, Gazza’s tears et al and United’s supporters had their appetites further sated by the arrival of several choice recruits.
The headline addition was unquestionably Scottish midfielder Gary McAllister, who arrived at the start of July 1990 for a tribunal-determined fee of £1m from Leicester City.
McAllister was the centre-piece of some considerable transfer largesse from Leeds, who also signed keeper John Lukic for a seven-figure fee from Arsenal and defender Chris Whyte from West Brom – with a combined £2.5m shelved out to sign the trio.
The three deals took Howard Wilkinson’s spending in his 21 months at Leeds to £6m and while the Whites marked their return to the big time by wafting their chequebook with vigour, the club’s bank manager was kept happy by other developments. The unstinting support of the Leeds faithful, salivating at the prospect of the club’s first campaign in the top flight in eight years, saw season-ticket sales smash through the £1m barrier.
A record £1.4m was recouped in sales by early July with Leslie Silver bankrolling United’s quest to make an impact and bring back the glory years to Elland Road.
For Leeds, it was about speculating to accumulate and while the club had announced a deficit of £2m in their previous financial year ending in July 1989, the hierarchy were no doubt mindful of lucrative riches likely to boost the coffers of top-flight clubs in the near future with satellite TV companies bidding for TV rights with the BBC and ITV.
For Leeds, the intent was clear with the signing of a classy midfield operator in McAllister making a major statement that Leeds were back. The signing was announced in June, with Wilkinson then heading to the World Cup in Italy to assist Bobby Robson. The caveat to McAllister’s signing was also noteworthy, with the Scot turning down the overtures of Brian Clough’s Forest to head up the M1 to Leeds.
Leeds had seen an £850,000 bid rejected by Leicester boss David Pleat, with Forest then seeming to have made the decisive move to land their man when a £1.1m bid was accepted.
But McAllister declined up a move to the City Ground for ‘personal reasons’ with Leeds subsequently getting to work and pulling off the audacious coup, to the chagrin of Clough. Seville and Glasgow Celtic were also interested in the 25-year-old play-maker, but six hours of talks between Leeds officials and McAllister’s representatives at his home in Leicester cleared a path for him to head to West Yorkshire. The deal was a significant one with McAllister signing a lucrative deal – with a reported weekly wage of £2,500 – before heading off to Italy with the Scotland squad for their World Cup commitments. On signing, McAllister said: “I like to think I am a thoughtful, creative footballer and by signing me, it appears that Leeds will change their style next season – especially if we get another couple of quality players which I believe is their intention.”
The ambition was pronounced, with United managing director Bill Fotherby making no bones about the fact that the club meant business on their return to the top table of English football. Lukic was another big-money arrival, while Whyte turned down an offer from West Brom which would have made him the highest-paid player in the club’s history to leave the Hawthorns and join Leeds.
Leeds meant business, with Fotherby forthright in hammering home that point in the summer of 1990.
He said: “We definitely want to finish in the top four of the first division, so we can qualify for Europe should English clubs be allowed back in for the following season (1991-92).
“It is not our intention to make up the numbers in the first division; we want to compete with the best. It is our intention to be in a position to compete with the likes of Liverpool.”