Leeds United nostalgia: ‘Sergeant Wilko’ kicked off Elland Road revolution

Howard Wilkinson arrives at Elland Road to be greeted by Leslie Silver to start his new job as manager in October 1988.
Howard Wilkinson arrives at Elland Road to be greeted by Leslie Silver to start his new job as manager in October 1988.
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WHEN Howard Wilkinson took over Leeds United in 1988, the club had some serious growing up to do.

In the event, there was no-one better than former schoolteacher Wilkinson to drag it kicking and screaming into modernity.

In Sergeant Wilko’s own, inimitable words, “The club is like an old Savile Row suit, frayed at the edges.”

He set about revolutionising the whole institution – the team, the ground and its entire public image.

The first thing Wilkinson did was to remove all evidence of the Don Revie era from the halls of the club.

In his own image, the ex-winger would forge a panoply of new memories for Whites fans across his eight-year tenure.

After the former Abbeydale School master took Leeds out of the second tier in 1989-90, he could have stuck with the team that earned promotion but was never given to shirking tough decisions in pursuit of progress.

In the summer of 1988, Wilkinson pulled off what he would acknowledge as his most significant signing, that of Gordon Strachan from Manchester United for £300,000.

Ian Baird and Mervyn Day were consistent performers and loved on the terraces, but Wilko knew that Lee Chapman and John Lukic would take the team to another level.

These days it takes more than £4 million to set up a title tilt yet after a respectable fourth-placed finish in their first season back in the top flight, the signings of Eric Cantona, Rod Wallace and Tony Dorigo did just that.

Tactically the man who would go on to manage England was no purist but Cantona’s bitter subsequent remarks about Leeds’ ‘kick and rush’ style are wide of the mark.

He fearlessly defends that team: “Not all of those players would have been seen as the best in the world but they were committed to excellence.”

Epitomising this commitment was the midfield quartet of McAllister, Strachan, Batty and Speed – hailed as one of the best in the land.

Memorable games under Wilkinson include the white-knuckle 2-1 win against Leicester at Elland Road that sealed the Second Division.

In the title triumph, 4-1 victories at Villa and 6-1 at Sheffield Wednesday stand out as does that bizarre 3-2 win at Bramall Lane that as good as won the trophy.

United would never reach such heights again under Wilkinson and their title defence was an unmitigated disaster ending in near relegation.

The wince-inducing signings of Thomas Brolin, Frank Srandli and a half-fit David Rocastle smacked of a manager losing his touch.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, as top-five finishes followed in 1994 and 1995, with the 3-0 heist away at Monaco surely one of the great European nights.

Amid decline, the debacle of the Wembley humbling at the hands of Villa was too much for the board to take in the end.

Wilko lacked the laddish charm and media-friendly approach of some of his contemporaries but he dropped down a division to Leeds with a vision of what the club could be.

Watching Man United lose at Anfield on the television set in Lee Chapman’s front room with champagne flowing this way and that, little could he have imagined that he would be the last England manager to win the league to this day.

MATCH STATS

Name: Howard Wilkinson.

Born: Nov 13, 1943.

Appointed United boss: Oct 10, 1988.

Sacked: Sept 10, 1996.

Games: 400.

Record: W173, D115, L112.

Win percentage:43.25%

Honours: Second Division Title 1989/90, First Division Title 1991/92, FA Charity Shield Winner 1992, Football League Cup runner-up 1995-96, Manager of the Year 1992.

Felix Wiedwald

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