SIXTEEN years ago, Leeds United were playing Barcelona in the Champions League.
Ok, so they lost 4-0. But six weeks later they drew the return game at Elland Road and still made it to the semi-finals.
On the corresponding September night in 2016 they squeezed past a desperately poor Blackburn side to climb to 17th in the Sky Bet Championship.
And even that was a marked improvement on what had gone before – embarrassing defeats to the likes of QPR and Huddersfield, a cup win on penalties over lowly Fleetwood Town, population: 25,000.
What has happened to Leeds in the intervening decade-and-a-half is nothing short of a tragedy.
And I’m not just talking about the long-suffering fans who have been to hell – with no sign of heading back – during the dismal years of decline and mediocrity.
Leeds as a city is counting the cost of a club that appears locked in perpetual turmoil, never again to scale the heights seen under Revie and Bremner or even O’Leary and Radebe.
And anyone who thinks football doesn’t matter to a city like ours should think again.
Number crunchers have pegged the value of the sport to Manchester at upwards of £330m every year.
Leicester’s economy is also set for a big spike following last year’s fairy tale title win, the city’s chamber of commerce putting the benefits at hundreds of millions of pounds.
Meanwhile Leeds splutters on with a misfiring football club that looks further away from the Premier League promised land than ever before.
This week, Leeds was named the best city in Britain when it comes to quality of life.
That’s better than London, Edinburgh and Manchester – which one cheeky so-and-so on Cold Feet the other night tried to claim was Britain’s second city.
But the report’s author reckoned more was needed for the city to reach its true potential.
“Leeds is at a crossroads,” he said sagely. “If it can attract and retain the right people, bring in external investment and develop a stronger identity as a city, there is no reason why it cannot improve its long-term prospects.” Few would disagree with that verdict. And the funny thing is that a successful football team would contribute to meeting every one of those goals.
A football club that’s going places breeds confidence, raises profiles and generally gives everything a lift.
Remember the buzz that surrounded the city during that amazing Champions League run at the start of the new Millennium?
It was great. But how sad is it that we’re still clinging to that crumb of near success when Leeds’ size and status demands so much more?
Meanwhile Leeds United lumber on, lurching from crisis to embarrassment. Repeat to fade.
Owner Massimo Cellino – the Italian patron saint of legal representatives – now faces yet another appearance before the FA.
This time it’s over allegations he paid a £185,000 ‘bung’ during Ross McCormack’s £10.75m move to Fulham a couple of years ago. If El Presidente is found guilty, a ban could follow.
On the pitch, things look just as chaotic. Word is that Cellino wanted to sack head coach Garry Monk during just his second game in charge. Odds on Monk surviving until Christmas, let alone the end of the season, must be longer than those of David Cameron missing his £75,000 MP’s salary.
Meanwhile, Mr Cellino must be starting to regret his pledge to refund a chunk of fans’ season tickets if Leeds failed to make the play-offs. Across the Pennines lies a city that has built much of its regeneration and leisure industry on the back of its two mega-rich football clubs.
Here in Leeds, we can only dream of someone riding to the rescue and lifting United out of the abyss in which they find themselves. And giving the whole city a massive shot in the arm while they’re at it.
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BLIMEY. all this furore over the Great British Bake Off switch is a bit overboard isn’t it?
Anyone would think Mary Berry was about to be clapped in leg irons and shipped to the Gulags rather than pick up a bulging pay packet for munching cake on a different TV channel.
I get it. GBBO and the BBC are a middle class match made in heaven. They’re up there with cricket on the village green, buying your humous at Waitrose and weekends spent tramping round National Trust gift shops.
But aren’t we in danger of taking telly a bit too seriously when the fate of a baking show dominates the week’s headlines?
Yes, it’s hard to see the show retaining its charm when every pre-advert segment has to end on some kind of cliffhanger – will Julia’s ciabatta rise? Has Georgia put in enough butter? Will Paul Hollywood ever change his Lego-like hairstyle? But that’s what happens with successful TV shows.
The production company are desperate to cash in and have no qualms about flogging it to the highest bidder. There’s dough in that dough, you know.
And why on earth are presenters Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc treating a move to Channel 4 as if it’s a fate worse than death? Have they forgotten it was the station that launched their careers in the first place?
Personally, I think we’ve just about reached peak bake anyway. Channel 4 might just have chucked away £75m.
Nathan shows we must do better
WHILE we’re busy cheering on the GB Paralympic team in Rio and gold medal winning Leeds lass Kadeena Cox, we’re treating disabled people at home like trash. Teenager Nathan Popple told the YEP how he was quoted £108 for a one-way taxi trip from Adel to Armley.
How the cabbie arrived at that figure God only knows. Taxi and minicab drivers can’t treat you less favourably than other customers just because you’re in a wheelchair. The council are looking into it.
But it’s not the only area where there’s room for improvement. Nathan’s website rates city shops and restaurants for how wheelchair-friendly they are. Some of the results are shameful – from being told to shout for someone to unlock a disabled-friendly changing area at Trinity to a complete absence of wheelchair access at big name stores.
It’s rank hypocrisy to laud our Paralympians for a fortnight every four years, then spend the rest of the time giving disabled people little thought.