Leeds United Nostalgia: Blackwell takes the helm at newly-relegated Whites

Steve Parkin's interest in buying Leeds United is so long-standing that a proposed takeover by the Yorkshire businessman was central to the saga surrounding Kevin Blackwell's appointment as manager in 2004.
Steve Agnew, Sam Ellis and Kevin Blackwell.Steve Agnew, Sam Ellis and Kevin Blackwell.
Steve Agnew, Sam Ellis and Kevin Blackwell.

Parkin, who recently secured two sponsorship deals at Elland Road, was discussing a buy-out of the Gerald Krasner-led consortium 12 years ago this week and made it clear that Blackwell was not his man. Once control of the club was his, Parkin wanted Iain Dowie, the coach who had led Crystal Palace to an unlikely promotion from the Championship.

Amid the negotiations, Leeds’ existing board were forced to cancel a press conference called to unveil Blackwell as the permanent successor to caretaker Eddie Gray.

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But within hours of that embarrassing u-turn, Parkin’s £25m takeover fell through, prompting Leeds to appoint Blackwell at the second time of asking.

Blackwell had been on the coaching staff at Elland Road as assistant boss for around a year and survived the sacking of Peter Reid in November 2003. Leeds turned to him in the wake of their relegation from the Premiership and one of the club’s board members, Simon Morris, gave him a personal apology for withdrawing an initial contract offer as talks with Parkin went on.

“I was happy to sign but only after asking to speak to people who had put doubt in my mind,” Blackwell said after agreeing a two-year deal.

“That doubt has now been eased. I’ve had assurances from all board members, including Simon Morris. It was important I spoke to him.

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“I didn’t want to be offered the job on the back of one director agreeing and another not. I had to have a guarantee from everybody I was the right man in their eyes because it is a big job and a very difficult rebuilding job.”

Blackwell took on a complicated task, aware that the majority of the squad who had been relegated from the Premiership would be leaving. Many sought top-flight football and most were too expensive to retain. Leeds, in any case, needed money badly. Blackwell famously claimed that it was “me and Gary Kelly” at Thorp Arch in the aftermath of his appointment and while the situation was not quite that extreme, the club’s fall into the Championship decimated their squad. The most controversial departure saw Alan Smith leave for Manchester United in a £6m deal.

“When I arrived at the club I had my own ideas about how we could move the club forward,” Blackwell said. “But the situation quickly became one where we were having to paper over the cracks, one problem after the other, so what this club needs most is stability.”

To an extent, Blackwell provided it. Since David O’Leary, only Simon Grayson has managed Leeds in more competitive fixtures that Blackwell and no coach has taken United closer to the Premier League. Defeat to Watford in the 2006 Championship play-off final, however, effectively sounded the death knell for him.

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Parkin later confirmed that he had sounded out Dowie about taking charge as the club’s manager while his mooted takeover was pending.

“It’s common knowledge now that a certain manager – Iain Dowie – was offered the job,” Parkin told the YEP in 2006. “That’s true, I offered him the job. He’s a strong character and I think that’s what was needed.”