Generous, resourceful and kind: Fans' personal memories of Leeds United great Howard Wilkinson

Howard Wilkinson managed Leeds United to early 1990s success with the First and Second Division titles won over the course of three seasons

Saturday, 16th July 2022, 10:00 am

Howard Wilkinson’s status among Leeds supporters is eclipsed only by the late, great Don Revie – a manager who lifted eight trophies with United.

Sgt. Wilko, as he is known in West Yorkshire for his drill sergeant reputation whilst at the helm, is the only Leeds boss other than Revie to lift two titles with the club.

His First and Second Division triumphs in 1992 and 1990, respectively, ensured the name Howard Wilkinson would forever be fondly remembered at Elland Road.

1991: HOWARD WILKINSON, THE MANAGER OF LEEDS UNITED SOCCER CLUB, DURING A CLUB PHOTOCALL BEFORE THE START OF THE 1991/2 SOCCER SEASON. Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK/ALLSPORT

His eight-year spell as boss was preceded by half a decade at Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday, while before that Wilkinson had been a player himself.

The Sheffield-born winger turned out for Brighton and Hove Albion and Boston United in the lower leagues before moving into coaching, and some supporters still remember him from his days as a Pilgrim with Boston.

Arthur Smith recalls Wilkinson ‘running up the wing’ during the 1970s before witnessing the now 78-year-old lead United to league title glory two decades later.

Even after he had left Leeds in 1996, the benefits of his time were still being felt.

It was his patience and acknowledgement that rewards would be reaped years down the line that allowed for Leeds’ Thorp Arch academy to produce the likes of Alan Smith and Jonathan Woodgate in the late-1990s, some years after the facility had been opened at the behest of Wilkinson.

"It is very pleasant to know that something you conceived 10 years ago, something you managed to get mapped out, blue-printed and accepted by directors is now bearing fruit," he said in 1999, three years after leaving Elland Road.

"The scheme, the planning and the thinking must have been all right and then after that the people who worked on it must have done a good job."

If not for financial issues and the club’s subsequent administration in the early 2000s which provoked a fire-sale of the team’s best players, the products of Wilkinson’s academy project may have proved the genesis for Leeds remaining a force in European football at the time.

It wasn’t exclusively Wilkinson’s impact in the dugout which carves him out as a Leeds favourite, though.

The personal touch associated with his time as manager has stayed with several fans who were lucky enough to meet and converse with the ex-Leeds boss.

Philip Thornton recalls ‘meeting him at Elland Road’ during the off-season: “He was running around the pitch and stopped by us and said ‘nice kit, son’ to my lad.”

A small, but kind gesture, remembered some 25 years later, largely due to the regard in which Wilkinson is held at Elland Road.

Such was the allure of the former Leeds manager and his title-winning side, even those indifferent to the sport were queuing up for face-time with Wilkinson.

Marie Hainsworth recounts: “Meeting him and the Leeds title winning squad for four training sessions as a 9 year old. Only did the training sessions to make my brother jealous and ended up a fan instead.”

Perhaps the best example of Wilkinson’s character behind the scenes is a tale from Craig Diederiks in South Africa: “Leeds United pre season tour in South Africa and a dinner featuring the two local teams and Leeds and Benfica,” he recalls.

“[We were] promised at least two Leeds players would be present at your table. Lo and behold not one Leeds player in attendance except for the Gaffer [Wilkinson]. Annoyed I approached him and asked where the players were. His response was ‘blame the organisers’. Cut a long story short he invited us to the team's hotel the next day and true to his word we met all the players!”