Boyhood Leeds United fan Richard Cresswell was thrilled to sign for the club but saw his stay spoiled by bad injuries and some heartbreaking results. Leon Wobschall reports.
FOR RICHARD CRESSWELL, his time at Leeds United may have been a case of if only, but ask him if he would do it all again, then you can bet your bottom dollar that he would.
Cruel injury blows may have befallen Cresswell during his time at Elland Road, not to mention the pain of being a helpless bystander when Leeds blew their ticket back to the Premier League in the teeming Cardiff rain in 2006.
As for that following season, when Leeds were relegated to League One, well it is perhaps best not to go there.
For Cresswell – now 37 and working as head of football operations at the other Yorkshire club who he holds near and dear to his heart in York City – his dream of promotion to the top-flight did ultimately occur.
But in the red and white striped shirt of Stoke City and not the white of Leeds.
Born on the east coast of Yorkshire in Bridlington he may have been, but Cresswell was a boyhood Leeds fan who realised his dream of playing for his club.
Despite things not working out as he would have wished at Leeds, donning the famous jersey is something he is grateful for to this day.
It is one which Cresswell’s oldest son Charlie will hopefully wear in years to come, with the young defender on the books of the academy.
Cresswell, who joined Leeds just under a decade ago for £1.15m in August 2005 from Preston, said: “I was a massive Leeds United fan. My old man was too busy to take me when I was young, but I was still a fan. They are a massive club and the sort you can support even if you don’t see them.
“I was at Preston and the chance to come to Leeds was just a dream come true. I was never going to turn that down.
“I was very disappointed to leave, but I picked up quite a lot of injuries when I was there and didn’t play the number of games I wanted to.
“But you know what, playing for Leeds leaves its stamp on you and I was honoured to play.
“I remember when I joined Leeds that Sheffield United wanted me and it was touch and go at the time whether I went there.
“I did go there afterwards and had three great years there, but at the time Leeds were the club for me then. My lad Charlie is now there in the under-14s at Thorp Arch and I have another lad at York.”
Much has been made of Leeds’ financial descent following the excesses of the Peter Ridsdale era, with Cresswell – along with current Whites player Luke Murphy – a bit of a rarity in costing the club a seven-figure fee to recruit.
On his path to Leeds. he said: “I scored 21 goals that previous season and Preston got to a play-off final and there were rumours, but it was a case of whether Leeds had the money.
“But the club put their money down and I got a call off Mr [Ken] Bates and he asked me how much I wanted to play for Leeds and it was a good type of conversation asking why I wanted to come.
“It was a big fee paid by Leeds and I don’t think they’ve paid much more than that for a player since.”
After a goal-laden season with Preston, Cresswell ingratiated himself to Leeds fans with two goals in only his second start in a derby win at Rotherham United in the League Cup in September 2005.
But just a week later, Cresswell suffered a knee ligament injury against Derby County which kept him out until just before Christmas.
Another injury blow followed in February before he put the hard yards in again in the treatment room to make it back for United’s fateful play-off semi-final against the team where he started the season in Preston.
Leeds’ progress to the final came at a cost though, with Cresswell, mistakenly, receiving his marching orders after coming on as a late substitute in a combustible second leg at Deepdale.
Job done, but at a price for Cresswell, who watched on helplessly as Leeds capitulated in the final to Watford.
He said: “It was a bit surreal really after being at Preston for four years and then having my comeback games against them with four months of work leading up to it.
“I managed to get back and push myself to be a part of it and then I came on and got sent off for a case of mistaken identity with my first booking when he confused me for being Hulsey [Rob Hulse] and then I got booked again straight after, so I missed the final, which was such a disappointment.
“Sat in the stands watching when I knew I should have been playing in that game was disappointing. We just never got going and you try and wipe out memories like that.”
After heartache at the end of 2005-06, worse was to come the following season when United’s season unravelled and culminated in a horror relegation, with Cresswell unavailable until mid-October and then sidelined for virtually the whole of the winter.
At the start of 2007-08, Cresswell was sold to Stoke, claiming promotion with the Potters that first full campaign, something he narrowly failed to achieve at Leeds.
He added: “It was obviously up and down with us being close to getting promoted at Cardiff and then the way it went the next season.
“I had a couple of years left on my contract, but was one of those who had to leave and I ended up at Stoke and we ended up going up, but I’d have loved to have had that opportunity at Leeds.
“I think Leeds fans know what I was about and what playing for the club meant to me.”