A Leeds United 'magical mystery tour' brought encounters with Rivaldo, Andriy Shevchenko and Raul

Leeds United set off into Europe in 2000 with no expectations and returned with a lifetime of memories, of games and goals that inspired songs sung at Elland Road to this day.

By Graham Smyth
Sunday, 5th July 2020, 11:35 am
Updated Sunday, 5th July 2020, 11:38 am
GREATNESS - Dom Matteo brushing shoulders with Luis Figo in Leeds United's clash with Real Madrid. Pic: Getty
GREATNESS - Dom Matteo brushing shoulders with Luis Figo in Leeds United's clash with Real Madrid. Pic: Getty

The Whites’ Champions League journey took them all the way to the semi-final, via Barcelona, Milan, Rome and Madrid, in what Dominic Matteo recalls as a “magical mystery tour”.

David O’Leary, who had led Leeds to third in the Premier League the season before, signed Matteo in August.

But by the time the versatile defender made his debut, at home to Milan, Leeds had already overcome 1860 Munich to reach the group stage, and lost 4-0 at Barcelona.

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A 1-0 Elland Road triumph over the Rossoneri was the start of something special.

Leeds thrashed Beşiktaş 6-0, Matteo scoring his first goal for the club, drew the return fixture 0-0, held Barcelona and Milan to 1-1 draws.

Matteo scored a really great goal in the San Siro and will never hear the end of it. But it wasn’t the end of the European adventure.

The draw in Italy meant Leeds qualified for the second group stage and continued to mingle with greatness.

SINGSONG - Dom Matteo scored a really great goal in the San Siro as Leeds United came up against AC Milan. Pic: Getty

Defeat by Real Madrid was followed by an away victory over Lazio and a pair of wins against Anderlecht. Although Madrid beat them again, a 3-3 draw at home to Lazio kept an unlikely dream alive.

Deportivo La Coruña were vanquished in the quarter-final, thanks to a 3-0 home win in the first leg, but Valencia proved too strong in the semi-final and the grand tour came to a halt at the Mestalla.

“I don’t think there were expectations, we didn’t put those on ourselves,” said Matteo.

“When you see the teams we had to play against, we had it pretty hard right throughout the tournament.

“It was like we were on a magical mystery tour with the Leeds fans, going around Europe, beating teams, just managing to get through, getting results. It was incredible.

“The Leeds fans, to this day there’s the songs and it always brings a smile to my face.

“We’re nearly 20 years on from that and people are still singing my name and talking about that goal.”

A young Leeds side came up against legendary figures like Rivaldo, Andriy Shevchenko, Alessandro Nesta and Raul but somehow remained undaunted.

“I got to the point where I genuinely thought that any team we played against, we’d win, I really did,” said Matteo, who played in 15 of the Champions League fixtures.

“There were some games we didn’t win, but I didn’t really care who we played against. I loved being around people like Gary Kelly when you had big games coming up, they’d just take the edge of it. You had people like Batts [David Batty] in the background, messing about. We had huge games coming up but there was a lightheartedness and characters. Characters bring success.”

The game at the San Siro is almost too obvious a highlight to discuss with Matteo, but the campaign wasn’t short of special moments.

“Anderlecht [4-1 win] comes to mind, straight away,” he said.

“They were a really tough team to go to. That result, away, for me, was when it felt like everything clicked. It must have been a joy to watch that.

“Oliver Dacourt gave us a bit of a pep talk and said they thought they were going to beat us, they thought we were an easy touch and we absolutely smashed them.

“Deportivo at home, that’s another one, it just clicked. Those nights, everyone who was there must have loved it.

“One thing I’ve always loved about Leeds United is the commitment the fans put in as well as the players.

“Those singsongs we had around Europe were second to none.

“You’ll never replicate that and have a group of players having a few beers on the pitch and a singsong with the lads.

“It was amazing to witness.”