It was akin to an episode of EastEnders with a cockney accent thrown in for good measure and the case of the Elland Road mole was destined to become the most unique chapter in the story of Dennis Wise at Leeds United.
Wise was famously described as a man capable of provoking “a fight in an empty house” and in February 2007 he succeeded in turning a badly-needed win over Crystal Palace into a sporting crime scene.
Leeds were desperate for points, pinned down inside the Championship’s relegation zone, and goals from Matt Heath and Robbie Blake took care of a useful Palace side at Elland Road. Leon Cort’s late reply only softened the margin of a 2-1 defeat.
Wise allowed 15 minutes to pass at the end of the game before setting off a grenade in the press room, accusing a member of his own squad of leaking his line-up to Palace.
“One player gave my team to the opposition and I found that out,” Wise said. “It disappoints me immensely. I told the players before the game and he won’t be playing for this club again. It hurts a lot. The player also said a couple of other things and it’s not acceptable.”
And so the obvious question: who was the disloyal party? Wise refused to name names and Heath and Blake denied any knowledge afterwards, though their inclusion in United’s side ruled them out. Fingers immediately pointed at Shaun Derry – a former Palace player who was injured and out the picture – but the midfielder’s agent did not delay in defending his client.
Words of caution came quickly from elsewhere. Peter Taylor, the Palace manager, had informed Wise of the breach before the game in Leeds but he accused United’s boss of “badly overreacting”. Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, went further by warning of a witch-hunt.
Sooner than expected, Leeds began backtracking and at a football forum broadcast live by the BBC Leeds the following week, club chief executive Shaun Harvey tried to dampen the furore: “In the cold light of day we have to take into account a number of things. Was the leak of the team malicious or naive? Was the information given to Crystal Palace directly or indirectly?
“That’s the information we have to confirm and once we know the full ramifications of who, how and why, the appropriate decisions will be made. There are certain people who know the answers but they haven’t come forward and told us as yet.”
Those certain people never did. Within a couple of weeks the controversy was forgotten and Wise found himself dealing with an admission from captain Kevin Nicholls that he was unhappy at Leeds and wanted to leave. With relegation looming, the walls were caving in. Derry, meanwhile, recovered from injury eventually but never regained his place in the team. He went back to Palace on loan the following season and then made the transfer permanent, at a time when Wise was short of players and trying to tempt him back.
Speaking after his departure, Derry told the YEP: “It wasn’t me. The accusations hurt but I can look every fan and every one of my team-mates in the eye and say I wasn’t responsible. I’d never do that. I wouldn’t want my time at Leeds to be clouded by people thinking I’d betrayed the club.”