The chances of Leeds United returning to the top flight any time soon under the current leadership and uncertainty are extremely small according to former player Peter Swan. Lee Sobot reports.
LEEDS United are heading for their 12th season running outside of English football’s top flight.
By the time homegrown Whites talent Peter Swan left for Hull City in 1989, the club had been waiting seven years for similar promotion. The following year Leeds finally went up, two years shy of becoming champions of England.
Yet Swan sees little chance of United’s modern-day side mirroring a similar return to the top flight amidst such instability and uncertainty under Massimo Cellino.
Hunslet-raised centre-half-turned-striker Swan made 50 appearances for United amidst a similarly frustrating period in English football’s second tier.
And while the six-foot-two ace featured in an era rife with changes on a playing staff and managerial front, throughout it all the club had stability at the top. Leslie Silver became Leeds chairman in 1983 and served 13 years at the helm of the club which eventually got themselves back to where they belonged.
Former Middleton Park School pupil Swan, who lives in Carlton, Wakefield, would love nothing more than to see today’s Leeds team get back into the top flight, but says the importance of ownership stability is paramount.
Swan told the YEP: “One of the most important things at a football club is establishing control at the top. And certainly when I was there that was all very stable under Leslie Silver.
“He kept himself to himself but he backed the team and obviously he backed a good manager in Howard Wilkinson when he came in. We had a fair run of managers – when I was there you had Allan Clarke, Eddie Gray and Billy Bremner, and then Howard Wilkinson came in so if things weren’t right then they moved people on.
“But things were a lot more stable and you didn’t see in the papers every day ‘the owner can’t come’ or ‘the owner has been banned.’ Nothing like that.
“We had people like David Batty coming through which was great and we have got some great young kids coming through now. But if they are not careful and they don’t build a team around them, then they’ll be looking to move on.
“You want to hear about how far they could push us but it seems at Leeds that nobody ever talks about the football.”
Talking about the football is what 48-year-old Swan now does for a living through his Hull City punditry for BBC Radio Humberside and his column in the Hull Daily Mail.
Swan’s two sons are continuing the family’s sporting legacy with 20-year-old ex-Whites Academy ace George now at Wolves and 17-year-old brother Harry on the books at Wakefield Wildcats.
Their dad excelled at both rugby league and football but pursued the beautiful game and signed at Leeds as a schoolboy in 1980, making his first-team debut five years later at Manchester City.
After being sold by Howard Wilkinson for £200,000 to Hull in March 1991, the tough tackler went on to have spells at Port Vale, Plymouth Argyle, Burnley, Bury and York City before dipping into non-league football at Ossett Town in 2000 where he coached briefly.
Swan’s three years at Port Vale from 1991 to 1994 were particularly memorable given that he and Take That star Robbie Williams became drinking buddies.
“I had some good years with Rob down there,” said Swan, who has an A-Licence coaching badge. “Robbie is obviously a Port Vale fan but when we used to go out we always used to start singing Leeds songs. He’d start singing in the local boozer so I’d join in and then he’d shut up and I’d carry on because I’d had a few beers. Then everyone would give me daggers saying ‘what are you doing?! We’d get knackered for singing Marching On Together and he knows all the Leeds songs, don’t worry about that.”
As does Swan, for whom United will remain his boyhood club with the former defender/striker preferring to look on the bright side of circumstances regarding his exit. Recalling his time at Leeds, Swan said: “I was absolutely buzzing to play for Leeds. It’s something you dream of as a kid and with Howard Wilkinson it was just a clash of characters where it never happened between me and him.
“I’d have loved to have stayed there because you could see that we had something, the nucleus of a good team – obviously – because a few years later they went on to win the First Division. Do I regret leaving? Possibly, yes but that’s gone now and I did the right thing at the right time and I’ll stand by that. To have had success with Leeds would have been amazing – it would have been brilliant because I do love the club.
“But I have top memories of my time there and you’ll never have a better feeling than scoring a goal infront of the Kop. They eventually sold me for two hundred grand but they brought in Gordon Strachan instead so the best thing for Leeds was me leaving!
“He was outside as I was coming – he was in reception – and the money they got from me they used to bring him in.
“He obviously helped get them into the Premier League and win the Premier League as such. It was a good deal really!”