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Summer Dreams - 1996: Sgt Wilko out. Stroller George in.

Let’s go back to the summer of 1996

Lee Bowyer of Leeds United and Mark Pembridge of Everton Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

For football fans the summer is always a time for optimism. You're awaiting the first game of the season, a few new players have arrived and you've got a couple of pre-season friendlies under your belt. The signs point to it being your year this year. Unfortunately as a Leeds fan we have been brought back down to earth with a massive bump.

Player sales, lack of signings, a mad Italian man doing his best to upset absolutely everyone are just a few of the things that have prematurely ruined the summer for us. This year, however, there has been an increase in positivity from both the fans and the club itself. This got me thinking about previous years, about the ins and out, managerial changes, ownership structures, everything.

After a poor season Howard Wilkinson began a rebuilding at Leeds, seeing a number of players moving both in to and away from the club. After struggling to recapture the form that made Leeds United First Division champions in 1992, the last remnants of that title winning side headed toward the exit as Wilkinson looked to shake things up. The season before it seemed as if a malaise had set in at Elland Road in big changes needed to be made. With new owners at the helm, money was made available to Wilkinson but talk of the town was that the new owners may also look to bring their own man in.

Heading out during the summer on free transfers were Phil Masinga, John Lukic and Nigel Worthington. Masinga departed having featured little during the previous season after the rise of Tony Yeboah. Wilkinson was left with three options as his forwards with the Ghanaian alongside Deane and Wallace and it was made clear that he was always on the lookout for better options.

Nigel Worthington would join Stoke City and then Blackpool but within two years he would retire and make a start on his managerial career with the seaside club. He would then take Norwich City to the Premier League before a spell at Leicester City and then taking charge of the Northern Ireland national side.

John Lukic had been Howard Wilkinson's first choice goalkeeper since returning to the club in 1990. Lukic made three moves in his career whilst only playing for two side. Starting his career with Leeds he made over 100 appearances until he moved to Arsenal in 1983 where he made over 200 appearances. He would return to Leeds to make a further 265 appearances before making a return to Arsenal. Despite being a league winner with two separate clubs he never featured for the England side.

The two biggest departures saw Gary Speed and Gary McAllister heading to Everton and Coventry respectfully. Speed had been with the club since 1988 as a trainee. Making his debut at 19, Wilkinson moved Speed from left back, where he had featured for the youth team, to the left wing where he formed part of the formidable quartet of himself, David Batty, Gordon Strachan and Gary McAllister. An Everton fan as a child, Speed signed for the Toffees and was an instant hit with their fans. This was to be a theme through-out his career as Speed was loved for his work-rate, athleticism and his passion for the game. After spells at Newcastle, Bolton and finally Sheffield United, Speed would move briefly in to management with the Blades in 2010. Within months of taking the job he would begin discussions with the Welsh FA over taking the national job and it was confirmed in December 2010. He would begin rebuilding the Welsh side in the hopes of qualification for a major tournament but unfortunately he would never see this come to fruition. On November 27th 2011, Gary Speed was found dead at his Cheshire home.


Gary McAllister departed to once again join forces with former teammate Gordon Strachan, now assistant manager of Coventry City. He would stay at with the then-Highfield Road club for four years until his form earned him a move to Liverpool despite McAllister being in his mid-thirties. He would be part of Liverpool's cup treble, winning the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup with manager Gerrard Houlier describing him as his "most inspirational signing." He would return to Coventry for another two years before making a start on his coaching career with the Sky Blues, resigning after two years at the helm. After a number of years out of football the Scot would make his return to Elland Road, replacing the departing Dennis Wise. He guided Leeds to the League One play-off final where we would lose to Doncaster after a dismal display. He would be sacked halfway through the following season after a poor run of results and an exit in the FA Cup to Histon. He would take up coaching jobs with former managers Strachan and Houlier and now spends time working as a pundit.

In arrivals made for some interesting reading. First in was Ian Rush, Wales all-time leading goalscorer and a Liverpool hero. Now at the tail-end of his career, it was hoped that Rush would help out with some of the younger players that Wilkinson had planned to bring through over the next couple of years.

Lee Sharpe joined from Manchester United where he had fallen out of favour with Alex Ferguson due to the rise of David Beckham and also his lifestyle. Making his debut for the Reds in 1988 aged 17, Sharpe had been a regular in their side for many years, but with a crop of young players on the fringes of the first team, Ferguson felt the time was right to move the flamboyant midfielder on.

Lee Bowyer joined from Charlton Athletic for £2.8m, a British record transfer fee for a teenager. Having been suspended in 1995 for failing a drugs test, Bowyer had come back and become a regular for the London side, making more than 50 appearances and scoring a number of goals before his move up north.

Nigel Martyn

Finally in came John Lukic's replacement, Crystal Palace's first choice goalkeeper Nigel Martyn. Starting out playing amateur football, he allegedly got his big break when he was spotted by one of Bristol Rovers tea ladies. He moved to Crystal Palace for £1m, the first £1m goalkeeper in British football, and played over 300 games before making another record breaking move to Leeds.

After just five games Leeds' season would be in turmoil. Having picked up 7 points from the first four games, Wilkinson would be sacked after a 4-0 drubbing at home to arch-rivals Manchester United. George Graham would come in and set out stabilising Leeds from the back. In came came Gunnar Halle and Robert Molenaar, two players who feature heavily during Graham's time at the club. It was a dismal season for fans as Leeds finished 11th, an improvement on the previous season, but scored just 28 goals. the least of anyone in the Premier League that season. Sharpe and Deane would be the joint top goalscorers in the League with just five goals. Leeds would draw nine games 0-0, with chants of boring, boring Leeds ringing around Elland Road.

Fans celebrated the end of the season, unsurprisingly a draw, and could only hope for any sort of improvement. What was to come the following season could not have been expected after a turgid 96/97 campaign.

Christian is a member of the Mighty Whites Podcast and joins Jack and Connie to discuss all the latest happenings at Elland Road. You can listen to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and YouTube.