Football in Yorkshire – Where did it all go wrong?

It’s been a lean few years for Yorkshire football in terms of Premiership participation, and David Hall looks at the county’s fall from grace.

I start off with a question. When was the last time two or more Yorkshire teams competed in the Premier League? 2000/2001. Leeds United (4th) and Bradford City (20th). Leeds got relegated three years later. After that, only Sheffield United have played Premier League football and in the 2006/2007 season, they were relegated on the final day of the season by Wigan Athletic. Since then the Premier League hasn’t had any Yorkshire representatives.

Leeds lost in the championship play-off final to Watford in the 2005/2006 season, and Sheffield United, not only were they play-off losers to Burnley in the 2008/2009 season, they have lost the final on two other occasions (vs. Crystal Palace 1996/1997 and vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers 2002/2003). Yorkshire clubs coming just short of making the step up to the top level. When Yorkshire clubs do make the step up, usually it’s just for a short stay. Sheffield United only lasted a season in 06/07 after a 12 year absence, and Barnsley one and only Premier League appearance in 1997/1998. We have not had a top flight steel city derby since 22nd January 1994 when Sheffield Wednesday beat United 3-1.

The 1990’s saw Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Barnsley and Bradford City all play in the Premiership. Sheffield Wednesday win the League Cup in 1991, and were losing finalists in the 1993 League Cup and FA Cup, beating rivals United in the semi-final of the latter. Leeds won the league in the 1991/1992, made the 2nd round of the Champions League in1992/1993 and were League Cup finalists in 1996. Barnsley joined the party for one season in 1997 Huddersfield were on the verge of something magical in Division 1, and Bradford went from Division 2 to the Premiership in three years. The peak of modern-day Yorkshire Football was in the 2001/2002 season when Leeds made it to the Champions League semi-final. Players like Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Alan Smith taking Europe on and winning. It was good whilst it lasted.

Ten years on, there is not a Yorkshire team in the Premiership. Sheffield United have managed to miss out on a play-off berth by five points. Barnsley were seven points above the relegation zone, and we all saw Wednesday get relegated on the final day by Crystal Palace. Leeds are on the road to recovery after three seasons in League 1, securing promotion on the final day of the season thanks to future Everton bench warmer Jermaine Beckford. Huddersfield are League 1 play-off losers, so their absence from the second tier of English football is now ten seasons, and ten years after Bradford finished 17th in the Premiership, they finished 14th in League 2.

Leeds, Huddersfield, Bradford (twice) and Rotherham (twice) have been in administration. Wednesday have been close to administration on occasions and a new owner has been talked up for years now. Sheffield United have been better on the financial side of things. The compensation from the Carlos Tevez affair made sure of that, but are not short of controversey. Paddy Kenny has recently returned from a year ban for failing a drug test, and striker Jordan Robertson is currently serving a 32 month sentence for causing death by dangerous driving.

Trophies are a rarity in the white rose county. Only Wednesday (1991) an Leeds (1968) have won the League Cup. Leeds were the last Yorkshire team to win the FA Cup, beating Arsenal 1-0 in 1972, and you go back further to 1935 to find the previous Yorkshire winner. Sheffield Wednesday again, beating West Brom 4-2. Leeds won the old Division One 3 times (1968/69, 1973/74 and 1991/92). The previous Yorkshire champions was Sheffield Wednesday (1929/30) and Huddersfield Town won it 3 season running (1923/1924 to 1925/26)

From research doing this article it seems to me that when football was more openly to the masses (the south) It took Yorkshire longer than most areas to catch back up, and it is happening again. All the money is in London or in the North West, with money comes silverware. So clubs like Leeds and Sheffield United are going to have to spend to get back into the top flight and to compete at the highest level.

Saying that, it is not all doom and gloom in Yorkshire, there are shifts in the right direction. Leeds are back in the Championship, they could be joined by Huddersfield, and Rotherham are in the League 2 play-offs. But the most improved team in Yorkshire is Doncaster Rovers. The first winners of the Conference Play-Offs in 2002/2003, followed that up with winning Division 3 the season after, becoming the first team to win the fourth level of English football three times (1965/66, 68/69 and 03/04) Whilst consolidating in League one, they picked up the Football League trophy in the 2006/07 season. Then the very next season their 50 year absence from the 2nd tier was over after beating Leeds 1-0 in the play-off final at Wembley, making sure chairman John Ryan’s vision was completed. Doncaster have had two seasons at Championship level now, finish 14th and 12th, so they are moving in the right direction, and with John Ryan bankrolling the club, maybe we will see a unfamiliar Yorkshire team in the Premier League.

The Author

David Hall

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