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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
The dream that they lived under Peter Ridsdale has long since faded into a memory but, for the supporters of Leeds United, it's taking a lot longer to wake up from the nightmare that followed. Defeat at Wembley to a spirited and creative Doncaster Rovers means that it's another season in the third flight for the former champions of England. Another year of Southend, Carlisle and Leyton Orient. Another year of being the big team in a small league.

There could be no complaints. Gary McAllister's team didn't play anywhere near their best, wobbling at the back under early Doncaster pressure and repeatedly losing the ball when they moved forwards. Up front Darren Beckford scuffed almost everything that fell for him and talismanic loanee Dougie Freedman just couldn't impose himself on the match. Leeds suffered too at the hands of 'the curse of the ex-player'. Discarded by former manager Dennis Wise, Doncaster goalkeeper Neil Sullivan was in imperious form. There was no flamboyance, no showing off, just a quiet authority between the posts that gradually sapped Leeds United's belief that they would ever beat him. Time and time again, Sullivan rose in the six yard box to claim another errant corner. On a day when his team needed his experience, he was immense.

With their coffers empty, Leeds' greatest assets these days are their supporters. They came to London in huge numbers and loud voice and even as injury time ebbed away, they continued to roar out their anthem, "Marching On Together." There were fears before kick-off that trouble would break out from the pockets of fans who had sneakily bought tickets in the Doncaster end, but the police moved quickly to form a human wall between the rebel enclaves and their rivals and open warfare was avoided for another day. The Elland Road faithful's reputation goes before them, but they are rarely afforded the credit they deserve for their loyalty to their team. If only they could completely eradicate the lunatic fringe that travels everywhere with them.

Doncaster were excellent, particularly in the opening ten minutes when they swept through their opponents like a red wave and they should have made better use of that early dominance. Their fans must have wondered at half-time if they'd squandered their best opportunities, but they didn't have to wait long for the deadlock to be broken. James Hayter hurled himself at a James Coppinger corner in the 46th minute and planted the ball firmly in the back of the net to spark delirous celebrations in the stands. Doncaster are capable of playing some wonderful football and they will more than hold their own against bigger teams next season. Leeds United huffed and puffed in the the second half, but rarely looked threatening.

Not many supporters would give their chairman a standing ovation on his own, personal lap of honour, but John Ryan is a special case. A Doncaster fan as a boy, he returned in their darkest hour to rescue them from extinction. Working on the curious premise that a football club exists, not to make individuals rich, but to make a town proud, he cleared the debts and provided the calm, sensible leadership that has seen this team rise from the depths of non-league to the heights of the Coca-Cola Championship.

How Leeds could have done with some sensible leadership in the past ten years. The ghosts of their reckless past continue to haunt the present and the prospect of another season adrift in the Football League's nether regions was enough to drive many of their supporters to tears. Like Sheffield Wednesday, Manchester City and Nottingham Forest before them, they will have to learn that the way out of this division is to swallow your pride, adjust to your status, relinquish the prima donnas and play your way out with good, passing football. Who would have thought that Doncaster Rovers could have so much to teach them?