Radebe anniversary provides poignant reminder for Leeds fans

Leeds United Crest

Legendary Leeds United defender Lucas Radebe retired ten years ago and Leeds fans will question what has happened to the club since then.

It was the last game of the 2004/05 season against Rotherham United - also Leeds' opponents in Saturday's final game of the 2014/15 Championship season - and club captain Lucas Radebe stepped on to the field for the last time as a Leeds United player. 

The occasion provided mixed emotions for the player and the fans. Radebe had shown loyalty to the club in being one of the few big name players not to jump ship after the calamitous relegation from the Premier League the season before, and with his contract running out it was the perfect time for the South African to retire. Furthermore, injury had caught up with Radebe over the previous three seasons, and in the 2004/05 campaign he had started just one game, at Wolves, in which he had sustained a long-term ligament injury.

So when Radebe ran on to the pitch for the final four minutes of the 0-0 draw with Rotherham on May 8th 2005 he received a huge roar from the 30,900 crowd, who rose as one to salute one of the most honest and likeable players of the Premier League era, and one of the few characters from the 'living the dream' era to exit the club with any form of dignity.   

The parallels with Saturday's encounter with Rotherham are very similar, as an expected 30,000-plus crowd will turn up to witness the end of another disappointing campaign as Leeds continue to tread water with no direction. Ten years ago Leeds finished 14th in the Championship table, and on Saturday the club can finish no higher than 15th.

When Radebe left his beloved Elland Road arena for the last time after 11 years and over 200 appearances for the club, he would never have dreamt that Leeds would be no further forward 10 years later. The intervening decade has seen the club lose the 2006 Play-Off Final, be relegated from the Championship and enter administration (2007), lose the 2008 League One Play-Off Final, be promoted from League One (2010), and then spend five seasons meandering in the Championship's mid-table.

Many fans have pointed to Bournemouth's promotion to the Premier League - to be confirmed this weekend - as an indication of what a well-run club can achieve. Certainly it has helped the Cherries that they have one of the biggest player budgets in the division due to significant investment in the club, but it shows what a stable club off the pitch can achieve. In the meantime, Leeds have lurched from one crisis to another. 

Other clubs have also shown Leeds the way, with the likes of QPR, Hull City, Reading, Leicester, Burnley and Watford having been promoted to the Premier League TWICE since Leeds were last in it. It is a telling reminder that the size of the club means nothing, and the string of clubs that have been promoted and established themselves in the Premier League in recent years highlights what a mess has been made at Leeds under successive administrations.

Stoke, Swansea, West Brom, Crystal Palace, Southampton and West Ham have all become established clubs in the top tier in the time Leeds have failed to muster a promotion challenge, and the likes of Fulham and Wigan have been up for a prolonged stay before heading back down again.

If Lucas Radebe looks back at the last decade he would surely have expected Leeds to have made a decent fist of a promotion challenge in the intervening years. The 2006 Play-Off Final was the nearest Leeds have come, and maybe the anniversary of that drab goalless draw with Rotherham in May 2005 will pass and enable Leeds to draw a line under a sullied and dishevelled decade and start again?  

The signs are there that Leeds have the basis of a good side and the foundations for stability at last off the field, but that can change very quickly. Leeds fans will be praying that finally they can look forward with long term health and progress. 

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