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Bizarre reason why Leeds United are one of Korea's best known clubs

Alan Smith

Leeds United haven't played Premier League football in more than a decade, yet due to a bizarre phrase, they are very well-known in Korea.

Leeds United fans are currently enjoying their clubs best campaign in a number of years. Under the stewardship of Garry Monk, the Whites have risen to 5th in the Championship and appear to be growing as the season goes on. 

The Whites may have been knocked out of the EFL Cup last night, but that did little to dampen the spirits at Elland Road, as Monk's men battled valiantly against a Liverpool team that is flying in the Premier League. Despite their recent good times, Leeds are still in the midst of a barren spell.

Deprived of top flight football for 12 years, 3 of which were spent in League One, the club's average attendance last season was almost half their average in 2001/02. Funnily enough, it is the Leeds United team of around the 2001/02 season and their subsequent plight that has made Leeds incredibly well-known in Korea.

Leeds United fans applaud during the 11th minute of the match to remember the late Gary SpeedLeeds United fans

Whilst the phrase 'Doing a Leeds' briefly entered footballing discourse following the Yorkshire clubs rapid decline here in the UK, often being used to describe a club who spent beyond their means before suffering a harsh and sudden downfall, the phrase 'Leeds days' is still very much in common parlance in the Republic of Korea, more commonly known as South Korea.

Unlike Manchester United, Arsenal and others, Leeds didn't raise their profile in the football mad nation of Korea by picking up a talented Korean player such as Park Ji-Sung or Son Heung-min, but rather happened by chance to have a bizarre phrase named after them.

The phrase itself, which roughly translates as 'Leeds days', is simply used to describe a person or things heyday. In the case of Leeds, it refers to their spell in the late 1990's and early 2000's, when the team regularly finished in the top 4/5 of the Premier League and reached a Champions League semi-final in 2001, before their eventual relegation in 2004.

Swansea City's Ki Sung Yueng applauds the fans after the matchKi Sung Yueng is one of three current South Korean Premier League players

The reason for Leeds' demise being so well-known in Korea is actually quite simple. At the time when Leeds were flying high under the stewardship of David O'Leary, the Premier League was making it's first big push to become popular in Asia, and the Koreans really bought into it, watching a lot of Premier League football and often adopting a club as their own.

Whilst Manchester United and Arsenal, the two most successful clubs at that time, were the obvious options, Leeds grew a large following as something of an outsider club, yet one capable of competing nonetheless; an entertaining underdog, if you like. 

The likes of Tony Yeboah, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka made Leeds a great team to watch during this time, and they were incredibly popular among Korean football fans. The phrase itself, much like 'Doing a Leeds', was originally merely a footballing phrase, used to describe a club or players prime. However, unlike 'Doing a Leeds', which has rather died out, 'Leeds days' spread into everyday Korean language.

Viduka scoring his fourth against LiverpoolMark Viduka scoring his fourth for Leeds United against Liverpool

Instead of being restricted to merely footballing matters, the phrase is now often used in relation to artists, actors and historical figures. For example, one might even talk about Napoleon in his 'Leeds days'.

The phrase is in fairly common use in Korea, particularly among young people, many of whom have no interest in football itself and apparently a large number who do not understand its origin. Perhaps most bizarrely of all, although the phrase is used generally in reference to Leeds' heyday, it was originally specifically focussed on Alan Smith, and his downturn in form upon joining Manchester United. 

Alan SmithAlan Smith celebrates scoring for Leeds United at Elland Road

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