DOM MATTEO: When Leeds were relegated in 2004 it was the lowest point of my career… it took me years to recover. Now, Sam Allardyce’s side must give their all against Tottenham
- I was embarrassed when Leeds were last relegated from the top flight in 2004
- The togetherness in the side had gone and it’s difficult to get that back
- Leeds need to show fighting spirit when they take on Tottenham on Sunday
When Leeds United were last relegated from the Premier League in 2004, it was the lowest point of my career.
I was embarrassed to have been part of such a great club’s demise and as captain it hit me particularly hard.
It was only when Leeds finally returned to the top flight 16 years later under Marcelo Bielsa that I finally got over it. Now here we are with supposedly a three per cent chance of survival going into the final day.
Two decades ago, Leeds’ well-documented financial problems had begun to unravel but we stayed up in 2002-03 under Peter Reid.
When we went down 12 months later, there was so many things wrong and the togetherness in the side had gone.
I was embarrassed to be part of the Leeds team that were relegated from the top flight in 2004
I thought we’d never lose our team spirit but we did and it’s very difficult to get it back
We had been so united previously and reached the Champions League semi-final in 2001. I thought we’d never lose that team spirit but we did and when that happens it’s very hard to get it back.
Key players had been sold and other lads came in, but we still had a couple of great strikers in Mark Viduka and Alan Smith, which should have been enough to keep us up. But defensively we weren’t good enough and, if you look at Leeds now, they have the worst defensive record in the Premier League.
They won at Brentford to stay up on the final day of last season yet now find themselves in an even more perilous position. The players have to take responsibility, just like we did, and it’s not a nice feeling.
With the players that were signed last summer, I thought Leeds might be able to have a good season. But what worried me was the lack of experienced Premier League players who, when things got tough, know what to do.
You look at lads such as Luke Ayling, Liam Cooper and Stuart Dallas, players who put in a shift every time they go out there.
When you come to this great club, you have to understand what it means to play for Leeds United.
But as a collective I’m not sure there are enough of them who do understand. That’s what undoes you in the end and that’s what undid us in 2003-04.
I work for Leeds United a couple of days a week in an ambassadorial role and I absolutely love the place. I’ve played at another great football institution in Liverpool, but there’s a different feel about Leeds.
Sam Allardyce’s side have to give their all when they face Tottenham on the season’s final day
It’s a one-club city, the support is incredible and whatever happens the fans will always be there. A lot of them still believe we can stay up.
I was out walking on Friday morning and got chatting to a Leeds fan who said: ‘Dom, we’ve still got a chance’.
I then went for a haircut and another guy said the same.
On Friday night, I met up with about 30 Scandinavian Leeds fans in the city centre.
They are so passionate and travel back and forth for every home game. It’s amazing really.
Leeds fans will forgive you if you put in a shift.
But they will not forgive you if you don’t run hard and give it a good go.
The players have to show the fans something against Spurs and not capitulate if we go 1-0 down because the Premier League will always find you out if you’re not at it.
Leeds simply have to got to take care of their own business and make sure that they give themselves the best chance by beating Tottenham.
The fans demand that because you just don’t know what might happen elsewhere – you’ve got to keep believing.
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