I enjoyed Lee Hicken’s Take Us Home: Leeds United series so much, I was compelled to watch his earlier documentary on Leeds. Both are on Amazon Prime. Do You Want to Win covers Leeds’ last successful seasons in the early 1990s, when they won promotion to the top division and 2 years later won that division in the last season before it became the EPL.
The film compresses 3 seasons of the Wilkinson period at Leeds United FC, so that I actually thought that the team had gone from the bottom of Division 2 to winning Division 1 in 2 consecutive seasons, but it took Manager Howard Wilkinson 3.5 seasons.
Changing the culture in the locker room
The film emphasizes how Managing Director Bill Fotherby hired Wilkinson and rebuilt the team. In the 1988-1989 season, Leeds were at the bottom of Division 2, and towards the end of the season, Howard Wilkinson was brought in as Manager. For the 1989-1990 season, he convinced Gordon Strachan to come to Leeds from ManU, where coincidentally, Alex Ferguson had just told the 31 year old Strachan that he had played his last game for the club.
Much of the film is devoted to the overhauling of the roster. It’s fascinating to listen to Wilkinson and Fotherby explain the thinking behind the signings.
Vinnie Jones was recruited along with his reputation as “a household name you couldn’t say at the dinner table” because Wilkinson recognized the hard man’s great leadership qualities. It also created excitement and buzz among the fans and media “because you don’t buy Vinnie Jones at random”. Vinnie cheerfully describes himself as the psycho big brother to David Batts.
Wilkinson also instituted discipline such as weekly weigh-ins. Leeds became recognized as “long ball merchants”, which they could do because they were fitter than everyone else. Mediocrity was no longer acceptable.
Other roster changes occurred after promotion. Wilkinson strengthened his team with bigger names and talks about his decision to replace Vinnie Jones with Gary McAllister. Mid-season in their Division 1 championship run, Lee Chapman broke his wrist, so Wilkinson brought in Eric Cantona, “Le Brat”, and the Vinnie Jones of France. Cantona’s first goal for Leeds is included in the film and is phenomenal (after 9 goals, Cantona joined ManU).
The coaching perspective
Since both Wilkinson and Gordon Strachan have long management careers, it is interesting to hear their views on what they see in players. Sometimes managers picked those who “weren’t spectacular football players but were wonderful professionals”.
A couple of good coaching quotes:
“Sometimes when you look at a game and a team, you have to say to yourself: Has he got better players than me? Has he got a better team than me? Is he a better manager than me? What can I do that will ensure that we can beat them?”Howard Wilkinson
“Analysts say that 35-50% of what happens in a game can be chance. Good managers try and make sure that they’re at the 35% end and not so good managers leave it to the fate of the gods and it’s the 50% end. But then there are just games where you just know just by everything you might try and do etc that things are happening out there that are beyond your control.”Howard Wilkinson
Changing the culture of the fans
One unfortunate side-effect of winning promotion at an away game was that Leeds fans trashed the town of AFC Bournemouth. The media raked the club as racist hooligans, and the FA threatened games without fans as well as being booted from the FA. The film covers the club’s efforts to change its image from having “the worst behaved fans in the country”, but I’m actually not sure how re-educating the fans worked out…
I’ve included what I felt were some of the best bits of the film. It’s better than most talking-head documentaries but if you are not a Leeds fan, it might be difficult to finish watching the film – it took me several tries. I’m also not so sure how much production studio The City Talking really wants to change Leeds’ image, when they use Vinnie Jones’ face (although unrecognizable) in the Amazon movie thumbnail. 🙂