SHERIDAN DICTATES: LEEDS UNITED NOSTALGIA

MARK AIZLEWOOD

Mark Aizlewood's stay at Elland Road ended in controversial circumstances less than three years after he arrived from Charlton Athletic in January 1987.

Aizlewood, a Welsh international midfielder was signed by Billy Bremner and his presence strengthened an area significantly weakened by the sale of Ian Snodin to Everton:

"I was playing in the top flight and very happy at Charlton. I was captain and had never really envisaged moving on.

"The manager, Lennie Lawrence, called me in one day and advised me that he'd received an offer for my services from Leeds United.

"He asked me if I was interested but stressed that he didn't want me to go."

Despite growing up in Newport, Aizlewood idolised Don Revie's Leeds United and in particular the legendary captain of the crew, Billy Bremner:

"I wanted to talk to Billy as it presented me with an opportunity to meet him. I was impressed with everything he had to say and I was delighted to sign for Leeds.

"Make no mistake about it, even though Leeds United had fallen on hard times after relegation in 1982 it was still a massive club but Billy was the reason I signed."

Aizlewood made his debut in a goalless draw at Bramall Lane against Sheffield  United on the 7th of February, 1987 and the club's season was starting to gain momentum:

"We went on a fantastic run in the league and in the FA Cup although having played for Charlton in the third round, I was cup-tied and had to watch from the stands as the lads marched their way to the semi-final.  

"Billy brought Dave Rennie in for the cup games but despite the fact he did well, I always returned to the side for the following league game.

"The biggest compliment a manager can give a player is to select them every week that they're available and Billy did that.

"In addition, he made me captain which was a massive honour. He showed a tremendous amount of faith in me and he believed I was a big influence around the club on younger players such as John Sheridan and David Batty who was starting to emerge from the youth team."

"Sheridan, despite playing in the second tier, was without doubt one of the finest midfielders in the country. The things he did with a football were unreal."

At the end of the regular season, a fourth place finish saw Leeds qualify for the end of season play offs and Aizlewood had missed just one league game since joining the club.

The Whites beat Oldham Athletic in the semi-finals, on away goals, in a dramatic two legged tie and were to face Aizlewood's former club Charlton in the final. Again, it was a two legged affair:

"It was the first season that the play offs had been introduced and the format was much different to how it is nowadays.

"Charlton were fighting to save their top flight status after seeing off Ipswich Town in the semi's and we knew we had a battle on our hands."

Both legs finished 1-0 to the home side and that set up a replay at Birmingham City's St Andrews ground:

"I remember the days leading up to the replay. We walked across the Elland Road car park onto the training ground and the queues for the ticket office were incredible. Leeds fans completely outnumbered the Charlton fans on the night."

The season had boiled down to one game but unfortunately it would end in heart-breaking fashion:

"John (Sheridan) put us 1-0 up with a delightful free-kick but out of nowhere, Peter Shirtliff scored two late goals to deny us promotion.

"I will never forget being back in the dressing room. It was deadly quiet until Mervyn Day, who felt he could have done better for one of Shirtliff's goals, stood up to apologise.

"Merv, as devastated as anyone, told us that he should've shut his legs and then Billy, so quick witted jumped in and told him, 'Merv, it's not your fault son. I blame your Mother for not keeping her legs shut!'

"The dressing room was in hysterics but we were absolutely devastated after coming so close to promotion and it took us a long time to get over that defeat."

The hangover was evident as Leeds struggled the following season. Andy Ritchie (to Oldham) and Ian Baird (to Portsmouth) had left the club and goals were hard to come by.

As the season progressed and with the addition of Bobby Davison and the return of Baird, Leeds got their act together and were much improved over the second half of the season but it was a frustrating one for the club captain:

"I had a problem with my groin and tried to play my way through it. Unfortunately I had to have an operation and I was out from mid September until the end of February."

After battling back to full fitness and ending the season strongly, Aizlewood was looking forward to the new campaign but things soon started to turn sour:

"Billy was sacked early on and I was gutted. He was the man who'd brought me in, gave me the captains armband and put his faith in me. 

"A little bit of me died inside when Billy left and I no longer wanted to be at the club.

"Howard Wilkinson came in and like Billy, he picked me when I was available and I also retained the captaincy despite the fact that he tried to sell me to Portsmouth.

"As a family, we were settled in Yorkshire, we had a good lifestyle and we were happy. Portsmouth would not have been a good move. My wife had a job that she enjoyed and my daughter was in a good school. I didn't see the need to upset that."

As the season petered out, the Welshman had become a target for the Elland Road boo-boys:

"We were due to play Walsall at home on a bank holiday Monday and I sensed that things were going to come to a head. 

"My wife and daughter always came to the home games but I asked them to stay away that day.

"It was a typically dour end of season affair which was heading for a 0-0 draw and every time I touched the ball, the boo's would ring out. 

"With less than 10 minutes remaining, Peter Haddock put a cross over and I managed to head it past the 'keeper. The Kop started celebrating and cheering. The same fans had been booing me for weeks and had slaughtered me all afternoon. My first thought was 'what a bunch of hypocrites.'

"I stood in front of the Kop and flicked the V's at the crowd. It wasn't premeditated but I knew that my actions would get me away from a club that didn't want to be at."

As Walsall prepared to restart the game, Aizlewood knew what was coming:

"I looked across and saw David Batty ready to enter the field with the number 4 board behind held aloft. Wilkinson, not surprisingly was bringing me off.

"As I approached the dug out, he offered me a training top and ordered me to sit down. I told him to go and fuck himself and I ran straight down the tunnel to the dressing room. I knew my Leeds United career was over."

That summer, Mark Aizlewood was sold to Bradford City in a move that suited his family life:

"Terry Yorath was the manager and I knew Terry from the international set up. It was a no brainer to move to Bradford and remain in Yorkshire for reasons I have already stated."

It wasn't the last that Leeds fans would see of the midfielder:

"I was in the Bradford side that played Leeds at Valley Parade the following season. Leeds won 1-0 but at 0-0 I met a cross from the right and bulleted a header towards goal. Mervyn Day pulled off a world class save to keep the scores level and looking back I'm grateful that he did. It avoided any goal celebrations or actions that may have caused more problems.

"Of course I regret that afternoon against Walsall but I wanted out of the club. I did enjoy 99% of my time at Leeds but now that incident is all I'm remembered for. "

Thank you to Mark Aizlewood for his time and giving me the opportunity to write this article. 


 

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