September 07, 2022 6 min read
There has been a lot of chatter about the 30-year anniversary of the breakaway Premier League. In Summer 1992, 22 clubs split from the Football League and took their ball with them, forming a division where there was more TV money and razzamatazz and you also needed a satellite TV subscription to watch what had previously been free to air.
Three decades on, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and sundry American billionaires own the cream of English football. But in 1992/93, two former First Division winners were scrapping to stay in the division. Nottingham Forest and Leeds United meet in the Premier League next Monday night, respectively owned by a Greek shipping magnate and an Italian TV entrepreneur.
In 1993, managers Brian Clough and Howard Wilkinson were the pivotal figures at each club. Incredibly, Forest were relegated, with Clough resigning, and Leeds just survived in the year that Manchester United won their first league title in 25 years. Even more amazingly, Leeds started the season in the European Cup, overcoming Stuttgart in the first round in a third game after they could not be separated over the two legs. Rangers knocked them out before the group stages that marked the Champions League era.
The Leeds team of that time remains famous at Elland Road. Eric Cantona was infamously sold to United, replaced by Scott Sellars and David Rocastle, who were both kept out of the team by the First Division-winning midfield of Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister, David Batty and Gary Speed. Lee Chapman and Rod Wallace started upfront, while a famous FA Youth Cup win against Manchester United propelled Noel Whelan, Kevin Sharp and Jamie Forrester into first-team contention.
As for Cloughie’s Forest, we learned recently that they had a team good enough to reach the FA Cup final with the likes of Stuart Pearce, Mark Crossley and Steve Chettle at the back. After winning the first televised Premier League game on Sky Sports thanks to a Teddy Sheringham goal, Forest lost their next six games. In December they beat Leeds 4-1 at Elland Road, with Roy Keane scoring twice in a season which convinced Alex Ferguson to spend a lot of money bringing the Irishman to United.
The clubs drew 1-1 in the game at the City Ground in March 1993, by which time Sellars had been sold. This was the same scoreline shared by the clubs in their first ever meeting in the 1920/21 Second Division. Their second meeting was a week later, in one of those quirks of old fixture lists, which Forest won 1-0.
Apart from the 1924/25 season, Forest v Leeds was a second-tier fixture for most of the postwar years. On Christmas Day 1953 Forest won 5-2. The next day, as was customary in those days, the teams met again in the reverse fixture and Forest won 2-0 to secure a consecutive-day double which physically cannot happen today where matches must have 48 hours of breathing space.
Both teams were First Division competitors in 1957/58, although Leeds had lost their Welsh talisman John Charles. Young Jack Charlton was part of the back line but a seventeenth-place finish cost manager Horatio ‘Raich’ Carter his job. Forest’s squad contained Stewart Imlach, the subject of his son Gary’s extraordinary book My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes. Forest would go on to sign Elton John’s uncle Roy Dwight from Fulham, who broke his leg in the 1959 FA Cup final which was won by Forest against Luton Town. Imlach was one of five Scots who started the game for Forest, who were captained by one-club man Jack Burkitt.
Leeds had beaten Forest in both games in the 1958/59 season, but the 92 goals which they conceded contributed to their relegation. This was their nadir but they were to rise and reach European cup finals within a decade. They were back in the First Division in 1964, doing the double over Forest in 1965/66 including a 4-0 away win. They also reached the semi-final of the tournament which became the UEFA Cup, then known as the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Charlton and his club team-mate Norman Hunter would celebrate a World Cup win as part of the England squad.
Their club team-mates, marshalled by the great Don Revie, included wingers Albert Johanneson and Eddie Gray, as well as perennial starters John Giles, Peter Lorimer, Paul Reaney and captain Billy Bremner. In both 1969 and 1972, Forest were trounced 6-1 at Elland Road, two of the many defeats they suffered against Leeds in the era BC, Before Clough. They tumbled into the Second Division in 1972 and had their own revival which ended in a First Division victory and two European Cups.
In 1982, it was Leeds who were relegated on the final day. The season was known for the expensive signing of Peter Barnes, ironically from West Brom, the team who consigned them to relegation. Even though they took four points off Forest, their efforts were in vain and it led to Eddie Gray becoming player/manager as his 17-year playing career came to an end.
Clough had turned Forest into an imposing team and the club was his fiefdom. It seemed entirely natural that he would play his son Nigel on merit not on nepotism, and would negotiate the break-up of his European Cup-winning team; indeed, he sold defender Kenny Burns to Leeds in 1982. It took the Whites until 1990 to gain promotion back to the First Division, by which time the big five clubs (Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal) had agreed to form their new Premier League.
After their early difficulties which were more to do with the ban on the goalkeeper picking up the ball when a defender passed it back to him, Leeds and Forest got to grips with the new division. They also recruited wisely from abroad, with Tony Yeboah, Bryan Roy and Lars Bohinen regular first-team players for either club. With Erling Haaland tearing up the 2022/23 Premier League, it should be noted that dad Alfie played for both clubs, moving from Forest to Leeds in 1997.
The meeting between them, the Kenny Burns or Alfie Haaland Derby, is the first in the Premier League since Forest were relegated in 1999. A new low was reached in 2007/08 when the teams met in the third tier for the first time in what by then was League One. Leeds had players like Jermaine Beckford, David Prutton and current Middlesborough captain Jonny Howson, as well as veteran striker Tore Andre Flo. Forest’s squad had future Premier League players Wes Morgan and Grant Holt, as well as veteran midfielder Neil Lennon.
Before the teams found galvanising managers in Marcelo Bielsa and Steve Cooper, whose management is a key reason why the teams play in the Premier League today, there was a decade where Forest v Leeds was a Championship perennial. The most eye-catching result was Leeds 3 Nottingham Forest 7 in March 2012. Garath McCleary scored four, his second an extraordinary volley, and there was a ten-minute spell after half-time which brought five goals to take the score from 2-1 to 3-3 to 5-3.
Even better than McCleary’s volley was a 35-yard scorcher from Adlène Guedioura, the Algerian who represented one of nine different nations in the Forest starting squad. Unsurprisingly, Forest uploaded the full match to Youtube, including those bonkers 10 minutes of football at the start of the pandemic for fans to slather over.
Since then, no Forest-Leeds game has come close for excitement but doubtless Forest fans will message McCleary to see if he’ll be at Elland Road on Monday evening. Forest’s 20 new players will surely have learned about the 7-3 win and the two European Cup wins, just as their fans cherish the memories from their recent Championship games. Perhaps they can reminisce while sipping on some vodka. Leeds fans have the option of vodka or gin.