The story of Leeds United’s 4-3 win over Liverpool in 2000 is one of 45 chapters in the new book, Ups And Downs: The Inside Stories From Leeds United’s Biggest Matches.
More than 70 former Leeds United players and managers have been exclusively interviewed for this book, with the likes of Norman Hunter, Eddie Gray, Johnny Giles, Allan Clarke, Mick Jones, John Sheridan, Howard Wilkinson, Gary McAllister, Lucas Radebe, Mark Viduka, Olivier Dacourt, Dominic Matteo, Simon Grayson and Jermaine Beckford talking readers through the matches supporters will never forget with a host of rarely told stories.
Jam-packed with insight, anecdotes and first-hand accounts on everything from changing room drama and tales of celebration to transfer sagas and disciplinary procedures, Ups And Downs is a revealing nostalgia trip through Leeds United’s proud, rich history.
Woodgate’s replacement, New Zealand’s Danny Hay, remembered feeling like United’s day was done after just 18 minutes. “[I] literally run on and they’ve gone and scored from [another] set-piece. You just want, a little bit, the ground to open up and swallow you. Dead silence [in] three quarters of the stadium, all you could see down the far end was a bunch of red shirts going absolutely nuts.” Dominic Matteo, who had only moved to Leeds from Liverpool in August, thought the writing was on the wall. “I never thought I’d ever leave Liverpool, that’s the truth. I had five years left on my contract when I signed for Leeds. It was very bizarre that I did sign for Leeds, in that way. But I don’t regret it, I think it was a great club going in the right direction when I did get there … [but] I was fearing the worst at 2-0 down. They’re the type of team [that] can go on and punish you and get four or five.” Viduka, another new Leeds signing in the summer, was also expecting an uphill battle. “I was under pressure, obviously, to score goals. New club, new fans, new surroundings and all that … you can’t afford to concede goals to teams like Liverpool, easy goals, especially in the first 20 minutes … I thought to myself [laughs], ‘This is going to be a long day’.”
Leeds needed a spark from somewhere and Alan Smith provided it, charging down a Ziege clearance. “He’s like a terrier when he starts getting hold of somebody’s ankles. He doesn’t let go,” Viduka said. “So I actually made a little bit of a run towards the goal to see maybe if he gets something here, or to block the pass back to the goalkeeper so Ziege didn’t have that option. And ‘Smudger’ [Smith] closed him down. He [Ziege] went for a clearance, [Smith] closed it down and it popped exactly to me. And then in those situations, you don’t think. Your body just goes by itself.” Viduka’s instinct saw him take two touches before dinking an effort over Sander Westerveld. Leeds had their first. Viduka had his first.
In one of the most open games at Elland Road in years, both sides spurned chances before the break as Liverpool took their one-goal lead to the interval. “The belief, the confidence was quite extraordinary at that point in time in the changing room,” Hay said. “We hadn’t won in a few, so that was quite unusual. But I remember the likes of Gary Kelly, senior players like that, were really like, ‘Fuck!’ We felt like we really had an opportunity to get right back in the game and get something out of it.” Kelly’s optimism was justified and he crossed for Viduka to nod Leeds level in the 47th minute. “I thought, ‘Anything’s possible’,” the goalscorer said. “We could beat anybody on the day. We were about energy. We had an energy. I don’t think many teams had an energy like us.”
There was more to come, of course, but Viduka’s two goals to that stage meant he had netted doubles in three home Premier League games in a row. The £6 million signing had already proved his worth and it did not surprise Woodgate. “I remember one game where I think I just made my England debut. I was 19 years old and we went up to Celtic to play them in a pre-season friendly. And I was thinking to myself, ‘I’ve just made my England debut, no one’s going to get near me’. I played against Viduka and I was like, ‘Oh my God’. I couldn’t get near him! He always had the ‘Cruyff turn’, it was one of his famous moves. He was just that big, but he had the turn of pace as well at that time. He absolutely annihilated me … they probably saw him play against me and thought, ‘Yeah, we’ll buy him’.”
Vladimir Smicer restored Liverpool’s lead at Elland Road but Gerard Houllier’s men never felt comfortable, according to Babbel. “I never had the feeling that [we were] clear, because they put so much pressure on you. We were really struggling. We didn’t play our best game and even [at] 2-0 up - it was more a surprise for us that we were 2-0 up because we were not good on this day.”
A crazy game would soon be 3-3, Viduka getting his first Leeds hat-trick with an unforgettable goal. “Olivier Dacourt, for that third goal, passed me a through ball. ‘Ollie’ was good like that. I really liked playing with Ollie … he was a ball-winner type of player … he was a simple player, when he sees somebody on he plays [it to] them straight away. In that situation, he played it straight over,” he said. Viduka would then twist, turn, tie Patrik Berger in knots so much he badly injured his knee and then finish on the angle past a despairing Westerveld and a diving Jamie Carragher. “Did I think I was going to turn or hit it to the left? I didn’t think. It just happened by itself,” he said. Instinct. Again.
Mark Viduka talks to Ups And Downs: The Inside Stories From Leeds United’s Biggest Matches author James Willoughby in Croatia. Photo: Dubravko Lenert
“He was such a threat physically and also with his feet because he was so skilful. And I don’t think a lot of players realised that with him until they played against him,” Matteo said. “We needed something to happen quickly and, obviously, the big man produced. Patrik did his knee, didn’t he? … Jamie Carragher [hit the deck] as well, he put a couple of them on to the floor … he just kept twisting and turning and twisting and turning and you’re thinking, ‘He’s going to get the shot away’, and eventually it finds the back of the net and [there’s] Liverpool players sliding in from all angles trying to get it out. It has to be that goal for me that stood out.” Dacourt saw Viduka perform tricks like that at training but was still amazed he managed to do it in the heat of battle. “He was so technically [good]. You cannot expect to have a big fella like him to be [so] technical! He can keep the ball, he can pass players, he had everything. Mark was a top quality player … they said it was an assist but it was more Mark did something crazy than my assist!”
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Viduka’s compatriot and friend, Jacob Burns, had the perfect view. “I was in midfield, I was behind the lead-up to it. He was renowned for that, big ‘Dukes’ … I suppose he probably made that kind of move his own where he would ‘Cruyff’ people in and around the box. For such a big guy, his feet [were] so quick that often he’d catch midfielders or defenders going the wrong way. I just remember the momentum of Berger, the desperation in trying to stop him then and him [Viduka] almost turning on a dime to score that goal. And that’s really, I think, when we knew we were going to go on to win this. After being down 2-0 and then being able to bring it back on that third for 3-3, you thought, ‘Well, this is our day now’.”
Burns’ premonition was right as Dacourt and Viduka linked up again, the striker taking a touch before dinking the onrushing Westerveld with aplomb. “That was ecstasy … I don’t know what to say. It was just something that rarely happens … in this game, I had four chances to score and all four of them, they went in,” Viduka said. “All four of them, I scored. I took them.” As the striker ran away to celebrate, Elland Road was delirious. Fans that had seen the likes of John Charles, Allan Clarke, Lee Chapman and Tony Yeboah had a new goalscoring hero. “There was great supporters, great atmosphere in this stadium, even at 11.30 in the morning. They were pushing the team. This is still in my head - the fantastic atmosphere in the stadium,” said Babbel, who was also thankful he was not marking Viduka. “He was an incredible player because he was technically good. He was strong, he was good in the air … all the skills that you need as a striker. And, to be fair, I was lucky because I was playing right-back, so not as a centre-back [laughs].”
Michael Bridges, recovering at home after suffering a serious ankle injury in a UEFA Champions League tie at Besiktas, knew he would face one hell of a battle to get back in the team when fit. “I watched that game on telly and I realised if the injuries didn’t stop us playing for Leeds United, Mark Viduka would stop us playing for Leeds United,” he said. “I became a fan after that [injury]. I didn’t really want to hang around the football club for mental reasons because I was so badly injured and needed just to be bedridden and rested for like, literally, two months. The old comedy sketches where they’d have your leg in the air in the plaster cast - I had to do that, literally, to keep the blood draining out of my leg after the operation … but that game was incredible. I remember my father coming up the stairs going, ‘Are you watching this game?’ And I said, ‘Yeah’. He went, ‘Fuck, he’s good. He’s in your position as well!’ … He was a marvellous player, ‘Vidukes’ … you would see Vidukes in training and he could do things nobody else could.”
In the Elland Road director’s box, Glynn Snodin could not help himself. The boyhood Leeds United fan, who also played for the club, was on official duty. “I remember scouting for Charlton Athletic … we’d got Leeds coming up for Charlton Athletic.” Snodin’s old boss at Leeds, Howard Wilkinson, then England’s Under-21 manager, was in the room, too. “So I’m watching this game … then when Viduka got that hat-trick and then got the winner, I forgot myself. I’m in the director’s box going, ‘Get in! Get in!’ And Howard’s going, ‘Oi! You’re supposed to be a scout. You’re neutral’. I went, ‘No, no, no, no, no. I’m Leeds’, … what a game!”
As for the players on the pitch, they were struggling to hear each other. “That’s what I remember, getting back to 3-3 and the crowd going absolutely bananas … I looked at Dom Matteo and I was trying to yell something to him,” Hay said. “We were literally five metres away from each other and he couldn’t hear a thing. And I think then the fourth one, when we got the winner, I can remember feeling like it was almost like a bit of an earthquake. You felt like the ground was moving, the actual pitch was reverberating. It was pretty cool.” Lee Bowyer said he was in awe of his teammate, insistent Viduka was “unplayable” and that “he had a lot of them days”. “To go score four against Liverpool in the manner that he did was unreal … he was outstanding, great for me to play with. His awareness and attention to detail with his weight of pass for people like me running off of him … he was a pleasure to play with.”
Late drama would not have surprised given the open nature of the match, but Leeds managed to see it out in one of the Premier League’s most entertaining fixtures ever. The cameras rushed to Viduka as soon as the final whistle went, who said, ‘Hi, Mum’ to the viewing millions. “That day was my mum’s birthday so I knew that they were going to be watching from Australia and I gave her a big wave just to say, ‘Happy Birthday’.”
Surprisingly, Viduka does not consider it as his best game for Leeds, saying that came in a 1-0 UEFA Champions League win at Lazio where he held the ball up, drew defenders to him and then set up Smith for the winning goal with a clever backheel. “In that [Liverpool] game, I didn’t think I ticked all the boxes at all … hold-up play, bringing other people into play, possession. I played better games in those segments … I took them [chances] which in one way, as a striker, that’s what you’re there for. But in another way, if you’re saying in a complete game, I wasn’t happy with the other side of play, fully … as a striker, it’s not just - it is scoring goals. But it’s also the other things. It’s hold-up play. It’s bringing players into the game. It’s creating space for others. I liked playing the little one-twos. In that game, I don’t remember having to do that many things like that.” Regardless, the four-goal haul is still an extremely fond memory for Viduka. “Obviously, I was rapt. It was one of the best moments of my footballing career. Definitely.”
Lucas Radebe is still blown away by how good Viduka was against Liverpool, insistent his performance was “absolutely brilliant”, no matter how self-critical the forward is. “Vidukes was on top form and he was absolutely amazing … to score four against Liverpool, I mean, that’s a good thing! For Dukes, that day, he was the hero … to get the result was amazing.” Matteo concurred. “When you talk about that game, you think, ‘Thank goodness for Mark Viduka’. Because it was the ‘Mark Viduka Show’ really, wasn’t it? Without him, we’d have probably got hammered. It was one of those performances that I think always sticks out … we all thought Mark was a good player, but I think when there’s a performance like that against the level of players you’re up against … I’d been at Liverpool so I knew how good they were and he made certain players look average that day and only certain players can do that in world football. Mark certainly proved to a lot of us that he could. It was just an incredible performance … personally, I felt a bit drained afterwards because we’d conceded three and I never liked conceding goals anyway. But I think I just gave Mark a big kiss and a cuddle after the game and just said, ‘Thanks very much, because you pulled me out of one there definitely’.”
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“It was Guy Fawkes Night [and] my wife was by herself at home with the dog … the dog kept barking all night and she was scared … she rings me up at three o’clock … and I go, ‘She will be alright’. At five o’clock in the morning, again, she rings me up and she goes, ‘Tara is barking, I’m scared’. And I go, ‘You know what? If I have a shocker tomorrow!’”
- Mark Viduka
His preparation was far from ideal but Mark Viduka was about to produce one of the greatest performances in Premier League history. The Australian struggled to sleep in the hours before an important fixture against Liverpool due to his dog, even though he was staying in a team hotel far away from the family home. It was the Friday before Guy Fawkes Night, an annual November tradition in Great Britain where people light bonfires and set off fireworks, and Viduka’s Rottweiler was going completely berserk. “That [game] was an early kick-off … we were in a hotel in the city centre before the game,” Viduka said. The striker was rooming with goalkeeper Danny Milosevic, who was also woken up through the night by the phone calls. Asked if he was tired as he prepared for the match, an 11.30am kick-off, Viduka said: “That morning, yeah … early morning kick-offs … it’s not a normal thing so your body is not really used to that … when it’s like that, you usually have breakfast at eight o’clock in the morning. Everybody gets up at seven, which is early. It’s an early thing. Normally, I like to sleep in and then have a certain breakfast.” The early start was also creating issues in the Liverpool camp, Markus Babbel remembering “it was the earliest kick-off in my career”. “It was new for me. I never had this before,” he said. “It was very difficult to bring your best performance on the pitch because everything was different … it was the first time in my professional career I had this and not only me - many players were struggling.”
Leeds pipped Liverpool to third just four months earlier, a position that came with UEFA Champions League football, but the visitors made a much brighter start to the 2000-01 campaign and faced a United side so ravaged by injury they could not even field five substitutes. Liverpool made a great start to the match, too, as Sami Hyypia and Christian Ziege both headed in early free-kicks, while Jonathan Woodgate was forced off with a thigh injury for Leeds.