30 August 2007 :: by
This Saturday sees the return of Kevin Blackwell to Elland Road as manager of League One rivals Luton Town. With Leeds unbeaten in the League One, Kevin, fresh from an astonishing defeat of Roy Keane's Premier League Sunderland in the Carling Cup, is relishing the prospect of facing a crowd of just over thirty thousand at his old stomping ground.
"Elland Road is one of football's cathedrals," said Blackwell in the YEP. "It's on a par with Old Trafford and Anfield, a stadium you just love to play at."
Kevin took over Luton Town in March 2007 but suffered relegation from the Championship last season just like Leeds, though Kevin went on record as saying
that he could have kept Leeds United up. It is difficult to argue with Blackwell's position as he was sacked in September 2006, just months after reaching the play-off finals at the end of the 2005-06 season and hardly given time to settle down a squad that had lost badly in a final. Blackwell also had few resources compared to many managers in the division, with over half his wage budget being paid to former players who had failed the club in the past and were playing for Premier League clubs like Liverpool, Man City and Middlesborough and even Championship rivals.
Kevin will certainly feel he has a point to prove on Saturday to Ken Bates who has claimed that Blackwell had lost the dressing-room when he acked him. Blackwell will be on a high coming into the game having thrashed Premier League Sunderland 3-0 in the Carling Cup 2nd round while Leeds crashed out to Portsmouth, also of the Premier League, by the same scoreline.
Despite the manner of his departure
Kevin takes a sanguine view that it is part of being a manager and far from being bitter about it he is still a supporter of the club that sacked him: as he made clear when talking to Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post,
"It will be an emotional occasion for me; Leeds United were a massive part of my life and a very proud part of my life. Everyone knew how much managing that club meant to me and still means to me.
On his sacking Blackwell commented: "I've never hidden the fact that I thought the job was taken from me too soon, but you accept people's decisions and move on. This is a chance for me to say thank you to the fans and to the people who worked so hard for me behind the scenes.
"I've never really had that opportunity.
"For me there will always be a sense of unfinished business at Leeds and you can't get away from that.
"I'm the first to admit that not everything I did there was perfect. But I dealt with an awful lot of difficult situations and took us to a play-off final, which I still think was a fantastic achievement – for me, the players and the club.
"People are quick to make judgments but, over time, I think the fans have come to realise that I gave it my all and that I did a good job there.
Whatever the real reason for his sacking real Leeds fans will remember that Blackwell not only steadied the ship but actually held it together following relegation from the Premier League - many of the players signed by Blackwell did so because of his reputation as one of the most highly qualified coaches in the country. Leeds fans owe Blackwell a big debt - on Saturday we will see how many remember that fact. Maybe even Ken Bates might reflect on that too.
On the relegation last season Kevin said,
"... I – like everyone else – wanted to see Leeds stay up last season.
"A club like that will never be suited to playing in League One. It just doesn't seem right.
"Elland Road is one of football's cathedrals," said Blackwell. "It's on a par with Old Trafford and Anfield – a stadium you just love to play at.
"I always relished the atmosphere and every player should. There's something about Leeds that gets people going, wherever you are and I'm proud to have been involved there.
"Not many people get that opportunity."
But now a rival manager he made it clear that on Saturday there will be no quarter:
"But I was delighted to get the chance to take on the job at Luton, and Saturday's an important game for us. You don't let sentiment affect your priorities."
Kevin Blackwell and his old Elland Road team of Sam Ellis and John Carver, now also at Luton Town have certainly got The Hatters in gear this season and they have netted six times in just three games, with two wins and a loss on the balance sheet. That loss, ironically, was a 2-1 defeat to Dennis Wise's previous managerial charge Swindon Town - Leeds fans will be hoping that there is an omen in there somewhere.
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Read the Yorkshire Evening Post article
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