Irony is of course football's stock in trade, one of the sport's idiosyncracies which make it so compelling. There'll be plenty of it surrounding tomorrow's Yorkshire derby between Huddersfield and Leeds United too, especially considering Neil Warnock and Simon Grayson have managed both clubs to promotion from the third tier of British football during their careers. The latter now finds himself down the M62 after his three year reign at Elland Road was concluded at the end of January, but perhaps the greatest irony will be that some of the 4,000 away fans at the whatever it's called these days stadium who'll be loudly saluting him were equally vociferous in demanding he be sacked a year ago.
In truth current manager Neil Warnock is still viewed with some suspicion by a large minority of United's support, whereas Grayson enjoyed a lengthy honeymoon period, especially once he'd hauled the club out of it's humiliating spell in League One. A conversation about him even now will find opinions sharply divided; the received wisdom in many quarters being that under the Bates regime his efforts were stymied by player sales, and had he been backed financially then a further promotion to the Premier League would've possibly crowned his reign with a legendary apex.
His credentials as a potential Leeds manager were of course never in doubt. A trainee at the club in the Wilkinson era, his playing career there was brief before going on to give solid, if journeyman, service to the likes of Leicester and Aston Villa. His arrival from Blackpool in early 2008 was a surprise to us, but for him you sense it was a huge personal ambition fulfilled.
If his three years in charge had a theme though, it was one of inconsistency. He worked miracles to drag Gary McAllister’s squad into the play off semi finals - having been at one stage ten points off the pace with ten games to go - before those same players froze in the semi final against Millwall. The following season the side carried all before them up to Christmas and of course there was that result against them in the FA cup, plus more swash buckled at White Hart Lane. Coasting in the league at that point, the following slip in form however saw Leeds United concede what had been a fifteen point lead over Norwich in January to scrape home as runners up in the last 25 minutes of the season's final day.
Back in the relatively big time the next season despite the loss of Jermaine Beckford, Grayson's preference for attractive football brought about a highly creditable 7th place in the table, narrowly missing the play offs. But Leeds had been second after beating QPR in December and there was an alarming tendency to ship goals developing – losing 6-4 at home to Preston – one which in his final truncated season became a phenomenon, Blackpool's 5-0 massacre all but ending the career of keeper Paul Rachubka and lowly Barnsley handing out a 4-1 New Year's Eve thrashing to go with the 5-2 one they'd handed Leeds on their last visit to Oakhell.
His sacking by extension was hardly a shock. A highly fortunate New Year win over Burnley (The winner coming in the 97th minute) had prolonged the agony a little further, but Bates swung the axe after some very public criticism of both the size of the club's wage bill and the quality of some of the personnel his former manager had drafted in. Things do get blurry here. Of the notable players which were sold or released during his tenure – Howson, Delph, Johnson, Kilkenny, Beckford, Clayton and Gradel – only the latter two were actually signed by him.
Undoubtedly forced to shop in the bargain basement by the club's owners, he proved to be less adept at unearthing talent in the lower leagues than his predecessors, preferring loanee squad players drafted in from Premier League teams. When it came to permanent transfers Grayson brought in a number of men who in the context of the squad's obvious defensive frailties looked like luxury items, attacking midfielders like Ramon Nunez and Robbie Rogers (Heard of them – thought not) when an anchor player to work as a “Libero” in the back four was so desperately needed instead.
He seemed to fall on his feet though as his new chairman at Huddersfield seems to be the antithesis of the truculent Bates. A highly committed fan, Dean Hoyle is a Jack Walker/Dave Whelan style philanthropist, a self made multi millionaire who spent three years backing Lee Clark to the hilt before losing finally losing patience, replacing him with Grayson and subsequently seeing his dream fulfilled by promotion via the play off final. The theory goes that given these more generous financial conditions the manger would prosper, and for a while it seemed the case as Town made a very good start to the season, but now after signing Beckford, Simon Church and Clayton, they find themselves two points above Leeds United in the table after a 3-0 defeat to Middlesbrough earlier in the week.
The preamble to the game has been a little feisty, perhaps to be expected given the mono-directional bile that the fixture entails: even the post match security arrangements have put the home supporters in a froth, despite their obvious merit. Grayson has also been surprisingly candid in the media this week about his time at Elland Road given his reliance normally on self expression by clichés, describing his relationship with Bates as good, but criticising Peter Lorimer for duplicity around the potential sale of Lucianio Becchio to Hull last January. The accusation is that the former player refused to deal in public with his private advice, something the normally placid Grayson has chosen to be animated about.
In reality, however, given that Lorimer's future is now far from certain under the incoming regime the mini war of words is little more than a taster for the game to come, a contest in which Leeds United have rarely excelled in recent times. How a Huddersfield victory will leave the former whites manager feeling – famously in one of his earliest press conferences his phone went off to reveal his ringtone as United anthem Marching Altogether – is anyone's guess. The home fans will want nothing less than a win, and his fitful stock with them is likely to rise or fall with the result.
For Leeds fans it marks the first opportunity to offer their former manager some public sympathy, and perhaps a show of support against the reviled Bates. But it should also serve as a reminder that he's no longer our manager, largely because the team he created lost their will to win games for him. There are fifty ways to leave your lover, and for some United fans, they still need to find the most appropriate one to end this relationship, and move on.